It should be perfectly clear that all those whose names are not written in the book of life and have been judged according to their deeds, failed to stand in that judgment, and are, therefore, cast into the lake of fire, which is an apocalyptic symbol for unending, conscious torment in the presence of God. This is not a literal lake of fire, but something much worse. John is describing the presence of God (who is a consuming fire) in his wrath for all eternity. This is what we mean when we speak of hell, and words cannot describe it. This is the fate of all those who are not Christ’s, who reject the gospel, and whose names are not written in the book of life.
But if you are trusting in Jesus Christ this is not a day you should fear! Indeed, all those in Christ escape this horrible fate, because their names have been written in the book of life before the creation of the world. This is obviously a reference to all those whom God has chosen to save in Jesus Christ, and for whom Christ has died. These are the people who have redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, and who are marked with the name of God, and thereby saved from his wrath. The second death, which is eternal punishment, has no claim on anyone whose name is written in the book of life. As Paul puts it in 1 Corinthians 15:26, “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” That glorious day of final victory has come. The last enemy death, is defeated, just as Satan, the beast, the false prophet, and the harlot have already been defeated on the day of Christ Jesus. The curse is no more.There is only life everlasting.
Beloved, we need never fear that day when the books are opened. Yes, we will appear before the throne and be judged according to our deeds. But in God’s sight, we have obeyed his commandments perfectly. He will find no hint or trace or stain of sin in anyone of us. Why is that? Because we have obeyed his commandments perfect and have made amends for our every infraction of God’s law? No, of course not. On that day God will see us as though we have been perfectly obedient and as though we are without sin. How is this possible? Because Jesus Christ fulfilled the covenant of works and kept the law of Moses. Through faith, his obedience is credited to us. Furthermore, Jesus Christ died for every sin we have ever committed or will ever commit in the future, no matter how public or private it may have been. How can God punish us a second time because of those sins for which Christ has already been published?
Therefore, even though we will appear before the throne to give an account of our deeds, for us, this is not judgment day. Indeed, for God’s people judgment day is not in the future. Judgment day is in the past. The day we dread most has already come and gone. For a Christian, judgment day was Good Friday, when Jesus Christ bore God’s wrath and anger toward our sins in his own body on the cross. When the scene depicted here by John finally comes, we appear before the throne, having already been made spotless and blameless. We will appear before the throne clothed in the white robe of Christ’s perfect righteousness. Our names have been written in the book of life and the second death has no power over us. We will live in Christ’s presence for ever and ever.
So when the books are opened, we need not fear. In that great day, Christ’s perfect obedience is credited to us, and his shed blood has washed away all our sins. The book will say that we are without sin and perfectly obedient! And because of Jesus Christ, God will say to us, “well done, good and faithful servant, come and share your master’s happiness!” Amen!