“A book of remembrance was written before him for those fearing Jehovah.”—MAL. 3:16.
SONG 61 Forward, You Witnesses!
1. According to Malachi 3:16, what book has Jehovah been writing, and what does it contain?
FOR thousands of years, Jehovah has been writing a special book. This book consists of a list of names, beginning with the name of the first faithful witness, Abel.b (Luke 11:50, 51) Down through the centuries, Jehovah has added names to the book, and today it contains millions of names. In the Bible, that book is called “a book of remembrance,” “the book of life,” and “the scroll of life.” In this article, we will refer to it as “the book of life.”—Read Malachi 3:16; Rev. 3:5; 17:8.
2. Whose names are written in the book of life, and how can we have our name included in that book?
2 This special book contains the names of all those who worship Jehovah with fear, or awe, and who treasure his name. They are in line to receive everlasting life. Today we can have our name written in that book if we develop a close, personal relationship with Jehovah based on the ransom sacrifice of his Son, Jesus Christ. (John 3:16, 36) All of us want our name to be found in that book—whether we hope to live in heaven or on the earth.
3-4. (a) Will we live forever if our name is presently written in the book of life? Explain. (b) What will be discussed in this article and in the following one?
3 Does this mean that all those who have their name written in this book are guaranteed everlasting life? We find the answer to that question in Jehovah’s words to Moses, quoted at Exodus 32:33. Jehovah said: “Whoever has sinned against me, I will wipe him out of my book.” Thus, names that are presently in that book can be wiped out, or erased, as if Jehovah had initially written the names in pencil. (Rev. 3:5, ftn.) We must make sure that our name remains in that book until it is written permanently in ink, as it were.
4 Some questions naturally arise. For example, what does the Bible say about those whose names are written in the book of life as well as those whose names are not recorded there? When will those whose names remain in that book receive everlasting life? What about those who died without ever having an opportunity to know Jehovah? Is it possible for their names to be recorded in that book? These questions will be answered in this article and in the following one.
WHOSE NAMES ARE IN THE BOOK?
5-6. (a) As highlighted at Philippians 4:3, whose names are among those written in the book of life? (b) When will they have their names written permanently in the book of life?
5 Whose names are written in this figurative book? To answer that question, we will consider five different groups of people. Among these, some have their names written in the book of life, others do not.
6 The first group is made up of those who have been selected to rule with Jesus in heaven. Are their names presently written in the book of life? Yes. According to the apostle Paul’s words to his “fellow workers” in Philippi, the names of the anointed ones, who have been invited to rule with Jesus, are now in the book of life. (Read Philippians 4:3.) But in order to keep their names in that figurative book, they must remain faithful. Then when they receive their final sealing, whether before they die or before the outbreak of the great tribulation, their names will be written permanently in this book.—Rev. 7:3.
7. What do we understand from Revelation 7:16, 17 as to when the great crowd of other sheep will have their names written permanently in the book of life?
7 The second group consists of the great crowd of other sheep. Are their names now written in the book of life? Yes. Will their names still be in the book of life after they survive Armageddon? Yes. (Rev. 7:14) Jesus said that these sheeplike ones will depart “into everlasting life.” (Matt. 25:46) But those Armageddon survivors will not immediately receive everlasting life. Their names will remain written in the book of life in pencil, as it were. During the Thousand Year Reign, Jesus “will shepherd them and will guide them to springs of waters of life.” Those who respond positively to Christ’s guidance and are finally judged faithful to Jehovah will have their names recorded permanently in the book of life.—Read Revelation 7:16, 17.
8. Whose names are not written in the book of life, and what will happen to them?
8 The third group comprises the goats, who will be destroyed at Armageddon. Their names are not in the book of life. Jesus says that they “will depart into everlasting cutting-off.” (Matt. 25:46) Under inspiration, Paul tells us that “these very ones will undergo the judicial punishment of everlasting destruction.” (2 Thess. 1:9; 2 Pet. 2:9) The same could be said of those who, down through time, have deliberately sinned against the holy spirit. They too receive everlasting destruction, not everlasting life. Clearly, they will not be resurrected. (Matt. 12:32; Mark 3:28, 29; Heb. 6:4-6) Let us now take a closer look at two groups of people who will be resurrected on earth.
THOSE WHO WILL BE RESURRECTED
9. As shown at Acts 24:15, what two groups of people will be resurrected on earth, and what is the difference between these two groups?
9 The Bible speaks of two groups of people who will be resurrected with the prospect of living forever on earth, “the righteous” and “the unrighteous.” (Read Acts 24:15.) “The righteous” are those who faithfully served Jehovah while they were alive. On the other hand, “the unrighteous” did not serve Jehovah faithfully. In fact, in most cases their conduct was far from righteous. Because both groups are resurrected, can we say that their names are written in the book of life? To answer that question, let us consider each group in turn.
10. Why will “the righteous” be resurrected, and what privilege will some of them enjoy? (See also in this issue “Questions From Readers” regarding the resurrection on earth.)
10 “The righteous” are the fourth group. Before dying, they had their names written in the book of life. Were their names taken out of that book when they died? No, because they are still “living” in Jehovah’s memory. Jehovah “is a God, not of the dead, but of the living, for they are all living to him.” (Luke 20:38) This means that when the righteous are restored to life on earth, their names will be found written in the book of life, although “in pencil” at first. (Luke 14:14) No doubt, some of these resurrected ones will receive the privilege of serving as “princes in all the earth.”—Ps. 45:16.
11. What will “the unrighteous” need to learn before their names can be written in the book of life?
11 Finally, consider the fifth group, “the unrighteous.” Perhaps because they were ignorant of Jehovah’s requirements, they did not live righteous lives before they died. So their names were not written in the book of life. But by resurrecting them, God gives them an opportunity to have their names eventually written in that book. These “unrighteous” ones will need a lot of help. In their former life, some of them practiced horrible, vile things. They will therefore need to be taught how to live according to Jehovah’s righteous standards. To meet that need, God’s Kingdom will direct the greatest educational program in all human history.
12. (a) Who will teach the unrighteous? (b) What will happen to those who refuse to apply what they have learned?
12 Who will teach the unrighteous? The great crowd and the resurrected righteous ones. In order for the unrighteous to have their names written in the book of life, they will need to develop a relationship with Jehovah and dedicate themselves to him. The progress of all these unrighteous ones will be followed with great interest by Jesus Christ and his fellow judges. (Rev. 20:4) Any who refuse to respond favorably to such help will be removed—even though they may be 100 years of age. (Isa. 65:20) Jehovah and Jesus can read hearts and will see to it that no one will be allowed to cause any ruin in the new world.—Isa. 11:9; 60:18; 65:25; John 2:25.
RESURRECTIONS TO LIFE AND TO JUDGMENT
13-14. (a) In the past, how did we understand Jesus’ words found at John 5:29? (b) What do we need to note about those words?
13 Jesus also spoke about those who would be resurrected here on earth. For example, he said: “The hour is coming in which all those in the memorial tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who did good things to a resurrection of life, and those who practiced vile things to a resurrection of judgment.” (John 5:28, 29) What did Jesus mean?
14 In the past, we understood Jesus’ words to refer to the deeds the resurrected ones will practice after their resurrection; that is, some will come to life and practice good things while others will come to life and practice vile things. However, note that Jesus does not say that those who have just come out of the memorial tombs will do good things or will practice vile things. He uses the past tense. He speaks of those who “did good things” and those who “practiced vile things.” This indicates that these actions took place before their death. That makes sense, does it not? After all, no one will be allowed to practice vile things in the new world. The unrighteous must have practiced these vile things before their death. How, then, are we to understand Jesus’ words about “a resurrection of life” and “a resurrection of judgment”?
15. Who will receive “a resurrection of life,” and why?
15 The righteous, who did good things before their death, will receive “a resurrection of life” because their names will already be written in the book of life. This means that the resurrection of “those who did good things” described at John 5:29 is the same as the resurrection of “the righteous” mentioned at Acts 24:15. This understanding is in harmony with the statement made at Romans 6:7, which says: “The one who has died has been acquitted from his sin.” The sins committed by these righteous ones were canceled at death, but their record of faithfulness remains. (Heb. 6:10) Of course, these righteous resurrected ones will need to remain faithful in order for their names to remain in the book of life.
16. What does “a resurrection of judgment” refer to?
16 What about those who practiced vile things before they died? Although their sins were canceled at death, they have not established a record of faithfulness. They do not have their names written in the book of life. Hence, the resurrection of “those who practiced vile things” is the same as the resurrection of “the unrighteous” referred to at Acts 24:15. Theirs will be “a resurrection of judgment.”c The unrighteous will be judged in the sense that they will be evaluated. (Luke 22:30) It will take time to determine whether they are judged worthy of having their names written in the book of life. Only if these unrighteous ones reject their former wicked course of life and dedicate themselves to Jehovah can they have their names written in the book of life.
17-18. What will all who are resurrected to life on earth need to do, and what are the “deeds” referred to at Revelation 20:12, 13?
17 Whether they were previously righteous or unrighteous, resurrected ones will need to obey the laws found in the new scrolls that will be opened during the 1,000 years. The apostle John describes what he saw in vision: “I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and scrolls were opened. But another scroll was opened; it is the scroll of life. The dead were judged out of those things written in the scrolls according to their deeds.”—Rev. 20:12, 13.
18 Based on what “deeds” will resurrected ones be judged? Will it be the deeds they practiced before they died? No! Remember, they were acquitted of their previous sins when they died. Here, then, “their deeds” cannot be deeds from their former life. Rather, these must refer to their deeds in response to their training in the new world. Even such faithful men as Noah, Samuel, David, and Daniel will have to learn about Jesus Christ and exercise faith in his sacrifice. How much more so will the unrighteous!
19. What will be the final outcome for those who reject this marvelous opportunity?
19 What will be the final outcome for those who reject this marvelous opportunity? Revelation 20:15 tells us: “Whoever was not found written in the book of life was hurled into the lake of fire.” Yes, they will be completely destroyed forever. How important it is, then, to make sure that our name is written in the book of life and that it remains there!
20. What exciting work will be done during the Thousand Year Reign? (See cover picture.)
20 What an exciting time the Thousand Year Reign will be! It will include the greatest educational program ever undertaken here on earth. But it will also be a time when the conduct of both the righteous and the unrighteous will be evaluated. (Isa. 26:9; Acts 17:31) How will this educational program be carried out? Our next article will help us to understand and appreciate this wonderful provision.
SONG 147 Life Everlasting Is Promised
a This article presents an adjustment in our understanding of Jesus’ words recorded at John 5:28, 29 regarding “a resurrection of life” and “a resurrection of judgment.” We will learn what these two resurrections refer to and who are included in each one.
b The writing of this book began at “the founding of the world,” that is, the world of people who can be redeemed from sin. (Matt. 25:34; Rev. 17:8) So righteous Abel is apparently the first one whose name is written in the book of life.
c Previously, we explained that the term “judgment” used here means a negative judgment, or a verdict of condemnation. Actually, the word “judgment” may have that meaning. But in this context, it seems that Jesus used the word “judgment” in a more general sense, referring to a process of evaluation and probation or, as one Greek lexicon says, a “scrutiny of conduct.”