My friend Matthew grew up in Tazewell, Tennessee. Because I also have roots in that very town, I asked him about church services there. He told me of one Primitive Baptist Church where the people sang an alarming song to a haunting melody, “Please check the book again. I know my name is there. I went to church on Sundays but I never knelt in prayer...” The song speaks from the point of view of one who stands before the judgment seat and finds out his name is not in the Lamb’s book of life.
In these verses, John envisions the great white throne judgment where people great and small, famous and infamous march in front of God’s throne. The book of life is opened and the destiny of each is determined by what they did. If this sets off our Baptist eternal security alarms, in the larger context of the New Testament, we might say they are judged specifically by, “what they did with Jesus.” Those who are born once die twice: physically on earth and eternally in the lake of fire. But those who are born twice, physically on earth and spiritually by trusting in Christ will only die once.
Years ago a marvelous communicator released a book which explained that there is no hell or eternal lake of fire. His reasoning was God always gets what he wants and he wants everyone to spend eternity with him. This notion would have startled Jesus and the Apostle John. Jesus taught about hell as a real place. John saw a lake of fire where people were going. We may wish there were no hell, but our wish does not make it so. The good news of Jesus’ offer of eternal life is no one has to go to hell.
Our study of Jonah last week reminded me of the preacher who spoke with a church member about a year after he arrived at the church. The church member compared the pastor to their former pastor and said, “I like that you are not like the last preacher who was always telling us we are going to hell if we don’t trust in Jesus.” The pastor protested, “But I believe that and I have preached it.” Pondering her own words, she explained, “Well, that’s true, but you preach like you don’t want us to go there.” Jonah preached fire and brimstone for Nineveh and wanted it to happen. By contrast another preacher wept as he preached, “I never joke about hell. People are going there.”
In his trilogy about the Singer, Calvin Miller wrote about a man who said to God, “How can you be loving and send me to hell?” God answered, “I could never send you to hell, but if you choose to go there, I can never keep you out.” Remembering the song in Tennessee, “Please check the book again,” I wonder, is your name written in the Lamb’s book of life. If not, now is the time to make sure that it is. Trust Christ. Do it now. You will never regret it.