Judgment Day is a fearsome thing – the day God will judge people and the content of their lives, “according to what they had done.” Those who are judged negatively end up in the “lake of fire.”
We could scoff at the notion of Judgment Day and say a loving God would not judge. But love is true, and things that are true necessarily set themselves aside from everything else – from the world of falsehood and deception that are the realm of the devil. Our greatest thrill is when the devil himself is thrown into the great pit “so that he might not deceive the nations any longer.”
Because love is true and because it separates itself from the falsehood of the devil, we know judgment is required. Our loving God searches out love. Jesus told that skeptical lawyer about the “great and first commandment,” to love God with all heart and all soul and all mind (Matthew 22:37-38). To love God is the best thing we ever could do. I suppose that means that to hate God is the worst thing we could do.
When Judgment Day comes, God will pull out the books. “And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. … And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done.”
Everything here is done “by the book,” so to speak. That’s a good thing. There’s no room here for sentimentality or subjective emotional responses. God will look in my book, and he will look in your book, and he will judge us according to what’s in our books. Our books contain our life story, including the things we’ve done in our lives.
This is not fake news. It is true. When we hear what is read out of our books, we will have to shake our heads in acknowledgement because we will know the things reported there are true. We did those things. It happened just as it was written. “I know your works” (Revelation 2:2, 19; 3:1, 8, 15). To object would be the most foolish and useless thing we could do. And I suppose in that moment, before the throne of God, we will know that.
And so God will judge us objectively. It will be black and white. Simple as that.
What is written in your book? If you were to see a catalogue of your actions – a list of things that you have done – what would you expect to see? What would draw your attention? Would anything surprise you? Would the sheer volume of some of your actions, repeated over and over, catch you off guard?
Yes, there is much to fear about Judgment Day.
But there is another book that will be opened on that day – “the book of life.” In this book, names are recorded. I imagine it to be page after page of names. Like a phone book. The names belong to those who ultimately will live.
The book of life has a long history for God’s people. They’ve always known about the book of life. The psalmist complained about his enemies, and he wrote, “Add to them punishment upon punishment; may they have no acquittal from you. Let them be blotted out of the book of the living; let them not be enrolled among the righteous” (Psalm 69:27-28). The psalmist knew God had a book.
The prophet Daniel, exiled in Babylon, knew it, too. There would come a day of deliverance for God’s people: “But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book. And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt” (Daniel 12:1-2). A deliverance would come to those whose names were in the book – and resurrection to everlasting life or everlasting contempt hung on whether a person’s name was in the book.
Jesus also alluded to the book of life as he talked with his disciples. They were so joyful when they could cast out demons. But Jesus said, “Do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20). Some names are written down in heaven, in the place where God dwells.
The apostle Paul knew about the book of life. He wrote to the church in Philippi about two women who could not get along. But he seemed to place them in good company. “I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life” (Philippians 4:2-3). Perhaps perfect agreement with each other isn’t a criteria for ending up in the book of life!
And those who have their names written in the book of life have nothing to fear. Jesus said that. Earlier in Revelation, he said, “Yet you have still a few names in Sardis, people who have not soiled their garments, and they will walk with me in white, for they are worthy. The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life” (Revelation 3:4-5).
A little later in Revelation, we see just a little bit more about the book of life. And it tells us something very important for our understanding of this book – and how a person gets his or her name into the book. In Revelation 13, we see the coming of the antichrist and the widespread worship of the antichrist. But not everyone worshiped this figure. “And authority was given it over every tribe and people and language and nation, and all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain” (Revelation 13:7-8).
This book of life is the Lamb’s book of life. This is the Lamb who was slain. Our names are written there not based on a collection of our deeds. God indeed will judge us for our deeds. That’s a very simple affair. It’s in black and white in our own books.
But even with our misdeeds and our own salty “books,” there is even something more important to which we ought to look. Are our names in the Lamb’s book of life – the Lamb who was slain? This is Jesus, who died on the cross for our sins. Our names are written in his book as we recognize him as the Lamb, as the Savior, as the Son of God come to rescue the world.
The Gospel of John says this: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God” (John 3:16-18).
If we put this all together, we understand the appearance of our names in the book of life only happens if we believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God. We trust Jesus – that he exists and that he did what the Bible said he did. He is God himself. He died on a cross for our sins. And he rose again. He takes away the sting of death. We operate in faith, not by sight. And we await for the opening of that book of life.
“And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”
Everything comes down to that book! Or, more properly, everything comes down to whether we have come to Jesus. It is all about him. It doesn’t matter what we’ve done in our lives and with our lives. If our names are not in the book of life, if we haven’t accepted the good news of Jesus Christ, we face an eternity of anguish. The lake of fire awaits.
There’s really no other way to say it at this point. Either we accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, or we perish.
For those of us who have accepted Christ, we ought to continue to remain in him – to not soil our “garments” and, as Jesus said, to “conquer” through our patient endurance of temptation and tribulation. We need to be wary of the way in which evil is at work in the world, trying to lure God’s people away from their first love. We need wisdom.
We also have an obligation to share the gospel. Many people have not yet accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior, but that doesn’t mean they won’t. The stakes are very high. This is not a game. Judgment Day will come, and the books will be opened, and the book will be opened. The contents of those books will be read. Eternity resides in that moment.
God does judge. He is looking for those who return his love, for those who have faith in the Lamb, for those who accept the gift.