The Second Death

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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.

Picture of Christopher Peppler

Christopher Peppler

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  1. Pingback: The Book and the Books | Truth Is The Word

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About Me

My name is Christopher Peppler and I was born in Cape Town, South Africa in 1947. While working in the financial sector I achieved a number of business qualifications from the Institute of Bankers, Damelin Management School, and The University of the Witwatersrand Business School. After over 20 years as a banker, I followed God’s calling and joined the ministry full time. After becoming a pastor of what is now a quite considerable church, I  earned an undergraduate theological qualification from the Baptist Theological College of Southern Africa and post-graduate degrees from two United States institutions. I was also awarded the Doctor of Theology in Systematic Theology from the University of Zululand in 2000.

Four years before that I established the South African Theological Seminary (SATS), which today is represented in over 70 countries and has more than 2 500 active students enrolled with it. I presently play an role supervising Masters and Doctoral students.

I am a passionate champion of the Christocentric or Christ-centred Principle, an approach to biblical interpretation and theological construction that emphasises the centrality of Jesus

I have been happily married to Patricia since the age of 20, have two children, Lance and Karen, a daughter-in-law Tracey, and granddaughters Jessica and Kirsten. I have now retired from both church and seminary leadership and devote my time to writing, discipling, and the classical guitar.

If you would like to read my testimony to Jesus then click HERE.