Friday, November 28, 2014

Revelation 3.5 and "Eternal Security" (Perseverance of the Saints)

“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.” (Revelation 3.5 ESV)
I was once asked how to justify my belief that I could not lose my salvation in light of Revelation 3.5.  I admit, I was not prepared for the question and looked at the verse trying to figure it out myself.  I knew it was not being applied correctly in my friend's question, but I did not know why.  The full context of Biblical teaching supports the security of a Christian's salvation.  However, this verse was troublesome for me.  I decided to research it and the result is my post. 

Taken alone, this verse does seem to imply that one can lose salvation. First I wish to deal with this verse and then to fit the security of salvation into Biblical context.

Revelation 3.5 discusses the one who conquers and says of him, “I will never blot his name out of the book of life.”  Some have said there are two different books mentioned in the Bible that are similar: the book of life and the LAMB’s book of life.   I do not find this to be a strong argument and will not pursue it.  Another view in keeping with the impossibility of losing salvation once received by grace through faith (Ephesians 2.8-10) is that this verse alludes to something that is a possibility, namely that a Christian's name can be blotted out if Jesus here says He will not blot a name out.

I believe there is clarity to be found when looking at this verse with cultural context mixed in.  The meaning becomes much clearer.

In verses four and five Jesus is talking about those in Sardis who are faithful to Him.  He is not talking about those who are unfaithful.  This is for a good reason.

According to Utley,
“I will not erase his name from the book of life” This is a strong DOUBLE NEGATIVE. When citizens died, their names would be erased from the rolls of their city but God will never erase believers from His rolls. 
This metaphorical phrase “the book of life” is also found in Rev. 20:12–15, where two books are mentioned: (1) the book of life which is made up of the names of God’s people (cf. Exod. 32:32; Ps. 69:28; Isa. 4:3; Dan. 12:1; Luke 10:20; Phil. 4:3; Heb. 12:23; Rev 13:8; 17:8; 20:15; 21:27); and (2) the book of deeds or remembrances which records the deeds of both wicked and righteous (cf. Ps. 56:8, 139:16; Isa. 65:6; Mal. 3:16).(1)

Further, according to Wiersbe,
The promise in Revelation 3:5 (“clothed in white raiment”) would have been especially meaningful to people who lived in a city where woolen garments were manufactured. And the statement about the names being blotted out would also be significant to people in the Roman Empire, where citizenship was vitally important (see Acts 22:24–30). 
Is there a warning here that a true believer might lose his salvation? I don’t think so. It would appear that God’s “Book of Life” contains the names of all the living, the wicked as well as the righteous (Ps. 69:28). Revelation 13:8 and 17:8 suggest that the names of the saved are written in the book from the foundation of the world—that is, before they had done anything good or bad. By God’s grace, they have been chosen in Christ before the beginning of time (Eph. 1:4; see also Matt. 25:34). 
Jesus told His disciples to rejoice because their names were “written in heaven” (Luke 10:20). The Greek verb is in the perfect tense, which means it can be translated (as Kenneth Wuest does in his Expanded Translation), “your names have been written in heaven and are on permanent record up there.” It is not likely that Jesus would contradict Himself in this important matter! 
If the names of believers (the elect) are written from the foundation of the world, and if God knows all things, why would He enter the name of somebody who would one day fall and have to be removed from the book? We are enrolled in heaven because we have been born again (Heb. 12:23), and no matter how disobedient a child may be, he or she cannot be “unborn.” 
As unbelievers die, their names are removed from the book; thus, at the final judgment, the book contains only the names of believers (Rev. 20:12–15). It then becomes “the Lamb’s Book of Life” (Rev. 21:27), because only those saved by the Lord Jesus Christ have their names in it. All the others have been blotted out, something God would never do for any true child of God (see Ex. 32:32; Rom. 9:3). It is a book of life, and lost sinners are dead (Eph. 2:1).(2)

The book of life brought out in Revelation is found at the Judgment in chapter 20: And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. 13 And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. 14 Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15 And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” (Revelation 20.12-15 ESV) (3)

The Lamb's Book of life is referred to in Revelation 21.27: "But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life."

Here the book is solely called the “book of life” and only the names of those who are alive in Christ are found in that book.  It was clear in the context of the day since the names of people who died in a city were blotted out of the rolls for their cities.  A Christian’s name cannot be blotted out because he has eternal, forever-lasting, life.  Since a Christian cannot die, his name remains in the book God put together beforehand.

Reading this in a modern culture loses some of the point being made.  This promises believers that they will not die, so their names will not be blotted out.  When the book of life is read their names will be found because they are spiritually alive. Only those found to be spiritually dead will be as those with their names blotted out of the rolls.

*Notice that Jesus already addressed the unfaithful preceding these verses.  He is now directing His statement toward those who are faithful.  This verse (Revelation 3.5) is an encouragement, not a warning.

For Biblical context to support the understanding that salvation is not so fragile that it can be lost, I will look to grace, the blood and promises of the guarantee of an inheritance.


I have heard it said that if grace seems fair it is not grace.  This is true.  In our minds if someone acts badly enough they do not deserve grace.  The genocidal mass-murdering rapist who repents does not deserve it and should not be given the opportunity to gain God’s forgiveness.  Hitler should not have been given the opportunity to be forgiven if he repented (there is no evidence that he ever repented and is surely currently paying the penalty for his horrific sin). 

Likewise, the pastor who was saved, served God, fell from the ministry in disgrace and now wallows in self-criticism, a broken family, a destroyed marriage and deep guilt does not deserve God’s grace.  However, this man is covered by grace if he was saved to begin with.  That is so unfair.  However, before you become smug in your Christianity, your salvation is unfair.  You caused a man to die.  It was your fault that Jesus was tortured, mocked, cursed and crucified.  You were guilty, not Him.  That was unfair.

Think of Tom Sawyer.  When Tom took a whipping from his teacher to protect Becky Thatcher, he was an illustration of what Christ did for us.  Though we were guilty, He took the punishment.  However, the punishment was far worse than what Tom Sawyer took for Becky.(4)  Jesus died in brutality because of the wrong we did.  He was not just punished or mocked; He was brutally murdered on the cross in the bloodthirsty fashion the Romans are known for.  When Jehovah’s Witnesses say He was nailed to a stake or a pole they are demonstrating their ignorance of history.

“Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21 so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 5.20-21 ESV) (5)

Grace is made up of such a special and unfathomable quality that where sin becomes more prevalent, grace becomes more powerful.  Paul puts it into a negative statement in Romans 6.1-2: “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means!” (ESV)(6)  It is not that grace cannot abound, it is that grace should not be made to abound. In fact, Paul repeats this sentiment a few verses later: “What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!(Romans 6.15 ESV)(7)  He asks and answers to make sure we get it.  Grace is powerful because it was purchased with the blood of Christ.  Grace is not a license to sin; it is the inoculation from the price of sin before God.  We may still sin and feel the consequences of that sin (like the hypothetical pastor I mentioned earlier), but the eternal cost has been paid.  We are saved and still sin, but it is already forgiven and paid for by the blood of Christ.  It is totally unfair.  It is grace.


“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” (Ephesians 2.13 ESV)(8)  The blood of Christ is what has reconciled the Christian with God.  We, who have chosen to be enemies of God by our own will are brought into a relationship with the God we have offended.  It cost Him His life- His blood- on the cross.  Hebrews 9.22 says, “Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” (ESV) (9)

To bring about forgiveness once and for all, animal sacrifices (which were practiced under the Law) were not sufficient.  It took the sacrifice of a perfect and spotless lamb to cover someone under the Law, but Jesus came as the perfect and spotless Lamb of God to be the final sacrifice God would ever recognize.  His sacrifice was far superior to any other sacrifice ever offered because He was God in the flesh.  It was more than His royal blood that paid the price; it was His Godhood that made this sacrifice all-sufficient. 

And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. 11 And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. (Revelation 12.10-11 ESV)(10)

The blood of the Lamb that gives Christians their testimonies and their ability to sacrifice their lives for the Gospel defeats Satan and his evil horde.  The key here is it is the blood of Christ that defeats Satan.  It is that powerful.

“For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.” (Colossians 1.19-20 ESV)(11)


In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1.11-14 ESV)(12)

In this verse we see we have a guarantee of an inheritance.  It is not something fleeting; the guarantee is the sealing with the Holy Spirit.  Having been saved, we were also sealed.  Being sealed we are given a guarantee.  What does a guarantee mean?  It means what was promised will happen.  It has been said that a guarantee is only as good as the one standing behind it.  I would submit that if God makes the guarantee (in writing no less!), it is a guarantee you can count on.

“As surely as God is faithful, our word to you has not been Yes and No. 19 For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you, Silvanus and Timothy and I, was not Yes and No, but in him it is always Yes. 20 For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory.” (2 Corinthians 1.18-20 ESV)(13)

His promises are always met with a yes and a fulfillment in Christ Jesus.  He does not fail to deliver. Never.

Again Paul writes, “He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.” (2 Corinthians 5.5 ESV)(14)  “This very thing” that Paul mentions is the promise of God that we will pass from our current faulty bodies and into a “heavenly dwelling”, a new, uncorrupted body.  That is part of our inheritance through salvation.

“…but this one was made a priest with an oath by the one who said to him:
       ‘The Lord has sworn
and will not change his mind,
       “You are a priest forever.”’
22 This makes Jesus the guarantor of a better covenant.” (Hebrews 7.21-22 ESV)(15)
Again, Scripture shows that the Triune God has guaranteed our inheritance as part of the better covenant of God’s grace through the blood of Christ.  The maintenance of our salvation is in the hands of God, not in our feeble hands.

In closing, Jude shows that Jesus is our strength in our salvation in the first and last verses of his letter:
“Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James,
To those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ…” (Jude 1 ESV)(16)

Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, 25 to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen. (Jude 24 ESV)(17)

When we see that it is all about Jesus and not about us we can begin to understand and appreciate how God’s grace is poured out upon us.  We can be secure in our salvation as we are secure in our God.

Pete Garbacki is a minister with Time for Truth Ministries and Mission.Brasil. Follow him on Twitter @pregador27 or FaceBook at



[1] Utley, R. J. (2001). Hope in Hard Times - The Final Curtain: Revelation (Vol. Volume 12, p. 43). Marshall, TX: Bible Lessons International.
[2] Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, pp. 577–578). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
[3] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Re 20:12–15). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
[4] (see bottom half of the page)
[5] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Ro 5:20–21). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
[6] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Ro 6:1–2). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
[7] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Ro 6:15). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
[8] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Eph 2:13). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
[9] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Heb 9:22). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
[10] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Re 12:10–11). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
[11] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Col 1:19–20). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
[12] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Eph 1:11–14). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
[13] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (2 Co 1:18–20). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
[14] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (2 Co 5:5). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
[15] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Heb 7:21–22). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
[16] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Jud 1). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
[17] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Jud 24–25). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

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