Real Hope for Your Loved Ones Who Have Died
How do we know that the resurrection will really happen?
How does Jehovah feel about resurrecting the dead?
Who will be resurrected?
1-3. What enemy pursues all of us, and why will considering what the Bible teaches bring us some relief?
IMAGINE that you are running away from a vicious enemy. He is much stronger and faster than you are. You know that he is merciless because you have seen him kill some of your friends. No matter how hard you try to outrun him, he keeps getting closer. There seems to be no hope. Suddenly, though, a rescuer appears at your side. He is far more powerful than your enemy, and he promises to help you. How relieved that makes you feel!
2 In a sense, you are being pursued by such an enemy. All of us are. As we learned in the preceding chapter, the Bible calls death an enemy. None of us can outrun it or fight it off. Most of us have seen this enemy claim the lives of people dear to us. But Jehovah is far more powerful than death. He is the loving Rescuer who has already shown that he can defeat this enemy. And he promises to destroy this enemy, death, once and for all. The Bible teaches: “The last enemy, death, is to be brought to nothing.” (1 Corinthians 15:26) That is good news!
3 Let us take a brief look at how the enemy death affects us when it strikes. Doing this will help us to appreciate something that will make us happy. You see, Jehovah promises that the dead will live again. (Isaiah 26:19) They will be brought back to life. That is the hope of the resurrection.
WHEN A LOVED ONE DIES
4. (a) Why does Jesus’ reaction to the death of a loved one teach us about Jehovah’s feelings? (b) Jesus developed what special friendship?
4 Have you lost a loved one in death? The pain, the grief, and the feelings of helplessness can seem unbearable. At such times, we need to go to God’s Word for comfort. (Read 2 Corinthians 1:3, 4.) The Bible helps us to understand how Jehovah and Jesus feel about death. Jesus, who perfectly reflected his Father, knew the pain of losing someone in death. (John 14:9) When he was in Jerusalem, Jesus used to visit Lazarus and his sisters, Mary and Martha, who lived in the nearby town of Bethany. They became close friends. The Bible says: “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.” (John 11:5) As we learned in the preceding chapter, though, Lazarus died.
5, 6. (a) How did Jesus respond when he was with Lazarus’ grieving family and friends? (b) Why is Jesus’ grief encouraging to us?
5 How did Jesus feel about losing his friend? The account tells us that Jesus joined Lazarus’ relatives and friends as they grieved over this loss. Seeing them, Jesus was deeply moved. He “groaned within himself and became troubled.” Then, the account says, “Jesus gave way to tears.” (John 11:33, 35) Did Jesus’ grief mean that he had no hope? Not at all. In fact, Jesus knew that something wonderful was about to happen. (John 11:3, 4) Still, he felt the pain and sorrow that death brings.
6 In a way, Jesus’ grief is encouraging to us. It teaches us that Jesus and his Father, Jehovah, hate death. But Jehovah God is able to fight and overcome that enemy! Let us see what God enabled Jesus to do.
“LAZARUS, COME OUT!”
7, 8. Why might the case of Lazarus have seemed hopeless to human onlookers, but what did Jesus do?
7 Lazarus had been buried in a cave, and Jesus asked that the stone sealing its entrance be taken away. Martha objected because after four days, Lazarus’ body must have begun to decay. (John 11:39) From a human standpoint, what hope was there?
8 The stone was rolled away, and Jesus cried out with a loud voice: “Lazarus, come out!” What happened? “The man who had been dead came out.” (John 11:43, 44) Can you imagine the joy of the people there? Whether Lazarus was their brother, relative, friend, or neighbor, they knew that he had died. Yet, here he was—the same dear man—standing among them again. That must have seemed too good to be true. Many no doubt embraced Lazarus joyfully. What a victory over death!
9, 10. (a) How did Jesus reveal the Source of his power to resurrect Lazarus? (b) What are some of the benefits of reading the Bible’s resurrection accounts?
9 Jesus did not claim to perform this amazing miracle on his own. In his prayer just before calling out to Lazarus, he made it clear that Jehovah was the Source of the resurrection. (Read John 11:41, 42.) This was not the only time that Jehovah used his power in this way. The resurrection of Lazarus is just one of nine miracles of this kind recorded in God’s Word.a To read and study these accounts is a delight. They teach us that God is not partial, for the resurrected ones include young and old, male and female, Israelite and non-Israelite. And what joy is described in these passages! For example, when Jesus raised a young girl from the dead, her parents “were beside themselves with great ecstasy.” (Mark 5:42) Yes, Jehovah had given them a cause for joy that they would never forget.
10 Of course, those resurrected by Jesus eventually died again. Does this mean that it was pointless to resurrect them? Not at all. These Bible accounts confirm important truths and give us hope.
LEARNING FROM THE RESURRECTION ACCOUNTS
11. How does the account of Lazarus’ resurrection help to confirm the truth recorded at Ecclesiastes 9:5?
11 The Bible teaches that “the dead know nothing at all.” (Ecclesiastes 9:5) They are not alive and have no conscious existence anywhere. The account of Lazarus confirms this. Upon returning to life, did Lazarus thrill people with descriptions of heaven? Or did he terrify them with horrible tales about a burning hell? No. The Bible contains no such words from Lazarus. During the four days that he was dead, he knew “nothing at all.” Lazarus had simply been sleeping in death.—John 11:11.
12. Why can we be sure that the resurrection of Lazarus really happened?
12 The account of Lazarus also teaches us that the resurrection is a reality, not a mere myth. Jesus raised Lazarus in front of a crowd of eyewitnesses. Even the religious leaders, who hated Jesus, did not deny this miracle. Rather, they said: “What are we to do, for this man [Jesus] performs many signs?” (John 11:47) Many people went to see the resurrected man. As a result, even more of them put faith in Jesus. They saw in Lazarus living proof that Jesus was sent by God. This evidence was so powerful that some of the hardhearted Jewish religious leaders planned to kill both Jesus and Lazarus.—John 11:53; 12:9-11.
13. What basis do we have for believing that Jehovah really can resurrect the dead?
13 Is it unrealistic to accept the resurrection as a fact? No, for Jesus taught that someday “all those in the memorial tombs” will be resurrected. (John 5:28) Jehovah is the Creator of all life. Should it be hard to believe that he can re-create life? Of course, much would depend on Jehovah’s memory. Can he remember our dead loved ones? Countless trillions of stars fill the universe, yet God knows the name of each one! (Isaiah 40:26) So Jehovah God can remember our dead loved ones in every detail, and he is ready to restore them to life.
14, 15. As illustrated by what Job said, how does Jehovah feel about bringing the dead back to life?
14 How, though, does Jehovah feel about resurrecting the dead? The Bible teaches that he is eager to raise the dead. The faithful man Job asked: “If a man dies, can he live again?” Job was speaking about waiting in the grave until the time came for God to remember him. He said to Jehovah: “You will call, and I will answer you. You will long for the work of your hands.”—Job 14:13-15.
15 Just think! Jehovah longs for the time when he will bring the dead back to life. Is it not heartwarming to learn that Jehovah feels that way? But what about this future resurrection? Who will be resurrected, and where?
“ALL THOSE IN THE MEMORIAL TOMBS”
16. The dead will be resurrected to live in what kind of conditions?
16 The Bible’s resurrection accounts teach us much about the resurrection to come. People who were restored to life right here on earth were reunited with their loved ones. The future resurrection will be similar—but much better. As we learned in Chapter 3, God’s purpose is that the whole earth be made into a paradise. So the dead will not be raised to life in a world filled with war, crime, and sickness. They will have an opportunity to live forever on this earth in peaceful and happy conditions.
17. How extensive will the resurrection be?
17 Who will be resurrected? Jesus said that “all those in the memorial tombs will hear his [Jesus’] voice and come out.” (John 5:28, 29) Similarly, Revelation 20:13 says: “The sea gave up the dead in it, and death and the Grave gave up the dead in them.” (See the Appendix article “What Are Sheol and Hades?”) This collective grave will be emptied. All those billions who rest there will live again. The apostle Paul said: “There is going to be a resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Acts 24:15) What does that mean?
18. Who are included among “the righteous” who are to be resurrected, and how may this hope affect you personally?
18 “The righteous” include many of the people we read about in the Bible who lived before Jesus came to the earth. You might think of Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Moses, Ruth, Esther, and many others. Some of these men and women of faith are discussed in the 11th chapter of Hebrews. But “the righteous” also include Jehovah’s servants who die in our time. Thanks to the resurrection hope, we do not have to be afraid of dying.—Hebrews 2:15.
19. Who are “the unrighteous,” and what opportunity does Jehovah kindly give them?
19 What about all the people who did not serve or obey Jehovah because they never knew about him? These billions of “unrighteous” ones will not be forgotten. They too will be resurrected and given time to learn about the true God and to serve him. During a period of a thousand years, the dead will be resurrected and given an opportunity to join faithful humans on earth in serving Jehovah. It will be a wonderful time. This period is what the Bible refers to as Judgment Day.b
20. What is Gehenna, and who go there?
20 Does this mean that every human who ever lived will be resurrected? No. The Bible says that some of the dead are in “Gehenna.” (Luke 12:5) Gehenna got its name from a garbage dump located outside of ancient Jerusalem. Dead bodies and garbage were burned there. The dead whose bodies were thrown there were considered by the Jews to be unworthy of a burial and a resurrection. So Gehenna is a fitting symbol of everlasting destruction. Although Jesus will have a role in judging the living and the dead, Jehovah is the final Judge. (Acts 10:42) He will never resurrect those whom he judges to be wicked and unwilling to change.
THE HEAVENLY RESURRECTION
21, 22. (a) What other kind of resurrection is there? (b) Who was the first ever to receive a resurrection to spirit life?
21 The Bible also refers to another kind of resurrection, one to life as a spirit creature in heaven. Only one example of this type of resurrection is recorded in the Bible, that of Jesus Christ.
22 After Jesus was put to death as a human, Jehovah did not allow His faithful Son to remain in the Grave. (Psalm 16:10; Acts 13:34, 35) God resurrected Jesus, but not as a human. The apostle Peter explains that Christ was “put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit.” (1 Peter 3:18) This truly was a great miracle. Jesus was alive again as a mighty spirit person! (Read 1 Corinthians 15:3-6.) Jesus was the first ever to receive this glorious type of resurrection, but he would not be the last.—John 3:13.
23, 24. Who make up Jesus’ “little flock,” and how many will they number?
23 Knowing that he would soon return to heaven, Jesus told his faithful followers that he would “prepare a place” for them there. (John 14:2) Jesus referred to those going to heaven as his “little flock.” (Luke 12:32) How many are to be in this relatively small group of faithful Christians? According to Revelation 14:1, the apostle John says: “I saw, and look! the Lamb [Jesus Christ] standing on Mount Zion, and with him 144,000 who have his name and the name of his Father written on their foreheads.”
24 These 144,000 Christians, including Jesus’ faithful apostles, are raised to life in heaven. When does their resurrection take place? The apostle Paul wrote that it would occur during the time of Christ’s presence. (1 Corinthians 15:23) As you will learn in Chapter 9, we are now living in that time. So those few remaining ones of the 144,000 who die in our day are instantly resurrected to life in heaven. (1 Corinthians 15:51-55) The vast majority of mankind, however, have the prospect of being resurrected in the future to life in Paradise on earth.
25. What will be considered in the next chapter?
25 Yes, Jehovah really will defeat our enemy death, and it will be gone forever! (Read Isaiah 25:8.) Yet, you may wonder, ‘What will those resurrected to heaven do there?’ They will form part of a marvelous Kingdom government in heaven. We will learn more about that government in the next chapter.
a The other accounts are found at 1 Kings 17:17-24; 2 Kings 4:32-37; 13:20, 21; Matthew 28:5-7; Luke 7:11-17; 8:40-56; Acts 9:36-42; and 20:7-12.
b For more information on Judgment Day and the basis for judgment, please see the Appendix article “Judgment Day—What Is It?”