Who Will Be Resurrected?
“Do not marvel at this, because the hour is coming in which all those in the memorial tombs will hear his voice and come out.”—JOHN 5:28, 29.
1. What outstanding declaration did Moses hear at the burning thornbush, and who later recalled those words?
SOMETHING very unusual occurred more than 3,500 years ago. Moses was caring for the sheep that belonged to the patriarch Jethro. Near Mount Horeb, Jehovah’s angel appeared to Moses in a flame of fire in the midst of a thornbush. “As he kept looking, why, here the thornbush was burning with the fire and yet the thornbush was not consumed,” relates the Exodus account. Then a voice called to him from the thornbush. “I am the God of your father,” the voice declared, “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” (Exodus 3:1-6) Later, in the first century C.E., those words were recalled by none other than God’s own Son, Jesus.
2, 3. (a) What prospect awaits Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? (b) What questions arise?
2 Jesus was having a discussion with some Sadducees, who did not believe in the resurrection. Jesus declared: “That the dead are raised up even Moses disclosed, in the account about the thornbush, when he calls Jehovah ‘the God of Abraham and God of Isaac and God of Jacob.’ He is a God, not of the dead, but of the living, for they are all living to him.” (Luke 20:27, 37, 38) By saying these words, Jesus confirmed that from God’s viewpoint the long-dead Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob still lived in God’s memory. Like Job, they await the end of their “compulsory service,” their sleep in death. (Job 14:14) In God’s new world, they will be resurrected.
3 What, though, about the billions of others who have died throughout human history? Will they too receive a resurrection? Before we can obtain a satisfying answer to that question, let us find out from God’s Word where people go when they die.
Where Are the Dead?
4. (a) Where do people go when they die? (b) What is Sheol?
4 The Bible declares that the dead are “conscious of nothing at all.” At death there is no torment in hellfire, no agonizing wait in Limbo, but simply a return to the dust. Therefore, God’s Word advises the living: “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 9:5, 10; Genesis 3:19) “Sheol” is an unfamiliar term to many. It is a Hebrew word of uncertain derivation. Many religions teach that the dead are still alive, but as the inspired Word of God shows, those in Sheol are dead, without consciousness. Sheol is the common grave of mankind.
5, 6. At his death, where did Jacob go, and whom did he join there?
5 In the Bible, we find the first occurrence of the word “Sheol” at Genesis 37:35. Following the apparent loss of his beloved son Joseph, the patriarch Jacob refused to take comfort, declaring: “I shall go down mourning to my son into Sheol!” Believing that his son was dead, Jacob desired to die and be in Sheol. Later, nine of Jacob’s older children wanted to take his youngest son, Benjamin, down to Egypt to find relief from the famine. However, Jacob refused, saying: “My son will not go down with you men, because his brother is dead and he has been left by himself. If a fatal accident should befall him on the way on which you would go, then you would certainly bring down my gray hairs with grief to Sheol.” (Genesis 42:36, 38) These two references link death, not some kind of afterlife, with Sheol.
6 The Genesis account reveals that Joseph had become the food administrator in Egypt. Consequently, Jacob was able to journey there for a joyous reunion with Joseph. After that, Jacob resided in that land until his death at the very advanced age of 147. According to his dying wishes, his sons took his remains and buried them in the cave of Machpelah in the land of Canaan. (Genesis 47:28; 49:29-31; 50:12, 13) Thus, Jacob joined Isaac, his father, and Abraham, his grandfather.
‘Gathered to Their Forefathers’
7, 8. (a) Where did Abraham go at his death? Explain. (b) What shows that others entered Sheol at their death?
7 Earlier, when Jehovah confirmed his covenant with Abraham and promised that his seed would become many, he indicated what would happen to Abraham. “As for you,” Jehovah said, “you will go to your forefathers in peace; you will be buried at a good old age.” (Genesis 15:15) And this is exactly what happened. Genesis 25:8 states: “Then Abraham expired and died in a good old age, old and satisfied, and was gathered to his people.” Who were these people? Genesis 11:10-26 lists his ancestors as far back as Noah’s son Shem. So it was to these already sleeping in Sheol that Abraham was gathered at death.
8 The expression “gathered to his people” occurs frequently in the Hebrew Scriptures. Thus, it is logical to conclude that Abraham’s son Ishmael and Moses’ brother, Aaron, both went to Sheol at their death, there to await a resurrection. (Genesis 25:17; Numbers 20:23-29) Accordingly, Moses too went to Sheol, although no one knew where his grave was. (Numbers 27:13; Deuteronomy 34:5, 6) Similarly, Joshua, Moses’ successor as leader of Israel, along with a whole generation of people also descended to Sheol at death.—Judges 2:8-10.
9. (a) How does the Bible show that the Hebrew word “Sheol” and the Greek word “Hades” refer to the same place? (b) What prospect do those in Sheol, or Hades, have?
9 Centuries later, David became king of the 12 tribes of Israel. At his death, he “lay down with his forefathers.” (1 Kings 2:10) Was he too in Sheol? Interestingly, on the day of Pentecost 33 C.E., the apostle Peter referred to David’s death and quoted Psalm 16:10: “You will not leave my soul in Sheol.” After mentioning that David was still in his tomb, Peter applied those words to Jesus and indicated that David “saw beforehand and spoke concerning the resurrection of the Christ, that neither was he forsaken in Hades nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God resurrected, of which fact we are all witnesses.” (Acts 2:29-32) Peter here used the word “Hades,” the Greek counterpart of the Hebrew word “Sheol.” Thus, those said to be in Hades are in the same situation as those said to be in Sheol. They are sleeping, awaiting a resurrection.
Are There Unrighteous Ones in Sheol?
10, 11. Why can we say that some unrighteous ones go to Sheol, or Hades, at their death?
10 After Moses led the nation of Israel out of Egypt, a rebellion broke out in the wilderness. Moses told the people to separate themselves from the ringleaders—Korah, Dathan, and Abiram. They would die violently. Moses explained: “If it is according to the death of all mankind that these people will die and with the punishment of all mankind that punishment will be brought upon them, then it is not Jehovah that has sent me. But if it is something created that Jehovah will create, and the ground has to open its mouth and swallow up them and everything that belongs to them and they have to go down alive into Sheol, you will then know for certain that these men have treated Jehovah disrespectfully.” (Numbers 16:29, 30) So whether by the earth opening and swallowing them or by fire consuming them as in the case of Korah and the 250 Levites who sided with him, all these rebels ended up in Sheol, or Hades.—Numbers 26:10.
11 Shimei, who had called down evil on King David, met his punishment at the hands of David’s successor, Solomon. “Do not leave him unpunished,” David commanded, “for you are a wise man and you well know what you ought to do to him, and you must bring his gray hairs down to Sheol with blood.” Solomon had Benaiah execute the sentence. (1 Kings 2:8, 9, 44-46) Another victim of Benaiah’s executional sword was Israel’s former army chief Joab. His gray hairs did not “go down in peace to Sheol.” (1 Kings 2:5, 6, 28-34) Both these examples testify to the truthfulness of David’s inspired song: “Wicked people will turn back to Sheol, even all the nations forgetting God.”—Psalm 9:17.
12. Who was Ahithophel, and where did he go at his death?
12 Ahithophel was personal adviser to David. His counsel was valued as though it was from Jehovah himself. (2 Samuel 16:23) Sadly, this trusted servant turned traitor and joined in a coup led by David’s son Absalom. Apparently, David alluded to this defection when he wrote: “It was not an enemy that proceeded to reproach me; otherwise I could put up with it. It was not an intense hater of me that assumed great airs against me; otherwise I could conceal myself from him.” David continued: “Desolations be upon them! Let them go down into Sheol alive; for during their alien residence bad things have been within them.” (Psalm 55:12-15) At their death, Ahithophel and his companions went to Sheol.
Who Are in Gehenna?
13. Why is Judas called “the son of destruction”?
13 Compare David’s situation with that experienced by the Greater David, Jesus. One of Christ’s 12 apostles, Judas Iscariot, turned traitor like Ahithophel. Judas’ treacherous act was far more serious than that of Ahithophel. Judas acted against God’s only-begotten Son. In a prayer at the end of his earthly ministry, God’s Son reported about his followers: “When I was with them I used to watch over them on account of your own name which you have given me; and I have kept them, and not one of them is destroyed except the son of destruction, in order that the scripture might be fulfilled.” (John 17:12) By here referring to Judas as “the son of destruction,” Jesus indicated that when Judas died, there was no hope of a return for him. He did not live on in God’s memory. He went, not to Sheol, but to Gehenna. What is Gehenna?
14. What does Gehenna represent?
14 Jesus condemned the religious leaders of his day because they made each of their disciples “a subject for Gehenna.” (Matthew 23:15) Back at that time, people were familiar with the Valley of Hinnom, an area used as a garbage dump where bodies of executed criminals who were deemed unworthy of a proper burial were deposited. Earlier, Jesus himself had made mention of Gehenna in his Sermon on the Mount. (Matthew 5:29, 30) Its symbolic meaning was clear to his listeners. Gehenna represented complete destruction without hope of a resurrection. Apart from Judas Iscariot of Jesus’ day, have others gone to Gehenna rather than to Sheol, or Hades, at their death?
15, 16. Who at death went to Gehenna, and why did they go there?
15 The first humans, Adam and Eve, were created perfect. Their fall into sin was deliberate. Before them was either everlasting life or death. They disobeyed God and sided with Satan. When they died, they had no prospect of benefiting from Christ’s ransom sacrifice. Rather, they went to Gehenna.
16 Adam’s firstborn son, Cain, murdered his brother Abel and thereafter lived as a fugitive. The apostle John described Cain as one “who originated with the wicked one.” (1 John 3:12) It is reasonable to conclude that like his parents, he went to Gehenna when he died. (Matthew 23:33, 35) What a contrast this is with the situation of righteous Abel! “By faith Abel offered God a sacrifice of greater worth than Cain, through which faith he had witness borne to him that he was righteous, God bearing witness respecting his gifts,” explained Paul, adding, “and through it he, although he died, yet speaks.” (Hebrews 11:4) Yes, Abel is presently in Sheol awaiting a resurrection.
A “First” and a “Better” Resurrection
17. (a) During this “time of the end,” who go to Sheol? (b) What are the prospects for those in Sheol and for those in Gehenna?
17 Many who read this will wonder about the situation of those who die during this “time of the end.” (Daniel 8:19) Revelation chapter 6 describes the ride of four horsemen during that time. Interestingly, the last of these is named Death, and he is followed by Hades. Thus, many who die an untimely death from the activity of the preceding horsemen end up in Hades, there to await a resurrection in God’s new world. (Revelation 6:8) What, then, are the prospects for those in Sheol (Hades) and those in Gehenna? Simply put, resurrection for the former; eternal destruction—nonexistence—for the latter.
18. What prospect does “the first resurrection” offer?
18 The apostle John wrote: “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.” Those who will be corulers with Christ share in “the first resurrection,” but what hope is there for the rest of mankind?—Revelation 20:6.
19. How do some benefit from “a better resurrection”?
19 From the days of God’s servants Elijah and Elisha, the miracle of the resurrection brought people back to life. “Women received their dead by resurrection,” recounted Paul, “but other men were tortured because they would not accept release by some ransom, in order that they might attain a better resurrection.” Yes, these faithful integrity-keepers looked forward to a resurrection that would offer them, not just a few more years followed by death, but the prospect of everlasting life! That will indeed be “a better resurrection.”—Hebrews 11:35.
20. What will the next article consider?
20 If we die faithful before Jehovah brings an end to this wicked system, we have the sure hope of “a better resurrection,” better in the sense that it is one with everlasting life in view. Jesus promised: “Do not marvel at this, because the hour is coming in which all those in the memorial tombs will hear his voice and come out.” (John 5:28, 29) Our next article further considers the purpose of the resurrection. It will show how the resurrection hope strengthens us to be integrity-keepers and helps us to develop the spirit of self-sacrifice.
Do You Recall?
• Why is Jehovah described as the God “of the living”?
• What is the condition of those in Sheol?
• What are the prospects for those in Gehenna?
• How will some benefit from “a better resurrection”?
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Like Abraham, those who go to Sheol are in line for a resurrection
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Why did Adam and Eve, Cain, and Judas Iscariot go to Gehenna?