God’s Plan for Man—Part 5

The General Resurrection

THE whole world of mankind will be awakened from the sleep of death in the general resurrection, with the exception of the overcoming classes who will previously have been resurrected, the ones, that is, who have “done good.” (John 5:28,29) Those awakened from death in the general resurrection are described by Paul as the “unjust.” (Acts 24:15) These are unjust, or unjustified, because, through lack of understanding or opportunity, they had never fully given themselves over to do God’s will.

The general resurrection of the dead is taught in the Old Testament as well as in the New Testament, although the word resurrection does not appear in the Old Testament. One of the words used in the Old Testament to describe the resurrection is “return.” In a prayer, Moses used this word to describe his hope of the resurrection.—Ps. 90:3

The dead are to be restored to life because they have been redeemed, or ransomed by the blood of Christ. The Prophet Isaiah wrote of the time when the “ransomed of the Lord would return.”—Isa.35:10

The word return is also used by the Prophet Ezekiel to describe the awakening of the dead. Ezekiel foretold the return from death of the Israelites, the Sodomites, and the Samaritans, assuring us that they will be restored to “their former estate” of life.—Ezek. 16:55

The Prophet Jeremiah records a promise by the Lord which assures mothers that children who die will be restored to life. (Jer. 31:15-17) In this promise, the living and the dead are poetically represented as dwelling in two different countries, or lands. The restoration to life is described as a crossing over the border from the land of death to the land of life. The expression “come again” is used to denote this return to the land of the living.

In the Old Testament the restoration of the dead is also likened to an awakening from sleep. (Dan. 12:2) In this promise the dead are spoken of as sleeping in the dust of the earth. This language takes our minds back to the Genesis record of man’s disobedience and condemnation to death, when the Lord told Adam that he would return to the dust. (Gen. 3:19) The promise that those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake indicates that all who were condemned to death through Adam will be restored to life through Christ—I Cor. 25:21-23

On more than one occasion Jesus referred to those who had died as being asleep. A ruler in Israel besought Jesus to restore his dead daughter to life. When Jesus arrived at the home, he said that the girl was not dead but asleep. (Matt. 9: 24-26) Jesus restored the dead girl to life, thus, symbolically speaking, awakening her from sleep. This was an illustration of the general resurrection of the dead, when all who sleep in death will be awakened.

Jesus also referred to the dead Lazarus as being asleep and told his disciples that he was going to awaken him out of sleep. (John 11:11-14) Returning to Bethany, and to the home of Martha and Mary, the sisters of Lazarus, Jesus called him forth from death, thus providing another illustration of the general resurrection.—John 11:43,44

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The only hope of life beyond the grave is based upon the promises of God to restore the dead to life, but do you realize how many promises of the resurrection there really are in the Bible?

Who are to be raised from the dead in the general resurrection?

What is one of the words used in the Old Testament to describe the resurrection of the dead? Which prophets use this word?

Explain the illustration used in Jeremiah pertaining to the living and the dead. In this promise, how is the resurrection described?

How did the Lord describe the awakening of the dead to the Prophet Daniel, and what is implied by sleeping in the dust of the earth?

Cite and comment on two instances in which Jesus referred to the dead as being asleep.

Reference Material:

“The New Creation,” Volume VI, pages 712-718

Summary of Important Thoughts

The Bible’s teaching concerning the resurrection of the dead is not confined to the New Testament. In addition to the word resurrection, the Bible uses several other words to convey the idea of the dead being restored to life. This promised resurrection of the dead is the only hope of life beyond the grave.

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The Bible speaks of those who have died as being prisoners of death. (Job. 3:17-22) In this illustration of death, the resurrection of the dead is referred to as a releasing of prisoners. (Isa. 49:9) The hell of the Bible is the state of death, and Jesus informs us that he has the keys of hell and of death (Rev. 1:18); and we are assured by the Bible that the gates of hell will give up its dead.—Matt. 16:18; Rev. 20:13

In keeping with the idea that the dead are prisoners of death, the Bible speaks of their awakening from death as a return from their captivity. Sometimes the expression “bring again,” is used in this connection.—Ezek. 16:53; Jer. 48:47; 49:6,39

The resurrection of the dead is to be brought about through Christ (I Cor. 15:21,22); and in keeping with the thought of captives being released from prison, the Apostle Paul speaks of Christ in his own resurrection as leading a multitude of captives. (Eph. 4:8, margin) This “multitude of captives” will be awakened from death as humans to live as humans on the earth.

The little flock of the present Gospel Age, who will share in the first resurrection to live and reign with Christ, and the ancient worthies, who will be restored to life as perfect humans to be the earthly rulers in Christ’s kingdom, will all have passed their tests of worthiness for everlasting life. This is why they will be rewarded at once with perfection of life, either on the spiritual plane or the earthly plane.

But it will be different with those who participate in the general resurrection. These, we believe, will be awakened from death in much the same condition as when they died. They will not be given perfection of life at once but will have to prove their worthiness of a full raising up to life by their acceptance of God’s grace through Christ and their obedience to the laws of the messianic kingdom.

But every provision will be made for their enlightenment and help. No longer will the deceptive influences of Satan, the Devil, be permitted to blind their minds and hearts.—Rev. 20:1-3

The road to perfection of character and life is described in the Bible as a highway in which no one will need to lose his way and from which all hindrances to progress will be removed. (Isa. 35:8,9) However, the Bible indicates that even in that day of uprightness there will be some who will display willful disobedience to the laws of the kingdom; and these, of course, will make no progress toward perfection of life but, continuing in their incorrigible attitude, will ultimately be destroyed, suffering the penalty of the second death. (Isa. 26:10; Rev. 20:14,15) The Apostle Peter refers to these and informs us that they will be destroyed from among the people.—Acts 3:23

So, at the end of the thousand-year reign of Christ, all the dead will have been awakened from death, and those desirous of learning and obeying God’s laws will have been restored to perfection of life as humans. These will then enjoy everlasting life in an earth made perfect, a worldwide paradise.

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Are you assured that there is to be a resurrection of all the dead? To have such a hope makes the burdens of the present life much lighter.

Explain how the word prisoner is used in the Bible with respect to those who have died.

How do we know that hell will give up its dead?

In what sense will Jesus lead a multitude of captives?

Explain the difference between the resurrection of the ancient worthies and the little flock, and those who will come forth in the general resurrection.

In what ways will the conditions be made favorable for those who are awakened from death in the general resurrection?

What is the highway mentioned in Isaiah 35:8?

What will be the destiny of those who do not make progress over the highway?

Describe the condition of the human race at the close of the millennium.

Reference Material:

“The Atonement between God and Man,” Volume V, page 378, ¶1-3, and page 379, ¶1,2

Summary of Important Thoughts

The awakening of the unjust dead from the sleep of death will not constitute a full raising up to perfection of life. Those who then attain to perfection of human life will need to prove worthy of it.

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Man was created in the image of God, and before Adam transgressed divine law he was at one with his Creator. This state of harmony with God is described in the Bible as being in covenant relationship with him. Adam lost his covenant relationship with the Creator when he disobeyed one of the divine requirements upon which it was based.—Hos. 6,7, margin

Those who are in covenant relationship with the Lord are his friends, and they enjoy his favor. When Adam lost the favor of his Creator he also lost life, for no one can continue living in a state of alienation from God. But God did not hide his face from his human creatures forever, for his love provided redemption through Christ, making possible a return of divine favor.—John 3:16

Alienation from God because of sin, and the consequent evils of sickness and death, are symbolized in the Bible by darkness. The whole period of the reign of sin and death is likened to a night. Because of God’s love in providing a redeemer from sin and death, this nighttime of sorrow is to terminate in a morning of joy.—Ps. 30:5

God gave the people of Israel an opportunity to recover themselves from Adamic condemnation through obedience to his Law. If they could have kept that Law perfectly, they would have gained the favor of God and life, but they failed.—Lev. 18:5; Gal. 3:12; Rom. 7:10

The failure of the Israelites to gain life by keeping the Law of God demonstrated the need of a redeemer from sin and death, and Jesus was that redeemer. (Rom. 3:23-26) Hence, it is through Jesus that mankind is reconciled to God, restored to harmony with him, and in a position to receive and enjoy his favor.—II Cor. 5:19; Eph. 1:10

The church class, the followers of Jesus, are through faith in his blood reconciled to God during the Gospel Age. These become associated with him in the work of reconciliation.—II Cor. 5:18

When the Law Covenant failed to give life because of the inability of the people to live up to its requirements perfectly, God promised to make a New Covenant with them, and this covenant will be extended to embrace all mankind. (Jer. 31:31-34; I Tim. 2:3-6) The Scriptures reveal that Jesus will be the mediator of the New Covenant and that his church, exalted to glory with him in the first resurrection, will be associated with him as ministers of that covenant.—Heb. 12:24; II Cor. 3:6

It will be through the New Covenant that the world of mankind will be reconciled to God. The New Covenant will accomplish this divine objective because, through its mediator, God’s law will be written in “the inward parts” of the people. (Jer. 31:33) This implies restoration to the original perfection and divine image in which Adam was created.

When the New Covenant will have been fully made with all the people, both the living and those who have been awakened from death, the knowledge of the Lord will fill the earth. (Isa. 11:9) No one will then be without an accurate knowledge of God and of his will.—Jer. 31:34

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Have you ever wondered what the world would be like if all the people loved and served the Creator, the true and living God, and were not plagued by sin and death? The answers to these questions reveal how and when such a condition will become a reality.

How do we know that Adam was in covenant relationship with the Lord before he sinned? Can anyone live forever without God’s favor?

What is one of the Bible symbols of sin, sickness, and death?

How did God give the Israelites an opportunity to escape death?

What was demonstrated by Israel’s failure to keep the Law? When will the New Covenant be made, and who will be its mediator?

What will be the ultimate and complete result of the New Covenant, and when will this be fully attained?

Reference Material:

“The Atonement between God and Man,” Volume V, pages 27-31

Summary of Important Thoughts

Man was created in the divine image and, while obedient to the Creator, enjoyed his favor and blessing. Through disobedience he lost divine favor and was condemned to death. He has been ransomed, or redeemed, by Christ and will be restored to God’s favor under the terms of the New Covenant, of which Christ will be the mediator.

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The expression natural death is often used in contrast to accidental death, or death on the battlefield. Actually, however, as far as humans are concerned, death is never natural. Man was created to live and not to die. Death became a part of human experience because of sin. (Rom. 5:12) Following the transgression of divine law by our first parents, they were driven out of the Garden of Eden and prevented from partaking of the tree of life, lest they live forever. (Gen. 3:22,23) This implies that man was capable of continuing to live, had God permitted him to enjoy the blessings which had been provided for him.

Because of God’s love for his human creatures, even though they had disobeyed his law, he provided a means of escape from death. This provision was Christ and his redeeming blood, which was a satisfaction for Adamic sin. (Rom. 3:25; I John 2:2) This means that upon the basis of faith in the redeeming blood, life can be regained, that no one will need to perish forever.—John 3:16,17

However, the opportunity to accept Christ and receive life through him is not limited to the short span of the present dying experience. It is God’s purpose to save humankind from Adamic death by awakening them from the sleep of death, enlightening them with the truth that they may have a full opportunity to believe and obey.—I Tim. 2:3-6

An opportunity to accept Christ and receive everlasting life will be given to all mankind during the thousand years of the messianic kingdom. We are assured by the Word of God that one of the glorious results of Christ’s rulership will be the destruction of death.—Hos. 13:14; I Cor. 15:25,26

In the Old Testament the kingdom of Christ is likened to a great mountain which will fill the whole earth. (Dan. 2:35,44) God’s promise is that in this mountain tears will be wiped away and death will be destroyed. (Isa. 25:6-9) Sickness is part of the dying process, and the Bible assures us that in the day of Christ’s kingdom sickness will be no more.—Isa. 33:24

One of the Bible’s illustrations of the blessings of health and life that will be vouchsafed to the people during the reign of Christ is a mighty river—the “river of the water of life.” There are trees of life by this river which bear an ample supply of life-giving fruit, and we are told that the leaves of these trees are for the healing of the nations.—Rev. 22:1,2,17

But no one will receive everlasting life who does not obey the laws of the kingdom. All who willfully turn their backs upon divine grace through refusal to believe and obey will be destroyed in the symbolic “lake of fire,” which is stated to be “the second death.” (Rev. 20:14,15) The Apostle Peter confirms this.—Acts 3:23

Thus the restored race of Adam will be free from all sickness and pain. All tears will be wiped away, and there will be no further cause for sorrow, for, as the Lord assures us through the Apostle John, “There shall be no more death.” And we are told that “these words are true and faithful.”—Rev. 21:3-5

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It is difficult to imagine a world in which there is no sickness and death; but this is what the Lord has promised, as the answers to these questions reveal.

Is death a natural and inevitable experience of humans? What assurance do we have in the Bible that those who die because of Adam’s sin have not perished forever?

Is the opportunity to accept Christ limited to the present short span of life?

When will the world of mankind as a whole have their first genuine opportunity to accept Christ? What will be one of the results of Christ’s kingdom?

What is one of the Old Testament illustrations of the kingdom of Christ?

What is one of the Bible’s illustrations of the blessings of life as they flow out to the people during Christ’s reign?

What will be the destiny of those who willfully refuse to obey?

Will there be any further cause for sorrow after the work of Christ’s kingdom is complete?

Reference Material:

“The Divine Plan of the Ages,” Volume I, pages 191,192

Summary of Important Thoughts

When God’s plan for man is complete, all sin, sickness, and death will have been eradicated from the earth, and restored humanity will enjoy God’s favor forever.

Dawn Bible Students Association
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