It is both good and bad that the present time is a time of questioning of old dogmas, analysing, dissecting and penetrating what has been considered settled and proved. It is bad for those who are afraid that the old dogmas may be hurt. It is good for those, who desire to go ahead in apprehension of divine truth. It causes much uneasiness for those who think that their understanding of the ways and works of God are the ways and works of God. Such cannot tolerate deviation from, no, not even re-analysis of the conclusions they have reached. It is to them unbelief and denial of divine truth. When taking up this re-study of The Second Death we are conscious of being looked upon by some as rebellious and insubordinate. If we repeated and propagated the results of their opinions we would be approved.
We start then with the question: IS THE LAKE OF FIRE PHYSICAL, LITERAL FIRE, OR IS FIRE USED HERE IN A FIGURATIVE SENSE?
Another question: Does it look like the methods which God has used at any time in His dealing with men, to discontinue their life in such a way? Everyone who has heard about the same method used by Hitler and his henchmen in the last war, burning alive his fellow men, have perceived it the most barbarous and infernal procedure that could be invented. There is in every human being a natural dread of fire. If, as we believe to be true, that the Great White Throne judgment is for the purpose of bringing the unsaved into a willing subjection to the Will of God, and if this has been accomplished by the sentences that are imposed "according to their works," why then should God use such barbaric methods ending the lives of those who have received His rectification and been harmonized with His will? Does it look reasonable?
To this you may retort that it is not a question what looks reasonable to us, but only as to what God has said. I agree fully. But altho we all have what He has said, we do not understand it alike, and I am sure that even though there may be some things that are above our apprehension, there is nothing in God's dealings that is revolting to sound sense of justice. 'Thousands of God's saints have been permitted to pass out of this life by going peacefully to sleep, without pain and dread. Why should those at that time be subjected to such a horrible process of execution?
There must be a mistake in such a doctrine. May the Lord lead us on
to what glorifies Him more and satisfies our divine instinct of justice
THE BIBLE USE OF FIRE
As this is a matter not to be taken lightly I have gone through every occurrence in the Old Testament and attempted to classify the usage of "fire" in a general way. Here is what I find: The word fire is used about 380 times. Out of these occurrences about 180 times it is natural fire without a figurative sense. About 200 times it is used figuratively. These could be divided again this way: About 115 times fire is used as a figure of divine indignation and about 80 times as a figure of affliction, distress and trouble of some kind or another. In .most of these instances it is associated with divine wrath against sin and ungodliness.
And note this: Repeatedly it is seen as a counteractant against wickedness and everything contrary to the expressed will of God.
At least 80 times God manifested Himself as fire or by fire. These include the pillar of fire leading Israel, the fire on Mt. Sinai, the fire consuming Elijah's sacrifice, etc. It is clear that in none of these and many other instances was it natural fire that they saw. In some instances it burned up what was absolutely incombustible, as the water around Elijah's altar and the rocks. In other instances it did not consume any material substance as on Mt. Sinai, the burning bush that Moses saw, etc. It was the divine attributes of holiness, justice, purity, penetrating knowledge and wisdom, expressing themselves in a visible way by that element which is one of the most dreadful to human sense. We can no more believe that these manifestations were natural and physical fire than we can believe that it speaks of physical fire when it says that "God is a consuming fire". Deut. 2:24 and Heb. 12:29. Or when it says that "He maketh His messengers a flame of fire." Heb. 1:7. We cannot doubt that it is figurative speech, and thus in all of these fire-manifestations the "fire" must be taken as illustrative of divine qualities relative to sin and evil.
We give a few texts to confirm the above: "And the sight of the glory of Jehovah was like devouring fire on the top of the mount in the eyes of the children of Israel." Ex. 24:17.
"—and at even there was upon the tabernacle as it were the appearance of fire, until the morning." Nu. 9:15. See also Jer. 4:4; Lam. 2:3-4; Ez. 1:13,27.
"—Cloven tongues like as of fire." Acts 2:3. In the "New Testament" "fire" is used outside of the book of Revelation 54 times. More than 20 times it is, unquestionably used in a figurative sense, and if you include all occurrences of Gehanna fire in this class then you have at least 26 figurative occurrences of "fire."
In the book of Revelation—not including the 5 times fire is used in connection with the Lake of Fire—it is used 19 times. Of these no more than 7 times can it be construed as meaning natural fire, and it is a question if it is used any time in that sense. But giving the natural fire advocates the benefit of the doubt, we have yet the figurative use of this word in this book 12 times, not counting the 5 times connected with the Lake of Fire. The conclusion of this investigation is then that: Fire is used throughout the Scriptures in a figurative, or symbolic sense far more than in a literal sense.
Now when we remember that the book of Revelation is the most intensely symbolic book of the Scriptures, then the foregoing certainly seem to point to the 5 occurrences of fire in connection with the Lake of Fire as symbolic and not literal and natural, if in fact, we should not take it as conclusive.
It might be well to state right here the distinct difference in conception of the two schools, one holding the fire to be literal, the other teaching it as symbolic.
The first holds that the Lake of Fire is God's method of execution and that the Second Death is literal. As to what is after the execution, some teach that there is total unconsciousness until vivification comes at the Consummation. Others that there is eternal existence in indescribable torment.
Some of this latter school hold that the Second Death is not literal, that it is a purgation process, the "fire" removing all that in contrary to God and thus fitting for fellowship with Him. The "fire" is thus a counteractant against sin and those who are subject to it are in a conscious state. We shall here give some Scriptures that certainly support the idea that the divine fire is such counteractant, a cleaner and purifier:
"And when the people complained, it displeased Jehovah: and Jehovah heard it; and His anger was kindled; and the fire of Jehovah burnt among them and consumed the uttermost part of the camp." Nu. 11:1.
"Jehovah thy God is a consuming fire." Deut. 4:24. Study the context of this.
"Understand therefore this day, that Jehovah thy God is He that goeth before thee; as a consuming fire He shall destroy them, and He shall bring them down before thy face: so shalt thou drive them out and destroy them quickly, as Jehovah hath said unto thee." Deut. 9:3.
"For a fire is kindled in Mine anger, and shall burn unto the lowest Sheol, and shall consume the earth with all her increase, and set on fire the foundations of the mountains. I will heap mischiefs upon them: I will spend Mine arrows upon them. They shall be burnt with hunger, and devoured with burning heat, and with bitter destruction: I will also send the teeth of the beasts upon them, with the poison of the dust of the earth." Deut. 32:22-24.
"Thou shalt make them as a fiery oven in the time of Thy anger; Jehovah shall swallow them up in His wrath, and the fire shall devour them." Ps. 21:9.
"Therefore Jehovah heard this, and was wroth: so fire was kindled against Jacob, and anger also came up against Israel." Ps. 78:21. We could give dozens of such texts, but shall only refer you to a few more, if you are interested to pursue the study: Ps. 105:32; Isa. 30:27, 30, 33. This is an important text. Study it. Isa. 66:15-16; Ez. 24:11; Zech. 13:9. There are many others like it.
WHAT IS THE SECOND DEATH?
God said to Adam: "Dying thou shalt die." Evidently, "dying" was a process that eventuated in a result: Death. But this process involved also a continuous condition from the pronouncement of the sentence until the result was reached. In Adam's offspring this condition is all the way from birth to the end of life. It seems clear from the Scriptures that this condition is also termed Death, and (please notice this particularly): that this condition is associated even more positively with the spirit of man than with his body. What else can be the meaning of the following Scriptures?: "Follow me; and leave the dead to bury their own dead." Matt. 8:22 and Lu. 9:60.
"The hour cometh, and now is, that the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God; and they that hear shall live." In. 5:25.
"And you—when you were dead through your trespasses and sins." "Even when we were dead through our trespasses." Eph. 2:1 and 5. "And you, being dead through your trespasses." Col. 2:13.
"She that giveth herself to pleasure is dead while she liveth." I Tim. 5:6.
"Thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead." Rev. 3:1.
"This my son was dead, and is alive again. This thy brother was dead, and is alive." Lu. 15:24 and 32.
"If Christ be in you the body is dead." Ro. 8:10.
"Arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light." Eph. 5:14.
"If by the trespass of one the many died." Ro. 5:15.
"The mind of the flesh is death." Ro. 8:6.
From these and similar Scriptures we must arrive at the proper conception as to what death is. In the Hebrew Scripture we find that it is, primarily, the body that death is associated with; but in the Greek Scriptures, and especially in the Pauline epistles, the emphasis is not on the death of the body.
As to the Scripture given above I shall comment on just one point:
Notice how it is declared repeatedly that even while they are
physically alive they are dead. Never do we find a modifying or qualifying adjective. It is always a positive, unmodified declaration. They have died. Ro. 5:15.
They are dead.
Have we not tuned this down by saying that they are figuratively dead? As a logical result of this we have also said that those who have been made alive in Christ are only figuratively alive. I am unable to accept this as the mind of the Inspirer of the Scriptures. I think we becloud the issue very badly by this tuning down. When God says repeatedly that they are dead then we ought to leave it there. We may ask, in what sense are they dead? When it is not specifically spoken of the body. To this question I think we have a clear clue in certain Scriptures.
In Ro. 6:2 we have this, "We who died to sin." In Ro. 7:4, "We were made dead to the law, by the body of Christ." In Gal. 2:19, "I died to the law." "He died unto sin once." Ro. 6:10.
What Paul has in mind by being dead to law and sin is clear from his own words. It is being in such a relation and attitude towards sin and the Mosaic law that he is totally uncontrolled by them. He is completely unreceptive as to their appeal. He is so thoroughly disassociated from the Mosaic law and from sin that he has no more obligation towards them, and no more relation with them than a wife with her dead husband. This is the illustration he uses in Ro. 7 to clarify this very subject.
From this we can safely draw the conclusion that when he speaks of persons being dead even while in full physical vigor, he means that they are towards God, towards holiness, towards righteousness, towards Christ as Saviour, towards God's appeal to them utterly unreceptive, uninfluenced, indifferent and incapable of response. They are dead in relation to these higher divine verities. Thus not only figuratively, but actively and in all reality. This is the way God evaluates their condition. And this He calls death.
If we take this as here presented I think we shall see right away that it clears up certain Scriptures that have been difficult. Take for instance I Pet. 4:6, "For to this end was the gospel preached even to the dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit."
And Mk. 12:27, "He is not the God of the dead, but of the living." The dead (in relation to God) do not have Him as their God, they have other gods. Several such Scriptures could be mentioned.
And when Paul contemplated some of God's ways he broke out like this: "O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past tracing out!" Ro. 11:33.
God's method of overcoming death is contrary to all "sound" sense of man; but He has demonstrated it so abundantly that there is no need of misunderstanding. This method is seen in nature, in the death of Christ, and also in the Second Death.
In the hands of man death is the most destructive force known. In the hands of God it is the most constructive.
In nature we see it all around us that life is sacrificed continually to maintain life. Every living being lives on the death of some other living beings. Plants live on the death of other plants and also on the deaths of animals. Birds, fishes, humans, they are all dependent for maintenance of life upon the death of someone else or something else. Life out of death everywhere.
"Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a grain of wheat fall into the earth and die, it abideth by itself alone; but if it die, it beareth much fruit." Jn. 12:24.
"I am the living bread which came down out of heavens: if any man eat of this bread he shall live for the eon: yea, and the bread that I will give is my flesh, for the life of the world." Jn. 6:51.
God overcomes death by death. He cures sin by sin. "Him who knew no sin He made sin in our behalf; that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." 2 Cor. 5:21.
"Thy backsliding shall reprove thee." Jer. 2:19.
Israel was always so bent on gross idolatry. God took them to Babylon and there He cured them from that disease by gross idolatry.
The most shocking unrighteousness that was ever committed—the killing of the Lord Jesus—produced the only grade and quality of righteousness that was acceptable to God for sinners: "The righteousness of God." Ro. 3. Out of the most horrible crime God got the supreme holiness for the race. Heb. 10:10. Out of the death of Christ He got life for the world.
Anyone who will but open his eyes may see this method of God in the past, at present, and in the future.
Will He discontinue the use of this method at the end of the Millennium? Will He not use it in the Great White Throne Judgment? Why not?
Could it not be that He will use The Second Death for the destruction of the First Death? Why not?
Before I make an attempt to show what I believe the Scriptures reply to this question we shall make a little "detour," looking at
The first man, Adam and the second (or last), Christ. I Cor. 15:45.
The first marriage, Adam and Eve. The last one, Christ and His "Bride." Rev. 19 and 20.
The first "son of God." Lu. 3:38—Adam. The second Son of God, Christ.
The first, or Old Creation. The last, or New Creation. Rev. 21.
The first high priest, Melchisedec, the last High priest, Christ. Gen. 14 and Heb. 7.
The first paschal lamb, Ex. 12. The last one, I Cor. 5.
The first king of Israel, Saul, a failure. The second, David, a man after God's heart.
The first sanctuary in Israel, the tabernacle. The second one, Solomon's temple. (In type, provision for perfect worship).
The first, or earthly Jerusalem. The second, or last, the heavenly Jerusalem.
The first covenant, "waxed old." Was ineffective. The New Covenant, effective. Written in the hearts. The first, or natural body, of the earth. The second, a spiritual body, heavenly. 2 Cor. 5.
A first death and a Second Death.
Is it not possible that the Second Death is in effect the opposite of the first?
The Words of the Lord Jesus previously referred to (Jn. 12:24), show it, and observation confirms it.
On close analysis I doubt that any death (of individuals, beasts, birds, plants, etc.) cannot be shown to have these two elements in them. The difference lies in the quality of what is torn down or built up. Either something good or something bad is built up or torn down.
If we look on death as a general force it is easier to see that death always accomplishes something good, something which God has desired. We may not be able to see just what, but we know that as there was not any evil that came in contrary to God's intention. All is for ultimate good. That is the constructive part of the effect of death.
"Precious in the sight of Jehovah is the death of His saints." Ps. 116:15. Why? Because it accomplishes His purpose with them. For one thing they are through with their trials and afflictions, and are in His safe-keeping.
When God exalted death to the place of a monarch (Ro. 5:14), it was for the purpose of accomplishing something of value, although, death is, temporarily, an enemy of man. The value of its ministry may not be apprehended by many before "the day dawn, and the shadows flee away," but then it will be seen.
Perhaps if we think of certain definite phases of death we can see this clearer. Take. for instance the process that Paul had in mind when he said in 2 Cor. 4:11, "We who live (the God-life) are always delivered unto death for Jesus' sake, that the life also of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So then, death worketh in us, but life in you." He also says, "I die daily." This was a dying from sin. The process diminished the carnal tendencies and built up the spiritual qualities. On the other hand, when a person goes the ways of sin, the process is reversed. The good is torn down, the bad is built up. Death may counteract the flesh, or it may support it and increase its activities.
Adamic death has built up in the race weakness, sickness, infirmities and inability to do what is right. "Death passed through into all mankind, on which all sinned." Ro. 5:12. Death tore down the ability to resist sin and built up the desire and ability to serve unrighteousness. But in the saints this has been reversed. In them God uses death to counteract the tendency to sin, and develop ability to live Godly and righteously in this evil age.
In this age and up till the time when the Lord has established His kingdom on earth and imparted an increased amount of life to the race, the effect of death will be, predominantly, on the side of destruction, but from there on death will be used more and more for construction, to counteract evil in man and, shall we say: kill off evil to make room for good. When we come to the "administration of the fullness of eras" (Eph. 1:9-10), on the New Earth, then the destructiveness of death shall be greatly curbed. Its action shall be limited to the Lake of Fire, and destructive death shall be held in check by the leaves of the tree of life which is to be there "for the healing of the nations." Rev. 22:2. It seems to me that what marks off the second death, and puts it in a class by itself, primarily, is its character. The fact that it comes a second in revelation to what is before seems to be a minor consideration. The first death degraded man, morally and physically. The second death will improve man in every way.
Now this is radically off, compared to the ordinary conception, but we shall aim, in the following pages, to show from the Scriptures that this view can be better sustained than the view that presents the second death as literal and physical.
That the second death is not just a repetition of the first is also clearly seen by the fact, that the first is cast into the second. As the second is likened to a lake it must mean that the first is submerged in it, done away with, or destroyed. If it was said, for instance that they were joined, added, combined, or something to that effect, we would have all reason to believe that they were common in action and effect, but when the one is cast into the other it precludes most effectively the idea that they are one in purpose and action. What is then
We have shown before that fire is used in the Scriptures, before the Book of Revelation, far oftener in a symbolic than in a literal sense. As this book is more highly symbolic than any other book in the Bible, it would be unreasonable to expect that this would be reversed, that we would find here more literalness than elsewhere in the Scriptures. Rather must we expect that symbolism has been intensified. — We have also called attention to the unreasonableness of God using such horrid means of execution on those who have been brought in line with His will through judgment. That literal interpretation of the lake of fire is unacceptable we shall now give more evidence.
The two words "fire" and "brimstone" (sulphur) demand some special attention. I quote from Dr. Pridgeon's book, "Is Hell Eternal?":
"The lake of fire and brimstone signifies a fire burning with brimstone; the word 'brimstone' or sulphur defines the character of the fire."
"The word theion translated 'brimstone' is exactly the same word theion which means 'divine.' Sulphur was sacred to the deity among the ancient Greeks; and was used to fumigate, to purify, and to cleanse and to consecrate to the deity; for this purpose they burned it in their incense. In Homer's Illiad (16:228), one is spoken of as purifying a goblet with fire and brimstone. The verb derived from theion is theioo, which means to hallow, to make divine, or to dedicate to a god. (See Liddell and Scott Greek-English Lexicon, 1897 Edition). To any Greek, or to any trained in the Greek language, a 'lake of fire and brimstone' would mean a 'lake of divine purification.'"
Right then is inaugurated a life-long campaign against death in him. This is a reversal of his former condition, and it is a reversal of the action of death in him. Up to this time he has been dead and dying to God and to righteousness, now he begins to die to sin and self.
Is it not clear that this is the second death he is passing through?
It is also clear that death does not have an equally strong grip on each individual. Some are born with dying almost accomplished in them. Some are born strong and healthy—more life. So also it seems to be In the spiritual. Some are degenerating faster, morally and spiritually, some slower. It is the same character and essence In all, but the degree In which it is manifest is different.
In other words: The action of death, whether the first or the second, manifests itself in varying degrees.
Adamic death militates against spiritual life and—if not stopped—kills it. Divine life is death to the Adamic death. Death is swallowed up in life.
Jesus said: "I am—The Life."
Let us see how this life is gradually overcoming Adamic death, according to a specific divine program outlined for us in the Scriptures. After the death and resurrection of Christ there was an infusion of divine life into the race as never before. By this infusion millions have had death in them overcome, but only comparatively few, compared with the race as a whole, have received this life-experience, this dying of death in them.
At the coming of the Lord He shall undertake to inject this life stream into dead Israel first. It shall be "as life from the dead." Ro. 11; Zech. 12:7-8, etc.
Then shall the restored Israel be used as a life channel to "the residue of men"—Acts 15:17—and there shall be an awakening such as never before in history. A mighty Campaign by Life against death. An increased dying of the Adamic death, by injection of "Life." Then shall the days of the righteous be as the days of the tree—hundreds of years. Isa. 64:19-25. But even then, death shall stalk the earth.
But when we come to the New Earth—Rev. 20 and 21—we find that "there shall be no more death." To that extent has divine Life—Jesus Christ—counteracted death that no one shall die on the earth through that long administration.
But death is still in existence. What death? The first—the death inherited through Adam? No. That has been cast into the Second Death. And what did we find was the second death? The death that operates to the destruction of Adamic death.
The Second Death consists of Divine Life. May the spirit of God help you to apprehend this. We have shown it all through this paper. The "fire" counteracting sin and ungodliness was God in action. When Paul said the "we die daily" it is clear that it was the divine life that operated in him and caused death—death from all that was of the flesh.
Adamic death sprang from sin, generates sin, co-operates with sin and always destroys that which is of the spirit. This is the first death. It was the one that came first into the race.
Divine death (if I should invent such a phrase) springs from Life, generates life, co-operates with life and destroys that which is of the flesh. This is the second death. It was the second one that came into the race.
Nothing but life can counteract death. Life brings death to death. Adamic death is always destructive. When it has served its purpose it shall be subjected to the action of divine life—the second death—to destroy it.
Therefore, in the "administration of the fullness of times" Adamic death shall be discontinued. Destructive death shall not exist. That is death that destroys divine, spiritual values. Only the death that destroys death shall be operating, that is the second death: Divine Life.
"I am the bread that came down from heaven to give life unto the world."—Jesus.
So also with the race as a whole—as we have tried to show. From the disaster in Eden they went down, down, and farther down. When "Life" came into the world the rebound commenced. Gradually He has lifted upward, Godward. The last great stage will be when the first death has been abolished and the second death shall be alone on the scene, doing its complete down-breaking of the results of the first death.
And when that has been accomplished—what?
Then all death shall be abolished. When divine life has operated so effectively against all that was against the declared will of God that no such exists any more, then the divine energy that has been used against death shall not be used any more for that. There shall, no doubt, be more positive pursuits that will come to view. The second death will cease automatically, when there is no more work for it. "The last enemy that is abolished is death."
Who will be made subject to this death? Will such as are mentioned in I Cor. 3 as having their works burned up by the testing "fire" and must be "saved as through fire" be in this death?
As to consciousness after death, which is the same as "the immortality of the soul" I have long since given that up. It seems to me that only by being yet in the meshes of medieval theology can one hold to that view. If we take the declarations of the Scriptures at face value and read the statement that only One "Who only hath immortality," I Tim. 6:16, and that it is by resurrection that the saints shall "put on immortality"—I Cor 15:54—then that question will be settled for us.
Yet there are dear brethren who have not seen this. I Shall quote from one of them, a capable writer with a doctor's degree, whom God used greatly in His service. As it is not persons, but doctrine we are concerned with there is no need of mentioning names. Emphasis in following quotes by me:
"Even the unsaved pass into the next life with the forces of their spirit which formed and made their body in this life. This spiritual body goes with them into the Hadean state, no matter how warped and dwarfed it may become. Each one that passes out of this life reaches the next life in exactly the same spiritual condition in which he was when he died. Death did nothing for him except to separate him from his earthly body. The intermediate state is for discipline, punishment, a process of judging and improvement, progress, and growth."
"If in this life man does not have these two deaths (first and second) wrought in him, then he enters the Hadean life with its judgments, discipline, training and service. If man is still stubborn, there awaits him, and all such, the Lake of Fire and Brimstone, which is 'the second death.' The first death slew the natural and animal and took him into the Hadean state, and at its end, it and death, that is, all in Hades that have not repented are cast into the Lake of Fire where the process of the second death awaits, which is the death of all selfishness." —End quote.
Several writers who hold this view could be quoted, but this will serve as a good representation of this view. Now what stumps me is this: Some of these occupants of Hades have been there for thousands of years, perhaps, in this supposed disciplinary process, and yet they have not been subdued and made subject to the will of God, so after resurrection they have to continue the same process. Does this sound logical, or rational?
In view of the demonstrations that God has given from time to time showing His ability to turn the will of man to His own will, as well as the statements of the Scriptures telling us what He can do in this matter (Prov. 21:1; Dan. 4:34-37, etc.), this certainly does not sound as the most likely correct understanding of it. We also remember how long it took Him to turn the champion opponent, Saul of Tarsus--Acts 9, and the stubborn monarch Nebuchadnezzar resisted only seven years. And we cannot doubt that God could have made it quicker yet had he desired to do so.
If there is consciousness after physical death, and the second death operating all the time from death to resurrection, why then resurrect them? Why not continue in Hades till they are subdued and ready to accept God's will and way for them? Consciousness in the Hadean state and a disciplinary process going on there all the time really makes resurrection superfluous. The argument that these writers take from I Pet. 3:19, the Lord preaching to the spirits in prison, is invalid because it was not spirits of dead men He was preaching to. It is really surprising how that notion can hold sway when there is so much overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
This theory requires too much artificial support to commend itself to those who have been led to analyse the other side of the consciousness problem, and who have perceived how very little real evidence there is for "the immortality of the soul."
Some hold that this judgment seat is now and here. It does not seem so to me. I cannot reconcile it to the future tense in the following scriptures:
"For all of us shall be presented"—C. V. "Shall all stand"—before the judgment seat of God." Ro. 14:10, "We all must be manifested before the judgment seat of Christ." 2 Cor. 5:10. "Each man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it is revealed in fire; and the fire itself shall prove each man's work of what sort it is, if any man's work shall abide which he built thereon, he shall receive a reward. If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss; but he himself shall be saved, yet as through fire."
"Judge nothing before the time, until the Lord shall come, Who will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and make manifest the counsels of the hearts; and then shall each man have his praise from God"—I Cor. 4:5.
"Some men's sins are evident, going before unto judgment: and some men also they follow after"—I Tim. 5:24. The sins that go before into judgment must be those which are acknowledged and repented of while here. They are judged here. What is not judged here must come up before the Bema.
Furthermore, this judgment is always associated with "the day"—I Cor. 3, and this "day" cannot be any other but "the day of Christ"—I Cor. 1:10; 5:5; 2 Cor. 1:14; Phil. 1:10 and 2:16; I Thes. 2:19-20; 3:13; 4:16-18; 5:23. 2 Thes. 1:7-10. This "fire" will be the means of testing both saved and unsaved and the time is repeatedly laid at His coming and in "that day." I do not think we can find any direct evidence of the Bema of Christ being in operation now. It is, it seems to me, a rather far-fetched inference.
How long will it last?
A peculiar feature both of this judgment and the great white throne judgment is that no time boundaries are found for their termination. It is not even hinted at. Does not this indicate then, that they are both of indefinite duration? Of course, God knows. But the idea that these judgments are of very brief duration has about as much for support as the old time idea that the "judgment day" was a twenty-four-hour day. It is a self-evident possibility that the Bema may extend far into the Millennium. Bro. Wheelock says it will last at least fifteen years.
But what has the length of it to do with the second death? Before answering I want to ask another question: What are we to "receive," or be requited for, at this occasion for what of bad we have done in the body?—2 Cor. 5.—If it was only for the good we are to receive it would be easy to explain, but it says we shall also receive for the bad. What?
If you read my article on "The Bema of Christ" in the Sept.-Oct. Diff. of 1948 you should have noticed my answer to this. One thing is certain: It is not punishment. The sin and guilt problem have been settled before that time. Yet we shall receive for the bad. What else but instruction, discipline, correction can it be? If you have a better explanation I shall be glad to scrap mine. But don't forget that we shall receive something for the bad that we have practiced in the body.
Now let us put two and two together.
I have tried to show before that the second death counteracts sin and all that is of the flesh, and that thus it has always operated in the saints of God. The fact, that it is not mentioned be. fore the Book of Revelation is no proof that it did not exist before. Justification, for inst., was an experienced fact in the Old Covenant time, but the doctrine of it came not till the later part of Paul's ministry. King George the second could not have this designation before King George the first had finished his course. Let us remember that Adamic death is a monarch. (Ro. 5:14), and not before he has ended his mission is his successor named as second.
Then the "fire" that shall burn up the "hay, wood and stubble" is the fire of the second death. It has been working in Paul and in every saint from the beginning of the race. It will continue to work in those at the Bema who need its service for cleansing,and it will go on until it has finished its mission. As only saved ones are at the Bema they have all experienced it in some degree before, but it has not done its complete work. You may say that they are not saved because it says that "they shall be saved as through fire." But the salvation they have not attained to is not salvation from sin's condemnation, but from its power. It is the weaknesses, the infirmities and shortcomings that the Adamic death had caused in them that they are to be freed from. It is not cleansing from sin itself, or its condemnation. That part has been taken care of by the death, burial and resurrection of Christ, and they have appropriated it for them. selves by faith. This is the only thing that qualifies them for appearance at this Bema. They are not to be judged. It is qualities, attitudes and acts that are to be evaluated. Their guilt has been removed, but not their inefficiency for service. If they had not believed for salvation they would not be there. Or are we to believe that ungodly worldlings meet there; Only if we are in the darkness of the middle ages can we take that. We have no excuse for confusing the Bema with the great white throne judgment where the unsaved will appear.
Now I hope, you will see what the length of the Bema session has to do with the second death. The "fire" salvation may take some time.
Another problem dovetails in right here: Is perfection reached by resurrection, or will there be growth, expansion, progress, devlopment after that?
I do not think we have a direct statement covering this question, but are we overreaching if we say that the opposite looks contrary to all revelation that we have of God and His ways and His laws of life? Can we possibly think that everything will come to an abrupt stop when resurrection has been accomplished? By the way, do not the 21st and 22nd chapters of Revelation give us some light on this? Is it a static condition that we find here, or is it pulsating life, throbbing with more vigor than ever before?
Now if it is life it must, necessarily, be in a state of expansion. Where development stops death comes in. But here we are past death conditions.
Shall we believe that those who died as infants will be raised as infants, or shall we believe that they have grown to manhood and womanhood during death? If they have, they sure have not been dead. And if not, will they remain as infants after the resurrection? Is it not folly to think of such a thing? Of course, it is. It would be contrary to all laws of life, even here on this sin-cursed earth, how much more when there are no more any hampering forces to block development.
Now if you can admit of growth of babies after resurrection why not also others who have died in an undeveloped condition? Do we have anything in the Scriptures that would militate against this view? If so, where and what? Until you tell me I shall believe that there will be development and growth, which is only a normal and natural expression of life, and it will be also in those who have been resurrected with imperfections.
Where do we get the idea that all will be perfect when resurrected? I have ransacked and thought, but I cannot find a single Scripture evidence. True, we shall have immortality, and we shall be above corruption (I Cor. 15:50-54), but I cannot see that all that—no matter how precious it is—excludes imperfections. Immortality excludes the possibility of dying. Incorruption excludes the possibility of degeneration. There can be no retrogression, no relapse. It guarantees that we shall not go backward and downward, but if all laws of life do not fail, it does guarantee that we must go forward and upward. Without doing this it would be stagnation and death, but that would be contrary to the very nature of that condition.
Real life cannot express itself in any other way but by progress, and development. If there is no such expression there is no life.
Now if I am right in this it follows that there may be much at the Bema that may be corrected, added, subtracted, from those who are there—saved, but in an undeveloped condition. The "fire" that they failed to yield to in the earth life, they must yield to there.
The "resurrection of life," occurring at the beginning of the millennial reign brought all the holy dead up to that time back to life. Those who are saved after that have eonian, or "agelasting" life. Evidently they live through the thousand years and on. It does not mean they are immortal, but they are kept alive until they are immortalized. Now if this is so, from where should the saved ones come and stand before the G. W. Throne? Remember, it is not alive ones but "the dead" that we find here. Whether you take "dead" in a figurative or literal sense here it makes no difference.
We have been so accustomed to associate the second death with the G. W. Throne judgment that it is difficult to think of it operating before that assize. I trust, however, that the evidence given in the foregoing will help in giving material for reflection and inspire to more investigation and deeper thought on this vital and interesting subject.
Let us not forget that those who are made subject to this death are living human beings. At least that is the way I understand it. From ch. 20:4-5 it seems clear enough. Here we are told about the first, or former, resurrection taking place at the beginning of the thousand years, then in verse six it says: "But the rest of the dead lived not again before the thousand years were finished." Thus we see that they are counted dead up to resurrection. From there on they are counted alive.
Now where are they undergoing the process of the second death? Somewhere in the spirit world? It seems rather fantastic, does it not?
They must be on the New Earth somewhere.
Now if you eliminate the "picture" from ch. 21:8 it will read thus: "The fearful and unbelieving. . . shall have their part in the second death." This may help you to see it clearer. It is not so much the place as the condition that is in the foreground here.
You may think that this contradicts v. 4 in the same chapter where it says that "there shall be no more death." We have been used to extend this to mean all over the New Earth, but is there a real necessity for that scope? I cannot see it. It says "God Himself shall be with them and be their God, and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes, and there shall be no more death." I see no warrant in extending this any further than where God is tabernacling with His people. There shall be no more death. There life shall rule supreme. This view is confirmed by ch. 22:14-15. "Blessed are they that wash their robes, that they may have the right (to come) to the tree of life, and may enter in by the gates into the city. Without are the dogs, and the sorcerers," etc. Does it not seem from this that the location of the second death is in the same general realm as the holy city?
Whether you conceive of this city as literal or as figurative makes in this connection no difference. The extraneous relationship is the same.
In the first place, it is evident that death existed before Adam. What about the chaos in Gen. 1:2, contrary to Isa. 45:18? Was that a life or death condition: Evidently, the last. This, however, is a phase of the subject that would lead us too far afield if I tried to follow it to its conclusion. So we must leave it with this suggestion.
But this one thing, I believe, we can agree on: That the death Adam brought was never constructive in its effects. It has been the greatest factor of deterioration and ruin that we know of.
Now when God takes a destructive force and by His power and wisdom turns it in a constructive agent, beyond the power of man, as We have shown that Heodoes with the "second death." then it is not "Adamic" death any longer. It is "divine death." Just as the abolition of "all authority and power"—I Cor. 15—is not a destruction of life forces that have been operating up till that time, but a cessation of the application of such, because there is no more need for their application, so likewise, is the abolition of the second death only a consequence of the fact that there is nothing more for it to act upon. It "dies" or ceases when it has nothing more to do. When the "fire" of the second death has burned out all remaining evil from creation then it will be no more. Can you not see the parallel between the abolition of the second death and abolition of authority and power? It is a vital point, and I repeat in order that you may not overlook it. Why will governmental authority and power cease? Simply because there is no more call for it. There is no opposition any more. Delegated authority ceases automatically. So also will the second death be inoperative when there is nothing for it to act on, nothing more that needs its service.
"Adamic death" is destructive death. The second death (divine death) is constructive.
Was it death caused by Adam that made Paul and other saints die from sin and live for righteousness? If it was, then the death brought in by Adam was beneficial and constructive.
Thus there is full warrant for using the phrase "Adamic death."
The word "death" does not carry the same significance in all its occurrences. It has the same meaning only insofar that it signifies a process, or a condition involving a radical change. When used by God for constructive ends it is diametrically opposed to the natural effects brought in by Adam's sin. To say that the word death has, invariably, the same meaning every time it is used is to impose a stricture on it that hides certain vital truths from our view. The second death is not the penalty of sin, although it is one of the consequences of sin. It is rather a remedy for sin, because God uses it for this end. The death of Christ should put this beyond all argument.
The second death is not figurative death. It is literal death, but it is not physical death. The death that Adam's sin caused always breaks down the body, whereas the second death builds it up. Is it not clear that when a person dies from sin and unrighteousness his physical strength is increased? Death of the evil in the body gives room for more life. Again I say: This death is not physical death. It counteracts the enemies of physical life. And yet it is real death. The Word is positive and clear on it. The theory that the death that causes sin and evil to die is not real death has forced us to formulate some very unscriptural doctrines, for inst. that it is physical death that is caused by the lake of fire, and that after that there is uncon. sciousness until the consummation. The fact, that there is no hint of a resurrection at the consummation is pretty good proof that there is none, and the reason for it is, of course, that after the G. W. Throne resurrection there is no physical death and no unconsciousness.
In closing I want to say that this is not intended as a dogmatic doctrinal statement. I am persuaded that dogmatism on debatable subjects has not done us any good but it has led to petrifaction in certain adopted forms, sectism, and many other distressing and disrupting evils. If anyone has anything better to offer, or to add, I for one shall be eager to receive it, if it seems to have substantial support by the Scriptures.
I am grateful for a spur to take up this study by inquiries and by writings of several esteemed brethren such as Dr. Pridgeon of Pittsburg Bible Institute, Pastor Saxby in England. Bullinger's tract on the subject, and above all, Bro. Edgell's writing on it in his "Human Destiny" book. His contribution, I consider the best of all that I have seen so far. I have also been spurred on by many inquiries about this subject, which shows that there is much dissatisfaction and uncertainty in many minds about this, and a good deal of suspicion that much of what we have had presented to us with such positivistic emphasis is not too dependable. I am grateful for the many inquiries and requests that I give my conviction on the subject, without which, I suppose I would never have torn loose to make a re-study of it.
May the Lord richly bless every open-hearted seeker after divine truth, and all who, because of love for our blessed Lord and Redeemer refuse to become slaves of men.
E. A. L. Last updated 7.10.2008