Four places in the book of Revelation the Bible refers to the second death. Both the first death and the second death are the result of sin, but the first is temporary and occurs by means of physical causes, such as disease or tragedy or old age. We are all too familiar with the first death. The second death however, does not occur on merely a physical level, but on the psychological level as well, due to the lethal power of one’s guilt. It is complete and final.
Revelation 2:11 says, "He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death.” Those who overcome don’t experience the second death. We could say that another way. Those who do not overcome will experience the second death.
Revelation 20 mentions the second death two times. Revelation 20:6 states, "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." The second death has no power over those who reign with Christ.
Revelation 20:13-15 is very specific about what the second death is, "The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. 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." Being cast into the lake of fire is the second death.
Revelation 21:7,8 confirms this, "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.”
Hell is equivalent to the second death. God will not subject the wicked to eternal torture in the flames of some underworld. They will be resurrected to face the record of their lives in one final reckoning, then they will be eternally annihilated “as though they had never been” (Obadiah 16).
When we understand the nature of the second death as opposed to the first death, we can understand what Jesus endured for us as He agonized in Gethsemane and died on the cross. As Jesus and His disciples enter the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus is staggering under the weight of some invisible burden. The disciples can see that something is wrong. Jesus explains what’s happening to Him: “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death” (Matthew 26:38).
Jesus has suffered no physical abuse and yet He is dying. No blood has yet been spilled from His body by violence and yet He is bleeding. Luke tells us in Luke 22:44, “And being in agony, He prayed more earnestly. Then His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground” He is bleeding through His pores due to the intense internal stress the shame of our sin is imposing on Him.
Jesus took it all of our sin and shame into His own conscience as if He were the guilty party instead of us. From Gethsemane, Jesus is taken to the cross and nails were hammered through His hands and feet. His body was tortured and yet He never uttered a word about the physical pain, because His mental suffering was so intense that it nearly eclipsed His physical pain.
In the book Desire of Ages, author Ellen White gives us this deeper insight: “The Savior could not see through the portals of the tomb. Hope did not present to Him His coming forth from the grave a conqueror, or tell Him of the Father’s acceptance of the sacrifice. He feared that sin was so offensive to God that their separation was to be eternal”
For a sustained period of time, as our guilt immersed Him in impenetrable emotional darkness, Jesus could not see life for Himself beyond the grave. Jesus faced the prospect of eternal death, and yet, because He loved you and me, He was literally willing to die for ever and never be reunited to His Father to save us.
The wonderful thing is that no one needs to experience the second death, because Jesus experienced it for all of us—and conquered it. He tasted the second death for every person and He alone could not be held in it because He alone was sinless.
Jesus never sinned. Under the fiercest temptations to save Himself, He kept on loving all of us at any cost to Himself. That selfless love was in perfect harmony with the law of God. By love alone, Jesus triumphed over the second death. Therefore, it was impossible for the second death to hold Him. His resurrection is proof of His victory over our sin, our guilt, and our death.
What an amazing love. Is it really true that the creator of the universe loves me so much that He was willing to endure the second death in my place? Is this really what God is like? The answer is YES! "God is love." 1 John 4:8
Portions of this blog post were inspired by Ty Gibson of Light Bearers Ministries.