The Evangelical Universalist Forum

JRP's Exegetical Compilation: Rev 3

This thread is part of my Exegetical Compilation series which I’m sllllowwwwllllyy posting up here.

Rev 3, whether in its warning to the Sardisians or to the Laodicians, is sometimes quoted as evidence against universal salvation.

At Rev 3:1-6, Christ warns the church in Sardis that unless they overcome their sin (waking up and strengthening the things that remain which are about to die), He will erase their names from the Book of Life – and as Rev 20 teaches, those whose names are not found in the BoL at the lake of fire judgment (after the general resurrection) shall be thrown into the LoF.

Of course if on other grounds the lake of fire (or what it represents) is not a hopeless punishment, then this cannot be evidence against universal salvation from sin, only evidence against the idea that God never punishes anyone.

But admittedly, being erased (actively erased as the Greek indicates) from the Book of Life, though a metaphorical description for God’s judgment of sinners, is no small point: the idea that anyone can be written in the Book of Life and then blotted out, runs quite against Calv ideas of persistence of salvation, and even against soft Arminian ideas of convincing God to secure salvation. Hardcore Arminians (and some similar predecessors among Catholic theologians) would point to this verse as strong evidence that salvation, even once granted, can be finally lost. Even if God never happens to follow through with the threat, so long as the threat is real, and if the LoF punishment is hopelessly final, it must be possible to finally lose salvation.

Calvs and softer Arms would of course point to other verses strongly testifying that once God chooses (originally or by being convinced, per Calv and Arm theologies respectively) to save someone from sin, we can trust He will definitely get it done, our faithlessness not invalidating the faithfulness of God.

The Sardisians have a name of being living, but they are actually dead (v.1) – not that all of them are, but most of them (v.4). The others have not found their acts completed in the sight of the Lord’s God (by context the Father). (v.2) They are exhorted, then to remember how they have obtained, and hear, and to keep and to repent. (v.3) If they do not, the Lord shall be arriving on them as a thief. (v.3)

The whole context fits the concept that these people do currently (at the time the message was given) have their name written in the book of life, but that the Lord Jesus may erase it (not just blot it out; the term in Greek is literally to erase). And other congregations are given similar warnings if they don’t shape up. (The most relevant comparison might be the congregation in Ephesus, whose lampstand the Lord will be moving out of its place if they do not repent. (Rev 2:1-6))

Having one’s name blotted out of the Book of Life is parallel with being grafted out of the vine in Romans 11; but Paul stresses that we should not despise those currently outside the vine, for God can graft them back in again, and those currently in can also be grafted out – for despising those currently grafted out!

Relatedly, Exodus 32 surely implies that that having one’s name blotted out is not a hopeless situation (especially compared to the culmination of the Song of Moses at Deut 32). More importantly, almost the last verse of the book of the final OT prophet, Malachi 3:16 (and surrounding contexts) directly shows God adding people’s names back to the book of life (called there “the book of remembrance before Him”) after His exhortation of repentance to them and their repentance. Admittedly, in terms of narrative logic, this isn’t shown happening in-or-after the day of judgment which Malachi prophesied; it’s shown happening in Malachi’s day. But of course, Mal’s prophecy was about the forthcoming punishment of God (in the day of the Lord to come) being very and repeatedly emphasized as intended for hopeful refining. So in effect, the intended result of the day of judgment will be to add names back to the book, just as God added in the names of penitent rebels in Malachi’s own day. Malachi testifies that it can be done (in case anyone is unwilling to add up details elsewhere, or to accept St. Paul’s testimony on it using a different metaphor of branches being grafted in after being grafted out); and, in effect, that it will be done.

Is there any evidence closer to Rev 3 indicating the punishment isn’t hopeless? Well, according to Rev 2:17, there is apparently a sense in which everyone entering into the kingdom of heaven receives a new name from God! In that sense, one way or another we all who are finally saved must have “new names” written into the book, commensurate with the salvational change wrought in us; which may imply that (metaphorically of course) the names of saved people in the book are always erased and changed to our new names.

More pertinently, the congregation of Laodicia, soon afterward in the same chapter (3:14-22), receives one of the severest rebukes from Jesus in the whole New Testament: it would be difficult to imagine more colorful imagery than to say the Lord is about to vomit them out of His mouth! Yet the Lord also adds, “Whosoever I may be loving as a brother (or am fond of, philos), I am exposing and disciplining.” (v.19) The Laodicians, or the significant majority of them, believe themselves to be rich, deceiving themselves when they are actually wretched and poor and blind and naked (v.17). The Lord exhorts them (among other imagery) to buy white garments to be clothed so that the shame of their nakedness will not be made manifest. (v. 18) If they do not, He will surely expose them! – so they had better become zealous and repent! (v.19) But even if that exposure and vomiting happens, God does not punish them hopelessly, only in hope that they will repent and obtain from the Lord what they need. Thus (as it is written in verse 19) the Lord exposes and disciplines them in love.

And if God does so for them, then by the same principle so for the Sardis congregation: being erased from the Lord’s book of life (or the Ephesians having their lampstand moved, for that matter, or having the Lord fall upon them suddenly like a robber), is equivalent to the Lord spewing them (actually vomiting them!) out of His mouth and exposing the shame of their nakedness. Yet the latter, by direct scriptural testimony, is not a hopeless punishment, and indeed God does so in love to them; therefore, by parallel, being erased out of the book of life is not a hopeless punishment but a loving “discipline” (the same word used by the Hebraist in Heb 12 for a lovingly hopeful punishment, though surely a frightening one best avoided.)

Relatedly, note there are others in RevJohn whose nakedness shall be exposed as part of God’s punishment, not least the whore of Babylon (whatever that figure may mean).

As always, forum members are free to add to and discuss these verses in the comments below, pro or con, and also to link to other discussions of them on or off site.

If you find my compilations helpful, feel free to tip me $5 here at Amazon, near or at the top of the list. You can tip me for multiple articles of course. (I get $2.50 of each single $5 tip.)

I just quickly wanted to say thank you for your interpretations…it is really helping me feed my interest and answer questions :slight_smile:

I’ve been thinking about another possibility as to the erasing the names out of the book of life, but with cautious understanding that it’s a thought that I haven’t fully explored but I think worth consideration.

When someone receives a name, that is also an idenity. That idenity is who the person is. And that idenity can include a lot of factors: your cultural/ racial background, your upbringing, your family status, your ambition, your association with others, your contributions to society, your personality, etc. It is all that you are in this life. You’ve heard the expression about making a name for oneself. Everyone has make a name for himself, whether good or bad.

Those of us who have found grace in the eyes of the Lord are now identified with Christ. It is He with whom we obtain a new nature, as new creature created in Him. We are adopted into His Kingdom through His mercy. It is through Him that our names are written in the Book of Life.

So in the regeneration, we will still retain our identity through Him, and all that we have become in Him will be retain, our personhood will be retained. We will not be lost with who we were on earth. Else what need there be of rewards if we do not remember our former mortal life?

Suppose, though, that all those whose names are erased in the Book of Life are those whose identities are erased. They are not given the benefit of rewards for all their works are a filthy rags and worthless because they were never identified with Christ. Instead, they are slated fresh with a new starting point, orientated with the resurrection of the damned. Having to endure the punitive kolasis for whatever fair judgment they are meet, they will then be allowed to enter into the kingdom without any of their former identity (maybe even former memory) intact, as one who has been stripped of all that his is and is required to start all over.

When Jesus saw the centurian" faith, he mentioned the fate of the “children of the kingdom”:

*"And I say unto you, That many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven.

But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth." - Matthew 8:11-12*

I find it interesting that those who are cast into outer darkness, with weeping and gnashing of teeth, are still considered “children of the kingdom” (of obvious Jewish descent, though by extention, Christ has made us one in Him), yet they apparently do not exhibit the faith as this Gentile centurian to enjoy that kingdom…at least not immediately.

But I thought about this possibility of erased identity when I considered the future state of the unborn dead and infants (and perhaps the severely mentally handicapped). What is their identity? They have none, really. They do not have a name for themselves, except perhaps what is placed on the tombstone. They were never able to do anything of value on this earth. They didn’t even experience sin in the conventional sense. We tend to place these individuals in a catagory called “safe”, for they haven’t been accountable to God for their actions and therefore cannot be judged according to the Gospel. Therefroe we assume that they are translated to heaven upon death.

But what kind of existence would such and individual have there in heaven? I would think that they would be given a name in heaven and given a starting place in which to develop somehow all in the Presence of the Lord. How that would operate, I don’t know. But I beleive that even when we get to heaven, our growth in Him never stops, but it did have a starting point here in earth when we came to Him.

So likewise, why couldn’t God allow those who were unregenerate in this life there names erased in heaven, only to begin again in like manner as those unborn dead and infants who never had an indentity here on earth?

The flat startover idea is, I think, certainly consonant with ultra-u, and also seems fairly reasonable to me. I wouldn’t be at all surprised that something of the sort happens to some extent for penitent sinners – but I don’t think the three-fingered reboot (in computer parlance) respects our existence as persons for whose sake Christ died.

It does seem however like our new name requires our old name to be written out of something (analogically speaking) and a new name added in. How exactly that ought to fit with the image of the Book of Life, I’m less sure, though I can see several options – none of which are hopeless for the person so being erased.

And yep, I emphasize over in my commentary for that parable that “sons of the kingdom” are the ones being zorched with language and imagery a non-universalist would typically regard as certainly indicating hopeless punishment – yet the same phrase “sons of the kingdom” is also used by Christ elsewhere to talk about people whose salvation seems (in those places) quite assured for being sons of the kingdom!

So hardcore Arms point to one thing (even sons of the kingdom can be Gehenna’d), and Calvinists use the same phrase as eternal security evidence: but the conflict between them would be reconciled if they came to recognize that the punishment isn’t hopeless!

Well, I’m not exactly espousing ultra-u. Fair justice would demand punishment for the unrepentant (and actually all of us are unworthy of his grace). I can’t see that in the ultra-u paradigm.

There was a movie some years back called “Regarding Henry”, starring Harrison Ford. In it he plays a NYC lawyer who is arrogant, prideful, and narcissistic, obsessed with work with little room for his family. Well, one day as he ran out for cigarettes at a local convenience store, he gets shot in the forehead in the middle of a robbery, and collapses to the ground. He wakes us not knowing who he is, not recognizing his family friends, or associates. And while he retains his job as a lawyer, he simply cannot do the things he did before, both mentally and morally, so that just giove him busywork. In the midst of his recovery he discovers what an a-hole he has been to everyone and doesn’t like who he was. And so his whole persona has changed and eventually quits the law firm and mends his relationship with his family.

Point is that like Henry, God can take the clay that is a man and remake him. What I’m suggesting may not make it necessary to forever wipe complete memory of a person. Perhaps memory can just be repressed leaving the individual’s initially created soul as upon conception and birth (born again?). And then with a life review they can objectively look at their life and see the folly of their ways. They will lose any status or identity they had from their life experience, but the basic created soul would remain intact. Eventually, they will find themselves in Christ and eventaully gain a new name and granted entrance to the City.

Mind you, I’m only suggesting such “erasing” only after any discipline has been meted out to unrepentant rebels, either retributive or purgorial, in accordance with their deeds in whatever hell exists. And only after they do finally repent and allow God to work in the manner prescribed above, as part of the purging of their soul, released from the harmful tendancies they may have held onto in this like.

I guess what I’m doing is trying to figure how God can change us without violating our freedom of choice that is part of our created make up in being the image of God. I can only imagine it would take some radical changes on the part of stubborn mules to bring that about in a way that isn’t compulsive.

The free will debate is quite complicated… One can argue that because God created a cause an effect (rules of the universe) that he already stacked the deck and that no free-will exists. Let me explain: He created us so that we have choices. Then, he set rules up - bad choices result in bad consequences. Makes sense, right? Except, we didn’t choose the rules, did we? They were chosen/created by God (believed to be, maybe they are not? Maybe he is bound by these rules too?) and so the very fact we have those rules in the universe is demonstrating a lack of free will. Or if you prefer, a will that doesn’t implode apart from Christ. Because of that very fact (presumable fact), everyone will end up with Christ if given enough time. After we have exhausted every evil, experiences every consequence, we would see that the only true life is found in Christ. In this way, the will is not free, it never was. We could never go our own way and ‘thrive’, it just isn’t possible.

When people say God can do anything, I don’t think that is correct… He cannot change the rules of the universe. He cannot make evil, good and good, evil. He also cannot do evil himself, for if he did, he would implode. So I don’t believe God created the rules, it is just that his being is intrinsic to the rules we live by. It is complicated…

I look at it like this. God blew up this balloon called “free will”, if you will. However, we are confined within the boundaries of that free-will balloon, including all the evil that man can accomplish. God doesn’t author the evil, He simply allows it, for people must eventually learn that it is evil, before they can turn to good. Within that boundary, God can and does cause certain things to come to pass, aimed at accomplishing His Word, which will not return void. As God’s will becomes an everincreasing reality, the air in the balloon is slowly leaking out, until inevitably, and with much patience and clay-forming, everyone is in line in accordance to His will. Free will turns into God’s will. God is patient, and I believe He will let the air out in proportion to the willingness of the people to obey, until the last hold out. God has an eternity to accomplish this.

This seemed like a good place to insert a great MacDonald quote I reread recently. From Lilith:

“What right have you to treat me so, Mr. Raven?” I said with deep offence. “Am I, or am I not, a free agent?”

“A man is as free as he chooses to make himself, never an atom freer,” answered the raven.

“You have no right to make me do things against my will!”

“When you have a will, you will find that no one can.”

“You wrong me in the very essence of my individuality!” I persisted.

“If you were an individual I could not, therefore now I do not. You are but beginning to become an individual.”

I’ve just started reading Lilith and that’s possibly my favourite part so far. Lovely little dialogue.

I’m with Mr. Raven. :wink: That is exactly how I see it, too.

Reminds me I’ve been wanting to go back and read Phantastes and Lilith again. :slight_smile:

I rather like the balloon analogy, too, btw.

I do stress the reality and importance of the ability to actively contribute causes into the reactions and counterreactions of our natural system – first (in logical progression not ontological importance) to avoid self-refuting nonsense in regard to the character and characteristics of human thought, and then consequentially the implications of such capability for deducing the characteristics (and eventually the character) of fundamental reality.

However, I also try to qualify (and where appropriate stress) that there are huge limitations (currently anyway) to our ability to introduce effects into natural causality.

We accomplish a mind-boggling number of achievements by our active rationality, which we wouldn’t be able to do without it – I like to point out that we are quite literally working magic every day, and that our artistic and technical achievements are nothing short of outright wizardry: there are x-billion elves alive right this moment on our planet, and we’re them!

But in another way, even in a physical way, our active rationality is (currently) the smallest part of our existence.

And considering how badly we can abuse what very little (though real and important) power we have along this line, that seems like it’s for the best right now.