The Second Death and Penal Subsitutionary Atonement

No matter how much you may endure physically in the present, you will never suffer spiritually in the future.

There is nothing of which I am more deserving than the second death! There is nothing more fitting, more just, more righteous than that I should suffer forever in the lake of fire. And the only reason why I won’t is that Jesus has endured in himself the judgment it entails. Jesus has exhausted in his own person the wrath of God that I otherwise would have faced in the lake of fire.


So, I want to talk a moment about hell. That’s right, hell. Let’s pause for a moment and give thanks that those who know and love Jesus “will not be hurt by the second death” (Rev. 2:11). This promise is found in our Lord’s letter to the church in Smyrna (Rev. 2:8-11) and calls for our careful examination.

The “second death” is mentioned three other times in Revelation, each of which reinforces the fact that this is Jesus’ (and John’s) way of referring to eternal punishment in the lake of fire. We read in Revelation 20:6, “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.” Later in the same chapter (20:14), we are told that “Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire.” Finally, in Revelation 21:8 we read, “But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”

Clearly, then, the “second death” is the lake of fire, the place of eternal torment for those who do not know and love our Lord Jesus Christ. The “first death” would be physical death, the death that Jesus said some in Smyrna would suffer because of their faith in him (Rev. 2:10). The point of his promise, then, is this: no matter how much you may endure physically in the present, you will never suffer spiritually in the future. Therefore, be faithful if you should be called on to die now, for you will never die then!

The contrasts couldn’t be more vivid. Those who know and love Jesus and remain faithful to him will be granted the “crown of life” (v. 10). They will never, by no means ever (such is the literal force of the double negative in Greek), taste the “second death” (v. 11).

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