Here’s an interesting convergence. I’m reading Thomas Watson’s book on The Lord’s Prayer in preparation for a 4 part sermon series on the Lord’s supper. Watson, in talking about the Fatherhood of God toward those who have been adopted and born again writes “The Wicked are dross…and chaff; but God numbers his children among his jewels…..He writes all his children’s names in the book of life….Among the Romans the names of their senators were written down in a book, patres conscriptii [the enrolled fathers]. God enrolls the names of his children, and will not blot them out of the register.”
Watson’s reference to the book of Roman Senators prompted me to take a closer look. He tells us that the Romans kept a book of the Senators, the great men of Rome whose names must be recorded. In much the same way, the ancient Egyptians kept king lists – an archive of the great men of history. Seti I has in his mortuary tomb a carving depicting him and his son Rameses II reciting a king list starting all the way back at Pharaoh Narmer (the first pharaoh of record, a couple of thousand years before Seti) and proceeding all the way up to Seti’s father Rameses I (with a few notable deletions of embarrassing pharaohs – we all want to omit the black sheep after all). These ancient rosters were for the elites – the high and mighty who were kings and rulers of the land.
The book of Life, as used in the New Testament, is different. The image is found primarily in Revelation – in chapter 13:8 we see the beast rising from the sea and seducing mankind away from proper worship of God “All the inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast – all whose names have not been written in the book of life belonging to the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world.” Then In Revelation 21 we see the description of the New Jerusalem. God establishes the new temple and then in verse 27, we find this description of the new temple: “Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what it shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” (see also Revelation 3:5 and Philippians 4:3 where Paul makes reference to this book of life). Quite simply, the book of life is not for social or political elites – but for the faithful, no matter what their class or origin.
While ancient pagan religions honored the elite – the powerful and clever and strong, Christianity honors the humble and the faithful. While pagan religions had imperatives to goodness based mainly upon philosophical notions, Christianity based its imperatives upon right relationship with the living God. So, we see ordinary people being honored in the Christian book of life not because they accrete honor to themselves, but because they gave honor away.
Soli Deo Gloria