The Only Remedy!
A MAN named Lazarus and his sisters, Martha and Mary, live in Bethany, a town located some two miles [3 km] outside Jerusalem. One day when their friend Jesus is away, Lazarus becomes critically ill. His sisters are very much concerned about him. They send a message to Jesus. Some time after hearing the news, Jesus sets out to see Lazarus. On the way, Jesus informs his disciples that he is traveling there to awaken Lazarus from sleep. The disciples at first misunderstand him, but Jesus clarifies the matter, saying: “Lazarus has died.”—John 11:1-14.
When Jesus reaches the tomb of Lazarus, he first gives instruction to take away the stone blocking the entrance to the tomb. After praying aloud, he commands: “Lazarus, come on out!” And Lazarus comes out. The man who had been dead for four days has been resurrected.—John 11:38-44.
The account involving Lazarus shows that the resurrection is the sure remedy for death. But did the miracle of bringing Lazarus back to life really happen? The Bible presents it as fact. Read the account at John 11:1-44, and you will see how vivid the details are. Can you deny that it happened? Doing so might give you reason to question the truthfulness of all the miracles recorded in the Bible, including the resurrection of Jesus Christ himself. And “if Christ has not been raised up,” says the Bible, “your faith is useless.” (1 Corinthians 15:17) The resurrection is a fundamental Scriptural teaching. (Hebrews 6:1, 2) What, though, does the term “resurrection” mean?
What Is Meant by “Resurrection”?
In the Christian Greek Scriptures, the word “resurrection” occurs more than 40 times. It is translated from a Greek word that literally means “a standing up again.” The corresponding Hebrew expression means “revival of the dead.” After a person dies, what is resurrected? It cannot be the body, which decays and returns to the dust of the ground. What is resurrected is not the same body but the same person who died. Thus, resurrection involves the restoration of the life pattern of the individual—his personality traits, his personal history, and all the details of his identity.
Jehovah God, who is perfect in memory, has no problem remembering the life patterns of those who have died. (Isaiah 40:26) Since he is the Originator of life, Jehovah can readily bring back to life the same person in a newly formed body. (Psalm 36:9) Moreover, the Bible states that Jehovah God has “a yearning”—an earnest longing and desire—to resurrect the dead. (Job 14:14, 15) How glad we can be that not only is Jehovah able to bring a person back to life but he also wants to do it!
Jesus Christ too plays a key role in resurrecting the dead. A little over a year after beginning his ministry, Jesus said: “Just as the Father raises the dead up and makes them alive, so the Son also makes those alive whom he wants to.” (John 5:21) Does not the experience of Lazarus show that Jesus Christ has the power as well as the desire to resurrect the dead?
What about the idea that something inside us goes on living after death? The teaching of the resurrection and the idea of the immortality of the human soul or spirit are, in fact, incompatible. If something inside us survived death, what need would there be for a resurrection? Lazarus’ sister Martha did not believe that when her brother died, he continued to exist in a spirit realm. She had faith in the resurrection. When Jesus assured her: “Your brother will rise,” Martha said: “I know he will rise in the resurrection on the last day.” (John 11:23, 24) And when brought back to life, Lazarus did not relate any experiences of an afterlife. He had been dead. “As for the dead, they are conscious of nothing at all,” states the Bible. “There is no work nor devising nor knowledge nor wisdom in Sheol [the common grave of mankind], the place to which you are going.”—Ecclesiastes 9:5, 10.
According to the Bible, then, the only remedy for death is the resurrection. But of the countless dead, who will be resurrected, and to where?
Who Will Be Resurrected?
“The hour is coming in which all those in the memorial tombs will hear [Jesus’] voice and come out,” said Jesus. (John 5:28, 29) According to this promise, those in the memorial tombs—those who are in Jehovah’s memory—will be resurrected. The question, then, is, Of all those who have died, who actually are in God’s memory awaiting a resurrection?
The Bible book of Hebrews chapter 11 lists by name men and women who faithfully served God. They as well as those loyal servants of God who have died in recent years will be among the resurrected ones. What about people who failed to meet God’s standards of righteousness, perhaps because of a lack of knowledge? Are they also in God’s memory? Yes, many are, for the Bible promises: “There is going to be a resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous.”—Acts 24:15.
However, not everyone who has ever lived will receive a resurrection. “If we practice sin willfully after having received the accurate knowledge of the truth,” states the Bible, “there is no longer any sacrifice for sins left, but there is a certain fearful expectation of judgment.” (Hebrews 10:26, 27) Some committed sins for which there is no forgiveness. They are not in Hades (mankind’s common grave) but in Gehenna, a symbolic place of eternal destruction. (Matthew 23:33) We must be careful, though, not to speculate on whether a certain person will be resurrected or not. This judgment belongs to God. He knows who is in Hades and who is in Gehenna. For our part, we do well to live our lives according to God’s will.
Resurrection to Life in Heaven—For Whom?
The most remarkable resurrection was that of Jesus Christ. He was ‘put to death in the flesh, but was made alive in the spirit.’ (1 Peter 3:18) No human had ever experienced such a resurrection before. Jesus himself said: “No man has ascended into heaven but he that descended from heaven, the Son of man.” (John 3:13) Indeed, the Son of man was the first to be raised as a spirit person. (Acts 26:23) And there were to be others. The Scriptures say: “Each one in his own rank: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who belong to the Christ during his presence.”—1 Corinthians 15:23.
A small group of people—“those who belong to the Christ”—are to be resurrected to life in heaven for a special purpose. (Romans 6:5) They will rule with Christ as “kings over the earth.” (Revelation 5:9, 10) Moreover, they will serve as priests in that they will have a share in removing the effects of the sin that mankind inherited from the first man, Adam. (Romans 5:12) Those ruling with Christ as kings and priests number 144,000. (Revelation 14:1, 3) What type of body do they receive when they are resurrected? “A spiritual body,” says the Bible. This will make it possible for them to live in heaven.—1 Corinthians 15:35, 38, 42-45.
When does the heavenly resurrection take place? “During [Christ’s] presence,” answers 1 Corinthians 15:23. World events since 1914 clearly show that both Christ’s presence and “the conclusion of the system of things” began in that year. (Matthew 24:3-7) So there is reason to conclude that the resurrection of faithful Christians to heaven has already begun, though, of course, unseen by humans. That would mean that the apostles and the early Christians have been raised to heavenly life. What about Christians living now who have the sure, God-given hope of ruling with Christ in heaven? They are raised “in the twinkling of an eye,” or immediately after they die. (1 Corinthians 15:52) Since the resurrection of this small group of 144,000 precedes that of the large number who will be resurrected to life on earth, it is called “the earlier resurrection” and “the first resurrection.”—Philippians 3:11; Revelation 20:6.
Who Will Be Resurrected to Life on Earth?
According to the Scriptures, the vast majority of the dead will be brought back to life on earth. (Psalm 37:29; Matthew 6:10) Describing his breathtaking vision of resurrected ones, the apostle John wrote: “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. And death and Hades were hurled into the lake of fire. This means the second death, the lake of fire.” (Revelation 20:11-14) Those in Hades, or Sheol—mankind’s common grave—are in God’s memory. Every single one of them will be released from the grip of death. (Psalm 16:10; Acts 2:31) And each one will be judged according to the deeds he performs after he is resurrected. What will then happen to death and Hades? They will be hurled into “the lake of fire.” This means that the death that humans inherited from Adam will no longer affect them.
Just think of the happy prospect that the promise of the resurrection opens up for those who have lost a loved one in death! When Jesus resurrected the only son of the widow of Nain, what joy she must have experienced! (Luke 7:11-17) And concerning the parents of a 12-year-old girl whom Jesus brought back to life, the Bible says: “At once they were beside themselves with great ecstasy.” (Mark 5:21-24, 35-42; Luke 8:40-42, 49-56) In God’s promised new world, it will be a delight to welcome back loved ones.
What impact can knowing the truth about the resurrection have on us now? “Most people fear death and try to avoid thinking about it,” says The World Book Encyclopedia. Why? Because to most people, death is a mystery—something unknown to be feared. Knowing the truth about the condition of the dead and having the resurrection hope can impart courage to us if we come face-to-face with “the last enemy, death.” (1 Corinthians 15:26) This knowledge also makes it easier to bear the pain that we experience when losing a close friend or a relative in death.
When will the earthly resurrection begin? The earth today is filled with violence, strife, bloodshed, and pollution. If the dead were to come back to life on such an earth, surely any happiness would be short-lived. However, the Creator has promised that he will soon bring an end to the present world under Satan’s control. (Proverbs 2:21, 22; Daniel 2:44; 1 John 5:19) God’s purpose for the earth is about to be fulfilled. Then, in the peaceful new world of God’s making, billions who are now asleep in death will open their eyes.
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Most of the dead will be resurrected to life on earth