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The Two Deaths for Humans: Physical Death & Spiritual Death

Updated on November 27, 2015
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Paul David Silway is the Founder & Senior Pastor of Jesus Is Lord Ministries based in Maharashtra, India.

Death has been a mystery in all ages and science is mute in this area, unable to explain it. The perspective that the Bible has about life and death is different from the way people think. It is a common held belief that when a person dies, it is the end. “When it is over, it is over,” as the saying goes.

But the Bible does not speak of ‘death of the body’ as finality; instead, it is the end of one phase of life. God the Father created human beings as a physical being and also as a spirit being. In the Bible, we see that there are two deaths for humans to consider:

1) Death of the body (physical death)

2) Death of the spirit (spiritual death)

The death of the body carries less significance for all that it signifies is the separation of the person from the flesh (body). It identifies the end of life in the physical realm, but the spirit continues to exist either in Paradise or Hades. Physical death is separation from this world but spiritual death is separation from God’s world (Ephesians 1:21).

Actually, the Bible speaks of three deaths because the last death (eternal) is the result of spiritual death.

The origin of death

The Bible tells us how death originated and “how” and “why” it is passed on. It speaks of three kinds of deaths:

1) Spiritual death

2) Physical death

3) Eternal death (or second death)

The empty tomb of Jesus

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He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. (Matthew 28:6)

What is spiritual death?

The first death to come on planet earth was spiritual death which slowly brought in physical death. Let us first see what is spiritual death and how did it come into existence.

You will read this incident in Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-5: The Father told Adam that he could eat the fruit of every tree in the Garden of Eden except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. In Gen 2:17, God tells Adam regarding the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, “...in the day that you eat from it you shall surely die.” The phrase “you shall surely die” can be literally translated from the Hebrew biblical text as “dying you shall die.”

Actually, what Satan told Eve was that he had more knowledge about the Father's word that He spoke to Adam. Eve believed the lie of Satan and ate of the fruit; Adam too ate of the fruit. The deception was that in a way they did gain more knowledge of the truth, but they died.

From the account of Genesis (2:17), we learn that in the original creation of God, there was no death. Everything was perfect. Death was something that was abnormal – it was never God's original intention or design. Death came as a result of the choice of the first human pair to commit sin. Humans were created to live, not to die. Death came because of man’s disobedience and as a result of judgment for sin. If man had never died spiritually, he would not have died physically.

So, what is spiritual death?

It’s the death of a spirit or the death of you as a spirit being living in your physical body. In this death, the spirit being does not actually cease to be. The spirit being continues to live, but is separated from the Father. So, spiritual death means separation from God. When Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden (Paradise), they had to leave Paradise because death was then part of their human condition.

And the LORD God called unto Adam, and said unto him, “Where art thou?” And he said, “I heard Thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.” (Genesis 3:9, 10)

The moment Adam sinned, he was separated from God. And when God came down in the cool of the day (as was His custom) to walk and talk with Adam, God called out, Adam, where art thou? Adam said, I hid myself. He was separated from God. Man was now united with the devil. From thereon, man became an outcast, driven from the Garden of Eden with no legal ground of approach to God.

Spiritual death is when a person is alive physically but dead spiritually. All of us are born spiritually dead, separated from God. The Lord said to Adam, “But you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.” (Genesis 2:17) Adam and Eve died spiritually at the time they sinned – they became ‘different’ beings than the ones God had originally created. They also began to die physically.

Separated by nature

Humanity is now separated from God by nature. Jesus said, “But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” (Luke 15:32) The wayward son was said to have been spiritually dead.

The reason we are all born spiritually dead has to do with sin. We receive our fallen nature from our parents. After Adam and Eve sinned, the death sentence was pronounced. All other humans have been born with their sinful nature (the exception to this was the Lord Jesus who was born without sin). Therefore, each of us comes into the world spiritually separated from God.

You must be "saved" before death

What is physical death?

Physical death is the separation of our spirit and soul from our body. “It is appointed unto men once to die and after this the judgment.” (Hebrews 9:27) This is the death that is best-known among mankind. Though many fear about physical death, but the greatest fear one must fear is of the spiritual death.

The moment Adam and Eve were separated spiritually, they both started to experience physical death and had the capability to decay.

One of the results of the sin factor is that human bodies began to become tired, eventually dying and decaying to dust in the ground. The Father made man into ‘man’ and ‘woman’ with the ability to reproduce offspring so that the dying human bodies could be replaced and keep the human race going.

All it signifies is the separation of the spirit of a person from the flesh. It identifies the end of life in the physical realm, but the spirit continues to exist in either Paradise or Hades until the time of judgment.

What is second death or eternal death?

There is a third type of death in the scripture that is different from spiritual death and physical death. This is known as eternal death or the second death.

The one who has an ear, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death. (Revelation 2:11)

Unless spiritual death is reversed in this life, the result will be eternal death. This is unending separation between God and all who reject Him.

So, what is this second death?

Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. (Revelation 20:14)

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. (Revelation 21:8)

The final judgment (or the lake of fire) is the time when the second death occurs. The second death is reserved for unbelievers. Those who experience this death are all those whose names are not found written in the Book of Life.

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Believers are not affected

Believers are not affected by the second death: Blessed and holy are those who have part in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with Him for a thousand years. (Revelations 20:6)

Eternal death or the second death is the ultimate form of separation. If a person dies in a state of spiritual death, he enters eternity separated from God. This is the second death. Once a person has experienced the “second death,” there is no hope for him; it is irreversible.

— Paul Silway

Paraphrasing the 3 types of death…

The Bible lists three types of death:

1) Physical death when the body dies

2) Spiritual death which is a separation from the Father on earth

3) Eternal death which is the permanent separation from God

After death, you can do nothing to help the predeceased. Rites and rituals after death cannot help that person in any way whatsoever:

1) Doing some deeds for the soul of the deceased to have peace (Heaven is a place of total peace, in fact there is no peace on earth).

2) Performing religious practices such as putting rice in the mouth of the deceased so that he is not hungry (this is practiced in India).

3) Keeping coins in the hands of the deceased

But the Bible teaches us that after death you can do nothing:

1) To save the deceased

2) For his sins to be forgiven

3) To get a better place for him

4) By praying to him or for him

5) For his better health

6) By covering the mirrors (superstition practiced in the house of mourning)

All that you can do to remember the deceased is:

1) Have a fellowship with his family and relatives

2) Give thanks to God for his life

You do this in the remembrance of the deceased. And remember, whatever you do, you do it for yourself, not for the departed soul.

© 2015 Paul Silway

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      Mike 2 years ago

      Alright, so what I learn is spiritual death is reversible separation from God and eternal death is permanent, irreversible separation from God.

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      Steven 2 years ago

      This is so enlightening for our spiritual mind. Had my doubts cleared about the types of death. So many people are not conversant with the three types of death. This is worth sharing! Thank you, pastor. God bless!