Will the Dead Live Again?
Millions have asked this question. Here is the Bible’s authoritative answer.
RECENTLY, under the caption “In Memoriam,” these words appeared in a prominent newspaper: “Brody—Iris (Mother Daughter) 1st anniversary. In loving everlasting memory. Dad, Mom and Michael.” Below it a similar notice read: “Donnelly—Adeline Moclair. In loving and cherished memory of a wonderful wife and mother whose presence we miss more each day.”
Such heartfelt expressions demonstrate a common experience of the living—we miss our dead. Their absence is a real loss. As is true of any great loss, we wonder if there is any possibility of recovering it. Sometimes we believe the loss could have been prevented had a loved one received timely or better treatment. That was the belief of the woman Martha, who poured out her grief to Jesus: “Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died.” When Jehovah God’s Son replied: “Your brother will rise,” Martha responded: “I know he will rise in the resurrection on the last day.”—John 11:21, 23, 24.
How did this woman know this? Was she the victim of a delusion or a pet superstition? Was the wish perhaps father to the belief? Not at all. Martha had faith in Jehovah, the miracle-working God, the true Creator of life. Undoubtedly ever since her childhood Martha had known the inspired Bible report of the first man and woman’s creation. Martha knew that her God had formed Adam from dust. By blowing into Adam’s nostrils the breath of life the man came to be a living soul. (Gen. 2:7) It was not hard for Martha to believe that such a God could raise the dead, even after they had again become dust.
In fact, in the sacred history of her ancestors Martha could have learned a number of faith-inspiring things about the resurrection. There was the ancient Bible account of the patriarch Abraham, for example. In proof of his faith that Jehovah could raise the dead, Abraham was willing to obey God’s command to sacrifice Isaac, his son. (Heb. 11:17-19) From the ancient book of Job Martha probably remembered that integrity keeper’s statement: “If an able-bodied man dies can he live again? All the days of my compulsory service I shall wait, until my relief comes. You will call, and I myself shall answer you. For the work of your hands you will have a yearning.”—Job 14:14, 15.
Martha’s conviction that the dead would live again very likely drew support from the sacred historical report about a resurrection in the city of Zarephath. There a widow’s son had died during a visit of Elijah the prophet. When Elijah earnestly petitioned Jehovah to let life return into the dead boy, God listened and acted—the dead child lived again. (1 Ki. 17:17-23) Also recorded in the sacred writings of Martha’s people was God’s promise to the beloved prophet Daniel: “You will rest, but you will stand up for your lot at the end of the days.”—Dan. 12:13.
The coming of Jesus, the long-awaited Messiah, brought further assurance that the dead will live again. One day, before Martha’s brother Lazarus took sick and died, Jesus provided new information on the resurrection hope, saying: “For just as the Father raises the dead up and makes them alive, so the Son also makes those alive whom he wants to. Most truly I say to you, The hour is coming, and it is now, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who have given heed will live. Do not marvel at this, because the hour is coming in which all those in the memorial tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who did good things to a resurrection of life, those who practiced vile things to a resurrection of judgment.” (John 5:21, 25, 28, 29) Later on, Jesus again brought up the subject, saying: “This is the will of him that sent me, that I should lose nothing out of all that he has given me but that I should resurrect it at the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone that beholds the Son and exercises faith in him should have everlasting life, and I will resurrect him at the last day.”—John 6:39, 40.
In view of Jesus’ clear teaching, it should not surprise us that Martha said her brother would “rise in the resurrection on the last day.” Her strong faith was based on accurate knowledge of God’s purpose. However, she did not know that Jesus intended to raise Lazarus then and there! Going to the tomb where Lazarus was buried four days previously, Jesus prayed to Jehovah and then cried out in a loud voice: “Lazarus, come on out!” Immediately Lazarus came out, still swathed in his funeral wrappings. “Loose him,” said Jesus, “and let him go.” (John 11:41-44) The news spread rapidly. Sometime later, when Jesus visited Lazarus and his sisters, “a great crowd of the Jews got to know he was there, and they came, not on account of Jesus only, but also to see Lazarus, whom he raised up from the dead. The chief priests now took counsel to kill Lazarus also, because on account of him many of the Jews were going there and putting faith in Jesus.” (John 12:1, 2, 9-11) From Jesus’ time onward, faith in him became an essential part of the resurrection hope. It was his own sacrificial death and his resurrection by Jehovah that opened up the way for all in the memorial tombs to come out in God’s due time.
Of course, this good news was not something to be hid from people of other nations. Jesus instructed his followers to take the comforting message of God’s kingdom “to the most distant part of the earth.” (Acts 1:8; Matt. 24:14) Into the pagan city of Athens came the apostle Paul some years later, telling people, including Epicurean and Stoic philosophers, “the good news of Jesus and the resurrection.” When haled before the Athenian court of the Areopagus on a “heresy” charge, Paul boldly declared that God “has set a day in which he purposes to judge the inhabited earth in righteousness by a man [Jesus] whom he has appointed, and he has furnished a guarantee to all men in that he has resurrected him from the dead.”—Acts 17:18, 31.
That coming “day” when Christ Jesus judges the inhabited earth in righteousness is during the thousand-year Kingdom rule for which he taught all Christians to pray: “Our Father in the heavens, let your name be sanctified. Let your kingdom come. Let your will take place, as in heaven, also upon earth.” (Matt. 6:9, 10) This is the rule of the heavenly government that God has promised will spread paradise earthwide. The apostle John was commanded to write a vivid description of that happy time, and he did so in these words: “I saw also the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God and prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. With that I heard a loud voice from the throne say: ‘Look! The tent of God is with mankind, and he will reside with them, and they will be his peoples. And God himself will be with them. And he will wipe out every tear from their eyes, and death will be no more, neither will mourning nor outcry nor pain be any more. The former things have passed away.’ And the one seated on the throne said: ‘Look! I am making all things new.’ Also, he says: ‘Write, because these words are faithful and true.’”—Rev. 21:2-5.
IN HEAVEN AND ON EARTH
In any country there is a capital or ruling organization in which a minority hold office. The decisions and actions of the ruling officials affect the lives of the majority living under such government. So with God’s Kingdom rule over this earth. Christ is God’s anointed King, and a minority whom Jesus called his “little flock” are taken by resurrection to the heavenly capital organization, where “they will be priests of God and of the Christ, and will rule as kings with him for the thousand years.” (Luke 12:32; Rev. 20:6) The Lord Jesus, in the Revelation to his apostle John, disclosed that there would be just 144,000 of such ones who would be taken from the earth to be associated with him, the Lamb of God, on heavenly Mount Zion, in the Kingdom organization. (Rev. 14:1-3) The faithful apostles were the first ones called to that heavenly “little flock,” and concerning them and their fellow heirs of the heavenly prize John wrote: “Happy and holy is anyone having part in the first resurrection.” (Rev. 20:6; 1 Pet. 1:4) But it is evident that this small number does not include all who have exercised faith in Jesus and the resurrection hope. What of the others, the vast majority of believers?
The majority of resurrected mankind will come back as subjects, not rulers, of the kingdom of heaven. They will be blessed with life on a paradise earth freed from suffering and sorrow. It was to such earthly subjects of his kingdom that Jesus referred when he said: “And I have other sheep, which are not of this [heavenly] fold; those also I must bring, and they will listen to my voice, and they will become one flock, one shepherd.”—John 10:16.
As Jesus stated, there will be included among the ones resurrected “those who did good things” and some “who practiced vile things.” (John 5:29) “Those who did good things” were faithful servants of God, persons who molded their life pattern in harmony with the will of God. Theirs will be a “resurrection of life,” and, as we have seen, by far the majority of these will be raised to life on earth. John the Baptist will be included in this group. Since he died before Jesus’ sacrifice opened the way to heavenly life, his could not be a heavenly resurrection, and for that reason Jesus said: “Among those born of women there has not been raised up a greater than John the Baptist; but a person that is a lesser one in the kingdom of the heavens is greater than he is.” (Matt. 11:11) Many men and women from Abel to John maintained integrity to God “in order that they might attain a better resurrection.” (Heb. 11:35) Of these Paul wrote: “And yet all these, although they had witness borne to them through their faith, did not get the fulfillment of the promise, as God foresaw something better for us, in order that they might not be made perfect apart from us.” (Heb. 11:39, 40) So it would be only after the establishment of the heavenly ruling organization that the earthly subjects of the Kingdom would get their reward.
That Jehovah God will surely remember those pre-Christian servants of his we have assurance from Jesus: “But that the dead are raised up even Moses disclosed, in the account about the thornbush, when he calls Jehovah ‘the God of Abraham and God of Isaac and God of Jacob.’ He is a God, not of the dead, but of the living, for they are all living to him.”—Luke 20:37, 38.
Mercifully, even some “who practiced vile things” will be raised from the dead, to be judged according to the things they do thereafter. The evildoer who was put to death alongside Jesus will be included among such. (Luke 23:43) Not the incorrigibly wicked, but persons who, while they did bad things in ignorance, would readily respond to righteousness will be included among those resurrected and be given the opportunity to learn and conform to the divine will.
RIGHTEOUSNESS AND HAPPINESS
On the basis of this Scriptural information, we today can look forward joyfully to a “new heavens and a new earth that we are awaiting according to his promise, and in these righteousness is to dwell.” (2 Pet. 3:13) That righteous rule with its miraculous resurrection of all those in the memorial tombs will bring gladness to the heart of many who now mourn their dead.
Do you recall the happiness of the mother and father of the little girl that Jesus resurrected? “They were beside themselves with great ecstasy.” (Mark 5:42) That will be the thrill you may share at seeing the resurrection of men, women and children known to you personally or through the Bible. Just as you maintain your identity from youth to adulthood, although your appearance varies, so the personalities of resurrected ones will be recognized in whatever body God is pleased to give them.
Parents receiving a dead child back to life will be so happy that they will not regret that the resurrected child must grow up and lead its own life. Couples like Aquila and Prisca who gain the heavenly resurrection with its eternal joy as Christ’s “bride” will feel no regret that they are no longer man and wife. (Rom. 16:3) The joy at the raising up of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob, Leah and Rachel will not be diminished because, like the angels, they “neither marry nor are given in marriage.” Their supreme delight will be to live in God’s family circle “by being children of the resurrection.” (Luke 20:34-36) So anyone of us who sees a former child, wife, husband, father or mother come back from the dead will be beside himself with great ecstasy. That happiness will not be diminished because the heavenly Father does not reunite in marriage resurrected persons who were once man and wife. Their joy will overflow to be able to enjoy each other’s fellowship as heirs of life. Prayers of gratitude will go up to Jehovah God that a loved one has come back into God’s family circle to share the blessings of endless life in the righteous new world. Grateful children of God would ask no more.
Realization of that righteous world soon now will do full justice to Jehovah’s reputation as a God of love, wisdom, justice and power. To the question, “Will the dead live again?” we now have the authoritative answer: “The hour is coming in which all those in the memorial tombs will hear his voice and come out.”—John 5:28, 29.