The book of Revelation the Bible talks about 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 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 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.
The lake of fire, or 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 the Bible says “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23), it does not merely mean the first death. When the Bible says of Jesus “Christ died for our sins” (1 Corinthians 15:3) and that He went to the cross so that He “might taste death for everyone” (Hebrews 2:9), it does not merely mean the first death.
The wages of sin is the second death. Everyone dies. Even those who have the gift of God, eternal life. It logically follows that Jesus can only save us from what He has endured and conquered for us. If Jesus only experienced the first death, then he can only save us from the first death, and we must still face the second death ourselves.
However, the good news is that Jesus faced the full, horrific reality of the second death. Come with me to the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus and His disciples enter the garden. Something astounding is about to happen. 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 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) Here Jesus opens to our understanding the nature of His suffering. Notice that He used the same word He had employed earlier to describe the second death as distinct from the first death: “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”
Again, the word here translated “soul” is psyche in the Greek text and that is precisely the word Jesus uses now to communicate what He’s enduring. In Gethsemane, Jesus says He is dying at the psyche level of His being. He is dying from the inside out, under the lethal power of our sin and guilt.
No physical abuse has yet been inflicted upon Him. And yet, He is dying! No blood has yet been drawn from His flesh by violence. And yet, He is bleeding! Luke tells us: “And being in agony, He prayed more earnestly. Then His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.” (Luke 22:44) He is bleeding through His pores due to the intense internal stress our sin is imposing on Him.
Jesus is taken to the cross. Yes, nails were hammered through His hands and feet. Yes, 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.
For a sustained period of time, as our guilt enveloped His heart in impenetrable emotional darkness, Jesus could not see life for Himself beyond the grave. But here’s the amazing thing: He was not trapped. His back was not up against a wall with no way out. There are two things He said before the cross that indicate that He was not trapped:
John 10:17,18 “Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father.”
Don’t miss what all this means. Jesus faced the prospect of eternal death, and yet, because He loved you and me, He did not pull back. He was willing to die forever to save us. No wonder Paul called what happened at Calvary, “the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge” (Ephesians 3:19). When Jesus gave His life on the cross, He showed that He loves us more than His own existence.
But here's the glorious good news: Jesus didn’t simply experience the second death. He conquered it as He experienced it. Peter declared: “Whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it” (Acts 2:24).
Notice the language here. “It was not possible” for death to hold Jesus. But why? For one simple reason: “The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law” (1 Corinthians 15:56)... but Jesus never sinned. Under the fiercest temptations to save Himself, He kept on loving all of us at any cost to Himself.
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. How could He love me so deeply, so selflessly? Is this really what God is like? The story of Calvary shows us the true loving character of God.