The Second Death



Jesus ends each of His seven letters to the church with intriguing promises. In the previous post I wrote of the significance of His reference to ‘the tree of life’, but in the very next letter the Lord moves from ‘life’ to ‘death’. He concludes the letter to the church in Smyrna with, “He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death” (Revelation 2:11).

What is this ‘second death’? To find an answer we have to turn to the very last chapters of Revelation: ‘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‘ (Revelation 20:14-15). There are two other references to the second death in Revelation 20:6 and 21:8.

The lake of fire is a graphic depiction of Hell and the book of life is symbolic of all who are saved from Hell by faith in Christ Jesus. Remember that everything in Revelation is symbolic.

Although the words ‘first death’ do not appear in scripture, the reference to a second death begs the question, ‘but what is the first death?’ Death had its origin in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve rebelled and chose prideful independence from God. The penalty of this was, and is, death. Yet we know that Adam didn’t drop down stone dead at the foot of the tree of the knowledge of all things, he lived on physically till the ripe old age of 930! Yet, if we regard death primarily as a separation, then we can deduce from the Genesis account that Adam and Eve were, in that fateful moment, separated from the life and presence of God.

There are several ways of understanding the human constitution but I choose to regard people as having three dimensions; the physical, the mental (soul), and the spiritual – this is known as Functional Trichotomism. It is pointless to try to separate these three elements from each other in this life because they form the whole of our person-hood. However, when we die only the physical component ceases to exist; the non-material combination of soul and spirit lives on. When Adam and Eve ‘died’ at the foot of that fateful tree their spiritual dimension was separated from God. This spiritual condition has been passed down through the generations and effects every person born on this planet (Romans 5:12). This inherited separation from God is what we could refer to as ‘the first death’ which has its final expression when we die physically from old age, disease, or other ways.

When an unsaved person, who is thus already spiritually ‘dead’, dies physically there awaits a final resurrection, judgement and separation; a ‘second death’. For this person there is much to fear in the second death because he or she will live on in spirit/soul separated from God… and that is called Hell! However, if a person has been spiritually born again through faith in Christ Jesus, then the second death holds no terror because he or she will live on eternally in the presence of God.

There is a nifty little saying that has been around for a long time:

Born once and die twice; born twice and die once

What is meant by this is that if you are only born into this world by natural birth (born once) then you will die both physically and face judgment and eternal separation from God (die twice); but if you are born naturally of human parents but also born again of the Spirit of God (born twice) then only your body will die (die once) but you will continue to live in the presence of God.

Being born again is not the invention of ‘happy-clappies’ but a profound truth taught by Jesus (John chapter three) and expanded on in much of the New Testament.

I hope you are enjoying this series. If you have any questions please post a comment or email me using the Contacts page.


6 Responses

  1. Mary Mincher

    You make things easier to understand. Thankyou

  2. Trevor Stedman

    In a ‘nut shell’ I have shared it on Face Book. Thank you Chris.

  3. Jen Wilson.

    The way you have explained this makes it easy to tell others this simple truth. Thanks Chris

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