Daily Bible Studies & Sermon Notes

The Second Death
Pastor Steve Schell
Revelation 2:8-11
Following Jesus is costly. He never hid that fact for one moment. Whether we live in a hostile environment where we face violent persecution or a sensuous environment where we face daily moral temptation (like Lot in Sodom) or an intellectual environment where our faith is undermined and mocked or a painful environment full of inexplicable sorrows that provoke nagging questions about God’s character… we all have valleys to walk through on our way to heaven. And Jesus doesn’t promise to take all those valleys away. Instead, He promises to walk through them with us, to send His people to help us, to remind us that He understands our pain because He suffered too, and to remind us of the great reward that awaits those who overcome.

But there’s still one more thing Jesus tells His followers when we face valleys, and we hear Him say it in the passage we’re studying today. He puts our suffering into perspective by comparing it to the eternal suffering that awaits those who deny Him. He tells the church in Smyrna that the religious persecution they will soon face, as painful as it may be, pales when compared to the “second death.” That’s the danger to be feared above all else (Mt 10:26-28). Though the devil might imprison and even kill them, they would find strength in remembering, “He who overcomes will not be hurt by the second death.”

What is the “second death”?
There are two possible ways to understand this:
• Our human spirit is that which is essentially us. Because we are made in His image we, like Him, are conscious, rational, volitional beings, and once conceived, eternal. This means every time a child is conceived an eternal spirit is ignited. Like God, each of us is immortal.
• Definition #1
- First death: The human spirit separates from the body (natural death)
- Second death: The human spirit separates from God, meaning given over to eternal darkness (perpetually deceived, alienation from God) (spiritual
• Definition #2
- First death: Adam’s choice caused all his offspring to be born alienated from God (1Co 15:21, 22)
- Second death: My choice to refuse to repent and believe causes me to enter eternity alienated from God.

What is the “lake of fire”?
In Revelation 20:14 we are told that a person dies the second death when they are thrown into the lake of fire. Then John states, “This is the second death, the lake of fire” (Rev 20:14). So the two are closely connected. Understanding the lake of fire will help us understand the second death. And I think a very important question that needs to be answered is, What kind of fire is this? If it’s the normal form of chemical combustion with which we are so familiar, then the lake can be compared to a huge barbeque pit in which God will torture people by burning their resurrected bodies forever. But it’s possible that this lake contains a different kind of fire.
• Peter tells us God will someday consume this present universe with a fire so hot it will melt the elements into nothing (2Pe 3:7, 10-13).
• All through the Bible another kind of fire is mentioned which is not chemical combustion but still may be a powerful destructive force. It is the fire of God’s glory which came from heaven to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah (Ge 19:24-28) or two of Aaron’s sons (Lev 10:1, 2) or soldiers sent to arrest Elijah (2Ki 1:10, 12). It is the fire which Moses could not see and live (Ex 33:18-23). It is the fire which burned over the tabernacle in the wilderness and lighted the way for Israel at night (Ex 40:38).
• In Revelation 20:11 John is told that the old universe will flee from the face of Jesus as He sits on His throne and “no place was found for them,” meaning this universe will cease to exist. When John saw that face earlier (Rev 1:16) it was like “the sun shining in its strength” radiating glory.
• So God doesn’t need chemical combustion to destroy the universe. All He needs to do is release His fiery glory and this present universe will melt to nothing leaving only the spiritual world and those who have been resurrected (both righteous and unrighteous; Jn 5:28, 29; Rev 20:5, 6).
• Hebrews 12:29 “…for our God is a consuming fire”
• For a more extensive discussion see: “The Lake of Fire,” Revelation 20:10 (9/23/07)

At this moment of time in which we live God is still restraining the intensity of His glory. Otherwise we and the universe itself would evaporate. He does this because He’s waiting for every person who will come to Him. But this harvest of souls will someday end, and that ending is what is described by the Book of Revelation.

When the Father decides the moment has arrived He will send His Son back to earth. This will initiate the “first resurrection” (Rev 20:5). The righteous dead and the believers still living on the earth will be resurrected and rise to join Him in the air (rapture) and will accompany Him as He descends to earth. This will begin the 1000-year Messianic Age.

There are many prophecies concerning the promised Messiah which Jesus has yet to fulfill. These are recorded in the book which John sees in the Father’s right hand (Rev 5:1). Jesus’ first coming as a lamb is only part of what the prophets foretold. They also described Him coming as a lion to rule the earth, which He will do upon His return with resurrected believers serving as His deputies. Our assignments in that age will at least start out based on our faithfulness in this age (Mt 25:21, 23).

At the end of Jesus’ 1000-year reign a final sifting of the mortal humans living on the earth will take place (Rev 20:7). Satan will be allowed to inspire a rebellion one more time forcing every human to choose for or against Jesus. Amazingly, a huge number will rebel (Rev 20:8) only to be destroyed by fire from heaven (Rev 20:9). Then the second resurrection will take place (Rev 20:12, 13). The unrighteous dead from every period of earth’s history, even those without a proper burial (Rev 20:13), and maybe the righteous dead who died during the 1000-year period will be resurrected into eternal bodies. They will be judged (shown the many times they refused to listen to God speak to their conscience) (Rev 20:12) and “thrown into the lake of fire.”

If the “lake of fire” is a picture of the new universe full of the brilliant fire of God’s glory rather than a chamber containing chemical combustion then the doom of the unrighteous will be eternal immersion in the intense presence of God. Surrounded by light they will remain in spiritual “darkness,” unwilling to see the truth. Immersed in His Spirit they will remain hostile to Him, full of ungodly attitudes formed while on earth. They will weep and gnash their teeth in torment (Mt 8:12; 13:42, 50; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30; Lk 13:28).

The Bible offers no hope that there will be an opportunity for these to repent and escape this misery. It seems the unbelieving heart is sealed at death and can no longer change for the better. This means they will exist forever immersed in the ocean of God’s glory with no means of escape. What will be heavenly for believers is hellish for those who hate Him. God hasn’t created a torture chamber for the unbelievers, they have created their own. He merely allows humans the freedom to separate from Him, but in eternity there will be no place to hide. This is the second death: separated from Him forever, tormented by hearts full of hatred, fear, lust, shame, greed, anger, etc. What could be more just than this: allowing people to live with the hearts they’ve chosen for themselves.

1) In speaking to the church in Smyrna, Jesus spoke to believers in every age saying, “I will allow you to be persecuted and tempted for limited periods of time (1Co 10:13), but don’t be afraid. Strengthen yourself by putting your eyes on eternity. This will give you perspective. You’ll understand that:
• The rewards here are nothing compared to eternal life (“crown of life,” v 10).
• And the suffering you may face here is nothing compared to the suffering you would face if you were to deny Me in order to buy yourself a little more time” (“second death,” v 11).

2) The portrayal of God as a cruel judge who throws people into a torture chamber of fire is a slanderous distortion of the truth.
• In effect all humans will enter into His fire in resurrection bodies. For those who love Him it will be heaven, and we will dwell near Him and with each other in indescribable joy (the New Jerusalem).
• For those who hate Him it will be hell, and they will be located apart from us to live forever with the hearts they have created for themselves (outside the walls, Rev 22:14, 15). Their judgment is completely just.

3) When I see this truth I realize it’s urgent that I do everything I can to help as many as I can meet Jesus before they die. Knowing what I know means I can’t stand by and passively watch people head into such an eternity.

4) I also discover in this a new degree of mercy. My old heart won’t go with me into eternity because I have been given a new heart. This is what Paul means when he says, “if anyone is in Christ he is a new creation; the old things passed away, behold they have become new” (literal: 2Co 5:17). And it’s the glory of the promise God makes through Ezekiel when He says, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone… and give you a heart of flesh” (Eze 36:26). So, I will carry none of the pain, shame, anger, fear, etc. from this life into the next. I will be completely whole and joyous inside and out. At last I will be fully in Him and He in me (Jn 15:4, 5; 17:21-24).

1) Point to a place where your understanding of eternity has changed the way you live.
2) Mention a time when you felt it was urgent that you help someone meet Jesus.
3) What part of your “old nature” will you be thrilled to never see again in heaven?


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