SECOND DEATH AND THE GREAT
WHITE THRONE - Parts One and Two
By John Aldworth
Published 24 April 2013
How grateful we should be that we live in the day of grace and not that grim time of judgement to come, the Day of the Lord.
Today we Gentiles are redeemed by the blood of Jesus to know free and full salvation. In grace we have complete forgiveness of sin and the assurance that if we are looking toward heaven then one day our Saviour the Lord Jesus Christ will change our vile body to one like His (Phil. 3:21), meaning that if alive we will be changed to be like Him or, if dead we will be resurrected to join Him in His heavenly kingdom. In our time “salvation is sent to the Gentiles” (Acts 28:28) and we don’t have to be any part of Israel to qualify to live with Christ in heaven (2 Tim. 1:12).
No such promises will be available for those living or dying in the Day of Lord. In this future time even many of those resurrected in fulfilment of God’s Old Testament promises to raise them from the grave will not be assured of everlasting life. Rather they will be on probation and may even be sentenced to death again at the white throne judgment.
The bottom line is that only in the current dispensation of the grace of God is anybody promised a free lunch – that is total pardon and the free gift of eternal life. In sharp contrast everlasting life has to be earned in the day of Lord. Completed works of righteousness are required on pain of being blotted out of the book of life (Rev. 2:23, 26 and 3:5) if they do not measure up.
This study aims to clear up confusion surrounding two important features found in the Book of Revelation. Both the “second death” and what is commonly known as “the great white throne” judgement are widely misunderstood, causing multiple false teachings to flourish.
So what is the “second death”?, as found in Rev. 20:13-15:
“And the sea gave up the dead, which were in it: and death and hell delivered up the dead, which were in them and: and they were judged every man according to their works.
And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.
Is this eternal punishment in the lake of fire? Is it never dying in a fiery hell, supposedly the ultimate fate of billions of unsaved people? Thankfully no, and I am indebted to my friend and very perceptive Bible teacher Tom Ballinger (website: Plainer Words) for the scriptural understanding that rescued me from once thinking that it was. Actually the words “second death” mean simply that there is a second death for some who are resurrected from the dead. They are raised from death but because their works are wicked they are blotted out of the book of life and cast into the lake of fire to die again.
Who then are the “dead” referred to in verses Rev. 20: 11 to 15 who stand before God in the great white throne judgement? If it is the unsaved dead of all generations, both Jew and Gentile, then Roman Catholic and Anglican priests are correct when they bury unbelievers “in sure and certain hope of resurrection”. If it is not then they have a serious problem with their end time theology.
This study asserts that the “rest of the dead” are in fact a special class of people, resurrected because of God’s unconditional promise to raise up “the whole house of Israel” (Ezek. 37:11). They are Israelites of the Dispersion who did not know the Lord in their lifetimes on earth long ago. They are not Gentiles, for such “dead” have already been judged while in the grave by the Lord during His heavenly reign during the Day of Christ (2 Tim. 4:1). Furthermore they are not among the believers who were “beheaded for the witness of Jesus and the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast” (Rev. 20: 4) who will be raised at the “first resurrection” (vs. 5) to live and reign with Christ for 1000 years.
Importantly, these “rest of the dead” do not include the myriads of unsaved Gentile dead. This is because among Gentiles resurrection is promised only to believers and only through the death, burial and resurrection of Christ (Rom. 6:1-8).
Eph. 2: 11-17 makes plain that until the Apostle Paul proclaimed the good news that Gentiles could be saved in their own right through the blood of Christ, we Gentiles were in “time past”. And in time past we were:
…without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from, the covenants of promise, having no hope (i.e. of resurrection), and without God in the world (Eph. 2:12).
It is very hard for this writer to see how any Gentile could hope to be resurrected if he or she is without Christ, without God, without hope in the world and cut off from Israel and God’s promises to that nation. God “gave up” Gentiles and excluded them from his redemptive purpose from the tower of Babel onwards (Rom. 1:24, 26, 28).
The truth is that only a handful of Gentiles were specially chosen by the Lord to be converted and thus bow the knee to the God of Israel over the next 1500 years. Effectively they had to become Israelites in order to be saved. Millions of other Gentiles were shut out from any hope in God by the “middle wall of partition” (Eph. 2:14). And, for that matter, short of faith in the blood of Christ, Gentile unbelievers remain shut out today.
Therefore it is safe to conclude that unsaved Gentiles will not be among those resurrected to appear at the “great white throne judgement” in Revelation chapter 20.
Support for this contention that only Israelites, and many of them unbelievers at that, will be raised to be judged at the great white throne judgement comes from Ezekiel chapter 37:9-12 which contains God’s covenant promise to raise up “the whole house of Israel”:
Then said He unto me, Prophesy unto the wind, prophesy, son of man, and say to the wind, Thus saith the Lord God; Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain that they may live.
So I prophesied as He commanded me, and the breath came into them and they lived and stood upon their feet, an exceeding great army. Then He said unto me, Son of man these bones are the whole house of Israel: behold, they say; Our bones are dried and our hope is lost: we are cut off for our parts.
Therefore prophesy and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God; Behold, O my people, I will open your graves and cause you to come up out of your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel. And ye shall know that I am the Lord when I have opened your graves, O my people, and brought you up out of your graves
And shall put My Spirit in you and ye shall live and I shall place you in your own land: then ye shall know that I the Lord have spoken it, and performed it, saith the Lord.
Such a hope of resurrection for the entire favoured nation is also confirmed by Isa. 26: 19:
Thy dead men shall live, together with my dead body shall they arise. Awake and sing ye that dwell in dust; for thy dew is as the dew of herbs and the earth shall cast out the dead.
Isaiah knew for sure he and Israel would be resurrected, but he also knew that, special exceptions apart, Gentiles would not. Thus in Isa. 26: 13-14 he is inspired to write:
O Lord our God, other lords beside Thee have had dominion over us: but by Thee only will we make mention of Thy name. They are dead, they shall not live; they are deceased, they shall not rise: therefore Thou hast visited and destroyed them, and made all their memory to perish.
Jesus referred to these Gentile rulers in Mat. 20:25. He told his disciples:
Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them and they that are great exercise authority upon them.
His statement certainly identifies the "other lords" as Gentiles, just as Isa. 26:14 undeniably states that they “shall not rise”. Importantly, the same word “dead” is used to describe both deceased Gentiles in verse 14 and Israelites in the grave in verse 19. In verse 14 we are told “they shall not rise”; in verse 19, however, “Thy dead men shall live”.
It thus clear that only to Israel did God promise a general resurrection of the dead (Ezek. 37:9-14). There is no scripture I know of to support the commonly held idea that there will be a “general resurrection of all the unsaved dead”, meaning primarily that of Gentiles.
It should be noted that the Lord’s promise in John 5:25-29 that “all that are in the graves shall hear His voice” was said to Jews, and to Jews only (see verses 17 and 19).
In any case, at the setting aside of Israel in Acts 28:27-28, the favoured nation’s promise of a national end time resurrection was withdrawn for succeeding generations of Jews. So today the unsaved, whether Jew or Gentile, do not qualify for an end time resurrection and judgement. Now only the saved are raised up. The unsaved simply die and that’s an end of them. They are “lost” or “perish” as Paul’s writings teach several times over (e.g. 2 Cor. 4:3, 1 Cor. 1:18, 2 Cor. 2:15, 2 Thess. 2:10).
Meantime we should realise that the Bible teaches that there are several resurrections and that these occur in a divinely appointed order. The first is the change or resurrection grace age saints who are members of the “high calling” (Phil. 3:14) will undergo as they rise to rule and reign with Christ in heaven.
Their being raised in glory as the “body of Christ, the fullness of Him that filleth all in all” (Eph. 1:22-23), is described as the resurrection of “Christ” in the order of resurrections set out in 1 Cor. 15: 23:
But every man in his own order: Christ the first fruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at His coming. The cometh the end….”
Scripture is short on detail here. Resurrection of the Body of Christ is still masked in mystery. This is because at the time of writing Paul had yet to be given the go-ahead to reveal to Gentiles the “dispensation of the grace of God”. Only in Eph. 3:2 can he finally say that this dispensation is “given me to you-ward”.
If we study the words of 1 Cor. 15:23 carefully it is clear that “Christ the firstfruits” means something more than Jesus’s own rising from the dead, since that has already been described in verse 20, which states:
But now is Christ risen from the dead and become the firstfruits of them that slept.
Consequently, when verse 23 describes the order of resurrections for “every man” and cites “Christ the firstfruits” as the first in line to be raised there are grounds for believing it refers to the “Body of Christ”. It would thus teach that believers saved by grace through faith and pressing heavenward in the “high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:14) will be the first to rise from the dead.
These are Gentile believers and some Jews who “see the fellowship of the Mystery” (Col. 1:27). They are ones who know experientially that they have been “delivered from the power of darkness and translated into the kingdom of His dear Son” (Col. 1:13). They are saints who have learned the purpose of the grace that has saved them (2 Tim. 1:9) and consequently are now seeking to:
“Live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world, looking for that blessed hope (i.e. their resurrection or change to join the Lord in heaven) and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13).
This company comprises those “chosen in Christ before the world began” and who are already spiritually “seated in heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:6). They are ones who suffer with Christ and have been made conformable to His death in order that they might reign with Him.
Most importantly they are “members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones” (Eph. 5:30) and you can’t get closer to being in Christ than that. So when it comes to rightly dividing and correctly understanding 1 Cor. 15:23, what right does anybody have to separate Christ from His own body? The scripture “what God hath joined together, let not man put asunder” comes to mind to rebuke such a faithless thought.
Sadly most of Christendom fails to see this especial raising to glory of those Gentile believers quickened by God to the Mystery calling of the prison epistles. It is an especial and first resurrection, written of here in 1 Cor. 15:23 and mentioned also in Col. 3:3-4. It is also the “mark for the prize of the high calling in Christ Jesus” that the Apostle Paul wrote of in Phil. 3:11:
If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead.
The Greek words translated above have an especial meaning. They refer not to a general resurrection experienced by others but to those who will be the first to be resurrected out “from among dead bodies”. In fact it means that members of the Body of Christ will be the first men and women raised to live for ever in heaven with the Lord.
Serious Bible students know that Christ’s appearing (2 Tim. 4:8) marks the start of the Day of Christ and the beginning of His kingdom in which “He will judge the quick and the dead” (2 Tim. 4:1) as He rules from heaven.
Under His judgement a series of resurrections will occur over the several hundred years of this “day” in which Gentiles are blessed, the earth is restored and nation Israel is resurrected and re-gathered into their land, as prophesied in Isa. 26:19 and Ezekiel chapter 37. Sadly it ends in rebellion which results in the great tribulation.
Back in 1 Cor. 15:23 we learn that “afterward” there will be resurrection of “those that are Christ’s at his coming”. This company will include the Thessalonians who were assured they would rise to “meet the Lord in the air” (1 Thess. 4:17) and doubtless many others of the Pentecostal Church of God calling in the Acts period will be raised at this time. Note that the main teaching in both Thessalonian epistles is about the Day of the Lord and of believers being resurrected to live with Christ during it.
Continuing the explanation of the order of resurrections, 1 Cor. 15:24 states:
Then cometh the end when He shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father, when He shall have put down all rule and authority.”
The “end” here clearly signifies a further resurrection. It is the raising up of “the rest of the dead” (Rev. 20:5), i.e. those Israelites not raised in the earlier resurrections described in 1 Cor. 15:23.
As to the process of putting down all other authority referred to in 1 Cor. 15: 24, please note that this is described at length in the last chapters of the Book of Revelation. We read that Babylon is cast down, earthly kingdoms are torn down and rebellious men suffer ongoing judgements. The heathen are then gathered together unto a last battle against Christ at Armageddon. They lose and are destroyed. The devil and his human henchmen are thrown into the lake of fire.
At the end of it all only two categories of people remain upon the earth, firstly the believing saints who have received everlasting life, and secondly those “dead” which rise at the second resurrection to stand before “the great white throne” (Rev. 20:11).
The latter category are a mixed multitude. Some have believed God, some have not. Some have done works meet for repentance, others have not. Some have done wicked deeds and not repented of them. Because they are Israelites God is promise-bound to resurrect them and to make Himself known to them, and He does so. But now at the great white throne judgement it is their conduct that determines their ultimate destiny.
The books were opened … and the dead were judged out of those things written in the books. They were judged every man according to their works” (Rev. 12-13).
The works in question are those that should have been done in their first life time. For some they may well include “”seeing” and believing in Jesus the Messiah. This why the Lord said in Jn. 8:24 “…if ye believe not I am He, ye shall die in your sins”. In any case scripture is clear that the Lord demands completed works of righteousness in the Day of the Lord. His requirements are set out in Revelation chapters 2 and 3:
In vs 5: Repent and do the first works.
In vs. 23: I will give unto every one of you according to your works.
In 3:2: I have not found thy works perfect before God.
In 3:5: He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment and I will not blot his name out of the book of life.
In 3:15: I know thy works, that thou art neither cold not hot… I will spue thee out of My mouth.
So at the great white throne judgment the resurrected of Israel stand trial as to whether they have obeyed their Lord’s commands:
And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire … This is the second death.
If this seems a harsh judgement then remember that these resurrected ones who failed to either do the required works or to believe in Messiah the King were warned long ago what the consequences would be.
Dan. 12:2: And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life and some to shame and everlasting contempt.
Acts 24:15 (Paul speaking of his belief as a Jew before Governor Felix): And have hope toward God, which they themselves (i.e. his Jewish accusers) also allow, that there shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust.
John 5:28-29: (Jesus to the Jews): Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming in the which all that are in the graves shall hear His voice. And shall come forth; they that have done good unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil unto the resurrection of damnation.
John 12:48 (Jesus): He that rejecteth Me and receiveth not My word, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day.
As stated at the start of this study how thankful we should be that we live and have been saved in the present Age of Grace and thus will be spared this terrible judgement to come.
By John Aldworth
There is a “last day”. Jesus said so. He also promised those Jews who believed in Him that it would be in this “last day” that He would raise them up. In fact He said so several times over. See Jn. 6:39, 40, 44, 54, for example.
Now clearly the time span described in the Book of Revelation must include the “last day” and it is this writer’s belief that this day includes both the Day of Christ and the 1000-year Day of the Lord, otherwise called the millennial reign. 2 Tim. 4:1 clearly states that when He appears in glory the Lord Jesus Christ will “...judge the quick and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom”. Furthermore the Day of the Lord, is detailed in the Book of Revelation as including His 1000-year reign in personal presence on the, earth which begins with a resurrection of martyrs and ends with a further resurrection of quite different people.
This is the second paper in a study aimed at removing confusion about two important features found in the Book of Revelation. Both the “second death” and what is commonly known as “the great white throne” judgement are widely misunderstood, causing false teachings to flourish.
It is vital to realise that the great white throne judgement is indeed the “second resurrection” alluded to in Rev. 20: 5 and then further described in verse 12. In this regard Rev. 20:6 states that:
Blessed and holy is he that hath 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.
This makes clear that the second death will have power on some of those raised in the second resurrection after the thousand years expire. It also makes clear that the second death refers to persons who are resurrected, not to the casting of death (Gk. thanatos) and hell (Gk. Hades) into the lake of fire.
The latter event actually marks the attainment of everlasting life and thus the end of dying for the righteous remnant that outlive Armageddon and the holocausts that have destroyed the rest of mankind (Rev. 14:18-20, 19:21 and 20:9).
In turn this means that the dead that appear at the great white throne judgement are “the rest of the dead (that) lived not again until the thousand years were finished (Rev. 20:5). This company would include those of the Old Testament period who qualify for resurrection “at the last day”.
As stated, not all who are raised will be judged worthy of everlasting life. It would seem that while resurrection was a hope extended to many in Israel, some will rise only to be condemned. This is set out in the following scriptures:
Daniel 12:2: “And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life and some to shame and everlasting contempt.”
Jn. 12:48: “He that rejecteth Me and receiveth not my words hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him at the last day”.
Acts 24:15: And have hope toward God which they themselves also allow there should be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust.
Resurrection then, was a promise to national Israel. All would rise but not all would believe in Messiah. Not all would continue to live for ever, i.e. have “everlasting life”. Jesus put it this way in Jn 11:26:
“And whosoever liveth (i.e. is resurrected) and believeth on Me shall never die”.
According to Jn 5:25, 28, all the dead of Israel will hear His voice calling them in resurrection:
The hour is coming and now is when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live. Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice.
But note the Lord’s warning in Jn. 5:29:
And shall come forth; they that have done good unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil unto the resurrection of damnation.
It is on the two scriptures above that the doctrine of a general resurrection of the dead is built. But it should be noted that in neither of them is the resurrection promise specifically extended to Gentiles. Jesus Himself said clearly “I am not sent but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
In Isa 26: 13 and 14 we learn that the Gentile “lords” that at times had dominion over Israel are dead. The verse continues:
They shall not live, they are deceased. They shall not rise. Therefore Thou hast visited them (i.e. judged them) and destroyed them, and made all their memory to perish.
Clearly these Gentile “lords” are dead and will stay dead. They “shall not rise”. Therefore on these words alone there cannot be a general resurrection of the dead. But there’s further proof.
In “times past” (Eph. 2:11-12) Gentiles had to be baptised “for the dead” and become Jews in order to be saved. Only then could they partake of the promises of God, particularly that of resurrection. Such Gentiles were added to the Church of God, which comprised the called Israel in the Acts period.
It is in his great “resurrection” chapter, 1 Cor. 15 and in verse 29, right after listing the order of resurrections and outlining the putting down of all authority, that the Apostle Paul writes:
Else what shall they do which are baptised for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? Why are they then baptised for the dead?
For many years this writer was baffled by this verse as many still are today. Then for a time he thought it referred to being baptised into the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. But that is incorrect. The baptism of Rom. 6:3-6 and Col. 2:12 is a purely spiritual baptism while the baptism described here in 1 Cor. 15:29 in the light of Paul’s general word usage is water baptism.
The context for the verse is clearly resurrection, since that is the subject of the whole chapter. The teaching is that some believers in the Pentecostal dispensation of the Book of Acts need to be and have been “baptised for the dead”. Paul says this would be pointless “if the dead rise not at all”. The clear inference of this remark is that indeed only some of the dead are raised up and that to in order to be among them some believers have been “baptised for the dead”.
His meaning, I believe, would be perfectly clear if our minds were not befogged by wrongly thinking that God will raise up all of mankind’s dead at the last day judgement.
Paul is saying that there is a resurrection of the dead (vss. 12-20) and that some have been baptised in order to receive it (vs. 29). Clearly these people cannot be Jews since Israel, as we have shown, was promised a general resurrection. Therefore they must be Gentiles who needs must be water baptised “for the dead”.
Such water baptism was the necessary entry ticket into the Acts period Church of God which comprised the saved of Israel at that time. In other words in the Pentecostal dispensation of the Acts period only by being thus water baptised into Israel could Gentiles be saved and assured of resurrection. Paul puts it this way in Rom. 11:24:
…thou wert cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and wert graffed contrary to nature into a good olive tree
Water baptism for the dead was necessary then but it is not necessary now. In Acts 28:28 salvation was sent to the Gentiles as a whole, while Israel, along with the Pentecostal programme of water baptism and signs and wonders, was set aside.
Consequently today in the dispensation of the grace of God and the Mystery (Eph. 3:1-4) believers are saved by God quickening them (Eph. 2:1) without the need to be water baptised into Israel’s hope, which was her national resurrection.
Remember that Paul said it was “for the hope of Israel I am bound with this chain” (Acts 28:20). That means exactly what it says. Paul was a prisoner for the hope of Israel’s resurrection from the time of his arrest in Acts 21:33 right through to Acts 28:31. This is confirmed in Acts 26:6-8 where Paul on trial before Agrippa says:
And now I stand and am judged for the hope of the promise made of God unto our fathers. Unto which promise our twelve tribes, instantly serving God day and night hope to come. For which hope’s sake King Agrippa I am accused of the Jews. Why should it be thought a thing incredible with you that God should raise the dead?
So it was not just a “get out of jail free” card that Paul was playing in Acts 23:6 when he …
…cried out in the council, Men and brethren I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee: of the hope and resurrection of the dead I am called in question.
Paul really was a chained prisoner for several years, imprisoned for the hope of Israel’s national resurrection. Notice that nowhere in the two scriptures cited above does Paul state this resurrection is conditional upon belief in Messiah Jesus, obtaining forgiveness of sin or being baptised. Every Israelite was promised resurrection absolutely and unconditionally.
But it is a very different chain we find Paul bound with when we enter the prison epistles, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, etc. Here Paul is the “prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles”, not for Jews, nor for Israel. And the purpose for his imprisonment is to make known to believers the dispensation of the grace of God and the Mystery, not Israel’s resurrection. The contrast could not be sharper. In fact a simple chart summarising the great change in dispensation at Acts 28:28 notes that in the Acts period the Jew was prominent, then at Acts 28 the Jew is dismissed and is absent in God’s stated purposes of the Mystery and the dispensation of the grace of God for Paul’s imprisonment in the post Acts 28 period.
Thus in the new Mystery dispensation Paul is “the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles” (Eph. 3:1) and it is notable that it is the Gentile Onesiphorus who was “not ashamed of my (new) chain” (2 Tim. 1:16). Timothy also, the son of a Gentile father and Jewish mother, is urged to “be not thou therefore ashamed of me, His (that is the Lord’s) prisoner” (2 Tim. 1:8).
Why? Because Paul’s chain means this: that in the revelation of the Mystery Gentiles are assured of salvation and eventual resurrection in their own right and no longer as those baptised into Israel. Their resurrection is assured in the “high calling” of Phil. 3:14 and the promise of appearing with Christ in glory of Col. 3:3-4.
Perhaps a last point needs to be cleared up. Many base their doctrine of a general resurrection of all the dead on 1 Cor. 15:22:
For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.
But to quote this verse out of its context makes it a pretext. The context is verse 23 and following which sets out of the order of resurrections. What’s more in verse 22 the “all” that shall be made alive clearly applies only to those who are “in Christ”. Are all men in Christ? Obviously not. Come to that are all so-called Christians in Christ? If they are not “in Christ” then clearly according to the verse cited above they will not be made alive.