Everlasting Life on Earth—A Hope Rediscovered
“O Daniel, make secret the words . . . until the time of the end. Many will rove about, and the true knowledge will become abundant.”—DAN. 12:4.
1, 2. What questions will be considered in this article?
MILLIONS of people today clearly understand the Scriptural basis for the hope of living forever in an earthly paradise. (Rev. 7:9, 17) At the beginning of human history, God revealed that man was made, not to live a few years and then die, but to live forever.—Gen. 1:26-28.
2 The lifting of mankind to the perfection that Adam lost was part of the hope of Israel. The Christian Greek Scriptures explain by what means God will make possible everlasting life for mankind in Paradise on earth. So why did man’s hope have to be rediscovered? How was it brought to light and made known to millions?
A Hope Obscured
3. Why is it not surprising that mankind’s hope of everlasting life on earth was obscured?
3 Jesus foretold that false prophets would corrupt his teachings and that most people would be misled. (Matt. 24:11) The apostle Peter warned Christians: “There will also be false teachers among you.” (2 Pet. 2:1) The apostle Paul spoke of “a period of time when [people would] not put up with the healthful teaching, but, in accord with their own desires, they [would] accumulate teachers for themselves to have their ears tickled.” (2 Tim. 4:3, 4) Satan is involved in misleading people and has used apostate Christianity to obscure the heartwarming truth about God’s purpose for man and the earth.—Read 2 Corinthians 4:3, 4.
4. What hope for mankind have apostate religious leaders rejected?
4 The Scriptures explain that the Kingdom of God is a government in heaven that will crush and put an end to all man-made rulerships. (Dan. 2:44) During Christ’s rule of a thousand years, Satan will be confined to an abyss, the dead will be resurrected, and mankind will be elevated to perfection on earth. (Rev. 20:1-3, 6, 12; 21:1-4) However, apostate religious leaders of Christendom have embraced other ideas. For example, third-century Church Father Origen of Alexandria condemned believers in the earthly blessings of the Millennium. Catholic theologian Augustine of Hippo (354-430 C.E.) “held to the conviction that there will be no millennium,” says The Catholic Encyclopedia.a
5, 6. Why did Origen and Augustine oppose millennialism?
5 Why did Origen and Augustine oppose millennialism? Origen was a pupil of Clement of Alexandria, who borrowed the idea of an immortal soul from Greek tradition. Being strongly influenced by Plato’s ideas about the soul, Origen “built into Christian doctrine the whole cosmic drama of the soul, which he took from Plato,” observes theologian Werner Jaeger. Consequently, Origen shifted the earthly blessings of the Millennium to the spiritual realm.
6 Before converting to “Christianity” at the age of 33, Augustine had become a Neoplatonist—an adherent of a version of Plato’s philosophy developed by Plotinus in the third century. After Augustine’s conversion, his thinking remained Neoplatonic. “His mind was the crucible in which the religion of the New Testament was most completely fused with the Platonic tradition of Greek philosophy,” states The New Encyclopædia Britannica. Augustine explained the Thousand Year Reign depicted in Revelation chapter 20 by giving “an allegorical explanation of [it],” states The Catholic Encyclopedia. It adds: “This explanation . . . was adopted by succeeding Western theologians, and millenarianism in its earlier shape no longer received support.”
7. What false belief has undermined man’s hope of everlasting life on earth, and how?
7 Mankind’s hope of everlasting life on earth was undermined by an idea that prevailed in ancient Babylon and spread worldwide—the idea that man has an immortal soul or spirit that merely inhabits a physical body. When Christendom adopted that idea, theologians twisted the Scriptures to make texts that describe the heavenly hope appear to teach that all good people go to heaven. According to this view, a person’s life on earth is intended to be transitory—a test to determine if he is worthy of life in heaven. Something similar happened to the early Jewish hope of everlasting life on earth. As the Jews gradually adopted the Greek idea of inherent immortality, their original hope of life on earth faded. How different this is from the way man is presented in the Bible! Man is a physical creature, not a spirit. Jehovah said to the first man: “Dust you are.” (Gen. 3:19) The earth, not heaven, is man’s everlasting home.—Read Psalm 104:5; 115:16.
Truth Flashes Up in the Darkness
8. What did some scholars of the 1600’s say about man’s hope?
8 Although most religions that claim to be Christian deny the hope of everlasting life on earth, Satan did not always succeed in obscuring the truth. Down through the ages, a few careful Bible readers saw flashes of truth as they understood some aspects of how God will restore mankind to perfection. (Ps. 97:11; Matt. 7:13, 14; 13:37-39) By the 1600’s, Bible translation and printing had made the Holy Scriptures more widely available. In 1651, one scholar wrote that since through Adam men “have forfeited Paradise, and Eternall Life on Earth,” so in the Christ “all men shall be made to live on Earth; for else the comparison were not proper.” (Read 1 Corinthians 15:21, 22.) One of the English-speaking world’s famous poets, John Milton (1608-1674), wrote Paradise Lost and its sequel Paradise Regained. In his works, Milton referred to the reward that the faithful will receive in an earthly paradise. Although Milton dedicated much of his life to Bible study, he recognized that Scriptural truth would not be pieced together until Christ’s presence.
9, 10. (a) What did Isaac Newton write about mankind’s hope? (b) Why did the time for Christ’s presence seem distant to Newton?
9 The famous mathematician Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727) also had a keen interest in the Bible. He understood that the holy ones will be raised to heavenly life and will rule invisibly with Christ. (Rev. 5:9, 10) As for the subjects of the Kingdom, he wrote: “The earth shall continue to be inhabited by mortals after the day of judgment and that not only for a 1000 years but even for ever.”
10 Newton considered Christ’s presence to be centuries away. “One reason why Newton saw the Kingdom of God so far in the future was because he was profoundly pessimistic about the deep Trinitarian apostasy he saw around him,” said historian Stephen Snobelen. The good news was still veiled. And Newton saw no Christian movement that could preach it. He wrote: “These prophecies of Daniel and John [the latter recorded in the book of Revelation] should not be understood till the time of the end.” Newton explained: “‘Then,’ saith Daniel, ‘many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased.’ For the Gospel must be preached in all nations before the great tribulation, and end of the world. The palm-bearing multitude, which come out of this great tribulation, cannot be innumerable out of all nations, unless they be made so by the preaching of the Gospel before it comes.”—Dan. 12:4; Matt. 24:14; Rev. 7:9, 10.
11. Why did mankind’s hope remain obscure for most people in the days of Milton and Newton?
11 In the days of Milton and Newton, to express ideas contrary to official doctrine of the church was dangerous. Therefore, much of their Bible scholarship remained unpublished until after their deaths. The Reformation of the 16th century failed to reform the teaching about inherent immortality, and mainstream Protestant churches continued to teach Augustine’s idea that the Millennium was past, not future. Has knowledge increased in the time of the end?
“The True Knowledge Will Become Abundant”
12. When was the true knowledge to become abundant?
12 As regards “the time of the end,” Daniel foretold a very positive development. (Read Daniel 12:3, 4, 9, 10.) “At that time the righteous ones will shine as brightly as the sun,” said Jesus. (Matt. 13:43) How did the true knowledge become abundant in the time of the end? Consider some historical developments in the decades prior to 1914, the year when the time of the end began.
13. What did Charles Taze Russell write after examining the subject of restitution?
13 In the late 1800’s, a number of sincere individuals were searching for an understanding of “the pattern of healthful words.” (2 Tim. 1:13) One such person was Charles Taze Russell. In 1870 he and a few other truth-seekers formed a class for Bible study. In 1872 they examined the subject of restitution. Later, Russell wrote: “Up to that time we had failed to see clearly the great distinction between the reward of the church now on trial and the reward of the faithful of the world.” The reward of the latter will be “restoration to the perfection of human nature once enjoyed in Eden by their progenitor and head, Adam.” Russell acknowledged that he had been helped in his study of the Bible by others. Who were these?
14. (a) How did Henry Dunn understand Acts 3:21? (b) Who did Dunn say will live forever on earth?
14 Henry Dunn was one of them. He had written about the “restoration of all things of which God spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets of old time.” (Acts 3:21) Dunn knew that this restoration included the elevation of mankind to perfection on earth during the Thousand Year Reign of Christ. Dunn also examined a question that had puzzled many, Who will live forever on earth? He explained that millions will be resurrected, taught the truth, and have the opportunity to exercise faith in Christ.
15. What did George Storrs discern about the resurrection?
15 In 1870, George Storrs also came to the conclusion that the unrighteous will be resurrected to an opportunity of everlasting life. He also discerned from the Scriptures that a resurrected one who fails to respond to this opportunity “will end in death, even if the ‘sinner be a hundred years old.’” (Isa. 65:20) Storrs lived in Brooklyn, New York, and edited a magazine called the Bible Examiner.
16. What set the Bible Students apart from Christendom?
16 Russell discerned from the Bible that the time had come to make the good news widely known. So in 1879, he started publishing Zion’s Watch Tower and Herald of Christ’s Presence, now called The Watchtower Announcing Jehovah’s Kingdom. Previously, the truth about mankind’s hope was understood by very few people, but now groups of Bible Students in many countries were receiving and studying The Watchtower. The belief that only a few will go to heaven, whereas millions will be given perfect human life on earth, set the Bible Students apart from most of Christendom.
17. How did true knowledge become plentiful?
17 The foretold “time of the end” began in 1914. Did true knowledge about the hope of mankind become plentiful? (Dan. 12:4) By 1913, Russell’s sermons were printed in 2,000 newspapers with a combined readership of 15,000,000. By the end of 1914, over 9,000,000 people on three continents had seen the “Photo-Drama of Creation”—a program including motion pictures and slides that explained Christ’s Millennial Reign. From 1918 until 1925, the talk “Millions Now Living Will Never Die,” which explained the hope of everlasting life on earth, was presented by Jehovah’s servants in over 30 languages worldwide. By 1934, Jehovah’s Witnesses realized that those hoping to live forever on earth should be baptized. This understanding filled them with renewed zeal for preaching the good news of the Kingdom. Today, the prospect of living forever on earth fills the hearts of millions with gratitude toward Jehovah.
“Glorious Freedom” Ahead!
18, 19. What quality of life is foretold at Isaiah 65:21-25?
18 The prophet Isaiah was inspired to write about the kind of life that God’s people will enjoy on earth. (Read Isaiah 65:21-25.) Certain trees that were alive some 2,700 years ago when Isaiah wrote those words are evidently still alive today. Can you imagine yourself living that long with strength and good health?
19 Instead of being a short walk from the cradle to the grave, life will present endless opportunities to build, plant, and learn. Think of the friendships you will be able to cultivate. Those loving relationships will continue to grow indefinitely. What “glorious freedom” will then be enjoyed on earth by “the children of God”!—Rom. 8:21.
a Augustine claimed that the Thousand Year Reign of God’s Kingdom was not future but had already begun with the founding of the church.
Can You Explain?
• How did mankind’s hope of life on earth become obscured?
• What understanding did some Bible readers gain in the 1600’s?
• How did mankind’s true hope become clearer as 1914 approached?
• How has knowledge about the earthly hope become abundant?
[Pictures on page 13]
The poet John Milton (left) and the mathematician Isaac Newton (right) knew about the hope of everlasting life on earth
[Pictures on page 15]
The early Bible Students discerned from the Scriptures that it was time to make mankind’s true hope known worldwide