The creator of the universe is also an author of written texts. This comes as no surprise to those who are believers, because they accept the biblical scriptures as being "given by inspiration of God" (2 Tim. 3:16; all quotes are from the Kings James Version). But the Bible itself references other books (or sets of books) written by God. These are mentioned in Revelation 20: "And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. . . . And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire" (v. 12, 15). Thus, God has at least two volumes of books: his Word, the scriptures (themselves, as shall be seen, a type of book of life); and a book of life with names of believers ("whosoever was not found written [there]in . . . was cast into the lake of fire"); this same book--or perhaps the another book--also records the works that a person has done. Each of these books, in turn, has a strong relationship to God's plan for humankind.
The listing of our own actions while here on earth would seem to have the most direct personal relationship to us as people. In a sense, what we do, as well as who we are, is what God writes. God's book on us begins apparently even before we are born. "Thine eyes did see my substance," David writes in Psalm 139, "yet being unperfect; and in thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them" (v. 16). Thus, God knows us--conceives of us--before we even exist. Paul makes a similar point in Romans 8:29-30: "For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified." Ephesians 1:4-5 makes clear just when this foreknowledge occurred: "According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world," Paul writes, "that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself." Although, in both passages, Paul is talking specifically to the church, to those who are called and chosen, this foreknowledge before the earth's foundation extends, on some level, to all of mankind, just as God's plan to make men into his own image does. One need only refer to the account of man's creation in Genesis 1:26 to confirm this: "And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness." Similarly, 2 Peter 3:9 tells us that God is "not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance." Thus God's plan is ultimately for all people--not just a chosen few. And what is that plan? That we be completely conformed to the image of his Son, of himself, rather than being simply physical representations of God. As 1 John 3:2 notes, "Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is." How many physical peoples have seen God? And yet, one day men, transformed fully into his image, will see him.
In addition to noting our mere existence--our bodies, our "members"--God also records in a book our works. David appears to make mention of such a book in Psalm 56:8, when he asks God rhetorically, "Thou tellest my wanderings: put thou my tears in thy bottle: are they not in thy book?"
In turn, as the scriptures show, God uses this record to contemplate our lives. "For the ways of man are before the eyes of the Lord, and he pondereth all his goings," Proverbs 5:21 notes. God uses that pondering to evaluate us--according to what we do, as other scriptures show. Proverbs 24:12 makes this connection explicit: "If thou sayest, Behold, we knew it not; doth not he that pondereth the heart consider it? and he that keepeth thy soul, doth not he know it? and shall not he render to every man according to his works?" So too does Jeremiah 17:10: "I the Lord search the heart, I try the reigns, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings." Jeremiah 32:19 says God's "eyes are open upon all the ways of the sons of men: to give every one according to his ways, and according the fruit of his doings." Likewise, Job 34:11 states that "[f]or the work of a man shall [God] render unto him, and cause every man to find according to his ways."
References to God's evaluation of human beings are not confined to the Old Testament. The New Testament, too, has its share of scriptures that discuss God's assessment of our actions. Romans 14 tells us that "we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. . . . [E]very one of us shall give account of himself to God" (v. 10, 12). Paul makes a similar assertion in 2 Corinthians 5:10: "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad."
The scriptures have much more to say about this judgment beyond the fact that we are judged according to our works. They tell us also just how that judgment is to occur and when. Romans 2 is a great starting place for exploring how God conducts that judgment. There, readers learn that God shall judge even our "secrets" (v. 16) and, further, that this judgment occurs in stages:
But we are sure that the judgment of God is according to truth against them which commit such things. And thinkest thou this, O man, that judgest them which do such things, and doest the same, that thou shalt escape the judgment of God? . . . Who will render to every man according to his deeds: To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life: But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, Tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile; But glory, honour, and peace, to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile: For there is no respect of persons with God. (v. 2-3, 6-11)
Here we learn that God shall judge all men, not just a chosen few. However, he does judge some before he judges others. Why? Because, at least with regard to the Jews, as we learn in Romans 3:2, "unto them were committed the oracles of God." God judges according to the knowledge that God has given a person. As Paul notes, "For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law: and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law; . . . For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: Which show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness" (Rom. 2:12, 14-15). Some know of God's laws and are judged by their adherence to them; others know a portion of God's laws and are judged by their adherence to that portion that they know. This is why Christ could say, in Matthew 11:21-22, when confronted with Jewish cities that refused to repent in the face of his miracles, "Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works, which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment, than for you." Having been given knowledge of God and having rejected it, these people were in worse trouble than those who never had such knowledge and struggled on in ignorance, doing the best they could.
For God, it is more important what a given person does with the knowledge that that person is handed than how much knowledge that person actually has. If a person's attitude is right, then knowledge will translate to proper action; whereas, all the knowledge in the world won't do anyone good if it isn't put to use. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:2, "And though I . . . understand all mysteries, and all knowledge . . . and have not charity, I am nothing." This is why God says in Ezekiel 33:13-16:
When I shall say to the righteous, that he shall surely live; if he trust to his own righteousness, and commit iniquity, all his righteousness shall not be remembered; but for his iniquity that he hath committed, he shall die for it. Again, when I say unto the wicked, Thou shalt surely die; if he turn from his sin, and do that which is lawful and right; If the wicked restore the pledge, give again that he had robbed, walk in the statutes of life without committing iniquity; he shall surely live, he shall not die. None of his sins that he hath committed shall be mentioned unto him: he hath done that which is lawful and right; he shall surely live.
Hence, we see that the righteous man, if he does something that is not righteous, shall die, even as the wicked man, if he changes and starts doing righteously, shall live. How can this be so? Romans 6:23 tells us that "the wages of sin is death." Romans 3:23 tells us that "all have sinned." So all have earned death--no amount of right action can earn one life. Yet in Ezekiel, we learn that if a righteous man sins, he shall die, but if a wicked man stops sinning, he shall live. Life is possible for the wicked man--and for the righteous man too, if he doesn't continue in sin--because God has the power to blot out sin. "Have mercy upon me, O God," David writes in Psalm 51, "according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions. . . . Hide thy face from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities" (v. 1, 9). "I have blotted out, as a thick cloud, thy transgressions," says God to Israel in Isaiah 44:22, "and, as a cloud, thy sins: return unto me; for I have redeemed thee." "I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake," God says in Isaiah 43:25, "and will not remember thy sins."
Hence, we see that not all of our works will necessarily continue to be a part of the book God writes. God will blot out those actions that are sins--but only if we repent, only if we don't continue in sin. "Repent ye therefore," Peter noted in his first Pentecost sermon, "and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord" (Acts 3:19). Men who have repented, who have turned from sin, will not have those sins accounted to them in the judgment. They will live. This blotting out is made possible through Christ's death. This is the meaning of the scripture in Colossians 2:13-14: "And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses; Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross." Because Christ died for mankind, paid the penalty of death that all people earn through their various sins, the punishment that those sins have earned all people can be done away--but only because those sins themselves are blotted out from the book through the penalty Christ paid. However, as we can see from scripture, God is only willing to accept that payment if we sincerely attempt to no longer sin. "For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death," Paul tells believers, "we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin" (Rom. 6:5-6).
Those who have Christ pay the penalty for their sin will have such portions expunged from the record. But when will this judgment take place? Matthew 16:27 tells us: "For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works." The judgment comes sometime after Christ's return. But as mentioned earlier with regard to Jew and Gentile, that judgment apparently comes in stages. Note the sequence of events that appears in Revelation. In the latter part of Revelation 19 Christ returns in his glory: "And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war. His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on his head were many crowns . . . And out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron . . . And I saw the beast, and the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against him that sat on the horse, and against his army" (v. 11-12, 15, 19). In Revelation 20:4-6 judgment--or rulership--as well as eternal life, is given unto a people who did not worship the beast:
And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.
However, the rest of the people are not judged "until the thousand years were finished." The judgment for the rest of the people happens not until verse 12, when "the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works." This is also alluded to in Daniel 7:10, when we are told that "the judgment was set, and the books were opened." Note that this second resurrection is one to physical life. We can assume this because Revelation 20:6 says that "the second death hath no power" on those "that hath part in the first resurrection." Those in the first resurrection, raised as incorruptible spirit, have already been judged when the second resurrection occurs. Those in the second, by contrast, take on flesh again, as observed in Ezekiel 37:4-6: "Prophesy upon these bones, and say unto them, O ye dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus saith the Lord God unto these bones; Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live: And I will lay sinews upon you, and will bring up flesh upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and ye shall live; and ye shall know that I am the Lord." Verse 11 of the same chapter establishes that God is speaking in particular here to "the whole house of Israel" into whom God "shall put [his] spirit" (v. 14).
Hence, we see that there are two times of judgment--one before the millennial rule of Christ and one after. We read more of the first judgment in 1 Peter 4:17-19: "For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God? And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear? Wherefore let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to him in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator." The judgment starts with the house of God--with those who are Jews "inwardly" (Rom. 2:29) at this time--and then proceeds to those who are not Jews inwardly, who are not part of the house of God, at this time. Salvation, ultimately awarded at judgment when mortals "put on immortality" and "Death is swallowed up in victory" (1 Cor. 15:54), comes later for others, as becomes clear when one takes into account one very significant thing God says is written in his book of life.
While the Bible notes that God records people's works, it also notes, very importantly, that the book of life records people's names. Reference to this is absolutely explicit in Philippians 4:3, where Paul notes, "And I entreat thee also, true yokefellow, help those women which laboured with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and with other my fellowlabourers, whose names are in the book of life." Conversely, several verses in Revelation reference people's names as not being in the book--or as being threatened for removal from the book. Revelation 3:5, for example, tells members of the church at Sardis, "He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels." Revelation 13:8 notes that "all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him [the Beast], whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world." Similarly, Revelation 17:8 states that "they that dwell on the earth shall wonder, whose names were not written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, when they behold the beast that was, and is not, and yet is." Note here that, save for those in the church at Sardis, the names aren't in the book of life from the "foundation of the world"--these were never in the book. They were not chosen at this time, unlike those of whom Paul writes in the already referenced scripture in Ephesians 1:4-5--and unlike those in the church at Sardis.
Other references to blotting people out of the book appear in sundry places in the Bible. In Exodus 32:31-33, for example, Moses volunteers to have his name blotted out in lieu of the children of Israel. Note what God says: "And Moses returned unto the Lord, and said, Oh, this people have sinned a great sin, and have made them gods of gold. Yet now, if thou will forgive their sin--; and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book which thou hast written. And the Lord said unto Moses, Whosoever hath sinned against me, him will I blot out of my book." God would not allow Moses to stand in for other people; each person stands on his or her own before God in the judgment. "The fathers shall not be put to death for the children," Deuteronomy 24:16 records, "neither shall the children be put to death for the fathers: every man shall be put to death for his own sin." Another scripture that references a blotting out of names is Psalm 69:27-28. "Add iniquity unto their [the wicked's] iniquity," David records, "and let them not come into thy righteousness. Let them be blotted out of the book of the living, and not be written with the righteous."
Still other scriptures make reference to people's names being written in a book. In each case, the writing denotes some kind of privilege or reward. Daniel 12:1, for instance, ties writing in the book to a kind of salvation: "And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people: and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time: and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book." Revelation 21:27 places those written in the book in the new Jerusalem: "And there shall in no wise enter into it [the holy city] any thing that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie: but they which are written in the Lamb's book of life." An interesting reference to God's people being written in a book appears in Malachi 3:16-17, where the author notes: "Then they that feared the Lord spake often one to another: and the Lord hearkened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the Lord, and that thought upon his name. And they shall be mine, saith the Lord of hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels; and I will spare them, as a man spareth his own son that serveth him." Here, the book becomes one of "remembrance"--the Lord refers to it to remember his people. That remembering plays an important part in scripture, a part that we'll return to later.
While some scriptures refer to people's names being written in a book, still others denote people's names as being written in heaven. The most explicit reference to this concept appears in Luke 10:19-20, where Christ tells his disciples: "Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you. Notwithstanding in this rejoice not, that the spirits are subject unto you; but rather rejoice, because your names are written in heaven." Unlike those in Revelation 17:8, "whose names were not written in the book of life from the foundation of the world," Christ here seems to be saying the disciples' names were written there, that the disciples were chosen, unlike the vast majority of humankind. They had been given a special calling--to be "born first"--and what a great blessing that indeed was, one that extends to all of God's followers at this time. Hence, the author of the book of Hebrews writes to "the general assembly and church of the firstborn, written in heaven" (Heb. 12:23).
Unbelievers--people not of the church of the firstborn--by contrast, suffer a different fate. Their names aren't written in heaven. But notice also that their names aren't blotted out of heaven. Rather, they are blotted out from under heaven (that is, from under the sky), at least as stated twice in the book of Deuteronomy. In both cases, God is addressing the Israelites. In the first, God is angry at Israel for its worship of a golden calf. "Let me alone," he says, "that I may destroy them, and blot out their name from under heaven" (Deut. 9:14). In the second case, Moses has just recounted the blessings and cursings that Israel will reap for either keeping the covenant they've made with God or breaking it. For anyone who breaks it, who turns away from God to follow other gods, "[T]he Lord will not spare him, . . . and the Lord shall blot out his name from under heaven" (Deut. 29:20).
However, the blessings and cursings that God recounts to Israel as elements of his covenant in Deuteronomy 28 are physical: "Blessed shalt thou be in the city, and blessed shalt thou be in the field. . . . Cursed shalt thou be in the city, and cursed shalt thou be in the field" (v. 3, 16). As the elements of the covenant are physical, the blotting out is a blotting out of physical life. The Israelites were not being offered eternal life, not being offered a place in the new Jerusalem. As the author of Hebrews states, the priests of Israel "serve unto the example and shadow of heavenly things, as Moses was admonished of God when he was about to make the tabernacle: for, See, saith he, that thou make all things according to the pattern shown to thee in the mount" (Heb. 8:5). Hence, as Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:48-50, "As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy: and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly. And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly. Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption." There remains then, even though Israel's name was blotted out--physically--from under heaven, a hope for Israel, an eternal and lasting hope. "For finding fault with them," the author of Hebrews goes on to write,
he saith, Behold the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they continued not in my covenant, and I regarded them not, saith the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people. . . . For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more. (Heb. 8:8-10, 12)
When does this occur? After the millennium, at the second resurrection, when, as has already been established, God puts flesh again on the bones of those who have died and then gives those people his spirit so that they can better obey the laws they previously had written only on stone. Once that time of judgment passes, "death and hell [are] cast into the lake of fire" (Rev. 20:14)--all move into eternal, incorruptible living bodies, save those who are judged unworthy, who continue in "sin wilfully after that [they] have received the knowledge of the truth, [and] there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins" (Heb. 10:26). These then experience a "second death" (Rev. 20:14, emphasis mine), a "fiery indignation, which shall devour" (Heb. 10:27).
This law written in people's minds and hearts brings us back to another type of book (or one might say books) of life in scripture--the scriptures themselves. In the books labeled as poetry in the Old Testament--Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes--wisdom and understanding are frequently noted as bringing or preserving life. Solomon, who had particular interest in wisdom and understanding, especially makes this connection in his writings. In Ecclesiastes 7:12, for instance, he writes, "For wisdom is a defence, and money is a defence: but the excellency of knowledge is, that wisdom giveth life to them that have it." In Solomon's Proverbs we're told that "whoso findeth me [wisdom] findeth life, and shall obtain favour of the Lord" (Prov. 8:35). Similarly, Proverbs 16:22 asserts that "[u]nderstanding is a wellspring of life unto him that hath it." In Proverbs 14:27, Solomon connects this understanding--and thus life--to God when he writes, "The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life." So too David wrote that understanding and life come from God when he made this request in Psalm 119:144: "The righteousness of thy testimonies is everlasting: give me understanding, and I shall live."
Ancient Israel was given such understanding--and thus access to a type of life, a longer life in the land that God gave to them--when God presented to them his law. If the "fear of the Lord is a fountain of life," as the Proverbs state, Deuteronomy shows that that fear is connected to God's law. "Gather me the people together," God says in Moses's recounting of the events at Mount Horeb,
and I will make them here my words, that they may learn to fear me all the days that they shall live upon the earth, and that they may teach their children. And ye came near and stood under the mountain; and the mountain burned with fire unto the midst of heaven, with darkness, clouds, and thick darkness. And the Lord spake unto you out of the midst of the fire . . . And he declared unto you his covenant, which he commanded you to perform, even ten commandments; and he wrote them upon two tables of stone. And the Lord commanded me at that time to teach you statutes and judgments, that ye might do them in the land whither ye go to over to possess it. (Deut. 4:10-14)
Fearing God meant keeping his commandments--obeying the words that God had set down on stone. Later in the same book, Israel is told that the words themselves are life, adding impetus to the reason they are to be observed: "Set your hearts unto all the words which I testify among you this day, which ye shall command your children to observe to do, all the words of this law. For it is not a vain thing for you; because it is your life: and through this thing ye shall prolong your days in the land, whither ye go over Jordan to possess it" (Deut. 32:46-47). But beyond the words themselves, God also told the children of Israel that he himself was life, and thus obedience to his law was integral to living: "I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live: That thou mayest love the Lord thy God, and that thou mayest obey his voice, and that thou mayest cleave unto him: for he is thy life, and the length of thy days" (Deut. 30:19-20). Failing to obey means that one rejects knowledge that God has made available, knowledge that brings life--and in this sense the knowledge one has is important to God. "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge," God would say of Israel many years after the people had come to live in the Promised Land, "because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, . . . seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children" (Hos. 4:6).
Just as ancient Israel was told that God's words--indeed, his laws--are life, the same is no less true of people in Christ's day or even today. "[W]hat good thing shall I do," a young man asked Jesus during his time here on earth, "that I may have eternal life?" Jesus's reply was simple: "[I]f thou will enter into life, keep the commandments," and the commandments he went on to begin listing were the ten commandments (Matt. 19:16-19). Just as ancient Israel had been told that that law was life, that the fear of God was keeping that law, and that that fear was also life, so it was true of people even into Christ's day. Nothing, in that sense, had changed, nor has it, nor, as one searches more deeply into the scripture, was it any different for those preceding Israel's establishment.
The fact is that the commandments present a way to the tree of life referenced way back at the start of mankind in Genesis 2:9. But Adam, the first man, chose another tree referenced in the same scripture, the tree of knowledge of good and evil, from which he was told not to eat (Gen. 2:17); thus, Adam and his descendents were removed from the presence of the tree of life: "Behold," God said after Adam had made his decision, "the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever: Therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken. So he drove out the man: and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life" (Gen. 3:22-24). In Proverbs 3:13-18, we learn that wisdom itself is a tree of life: "Happy is the man that findeth wisdom, and the man that getteth understanding. For the merchandise of it is better than the merchandise of silver, and the gain thereof than fine gold. She is more precious than rubies: and all the things thou canst desire are not to be compared to her. Length of days is in her right hand; and in her left hand riches and honour. Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace. She is a tree of life to them that lay hold upon her: and happy is every one that retaineth her." But as has already been noted, wisdom itself relates to the fear of God and the fear of God to his commandments. And in Revelation 22:14, we see that the commandments, in the end, are intimately tied to that tree of life at the beginning: "Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life." Without the commandments, without obedience to God's law, to God's very words, one cannot gain access to the tree. One cannot have life. Thus, it should be no surprise, when Jesus Christ himself, quoting Deuteronomy 8:3, told Satan, "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God" (Matt. 4:4). Thus, God's scriptures are also a kind of "book of life" to those who follow them.
It is not by accident that Christ himself is also called the Word, for ultimately only in him, beyond the law alone, do human beings have a chance at life. "In the beginning was the Word," we are told in John 1:1-4, "and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of man" (verse 14 makes clear that the Word was the one who "was made flesh, and dwelt among us . . . the only begotten of the Father"). Romans 5:12 notes that all have sinned and thus earned death: "Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned." If we are judged by our works, and our works necessarily involve sin, which in turn brings upon us the death penalty, then there remains no hope for any human being in the judgment. However, as previously noted, God promises to blot out our sins--if we repent, if we turn toward his law--and thus judge us worthy of life. "Let him know," James writes, "that he which converteth a sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins" (James 5:20). Therefore, as Psalm 62:12 says, to God "belongeth mercy: for [he] rendereth to every man according to his work"--but only the works not blotted from a person's record.
Key to having works blotted from that record is not only repentance and a turn to the law of God but also a turn toward Christ himself--an understanding that only through his death are one's sins able to be blotted out. Humans are to confess Christ and his way--to know him and to follow his instructions. "Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me," Christ tells his disciples in Mark 8:38, "and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels." If a person doesn't confess Christ--doesn't follow him--then Christ is given no reason to confess that person in the judgment. Christ describes the process of the judgment this way in Luke 12:
For there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; neither hid, that shall not be known. Therefore whatsoever ye have spoken in darkness shall be heard in the light; and that which ye have spoken in the ear in closets shall be proclaimed upon the housetops. And I say unto you my friends, Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear: Fear him, which after he hath killed hath the power to cast into hell; yea, I say unto you, Fear him. . . . Also I say unto you, Whosoever shall confess me before men, him shall the Son of man also confess before the angels of God: But he that denieth me before men shall be denied before the angels of God. (Luke 12:2-5, 8-9)
Here, Christ says he won't confess this person's name to the angels, but Revelation 3:5 makes clear that the confession extends to the Father himself: "He that overcometh . . . I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels." Christ confesses a person's name, this scripture appears to be saying, because it appears in the book of life.
Thus one meaning of a person's name being written in heaven is that Christ knows, or remembers, that person's name and confesses it before his Father and the angels so that they know that person's name too. In layman's turn, Christ "knows" the person and vouches for him or her, the same way a character witness vouches for someone in a court of law. "I am the good shepherd," Christ says in John 10:14-15, "and know my sheep, and am known of mine. As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep." He puts his reputation on the line for us, even to the point of death, removing our sins so that we take on his sinless record. Knowing passes both ways, however: if the sheep stray, they lose contact with the shepherd, and the shepherd loses contact with them, and eventually they may no longer recognize one another. Conversely, if the sheep follow, then the two continue to know one another and to get to know one another better.
Christ also talks of adding other sheep. "And other sheep I have," he says a verse later, "which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd" (John 10:16), even as Isaiah prophesied, "The Lord God which gathereth the outcasts of Israel saith, Yet will I gather others to him, beside those that are gathered unto him" (Isa. 56:8). These prophecies were fulfilled, in part, in the calling of the Gentiles to the Christian faith, as Paul makes explicit in such places as Romans 9:24-25: "Even us, whom he hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles? As he saith also in Osee, I will call them my people, which were not my people; and her beloved, which was not beloved." However, there are still other sheep to come. Israel, which formally rejected God, for one, is also to be redeemed, as Paul makes clear in Romans 11:
And they [Israelites] also, if they abide not still in unbelief, shall be grafted in: for God is able to graft them in again. For if thou [Gentiles] wert cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and wert grafted contrary to nature into a good olive tree: how much more shall these, which be the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree? . . . And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Zion the Deliverer, and shall turn away the ungodliness from Jacob: For this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins. . . . For God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that he might have mercy upon all. (Rom. 11:23-24, 26-27, 32)
Through God's forgiveness and mercy--mercy that he wishes to extend to all--Israel is allowed back into God's good grace, if, as Romans 11:22 says, they "continue in his goodness." Because formerly they had not, God cut them off--a warning to all who might at this point be under that goodness.
It's important then to understand how one continues in such goodness. Matthew 7:21-23 provides a large part of that answer. Here, we learn what Christ's knowing a given person depends on: "Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity." It's not enough to use the name of Christ--being judged worthy to enter God's kingdom depends on one's doing the Father's will. And what is that will? "If you love me," Christ says, "keep my commandments. . . . He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him" (John 14:15, 21).
And if one fails, if one breaks a commandment, sins? What hope has such a person--has any person--since all fail from time to time? The scripture notes that Christ is not only the "Word"--the source of wisdom--but also the bread. Both, as it turns out, are needed for life. "Man shall not live by bread alone," Matthew 4:4 says. Bread still plays a part. But what kind of bread? Christ, as it turns out, is also that bread we need should we wish to be judged worthy to enter into eternal life: "I am the bread of life," he says in John 6, "he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst. . . . I am that living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world. . . . He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him. As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father, so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me" (John 6:35, 51, 56-57). This bread, as is made plain in the Passover service, as noted in Matthew 26:26, is Christ's body, the life that he laid down for each human being, each sheep (John 10:15). Hence, Christ is both the source of wisdom, which provides life when we follow it, and the source of mercy, which allows us to continue living when we fail.
God's writings, thus, consist in several interrelated things. We see, in scripture, that God keeps a record of all of our works, all the things that we have done. We see that God has a book of names, which if we obey him, our names are not blotted out of. And finally God has a book of wisdom, which consists in his commandments and which instructs us in the works we are to do if we are to keep our names in that other book and thus have life. And where we fail, God shows mercy to us by allowing that record of our works to be altered so that our sins are expunged rather than our names. And all of this is made possible through God himself called the Word, which is what a book in itself is made up of, and which is also the foundation of our life. In this way, then, as John 20:31 says, we all ultimately have "life through [Christ's] name."