Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Book of Life

When it comes to theories about the End of the World, books are in abundance. John's Revelation, in particular, has generated hundreds, perhaps thousands, of books and articles which attempt to chart precise timetables for Christ's return, and the relevance of current events in the fulfillment of ancient prophecy.

As one example, there is the wildly popular Left Behind series by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, which sees the prophecies of Revelation as entirely future, including the coming of the antichrist and his defeat by the armies of God in a final cataclymsmic battle. As an alternative point of view, Hank Hanegraaff published The Last Disciple in which he attempts to show that much of Revelation's prophecies were fulfilled in the first century...and that "the number of the beast" which is "six hundred and sixty six" quite possibly refers to Emperor Nero. I find it somewhat funny that these very different books have the very same publisher.

Taking the middle road, is Steve Wohlberg's End Time Delusions in which he tries to expose the falacies of either a futurist or preterist viewpoint and argues for the Reformed perspective, one that traces its roots all the way back to Augustine of Hippo in the fourth century: namely, that the presence of the evil one has been evident throughout human history; and that it is Christ's life, death, and resurrection which has limited his power, permitting the gospel to rapidly spread and bear fruit until his return. This view takes seriously Jesus' teaching that evil will coexist with God's people -- even in the midst of God's people -- until the Last Day (see Matthew 13: 24-30 and Jesus' Parable of the Weeds).

I want to emphasize that faithful Christians have held different views on the meaning of John's vision for centuries...but agree on the most important point: Christ is coming again to rule and reign, and he alone is the one true hope of the church and this world. My point in sharing all of this is not to promote one of these books (though I must acknowledge my Reformed perspective in the interpretation of John's magnificent vision) -- but to promote the Book. For in the end the only Book that really matters is the Lamb's Book of Life, and whether or not our names appear in its pages. In Revelation 20: 12-13, we read about that Book....

"And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Also another book was opened, the book of life. And the dead were judged according to their works, as recorded in the books...."

The first book we may assume to be the Book of our Lives...the record of what we have done, whether good or ill in this life. John says that “the dead were judged according to their works as recorded in the books.” If we were judged by this book alone, who could stand? For "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). Yet John assures us that it is not by the contents of this Book alone that we shall be judged…for there is "another Book" (Amen!) and it is the Lamb’s Book of Life. This is the Book and Record not of what we have done...but the record of what he has done for us; and John implies that the names of all those who have welcomed and received God's grace through him are written there.

Certainly we must care deeply about the Book of our lives, and what story is being written there. But even more important, we must care about the Book of his Life, the life of Jesus, who was given for us and through whom the story of your life and mine is redeemed and completed! We shall be judged by works -- John assures of that -- but the question is "By whose works shall we be judged -- ours, or his?" "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God not because of works, that no one should boast. For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do" (Ephesians 2: 8-9).

Friends, many books have been written, and no doubt many more shall be written before this present age is over. God has more work for us to do in this world, more to learn, more to accomplish as partners in his advancing kingdom on earth: indeed, this world has a glorious future in the Age to Come...a future not of destruction but of resurrection and redemption. Until that Day, may your story and mine continue to be wrapped up in the Story of our Lord Jesus Christ and his work...and so become a truly eternal life...a life lived for his glory.

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