Join us as we take a close look at what it meant for Jesus to die the second death and discover the power of the resurrection.
Did Jesus die the Second Death?
The concept of the second death is based on the following scriptural statements and indicates a permanent state from which there is no resurrection or return. This terminal state is contrasted with what Jesus called sleep (John 11:11-26) which indicated a temporary state from which resurrection to life is possible. This state might also be referred to as sleep-death.
Jude 1:12 NLT These are the men who are hidden reefs in your love feasts when they feast with you without fear, caring for themselves; clouds without water, carried along by winds; autumn trees without fruit, doubly dead, uprooted. (Jude cannot use enough pejorative metaphors!)
Revelation 2:11 NLT He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes will not be hurt by the second death.’ (Overcomes fear of death vs 10)
Revelation 20:6 NLT Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with Him for a thousand years. (Implies there is a first or sleep death from which one can be resurrected.)
Revelation 20:14 NLT Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. (This fire is symbolic because no physical fire can destroy death.)
Revelation 21:8 NLT But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.” (This is the same fire mentioned in 20:14)
To decide which death Jesus died it is necessary to do some groundwork as to the necessity of Jesus’ death.
The Necessity of Jesus’ Death
The Satan or the devil or the mighty, fallen angel accused God of selfishness in opposition to God’s claim of being unselfish love. This claim is grounded on the devil’s temptations to Eve and on his temptations to Jesus in the wilderness and in the Garden of Gethsemane. All these temptations suggest the devil has a better way than the way God operates. This is a fiendish accusation since it is not possible to show that God is unselfish if all that God desired was created by the word of the LORD and the breath of his mouth (Psalms 33:6)?
A poor parallel would be to attempt to demonstrate that Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos is unselfish?
At the cross, God in Jesus Christ, is faced with the choice of giving up on saving the people he had blessed for three years with food, healing, emotional support, forgiveness, resurrection from the dead and unbelievable kindness at every turn. God, in Jesus Christ, owned only the clothes on his back. He lived these three years of ministry in faith on the people around him. He was one of them and he blessed them in every conceivable way. If he gave up on them now and went back to heaven it would prove Satan’s accusation to be true.
Does God give up on People?
In the Old Testament account God gave up on people periodically. Here are some examples. The people before the flood were so wicked and violent that God regretted creating them and they drowned (Genesis 6:5-8). When a nation’s cup of iniquity is full, it is legitimate to destroy them (Genesis 15:16). The Israelites were warned that if they were not faithful to God, he would turn against them and curse them with suffering (Leviticus 26:14 onwards). If this is God’s consistent response to wickedness then it would also be observed at the cross. Especially at the cross where God was placed under extreme emotional and physical abuse by his creation. If ever God was to start over, it would have been at the cross.
No such vengeance was observed.
Some feel that God needed Jesus’ death before he could forgive sinners and thus he did not start over at this time. Having this view of God’s character reduces our responsibility for the death of Jesus which is comforting but prevents personal moral growth. The opposite was demonstrated by God’s response. There was an earthquake and darkness to make is known that God was present but there was no killing of the perpetrators for their cruelty to the Creator. The Creator had only words of kindness and forgiveness for his tormentors and executioners.
The Trial of God
At the cross, God was on trial. The charge is that at the core of his being he is selfish. So, God is examined with lash and ridicule, by religion and politics, by uncaring, hypocritical priests and brutalized soldiers. Will God repent of making these fiends and go back to the safety and security of heaven or will he demonstrate that there is no end to his love for the worst of sinners?
John 13:1 he loved them to the end
It is the crisis of the universe as described in Revelation 5 where no one was found who could solve the problem of suffering as symbolized by the seals. Notice that God is present on his throne and cannot terminate suffering. No wonder John weeps bitterly. Will suffering and sorrow continue forever? Is there no end to this sorrowful suffering?
This is where the slaughtered lamb comes in (Revelation 5:6). The slaughtered lamb represents our treatment of the loving God when he came to love and serve us. Notice the marks of slaughter are permanent as the lamb is alive but can be seen that it was slaughtered not sacrificed. The Greek word translated slaughter (phazo) is different to the Greek word for sacrifice (tuo).
Animal sacrifices were designed to be as painless as possible. Slaughtering an animal carried no such sentiment. Jesus was slaughtered in the cruelest of ways known at that time. It is the slaughtered lamb not the sacrificed lamb that is at the center of the universes worship with the cosmos singing, “You are worthy!” in Revelation 5.
Jesus has eternal life in himself. If his death was only of his human body this would mean he would go back to heaven, the incarnation was over, and he would have returned to his pre-incarnate state. While this would be impressive it would rather confirm the devil’s accusation.
The Reason for Jesus’ Death
To reveal the inexhaustible love of God or his unselfishness, God in Jesus, must lay down his eternal life in eternal death. The is the truth of God. He was willing to give up his eternal life because of his love for sinners. He does this, not to prove something about himself, but, for the sheer love of his creation.
We know this from the way he treated: His conniving disciples at the last Passover meal; The criminals crucified on either side of him; His executioners; His mother from the cross; His faithless, disciple John after John had abandoned him a few hours earlier.
Jesus’ suffering and death is not a punishment for our sin, it is the consequence of sin. Punishment is not part of love and heaven. It is extrinsic to God’s order. It is a consequence of the use of violence and deceit to enforce our way on another. Punishment is an alien concept in heaven.
Cognitive versus Emotional Experience
It is true that Jesus had predicted he would rise again. This was a cognitive statement. His emotional statement in the Garden of Gethsemane to three of his disciples was, “I am dying, pray with me.” These same three men had seen his glory on the Mountain of Transfiguration. Now they slept and Jesus had no emotional support from them when he needed it most. His cry of dereliction on the Cross: “My God. My God. Why have you forsaken me?” reflected the abandonment of hope in Jesus’ heart. At that moment he did not see himself coming forth from death. In his experience at that moment, he was dying the eternal death. This is the unbeliever’s death.
No Christian dies with these words because of the hope Jesus Christ has brought them. Jesus, who knew the love of God, suffered infinitely more than those who have never known God’s love. Jesus died because he experienced the rejection of: His creation and, as it seemed to him, the rejection of God himself.
Rejection is the cause of human suicide. The perpetrator feels rejected by all, including himself, and for a social being this means life is no longer worth living.
The Experience of the Second Death
Temporary death or Eternal death is experienced the same way once one is dead. It is the experience or process of dying which is different. From the above. Jesus experienced the eternal death. The devil made sure of this. It was his purpose to get God to the place where he would give up on his creation, as Moses described God’s response to wickedness before the great flood when God started over again with Noah (Genesis 6-9). Human voices all crying, “Save yourself!” are indicative of what the devil was calling.
Vengeance did not happen at the cross.
How could Jesus resurrect from eternal death? It is a legal, logical impossibility. However, God is not bound with our perceived rules of how light, life and love proceed. There are miracles and this resurrection is the greatest miracle of them all. The resurrection is the guarantee that God can do the impossible for you.
Jesus was sinless and we laid our sin on him by rejecting him. An example is we laid our sin on Jesus by choosing Barabbas to be set free rather than Jesus. This is a powerful rejection of Jesus. We chose a selfish, lawless man in place of a sinless, gracious man.
Jesus was sinless and death could not hold him indefinitely after we had executed him (Hebrews 2:14).
Hallelujah! Amen! Ian Hartley, June 2022