The Second Death

Most often, the second death is considered as a solely spiritual malady, namely of being cut off from the presence of God (as in Adam’s case after the fall [see below]); however, the scriptures also inform us that the Atonement redeems us from that situation by bringing us bodily into the presence of God (Ether 3:13), making it as though a spiritual death never happened or at least had any hold upon us. 

Christ, when on the cross, had the presence of the Father withdrawn from him so that, as Elder Holland noted, he might experience the full range of what we other mortals experience, “to sense what it was like to have the divine Spirit withdraw, leaving one feeling totally, abjectly, hopelessly alone.”[1] But did Christ suffer the second death? The Lord tells us explicitly, through Joseph Smith, those upon whom the second death will actually pass:

“[The sons of perdition] are they who shall go away into the lake of fire and brimstone, with the devil and his angels—And the only ones on whom the second death shall have any power; Yea, verily, the only ones who shall not be redeemed in the due time of the Lord, after the sufferings of his wrath. For all the rest shall be brought forth by the resurrection of the dead” (D&C 76:36 – 39, emphasis added).

This means that though Christ briefly experienced a spiritual death as a part of full death, he did not suffer that which is reserved for the sons of perdition. The above scripture connects the second death with non-redemption—to suffer the second death is to not be redeemed. In other words, the second death is actually to experience full death a second time but with permanent results; no longer just being “considered as dead” but actually “cut off again” (see below):

“[Christ’s] death bringeth to pass the resurrection, and redeemeth all mankind from the first death—that spiritual death; for all mankind, by the fall of Adam being cut off from the presence of the Lord, are considered as dead, both as to things temporal and to things spiritual. But behold, the resurrection of Christ redeemeth mankind, yea, even all mankind, and bringeth them back into the presence of the Lord. Yea, and it bringeth to pass the condition of repentance, that whosoever repenteth the same is not hewn down and cast into the fire; but whosoever repenteth not is hewn down and cast into the fire; and there cometh upon them again a spiritual death, yea, a second death, for they are cut off again as to things pertaining to righteousness. Therefore repent ye, repent ye, lest by knowing these things and not doing them ye shall suffer yourselves to come under condemnation, and ye are brought down unto this second death” (Helaman 14:16 – 19, emphasis added).

The fact is that though some of us currently reside outside of the presence of God, such a condition does not constitute the finality or fulness of death; such are merely experiencing the effects of a partial death whose fulness awaits those saints who are “overcome” by the devil (see D&C 76:32 – 39):

“I, the Lord God, caused that [Adam] should be cast out from the Garden of Eden, from my presence, because of his transgression, wherein he became spiritually dead, which is the first death, even that same death which is the last death, which is spiritual, which shall be pronounced upon the wicked when I shall say: Depart, ye cursed” (D&C 29:41, emphasis added)

Consider this very clear passage from the New Testament regarding the fate of the sons of perdition after the final judgement:

“And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: 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” (Revelation 20:12 – 15, emphasis added).

Alma describes this ‘lake of fire’ in greater detail:

“We must come forth and stand before [God] in his glory, and in his power, and in his might, majesty, and dominion, and acknowledge to our everlasting shame that all his judgments are just…. Then cometh a death, even a second death, which is a spiritual death; then is a time that whosoever dieth in his sins, as to a temporal death, shall also die a spiritual death; yea, he shall die as to things pertaining unto righteousness. Then is the time when their torments shall be as a lake of fire and brimstone, whose flame ascendeth up forever and ever; and then is the time that they shall be chained down to an everlasting destruction, according to the power and captivity of Satan, he having subjected them according to his will. Then, I say unto you, they shall be as though there had been no redemption made; for they cannot be redeemed according to God’s justice; and they cannot die, seeing there is no more corruption” (Alma 13:15-18, emphasis added).

That final line—‘and they cannot die, seeing there is no more corruption’—is usually interpreted to mean that after the resurrection they are immortal and thus cannot die; however, they are under the ‘power and captivity of Satan,’ which power they could not remain under with an immortal body (recall that even telestial bodies will triumph over Satan—death and hell [see my blog post on triumph in damnation]). Thus that final line should be understood to mean that their fate is an eternal one not because they are immortal and embodied but because they are immortal and disembodied! Without a body subject to death (without corruption, or the “natural body” [1 Corinthians 15:42, 44]), their spirits—which never had a beginning and will never have and end[2]—will suffer forever, becoming angels to the devil:

“O my brethren, hearken unto my words; arouse the faculties of your souls; shake yourselves that ye may awake from the slumber of death; and loose yourselves from the pains of hell that ye may not become angels to the devil, to be cast into that lake of fire and brimstone[3] which is the second death” (Jacob 3:11, emphasis added). 

The principle can be summarized thus:

There are two parts to death:

  • Disconnect from God’s presence (spiritual death, sometimes called our first death or “hell”);
    • Disconnect from body (physical/temporal death, sometimes called our second death or just “death”).
  • All mankind will experience both parts of death once, redemption rescuing them from death the first time:
    • Repentance rescuing from spiritual death/hell;
    • Resurrection rescuing from temporal death.
  • All mankind will then be judged in God’s presence, most with triumph and glory;
  • The sons of perdition will then: 
    • Have the gift of their bodies taken from them;
    • Be cast off from the presence of God forever. 
  • Thus suffering the two parts of death a second time, they suffer the “second death.”

Footnotes:

  1. Jeffrey R. Holland, “None Were with Him,” Conference Report, April 2009.[Go back]
  2. “I am dwelling on the immortality of the spirit of man. Is it logical to say that the intelligence of spirits is immortal, and yet that it had a beginning? The intelligence of spirits had no beginning, neither will it have an end. That is good logic. That which has a beginning may have an end. There never was a time when there were not spirits; for they are co-equal [co-eternal] with our Father in heaven” (Joseph Smith, STPJS, p. 353).[Go back]
  3. What is the lake of fire and brimstone? The original Hebrew for fire and brimstone, גפרית ואש (gafrit va’eish, “sulfur fire”), may have been an ancient descriptor for lightning, which was thought to be a fire and which was known to have a sulfuric odor associated with it (we now know this is due to the plasma producing O3 or ozone gas, which does smell sulfuric). Therefore descriptions of fire and brimstone may actually be references to lightning or plasma. With that in mind, the lake of fire and brimstone then becomes a lake of lightning or plasma. This may have been the ancient seer’s best attempt at describing an energized plasma field set amidst the “shore” of unorganized matter, or, in plain astronomical terms, a nebula. Nebulas may be the place of action where degenerate intelligences are reduced to their most fundamental principles to be reshaped by greater intelligences. As Brigham Young postulated about the fate of the ungodly, or sons of perdition as described above:
    “All organized matter must dissolve and return to its native element, unless it is made pure and holy—capable of enduring eternal burnings. All principles, principalities, powers, thrones, kingdoms, dominions, communities, neighborhoods, and individuals, with their actions public and private, their feelings and aspirations, that are not concentrated in the oneness taught by our Savior, will come to dissolution into native element” (JOD 7:277).
    Hugh Nibley likewise discovered that the ancients knew all about this recycling process and associated it with nebulae:
    “And so we have in the Pistis Sophia, continuing the Egyptian teachings, the picture of a constant remixing (kerasmos)…going on in the universe in which old, worn-out, contaminated substances, the refuse [or garbage] of worn-out worlds and kingdoms, is first thrown out on the scrap-heap and returned to chaos as dead matter [what do you do with it then?] then melted down in a dissolving fire for many years, by which all impurities are removed from it, and by which it is ‘improved,’ and is ready to be ‘poured from one kind of body into another.’ This whole process by which the souls as well as substances are ‘thrown back into the mixing,’ is under the supervision of Melchizedek, the great reprocessor, purifier, and preparer of worlds. He takes over the refuse of a defunct world or souls, and under his supervision the five great Archons [they are the five principles; they are always talking about the five principles; this is Egyptian too] process it…each one specializing in particular elements, which they thus recombine in unique and original combinations, so that no new world or soul is exactly like any other. Well, they get it going by going into something like a spiral nebula. In this full blown pleniarism there is no waste and no shortage: ‘If there were any superfluous or any lacking, the whole body would suffer, for the worlds counterpoise one another like elements of a single organism.’ The worlds go on forever: ‘They come and come and cease not, they ever increase and are multiplied, yet are not brought to an end nor do they decrease’” (Nibley, Hugh. Ancient Documents and the Pearl of Great Price [Kindle Locations 4113-4126]. Deseret Book Company. Kindle Edition).

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