“The First Resurrection”—Now Under Way!
“Those who are dead in union with Christ will rise first.”—1 THESSALONIANS 4:16.
“THE living are conscious that they will die.” Ever since Adam sinned, that has been true. Throughout history, everyone born has known that he would eventually die, and many have wondered: ‘What comes next? What is the condition of the dead?’ The Bible answers: “As for the dead, they are conscious of nothing at all.”—Ecclesiastes 9:5.
2 Is there any hope, then, for those who have died? Yes. In fact, there must be if God’s original purpose for mankind is to be fulfilled. Over the centuries, loyal servants of God have exercised faith in Jehovah’s promise about a Seed who would destroy Satan and undo the harm he did. (Genesis 3:15) Most have died. If they are to see the fulfillment of that promise and of others that Jehovah has made, they need to be raised from the dead. (Hebrews 11:13) Is such a thing possible? Yes, it is. The apostle Paul said: “There is going to be a resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Acts 24:15) Paul once resurrected a young man named Eutychus, who had fallen from a third-floor window and was “picked up dead.” This is the last of nine resurrections recorded in the Bible.—Acts 20:7-12.*
3 Those nine resurrections provide a basis for faith in Paul’s statement. They strengthen our confidence in Jesus’ assurance: “The hour is coming in which all those in the memorial tombs will hear [Jesus’] voice and come out.” (John 5:28, 29) What heartwarming words! And how comforting for the millions whose loved ones have fallen asleep in death!
4 The majority of those who are resurrected will come back to an earth made peaceful under God’s Kingdom. (Psalm 37:10, 11, 29; Isaiah 11:6-9; 35:5, 6; 65:21-23) However, other resurrections were to take place before that happens. First, Jesus Christ had to be resurrected to present the value of his sacrifice to God in our behalf. Jesus died and was resurrected in 33 C.E.
5 Next, anointed members of “the Israel of God” must join the Lord Jesus Christ in heavenly glory, where they will “always be with the Lord.” (Galatians 6:16; 1 Thessalonians 4:17) That event is called “the earlier resurrection” or “the first resurrection.” (Philippians 3:10, 11; Revelation 20:6) When that resurrection is completed, the time will be at hand for millions to be resurrected back to the earth with the prospect of gaining everlasting life in Paradise. Hence, whether our hope is heavenly or earthly, we have a keen interest in “the first resurrection.” What kind of resurrection is it? When does it occur?
“With What Sort of Body?”
6 In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul raises a question about the first resurrection: “How are the dead to be raised up? Yes, with what sort of body are they coming?” He then answers the question: “What you sow is not made alive unless first it dies . . . but God gives it a body just as it has pleased him . . . The glory of the heavenly bodies is one sort, and that of the earthly bodies is a different sort.”—1 Corinthians 15:35-40.
7 Paul’s words show that Christians anointed with holy spirit must die before they can receive their heavenly reward. At their death, their earthly body returns to the dust. (Genesis 3:19) At God’s appointed time, they are resurrected with a body of a kind suitable for life in the heavens. (1 John 3:2) God also grants them immortality. That is not something they possess from birth, as if a so-called immortal soul were breathed into them. “This which is mortal must put on immortality,” says Paul. Immortality is a gift from God, “put on” by those who share in the first resurrection.—1 Corinthians 15:50, 53; Genesis 2:7; 2 Corinthians 5:1, 2, 8.
8 Only 144,000 share in the first resurrection. Jehovah began selecting them at Pentecost 33 C.E., shortly after he resurrected Jesus. All of them have “[Jesus’] name and the name of his Father written on their foreheads.” (Revelation 14:1, 3) Hence, they are not selected from many different religions. All are Christians, and all proudly bear the name of the Father—Jehovah. When they are resurrected, they receive an assignment of work in the heavens. The prospect of serving God in such a direct way is simply thrilling to them.
Now Under Way?
9 When does the first resurrection occur? There is strong evidence that it is now under way. For example, compare two chapters of Revelation. First, look at Revelation chapter 12. There we read that the newly enthroned Jesus Christ, along with his holy angels, wages war against Satan and his demons. (Revelation 12:7-9) As this journal has often shown, that battle began in 1914.* Notice, though, that none of Christ’s anointed followers are said to be with Jesus in that heavenly war. Now look at chapter 17 of Revelation. We read there that after the destruction of “Babylon the Great,” the Lamb will conquer the nations. Then it adds: “Also, those called and chosen and faithful with him will do so.” (Revelation 17:5, 14) “Called and chosen and faithful” ones must already have been resurrected if they are to be with Jesus for the final defeat of Satan’s world. Reasonably, then, anointed ones who die before Armageddon are resurrected sometime between 1914 and Armageddon.
10 Can we say more precisely when the first resurrection begins? An interesting clue is found at Revelation 7:9-15, where the apostle John describes his vision of “a great crowd, which no man was able to number.” The identity of that great crowd is revealed to John by one of the 24 elders, and these elders represent the 144,000 joint heirs with Christ in their heavenly glory.* (Luke 22:28-30; Revelation 4:4) John himself had a heavenly hope; but since he was still a man on earth when the elder spoke to him, in the vision John must represent anointed ones on earth who have not yet received their heavenly reward.
11 What, then, can we deduce from the fact that one of the 24 elders identifies the great crowd to John? It seems that resurrected ones of the 24-elders group may be involved in the communicating of divine truths today. Why is that important? Because the correct identity of the great crowd was revealed to God’s anointed servants on earth in 1935. If one of the 24 elders was used to convey that important truth, he would have had to be resurrected to heaven by 1935 at the latest. That would indicate that the first resurrection began sometime between 1914 and 1935. Can we be more precise?
12 At this point, it may be helpful to consider what might be viewed as a Bible parallel. Jesus Christ was anointed as the future King of God’s Kingdom in the fall of 29 C.E. Three and a half years later, in the spring of 33 C.E., he was resurrected as a mighty spirit person. Could it, then, be reasoned that since Jesus was enthroned in the fall of 1914, the resurrection of his faithful anointed followers began three and a half years later, in the spring of 1918? That is an interesting possibility. Although this cannot be directly confirmed in the Bible, it is not out of harmony with other scriptures that indicate that the first resurrection got under way soon after Christ’s presence began.
13 For example, Paul wrote: “We the living who survive to the presence of the Lord [not, to the end of his presence] shall in no way precede those who have fallen asleep in death; because the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a commanding call, with an archangel’s voice and with God’s trumpet, and those who are dead in union with Christ will rise first. Afterward we the living who are surviving will, together with them, be caught away in clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and thus we shall always be with the Lord.” (1 Thessalonians 4:15-17) Therefore, anointed Christians who died before Christ’s presence were raised to heavenly life ahead of those who were still alive during Christ’s presence. This means that the first resurrection must have begun early in Christ’s presence, and it continues “during his presence.” (1 Corinthians 15:23) Rather than occurring all at once, the first resurrection takes place over a period of time.
“A White Robe Was Given to Each of Them”
14 Consider, too, the evidence contained in Revelation chapter 6. There Jesus is seen riding forth as a conquering King. (Revelation 6:2) The nations are embroiled in warfare of epic proportions. (Revelation 6:4) There is widespread famine. (Revelation 6:5, 6) Deadly plagues ravage mankind. (Revelation 6:8) All these prophesied events clearly fit world conditions since 1914. But something else happens. Our attention is drawn to an altar of sacrifice. At its base are “the souls of those slaughtered because of the word of God and because of the witness work that they used to have.” (Revelation 6:9) Since “the soul [or, life] of the flesh is in the blood,” what is really represented as being at the foot of the altar is the blood of faithful servants of Jesus who were slaughtered because of their bold and zealous witnessing.—Leviticus 17:11.
15 Like the blood of righteous Abel, the blood of these Christian martyrs is crying out for justice. (Genesis 4:10) “They cried with a loud voice, saying: ‘Until when, Sovereign Lord holy and true, are you refraining from judging and avenging our blood upon those who dwell on the earth?’” What comes next? “A white robe was given to each of them; and they were told to rest a little while longer, until the number was filled also of their fellow slaves and their brothers who were about to be killed as they also had been.”—Revelation 6:10, 11.
16 Were these white robes handed out to pools of blood lying at the base of an altar? Of course not! The robes were given to the individuals whose blood was shed, as it were, on the altar. They sacrificed their lives in Jesus’ name and were now resurrected as spirits. How do we know that? Earlier in the book of Revelation, we read: “He that conquers will thus be arrayed in white outer garments; and I will by no means blot out his name from the book of life.” Recall, too, that the 24 elders were “dressed in white outer garments, and upon their heads [were] golden crowns.” (Revelation 3:5; 4:4) So after war, famine, and pestilence began to ravage the earth, members of the 144,000 who were dead, represented by the blood at the base of the altar, were raised to heavenly life and clothed in symbolic white robes.
17 Those newly resurrected ones must “rest.” They must wait patiently for God’s day of vengeance. Their “fellow slaves,” anointed Christians still on earth, have yet to prove their integrity under trial. When the time for divine judgment arrives, the “rest” will be over. (Revelation 7:3) At that time, those resurrected ones will share with the Lord Jesus Christ in bringing destruction upon the wicked, including those who shed the blood of innocent Christians.—2 Thessalonians 1:7-10.
What It Means for Us
18 God’s Word does not disclose a precise date for the first resurrection, but it does reveal that it occurs over a period of time, during Christ’s presence. The first to be resurrected are anointed Christians who died before Christ’s presence began. As Christ’s presence progresses, anointed Christians who faithfully finish their earthly course are changed “in the twinkling of an eye” into powerful spirit creatures. (1 Corinthians 15:52) Will all the anointed receive their heavenly reward before the war of Armageddon? We do not know. We do know, however, that in God’s due time, all the 144,000 will be found standing on the heavenly Mount Zion.
19 We also know that the majority of the 144,000 are already united with Christ. Only a relatively few remain on earth. What a powerful indication that the time for the execution of God’s judgment is rapidly approaching! Soon, Satan’s entire world system will be destroyed. Satan himself will be abyssed. Then, the general resurrection can begin, and faithful humans can, on the basis of Jesus’ ransom sacrifice, be raised to perfection similar to that lost by Adam. Jehovah’s prophecy recorded at Genesis 3:15 is being wonderfully fulfilled. What a grand privilege it is to be living in these times!
For Scriptural proof that Christ’s presence began in 1914, see the book What Does the Bible Really Teach? pages 215-18, published by Jehovah’s Witnesses.
For information on how we know that the 24 elders represent anointed Christians in their heavenly position, see Revelation—Its Grand Climax At Hand! page 77, published by Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Can You Explain?
How do the following scriptures help us to discern the timing of “the first resurrection”?
1, 2. (a) What hope is there for those who have died? (b) On what basis do you believe in the resurrection? (See footnote.)
3. What comfort have you personally drawn from Jesus’ words recorded at John 5:28, 29, and why?
4, 5. What different resurrections does the Bible mention, and which will be discussed in this article?
6, 7. (a) Before anointed Christians can go to heaven, what must occur? (b) With what kind of body will they be resurrected?
8. How do we know that God does not select the 144,000 from members of different religions?
10, 11. (a) Who are the 24 elders, and what does one of them reveal to John? (b) What can we deduce from this?
12. Explain why the spring of 1918 may be viewed as a possible time for the first resurrection to begin.
13. In what way does 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 suggest that the first resurrection began early in Christ’s presence?
15, 16. Explain why the words of Revelation 6:10, 11 refer to the first resurrection.
17. In what sense must those who receive white robes “rest”?
18, 19. (a) For what reasons can you conclude that the first resurrection is now under way? (b) How does your understanding of the first resurrection make you feel?
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What resurrections take place before mankind in general is raised from the dead?
[Picture on page 29]
In what way is a white robe given to certain ones who were sleeping in death?