The “Book of Life” is a New Testament concept with deep roots in the Old Testament (Exodus 32:32-33; Daniel 12:12; Malachi 3:16). Believers during Old Testament times were saved by grace, through faith, as they honored the old covenant. When Jesus initiated the new covenant He told His disciples, “rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven” (Luke 10:20). Paul encouraged believers with a reminder that their names were written in the Book of Life alongside other faithful servants of Jesus (Philippians 4:3), and the author of Hebrews declared that the church comprised those “who are enrolled in heaven” (Hebrews 12:23).
In order for a person’s name to be recorded in the Book of Life, he or she must reject the notion that his or her own righteousness will suffice. As the apostle Paul wrote, “[A person] is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified” (Galatians 2:16). Believers—whose names are written in the Book of Life—are never judged by their deeds and will not be present at the great white throne judgment.
Revelation 20:12 tells us that another set of books records the good and bad deeds of every person.
At the end of all time, each person will be judged by the contents of either the Book of Life or the set of books recording his or her deeds. Anyone has the option to reject the Book of Life and have his or her life judged by the deeds recorded in the other books. If he or she has only good deeds recorded there, with no sins whatsoever, that person will be worthy of heaven. However, God’s standard is complete moral perfection. If He finds just one sin recorded there, no matter how small, the sentence will be an eternity of suffering in the lake of fire. No one except the Son of God has ever lived without sinning (2 Corinthians 5:21). And because we are all humans with depraved natures, living in a fallen world, no one ever will (Romans 3:23).
Fortunately, we have the opportunity today to choose which record will be used at the end of time. However, when we die, it will be too late. When all people stand before God—the believers to receive rewards, the unbelievers at the great white throne to receive punishment—He will merely mete out the consequences of the choice we made while on earth.
How do we receive eternal life? One word—Christ.
And when should we make that choice? Again, one word—now.
John’s purpose in describing the great white throne judgment is clear. With chilling simplicity and candor, he reveals the eternal consequences of rejecting God’s free gift of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. This decision must not be postponed, for anyone’s life could end before sunrise tomorrow. At the moment of his or her death, the decision a person makes will be sealed forever.
What Happens to a Person After Death?
“And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment.” (Hebrews 9:27)
|At Death||Bodily Resurrection||Judgment||Eternal Destination|
|Christian||Soul—Christ’s PresenceBody—Grave||Resurrection at the Rapture||Judgment Seat of Christ in Heaven||Heaven|
|Old Testament Believer||Soul— Paradise; Abraham’s BosomBody—Grave||Resurrection at Christ’s Second Coming||Judgment on Earth||Heaven|
|Tribulation Believer||Soul—Christ’s PresenceBody—Grave||Resurrection at Christ’s Second Coming||Judgment on Earth||Heaven|
|Unbeliever||Soul—Sheol; HadesBody—Grave||Resurrection at the End of the Millennium||Judgment at the Great White Throne||Hell; Gehenna; Lake of Fire|
Adapted from Revelation—Unveiling the End, Act 3: The Final Curtain Bible Companion (Plano, Tex.: IFL Publishing House, 2007). Used by permission.