Bethany was a small village that lay two miles (3 km) from Jerusalem. (John 11:18) A tragedy unfolded there a few weeks before Jesus’ death. Lazarus, one of Jesus’ close friends, unexpectedly became seriously ill and died.
When Jesus first heard the news, he told his disciples that Lazarus was asleep and that he intended to awaken him. (John 11:11) But Jesus’ disciples did not grasp his meaning, so Jesus told them plainly: “Lazarus has died.”—John 11:14.
Four days after the burial, Jesus arrived at Bethany and sought to comfort Martha, a sister of the deceased. “If you had been here, my brother would not have died,” Martha said. (John 11:17, 21) “I am the resurrection and the life,” Jesus replied. “The one who exercises faith in me, even though he dies, will come to life.”—John 11:25.
“Lazarus, come out!”
To demonstrate that those words were not an empty promise, Jesus then approached the tomb and cried out: “Lazarus, come out!” (John 11:43) And to the astonishment of the onlookers, the dead man emerged.
Jesus had performed at least two resurrections previously. On one occasion he raised a young girl from the dead—the daughter of Jairus. Right before Jesus resurrected her, he also described her as being asleep.—Luke 8:52.
Notice that regarding the death of both Lazarus and Jairus’ daughter, Jesus compared death to sleep. That is a fitting comparison. Why? Sleep is an unconscious state and suitably conveys the idea of rest from pain and suffering. (Ecclesiastes 9:5; see the accompanying box, “Death Is Like a Deep Sleep.”) Jesus’ early disciples clearly understood the true condition of the dead. “To the followers of Jesus death was a sleep, and the grave a resting-place . . . for those who had died in the faith,”* states the Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics.
It comforts us to know that the dead are asleep in the grave and are not suffering. Death thereby loses its mystery and no longer needs to cause us dread.
“IF A MAN DIES, CAN HE LIVE AGAIN?”
But while we appreciate a good night’s rest, who wants to go to sleep forever? What hope do we have that the dead who lie asleep in the grave will return to life—as Lazarus and Jairus’ daughter did?
The patriarch Job raised that very question when he felt near to death. “If a man dies, can he live again?” he asked.—Job 14:14.
Addressing Almighty God, Job answered his own question, saying: “You will call, and I will answer you. You will long for the work of your hands.” (Job 14:15) Job felt sure that Jehovah longed for the day when He would resurrect His faithful servant. Was that mere wishful thinking on Job’s part? Not at all.
The resurrections performed by Jesus offered clear proof that God gave Jesus power over death. In fact, the Bible says that Jesus now possesses “the keys of death.” (Revelation 1:18) So Jesus will unlock the gates of the grave, just as he ordered that the stone of Lazarus’ tomb be rolled away.
The Bible repeats this resurrection promise time and again. An angel assured the prophet Daniel: “You will rest, but you will stand up for your lot at the end of the days.” (Daniel 12:13) Jesus told the Sadducees, Jewish leaders who denied the resurrection promise: “You are mistaken, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God.” (Matthew 22:23, 29) The apostle Paul said: “I have hope toward God . . . that there is going to be a resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous.”—Acts 24:15.
WHEN WILL THE DEAD ARISE?
When will this resurrection of the righteous and the unrighteous occur? The angel told righteous Daniel that he would rise up “at the end of the days.” Martha likewise believed that her brother, Lazarus, would “rise in the resurrection on the last day.”—John 11:24.
The Bible connects this “last day” with Christ’s Kingdom rule. Paul wrote: “For he [Christ] must rule as king until God has put all enemies under his feet. And the last enemy, death, is to be brought to nothing.” (1 Corinthians 15:25, 26) This is a powerful reason why we should pray for God’s Kingdom to come and for God’s will to be done on the earth.*
As Job well knew, God’s will is to resurrect the dead. When that day arrives, death will truly be brought to nothing. And never again will anyone wonder, ‘Does death end it all?’
The English word “cemetery” comes from a Greek word meaning “sleeping place.”
To learn more about God’s Kingdom, see chapter 8 of the book What Does the Bible Really Teach? published by Jehovah’s Witnesses.