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“The hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth” (John 5:28,29).
Coping with the death of a family member, a dear friend, or even a public figure with whom a personal connection had been made, is one of the hardest challenges mankind faces. During such times, emotions can run deep with sadness or even depression. Grief can be intense and, at times, overwhelming. People try to employ various mechanisms to alleviate this pain. Some may grieve for long periods of time, concluding that they will never see their loved ones again. Though such doubt is understandable, the Bible contains divine promises, assuring us that there will be a resurrection of the dead. All who desire to come into harmony with God’s arrangements will be afforded an opportunity to obtain eternal life on a perfected earth. This will bring exceeding joy to all who have been victimized by death, the greatest enemy known to man.
In the Scriptures the term “resurrection” appears 41 times, all in the New Testament. However, the message of resurrection was a theme promulgated throughout the Old Testament also.
The Apostle Paul encourages us to: “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). By making a careful scriptural examination of this topic, much can be learned regarding the divine intention for mankind’s recovery, despite the painful circumstances associated with death and the loss experienced because of it.
The word “resurrection” in the Greek comes from Strong’s 386, anastasis. It means “a standing up again,” i.e., a resurrection from death, or raising to life again. While this term, resurrection, is not found in the Old Tes- tament, the word “return” conveys the same thought. The concept is similar in meaning to the Greek anastasis and comes from Strong’s It is defined as: bring back, refresh, or restore.
For example, in Psalm 90:3, Moses prayed to God and expressed his hope in the return of man from the grave. Similarly, in Isaiah 35:10, the Prophet declares that not only will the ransomed of the LORD return but that all the world will likewise come back from the tomb with songs of praise to God. They will return with everlasting joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing will be no more.
For over 6000 years of human history, the number of people who have died and will need to be restored from the tomb looms significant. Agencies such as the Population Reference Bureau in Washington, DC, have made frequent projections as to how many people have ever lived on Earth. This non-profit organization asserts that this is a perplexing yet perennial topic into which frequent inquiries have been made. In an article published in 2011, they estimated that roughly 14 billion people have been born since 1900.
While the PRB claims its projection is speculative, some might suggest the same respecting the high estimate of 142 billion having lived from the dawn of humanity through 1886, as cited in The Divine Plan of the Ages (page 99).1 Therefore, whether the figure to date may now approach 160 billion, there is little doubt that the actual number is vast; and when all are resurrected it will be the greatest global miracle ever witnessed through the eyes of men.
What makes the resurrection of the world possible is the loving and willing sacrifice by our Lord Jesus, the Redeemer of the entire human family. While the dead have no consciousness in the grave (Ecclesiastes 9:5), they will soon be awakened due to the merit of our Lord’s ransom paid on their behalf. As expressed by the sons of Korach, “Like sheep they are laid in the grave; death shall feed on them; and the upright shall have dominion over them in the morning; and their beauty shall consume in the grave from their dwelling” (Psalms 49:14).
As unparalleled a promise as this is, the resurrection of the world is either dismissed by unbelievers or not clearly understood by many who express a belief in God. The unbeliever maintains that there is no God, that life ends in death, and the elements of which they are composed return to the earth to be recycled in some new organism. Despite such skepticism (Psalms 14:1), the time will come when all that are in their graves will come forth. Faithful followers of our Lord will be deemed worthy of a spiritual life. The remainder of mankind will be raised to a period of learning and testing. Their final determination will be made at the end of Christ’s Kingdom. as to whether they will receive everlasting life. All those found worthy will receive perfect human life on earth, if obedient. Those found unworthy due to disobedience will be condemned to eternal destruction — oblivion (John 5:28, 29).
(1) If world population increased exponentially from
8 at the time of the Flood (as early as 2472 BC) to 1.424 billion in AD 1886, then the total population that ever lived until then would be only 6.5 to 13 billion (for mean lifespans assumed from 50 to 25 years). (At any point in time over the past three thousand years, 10-20% of the population that had ever lived would be alive at that time.)
The scriptures reveal that Satan is the god of this world, and he has blinded the eyes of many (2 Corinthians 4:4). Thus, comparatively few have come to recognize and appreciate the beauty of God’s plan to restore mankind. This has resulted in the acceptance of erroneous notions by many. One such example is found in the teachings of the Sadducees, who rejected the possibility of a resurrection (Luke 20:27-40). They mocked Jesus for his teachings on the resurrection.
Jesus replied with the words of Moses at the burning bush that God was the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; and, because of their faith, God would not leave them in the grave. They would one day live again. Surely, in time, all who have expressed cynicism regarding the existence of God and His power will confess that they were blinded to the Bible’s repeated promise of life after death (John 12:38-40).
Interestingly, the Apostle Paul teaches that the resurrection of the dead will include all the people, whom he divides into two groups, “the just and unjust” (Acts 24:15). The pages of history are stamped with such infamous names as Nero, Ivan IV, Stalin, Hitler, and Bin Laden.
These are widely identified as having committed the most heinous crimes against humanity. Many would conclude these individuals are unjust and not worthy of living again. However, the writer of the book of Acts tells us that these two groups, “the just and the unjust,” are both to be resurrected. The class termed “the just” includes individual Christians who, having their loyalty proven during this Gospel Age, will receive a spiritual reward. The remainder of mankind, including even those who have committed atrocities, are termed “the unjust” class and will also receive a resurrection. Though many may seem morally upright, they are, from God’s standpoint, not now living sanctified lives. The Apostle Paul says that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). None would be eligible to be raised from the dead were it not for God’s merciful provision in sending the Redeemer to offer his life on their behalf.
Back from the Dust
The prophet Daniel likened the resurrection to an individual being awakened from sleep (Daniel 12:2). His words remind us that the dead are spoken of as sleeping in the “dust of the earth.” This language is reminiscent of the words God spoke to Adam when He said that he would, as a result of disobedience, return to the dust (Genesis 3:19). The good news is that God promised to raise the whole world of mankind from the dust of the earth (Psalms 113:7). This is what the angels meant when they declared that they were bringing good tidings of great joy that shall be unto all people (Luke 2:10).
Jesus also described those that had died as being asleep. His good friend, Lazarus, was extremely ill. As a result, his sisters, Mary and Martha, sent for him. When Jesus described the situation to his disciples, he said that Lazarus was sleeping and that he would awaken Lazarus from his sleep. This confused the disciples until Jesus said plainly that Lazarus was, in fact, dead. They did not initially understand that, in symbol, being dead is like being asleep. Ultimately, Jesus did call Lazarus forth from the dead. This lesson presents a beautiful picture of the future resurrection of the dead, when all that sleep in their graves will come forth (John 11:37-44).
The Gospels point us to another miracle performed by Jesus, which also illustrates the future general resurrection. Jairus was ruler of a synagogue in Capernaum, He was a man of great faith and knew Jesus well. Jairus asked Jesus to come to his home to heal his only daughter of 12 years. While the account in Matthew might seem to differ from those in Mark and Luke as to whether she was yet alive at the time Jairus made the request (Matthew 9:18, Mark 5:23, Luke 8:42), what is clear is that the child was dead when Jesus arrived. Jesus did not announce that this dead child was in heaven, hell, or purgatory, but described her condition as one that was sleeping. This caused the assembled crowd to scoff and sneer at him. However, Jesus sent them away and had the child restored to life, or awakened from her “sleep.” When the world of mankind returns from the grave, it will be during a time described in scripture as a kingdom of righteousness. The purpose of that kingdom will be to ensure that all the families of Earth will be blessed. “Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead” (Acts 17:31).
One of the greatest promises that Christians have come to appreciate is that while Jesus gave his life to taste death for all mankind, he was the first to obtain a lasting resurrection from the grave (Acts 26:23). He was exalted to the divine nature in heaven, the highest plane of existence in the universe. Next to be resurrected to everlasting life are those that would comprise his fully-faithful Church class. These will similarly receive the divine nature (1 Corinthians 15:42-44), and each will have the privilege to become a part of the body of Christ. Following them will come the great multitude, who will receive a lesser heavenly nature (Revelation 7:9-17, 19:1 ASV, 1 Corinthians 3:10-13,15). The last class to be resurrected will be the world of mankind, who will then be provided opportunity to obtain life everlasting on earth (Revelation 22:17, Isaiah 45:18).
The Apostle Paul assures us of this promised resurrection for the whole world. He says that if such were not true, Christ himself was not resurrected, and there would be no hope for his followers (1 Corinthians 15:16-18). But, by God’s grace, all will soon come to understand what the Apostle said, “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22).