Where Does the Bible Mention a Second Death?

The second death isn't a topic you'll probably hear a sermon about anytime soon. However, it's an important part of Revelation's teaching about what happens to us at the end.

Where Does the Bible Mention a Second Death?

Death is a fact of life on this side of Jesus’ return, but one day, death will be no more. Those redeemed by Jesus’ death on the cross will pass through death once to live forever. Those who haven’t will face a second death as well.

For a concept as permanent and sobering as a second death, we spend relatively little time contemplating or discussing what it means. Many people work hard to create lifestyles built around avoiding or putting off physical death. We will all encounter physical death (except the generation alive when Jesus returns). It entered the world when Eve and Adam sinned, choosing their way over obedience to God’s way.

We don’t, however, have to die a second death, which is eternal separation from God. The good news is that we don’t have to work at avoiding it or putting it off. Jesus has done all the work necessary to spare us from experiencing this second death. He is our salvation.

What Bible Verse Refers to a Second Death?

Jesus mentions the second death when He appears to John, an experience recorded in Revelation.

Revelation 2:11 is the first ominous mention: “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.”

This appears in Jesus’ message to the Church in Smyrna. Jesus reassures them that though they are suffering, they should not fear. If they remain “faithful unto death,” they will receive “the crown of life.” He ends with the assurance the second death will not hurt them. All believers can apply that reassurance to their souls.

Revelation 20:6 also celebrates and reassures those who share in Christ’s resurrection. “Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years.”

When we accept Jesus’ death on the cross as the propitiation for our sins, we die with Him, but we also rise with Him, as He rose on the third day. In this way, we “share in the first resurrection.” Like Jesus, we will enjoy eternal life.

Revelation 20:11-15 describes the “Judgment before the Great White Throne.” This is where the dead face judgment. Verses 14-15 refer to the second death. “Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”

So we see that the second death, this lake of fire, is the destination of Death, Hades, and all whose names are not found in the book of life.

Finally (very finally), Revelation 21:8 specifies those for whom the second death is planned. “But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”

We can understand this passage to refer to those who didn’t repent of these sins before their physical death, who rejected the redemption that Jesus Christ offers to all sinners.

We know that Paul wrote this warning to the Corinthians:

“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (Corinthians 6:11-15)

Therefore, Revelation 21:8 refers to those who refused to acknowledge those sins and ask for the forgiveness freely given through Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection. This is more incentive to choose Jesus now and to pray that others choose Him, too. He welcomes all repentant sinners to Him, freely offering grace and eternal life.

Many Christians aren’t familiar with the term “second death” because of the wariness surrounding the book of Revelation. Perhaps this is why Jesus adds a blessing for those who “hear it and take to heart” the book in Revelation 1:3 and a stern warning not to add or subtract words from it in Revelation 22:18-19.

What Makes This a Second Death?

Hebrews 9:27-28 tells us that we are appointed to die once. After that death comes judgment. The passage also says Jesus will appear again to save those who “eagerly await Him.” We are appointed to physical death only once. But what happens to people who don’t follow Jesus, who experience this second death?

Theories abound about what happens after we die a physical death. People who study God’s Word also have varying theories about this second death.

One theory is that this second death in the lake of fire is complete non-existence. While followers of Jesus go on to experience eternal life, those whose names are not written in the book of life cease to exist. Advocates of this theory may refer to Jesus’ words in Matthew 10:28.

Others believe the second death is not a ceasing of the soul to exist but is an eternal separation from God. Since God is love, life, truth, holiness, justice, and beauty, this would mean eternal separation from all that is good and right. This theory is likely based on several instances where Jesus refers to eternal fires, outer darkness, and torment (such as Matthew 25:30, Matthew 25:41, Matthew 25:46, and Mark 9:48) and Paul’s words in 2 Thessalonians 1:9.

Jeremy Myers describes eternal separation from God in these terms on his Redeeming God blog:

“It consists of God allowing human beings to live life completely separated from Him. It is allowing them to live as slaves to hatred, violence, envy, immorality, deception, greed, lust and every evil thing. As such, the second death is the opposite of eternal life. Eternal life is life lived as God always wanted, planned, and desired; eternal death (or the second death) is life lived in the complete opposite way, separated from everything that God intended for humanity.” (original author’s emphasis)

We don’t know what this second death experience will be like. With the balance of Scriptural teaching on other subjects, it’s likely unwise to cultivate an unhealthy reflection on it. It is enough to know that life apart from God is nothing to desire and is equivalent to death of the soul, the essence of who we are.

Who Will Experience the Second Death?

The redeemed, those who choose to receive forgiveness in Jesus Christ, have nothing to fear from His return, physical death, or the second death. We are promised eternal life. God keeps His promises.

That is not to say we haven’t sinned or have lived perfect lives. There is no one righteous enough on their own to enter God’s Kingdom, apart from Jesus. There is salvation in no other name but Jesus.

However, living life without receiving Christ, without confessing that we are sinners in need of salvation, and without accepting Jesus’ death as payment for our sins, leaves us vulnerable to the first and second death.

This is hard to receive, especially knowing so many people who do good works and live productive lives on earth but don’t accept Jesus Christ as their savior. We are all guilty of sin; even the smallest sin separates us from God. This is why Jesus had to be born as a baby, live a sinless life, and suffer on our behalf.

What Can We Learn from the Second Death?

First, our lives are about representing the truth of Jesus Christ because the end will come.

Without letting our thoughts linger on the second death, we can let its inevitability motivate our prayers and witnessing the gospel to unbelievers. Our love for God and His love for others should inspire us to want to make every effort to see that no one misses the opportunity to receive the forgiveness offered by Jesus Christ.

Let the truth of its coming motivate us to support ministries and missions dedicated to spreading the truth of Jesus to every corner of the earth. To commit resources to Bible translation. And to speak up to those in our lives who have yet to hear the truth.

Second, our God is loving, which means that eventually, those who choose sin will no longer be allowed to hurt those who have chosen salvation. It’s hard to see the loving hand of God in the second death, but we can also learn a lesson of love from it. Right now, even if we become followers of Christ, we are subject to the impact of the sins, behaviors, attitudes, and systems of those who deny Him. It would be unloving of God to allow that to go on forever.

C.S. Lewis has two characters discuss the second death in his powerful parable, The Great Divorce. The narrator observes that some say even one soul being lost destroys the joy that so many are saved. His friend observes that behind this idea lurks “The demand of the loveless and the self-imprisoned that they should be allowed to blackmail the universe: that till they consent to be happy (on their own terms) no one else shall taste joy: that theirs should be the final power; that Hell should be able to veto Heaven.”

In the plan of a loving God, the suffering that unrepentant people who refuse forgiveness can inflict on others will end. The unrepentant will suffer a second death, but they will suffer because of the choice they made, not one He chose for them.

2 Peter 3:9 tells us that God is not slow in His promise to return but tarries because He doesn’t want anyone to be separated from Him forever.

John 3:16-19 reminds us that Jesus came into the world to save the world. Our own sinful choices have already condemned us. He made way for us to live in love, light, beauty, life, holiness, justice, mercy, and goodness for eternity. Those who continue in their way, choosing their sin over His gift, will live in the eternity they have created.

Ezekiel 33:11 assures us that God takes no pleasure in death, not even in the death of the wicked. God is love. He created a beautiful heaven and earth with human children that He loved. We chose to disobey, so sin and death entered the world, corrupting all He created.

But He loved us so much He sent His only Son to die on the cross and rise again, that all who believe in Him would have eternal life. Those who choose the gift of salvation will live to see the new Heaven and new Earth—free from sin and death.

Those who choose sin and death, life without Jesus, will face a future of sin and death—the second death.

Those who choose Jesus will live forever.

Photo Credit: ©Getty Images/Brina Bunt

Lori Stanley RoeleveldLori Stanley Roeleveld is a blogger, speaker, coach, and disturber of hobbits who enjoys making comfortable Christians late for dinner. She’s authored four encouraging, unsettling books including Running from a Crazy Man and The Art of Hard Conversations. She speaks her mind at www.loriroeleveld.com.

This article is part of our larger End Times Resource Library. Learn more about the rapture, the anti-christ, bible prophecy and the tribulation with articles that explain Biblical truths. You do not need to fear or worry about the future!

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