The Homecoming of the Hostages

“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound.” —Isaiah 61:1

THE people of this nation recently experienced a season of euphoria perhaps unmatched in the two centuries of its existence. The occasion, of course, was the freeing and return home of the fifty-two Americans who had been held hostage in Iran for 444 frustrating, heartbreaking days. When the news finally became official that the erstwhile captives were at long last released from their prisons and on the way home, a spontaneous wave of joy swept across the country from coast to coast and from border to border, rising to a mighty crest when at last the former prisoners actually stood, safe and sound, on their own soil, once more in the very presence of their loved ones, friends, and countless well-wishers—where they could be seen, and heard, and touched, and embraced.

For some of the former captives the effects of their ordeal may soon be largely over. Others among them will need medical attention, understanding, encouragement, and loving care. For these, their release may only be the start on a long, difficult road back to health and well-being, leading, it is hoped, to the resumption of normal, happy lives among their fellow men. The entire nation, and indeed much of the civilized world, rejoices with them in their final release from captivity, and in being rejoined, once more, to their grateful, happy families.

Many such episodes do not have so fortunate an ending. The history of mankind is shamefully replete with instances of the imprisonment and mistreatment of hapless men, women, and even children for political, ideological, or religious reasons, often leading to horrible death. We are mindful of the cruel contrivances fashioned by the ancient Chinese for the confinement and punishment of political enemies; of the Black Hole of Calcutta; and the unspeakable atrocities of the Tower of London.

However, one does not need to go back so far in history. The infamous Holocaust of the Second World War, involving millions of innocent Jews, is still fresh in mind; the so-called Gulag Archipelago system of Russian prisons is an ongoing testimony to man’s inhumanity to man; imprisonment, torture and murder are the commonly-used tools wherewith ambitious or misguided men and nations dispose of their political rivals in many parts of the world this very day. But Death’s prisoners come from many places. What about the multitudes of our fellow human beings since the world began who have been separated from their sorrowing loved ones, not only by wars or intrigue, but by disease, starvation, floods and other natural disasters?

For all such as these, and for myriads more like them down through the history of the world, there has been no release, no joyous homecoming, no bands and parades, no bounteous feasts, no loved ones at the end of the road to embrace and welcome them home, and start them on the way to a normal life. All these billions, whatever may have brought about their demise, remain as hostages in the prison house of death. And to their number 150,000 captives are added daily.

These are not pleasantly passing the time in the company of the angelic hosts of heaven, as is commonly believed; nor are they in the traditional hell of age-long torture expiating their sins. Like father Adam, who was condemned to death for disobeying God’s just instructions, they are asleep in the dust of the earth. In pronouncing the sentence of death on Adam, Jehovah said, “Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.”—Gen. 3:1-6,17-19

This sleep is one of absolute unconsciousness. Solomon wrote, “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest.” (Eccl. 9:10) It is the total sleep of death. It is the sleep of the mighty and the humble, of the rich and the poor, of the relatively righteous and the unrighteous. As the ancients of the Old Testament died, whether good or bad, each is recorded as having “slept with his fathers.” (I Kings 2:10; 11:43; 22:40, etc.) And so it has been with the entire human race from the time of father Adam to the present day.

But the immutable promise of Jehovah God himself in his precious Word is that for each one of these multitudes of mankind being held hostage to sin, as captives in the prison house of death, there is to be a glorious and everlasting homecoming, the like of which has never been known since the beginning of the world, no, nor ever will again! This joyous, longed-for event will come about because our Lord Jesus paid the required ransom price with his own perfect life on behalf of the prisoners, opening the way for all Death’s hostages to be freed from the graves wherein they had been captive.

Indeed, it has been God’s loving purpose toward fallen man “from the foundation of the world” to provide for his redemption from the condition of death, through the ransom sacrifice of his perfect son Jesus. (Rev. 13:8) The Apostle Paul, almost overwhelmed by his perception of the heights and depths of Jehovah God’s boundless love in providing his only begotten son Jesus as a ransom for sinful man, declared that “God’s act of grace is out of all proportion to Adam’s wrongdoing. For if the wrongdoing of that one man brought death upon so many, its effect is vastly exceeded by the grace of God and the gift that came to so many by the grace of one man, Jesus Christ. … For if by the wrongdoing of that one man death established its reign, through a single sinner, much more shall those who receive in far greater measure God’s grace, and his gift of righteousness, live … through the one man, Jesus Christ. … For as through the disobedience of the one man [Adam] the many were made sinners, so through the obedience of the one man [Jesus] the many will be made righteous.”—Rom. 5:12-19, NEB

Paul further stated, “This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior; who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.”—I Tim. 2:3-6

Long ages before, even as the throng of Death’s captives was steadily growing, Jehovah God foretold this blessed deliverance through the Prophet Isaiah. Speaking prophetically of the vital role Jesus would occupy in God’s plan of redemption for fallen, condemned mankind, the prophet wrote, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me [Jesus]; because the Lord [Jehovah] hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound.”—Isa. 61:1

In the early days of his ministry, just following his baptism of the Holy Spirit at Jordan, Jesus recognized this prophecy applied to him, and he was the one who was destined to pay the price for man’s release from captivity in the grave. (Luke 4:16-18) A little later, even as the Jews were seeking to kill him, Jesus explained that his mission and his sacrifice were designed to bring forgiveness of sins and life everlasting to all who would heed his word. But to make the value of his perfect sacrifice available to all mankind, it would first be necessary to bring them forth from the prison house of death. Jesus said, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, … when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear [obey] shall live. For as the Father hath life in himself, so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself; … Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection … [by judgment].”—John 5:25-29

In this wonderful promise Jesus confirms the fact that the dead are, indeed, sleeping in their graves, and that as a result of his ransom sacrifice they shall in due time be called forth. The Apostle Paul, as we noted earlier, indicated that the purpose of calling mankind forth from the prison house of death is to reveal to them, for the first time, a “knowledge of the truth.” Few in the world have ever truly known God’s righteous ways. Many have endeavored to follow after justice, but have been blinded by ignorance, superstition, and selfishness, even as they went down into their graves.

But this condition will be changed! The Prophet Isaiah wrote, “Thus saith God the Lord, he that created the heavens, and stretched them out; he that spread forth the earth, and that which cometh out of it; he that giveth breath unto the people upon it, and spirit to them that walk therein: I have called thee [Jesus] in righteousness, and will hold thine hand, and will keep thee, and give thee for a covenant of the people, for a light of the Gentiles; to open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison house.”—Isa. 42:5-7

Today, man is still going down into the grave because he is sinful. “There is none righteous, no not one,” said Paul. “There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.” (Rom. 3:10-12) But when in due time the merit of Christ’s ransom sacrifice, which purchased man’s release from death, has been paid to Justice on behalf of the world of mankind, their sins will be forgiven, and the promised release from the prison house of death will take place. And what a homecoming that will be! What an unimaginable, universal, unparalleled time of joy and gladness for all mankind! Mothers and fathers long separated by death from their children; brothers and sisters, grandparents and grandchildren; friends and neighbors—all reunited in the bosom of their families, all tearfully welcoming one another home, to a grand new world wherein dwelleth righteousness!

That long-promised deliverance will occur shortly after the marriage of the bride of Christ, the faithful footstep followers of Jesus, to their Bridegroom, and the setting up of Christ’s kingdom in the earth. (Rev. 19:7; 20:6) The veil of ignorance will be removed from the eyes of all the people, and they will experience the incomparable joy of following God’s righteous laws, and loving their neighbors as themselves. Through the Prophet Jeremiah the universal love that shall make glad this wonderful new age to come is described in glowing words: “After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbor and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”—Jer. 31:33,34

When the widow of Nain received her only son back to life; when Jairus’ beloved daughter was restored to him from death; when Lazarus, after lying dead in the tomb four days, was awakened by Jesus to rejoin his grieving sisters, what tears of happiness must have been shed, and what floods of unspeakable joy must have coursed through their beings! What gratitude and praise would be raised to their Heavenly Father and to their Lord Jesus for releasing their loved ones from the prison house of death!

In the course of time all these resumed the sleep of death. The miracles wrought by Jesus at his first advent were to demonstrate that he was truly the foretold Savior of mankind, the Son of God, endued with miracle-working power from on high. But when Christ’s kingdom is established in the earth, and man is released from the chains of death as a result of Christ’s sacrifice, his adamic sins will have been forgiven, and a whole new opportunity will be opened up for him to gain perfect, everlasting life here on earth. Under the righteous laws of that coming kingdom he will gradually be restored to the perfection of being that Adam possessed in the beautiful Garden of Eden, but which was lost through sin.

In his letter to the Hebrews, the Apostle Paul recalls those wonderful blessings that man lost. He wrote, “What is man, that Thou art mindful of him? or the son of man, that Thou visitest him? Thou madest him a little lower than the angels; Thou crownedst him with glory and honor, and didst set him over the works of thy hands: Thou hast put all things in subjection under his feet. For in that he put all in subjection under him, he left nothing that is not put under him.” What a glorious and bounteous prospect our loving Creator had prepared for man’s everlasting happiness on earth! Sadly, as a result of sin, man lost that glory, honor, perfection, and dominion. The apostle goes on to tell us, however, that God in his infinite mercy has supplied a propitiation for man’s sins, thus opening the way for him to regain those lost blessings. “We see not yet all things put under him [man]. But we see Jesus,” the apostle continues, “who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honor; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man.”—Heb. 2:6-9

In that beautiful and revealing sermon the Apostle Peter delivered to the Jews just after Pentecost, he described the coming thousand-year reign of Christ as “the times of restitution.” He had just healed a man who was lame from his mother’s womb, and indicated that this, like the miracles Jesus had performed in restoring the dead to life, was but an example of that greater and lasting resurrection and healing of the whole world of mankind that shall follow the establishment of Christ’s kingdom.

By now, the fifty-two returned American hostages will have set about to resume something of their former way of life. But the road will not be easy. “Some experts say that once someone is taken hostage, he is always a hostage,” says one writer. “The stress of captivity may surface months or years from now; how the returnees cope will depend on their own inner strength and the understanding of their families.” The history of those released from similar situations in the past indicates all too sadly that the road ahead for these people will be difficult. Some may come through well, and soon. Others, in spite of all that medical science and loving treatment can do, may well be physically and psychologically scarred for the remainder of their lives.

But when humankind is released from the prison house of death in the resurrection, conditions will be different. For these, the road back to perfect health and everlasting life will be under the guidance of loving, sympathetic counsellors, and the way will be made smooth. “And an highway shall be there, and a way, and it shall be called The way of holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it; but it shall be for those; the wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err therein. No lion shall be there, nor any ravenous beast shall go up thereon, it shall not be found there; but the redeemed shall walk there: and the ransomed of the Lord shall return [from the grave], and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads: they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.” (Isa. 35:8-10) And the world’s great Physician will himself be directing the entire operation!

Our Lord Jesus suffered and died in order that fallen mankind might have life; surely, therefore, not a single soul of all the sleeping billions who shall be called forth from the grave as a result of Christ’s great sacrifice will fail to be aware of his love and guidance as they find their way back to perfection of mind, body and heart, and to fellowship with the Heavenly Father. Associated with Jesus in the heavenly, invisible phase of that great restitution project will be his faithful footstep followers and overcomers of the Gospel Age, while on earth, instructing the people in the righteous laws of Christ’s kingdom, will be the resurrected Ancient Worthies, who shall be as princes, or rulers, in all the earth.—Ps. 45:16

The Prophet Isaiah says of this wonderful time, “Behold, a king [Jesus] shall reign in righteousness, and princes [the resurrected Ancient Worthies] shall rule in judgment. And a man [each of the Ancient Worthies] shall be as an hiding place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest; as rivers of water in a dry place, as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land.” (Isa. 32:1,2) As a result of Jesus’ sacrifice, how lovingly and tenderly the world will be guided up the highway of holiness to everlasting life on earth, and to fellowship with their Heavenly Father!

Unlike the released hostages of other imprisonments down through the ages, every one of those freed in the resurrection from the prison house of death will be restored to perfect health and happiness here on earth if he is obedient to the righteous laws of Christ’s kingdom then in power. Of that glorious day Isaiah wrote, “The inhabitant shall not say, I am sick: the people that dwell therein shall be forgiven their iniquity.”—Isa. 33:24

Just before Jesus was taken from his disciples and crucified, he indicated that the end of the world [age] and the approach of his glorious thousand-year reign for the blessing of all the families of the earth would be shown by signs. We believe those signs of the coming kingdom may now be observed in virtually every daily newspaper, or radio or television broadcast. We believe the long-promised release of the sleeping world of mankind as a hostage to Death is near. We believe that the time for the healing of the resurrected world of mankind by the Great Physician is at the door. We believe “the Sun of Righteousness will [shortly] arise with healing in his wings.”—Mal. 4:2

When Christ’s kingdom of love and righteousness is in the earth, the gates of the prison house will be swung wide open. The widow of Nain will, once again, receive her only son restored from death; Jairus’ daughter will joyfully rejoin her happy father; Tabitha will again be awakened from death. Indeed, all who are in their graves shall hear the voice of the Son of man, and come forth! But, not as before. This time, in the kingdom, they need never die again; they can go on to everlasting, happy, healthful life. The formerly lame man shall leap as an hart, and the tongue of the one who was dumb shall sing praises to his Heavenly Father. For the long-promised Sun of Righteousness will have risen with healing in his wings!

Dawn Bible Students Association
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