The concept of a “second death” is found in the Bible, specifically in the book of Revelation. As Christians, it’s important for us to understand what this term means and the biblical context behind it. In this post, we’ll take an in-depth look at the second death – what it is, what it implies, who it applies to, and how we should understand it as believers.
The topic of the afterlife and what awaits people beyond this earthly life has long fascinated humankind. As Christians who believe the Bible to be the inspired Word of God, we accept that there are indeed consequences in the afterlife for how we live our lives here on earth.
The Bible speaks of two possible eternal destinies – heaven or hell. However, there are also references to a concept known as the “second death” in the final chapters of Revelation. For those unfamiliar with this term, it naturally raises some questions:
- What is the second death?
- Who does it apply to?
- When does it happen?
- Why is it called the “second” death?
In this post, we’ll explore what the Bible says about the reality of the second death. We’ll look at the significance of this concept and how it relates to other biblical truths about the afterlife.
Gaining clarity on what scripture reveals about the second death will help us better appreciate the grace of God toward us in Christ and the urgency of reaching the lost with the gospel message.
Here are some key takeaways we’ll cover:
- The second death is a fate distinct from the first physical death we all experience.
- It entails being cast into the lake of fire, experiencing eternal separation from God.
- The second death applies only to those whose names are not written in the Book of Life.
- It is “second” because it follows the first death of the body.
- God determined this destiny for unrepentant sin and evil.
- We can avoid the second death by receiving Christ’s salvation.
- The reality of the second death motivates evangelism and holy living.
Let’s dive in and see what we can learn about this sobering biblical doctrine and how it should shape our lives as followers of Jesus.
What is the Second Death?
First, what exactly is the “second death” that the Bible speaks of? In Revelation 20:6, we find one of the clearest explanations of what this refers to:
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. (Revelation 20:6 NKJV)
Based on this verse, we can infer that the second death is:
- Something distinct from the first bodily death that all people experience when the soul is separated from the body.
- An awful fate that only applies to some, not to all – those who participate in the “first resurrection” escape it.
- Associated with the final judgment, since it’s mentioned in the context of a 1,000 year reign which many scholars link to the millennium in Revelation 20.
Additional details about the second death emerge later in Revelation 20. It’s described as a “lake of fire”:
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. (Revelation 20:14-15 NKJV)
Here the second death is connected to the eternal destiny of condemnation. The lake of fire represents being cut off from God’s presence and the punishment of hell.
The second death is God’s judgment for those who reject Him and cling to their sinfulness. Their rebellion and evil deeds are not covered by Christ’s atonement, so they remain accountable to pay the penalty for sin, which is death (Romans 6:23).
Some key characteristics of the second death thus include:
- It is eternal separation from God and torment in hell.
- It is experienced only by those whose names are not recorded in the Book of Life.
- It involves irreversible, everlasting punishment unlike the first temporary death of the body.
In summary, the second death refers to the final, eternal destiny of the wicked who refuse salvation in Christ. Having rejected God’s mercy, they will suffer everlasting condemnation after their physical death on earth.
Who Does the Second Death Apply To?
Knowing that the second death entails eternal separation from God in hell, who exactly does this fate await? Scripture indicates specifically that the second death awaits those who worship the beast and receive his mark:
Then a third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives his mark on his forehead or on his hand, he himself shall also drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out full strength into the cup of His indignation. He shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever; and they have no rest day or night, who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name.” (Revelation 14:9-11 NKJV)
The book of Revelation depicts how the Antichrist (the beast) will deceive many into following and worshiping him. Those who give in to his deception and take his mark to pledge allegiance to him are the ones subject to the second death.
By taking the mark of the beast, they display their rebellion against God and loyalty to Satan. This wurthless false allegiance leaves them no way of redemption or reconciliation back to God.
More broadly, Revelation 21:8 confirms that all unbelievers will face the second death:
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.” (Revelation 21:8 NKJV)
A few chapters later, this truth is echoed again:
Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city. But outside are dogs and sorcerers and sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and whoever loves and practices a lie. (Revelation 22:14-15 NKJV)
The categories of sinners who face the second death represent those who reject Christ’s atonement for their sins through ongoing unbelief.
The fate of the second death awaits all who refuse to turn from their sins and embrace Jesus as Savior and Lord. Only those washed in the blood of Christ and who receive His forgiveness and new life escape this terrible destiny.
When Does the Second Death Occur?
If the first death refers to physical death when our earthly life ends, then when does this additional second death happen? Revelation ties it directly to the final judgment before the new heaven and new earth:
Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away … And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened … And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books …And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. (Revelation 20:11-15 NKJV)
Based on this passage, the timeline is:
- The first resurrection of the saved unto eternal life with Christ (v. 5-6)
- Satan bound and restricted for 1,000 years (v. 1-3)
- Satan released to deceive the nations again (v. 7-8)
- Satan defeated once and for all (v. 9-10)
- The resurrection and final judgment of the lost (v. 11-13)
- The second death – the wicked thrown into the lake of fire (v. 14-15)
So the second death occurs after the millennial reign of Christ, after Satan is released and makes one last attempt at rebellion, and following the resurrection and judgment of all who refused salvation in Christ.
This confirms that the second death refers to eternal separation from God in hell following the final resurrection of the lost dead and God’s righteous verdict against them for rejecting Christ. It is irreversible and everlasting once this final judgment takes place.
Why Is It Called the “Second” Death?
Since the Bible speaks of the reality of two deaths, why is the eternal lake of fire referred to as the “second” death? We can make several observations:
First, it implies succession – the second death follows after the first. As we’ve seen, the first death is the end of our earthly life when the spirit leaves the body. The second comes later at the final judgment.
Second, it distinguishes the two. The first death is temporary – our bodies “sleep” while our spirit goes to be with Christ (if we are saved) or descends to Hades (if we are lost). The second death has finality – once condemned, there is no escape or reversal.
Third, it associates the second death with the fate of the unsaved. Scripture says born again believers in Jesus will not experience the second death (Revelation 20:6). The first death is common to all, but only the lost face the second.
Finally, identifying the lake of fire as the “second” death connects it to the Genesis curse of original sin. God told Adam that rebellion would result in death (Genesis 2:17). The second death represents the culmination of this – the permanent, eternal separation from God human beings were warned of from the beginning.
Therefore, the term “second death” provides helpful clarity on the biblical doctrine of the afterlife, the exclusivity of salvation in Christ, and the ultimate consequences of sin apart from redemption in Him.
How We Should Respond to the Reality of the Second Death
What should be our response as believers to this sobering reality of the second death? Here are some key ways scripture exhorts us to respond:
It should motivate evangelism and witnessing. Knowing that people face eternal torment and separation from God without Christ should instill in us urgency to share the gospel. We need to tell everyone we can about the good news of salvation in Jesus!
It should drive us to holiness and fear of the Lord. God promises to remove us from the threat of the second death. But this means we must live obediently for Him, repenting of sin and bearing good fruit. The reality of hell should instill a holy fear of the Lord in us.
It should make us celebratory and thankful. Those in Christ should rejoice that we will avoid this awful fate! We can praise God for His mercy and grace that allows us to participate in the first resurrection unto eternal life instead.
It should stir our worship. Meditating on these truths, including God’s justice in the second death, should make us marvel at Him. We should be in awe of His majesty and goodness. It ought to stir reverent worship and praise.
The stark truth of the second death awaiting those outside Christ, as hard as it is to fathom, is ultimately rooted in the holiness, righteousness, and justice of God. It should make us cling to Jesus all the more!
In closing, we’ve taken a thorough look at the important but often misundersood biblical doctrine of the second death. We’ve examined what scripture says about:
- What the second death entails – eternal separation from God in hell.
- Who it applies to – all those who reject Christ’s atonement for their sins.
- When it takes place – after the final resurrection and judgment of the lost.
- Why it’s called the “second” death – distinguishing it from the first death all experience.
Gaining clarity on this sobering reality from Revelation equips us to better understand the urgency of salvation and the glorius grace we have in Christ. Let the truth of the second death stir you to worship the Lord, evangelize the lost, and live each day for God’s Kingdom!