The second strong assurance given by Jesus Christ in his letters to the seven churches is found in Revelation 2:11:

‘He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death.’

Like the first strong assurance of the right of access to the tree of life, this second strong assurance is a promise that expresses a truth about the salvation granted to all who believe in Jesus Christ.

The first death is our physical death. That impacts us all, except those believers who are still living when Jesus Christ returns. The ‘second death’ is the permanent result of the final judgment for all who do not believe in Christ. It is the permanent state of the unredeemed beyond the judgment. This is clear in Revelation 20:6,14 and 21:8.

It was to rescue us from this final and permanent judgment, this ‘second death’, that Jesus Christ came and died. The Scripture uses a range of terms to refer to it:

In John 3:16 and 10:28 the word ‘perish’ is used.
In John 5:24 and 29, and Romans 5:16, 18 and 8:1 the concept of ‘condemnation’ is used.
In John 8:51 and 11:25,26 and Romans 6:23 Jesus and Paul refer simply to death and dying.

Those who believe in Jesus Christ never perish. Those who believe in him will never be condemned. Those who believe in him will never die, even though they die physically. Put in a positive statement, those who believe in him have eternal life.

But how can Jesus so confidently promise anyone that they will not be hurt at all by the second death? How can the guilty possibly escape from this just outcome? How can the sinner so surely avoid this ‘second death’ that is the final and permanent result of sin and guilt?

Paul teaches in Romans 6:8-11 that the person who believes in Jesus Christ has been united with Christ’s death. In his death Jesus Christ bore the full legal penalty for our sin. Having dealt with sin by bearing its judgment, ‘he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him’ [verse 9]. In the same way death [the penalty/judgment on sin] has no mastery over those who by faith are united with him in his death. They ‘will not be hurt at all by the second death’. They are already beyond judgment. They are already beyond the second death. As Jesus said in John 5:24 they ‘have crossed over from death to life’. As Paul says in Romans 5:17 they ‘reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.’

Physical death was threatening the church in Smyrna [2:10]. Just as Jesus introduces himself as the one ‘who died and came to life again’ [2:8], so he also closes off this letter with this grand assurance that the ‘second death’ cannot touch those who ‘overcome’. He has already encouraged them by promising ‘the crown of life’ to those who are ‘faithful to the point of death’. Now he assures the overcomers, the true believers, that the second death – that eternal, permanent separation from God that is a thing most to be feared – cannot hurt them. Because he lives, they will live also [John 14:19; Romans 6:8]. Such is Christ’s promise to all who believe in him.

And here is the challenge to all who believe in Jesus Christ: Are you living with this grand assurance? When you think about your personal physical death, when you think about the return of Jesus Christ and the final judgment … how do you feel? What are your thoughts? Do you see your own imperfections, weaknesses and sins and feel afraid? Or do you see yourself where God sees you – hidden in Christ, washed by his blood, clothed in his righteousness – forever beyond the reach of the ‘second death’.

© Rosemary Bardsley 2015