And books were opened
12b…and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. 13 And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. (Revelation 20:12b-13–ESV)
What is going on with all of these books? Well there are two different categories of books here. One category seems comprised of many books and the but one. Both are introduced in verse 12.
Category 1: “many books“ This set comprises what you and I (everyone really) has done. The deeds we do and have done in life are not forgotten. They are recorded in God’s books. Verses 12 and 13 tells us that the dead were evaluated according to their deeds.
Maybe our best, unfortunately best, analogy relates to Santa. Surely you have heard of Santa, “Making a list and checking it twice.” The point there is entirely materialistic. When the Bible tells us that books were opened it is telling us of a real “Santa list.” Thing is, this is for adults too, and of near infinite importance for their eternities.
Category 2: “book of life“ Eternity on earth or in hell derives from whether one’s name is in the book of life. You don’t get in the book of life by a long list of good deeds, good motivations, a good compassion level. You get in that book by the blood of Jesus Christ. The blood of the one seated on the Great White Throne.
So is the naughty-or-nice list relevant? Look at verses 12 and 13 to see the answer. All the people before that Great White Throne are judged according to what is in the books. So, the naughty-or-nice list has some impact. The impact it has is on the level of judgment or the level of reward in each person’s “forever phase.”
Eternity is no equality
While things like our race, nationality, affiliations, gender, heritage, etc. do not effect the playing field before God that does not mean eternity is equality.
There will be ranks in eternity, both on the new earth and in the lake-of-fire, hell as we more commonly refer to it. These will be ranks of good on the one side and ranks of torment on the bad.
On the new earth “ranks of good” does not mean the more elevated are despots though that is how we naturally conceive of it on our fallen earth. New earth-life will be life like Christ demonstrated, but everyone will have his character. Remember how Jesus washed the feet of the disciples? The exalted did the menial. How exactly these inversions will mesh in the wider society I cannot imagine, but I do imagine it will take the shape of “Oh, yeah, this is what it is supposed to look like.” Derived from that will be thankfulness and honor to God who made it so.
To use another of C.S. Lewis’ analogies you and I probably cannot free-hand draw a perfect circle. That said, even a child without having been told what a perfect circle is can recognize one when they see it.
So when the new life dawns on the earth and we see how ranks really shake out it will be like recognizing a perfect circle. It will be satisfying, not regrettable.