The Resurrection—A Glorious Prospect
BELIEF in a resurrection is widespread. The holy book of Islam, the Koran, devotes a whole chapter to the resurrection. Surah 75 says in part: “I do swear by the Resurrection Day . . . Does man think that We cannot assemble his bones? . . . He questions: ‘When is the Day of Resurrection?’ Has not He, (the same), the power to give life to the dead?”—Surah 75:1-6, 40.
“Zoroastrianism,” observes The New Encyclopædia Britannica, “holds a belief in a final overthrow of Evil, a general resurrection, a Last Judgment, and the restoration of a cleansed world to the righteous.”
The Encyclopaedia Judaica defines the resurrection as “the belief that ultimately the dead will be revived in their bodies and live again on earth.” The same reference work also comments that the belief adopted into Judaism that man has an immortal soul presents a dilemma. It admits: “Basically the two beliefs of resurrection and the soul’s immortality are contradictory.”
Hinduism teaches that man undergoes a series of rebirths, or reincarnations. For this to be true, man must have a soul that lives on after death. The Hindu holy book Bhagavad Gita states: “That which pervades the entire body is indestructible. No one is able to destroy the imperishable soul.”
Buddhism differs from Hinduism in that it denies the existence of an immortal soul. Nevertheless, today many Buddhists in the Far East believe in the transmigration of an immortal soul.*
Confusion About the Teaching of the Resurrection
Funeral services conducted in Christendom often refer both to the soul as living on after death and to the resurrection. For example, Anglican clergymen usually recite the words: “Forasmuch as it hath pleased Almighty God of his great mercy to take unto himself the soul of our dear brother here departed, we therefore commit his body to the ground; earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust; in sure and certain hope of the Resurrection to eternal life, through our Lord Jesus Christ.”—The Book of Common Prayer.
This statement may make one wonder whether the Bible teaches the resurrection or the doctrine of an immortal soul. Note, however, the comment made by French Protestant Professor Oscar Cullmann. He writes in his book Immortality of the Soul or Resurrection of the Dead?: “There is a radical difference between the Christian expectation of the resurrection of the dead and the Greek belief in the immortality of the soul. . . . Although Christianity later established a link between these two beliefs, and today the average Christian confuses them completely, I see no reason to hide what I and the majority of scholars consider to be the truth. . . . The life and thought of the New Testament are entirely dominated by faith in the resurrection. . . . The whole man, who is really dead, is brought back to life by a new creative act of God.”
It is little wonder that people in general are confused about death and the resurrection. To resolve the confusion, we need to look to the Bible, which presents truths revealed by man’s Creator, Jehovah God. The Bible documents a number of resurrections. Let us examine four of these accounts and consider what they reveal.
“Women Received Their Dead by Resurrection”
In his letter to Jews who had become Christians, the apostle Paul said that women of faith had “received their dead by resurrection.” (Hebrews 11:35) One of those women lived in Zarephath, a Phoenician town near Sidon on the Mediterranean Coast. She was a widow who hospitably received God’s prophet Elijah and gave him food even during a time of extreme famine. Sadly, this woman’s son fell sick and died. Elijah immediately carried him up to the roof chamber where the prophet lodged and petitioned Jehovah to restore the boy’s life. A miracle occurred, and the boy “came to life.” Elijah returned him to his mother and said: “See, your son is alive.” How did she react? She happily said: “Now, indeed, I do know that you are a man of God and that Jehovah’s word in your mouth is true.”—1 Kings 17:22-24.
Nearly 60 miles [100 km] south of Zarephath lived a generous couple who cared for Elijah’s successor, the prophet Elisha. The wife was a prominent woman in her hometown of Shunem. She and her husband agreed to provide Elisha lodging in a roof chamber in their home. Their sadness over not having children turned to joy when the woman gave birth to a son. As the lad grew, he often accompanied the reapers to join his father in the field. One day tragedy struck. The boy cried out that he had a headache. An attendant rushed him back home. His mother cradled him in her lap, but gradually the child died. The distraught mother decided to call Elisha for help. With an attendant she traveled northwest toward Mount Carmel, where Elisha was staying.
Responding, the prophet sent his attendant, Gehazi, ahead, and he found that the boy was indeed dead. Elisha and the woman followed, but what happened when they finally arrived in Shunem? The account at 2 Kings 4:32-37 relates: “At last Elisha came into the house, and there the boy was dead, being laid upon his couch. Then he came in and closed the door behind them both and began to pray to Jehovah. Finally he went up and lay down upon the child and put his own mouth upon his mouth and his own eyes upon his eyes and his own palms upon his palms and kept bent over him, and gradually the child’s flesh grew warm. Then he began walking again in the house, once this way and once that way, after which he went up and bent over him. And the boy began to sneeze as many as seven times, after which the boy opened his eyes. He now called Gehazi and said: ‘Call this Shunammite woman.’ So he called her and she came in to him. Then he said: ‘Lift up your son.’ And she proceeded to come in and fall at his feet and bow down to him to the earth, after which she lifted up her son and went out.”
Like the widow of Zarephath, the woman from Shunem knew that what had happened was as a result of God’s power. Both these women experienced great joy as God restored their beloved offspring to life.
Resurrections During Jesus’ Ministry
Some 900 years later, a resurrection occurred a short distance north of Shunem outside the village of Nain. As Jesus Christ and his disciples traveled from Capernaum and neared the gate of Nain, they met a burial procession, and Jesus caught sight of a widow who had lost her only son. Jesus told her to stop weeping. Luke, a physician, described what happened next: “With that [Jesus] approached and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still, and he said: ‘Young man, I say to you, Get up!’ And the dead man sat up and started to speak, and he gave him to his mother.” (Luke 7:14, 15) Those who witnessed this miracle glorified God. News of the resurrection spread southward into Judea and the surrounding district. Interestingly, the disciples of John the Baptizer heard of it and reported the miracle to John. He, in turn, dispatched them to find Jesus and ask him whether He was the expected Messiah. Jesus told them: “Go your way, report to John what you saw and heard: the blind are receiving sight, the lame are walking, the lepers are being cleansed and the deaf are hearing, the dead are being raised up, the poor are being told the good news.”—Luke 7:22.
The best known of Jesus’ resurrection miracles was that performed in behalf of his close friend Lazarus. In this case, there was a delay between Lazarus’ death and Jesus’ arrival at the family home. When Jesus finally reached Bethany, Lazarus had been dead for four days. When Jesus instructed that the stone covering the entrance to the burial chamber be removed, Martha objected, saying: “Lord, by now he must smell, for it is four days.” (John 11:39) Yet, any deterioration of Lazarus’ body did not prevent the resurrection. At Jesus’ command, “the man that had been dead came out with his feet and hands bound with wrappings, and his countenance was bound about with a cloth.” The subsequent actions of Jesus’ enemies prove that it was indeed Lazarus who had come back to life.—John 11:43, 44; 12:1, 9-11.
What do we conclude from these four resurrection accounts? Each resurrected individual returned to life as the same person. All were recognized, even by their closest relatives. None of the resurrected spoke of what had occurred during the short time they were dead. None spoke of traveling to another world. Apparently, they all returned in good health. For them, it was as though they slept for a while and then woke up, even as Jesus intimated. (John 11:11) Nevertheless, after some time each of these died again.
Reunion With Loved Ones—A Glorious Prospect
A short time after the tragic death of Owen, mentioned in the preceding article, his father visited a neighbor’s home. There on a table, he found a handbill advertising a public talk organized by Jehovah’s Witnesses. Its title, “Where Are the Dead?,” appealed to him. That was exactly the question he had on his mind. He attended the discourse and found true comfort from the Bible. He learned that the dead do not suffer. Rather than experiencing torment in a hellfire or being taken by God to become angels in heaven, the dead, including Owen, wait in the grave until it is time to be awakened in the resurrection.—Ecclesiastes 9:5, 10; Ezekiel 18:4.
Has tragedy struck your family? Do you, like Owen’s father, wonder where your deceased loved ones are now and what possibility there is of seeing them again? If so, we invite you to consider what the Bible further teaches about the resurrection. Perhaps you wonder: ‘When will the resurrection occur? Who exactly will benefit from it?’ Please read the following articles for a discussion of these and other questions.
See the book Mankind’s Search for God, pages 150-4, published by Jehovah’s Witnesses.
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Jehovah used Elisha to resurrect the Shunammite’s son
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Elijah petitioned Jehovah to restore a boy’s life
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Jesus resurrected the son of the widow of Nain
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The resurrection will reunite relatives with their loved ones