A New Life for Our Ancestors
DOES God’s Word, the Bible, teach that everyone passes smoothly on to continued life in the spirit realm at death? No, it does not. The Bible presents a marvelous hope of life after death, but not in the way many think it does.
Consider what the Bible says about our first ancestor, Adam. Jehovah formed him “out of dust from the ground.” (Genesis 2:7) Adam had the opportunity to live forever in happiness on earth. (Genesis 2:16, 17) However, he rebelled against his loving Creator, and the result was death.
Where did Adam go at death? God said to him: “You [will] return to the ground, for out of it you were taken. For dust you are and to dust you will return.”—Genesis 3:19.
Where was Adam before Jehovah created him from the dust? Nowhere. He did not exist. So when Jehovah said that Adam would “return to the ground,” he could only have meant that Adam would again become lifeless, just like the dust. Adam did not ‘cross over’ to be the founding father of a world of ancestral spirits. He passed neither to a life of bliss in heaven nor to an eternity of suffering in a place of torment. The only transition he made was from life to lifelessness, from a state of existence to one of nonexistence.
What about the rest of humankind? Do the descendants of Adam also cease to exist at death? The Bible answers: “All [both humans and animals] are going to one place. They have all come to be from the dust, and they are all returning to the dust.”—Ecclesiastes 3:19, 20.
Condition of the Dead
Yes, the dead are lifeless, unable to hear, see, speak, or think. For example, the Bible says: “The living are conscious that they will die; but as for the dead, they are conscious of nothing at all . . . Their love and their hate and their jealousy have already perished.” The Bible also states: “There is no work nor devising nor knowledge nor wisdom in Sheol [the grave], the place to which you are going.”—Ecclesiastes 9:5, 6, 10.
According to God’s Word, therefore, while people are alive, they are aware of death. When death occurs, however, they are aware of nothing. They do not stand beside their own corpse, observing what is done to it. In nonexistence there is neither pleasure nor pain, neither joy nor sorrow. Those dead are not aware of the passing of time. Theirs is an unconscious state deeper than any sleep.
Job, a servant of God in ancient times, knew that people did not continue to live on after death. He also understood that without God’s intervention, there would be no hope of coming to life again. Job said: “An able-bodied man dies and lies vanquished; and an earthling man expires, and where is he? [He] has to lie down and does not get up.” (Job 14:10, 12) Job certainly did not expect that when he died he would join his ancestors in a world of spirits.
The Resurrection Hope
Since the living cease to exist at death, the critical question is the one that Job raised when he went on to ask: “If an able-bodied man dies can he live again?” Job himself gave this answer: “All the days of my compulsory service [time in the grave] I shall wait, until my relief comes. You [Jehovah] will call, and I myself shall answer you. For the work of your hands you will have a yearning.”—Job 14:14, 15.
In other words, although Job would pass into nonexistence, God would not forget him. Job had faith that the time would come when Jehovah God would “call” him back to life by means of a resurrection.
Jesus Christ, the Son of God, showed that Job’s hope in the resurrection was a realistic one. Jesus proved that the dead can be raised. How? By his doing it! He was not there to resurrect Job, but while on earth Jesus did resurrect the son of a widow from the city of Nain. Jesus also raised to life the 12-year-old daughter of a man named Jairus. And he resurrected his friend Lazarus, who had been dead for four days.—Luke 7:11-15; 8:41, 42, 49-56; John 11:38-44.
In addition to performing these miracles, Jesus spoke of a great future resurrection. He said: “The hour is coming in which all those in the memorial tombs will hear his voice and come out.” (John 5:28, 29) Later, the apostle Paul, whom Jehovah used to resurrect a young man, also expressed belief in a future resurrection. He said: “I have hope toward God . . . that there is going to be a resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous.”—Acts 20:7-12; 24:15.
These Scriptural references to a future resurrection do not pertain to continued life in the spirit realm. They point to the time when millions of the dead will return to life in physical bodies right here on earth. These resurrected ones will not be people who have no memory of their previous life on earth. They will not be reborn as infants. Instead, they will be the same persons they were when they died, possessing the same memories and personality. They will be recognizable to themselves and to others. What a joy it will be as these people rejoin their friends and families! And how exciting it will be to meet our ancestors!
Resurrection to Life in Heaven
Did Jesus not say that some would go to heaven? Yes, he did. On the evening before he was put to death, he said: “In the house of my Father there are many abodes. . . . 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) Jesus was talking to his faithful apostles, but his words do not mean that all good people go to heaven.
Jesus showed that those resurrected to heaven must meet requirements other than just living a good life. One requirement is to have accurate knowledge of Jehovah and his purposes. (John 17:3) Other requirements are to exercise faith in Jesus Christ’s ransom sacrifice and to obey God. (John 3:16; 1 John 5:3) Still another requirement is to be “born again” as a baptized Christian begotten by God’s holy spirit. (John 1:12, 13; 3:3-6) A further requirement for heavenly life is to endure as Jesus did, proving faithful to God even to death.—Luke 22:29; Revelation 2:10.
There is a reason for such high requirements. Those resurrected to heaven have an important work to do. Jehovah knew that human governments could never successfully manage affairs on earth. So he arranged for a heavenly government, or Kingdom, that would rule over humankind. (Matthew 6:9, 10) Jesus would be King of that Kingdom. (Daniel 7:13, 14) Some selected from earth and resurrected to heaven would rule with him. The Bible foretold that these resurrected ones would become “a kingdom and priests to our God, and they [would] rule as kings over the earth.”—Revelation 5:10.
Would large numbers of people meet the requirements for a heavenly resurrection? No. Through no fault of their own, most of those sleeping in death do not qualify. Many had little or no opportunity to learn the truth about Jehovah and his purposes. They lived and died without any knowledge of Jesus Christ or of God’s Kingdom.
Jesus called those who would go to heaven a “little flock.” (Luke 12:32) Later it was revealed that the number of those “bought from the earth” to rule with Christ in heaven would be 144,000. (Revelation 14:1-3; 20:6) While 144,000 is a number large enough to occupy the “many abodes” Jesus referred to, it is small when compared with the billions of people who have descended from Adam.—John 14:2.
Events Before the Earthly Resurrection
Let us review what we have discussed so far. According to the Bible, those who die are lifeless in death until they are resurrected by Jehovah God. Some are resurrected to life in heaven, where they will rule with Jesus Christ in the Kingdom government. Most people will be resurrected on the earth, to become subjects of that Kingdom.
Partly by means of the earthly resurrection, Jehovah will fulfill his purpose for the earth. Jehovah created it “to be inhabited.” (Isaiah 45:18) It was to be the permanent home of humankind. Hence, the psalmist sang: “As regards the heavens, to Jehovah the heavens belong, but the earth he has given to the sons of men.”—Psalm 115:16.
Before the resurrection to life on earth begins, great changes must take place. You will probably agree that it was not God’s purpose for the earth to become filled with war, pollution, crime, and violence. These problems are caused by people who have no respect for God and his righteous laws. Therefore, God’s Kingdom will “bring to ruin those ruining the earth”—a major step in bringing about his will on earth. (Revelation 11:18) The Kingdom will destroy all wicked people, leaving the righteous to live on the earth forever.—Psalm 37:9, 29.
Paradise on Earth
Those who are resurrected on a cleansed earth will be mild-tempered, caring people who do what is right. (Compare Matthew 5:5.) Under the loving oversight of God’s Kingdom, they will live happy lives in security. The Bible gives this wonderful preview of conditions that will then prevail: “[God] will wipe out every tear from their eyes, and death will be no more, neither will mourning nor outcry nor pain be anymore. The former things have passed away.”—Revelation 21:4.
Yes, the earth will be transformed into a paradise. (Luke 23:43) Think what that will mean! Hospitals and nursing homes will be obsolete. In Paradise, those who are now racked by the effects of old age will be strong and healthy again. (Job 33:25; Isaiah 35:5, 6) No longer will there be funeral parlors, cemeteries, and tombstones. By means of his Kingdom, Jehovah will “swallow up death forever.” (Isaiah 25:8) Such blessings can surely mean a new life for us and for our ancestors.
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Those resurrected on earth will be subjects of the Kingdom