What Is the Second Death in the Book of Revelation?

TODAY’S READING: REVELATION 20-22

“This is the second death, the lake of fire.” (Revelation 20.14)

“But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.” (Revelation 21.8)

Perhaps more than any other verses in the Bible, it is these two verses that Christians have used to justify the belief that there will be some people that God will eternally consciously torment in a burning lake of fire. In other words, there are some people that God will cause to suffer forever and forever.

Other Christians soften this view slightly by saying that instead of being tormented forever these people will be annihilated. These people will no longer exist in any sense because they will have been completely destroyed in the lake of fire.

Are either of these views what the book of Revelation and the Bible as a whole mean by the second death?

I believe the answer is absolutely not for anyone who has ears to hear and eyes to see.

Then what is the second death in the book of Revelation?

The phrase “second death” appears four times in the book of Revelation but nowhere else in the Bible. If the book of Revelation speaks of a second death, there must also be a first death. Yet, nowhere does the book of Revelation explicitly speak of a first death. However, in order to answer the question of what is the second death we need to know what the first death is.

So, what is the first death?

“And just as it is appointed for man to die once.” (Hebrews 9.27)

“By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are of dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3.19)

Everyone that physically lives will die. God created us from the dust of the earth and to the dust of the earth we will return when we die. So, the first death is the physical, or natural, death of the body.

There is a principle in scripture that first there is the natural and then there is the spiritual. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15.44, 46, “It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body…But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual.”

The first thing that happens to any person is that they are born naturally, or physically. But, there is also a second birth, a birth that is spiritual, from above, or heavenly.

“Jesus answered him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.'” (John 3.3)

Jesus told Nicodemus, a man that had been been naturally, or physically, that he could not see the kingdom of God unless he was born again, or born a second time. Nicodemus clearly understood that Jesus was speaking of being born a second time because he replied, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” (John 3.4)

In John 3.6-7, 8, Jesus responded, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again’…So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

Jesus tells Nicodemus there is a natural, physical, birth, and there is a spiritual birth. The whole conversation reveals that the natural, physical birth comes first and the spiritual birth comes second. The first birth is of the dust, and the second birth is from above, of the spirit, of heaven. Therefore, Paul says, “The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven.” (1 Corinthians 15.47)

Therefore, if the first death is natural, physical, then the second death is spiritual.

If the second death is spiritual, then does that not mean that the person’s spirit will be annihilated, putting their spirit to death?

No it does not.

Then, what is a spiritual death?

The Bible speaks very clearly as to what the second death, the spiritual death, is. The second death, the spiritual death, is a death to sin.

Sin does not come about physically. Rather, sin comes from evil desire, something not physical, and therefore, spiritual. “Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin.”

Therefore, “you also must consider yourselves dead to sin.” (Romans 6.11) To reckon yourself dead to sin is to die to something spiritual not physical. Therefore, to reckon yourself dead to sin is to consider yourself already having died the second death, the spiritual death, even though you have not died the first death, the physical death.

One should notice that when you reckon yourself dead to sin you are “alive to God in Christ.” (Romans 8.11) Spiritual death results in spiritual life. Or, we could say that the second death results in the second life.

This second death does not apply to everyone. “Over such the second death has no power.” (Revelation 20.6)

Who are these that the second death, spiritual death, has no power over?

“Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection!” (Revelation 20.6)

Who are the ones that participate in the first resurrection?

“Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.” (Revelation 20.4)

“They came to life.” This is describing who were dead that came to life in Jesus Christ.

John saw “the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God.” John isn’t talking about bodies here. He is talking about souls, spirits, coming to life. These are the ones that participate in the first resurrection. Further, these are souls of those who have been beheaded.

Have you ever considered that if you truly believe in Jesus that you have been beheaded?

Even if you are alive?

Because you have been beheaded spiritually?

You have been beheaded and have a new head. Jesus “is the head of the body, the church.” (Colossians 1.18) God “gave him [Jesus] as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.” (Ephesians 1.22-23)

Revelation 20.4 says that those who participate in the first resurrection are going to reign with Christ because they came to life with him. This is just what Paul says in Ephesians 2.4-6.

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved – and raised us up with him and seated us with him in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.”

We were dead in sins. But, we were made alive together with Christ. And, we were seated with him, on thrones, in heavenly places to reign with him.

Paul says all of this again in another way in Romans 6.4-8.

“We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.”

The believer has already died a spiritual death to sin by being baptized in Christ’s death “for the death he died he died to sin, once for all,” (Romans 6.10) If we have already died with Christ, symbolically through baptism, then we have already died the second death, the spiritual death. Therefore, the second death has no power over the believer.

This all happens right now for the believer. Therefore, the 1,000 years, which is a symbolic number as is virtually everything else in Revelation, is happening right now.

But, “the rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.” (Revelation 20.5)

Did you get that?

Those that do not believe in Jesus, those that do not participate in the first resurrection, the rest of the dead do not get eternally tormented in a burning lake of fire or annihilated.

The rest of the dead come to life.

When?

At the end of the thousand years.

How do they come to life?

Dying to sin.

Spiritual death.

Or, going through the second death.

“But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for the murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.” (Revelation 21.8)

All of the things listed are sins that the unbeliever has not died to. The unbeliever is still practicing these sins. “Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning.” (1 John 3.8) Lies are murder are most definitely works of the devil (John 8.44) as are the other things listed that have their share in the lake of fire. But, “the reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.” (1 John 3.8)

Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil.

Jesus came to destroy sin.

But, Jesus did not come to destroy the works of God.

Jesus did not come to destroy people.

“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2.10)

So, people go through the second death, spiritual death, to be reckoned dead to sin. They go through the fire to purge their old selves, their false identities, because they did not reckon themselves dead to sin and did not get baptized into Christ’s death.

But, spiritual death results in spiritual life as I have already outlined above.

The rest of the dead will come to life though.

After going through the fire.

When the 1,000 years have ended.

Therefore, “he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’ Also he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.’ And he said to me, ‘It is done!'” (Revelation 21.5-6)

Therefore, when the new Jerusalem, the city of God, comes down from heaven, “by its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day – and there will be no night there.” (Revelation 21.24-25)

The gates of the new Jerusalem are never shut so that when the rest of the dead go through the fire, purging their old selves, dying to sin, the second death, the spiritual death, and come to life they too can enter into the new Jerusalem and have eternal fellowship with God and Jesus.