The Second Death, What is it?

(Kevin Hurst) #1

This is something I have been thinking about recently.
The Bible talks about the second death in Revelation 21:8 and 14,15. Also Jesus seems to be talking about it in Mark 9:43-45. Now I know there are different interpretations, especially when we look at the book of Revelation.
But my question is, is the second death something that is literal and last for eternity or is it completely figurative. Not sure if the question makes sense and I can try to clarify if it does not.
Just wondering what all your views are on this and why do you believe what you do.

(SeanO) #2

@Kevin_Hurst Even if the term ‘second death’ is figurative, you still have to decide what it is a figure for… This is difficult to do because we naturally bring our assumptions about the afterlife to the table. I think it is clearly figurative because ‘death itself’ is thrown into the lake of fire - but death is not actually a thing, so it cannot be thrown anywhere. Also, the entire book is apocalyptic literature, which is well known to use massive amounts of figurative language - in fact, Revelation contains a startling number of allusions to OT passages.

The three views of how God handles sin ultimately are:

  1. Eternal torment - some form of eternal suffering or separation from God
  2. Conditionalism - those who reject God are judged and then cease to exist
  3. Universalism - sin is real, but all people will eventually be brought to repentance

Views on the second death in each of these categories:

  1. Eternal separation from God - a sort of spiritual death
  2. Literally a second death - you died once, were resurrected to judgment and now you die permanently
  3. A purifying fire that gets rid of the dross of sin so that all people can truly repent and be restored - in this way God truly wins the victory over death

Rebuttals against each of the views:

  1. People who do not know Christ are already spiritually dead - how can the die spiritually a second time when they were never alive spiritually? Our experience of death in this world is always one of finality - why would John use the image of death if he meant torment or separation?
  2. I currently hold this view - I wouldn’t if I knew a good argument against it :slight_smile: I think to make an argument against it on this topic you have to go outside this text to other texts and say that they are so clear you must interpret the idea of the second death in light of them. But I would disagree on those texts as well… For example, you might say the soul is inherently immortal or that Jesus’ words about worm not dying / fire not being quenched are so clear we must understand everything in light of them. But Scripture nowhere says the human soul is inherently immortal and Jesus was quoting a passage from Isaiah 66 where the people were very much dead - not being tormented…
  3. The Scripture gives no indication that those who face eternal judgment will turn again - in fact, it gives stern warnings in the opposite direction - choose wisely, because otherwise you will end up outside the Kingdom (think parable of the ten virgins - the ones who were not prepared were stuck outside - or the parable of the wedding feast)

(Kevin Hurst) #3

@SeanO just curious to what your reaction to this post by got questions would be.

And also this post here.
I am not sure if you ever heard of this website or not.

(SeanO) #4

@Kevin_Hurst Good thoughts - yes, this is a very popular website and generally has good information. I think that this perspective is common. However, I would tend to disagree because I think this line of argument makes certain assumptions about the meaning of the words ‘eternal’ and ‘everlasting’.

Keep in mind that the word ‘aionos’ - translated ‘eternal’ in English - has a few different meanings. It is not necessarily equivalent to the English word forever. It can mean ‘pertaining to the age’ - the Bible talks about the ‘age to come’ and the ‘end of the age’. ‘aionos fire’ or ‘eternal fire’ could refer to fire that consumes something completely - that deals completely with the problem of sin.

Consider how Jude 1:7 describes the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah - “In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire.”

Is Sodom and Gomorrah still on fire? What do you think this passage means by ‘eternal’ fire?

In the same way ‘aionos’ life could be life ‘of the age to come’.

In addition, these passages do not say the soul is inherently immortal even if they are interpreted to be referring to an infinite duration of time. God could be sustaining us forever rather than our souls being inherently immortal.

(Kevin Hurst) #5

@SeanO yup I see your point there about the eternal fire not still burning Sodom and Gomorrah. I guess I would see this eternal fire pointing more to divine judgment. It is divine fire falling on those that were living in sin. That verse is in a list of other judgments against Egypt and angels that left their first estate which are in chains waiting for the great day of judgment. It would seem to me that that great day of judgment in this context is for all three of these groups here.

I would differentiate between eternal fire and the lake of fire in Revelation. The eternal fire is representing fire that fell in a literal way from heaven from God in divine judgment against those cities. The lake of fire is a literal place as well that is reserved for the devil and his angels and who ever follows after him.
I guess you realize what view I hold here :slight_smile: the eternal torment.
I would disagree with you on the definition you gave of eternal torment. I would say it is some form of eternal torment AND a physical separation from God. Both.
So instead of a spiritual death it is more of a final physical separation from God. They will never see God again and sense His presence again.
Will our final home be a spiritual place or a physical place? In a sense I guess you could say spiritual but I would also say it will be physical. Jesus had a physical body after He rose from the grave and so will we as far as I can tell. It will be a glorified body but a physical body.
I would understand it will be the same for the unbeliever. Their will a uniting of the soul and body again just like for the believer.
I understand we all have different views on these things and it would probably fall under a secondary doctrine. My only concern that I have with this view and the purgatory view is this. What if theses views are wrong? In my humanistic thinking I can endure a lot of suffering for a while if I have a sense of hope that it will end. If I am a sinner and am told that I will someday not exist anymore after judgment and it will all be over; I think for myself it would almost seem worth it to me. I know we don’t try to save people out of fear alone. But I think fear of death and what comes after is the starting point. We need to then move them from fear to the love of God but fear is the basis. As I look at the world around, it would seem to me that God has put that fear into all of us. That is why people the world around are looking for answers to life. I just don’t want to give them any kind of hope that I am not completely convinced of.
Agree? Disagree?
I appreciate you sharing your thought on this subject. I have not done as much research on this subject as it sounds like you have. I will need to put some more time into this.

(SeanO) #6

@Kevin_Hurst Eternal torment is certainly a valid view, though I think it is less common these days to believe in physical torment. See Tim Keller’s video at the bottom for a more nuanced view of eternal torment.

If you think sin could be worth it without eternal torment, then in my opinion you have missed the whole point of the Gospel. Jesus says that in Him we have ‘life to the full’ and that eternal life is all about knowing Him. Paul describes sin as ‘the fruitless deeds of darkness’ and throughout the Bible idolatry / sin is called an empty well. Those who have tasted the goodness of God should know better than to think sin is worth anything compared to Christ. Paul says he has lost all things, considering them garbage, compared to Christ. The Gospel is not about avoiding torment - it is about gaining Christ.

While the fear of God can be a first step toward repentance, we must also believe that God is kind and merciful or our fear will only lead to terror and hatred rather than repentance. Again, why did the prodigal son go home? Because he knew his father was kind and good and merciful. Likewise, even if we fear judgment, we come to God in view of His mercy shown us on the cross.

John 17:3 - Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.

Hebrews 11:6 - And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

Romans 2:4 - Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?

Philippians 3:8 - What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ

Romans 12:1 - Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God–this is your true and proper worship.

Regarding different views of Hell, I highly recommend these two books.

Eternal Torment More Nuanced View

(Kevin Hurst) #7

@SeanO just to be clear I do not think that sin is worth it without eternal torment. That is just my flesh speaking.=)
I believe the Gospel to be the good news of salvation. Salvation from what? Saved from what? from the judgment to come.
I would consider myself a the prodigal son. I was raised right just like I believe this prodigal son was i the Jesus’ story but I rejected it. I was taught about God’s love and His justice. They are equal in Him. Is God more merciful than He is just? I think these things need to be kept in perfect balance. When I was not living right there was a terror and fear in me. I think that is in the heart of all those that have not trusted in Christ as their Saviour and are walking in the light of His word as He is in the light. That is why people the world over look for one thing as Ravi points out, atonement for sin. They all go to great lengths to try to free themselves of this fear and terror of death and what may come afterward. When I came to myself and realized I am not really happy or fulfilled as Jesus said I can be in Him. The pig sty of sin was really “fruitless deeds of darkness and an empty well” that I was living. I remembered the goodness of my Father and His tender mercies that He provided and I went back.
I am no longer alone. In my sin I was walking through life alone. I now have Someone that lives within me and gives me the strength I need to face life in all of its struggles and temptations. I do not feel any terror of Him like I did at one time. I honor Him as Lord and I do my best to obey Him. He sometimes needs to discipline me but I don’t hate Him for it. I have found it to be for my good.=)

I appreciate your resources you provided. I may not get around to reading those books though. I am more of what you call a B student that supports the A students=) As much as I would love to go to seminary or just be able to read, at this point I need to be working at a desk. If you have things to listen to I can do that.

I did listen to the sermon by Tim Keller. I found it interesting and I would agree with most of what he said. I did have a couple of questions on it.

  1. Is the story of the rich man and Lazarus a true account or just a parable? from the reading in the Scripture it would seem to me like a true account. Most of Jesus’ parables in the Bible clearly states that Jesus is speaking in a parable, but it is not referenced here. Also Jesus uses a specific name unlike other parables. That would point to me that this is something that is literal thing.

  2. I struggle to agree with the definition that is often given of the Pharisees. I understand the premise that is often characterized of them as trying to use God and being self righteous and were lost.Those things were all true. But I think Jesus was more so against them because they were the teachers of the law and they were the ones that missed him. They should have been the first in line to accept him. Jesus talks to Nicodemus, “you are a teacher of the law and you do not know these things”?

Also Matthew 23:23 "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices–mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law–justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. They were to observe the more important without neglecting the smaller details.

Also - Matthew 23: 1-3 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: 2 “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. 3 So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.
Jesus actually commands the people to listen to what the Pharisees tell them to do. Just don’t follow them as examples of how to live it. They tell you what to do but don’t do it themselves.
He was not completely against the Pharisees in all things. Jesus said I did not come to destroy the law but to fulfill it. He was fulfilling what the law demanded as I see it; what the law pointed to, the need for a perfect sacrifice which the blood of bulls and goats could not fulfill, setting us free from the law - of sin and of death. He was not destroying the Old Covenant but building on it. And the Pharisees should have been the ones to see it first and the Jews. But they mostly missed it, so the Gospel was sent to the Gentiles. Hopefully it will make the Jews jealous and bring them back to God.=)

  1. Tim’s application of fear won’t change someone. I don’t quite agree with. Abraham said to the rich man "you don’t need someone to come back from the dead to tell your brothers about this place. People already have the prophets to tell them. If they don’t believe them they won’t believe the resurrected dead person.

I will end my post for now. It is getting long. My concern in all of this is that I believe that too often we end up dividing asunder what God has meant to be joined together. God’s justice and mercy must be kept in complete balance. I am afraid that we are slowly moving away from the fear of God and His justice and moving in the direction of Him being all loving. We end up giving someone a false hope, in my belief, that we cannot ultimately prove until after we are dead, but then it is too late. My belief is that the eternal torment view and the eternal life with God keeps these things all in perfect balance.

(Cameron Kufner) #8

If I may, I want to throw in a question on top of this one. Why is it that we have to figure this out for ourselves? Why is the Bible not so crystal clear on issues such as this? Why do we even have to ask what the second death is? Shouldn’t we be given a direct answer as to what this second death is? Same thing with John 3:5. There is so much debate over that, why didn’t the author, or why did God not give John the directive to be clear on the issue as to what John 3:5 meant. Why is there so much debate between the Body of Christ. Yes, I get that Paul and Peter didn’t agree either, but I am just confused as to why any of this is not made more crystal clear to where there is no shadow of a doubt as to what the Bible means when it refers to certain things? The debate between the body of Christ is completely unnecessary and it’s not how Jesus wanted the body of Christ to act.

(SeanO) #9

@CamKufner I’m right there with you brother. I sometimes wish that even on secondary issues like the nature of Hell the Scriptures were more clear. These are thoughts that help me think through this issue:

  • the Bible is clear on the main things - so as long was we keep the main thing the main thing, we can all worship and love one another even though we disagree on secondary issues
  • vigorous discussion among believers on points about which they disagree is not bad - it is good! I believe God meant us to think through these things together - as a Body, as along as we do so in love. What is bad is when we condemn other people because they do not agree with us on secondary doctrines.
  • think about Abraham - he knew almost none of what we know and yet still followed God :slight_smile: I think that is important to remember - the point of Christianity is not to know the answers to every question about God, but to know God Himself.

(SeanO) #10

@Kevin_Hurst I want to dig a bit deeper on the issue of fear. Why is it that you think fear is so important for salvation?

I think that Jesus was upset with the Pharisees for multiple reasons - they were teachers of the law who ought to have known better, yes. They were also hypocrites who used their religious authority for monetary gain and to curry favor with people rather than God. Not all of them necessarily, but the ones that Jesus rebuked.

The Rich Man and Lazarus

I think the reason Lazarus had a name was because Jesus was making the point that even though Lazarus had no name in this world, God knew his name. It was not because Lazarus was a real person…

As Jacoby points out in his book, this story of a reversal of fate was common in the ancient world. Jesus may not have been telling a true story, but rather adapting a common story of his time in order to make His point to the Pharisees. Therefore, we may not be able to get much information from this story about the actual physical layout of the afterlife because it may not be a story that actually happened. Rather, like Jesus’ other parables, it is a story with a point (not necessarily a true story).

A doctoral dissertation at the University of Amsterdam identified seven versions of the parable circulating in the first century.2 The fortunes of a rich man and a poor man are reversed in the afterlife. As often happens in the Bible, a preexisting story is adapted to present a theological truth. Douglas Jacoby

N.T. Wright, explains. The story carries clear echoes of well-known folk tales to which Jesus is giving a fresh and startling twist.

(Kevin Hurst) #11

@CamKufner Thank you Cameron. I accept your rebuke here. And I apologize if my thoughts are stirring up strife. I guess one thought from me on this is, not trying to defend myself, but what I believe in my heart needs to make sense in my mind as Ravi so often puts it. Who is right? Can we all be right on these issues? What is truth exactly? Can it be known?
I just want to tell you again @seanO i have appreciated so much that you have posted on here. And like I said before I believe this is a secondary issue. May God bless you my friend. I hope you have not been offended by my comments or disagreements. I look forward to discussing these things face to face with you someday in heaven=)
Thank you for prodding me on this issue.
On the issue of fear. I believe it is something that all people face. The fear of the unknown. The fear of the future. The fear of death. Where am I going? This seems to me a world wide problem.
That is why I believe the issue of fear is a part of salvation. We need to give a good answer to that fear. I believe we both agree on that answer. The only way is through Christ. But is there nothing to fear if they do not accept Christ as their Saviour? I would like to argue yes there is. Judgment is coming. That is the basis to me of salvation. As Pilgrim was in the City of Destruction, he came to realize what was coming and he looked for a way of escape. In my thinking I would say there was some fear there.
But perfect love from Christ our Redeemer can cast out that fear. That fear of punishment and judgment to come.

I read through your thread there on Fear God. I understand your argument on the Heavenly Father disciplines his children. He disciplines us for our own good. But is the unbeliever His child yet? Does the Father discipline them as He does His own child?

I agree with you on the Pharisees.

I am may just have to agree to disagree on the story of Lazarus with you. Below is a link. Just wondering what your thoughts are on this. Hopefully they can articulate better what I am saying.

(SeanO) #12

@Kevin_Hurst Not offended in the least :slight_smile: I enjoy these discussions immensely and pray that we all may know Jesus more through them.

Your comments about fear reminded me of this passage in Hebrews:

Hebrews 2:14-15 - Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.

To me, the article you posted basically argues that the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus is historically true because it does not have a structure similar to other parables. However, I think this is a weak argument. Even if it does not have the same structure as parables, that does not mean it is a true story. We know from ancient literature that this story of after-life role reversal was common in the ancient world and it would make perfect sense for Jesus to adopt it for His pedagogical purposes.

That said, it is possible the story is true, but I do not think we can be certain.

(Kevin Hurst) #13

@SeanO I immensely enjoy them too! I wish you lived in my area.=) I would love to discuss these things more with you face to face. I think I could learn a lot from you.

Yes I will accept that that it is a weak argument… For now!=) I haven’t had given this argument a lot of thought. Never had to defend it before like this=). Probably because of the rest of my assumptions on what the end judgment looks like. Let me work on it. Maybe I can come back with a better laid out debate for that! Good convo my friend!

(Cameron Kufner) #14

Kevin, no rebuke at all. I loved the question and your question certainly does not cause strife, but I have always been bothered by the fact that things such as the second death have not been made more clear. There’s debate over different things between the body of Christ, but there’s no debate on here. I think part of me is like “Well, no wonder there are atheists and agnostics because we have confused them with all of our debate within the body of Christ.” So many denominations and I truly believe in my heart of hearts that Jesus never intended for there to be as many denominations as there have been. A part of me is grieved and upset, but I still want dialogue to happen over issues such as this. Thanks for getting the dialogue started and great question.

(SeanO) #15

@Kevin_Hurst Great answer! As iron sharpens iron, so let us sharpen one another. If you are interested, that argument committed a logical fallacy called ‘denying the antecedent’. In an argument of the form ‘If p, then q’ you cannot say ‘Not p, therefore not q’. For example, ‘If the roads are icy, the mail is late’. You cannot say ‘If the roads are clear, the mail is on time’. There could be other reasons the mail might be late.

In the same way, ‘If it is a parable, then it is not a true story’. You cannot say ‘It is not a parable, therefore it is a true story’. Everything that is not a parable is not a true story.

(Kevin Hurst) #16

Thank you @CamKufner. Maybe the denomination question would be a good thread to start=). It might have been looked at to before too, I don’t know.
@SeanO I do love philosophy, but was never formally taught it. Still love learning about it though. Could it also not not be a story as well in that thinking? That might be a fallacy too.
How do we decide if it is a true account or not? Is there way of knowing for sure of not?
May be you have some thoughts for me on that.

(Cameron Kufner) #17

Great insight. Glad to know I’m not the only one who asks that same question. You’re right, we may not all agree on secondary issues, but we should keep the main thing the main thing and not condemn others for not having the same beliefs on secondary issues.

(SeanO) #18

@Kevin_Hurst Regarding the Rich Man and Lazarus, I do not think you can say with 100% certainty one way or the other. I would say I am 80% confident it is not an account of something that actually happened because we have other examples from literature of that day with very similar plots.

The fallacy is the result of trying to prove it is historical by demonstrating that it is not a parable. There is no logical fallacy in allowing the possibility of multiple options - just honestly saying you are uncertain.

There are many things in Scripture we can be 100% confident about - the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Salvation by grace through faith. Eternal life. The second coming. The emptiness of being a slave to sin. The glory of salvation.

But there are other things that, if we are being honest, you just cannot be 100% on and we should allow a multiplicity of opinions while doing our best to come to a conclusion based on the evidence.

(Kevin Hurst) #19

@SeanO I was thinking about this question some more. I was wondering did you always hold to this view of annihilation? If not, what made you change your mind?

(SeanO) #20

@Kevin_Hurst No, I have not always held to this view. I believed in eternal separation from God for many years. When I read C. S. Lewis’ ‘The Great Divorce’ in high school, I think that is the first time I actually thought about this issue in any depth. I would say I thought of Hell as eternal separation from God for the next decade or so afterwards.

In seminary at Moody, one of my professors had us read an article by John Stott on annihilation. It was the first time I had ever heard of that particular way of thinking. I did not change my mind at that point - I was busy with many other things - but it made me think more. I knew the Biblical images of fire and darkness and being outside the city were not literal, but a way of communicating the terror of judgment. However, I had never considered that they might point to something other than eternal separation.

Then I ended up listening to Steve Gregg’s material at ‘The Narrow Path’. I devoured his material because it was the first time I had ever heard a thorough Biblical analysis including alternate views of Hell. I do not agree with Steve on everything, but he made some very good points about the Biblical texts themselves. I read his book on the topic and then picked up Douglas Jacoby’s book. Did a lot more reading of different viewpoints, listened to podcasts on both sides, etc.

I came to the conclusion that annihilation is the best explanation of the Biblical texts and have yet to hear a rebuttal I find convincing. Here are some reasons that I find annihlation convincing.

  • at this point I’m of the opinion that the idea of an inherently immortal soul is just not in the Bible. It was common in pagan philosophy, but I do not think it can be found in Scripture. The idea of an inherently immortal soul is one of the lynchpins of the argument for eternal torment/separation - if the soul is eternal then obviously God will not be destroying anyone, hence Lewis’ book ‘The Great Divorce’. If Hell is eternal and we do not think God tortures people and we do not think the human soul can be destroyed - what then becomes of the wicked? Lewis basically argues they become their sin, which is an interesting perspective.
  • the word for eternal in Greek - ‘aion’ or ‘aionios’ - does not necessarily suggest endlessness like its English equivalent. Bruce Waltke says, “That neither the Hebrew nor the Greek word in itself contain the idea endlessness is shown both by the fact that they sometimes refer to events or conditions that occurred at a definite point in the past, and also by the fact that sometimes it is thought desirable to repeat the word, not merely saying “forever”, but “forever and ever”…Both words came to be used to refer to a long age or period.” G. K. Beale says, “The context of the passage and of the book must determine whether this is a long but limited time or an unending period”. It can also mean ‘age’ or ‘of the age to come’ according to Steve Gregg.
  • eternal fire could be eternal in consequence - it destroys permanently - rather than eternal in duration (Jude 1:7). In fact, this is the very image often used - Jesus talks about the branches that do not produce fruit being burned up and John the Baptist about burning up the chaff with ‘unquenchable fire’. These images suggest the chaff / branches are destroyed.
  • Jesus’ reference to worms not die / fire not quenched is from Isaiah 66 and the people are very much dead in that description
  • the book of Revelation is apocalyptic literature and pressing the images too far is poor exegesis / method - Rev 14:10-11 and 20:10 are often used in support of eternal torment. But I think this is a misapplication of the apocalyptic genre.
  • Jesus talks about both soul and body being ‘destroyed’ in Matthew 10:28 in reference to Gehenna. I am aware of a counterargument that destroyed here can mean ‘ruined’, but I do not find it convincing given Jesus’ other talk of chaff and branches being burned up.
  • In Ezekiel 18/33 God says He ‘takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked’ and we see zero instances of God inflicting torture on people as punishment. I am not appealing to our personal emotions here - but rather saying that God never uses torture on His enemies throughout the OT. Why is He suddenly torturing people in the NT? I think you can make a Biblical - rather than emotional - argument that this is simply inconsistent with God’s character - even His wrath. Our God is a consuming fire - yes - and does allow people to suffer the evil they have devised for others (Haman in Esther or Matthew 18:34), but He Himself does not seek to inflict torment.
  • the idea that because God is infinitely holy He must punish sin with infinite punishment does not make sense to me. It makes an assumption about what God’s holiness means. Whenever an unholy person entered the holy of holies without being clean - like Nadab and Abihu - they were consumed - destroyed. Holiness to me is about being able to enter God’s presence and live - about being set apart - not about the duration of punishment. So I think this argument begs the question / involves circular reasoning by assuming one view of how a holy God responds to sin.

I do believe everyone will be resurrected to a Day of Judgment and that there will be terror / shame for the wicked, but it is unclear to me what that means. After that, I believe the wicked will be destroyed. I am always open to changing my mind if I am presented with good evidence.

Hope you find that helpful :slight_smile: