The Second Death (1)

“But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practise magic arts, the idolaters and all liars – they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulphur. This is the second death.
Revelation‬ ‭21:8‬ ‭NIVUK

From His throne, Father God concludes His instructions to the Apostle John. He lists eight categories of people who will end up in the fiery lake. At this stage in the End Times narrative, there will be none of these people left, because the time of the Great White Throne judgement has passed. So why was God reminding John about these things? John, of course, knew what was acceptable behaviour and what wasn’t because he spent over three years in Jesus’ company. He was there when Jesus taught about murder and adultery. He had been brought up in the Jewish culture and knew right from wrong. There are two possible answers to our question.

God asked John to write down this warning, so that back in his time-bound world, there would be no doubt about the fate of those violating God’s laws. Only the eight traits listed were mentioned but, as we will see, there were deeper implications behind them. God was also giving John the assurance that in Heaven there will be no sin. In Heaven, no one practising sorcery, for example, would be there. They would instead be finding out what life in the fiery lake was all about.

So who are those people God listed? We will all have our own thoughts when we read this verse, but here are a few of mine.

The cowardly are those who failed to stand firm in their faith when persecuted. This is really hard, because when faced with extreme levels of persecution, it is easier to deny Christ than continue to declare allegiance to Him. “How would I react in these circumstances?” is a difficult question to answer until we understand that God will give us the grace and strength when we need it. Jesus clearly warned His disciples of the difficulties ahead of them, as we can read in Matthew 10, but these two verses provide comfort, “But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.” (‭‭Matthew‬ ‭10:19-20). And we look at the privations experienced by the early Apostles, in particular Paul. As I read some of the testimonies provided by Open Doors and other organisations that work with persecuted Christians, I am constantly humbled by ordinary people who experience so much opposition and persecution just for declaring the Lordship of Jesus.

Coupled with the cowardly are the unbelieving. These are the people who just don’t believe in God. They may express outright opposition to God, or just be “lukewarm” as Jesus warned in His message to the church in Laodicea. We read in Revelation 3:15-16, “I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish that you were one or the other! But since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth!” Controversially, they may be people claiming to be Christians but who deny the laws of God and seek to dilute, change or ignore His Word, the Bible. However, I should hasten to add that God’s grace and love is there to grasp. He will not reject a repentant sinner. 

God’s warning communicated through John will be no surprise to us pilgrims. We have spent our redeemed lives very much aware of the need for personal holiness, because we have read the verses in 1 Peter 1:15-16, “But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy. For the Scriptures say, “You must be holy because I am holy.”” Amongst other things, to be holy means to be set apart. We must not allow ourselves to adopt any of the worldly practices God was warning John about. That, of course, does not mean we should sell up all we have and then go and become a monk or a nun, although some have. As Jesus said in John 17:15-16, “I’m not asking you to take them out of the world, but to keep them safe from the evil one. They do not belong to this world any more than I do.”‭‭ We can only share the message of God’s grace and love with our friends and families, and the people around us, by being in the same place as they are. But we make sure we are not tainted by the contact. We read in Galatians 6:1, “Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself.” There are a few words at the end of James 1 that are a warning, “Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means ….. refusing to let the world corrupt you.” ‭‭

But I’m sure all the pilgrims reading this today don’t need reminding. We have a wonderful and loving Heavenly Father, and our relationships with Him are precious and above all the things of the world around us.

Dear Father God. We thank You for Your love and compassion that You have lavished so freely on Your people. We pray for strength to stay the course and to keep ourselves separate from the world around us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Second Death

“Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches. Whoever is victorious will not be harmed by the second death.”
Revelation‬ ‭2:11‬ ‭NLT‬‬

As we read earlier in this chapter, John reminds us of the importance of listening to the Holy Spirit. Not just listening but understanding. Sometimes we will hear what someone says to us, but the mental filters that we possess will process what we hear into something with a meaning totally different to what the speaker intended. Misunderstandings can result. A classical example was in 1799, when 1200 Turkish prisoners were shot through a misunderstanding. Napoleon was asked what they should do with the prisoners, but at the end of a coughing fit he uttered the words “Ma sacrée toux,” meaning “My cursed cough”. Unfortunately for the prisoners, Napoleon’s words were heard as “Massacrez tous” meaning “kill them all”. A historical situation that has nothing to do with what Jesus was saying to the churches, but it makes the point. A more humorous example was anecdotally circulating after one of the world wars, when the radio message “Send reinforcements, we’re going to advance” was heard “Send three and fourpence, we’re going to a dance”. But more seriously, we have a duty to carefully listen to what God is saying to us and understanding the meaning behind what He says. And if we’re not sure about anything, we can check the message against God’s Word, the Bible, through prayer, and with other Christians who we trust. Sadly, there have been many who have heard the Word, interpreting it according to their “filters”, but not understanding what it meant spiritually, going off into error as a consequence.

John’s writings continue with the sentence, “Whoever is victorious will not be harmed by the second death”. So what is this second death? I thought we could only die once. The phrase “the second death” only occurs in the Book of Revelation. The only explanation must refer to the possibility that after a physical death, there is another potential death awaiting us – the lake of fire. Later on in Revelation we read that all those whose names are not written in the Book of Life will end up there. A thought that should strike fear into anyone, I think we all agree. But Jesus made sure that His followers would not be frightened by such an event, because those who are overcomers, the victorious, will be safe. A quote from a book I read recently, “There is a vast difference between the final destination of those who know Christ and those who do not”.

To sum up this verse, the reality for us pilgrims is that as we keep close to our wonderful Heavenly Father, and His Son, Jesus, we have nothing to fear about what lies beyond the grave. In fact, as we read earlier, there is a crown of life awaiting us. Amazing! Surely worth discomfort today for wonder tomorrow. As is often said today, “No gain without pain”. That principle applies to the spiritual as well as the physical.

Dear Lord, we thank You for Your Word, and the encouragement You provide us for our journey towards Heaven. We need not fear the second death because You are with us. Amen.