There Is a Future for the Dead
Can you be certain that dead loved ones will live again? What future will they have?
IT WAS September 11, 1965; a time of extreme sorrow for a young boy and his teen-age brother and sister. But, really, the occasion was not unusual or the scene unfamiliar. Millions of persons since have gathered at funerals, and viewed dead loved ones. Perhaps you, too, are familiar with the empty feeling that comes with losing in death one whom you love. How depressed and utterly helpless you can feel! That is exactly how these three youngsters felt as they observed their beloved mother lying motionless in a New York City funeral parlor.
On such occasions, one is very concerned about the future for the dead. Is there really hope for them? Can Almighty God actually resurrect dead loved ones back to life? Will one really be able to enjoy their company, and again experience good times with them? Before her death the mother had taught her children to believe that this was possible. Now it was comforting to hear the minister offer certain evidence from the Bible that dead loved ones will enjoy a happy future. How faith-strengthening this was!
A TRUSTWORTHY PROMISE
The minister pointed to the promise made by the miracle worker Jesus Christ, who electrified the Galilean countryside by his amazing deeds in the first century of our Common Era. During a brief visit to Jerusalem in Judea to celebrate the Passover in the spring of 31 C.E., Jesus had told a Jewish audience: “For just as the Father raises the dead up and makes them alive, so the Son also makes those alive whom he wants to. 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.” What a wonderful promise!—John 5:21, 28, 29.
The idea of resurrection was not new to the assembled Jews. In fact, those belonging to the popular sect of the Pharisees publicly declared the resurrection of the dead. (Acts 23:8) These apparently believed that the Father, Jehovah God, could raise the dead and, in times past, had used his prophets Elijah and Elisha to do so. (1 Ki. 17:17-24; 2 Ki. 4:32-37) However, they did not believe that Jesus had this power. Is there sound basis, then, for us today to put faith in Jesus’ promise to call forth those in their memorial tombs?
Although up until this time Jesus had apparently not resurrected anyone, shortly later he offered amazing foregleams of what he would accomplish in his Father’s due time. After returning to Galilee, Jesus and his followers traveled to the little village of Nain, located in the fertile plain of Esdraelon a few miles southwest of the Sea of Galilee.
Just as they were approaching the settlement, Jesus and his party came upon a touching scene. A funeral procession was coming out of the village toward them. A widow had lost her only son. The woman’s extreme grief moved Jesus with pity. But what could he do?
After instructing the woman to stop weeping, he went over to the bier, and, addressing the corpse, commanded: “‘Young man, I say to you, Get up!’ And the dead man sat up and started to speak, and he gave him to his mother.” What a remarkable thing! Here Jesus proved his power over death! News of this marvelous deed spread far and wide.—Luke 7:11-18.
Later that year, while ministering around the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee, Jesus was urged by Jairus, a presiding officer of the synagogue, to come to his home where his twelve-year-old daughter was extremely sick. However, before Jesus arrived the girl died. Nevertheless, after reaching the home, Jesus “took her by the hand and called, saying: ‘Girl, get up!’ And her breath returned, and she rose instantly, and he ordered something to be given her to eat. Well, her parents were beside themselves.”—Luke 8:40-56.
Here, for the second time, Jesus proved that he has the power to make “those alive whom he wants to.” Truly, there is good reason for us to believe Jesus’ promise that he will call dead ones forth from the memorial tombs.
REINFORCING HIS PROMISE
However, many in the first century refused to believe, even as many persons today do not put faith in Jesus’ resurrection promise. But Jesus provided even greater evidence of his God-given ability to fulfill his promise.
It was about a year later, not long before his own death outside Jerusalem. Jesus was apparently ministering across the Jordan River in Perea. While there, word reached him that back in Bethany his dear friend Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha, was sick. After getting the message, he remained where he was for two days, and then told his disciples: “Let us go into Judea again.” By this time Lazarus had died.
When they arrived at the outskirts of Bethany, which was a small village about two miles from Jerusalem, Lazarus “had already been dead four days in the memorial tomb.” Martha came out first to meet him, and Jesus comforted her with the hope of the resurrection. She expressed faith, saying: “I know he will rise in the resurrection on the last day.” Then, when Mary came, she fell at his feet and said with weeping: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Other friends, who had followed Mary, were also weeping.
Jesus was moved by the display of grief and groaned. He asked: “Where have you laid him?” When told by the weeping relatives, “Lord, come and see,” Jesus, too, gave way to tears. It was something sad even to Jesus, who has superhuman powers, to think how death could rob family and friends of one loved so dearly.
When they came to the memorial tomb, which was a cave with a stone lying at the entrance, Jesus commanded: “Take the stone away.” However, Martha protested: “Lord, by now he must smell, for he has been dead four days.” But when Jesus spoke of seeing “the glory of God,” they removed the stone. Then Jesus prayed to God, after which he cried out with a loud voice: “Lazarus, come on out!” The Bible record says: “The man that had been dead came out with his feet and hands bound with wrappings, and his countenance was bound about with a cloth. Jesus said to them: ‘Loose him and let him go.’”—John 11:1-44.
Surely, Jesus can raise the dead! What a sound basis there is for confidence in his resurrection promise! How faith-strengthening these inspired Bible accounts are! The three youngsters at their mother’s funeral in New York were comforted by them. They are absolutely confident that they will see her again, alive and healthy.
There are now thousands of millions of dead awaiting the “resurrection on the last day,” of which Martha spoke. But what is their present condition? Are they alive in conscious suffering, or enjoying heavenly bliss? Well, what was Lazarus’ condition for the four days he was dead and in the tomb? Others of dead mankind are in that same condition.
You will note from the Bible record that Lazarus makes no mention of experiencing conscious existence elsewhere during those four days. Now think: If he had been alive in heaven enjoying the many marvelous things about which humans are interested to know, surely he would have said something about them, is that not true? But no, Lazarus was completely silent on the matter. Then, too, if he really was enjoying the bliss of heavenly life, would it not have been a malicious thing for his friend Jesus suddenly to extricate him from there, and bring him to life on earth again!
The reason why Lazarus reported nothing about his activities during those four days is that he did not know anything. He was unconscious. No part of him had survived and was living elsewhere. He was really dead, as the Bible explains: “As for the dead, they are conscious of nothing at all.” (Eccl. 9:5) God’s Word makes clear that man does not have an immortal soul that lives on after death. It says, for example, that “the soul that is sinning—it itself will die.”—Ezek. 18:4; Isa. 53:12.
The three youngsters understood this. They knew that their mother was not alive somewhere, but was unconscious, sleeping in death. But how will the dead return? In what body? Where will they be brought back? When?
JESUS’ PROMISE FULFILLED
Jesus himself was raised by God on the third day after his death. (Acts 2:32; 10:40) He was resurrected to heavenly life as a spirit creature. (1 Pet. 3:18) Jesus was thus the “first fruits” of those who would experience what is called “the earlier resurrection from the dead,” or “the first resurrection.” (1 Cor. 15:20-23; Phil. 3:11; Rev. 20:6) This is a resurrection to spirit life to rule in heavenly glory with Jesus Christ. (1 Cor. 15:43, 44) However, the Bible shows that only 144,000 persons will share in this “earlier resurrection” to heavenly life. (Rev. 14:1-3) What, then, about the rest of dead mankind? When and how will they be raised?
“The resurrection on the last day,” of which Martha spoke, is the general resurrection of thousands of millions of humans who will be brought forth from their tombs to earthly life. (John 11:24) This resurrection will be “of both the righteous and the unrighteous.” These will enjoy life during a glorious thousand-year Kingdom Day. (Acts 24:15; 17:31) This millennium will take place after the present wicked system of things is destroyed in “the war of the great day of God the Almighty,” commonly called Armageddon, and the binding and abyssing of Satan the Devil. (Matt. 24:3; Rev. 16:14-16; 20:1-6) Then the dead will be brought forth in a cleansed earth, restored to paradisaic conditions by God’s power.—Luke 23:43.
These resurrected ones will be given healthy bodies and minds, and have full opportunity to learn of their grand Creator and to grow to human perfection. Although they will not receive exactly the same bodies, composed of the identical elements at the time of death, nevertheless they will be the same persons. Jehovah God will produce every one of the millions of traits and characteristics of the individual, not only those inherited, but all those that are the result of countless influences playing on the individual during his lifetime. Yes, God will with unerring accuracy recreate in a body the identical personality that friends and relatives will recognize as the loved one they lost in death.
How marvelous! What a glorious time when loved ones are reunited! Happily, Jesus’ promise will be fulfilled! Yes, “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 5:28, 29.
Note from this that the resurrection of some persons will, because of their righteous conduct following their resurrection, result in their being declared worthy of life. On the other hand, because some will not obediently conform to God’s laws after being raised, their resurrection will result in condemnatory judgment, and they will be everlastingly cut off. A factor that will affect the course one pursues after his resurrection is his previous life pattern. Jesus indicated this when he said it would be more endurable on Judgment Day for some resurrected ones than it would be for the resurrected Galileans of Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum, who stubbornly rejected him during his earthly ministry.—Matt. 10:15; 11:20-24.
Today it is especially vital to conform to God’s righteous principles, because note what the Bible says will happen when Jesus Christ is revealed as executioner at God’s war of Armageddon: “He brings vengeance upon those who do not know God and those who do not obey the good news about our Lord Jesus. These very ones will undergo . . . everlasting destruction.”—2 Thess. 1:7-9.
Yes, mankind is facing an early execution of divine judgment! Those destroyed with this system of things will not return. So act now! Learn about God, and obey the good news concerning Jesus Christ. Then you may have the indescribable pleasure of welcoming your loved ones back from the dead.