The 13th chapter of Revelation describes a 7-headed beast from the sea with 10 horns and 10 crowns empowered by the dragon, making war with God’s saints. The earth-dwellers are said to worship the beast, “whose names have not been written in the book of life of the Lamb having been slain …” (v. 8).1 Contextually the beast represents the tyrannical empire of Rome (cf. 11:7), the dragon symbolizes the devil (cf. 12:3, 9), and the earth-dwellers are worldly-minded people as opposed to God’s heavenly citizens whose names are recorded in the Lamb’s book of life (cf. 3:5; 17:8; 20:15).2
The interpretive challenge here is ascertaining what the phrase “from the foundation of the world” modifies. What was divinely predetermined: the unrecorded names (ASV, CEV, ESV, H/CSB, NASB, NET), or the slaying of the Lamb (ISV, JUB, NIV, N/KJV, NLT)? Does this passage confirm the philosophical notion of determinism or the Calvinistic doctrine of predestination, or does it simply describe the foreknowledge of God’s redemptive plan? The Greek syntax supports the latter: “And all the ones dwelling on the earth will worship [the beast], whose names have not been written in the book of life of the Lamb having been slain from the foundation of the world.”
God’s scheme of redemption was in place before he created the universe (Eph. 3:9, 11), including the sacrifice of the emblematic Lamb (Acts 2:23; 1 Pet. 1:19-21; cf. Isa. 53:6, 10). With omniscient foresight he predetermined to collectively save all who are in Christ (Eph. 1:1-14; Rom. 8:28-30), with no redemption available for impenitent and unforgiven sinners estranged from Christ. In this sense certain ones are metaphorically left out of the Lamb’s book of life from the foundation of the world (Rev. 17:8),3 but the idea of determinism or Calvinistic predestination is discounted seeing that it is possible for names in the heavenly registry to be removed (Rev. 3:5).
It is not a matter of the Lord having preselected particular individuals to be saved and everyone else to be condemned. Rather, all who are “in Christ” have been collectively predestined and chosen; every person must therefore decide whether or not to respond to the universal gospel call to enter Christ and be counted among the called/chosen/elect (Mark 16:15-16; Gal. 3:22-28; etc.),4 i.e., the sanctified ones (saints) whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.
--Kevin L. Moore
1 Unless noted otherwise, scripture quotations are the author’s own translation.
2 The heavenly registry “book” symbolizes God’s recognition and remembrance of all who belong to him, offering assurance to everyone submitting to his will on his terms, while issuing a warning for those who do not (Ex. 32:32; Psa. 69:28; 139:16; Isa. 4:3-4; Luke 10:20; Phil. 4:3; Heb. 12:22-23).
3 Some would argue that the wording of Rev. 17:8 is parallel to Rev. 13:8, but syntax and literary flexibility allow for the employment of a phrase in different ways. Moreover, any doctrine based on a highly symbolic text is suspect if it is not clearly taught elsewhere in scripture.
4 On human free will, see Deut. 30:19-20; Josh. 24:15; Isa. 55:6-7; John 3:16-17; 7:17; 1 Tim. 2:3-4; Jas. 4:7; Rev. 3:20; 22:17.
Related Posts: Unconditional Election?
Image credit: https://sharborr.blog/2018/11/17/the-lambs-book-of-life/