The Four Deaths
The word “death” is used in the Bible to refer to several states and admittedly, this can cause, and has caused some amount of confusion when there has been a failure to properly distinguish between the various kinds of death referred to. We will examine the four kinds of death most often mentioned in the Bible and for the sake of convenience we will refer to them as:
a. The first death
b. Spiritual death
c. Death to sin
d. The second death
When we understand the issue of death as the Bible presents it, we discover that there is a relationship between all four kinds of death. We also come to a better understanding of what happened when Jesus died and why He had to die.
The First Death
The first death is the one which we call sleep. It is the death which came upon all mankind as a result of Adam's sin. Paul speaks of this death and says,
Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned: (Rom 5:12)
Mankind in general is not responsible for this death. It is entirely the fault of one man, our great foreparent, Adam. It was he who brought it into the world when he introduced sin, and as a result, it passed upon all men. Death, in this sense, refers to the time when the breath ceases and the body returns to the dust. All men die this death excepting those rare few who have been and will be translated. In the normal course of things, this death would have been the end of man. When a man had lived out his appointed years and died at the end of them, that would have been the end of his story. Sin would have brought death upon him and this death would have been an eternal death if Christ had not made provision for a resurrection. As Paul again tells us,
For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. (1 Cor 15:21-22)
The next death mentioned is “spiritual death.” It is not referred to by this name in the Bible, but it refers to the state where a person is without the spirit of God and is totally controlled by sin. The Bible says such a person is “dead in trespasses and sins.”
And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins: (Eph 2:1)
How does a man get into this condition? Is it by his own choice or are all born in this state? Again, this condition is the result of Adam's sin. When Adam sinned in the garden, the spirit of God departed from him and his nature changed. He became selfish and unhappy. This condition has been passed on to all his descendants who are all born unregenerate. That is, they are all born without the spiritual life imparted by the holy spirit. This is why all men need to be born again. (John 3:3).
This condition of spiritual death refers to the state of a man's relationship with God. A person cannot be saved in this condition and so, such a person may be physically alive, but since his spirit is not united with the spirit of God, he is spiritually dead.
But she that liveth in pleasure is dead while she liveth. (1 Tim 5:6)
Death to Sin
The next death is where we die with Christ, or we enter into the death of Christ. This death was accomplished for all mankind on the cross and reverses the consequences of the spiritual death which was imposed on us by Adam. In this death we die to self or to the sin-nature.
Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. (Rom 6:6)
This death is accomplished by the holy spirit which is restored to us when we are born again, thus setting us free from the law of sin and death so that we are no longer dead in trespasses and sins. In other words, by the power of the holy spirit, by the life of Christ, this death becomes the reality of our experience so that we receive Christ's life in which sin has been crucified and righteousness is the reality. This death is for all men, but can only be experienced by those who will believe it, who will enter into Christ by faith. This death is in Christ. It is Christ's death and can only be experienced when we become a part of His life.
The Second Death
The second death is the final experience of death, and is the experience which has caused some amount of controversy. What is this second death and why is it necessary? In the simplest understanding, the second death is the final destruction of the wicked as well as of all things which are destructive and harmful. It is mentioned in Revelation in four places (Rev 2:11; Rev 20:6; Rev 20:14; Rev 21:8).
But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death. (Rev 21:8)
It is clear that this second death represents a total end from which there is to be no return. Here, this final destruction is referred to as “the lake of fire.”
As we look at the relationship between these four deaths we can see that all men die the first death. All men are also born into the state of spiritual death. However, those who choose, will experience the death of Christ, which is a death to sin. The condemnation which they experienced in Adam will be taken away when they experience the death and resurrection of Christ. (Rom. 6:8). Because of this, they will not experience the second death.
All men must die to sin forever. The righteous experience this eternal death to sin in Christ. The unrighteous experience this death to sin in themselves when they are destroyed finally and forever at the end. Those who will not choose to die in Christ, will have to die the second death because they will retain that condemnation in the flesh, the sinful body and mind of death.