The Resurrection—For Whom and When?
IT HAPPENED in the year 32 C.E. at Bethany, where Lazarus lived with his two sisters, Martha and Mary. The sisters had sent a message to Jesus that Lazarus was sick. Jesus loved Lazarus and his sisters, so He set out for Bethany. On the road, Jesus informed his disciples: “Lazarus our friend has gone to rest, but I am journeying there to awaken him from sleep.” The disciples thought that Jesus meant literal sleep. So Jesus stated plainly: “Lazarus has died.”—John 11:1-15.
The visitors arrived four days after Lazarus’ death. When Jesus saw Mary and others weeping, he “gave way to tears,” showing his deep love and compassion. (John 11:17, 35) Lazarus’ dead body had been entombed in a cave. Jesus directed that the stone closing the entrance of the tomb be taken away. He prayed to his Father and then cried out loudly: “Lazarus, come on out!” Lazarus came out. What joy this must have brought his sisters!—John 11:38-45.
This event provides real hope of a resurrection. However, in general, death is a terrible enemy that takes our loved ones without the prospect of Jesus’ immediately resurrecting them. As we well know, many of these dear people are good and very kind. Hence, an obvious question arises . . .
Why Do People Have to Die?
If we want an accurate, reliable answer, we have to look back to mankind’s beginning in the garden of Eden. Testing Adam’s obedience, God there commanded him not to eat the fruit of a certain tree. If he and Eve ate of the fruit, God said, they would “positively die.” (Genesis 2:17) When tempted by Satan, they disobeyed God and failed in that crucial test. Death resulted.
Why such a punishment for a seemingly small crime? Their action was small, but the crime was deadly serious—a rebellion by perfect people, Adam and Eve, against their Creator. They were no longer perfect, and God passed sentence of death. Yet, God has arranged for that just sentence to be reversed for descendants of Adam. How? Paul wrote that “Christ Jesus . . . gave himself a corresponding ransom for all.”—1 Timothy 2:5, 6; Romans 5:17.
What Is the Condition of the Dead?
Lazarus was dead for four days. If you had died but had really been alive in the spirit realm for four days and then were resurrected, would you not want to tell others about it? But Lazarus said nothing about having been alive in some other realm. The Bible says: “As for the dead, they are conscious of nothing at all.”—Ecclesiastes 9:5; Psalm 146:3, 4.
Consider the implications of that. Millions of people believe in purgatory, though the word does not appear in the Bible. Many more believe that there is a fiery hell. However, you would not burn even an enemy in a fire for eternity. If you would refuse to do such a cruel thing, would our loving Creator do so by making individuals suffer in hellfire? But reflect, please, on the comforting Biblical assurance mentioned above—the dead “are conscious of nothing at all.”
According to the Scriptures, the number who will reign with Christ in heaven is relatively small. Jesus described them as a “little flock.” (Luke 12:32) The apostle John saw “the Lamb [Jesus Christ] standing upon [heavenly] Mount Zion, and with him a hundred and forty-four thousand . . . who have been bought from the earth.” (Revelation 14:1-3) This means, then, that such persons had been humans, had died, and later were resurrected to live in heaven with Christ.
As you can imagine, people have been helped by understanding these Bible truths—that there is no purgatory nor a burning hell and that there is a hope that dead persons can be resurrected to heaven. However, if those resurrected to heaven are so few, what hope is there for others?
The Earthly Resurrection
Jesus Christ opened, or inaugurated, the way to being resurrected to life in heaven. (Hebrews 9:24; 10:19, 20) Consequently, John the Baptizer will not take part in the heavenly resurrection because he was murdered before Jesus died and opened the way to heavenly life. Jesus said: “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.” (Matthew 11:11) What reward does God hold out for this faithful man and for others like him who have died?
Turn your Bible to Luke 23 and read verses 39 to 43 Lu 23:39-43 . One of the evildoers who was impaled beside Jesus said: “Jesus, remember me when you get into your kingdom.” Jesus assured him that he would be in Paradise. That is not heaven, but it is an earthly paradise, as was the first Paradise.
The Resurrection—A Source of Comfort
That valid Biblical prospect should be very comforting, as we have reason to expect. Why? Because Jehovah is love. (1 John 4:8) When he allowed his Son to die a shameful death, God was actually manifesting his marvelous quality of love. Sometime before, Jesus had said: “God loved the world [mankind] 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.”—John 3:16.
Jesus too showed exceptional love in giving his life as a ransom for believing mankind. He himself said: “The Son of man came, not to be ministered to, but to minister and to give his soul a ransom in exchange for many.”—Matthew 20:28.
Carolann, who was mentioned in the first article as having lost a number of her loved ones in a terrible accident, felt numb afterward. But she was comforted by knowing that those dead loved ones were not suffering. What additionally helped her to cope? The love and genuine condolences shown by her spiritual brothers, Jehovah’s Witnesses, proved very helpful.—Psalm 34:18.
Prayer to Jehovah also helped very much. Many nights she would wake up and think that it was all a bad dream, but then the reality would hit her. Supplication to Jehovah would calm her, and she more deeply appreciated what Paul wrote: “Do not be anxious over anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication along with thanksgiving let your petitions be made known to God; and the peace of God that excels all thought will guard your hearts and your mental powers by means of Christ Jesus.”—Philippians 4:6, 7.
Shirley provides another example of how comforting the resurrection hope is. Her young son Riccardo was killed instantly when a heavy piece of concrete fell on his chest, rupturing his little heart. After this tragedy, in January 1986, Shirley told friends: “It was like a nightmare.” In the Catholic Church she heard these words: “God will judge the living and the dead.” Shirley began to think, ‘If God is going to judge the living and the dead, then how can one know where people go after death? And if they are in heaven, why later resurrect them to be judged? Furthermore, how can they be resurrected if they are alive in heaven?’ Nowhere does the Bible mention the resurrection of the living but only of the dead.
Shirley asked her husband about this problem, since he was acquainted with the Bible. Once she understood some of what the Scriptures say on the subject, Shirley never went back to church. A relative who is one of Jehovah’s Witnesses began studying the Bible with Shirley and her husband in March 1986, and before long they were baptized. She now concludes: “It is so wonderful to know the truth, to know about the resurrection, and to know what a wonderful person Jehovah is.”
In vision, the apostle John saw “a great crowd, which no man was able to number, out of all nations and tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:9) That the great crowd is ‘standing before God’s throne’ is consistent with the fact that they are due to live on earth. (Isaiah 66:1) If some of them die now, when will they be resurrected? The Bible does not give a date, but it will be after the approaching war in which God will eliminate from the earth all those unwilling to live by his righteous standards. (2 Thessalonians 1:6-9) That will open the way for Judgment Day and the resurrection of all whom God views as in line for an earthly resurrection. (John 5:28, 29; Acts 24:15) The fulfillment of Bible prophecy proves that these exciting and marvelous developments will take place soon!—Revelation 16:14-16.
Jesus’ disciples once asked him: “What will be the sign of your presence and of the conclusion of the system of things?” In reply Jesus mentioned wars, food shortages, earthquakes, pestilences, and the earth-wide preaching of the good news of the Kingdom.—Matthew 24:3-14; Luke 21:7-11.
This remarkable prophecy has been in fulfillment since 1914, when World War I began. It killed millions and produced famine and food shortages in many countries. The world situation during and after World War II was much worse.
Concerning pestilences, many feel that the worst example is AIDS. “The epidemic is so widespread and so lethal that experts are comparing it to the Black Death that killed a quarter of Europe’s population in the fourteenth century.”—Reader’s Digest, June 1987.
In view of such present horrors, what a marvelous event the resurrection will be! It will be a time of irrepressible joy when families broken apart by death, such as those of Carolann and Shirley, will be reunited! Clearly, the sensible course for each of us is to order our lives now in accord with God’s will and thus qualify to be present when the resurrection occurs.
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