Judgment And Death

Death and Judgment


LET US note well that in the new earth, in the eon of the eons, “death will be no more” (Rev.21:4). Though prior to this time untold billions will have already entered death’s portals, from this juncture onward, no more death will ever occur. Though vast numbers will still be dead, dying will be radically attenuated (apparently to the point of practical suspension) and death itself will never occur again.

Language is ordinarily literal. We should only judge the presence of a figurative usage when we have compelling reasons for making such a decision. All literature, certainly the Scriptures, contains many figures of speech, but this is no proof that any certain usage is a figurative one. In the case of “the second death, there is no sound reason at all to assume that this is only a likeness of something else, something that is essentially unlike death and so to be distinguished from it. Therefore it is unwarranted to take the words “the second death” (Rev.20:14), as some do, as a figure of likeness, as if they were in reference to a second mortal lifetime (though denominated “the second death”) in which living men will be “dead” (i.e., unresponsive) to God and to His ways. Indeed, in light of the transcendent glory and righteousness which will characterize the final eon, it is impossible for such a conjecture to be correct.

Alternatively, if any should counter by saying that while the second death is literal, the meaning of the word “death” is not “the absence of life” but is instead “mortality,” this too will prove untenable. For “mortal” (i.e., dying, the dying process is the meaning of thnetos[1] (Dying; e.g., Rom.6:12); it is not the meaning of thanatos(DEATH). Yet “death” or “the absence of life” is the meaning of thanatos.

This is evident, for “death” is the opposite of “life”. “Death” is the antonym of “life.” The moment in time which is sometimes called “the point of death”, is the instant in which one first enters into death. Before this instant, one is still dying (thnetos) in this instant, the period of one’s death (thanatos) begins. The expression, “the point of death”, or “the time of death”, which refers to the first instant in which expiration has ceased, is the beginning of death. Death is the opposite of life; it is not a point in time. The words “the point of death”, are a usage of “death”; they are not its meaning. When one enters into death, he loses his life. Life is no longer present; instead, it is absent.

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The evangel, the good news, is that Christ died (FROM-DIED, apethanen) for our sins (1 Cor.15:3) and that God roused Him from among the dead (OUT OF-DEAD-ones, ek nekron; Rom.6:4)— He, Who, in the grace of God, tasted death (thanatou) for the sake of everyone (Heb.2:9). In “tasting” death, He experienced the sufferings which caused Him to die, which were associated with and resulted in His death. In death thanatos one is dead (nekros); until then, he is dying thnêtos.

From these passages, we learn that mortality is not a part of thanatos. That is, “death” thanatos begins when mortality ceases, not before. Therefore, rather than thanatos being confined to mortality, to the contrary, it excludes it.

There are quite a few passages in which thanatos is used definitively. For example: “ . . . he who is saying aught that is evil of father or mother, let him decease in death” (Matt.15: 4); “ . . . the Son of Mankind will be given up to the chief priests and scribes, and they will be condemning Him to death” (Matt.20: 18); “And [Simeon] was apprised by the holy spirit that he would not be acquainted with death ere he should be acquainted with the Lord’s Christ” (Luke 2:26); “ . . . Become faithful unto death, and I shall be giving you the wreath of life” (Rev.2:10); “And her children shall I be killing with death . . .” (Rev.2:23).

In all such cases, thanatos is something that is future and is something into which those who are presently mortal have not yet entered.

Thus we conclude that thanatos (“death”) is the return into which one enters when mortal life no longer exists (Gen.3:19). This entails the return of the body to the soil, the spirit to God (Ecc.12:7), and the soul to the unseen (cp Acts 2:27,31).

On the other hand, in Romans 5:21, where Paul says “Sin reigns in death”, “Sin” is personified, and “death” is a figure of likeness. That is, our condition of mortality has various likenesses to the condition of being literally dead or having entered into death. Like the dead, we who are mere mortals, in ourselves, do not know anything and are not able to do anything (cp Ecc.9:10; John 6:63; Rom.8:7). Like the dead, if it were not for the grace of the One Who can make these dead bones live (cp Ezek.37:5), we would be completely useless and altogether unresponsive to God.

It is certainly incorrect to state that inasmuch as thanatos instead of nekros appears in those passages in which yet Same in Concept the phrase “the second death” is found (e.g., Rev.20:14b), therefore these passages are speaking of a second mortal lifetime and not of the absence of life. While it is true that the adjective nekros (“dead”) is not a morphological (of the same form) cognate of the noun thanatos (unlike the connection which exists between their respective English equivalents, “dead” and “death”), this is no indication that nekros refers to an entirely different entity than that which is signified by thanatos.

It has been assumed that difference in form entails a difference in essence. The assumption is that since thanatos is of an essentially different form than nekros, it is therefore of an essentially different meaning as well. This assumption is linguistically unsound and is a misapprehension of the concordant method. Cognation (possession of the same basic nature) is simply not confined to morphological cognation. Cognation includes conceptual cognation as well. The fact that thanatos and nekros are not morphological cognates does not change the fact that they are conceptual cognates.

Thanatos and nekros, each in its own way, refer to the same thing, the absence of life. The connection is far closer than that which obtains between the noun “life” zoe and the adjective “mortal” thnêtos. Yet who among us who claims to enjoy life would deny his mortality, attempting to do so on the grounds that the words “life” and “mortal” are not morphological cognates? It is at least as mistaken to assign a radically different significance to thanatos from that of nekros—thus claiming that in thanatos (“death”) one cannot be nekros (“dead”)—as it would be to claim that in “life” one cannot be “mortal”.

Indeed, the KEYWORD CONCORDANCE definition (p.67) of nekros (namely, “lacking life”) certainly gives the correct meaning of this word’s many definitive occurrences, and we have already shown that the cessation or absence of life is the meaning of thanatos. Thanatos and nekros do not differ in substance, but merely in part of speech and in form. It is as if (to use English to illustrate the point) the Greek person was to say of those who had died that they were now “life-lacking” individuals, for they had entered into “death”. Though the terms used are not from a common stem, they nonetheless refer to a common idea—that of the absence of life.[2]

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In light of these considerations, then, it is evident that the “day of judging” (Matt.11:24; Rom.2:5) will transpire in connection with the great white throne, prior to the second death, not in it. The day of judging not only will occur at this juncture, prior to the second death, but this is the only era in which it can occur.

To repeat, death is the absence of life. It is simply the absence of life which follows mortality in contrast to the absence of life which precedes it. In death, conditions return to the way they were, prior to life’s inception.

The lake of fire is the second death in the same sense that the crucifixion was our Lord’s death. Even as both the crucifixion and Christ’s death by this means were literal, thus also the lake of fire and the second death.

“Perhaps few subjects have provoked so much speculation as the lake of fire. Is it literal? Is it only a figure? The answer of Scripture is plain and clear, and all that is necessary is a calm consideration of God’s explanation, rather than some plan to mitigate its apparent awfulness. God is always more merciful than man, and we may well leave this theme just as He has revealed it, with the full assurance that, in every detail, it is in accord with His gracious purpose . . . .[3]

“The main point which we seek to press upon our readers is to accept God’s declaration that, for those who are judged before the great white throne, the lake of fire is the second death. If we take God at His word, exactly and accurately, and add nothing to it and take nothing from it (which is a very difficult feat for us mortals) then all our objections will vanish. He does not say that it is a painful death, or a slow death or a horrible death. These are all figments of our imagination. In death, there is no pain, and death by violence need not be painful, however, it may appear. We have no right whatever to make either the dying or the death in the lake of fire a thing to be dreaded. It is not so at all . . . . The word cast (into the lake of fire), which seems so cruel at first, is really filled with mercy. It suggests a sudden and settled end. A second is all that is needed.

“It is a question of just how much those who stand before the great white throne will know of their fate; we are not informed whether they are told about the lake of fire or not. This we can well leave with God. If they know it, they will have far less to dread than anyone at the present time, saint or sinner. Were men absolutely sure that, at death, they would be taken suddenly without previous suffering or appreciable pain, it would be a great consolation, for that sort of death is much to be preferred to the one that befalls the majority of mankind. God could have doomed those who are judged before the throne to die as they had died before, of disease and senility, and have made this a part of their judgment. But it seems to me that the purpose of such experiences is to humble us, not simply to set us right. It is most probable that God’s judgment will not be prolonged sufficiently to include such inflictions . . . .

“Still further, it is scriptural to believe that it will be a release from pain. In various degrees and probably for various periods, according to their deserts, ‘indignation and fury, affliction and distress’ (Rom.2:9) will be the portion of those who have effected evil who stand before the great white throne. Men are not simply tried there. They are judged. And this continues until they are cast into the lake of fire. Then, in death, all sensation ceases. It is a release, not a torture chamber, or even a place for chastening. Most of us have known cases of human suffering where we have questioned the wisdom of combating death. We breathe a sigh of relief when the last long sigh has closed a case of unbearable torture. So will the lake of fire mercifully close the judgment period of all who suffer for their sins. It is not an infliction but its cessation”.[4]

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It is inconsistent and unwarranted to question the love of God in returning to death the infants and small children who appear before the great white throne. Unlike their first death, in which most of them endured much suffering, their second death, following the day of judging, will be practically painless, perhaps totally so. Yet as mortals, as members of the old humanity, even babes are corrupt in their hearts. The entire creation has been subjected to vanity, the slavery of corruption. Infants and small children, dear as they are to us, are no exception.

Inasmuch as the final eon, which at this juncture will be impending, is simply not their allotment, it is only wise and expedient, merciful and kind, swiftly to return them to sleep. Their next experience will be the perfection of the consummation. In other words, to their experience, there is nothing between their death at present and the ecstasy of complete harmony with God the Father, except a brief and benign period of preparation.

Yet when we have thus commended the mercifulness and benignity of God’s ways with these little ones, some, turning from one criticism to another, have questioned the wisdom and righteousness of His ways with the rest of the race.

It is true that if all were allotted the same career as the dying infant, such a course would vastly decrease the sum of humanity’s terrible suffering. It is therefore felt that if so many (namely, all who die in infancy) can indeed thus enter into endless life and glory, this would make God’s plan of bringing all the rest to Himself down the path of protracted and painful experience an unnecessary evil.

Such an opinion, however, is an improper worldview, to say nothing of teleology and theodicy.[5] If something does not serve us and our unhindered interests in the most efficient way conceivable, or if there should be others who have an easier or otherwise preferable trip on the ship of life than ourselves—no matter how useful and important our journey is to God and His glory—we wish to enter a protest.

It is highly improper (not to mention foolish) for man to dictate to God what He must do if He would retain His righteousness. “That which is molded will not protest to the molder, ‘Why do you make me thus?”’ (Rom.9:20b). Whatever God does is actually just and is not unjust. No appeal should be made to what man supposes to be equitable, wise, or proper. Such assertions are the bane of theology and expose themselves. We are continually told that this or that teaching of ours is “unjust”.

How “anthropocentric” we mortals are! We would not be slow to admire God’s ways if they would only conform to our ethics and desires, and must let it be known that we will fail to embrace them should they be otherwise!

Such unworthy man-centered notions should have no place in our considerations of faith. All is for the glory of God (Rom. 11:36), whether or not any certain human’s temporary allotment should be a comparatively desirable or undesirable one.

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Our suggestion concerning the reading “condemn” in Revelation 20:13 accords with the obvious figure which is present in 20:14, in the words, “And death and the unseen were cast into the lake of fire”. The words “death and the unseen” constitute a metonymy. They are used in reference to those herein associated with death and the unseen, the unjust dead (vs.12,13). We use this figure ourselves when we speak of the destruction of a city when what is actually meant is the inhabitants of the city. Whether the Original read simply krino, or the emphatic form, katakrino, is not vital to our understanding. The usual form (krino) is sometimes used in reference to matters of great severity and adversity (even if, in itself, the thought of adversativeness is not directly conveyed thereby). The stronger form katakrino, which appears always to be used of judgments wherein adversativeness relative to those judged is in view, is used in reference to our present mortality (dying), not only in reference to the death state (Rom.5:15,16,18). Considered as a whole, this present mortality is a great experience of evil (Ecc.1:13); it is an involuntary subjection to vanity, the slavery of corruption, and all its sufferings (Rom.8:18-22).[6]

Therefore, it would not be at all surprising were we to find katakrino used as well in reference to the day of judging. We must not base our principal ideas about word meaning upon popular, contemporary English connotations. On the other hand, it is possible that the reading should only be “judged” krino in Revelation 20:13. In any case, our position concerning these august matters is by no means weakened if this should be the case, and we put no stress on the current CV rendering “condemned”. Indeed, the reading “judged” would accord with Romans 2:5, which uses the word “judgment” in reference to the intrinsically adversative experience of divine indignation.

The main thing to observe is that the natural order of events is that of Revelation 20:13a being in reference to the dead being returned to life, and 20:13b being in reference to their experience in the day of judging. This is so whether we speak of that experience simply as God’s judgment (by krino) or bring out the thought of its adversativeness (by katakrino). 13a: “And the sea gives up the dead in it, and death and the unseen give up the dead in them”. 13b: “And they were condemned [or, “judged”] each in accord with their acts”.

In any case, 20:14a (“And death and the unseen were cast into the lake of fire”) refers to their subsequent return to death, following their preceding return to life (13a) and God’s ensuing judgment upon them for their acts (13b). Therefore: “This [the casting of those associated with death and the unseen into the lake of fire] is the second death” (14b). The lake of fire is the means which God employs to return them to death.

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When the apostle John “came to be, in spirit, in the Lord’s day” (Rev.1:10), the Lord’s first instructions to him were to make a record of His own declarations (Rev.1:19), His counsels and precepts to the Jewish ecclesias of Asia which will exist there in that day (Rev.2:1-3:22). In composing a record of the very words of Christ which He declares to these various ecclesias, one of the declarations of the Lord which John recorded was His word to the ecclesia in Smyrna that, “The one who is conquering may under no circumstances be injured by the second death” (Rev.2:11).

Some have inferred inasmuch as the word “injured” is used instead of “killed”, that this fact is a strong indication or perhaps even proof that the second death is not fatal. It is supposed that the second death must therefore somehow be a reference to a second lifetime, albeit to a lifetime which for many will involve much “injury”. This supposition, however, is fallacious and gratuitous.

“Injure” (adikeo, UN-JUST) is the verb of the noun “injustice” (adikia, UN-JUST-ness). The term “injury” speaks of “perceived injustice”. Whether an action, in a higher sense, is actually unjust or not, is not in view. An “injury” speaks of an act of “injustice” merely from the standpoint of the one who is injured, with respect to the harm or damage which the injury entails. Thus any act which results in harm or damage constitutes an “injury”.

Whether the damage is trivial or tremendous, fleeting or fatal, where damage ensues, injury occurs. For example, while in one instance injuries sustained from an automobile accident may only be minor, in another they may well be fatal. Injury is sustained in both instances; indeed the fatal accident is far more injurious than the one involving only minor injuries.

While the “injury” sustained by those who are cast into the lake of fire (in Revelation 20:14,15) will be fatal (since to these the lake of fire is the second death), it will not be permanent. We may be certain that this is the case, for, at the consummation, death will be abolished and all will be vivified, that God may be All in all. God is the Saviour of all mankind, and this includes all who enter the second death.

James Coram

[1] The noun is “mortality” (to thnêton, 2 Cor.5:4): “that the mortal[ity] may be swallowed up by life”.

[2] The essential accord of thanatos and nekros is reflected in their English derivatives euthanasia, the act of putting to death painlessly a person suffering from an incurable disease, and necrophobia, the excessive fear of death (even though this term is derived from the adjective nekros, “dead”).


[4] A. E. Knoch, Unsearchable Riches, vol.35, pp.203-206, 211, 213, 214.

[5] “Teleology” is the study of ultimate purpose or design as a means of explaining natural phenomena and human experience. A “theodicy” is a vindication of divine justice in the face of the existence of evil.

[6] It is not true that a “judgment”, or at least a divine judgment, entails one’s subjection to that which is intrinsically salutary. Nor is it correct to say that “judge” means to “set right”. What is true is that all of God’s judgments are made with a view toward setting right. Even so, this is not the meaning of the word itself. To “judge” simply means to “decide”. Any other concepts that may attend any certain usage of this word are matters of connotative usage, not of essential meaning. Consequently, those who claim that the rendering “condemned” reflects theological bias (or that the reading “judged” is supportive of truth contrary to such bias), simply do not understand the issues to be decided.

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