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Which Death is Romans 6:23 Referring to?

Here is the verse:

“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Romans 6:23—the first part—refers to the penalty of sin. Romans 3:23 adds, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Therefore, all people are under the death penalty because all have sinned (See Romans 5:12).

Sin is the breaking of God’s Law—it is rebellion against God, our Creator (compare 1 John 3:4)! Adam and Eve chose to disobey God’s warning (Genesis 2:16-17; 1 Timothy 2:14) when Satan lied to Eve:

“’You will not certainly die,’ the serpent said to the woman. ‘For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’ When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it” (Genesis 3:4-6).

Death came to Adam—just as God had warned (compare Genesis 5:5). His disobedience set the stage for all of mankind:

“Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12).

It is important to understand that even righteous men and women who have lived throughout human history are included among those who have sinned. They died, and Hebrews, chapter 11, recounts the faith they had for which God would deliver them from death:

“These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth… And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us” (Hebrews 11:13, 39-40).

Among these faithful people, King David is specifically mentioned in Hebrews 11:32. Consider what the apostle Peter said of him:

“‘Men and brethren, let me speak freely to you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his tomb is with us to this day’” (Acts 2:29).

David sinned, and he died. His personal history is plainly written in the Bible. David repented of his sins, as the record of Psalm 51 shows. However, he looked beyond his death to a time when God would resurrect him:

“As for me, I will see Your face in righteousness; I shall be satisfied when I awake in Your likeness” (Psalm 17:15).

But understand—David is still dead, as is everyone who has died, except for Jesus Christ, whom God resurrected from the dead (compare Acts 2:24, 32; 3:15). If you are willing to read and believe the truth of the Word of God, then accepting the idea that dead people are somehow alive right now in heaven, hell or some other state is a hopelessly false belief. Yet, everyone who dies will be resurrected to life—note:

“And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment, so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation” (Hebrews 9:27-28).

Christ’s second appearance will be to establish the Kingdom of God on the earth. At that time, the righteous will be resurrected to eternal life as spirit beings in the God Family—they will never die again:

“And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was committed to them. Then I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands. And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years” (Revelation 20:4-6).

Here is what Jesus taught about those who have died:

“‘…for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth–those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation [better, judgment]’” (John 5:28-29).

Now the resurrection of those not in the first resurrection will be to physical life. Paul writes that God “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). All people who have not had an opportunity to know the Truth and to repent of their sins—sins which brought about their death—will be resurrected, they will live again!

In order to receive eternal life along with those from the first resurrection, these billions of people who have lived and died throughout history must choose to turn to Jesus Christ as their Savior and become obedient to God. Otherwise, they will face the second death—which is destruction in the lake of fire. Those who refuse to turn away from sin will die—never to exist again:

“‘He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son. But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death” (Revelation 21:7-8).

The “wages”—that is, the penalty of sin, of breaking God’s laws, is death. Because all have sinned, all will die. The good news is that Jesus Christ has paid the price for everyone’s sins, but this is a one-time opportunity which will be given to all people (compare Hebrews 6:4-6; 9:28; 10:26-27). God’s “gift” is eternal life to those who obey Him.

It is through Jesus Christ that death itself will perish:

“But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming. Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be destroyed is death” (1 Corinthians 15:20-26).

The Bible shows that death is the penalty of sin. Sin brought death to all men. Because of the Sacrifice of Jesus Christ, true Christians who repent obtain forgiveness for their sins so that they do not have to die the second death. But all people will have a chance to accept His death in their place. For some, this opportunity will be given in the Millennium; for most of those not being called in this day and age, they will come back to life in the second resurrection. They died the first death, but because of Christ’s Sacrifice, they can escape the second death. However, for those who refuse to obey, the penalty will be the second death—from which there will be no return.

Lead Writer: Dave Harris