Jehovah’s Witnesses have the hope of never dying – a hope solidly based upon their unique understanding of the Bible.
God made man and woman to live on the earth forever. Like the loving Father he is, Jehovah desired his earthly children to have every good thing. Jehovah endowed us with his own character and personality, which is what it means to be made in his image. For example, human kindness is merely a reflection of Jehovah’s kindly character. Our innate sense of fairness and justice, as another example, was implanted in the minds of our original parents by the God of justice himself.
But tragically, because of their disobedience, Adam and Eve were sentenced to death; and consequently passed on sin and death to their then-unborn offspring.
But Jehovah God has lovingly made arrangements to undo the death-dealing effects of their sin by providing the substitutionary death of his beloved Son, Jesus.
As Paul explained, just as death came into the world through the disobedience of one man, God’s gift of life has come about through the faithfulness of one man, Jesus.
God’s intention has always been to have the earth transformed into a paradise by the humans that he created – modeled after the Garden of Eden. That is still God’s purpose. Contrary to the fictions published in books like The Late Great Planet Earth or popular novels like the Left Behind series, God’s clearly stated purpose is to save the earth from ruination, not destroy it.
From its inception, the Watchtower Society understood this basic truth. But although they realized that it was God’s purpose to restore the earth, the International Bible Students originally associated with Charles Taze Russell and the Watchtower embraced the hope of being with Christ in heaven. It was understood, though, that Christ’s kingdom was going to rule over the earth and it would be the means by which God would restore mankind to earthly perfection. However, gradually after C.T. Russell died fewer and fewer of those associated with the Bible Students organization in the 1920s and ’30s professed to have a heavenly calling. What was going on? A gradual yet profound change occurred back then, whereby, more and more persons began to embrace the hope of living on Earth forever. Then, in 1935, at an international convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses, the then president of the Watchtower Society, J. F. Rutherford, asked everyone in the audience who had this hope of living forever on the earth to please stand up. He then introduced them as the “great multitude” of Revelation 7:9 that is destined to survive the great tribulation.
Although that sensational introduction of the great crowd took place exactly 75 years ago, and no doubt nearly all of those who stood up that day are no longer alive, still, because of the work of the Watchtower Society and Jehovah’s Witnesses in the ensuing decades many millions have since then come to understand God’s purpose and have themselves also embraced the hope of never dying. The appearance of a group composed of persons from all nations and languages who are dedicated to Jehovah God and Jesus Christ is a profoundly significant phenomenon.
Understandably, if it is indeed God’s purpose to seed a new world with a great crowd of survivors of the end of this world, as a prelude to that event, there must, of necessity, be a great educational and gathering work.
About 35 centuries ago a drama unfolded that demonstrated God’s intention for the great crowd that presently exists among Jehovah’s Witnesses. That was the occasion of the great exodus. Jehovah brought a series of 10 plagues upon the obstinate Pharaoh and the Egyptians, with the 10th plague being the death of the firstborn. But the Hebrews had been instructed to slaughter a lamb and splash some of its blood over the doors of their dwellings and to stay indoors on that night when the angel of death visited Egypt. But the angel passed over every home that exhibited the blood of the lamb; hence, the Passover. The angel then led the Israelites and a vast mixed company of Egyptians and others out of Egypt. Jehovah parted the Red Sea to provide deliverance from Pharaoh’s pursuing army. Eventually, God brought them into a land of their own – the Promised Land flowing with milk and honey.
The book of Revelation draws from that drama in Exodus. The series of plagues are to be poured out on this world and the great crowd of persons who have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb will survive the end of the world and enter the new world God has promised. The very fact that there are now millions of people all over the earth who have not only embraced the hope of surviving the great tribulation but who, in obedience to Christ, are actively proclaiming that profound message to their neighbors, is evidence that God is actively gathering a people in preparation for them to inherit the earth when the present global civilization is destroyed.
Jesus referred to a little flock of disciples as those who will be given the kingdom. This is in contrast to another group, variously called the other sheep and the great crowd. The little flock will ultimately be composed of 144,000. These are called the chosen ones. They are spoken of as receiving the first resurrection. Revelation explains that those who receive the first resurrection are not vulnerable to the second death. That is because those brought to life in the first resurrection are resurrected as spirits – immortal spirits. Obviously, though, if there is a first resurrection there is also a second resurrection. The second resurrection is the earthly resurrection. The billions of mankind who have lived and died will be brought back to earth as humans. They will benefit from the rule of God’s heavenly kingdom. They will have the opportunity of being rehabilitated from the ravages of sin and living forever on the earth in paradise. This is why Jesus promised the evildoer who was executed next to him that he would be with him in paradise.
How will Jesus be with him in paradise? The 21st chapter of Revelation explains: “Look! The tent of God is with mankind, and he will reside with them, and they will be his peoples. And God himself will be with them. And he will wipe out every tear from their eyes, and death will be no more, neither will mourning nor outcry nor pain be anymore. The former things have passed away.”
Notice that the verse states that God will be with mankind, just as he was originally with Adam and Eve in the Garden. Those who will survive the great tribulation will no doubt be traumatized. They will need comfort. The tribulation and the world-ending war of Armageddon will be a horrific ordeal for them. But that is why God will wipe out every tear from their eyes.
When Lazarus died Jesus took that sad occasion to explain his role as the facilitator of the resurrection and life-giver. Jesus explained to Lazarus’ grieving sister: “I am the resurrection and the life. He that exercises faith in me, even though he dies, will come to life; and everyone that is living and exercises faith in me will never die at all. Do you believe this?” – John 11:25-26
What did Jesus mean “every one that is living and exercises faith in me will never die at all”? Paul used a similar expression when he said regarding the first resurrection: “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…”
The apostle Paul was referring to himself as among the living who will be on hand when the parousia of Jesus Christ begins. He said that because at the time he wrote it he was, obviously, among the living. He was not saying, however, that the living who will join Christ will not die. In the 15th chapter of Corinthians Paul explained the heavenly resurrection to the doubters by comparing it to a seed that must die in order to give birth to the plant that springs from it. Paul wrote: “What you sow is not made alive unless first it dies; and as for what you sow, you sow, not the body that will develop, but a bare grain, it may be, of wheat or any one of the rest; but God gives it a body just as it has pleased him, and to each of the seeds its own body.”
All of the 144,000 chosen ones must die in order to become born as spirits. It is just that those who die during Jesus’ presence do not sleep in death as those who die prior to his coming. Instead of sleeping in the grave they are instantaneously transformed, “in the twinkling of an eye.”
So, those who are living that put faith in Christ must also be those living at the time of his coming. But, since the chosen ones must die to be changed, the living who “will never die at all,” cannot be those who have been called to heaven. The “living,” about whom Jesus spoke to Martha, must be the great crowd that will survive the tribulation.
For a certainty, Jehovah’s Witnesses have the sure hope that they will be the first people who have ever lived on this earth who will never die. What a joyous privilege has been given to Jehovah’s Witnesses on the eve of the great storm that is about to sweep this wicked world away – the prospect of survival and being the first humans since Adam and Eve to enjoy paradise.