Recently, I heard someone jokingly ask a man why he would go to the trouble of a second birth to get right with God. The man said, "Because it's much better than a second death." What does that mean? I've heard of second birth - being born again, but never second death.
The term "second death" is used only four times in the Bible, all in the book of Revelation. Christ gives us a quick and clear definition of "second death" in Revelation 20:14:
Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death.
A little later in Revelation 21:8, He gives a more precise list of what else gets thrown into the lake of fire:
But the cowardly and unbelieving and the abominable and murderers, and sexually immoral 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.
Now I find this interesting. I've been a coward and unbelieving in my life. I've lied. I am an A-1 candidate for the second death. Everyone on the planet is. I suspect this is one of those verses the Catholics use to justify their belief in Purgatory, because it says we shall have our "part" in the second death. So, as I understand it, Catholics believe you go to Purgatory to get purified through punishment so you can take up residence in heaven at a later date, because Christ's death on the cross just couldn't quite get that job done. Some time on the griddle...THAT will do the trick though.
To me, that belief drips with pride. Man always wants to earn heaven through whatever bizarre means he concocts, rather than simply accept God's free gift. "See God?" man says. "I am worthy of heaven now because of the punishment I suffered (or the money I gave, or the good deeds I did, or pick your price)." But Christ says, "Sorry. The price for entry into heaven is the punishment I suffered. You and your efforts couldn't save a flea let alone yourself."
But still there's that word "part" and who it applies to...namely, me and every other human. I can't just let that slide in my mind. I think even as a disciple of Christ, I will have some kind of "part" in the second death. I will participate in some way, but what way?
In Revelation 2:11, Christ says something curious:
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death.
Because Christ has overcome, I overcome in Christ, therefore I am one of those who overcomes. Christ says I will not be hurt at all by the second death. He doesn't say that I won't have to go through the second death, He says only that it won't hurt me at all. I remember as a child being told things wouldn't hurt me. It never meant that I didn't have to endure whatever it was or that it wasn't scary. So whatever "part" I have in the second death will not hurt me...at all.
Jesus gives one final bit of information about the second death in Revelation 20:6:
Blessed and holy are those who have part in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years.
Again, Jesus does not say that I won't have a part in the second death, but only that it has no power over me. So whatever power the lake of fire normally has over things thrown into it - I imagine that might include things like pain and destruction - it doesn't apply to me. It is powerless against me because of my faith in Christ, the Overcomer.
Sometimes, when I imagine what life will be like after I die, and I think of the lake of fire, I imagine Christ using it as a final chance for people to choose Him as Lord. Of course, this is not at all biblical, but I imagine something like this:
An unbeliever dies and lies prostate before Christ the King Who sits on a throne right next to the lake of fire. Powerful angels stand on either side of the soul.
"You refused to believe in Me during your life," Christ says to the soul. "In fact, you spent all of your life mocking Me, flouting all of My laws, and ignoring all My love for you. Despite that, I still love you and am willing to offer you one final chance to accept Me as your Lord and Master. Will you accept me as your Lord and Master?"
The soul rises to his knees, unable to look at the glory of the King. "Y-yes, Lord. I-I accept you."
"Good. I'm glad to hear it. Now...jump into the lake of fire."
"You heard me. If I am your Lord and Master, obey Me. Jump into the lake of fire."
The soul stands uncertainly to his feet. "I...what? I can't do that. You can't mean...it will kill me."
"Am I your Lord and Master?"
"Then obey Me. Jump into the fire."
The soul shifts his eyes back and forth, searching for any way of escape. He wavers a bit, then shrieks and attempts to escape, but the angels seize him.
"You are not one of Mine! You are cursed! Throw him into the fire!"
As the soul screams in terror, the angels hurl him into the lake, and his cries slowly fade as he drifts away into eternal punishment, the fire fueled all the more by all that he would not surrender to Christ.
Then a believer appears prostate before Christ, the two angels standing on either side of him.
"You believed in Me during your life," Christ says to the soul. "You prayed to Me, obeyed My laws, and loved me, and I was with you all your life. You know Me. Am I your Lord and Master?"
"Yes, Lord...to the last drop of blood and the last splinter of bone."
Jesus points to the lake of fire and says, "Jump into the fire."
The soul stands to his feet. His eyes shift back and forth from the lake to his King a few times, and then he says, "Back flip or front flip?"
The King smiles. "Neither. Swan dive."
"You got it!" And with that the soul sprints and leaps off the precipice, his back arched and his arms spread out like wings. He punches through the molten liquid, but it holds no pain for him.
He surfaces, and takes a few strokes before he hears his King shout, "Come back up here!" To his delight, the soul rises from the fiery waters and floats back to the edge of the precipice. He steps back on to firm ground and the fire streams down from his body and scorches the earth around him. His body now shines with glory and the angels bow low before him.
"These two angels are your servants to command as you wish, My son. They will show you to your new abode. Enter now into the joy of your Lord!"
I know the scenario is completely fanciful, but I hope to possess swan dive faith in Christ one day. Though selfishness and doubts often beleaguer my faith now, the Author of my faith will one day perfect and finish it, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.