A Marvelous Hope
WILL death continue for all time to claim victims and occasion expressions of grief? Or, is there any hope that death will be abolished and that those now held fast in its grip will be released?
Since Jehovah God gave life to the first human pair, Adam and Eve, it logically follows that he can also restore to life those who are now sleeping in death. This is what the ancient patriarch Job believed. On account of the intense suffering he was enduring, he directed these words to God: “O that in Sheol [gravedom] you would conceal me, . . . that you would set a time limit for me and remember me! . . . You will call, and I myself shall answer you. For the work of your hands you will have a yearning.”—Job 14:13-15.
Basis for Hope
By reason of God’s creating Adam and Eve and endowing them with the ability to procreate, humans are the ‘work of God’s hands.’ As descendants of sinner Adam, they are imperfect and subject to death. Yet God does not want to see the human family as a whole reduced to the lifeless dust from which he created the first man Adam. He yearns or longs for the day that he has determined upon for restoring billions of dead humans to life.
That we might have confidence in his ability to resurrect the dead, Jehovah God at times empowered men to do this. He also inspired men to provide a dependable record of past resurrections. This record is contained in the Bible. What do we learn from it?
The Hebrew prophet Elijah raised the only son of a widow who lived in the city of Zarephath. (1 Ki. 17:21-23) At Shunem, in the northern part of Israel, Elijah’s successor Elisha resurrected the only son of a prominent hospitable woman.—2 Ki. 4:8, 32-37.
Many centuries thereafter Jesus Christ brought great happiness to a number of persons who had lost loved ones in death. Jairus, a presiding officer in a synagogue near the Sea of Galilee, had the joy of seeing his daughter raised from the sleep of death. A widow at Nain, to the southwest of the Sea of Galilee, saw her only son come to life on the very bier that the bearers were carrying to a tomb outside the city. Mary and Martha of Bethany, not far from Jerusalem, had their brother restored to them after he had been dead four days.—Mark 5:22, 35, 41-43; Luke 7:11-17; John 11:38-45.
Later, two of Jesus’ apostles were instrumental in restoring dead persons to life. The apostle Peter resurrected Dorcas (Tabitha) at the Mediterranean coastal city of Joppa. (Acts 9:36-42) And at Troas, in the Roman province of Asia, the apostle Paul raised Eutychus from the dead.—Acts 20:6-12.
The most remarkable resurrection of all time was that of Jesus Christ. That resurrection was thoroughly established as fact. Upward of five hundred witnesses saw the risen Christ. So overwhelming was the evidence that the apostle Paul pointed out that denial of the resurrection meant denial of Christian faith as a whole. He stated: “If, indeed, there is no resurrection of the dead, neither has Christ been raised up. But if Christ has not been raised up, our preaching is certainly in vain, and our faith is in vain. Moreover, we are also found false witnesses of God, because we have borne witness against God that he raised up the Christ, but whom he did not raise up if the dead are really not to be raised up.”—1 Cor. 15:13-15.
Kinds of Resurrections
The resurrection of Jesus Christ, however, was very different from that of all others who were restored to life during the first century C.E. and earlier. He experienced a change in nature. The Bible tells us that he was “put to death in the flesh” but “made alive in the spirit.” (1 Pet. 3:18) Only those chosen from among mankind to be associate rulers with him share in a resurrection like his—a resurrection to immortal spirit life in the heavens. Regarding these, the Bible says: “Happy and holy is anyone having part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no authority, but they will be priests of God and of the Christ, and will rule as kings with him for the thousand years.”—Rev. 20:6.
Note that this kind of resurrection is called the “first resurrection.” Hence, there must be yet another resurrection involving the billions of dead humans who will come under the rulership of Jesus Christ and his associate king-priests. Describing this latter resurrection as he saw it in a vision, the apostle John wrote: “The sea gave up those dead in it, and death and Hades [gravedom] gave up those dead in them.”—Rev. 20:13.
But where will all those dead persons be raised? They will be resurrected to life on earth, as were those whom the Hebrew prophets, as well as Jesus and his apostles, resurrected. That there will be a resurrection to earthly life is also confirmed by what was revealed to John about the changed conditions to exist on earth among mankind. We read: “The tent of God is with mankind . . . And he will wipe out every tear from their eyes, and death will be no more, neither will mourning nor outcry nor pain be anymore. The former things have passed away.”—Rev. 21:3, 4.
But might the removal of death from humankind pose untold problems due to overcrowding of the earth? No. Why not? Because God’s original purpose was that the earth be filled, not overpopulated. (Gen. 1:28) So we can rest assured that the One who has the ability to restore the dead to life will have no difficulty in seeing to it that this earth will continue to be a delightful home for mankind.
What Will Be Resurrected?
Raising people from the dead is indeed a stupendous miracle. Since what humans are as persons appears to be inseparably linked with their physical bodies, many people find it hard to understand how resurrection is possible. In most cases, nothing remains of the dead person’s physical organism. The corpse may even have been burned or perhaps devoured by birds, fish or beasts. So how can those who are resurrected really be the same persons who died?
The creation of Adam makes it clear that what made him a person was what God did. The elements from which Adam was made had no personality. However, when Jehovah God energized the lifeless body composed from elements of the ground, Adam became a person with a distinct personality. The possession of the spirit of life that God put in the lifeless body when energizing it made Adam a living soul.—Compare Genesis 1:21, 24 regarding “soul.”
What makes Adam’s descendants the personalities that they are is not the substance making up their bodies but the hereditary estate that is transmitted within that substance —an inheritance consisting of the qualities, traits and abilities that distinguish the possessors from others as persons. Furthermore, even in life the human body constantly undergoes change. The molecules making up a person’s body today are not the same ones as those that made up his body some seven years ago. Nevertheless, though his substances are different as to molecules, the person is still the same person. Why? Because the bodily organs and features are still there despite the gradual change of the molecules; even the fingerprints have remained the same.
Clearly, then, resurrection does not depend upon the preservation of the same molecules. The resurrected person can, in fact, even be of a different substance, as is the case with those raised to spirit life in the heavens. Of the heavenly resurrection, the apostle Paul wrote: “What you sow is not made alive unless first it dies; and as for what you sow, you sow, not the body that will develop, but a bare grain, it may be, of wheat or any one of the rest; but God gives it a body just as it has pleased him, and to each of the seeds its own body. . . . And there are heavenly bodies, and earthly bodies; but the glory of the heavenly bodies is one sort, and that of the earthly bodies is a different sort. . . . So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption, it is raised up in incorruption. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised up in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised up in power. It is sown a physical body, it is raised up a spiritual body.” (1 Cor. 15:36-44) However, for the resurrected ones to be the same persons, they must bear the personal identity of their former life.
That intangible thing—the traits and qualities making organized matter a distinct person—rests with God, and he is able to put that identical personality within the resurrection body. That is why the resurrected person is not merely a copy. He is the identical person, possessing every mental and emotional trait that made him what he was before his death.
This explains why Jesus said to his disciples: “Do not become fearful of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; but rather be in fear of him that can destroy both soul and body.” (Matt. 10:28) True, men can take away life, causing the body to become lifeless. But they cannot take away a person’s God-given title to be a living soul. They cannot blot out anyone from God’s provision for them to be awakened from the sleep of death. Only God can cancel a person’s opportunity of living again as a soul. When that is the case, the person is totally destroyed. Even if the identical molecules making up a person’s body could be assembled, these would be of no value without the God-given title for one to live again. God alone can supply that needed life-force.
Accordingly, the raising of the dead is possible only because God exists. While not spelling out the details, the Bible provides enough information for one to have a basis for solid faith in the resurrection. You can personally benefit from this marvelous hope both now and in the future. How?
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How grand it will be when one’s own family members return from the dead!