Recently, my wife’s Step-Grandmother died. Along with a plethora of other things, we inherited from her house stuffed with treasures a very large Bible.
It’s about the size of a PC tower—they don’t make them like they used to. It’s the Step-Grandmother’s family Bible, it has all her family’s names written in it going back many generations, culminating in her name at the end.
There’s space, we’re quite tempted to add our own names. Which got us thinking. You see, it’s sort of scandalous for us to write our names in this Bible. Not because it’s old or because it’s a Bible or because you shouldn’t write in books (I prefer a pencil, but if you don’t write in a book how do you carry on the conversation the author started?). It feels scandalous because it’s not our family.
There’s no blood relationship between us and her, and she married into the family after my mother-in-law had left home, so there’s not such a strong familial relationship either. We’re connected on a family tree, related by law, but it’s a relation that feels estranged and technical rather than real.
But we could write our names in, because she is family, despite it all being a bit nominal. Writing our names in could mean we join the family.
Which, by way of analogy, is what Jesus has done for us.
Jesus & his Book
In Daniel 7 we are told a magnificent vision of the Ancient of Days, and that he opens ‘the books.’ What books? By Daniel 12, the mighty Michael is poised to deliver all whose names are found in the book. So, it’s a book of names.
In Philippians 4, Paul calls this the ‘book of life,’ and speaks of his and others’ names being written into it. In John’s Apocalypse we are told that ‘the one who conquers’ will not have their names blotted out of the book (Revelation 3), that the names in it were written there before the foundation of the world, and that it’s the Lamb’s book (Revelation 13). It, like in Daniel 12, is the key to either passing into life or death (Revelation 20).
It would be a stretch to say that the Lamb’s book of life is akin to a family Bible—there’s no reason for attaching family overtones to it—and yet there’s something that smells a little similar here. By writing my name in a book I can belong to a people who are not my people: that’s exactly what the gospel promises to us. By being joined with Christ we become part of the people of God (which the Bible usually refers to as ‘Israel’) whatever our previous genealogy is.
What is Jesus’ book?
In Isaiah 49 the prophet says that even a mother might forget her weeping children in some awful circumstance. But Yahweh the Lord most high will never forget his children. Why not? Because he has engraved us on the palms of his hands. Presumably what he has engraved is our names.
Before we scoff about taking too literally poetic passages (God doesn’t have hands), we should read the book the same way, it’s an analogue rather than a set of sheathes of paper either bound in codices or rolled in scrolls. The book of names is, I would suggest, written on God’s palms.
Metaphorically speaking, anyway. He takes our names with him wherever he goes.
Except, not just metaphorically speaking. One of the weirdest and most wonderful moments in the Bible is when we discover that the resurrected Christ, the firstborn from the dead, in his gloriously new humanity, still bears the scars of the cross in his hands (John 20). He invites Thomas to touch them so that they know it’s him.
When he ascended to the heavens Jesus took humanity into the Godhead forever more. He didn’t stop being incarnate, he still is. There is a flesh-and-blood human body in the heavens, belonging to the eternal Word in which all things hold together.
Which is to say that he still has scars. On his hands.
What is Jesus’ book of names? He got them tattooed on his hands with a Roman nail. He bears forever those who he chose before the foundation of the world in his scars, eternally.
Which means, dear friend, that if you are following Jesus and struggling to keep going, know this: the God who spoke the world into being wrote your name in his own blood on his hand. One day, when the heavens are ripped away and the earth remade in fire, you and I can sit with him and look at them together.
We will find both our names, written before time, written in time, written forever.
Photo by Pierre Bamin on Unsplash
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