11 The Book of Life

In the second section of this book we delve more deeply into the book of Revelation itself, looking for patterns and structural features, and also taking note of the lessons concerning discipleship. Those who have already discovered, by their own research, what a fascinating book the Apocalypse is, would probably have preferred Part Two to have come first. Indeed, this would have been more logical: but as explained in the INTRODUCTION, there were other considerations.

For the most part, the conclusions presented in this section are not dependent on those already discussed. They can be judged on their own supporting evidence.

The author's prayer is that this study will stimulate interest and provide suggestions that will help to open up the Lord's last message to his people.

The spiritual content of Revelation

The Lord Jesus is referred to as a lamb no less than 27 times in the Apocalypse. This is an insistent reminder that the Lord's sacrificial work is relevant all the time, and that exhortation in Revelation is not confined to the seven letters.

Revelation is full of spiritual instruction. Devotional themes, woven into the prophetic messages, are a part of the course of instruction that is designed to prepare us for the great day.

The theme relating to the book of life is a good example of a thought sequence that provides both factual knowledge and exhortation.

There are two great prophetic climaxes in Revelation — in chapters 11 and 20. In the first of these the opening of the book of life is implied; in the second, it is spoken of explicitly. Our purpose now is to survey the sequences that lead to the occasion when this book of destiny is opened:

The seven-sealed book

The story begins in chapter 4. John is invited to go through an open door into heaven. As readers, we are privileged to share his experience and go with him.

We find ourselves in a temple.1 The central figure is the Almighty Himself, to whom the words are addressed: "Thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created."

God is represented (in chapter 5) as holding in His right hand a seven-sealed book. The proposition submitted here is that this is the book of life. The evidence for this proposition will be discussed shortly; for the moment let us assume that it is true, and see where it takes us.

Only the Lamb is worthy to open the book. The seals, which are all on the outside, have to be removed — all of them — before the book can be opened.

The servants of God have been waiting for their reward. Now that the Lamb has overcome and holds in his hand the book of destiny, their waiting period is over — or so they think. Not so! All seven seals have to be removed from the scroll before it can be opened. Although the Lamb has overcome, certain things have to happen first; various processes — appropriately represented as seals that prevent the immediate opening of the book — have to run their course. Horsemen must go forth and pursue their different purposes; souls under the altar, whose blood cries out for vengeance, must wait until further martyrs have endured; earthquakes and heaven-quakes portend the removal of all human institutions, and human pride must be prostrated; there must be a period of silence in heaven. Thus we are led on to the dramatic climax, when all sequences have been fulfilled and when the Lord Jesus Christ is seated on the great white throne. Then the book of life is opened, and quick and dead are judged.

All the seals are on the outside.

All the seals must be broken before the scroll can be opened.

The evidence

Now to the evidence that the seven-sealed book is the book of life:

1. Here is a book of immense consequence. The Almighty holds it in His hand; it is sealed with seven seals; John weeps greatly because no one is able to respond to the angelic appeal; the Lamb alone is worthy to open the book; three songs of praise are sung — ultimately involving all creation.

2. Prophets like Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel were permitted to unfold prophetic programmes. Yet only the Lord Jesus is worthy to open this book. It must therefore be more than a book of prophecy.

3. The One who opens the book is described as "a Lamb as it had been slain". Is it mere coincidence that the book is referred to as "the Lamb's book of life" (21:27), and also as "the book of life of the Lamb slain" (13:8)?

4. Think now of the words: "Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thouwast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood . . ." (5:9). It is the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus and his redemptive work that qualify him to open the book. How appropriate if this book contains the names of the redeemed.

5. The next piece of evidence should be followed carefully. The reader is earnestly requested to do this.

For the moment we shall put out of our minds the proposition that this is the book of life. Here is a seven-sealed scroll. Clearly it is a book of extraordinary importance, but (let us say) its contents are a mystery to us.

We note that three songs of praise are connected in some way with this book. The first is sung by the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders, when the Lamb is found worthy, but before the book is opened. The second song is sung by a great company of angels ("Ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands" — verse 11); and the occasion could well be when the book — whatever it contains! — is opened. The third song is sung by all creation ("every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them ..." — verse 13); and the occasion would surely be when God's purpose with all created things — with which, in some way, this book has to do — is completely fulfilled.

The suggestion has been made that the second song of praise was sung by the great company of angels on the occasion of the opening of this great, mysterious book. Now see the significance of the fact, clearly demonstrated by reference to other scriptures, that this great company of angels is assembled when the book of life is opened. This provides an excellent reason for believing that the book in question is the book of life.

It remains then to provide the evidence that the second song of praise, referred to in Revelation 5:11,12, is sung on the occasion when the book of life is opened. It is based on links with two other passages: Daniel 7:10 and Revelation 20:11,12. The words of all three passages are set out here for comparison:

"And I beheld, and I heard the voice of many angels round about the throne and the beasts and the elders: and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands; saying with a loud voice, Worthy is the Lamb ..." (Revelation 5:11,12).

"I beheld till the thrones were cast down, and the Ancient of days did sit ... A fiery stream issued and came forth from before him: thousand thousands ministered unto him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him: the judgment was set, and the books were opened" (Daniel 7:9,10). "And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. 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" (Revelation 20:11,12). First, notice the similarity of language in Revelation 5:11 and Daniel 7:10. The reference to thousand thousands and ten thousand times ten thousand is common to them both. Evidently these are two accounts of the same occasion.

Now notice the link between Daniel 7:10 and Revelation 20:12. The expression, "the books were opened" is common to them both. So Daniel 7:10 and Revelation 20:11,12 also seem to be two accounts of the same occasion.

The rest hardly needs saying. Because the passage from Revelation 5:11,12 refers to the same occasion as Daniel 7:9,10, and because Daniel 7:9,10 refers to the same occasion as Revelation 20: 11,12 — it follows that Revelation 5:11,12 and Revelation 20:11, 12 are two descriptions of the same occasion.

And such an occasion! Revelation 20:12 provides the extra information that this is the occasion when the book of life is opened — "••• and another book was opened, which is the book of life . . •" This provides us with almost mathematical proof that Revelation 5:11,12 is the occasion of the opening of the book of life. Already we have seen that the chapter is concerned with a book of immense consequence. This is altogether understandable because it is the book of life.

This means that the seven-sealed book contains the names of the redeemed.

A difficulty?

It may be thought that the information given in Revelation 6 does not support the conclusion that the seven-sealed book is the book of life. According to Revelation 6 (some would contend) the seven-sealed book contains the four horsemen, the souls under the altar, etc., and not the names of the redeemed.

An answer to this objection has already been provided - on page 127. It was explained that although the Lamb has overcome, certain things have to happen first; certain processes, that are fittingly represented as seals that prevent the immediate opening of the book, have first to run their course.

A word here about the mechanics of sealing and unsealing. It will be appreciated that the book is a scroll. We are told that John saw a book, sealed with seven seals. Certainly it reads as if he saw the seven seals, and this would only have been possible if they were all on the outside.2 This would, after all, have been the straightforward way of sealing a scroll. I knew a person who once tried to seal a home-made scroll with seven seals, only one of which was on the outside. He confessed that he got into great difficulties, ultimately producing a "very lumpy" scroll.

Now consider. Despite the fact that Scripture and common sense point to the conclusion that all the seals would have been on the outside, those who regard the horsemen of chapter 6 as a part of the contents of the scroll have to reject this view. According to them, there is only one seal on the outside — only one visible seal. When this outer seal is removed, and the scroll is unrolled to a small extent, a horseman on a white horse is seen — presumably it is thought of as a vivid picture within the book. The partial unrolling of the scroll exposes the second seal, which has hitherto been buried beneath the outer convolutions of the scroll. When the second seal is openerl, a second horse appears; and access is then provided to the third seal. And so on ...

This will not do. Because all the seven seals are on the outside

of the scroll, all have to be removed before the scroll can be unrolled. For this reason the prophetic processes of Revelation 6 are not to be regarded as the contents of the seven-sealed scroll. Instead, they are to be thought of as things that have to happen before the scroll — the book of life — is opened; and they are set in motion by the unsealing operations. These processes bridge the gulf between the time when the Lamb is found worthy to open the book of life and the time when the book is actually opened.

The four horsemen

When the first seal is loosed from the book of life, one of the four living creatures says, "Come".3 The removal of the seal is the signal for the call, and in response a horseman appears, riding on a white horse. (Remember: the scroll itself — the book of life — is still rolled up.)

Then the second seal is removed from the book of life. The second living creature says, "Come". A second horseman appears. And then a third; and a fourth.

The Scriptures themselves explain the symbolism. From Zecha-riah 1:10 we learn that horsemen are symbols of those "whom the Lord hath sent to walk to and fro through the earth". Consistent with this is the statement in Zechariah 6:5 that the horses of Zechariah's vision, there described, are "the four spirits [or winds] of the heavens, which go forth from standing before the Lord of all the earth." Here then are instruments or agents of various kinds, subject to God's over-ruling authority, who affect the earth in various ways. The horsemen are responsible for the conditions in the areas over which they march; the colour of the horses and the other details are clues to the ways in which they affect the earth.

The theory that the four horsemen are to be thought of as representing four consecutive periods of history is without scriptural foundation. There is no indication that one horseman completes his mission before the next begins. On the contrary, the fact that we read of two of them much later in the book of Revelation and much later in time indicates that their careers run roughly parallel. Of course one can dominate for a while, and seem to eclipse the activity of another, but they are all there, pursuing their courses.

The fact that similar horsemen are seen in Zechariah implies that the conditions associated with their activities are not restricted to the period extending from the time when the Lamb is found worthy to open the book to the time when the book is opened. They have been before, and there are indications that at least one of the horsemen will continue his work for some time after the book of life has been opened. But the important fact in this context is that, though the saints might have imagined immediate and dramatic changes when the Lamb's worthiness is established, there must be a waiting period corresponding to the time when the horsemen fulfil their missions.

Scripture can help us to understand the details. The first horseman is mounted on a white horse. Chapter 19 also speaks of a rider on a white horse, and we should look for connections between the two passages. Because there are differences of detail between the 'white-horse' visions of chapters 6 and 19, some expositors have, unfortunately, missed these connections. It is expressly stated that the first horseman of chapter 6 goes forth conquering and to conquer; and in chapter 19 we see the final phase of the conquering career of this horseman. Because of his conquests he wears many crowns; he is followed by an army on white horses, and together they destroy the beast and the false prophet and their armies.

One important detail concerning the white horse could easily be overlooked: "He treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God" (19:15). The figure is an Old Testament one — Isaiah and Joel come to mind;4 and it is also referred to in Revelation 14. It is an operation associated with the conquering career of the rider of the white horse. This explains the mysterious words of 14:20: "And the winepress was trodden without the city, and blood came out of the winepress, even unto the horse bridles ..."

There is a reminder in chapter 19 (in a context concerning the bride, the Lamb's wife) that white stands for righteousness — verse 8. The same chapter also defines the mission of the rider of the white horse: "And I saw ... a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war" (verse 11). This symbol therefore means judgment and war by a righteous agent.

A word now about the fourth horse. In some respects this is easier to understand than the second and third, to which we shall return. The rider of the fourth horse is called Death, and (it is stated) Hell follows. This grisly team is at large and at work until "death and hell were cast into the lake of fire" (20:14). Needless to say, death and hell have been at work ever since the transgression in Eden. John has already been reminded of their existence by the Lord's claim that he has the keys of hell and of death. But it is appropriate to be reminded of their continued existence,

despite the fact that the Lamb now holds in his hand the book of life. The "king of terrors" is the last enemy that will be destroyed. The Lord's words to John, recorded in Revelation 1:18, supply valuable information about the fourth horseman and his follower: "I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death." There are two claims and two keys. Of himself the Lord claims

1) that he has come forth from the grave; and 2) that he will never die again. In other words: 1) he has been raised from the dead, and 2) he has been made immortal. By using the two keys he can do for others what God has done for him — 1) raise them from the dead; 2) make them immortal.

Hell therefore refers to physical death — the key of hell unlocks the grave. Death refers to mortality —the dying condition. By using the second key, the Lord is able to release people from the prison of their mortal natures and enable them to live for ever.

Since the same two words, death and hell, are paired together in other parts of Revelation, consistency requires that they should be understood in the same way. So the grim symbolism of the fourth seal portrays Mortality stalking the earth. And the inevitable consequence is that physical death destroys men, putting them into their graves: Hell follows hard behind.

It is interesting to observe that these killers not only work by 'natural' means, but a fourth part of their work is accounted for by the destructive power associated with the other horsemen: "And power was given unto them [death and hell]... to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth"(6:8).

It may be fitting to make the point here that there is bound to be a tentative element about the exposition of some of these details relating to the seals. There is great scope for further research. But it would be unreasonable to reject the main thesis because of differences of opinion concerning some of these details. The main thesis does not stand or fall according to one's interpretation of all the details of the seal prophecies.

What then of the other horsemen? The rider of the second (the red) horse is given power to take peace from the earth. It is also stated that he is given a great sword. The Lord provides a clue to the meaning of this symbol by his words in Matthew 10:34-37: "Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father . . . And a man's foes shall be they of his own household. He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me ..."

The Lord foresaw that there would be division and bloodshed as a consequence of his preaching. Since people would not expect the preaching of peace by the Prince of Peace to result in fighting, the Lord has to explain that although peace is the ultimate result, in the meantime there will be war. This is why he finds it necessary to say: "Think not that I am come to send peace: I came not to send peace but a sword." This is represented by the symbol of the second horseman who is given power to take peace from the earth.

In line with this are the Lord's words in Matthew 24:9,10 (the 'Olivet' prophecy):

"Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name's sake. And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another."

The Revelation itself provides an example of the work of the rider of the red horse — in the persecution of the saints by the beast:

"And when they shall have finished their testimony, the beast that ascendeth out of the bottomless pit shall make war against them, and shall overcome them, and kill them" (11:7).

"And it was given unto him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them: and power was given him over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations" (13:7).

Likewise, the third horseman would seem to be a fitting symbol of famine and the pestilence that so often comes in its train. This is also foreseen in the 'Olivet' prophecy of Matthew 24. But (reverting to the third seal) despite the shortage of natural food, there is to be no limiting of spiritual provision, appropriately symbolised, in accordance with scripture usage, by oil and wine.5 The period of hunger comes to an end when the Lamb is enthroned — see Revelation 7:15-17.

"The souls under the altar"

The fifth seal recalls the fact that, under the Law of Moses, the blood of sacrificial animals was poured out at the base of the altar.6 It is also a reminder of the shed blood of Abel, that called out for vengeance.7 The martyrs of the fifth seal are not themselves calling for vengeance. They have died, and their forfeited lives demand God's judgment on the murderers. Because these people have already been slain, they belong to an era that is passing, or has passed. They would seem, therefore, to be faithful people who have been killed before the closing of the door of opportunity for the Jews.

Notice that they are killed "for the testimony which they held." The word here translated "testimony" is marturia the Greek word associated with witnessing. These men are therefore witnesses, but they will not receive their reward until other witnesses have also been slain. Indeed, the book of life is not to be opened yet!

The sixth seal

"And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake" (6:12).

From Hebrews 12:27 we learn that an earthquake "signifieth the removing of those things that are shaken." Here then is an impressive symbol, a dramatic prophecy of things that will be swept away. Notice that it is more than an earthquake — it is also a heaven-quake. The words that follow in Revelation 6 speak of the removal of all human institutions, all human opposition to the will of God. Thus man is humbled when he is brought to that fearful confrontation with God and the Lamb, "for the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?"

Silence in heaven

"And when he had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour" (8:1).

The seventh seal is frankly difficult to understand. Because John writes about the seven trumpets immediately after the silence of the seventh seal, it is sometimes asserted that the seventh seal 'con-tains' the seven trumpets. Whereas there is evidence that the seventh trumpet prepares the way for the seven vials, there is no evidence that the seventh seal contains the seven trumpets. (There is, however, considerable evidence that the operations that follow the sounding of the trumpets are those operations summarized in the sixth seal.8)

The silence in heaven contrasts with the thunderings and voices that proceed from the throne (e.g. Revelation 4:5). The suggestion offered here is that the silence signifies the apparent holding back of God's help when the saints are praying and waiting for the fulfilment of their prayers; and the patient waiting that is the lot of all God's true servants. "How long, O Lord?" was, in a figure, the cry of slain martyrs when the fifth seal was opened. It is also the earnest prayer of those who are still alive — who live ui the world, but are not of it. With the Psalmist they plead: "Keep not silence, O Lord."9 Of course the Lord is not slack concerning His promise: the very waiting provides an opportunity for God's servants to be sealed and made secure. Is there therefore a --.onnection between the silence in heaven and the holding back of the winds (chapter 7) until the 144,000 are sealed in their foreheads?10

The climax to a great theme

The theme relating to the book of life is a serialised drama. The beginning of chapter 8 refers to the opening of the seventh seal, but the book of life is not yet opened. This climax is described in chapter 20:11-15:

"And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. 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 the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire." This does indeed read like the climax to a great theme.

The One who sits on the great white throne is described as him "from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them." This is what happens when the sixth seal is removed. See how the sixth seal brings us straight to this great time of decision. It will be remembered that the horsemen also represent processes that bridge the great gulf of time and bring us up to the time of the end. Likewise the martyrdom referred to in the fifth seal is not restricted to one period. Some martyrs have indeed been killed — that period is over: but others are yet to be killed. The sixth seal predicts the removal of human institutions. Thus man, prostrated before tne majesty of the Almighty, is brought to judgment.

The scene is an impressive one. Resurrection. Judgment. The books are opened — would this refer to the Scriptures, the basis of judgment? At all events the dead are judged out of those things written in the books. Another book is opened — the book — the book of life! All whose names are not written in the book of life are cast into the lake of fire — a figure for complete, irrevocable destruction.

Chapter 21 completes the story: "And I saw a new heaven, and a new earth ..."

The relevance of the seal prophecies

There is a great lesson to be learned from the 'book of life' theme. It provides a constant reminder of the fact that the Lord knows those who are His. In the graphic language of the Apocalypse, the names of God's people are written in the book of life from the foundation of the world.

No names are added to this book: those who are called are already inscribed there. But there are several intimations of the sober fact that the names of those who act unworthily may be blotted out of the book of life. Many are called, but few are chosen.

The book of life is sealed up. Although the worthiness of the Lamb is established, the book is not instantly unrolled. There is a lesson in this too. The book is kept rolled up until the faith of the saints has been tested. The overall impression that one gets when witnessing the unsealings is one of trouble, suffering, martyrdom, political upheaval, destruction; though there is consolation in the thought that a righteous judge is also riding forth, and that he must ultimately prevail.

Jew and Greek

All diligent readers of Scripture will agree that the language of the seals is to a great extent the language of the Olivet prophecy. It will also be agreed that the Olivet prophecy is concerned with two sets of "last days" — the last days of Jewish opportunity, and the last days of Gentile opportunity. It should not be surprising therefore to discover that although there is a continuous element in the seal prophecies, they have a special relevance to these two end-periods. In each case the righteous judge executes decisive judgment on people whose cup of wickedness is full; in each case famine and pestilence prevail; there are Jewish martyrs whose blood calls for vengeance and there are Christian martyrs, drawn from Gentile stock, whose death also demands the vengeance of God.

Students of prophecy have not been able to agree about the application of the prophecy of the sixth seal. It bears convincing resemblance to words that are applied to the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, and the language is also very obviously language that is elsewhere applied to the end of the times of the Gentiles. There is no need for any conflict: the sixth seal applies to both times. The theme is removal — everything that stands in the way of God's eternal purpose is removed. First comes the destruction of iniquitous Jerusalem, and ultimately the destruction of the kingdoms of this world.

References and Notes

1. The 'temple' theme is discussed briefly in Part 2, chapter 12.

2. Since there were no punctuation marks in the original Greek manuscripts, an alternative reading of Revelation 5:1 is "... a book written within, and on the backside sealed with seven seals" — in other words, written within and sealed without. This is an additional point of interest, but the interpretation offered does not depend upon it.

3. Most authorities omit the "and see" of the AV.

4. Isaiah 63:1-6; Joel 3:13

5. See Matthew 25:3 and Matthew 26:27,28.

6. Leviticus 1:5

7. Genesis 4.-10

8. This theme is developed in the next chapter — Part 2, chapter 12.

9. Psalms 28:1; 35:22; 83:1; 109:1

10. This theme is developed in Part 2, chapter 13.

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