Alma 5:61-61 — LeGrand Baker — Book of Life in John’s Revelation
We begin with Alma 5:61-21.There are three things in these verses that strike me as especially important. One is Alma’s conclusion where he reiterates the authority with which he speaks to the members of the Church, but does not impose himself upon those who are not members of the Church:
61 And now I, Alma, do command you in the language of him who hath commanded me, that ye observe to do the words which I have spoken unto you.
62 I speak by way of command unto you that belong to the church; and unto those who do not belong to the church I speak by way of invitation, saying: Come and be baptized unto repentance, that ye also may be partakers of the fruit of the tree of life.
The other two are: (1 ) his references to the temple text in Isaiah 52, and (2) these words: “For the names of the righteous shall be written in the book of life, and unto them will I grant an inheritance at my right hand.” This is the only place in the Book of Mormon where the phrase “book of life” is used.
I would like to discuss both of those last two.
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(1 ) ALMA’S REFERENCES TO THE TEMPLE TEXT IN ISAIAH 52,
Alma’s charge: “be ye separate, and touch not their unclean things,” is a paraphrase of Isaiah’s
Depart ye, depart ye, go ye out from thence, touch no unclean thing; go ye out of the midst of her; be ye clean, that bear the vessels of the LORD.(Isaiah 52:11)
Isaiah 52 is probably the most frequently quoted scriptures in the scriptures. It is quoted in every one of the standard works except the Pearl of Great Price whose Old Testament portions pre-date Isaiah. (Lamentations 4:15; 2 Corinthians 6:16-18; 1 Nephi 13:37; Mosiah 12:20-23, 15:14-18; 3 Nephi 20:29-46; Moroni 10:28-34; D&C 128:19.) The most recognizable phrase from that chapter is, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings.” Abinadi equates the persons described here to the Saviour, the prophets, and those who follow the prophets. I believe it is the promise of sacral kingship to the righteous. The mountain would of course be the mount in Jerusalem where the Temple stood. The feet probably refer to the king’s using the Ark of the Covenant as his footstool when he sat upon the throne of Jehovah in the Holy of Holies after his coronation at the conclusion of the New Year festival. A related verse that is deleted from the Bible’s Isaiah chapter 49, but is restored in the First Nephi version reads:
13 Sing, O heavens; and be joyful, O earth; for the feet of those who are in the east shall be established; and break forth into singing, O mountains; for they shall be smitten no more; for the Lord hath comforted his people, and will have mercy upon his afflicted. (1 Nephi 21:13)
So, it is apparent to me that Isaiah 52 is about the ordinances that consecrate priests and sacral kings. If that is correct, then Alma’s using Isaiah’s temple text in the context of his own speech consists perfectly with the message he is delivering:
57 And now I say unto you, all you that are desirous to follow the voice of the good shepherd, come ye out from the wicked, and be ye separate, and touch not their unclean things; and behold, their names shall be blotted out, that the names of the wicked shall not be numbered among the names of the righteous, that the word of God may be fulfilled, which saith: The names of the wicked shall not be mingled with the names of my people;
58 For the names of the righteous shall be written in the book of life, and unto them will I grant an inheritance at my right hand. And now, my brethren, what have ye to say against this? I say unto you, if ye speak against it, it matters not, for the word of God must be fulfilled. (Alma 5:57-58)
The Good Shepherd is the Saviour, and following him suggests both ritual and personal attitudes and actions. “Be ye separate” is an invitation to become Zion—notwithstanding the “real world” that is all around us. “Touch not their unclean things” is part of Isaiah’s temple text.” “Name” has a covenant referent because new covenants always have new names. “For the names of the righteous shall be written in the book of life, and unto them will I grant an inheritance at my right hand,” is the conclusion of his sermon, and carries the whole burden of what has gone before it.
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(2) THE BOOK OF LIFE
The major source of information about the book of life is found in Revelation. About that, the Prophet wrote:
6 And further, I want you to remember that John the Revelator was contemplating this very subject in relation to the dead, when he declared, as you will find recorded in Revelation 20:12—And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged out of those things which werewritten in the books, according to their works.
7 You will discover in this quotation that the books were opened; and another book was opened, which was the book of life; but the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works; consequently, the books spoken of must be the books which contained the record of their works, and refer to the records which are kept on the earth. And the book which was the book of life is the record which is kept in heaven; the principle agreeing precisely with the doctrine which is commanded you in the revelation contained in the letter which I wrote to you previous to my leaving my place—that in all your recordings it may be recorded in heaven. (D&C 128:8-7)
With that as a key, that is, knowing that “the book which was the book of life is the record which is kept in heaven,” one is now equipped to analyze what is written about it in Revelation. It is first mentioned as part of the seven letters the apostle John wrote to the seven churches.
Understanding that in the full context of all seven letters is important:
In the first letter, John commends the Ephesians for their obedience:
3 I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars: And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name’s sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted. (Rev 2:2-3).
Then he promises:
7 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God. (v. 7)
The sacrificers of the Smymains is the subject of the second letter:
9 I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty….
10 Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.
11 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death. (v. 9-11)
He accused the people of Pergamos of eating things sacrificed unto idols, and of committing fornication. Then he promised:
17 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it. (v. 17)
To the church in Thyatira he wrote: wrote:
19 I know thy works, and charity, and service, and faith, and thy patience, and thy works; (v. 19)
He promised them sacral kingship:
26 And he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations:
27 And he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers: even as I received of my Father.
28 And I will give him the morning star.
19 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches. (v26-29)
To the church in Sardis he wrote:
4 Thou hast a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white: for they are worthy. (Rev. 3: 4)
To them he promised:
5 He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels.
6 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches. (v. 5-6)
To the people in Philadelphia he defined the Saviour in terms of the sealing powers:
7 These things saith he that is holy, he that is true, he that hath the key of David, he that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth; I know thy works: behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it: for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name. (v. 7-8)
To them he promised:
10 Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world….
12 Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon him my new name.
13 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches. (v. 10-13)
To the Laodiceans he wrote:
19 As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent.
20 Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me. (v. 19-20)
And he promised.
21 To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne.
22 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches. (v. 21-22)
After this, the Book of Revelation frequently mentions that one’s inclusion in the book of life is a major criterion upon which one is judged. (Revelation 13: 8; 17:8; 20:11-15; 21:27; 22:19)
In D&C 132:19 the Lord uses the same criterion to define those who will go to the Celestial Kingdom. The Lord opens the revelation that is section 88 with different words, yet that difference seems to help to clarify the meaning of the book of life:
1 Verily, thus saith the Lord unto you who have assembled yourselves together to receive his will concerning you:
2 Behold, this is pleasing unto your Lord, and the angels rejoice over you; the alms of your prayers have come up into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth, and are recorded in the book of the names of the sanctified, even them of the celestial world. (D&C 88:1-2.)
Alma’s words are perfectly consistent with what the other scriptures say about the book of life.
58 For the names of the righteous shall be written in the book of life, and unto them will I grant an inheritance at my right hand. And now, my brethren, what have ye to say against this? I say unto you, if ye speak against it, it matters not, for the word of God must be fulfilled. (Alma 5:58)
It is interesting, perhaps significant, that there is no reference to the book of life in our Old Testament. That makes Alma’s reference to the book of life the oldest we have in the scriptures. Yet, because he mentions it without describing what it is, it is apparent that both he and his listeners were well acquainted with its meaning. That is just one more evidence that the brass plates contained a much richer and more comprehensive understanding of the gospel than our Old Testament, and gives further credence to the notion that the earliest version of the Law of Moses focused on the Saviour and his atonement.