Judgment Seat of Christ
Arlen L. Chitwood
The Second Death
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death. (Revelation 2:11)
The words of the Spirit of God to the church in Smyrna carry a special message to Christians who pass through times of various trials and testing during their pilgrim walk. The Christians in Smyrna had been called upon to suffer, but not without cause or recompense. “Suffering” is God’s refining fire, and those passing through the fire in Smyrna were extended a promise: “Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.” The overcomers’ promise then comes into view, stating simply and explicitly that such individuals would “not be hurt by the second death” (vv. 9, 11).
The sufferings which Christians in Smyrna were called upon to endure are summed up in the words, “. . . the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days” (v. 10).
Over the years there have been numerous interpretations concerning the ten days of suffering in Revelation 2:10. Some expositors have called attention to ten periods of Roman persecution during the first three centuries of the Church’s existence and have sought to establish a correlation between the ten days in this verse and these ten periods in Church history, making each day represent a period of time.
Other expositors have sought to apply the ten days to a ten-year persecution during one of these periods, making each day represent one year. Still other expositors have taken the number “ten” as symbolic, representing a limited but undefined period, usually within the larger period covered by the ten persecutions.
Regardless of how one looks upon the ten days of tribulation within a possible historical framework, the significance of the number “ten” must be taken into account. “Ten” is the number of ordinal completion, pointing to all the days of tribulation. And if these ten days are to be thought of in connection with the ten periods of Roman persecution, they would have to be thought of as showing completion in relation to persecution by the Roman Empire (with the church in Smyrna covering that particular time in Church history).
But, regardless of how one views the matter relative to persecution by the Roman Empire, the thought encompassed in the number “ten” must, of necessity, go beyond these persecutions. The seven Churches of Revelation chapters two and three are indivisibly related, revealing messages and promises to Christians throughout the dispensation; and the “ten days,” in their numerical sense, must cover the complete period — the entire dispensation. These days must applicably refer to all trials and testing coming upon all Christians throughout the dispensation.
Trials and testing are the norm for the Christian life, not the exception. The epistles of James and 1 Peter have been written to encourage Christians passing through times of trials and testing by holding out before them prizes, rewards, compensations, which are intimately associated with the salvation to be revealed — the salvation of the soul (James 1:21; 1 Peter 1:9).
This is the identical thought expressed in the overcomer’s promise to the church in Smyrna. A “crown of life” is in view, and the recipient of this crown is given the assurance that he will “not be hurt of the second death.”
The epistle of James begins its message with the statement, “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials.” Why? Trials and testing of this nature “produces patience [‘patient endurance’].” And allowing this patient endurance to have “its perfect work [end-time work],” Christians will become “perfect [mature] and complete, lacking nothing” (James 1:2-4).
Christians are to look upon such trials in the same manner as the apostles looked upon trials that confronted them. The apostles, in circumstances of this or a similar nature, rejoiced that “they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His [Christ’s] name” (Acts 5:41).
The Christian patiently enduring temptations after the fashion seen in James 1:2-4 is promised in verse twelve that “when he has been approved [at the judgment seat], he shall receive the crown of life,” a parallel statement to Revelation 2:10. In both instances it is patiently enduring temptations, trials, and testing during the present time, with a crown of life in view; and this crown of life will be awarded following one’s approval at the judgment seat.
Crowns must be won through patiently enduring temptations, trials, and testing during the present “race of the faith” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27; 1 Timothy 6:11, 12; 2 Timothy 4:7, 8). And forfeiture of the proffered crown — resulting in non-approval at the judgment seat — is a very real possibility. Note the warning in this respect:
Behold, I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown. (Revelation 3:11)
Apart from the thought that a Christian can forfeit his crown, this verse would hold little meaning whatsoever. Christians, receiving or not receiving crowns, await decisions and determinations at the judgment seat. Overcoming Christians will wear the crowns that they have won in the present race of the faith while occupying positions of power and authority with Christ during the coming age; but for non-overcoming Christians, the matter will be entirely different. No uncrowned person will rule as co-heir with Christ in the kingdom.
Manner of Usage in Revelation
The expression, “the second death” is peculiar to the book of Revelation, and it appears four times in this book (2:11; 20:6, 14; 21:8). The expression is used twice in texts where the word “overcomes” is used (2:11; 21:7, 8), once in connection with those who are martyred during the Tribulation (“beheaded for their witness to Jesus, and for the Word of God . . . .” [20:4-6]), and once in connection with the unsaved dead from throughout Man’s Day (20:11-15). “The second death” is defined in Revelation 20:14; 21:8 as being “cast into the lake of fire” and as having a “part in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone.”
It is evident in Revelation 20:14 that “the second death” is used in association with the unsaved, and it is equally evident that this expression is used in the other three passages in the book of Revelation in association with at least a portion of the saved. This is alluded to in Revelation 2:11; 20:6 and is directly affirmed in Revelation 21:8.
1) Overcomers will not be hurt by . . . .
The “cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars” in Revelation 21:8 are usually looked upon by students of Scripture as a reference to unredeemed individuals, synonymous with the ones in Revelation 20:11-15. However, contextually, this cannot be the case at all. The subject in verse seven, leading into verse eight, is overcoming and realizing an inheritance as a son. Verse eight simply describes the “unbelieving [‘unfaithful’]” ones (cf. Luke 12:46) — the non-overcomers — and reveals that which will be their lot when they appear before the Lord in judgment.
A similar description of individuals to that of Revelation 21:8 appears in chapter six of 1 Corinthians, where an inheritance in the kingdom is also in view:
Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate [those caught up in the delights and pleasures of this present world (cf. 1 John 2:15-28)], nor abusers of themselves with mankind [homosexuals], nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, will inherit the kingdom of God. (1 Corinthians 6:9, 10 [KJV])
In this section of Scripture, the text and context both clearly reveal that Christians alone are in view. The subject matter reveals this in the text, and the identity of the ones being addressed reveals this in the context.
The words “you yourselves do wrong” in the immediately preceding verse (v. 8 [referring to the manner of living of the “brethren” in the Corinthian church]), leading into verses nine and ten, are a translation of the Greek verb adikeo. The noun form of this word (adikos) then appears in verse nine (translated “unrighteous”), establishing a connection with verse eight which provides the proper identification of the individuals Paul is addressing in verses nine and ten.
In verse eight, Paul calls attention to the fact that certain Christians in the Corinthian church were conducting their affairs in an unrighteous manner. Continuing this same line of thought in verse nine, Paul asks the question, “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?” The remainder of verse nine, along with verse ten, then lists a number of unrighteous acts in which it is possible for Christians to become involved, concluding with the statement in verse ten that those engaged in unrighteous living of this nature “will not inherit the kingdom of God.”
The subject at hand, inheritance in the kingdom, rather than eternal life, should be carefully noted. Only Christians are presently in line to either receive or be denied this inheritance: “If children, then heirs . . . .” (Romans 8:17). A person must be a child of God, born from above, before inheritance in the kingdom can even come into view.
These sections of Scripture in 1 Corinthians 6:8-10 and the book of Revelation 21:7, 8 are actually companion passages. In both passages, those being addressed (Christians) and the matter being discussed (inheriting or being disinherited, with the kingdom in view) are the same. There is no message to the unsaved in these verses, for the issues of eternal life or eternal damnation are not present; and this fact must be recognized, else teachings surrounding inheritance in the kingdom, conveyed by the passages, will be missed entirely.
Revelation 21:8 cannot be equated with Revelation 20:14, even though both verses refer to “the lake of fire” and “the second death.” These two verses are not dealing with the same thing, the same individuals, or even the same time period. Revelation 21:8 deals with the judgment of the saved preceding the millennium, with millennial verities in view; and Revelation 20:14 deals with the judgment of the unsaved following the millennium, with eternal verities in view. Nothing is the same in the two passages, save the existence of the same lake of fire, with an associated second death.
The seven overcomer’s promises in Revelation chapters two and three reveal different facets of that which God has promised to those who overcome the three great enemies confronting every Christian — the world, the flesh, and the devil (ref. chapter 4 of this book). The promise to the overcomer in the church in Smyrna that he would not be “hurt by the second death” is only one facet of the larger scope covered by all of the overcomer’s promises to the seven churches. The entirety of the matter appears to be summed up by the words, “inherit all things,” in Revelation 21:7. The overcomer will be a co-heir with Christ in the kingdom and realize all the promises to the overcomers in chapters two and three (cf. Hebrews 1:2).
2) To Have No Power over Martyrs
The martyrs of Revelation 20:4-6 are themselves revealed as overcomers. These are the individuals who will gain “the victory over the beast, and over his image, and over his mark, and over the number of his name” during the Tribulation (Revelation 15:2). A segment of this group was seen when the fifth seal was opened (6:9-11; cf. 13:7-15); and they were told at this time to “rest a little while longer, until both the number of their fellow servants and their brethren, who would be killed as they were, was completed.”
But when events depicted in Revelation 20:4-6 come to pass, the Tribulation will be over, the beast and false prophet will have been cast into the lake of fire, the armies of the earth will have been overthrown, Satan will have been bound in the abyss, and the martyred saints of the Tribulation will have been resurrected to be judged (19:11ff). These individuals, overcoming during the Tribulation, will, as Christians overcoming today, occupy positions with Christ in the kingdom.
The second death will have “no power” over the Tribulation martyrs (v. 6). They, as will have been the case with numerous Christians prior to this time, will be revealed as overcomers and will not “be hurt by the second death” (v. 4). As in Revelation 2:11; 21:7, 8, there is no allusion in this passage to the unsaved dead being cast into the lake of fire (as will be the case in Revelation 20:14). An inheritance in the kingdom is in view; and saved individuals, even though disinherited, will never be cast into the lake of fire to suffer the same consequences that the unsaved will one day suffer in this place.
3) Unsaved in the Lake of Fire
The lake of fire was “prepared for the devil and his angels”; and this will be their final abode following the millennial reign of Christ over the earth. Though prepared for the devil and his angels, the lake of fire will also be the final abode of the unsaved dead from the lineage of Adam. Unsaved man will appear in judgment after the millennial reign has been concluded and will then be cast “into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:11-15).
It would appear from Revelation 20:13 that more than just the unsaved from the lineage of Adam will be present at this judgment. The “sea” that “gave up the dead” cannot refer to the coming forth of those in the human realm, for their being brought forth is referred to immediately following by the words “death and hell [Hades] delivered up the dead who were in them.” The “sea” giving up the dead evidently refers to the inhabitants of a place that Scripture locates “under the waters” (Job 26:5).
This place can only be Tartarus, a prison where certain fallen angels and their progeny (the Nephilim and Rephaim [different names for the same individuals]) are confined (2 Peter 2:4 [the word “hell” should be translated Tartarus]). Referring to the inhabitants of this place, Job 26:5 should literally read, “Rephaim are put to pain [writhe like a woman in travail] deep under the waters, and their inhabitants.” The unsaved dead from the lineage of Adam, fallen angels, and the Nephilim and Rephaim will all appear in judgment at the great white throne and then be cast into the lake of fire, where they will spend the eternal ages following the millennium.
To Be Hurt By . . . .
Exactly what does it mean “to be hurt by” the second death in Revelation 2:11? In light of Revelation 20:4-6; 21:7, 8, which deals with overcoming and being overcome, this can mean only one thing: Non-overcoming Christians are going to “have their part in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone: which is the second death” (Revelation 21:8b).
“Fire” in Scripture is associated with the judgment of the saved as well as the judgment of the unsaved; and, following judgment, non-overcoming Christians will be “hurt by the second death,” which is associated with the lake of fire.
Thus, the time when this will occur is following events at the judgment seat. And though the Christians’ works will be tried in fire at the judgment seat, this is not synonymous with Christians having a part in “the lake that burns with fire and brimstones.”
Rather, at this judgment, Christians will be shown to have either overcome or to have been overcome, with the carrying out of decisions and determinations made at the judgment seat occurring at a time following these events.
(Note in the judgment of the unsaved in Revelation 20:11-15 that the lake of fire and the second death enter into the matter only following judgment. The lake of fire and the second death come into view only following decisions and determinations surrounding their judgment.
And it will be the same for the saved preceding this time. They will first be judged. Only then, only following the decisions and determinations surrounding their judgment, do the lake of fire and the second death come into view.)
The lake of fire is empty today, and it will be empty at the time Christians are judged. The first individuals to inhabit the lake of fire will be the beast and the false prophet, and their being cast therein follows the judgment of Christians.
Non-overcoming Christians themselves will not have their part in “the lake that burns with fire and brimstone” until the actual millennial reign of Christ, which follows the beast and the false prophet being cast therein. Overcoming Christians will be crowned at this time, and non-overcoming Christians will experience the second death at this time. For the latter, the entire scene, from the judgment seat on into the millennium, is apparently what is being referred to in Hebrews chapter ten — that which awaits the one guilty of the “willful sin” (v. 26), for which there is no sacrifice (ref. chapter 3 of this book):
but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries. (Hebrews 10:27)
It should not be thought strange that the same lake of fire appearing in connection with the outcome of the judgment of the unsaved first appears in connection with the outcome of the judgment of the saved. The very reason God brought “the lake burning with fire and brimstone” into existence was the entrance of sin into one province in His universe — a province where man, following his creation, found himself.
The lake of fire was prepared for the devil and his angels following their sin (which had to do with regality — Satan seeking to exalt his throne [Isaiah 14:13-15]), but it is also presently being reserved as the place where those rejecting the very reason for man’s creation (which had to do with regality as well [Genesis 1:26-28]) will ultimately find themselves — non-overcoming Christians first, and then the unsaved.
Thus, “the lake of fire” is connected with sin in relation to regality and this earth — whether angels or man (saved or unsaved). And though this lake of fire was prepared for “the devil and his angels” (the first to rebel in this respect), man, ignoring or rejecting the reason for his creation (whether saved man, or unsaved man), will have a part in the same lake of fire. For saved man, it will be millennial; and for unsaved man, it will be eternal.
Bear one thing in mind about judgment. No man (saved or unsaved) will ever appear in judgment to determine his eternal salvation or eternal damnation. The question surrounding eternal salvation is always taken care of before man enters into judgment, and this matter will not be an issue at any future judgment. Every man will be resurrected “in his own order [in his own company (whether a company of saved individuals, or a company of unsaved individuals)]” (1 Corinthians 15:23), and every man will be judged in the company in which he is resurrected.
The saved and the unsaved form entirely separate companies, in accord with their separate resurrections, and will be judged at different times. When the saved are judged, only the saved will appear; and when the unsaved are judged, only the unsaved will appear. In each case they will appear in a particular company with the issue pertaining to their salvation being a settled, closed matter at that time. There is simply no such thing in Scripture as companies of saved and unsaved individuals being judged together, at the same time.
All judgment, whether of the saved or of the unsaved, will be on the basis of works — the works of the ones being judged (cf. Matthew 16:27; 1 Corinthians 3:12-15; Revelation 20:11-15). And such works can have nothing whatsoever to do with issues pertaining to eternal salvation or eternal damnation. Redeemed man has been saved strictly on the basis of the work of Christ, and unredeemed man abides in his present state simply because he has not accepted the work of Christ. Resultantly, neither eternal salvation nor eternal damnation can be an issue when the works of man come under scrutiny, as will be the case in all future judgments.
No unsaved person will appear before the judgment seat of Christ, and no saved person will appear before the great white throne. In each case, the eternal destiny of all individuals involved will have been determined before judgment occurs. And the same principle must hold true for all other judgments (e.g. that of Israel [Ezekiel 20:33-38]; the Tribulation martyrs [Revelation 20:4-6]; or living Gentiles who survive the Great Tribulation [Matthew 25:31-46]).
All future judgments will be carried out in orderly fashions. As in resurrection, so in judgment, every man will appear in his own company; and within this company every man will answer for his own actions, performed either as a saved or as an unsaved individual.
The judgment of living Gentiles at the time of Christ’s return, as outlined in Matthew 25:31-46, is often looked upon by some as a general judgment of saved and unsaved individuals, with issues of this judgment pertaining to the eternal destiny of those being judged; but such is not the case at all. Note that the ones coming under judgment are separated into two categories — referred to as “sheep” on the one hand, and “goats” on the other — with there being one destiny for the sheep and another destiny for the goats.
The sheep will be allowed to “inherit the kingdom,” but not so with the goats. Rather, they will be told, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the everlasting [age-lasting] fire, prepared for the devil and his angels” (vv. 34, 41).
Sheep and goats are metaphors, used in an antithetical sense; and inheriting the kingdom or departing into everlasting (age-lasting) fire, in connection with the sheep and goats, present destinies for each, set forth in an antithetical manner. And neither the text nor the context has to do with eternal verities. Rather, both have to do with the 1,000-year reign of Christ, the coming kingdom of Christ. Accordingly, either realizing or not realizing an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ is in view throughout. Thus, the thought of “sheep,” “inherit the kingdom,” “goats,” and “everlasting [age-lasting] fire” must be understood with the kingdom in view, not with eternal verities in view.
(The word translated “everlasting” in Matthew 25:41 is from aionios in the Greek text. This is the adjective form of aion, from which we derive our English word, aeon. Neither the noun nor the adjective means “eternal.” Rather, the two words literally have to do with “a period of time,” usually thought of as “an age.”
There is no word for “eternal” in the Greek text of the New Testament [or in the Hebrew text of the Old Testament, for that matter]. The only way in which the Greek language can express “eternal,” apart possibly from contextual considerations [e.g., when aion or aionios is used relative to deity], is through a plural use of aion [e.g., Hebrews 13:8; “ages”] or through a double use of aion, in the plural and articular both times [e.g., Revelation 1:6; “the ages of the ages”].)
The saved alone are in a position to come under the type judgment seen in Matthew 25:31-46. And the events surrounding this judgment parallel those seen relative to the judgment of Christians. Individuals are seen judged on the basis of works; and the outcome of this judgment is two-fold: 1) realizing an inheritance in the kingdom on the one hand, and 2) having a part in the lake of fire on the other.
(Exactly the same thing is seen relative to judgment in the parable of the net in Matthew 13:47-50, along with a number of other parables and statements in Christ’s teachings [ref., the Appendix of this book and the author’s book, Mysteries of the Kingdom, chapter 12].)
Saving a Soul from Death
Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins. (James 5:19, 20)
According to 1 Corinthians 3:11-15, Christians whose works are burned at the judgment seat will “suffer loss.” This cannot refer to the loss of rewards, for rewards enter into this judgment only after a person is approved. The disapproved will have no rewards to lose. The only thing in their possession possible for them to lose will be their souls (lives). Matthew 16:25-27 refers to the saved coming under judgment and the possibility of a person losing his soul. The word “lose” in these verses and the word “loss” in 1 Corinthians 3:15 are translations of the same word in the Greek text. The loss experienced by the person in Matthew 16:25-27 is that of his soul; and it must be the same in 1 Corinthians 3:11-15, for the judgments referred to are the same.
The epistle of James, an epistle dealing more particularly with the salvation of the soul, concludes by referring to the possibility of a Christian experiencing “death” in relation to his soul (5:19, 20). This thought is set forth in an opposite sense to that of realizing the “salvation” of his soul (1:21). Failing in the present race of the faith (1 Corinthians 9:24-27; cf. 2 Timothy 4:7, 8), a Christian will be disapproved at the judgment seat. He will have failed to overcome, be victorious; and, failing in this manner, he will lose his soul.
Experiencing “death” in James 5:20 can, contextually, only be synonymous with the loss of the soul (life); that is to say, a person entering into this experience will be “hurt by the second death.” “Losing one’s soul [life]” and “being hurt by the second death” are two ways of saying the same thing.
In order for a “second death” to exist, there must previously have been a “first death.” Such a death, of course, is introduced in the fall of Adam:
Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned. (Romans 5:12)
Every man comes into this world via the birth from below and becomes a partaker of the first death through his association with Adam. And the second death will befall unredeemed man, with eternal verities in view, because of his continued association with Adam.
But for redeemed man, the second death is a different matter altogether. Through the birth from above, he is no longer associated with Adam and death in the same sense as unredeemed man; and the possibility of his being hurt of the second death concerns events that occur in an entirely different sphere of activity.
Adam fell from the position in which he had been created; and more is involved in Adam’s fall than eternal verities, affecting only the unredeemed. Adam had been called into existence to assume rulership over the earth; and the entrance of sin (along with bringing about eternal separation from God, apart from redemption) resulted in his disqualification to rule in Satan’s stead. Adam, through the fall, found himself disqualified to occupy the very position for which he had been created. Redemption itself did not place Adam back in this position (Genesis 3:21-24); nor does redemption today place man back in this position.
Redeemed man today, as Adam following his fall and redemption, remains barred from the tree of life, awaiting the salvation of his soul. Following the fall in Genesis chapter three, the tree of life does not enter the affairs of man again until the salvation of the soul is brought to pass; and this will occur only following the issues and determinations surrounding the judgment seat, following Man’s Day.
Man ultimately occupying the position that Adam was created to assume requires his identification with a new Federal Head — the last Adam. The last Adam appeared and met Satan in a face-to-face confrontation to show that He was fully qualified to redeem that which the first Adam forfeited in the fall. He then provided redemption for man through the sacrifice of Himself and presently awaits the day when He will take the kingdom.
Those “in Christ” have been redeemed, with a view to their being co-heirs with Christ after He wrests control of the kingdom from Satan and his angels. Those ruling with the last Adam will constitute His bride and reign as consort queen with Him, as Eve would have reigned as consort queen with the first Adam had both remained obedient and occupied the position for which man had been created.
The second death, as it will affect Christians, can be properly understood only in the light of a parallel between that which Adam failed to realize in the past and that which unfaithful Christians will fail to realize in the future — the very purpose for their existence. And as the first death entered into man’s former failure, the second death will enter into man’s latter failure — for the saved on the one hand, and for the unsaved on the other.
Experiencing “the second death” for the redeemed, through failure to realize one’s calling, can in no way pertain to eternal verities. Such cannot be in view at all. Christians are present possessors of an eternal salvation based entirely upon the finished work of Christ at Calvary; and there can be no such thing as “the second death” affecting any Christian on the basis of this salvation, else the finished work of Christ itself would be called into question and come into disrepute.
The Christian’s association with “the second death” can only pertain to millennial verities and the loss of one’s soul, the exact association provided by each reference in the book of Revelation. Unfaithful Christians will experience “the second death” during the millennial reign of Christ. That is to say, they will lose their souls (lives) and be denied positions with Christ in the kingdom. Again, “the second death” for them is millennial only, not eternal.
Non-overcoming Christians, through experiencing “the second death,” will be:
. . . punished with everlasting [Gk. aionios, age-lasting] destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of His power; when He comes in that Day to be glorified in His saints and to be admired among all those who believe . . . . (2 Thessalonians 1:9b, 10a).
For the unredeemed though, “the second death” can only pertain to eternal verities. As a result of Adam’s sin and their non-acceptance of Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary, the unredeemed reside in a condition described in Scripture as “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1; Colossians 2:13). They, in this condition, can have nothing to do with matters pertaining to rulership over the earth. Eternal verities alone are in view; and the second death, as it will affect the unredeemed, must be understood in this sense.
Unredeemed man will experience “the second death” following the millennium, with only the endless ages in view. The unredeemed will remain in their spiritually dead condition and, in the lake of fire, be eternally separated from God:
Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.
(Revelation 20:14, 15)