The Resurrection Hope
Even though some in Paul’s day doubted it, and in the time of Augustine it was a most controversial doctrine, and most theologians today ignore it, the Bible glows with the resurrection hope.
GOD’S Word, the Bible, gives abundant basis for the resurrection hope. To begin with, it tells of seven persons having been actually raised from the dead by the power of God: one each by Elijah and Elisha, three by Jesus, and two by God directly, the man whose corpse touched Elisha’s bones and Jesus himself. God’s Word also contains many prophecies of old, such as those recorded by Job, David, Isaiah, Hosea and others, that plainly foretell a resurrection of the dead. And Jesus Christ, the greatest of all prophets, not only repeatedly foretold his own resurrection but stated that “the hour is coming” in which he would call forth all those in the memorial tombs.—John 5:28, 29.
More than that, we find the four Gospel writers all telling of Jesus’ resurrection, giving varied, yet mutually compatible accounts thereof. Jesus’ disciples, though not highly educated, were intelligent and honest. They gave the evidence of Jesus’ resurrection at the very place it occurred and that without delay. Though Jesus had repeatedly foretold it, the actual fact took them by surprise. In preaching it they had nothing to gain from men except persecution and martyrdom. And only Jesus’ resurrection accounts for the fact, as The Encyclopedia Americana expresses it, that his disciples “passed out of a state of gloom and despair into joyous and unflinching boldness.”
With very good reason, therefore, the apostle Peter highlighted Jesus’ resurrection, doing so on the day of Pentecost, and upon his healing a certain cripple, when brought before the rulers (twice) and when witnessing to Cornelius. To Cornelius he said of Jesus: “God raised this One up on the third day and granted him to become visible, not to all the people, but to witnesses appointed beforehand by God, to us, who ate and drank with him after his rising from the dead.”—Acts 10:40, 41.
Likewise, only the resurrection of Jesus and his meeting Saul of Tarsus face to face accounts for that highly educated, fanatically persecuting Pharisee’s becoming the Christian Paul. No wonder that the apostle Paul time and time again refers to Jesus’ resurrection and the resurrection hope of Christians, both in his preaching and in his letters. How forcefully and eloquently he argues the fact of the resurrection in his first letter to the Corinthians, chapter fifteen! How logically he shows that without it Christians would be of all men “most to be pitied”! And how fitting his urging Christians to “become steadfast, unmovable, always having plenty to do in the work of the Lord, knowing that [such] labor is not in vain,” because of that resurrection hope!—1 Cor. 15:19, 58.
WHY A RESURRECTION?
In the beginning there was no need of a resurrection, as God created man to live forever, depending upon his obedience. And when the first human pair disobeyed, no need of a resurrection arose as far as they were concerned, as they had forfeited their right to life. God could have wiped them out immediately, together with the one who induced them to sin, Satan the Devil, but he did not. Why not? Because Satan boasted he could turn all creatures away from God. So God permitted Adam and Eve to live and bear children and Satan to live to try to prove his boast. God was confident that among Adam’s offspring there would be some who would successfully resist the Devil, thereby vindicating God and proving him free from any blame for Adam’s transgression.—Gen. 2:17; 3:19; Job chapters 1 and 2.
But regardless of what any of Adam’s offspring might do, they were under condemnation and dying due to Adam’s transgression. (Rom. 5:12) That deserving ones might get out from under divine condemnation, God provided for his Son to die as a ransom. And to give life to deserving ones who have gone into the grave he provided the resurrection. Yes, “God loved the world so much that he gave his only-begotten Son, in order that everyone exercising faith in him might not be destroyed but have everlasting life,” by means of a resurrection. Also, by means of the resurrection Jehovah God will have his original purpose regarding the earth realized, namely, for it to be a paradise filled with a perfect race of human creatures.—John 3:16; Gen. 1:28.
WHO, WHAT AND HOW?
The resurrection is one of the Creator’s most stupendous miracles. However, it should not stagger our faith, for God is both omniscient and omnipotent. With him nothing is too difficult or impossible. (Gen. 18:14; Matt. 19:26) It means the recreating of all those who are in “the memorial tombs,” that is, in God’s memory. Who are in his memory? None of the willfully wicked nor any who incurred family or community condemnation because of being associated with the wicked. All such God forgets. (Ex. 32:33; Prov. 10:7; 11:7) Only those will experience a resurrection from the dead who either have proved themselves keepers of integrity or at least had a leaning toward righteousness but who because of ignorance did not serve God and therefore are termed the “unrighteous.”—Acts 24:15.
What will be resurrected? The body? No, for it has disintegrated and its atoms have become parts of other living things, which, in turn, may have become part of other living creatures. Is it the soul? No and yes. No and yes? That’s right! No, if by “soul” you mean the creedal immaterial something not dependent upon any body and which is supposed to be immortal. But yes, if you have in mind the Scriptural meaning of soul, namely the psychosomatic whole, consisting of body, mind and breath of life. “The man came to be a living soul,” we read at Genesis 2:7. Not, “the man received a soul.” At death the soul, the individual, ceases to exist. “The soul that sins shall die.” And in death there are no knowledge, wisdom nor thoughts. (Ps. 146:3, 4; Eccl. 9:5, 10; Ezek. 18:20, RS) The resurrection restores to life that which died, the individual, the soul, God giving the individual a suitable body. Of course, as we have already noted, that applies only to those individuals whose life pattern is recorded in God’s memory. What factors govern the personality that we are or the life pattern that we display?
Our personalities are the result of four factors operating in our lives. First is heredity, by which we are stamped with certain inclinations and possibilities, mental, physical, moral and emotional. Second is environment, which largely determines whether those various traits will be developed or repressed. Third is the matter of human will. Persons at times have overcome great hereditary handicaps or unfavorable environment by reason of their will to do so. Finally, and most important, are the aids God provides, his holy spirit, his Word and his organization. These three have aided many persons in putting on a Christlike personality in spite of hereditary handicaps and environmental factors.
WHERE AND WHEN?
The Scriptures show that there are two kinds of resurrections: the one first both in time and importance, which one is heavenly; and the second or later resurrection, which will be earthly. To appreciate what the Scriptures have to say about these two resurrections we must first of all understand what they teach regarding two destinies for the obedient ones of mankind. On the one hand, there are many promises relating to a place prepared in the heavens for Christ’s followers, where they will sit on thrones, serve as kings and priests for a thousand years. They are spoken of as gaining a crown of life, a crown of righteousness, and as being ‘heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ’ and part of the Seed of Abraham that will bless all the families of the earth. Their number is a very limited one, just 144,000, therefore fittingly termed by Jesus a “little flock.”—Luke 12:32; John 14:2; Gal. 3:29; 2 Tim. 4:8; Rev. 2:10; 20:6.
All these will share with Jesus in the first resurrection, he having been the first to experience it. Like him they must first have been born again and begotten to a living heavenly hope by God’s will and his holy spirit. They must have the witness of the spirit that they are God’s sons and, like Jesus, must prove faithful until death. Fulfillment of Bible prophecy indicates that the resurrection of these body members of Christ began when he came to his house for judgment in 1918. Only a remnant of this 144,000 remain, and these experience the first resurrection upon their death, even as Paul shows: “We shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, during the last trumpet.”—John 3:5; Rom. 8:16; 1 Cor. 15:51, 52.
On the other hand, there are many scriptures that tell of God’s purpose regarding this earth, yet to be realized. It is to stand to time indefinite, even forever. It “will certainly be filled with the knowledge of Jehovah as the waters are covering the very sea.” Under God’s kingdom rule the meek will possess the earth and men will learn war no more. God will wipe out every tear from men’s eyes, “death will be no more, neither will mourning nor outcry nor pain be any more.” These are the prospects held out for all those in the memory of God who do not share in the first resurrection.—Ps. 104:5; Isa. 2:4; 11:9; Rev. 21:4.
When will these come forth? Since they are coming forth to a prospect of living forever, it is but reasonable to conclude that they will be brought forth in God’s new world after God’s war of Armageddon wipes out this present wicked system of things, invisible as well as visible. Also, in view of the prophecy that Christ will make some of them princes in all the earth, it is but reasonable to conclude that those who proved their integrity in this life will have an early resurrection, especially since these are promised a reward.—Ps. 45:16; Heb. 11:39, 40; Rev. 11:18.
Truly, in God’s Word, the Bible, there is ample basis for the resurrection hope, and all its details harmonize beautifully and make sense. Having that hope, while we may mourn the loss of loved ones, we will not mourn as do others that have no hope. Further, that hope will enable us to keep integrity toward God come what may, knowing that by means of the resurrection everlasting life is assured us in God’s new world.—1 Thess. 4:13.