The most certain thing in life is death. No human being can avoid it. Many people fear death and will do all they can to extend their physical life. In the end—although they may stretch out their physical existence by days, months or even years—death still catches up. The bereaved are often inconsolable.
Those who understand God’s plan for mankind, however, tend to have a different approach. Not that we are calloused or rejoice in death, but God’s truth casts out fear of death. A funeral service in God’s Church is actually a positive event. Very few of our readers have heard the positive, comforting message of God’s truth.
Death is sobering. We may be especially sobered by the death of our own loved ones: parents, spouses, children or siblings. Above all, we are sobered by the knowledge that about 90 percent of those now living will perish between now and the soon-coming return of Jesus Christ in a time known as the Great Tribulation.
On the Last Great Day of the Feast, we also ought to pause and ponder the death of the estimated 100 billion lives that have ceased since creation.
We may consider the death of Adam and Eve and their immediate children; of all who drowned in the great Flood at the time of Noah; of all the wicked God destroyed when fire and brimstone descended on Sodom and Gomorrah; of all the Egyptians who perished in the plagues or during their pursuit of the Israelites through the Red Sea; of those who fell in the battles to possess the Promised Land; of all who have perished in the great wars that have ravished the Earth since. We may think of the millions who succumbed to the Black Plague that spread throughout Eurasia in the 14th century, reducing Earth’s population by nearly a quarter; of the 6 million Jews destroyed at the hand of the Nazi regime in World War ii; of the millions buried in the 20,000 mass graves discovered among the killing fields of Cambodia following the ruthless brutalization of the Red Khmer in the late 1970s; of the lives of an estimated 1 million Tutsis and moderate Hutus snuffed out in the Rwanda genocide; or of the 2,977 civilians who fell at the hands of terrorists in the 9/11 attacks.
Most importantly, we also consider the resurrection of all those souls!
Understanding the meaning of this day is tremendous comfort because it shows how they will all be brought back to life.
A Separate Feast
Following seven days of celebrating the Kingdom of God during the Feast of Tabernacles, God’s people observe an eighth day (Leviticus 23:33-36). This is separate from the Feast of Tabernacles. God commanded this eighth day to be a Sabbath, a “holy convocation” (verses 2, 4, 39).
Jesus Christ Himself taught on this magnificent holy day. “In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. (But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy [Spirit] was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified.)” (John 7:37-39).
The Faith to be Resurrected
Note the lesson Christ gave regarding the Last Great Day: “Now a certain man was sick, named Lazarus, of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha. … Therefore his sisters sent unto him, saying, Lord, behold, he whom thou lovest is sick. When Jesus heard that, he said, This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby” (John 11:1, 3-4).
Imagine hearing Christ respond this way. Christ often said and did things people simply could not understand. That agitated many.
Verse 6 shows that Jesus remained focused on doing the Work until God’s glory would be fully displayed through a marvelous miracle of resurrection. Verses 11-13 show us how Jesus intentionally made these decisions. The disciples did not understand at the time what Christ was telling them.
Note this incredible statement: “Then said Jesus unto them plainly, Lazarus is dead. And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, to the intent ye may believe; nevertheless let us go unto him” (verses 14-15). People may well have thought that Jesus was heartless. Yet He had told them in verse 11 that He would wake Lazarus from his sleep. Christ was more concerned with teaching and building faith in those who witnessed this event.
When Christ and the disciples finally traveled to Bethany, they were met by a grieving sister. Martha reasoned that if Christ had been there and prayed for her brother, he would have lived (verse 21). In her mind, it was too late for Christ to do anything (verse 22).
Christ responded that Lazarus would live again (John 11:23). He was trying to teach Martha to see beyond the grave. Clearly she knew about the second resurrection, pictured by the Last Great Day (verse 24). She believed she would see Lazarus again. But let’s not forget that Satan knows about this resurrection also. He is aware of God’s plan in the resurrections. This knowledge alone does not mean we have the necessary faith to be saved.
“I am the resurrection, and the life,” Christ responded, “he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?” (verses 25-26). Christ wanted to teach His disciples to live by the faith of the Son of man. They had so little faith!
These verses demonstrate the meaning of the Last Great Day through the physical resurrection of Lazarus. It is the I AM who resurrects.
In John’s Gospel: The Love of God, editor in chief Gerald Flurry writes: “Jesus Christ, in one sense, simply didn’t recognize any difference between healing—or resurrecting someone then and there—and bringing someone up in a resurrection at a later time. If we have the faith of Christ, there is no difference! … This is the kind of faith we must be building. Christ is the resurrection yesterday, today and tomorrow! Christ resurrects—period. This is the kind of faith we need to be healed or resurrected … Lazarus is one of the best examples in the Bible to teach us how to build faith.” At the end of our physical lives there can be life eternal! In verse 26, our Savior clearly states that if we live and believe in Him, we will never die. In other words, we will inherit eternal life. If we are doing God’s will, death is really not so tragic an affair.
“When one of God’s saints remains faithful to the end, he has conquered death!” Mr. Flurry writes. “That is the greatest victory of all. Of course we grieve to not have that individual in our lives for the moment—but look at the victory!”
When Mary joined her sister and Christ outside, she expressed the same lack of faith, saying, “Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died” (verse 32). Christ was troubled and groaned in His spirit (verse 33). He then followed them to the tomb where Lazarus had been buried. Surrounded by people who were weeping, Jesus also wept. The Jews thought He wept because of Lazarus’s death. But they were wrong. Christ wept because of their lack of faith! (verses 4, 15, 26).
Then the crowd began to question the power of God. They believed Jesus could have kept Lazarus alive, but they did not believe He could bring him back to life (verse 37).
See the Glory of God
Being carnal, we only tend to trust those things we can observe with our five senses. The Jews’ carnal reasoning deeply bothered Jesus Christ. He commanded that the stone closing off Lazarus’s tomb be removed. Then He addressed Martha, “Said I not unto thee, that, if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God?” (John 11:40).
Christ had allowed Lazarus to die in order to demonstrate just how powerful God is and to teach all those who witnessed the event to believe.
Praying to His heavenly Father, Christ thanked God before He resurrected Lazarus! That is the kind of faith we need.
“Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me. And I knew that thou hearest me always: but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that thou hast sent me. And when he thus had spoken, he cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth. And he that was dead came forth…” (verses 41-44). For the benefit of the bystanders, and for all of us who read this account, God performed a mighty miracle.
Don’t Misunderstand the Resurrections
The resurrection of Lazarus foreshadowed the Great White Throne Judgment period that is pictured by the Last Great Day. Our only hope is in the resurrection. Today God wants our minds to be focused on the faith necessary to be resurrected.
Christ taught that all people who have died, having never known God, will be resurrected to physical life and given the opportunity to qualify for eternal life. That is what it means to see the glory of God!
Satan has sought to totally pervert the truth regarding the meaning of the Last Great Day. This world’s religions know practically nothing about the truth depicted by this day. Some professing Christians believe that on the last day of the world, all will be resurrected and judged. Others believe that at death an immortal soul goes to heaven and that this soul and a physical body are reunited at the time of the resurrection. Either they misunderstand the number of resurrections, the time sequence of the resurrections, or the purpose of the resurrections—or all three.
Briefly stated, the truth is that God, who resurrected our Savior, will raise to life again all the dead!
The Bible speaks of three resurrections. For some, that resurrection will be to eternal life. For the majority, it will be to physical life with an opportunity for eternal life. For a few, it will be a resurrection to condemnation—the second death!
The Apostle Paul said in his defense before Felix: “But this I confess unto thee, that after the way which they call heresy, so worship I the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the law and in the prophets: And have hope toward God, which they themselves also allow, that there shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust” (Acts 24:14-15). Clearly the Apostle Paul refers to two resurrections here.
All in Order
Jesus Christ is living proof that God can, and will, resurrect the dead (see Romans 1:4 and 1 Peter 1:3). Christ is not the only one who will be resurrected to eternal life, He was merely the first!
A few decades after Christ’s resurrection, the people in Corinth expressed serious doubt about this matter (1 Corinthians 15:12). Paul explained the futility of life if we cannot have faith in the resurrection (verses 13-19).
Herbert W. Armstrong often quoted verse 22 and emphasized that the same “all” who die are the same “all” who shall also be made alive. There are no exceptions.
Paul continues to explain the order of the resurrections in verses 23 and 24. The word “end” in verse 24 simply means the aim, the point or goal, the result. After all the resurrections, the goal is to deliver the Kingdom of God back to the Father.
Jesus Christ has already risen from the dead as the first of the firstfruits (verse 20). Next in order will be those who are Christ’s at His Second Coming. 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 show this first resurrection to occur at the return of Jesus Christ. It will be a resurrection to eternal, never-ending life with the Lord. Revelation 20:4-6 show that the second death has no power over those who rise in the first resurrection. What a blessing it is to be called now—if only we remain faithful and overcome until the end!
Verse 5 also shows the rest of the dead, those who are not counted among the firstfruits, who have not known the ways of God, will not be resurrected until after the 1,000 years of Christ’s reign on Earth. By that time, Christ’s rule will be well established, and Satan will have been bound for eternity.
This second resurrection is also referred to as the Great White Throne Judgment. The people who will be resurrected at that time are not condemned, but are brought back to life to have the Bible opened to them (verses 11-12). They will be judged by what the Bible teaches and will be found guilty, but they will then be given their opportunity to accept the sacrifice of Jesus Christ as payment for their sins. The vast majority will accept God’s truth.
God’s Spirit Made Available to Everyone
Having been cut off from the tree of life since the Garden of Eden, mankind has had to set out its own course of life without God’s Spirit or His revealed truth. After Abraham proved faithful, God chose his descendants, the nation of Israel, to be an example to the world. But even they did not receive God’s Spirit at that time.
Jesus Christ stated: “The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here. The queen of the south shall rise up in the judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: for she came from the uttermost parts of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and, behold, a greater than Solomon is here” (Matthew 12:41-42). He is referring to the second resurrection. The Gentiles will be offered salvation at the same time the men Christ was addressing will rise from the dead.
The vision of the valley of dry bones in Ezekiel 37 outlines the details of this resurrection to physical life. Verse 14 states that God will place His spirit in them at that time. All who have ever lived, never having received God’s Holy Spirit, will be given their chance to be converted in this resurrection (see also Joel 2:29).
God’s plan allows for all people to have the opportunity to become part of the God Family. There is no respect of persons with God (Romans 2:11; Ephesians 6:9; 1 Peter 1:17). He wants every individual to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9; 1 Timothy 2:4).
One Final Resurrection
There remains one more resurrection for all who have rejected God’s Family way of life. They are to be raised in this third resurrection, the resurrection of damnation (John 5:29). They will be baptized into the lake of fire that consumes all the incorrigibly wicked.
Who will this include? Obviously God is the Judge of every man, but we can have some general guidelines: those few who prior to the Church age received God’s Spirit but rejected God’s ways; many from this Church age who did not faithfully endure until the end, especially those of this final, Laodicean era are in danger of being twice dead (Jude 12); anyone who attributes the works of the Holy Spirit to the devil is in serious danger of blaspheming against the Holy Spirit, for which there is no forgiveness (Luke 12:10); those who during Christ’s rule on Earth stubbornly rebel (Matthew 25:31-46). Finally, the Prophet Isaiah states that those who die at the end of the Great White Throne Judgment will be accursed (Isaiah 65:20).
These are all examples of people who sin willfully (Hebrews 10:26-27) and who will be burned up and become ashes under the feet of the righteous (Malachi 4:1-3). God is merciful, even in putting such individuals out of their misery. They will not live in “hell” forever, but will, after being judged, receive a swift extinguishing of the life God gave them in the first place.
Opportunity for All
God is dealing with different people in different ways and at different times. The three resurrections form the dividing lines between these judgment eras.
God is not trying to save the whole world now. Today is just a day of salvation (Isaiah 49:8). It is the judgment period for those of the household of God today—for anyone whom God calls prior to the return of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 4:17-18). True Christians need to realize who they are and what they are involved in. The future of all men in the wonderful World Tomorrow and Great White Throne Judgment depends on God’s called-out ones.
The world does not understand God’s plan yet. Religions have no answers to the world’s problems. One day, their minds will be opened and they will be taught and will be able to understand God’s solutions to the appalling evils we see today.
Once they have had their minds opened, they too will live under God’s judgment. Judgment is a process: God will give every man a time span in which he can prove his commitment to His way of life. God wants all to understand their incredible potential and to see His glory through the resurrection from the dead when He presents them with the opportunity to choose life.
Right now, God is only working with an extremely small group of people to 1) publicize this warning message; 2) support God’s apostle and watchman; and 3) prepare their minds for their future responsibilities as teachers of God’s way of life following Christ’s return.
Do you truly believe in the fulfillment of what was pictured through the resurrection of Lazarus? God wants you to see the glory of God today!
The Ultimate Victory
When we deeply understand man’s potential, we will work to hasten the final step in God’s plan: “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Revelation 21:1-2). After the surface of the Earth is purified with fire (2 Peter 3:10), new Jerusalem will descend to the Earth. God the Father will establish the universe headquarters in this new capital.
“And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God iswith men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God” (Revelation 21:3). The Father Himself will dwell with His Family.
“And the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof. And the nations of them which are saved shall walk in the light of it: and the kings of the earth do bring their glory and honour into it. And the gates of it shall not be shut at all by day: for there shall be no night there. And they shall bring the glory and honour of the nations into it. And there shall in no wise enter into it any thing that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie: but they which are written in the Lamb’s book of life” (verses 23-27). What an awesome time, when everything sinful will have been purged by fire, and nothing will ever redefile God’s creation!
“So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory” (1 Corinthians 15:54). The ultimate victory is the defeat of the final enemy—death! True, eternal life is what God is longing to give to every man. He wants to convert the corruptible flesh into incorruptible spirit.
O behold the glory of God!