Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Mt. 18:3).
The Scriptures definitely support the belief in life after death and the existence of such a place as heaven. There is no doubt that our Lord and His apostles taught these truths, and they also taught with equal clarity that there is such a place as hell, where the impenitent receive the reward of their deeds.
The popular idea, according to recent polls, is that good people go to heaven, and a majority of those polled rated their own chances of going there to be good. There are few who don’t want to go to heaven. Most base their expectation on their performance in this life, irrespective of their relationship to Christ. Is this a valid hope?
Here again we are driven to the Scriptures for an authoritative answer. All else is speculation, but in a matter of such far-reaching importance, we need more than that—we want certainty.
In a world where there is so much injustice and inequality, where the righteous suffer and the evil prosper, where the weak are exploited and the powerful flourish, it is easy to conclude as Israel did, “The way of the Lord is not just” (Ezek. 18:25). In our contemporary society the administration of the judicial system often gives the breaks to the criminal rather than to the victim. The greater number of crimes go unpunished, while meritorious action is often unrewarded. It is the two nations who instigated World War II who have prospered most since then. This creates a puzzling moral problem.
The psalmist Asaph, faced with a similar problem, had no answer and almost lost his faith. Hear him:
But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold. For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong. They are free from the burdens common to man; they are not plagued by human ills (Ps. 73:2-5).
Because of human sin, life on earth is manifestly unjust. If God is as good and just as the Scriptures state and as we have maintained, how can He retain His character while permitting such a state of affairs to continue? If He remains inactive in this situation, it would appear that He is either uncaring or is powerless to redress the obvious injustices of this life.
But both Scripture and history are replete with affirmations that He is neither uncaring nor inactive. This life is not the end of all. Such inequalities will be redressed.
Where did Asaph discover the solution to his problem? He wrote, “Surely in vain have I kept my heart pure; in vain have I washed my hands in innocence. . . . When I tried to understand all this, it was oppressive to me till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny” (vv.13,16-17). Like him, we should take our perplexing problems into the presence of God and try to see things from His perspective. It is the end-view that is important.
Scripture abounds with intimations that a day is coming when injustices will be made right and inequalities straightened out, when evil will be punished and virtue appropriately rewarded. This will take place at the day of judgment. Those who in this life have not availed themselves of the only way of salvation through the grace of God and the atoning death of Christ will not enter the gates of heaven. The Word is unequivocal: “Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life” (Rev. 21:27).
What does it mean to have one’s name written in the Lamb’s Book of Life? The metaphor of books of record occurs throughout Scripture, beginning with Moses’ plea to God to be “blotted out” of God’s book as an atonement for the sins of the people of Israel (Ex. 32:32). This figure of speech is drawn from the registers of the tribes of Israel. Its final appearance is in the text we are considering.
Concerning the judgment in front of the great white throne, we read, “Then I saw a great white throne. . . . And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books” (Rev. 20:11-12).
One set of books, then, contains the record of each person’s life-history. The other book is the Lamb’s Book of Life. The first record can bring only condemnation, for all have fallen short of God’s standards. In the Book of Life are recorded the names of those who have repented of their sins and exercised saving faith in Christ as Redeemer and Savior.
Remember that it’s our decision whether or not our names are written there. John Bunyan in his Pilgrim’s Progress describes the armed man who came up to the table where the man with the book and the inkhorn was seated, and said, “Set down my name.” It is open to anyone to do just that. A living faith in Christ, “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn. 1:29), is the sole condition for having our names written in that book, and that constitutes our passport through the pearly gates. “They that trust in Jesus Christ,” writes Alexander Maclaren, “shall have their names written in the Book of Life; graven on the High Priest’s breastplate, and inscribed on His mighty hand and His faithful heart.”
Why not make absolutely certain of heaven by opening your heart to Christ the Savior and Lord right now, inviting Him to enter, to cleanse it from sin, and to make it His permanent dwelling place? He gives this assurance: “If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with Me” (Rev. 3:20).