Life through death is a fundamental principle of the Kingdom of God. Jesus illustrated this principle with a grain of wheat: “unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much fruit” (John 12:24). Death is what releases the seed to express the life within. For the life within is greater than anything the seed can become on its own.
Imagine a single acorn which possesses within it an oak tree that can grow up to 100 feet long. What if, so impressed with itself, with its shapely and beautiful form and texture, refused to fall to the ground and die, not knowing that if fully grown, it would become an oak tree capable of living several hundred years, withstanding the elements, providing shelter and wood, and capable of producing 1000s of acorns each year serving as food for various animals. Is it not worthwhile for the single acorn to die?
Dear reader of these lines, you and I are like that acorn and within us is a most glorious Seed – Christ (Gal. 3:16). All that we are or we can achieve in ourselves cannot compare with the glory of the indwelling Christ.
For this cause, Jesus instructs us: “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it” (Matt. 16:25). For “if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Rom. 8:13).
The second death is this very process by which the flesh and self are brought to their end, releasing the life of Christ within.
There are four references in the bible to the phrase “second death” which are all in the book of Revelation. The second death is a vital spiritual experience that each person will go through in attaining to the heights of the Kingdom of God.
First, in order to understand the second death, we need to identify what the first death is. The first death is the death that the first Adam died. The first Adam died both a spiritual and physical death. This death came as a result of his separation from communion and union with God. Adam in this corruptible state died to righteousness and became alive to sin. He became a mortal being with a body that would age and eventually perish.
Everyone born into the world has been born in this Adamic condition and has entered into the state of the first death. “And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:5) and “you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with Him” (Col. 2:13)
The wonderful truth relayed in the glorious plan of God through the second death is to bring about an end to this Adamic condition. To do this, God purposed to destroy the first death through the second death.
This was evident by the work of Jesus Christ on the cross. We read in Hebrews 2:14: “He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had power of death, that, is the devil…”. Jesus Christ overcome death by the death that He died in Calvary. And yet He also took part in a continual death when He humbled Himself, surrendered His will, and made Himself of no reputation taking the form of a bond-servant by coming in the likeness of man (Phil. 2:7).
Through His death, Jesus Christ destroyed the power of the first death. For this reason Jesus declares: “I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death” (Rev. 1:8).
In Revelation 20:14 we get a clear indication of what the second death is, it reads: “then death and hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.” God intends to bring about an end to both death and hades through the lake of fire. Both death and hades are indicative of the first death that Adam died. Hades is the Greek word most often translated as ‘hell.’ It means the unseen word or unseen realm. It was a state of separation from the consciousness of God. The lake of fire is intended to destroy this condition and do away with hell and death once and for all until there is “no more death” (Rev. 21:4). No more death! Can you see it? A day where death ceases to exist. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? Death and all that it is associated with it, including hell, sorrow, pain, corruption, and carnality will all cease. This is the state of conditions in the dispensation of the fullness of the times when God will be “all in all” (1 Cor. 15:28; Eph. 1:10).
The end of death and hell is not apart from corruption and mortality of humanity. For we read in Revelation 21:8: “but the cowardly, 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.” Listed here are not specific individuals but characteristics of the Adamic nature. The lake of fire is to destroy the carnal nature from which sin and lawless emanate in all men. “So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, death is swallowed up in victory” (1 Cor. 15:54). This processing is the divine purpose of the lake of fire and brimstone.
Lake of fire and brimstone
In order to understand the lake of fire and brimstone we need to move away from natural interpretations and understandings of the book of Revelation. There are many shadows and symbols used in the book to relay deep spiritual truths. Jesus declared “the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life” (John 6:63). Again, in the book of Revelation, He instructs each church to “hear what the Spirit says.” For the “Holy Spirit teaches; comparing spiritual things with spiritual” (2 Cor. 2:13). Ultimately, it is by the Spirit that we can lift our gaze from the letter to grasp the life and spiritual revelation therein. So when we read of the lake of fire and brimstone, our mind shouldn’t wonder to invoke images of some deep dark hole full of fire in the ether. On the contrary, the lake of fire and brimstone speaks of the profound processing of God in the spiritual realm that transcends such natural notions.
The second death is closely associated with the lake of fire. We read that it is a lake that “burns with fire and brimstone” (Rev. 20:10). The burning indicates that of combustion which indicates the consumption of something with fire so as to change it. From science we know that the burning of any item does not completely abolish that item, it merely changes its chemical composition. Therefore, fire is the process of transforming something chemically into something else. Similarly, the burning of the lake of fire indicates that of change and transformation. The burning is the work of fire which seperates the corruptible from the incorruptible, it purifies and purges (1 Peter 1:7). We read in Zechariah 13:9 about the spiritual purpose of God’s fire: “and I will bring the third part through the fire, and will refine them as silver is refined, and will try them as gold is tried: they shall call on my name, and I will hear them: I will say, It is my people: and they shall say, The Lord is my God.” The aim of fire is therefore to refine man until God is the only one glorified in man. This processing by fire is an extension of the very attribute of God, for He is both a refiner’s fire and a consuming fire.
The second attribute of the lake is that it burns with brimstone. The word ‘brimstone’ is the Greek ‘theion’ which means ‘divine incense’. Regarding this word, Strong’s concordance states that the “burning brimstone was regarded as having power to purify.” ‘Theion’ comes from the root word ‘theios’ which means ‘divine’ and refers to the divine attributes of God. Two examples of this word’s usage occurs in 2 Peter 1:3-4: “According to His divine (theios) power… you might be partakers of the divine (theios) nature.”
Therefore, when we combine the meaning of these two words, we can understand that the lake of fire and brimstone is the lake of divine change and divine transformation. Its main purpose is divine purification. This is not change that man brings about by his own religious efforts or by self-sacrifice; it is the divine work of God’s purifying fire. While it may be contrary to our preconceived understanding of hell and fire, we need to establish in our hearts that our God has no desire to permanently punish or completely destroy those He has created in His image and likeness in eternal torment. To subject one to never ending torture is not only cruel and aimless but it runs contrary to the nature of our purposeful, merciful and loving Father.
While children, our earthly fathers corrected us in order to remove bad or undesired behaviors. Similarly, our loving Father takes all His children through His purifying and purging fire in order to cleanse them of all carnality and render them holy as He is holy. The writer of the Hebrews expresses: “furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness” (Heb 12:9-10). As children in the natural, we didn’t always understand the purpose of our father’s chastening. Similarly, children in the religious systems misunderstand the purpose and heart of their Father. Through the lake of fire, God desires to bring about the second death in order to refine His children, to break the bond of self and the carnal mind and to cease everything fleshy and rebellious until their true nature awakened to the saving grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Through this second death, the first death is made obsoletee.
Is the second death physical death?
I should also make clear that the second death is not physical death. To further expound on this question, we turn to a statement that Jesus made. He declared: “do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to kill both soul and body in hell” (Matt. 10:28). Again we read in Luke’s rendering: “do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after He has killed, has power to cast into hell” (Luke 11:4-5). We can see two things from the following scriptures. First, the death of the body does not bring about the death of the soul (the seat of self and the carnal desires of man). One’s physical death does not render the carnal mind dead. Had it been the case, Jesus would have said fear those who kill the body for in the killing of the body the soul would also die. Second, we see that the death of the soul is the work of God. For it is God “who is able to kill both soul and body in hell” (Matt. 10:28).
Furthermore, on two occasions the scriptures distinctly state: “this is the second death” (Rev. 20:14) and “which is the second death” (Rev. 21:8). This is no coincidence. On both these occasions, they do not point us to the idea that the second death is physical death. Physical death and separation from the body does not break the bondage of the carnal mind and bring about the second death. I will remind you again that physical death and the state of mortality into which all humanity fell, is in fact the first death. The second death is a deep spiritual work that transcends the cessation of a heartbeat. Therefore, physical death or the first death cannot bring about transformation or the death of the soul or carnal nature in man.
Now, although Jesus Christ died a physical death on the cross, the death that Jesus died was a spiritual work that surpassed mere physical death. Through His death on the cross, He took on the sins of the world and nailed it to the cross, overcoming principalities and powers making a way for humanity to come into union with God. In His death on the cross, He took all of humanity with Him – “for if One died then all died” (2 Cor. 5:14). Here, Paul reminds us that: “our old man is crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin” (Rom. 6:6). There is an indication in similar verses that there is no more sin in those that are saved. However, in various verses including Romans 6:12, Paul exhorts us saying: “let not sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in the lusts thereof.” These seem like contradictions, first telling us that sin is destroyed and then instructing us not obey it.
I understand this in this way, the work is already finished by Jesus Christ having overcome sin and death once and for all – He finished the work. However, walking out this reality in our experience takes a process; it takes a development, a maturing, a carrying of our cross and an overcoming. That’s why the scripture states: “For in that He put all in subjection under him, He left nothing that is not put under him. But now we do not yet see all things put under him. But we see Jesus” (Heb. 2:9). We don’t yet see the subjection of our soul and body and the fullness of Christ but we fix our eyes on the forerunner, for the pattern Son – our Lord Jesus Christ has finished the work and has seated us in heavenly places with Him. However, there is a walking out of who we are positionally. Paul instructs us: “as you have, therefore, received Christ Jesus, so walk in Him” (Col. 2:6).
The saints and the second death
Do the saints who are in Christ experience the second death? In Revelation 21:8, we see that all who are under the first death and who live under the carnal mind with all its dictates: “have their part in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone.” The Greek word ‘part’ means lot, destiny, allotment, and portion in the lake of fire. Anyone who still possesses the carnal nature will have their lot in the lake of fire, believer and unbeliever alike. A believer who has not completely died to his carnal nature cannot enter into perfection in Christ until he is wholly purged from such duality. No one under the first death is exempt from the purging and refining work of the lake of fire. However, I believe that God will apportion to each a different measure of His purifying fire, depending on the purging needed for each saint.
Returning to the question posed, we turn to Revelations 2:11 where Jesus Christ speaking to the church in Smyrna states: “He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death.” From this verse it would seem that the saints who die in Christ have no part in the lake of fire. A keyword we need to look at closely is “hurt.” The Greek translation for the word is: unjust, wrong, injure and offend. This means simply that he who overcomes shall not be wronged, injured and offended by the second death. This does not indicate that the believer has no part in the lake of fire but rather that he is not offended by the purging work of God. In fact, he willingly submits and surrenders to the Refiner’s fire, yes, even in this life. This refers to those who do “not love their lives to the death” (Rev. 12:11).
These are they who submit to the work of the Spirit to deny self and take up their cross and follow the Lord willingly. These are they who do not count their life (soul) dear to them nor love their life (soul), even unto death. Those who obediently subdue themselves to the working of the Spirit to mortify the deeds of the body are not offended or wronged by the second death. Paul was exemplary in this end. He states: “I die daily” (1 Cor. 15:31) and “I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him” (Phil. 3:8-9). To those who refuse to yield to the working of the Spirit to mortify the carnal mind in this life and to press into maturity in Christ, the lake of dive purification awaits them in the coming ages.
Paul relays to us the role of fire in the believer’s life. As a wise master builder, he laid Jesus Christ as the foundation in the life of the saints. Everyone is to build on this foundation. “Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire” (1 Cor. 3:12-15). Rest assured the fire is not just designated for the sinner but also for the saint who fails to build on that firm foundation. But, for the saint who’s life is hidden in Christ, the fire cannot affect them, for he/she has become one with the Consuming Fire.
Many who read these lines and who believe they are destined for the bliss of heaven after their days here on earth may be shocked by these statements. But the dealing and processing of God is more nuanced and mysterious that what the religious system has portrayed to its followers. Their teachings and doctrines have been conveniently assembled to appeal to man’s desires for security and blessing. Consequently, trials and tribulations are lost to the religious church system. However, the scripture teaches us that tribulations are part and parcel of the journey to possessing the Kingdom. The apostles tell us that “we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).
To the believers at the church in Smyrna, Jesus encourages saying: “you shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life” (Rev. 2:10). The counsel of the Lord is not pray away tribulations when it comes and I will protect you, quite the opposite, His counsel is be faithful, stay the course, endure until the fire of tribulation achieves its purpose. We see the fruit of such tribulation in Revelation 7:14: “these are they which came out of the great tribulation and washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” What a testimony!
Today, many are satisfied with the fact that they are “saved” and refuse to press on to known the Lord in a deeper way. They’ve traded their Savior for their salvation. The scriptures exhort us to work out our salvation (Phil. 2:12) and to “press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:14). When the saint understands that their salvation is not for their eternal security, but to bring forth the glory of God by being identified with Christ, then they will not be offended by God’s refining work of the second death, in fact, they will embrace it.