The Second Death


(Revelation 21:8)

by Wayne S. Walker

     "But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and *****mongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death" (Revelation 21:8). There are four times in the book of Revelation that the phrase "the second death" occurs. They are: 2:11; 20:6; 20:14; and 21:8. This last verse gives a list, not complete, of some who will have their part in the second death. This term does not denote, as some affirm, eternal extinction. The definition of death is not annihilation but separation. The first death takes place at the physical separation of the body and soul (James 2:26). The second death will happen at the everlasting separation of God from wicked men in hell. Because of the eternal consequences as well as the practical relevance to today’s society, an in-depth look at the various descriptions found in this passage is profitable and sorely needed.


     The first word, fearful, is translated from a term meaning "timid, cowardly." It does not refer to respectful reverence and awe of Ecclesiastes 12:13, nor to the wholesome dread of punishment in Matthew 10:28 and Hebrews 10:31. Jesus defined it in Matthew 8:26 when He asked, "Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith?" This kind of fear is caused by a lack of faith. Jesus spoke of another fearful individual in Matthew 25:24-25. The one-talent man failed to do what he ought to have done because, as he put it, "I was afraid." He was subsequently rejected as a wicked, slothful, and unprofitable servant. There are many like him today. Talk to someone about obeying the gospel and he may reply, "I’m just afraid I can’t live it." Bring up a good scriptural work in a business meeting and someone nearly always objects, "I’m afraid it won’t do any good." These people are fearful. David wrote, "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear none evil." Why? "For thou art with me" (Psalm 23).


     The word "unbelieving" is translated from a word that means "faithless." Everyone has faith in someone or something. "But without faith it is impossible to please him; for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him" (Hebrews 11:6). We choose either to believe in God, or to believe in something else–men, naturalism, worldly wisdom, etc. Faith or belief in Jesus Christ as the divine Son of God is absolutely essential to being saved (John 8:24, Acts 16:30-31, Ephesians 2:8-9). How can we obtain such faith? "So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God" (Romans 10:17). God has caused to be written in the scriptures everything we need to "believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God" (John 20:30-31). However, true, saving faith is more than just accepting the existence of God and recognizing the deity of His Son. It demands that we act in obedience to the Lord’s commands. "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love" (Galatians 5:6). [Note: this paragraph was somehow not included when the article was originally printed.]


     Next, there are those described as abominable. The root of this word meant "to stink or cause a stench." Thus it means "foul, defiled, polluted." It is used spiritually in Titus 1:15-16. "Unto the pure all things are pure: but unto them that are defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure; but even their mind and conscience is defiled. They profess that they know God; but in works they deny him, being abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate." In this passage Paul identifies those who are so depraved and corrupt that their every thought was evil. They could take even the most harmless and innocent situations and, in their twisted minds, make them into something perverted. It sounds like mankind of Noah’s day, of whom Moses wrote, "Every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually" (Genesis 6:5). The reason people are abominable in their way of living is that they are abominable in their way of thinking (Proverbs 23:7). Is this not true of many in our society?


     Following the abominable are murderers. The basic meaning of this word is "one who commits a homicide." Unlawfully taking the life of another was condemned by the Ten Commandments which stated, "Thou shalt not kill" (Exodus 20:13). This was interpreted by Jesus to mean, "Thou shalt do no murder" (Matthew 19:18). In both Romans 1 when Paul listed the sins of the Gentiles, and in Galatians 5 where he catalogued the works of the flesh, he mentioned murder. One look at the morning newspaper is enough to convince us that this is a serious problem in our land. But the Bible speaks also of a different kind of murderer. "Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him" (1 John 3:15). Abel’s murder occurred because Cain first became wroth. Anyone who is angry with his brother unjustly, who harbors hatred, malice, and envy in his heart against anyone is as guilty as a murderer, for it is this anger which causes the murder and which Jesus forbade in Matthew 5:21-22.


     After murderers come *****mongers. The Greek word here is the source of our English word "pornography." Translated in the American Standard Version as "fornicators," it means "one who engages in unlawful sexual intercourse for gain or lust." Originally, it referred specifically to male prostitutes, but later came to be used of sexual immorality in general. As such, it includes a multitude of sins. Practically every impure practice would fall into this classification: pre-marital relations which we call fornication (1 Corinthians 7:2); extra-marital relations, called by the world as "having an affair" but referred to in the Bible as adultery (Hebrews 13:4); unscriptural divorce and remarriage (Matthew 19:9); homosexuality (Romans 1:26-27); prostitution (1 Corinthians 6:15); and a whole host of other activities labeled by Paul as "such like" in Galatians 5:21. Another form of immorality which people do not often consider as such is that suggested by the term "pornography." Jesus said in Matthew 5:28, "Whosoever looketh upon a woman to lust after her," whether she be on the street, on the movie or television screen, or on the pages of a magazine, "hath committed adultery with her already in his heart." Pornography, as well as all the other sins mentioned here, is sexual immorality.


     Another group listed is sorcerers. This word is the basis for our English word "pharmacy." It originally meant "one devoted to the magical arts who prepares or uses magical remedies, potions, spells, and enchantments." As many of these ancient wizards used drugs to produce their spells, the word also came to mean "one who uses or administers drugs." Thus two kinds of people fall into this classification. First there are those who engage in black magic, occultism, and their related fields. Witchcraft is one example, and there is an amazingly increasing number of so-called witches in our nation. Satanism is another example, as are astrology and fortune telling. Those folks who write the horoscopes in the newspapers are sorcerers, according to the Bible. The second form of sorcery involves taking drugs as an escape from life by inducing a sense of euphoria or ecstasy as the ancient magicians did, and as far too many people do today.


     Idolaters come after sorcerers. This means simply, "one who engages in idolatry, a worshipper of false gods." This was a real problem with first-century Christians because Greek, Roman, and barbaric deities were numerous, and economic pressure was often strong to become involved in their worship. 1 John 5:21 warns, "Little children, keep yourself from idols." Modern mankind is too sophisticated to bow down before a graven image of metal, stone, or wood; yet he has his idols. Paul called the covetous man an idolater in Ephesians 5:5 and Colossians 3:5. Anything that comes between a man and God, that hinders his service to the Lord and keeps him from putting Christ first in his life, is an idol. And money seems to be one of the most prevalent (1 Timothy 6:9-10). Jesus said, "Take heed, and beware of covetousness…" (Luke 12:15). To gain all the money of the world and lose one’s soul is to get the short end of the deal (Matthew 16:26). The words of Cecil F. Alexander should be heeded by all: "Jesus calls us from the worship Of the vain world’s golden store; From each idol that would keep us, saying, ‘Christian, love Me more.’"


     Finally, all liars shall have their part in the lake that burneth with fire and brimstone. Not just a few liars, or some liars, or most liars, or even only liars outside the body of Christ, but all liars. A liar is "one who speaks falsely or deceitfully; one who tells a falsehood." Such was forbidden by the law of Moses. The Decalogue commanded, "Thou shalt not bear false witness" (Exodus 20:16). "A lying tongue…(and) a false witness that speaketh lies" are two things the Lord hates (Proverbs 6:16-19). Paul echoes the same idea in Colossians 3:9-10 as he discussed the change that should take place in the Christian’s life as a result of his conversion. He wrote, "Lie not to one another;" why? because we "have put off the old man, and have put on the new man." In a parallel passage, Ephesians 4:25, he not only prohibited lying but also gave a positive instruction as the antidote. "Wherefore, putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbor: for we are members one of another." If a man spends all his life telling the truth, he will have neither time, occasion, nor desire to speak falsely. And James went right to the heart of the matter when he said, "But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth" (James 3:14). When a person harbors envy and strife in his heart, he is more prone not to tell the truth. Remove the cause (jealousy, etc.) and you will remove the problem of lying.


     So, we have an identification of some of those who will be tormented in the place of everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels. It isn’t a very pretty picture, is it? Certainly it does not represent the kind of people you and I would want to dwell with forever. Along with the other descriptions of hell–e.g., the place of outer darkness where there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth–it should make us want to avoid it at all costs. But what are you doing to prepare for heaven? "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved" (Mark 16:16)–saved from his sins, from the guilt of his sins, and after a life of faithful service to God from the consequences of his sins, which is the second death (Romans 6:23). And "he that overcometh shall inherit all things" (Revelation 21:7). Only the faithful, zealous Christian will escape the vengeance of Christ, i.e., everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord (2 Thessalonians 1:7-9). It is an awesome thought. Truly, "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God" (Hebrews 10:31).

     (—Taken from Faith and Facts, April, 1981; Vol. 9, No. 2; pp. 41-45)


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