The Second Resurrection and the Second Death
The scriptures speak of “first resurrection” and “second death”, but not of “first death” and “second resurrection”. While the first death is most naturally understood to be the death in this world, yet they also speak of two resurrections that are separated by a thousand years. And what exactly are the second death and the second resurrection?
We will try to show that this question is far from ordinary and hope to provide more complex answers below. We will explain to the best of our ability the concepts of second resurrection and second death without making the pretensions to be exhaustive.
We find in the Apostolic Writings that the first resurrection from the dead was in fact the resurrection of Yeshua and of all who were raised with him to become the first fruits of YHVH (1Co 15:20). But in this study, we will use the terms the first and the second resurrection, as the scriptures have called them.
Resurrection is not about getting to heaven
There are serious misconceptions about resurrection. The resurrection is not all about going to heaven, as the religion teaches, but about a new life here on the earth. The intelligent reader knows that the Torah is not occupied with heaven but with giving direction as to how to conduct our lives on the earth.
But the Torah is not a religion; it is a way of life. Heaven is indeed a nice retirement place for the human souls until the resurrection of their bodies (See Ezekiel 37).
In fact, the only time the term “heaven” is mentioned in the Tanach is in Gen 1:1: “In the beginning Elohim filled the heavens and the earth”. And afterwards, from Genesis to the last prophet, it is all about life here on the earth.
Then, heaven comes back to prominence in the Apostolic Writings with its culmination in the last chapter of Revelation, wherein the concept of resurrection rises to its culmination.
But the religion has destroyed this message and replaced it with “getting to heaven”. While many religious people are overly preoccupied with how to quickly and easily go to heaven, the Creator has given us commands in His Torah (Hebrew for “Instruction”) and asked us at Sinai to be live by them—something the religion has turned a blind eye on. (See Pro 28:9).
One religion promises its male followers seventy-two rewards waiting in heaven, if the martyrs blow themselves in the midst of infidels but does not tell its female followers what seventy-two things they will gain if they do the same.
Other religion promises a quick and easy access to heaven, if its followers pay the ten-percent religion tax and attend the places of worship every first day of the week.
But while all religions promise what their followers want to hear, i.e., getting to a better place called “heaven”, if they buy a ticket to heaven, the Messiah himself tells us that heaven will come down onto the earth, so that the Creator will live together with us. (See Mat 6:10 and Rev 21:2). Thus, religion and heaven will pass each other at the dismay of the religious people. Who would want that? Thus far religion.
The world to come
The Sages are divided into two schools of thought on the matter of the [second] resurrection: the schools of the most revered rabbis on the subject—Maimonides and Nachmanides. While they both discuss the afterlife and agree that life after death is to be understood as the “End of Days”, they disagree on the nature of existence in the “End of Days” after the Messianic period.
Mosheh ben Nachman (Nachmanides) holds the view that as the Eternal is eminently just, there must be reward and punishment which must take place in another world. He teaches that the soul is a direct emanation from the Creator. Through man the soul enters this world, and at death it either returns to its original source in heaven or enters the body of another man (reincarnation): all depends on whether it has accomplished its mission. According to his belief, the resurrection of the dead at the coming of the Messiah, refers to the body, not to the soul which being a part of the Creator is eternal. The physical body of the resurrection may through the influence of the soul, transform itself into an eternal body.
There will be no more death after the resurrection, according to Isa 25:8, “He shall swallow up death forever”, and Babylonian Talmud: Sanhedrin 92a: “The righteous, whom the Holy One, blessed be He, will resurrect, will not revert to dust”. This refers to the interval between the Messianic era and the time of the World to Come; but their flesh will remain intact upon them until they live again in the future.
This school of thought teaches that though the righteous get some material reward in this world, they should receive in the next world material as well as spiritual rewards. According to them, this will come after the resurrection when the soul and the body reunite, but the resurrected will live without food and water in what they call “the World to Come”.
This makes it obvious that there will be bodies in the World to Come, but many bodily functions as we know them today will cease to operate, just as they ceased for Mosheh and Eliyahu, who were in the Presence of the Eternal without food or water. What all this means is simply that the soul will triumph over the body and its needs.
In other words, according to this concept, just as the disembodied soul can function in this terrestrial life, there is no reason to believe that the body cannot function in the celestial life.
Nachmanides also teaches that the human soul (neshamah) does not die when the body dies, since the soul is a part of the Eternal but that it goes in a stage of existence called Gan Eden (Paradise) until they rise in resurrection and obtain new life in the World to Come. According to Nachmanides, Gan Eden must be after this world and not life in the World to Come, which is the last stage.
Nachmanides also teaches that souls were created together with the primeval light on the first day of creation.
The foundation upon which the advocates of this opinion base their idea is that the World to Come is a degree of reward which a man cannot attain until after the resurrection. From this they inferred that the World to Come, which is the main reward, comes after the resurrection of the dead and only to those who deserve resurrection.
Therefore, this highest and last degree—life in the World to Come—no one can attain except the righteous only and after the resurrection. Thus far Nachmanides and this school of thought.
The second death after the first resurrection
Daniel alludes to a resurrection that will take place in the time of great distress: the tribulation. In that resurrection, those found written in a certain book will rise from the dead to be judged, as we read,
And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation, until that time. And at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone who is found written in the book, and many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth wake up, some to everlasting life, and some to reproaches, everlasting abhorrence. (Dan 12:1-2)
Daniel understood not. What he was given to him to see alludes to a resurrection in which all will rise from the dead to be judged in a single event either to everlasting life or everlasting abhorrence.
But Yochanan was given to see more. In the conclusion of his letter to the believers in Smyrna, Yeshua addressed the assembly thus,
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Ruach says to the assemblies. He who overcomes shall by no means be harmed by the second death. (Rev 2:11)
What is the second death?
And at the closing of the Book of Revelation Yochanan was further told that those who would see the first resurrection would live and reign with the Messiah a thousand years. Yochanan saw thrones in heaven and those who sat on them were the ones who gave their lives because they had not bowed to the beast, nor his image, and nor had they received his mark upon their foreheads or upon their hands but had borne the witness to Yeshua. Of them it is said,
And they lived and reigned with Mashiach for a thousand years. But the rest of the dead did not revive until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and set-apart is the one having part in the first resurrection. The second death possesses no power over these, but they shall be priests of Elohim and of Mashiach and shall reign with him a thousand years. (Rev 20:4-6)
The statement “this is the first resurrection” does not refer to “until the thousand years were ended” but to “they lived and reigned with Mashiach for a thousand years”, since one cannot reign unless he/she is revived first.
We thus understand that the first resurrection will take place at Mashiach’s return, namely, before the beginning of the thousand years and those who will be revived in it are the ones who will not be harmed by the second death, as the second death possesses no authority over them. With that said, the question is expanded to: When will the second death take place?
If there is a second death, there must be a second resurrection
Like Daniel, Revelation too alludes to another resurrection but this time we are given a little more to know. We read,
And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before the throne, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged from what was written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, and death and the unseen place* gave up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. And death and the unseen place were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And if anyone was not found written in the Book of Life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. (Rev 20:12-15) See also Rev 2:11.
Note: Greek renders it ᾅδης ades, “unseen place” or “unknown place”, which is the proper translation of the Hebrew word she’ol. Ades is universally translated in KJV as “hell” and only in 1Co 15:55 as “grave”, but she’ol is neither of them. For further knowledge on the matter, the reader will do well to read what we have written in our commentary in the article The Sign of Jonah the Prophet.
At the closing of the Book of Revelation, “the second death” explains “the second resurrection”. Most evidently, it is derived from the immediate context that this second resurrection will take place a thousand years after the first resurrection. At the second resurrection the Book of Life that has been written since the foundation of the world will be open, and the dead will be judged according to their good or bad works written in it. That the Book of Life is being written since the foundation of the world is evident in the words of Mosheh who testified to this truth (see Exo 32:32-33).
What is peculiar though is that while the Book of Life is mentioned in other places, Rev 20:12 is the only place in which we are told that it will be opened at the judgment for the second death. And if there is a second death, the second resurrection must take place before it, since the second death is indeed the end of everything. See also and Rev 21:8, where this is made obvious.
In this dark description of the second resurrection, it is remarkable to notice that those who will rise from the dead a thousand years after the first resurrection are not called “living” but “dead”, as it is written, “the dead shall stand before the throne”. Why are they called “dead” if resurrected? And why should the Book of Life be there and even opened, if the second resurrection is only about the resurrection of the “dead”, and not of the living? We shall pause here for a moment to return to it later.
The better resurrection to await
Did Shaul doubt that he would not be raised from the dead, when he said, “if somehow I might attain to the resurrection from the dead” (Php 3:11)? Or, he must have meant something else, which we have not understood well.
As we have already established, there will be those who will be found worthy of rising in the first resurrection and seeing the Millennial Kingdom. These are the ones about whom it is said that they have kept the commands of YHVH Elohim and the faith of the Messiah (See Rev 12:17 and Rev 14:12 and what we have written in Two things one needs to have to get saved? – Time of Reckoning Ministry).
Those who do not have this distinction written in the Book of Life will not attain to the first resurrection and will miss the joy of life in the Millennial Kingdom. They will sleep for a thousand and will rise at the second resurrection for judgment.
In the course of the entire Hebrews 11, however, the apostle speaks of those who have deserved to obtain a better resurrection (Heb 11:35).
Shaul encouraged his readers to be found blameless by the work of their faith in the day of Yeshua’s return thus having obtained a better resurrection. He did not want them to miss this better resurrection having found themselves being asleep for a thousand years, and when they will be reawakened to hear that their names had not been written or even erased from the Book of Life. With these warning words, the apostle wanted his readers to understand that in order to rise in the better resurrection, they need to assure this in this life in order to avoid the second resurrection.
Thus, we come to the conclusion that the scriptures speak of two resurrections that are separated by a thousand years. And if the apostle speaks of a better resurrection, there must be another that is a “good resurrection”, otherwise it would have been sufficient for him to encourage his readers to obtain the “good resurrection”, and not referring to a “better resurrection” at all.
Everyone rises in his order
The apostle also makes the point in the letter to the Corinthians that as Adam sinned and died, so do all after him sin and die. But he makes it clear that the opposite is also true: so, all will be made alive in Mashiach but each in his own order. What is this order of resurrections?
By now we should be able to discern the order of events thus: (1) Mashiach and those who rose with him, were the first fruits of the resurrection; (2) then those who will be found worthy for the better resurrection at his return, (3) the thousand years of his kingdom, (4) the second resurrection, and then (5) the end, when he will deliver up the reign to Elohim (1Co 15:22-24). To obtain more knowledge of this aspect of the end of the Millennial Kingdom, refer to the article The Time When the Messiah will be Subject to the Father – Time of Reckoning Ministry.
Thus, all begin new life in Mashiach in order to fulfill what has been said concerning the better resurrection that will take place at the sound of the last [the seventh] trumpet. We keep on reading in Corinthians,
Behold, I speak a secret to you: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. (1Co 15:51-52)
The apostle must have been remarkably familiar with the prophecy in 2Baruch (aka Syriac Apocalypse of Baruch) when he wrote the above verses. We read from 2Baruch thus,
And it shall come to pass after these things, when the time of the advent of the Messiah is fulfilled, that He shall return in glory. Then all who have fallen asleep in hope of Him shall rise again. And it shall come to pass at that time that the treasuries will be opened in which is preserved the number* of the souls of the righteous, and they shall come forth, and a multitude of souls shall be seen together in one assemblage of one thought, and the first shall rejoice and the last shall not be grieved. (2 Baruch 30) Translation from the Syriac by R. H. Charles, The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament in English, Oxford University Press, 1913
Two wars of Gog of Magog
The millennial kingdom of Elohim will be preceded by the War of Gog of Magog in Ezekiel 38-39, which we diligently studied in series of articles.
In Rev 20:7-9, however, we are told of another war of Gog of Magog, which will take place at the end of the thousand years, when the satan will be released from prison in order to lead again the nations of the world for battle against Jerusalem. Then fire will come down from heaven and consume them all. This will be the final war of all wars.
Then those who had violated the Torah by their abominations and their names are not found in the Book of Life will be raised and judged and their fate will be in the lake of fire—that would be their second death (Rev 21:8); their first death was the death in this world.
But those who have guarded the commands of YHVH, and the faith of Yeshua will be given the authority over the tree of life, that is, they will obtain an everlasting life and will enter through the gates of the New Jerusalem (Rev 22:14). The second death has no power over them for they have overcome all sufferings.
The second death in the lake of fire
The scriptures do not say that at the beginning of the thousand years all will rise from the dead for judgment, and those not found in the Book of Life will be cast the lake of fire.
But if some say that the general judgment is in the beginning of the thousand years, as commonly accepted, why is it then said that the rest of the dead do not live again until their end? We should therefore understand that as there are a first death and a second death, so are there also a first resurrection and a second resurrection.
The first death is of the mortal body cast into the grave, and the first resurrection is of that body into the immortal body. Likewise, the second death is of the “dead” cast into the lake of fire, and the second resurrection is of the “dead” from she’ol, the unknown place There is no indication in the scriptures that something rises from the lake of fire.
The first death is in this world, the second death is after the end of the Millennial Kingdom. The first resurrection is in the beginning of the thousand years, the second resurrection is at their end.
From the time of the first resurrection those found in the Book of Life live and reign with Mashiach a thousand years. Blessed are they who have risen in the first resurrection on such the second death has no power for they will reign with Mashiach a thousand years. Hence, we conclude that the first resurrection is the better resurrection the apostle speaks of.
The rest of the dead however remain asleep and do not rise until the end of the thousand years. Then the second resurrection, when they rise for judgment. The Book of Life is opened and those not found in it are cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. Then the end. And after the end of the seven thousand years, the timeless begins. No more death and sickness, and no more resurrections.
The parallelism here between the second resurrection and the second death helps determine the meaning of the apostle’s words below.
Fire proves man’s work
When we reflect on what we have written above, we will find that a solid foundation is thus established for the conclusion of our study. We read from Corinthians,
And if any man builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work shall be revealed, for the day shall show it up, because it is revealed by fire. And the fire shall prove every man’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work remains, which he has built on, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned, he shall suffer loss, but he himself shall be saved, but so as by fire. (1Co 3:12-15)
For the sake of emphasis and further explanation, let us examine what the apostle is saying here. If we have reconstructed correctly the concept of the second resurrection and the second death, then this is the apostle’s message: if man has built on the foundation of Mashiach with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, his work shall be revealed, for the Judgment Day shall show it up, because it shall be revealed by fire.
And this fire [not the lake of fire] shall prove the work of gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, whether it shall stand. If it is a worthy work of gold and silver, it shall be purified by fire until the impurities are removed, and he shall receive a reward of the four crowns.
But if man’s work of the perishable wood, hay, straw is burned, he shall suffer loss and shall receive no reward, but he himself shall be saved at the second resurrection at the end of the Millennial Kingdom, but through the purifying fire of trial. Then the end.
And the end of everything will be in the lake of fire in which the devil, the beast and his prophet, who deceived many to receive the mark of the beast and his image, and all those not written in the Book of Life, were cast into to perish (Revelation 20). This is the second death and the end.
Then the new world.
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May we merit seeing the coming of our Mashiach speedily in our days!