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Please explain: What does it mean to have your name written in God’s book?

Imagine the world of long ago. A world with no letters, nor words to read. There were no books, no libraries, no records, no databases. Only memories that changed and became unreliable.

Then take one more step forward to a time when letters were new and the alphabet was a cutting-edge invention. When, for the first time, human language could be captured in writing. That writing could be inscribed on a clay tablet or a papyrus scroll. Now memories could be preserved. Records could be kept, something that was accurate, certain, and more reliable than any memory.

“There will be a time of distress”

But enough about words and books for now. As chapter 12 opens in the book of Daniel, Daniel is focusing rather on the cosmic conflict between good and evil, the angelic and the demonic, Christ and Antichrist. He reveals the crescendo of evil that the Scriptures testify everywhere will happen in the last and dreadful days. “There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then” (Daniel 12:1).

This battle occurs not so much on a physical level. It is rather an attack on what we think and believe. It takes place at the highest spiritual level. It’s uncanny in its power, horrendous in its impact. Satan works with the lie, his stock in trade. With those lies, demons shape how people see things, replacing reality with delusion, influencing patterns of thought and behavior. These demonic powers seek to storm the citadel of the human mind itself, to corrupt every good gift of God: turning reason into madness, order into chaos. Though the assault is invisible to the naked eye, Daniel has drawn back the veil to reveal it as a demonic revolt that aims at nothing less than the destruction of God’s people and the devastation of God’s creation.

The wise can see it happening. They read about its effects in the headlines of our newspapers: wars and rumors of war, nature itself in tumult, the headlong human revolt against God’s natural order, widespread contempt for truth, naked hostility to God’s people, open disdain for family life, and withering scorn for government. “You will be hated by everyone” (Matthew 10:22), Jesus says to his disciples. Casualties will be high. This is a war for hearts and minds, for the soul and the will. From some, God will ask for the last full measure of devotion as they give their lives for the truth.

“At that time Michael . . . will arise”

In the face of such a grim prospect as this, one of the sharpest temptations for God’s people is to lose heart. Jesus says of those terrible days, “The love of most will grow cold” (Matthew 24:12). “How much longer can this go on?” beleaguered believers might ask. “How can a faithful God tolerate such evil and injustice?” Let’s make it personal: I myself at times struggle with doubt and despair. As I think on these things I too, in fear and trembling, wonder, Will I be able to stand firm? Can I be saved?

To our fearful hearts, the prophet speaks a word of powerful comfort, “At that time Michael, the great prince who protects your people, will arise” (Daniel 12:1) God doesn’t leave us alone in this battle. God in his magnificent mercy has sent his mighty archangel Michael, prince of the Lord’s angelic armies, to protect and shield us. Michael—the name itself assures us of victory. His name means “Who is like God?” and reminds us that “if God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31). God has commissioned Michael to keep us from harm and to frustrate the plans of our enemy.

“Multitudes . . . will awake”

What’s more even the cold hand of death cannot separate me from God’s love. Though my personal part in the battle ends at the grave, death is not the end of the battle for me or for anyone else. God has still one more act in the divine drama of rescuing his fallen creation.

God caused his prophet to write it down plain as day in a book, using the clearest language, for all to read and understand, “But at that time your people—everyone whose name is found written in the book—will be delivered. Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt” (Daniel 12:1,2). Daniel sees beforehand the glory of Messiah Jesus, who will come in power to raise the dead and to right what’s wrong in the world.

“Everyone . . . written in the book will be delivered”

Now, what’s all this about God’s book? What can it mean? Whose names are written there? Remember the significance of books and writing in the ancient world. Books keep a permanent record. Writing down a name preserves it in a list forever. “Look it up! Look it up!” we say even today, knowing that people will find a more sure and certain answer inscribed in a book somewhere.

God’s book of believers is a record inscribed in the heart of God himself. Nothing is more sure or certain than that. He can never forget his people. He loves each one of them with an everlasting love. Before the world began, he knew them, loved them, and chose them to be his own in Christ Jesus. He wrote their names down in his book. Everything he does, everything that he allows to happen, ensure that they are all gathered to him forever in glory. Pay attention to that little word everyone. Everyone written in the book will be delivered. Not one will be lost.

But there is, perhaps, a troubling question. Has it occurred to you? “How can I be sure my name is found in God’s book?” First of all, bear in mind who should benefit from this prophecy. It is not written to create fear and worry in believers’ minds. It’s written to soothe our fears—to quiet our anxious hearts. By this picture, God is tenderly saying, “Hush! Be still and know that I am your God and you are my child. I will never let you go. See, I have written your name in my book, inscribing it on my heart forever.”

The proof is in another book. There he asks us to look at the cross, where Jesus died for all. That includes you! That Book diverts our attention from all the distress to look at the tomb where they laid his body. There you were buried with him—buried by baptism into his death. Now look again at his grave. He’s no longer there. And you are no longer there either. Jesus now lives, his back forever turned to death and sin. So do you.

Trust in his promise: In Baptism, all he has is yours. By baptism, he has called you by name. You are his own forever. Your name is written in his book because of Jesus.

Author: Paul Wendland
Volume 108, Number 11
Issue: November 2021

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