Friday, August 9, 2019

The Second Death (Part Five)


Death shall be abolished

I realize that the subject of the second death/lake of fire is not a pleasant one. I no more enjoy thinking or writing about people being cast into a lake of fire than I enjoy thinking or writing about people drowning in a worldwide flood, or being destroyed by fire and sulfur from heaven. So for those who’ve made it this far, I want to end this study on a much more positive and uplifting note by defending the second premise of the scriptural argument shared in the first part of this study. 

Here, again, is the argument:

1. Being “cast into the lake of fire” and “injured by the second death” is a future judgment that will consist in mortal human beings literally dying a second time, and remaining lifeless for the remainder of Christs future reign.
2. At the end of his reign, Christ is going to abolish death by vivifying all people and making them immortal.
3. Everyone who is going to be cast into the lake of fire and injured by the second death will eventually be saved from the second death.

Now, as noted earlier, death is the condemnation of which sin makes us deserving (Rom. 1:32; 6:23; etc.). And it is this problem – which Paul referred to in Rom. 8:2 as the “law of sin and death” – that Christ died to resolve when, according to Paul’s gospel, he “died for our sins” (1 Cor. 15:1-5). And, if Paul’s testimony is to be believed (and I think that it is), Christ was 100% successful at resolving it. It is now only a matter of time before all people are released from the condemnation of death and thus saved. This is confirmed by Paul in Romans 5:15-19:

15 But not as the offense, thus also the grace. For if, by the offense of the one, the many died, much rather the grace of God and the gratuity in grace, which is of the One Man, Jesus Christ, to the many superabounds.
16 And not as through one act of sinning is the gratuity. For, indeed, the judgment is out of one into condemnation, yet the grace is out of many offenses into a just award.
17 For if, by the offense of the one, death reigns through the one, much rather, those obtaining the superabundance of grace and the gratuity of righteousness shall be reigning in life through the One, Jesus Christ.
18 Consequently, then, as it was through one offense for all mankind for condemnation, thus also it is through one just award for all mankind for life's justifying.
19 For even as, through the disobedience of the one man, the many were constituted sinners, thus also, through the obedience of the One, the many shall be constituted just.

Some have objected that the words “the many” in v. 19 place a restriction on the words “all mankind” in v. 18. However, that’s not at all the case, for the same people referred to as “the many” in v. 15 were referred to as “all mankind” in v. 12 (into whom we’re told death – the consequence of sin - passed through). And with the exception of Christ, there is no human who wasn’t constituted a sinner and thus condemned to die as a result of Adam’s sin (this fact is confirmed by Rom. 3:23, where we’re told that “all sinned and are wanting of the glory of God”). Rather than placing a restriction on the words “all mankind,” Paul’s use of the expression “the many” (both in v. 15 and v. 19) serves to emphasize the fact that far more individuals were negatively affected by Adam’s sin – and far more positively affected by Christ’s obedience – than either Adam or Christ alone. The expression “the many” in verses 15 and 19 is, in other words, to be understood in contrast with “the one man,” Adam (whose disobedience negatively affected far more humans than himself) and the other “one man,” Jesus Christ (whose obedience positively affects far more humans than himself).

The “obedience of the One” (v. 19) is an undeniable reference to Christ's sacrificial death on the cross, when he gave himself “a correspondent ransom for all” (1 Tim. 2:5-7). Thus, the “grace of God” referred to in v. 15 (which we’re told “super-abounds” to all who were “constituted sinners”) involves that which Christ procured by his obedient death on behalf of all. According to Paul, just as all humanity fell under condemnation because of the disobedience of “the one man,” Adam, so all humanity will ultimately become the recipients of the grace secured by the obedience of Christ (who Paul referred to as both “the last Adam” and “the second Man” in 1 Cor. 15:45-47). And this means that all mankind – i.e., “the many” affected by the obedience of “the One” – shall be constituted just.” 

Since the condemnation from which all mankind will be saved when they’re constituted just is death, it follows that the justification in view in Romans 5:19 necessarily involves a state in which all people will be vivified, or placed beyond the dominion of death. That this is the case is evident from 1 Corinthians 15:20-22: “Yet now Christ has been roused from among the dead, the Firstfruit of those who are reposing. For since, in fact, through a man came death, through a Man, also, comes the resurrection of the dead. For even as, in Adam, all are dying, thus also, in Christ, shall all be vivified.

For those who have died, being vivified (or “made alive”) “in Christ” means far more than “merely” being resurrected. Christ is the “Firstfruit of those who are reposing,” but Christ was not the first man to be restored to life after being dead for a period of time. However, all previous resurrections (such as that of Lazarus, or Jairus’ daughter) involved being restored to a mortal existence, and did not place the person resurrected beyond the reach of death. Everyone previously resurrected eventually died again. This was not the kind of resurrection that Christ underwent. Rather, the resurrection that Christ underwent involved his being introduced into an immortal, incorruptible state. Christ’s resurrection placed him beyond the reach of death. Thus, the resurrection that Paul said comes “through a Man” (Christ) – and of which Christ is “the Firstfruit” – should be understood as a resurrection to immortality. And this means that being “vivified in Christ” means being resurrected into the same incorruptible, deathless state into which Christ was raised by God three days after his death.

That being vivified in Christ means to be given the same kind of life that Christ has is further confirmed in 1 Cor. 15:42-44, where Paul described the kind of body that those resurrected will have: ”Thus also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is roused in incorruption. It is sown in dishonor; it is roused in glory. It is sown in infirmity; it is roused in power. It is sown a soulish body; it is roused a spiritual body.” Notice the words, “thus also is the resurrection of the dead.” No one who was resurrected before Christ received the kind of body that Paul had in view in these verses. Thus, we can conclude that the kind of resurrection of which Paul was writing throughout this chapter is the kind of resurrection that only Christ has, so far, undergone, and which will involve people being roused with an incorruptible, glorious, powerful and spiritual body.

This is further confirmed by the fact that Paul later declared in this chapter that death “is being abolished.” After revealing that everyone dying in Adam will be vivified in Christ, Paul went on to write in 1 Cor. 15:23-28:

23 Yet each in his own class: the Firstfruit, Christ; thereupon those who are Christ's in His presence;
24 thereafter the consummation, whenever He may be giving up the kingdom to His God and Father, whenever He should be nullifying all sovereignty and all authority and power.
25 For He must be reigning until He should be placing all His enemies under His feet.
26 The last enemy is being abolished: death.
27 For He subjects all under His feet. Now whenever He may be saying that all is subject, it is evident that it is outside of Him Who subjects all to Him.
28 Now, whenever all may be subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also shall be subjected to Him Who subjects all to Him, that God may be All in all.

In this remarkable passage it’s revealed that Christ will reign “until he should be placing all his enemies under his feet.” The word “until” in v. 25 indicates that the placing of Christ’s enemies under his feet (i.e., the subjection of his enemies) is the goal of his reign. When this goal is reached, there will no longer be any need for Christ to continue reigning, and Christ will deliver the kingdom up to his God and Father. This is in accord with Psalm 110:1-2 (which Paul likely had in mind when he wrote the above words), where we read: Yahweh says to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool. Yahweh sends forth from Zion your mighty scepter. Rule in the midst of your enemies!’” Notice that the reign of the one whom David referred to as “my Lord” (i.e., Christ Jesus) is to be “in the midst of [his] enemies. It continues only as long as there are enemies remaining.

The kingdom that Paul said Christ is going to ultimately deliver to God is the same kingdom which Daniel had prophesied the Messiah would receive from God (see Dan. 7:13-14). And the implication is that this kingdom will, when given back to God, be full of subjects. But who will be the subjects of the kingdom that Christ is one day going to deliver up to his Father? Well, in this passage, we are told that “all things” (ta panta, “the all” or “the universe”) are eventually going to be subjected to Christ. Significantly, God is said to be the only exception to the “all” that is to be put in subjection to Christ. This can only mean that all other persons (both human or angelic/celestial) are included. Thus, the kingdom that Christ is ultimately going to deliver to his God and Father is going to consist of all created, personal beings.

Moreover, the Greek word translated as “subjected” here (hupotasso) implies obedience and submission. When human persons are in view it carries the idea of willing submission and loyalty to another (Luke 2:51; Rom 10:3; 13:1; 1 Cor. 14:34; 16:16; Eph. 5:21-22; Col 3:18; Titus 2:5). It is the same word used to speak of Christ's own willing submission to the Father when he delivers the kingdom to God (1 Cor. 15:28). In Romans 8:7, Paul tells us that the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, “for it does not submit (hupotasso) to God's law; indeed, it cannot.” Based on how the word is consistently used throughout Scripture, it is clear that for any person to be subjected to Christ, they must become obedient to him. But what does Christ want all people to do? Answer: He wants all people to worship and glorify his God and Father. Thus, if all people are to be subjected to Christ, then all people will necessarily become obedient subjects of God’s kingdom.

This is especially evident by how Paul concludes this passage. In v. 28 we read that, after Christ has subjected all to himself (and then subjected himself to the Father by delivering the kingdom to him), God will then be “All in all.” Those who are to become part of the “all” in which God will be “All” when Christ delivers the kingdom to him will constitute the same all-inclusive group that are to be subjected to Christ at the end of his reign. Thus, since all human beings are ultimately going to be subjected to Christ, it follows that all human beings are going to be part of the “all” in which God will be “All” when Christ delivers the kingdom to him.

Moreover, since death is the “last enemy” to be abolished by Christ, it follows that the end of Christ’s reign cannot take place until after death has been abolished. It is only after the destruction of death that Christ can “give up the kingdom to his God and Father” so that “God may be All in all.” Paul’s sequence of events in this passage, therefore, goes as follows: (1) Christ, “the Firstfruit,” is vivified; (2) “those who are Christ’s in His presence” (i.e., believers) are vivified; (3) the “consummation” occurs, when death – “the last enemy” – is “abolished” (concerning what it means for death to be abolished, Paul went on to write in 1 Cor. 15:54-55: ”Now, whenever this corruptible should be putting on incorruption and this mortal should be putting on immortality, then shall come to pass the word which is written, Swallowed up was Death by Victory. Where, O Death, is your victory? Where, O Death, is your sting?”). Since the only way that death can be abolished is for all people to be made immortal (and thus unable to die), it follows that the “consummation” will involve all people who have not yet been vivified in Christ being made immortal.

From all of these considerations we can conclude that the kind of resurrection that Paul had in view in 1 Corinthians 15 is not a resurrection that involves being restored to a mortal existence. Rather, the resurrection he had in view throughout this chapter is one that involves being introduced into a state of immortality and incorruption. And since all who are dying in Adam will be vivified in Christ (resulting in the abolishing of death at the consummation), it follows that all mankind will ultimately receive the same “power of an indissoluble life” which, in Heb. 7:16, is said to be possessed by Christ. And since death is the penalty of which sin makes us deserving (Rom. 1:32; 6:23; 1 Cor. 15:56), it follows that, when all humanity has been vivified in Christ, they will have been justified and thus saved from their sins (which, of course, is what Christ died to procure). Thus, when Christ delivers up the kingdom to his God and Father at the consummation, all human beings will have been saved from death. And this must include those over whom the “second death” will be having jurisdiction during the final eon of Christ’s reign (for these will be the only people who are still dead when the consummation arrives).

I’ll conclude this study with a response to one last objection that I’ve heard raised against the argument I’ve been defending. Many Christians believe that, since John didn't say that anyone will be saved from the second death, it follows that the second death should be understood as an “eternal” state. However, aside from being an argument from silence, the problem with this objection is that it assumes that John’s intention (or rather, God’s intention) was to reveal the final destiny of those who are to be cast into the lake of fire in the final chapters of the book of Revelation. But this assumption is unwarranted. To conclude that the second death is the “final state” of those who are to be cast into the lake of fire would be like concluding that, because Ezekiel does not reveal anything beyond the next eon (when there will be a magnificent temple for Israel), there will never be a future time when redeemed Israel will not have a temple. But that, of course, would contradict what we read in Revelation 21:22 (where we read that, on the new earth, there will be no literal temple in which the saints will worship God).

John recorded only what was revealed to him in the visions he received from God. What ultimately happens to those human beings who are to be cast into the lake of fire to die a second time was simply not a part of John’s vision. It was not part of the information that John was inspired by God to make known. This in no way means that being cast into the lake of fire will be the end of anyone's story. Just as John saw further into the future than did Ezekiel (and revealed more in his prophetic work than Ezekiel did in his), so I believe that the apostle Paul saw further into the future than John. As argued earlier, Paul was provided with information concerning what is to occur at the end of Christ's reign, when death is abolished and the kingdom is delivered up to God. In contrast, we know from what John wrote Revelation 21-22 that Christ – along with his saints – are still reigning during the period of time that follows the judgment that will involve certain people being “injured by the second death.” Since Christ will still be reigning during this time – and since death will not be abolished until the end of Christ’s reign – what we read in the last few chapters of Revelation is perfectly consistent with the view that everyone who is to be injured by the second death will, ultimately, be saved from this lifeless condition.

2 comments:

  1. Great series, Aaron! Thanks for sharing!

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  2. Thank God for this excellent series on the second death. It is important for death not to be glorified. In 1 Corinthians 15:26, Paul calls it an enemy. What Paul calls an enemy, let no one call a friend. Not a single human being comes to a realization of God in the second death. This can only happen in life. Thank you, Aaron, for your exhaustive treatment of this important subject.

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