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Recently I have been memorizing and reveling in some wonderful verses from the book of Revelation. Actually, one of them, Revelation 13:8, has been a favorite of mine for many years. But it is a verse that can confuse and disturb. My dealing with it today may disturb you. There are, in fact, two fairly different ways this verse can be translated into English. I want you to see the emphasis of these two translations as a foundation for what I have to say. We can see one in the English Standard Version of the New Testament that I have been using most recently. I will print verses 7 and 8 to give you the context about the beast rising out of the sea.
“Also it was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. And authority was given it over every tribe and people and language and nation, and all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain.”
Revelation 13:7,8 e.s.v
The emphasis here is that the only people in the whole world who will not worship the Beast are those whose names were written before the foundation of the Earth in the Lamb's Book of Life.
Now, let me show you the other emphasis from verse 8 in The New International Version which I have used for 40-plus years.
“All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast—all whose names have not been written in the Lamb’s book of life, the Lamb who was slain from the creation of the world.”
Revelation 13:7 n.i.v.
This translation focuses on the Lamb of God being slain from the creation of the world.
It is worth something to try to see which is the correct translation here. Henry A. Sawtelle in the American commentary noted that revisers from England generally focused on the lamb being slain before the foundation of the world. While translators in America focused on names being written in the book of life. Of course the NIV, which was not written when the American commentary was published, is an exception to this. It is also an exception to something I have noted. Translations done in the last 50 or 75 years tend to focus on names being written rather than the Lamb that was slain. I tell you this to make the point that neither of these are good arguments for how it should be translated. I may be more comfortable with one because I'm an American, but I don't think John or the Holy Spirit of God would be impressed.
The same is true of chronological snobbery. The Holy Spirit does not necessarily like what is old simply because it is old, or what is new because it is up to date. And having studied the syntax in Greek has convinced me that John was emphasizing both of these points equally. It does not matter which one of them I am more comfortable with.
This leaves me with a dilemma. When did these two things actually happen? I know very well when I became a child of God. I was there. I remember the monumental struggle, the spiritual war. I knew that my eternal destiny depended on the decision I made. I knew that if I refused God I would be choosing separation from Him, and would spend eternity in hell. To say that my name was written in the Lamb's Book of Life before I agreed that it should be, seems to be saying struggle and my decision did not matter. And I know they did matter.
And while it may not be quite as emotional to me, the same was true of the crucifixion of Jesus. It took place at a moment in time in the middle of History. Ask those eyewitnesses who saw him scourged and nailed to the cross, who heard him cry, “Father, forgive them.” They were there when the sun was blotted out, and the Earth shook, and the veil of the temple was torn in two as Jesus breathed His last and died.
But both of these statements overlook some things about the complex nature of the Eternal God. Theologians have pointed out that God experiences time differently than we do. The Bible shows Him to be omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent. The latter two of these especially apply here. Saying God is omnipresent means He is present in every when and where. His omniscience means He knows everything and has known all things from before He created time. A good play will follow a timeline. You can know which scene follows which. But the timeline of a play will not tell you there was a play practice last Thursday night. That is beyond the timeline of the play.
It is true that Jesus suffered for our sins at Calvary. In Romans 6:10 and elsewhere the Bible says Jesus died “once for all” for our sins. Hebrews 5:8-9 speaks to His ordeal.
“Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him,”
The scripture says, Jesus “learned obedience.” He had always been obedient to his Father. But He had to go through the trial. And being made perfect He became the source of eternal salvation. He was always sinless. How could He have been made perfect? Well, He had to go through the ordeal. You do not judge a perfect football player, by the cut of his uniform before the game. You may see something about how he played by the blood on his uniform at the end.
But God the Father, God the son, and God the Holy Spirit had been there before.
I've actually heard people blame God for the sin of man and the condition of the Earth because He, being omniscient, knew beforehand we would sin, and yet He still created us. Long before you, or I, or Adam had sinned, God knew, God had experienced what it would cost him to redeem us.
The same is true of my conversion. Before the foundation of the earth God knew that I would receive Him. Does that mean that God knew that I would receive Him, so he wrote my name in the Lamb's Book of Life? While that is certainly true, I believe that oversimplifies the matter. It misses the wonder and mystery of God's infinite complexity. In John 6:37 Jesus also said all that the Father gives Him would come to Him. In John 6:44 He said no one could come to him without the Father drawing him. The Bible's point is that God, and the things of God, are more complex and more wonderful than we can fully grasp. When we oversimplify them for the sake of our comfort we miss much of what God is saying and doing in history and in our lives.