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Double Double, Toil & Trouble?

© Rob Wilkerson
Chapter Seven

The Fourth Text:
Revelation 13:8

I want to encourage you that you are two chapters from the finish line in part two of
this book. You’ll deserve a rest after crossing that line. Don’t run out of steam yet!
You’re almost there! With that brief pep talk, indulge me while I attempt to was
eloquent with an illustration which might be helpful.

As a kid I once immensely enjoyed catching butterflies. Like all kids I used a little stick
with a mesh net attached to stop these beautiful creatures in mid-flight. I would then
mercilessly suffocate them in a mason jar. It was not some sadistic pleasure, to be sure.
It was all part of the delight of capturing and analyzing an incredibly beautiful piece of
creation. And of course there was the desire to show off my catch to all my friends!

After capturing and suffocating, I would and attempt to analyze them under my Wal-
Mart brand microscope before preserving them. It was always one of the most
wonderful discoveries to see such intricate detail in the smallest parts of the butterfly.

This illustration points to the effort of exegesis and Bible study. As we attempt to
capture a context in mid-study, it is always the temptation of some (like me!) to
immediately get the text under the microscope and start “oohing and aahhhing” at the
wondrous exegetical details we discover! But beholding the beauty of the whole
butterfly itself is so necessary before diving into the detail. Bible students have got to
be as careful as they can to maintain a deductive approach (studying from the bigger
picture to the smaller details) as well as an inductive approach (studying from the
smaller details to the bigger picture).

The Point of the Passage

In the final text to be considered as supporting this concept of double-predestination is
Revelation 13:8. In that text, the apostle John describes the fate of those who worship
the beast, or the antichrist. Regardless of one’s eschatological view – whether preterist,
dispensationalist, or pan-millennialist – the truth of the text remains that,

“…all those who live on the earth will worship the beast, everyone whose
name has not been written since the foundation of the world in the book
of life belonging to the Lamb who was killed.”

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In an effort to capture the context and John’s original intention for writing this
statement, I would point you to consider Matthew Henry’s commentary on this verse.
One particular portion will be especially helpful for our consideration. Overall, the point
is that the Beast or Antichrist,

“is also limited as to the persons and people that he shall entirely subject
his will and power; it will be only those whose names are not written in
the Lamb's book of life. Christ had a chosen remnant, redeemed by his
blood, recorded in his book, sealed by his Spirit; and though the devil and
antichrist might overcome their bodily strength, and take away their
natural life, they could never conquer their souls, nor prevail with them
to forsake their Saviour and revolt to his enemies.”

Henry believed that the verse stood as an encouragement to saints of all times, again
regardless of one’s eschatological position. It provides an assurance to the saints who
are suffering for their Savior. That assurance is first, that their enemies will soon be
crushed by King Jesus (Rev. 13:10); and second, that they can bear their suffering

“Here now is that which will be proper exercise for the patience and faith
of the saints - patience under the prospect of such great sufferings, and
faith in the prospect of so glorious a deliverance.”

It was necessary for us to consider the bigger picture of this text, and it will remain
important to us. First, the context must remain in view so that we don’t let our
examination of the details of one portion of the verse swallow up the rest so that we
miss John’s original reason for writing this verse. Second, the context always serves to
help determine the meaning of words and phrases under study. It is with such a
warning and with a deep sense of responsibility that I have approached all our texts so
far, and especially this one in particular. For this reason, I trust you will be able to
hobble along with me as I attempt to reason things out with you. Just pretend we’re
sitting at your favorite coffee shop “thinking out loud”! But be careful not to burn
you’re your lips or spew your coffee out of your mouth at me if I say something that
shocks you!

Considering the “Book of Life”

There are two phrases in this text that demand immediate attention. The first is “the
book of life.” The phrase itself is used seven times in Revelation: 3:5; 13:8; 17:8; 20:12,
15; 21:27; and 22:19. It is also used once in Philippians 4:3. Now if we were to take just

Henry, Revelation 13:8 (BibleWorks).

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a simple survey of these texts we would find something very interesting yet troubling at
the same time. But before we examine this, getting that bigger picture of the meaning
of the phrase is important.

The Old Testament Background of the “Book”

The concept expressed in the phrase probably comes from Exodus 32:32-33. But I do
want to say from the outset that John may be using it for analogy, and even in that I do
not think he intends to use it in its entirety. The context of Exodus 32 is one you are
probably all too familiar with. It contains the story of Israel’s failure of idolatry with the
famous golden calf while Moses was on top of Mount Sinai receiving God’s law.
Beginning in verse 31 Moses’ incredible meekness is seen as he intercedes for these
people before an angry God, a meekness akin to that of the Apostle Paul in Romans 9:1-

“So Moses returned to the Lord, and he said, ‘Alas, this people has
committed a very serious sin, and they have made for themselves gods of
gold. But now, if you will forgive their sin; but if not, blot me out from
your book that you have written.’ And the Lord has said to Moses,
‘Whoever has sinned against me – that person I will blot out of my

As you can immediately observe, the similarities in Revelation 13:8 and Exodus 32:32-33
centers around a book, as well as the possibility that a person’s name can be removed
from such a book. What exactly was that book?

It seems probable that during Moses’ forty day mountain top experience with God, one
of the things he had to do was interact with the Lord regarding all the tribes of Israel
and what land each tribe would inherit in the promised land, as well as where they
would camp while in the wilderness. He would have regulated this in a “book” of some
sort – a register or genealogy - obviously recording all the peoples’ names who were in
each tribe.
Because all of this would have been done under God’s immediate direction,
that book is described as “your book,” meaning the Lord’s book.

It is in light of such an understanding of such a book that Adam Clarke comments on the
meaning of the verses.

“…it is probable that God had told him, that those who should break the
covenant which he had then made with them should be blotted out of
that list, and never enter into the promised land. All this Moses appears
to have particularly in view, and, without entering into any detail,
immediately comes to the point which he knew was fixed when this list

Adam Clarke, Exodus 32:32-33 (E-Sword).
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or muster-roll was made, namely, that those who should break the
covenant should be blotted out, and never have any inheritance in the
promised land…”

“On this mode of interpretation we may at once see what is implied in
the book of life, and being written in or blotted out of such a book. In the
public registers, all that were born of a particular tribe were entered in
the list of their respective families under that tribe. This was the book of
life; but when any of those died, his name might be considered as blotted
out from this list.”

It was out of this book that Moses himself desired to be blotted. His immense love for
his brethren is seen in this statement. He knew that he could not bear to enjoy the
bounties and beauties of the promised land when so many of his fellow Israelites would
have been excluded. But God was firm on the fact that those who had sinned would not
be permitted to enter the promised land and enjoy it. This then is the probable
intended meaning in the text. Those who made and worshipped the “gods of gold”
would be erased from this book, meaning that they would not have an inheritance in
the promised land.
Again, consider Clarke’s insightful comments.

Concluding this Old Testament background of the “book of life,” you can get a mental
picture of what John probably had in mind as he viewed this “book of life” and
attempted to write about it. Having said that, I do want to point out that scholars
greater than I have concluded,

“The book that is referred to here should not be interpreted as the NT
‘book of life’ which is portrayed (figuratively) as a register of all the
names of the saints who are redeemed and will inherit eternal life. Here
it refers to the names of those who are living and serving in this life,

Ibid. In his commentary, Clarke offers several parallels to illustrate the “significant and illustrative
remains of the ancient registers” and their uses. He includes the church’s modern day baptismal register
and obituary registers. He also includes an ancient oriental practice of keep two separate books for
criminals: one for those who had been acquitted and the other for those who were found guilty. This
latter illustration is one that Clarke finds especially helpful since the cultures of Jews and Chinese find a
similar origin. “These two books are presented to the emperor by his ministers, who, as sovereign, has a
right to erase any name from either: to place the living among the dead, that he may die; or the dead,
that is, the person condemned to death, among the living, that he may be preserved. Thus he blots out of
the book of life or the book of death according to his sovereign pleasure, on the representation of his
ministers, or the intercession of friends, etc. An ancient and extremely rich picture, in my own possession,
representing this circumstance, painted in China, was thus interpreted to me by a native Chinese.”

Ibid. Clarke’s follow-up comments are wonderfully remindful of God’s mercy. “Moses’ prayer was
answered in mercy to him, while the people suffered under the hand of justice. But the promise of God
did not fail; for, although those who sinned were blotted out of the book, yet their posterity enjoyed the
inheritance” (ibid).
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whose names, it was imagined, were on the roster in the heavenly courts
ad belonging to the chosen.”

The NT Understanding of “the Book of Life”

Now we must move to examine the phrase “book of life” as used in the New Testament.
There are basically three groups of texts. First, there are those texts that refer to a book
of life in which persons names have been written. Second, there are texts that refer to
certain persons as possibly being erased from the book of life. Third, there are texts
that refer to the fact that certain person’s names have not been written in the book of

In the first group of texts, we find simply the statement that there is a book of life and
that there are persons whose names are written in it. Philippians 4:3 is the first time in
the New Testament that this phrase appears. In that text there is a clear description of
Revelation 20:12 is the first text in Revelation that appears to fit this category.

“And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne.
Then books were opened, and another book was opened – the book of
life. So the dead were judged by what was written in the books,
according to their deeds.”

This book is described as belonging to the Lamb, in 21:27.

“…but nothing ritually unclean will ever enter [the new Jerusalem], nor
anyone who does what is detestable or practices falsehood, but only
those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.”

Those described in the surrounding context are clearly believers in heaven, in the New

In the second set of texts, there is the concept of persons being erased from the book of
life. For me personally, this seems to be implying that such persons’ names were not
written there to begin with. In 3:5 we read the phrase, “I will never blot his name out of
the book of life.” This occurs in the context of Christ’s counsel and admonition to the
churches. Specifically, in this text the exhortation is given to the church of Sardis, a
gathering of people who evidently had the reputation for being a vibrant church, but in

Driver, p. 356 as quoted in the NET Bible study note, Exodus 32:32. Interestingly, contra Clarke’s
experience and study, the translation note in the NET Bible understands that, “the word ‘blot’ is a figure
of speech indicating ‘remove me’ (meaning he wants to die). The translation ‘blot’ is traditional, but not
very satisfactory; it does not convey complete removal.” While my pedigree of scholarship is absolutely
no comparison, it seems to me that the word does in fact convey complete removal. God did not in fact
allow these people to enter the promised land, which would then point to the fact that their names were
in fact completely removed from the register of tribes. But I am open to correction on this point.
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all reality were actually a dead group (3:1). Jesus calls them to wake up and smell the
coffee, to get a dose of reality, and get to work strengthening what they have left. In
the end, if they are successful at obeying Jesus’ exhortations to them then they will be
victorious and Christ promises never to blot out their name from the book of life.

There is one other text that fits this category, and it is found in 22:19. It is perhaps one
of the most famous passages in all of Scripture for Christians. In it we find this warning:

“And if anyone takes away from the words of this book of prophecy, God
will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city that are
described in this book.”

It becomes evident from a first reading that the reader is warned with the threat of
eternal punishment if they remove any part of the book of Revelation in anyway. The
book was already difficult to understand to begin with, being filled with remarkable
symbolism some of which may have seemed unintelligible. Therefore, in order to
prevent anyone from omitting something they thought improbable, or to prevent
striking the book altogether from the Bible – an action John may have considered
possible if a person considered the prophecies in it to have already come to pass (those
of a preterist persuasion
) – John issued this warning.
If they took such action, God
would take action against their eternal life. I concur with John Wesley’s understanding
of this passage.

“…he that takes from it, all the blessings shall be taken from him; and,
doubtless, this guilt is incurred by all those who lay hindrances in the way
of the faithful, which prevent them from hearing their Lord's "I come,"
and answering, "Come, Lord Jesus." This may likewise be considered as
an awful sanction, given to the whole New Testament…”

Clearly, what we see then is that these texts refer to a group of professing believers
whose names are presumably written in the book of life. It seems basic to understand
Jesus’ words here as only meaning one thing. Considering the church of Sardis
mentioned earlier, if those in the church, whose names were already in the book of life
by virtue of their profession of faith, are not victorious in their obedience to Jesus then

Preterism is the eschatological position which holds either (1) that all future prophecies concerning the
end of time have already happened by the time of the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. – also called
‘full preterism’; or (2) that all future prophecies, except for the second coming of Christ, have happened
by 70 A.D. While my personal, current eschatological position would not hold to either of these positions,
it is and has always been a viable, credible, historically orthodox theological persuasion throughout
church history as well as in evangelicalism.

Barnes, Revelation 22:19. E-Sword.

Wesley, Revelation 22:19. E-Sword.
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they are not really Christians at all. But Christ’s promise to not blot out or erase their
names can also be understood as a figure of speech describing in reverse a promise of
eternal security.

“The expression ‘I will not blot out’ means, that the names would be
found there on the great day of final account, and would be found there
forever. It may be remarked, that as no one can have access to that book
but he who keeps it, there is the most positive assurance that it will never
be done, and the salvation of the redeemed will be, therefore, secure.”

Further, considering the case of those who removed any part of the book of Revelation
then they too have proven themselves not to be Christians. Hence, their names should
be erased from the book of life because their names shouldn’t have been there to begin
with. In fact, it is a figure of speech to imply that their names were in fact never written
there to begin with, as we just observed. Consider Adam Clarke’s very insightful
comment on this passage.

“Perhaps there is here an intimation that this would be most likely to be
done by those who professed to be Christians, and who supposed that
their names were in the book of life. In fact, most of the corruptions of
the sacred Scriptures have been attempted by those who have professed
some form of Christianity… When it said here that ‘God would take away
his part out of the book of life,’ the meaning is not that his name had
been written in that book, but that he would take away the part which he
might have had, or which he professed to have in that book. Such
corruption of the divine oracles would show that they had no true
religion, and would be excluded from heaven.”

Finally, the third group of texts refers to certain persons who were never written in the
book of life. That’s where our focal text for this chapter comes in to play – 13:8. In that
text, those whose names were not written in the book of life are described as those who
lived on the earth who were worshiping the beast. The same thing is repeated in 17:8,
with the addition that those who did worship the beast were shocked when they saw
the beast, having originally thought him to be dead. This group later, along with anyone
else whose name had not been written in the book of life, is said in 20:15 to be cast into

In summary, those whose names are not written in the book of life are described as
unbelievers. Conversely, those whose names are written in the book of life are
described as believers. Yet there is that group of texts that fits in a middle category,

Barnes, Revelation 3:5. E-Sword

Clark, Revelation 22:17. E-Sword.
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texts that serve as warning: if you think you are a believer you’d better act like one.
Otherwise, you may actually be an unbeliever and face having your name erased from
the book of life, meaning that you were never a Christian to begin with.

“From the Foundation of the World”

The second phrase is “from the foundation of the world.”
There is much difficulty with
this phrase. Without creating a sense of technical difficulty, scholars and theologians
disagree over the placement of this phrase in the English. Should it be read and
understood with “those whose names were not written in the book of life”? Or should
it be understood as accompanying “the Lamb who has been slain”?

The first view reads, understands and translates the phrase as if it should accompany
those whose names had not been written in the book of life.
Revelation 17:8 would
be another example of this.

“The beast you saw was, and is not, but is about to come up from the
abyss and then go into destruction. The inhabitants of the earth – all
those whose names have not been written in the book of life since the
foundation of the world – will be astounded when they see that the best
was, and is not, but is to come.”

Other scholars and theologians, however, also believe that the phrase should
accompany “the Lamb who has been slain.”
The sense here is that it is the Lamb who

o¬o |o¬oþoiq, |ooµou

“In favor of the latter is Rev 18:8; of the former, 1 Pet 1:19; 1 Pet 1:20.” Vincent, Revelation 13:8 (E-

Amazingly, the study note in the original Geneva Bible favors this rendering. It is amazing because this
was the Bible used by the Puritans and their followers, yet almost all of these men prefer a rendering
different from the one indicated in this study note. The note was as follows: “These words I do with
Aretas, distinguish in this manner: whose names are not written from the laying of the foundation of the
world, in the book of Life, of the Lamb slain. This distinction is confirmed by a similar verse in (Rev 17:8)”
(E-Sword, Revelation 13:8).

The translation note in the New English Translation (NET) Bible is noteworthy. “The prepositional
phrase ‘since the foundation of the world’ is traditionally translated as a modifier of the immediately
preceding phrase in the Greek text, ‘the Lamb who was killed’…, but it is more likely that the phrase ‘since
the foundation of the world’ modifies the verb ‘written’ (as translated above [in 13:8]). Confirmation of
this can be found in Rev 17:8 where the phrase ‘written in the book of life since the foundation of the
world’ occurs with no ambiguity.”

Cf. Gill, Revelation 13:8 (E-Sword); Jaimeson, Fausset and Brown, Revelation 13:8 (E-Sword); Clarke,
Revelation 13:8 (E-Sword). See also Robertson, who says, “It is doubtful here whether it is to be taken
with tou esphagmenou (cf. 1Peter 1:20) or with gegraptai as in Revelation 17:8. Either makes sense, and
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has been slain from the foundation of the world. In this view, John is not connecting
such a time and such a book with certain people, but rather with the Lamb. .

Which Exegetical View is Right?

Which view is the right one? Consider the first view, that “from the foundation of the
world,” what is in view are those whose names weren’t written in the book of life. If
what we discovered chapter two from Ephesians 1 is true, namely that God chooses (v.
4), predestines and adopts (v. 5) from before the foundation of the world those who will
be saved, then there are a group who were not chosen, predestined and adopted from
before the foundation of the world. At least part of that group would be in view in
Revelation 13:8, then.

Further, if your eschatological position if that of preterism, then perhaps those
mentioned in this verse describe all of those who were not predestined for salvation.
However, regardless of your end-times beliefs, this group is comprised of those who will
worship the beast and the false prophet. This seems to inevitably lead the conclusion
that these people were predestined to worship the beast and his false prophet, and
therefore be condemned (cf. Rev. 19:20; 20:11-25; 21:8, 27).

Baptist theologian John Gill (self-taught in Hebrew, Greek and Latin!) believes that is
what is intended in the phrase ‘the book of life,’ by which book is meant God's
predestination of men to eternal life, or his decree of election…”
He goes on to

“…and their ‘names being written therein from the foundation of the
world’ for such a construction the words will bear, denotes that election
is eternal, and is not an act of time, nor dependent upon anything done
in time; and that it is of particular persons, and not of bodies of men, of
nations and churches, and still less of propositions, or of persons so and
so qualified, or under such conditions and circumstances; and that it is
perfectly well known to God, and is sure and certain in its effects, and is
unchangeable and irrevocable; for what is written in it, is written, and will
always stand, not upon the foot of works, but of the sovereign grace of
God; and this is called the Lamb's book…”

Gill’s comments lead us to consider the other side, that the reference to the foundation
of the world should be connected with Christ’s crucifixion. His insights are particularly

here the most natural use is with esphagmenou. At any rate the death of Christ lies in the purpose of God,
as in John 3:16” (on Rev. 13:8, E-Sword).

Gill, Revelation 13:8. E-Sword.

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helpful. He does a wonderful job of explaining the connection of “those whose names
were not written down from the foundation of the world in the book of life” to the
phrase “of the Lamb who was slain.”

“…this book is called his, because he was present at the making of it, and
was concerned in putting down the names in it, Joh 13:18, and he himself
stands first in it as the elect of God, and the head of all the elect, who, as
members, were chosen in him: the act of election was made in him, and
stands sure in him; and he is the author and giver of that life, which men
are chosen unto both here and hereafter…”

So regardless of what exegetical conclusion we come to regarding the word order of the
original Greek, we still cannot escape the clear connection between Christ’s predestined
crucifixion and those whose names were not written in the book of life. This leads to
the conclusion that there is a definite group of people who are referred to as not having
been identified with Christ’s crucifixion nor His book of life, and that before the
foundation of the world.

The opposite would point to what is commonly known as “limited atonement” in a five
point Calvinistic theology. What this means is that when the crucifixion of Christ was
decreed and predestined before the world began, He was slain for those whose names
were written in the book of life. This indicates that they were also decreed and
predestined by God before the world began to be identified with Christ and His death,
burial and resurrection. In Gill’s own words, Christ

“may be said to be ‘slain from the foundation of the world; in the decree
and purpose of God, by which he was set forth, or foreappointed to be
the propitiation for sin, and was foreordained, before the foundation of
the world, to redeem his people by his blood…to which may be added,
that such is the efficacy of the bloodshed and death of Christ, that it
reached to all the saints from the beginning of the world, for the
justification of their persons…”

This latter view is the most preferred view among commentators. The reference to the
foundation world seems to be better connected to the Lamb who was slain. And the
intention seems to be to point toward a corporate sense of election. In other words,
John’s intent was to point to those who were not identified with Christ’s atoning work
before the world began.

Are you mad at me? I hope we can still be friends. Do you find this hard to swallow? Or
just hard to accept? Compare the phrase “before the foundation of the world” among
all the texts in which it appears and see what conclusions you come to. There’s not that

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many texts that use it, and those that do use the phrase seem to undeniably speak of
God’s action before He created the world, and therefore an action that did not depend
on what we did (cf. John 1:13; Rom. 9:16). Either way, be a diligent student of the Word
and come to your own conclusions.

Conclusion on the Preceding Texts

As I conclude our examination of the texts which seem to clearly point to a theology of
double-predestination or reprobation, there is an apt warning and admonition by
scholar and theologian Wayne Grudem that is worthy of embracing. It is simply a
reminder regarding our emotions which always tend to get in the way of good thinking.

“In spite of the fact that we recoil against this doctrine, we must be
careful of our attitude toward God and toward these passages of
Scripture. We must never begin to wish that the Bible was written
another way, or that it did not contain these verses. Moreover, if we are
convinced that these verses do teach reprobation, then we are obligated
to both believe it and accept it as fair and just of God, even though it still
causes us to tremble in horror as we think of it...Morever, we must
recognize that somehow, in God’s wisdom, the fact of reprobation and
the eternal condemnation of some will show God’s justice and also result
in his glory.”

Grudem, pp. 685-6.