‘We Know They Will Rise in the Resurrection’
ALMIGHTY GOD gave mankind life. He can also restore it to people who have died. From him, too, we have the most reliable source of information about life and death: the Hebrew and the Christian Greek Scriptures, which two sections make up the Bible. It contains the fact-founded message that most of the dead can and will come back.—John 5:28, 29.
To illustrate, consider the historical account of Lazarus from Bethany, who was well-known to Jesus Christ. Lazarus had been sick, and then he died. Thereafter, Jesus told Lazarus’ sister Martha: “Your [dead] brother will rise.” She replied: “I know he will rise in the resurrection on the last day.” (John 11:23, 24) Yes, she knew it. Based on reliable information, she had no doubt that her beloved brother Lazarus would come back “on the last day.”
As you read through the historical record in John chapter 11, you will find details of what then happened. Jesus raised that man back to life, though Lazarus had been dead for four days. That resurrection is proof that God can fulfill his promises to bring the dead back “on the last day.” But where did Martha expect to see Lazarus again? Where did other faithful Jews imagine that the coming resurrection would take place?
‘Land of No Return’?
The earth was chosen by God to be the natural habitat for man. The psalmist expresses it in these words: “As regards the heavens, to Jehovah the heavens belong, but the earth he has given to the sons of men.” (Psalm 115:16) Nothing in the Holy Scriptures indicates that if Adam and Eve had remained faithful to God, they would have had eternal life somewhere other than upon the earth. In fact, was not “the tree of life” here on the earth, in the Paradise that the first human couple enjoyed before they fell into a course of disobedience to God? (Genesis 2:9; 3:22) Since there was no information from God to the contrary, his faithful servants outside the garden of Eden (from Adam’s God-fearing son Abel onward) would, of necessity, have associated a resurrection with the only home that they knew of for man—the earth.
‘Now, wait,’ some people acquainted with the Bible might object, ‘did not Job say in Job chapter 16, verse 22, that “by the path by which” he would “not return” he would “go away”? And at Job 7:9 he pointed out: “He that is going down to Sheol [the grave] will not come up.” Job added in Job 7 verse 10: “He will not return anymore to his house, and his place will not acknowledge him anymore.”’
So, as some scholars claim, do not those verses and similar statements show that Job viewed death as ‘a land of no return’? Do such statements mean that Job did not believe in a future resurrection? For the answer, we must take these words in their setting, also comparing them with other thoughts that Job expressed on the subject.
Job did not know the reasons behind his suffering. For a time he mistakenly thought that God was responsible for his tribulation. (Job 6:4; 7:17-20; 16:11-13) Dispirited, he felt that his only place of immediate relief was the grave. (Job 7:21; 17:1; compare 3:11-13.) There, from the standpoint of his contemporaries, he would not be seen, not return to his house, not get further acknowledgment, not come back or have any prospect of doing so before God’s appointed time. Left to themselves without intervention by God, Job and all others of Adam’s descendants were powerless to rise from the dead.*—Job 7:9, 10; 10:21; 14:12.
Belief in the Resurrection
We should not, though, understand Job’s uncertainty about what he was experiencing and his grim comments about his immediate future to mean that he did not believe in a resurrection. That he certainly did believe in a future resurrection is clear from Job 14:13-15. In that passage, Job spoke of desiring to be ‘concealed in Sheol’ and of afterward ‘being remembered’ by God. Moreover, at Job 19:25-27 this man of faith and integrity spoke of having a “redeemer” and of later ‘beholding God.’ Yes, Job believed in a resurrection. He believed that God could and would bring him back to life, even as Abraham was previously convinced of God’s ability to ‘raise up the dead.’—Hebrews 11:10, 16, 19, 35.
Right down into our modern times, the Jews have believed in a future resurrection to life on the earth. The Encyclopædia Judaica (1971) states: “The belief that ultimately the dead will be revived in their bodies and live again on earth” is “a major tenet” of Judaism. The encyclopedia continues: “This idea has been taken so seriously and literally that pious Jews are often concerned about the clothes they are buried in, the complete interment of all organs, and being buried in Israel.”
Interestingly, the Bible does not say that in the resurrection God will reassemble the decomposed human bodies of the dead. The actual atoms of those who are long dead have since been spread all over the earth and often have subsequently been incorporated into vegetable and animal life—yes, even into other humans, who have thereafter died. It is plain that in the resurrection the same atoms could not be used for more than one person who is raised. Instead, God will bring humans to life with suitable bodies, without missing parts and other impairments suffered before death, as it pleases him.—Compare 1 Corinthians 15:35-38.
Will these resurrected ones be recognized by their friends and relatives who are also brought back to life? That seems logical, for if we could not identify the dead who are raised and they us, how would we know that our dead loved ones had really come back? Even though Lazarus’ body had been decomposing, he was recognized by relatives and acquaintances after Jesus resurrected him. Thus, we too can expect that Jehovah God will lovingly let us see and know one another in the resurrection to life on earth.
A Heavenly Hope for a Few
As we have noted, the earth is mankind’s God-given home. Yet, Jesus Christ shed light on the prospect that a chosen number from among mankind are to be raised to incorruptible, immortal spirit life with him in the heavens. (2 Timothy 1:10) For a time after Jesus had inaugurated the “new and living way” to heavenly life, all Christians were being invited to share in that hope. (Hebrews 9:24; 10:19, 20) How many would finally receive that reward? The inspired ‘revelation, which God gave to Jesus to show his slaves the things that must take place,’ sets the figure at 144,000, those “who have been bought from the earth.”—Revelation 1:1; 7:4-8; 14:1, 3.
Why is such a relatively small number of people “bought from the earth” for life in heaven? The same book of Revelation gives us the reason for the limited number. We read in Revelation chapter 20, verses 5 and 6: “This is the first resurrection. Happy and holy is anyone having part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no authority, but they will be priests of God and of the Christ, and will rule as kings with him for the thousand years.”—See also Revelation 5:9, 10.
Earthly Subjects of the King
Very obviously, not all humans will rule as kings and priests, for if all were kings, over whom would they “rule”? Rather, this specially selected group, built around the faithful apostles of Jesus, will rule over an earth populated in part by the “great crowd” described in Revelation chapter 7, verses 9 to 17. Millions of these are now looking forward to the swiftly approaching “war of the great day of God the Almighty,” which will cleanse this earth of all unrighteousness. By God’s undeserved kindness, they will survive that great tribulation without ever dying at all.—Revelation 16:14; 21:14; Proverbs 2:21, 22.
‘But what of those who have died, such as my loved ones?’ you may well ask. Jesus himself told Martha that others, ‘even though they have died, will come to life.’ (John 11:25) That will be in an earthly resurrection. During the reign of Christ with his 144,000 associate kings and priests in the heavens, many millions of the dead whom God remembers favorably will be raised and will have full opportunity to learn the true worship of Jehovah. If faithful, they will gain the reward of eternal life in an earth-wide paradise. That will be during “the last day” that Martha referred to as she was agreeing with Jesus that her brother Lazarus would rise to life again.—John 5:28, 29; 11:24; Luke 23:43.
A Hope Resting on Guarantees
The resurrections recorded in the Bible are patterns and guarantees of the soundness of the resurrection hope offered by the Holy Scriptures. This record tells of resurrections performed on earth by the prophets Elijah and Elisha in pre-Christian times, by the Son of God (including that of Lazarus), by the apostles Peter and Paul, and particularly by Jehovah God in resurrecting his Son. You can read such reports in your Bible at: 1 Kings 17:17-24; 2 Kings 4:32-37; Matthew 28:1-10; Luke 7:11-17; 8:40-56; John 11:38-44; Acts 9:36-42; 10:38-42; 20:7-12.*
On the basis of such a powerfully documented resurrection hope, Paul could assure the Athenians: “God . . . has set a day in which he purposes to judge the inhabited earth in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and he has furnished a guarantee to all men in that he has resurrected him from the dead.”—Acts 17:30, 31.
Yes, the resurrection of Jesus is the ultimate guarantee of the validity of the resurrection hope. So we too have a firm basis for trusting implicitly in the power and love of Jehovah God. We too can express the conviction that Martha had: ‘We know that the dead will rise in the resurrection on the last day!’
After Paul’s audience on Mars’ Hill heard his testimony about “a resurrection of the dead,” it was split into three groups: “Some began to mock, while others said: ‘We will hear you about this even another time.’ . . . But some men joined themselves to him and became believers.”—Acts 17:32-34.
What is your reaction to the resurrection hope? Jehovah will keep his promise to resurrect millions, even billions, from the dead. Whether you will be there to see them again, and be seen by them, depends largely on what you do. Are you willing to learn about and to live in harmony with God’s requirements for gaining eternal life? Jehovah’s Witnesses will be very happy to give you more information about the hope for the dead and about how you can survive the end of this system of things.—John 17:3.
In the same vein, the psalmist writes in this way about the condition existing at that time before any intervention by God: “And [God] kept remembering that [the Israelites] were flesh, that the spirit [or life-force from God] is going forth and does not come back.”—Psalm 78:39.
You can find a more detailed discussion of resurrections in Bible times and the Bible promise of a coming resurrection during Christ’s reign in You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth. Chapter 20 is entitled “Resurrection—For Whom, and Where?” This book is available from Jehovah’s Witnesses in your area or from the offices listed on page 2 of this magazine.