I’ve finished my series on predestination in the Gospel of John. Today I’m gonna start with our continuing study of predestination from a different book altogether—the Book of Revelation. And, by the way, I’m still marinating in the book “Why I Am Not An Arminian” by Robert A. Peterson and Michael D. Williams.
“A theme from Revelation that pertains to the doctrine of election is ‘the book of life’ (Rev. 3:5; 17:8; 20:12, 15) or ‘the Lamb’s book of life’ (Rev. 13:8; 21:27). This book serves as the census register of the city of God. The names of the saints were enrolled ‘in the book of life from the creation of the world’ (Rev. 17:8). The chief use of that book is TO ASSURE THOSE LISTED THEREIN OF GOD’S SPIRITUAL PROTECTION (Rev. 3:5; 13:8; 17:8; 20:15; 21;27) Although Arminians sometimes claim that predestination does not result in salvation, the passages mentioning the book of life disprove that claim. That is because those whose names are written in the book from creation (Rev. 17:8) will be spared the lake of fire (Rev. 20:15) and will enter the New Jerusalem (Rev. 21:27)” (Robert A. Peterson & Michael D. Williams, “Why Am I Not An Arminian,” page 53).
To tackle the claim made by Calvinists (specifically the one above), I am gonna deal with the statement in bold: that the names are written in the book of life “TO ASSURE THOSE LISTED THEREIN OF GOD’S SPIRITUAL PROTECTION.”
Let’s start with Revelation 3:5—
“In the same way, the victor will be dressed in white clothes, and I will never erase his name from the book of life, but will acknowledge his name before My Father and before His angels” (Rev. 3:5, Holman Christian Standard Bible).
These words are the words of Christ. We know this because Jesus says just prior to this that “I will come like a thief” (a thief in the night- Rev. 3:3), and “you have a few people in Sardis who have not defiled their clothes, and they will walk WITH ME IN WHITE, because they are worthy” (Rev. 3:4). In addition, look at verse 5. Jesus says to those who overcome, “I will never erase his name from the book of life, but will ACKNOWLEDGE his name before My Father and before His angels.”
Notice that the person speaking CAN erase names from the book of life. Who else could do this but Christ alone?
“Then I saw in the right hand of the One seated on the throne a scroll with writing on the inside and on the back, sealed with seven seals. I also saw a mighty angel proclaiming in a loud voice, ‘Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?’ But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or even to look in it. And I cried and cried because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or even to look in it.
Then one of the elders said to me, ‘Stop crying. Look! The Lion from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has been victorious so that He may open the scroll and its seven seals. Then I saw one like a slaughtered lamb standing between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders. He had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent into all the earth. He came and took the scroll out of the right hand of the One seated on the throne.
When He took the scroll, the four living creatures and the 24 elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and golden bowls filled with incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song:
‘You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals; because YOU WERE SLAUGHTERED, AND YOU REDEEMED PEOPLE FOR GOD BY YOUR BLOOD from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Rev. 5:2-9, HCSB).
Secondly, Jesus says in the above passage of Revelation 3 that He would acknowledge the victorious one before His Father and the angels. Jesus says something similar to this in the Gospels:
“Therefore, everyone who will ACKNOWLEDGE Me before men, I will also acknowledge him before My Father in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father in heaven” (Matthew 10:32, HCSB).
The last thing I wanna point out about the context concerns Jesus words of “coming like a thief” from Revelation 3:3. Jesus references Himself as a thief in Revelation 16:
“Look, I am coming LIKE A THIEF. Blessed is the one who is alert and remains clothed so that he may not go naked, and they see his shame” (Rev. 16:15, HCSB).
As context reveals, Jesus is the One speaking in Revelation 3 to the church at Sardis.
According to Peterson and Williams, predestination results in salvation (from their quote above), and they believe Revelation 3 proves that. But it doesn’t.
First, notice the condition of the church at Sardis:
“I know your works; you have a REPUTATION FOR BEING ALIVE, but YOU ARE DEAD. Be alert and strengthen what remains, WHICH IS ABOUT TO DIE, for I have not found your WORKS COMPLETE BEFORE MY GOD. Remember therefore what YOU HAVE RECEIVED and heard; KEEP IT, and REPENT” (Rev. 3:1b-3a).
The church at Sardis had a reputation for being a living church, a name for good works. They were well-known for righteousness. This, then, does not sound like a church that NEVER BELIEVED in Christ! I say this now because the rest of the context will demonstrate the necessity of this statement.
In addition, “what remains” at the church at Sardis is “about to die.” Don’t you find this a little puzzling, that their reputation for good works is without merit, that they are described as “dead” and that “what remains” is “about to die”? What is this regarding “about to die?” The context refers to their works. Jesus says it in the reference above that “I have not found your works COMPLETE before My God.” The church at Sardis has not done all it could do, has not done nearly enough as a church with a reputation for good works. Although they have clearly been saved, their work has not testified to their salvation. In the next statement above, Jesus says, “Remember therefore what you HAVE RECEIVED and HEARD; KEEP IT, and REPENT.” Not only did they hear the truth, they received the truth, welcomed the truth. Jesus said that the only way for them to be pleasing in His sight was to KEEP IT, and repent of their slothfulness. As we can see, “what remains” is “about to die.”
So this church is on the edge of spiritual apostasy, walking away from Christ. Their faith in Christ is about to die, about to wane completely, and the Lord tells them to repent right away of this and go back to what they were before their lapse in their spiritual walk. What will happen if they don’t repent?
“But if you are not alert, I WILL COME LIKE A THIEF, and you have no idea at what hour I will come AGAINST YOU” (Rev. 3:3, HCSB).
Jesus’ reference to Himself as a thief matches His words to the disciples in Luke 12:
“Those slaves the master will find alert when he comes will be blessed. I assure you: He will get ready, have them recline at the table, then come and serve them. If he comes in the middle of the night, or even near dawn, and finds them alert, those slaves are blessed. But know this: if the homeowner had known at what hour the THIEF was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also be ready, because the Son of Man is coming at an hour that you do not expect” (Luke 12:37-40, HCSB).
Luke 12 continues where Christ gives the parable of the faithful servant put in charge of the household until the master returns; but once the master goes off, the slave responds, “My Master is delaying his coming, and starts to beat the male and female slaves, and to eat and drink and get drunk” (Lk. 12:45).When the master returns, “He will cut him to pieces and ASSIGN HIM A PLACE WITH THE UNBELIEVERS” (Lk. 12:46).
So when Jesus tells the church at Sardis that He would return like a thief in the night, He wasn’t joking. If He found that they had not repent and continued in good works, they too, would be assigned a place with the unbeliever.
The church at Sardis, then, consisted of those who had believed in the gospel and had become part of the body of Christ; but all that could “go up in smoke” if they had not remained faithful when the Lord returned.
But verse 4 is refreshing:
“But you have a FEW PEOPLE IN SARDIS who have not defiled their clothes, and they will walk with Me in white, because they are worthy. In the same way, the victor will be dressed in white clothes, and I will never erase his name from the book of life, but will acknowledge his name before My Father and before His angels” (Rev. 3:4-5, HCSB).
Despite the sad condition of the church at Sardis, there were a few who had continued to persevere despite the majority. The Lord doesn’t promise to destroy the entire church—just the majority that had given in to spiritual laziness.
But the verse we are to center in on is verse 5: why would the Lord have to write and promise never to “erase” names from the book of life? Because the majority of this church had begun to lose faith and walk away from Christ. And if they didn’t get their act together, their names WOULD BE BLOTTED OUT of the book of life (in contrast to those who had remained undefiled, whose names would never be taken out of the book).
Some people could say, “Well, see, those whose names would be taken out of the book of life were unbelievers to begin with.” But evidence within Revelation itself disproves this statement:
“All those who live on the earth will worship him [the beast], EVERYONE WHOSE NAME WAS NOT WRITTEN FROM THE FOUNDATION OF THE WORLD in the book of life of the Lamb who was slaughtered” (Rev. 13:8, HCSB).
Peterson and Williams claim that the book of life is “to assure those listed therein of God’s spiritual protection,” but Revelation 3 (unlike Revelation 13:8) refers to those who ARE in the book of life who COULD BE BLOTTED OUT of it if they don’t repent of their sin. Those of Revelation 13:8 have NEVER had their names in the book of life; those in Revelation 3 HAVE THEIR NAMES in the book of life, but “what remains” is “about to die” because they are “dead,” according to Christ Himself.
So the names in the book of life were not GUARANTEED to be protected—just those that persevered. Jesus says that only those “who have not defiled their clothes…will walk with Me in white, BECAUSE THEY ARE WORTHY” (Rev. 3:4, HCSB). The few that had remained faithful to God qualified to walk with Him in white as victors.
Revelation 3, then, is written to the church at Sardis to wake them up from their sinful, dead slumber. If they didn’t, their names would be blotted out of the Lamb’s book of life— those who had endured faithfully would overcome and reign with the Lamb. Contrary to Peterson and Williams, however, protection was not guaranteed—it came with the condition of perseverance. And this is the problem with unconditional election—it acts as if eternity is already guaranteed! But it is only to be appropriated PROVIDED that the believer endure to the end. As Jesus Himself said it in Matthew 24, “But the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Matt. 24:13, English Standard Version).