Did Jesus Die the Second Death?

Did Jesus Die the Second Death? 

Maybe my observations and evaluations are less than perfect, but it seems to have become orthodox theology to believe and teach that Jesus died the second death. But although it may have become orthodox theology that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s correct theology.

I would like to spend the first part of this study examining this question of whether or not Jesus died the second death from a strictly Biblical perspective. After that I’ll look at this question in the light of the Spirit of Prophecy.

Part I—Christ & the Second Death: Using the Bible Only

 Point #1—What is the Second Death?

There’s only one definition to be found in Scripture for the second death: “…the lake of fire. This is the second death.” Revelation 20:14.  Revelation 21:8 repeats this same definition: “…the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.” There is no other definition to be found.

While we will never be able to comprehend what Jesus went through to save us from sin, and I certainly don’t want to minimize it in any way, it simply wasn’t “the lake of fire: which is the second death.”

Point #2—Where else in the Bible do we find those words: “The Second Death?”

The term second death is found in the Bible only four times; all of which are in the book of Revelation. (There are other passages in the Bible referring to the second death, but these are the only ones that specifically say “the second death.”) Two of the four we’ve already looked at; the other two are found in chapter two, verse eleven & chapter twenty, verse six. Do either of these two verses shed any light on this question of whether or not Jesus died the second death? I believe they both do.

Revelation 2:11 says, “He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death.”
In Revelation 3:21 Christ tells us, “I overcame.”

Putting those two verses together–since Jesus “overcame,” and those who “overcome shall not be hurt of the second death”–it would seem to point to the conclusion that Jesus wasn’t hurt of the second death.

Revelation 20:6 tells us, “Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power. Is there anything in the Bible that would lead us to connect Christ’s resurrection to the first resurrection? If so, then once again it would seem to lead to the conclusion that Christ didn’t die the second death.

1 Corinthians 15:21-23 tells us that Christ’s resurrection was a “first fruits” of the resurrection of “they that are Christ’s,” and of course, “they that are Christ’s” have “part in the first resurrection.” So, as with the other comparison, the evidence seems to indicate that on Christ, “the second death hath no power.”

Now, I wouldn’t go so far as to “insist” that those second two texts, Revelation 2:11 and 20:6, prove that Christ didn’t die the second death, but I would insist that there’s absolutely nothing in them that would lend support to the idea that Christ did die the second death.

Just a quick recap to help end this section: There are four verses in the Bible that specifically mention the second death. Not one of them lends even the slightest support to the idea that Christ died the second death. Two of the four clearly define the second death as the lake of fire, something Christ surely never went through.

With those thoughts in mind I want to finish with one Spirit of Prophecy quote and then two questions relating to it:

“Every position of truth taken by our people will bear the criticism of the greatest minds; the highest of the world’s great men will be brought in contact with truth and therefore every position we take should be critically examined and tested by the Scriptures.” {Evangelism 69}

 Question #1: Will the “position” that Christ died the second death “bear the criticism of the greatest minds?”

Question #2: How will that “position” hold up when “critically examined and tested by the Scriptures?”

Part II—The Second Death in the Light of the Spirit of Prophecy

 Point #1—“…an everlasting death”

In Early Writings we’re told:

“The soul that sinneth it shall die an everlasting death – a death that will last forever, from which there will be no hope of a resurrection.”  {Early Writings 51}

Here we have a quote describing one major aspect of the second death. And in one short sentence we find this aspect brought out no less than three times:
#1—it’s “an everlasting death.”
#2—it’s “a death that will last forever.”
#3—it’s a death “from which there will be no hope of a resurrection.”

Christ’s death lasted all of three days, and then ended with His resurrection. Clearly, His death in no way equates with any of those three expressions. In the light of this quote alone I find it hard to understand how someone could believe that Christ died the Second Death.

Point #2—“…even the death of the cross.”  Phil. 2:8

This is the main text that is usually quoted in support of this teaching. But does it actually support it? Peter died “the death of the cross.” I’ve never heard anyone teach that he died the second death. Multitudes during the reformation died “the death of the cross.” I’ve never heard anyone teach that these people died the second death. The fact of the matter is that no one believes any of these people that died “the death of the cross,” died the second death. Then why, when it speaks of Christ dying “the death of the cross,” should people be so convinced the verse is teaching that He died the second death?

Ellen White wrote extensively about the crucifixion of Christ, often quoting the verse “even the death of the cross,” yet not once does she connect the death of the cross with the second death.  Here’s a typical example. (The italicized part is Phil. 2:8 in its entirety.):

“They have but a faint conception of the depths of humiliation to which the Redeemer of the world condescended in becoming a man. It was an act of humiliation to which they can find no parallel. But being formed in fashion as a man Christ humbled himself, and became obedient unto death. Had it been a common death even, it would still have been the greatest of humiliations. But oh, what a death the Son of God suffered, – the most cruel, the most shameful! He became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. And do not let any one think that Jesus was insensible to ignominy (public disgrace). He yielded up his life to save the fallen race; but he felt, keenly and bitterly felt, the humiliation of dying as a malefactor.”  {Review & Herald, November 20, 1883}

I feel I need to include another quote. In that last one Ellen White made known to us her understanding of Paul’s words, “even the death of the cross.” In this next one she describes for us Paul’s understanding of his own words (Once again the italicized portion is Phil. 2:8):

“Paul was deeply anxious that the humiliation of Christ should be seen and realized. He was convinced that if the minds of men could be brought to comprehend the amazing sacrifice made by the Majesty of heaven, all selfishness would be banished from their hearts. He directs the mind first to the position which Christ occupied in heaven, in the bosom of His Father; he reveals Him afterward as laying off His glory, voluntarily subjecting Himself to all the humbling conditions of man’s nature, assuming the responsibilities of a servant, and becoming obedient unto death, and that death the most ignominious and revolting, the most shameful, the most agonizing – the death of the cross.”  {4 Testimonies 458}

So we see that both Paul and Ellen White understood the words “even the death of the cross” as pointing to the fact that the cross was “the most ignominious and revolting, the most shameful, the most agonizing’” death a person could be subjected to. But I have not been able to find a single passage, either in the writings of Paul or Ellen White, connecting the death of the cross with the second death. Paul uses the word cross eleven times in his writings.  Not once does he connect it to the second death. Ellen White cites the words, “even the death of the cross,” over a hundred times, often pointing out how cruel and shameful it was, but not once have I seen her connect the death of the cross with the second death.

While it troubles me that teachers use this verse to support the belief that Christ died the second death, it troubles me far more that so many people seem to so readily accept what is being taught them without carefully investigating to see if it’s so.

I think a fitting end to this point would be Paul’s final reference to the cross. And once again, we see the death of the cross combined, not with the second death, but with shame:

“Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame.”  {Hebrews 12:2}

Point #3 –From Gethsemane to Calvary

I’ll begin this point with a most solemn quote:

“The garden of Gethsemane has become pre-eminently the place of suffering to a sinful world. No sorrow, no agony, can measure with that which was endured by the Son of God.
Man has not been made a sin-bearer, and he will never know the horror of the curse of sin which the Saviour bore. No sorrow can bear any comparison with the sorrow of Him upon whom the wrath of God fell with overwhelming force.”  {5BC 1103}

Truly, “no agony (not even the second death) can measure with that which was endured by the Son of God” in Gethsemane. But at the same time I think it needs to be realized that from the time Christ’s agony in Gethsemane ceased“No traces of His recent agony were visible as Jesus stepped forth to meet His betrayer.” (DA 694) — till the end of His trial (DA 740), there are at least a dozen statements like the following:

“A divine light illuminated the Saviour’s face, and a dovelike form overshadowed Him… As one glorified He stood in the midst of that hardened band, now prostrate and helpless at His feet.”  {DA 694}

“A heavenly light seemed to illuminate His pale countenance… For a moment the divinity of Christ flashed through His guise of humanity.”  {DA 707}

“As He spoke, His countenance lighted up as if a sunbeam were shining upon it.”  {DA 726}

“He felt that this was no common man; for divinity had flashed through humanity. At the very time when Christ was encompassed by mockers, adulterers, and murderers, Herod felt that he was beholding a God upon His throne.”  {DA 731}

Undeniably, up to this point Christ had not died any death. So, as bad as Gethsemane was, it had nothing to do with death–the 1st or the 2nd!

Point #4—His Death

This will be a very short point. All it will consist of is one passage from The Desire of Ages; the one that describes Christ’s death. Truly, this was the only death He ever died; and just as truly, you will not see portrayed here the experience of one who is dying the second death. Please read it very carefully. (I’ll italicize the portions that I believe support my assertion.)

“Suddenly the gloom lifted from the cross, and in clear, trumpet like tones, that seemed to resound throughout creation, Jesus cried, “It is finished.” “Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit.” A light encircled the cross, and the face of the Saviour shone with a glory like the sun. He then bowed His head upon His breast, and died.
“Amid the awful darkness, apparently forsaken of God, Christ had drained the last dregs in the cup of human woe. In those dreadful hours He had relied upon the evidence of His Father’s acceptance heretofore given Him. He was acquainted with the character of His Father; He understood His justice, His mercy, and His great love. By faith He rested in Him whom it had ever been His joy to obey. And as in submission He committed Himself to God, the sense of the loss of His Father’s favor was withdrawn. By faith, Christ was victor.”  {Desire of Ages 756}

Point #5 –The Sanctuary, the Scapegoat, and the Final Penalty

I have no doubt that this last point is a crucial one.

There are many quotes like the following:

“Christ himself bore the penalty of sin.”  {Signs of the Times, June 17, 1897}

Because “Christ bore the penalty of sin,” and the final part of that penalty is the second death, multitudes are absolutely convinced that Christ had to have died the second death.

Let me stop here and give just a brief word of caution: I have seen people cling to a particular belief, even when there is an abundance of evidence disproving that belief, simply because there is one point, or one quote, that they cannot reconcile. Many Sunday keepers are doing exactly that when it comes to the Law and the Sabbath, with fatal consequences.

I believe this key pillar supporting the belief that Christ died the second death completely crumbles in the light of the sanctuary service. For while it is true that “Christ bore the penalty of sin,” the sanctuary service (with the help of the enlightenment that we gain from the Spirit of Prophecy) clearly shows that Christ bore those sins, not to the lake of fire, but to the heavenly sanctuary. And that those same sins will one day be “placed upon Satan (the scapegoat) who in the execution of the judgment must bear the final penalty… [when] he will be blotted from existence in the final destruction of sin and sinners.”

“As anciently the sins of the people were by faith placed upon the sin offering and through its blood transferred, in figure, to the earthly sanctuary, so in the new covenant the sins of the repentant are by faith placed upon Christ and transferred, in fact, to the heavenly sanctuary…
It was seen, also, that while the sin offering pointed to Christ as a sacrifice, and the high priest represented Christ as a mediator, the scapegoat typified Satan, the author of sin, upon whom the sins of the truly penitent will finally be placed… When Christ, by virtue of His own blood, removes the sins of His people from the heavenly sanctuary at the close of His ministration, He will place them upon Satan, who, in the execution of the judgment, must bear the final penalty. The scapegoat was sent away into a land not inhabited, never to come again into the congregation of Israel. So will Satan be forever banished from the presence of God and His people, and he will be blotted from existence in the final destruction of sin and sinners.”  {Great Controversy 421, 422}

Clearly, it is Satan, not Christ, who is “blotted from existence;” and clearly, it is Satan, not Christ, “who must bear the final penalty.” And it is the fires of the second death that accomplish it.

One Closing Thought

I must admit I have never been able to see what bearing this subject, right or wrong, has on daily, practical, godly living. At the same time, I know it’s true that, “error is never harmless. It never sanctifies, but always brings confusion and dissension. It is always dangerous.” {5T 292} So, in the light of that warning, I leave you with this divine counsel: “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.” (1Thes. 5:21)

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Allen & Tammy Roesch
5464 State Rd
Kingsville OH 44048
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