“The Dead in Christ Shall Rise First”
1. Why does there need to be a resurrection for dead mankind if ever they are to live again anywhere, and how did God lay the basis for the needed resurrection?
WHAT hope would there be for the dead of mankind were it not for the promised resurrection? The resurrection of the dead is an absolute necessity since the human soul is not immortal. Hence, at the body’s death it could not enter into a fuller life on a higher plane in an invisible world. (Ezek. 18:4, 20; Isa. 53:12) For dead humankind to live again anywhere there needs to be a resurrection. That is why God has laid the basis for such a miracle to take place in his due time. When he raised his self-sacrificing Son from the dead on the third day, he opened the way for this worthy Son to ascend back to where he was before, to heaven. The Son took along with him the full redeeming value of his perfect human sacrifice. Never again will Jesus Christ die. He offered up one human sacrifice for mankind’s sins forever. So, when he comes the second time, it does not mean his facing death.—Heb. 9:28; Rom. 6:9.
2. How does 1 Corinthians 15:22, 23 show that God observes order with respect to the resurrection?
2 Jehovah God follows a certain order with regard to the resurrection of the dead. This is called to our attention by the apostle Paul, who himself saw the glory of the resurrected Jesus and talked with him. About 18 years after that, Paul wrote to the Christian congregation in Corinth, Greece, and raised this question: “Now if Christ is being preached that he has been raised up from the dead, how is it some among you say there is no resurrection of the dead?” (1 Cor. 15:12) Following upon this question, Paul went on to develop the inspired answer. As he goes along, he says: “Just as in Adam all are dying, so also in the Christ all will be made alive. But each one in his own rank: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who belong to the Christ during his presence [Greek: parousia].” (1 Cor. 15:22, 23) God alone was responsible for Jesus’ resurrection.
3. How did Jesus become “first” in the matter of resurrection?
3 Jesus Christ was resurrected on Nisan 16, 33 C.E., the day when the Jewish high priest offered up the firstfruits of the barley harvest. This fits in accurately with Jesus’ being the “firstfruits” in the resurrection of the human dead. (1 Cor. 15:20) This put Jesus Christ in the first “rank.” Just as in the Jewish barley harvest there were afterfruits to be reaped, so too there must be afterfruits in the resurrection of the dead. But since Jesus Christ ranks first, Paul called him “the firstborn from the dead, that he might become the one who is first in all things.”—Col. 1:18.
4. The resurrecting of even the first ones of the human dead had to wait until what official event begins, and when did this begin?
4 By his sacrificial death Jesus Christ bought back or redeemed all the human family who are dying “in Adam.” Hence, they all “belong to the Christ.” However, the resurrecting of even the first ones of the human dead must wait till after the “presence,” or parousia, of Jesus Christ begins. This official presence begins with his second coming. According to the “sign” that Jesus foretold and also according to certain Bible time measurements, his invisible “presence,” or parousia, began in autumn of 1914 C.E.—Matt. 24:3.a
5, 6. How does 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17 show that God will observe order and “rank” in harvesting those who die “in Adam”?
5 Jehovah God will observe order and “rank” with regard to the resurrection of those who are dying “in Adam” and who are harvested as afterfruits of the resurrection. Especially to comfort first-century Christians who were bereaved of “those who have fallen asleep in death through Christ,” the apostle Paul wrote:
6 “This is what we tell you by Jehovah’s word, that we the living [spirit-begotten Christians] who survive to the presence of the Lord shall in no way precede those [spirit-begotten Christians] who have fallen asleep in death; because the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a commanding call [with a loud command, NIV],b with an archangel’s voice and with God’s trumpet, and those who are dead in union with Christ will rise first. Afterward we the living who are surviving will, together with them, be caught away in clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and thus we shall always be with the Lord.”—1 Thess. 4:13-17.
7. About which particular dead was Paul there speaking, and how does Revelation 14:12, 13 indicate a special time for them to be resurrected?
7 Here the apostle Paul is speaking, not of the dead of mankind in general, but of “those who have fallen asleep in death” through Christ, “those who are dead in union with Christ.” In the last book of the Bible the apostle John has something to say about when such dead Christians will be raised from their sleep in death. In Revelation 14:12, 13 John writes: “‘Here [in connection with the world organization for international peace and security] is where it means endurance for the holy ones, those who observe the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus.’ And I heard a voice out of heaven say: ‘Write: Happy are the dead who die in union with the Lord from this time onward. Yes, says the spirit, let them rest from their labors, for the things they did go right with them.’” So, now, from when on is “from this time onward”?
8. Why would “from that time onward” mean during the presence of the Lord in spirit, and does their dying then terminate their deeds?
8 In the light of what the apostle Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 4:16, 17, it must be during the “presence,” or parousia, of Jesus Christ, not before it begins, but after. Even during his being invisibly present in spirit there will be spirit-begotten Christians on earth who will “die in union with the Lord.” These especially are to be “happy” in dying during his “presence.” Their death in the flesh does not terminate their ‘deeds,’ for any length of time. Why not? Because “the things they did go right with them,” or, literally, according to the Greek text, ‘follow with them.’
9. Why, then, are the “holy ones” who die at that time “happy,” according to Revelation 14:13?
9 This requires a transfer of operations, from works in the flesh on earth, to works in the spirit in the heavenly realm. As regards those “who die in union with the Lord,” the apostle Paul says: “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. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual one.” (1 Cor. 15:42-44) So these “happy” resurrected ones follow up their earthly “labors” with works in spirit bodies in the spirit realm. They do not have to sleep in death waiting for Christ’s presence.
WITH WHAT THE LORD DESCENDS FROM HEAVEN
10. With what will the Lord Jesus Christ descend from heaven at the time for resurrecting his spirit-begotten disciples?
10 The apostle Paul tells us what accompanies the Lord’s spiritual descent from heaven, saying: “We the living who survive to the presence [parousia] of the Lord shall in no way precede [in the experiencing of a spiritual resurrection] those who have fallen asleep in death; because the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a commanding call, with an archangel’s voice and with God’s trumpet, and those who are dead in union with Christ will rise first.”—1 Thess. 4:15, 16.
11. Who hear the “commanding call” of the Lord Jesus Christ on his descent from heaven and obey?
11 Who hears the “commanding call” with which the Lord Jesus Christ comes down from his heavenly position at God’s right hand? Evidently the spirit-begotten Christians who, till then, have died “in union with the Lord.” We know that no living humans on earth have directly heard his voice since his spiritual descent, that is, since his invisible “presence,” or parousia, began in early autumn of 1914. But the “dead in Christ” (Authorized Version) heard him and obeyed him.
12. (a) When does the “last day” of which Jesus spoke in John 6:53, 54 begin, and how do those disciples enter into “everlasting life”? (b) From what other so-called “last day” does this differ?
12 Those thus resurrected by Jesus Christ belong to the disciples concerning whom he said: “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in yourselves. He that feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has everlasting life [from the time of being raised from the dead], and I shall resurrect him at the last day.” (John 6:53, 54) On that “last day” there is power in his “commanding call” to raise from the sleep of death his disciples who have shared in this special privilege with respect to his flesh and blood. For such privileged disciples the “last day” begins when they enter into the “everlasting life” in heaven by being resurrected in a “spiritual body” like that of Christ. Since this “last day” applies to the resurrection of the faithful spirit-begotten Christians with a heavenly hope, it differs from the “last day” that Martha of Bethany had in mind, for she then had no idea at all of a spiritual resurrection to heaven.
13. (a) Whose voice is it that the “dead in Christ” hear, and who is the “archangel”? (b) What Scriptural proof do we have for this?
13 The glorified Lord Jesus Christ descends also “with an archangel’s voice.” This is his own voice. He is the “archangel.” In his parable of the sheep and the goats Jesus referred to himself in this archangelic capacity by saying: “When the Son of man arrives in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit down on his glorious throne. And all the nations will be gathered before him.” (Matt. 25:31, 32) In his prehuman state in heaven his name was Michael. There is no question of doubt that he is the one meant in the pre-Christian prophecy of Daniel 12:1, 2: “During that time Michael will stand up, the great prince who is standing in behalf of the sons of your [Daniel’s] people. And there will certainly occur a time of distress such as has not been made to occur since there came to be a nation until that time. And during that time your people will escape, every one who is found written down in the book. And there will be many of those asleep in the ground of dust who will wake up, these to indefinitely lasting life and those to reproaches and to indefinitely lasting abhorrence.”
14 Also, Revelation 12:7 shows angels to be subordinate to Michael, saying: “War broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels [not resurrected spirit-begotten Christians] battled.” Furthermore, Jude 9 speaks of him as an archangel, saying: “Michael the archangel had a difference with the Devil and was disputing about Moses’ body.” The Devil did not get the body.
15. How did Satan the Devil fare in the war with the archangel Michael, and can he prevent the resurrection of Christ’s disciples and their ascent in heaven to be with Jesus Christ?
15 All along in the age-old contest Satan the Devil has lost. In the war in heaven he was defeated and he and his demon angels were hurled down to the neighborhood of our earth, whereas the archangel Michael, namely, the Lord Jesus Christ, and his angels remained victorious in the heavens. Since the victorious Jesus Christ uses the “archangel’s voice” when he commands those who died in union with the Christ to come forth, his “commanding call” has more authority and stronger effect. Furthermore, the defeated Satan the Devil will not have power enough to prevent the spiritual resurrection of those dead in union with Christ and will not be able to prevent their entrance into the spirit realm nor their ascent in heaven to be with the victorious Jesus Christ.
16. For what purpose does “God’s trumpet” sound at the time of the Lord’s descent from heaven, and who will be first to respond to it?
16 Another thing that accompanies Christ’s descent from heaven is the sound of “God’s trumpet.” (1 Thess. 4:16) The trumpet in this case is not a war signal for assembling troops that they might fight and put the enemy to death. Rather, the blast of “God’s trumpet” is a peaceful one for assembling Jehovah’s people, as when the two silver trumpets were blown in Moses’ day to assemble the 12 tribes of Israel. (Num. 10:1-10) Elsewhere, in 1 Corinthians 15:52, the apostle Paul connects such a rousing assembly “trumpet” with the resurrection of the Christian dead, when he says: “During the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised up incorruptible, and we shall be changed.” Who are the first to respond to that “last trumpet,” when it, as “God’s trumpet,” sounds forth for the gathering of the dead back to life? In answer, 1 Thessalonians 4:16 says: “And those who are dead in union with Christ will rise first.”
17. Why is the resurrection of those “dead in union with Christ” not visible to human eyes?
17 However, the resurrection of those “dead in union with Christ” is not visible to humans on earth. Why not? Because they are blessed with a spiritual resurrection, each one being “raised up a spiritual body.” (1 Cor. 15:44) Because human eyes are not strong enough to see spirit bodies, the resurrection of the “dead in Christ” is unseen to humans. That is why, since the start of Christ’s “presence,” or parousia, from 1914 onward, mankind has not seen him nor been aware of the resurrection of his disciples.
18, 19. (a) By what Paul said at 1 Thessalonians 4:17, did he mean that those Christians would not die before being “caught away”? (b) In what sense, then, are they “caught away,” and in what bodies do they ascend to meet the Lord in happiness?
18 The apostle Paul speaks of himself as if surviving on earth until that happy event for spirit-begotten Christians, when he says: “Afterward we the living who are surviving will, together with them, be caught away in clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and thus we shall always be with the Lord.”—1 Thess. 4:17.
19 The apostle Paul did not here mean that the spirit-begotten Christians like himself would not die but would be “caught away,” human body and all, into the skies amid literal clouds. Paul died. Spirit-begotten Christians today surviving during Christ’s “presence,” or parousia, must likewise die. Like seeds planted in the ground, they must each be “sown a physical body” by dying a human death. (1 Cor. 15:44) How, then, are they “caught away in clouds” together with those “dead in union with Christ” who were resurrected first? In this way: When they are sown as physical bodies, they do not enter into a death sleep. They instantaneously experience a spiritual resurrection, leaving their human bodies behind on earth and being raised up each a “spiritual body.” It is as spiritual bodies that they ascend to meet their heavenly Lord. For these reasons they especially may be counted as “happy,” according to Revelation 14:13.
20. In what kind of “clouds” is it that the living, surviving Christians are “caught away,” and to indicate what about their ascent?
20 However, what would their being caught away “in clouds” mean? Of course, clouds float on high in the skies and denote elevation. They also conceal from us on earth what is in them or above them. Spiritual bodies do not need our literal clouds to make them invisible to us. So what is meant in 1 Thessalonians 4:17 are symbolic clouds, which, as it were, hide from earthly view the catching away of the resurrected Christians to meet their highly elevated Lord. Let us recall how, on the 40th day from his resurrection, Jesus Christ ascended back to heaven and, during his ascent, “a cloud caught him up from [the watching disciples’] vision.”—Acts 1:9.
21. Does the Lord’s descent from heaven end in his direct, personal contact with our earth, and when does the “last day” on which he raises his spirit-begotten disciples end?
21 What does all of this prove? This: The descending Lord Jesus Christ does not come down to direct contact with our earth. Clouds, in which the resurrected Christians are pictured as meeting their heavenly Lord, hover high above earth’s surface. Moreover, it is “in the air” that the resurrected Christians meet their Lord, not down here on the ground, neither at Jerusalem, the Mount of Olives nor at any other spot on our earth. Moreover, the “last day” in which this catching away occurs is not an earthly 24-hour day. It is a period of time that is completed first when the last one of those spirit-begotten Christians who take part in “the first resurrection” is raised to heavenly life. (Rev. 20:4, 6; John 6:54) Fulfillment of Bible prophecy indicates that we are already living in that particular “last day.”
b New International Version.