Your Dead Loved Ones—Will You See Them Again?
JOHN was only nine when his mother died. Later, he recalled what happened at the funeral parlor: “I drew a picture for her and wrote a little note on it asking her to wait in heaven for all of us. I gave it to Daddy to put in the coffin with her, and even though she was dead, I like to think that she got that last message from me.”—How It Feels When a Parent Dies, by Jill Krementz.
There can be no doubt that John dearly loved his mother. After describing her good qualities, he said: “Maybe it’s just that I don’t want to recall the bad things, but I can’t think of anything bad about her. She was the prettiest lady I’ve ever seen in my whole life.”
Like John, many have fond memories of their beloved dead and admit to the emotional need to see them again. Edith, whose 26-year-old son died of cancer, said: “I have the need to believe that my son exists somewhere but I do not know where. Will I see him again? I do not know but hope I will.”
Certainly, man’s loving Creator is not unfeeling about this normal human desire. That is why he has promised that the time will come when millions will be reunited with their dead loved ones. God’s Word contains numerous references to this promise of a coming resurrection of the dead.—Isaiah 26:19; Daniel 12:2, 13; Hosea 13:14; John 5:28, 29; Revelation 20:12, 13.
Who Are Resurrected to Heaven?
Let us consider John’s hope that his beloved mother is waiting for him in heaven. Many churchgoers have this hope or belief. In an endeavor to support such views, clergymen and some social workers misapply texts from the Bible.
For example, an expert in helping the bereaved, Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, said in her book On Children and Death: “Dying means only that we discard our body the way we may cast aside an old worn-out coat, or step from one room into another. In Ecclesiastes, 12:7, we read: ‘Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was; and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.’ Jesus said: ‘I go to prepare a place for you that where I am there you may be also.’ And to the thief on the cross: ‘Today thou shalt be with me in paradise.’”
Do the above texts really mean that our dead loved ones are now alive and waiting for us in heaven? Let us consider the texts more carefully, starting with Ecclesiastes 12:7. Obviously, the wise man who wrote those words did not intend to contradict what he had already stated in the same Bible book: “The living are conscious that they will die; but as for the dead, they are conscious of nothing at all.” (Ecclesiastes 9:5) He was discussing the death of mankind in general. Is it reasonable to believe that all avowed atheists and hardened criminals return to God upon their death? Hardly. In fact, that cannot be said of any of us, regardless of whether we consider ourselves good or bad. Since none of us have been with God in heaven, how can it be said that we return to him?
What, then, did the Bible writer mean by saying that upon death, ‘the spirit returns to the true God’? In using the Hebrew word translated “spirit,” he was not referring to something unique that distinguishes one human from another. Rather, at Ecclesiastes 3:19, the same inspired Bible writer explains that man and animals “all have but one spirit.” Evidently he meant that “spirit” is the life force in the cells that make up the physical bodies of man and animals. We did not receive this spirit directly from God. It was passed on to us by our human parents when we were conceived and later born. Furthermore, this spirit does not literally travel through space and return to God upon death. The expression, ‘the spirit returns to the true God,’ is a figure of speech meaning that the future life prospects of a dead person now rest with God. It is up to him to decide whom he will remember and eventually resurrect. Note for yourself how clearly the Bible shows this at Psalm 104:29, 30.
Jehovah God has purposed that a limited number of faithful followers of Christ, totaling only 144,000, will be resurrected to heavenly life as spirit sons of God. (Revelation 14:1, 3) These form a heavenly government with Christ for the blessing of mankind on earth.
The first ones to learn about this were Jesus’ faithful apostles, to whom he said: “In the house of my Father there are many abodes. Otherwise, I would have told you, because I am going my way to prepare a place for you. Also, if I go my way and prepare a place for you, I am coming again and will receive you home to myself, that where I am you also may be.” (John 14:2, 3) Those apostles and other early Christians died and had to wait unconscious in death until Jesus’ coming to reward them with a heavenly resurrection. That is why we read that the first Christian martyr, Stephen, “fell asleep in death.”—Acts 7:60; 1 Thessalonians 4:13.
Resurrection to Life on Earth
But what about Jesus’ promise to the criminal who died alongside him? Like many Jews of that time, this man believed that God would send a Messiah who would set up a kingdom and restore peace and security to the Jewish nation on earth. (Compare 1 Kings 4:20-25 with Luke 19:11; 24:21 and Acts 1:6.) Moreover, the evildoer expressed faith that Jesus was the very One chosen by God to be the King. Yet, at that moment, Jesus’ imminent death as a condemned man made this seem unlikely. That is why Jesus reassured the criminal by introducing His promise with these words: “Truly I tell you today, You will be with me in Paradise.”—Luke 23:42, 43.
Bible translations that insert a comma before the word “today” create a problem for people who want to understand Jesus’ words. Jesus did not go to any paradise that very same day. Rather, he lay unconscious in death for three days until God resurrected him. Even after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension to heaven, he had to wait at his Father’s right hand until the time came for him to rule as King over mankind. (Hebrews 10:12, 13) Soon, Jesus’ Kingdom rule will bring relief to mankind and transform the entire earth into a paradise. (Luke 21:10, 11, 25-31) Then he will fulfill his promise to that criminal by resurrecting him to life on earth. And Jesus will be with the man in the sense that He will help with all the man’s needs, including the need to bring his life-style into harmony with God’s righteous laws.
Resurrection of Many
As with that repentant criminal, the resurrection of most humans will take place here on earth. This is in harmony with God’s purpose in creating man. The first man and woman were placed in a paradise garden and told to subdue the earth. If they had stayed obedient to God, they would never have grown old and died. In God’s due time, the whole earth would have been subdued, made a global paradise by Adam and his perfect descendants.—Genesis 1:28; 2:8, 9.
However, because Adam and Eve willfully sinned, they brought death upon themselves and their future offspring. (Genesis 2:16, 17; 3:17-19) That is why the Bible states: “Through one man [Adam] sin entered into the world and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men because they had all sinned.”—Romans 5:12.
There has been only one human who was born free from inherited sin. That was the perfect Son of God, Jesus Christ, whose life was transferred from heaven to the womb of a Jewish virgin, Mary. Jesus remained sinless and did not deserve to be put to death. Therefore, his death has ransoming value in behalf of “the sin of the world.” (John 1:29; Matthew 20:28) That is why Jesus could say: “I am the resurrection and the life. He that exercises faith in me, even though he dies, will come to life.”—John 11:25.
So, yes, you can entertain the prospect of being reunited with your beloved dead, but this requires that you exercise faith in Jesus as your Ransomer and obey him as God’s appointed King. Soon God’s Kingdom will sweep away all badness from this earth. All humans who refuse to submit to its rule will be destroyed. However, subjects of God’s Kingdom will survive and will busy themselves in the work of transforming this earth into a paradise.—Psalm 37:10, 11; Revelation 21:3-5.
Then the thrilling time will arrive for the resurrection to start. Will you be on hand to welcome back the dead? It all depends on what you do now. Wonderful blessings await all who now submit to the rulership of Jehovah’s Kingdom by his Son, Jesus Christ.