The curious phrase the “second death” only occurs in John’s prophetic vision as recorded in the book of Revelation, with just four verses that mention it. But what is the second death?
- Regarding the church in Smyrna, John writes that those who persevere in persecution, who are victorious, will avoid harm by the second death.
- Later, John notes that martyrs will be resurrected and reign with Jesus for a thousand years. They, too, will escape the power of the second death.
- A few verses later, John says that the lake of fire is the second death. Anyone whose name isn’t recorded in the “book of life” will be tossed into the lake of fire, that is, they will encounter the second death.
- Last, John lists some people who will experience the second death: cowards, unbelievers, vile people, murderers, sexually immoral persons, practitioners of magic arts, idol worshipers, and all liars. That’s a sweeping list and a cause for trepidation, if not for the prior section that says those listed in the book of life will escape the second death. Perhaps this implies that when we follow Jesus and have our names recorded, that the power of these other traits is diminished.
None of these, however, explains what the second death is. What we can learn is that it’s something that can occur after physical death (the first death), and it may be a synonym of hell or a reference to eternal suffering or punishment.
What’s important to realize is that martyrs and those who withstand persecution will sidestep the second death, as well as all those who follow Jesus. And if we know how to avoid the second death, understanding what it means isn’t important.
Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.