The sealed book in Revelation 5 is the Lamb’s Book of Life.

SUMMARY

In His right hand, God had a book which is sealed up with seven seals (Rev 5:1). A sealed book symbolizes concealed knowledge.

In Revelation 6:1 to 8:1, Jesus breaks the seven seals one by one, causing catastrophic events. We will not be able to understand what these events are unless we understand what this book is.

At first, no one in heaven was found “worthy” to open the book (Rev 5:3). In other words, nobody in heaven is able to explain the things written in the book. John weeps greatly (Rev 5:4). Since John is now in heaven (Rev 4:1), his great weeping symbolizes the sorrow among the beings in heaven caused by this inability to understand. Apparently, this knowledge is of vital importance for the happiness of the universe.

But then, Christ’s victory on earth turned the sorrow in heaven into joy for He “has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals” (Rev 5:5).

THE BOOK OF LIFE

The book of life is mentioned 6 times in Revelation. As its name indicates, it contains the names of those who will inherit eternal life:

Only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life” shall enter the New Jerusalem (Rev 21:2, 27).

If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” “This is the second death” (Rev 20:14-15).

THE SEALED BOOK IS THE BOOK OF LIFE.

This statement is justified as follows:

Book of Life1) Both books are written by God:
(a) Since God decides who His elect are, He writes the book of life.
(b) The sealed book is in God’s hand (Rev 5:1), implying that He wrote it.

2) Both books belong to the slain Lamb:
(a) The book of life is called “the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain” (Rev 13:8; 21:27).
(b) Jesus received the sealed book after He appeared as a slain lamb (Rev 5:6-7).

3) Both books relate to redemption:
(a) The book of life identifies the redeemed in the last judgment (Rev 20:12, 15).
(b) The sealed book is also related to redemption because Jesus is counted worthy to open it because He died to “purchase” people for God (Rev 5:9). 

4) Both books are opened after Christ returns:
(a) The book of life will be opened in the final great judgment (Rev 20:12).
(b) The sixth seal contains the signs of His return (Rev 16:12-14; cf. Matt 24:29-30). Consequently, this book will only be fully open at or AFTER His return.

5) Both books determine who will die and who will live:
(a) This is by definition true of the book of life.
(b) The sixth seal divides the population of the world between God’s people, standing before His throne (Rev 7:9), and the people hiding in the mountains (Rev 6:17), to be killed when Christ returns (Rev 19:21).

These parallels indicate identify the sealed book as the book of life.

REVELATION 12 EXPLAINS THE SEALED BOOK

The identification of the sealed book as the book of life is foundational for the interpretation of the seven seals. But it does not explain, for example, why nobody is able to open the book, what the seals are, or what breaking the seals means. But Revelation 12 explains these things. Revelation 12 also confirms that the sealed book is the book of life. For this purpose, the discussion below will show that the sealed book and Revelation 12 describe the same crisis. But before that, it is perhaps necessary to provide a very brief overview of Revelation 12. (A series of articles is available that discusses Revelation 12 in much more detail.)

OVERVIEW OF REVELATION 12

Revelation 12:5 describes Christ’s life, death, resurrection, and ascension in a single verse.

Revelation 12:7-12 describes the war between the angels in heaven. Satan and his angels were driven out of heaven (Rev 12:8-9), making an end to that war.

One important point is that Revelation 12:13 explains the time sequence, namely that Satan was expelled from heaven IMMEDIATELY after Christ’s resurrection and ascension. This is confirmed by the following:

      • Satan’s expulsion (Rev 12:8-9) is mentioned AFTER Christ’s ascension (Rev 12:5).
      • Michael’s angels overcame Satan “BECAUSE of the blood of the Lamb” (Rev 12:11).

An even more important point is that the nature of the “war in heaven” is implied by the identification of Satan in the context as “the accuser of our brethren” (Rev 12:10). He specifically accuses only God’s elect, giving reasons why they should not be saved. By implication, Satan accuses God of unfair judgment. Satan shows that God’s elect are sinners and deserve to die.

Michael and his angels protect God’s people and defend God’s judgments (cf. Dan 12:1). The “war in heaven,” therefore, is a dispute between the angels of heaven over God’s judgments and His selective granting of grace to only some.

This war has raged in heaven ever since Adam sinned. Jesus had to die to make an end to this war because Michael and his angels were unable, without Christ’s death, to show conclusively that God’s judgments are always perfect. (Why this is so is explained below.)

Nevertheless, a single error in God’s judgments would limit the perfect happiness of the whole universe for all eternity. If only one person, who should live eternally, is condemned to the destruction of body and soul in hell (Matt 10:28), some sorrow will always remain. (See Annihilation or Eternal Torment?) Therefore, until all understand that His judgments are perfect, God delays Christ’s return and the implementation of His judgments.

Satan’s goal to is defend himself. He argues that, if he needs to die, all sinners need to die.

See the series on Revelation 12 for a further discussion.

THE SAME CRISIS

Based on this explanation, it can be shown that, for the following reasons, Revelation 5 and 12 describe the same crisis:

1) Both chapters describe Christ’s death:

The first four verses of both chapters describe the time before Christ and the fifth verse of both chapters refers to His death. The rest of both chapters describe the time after His death.

2) Both chapters describe a crisis in heaven that relates to a lack of understanding:

        • In Revelation 5, a book with seven seals, which no one in heaven is able to open, causes much sorrow.
        • In Revelation 12, a war rages between the angels of heaven because Michael and his angels are unable to conclusively prove that God’s judgments are always perfect.

3) In both chapters, Christ’s death solved the crisis:

        • In Revelation 5, Jesus “has overcome” to break the seven seals, turning the sorrow into joy (Rev 5:5).
        • In Revelation 12, after Christ’s death, Satan and his angels were driven out of heaven, bringing the war to an end.

REVELATION 12 CONFIRMS THAT THE SEALED BOOK IS THE BOOK OF LIFE.

The parallels above imply that the sealed book and the “war in heaven” describe the same crisis. With this understanding, we can interpret Revelation 5 on the basis of Revelation 12. In this way, we are now able to show that Revelation 12 confirms that the sealed book is the book of life:

The cause of the crisis in Revelation 12 is Satan’s accusations against God’s elect (Rev 12:10). Satan argued that they are sinners and deserve to die. The war in heaven ensued between the angels of heaven because Michael and his angels were unable, in the view of the heavenly intelligences, to refute Satan’s accusations. Nobody was able to show that God is just in forgiving their sins. In other words, there was uncertainty over the accuracy of God’s judgments. In this way, Revelation 12 confirms that the dispute was about the Book of Life because it identifies God’s elect.

And since Revelation 5 depicts the same crisis, this confirms that the sealed book is the Book of Life.

CONCLUSIONS

Not only does Revelation 12 identify the crisis in heaven as related to God’s judgments, and therefore as related to the book of life; but it also explains much of the other symbolism of the book with the seven seals. For example:

1) That the book was sealed in the time before Christ does not mean that God’s judgments were unknown but that nobody was able to fully explain God’s judgments.

2) The seals of the book are Satan’s brilliantly presented accusations against the people listed in that book. These accusations cause the heavenly beings to be unsure of God’s judgments.

3) John’s tears (Rev 5:4) represent the sorrow in heaven for, unless a solution is found, God will never be able to execute His judgments, Satan and evil would have had to exist for all eternity, and God’s people will never be resurrected.

4) God’s inability to open the book is due to the fact that He created intelligent beings who truly free and He wants His creatures to be fully assured of His judgments.

5) To break the seals means to direct events on earth to obtain evidence to refute Satan’s accusations. In other words, to obtain evidence that God’s judgments are perfect.

6) To read the book does not mean to learn WHO is listed in the book, but to understand WHY they and only they are saved.

However, many questions remain unanswered, for example:

      • How did Christ’s death make Him “worthy” to break the seals?
      • Why did Jesus not open the book immediately after He received it?
      • How will bloodshed, famine, and death will enable the heavenly beings to understand the things written in the book?

– END OF SUMMARY –

INTRODUCTION TO THE SEALED BOOK

John saw a book—sealed up with seven seals—in the right hand of “Him who sat on the throne” (Rev 5:1; cf. 4:11).

It is not a literal book. A book symbolizes knowledge and a sealed book symbolizes concealed knowledge; things that are not understood.

A search is made but no one is found “worthy” to break the seals and open the book (Rev 5:3).

Our Lord and our God” (the Father) is “worthy” “for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being” (Rev 4:11) but not even God Himself regarded “worthy” to open the book.

John “weeps greatly” because nobody is able to open the book (Rev 5:4).

Since John is now in heaven (Rev 4:1), his weeping symbolizes the sorrow in heaven. These things are somehow of vital importance to the universe. Should no one be found to open the book, the consequences would be severe. There is a crisis in heaven.

In verse 5, the sorrow turns into joy, for “the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah … has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals” (Rev 5:5).

This refers to Jesus Christ and His victory on earth (Rev 3:21). While Rev 5:1-4 describes the time before Christ, Rev 5:5-6 describes His death and the remainder of the chapter describes events in heaven after His resurrection and ascension.

PURPOSE OF THIS ARTICLE

The purpose of this article is to show that the sealed book is the book of life. This is an extremely important concept that will impact greatly on the interpretation of the seven seals.

Unless otherwise indicated, all quotes are from the NASB translation of the Book of Revelation.

THE BOOK OF LIFE

Revelation mentions the “book of life” 6 times. It is one of several books that will be opened in the last judgment; 1000 years after the return of Christ (Rev 20:12; cf. 19:11; 20:7). As its name indicates, it contains the names of those who will inherit eternal life. For example:

No one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into it (the new Jerusalem), but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life” (Rev 21:2, 27).

If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” “This is the second death, the lake of fire” (Rev 20:14-15; cf. Psa 69:28; Phil 4:3; Rev 3:5; 13:8; 17:8; 20:15; 21:27).

THE SEALED BOOK IS THE BOOK OF LIFE.

This section highlights several parallels between the two books, implying that the sealed book is the same as the book of life:

Both books are written by God:

      • The sealed book is in God’s hand (Rev 5:1; cf. 4:11), implying that He wrote and owns the book.
      • The book of life contains the names of the redeemed. Since God decides who is to be redeemed, He writes it.

Both books are given to the slain Lamb:

      • The sealed book is received by Jesus after He appeared as “a Lamb … as if slain” (Rev 5:6-7).
      • The book of life is, specifically, “the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain” (Rev 13:8; 21:27).

Opening of both is required for redemption:

      • The sealed book is related to redemption because Jesus died both to “purchase” people for God and to be worthy to open the sealed book (Rev 5:9). This implies that opening it is required for the ultimate redemption of God’s people.
      • The book of life is opened in the last judgment to reveal the names of the redeemed (Rev 20:12, 15).

Both are opened after Christ’s return:

      • Sealed book: In Revelation 6, Jesus breaks the seals one by one, causing catastrophes on earth. The sixth seal contains the signs of Christ’s return (Rev 16:12-14; cf. Matt 24:29-30). The seventh seal, therefore, is broken only after (or by) the return of Christ (Rev 8:1).
      • The book of life will only be opened in the final great judgment (Rev 20:12)—1000 years after the return of Christ (Rev 19:11, 20:7).

Both divide the people of the world permanently between those that will die and those that will live eternally:

      • Sealed book: The sixth seal describes both the inhabitants of the world, hiding in the mountains (Rev 6:17), and God’s people, standing before the throne and before the Lamb (Rev 7:9). The seventh seal is interpreted as the destruction of the lost multitudes that previously hid in the mountains. The last two seals, therefore, divide the people of the world into two groups.
      • Book of life:The book of life,” similarly, will divide the people of the world between those that will be “thrown into the lake of fire” (Rev 20:15) and those who will enter the New Jerusalem (Rev 20:27).

These parallels indicate that the sealed book is the book of life.

REVELATION EXPLAINS THE SEALED BOOK.

This section provides further evidence that the sealed book is the book of life. It shows that:

    • Both Revelation 5 and 12 describe a crisis in heaven that relates to things that are not understood.
    • And, in both chapters, Christ’s death resolved that crisis.

This implies that the two chapters describe the same crisis. By identifying the nature of the crisis in Rev 12, this section then identifies the sealed book of Rev 5 as the book of life.

OVERVIEW OF REVELATION 12

Another article series discusses Revelation 12. Very briefly, assuming that the reader is familiar with that chapter:

The chapter begins by describing a pure woman expecting the Son. She represents God’s people before His birth (Rev 12:1-4). At that time, the dragon (Satan – see Rev 12:9) stands ready to devour Christ as soon as He was born (Rev 12:4).

Rev 12:5 describes His life, death, resurrection, and ascension in a single verse. It describes His death as a victory: The dragon attempted to devour Him (Rev 12:4) but Christ was “caught up to God and to His throne.” The remainder of the chapter describes the events after His ascension at two levels:

In heaven: Rev 12:7-12 describes the war between the angels in heaven. Since Satan brought rebellion from heaven when he deceived Eve, the “war in heaven” (Rev 12:7) raged before Adam was created. Rev 12 continues to explain that Satan and his angels were driven out of heaven (Rev 12:8-9). For the following reasons, Satan’s defeat was immediately after Christ’s death and as the direct consequence of Christ’s victory on earth:

        • Satan’s expulsion (Rev 12:8-9) is mentioned after Christ ascension (Rev 12:5).
        • They (Michael’s angels) overcame him (the accuser = Satan) “because of the blood of the Lamb” (Rev 12:11).
        • Rev 12:13 explains the time sequence. It indicates that Satan was defeated in the war in heaven after Christ’s death but before the woman’s wilderness experience of Rev 12:6 and 14. In other words, Satan was expelled from heaven immediately after Christ’s death.

One earth: Rev 12:6 describes how the dragon (Satan – Rev 12:9) persecuted the woman on earth. She now represents God’s people after Christ. After the interruption, describing the war between the angels (Rev 12:7-12), Rev 12:14 repeats the wilderness period of verse 6. The rest of the chapter continues to describe events on earth after Christ.

THE WAR IN HEAVEN IS A DISPUTE ABOUT GOD’S JUDGMENTS

This section continues to provide an overview of Rev 12, but specifically explains the nature of the war between the angels (Rev 12:7).

The nature of the “war in heaven” is implied by the identification of Satan as “the accuser of our brethren” (Rev 12:10). Rev 12:11 continues that “they did not love their life even when faced with death.” In this context, “they” refer to “our brethren” (Rev 12:10). And because they can die, “our brethren” are not angels but God’s people on earth. Satan, therefore, “accuses” God’s people “day and night” (Rev 12:10). He does not accuse his followers but specifically God’s people, giving reasons why God’s people should not be saved.

We also see Satan elsewhere in the role of the accuser:

    • Satan accused Job before God, saying to God, “put forth Your hand now and touch all that he has; he will surely curse You to Your face” (Job 1:8-11).
    • Satan stood at the right hand of Joshua, the high priest, to accuse him (Zech 3:1-2).
    • The “rulers and authorities” have been “disarmed” by canceling out the “certificate of debt” (Col 2:14-15) which is the record of our sins. This implies that Satan and his angels (“the rulers and authorities”) are the ones who keep records of our sins.
    • God’s righteousness was questioned because “He passed over the sins previously committed” (Rom 3:25-26).

This “war in heaven,” therefore, is not to determine who has the most physical power. It is a dispute between the angels of heaven over whether God’s judgments, as to who will be saved to eternal life and who will die, are perfect. (For a further discussion, see Why Satan thought he could win.)

SATAN’S ACCUSATIONS

God condemned Satan and his followers but granted eternal life to some other sinners. By meticulously listing all the sins committed by the people whom God elected to eternal life, Satan and his angels accuse God of unfair judgment. Satan shows that the elect are also sinners and, if he and his angels deserve to be “thrown into the lake of fire” (Rev 20:10), then the elect also deserves to be “thrown into the lake of fire” (Rev 20:14). And if some are forgiven, then all sinners should be forgiven, including Satan and his angels. Consequently, Satan would argue that God acts arbitrarily when He forgives some sinners but condemns others.

MICHAEL’S DEFENSE

Michael is “the great prince who stands guard over the sons of your people” (Dan 12:1). He and his angels protect God’s people and defend God’s judgments. Michael is perhaps the same as the Old Testament Angel of the Lord. For example, while Satan accused “Joshua the high priest,” “the angel of the LORD” defended Joshua (Zech 3:1-2).

SATAN IS CONVINCING.

If we remember that many of the mighty angels have been convinced by Satan’s arguments (Rev 12:4, 7; cf. Isa 9:15), we realize that his arguments must be very convincing and even loyal angels would be uncertain whether God’s judgments are always perfect.

This war raged in heaven ever since Adam sinned. Since an end to this war was only made through Jesus’ death, in the time before Christ, it seems as if the war will never end. For every word that Michael and his angels spoke in defense of God’s people, Satan and his angels had counterarguments. Consequently, Michael and his angels were unable to show conclusively that God’s judgments are always perfect.

GOD DELAYS THE EXECUTION OF HIS JUDGMENTS.

John’s weeping symbolizes the distress caused by the dispute over God’s judgments. The big question is whether God’s judgments, as to who is condemned to “the lake of fire,” (Rev 20:14) and who “will awake … to everlasting life” (Dan 12:2) are always perfect. A single error by God would reduce the perfect happiness of the whole universe for all eternity.

That God would not allow. Therefore, for as long as been one of Satan’s accusations remains unrefuted, until all understand that His judgments are perfect in all instances, God delays Christ’s return and the implementation of His judgments, including the resurrection of His people and the destruction of the condemned. For the happiness of the whole universe, God wants all to understand that His judgments are perfect.

This conclusion gives explains the continuance of evil in the world today and the pain caused by it. This interpretation also promises a wonderful future. 

REVELATION 5 AND 12 DESCRIBE THE SAME CRISIS.

For the following reasons, Revelation 5 and 12 describe the same events:

The fifth verse of both chapters refers to Christ’s death:

      • Rev 5: John is told to stop weeping because Jesus “has overcome” to break the seven seals (Rev 5:5). Then Jesus appears in the form of a slain lamb (Rev 6:6), indicating that He ‘overcame’ by dying like a lamb.
      • Rev 12:5 describes His life, death, resurrection, and ascension.

The first four verses of both chapters describe the time before Christ:

      • Rev 5:1-4 describes the time before Christ as a time of great sorrow when nobody was able to break the seals or open the book. It seemed as if this crisis will never be resolved.
      • Rev 12:1-4 describes the time before Christ. The dragon stood before the woman who was “in pain to give birth.

Both chapters describe a crisis in heaven:

      • Rev 5 symbolizes the crisis as that nobody is able to break the seals of the book that is sealed up with seven seals (Rev 5:1-3). Since “no one in heaven … was able to open the book or to look into it,” this is not a lack of knowledge on earth but symbolizes something which the heavenly beings did not understand. Since John is now in heaven (Rev 4:1), his weeping (Rev 5:4) symbolizes the sorrow in heaven caused by the inability to understand. That John weeps “greatly” indicates that this information or understanding is critical for the happiness of the universe.
      • Rev 12:7 describes the crisis as a “war” between the angels of heaven. Rev 5 does not mention an enemy but Rev 12 describes it as a war between “Michael and his angels” and “the dragon and his angels.” The dragon is Satan (Rev 12:9).

In both chapters, Christ’s death solved the crisis:

      • Rev 5: Jesus died to open the book (Rev 5:5).
      • Rev 12: As argued above, Satan and his angels were expelled from heaven (Rev 12:8-9) as a direct consequence of Christ’s death. Their expulsion brought an end to the war in heaven.
  • In both chapters, the crisis relates to an inability to understand:
      • Rev 5 symbolizes the crisis as a sealed book, which implies a lack of information.
      • In Rev 12, the lack of information is a dispute about God’s judgments; an inability to decisively prove that God’s judgments are always perfect.

THE SEALED BOOK IS THE BOOK OF LIFE.

Because both chapters describe a crisis in heaven that involves an inability to understand and that was resolved by Christ’s death, we conclude that these chapters describe the same crisis. Consequently, the war in Rev 12 explains the nature of the concealed information in Rev 5. The inability to understand in Revelation 5, symbolizes by a sealed book, is the same as the dispute about God’s judgments; about who should be saved.

Since it is the book of life that contains God’s judgments concerning who will live (Rev 21:27) and who will die (Rev 20:15; cf. Rom 8:13), this implies that the sealed book is the book of life.

IMPLICATIONS

THE SEVEN SEALS

The seals symbolize the things that conceal the contents of the book. The seven seals, therefore, are Satan’s brilliantly presented accusations against the people whom God elected to eternal life.  

NOT UNDERSTOOD, RATHER THAN NOT KNOWN

God’s judgments are known. This implies that the information in the book was available. However, due to Satan’s brilliantly presented and informed accusations and objections to God’s judgments, the heavenly beings were unable to show irrefutably that God’s judgments are always perfect. The sealed book, therefore, symbolizes things that are not understood, rather than things that are completely hidden.

This is similar to the prophecies of Daniel that were available but sealed up in the sense that they would only be understood in the time of the end (Dan 12:4, 9; cf. Ezekiel 2-3).

EXPLAINED, BUT NOT UNDERSTOOD

 We should not understand this as that God’s judgments were not explained, but rather that explanations are inadequate:

To judge between people, who are all sinners, and to decide who should receive eternal life and who will be destroyed (e.g., Phil 3:19; 2 Thess 2:9) is very complex and humanly impossible.

This complexity is made worse by the objections that Lucifer—the light bearer—brilliantly raises to God’s grace for the people identified in the book of life.

Some commentators add that not even God was able to open the book, but that is missing the point. It is God’s decisions that are in dispute. He certainly does explain, but created beings, without His infinite knowledge and understanding, are unable to understand. Further, God does not want us simply to accept His word! He wants us to understand (cf. John 15:15)!

JON PAULIEN

Jon Paulien agrees that, for the sealed book to be the book of life is a very appealing possibility, but he argues as follows:

The nature of the cosmic conflict addressed in chapter twelve and hinted at in chapter five suggests that the book of life has a more narrow focus than the universal crisis described so dramatically in Revelation 5.

My question to Jon would be, what can be of greater significance than if the intelligent beings of God’s creation are unsure about the perfect accuracy of God’s judgments, with the result that sin continues and that the resurrection of God’s people is indefinitely postponed?

BOOK OF REVELATION 10

One of the possibilities which Jon Paulien lists for the sealed book is that it is related to the book of Revelation 10. My main argument against this proposal is that the sixth seal contains the signs of Christ’s return (Rev 6:12-14). The seventh seal, therefore, will only be broken at or after the return of Christ (Rev 6:17). The book of Revelation 5, therefore, is sealed until after the return of Christ while the book in Revelation 10 is open when it comes down, is eaten (understood) by John, and becomes the basis for his preaching (Rev 10:10-11), which must be before the return of Christ.

Furthermore, as Jon mentions, a different word for book is used (Greek: Rev 5 biblion, Rev 10 biblaridion).

FINAL CONCLUSIONS

  • To understand what the seal-events are, we need to understand what the sealed book represents.
  • Revelation 5 and 12 describe the same crisis and both show the consequences of Christ’s victory on earth. In Rev 5, Christ is enthroned. In Rev 12, Satan is expelled from heaven.
  • In the time before Christ, there was a crisis in heaven. The loyal angels were unable to refute Satan’s allegations that God judges unfairly.
  • Christ died to be regarded as “worthy” to explain God’s judgments. If Jesus did not “overcome” (Rev 5:5), evil would have to exist for all eternity.
  • The seven seals are Satan’s brilliantly presented accusations against the people whom God elected to eternal life.
  • To break the seals means to refute Satan’s accusations.
  • To open the book does not mean to learn WHO is listed in the book, but to understand WHY they and only they are saved.

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