“The last Adam became a life-giving spirit.”—1 COR. 15:45.
1-3. (a) What should we include among our core beliefs? (b) Why is the resurrection so important? (See opening picture.)
IF YOU were asked, ‘What are the key teachings of your faith?’ what would you say? Surely you would stress that Jehovah is the Creator and Life-Giver. You would likely mention your belief in Jesus Christ, who died as a ransom. And you would happily add that an earthly paradise is ahead, where God’s people will live forever. But would you mention the resurrection as one of your most cherished beliefs?
2 We have good reasons to include the resurrection as a key teaching even if we personally hope to survive the great tribulation and live on earth forever. The apostle Paul showed why the resurrection is central to our faith: “If, indeed, there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised up.” Had Christ not been resurrected, he would not be our ruling King, and our teaching about Christ’s rule would be in vain. (Read 1 Corinthians 15:12-19.) However, we know that Jesus was resurrected. In holding that conviction, we differ from the Jewish Sadducees, who strongly denied that the dead are raised. Even in the face of mockery, we hold firm to our belief in the resurrection.—Mark 12:18; Acts 4:2, 3; 17:32; 23:6-8.
3 When Paul wrote of “the primary doctrine about the Christ,” he included “the teaching on . . . the resurrection of the dead.” (Heb. 6:1, 2) And Paul stressed the resurrection as something he had faith in. (Acts 24:10, 15, 24, 25) But the fact that the resurrection is included as a primary doctrine, one of the “elementary things of the sacred pronouncements of God,” does not mean that it is a simplistic teaching. (Heb. 5:12) Why not?
4. What questions might arise regarding the resurrection?
4 As people begin to study the Bible, most read accounts of past resurrections, such as the raising of Lazarus. And they learn that Abraham, Job, and Daniel were confident that in the future the dead would live again. Still, how would you respond if asked for evidence that resurrection promises are valid many years or even centuries after they were made? And does the Bible really indicate when the resurrection will take place? Those aspects have a bearing on our faith, so let us see what we find in the Scriptures.
RESURRECTION AFTER CENTURIES
5. What aspect of the resurrection will we first address?
5 It is one thing to imagine bringing to life a person who recently died. (John 11:11; Acts 20:9, 10) Yet, what of a promise that a resurrection will occur years, even centuries, in the future? Could you rely on such a long-term promise, whether the promise was about someone who just died or one who had been dead for a long time? Actually, a resurrection that was promised centuries in advance did take place, and you put faith in it. How so? And how does that relate to what you can expect regarding a future resurrection?
6. How was Jesus involved in the fulfillment of Psalm 118?
6 With regard to a resurrection being foretold long in advance, consider Psalm 118, which some feel that David composed. It includes the plea: “Jehovah, save us, please, we beg! . . . Blessed is the one who comes in the name of Jehovah.” You likely recall that people quoted this Messianic passage when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on Nisan 9, shortly before his death. (Ps. 118:25, 26; Matt. 21:7-9) But how did Psalm 118 point to a resurrection that would occur many years in the future? Note what else that prophetic psalm said: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.”—Ps. 118:22.
7. To what extent did the Jews reject Jesus?
7 “The builders,” the Jewish leaders, rejected the Messiah. Their rejection was far more than just turning their backs on Jesus or refusing to accept him as the Christ. Many Jews rejected him to the point of clamoring for his death. (Luke 23:18-23) Yes, they contributed to Jesus’ being killed.
8. How could Jesus become “the chief cornerstone”?
8 If Jesus was rejected and killed, how could he become “the chief cornerstone”? That could come about only by his being resurrected to life again. Jesus himself made such a connection. He gave a parable in which cultivators mistreated those whom the owner sent to them, just as the Israelites mistreated the prophets whom God sent to them. Finally, in the illustration, the owner sent his beloved son and heir. Was the son accepted? Far from it. The cultivators went to the extreme of putting him to death. Jesus followed that illustration with a reference to the prophetic statement at Psalm 118:22, which he quoted. (Luke 20:9-17) The apostle Peter made a similar connection when speaking to Jewish “rulers, elders, and scribes gathered together in Jerusalem.” He spoke of “Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you executed on a stake but whom God raised up from the dead.” Thereupon, Peter clearly stated: “This is ‘the stone that was treated by you builders as of no account that has become the chief cornerstone.’”—Acts 3:15; 4:5-11; 1 Pet. 2:5-7.
9. Psalm 118:22 pointed to what outstanding event?
9 Yes, hundreds of years in advance, the prophetic statement at Psalm 118:22 indicated that a resurrection would occur. The Messiah would be rejected and die, but he would be raised to life again to be the chief cornerstone. This resurrected Son thus became the only one whose name was “given among men by which we must get saved.”—Acts 4:12; Eph. 1:20.
10 Consider another verse that pointed forward to a resurrection. It was written over a thousand years in advance, a fact that should reinforce your confidence that a resurrection can occur long after it was foretold or promised. In Psalm 16, which is attributed to David, we read: “You will not leave me in the Grave. You will not allow your loyal one to see the pit.” (Ps. 16:10) David was not saying that he would never die or be in the common grave of mankind. God’s Word is plain that David did grow old. After he died, he “was laid to rest with his forefathers and was buried in the City of David.” (1 Ki. 2:1, 10) What, then, is Psalm 16:10 saying?
11. When did Peter comment on Psalm 16:10?
11 We are not left in the dark. Over a millennium after that psalm was written and weeks after Jesus died and was raised, Peter spoke to thousands of Jews and proselytes about Psalm 16:10. (Read Acts 2:29-32.) He mentioned that David had indeed died and been buried. Those listening to Peter knew that. And the record does not say that any of them disputed Peter’s statement that David “foresaw and spoke about the resurrection” of the coming Messiah.
12. In what way was Psalm 16:10 fulfilled, confirming what about the promise of the resurrection?
12 Peter reinforced his point by quoting David’s statement at Psalm 110:1. (Read Acts 2:33-36.) Peter’s reasoning in line with the Scriptures helped to convince the large crowd that Jesus was “both Lord and Christ.” More to the point, the people acknowledged that Psalm 16:10 was fulfilled when Jesus was resurrected from the dead. Later, the apostle Paul drew on the same solid reasoning when speaking to Jews in the city of Antioch in Pisidia. His argument impressed them, and they wanted to hear more. (Read Acts 13:32-37, 42.) It should also impress us that those Bible prophecies about a coming resurrection were trustworthy, even though centuries had passed since that miracle was foretold.
13. What question about the resurrection might arise?
13 We should be encouraged that a resurrection can occur many centuries after being promised. Still, someone might wonder: ‘Does that mean that I may have to wait a long time to see my loved one? When will the resurrection that I am hoping for occur?’ Well, Jesus did tell his apostles that there were things they did not and could not know. There are details about “the times or seasons that the Father has placed in his own jurisdiction.” (Acts 1:6, 7; John 16:12) However, this does not mean that we have no information about the timing of the resurrection.
14. How did the resurrection of Jesus differ from earlier ones?
14 As a basis for understanding that, recall what resurrections the Bible foretells. The most important one, of course, is that of Jesus. Had he not been raised, none of us would have any prospect of seeing our dead loved ones again. Those who were raised before Jesus, such as by Elijah and Elisha, did not live on endlessly. They died again and saw corruption in the grave. In contrast, Jesus “has been raised up from the dead, [and] dies no more; death is no longer master over him.” In heaven, he lives “forever and ever,” never seeing corruption.—Rom. 6:9; Rev. 1:5, 18; Col. 1:18; 1 Pet. 3:18.
15. Why is it significant that Jesus is “the firstfruits”?
15 The resurrection of Jesus was the first of that sort, and it undoubtedly is first in importance. (Acts 26:23) He is not, though, the only one promised to be resurrected to heaven as a spirit creature. Jesus assured his faithful apostles that they would rule with him in heaven. (Luke 22:28-30) For them to be thus rewarded, they would first have to die. Afterward, like Christ, they could be resurrected with a spirit body. Paul wrote that “Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep in death.” Paul went on to indicate that there would be others raised to heavenly life, adding: “Each one in his own proper order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who belong to the Christ during his presence.”—1 Cor. 15:20, 23.
16. What indication do we have about the timing of the heavenly resurrection?
16 That gives us a general indication of the timing of the heavenly resurrection. It would occur “during his presence.” Jehovah’s Witnesses have long established Scripturally that since 1914 we have been living during Jesus’ promised “presence.” It is still continuing, and the end of this wicked system of things is now very near.
17, 18. What will happen to some anointed ones during Christ’s presence?
17 The Bible adds details about the heavenly resurrection: “We do not want you to be ignorant about those who are sleeping in death . . . For if we have faith that Jesus died and rose again, so too God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep in death . . . We the living who survive to the presence of the Lord will in no way precede those who have fallen asleep in death; because the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a commanding call, . . . and those who are dead in union with Christ will rise first. Afterward we the living who are surviving will, together with them, be caught away in clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and thus we will always be with the Lord.”—1 Thess. 4:13-17.
18 The first resurrection would take place sometime after “the presence” of Christ began. Anointed ones who are alive during the great tribulation will be “caught away in clouds.” (Matt. 24:31) Those “caught away” will not “fall asleep in death” in the sense of having a long sleep in death. They “will all be changed, in a moment, in the blink of an eye, during the last trumpet.”—1 Cor. 15:51, 52.
19. What “better resurrection” is yet ahead?
19 Today, most faithful Christians are not anointed and called to serve in heaven with Christ. Rather, they await the end of this wicked system of things during “Jehovah’s day.” No one can know the exact timing of that end, but evidence shows that it is close. (1 Thess. 5:1-3) Thereafter, a different type of resurrection will take place, a resurrection to life in an earthly paradise. Those raised will have the prospect of growing to human perfection and never having to die again. That certainly will be “a better resurrection” than that of those in the past when “women received their dead by resurrection” only for them to die again sometime later.—Heb. 11:35.
20. Why can we trust that the coming resurrection will be orderly?
20 Speaking of the heavenly resurrection, the Bible says that those who will experience that will be raised “each one in his own proper order.” (1 Cor. 15:23) We can trust that the earthly resurrection will likewise proceed in an orderly manner. That is an intriguing prospect. Will those who died recently be raised near the start of Christ’s Thousand Year Reign and be welcomed by loved ones who know them? Will faithful men of old with leadership abilities come back early to help organize God’s people in the new world? What about people who never served Jehovah? When and where will they be raised? Many questions could be asked. But, frankly, is there any real need to ponder those issues now? Is it not better just to wait and see? We can trust that it will be thrilling to observe personally how Jehovah handles those matters.
21. What is your hope about the resurrection?
21 In the meantime, we should bolster our faith in Jehovah, who through Jesus assured us that the dead in God’s memory will rise. (John 5:28, 29; 11:23) Proving that Jehovah is capable of resurrecting the dead, Jesus once said that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob “are all living to him.” (Luke 20:37, 38) Meanwhile, we have ample reason to say, as did Paul: “I have hope toward God . . . that there is going to be a resurrection.”—Acts 24:15.