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Friday, February 7, 2020

The Revelation - Part 8 - Book of Life, Lake of Fire, and the Second Death Etc

Step Back from Tradition

We noted in our last study we'd briefly look at the GREAT WHITE THRONE, the BOOK OF LIFE, the SECOND DEATH, and the LAKE OF FIRE.

As we constantly stress on this blog, and throughout this study, we must get the traditional and orthodox view of all things in scripture falling into the heaven/hell or saved/lost constructs out of our thinking. As the vast majority of scripture is directed at believers and companies of different believers in different ages, we must recognize that this includes some of the warnings of scripture.

When we looked at the seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3, we noted that the warnings and promises are spoken by the Lord to believers. We will note some of these to further establish this context.

The Book of Life

The idea that The Book of Life is the list of all who have immortal life is extremely problematic. Those who start there are forced to try and explain away how anyone can have a free gift by faith and grace only to have his name "blotted out" of the book based on his works.

Those who preach the heresy and blasphemy of salvation by faith plus works run into a hard and high wall in the promises of life by grace alone as a free gift obtained by faith alone. These blaspheme the work of Christ on Calvary and claim God is in their debt. This study is not an examination of that heretical doctrine (and its brother, "maintaining" a free gift). We note it only to dispense with the notion in regard to the Book of Life. We are coming from the assumption that readers understand that the work of Christ is complete and life beyond the grave is a free gift by grace alone.

Evangelicals are, thus, left to ponder this "blotting" out. Once we get our heads above the traditions of men and allow the scriptures to speak consistently, the book and its contents come into clearer view.

The Book of Life is mentioned seven times in the Revelation. The number 7 is prominent in the Revelation (the number of spiritual maturity/perfection). We will address that later, but I did want to keep that in front of us. It speaks to the divine nature and inspiration of the Revelation. In our last study, I posted all the uses of the Greek word for "former" in the Revelation. It is used seven times (although this is lost in the English translations).

I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfect before God. Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent. Therefore if you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you. You have a few names even in Sardis who have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with Me in white, for they are worthy. He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.

-Rev 3:1-5

In chapters 13 and 17 of the Revelation, we see those who marvel at the Beast and who worship the Beast. They are those "whose names are not written in the Book of Life from the foundation of the world." This appears to be those who were never in the Book of Life. 

We note the words "from the foundation [overthrow] of the world." We pause to reiterate that the current company of believers (current age) are said to be chosen in him from "before the foundation of the world" (Eph 1:4).  we must always know to which family of God scripture is speaking if we are to properly divide and interpret it.

The promises to Israel (and to certain Gentiles through Israel) were made known "since" or "from" the foundation of this age. Those in Revelation 13 and 17 are not written in the book. I have stated that this implies that they were never in the Book of Life. Even if we allow that these are those since blotted out from the beginning, it doesn't change the assertion that the verses referring to those blotted out are believers. We will look at them in their contexts.

If we note the words "are not written" and "have not been written," it suggest these were never in the book. Young's Literal Translation renders the phrase as "have not been written" in both chapters. If this is the case, then we can quickly dispense with the idea that all men are in the Book until blotted out by unbelief. That's a very messy doctrine and really difficult to maintain as consistent for the all seven instances in the Revelation. 

The most consistent understanding of being written in the Book, which fits all instances, is that men enter the Book by faith, but must maintain faithfulness unto death or by sacrificial works to the end to remain in it. It is a Book of works. Therefore, it cannot be a book of salvation (in the evangelical sense). Since we know nothing "shall be able to separate us from the love of God" (Rom 8:39), we know it cannot be a book of immortal life.

"Salvation" or "saved" in scripture must be understood in context as well. In a Jewish context, it can mean entrance into the kingdom. The idea is "rescue." We can be "rescued" from the punishment of death that haunts all men or a Jew could be "rescued" from rejection from the promises. The Lord says some will be "saved" if the "endure to the end." This is also true of other things in scripture such as "eternal life" and "justification." 

So we move on to the place of the Book of Life in the judgments in the Revelation.

The Great White Throne

Then I saw a great white throne and Him who 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, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.

-Rev 20:11-15

Here we are at the GREAT WHITE THRONE judgment. Remember, the Judgment Seat of Christ judgment of believers (Rom, 2 Cor) involves the testing of the works of a believer by a metaphorical fire. Some will "suffer loss" and some will be rewarded. Some may be "ashamed," but even these will be saved "as if by fire" (notice the metaphorical language). We have no trouble seeing fire as metaphorical in that case.

The judgement here in the Revelation involves "books" (plural) and is limited to "works" (repeated in the passage). The Book of Life is part of this judgment, but it is not the whole of the judgment. We note again that only believers have our works and our service judged. Only believers are warned about being blotted out of the Book of Life.

Why the plural "books?" There is a case to be made that the Book of Life assumes martyrdom which would not apply to all believers. However, there are specific verses mentioning those who gave their lives in the Tribulation connected to rewards.

We also want to note here James' promise of the Crown of Life to those who endure temptation (James 1:12). James is written to 'the twelve tribes" (James 1:1). The Tribulation will have many temptations. Part of the promise to the faithful Philadelphia Church: "Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try [test, tempt] them that dwell upon the earth." The word "earth" here is the Greek word "ge." In a number of places it is translated "land," in come case as part of "the land of Israel."

Whether the Book of Life is specific to martyrdom and the other books witness to faithful service short of death, we do not know. But all of the books testify to works.

The Second Death

We turn back again to the warnings to the churches in regard to the Second Death. We find this possibility in the Lord's message to the persecuted church at Smyrna. It is juxtaposed against a reward. Not just any reward, but it contrasted with the "Crown of Life." We immediately see that since this "Life" is named in a reward, it is not the gift of immortal life as that cannot be earned. We note yet again, that the same word may have a different meaning depending on its context. I repeat this truth, because tradition often locks men into conclusions which are indefensible or inconsistent. Confusion is the result.

Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death.

-Rev 2:10-11

The Crown of Life is promised to faithful martyrs. This is our first clue as to how some with attain unto certain honors in the ages to come. In this case, "death" is the qualifier. The "overcomer" is the subject of the Revelation (beginning and ending). The reward in Revelation 21 gives us what the overcomer is not associated with. We will now look at those in light of the Second Death and its relation to the Lake of Fire.

The phrase "Second Death" appears four times in the Revelation (four is the number of the creation, things that are seen, the earth).

The Lake of Fire

He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son. But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.

-Rev 21:7-8

The phrase "Lake of Fire" appears only in the Revelation (four times as well, connected to the things that are seen, the creation, the earth).

As an aside, we must make a distinction between a "child" and a "son." All sons are children, but not all children are sons. A son is one who has a claim to an inheritance. Unfortunately, and inexplicably, the King James Version confuses these two. That's a shame because the distinction makes a difference in interpretation. Suffice it to say for this post, we can see that "sonship" is connected to being an overcomer which is connected to being faithful unto death and/or having good works.

In Matthew 8, it is "the sons of the kingdom" who are cast into outer darkness. The context there is a believing Gentile with great faith against the heirs of the kingdom, Jews. Some, through lack of faith or disobedience, who had a claim to the kingdom will be cast out while some Gentiles will sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob "in the kingdom of heaven."  The "outer darkness" appears in two parables in the Jewish book of Matthew; involving service and works. The "weeping and gnashing" in Matthew 8 also appears in parables and is connected to servants, works, and the kingdom.

In our passage in Revelation 21, we note the word "but." This starts this comparison. We have noted in numerous studies (and earlier in our study on the Revelation) that Christians are capable of terrible things. We have seen that Christians have a choice between walking in the new nature or walking in the flesh; walking in light or walking in darkness. We've seen lists of wicked acts and thoughts presented as possible for believers. We've seen the Lord warning believers about having their carcasses thrown into "Gehenna" the place of unquenchable fire in Isaiah 66.

All of these things are related and, in light of the full counsel of God in scripture, we know that "fire" is often used as a metaphor for destruction. In the case of believers, it it used (as we have seen) as the figure for testing our works and service and then destroying any worthless works. The parables speak of metaphorical fires. Colossians 3 (for this age) tells us we will answer for all deeds done in the body. Judgment of service and works is present all through scripture. We lose this in a simplistic saved/lost or heaven/hell dichotomy.

The Lake was created for the Devil and his angels as stated by the Lord in Matthew 25. There, those entering this fire are "nations"  We cannot ignore the context in Revelation 21 either. We stress again the context of these passages.

When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: and before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats.

-Matt 25:31-32

  • Time: "When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him"
  • Place: "then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory"
  • People: "before him shall be gathered all nations"
  • Criteria: Works in regard to Israel (his brethren) (vs.41-45)
  • Punishment: Fire and everlasting punishment (vs. 41, 46)
  • Reward:"the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world" (vs. 34, 46)

The Lord says "the King" is the one speaking (v.34). And we note again the kingdom here is "from" the foundation of the world. It involves the earth and earthly promises. The context of the entire discourse is "the end of the age" (Matt 24:3)

It is foolish to use this passage and apply it to all men of all ages. As with the other judgments, there is no mention of faith at all here. This is not an evangelical salvation passage. The other parables in Matthew 25 involve "virgins" and "servants." The "wise" virgins are juxtaposed against the "foolish" virgins. The "good and faithful" servants are set against the "wicked and lazy" servant.  Israel is called "Virgin Israel" in Jeremiah and "servants" in the Law.

Parable of  the Virgins
  • Reward: entrance into the wedding feast
  • Punishment: denial of entrance

Parable of the Talents
  • Reward: ruler over many things
  • Punishment: cast into outer darkness

Faithfulness and service are being judged. nations are being judged. A kingdom, a wedding, ruling over many, rejection, outer darkness, and fire are all through this discourse about "the end of the age." Works are being judged. In the previous chapter the Lord warns his servants to be faithful until he comes. He speaks of Israel as the Fig Tree. We must mark these things and rightly divide.

Matthew 24 and 25 are parallel passages to the Revelation.

When we come to the judgments at the end of the Revelation, we see similar figurative language. First, we note judgment at the end of the Tribulation, and then again at the Great White Throne and, finally in regard to entrance into the New Jerusalem ("the city whose builder and maker is God" sought by those striving for a "better resurrection" in Hebrews 11).

The Distinguishing Marks of Those Who Suffer Loss

But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.” -Rev 21:8
But there shall by no means enter it anything that defiles, or causes an abomination or a lie, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. -Rev 21:27

We can find these things connected to Christians walking in the flesh, walking in darkness, throughout the gospels, Acts, Acts Age epistles, Post Acts epistles, and in the Revelation. The hopes and rewards may differ, but in all, if the believer wants the reward in view, he must "qualify."

Those subject to the Second Death and those refused entrance into the New Jerusalem led wicked lives and were not faithful. Remember the conditions for ruling in the coming age.

And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was committed to them. Then I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands. And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years... Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years. -Rev 20:4, 6

  • Lived and reigned with him vs not reigning
  • Second Death had no power over them vs being subject to the Second Death
  • They shall be priests vs cast out of the kingdom

Do not read gift of life into "the kingdom." If you do, you will find great confusion in scripture.

The rewards and loss in the Revelation all pertain to Israel, the earthly kingdom,. the covenants and promises. If we want to be consistent in regard to the Lord's ministry to Israel, we must line up all these scriptures. When we do, a clearer picture emerges..

Charles Welch sums up the relationship of these judgments found in the Revelation:
Someone who was timid, who had flinched under the dreadful persecution of the time of the Beast and False Prophet, this one who fell and against which sin Paul even warned Timothy (2 Tim. 1:7), he has his part in the lake of fire, whereas any one that defiled was excluded from the heavenly Jerusalem. Yet this, while it sounds odd enough, will be seen more strange, for in one verse the abominable and 'All' liars are destined for the lake of fire, while in the corresponding verse Anything that worketh abomination, or maketh a lie is excluded from the Heavenly Jerusalem! Surely, if the Scriptures are inspired, this means that the reference to the lake of fire, the reference to the second death, the reference to the book of life and the reference to the entry into the heavenly city are to be read together. This lake of fire is said to have been 'prepared' for the Devil and his angels (Matt. 25:41), in contrast with the kingdom that had been 'prepared' for those who received the Lord's commendation (25:34), the 'Bride' also is prepared for her husband (Rev. 21:2). 
In each case they are exceptional, and cannot be spread wider than the contexts will allow. This dreadful lake of fire had not been 'prepared' for any other than the Devil and his angels, but if anyone yielded to the pressure or the temptation of the last days so as to ally himself with the Devil and his emissaries, he could be 'hurt' of the second death, he would find that the fire that destroyed the enemy, would also burn up his fleshly 'works', and he could 'suffer loss' even the loss of the Heavenly city, yet 'he himself could be saved so as by fire'. 
(Excerpt: An Alphabetical Analysis, Part 9, Prophetic Truth)

Those who do not qualify are not raised to rule for the thousand year reign, not allowed to be priests in the earthly kingdom, cast out into the darkness of the nations. They have their works burned up. All of these are judgments of wicked servants and disobedient children.

We have rewards, crowns, and a prize to "attain" in our age (Phil 3:11; etc.). We can rule with him from "the far above the heavens" (not on earth). To qualify, we must take up our cross ("if we suffer with him, we will reign with him"). We must believe the testimony of the Apostle Paul in regard to the Mystery revealed to him in Ephesians. We must walk worthy of the calling unto which we were called. We must walk in the light according the new, divine nature. As sad as it is, there are Christians who "enemies of the cross of Christ." Beware those who would rob you of your reward (Col 2).

If we deny him, he will deny us (2 Tim 2:12).

Some may miss out on rewards and crowns in all callings, but their life in eternity beyond the ages is secure.

Moving Forward

So far in our look at the Revelation, we have covered the seven churches. We have looked at the different blessings and punishments related to the believers of the coming age. We have seen that there is a judgment of service and faithfulness of Christians in all ages. We have seen the many warnings to Christians (including Christians in the current dispensation) they need to choose to walk in the light and in the new nature and not in the darkness nor in the flesh.

We must now go back and start to deal with John's visions of the Tribulation from chapter 4 through chapter 19.

Here are some helpful related entries on the topics in Part 8:

Matthew 24-25 The Olivet Discourse
The Fig Tree in Matthew 21
Parable of the Wicked Servant
Parable of the Ten Virgins
Parable of the Sheep and the Goats
The Final 6 Churches of Rev 1 & 2
The Hope of the Present Age -Part 1
The Hope of the Present Age -Part 2
Understanding Eternal Life