What is The Second Death?
Who Dies, Who Does Not?
A Compilation of Articles and Notes sn
Revelation 21:8 New International Version (NIV)
8 But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.”
What you have just read is extremely serious and requires definition to understand completely. I only “touch” upon it here.
Dictionaries – Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology – Second Death
This phrase is found only in Revelation 2:11, 20:6, 20:14, and 21:8. The Targums use it ( Deut 33:6 ; Psalm 49:11 ). Philo uses the term to refer to all miseries arising from sin causing physical death followed by hopelessness in the afterlife (Rewards and Punishments 2.419). Revelation 2:10-11 contrasts it with the life given to the faithful. Death is the loss of the only kind of life worthy of the name.
The word used for “eternal punishment” in Matthew 25:46 is kolasis [kovlasi”]. According to Bauer writers during the New Testament period used it only of temporal torture and conscious torment in the afterlife. No other idea for koine Greek is recognized. Moulton and Milligan can find only examples in papyrus where kolasis [kovlasi”] involves the person actually feeling the punishment. It is used elsewhere in the New Testament only in 1 John 4:18, which says fear has torment.
The second death is to be cast into the lake of fire ( Rev 20:14 ). This is a permanent state ( Rev 14:11 ), where in anything that would qualify as “life” is forever absent.
from tempus (genitive temporis) “time, season, proper time or season,” of unknown origin. Related: Temporality.
- of or relating to time.
- pertaining to or concerned with the present life or this world; worldly: temporal joys.
- enduring for a time only; temporary; transitory: as apposed to “eternal.”
Jewish eschatology is the area of theology and philosophyconcerned with events that will happen in the end of days and related concepts, according to the Hebrew Bible and Jewish thought. This includes the ingathering of the exiled diaspora, the coming of a Jewish Messiah, afterlife, and the revival of the dead Tzadikim. In Judaism, end times are usually called the “end of days” (aḥarit ha-yamim, אחרית הימים), a phrase that appears several times in the Tanakh.
Until the late modern era, the standard Jewish belief was that after one dies, one’s immortal soul joins God in the world to come while one’s body decomposes. At the end of days, God will recompose one’s body, place within it one’s immortal soul, and stand before God in judgement. The idea of a messianic age has a prominent place in Jewish thought, and is incorporated as part of the end of days. Jewish philosophers from medieval times to the present day have emphasized the soul’s immortality and deemphasized the resurrection of the dead.
Main article: Jewish eschatology
Although the term is not found in the Hebrew Bible, Sysling, in his study (1996) of Teḥiyyat ha-metim (Hebrew; “resurrection of the dead“) in the Palestinian Targums, identifies a consistent usage of the term “second death” in texts of the Second Temple period and early Rabbinical writings. In most cases, the “second death” is identical with the judgment, following resurrection, in Gehinnom at the Last Day.
The targumim (singular: “targum”, Hebrew: תרגום) were spoken paraphrases, explanations and expansions of the Jewish scriptures (also called the Tanakh) that a Rabbi would give in the common language of the listeners, which was then often Aramaic. That had become necessary near the end of the 1st century BCE, as the common language was in transition and Hebrew was used for little more than schooling and worship.The noun “Targum” is derived from the early semitic quadriliteralroot ‘trgm’, and the Akkadian term ‘targummanu’ refers to “translator, interpreter”
Main article: Christian eschatology
The main occurrences of the term “second death” in Christianity are in the series of uses in Revelation, 2:11, 20:6, 20:14 and 21:8. There are different interpretations as to the meaning of the term “second death”.
One passage that describes the second death can be found in the New Testament, the book of Revelation 21:8: “The cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars – their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death”.
Essentially, when people are saved, they die only an earthly death, which the Bible refers to on several occasions as sleep. The saved are not subject to the second death. When unsaved people die, they will await the judgement, when they will be resurrected to punishment and be cast into the Lake of Fire for all eternity. Though that view is held by most Christians, a few Christians do not believe that, and there are different beliefs among different denominations and factions.
Although most Christians who believe in the immortality of the soul regard the second death to mean eternal suffering or torment in a place called the lake of fire, a few Christians believe in the immortality of the soul but teach universal salvation in which God will save everyone at some later time. Mortalists, including some Anglicans, some Lutherans, all Seventh-day Adventists, and others, oppose the idea of eternal suffering but believe that the second death is an actual second death and that the soul perishes and will be annihilated after the final judgment.
Targum Jeremiah 51:17 has the Aramaic “they shall die the second death and not live in the world to come”, which appears to depart from the other Targum uses in not being explicit that the second death is afterresurrection but may instead be an exclusion from resurrection.
The majority reading of Targum Psalm 49:11 has the Aramaic translation “For the wise see that the evildoers are judged in Gehinnom”. However, several manuscripts, including Paris No.10, Montefiore No.7, and Targum of Salomos 113 have the variant Aramaic translation “He sees men wise in wickedness, who die a second death, and are judged in Gehinnom”.
The term “second death” appears only in the book of Revelation. It appears four times: Rev. 2:11; 20:6; 20:14-15; and 21:8. The first part of the third passage and the last passage define the expression “second death” for us as follows,
Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. (NASB) Rev. 20:14
But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death. (NASB) Rev. 21:8
That is, the second death is defined as spending eternity in the Lake of Fire which burns forever. Revelation 20:6 tells us that God’s holy ones will not spend eternity in the Lake of Fire.
Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no power . . . (NASB) Rev. 20:6
This is wonderful news for everyone who believes in Jesus Christ because those who believe in Jesus Christ are called saints or “holy ones.” “Holy one” is the meaning of the Greek word that is translated as “saints.” In Romans 1:7 we discover that the apostle Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome and called them saints.
. . . to all who are beloved of God in Rome, called as saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (NASB) Rom. 1:7
Paul also called the Christians in Ephesus, Philippians, and in Colossae by the term “saints.”
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, to the saints who are at Ephesus and who are faithful in Christ Jesus . . . (NASB) Eph. 1:1
Paul and Timothy, bond-servants of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, including the overseers and deacons . . . (NASB) Phil. 1:1
To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ who are at Colossae: Grace to you and peace from God our Father. (NASB) Col. 1:2
Why are those who believe in Jesus Christ called “holy ones”? The answer is found in the fact that all who truly believe in Jesus Christ have had their sins forgiven and God has declared them to be holy and righteous ones. Those who are holy will not be hurt by the second death.
The third passage also promises that anyone whose name is written in the book of life will not spend eternity in the lake of fire.
Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. (NASB) Rev. 20:14-15
The first death is our physical death. Those who are not holy, that is, those who do not believe in Jesus Christ and who have not accepted Him as their Lord will die, leave this world, and spend the rest of eternity in the lake of fire. The second death is spending eternity in the Lake of Fire.
The book of Hebrews tells us that we die only once and then comes judgment.
And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment . . . (NASB) Heb. 9:27
We will not experience re-birth or re-incarnation. Scripture tells us that we die once, not multiple times, and then comes judgment. We die and then we are judged. Then God sends us either to heaven or to the lake of fire where we will remain forever. This is a very serious message. It reveals how serious God is about holiness. Anyone can become holy. But we cannot become holy by doing things, helping people, giving money, being kind or polite. We can only become holy by believing in Jesus Christ and letting Him take control of our lives. We encourage you to read The Rescue May God bless you.
Peace With God
Why do bad things happen to God’s people?
The King Reigns!
The Second Death
By David J. Stewart
“But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.” —Revelation 21:8
The Bible, God’s Word, clearly proclaims that there is a “second death.” The first death is the physical death, when a man’s soul and spirit are separated from his body. The second death is a physical and spiritual death, suffering in the Lake of Fire for all eternity. We see this clear distinction in Matthew 10:28, “And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”
There is much debate over the word “hell,” but a careful study of the Bible leaves no doubt as to it’s true meaning. Psalm 9:17 warns, “The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God.” This Scripture PROVES that “hell” is not just the grave. If “hell” were only referring to the “grave,” then why would God say that the wicked shall be turned into hell? Do not also the righteous go to the same grave, if “hell” just means grave? As you can see, the Bible would make no sense if “hell” were just the grave. God warns that the wicked shall be turned into hell, meaning fire and torment.
The Word of God plainly states in 1st Thessalonians 1:8, “In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.” What’s there not to understand? “Flaming fire” sounds hot to me! Jesus said in Matthew 25:41, “Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire…” “Everlasting” means forever. Jesus said again in Mark 9:45-46, “…to be cast into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.” Biblically, Hell is a PLACE of woeful suffering and eternal torment. The Word of God makes numerous references to Hell fire, torment, and eternal suffering. But you say, “I don’t believe in Hell.” Revelation 21:8 lists unbelievers as part of the group who will be cast into the Lake of Fire. Please consider carefully the prophecy in Revelation 20:11-15…
“And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. 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 were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.”
The Lake of Fire is the Second Death. What does the Bible mean when it says that “death and hell” were cast into the Lake of Fire. Well, “hell” (Hebrew: “Sheol,” which is the equivalent of the Greek: “Hades”) is a place within the earth where the dead go when they die. In the Bible “hell” has different meanings. Sometimes it refers to “Gehenna” which is the Lake of Fire. In 2nd Peter 2:4 “hell” means “Tartarus” and is a special place of punishment for certain fallen angels (demons).
Hell (Hades) is composed of two compartments: Torment and Paradise. The Old Testament saints went to paradise when they died; but all saints go to Heaven today. The unsaved today still go to the place of torment, in Hades. All those who die today without Christ will go to the place of torment (Hades), and one day in the future WILL be cast into the Lake of Fire (Gehenna) after The Great White Throne of Judgment.
“Death” in Revelation 20:14 simply means that once the last soul is cast into the Lake of Fire, death will be no more … and the memory of the wicked shall be forgotten, “The memory of the just is blessed: but the name of the wicked shall rot” (Proverb 10:7). Do you want to be forgotten and abandoned in the fires of Hell forever? If you think this earthly life is unfair, you haven’t seen anything yet! But God is fair. No one has to go to Hell. Jesus said in John 6:37, “…him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.” What a Wonderful Savior! The choice is yours alone to make.
Spiritual Death is Not the Second Death
Most Bible students refer to the second death as “spiritual death.” However, we were already spiritually dead the day we were born. In Genesis 2:17 God instructed Adam and Eve, “But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” When Adam and Eve sinned they didn’t die physically, they died spiritually. Romans 5:12 informs us that Adam’s sin allowed sin to enter the human race, bringing death into the world, and so death passed upon all men. Thus, we’re already spiritually dead from birth. By nature, the human race is spiritually dead. It is for this very reason that a man MUST be born again if he is to enter into the Kingdom of God (John 3:3).
The Great White Throne of Judgment mentioned in Revelation 20:11 will be a judgment OF THE DEAD. When a lost sinner dies, leaving this world without Christ, he enters into eternity DEAD–he is now dead physically and spiritually. Notice what Revelation 20:12 says, “And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God…“ The “second death” will immediately follow The Great White Throne Judgment, when the dead shall be cast into the Lake of Fire to pay for their sins. The Lake of Fire is an eternal prison sentence, with no hope of parole.
The first death is when Adam sinned, and mankind’s soul was separated from God spiritually; but in the second death, mankind will be separated body, soul, and spirit from God for all eternity. The second death is the final doom of the damned, the dead.
If you are not a born-again Christian, then you are ALREADY DEAD spiritually.
Escaping the Second Death
Do you have Jesus? Have your sins been forgiven? Has the precious blood of Christ washed away your sins (1st Peter 1:18-19)? Have you believed upon the name of the only begotten Son of God (John 3:16)? Listen friend, you are a rotten sinner, and so am I (Romans 3:10,23). We all deserve to burn in Hell for eternity because of our sins (Romans 5:12, 6:23). But praise be to God, Jesus paid a debt He did not owe because we owed a debt we could not pay (Romans 5:12). God Almighty came to this sin-cursed world in the form of a man, Jesus Christ (1st Timothy 3:16).
He was despised and rejected of man, ridiculed and mocked, beaten and crucified as a criminal for no crime other than preaching the Truth (John 8:45). Have you called (trusted) upon the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 4:10-12; Romans 10:13)? All you have to do to be saved is to come to the Lord Jesus Christ as a Hell-deserving sinner, and believe upon Him, to forgive all your sins through the blood that He shed. You don’t need to die the second death. If you’re born twice, you die only once; but if your born only once, then you die twice.
In other words, “Ye must be born again” (John 3:3). When a lost sinner comes to Christ for the forgiveness of sins, believing upon Jesus that He is the Son of God–that person becomes born again, and the Holy Spirit of God enters the body. All the religion and good works in the world won’t spare a sinner the second death. Your sins MUST be forgiven, and that can only happen in Christ the Lord.
“Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.” -Revelation 20:6
The Second Death — Separation or Annihilation?
BY WAYNE JACKSON
There appears to be a growing tendency by a minority element associated with “Christendom” to contend that the fate of the wicked will be utter annihilation (non-existence), as opposed to a conscious suffering in an eternal hell. This departure from biblical truth has been gradual but steady.
In his book, Repent or Perish (Ligonier, PA: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 1990), noted theologian John Gerstner has a chapter entitled, “The Conservative Revolt Against Hell” (pp. 29-65). Therein, he shows how the earlier champions of “neo-orthodoxy” (e.g., Bultmann and Tillich) rejected the scriptural doctrine of hell, and that the influence of those leaders has had a “trickle-down” effect on numerous others in varying degrees.
Some have opted for the dogma of “universalism” (the idea that all mankind will be saved ultimately); others argue for the “extinction” theory (the notion that the lost will finally cease to exist). Each group claims biblical support for its ideology.
Rarely, until relatively recent times, has this error made its way into the bosom of genuine Christianity. In 1982, however, Edward Fudge, a Texas preacher-turned-lawyer, produced his book, The Fire That Consumes (Houston: Providential Press). It attempted to prove that hell will involve the total extinction of the condemned. Since then, others have joined the Fudge chorus, singing the praises of “annihilation.” The late Homer Hailey, just before his death at the age of 97, produced a small work advocating the extermination doctrine. F. LaGard Smith of Lipscomb University (Nashville, Tennessee) has asserted the “extinction” position (After Life, Nashville: Cotswold, 2003).
Recently, Star Publications (Fort Worth, TX) published a small work titled, Immortality: Only In Christ(2002). In this brief presentation, the author vigorously contends that the “second death” mentioned in the book of Revelation constitutes the event “in which [wicked] man is annihilated” (p. 44), though the author confesses that he does not know how long the annihilation process will take (p. 37).
In a brief article, such as this one, we cannot respond to the multiple errors that burden this anti-biblical theory. We will, however, comment upon the contention that “the second death” is a biblical expression for the extermination of the condemned.
The concept of “death,” or the state of being “dead,” is a prevailing theme in the New Testament. These terms are found collectively some 250 times. Though the use of the words may vary, depending upon the context, the underlying sense of “death” is that of “separation” —not “annihilation.”
The physical death process involves the separation of the human spirit or soul from the physical body. The death of Rachel, Jacob’s wife, was described as her “soul” departing from her “body” (Gen. 35:18). At the point of death, the body returns to the dust, but the spirit returns to God (Eccl. 12:6-7) —who will deal with it appropriately (Gen. 18:25).
The death of the body is biblically defined by the departure of the spirit (Jas. 2:26). Scholars have noted that for the “vast mass of mankind” death has never been viewed as nonexistence (J.S. Clemens, Hastings Dictionary of the Bible, Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1989, p. 181).
Spiritual death is the condition of being alienated from Jehovah. Since sin separates a person from God (Isa. 59:1-2), the state of being estranged from the Creator is depicted metaphorically as the person being dead. When Adam and Eve disobeyed God, that very “day” they died (Gen. 2:17; cf. 3:8,23), i.e., they were separated from fellowship with the Lord (though other implications likely are involved as well; see 3:19).
Prior to their conversion, the Ephesian saints had been spiritually “dead” (Eph. 2:1), i.e., alienated from the Lord (2:12-13). It is possible to be “dead” spiritually while alive physically. Paul declared that the widow who devotes herself to pleasure is “dead,” even though she is alive (1 Tim. 5:6). Christ wrote a letter to the church in Sardis wherein he described a significant portion of these disciples as “dead” (Rev. 3:1), that is they had drifted from Christian fidelity.
The “Second Death”
The second death is an ultimate and eternal separation from God. The expression is found four times in the book of Revelation ( 2:11; 20:6,14; 21:8). J.H. Thayer defined the “second death” as “the miserable state of the wicked dead in hell” (Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark, 1958, p. 283).
This condition is characterized as the second death because it follows physical death; it is designated as death because it is the terminal separation from the Lord (Mt. 7:23; 25:41; 2 Thes. 1:9). Try substituting the term “annihilation” for “death” in the Revelation passages and see what sort of sense it makes, e.g., “the second annihilation.” The very expression represents an absurdity. There is absolutely no biblical evidence that “hell” will involve the extermination of either Satan, evil angels, or wicked humans (Mt. 25:41,46; Rev. 14:9-11; 20:10).
The dogma of annihilation is not an innocent view with harmless consequences. It is a concept that undermines the full force of that fearful warning of which the Almighty God would have men be aware. There is many a rebel who would gladly indulge himself in a lifetime of sin for an eternal nothingness.
Genesis 35:18; Ecclesiastes 12:6-7; Genesis 18:25; James 2:26; Isaiah 59:1-2; Genesis 2:17; Ephesians 2:1; 1 Timothy 5:6; Revelation 3:1; Matthew 7:23, 25:41; 2 Thessalonians 1:9; Matthew 25:41, 46; Revelation 14:9-11, 20:10
Jackson, Wayne. “The Second Death — Separation or Annihilation?” ChristianCourier.com. Access date: August 21, 2017. https://www.christiancourier.com/articles/710-second-death-separation-or-annihilation-the
“What is the second death?”
Answer: The second death is mentioned on multiple occasions in the book of Revelation and is synonymous with the lake of fire. It is a “death” in that it is a separation from God, the Giver of life. It is called the “second” one because it follows physical death.
Revelation 21:8 explains the second death in the most detail: “The cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars – their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.”
Three other places in Revelation also mention the second death. The first is Revelation 2:11: “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death.” In this verse, Jesus promises that believers (“overcomers”; see 1 John 5:4) will not experience the lake of fire. The second death is exclusively for those who have rejected Christ. It is not a place believers in Christ should fear.
Revelation 20:6 speaks of the second death in relation to a future period called the Millennium: “Blessed and holy are those who have part in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years.” This verse notes three important facts. First, those who die for their faith in Jesus during the Tribulation will later be resurrected to enter the Millennium and live with Him. Second, these martyrs will escape the lake of fire or second death. Third, they will reign with Christ.
The second death is also mentioned in Revelation 20:14-15: “Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” At the end of time, even death and the grave (Hades) will be thrown into the lake of fire. In addition, every person not included in the book of life will be thrown into the lake of fire. This condition will be final; the destination is permanent.
In summary, the second death is a reference to the lake of fire where those who are separated from God by their sin will dwell for eternity. This judgment was recorded in Scripture as a warning to unbelievers to seek the salvation that Jesus Christ provides. The coming judgment should also challenge believers to share their faith. There is a vast difference between the final destination of those who know Christ and those who do not.
Recommended Resource: Heaven by Randy Alcorn
What Is the Second Death?
by David C. Grabbe
Forerunner, “Prophecy Watch,” November-December 2015
In the Garden of Eden, the serpent told Eve that she could disobey God, and she would not die. Even as that initial deception of mankind concerned death, modern conceptions about death and the afterlife commonly contradict the Bible. Most professing Christians believe in an immortal soul that lives on beyond death. They believe that if one professed Christ then his soul goes to heaven, but if the dearly-departed did not “get saved” before dying, then his soul goes to an ever-burning hell to be tortured for eternity. This belief, rooted in Gnosticism and even further back in Egyptian and Babylonian mystery religions, proclaims that death really is not death but just part of a mystical journey.
What the Bible teaches is different. The Bible shows that man does not have a soul, but that man is a soul. Man has a spirit, and has a body, but only when God breathed life into Adam did he become a living soul (nephesh; Genesis 2:7, KJV). Moreover, the Bible states clearly that the soul who sins will die (Ezekiel 18:4, 20). It says that God alone has immortality (I Timothy 6:16), unlike man who must seek it because he does not have it (Romans 2:7). Scripture asserts that “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Death is not a shedding of the body and a freeing of the soul, as is commonly held, but a complete cessation of existence.
Another Kind of Death in Scripture
While the Bible speaks often of death, one death in particular, the “second death,” mankind knows little of. The phrase “second death” is found only in the book of Revelation, the first time in the letter to the church at Smyrna: “He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death” (Revelation 2:11).
This verse does not tell us much about the second death, only that the way to avoid it is to overcome faithfully. Revelation 20:6 provides a little more detail: “Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years.”
Just as overcomers will not be hurt by the second death, the same holds true for those who rise in the first resurrection. Popular Christianity maintains that the soul departs to its destination immediately after death, but the Bible teaches that nothing happens until or unless a resurrection occurs. In the grave there is no thought, no consciousness, and unless God resurrects someone by placing his spirit into another living body, that is the end of the story (see Ecclesiastes 3:19-20; 9:2-5, 10; Psalm 146:4).
The first resurrection, one to immortality for those in Christ (see I Corinthians 15:50-54; I Thessalonians 4:13-17), occurs at His return. It is also the “better resurrection” for which the heroes of faith qualified because they did not accept deliverance (Hebrews 11:35). Those in the first resurrection are raised with incorruptible, spirit bodies. These saints have been given immortality by God—there is no longer any fear of death; it is swallowed up in victory.
A third reference to the second death appears in Revelation 20:12-15:
And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.
John equates the second death with the Lake of Fire, the final judgment of the incorrigibly wicked, those whose names are not found in the Book of Life. While these events occur after the Millennium, the Lake of Fire is also shown to exist before the Millennium (Revelation 19:20). Whether this means the Lake of Fire exists throughout the Millennium—perhaps as a vivid reminder of God’s judgment—or it is manifested only at the endpoints is not clear.
Blotted Out of the Book
The Book of Life, mentioned twice in this passage, is first used in Exodus 32:32-33 where Moses beseeches God to forgive Israel after the Golden Calf incident: “Yet now, if You will forgive their sin—but if not, I pray, blot me out of Your book which You have written.” The Lord responded, “Whoever has sinned against Me, I will blot him out of My book.”
In Psalm 69:28, David pleads for God’s help regarding his enemies: “Let them be blotted out of the book of the living, and not be written with the righteous.” He may have been referring to this same book when he wrote, “And in Your book they all were written, the days fashioned for me, when as yet there were none of them” (Psalm 139:16).
In a scene reminiscent of Revelation 20:12-14, Daniel describes the future judgment of the Beast with books being opened, and the Beast being thrown into flames (Daniel 7:10-11). In another prophecy of the same general time, Daniel 12:1-2 records:
At that time Michael shall stand up, the great prince who stands watch over the sons of your people; and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation, even to that time. And at that time your people shall be delivered, every one who is found written in the book. And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting contempt. (Emphasis ours throughout.)
In Philippians 4:3, Paul urges the Philippian congregation to “help these women who labored with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the Book of Life.”
In the letter to the church at Sardis, Jesus promises that those who overcome will not have their names blotted out from the Book of Life (Revelation 3:5). Revelation 13:8 and 17:8 show that those who are not written in the Book of Life will be deceived and influenced by the end-time Beast. Being written in the Book of Life grants entrance into the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:27), while “tak[ing] away from the words of the book of this prophecy” will result in God “tak[ing] away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book” (Revelation 22:19) Clearly, having our names in this Book makes all the difference, both in the time of the end and in our final judgment!
Finally, the second death appears in Revelation 21:7-8:
He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son. But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.
As we saw in the letter to Smyrna and Revelation 20, those who overcome, whose names are written in the Book of Life, will not take part in the Lake of Fire, showing that overcoming is crucial to avoiding the second death.
Revelation 21:8 lists various classifications of sinners who will die in the Lake of Fire. This does not indicate, though, that if a person has committed one of these sins that he is automatically doomed. Nor does it mean that people are free to commit sins that are not listed here and be safe from the second death.
Instead, these verses describe two broad groupings of people: Those who are in union with God and those who are against Him. Those in union will have overcome throughout their lives, while those against will manifest their resistance through the sins mentioned here.
The Bible’s View of Death
Given the gravity of the second death, it may seem odd that it is not mentioned more often. However, as a theme, it winds throughout the Bible, starting in Genesis 2 with God’s warning not to eat of the Tree of Knowledge. It is always lingering in the background. But to see this, we need to understand how the Bible uses the term “death.”
There is a physical application as well as a spiritual implication, and it requires discernment to understand how the word “death” is being used in a given context. The physical application is simply the end of a human being’s life, whether through age, disease, accident, or violence. The breath of life leaves the person, consciousness ceases, and the body begins to decay. This is the fate of all human beings.
But the Bible also uses death to describe the spiritual state of people who are undoubtedly physically alive. Notice Romans 5:12: “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned.”
The death that entered the world through Adam’s sin was not physical death. Adam was a flesh-and-blood human being, so his body was naturally subject to entropy. The fact that he was created as flesh meant that, at some point, his heart would stop, and the breath of life would leave. Even if he had lived a sinless life, he still would have died when his body ceased to function. Adam was never immortal; he needed to eat of the Tree of Life to live forever (Genesis 3:22). When Adam sinned, he immediately entered a state of spiritual—not physical—death, which contributed to the foundation of Satan’s deception that life continues after sin.
As it remains today, Satan’s treachery was effective and destructive because, like Adam, we typically live on—physically—after sinning. While Adam’s physical death was a foregone conclusion due to his being fleshly, it was not the death that entered the world through his sin. Instead, spiritual death entered the world at that point and spread to all of his offspring. His sin destroyed the union mankind had with God (see Isaiah 59:1-2), without which there is no life. Accordingly, separated from God, mankind has no future beyond physical death unless God acts. The wages of sin is eternal death, and there will not be everlasting life unless God gives it as a gift.
Later in the same context, Paul substitutes the word “condemnation” for “death”:
And the gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned. For the judgment which came from one offense [Adam’s sin] resulted in condemnation, but the free gift which came from many offenses resulted in justification. . . . Therefore, as through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life. (Romans 5:16, 18)
Adam did not physically die in the instant he sinned, but at that moment, he was brought under eternal condemnation. This is why Jesus said things like “let the dead bury their own dead” (Matthew 8:22; Luke 9:60). Those who had not been called into a relationship with God were living in a state of death—condemnation—despite going about the normal activities of life. These people were devoid of spiritual life; they were the spiritual “walking dead.”
Eternal Life and Death
A major reason for Christ’s incarnation was so that mankind could be redeemed from this state of death—condemnation—and given an opportunity for eternal life. Thus, He says, “If anyone keeps My word he shall never see death” (John 8:51). The Jews did not grasp His meaning: Those who keep His Word will never see eternal death; they will not lose the eternal life that comes from knowing the Father and Christ (John 17:3) following the Father’s call (John 6:44, 65). However, He implies that those who have His Word and do not keep it will return to a state of condemnation.
This can be seen more clearly in a section of John 5: “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life” (John 5:24). Hearing Christ’s word and believing in God are not as simple as they appear; a single action or decision is not all it takes for these verses to apply. Even so, Jesus shows that the way is open now for some to avoid that eternal judgment of death and to pass from the state of spiritual death into spiritual life.
Passing from death into eternal life is a result of the relationship that God draws us into. A person who has been called by God, who responds by hearing Christ’s word (in the sense of obedience), and begins to live a life of trust in God, is one who is now spiritually alive. If he remains in that state of spiritual life until the end, he will be in the first resurrection and given immortality.
Jesus’ teaching continues:
Most assuredly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live. . . . Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation. (John 5:25, 28-29)
“The hour is coming, and now is” means that from the time of His preaching forward, some of the spiritually dead would hear His voice, respond to Him, and begin living spiritually. In that case, the dead He is talking about are the spiritually dead of mankind.
But then the focus changes in verse 28 to the future: “The hour is coming.” A time will come when allwho are in their graves will hear His voice and rise in a resurrection. “All who are in the graves” refers to those who have physically died. God, in His mercy, will resurrect each person at some point, “each one in his own order” (I Corinthians 15:23).
The fact that death is not the end is a major change from where things stood after Adam’s sin. Each person will have the opportunity to live life spiritually, in union with God, because He “is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (II Peter 3:9). He will, then, give everyone a chance to repent, to come out of his or her spiritual death, and to experience a life of reconciliation with Him. That opportunity could happen in this age, or it could happen in the resurrection to physical life that takes place after the Millennium (see Revelation 20:5).
Those Who Remain in Opposition
Those who live their lives in union with God in this age will take part in the resurrection to eternal life. However, those who have tasted what God offers and rejected it—those who have done evil—will be resurrected to face their Judge, and then they will be cast into the Lake of Fire and die the second death. Hebrews 6:4-6 explains this:
For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame.
Verse 8 then relates that the fate of such people is to be burned. They will have died once already, yet that first death will not satisfy the penalty for sin. Death by old age, disease, accident, or violence (including suicide) does not pay the death penalty for sin. Only a life taken in judgment for sin satisfies the debt.
Christ’s sacrifice is one such payment. However, if an individual will not allow Christ’s blood to pay that debt, the only recourse is for his life to be taken in payment for his sin. If he is determined to live in opposition to God, unconcerned about obeying God’s commands, that person would be miserable living forever anyway. He will not be given the gift of eternal life in a state of mental or physical torment.
Instead, John 5:29 speaks of a “resurrection of condemnation.” Paul says there will be “a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and the unjust” (Acts 24:15). Similarly, Daniel 12:2 mentions those who “shall awake . . . to shame and everlasting contempt.” Anyone remaining in such opposition to God will be resurrected to physical life, judgment will be passed, his body will be burned in payment of his debt, and he will cease to exist. If he is even remembered, the memory will be contemptible.
This is why the second death continues as a theme throughout Scripture, always in the background but rarely mentioned. It is the final event for those who choose to remain in opposition to God after being given the opportunity to know Him. Paul describes this in Hebrews 10:26-27: “For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries.”
We who are in Christ have eternal life. We will still undergo a physical death, but eternal life is ours—and ours to lose. When we survey the warnings given in the New Testament, they are largely not about a sudden, dramatic turn away from God. Rather, they are about smaller things—little decisions of death that require time to bear evil fruit.
So there are warnings about false teachers, who will, over time, damage the faith on which we stand. The writers warn about deception, the cares of this life, and the enticements of this world. They caution us about growing weary and apathetic and neglecting this great salvation. They admonish us against letting the wrong attitudes take root. The dangers are subtle and incremental, but each one has the potential to lead us slowly away from God.
While any one thing may not seem critical today, the problem is what is produced tomorrow—which we often cannot foresee. Carelessness takes us to where our hearts no longer care about overcoming, and we become hostile toward God and the things of God. It opens us to the same lie that Eve fell for: that we can do as we please and continue living. The fact is, though, the spiritually dead do not know they are dead—they believe they are alive.
It is unlikely that anyone sets out to choose the second death. Instead, it is chosen incrementally, with all the little choices over time creating a character that is set and unchangeable. That character will either be intent on overcoming, on hearing Christ’s voice, and on trusting in God, or set in opposition to God and His law (Romans 8:7) and thus rejecting life. The choice is ours.
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