Not Hurt by the Second Death. Rev. 2:10-11
The last clause of verse Revelation 2:10, "and I will give you a crown of life," and verse 11 deal with the incentive that lies in each one of these letters. This is their challenge, the challenge that the Lord presents every believer: Are we going to use these opportunities to prepare us to rule and reign with the Lord in the Millennial kingdom? The mandate is based on the Greek verb GINOMAI [ginomai], one of two verbs in the Greek that relate to existence, and this word has the idea of something that comes into being. It is in the present passive imperative, second person singular. He addresses the congregation as a single unit. So He is saying: You [the congregation] be faithful." This is something that is to be a standard character trait. Notice the emphasis in Scripture is on character. When we go to Galatians 5:21, 22 dealing with the production of the Spirit we notice it is character. It is the character of Jesus Christ that God the Holy Spirit is producing in our life. If we walk by means of the Spirit, utilizing the Word of God in our life then the Holy Spirit works in us to produce the character of the Lord Jesus Christ—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, which are all the production quality characteristics that the Holy Spirit is building into our life.
Here the command is to be faithful, and this is the Greek noun PISTOS [pistoj], and it has the idea of being dependable, consistent, or remaining loyal. The emphasis here is consistency in our Christian life, consistency in taking in the Word of God, learning Bible doctrine and applying Bible doctrine. It is consistency in walking by means of the Spirit, consistency in using 1 John 1:9 to make sure that we are in fellowship. It is that sense of being dependable in our Christian life and remaining loyal, and that brings in the whole idea that Jesus emphasizes in John chapter 15 of abiding in Christ. Specifically for the believers at Smyrna it is to remain faithful, i.e. loyal to the Word and loyal to the Lord Jesus Christ, even in the midst of persecution, no matter what the opposition may be and how difficult it may be to apply doctrine and take a stand for the truth of God's Word, even to the point of physical death. That is the context.
The context for us is that we need to make sure that in our Christian life we are going to stand firm for the truth of God's Word in our life, no matter what the consequences may be. This is especially difficult for young people because they have to deal with a lot of peer pressure.
There is a condition here for receiving the crown of life, and the condition is not being faithful until death, it is being faithful. In some cases it may be until death but the point is being faithful to the Word, being faithful to the Lord in the midst of opposition, antagonism and adversity. The result is that we win the crown of life. This is just one of several different crowns that will be distributed to believers at the judgment seat of Christ. The Greek word for judgment seat is BEMA [bhma]. This is the raised platform on which judges bench sat, where he made his decisions and evaluations. So at the judgment seat of Christ, according to 1 Corinthians chapter three, we are going to be evaluated on the basis of that which is produced under the filling of the Holy Spirit while we are walking by means of God the Holy Spirit. All of our production is termed as either gold, silver and precious stones, on the one hand, or wood, hay, and straw on the other hand. The metaphor that is used in that passage is that everything that we produce in our life is sort of piled up, we can't tell which is which and we don't know which is gold from that which is straw, but the Lord can and he applies His judicial instrument [fire in that metaphor] causing all the wood, hay and straw to burn up—that which is produced in the flesh. What survives is the divine good, which is the gold, silver and precious stones, the basis for reward.
There are four crowns listed specifically in the Scripture. The first is the crown of righteousness. The genitive "of righteousness" should be understood to be the crown
based on righteousness, i.e. experiential righteousness, the experiential growth in the believer's life. The key passage for this is found in 2 Timothy 4:6-8. The crown doesn't produce righteousness, it is the result of righteousness. As the believer advances spiritually and produces experiential righteousness under the ministry of God the Holy Spirit then there is a reward based on that. "For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought a good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith: in the future there is laid up for me the crown resulting from righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me at that day [of the judgment seat of Christ]: and not to me only, but also to all who have loved love his appearing." What he means by that is the more real the appearance of Jesus Christ is to you, the more it impacts your day-to-day decisions and priorities in terms of spiritual growth. If you recognize that the Lord Jesus Christ can come tomorrow and your spiritual life will be evaluated it sort of cranks up the motivation a little bit to recognize its importance. But if we think the Lord isn't going to come back for a thousand years then it is really easy for us to procrastinate. It is easier for us to put off for tomorrow the things we can, especially in the spiritual realm. The Lord could come back at any moment and we have to be ready. Those who love His appearing are those who are ready for His coming.
The second crown is the crown of life, mentioned in our passage. It is given to those who are faithful until death. Once again it is the same idea of endurance or perseverance. It is also mentioned in James 1:12, "Blessed is the man who endures [perseveres under] testing: for when he has been approved [DOKIMOS/dokimoj], he will receive the crown of life, which the Lord has promised to those who love him." Loving the Lord Jesus Christ comes as a result of passing through the basic doctrine stage. The crown of life is a crown consisting of a special or additional quality of life in heaven. We all know that if we trust Jesus Christ as savior we are going to go to heaven when we die. We are going to have eternal life in heaven. But we also know that the Scriptures not only talk about the eternality or ongoing aspect of that life but there appear to be different qualities to that life in heaven related to the awards that we are talking about here, the crown of life specifically. Just one example of how this concept is used is found in 1 John 3:15 where John says, "Whoever hates his brother is a murderer: and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him." This is talking about a believer. It wouldn't be a brother that, that is, another believer, if this person was not saved. But they are not letting the real life of Christ that comes from abiding in Him manifest itself in them because of carnality, because they are operating under the sin nature—carnal or operational death. The crown of life is an award of a special capacity and quality of life in heaven that goes beyond simply eternal life in heaven.
The third crown is a crown of glory, and this is the crown that seems to be related to pastor-teachers who faithfully study and communicate Bible doctrine to their congregation. This is found in 1 Peter 5:1-4. "The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; neither as being lords over God's heritage, but being ensamples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, you shall receive a crown of glory that fades not away."
Then there is the winner's crown. This is for the believer who runs the race according to the rules—1 Corinthians 9:24-27—and as a result of that he wins the victor's crown. This is for any believer who advances in the spiritual life.
There are some who add a fifth crown. This is based on 1 Thessalonians 2:19, "For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Is it not even you in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming?" It is doubtful that is talking about a crown. Paul is saying, 'You're presence as mature believers standing at the judgment seat of Christ is going to be like a crown of joy for me.' It is not an additional reward, it is a metaphorical terms expressing the joy he will have at their success when they stand before the judgment seat of Christ.
Revelation 2:11, "He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches; He who overcomes will not be hurt of the second death." The words "He who has an ear" is a reference to positive volition, any believer who is ready to listen to the Word of God. Then we have a command, "let him hear." This is the aorist active imperative of AKOUO [a)kouw]. An aorist imperative is an emphasis, a punch. It is saying something that is immediately necessary to do; it is expressing a priority: listen "to what the Spirit says." This is the point for the believer, he is to hear. This isn't simply listening, sitting out there getting eardrums vibrated by the sound of a voice. James talks about not being a hearer only but to be a doer of the Word, and the word "doer" doesn't mean being active in church, it means applying what you hear. Then, "to the churches." The word "churches" here is in the plural indicating all these churches. We are to learn from all of these messages and apply these principles in our life.
The next phrase, "he who overcomes," is the articular present active participle of NIKAO [nikaw] which is related to the term "victory," and it means the victorious one or the overcomer, the one who is the winner. So this is talking about the winner believer, the believer who advances to spiritual maturity. This is the one who is applying the previous principle, i.e. listening to the Word and applying it when those tests come. "He who overcomes shall not be hurt of the second death." We know that if we are believers in the Lord Jesus Christ we are not going to be in the lake of fire, we are not condemned, John 3:18. So what does this mean, to not be hurt by the second death?
To understand this we have to understand three things. We have to understand the meaning of the second death, the doctrine of inheritance, and the principle of cleansing from sin. The key word in 1 John 1:9 is cleansing. If we trace that word "cleansing" all the way through from Genesis to revelation we realize that believers always have a method of cleansing from sin after salvation. There is always a method of cleansing from post-salvation sin.
Briefly there are seven kinds of death in the Scripture. Spiritual death, which is the original death as a result of eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, Genesis 2:17; that lead to physical death, not mentioned until the end of Genesis chapter three and also mentioned in other passages such as Matthew 8:22; 2 Corinthians 5:1-8; Romans 8:38, 39; Philippians 1:21; sexual death, the inability to continue procreate, Romans 4:16-21; Hebrews 11:11,12, related to Abraham's sexual death; production death, James 2:16, the person who has faith but no works, his faith is dead, non-productive; carnal death, when the believer is out of fellowship and operating on the sin nature. He is producing dead works, Romans 8:6, 13; Ephesians 5:14; 1 Timothy 5:6; James 1:15; Revelation 3:1; Luke 15:24, 32; positional death, Romans 6, when we are identified with Christ in His death on the cross. The second death, our topic right here.
The terminology, "the second death," is only used in four passages in the Scripture. All four are in Revelation. Revelation 2:11, "He who overcomes shall not be hurt of the second death." That word "shall not be hurt" is the aorist passive subjunctive of ADIKEO [a)dikew], an unusual word to use here. ADIKE [a)dikh], the noun, means unrighteousness or sin; ADIKEO means something that happens to you that is not righteous or it comes to means that which is damaging or suffering a loss. The aorist subjunctive is preceded by a double negative in the Greek. In English it is always bad grammar to have a double negative but in Greek a double negative, OU [o)u] and ME [mh], two different negatives for "no," plus subjunctive mood, means that something is impossible. The same type of grammatical construction as in Galatians 5:16, "Walk by means of the Spirit and you will not fulfill the deeds of the flesh." So for he who overcomes it is impossible for him to be harmed or to lose something by the second death. So for one who is not an overcomer the implication is that there is some loss. What is the loss?
The second death is then mentioned in Revelation 20:14, where it is defined: "Then death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death." So the second death is the eternal punishment of the unsaved in the lake of fire. Well believers aren't going to go there, so what is all this about? But if you are a failure as a believer there is a way in which you will suffer loss in relation to the lake of fire. Revelation 20:6, "Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years." In this verse we are told that there is a blessing on those who have a part in the first resurrection. What we think of when we read that word "part" is that of having a place or having a role. Like, "Did you get a part in the play?" That is not what the Greek means. The Greek uses the word MEROS [meroj] which was a highly technical word used in legal documents, especially wills, to indicate the share or portion of an inheritance that somebody received. When we look at this verse and say, "Blessed in the person who has an inheritance share/portion in the first resurrection…" it changes our whole concept of this verse. It is only focusing on believers who have rewards and inheritance at the judgment seat. Over them the second death has no power. This is the same emphasis we have in Revelation 2:11. The second death has not power and there is no loss to the believer who is a winner. Those are the ones who are going to be priests of God and of Christ, and will reign with Him a thousand years. But those who are failures at the judgment seat of Christ, those who just waste their time here on earth, those who don't advance and develop no spiritual capacity for leadership and responsibility in the kingdom, they enter the kingdom but they don't possess the kingdom. There is no ownership responsibility, no inheritance. They are like the foreigner who lived in the land of Israel in the Old Testament. They lived in the land, enjoyed the blessings and privileges in the land, but they didn't have ownership responsibility.
The next time we have this kind of terminology used is in Revelation 21:8, "But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, sexually immoral, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone: which is the second death." This sounds like if you commit these sins you are going to end up in the lake of fire, which is how "lordship salvation" people take the passage. There are parallels to this. In 1 Corinthians 6 there is a similar list and it says those who commit these sins will not inherit the kingdom. The same thing is stated in Galatians 5:19, 20 with the list of the works of the flesh. The conclusion is that those who commit these deeds will not inherit the kingdom. The problem is that people want to interpret inheriting the kingdom as entering the kingdom. But inheriting the kingdom doesn't mean to enter the kingdom, that is eternal life. It means to have ownership, possession, privilege and rewards in that kingdom. If we look at the context of Revelation 21:8 it opens it up for us. This is an inheritance issue, not a salvation issue. Once again there is the same word, MEROS, and that is a reason we can say it is an inheritance issue. All those who commit these sins: what happens? Their part, i.e. their inheritance, is in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone. What this is saying is that the believer who doesn't get his rewards at the judgment seat of Christ is going to see his rewards flushed into the lake of fire. That is why he suffers loss. He is going to see what he could have received, but because of failure he does not receive those rewards and they will be flushed into the lake of fire.
Revelation 21:4, "And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away." This is in the new heavens and new earth, after the great white throne judgment.
Revelation 21:5, "Then he that sat upon the throne [God the Father] said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful." He is addressing John and tells him to write these things down.
Revelation 21:6, "And he [the Lord Jesus Christ] said unto me, It is done. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give of the fountain of the water of life [salvation] freely to him who thirsts." Salvation is free to anyone who wants it.
Revelation 21:7, "He who overcomes shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son."
Revelation 21:8, notice the contrast: "But the cowardly, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone: which is the second death." The word "but" in verse 8 contrasts the one who overcomes and inherits with the one who is in consistent carnality. It is not talking about salvation, it is talking about inheritance, rewards. The one who lives consistently in carnality forfeits his spiritual rewards at the judgment seat of Christ, and these will be destroyed in the lake of fire.
The question always comes up: How do you know when you are producing works of the flesh that is wood, hay, and straw, and works of the spirit that is gold, silver and precious stones. Because you understand the principle of cleansing! That is why we have that key word in 1 John 1:9. The cleansing takes place through confession. The illustration is from the night before Jesus went to the cross in John chapter thirteen where He washed the disciples' feet. Jesus answered Peter and said: "If I do not wash you, you have no part with me." Guess what word is there: MEROS. The word used there for wash is not the word LUO [luw] which means a complete bath; that happened at salvation; it is the word NIPTO [niptw] which means a partial cleansing. These are the same two words used in the Old Testament. When a priest was ordained they were washed from head to toe. This was a symbol of the total cleansing that occurs at salvation. The word that the Jews used when they translated that from the Hebrew to the Greek Septuagint was LUO, a complete washing. But when the priest entered into the temple and he came to the laver, every time he came in he had to wash his hands and his feet. Why? Because it was a picture of confession of sin. There had to be the cleansing of any sin since the last time he was in there. So after John 13:8 Peter says to the Lord to wash his whole body, and he uses the word LUO. Jesus answered and said he didn't need to wash his whole body, "you have all been cleansed [totally] except one of you"—Judas Iscariot—"you only need to be washed." Why do you need to be washed? Because if you are not cleansed on a regular basis from committing sin, so that you are back in fellowship and have recovered the filling ministry of the Holy Spirit and are walking by the Spirit, you can't produce divine good. If you can't produce divine good you can't have inheritance at the judgment seat of Christ, and if you don't have inheritance at the judgment seat of Christ it is all going to burn up and all of the potential or contingent rewards will be flushed into the lake of fire after the great white throne judgment. That is why overcomers are promised in Revelation 2:11 that they are not going to be harmed or suffer loss at the second death. The implication is that for the believer who loses out at the judgment t seat of Christ and has just wood, hay, and straw, what happens is that he does suffer loss. He loses his potential rewards. That is the message of Revelation 2:11.