Adventist Media Response and Conversation

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Did Jesus Die the "Second Death"

Recently several Adventist discussion forums have started threads asking the question "Did Jesus die the second death". They were all started by the same individual and it is somewhat interesting to see how the people on the different forums answered the question. What is also interesting is the total lack of Biblical material to make the assertion that Jesus died the second death. The following is taken from my article What is wrong with the Substitutionary Theory of the Atonement.

Did Jesus Die The Second Death

While it is a common concept in the substitutional theory of the atonement that Christ paid our debt or our penalty for sin, the Seventh-day Adventist (SDA) church has carried the idea even farther. As one of the SDA quarterlies recently said: "At the cross, Jesus died the "second death" (Rev. 20:14; 21:8)..." (Nov 26 2001 Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide).

Prominent in the SDA church is the concept that Christ died the second death, and God poured out His wrath on Christ on the cross. The book Seventh-day Adventists Believe..A Biblical Exposition of 27 Fundamental Doctrines (The Ministerial Association Review and Herald Pub. Ass. 1988) writes as follows on page 111:

"Christ's self-sacrificing is pleasing to God because this sacrificial offering took away the barrier between God and sinful man in that Christ fully bore God's wrath on man's sin. Through Christ, God's wrath is not turned into love but is turned away from man and borne by Himself." (the book is quoting from Hans K. LaRondell, Christ Our Salvation p. 26,27)

However there is little Biblical basis for such a statement. Certainly, the Bible does not ever speak of God's wrath on Christ. It is most often used of those who reject God, such as:

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, (Rom 1:18)

Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him." (John 3:36)

LaRondell's conclusions seem to be based on Romans 3:25 and Ephesians 5:2

God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished-- (Romans 3:25)

Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (Ephesians 5:2)

None of which warrant such a conclusion as Christ bore God's wrath. The life, death, and resurrection is the "blood" which reaches to us, to offer us the gift of forgiveness and life. Blood in both the Old Testament and in all the other ancient religions was a symbol of life. It is the life which Christ proved was in Him that proved death had no hold on Him and therefore us, if we accept the gift of life He offers. Christ always lives and always will (John 1:1) He is the Way, Truth and the Life, it is not His death that saves us it is His life and power over all things that save us.

There is another method often used in the SDA church to assert that Christ suffered under the wrath of God. It is developed something like this:

God is revealing His wrath upon the wicked; He gives them over to their sinful desires. Likewise on the cross Christ was delivered over for our sins. Thus God separated Himself from Christ on the cross and Christ died the "second death".

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, (Rom 1:18)

Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. (Rom 1:24)

He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification. (Rom 4:25)

Who was delivered for our offenses, and was raised again for our justification. (KJV)

Amazingly enough the point of tying wrath and Christ is developed from a frequently used New Testament word variously translated as; "betray, bring forth, cast, commit, deliver (up), give (over, up), hazard, put in prison, recommend. (3860 paradidomi (par-ad-id'-o-mee)". When a word is used 130 times in the New Testament it becomes clear that someone is playing fast and loose with the principles of Biblical interpretation. How was Jesus given up is a legitimate question, and it should well be considered:

He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all-- how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? (Rom 8:32)

Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence. (John 18:36 KJV)

Paul in Romans uses the idea of Christ given up or delivered in much the same way as it is used in Acts. In Acts as well as the text above in John, it is the idea that God allowed sinful men to lay hands on Christ and do what sin does, kill. In fact the ultimate act of sin, is the rebellion against God to the point where man kills his own creator. In the Book of Acts we are told who killed Christ, and never once is it said that He died by God. Men, human beings were the cause of the death of Christ. It is clear that God knew it would happen and God intended to use mans evil for God's ultimate purpose.

This man was handed over to you by God's set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. (Acts 2:23)

The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go.(Acts 3:13)

The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead-- whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree.(Acts 5:30)

Was there ever a prophet your fathers did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him-- (Acts 7:52)

"We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a tree, (Acts10:39)

It is not only in Acts that it is plain as to who killed Christ, Paul and the Gospel writers wrote:

For you, brothers, became imitators of God's churches in Judea, which are in Christ Jesus: You suffered from your own countrymen the same things those churches suffered from the Jews, who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and also drove us out. They displease God and are hostile to all men (1 Thes 2:14-15)

From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. (Matt 16:21)

The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him;(Luke 24:20)

There is indeed no shortage of evidence as to who and how Christ was killed. With such strong evidence as that given above it is peculiar that people continue to make such comments as "Christ died of a broken heart" presuming that it was from the separation of His Father that Christ died. Ignoring the plain facts that Christ had been beaten, and nailed to a cross to die. As if the Roman method of execution was not efficient at killing. (Matt 27:26 The NIV Study Bible notes "Roman floggings were so brutal that sometimes the victim died before crucifixion." See What is wrong with the Substitutionary Theory Appendix 5)

How is it that contrary to the witnesses of the Crucifixion that people assert that, "At the cross, Jesus died the "second death". Unless one has a preconceived concept about Christ death it is fairly obvious that He did not suffer the second death. The verses which mention the second death involves complete destruction from which there is no return. To assert such an idea is to ignore the many Biblical texts which set forth fire as the ultimate destroyer. A concept still easily seen today, few methods of destruction leave so little behind as fire. In most cases fire leaves nothing but ashes, often nothing is left to even indicate what was destroyed.

Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death.(Rev 20:14)

But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars-- their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death." (Rev 21:8)

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death. (Rev 2:11)

Blessed and holy are those who have part in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years. (Rev 20:6)

No place in the Bible does it tell us that Christ suffered the second death, however Jesus certainly mentions what will be latter known as the second death when He says:

Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. (Matt 10:28)

Those who hold to the idea that Christ died the second death usually fall back upon a single incident in scripture to indicate that Christ was separated from the Father causing Christ's death.

And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?"-- which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Mark 15:34)

They usually ignore that Jesus is quoting the first words of the Psalmist messianic prophecy about how the messiah would be rejected and abused by evil men.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning? (Psalm 22:1)

"My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?", does not necessarily indicate the separation of divinity from divinity, the human suffering which Jesus went through is certainly adequate to explain the feeling of being forsaken. To be at the mercy of sinful man is often a crisis. The Psalmist complains of such feeling several times. Christ, quoting the first words of Psalm 22 give important relevance to Christ's position as the one who suffers at the hands of evil men, yet who will ultimately triumph. (See Appendix 4) The more prevalent Christian idea that there was a short, momentary separation is certainly less objectionable than a second death concept.

On the cross Jesus Christ revealed the true nature of God. Divinity did not leave Christ on the cross, God's love was revealed to mankind. Even while being tormented by evil men, Christ forgave them, showing as He had earlier that He was God Himself by His ability to forgive sin (Luke 23:34). Ultimately it was to God that Christ commits His spirit, which is hardly the act of someone suffering under the "second death", or someone suffering the wrath of God.

Jesus called out with a loud voice, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit." When he had said this, he breathed his last. (Luke 23:46)

God has through the life death and resurrection of Christ ransomed us from our own headlong rush toward death. Not with the blood of sheep and calves, but with the life which is in God. A life laid down by Christ voluntarily subjected to the torture and murder by people in rebellion against God. To show us the love of God, the depths that He would go to show us His love. To reveal the true nature of evil which hurts and kills, so much so that men would kill their own creator. Finally to show us that God is willing and able to forgive us our sins and raise us up to life immortal. Christ who willingly laid down His life also took it back up again (John 10:17-18). That is the reconciliation of God, the lengths to call people back to trust in God. The mercy of love which is freely forgives, the justice which is the return to harmony with our Creator.


Al said...

Most of us find it natural to echo, mindlessly, what we have be taught. In the case of the second death, Jesus body died but being God His Spirit cannot die for He is the Author of life. A body separated from a spirit is dead. God is Spirit. Separated from a body that He put on temporarily does not end His existence.
Sitting quietly behind the heresy of Jesus dying the second death is the modern version of the Trinity, three Gods independent of each other. If we would just accept God as He presents Himself to us – a singularity, we would not be able to dream up such fanciful ideas as God dying the second death.
Father = Head of the household, Authority, Life Giver
Son = When God came to be with us and be a living demonstration of what God is like in contrast to who Satan is.
Holy Spirit = God who dwells with us on a one to one basis
Not three but One, different roles same Devine Being.

Hack said...

Back in the early 1980s, around the time of Geoffrey Paxton's North American Adventism promotional tour for his book, The Shaking of Adventistm, Robert Brinsmead, a friend of Paxton's was a strong advocate for a substitutionary atonement and forensic justification. In fact at one of Brinsmead's meetings in Southern California, we had a strong exchange on the point when I asked him from the back of the auditorium whether he saw forensic justification in the Prodigal Son story.

Subsequent to that exchange, I mailed Brinsmead a copy of my thought paper comparing the views of the cross advocated by Graham Maxwell and Jack Provonsha with traditional, forensic, substitutionary approaches entitled, "Worlds Apart."

Within a few weeks, one of Brinsmead's friends and supporters in the United States called me to say that Bob wanted me to know that he no longer believed Paul to be a Lutheran.

Curiosity seekers can read "Worlds Apart" at
Just use your mouse on the "Articles" button.