Question

Did Christ claim victory over the second death for believers?

Answer

Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years (Revelation 20:6).

Christians will eventually die their own personal physical death (Eccl. 3:2; Heb. 9:27), but God’s elect will not die the eternal second death (Rev. 2:11).

What is death?

The Bible is God’s holy word, and if the Bible communicates to us something concerning death, then we can stake our very lives on it. It gives the most complete answer of what death truly is. So, what does scripture tell us?

God told Adam and Eve that if they partook of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil that they would "surely die" (Gen. 3:17). When they went ahead and ate the forbidden fruit, the penalty of death fell not only them but through them to every single soul (save Christ) that would ever be born (Rom. 5:12, 17, 18). At that moment of Adam’s first sin, the curse and tragedy of death, both physical and spiritual, was passed on to all mankind.

Sooner or later we all die physically (Job 14:5; Psa. 39:4; 103:15-16). The human body is described as a body of death (Rom. 7:24). We all sense that we will die (Eccl. 9:5), and even when death is expected, it seemingly comes upon us suddenly, in an instant (Eccl. 9:12). Physical death can be described as a gradual weakening of the body. At times, though, it’s not gradual but an unexpected, undesired surprise. Regardless, death is an appointment we all will keep (Heb. 9:27) which is when the spirit separates from the mortal body. In the case of Jairus’s daughter, the Bible describes her coming back to life as "her spirit returning to her" (Luke 8:54-55). Spiritual death is when we are physically alive but spiritually dead toward God (Col. 2:13). It is described as "being alienated from the life of God" (Eph. 4:18). Adam lived a total of 930 years before he died physically (Gen. 5:5), but he had immediately died spiritually as a result of his sin. He and Eve hid from God and felt estranged from him (Gen. 2:17). Since then, like the first couple hiding in the garden, humanity is isolated from God. We are separated from him by our fallen nature. In our sin we can do nothing to please God (Rom. 8:7-8) as nothing we do can glorify him (1 Cor. 1:31).

As seen above, death is an intruder that came into existence with Adam’s sin (Rom. 5:12). It is an enemy and will be the last enemy to be destroyed (1 Cor. 15:32). The payment for sin is death (Rom. 6:23) and with the "second death" is the agony of eternal hell. (Luke 16:23-24).

What are two ramifications of death?

Death is something that people don’t really like to discuss. The curses of God’s judgments aren’t pleasant. And no one wants to pay the debts of every single thing they’ve ever done wrong or for the things they should have done but neglected. Who ever desires judgment and the sentence it brings? Who wants suffering and agony? Who desires eternal agony? That's why death is so feared and dreaded by most people.

Those who don’t believe in Christ as both Lord and Savior (Rev. 20:11-15; 21:8) don't think about a second death. Though physically alive, unbelievers are born in spiritually dead (Psa. 51:5) and then they die physically. But that’s not the end of their story because they will receive new bodies, eternal bodies, that will dwell and suffer in the second death for all eternity (1 Cor. 15:42, 44, 53). Their consciences will be very much as their new eternal bodies are tormented forever. Their agony of their debt lasts for all eternity.

On the other hand, death only happens once for a believer: [1] "The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death" (Rev. 2:11; 20:6, 14; 21:8). While Christians will eventually all die physically [2], in Christ they already have eternal life (John 17:3). Eternal life is a present possession of the believer. John 5:24 states, "Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life." Eternal life, what a life it truly is!

The saints of God only die once, and that is only a physical death. By the grace of God and the enabling of the Holy Spirit, they have repented and accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior. In Christ, the fear of death in this life is supplanted by the promise of eternal life.

What, if anything, is the good news of death?

So far, death doesn’t sound very positive, does it? But it does have a rather glorious and exciting side.

Jesus Christ was born to die the death of deaths. Luke wrote, "Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, 'Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!' And having said this he breathed his last" (Luke 23:46). His was a severe and agonizing human death. He was buried. Now, here is the good news — he rose again (anew) three days later (1 Cor. 15:3-4).

God the Father raised Jesus from the dead thus freeing him from death's agony (Acts 2:24). And Jesus cannot die again as "death no longer has dominion over him" (Rom. 6:9). By his death Jesus destroyed the one who had the power of death — he destroyed the Devil (Heb. 2:14). In1 John 3:8 we're told, "The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil." So, death was swallowed up in the victory of the cross (1 Cor. 15:54).

At the cross, Jesus destroyed spiritual death for his people (2 Tim. 1:8-10). Thus, when Jesus rose from the dead, he freed all those who believe in him from the prison house of sin (Heb. 2:15). Death can no longer separate his chosen people from the love of God (Rom. 8:38-39). The second death can’t touch them!

It's through the atoning work of Christ that Christians have victory over death; he destroyed death and "brought life and immortality to light through the gospel" (2 Tim. 1:10). Believers are justified by Christ’s atoning work (Rom. 4:25; 5:10). The curse was removed from them (Gal. 3:13) and they will never taste the second death (John 5:24; 8:51; 11:25). As John writes, "He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death" (Rev. 2:11; cf. Rev. 20:6).

So, the good news is that there is victory over death for those in Christ by his atoning death and resurrection. Just as Paul wrote:

Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?" The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Corinthians 15:55-57).

Do you desire to be free from the second death? Do you desire life? Eternal life? Then believe in Christ Jesus. Believe he was born, lived a perfect sinless life as literally being God in the flesh, that he was crucified, died, and was buried. Also, believe he was resurrected three days later from the grave. Believe he died for his people and defeated hell, death, and the grave for all those who believe in him. It is only through Christ that in our physical death we will see eternal life.

"I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?" (John 11:25-26)

Footnotes

[1] Lazarus died twice physically but he was only judged once (Heb. 9:27), thus Jesus himself described Lazarus’s first death as "sleep" (John 11:11). God ordained in eternity past that Lazurus’s first death would only be temporary. One reason we know he was subject to death again is that the chief priests sought to put the resurrected Lazarus to death (John 12:10). Moreover, Jesus is the firstfruit (1 Cor. 15:20-23) of all who would be resurrected with a glorified body, but Lazarus was raised before Jesus died and so it follows that Lazarus couldn’t have had a glorified body yet. No one will have a glorified body until Christ returns (1 Cor. 15:52).

[2] In the course of time, the physical death of the Christian isn’t a condemning death; ultimately it’s a death that leads to living life in the new heavens and new earth. Ursinus provides numerous reasons why a Christian still dies; (1) to admonish our remaining sin; (2) to admonish the evilness of sin itself; (3) to abolish our remaining sin; and (4) to provide a path to eternal life. Zacharias Ursinus, The Commentary of Zacharias Ursinus on the Heidelberg Catechism (Elm Street Print Co., 1888).

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill).