There Will Be a Resurrection of the Righteous
“I have hope toward God . . . that there is going to be a resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous.”—ACTS 24:15.
1. What situation has faced all humans since the fall of Adam and Eve?
“ALL that your hand finds to do, do with your very power, for there is no work nor devising nor knowledge nor wisdom in Sheol, the place to which you are going.” (Ecclesiastes 9:10) With these few, well-chosen words, wise King Solomon describes a situation that has faced every generation of mankind since the fall of our first parents, Adam and Eve. Without exception, death has eventually swallowed up everyone—rich and poor, king and commoner, faithful and faithless. Truly, death has “ruled as king.”—Romans 5:17.
2. Why may some faithful ones have been disappointed during this time of the end?
2 Despite the latest advances of medical science, death still rules as king even today. While this is no surprise, some may have been somewhat disappointed when they finally came face-to-face with this longtime enemy. Why? Well, back in the 1920’s, the Watch Tower Society proclaimed the message “Millions now living will never die.” Who would these millions be? The “sheep” spoken of in Jesus’ remarks about the sheep and the goats. (Matthew 25:31-46) These sheeplike ones were prophesied to appear during the time of the end, and their hope would be everlasting life on a paradise earth. As time went by, God’s people gained a better understanding of the position of these “sheep” in Jehovah’s purposes. It was realized that these obedient ones were to be distinguished from the stubborn “goats,” and after the destruction of the latter ones, the sheep would inherit the earthly realm of the Kingdom that had been prepared for them.
Gathering of Sheeplike Ones
3. On what work have God’s people concentrated since 1935?
3 Beginning in 1935, ‘the faithful slave’ has concentrated on locating such sheeplike ones and bringing them into Jehovah’s organization. (Matthew 24:45; John 10:16) These teachable Christians have come to realize that Jesus is now reigning in Jehovah’s heavenly Kingdom and that the time is fast approaching for the end of this wicked system of things and the ushering in of a new world in which righteousness is to dwell. (2 Peter 3:13; Revelation 12:10) In that new world, the heartening words of Isaiah will be fulfilled: “He will actually swallow up death forever.”—Isaiah 25:8.
4. Though earnestly hoping to see Jehovah’s sovereignty vindicated at Armageddon, what has happened to many of the other sheep?
4 Since the end of Satan’s world is so close, sheeplike Christians would dearly enjoy living until Jehovah’s sovereignty is vindicated during the coming tribulation on Babylon the Great and the rest of Satan’s world. (Revelation 19:1-3, 19-21) For a great number, it has not worked out that way. Many who had hoped to be among the “millions” who would never die have indeed died. Some were martyred for the truth in prisons and concentration camps or at the hands of religious fanatics. Others have died in accidents or from so-called natural causes—sickness and old age. (Psalm 90:9, 10; Ecclesiastes 9:11) Clearly, more will die before the end comes. How will such ones see the fulfillment of the promise of a new world in which righteousness is to dwell?
The Resurrection Hope
5, 6. What future exists for those with an earthly hope who die before Armageddon?
5 The apostle Paul gave the answer when he was speaking before the Roman governor Felix. As recorded at Acts 24:15, Paul boldly declared: “I have hope toward God . . . that there is going to be a resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous.” The hope of the resurrection gives us courage in the face of the worst adversities. Because of that hope, our dear friends who fall sick and sense that they are going to die do not lose heart. Whatever happens, they know that they will reap the reward of faithfulness. Because of the resurrection hope, our courageous brothers and sisters who face death at the hands of persecutors know that there is no way their persecutors can gain the victory. (Matthew 10:28) When someone in the congregation dies, we are sad to lose that person. At the same time, if he or she is one of the other sheep, we rejoice that our fellow believer has proved faithful to the end and is now resting, assured of a future in God’s new world.—1 Thessalonians 4:13.
6 Yes, the resurrection hope is a vital feature of our faith. Why, though, is our belief in the resurrection so strong, and who share that hope?
7. What is the resurrection, and what are some scriptures expressing its certainty?
7 The Greek word for “resurrection” is a·naʹsta·sis, which literally means “standing up.” It refers basically to a rising from the dead. Interestingly, the actual word “resurrection” does not appear in the Hebrew Scriptures, but the resurrection hope is clearly expressed there. We see it, for example, in the words uttered by Job in the midst of his suffering: “O that in Sheol you would conceal me, . . . that you would set a time limit for me and remember me!” (Job 14:13) Similarly, at Hosea 13:14, we read: “From the hand of Sheol I shall redeem them; from death I shall recover them. Where are your stings, O Death? Where is your destructiveness, O Sheol?” At 1 Corinthians 15:55, the apostle Paul quoted these words and showed that the prophesied victory over death is accomplished through the resurrection. (Of course, in that scripture Paul was speaking of the heavenly resurrection.)
Believers “Declared Righteous”
8, 9. (a) How can imperfect humans have a part in the resurrection of the righteous? (b) What is the basis of our hope in a life that will not be terminated by death?
8 In his statement to Felix, quoted in paragraph 5, Paul said that there would be a resurrection of the righteous and the unrighteous. Who are the righteous ones that will be raised? Well, no human is righteous by nature. All of us are sinners from birth, and we commit sins throughout our lifetime—which makes us deserving of death on two counts. (Romans 5:12; 6:23) However, in the Bible we find the term “declared righteous.” (Romans 3:28) This refers to humans who, although imperfect, have their sins forgiven by Jehovah.
9 The expression is most prominently used with regard to anointed Christians, who have a heavenly hope. At Romans 5:1, the apostle Paul says: “Now that we have been declared righteous as a result of faith, let us enjoy peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” All anointed Christians are declared righteous because of faith. Faith in what? As Paul explains at some length in the book of Romans, it is faith in Jesus Christ. (Romans 10:4, 9, 10) Jesus died a perfect man and thereafter was resurrected from the dead and ascended to heaven to offer the value of his human life in our behalf. (Hebrews 7:26, 27; 9:11, 12) When Jehovah accepted that sacrifice, Jesus, in effect, purchased the human race out of slavery to sin and death. Those who exercise faith in this arrangement benefit greatly from it. (1 Corinthians 15:45) On its basis faithful men and women have the hope of inheriting a life that will not be terminated by the grim enemy, death.—John 3:16.
10, 11. (a) What resurrection awaits faithful anointed Christians? (b) What kind of resurrection was hoped for by pre-Christian worshipers?
10 Thanks to Jesus’ ransom sacrifice, faithful anointed ones, being declared righteous, have the sure hope of being resurrected as immortal spirit creatures, like Jesus. (Revelation 2:10) Their resurrection is mentioned at Revelation 20:6, which says: “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.” This is the heavenly resurrection. Notice, though, that the Bible calls it “the first resurrection,” which implies that there is more to come.
11 In Hebrews chapter 11, Paul referred to a long line of pre-Christian servants of God who had manifested strong faith in Jehovah God. These too had faith in a resurrection. In Heb 11 verse 35 of that chapter, Paul speaks of miraculous resurrections that occurred during the history of Israel, saying: “Women received their dead by resurrection; but other men were tortured because they would not accept release by some ransom, in order that they might attain a better resurrection.” Those faithful witnesses of old could look forward to a resurrection better than the ones involving, for example, Elijah and Elisha. (1 Kings 17:17-22; 2 Kings 4:32-37; 13:20, 21) Their hope was resurrection into a world where servants of God would not be tortured for their faith, a world where women would not lose their loved ones in death. Yes, they looked forward to rising from the dead into the same new world that we hope for. (Isaiah 65:17-25) Jehovah had not revealed to them as much as he has to us about this new world. Nevertheless, they knew that it was coming, and they wanted to be in it.
The Earthly Resurrection
12. Were pre-Christian faithful ones declared righteous? Explain.
12 Should we think of the awakening of these faithful pre-Christian men and women in that new world as part of the resurrection of the righteous? Evidently yes, because the Bible refers to them as righteous. For example, the disciple James mentions a man and a woman of ancient times who were declared righteous. The man was Abraham, the progenitor of the Hebrew race. Regarding him we read: “‘Abraham put faith in Jehovah, and it was counted to him as righteousness,’ and he came to be called ‘Jehovah’s friend.’” The woman was Rahab, a non-Israelite who exercised faith in Jehovah. She was “declared righteous” and came to be part of the Hebrew nation. (James 2:23-25) Thus, men and women of old who exercised strong faith in Jehovah and his promises and remained faithful to the death were declared righteous by Jehovah on the basis of their faith, and they will without doubt share in the ‘resurrection of the righteous.’
13, 14. (a) How do we know that Christians with an earthly hope can be declared righteous? (b) What does this mean for them?
13 However, what of sheeplike individuals today, those with an earthly hope who dedicate themselves to Jehovah and who die faithful during this time of the end? Will they share in the resurrection of the righteous? Apparently so. A great crowd of such faithful ones was seen in vision by the apostle John. Notice how he describes them: “I saw, and, look! 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, dressed in white robes; and there were palm branches in their hands. And they keep on crying with a loud voice, saying: ‘Salvation we owe to our God, who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb.’”—Revelation 7:9, 10.
14 Notice that these meek ones are firmly convinced of their salvation, and they attribute this to Jehovah and Jesus, “the Lamb.” Moreover, they are standing before Jehovah and the Lamb, all dressed in white. Why in white? A heavenly creature tells John: “They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:14) In the Bible, white is a symbol of purity, righteousness. (Psalm 51:7; Daniel 12:10; Revelation 19:8) The fact that the great crowd are seen wearing white garments means that Jehovah views them as righteous. How is that possible? Because they have, as it were, washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb. They exercise faith in the shed blood of Jesus Christ and are therefore declared righteous as God’s friends with a view to surviving the great tribulation. Hence, any faithful dedicated Christian now a part of the “great crowd” who dies before the great tribulation can be sure of having a part in the earthly resurrection of the righteous.
15. Since both righteous and unrighteous will be resurrected, what is the advantage of the resurrection of the righteous?
15 That resurrection is described at Revelation chapter 20, verse 13, in these words: “The sea gave up those dead in it, and death and Hades gave up those dead in them, and they were judged individually according to their deeds.” Thus, during Jehovah’s great thousand-year Judgment Day, all those in God’s memory will be resurrected—both the righteous and the unrighteous. (Acts 17:31) How much better, though, it will be for the righteous! They have already lived lives of faith. They already have a close relationship with Jehovah and confidence in the outworking of his purposes. Righteous witnesses from before the Christian Era will awaken from death eager to learn how the promises of Jehovah regarding the Seed were fulfilled. (1 Peter 1:10-12) Those of the other sheep whom Jehovah views as righteous in our day will come forth from the grave eager to behold the Paradise earth that they spoke about when they declared the good news in this system of things. What a joyful time that will be!
16. What can we say about the Judgment Day resurrection of those who die in our time?
16 During that thousand-year Judgment Day, when exactly will those who died faithful in these final years of Satan’s system of things be resurrected? The Bible does not say. However, would it not be reasonable to think that those counted righteous who die in our time would have an early resurrection and thus could share with the great crowd of Armageddon survivors in the work of welcoming earlier generations back from the dead? Yes, indeed!
A Hope That Gives Comfort
17, 18. (a) What comfort does the resurrection hope provide? (b) What are we moved to declare about Jehovah?
17 The resurrection hope gives strength and comfort to all Christians today. If we remain faithful, no unforeseen occurrence and no enemy can rob us of our reward! For example, in the 1992 Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses, on page 177, there appear pictures of courageous Christians in Ethiopia who died rather than compromise their faith. The caption reads: “Faces we expect to see in the resurrection.” What a privilege it will be to get to know these ones and countless others who have shown a similar faithfulness in the face of death!
18 What about our own loved ones and friends who because of age or infirmity do not make it through the great tribulation? In line with the resurrection hope, they have a wonderful future if they remain faithful. And if we also courageously exercise faith in Jesus’ ransom sacrifice, we have a wonderful future. Why? Because, like Paul, we hope in the “resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous.” With all our hearts, we thank Jehovah for this hope. Surely, it moves us to echo the psalmist’s words: “Declare among the nations [God’s] glory, among all the peoples his wonderful works. For Jehovah is great and very much to be praised.”—Psalm 96:3, 4.
Can You Explain?
□ What scriptures help confirm our hope in an earthly resurrection?
□ On what basis are Christians now declared righteous?
□ How does the resurrection hope give us courage and determination?
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Like Paul, anointed Christians hope in the heavenly resurrection