Calvinism and Revelation 3:5?
Revelation 3:5 The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels.
This is a promise. It is the assurance that those who overcome will never be blotted out of the book of life. But, some people turn this promise into a threat and state that Revelation 3:5 implies that a saved person may be blotted out of the book of life. However, this is merely their assumption, by turning a promise into a threat.
"The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments" (Rev 3:5), links up the preceding reference to white garments with the concept to overcome (Rev 2:7; cf. Zech 3:5-6; Rev 7:14). These garments are the righteous deeds of the saints (Rev 19:8). White symbolizes holiness, purity, righteousness, or joy (Rev 7:9, 13-14; cf. 2 Chron 5:12; Psa 51:7; Eccl 9:8; Isa 1:18; Dan 7:9; 11:35; 12:10; Matt 17:2; Mark 9:3; 16:5; Luke 9:29; Acts 1:10; Rev 1:12-14; 3:4; 3:18; 6:11; 19:8, 14; 20:11). These conquerers have their name confessed before God the Father and his angels (Matt 10:32; Luke 2:8; 2 Tim 2:12).
But who are these conquerers?
There are at least two texts in the Book of Revelation that assist us here. They identify who these conquerors are. Revelation 13:8 states, "and all who dwell on earth will worship it [the beast, Rev 13:3-4], everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain." So, this means that those whose names are written in the book of life from before the foundation of the world will not worship the beast. Who are the ones who overcome in Revelation 13:8? The ones whose names are written in the book of life. So, having your name in the book of life speaks of the elect's faithfulness (cf. Luke 10:20; Phil. 4:3; Heb. 12:23).
Revelation 17:8 states, "The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is about to rise from the bottomless pit and go to destruction. And the dwellers on earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world will marvel to see the beast, because it was and is not and is to come." So, those whose names are written in the book of life from the foundation of the world will not marvel at the beast. Who are the ones who overcome in this text? The elect whose names are written in the book of life from the foundation of the world (cf. Eph 1:4). So, having your name written in the book of life speaks of one's ability to discern what is and is not from God.
In both Revelation 3:8 and 17:8, God is seen protecting his people by keeping them secure in his book of life (Rev 13:5; cf. Isa 49:16). The promise of "I will not erase his name" contains no mention that the names of the truly saved will ever be erased; it is an assurance that they will not. The book of life (Rev 3:5) is in contrast to the books (plural) of judgment of the nonelect (Rev 20:12-13; cf. Dan 12:1-2; 7:10-14). Unbelievers are never identified positively with the book of life! In John's thinking it would be literally impossible to envision the elect being erased from the book of life. In Revelation 13:8; 17:8, the point is that the names have been in the book of life since the foundation of the world and therefore cannot be erased!
The saints perseverance is real. The saints can't make shipwreck of their faith (2 Tim 4:18; 2 Thess 3:3). They overcome "by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death" (Rev 12:11; cf. John 16:33; Rom 8:37; 1 John 2:13).
The promise of Revelation 13:5 is a not threat, but an eternal assurance. God promises as we conquer - which all those genuinely in Christ do - our names can't be erased from the book of life. God even protects us at the final judgement (Rev 20:12). "...nothing unclean will ever enter it [heaven], nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb's book of life" (Rev 21:27). Only those washed of all their sins by "the precious blood of Christ" (1 Pet 1:19), who also was "slain before the foundation of the world" (Rev 13:8; 1 Pet 1:20), will enter into Paradise.
Notice how John teaches election in Revelation 3:8; 17:8. In both texts he mentions "before the foundation of the world." Paul states, "even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love" (Eph 1:4; cf. 1 Pet 1:18-20). Predestination --> calling --> justification --> glorification (Rom 8:30). One leads to the next. Ultimately, all those predestined are necessarily glorified. All the verbs in Romans 8:30 including "glorified" (edoxasen) are in the aorist tense. The event is certain! That is from the standpoint of God's decree, this has already happened. Moo states:
Most interpreters conclude, probably rightly, that Paul is looking at the believer's glorification from the standpoint of God, who has already decreed that it should take place. While not yet experienced, the divine decision to glorify those who have been justified has already been made; the issue has been settled. Here Paul touches on the ultimate source of the assurance that Christians enjoy, and with it he brings to a triumphant climax his celebration of the "no condemnation" [Rom 8:1] that applies to every person in Christ.
Glorification is so sure that Paul pictures saints already seated with Christ (Eph 2:5-6 - aorist tense, as if the seating has already occurred). In Ephesians 2:5-6 and Colossians 3:1, Paul speaks of the first resurrection (Rev 20:6). What blessing upon blessing (Eph 1:3-4). Joy unspeakable and full of glory (1 Pet 1:8). This is one reason why Paul goes on to say in Romans 8:35-39:
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, "For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered." No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Perseverance of the saints is a biblical doctrine. Those who God has effectually called and regenerated to a state of grace can't totally ever fully fall away from that state, but shall persevere to the end and be glorified.
Evidence abounds for this wonderful grace. God is sovereign in salvation. His will must be accomplished. He wills the perseverance of the saints (Job 42:1-2; Isa 14:24, 27; 46:9-11; Matt 18:12-14). In John 10:27-29 we read:
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand.
So, the elect are given to Christ as a permanent possession (cf. John 6:35-40). "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?" (Rom 8:35-39). Paul wrote, "For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable" (Rom 11:29) and "... he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ" (Phil 1:6). So, God's grace in calling will never be withdrawn and it will complete that which God designed it to do - to give and keep his people in eternal life, which they already possess (John 3:36; 4:14; 5:24; 6:27; 6:40, 47). Paul was absolutely persuaded, writing, "... for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me" (2 Tim 1:12).
Though the Bible has numerous warnings about falling away (Matt 24:12; Col 1:23; Heb 2:1; 3:14; 6:11; 1 John 2:6) they regard the whole matter from man's viewpoint. They are serious tools of God to prompt self-examination (2 Cor 13:5; cf. 1 Cor 11:28), and one of God's instruments to keep believers in the way of perseverance. Though there are some apostates identified in Scripture (1 Tim 1:19-20; 2 Tim 2:17-18; 4:10; 2 Pet 2:1-2; cf. Heb 6:4-6), these instances do not prove these were genuine believers which fell away (cf. 2 Cor 7:10). Not all professors are genuine possessors (Rom. 9:6; 1 John 2:19; Rev. 3:1). All true believers are kept secure in Christ by God (John 6:35-40; 10:25-29; Rom 8:28-39; 1 Cor 1:4-9; 2 Cor 4:13-14; Eph 1:13-14; 4:30; Phil 1:6; 3:20-21; Col 3:3-4; 1 Thess 5:23-24; 1 Pet 1:3-5; 5:4; Jude 1:1, 24-25).
Eternal life (aionion zoen) begins at conversion and by definition can never cease (John 3:14-16, 36; 4:14; 5:24; 6:35-40, 44-58; 10:25-29; 17:1-3; 20:31; Rom 6:22-23; 1 Tim 6:12; Heb 9:15; 1 John 5:11-13, 20). The sin of denying the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints makes the salvation of man dependent upon himself - which is not biblical (John 1:13; Rom 9:16). Paul writes, "if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace" (Rom 11:6; cf. Rom 3:27-28; 4:4-5; 5:20-21; Gal 2:21; 5:4; Eph 2:8-10; 2 Tim 1:9; Tit 3:5). Salvation is of the Lord, not our work, but God's alone (cf. Rev 7:10; cf. Jonah 2:9).
Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy (Jude 1:24).
ReferencesDouglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, Eerdmans Publishing (1996), p. 536.
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Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (IIIM).