[From ws10/16 p. 13 December 5, 12-18]
“Faith is the assured expectation of what is hoped for.”—He. 11:1 (NWT)
Let’s start with a little background before we get into this week’s review.
Paul is on trial for his life. Having survived an assassination attempt by the Jews, he now stands before Governor Felix. The Jewish leaders, including the chief priest, make their case. Paul’s turn comes and in his defense he offers us this insight, not only into his own belief, but into that of his opposers as well.
“…I have hope toward God, which hope these [men] themselves also entertain, that there is going to be a resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Acts 24:15)
“These men” evidently refers to the Jewish opposers. (Acts 24:1, 20) It seems they too had the hope that there would be two resurrections. While Paul hoped for two, he did not expect to be resurrected twice. Personally, he hoped to attain to the earlier or superlative resurrection of the righteous.
“My aim is to know him and the power of his resurrection and to share in his sufferings, submitting myself to a death like his, 11 to see if at all possible I may attain to the earlier resurrection from the dead.” (Php 3:10, 11)[i]
By contrast, the resurrection of the unrighteous does not come with the guarantee of everlasting life. There is still work to be done because the resurrected do not come back to everlasting life, but to judgment. (John 5:28, 29) Nevertheless, despite his desire to be resurrected as a righteous one, Paul entertained a hope for the unrighteous as well, so that all would get an equal opportunity to attain to the life Adam squandered.
Despite having a similar hope, the Jews differed with Paul as to the basis for it. For Paul, it was all based on the ransom sacrifice of Jesus, but for the Jews, that was a cause for stumbling. (1Co 1:22, 23)
Notice that Paul doesn’t speak of two hopes, but of two resurrections. There is only one hope. There is no scripture exhorting people to hope to be resurrected as one of the unrighteous. In fact, people with no hope at all, people who don’t even believe God exists, will return to life as part of the resurrection of the unrighteous. The only hope the Bible urges Christians to hold on to is that of everlasting life as part of the resurrection of the righteous. (1Ti 6:12, 19)
“For just as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted also to the Son to have life in himself. 27 And he has given him authority to do judging, because he is the Son of man. 28 Do not be amazed at this, for the hour is coming in which all those in the memorial tombs will hear his voice 29 and come out, those who did good things to a resurrection of life, and those who practiced vile things to a resurrection of judgment.” (Joh 5:26-29)
Jehovah has life within himself. He has given this life to Jesus, so that the Christ also has life within himself—life that he can impart to others. (1Co 15:45) Thus it is Jesus who does the resurrecting. When he resurrects to life, he gives life to those whom God has declared righteous by faith in Jesus. (Ro 3:28; Titus 3:7; Re 20:4, 6) The rest are unrighteous, so they must go through a judgment process.
(A full explanation of this process is beyond the scope of this article. There is much debate as to when and how and on what basis the unrighteous are judged. We will have to leave that discussion for another time, since the purpose of this article is to review the current Watchtower Study Article based on the beliefs held by Jehovah’s Witnesses.)
My JW brothers and sisters reading the foregoing will agree. They will see themselves hoping to be part of the resurrection of the righteous to earth. For them there are three resurrections. Two of the righteous and one of the unrighteous. The two of the righteous differ greatly however. The first of these are declared righteous as God’s children and that declaration results in a resurrection as sinless beings who will rule with Christ in the kingdom of the heavens. In the second resurrection of the righteous, witnesses are declared righteous as God’s friends,[ii] but that declaration of righteousness does not result in a righteous standing with God as they are resurrected on earth still in the sinful state they had at death. They only get eternal life at the end of 1,000 years if—IF—they continue faithful to the end. As for the unrighteous, Witnesses believe they are also resurrected to earth in the sinful state they had at death. In other words, there is no difference in the status of those declared righteous as God’s friends and those who God considers as unrighteous. They are both still sinful and they both work together to achieve perfection at the end of the 1,000 year reign of Christ.
Witnesses can provide no Scriptures to prove this complex resurrection belief, nor will a search in the WT library going back to the inception of the teaching in 1934 provide any Scriptural proof. The teaching is based on antitypical fulfillments not found in Scripture. (See the two-part article, “His Kindness”, in the 1934 August 1 and 15 Watchtower.) Since recent Watchtower doctrine disavows teachings based on antitypes not applied in Scripture (See w15 3/15 “Questions from Readers”) the Other Sheep doctrine is in a sort of limbo right now. It continues to be taught yet the foundation of the doctrine has been removed.
What JWs Believe
This helps us to understand what lies behind the words written in paragraph 1 of this week’s Watchtower study.
“WHAT a wonderful hope true Christians share! All of us, whether of the anointed or of the “other sheep,” hope to see the fulfillment of God’s original purpose and the sanctification of Jehovah’s name. (John 10:16; Matt. 6:9, 10) Such expectations are the most noble any human can cherish. We also long for the promised reward of everlasting life, either as part of God’s “new heavens” or as part of his “new earth.”” – par. 1
Paragraph 2 then asks: “You may wonder, though, how can your expectation become more sure?”
Since atheists, who have no hope in God and no faith in the resurrection, are going to be brought back in the resurrection of the unrighteous in exactly the same sinful state that Jehovah’s Witnesses hope to be resurrected, one might ask, “Why do I need to make my expectation more sure? After all, it will happen whether I hope for it or not; whether I believe in it, or not.”
Is the Watchtower selling us a false hope? Is there really going to be a resurrection of the righteous to earth? Is this what the Bible really teaches?
If so, the Watchtower has consistently failed to show it. When it comes to an earthly resurrection, the Bible only speaks of one for the unrighteous.
Now consider this: The Watchtower tells us that non-anointed Witnesses will be declared righteous as friends of God. What does it mean to be declared righteous by God? Obviously, it means one is no longer unrighteous. One’s sins are forgiven. Thus, God can and does grant eternal life to those he declares as righteous. So how is it that he can declare a human righteous without giving them a righteous status when resurrecting them? To what avail are they righteous if they are just as sinful as they always were? Does this make sense? More important, is it scriptural?
Here is the official Watchtower teaching:
Under Jesus’ loving attention, the entire human family—Armageddon survivors, their offspring, and the thousands of millions of resurrected dead who obey him—will grow toward human perfection. (w91 6/1 p. 8)
Those who physically have died and will be resurrected on earth during the Millennium will still be imperfect humans. Also, those surviving the war of God will not be made perfect and sinless immediately. As they continue faithful to God during the Millennium those who will have survived on earth evidently will gradually progress toward perfection. (w82 12/1 p. 31)
“Like Abraham, they are accounted, or declared, righteous as friends of God.” (it-1 p. 606)
So Abraham and the other faithful men of old like Moses will be resurrected still in a sinful state alongside those so-called Christian friends of God whom he also declares righteous but restores to life as sinners. How then will Moses differ from the rebel Korah if both are still sinners?[iii]
This strange teaching gets even stranger when we consider this next statement.
“Those faithful ones died before the promised “offspring,” Jesus Christ, opened the way to heavenly life. (Gal. 3:16) Nevertheless, thanks to Jehovah’s unfailing promises, they will be resurrected to perfect human life in an earthly paradise.—Ps. 37:11; Isa. 26:19; Hos. 13:14.” – par. 4
Hold on. Our official teaching is that all humans, even Abraham, are resurrected as sinners, and “gradually progress toward perfection”. Now we’re told they are resurrected already perfect. Who is at the helm, steering this ship? Clearly not Jehovah, because he doesn’t confuse his servants with conflicting commands and mutually exclusive teachings.
Examining the “Proof Texts”
Given the above, it should not surprise us to find that the “proof texts” provided in this paragraph prove the contrary to what is being taught.
Isaiah 26:19: The context seems to be speaking about a metaphorical resurrection. However, even if it is literal, it doesn’t speak of location, nor of the status (righteous or unrighteous) of those resurrected. So this proves nothing.
Psalm 37:11: This verse speaks of the meek possessing the earth. What does that prove? In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ lists a series of beatitudes which foretell the reward given to the children of God upon their resurrection. (Mt 5:1-12) Verse 5 of that account parallels Psalm 37:11, so it would seem the Psalmist was inspired to speak of the resurrection of the children of God, not some earthly resurrection. After all, who possesses the kingdom, the King or the subjects of the King? (Mt 17:24-26)
Hosea 13:14: What a striking similarity this verse bears to Paul’s words to anointed Christians at 1 Corinthians 15:55-57. In fact, the NWT links the two passages by cross reference. So again, we have proof in the Hebrew Scriptures with corroboration in the Greek that there is going to be a resurrection of the righteous as sons of God to immortal life. As for an earthly resurrection of the righteous to sinful, imperfect life, there is no proof. Hosea simply doesn’t address that teaching.
A False Hope for Faithful Pre-Christian Servants
As we’ve just seen, the Organization teaches that Abraham will have an earthly resurrection as one of the righteous who come back still as sinners. (Assuming the final statement of paragraph 4 is a mistake.) One thing that remains unchanged either way is that Abraham and all the faithful men of old will not be part of the Kingdom of the Heavens with Christ and anointed Christians. There are no Scriptures that teach this, mind you. You have to take it on faith—faith in men.
You can do that if you want, but to what end? Do you love truth or do you love “The Truth”. In “The Truth” we are taught that the faithful men of old are resurrected to earth. So when Hebrews 11:35 speaks of a better resurrection, we cannot allow it to refer to the heavenly hope. This creates a problem, however, because the Bible doesn’t speak of another resurrection that is still better than the “better resurrection”, a super-resurrection as it were. It only ever speaks of two resurrections. So to get around this, men have to make a categorical statement and hope that the reader will not notice that it is built on sand. It is, in fact, a lie. Speaking of Christian martyrs like Antipas, The Watchtower says that they “would have the reward of a resurrection to heavenly life—surpassing the “better resurrection” that ancient men of faith looked forward to.” (par. 12)
The Bible does not speak of a resurrection that surpasses the “better resurrection” of Hebrews 11:35. The context clarifies the meaning still further:
“. . .And yet all of these, although they received a favorable witness because of their faith, did not obtain the fulfillment of the promise, 40 because God had foreseen something better for us, so that they might not be made perfect apart from us. . .” (Heb 11:39, 40)
If the ancient ones were not to be made perfect apart from Christians, we are left to conclude that they will be made perfect together with Christians; or is there another option that fits? Paul then sums it all up in the next verse by saying:
“. . .So, then, because we have such a great cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also throw off every weight and the sin that easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 as we look intently at the Chief Agent and Perfecter of our faith, Jesus.. . .” (Heb 12:1, 2)
If those ancient ones were to serve as examples to Christians, and if the ancient ones were not to be made perfect apart from Christians, and if Jesus is the “Perfecter” of our faith, then this “making perfect” must apply to all. It follows then that all received the same resurrection.
Paragraph 7 says:
Jehovah has also blessed us with an abundant supply of spiritual food provided through “the faithful and discreet slave.” (Matt. 24:45) Thus, by cherishing what we learn from the spiritual provisions that Jehovah has made available, we will be like the ancient examples of faith who had an “assured expectation” of their Kingdom hope. – par. 7
A witness will acknowledge that the foregoing is true. Yet if you were to tell him that “the faithful and discreet slave” is the Pope of Rome, he would reject the statement out of hand. Why? Because he believes the Pope teaches falsehoods. A Witness will read “faithful and discreet slave” and see in his mind’s eye, the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses. How do they differ from the Pope of Rome? To a Witness, they don’t teach falsehoods. Yes, they have made mistakes due to human error, but that is different.
Is it? Is it really different?
“. . .Indeed, who is the man among YOU whom his son asks for bread—he will not hand him a stone, will he? 10 Or, perhaps, he will ask for a fish—he will not hand him a serpent, will he? 11 Therefore, if YOU, although being wicked, know how to give good gifts to YOUR children, how much more so will YOUR Father who is in the heavens give good things to those asking him?” (Mt 7:9-11)
The history of the so-called provisions of Jehovah dispensed by means of the men alleging to be the faithful and discreet slave of Matthew 24:45 is rife with misinformation and failed expectations—failed hope. If we ask for bread, Jehovah as a loving Father, will not hand us a stone, will he? If we ask for a fish, he will not hand us a serpent, will he? In short, put faith in God’s word the Bible, but do not put faith in the teachings of men in whom no salvation exists. (Ps 118:9; 146:3)
Paragraph 9 tells us to pray for those taking the lead among us, citing Hebrews 13:7. However, first notice the full text of that command:
“Remember those who are taking the lead among you, who have spoken the word of God to you, and as you contemplate how their conduct turns out, imitate their faith. 8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today, and forever. 9 Do not be led astray by various and strange teachings, for it is better for the heart to be strengthened by undeserved kindness than by foods, which do not benefit those occupied with them.” (Heb 13:7-9)
Paul qualifies his statement by showing that Jesus doesn’t change. So those taking the lead shouldn’t change either. They should not come forth with “various and strange teachings” to lead the faithful astray. This protects us from inadvertently praying for Satan’s ministers who are adept at ‘transforming themselves into ministers of righteousness.’ (2Co 11:14)
An example of a strange teaching is this one:
Sometime after the Kingdom’s birth in 1914, all such faithful anointed ones, who were sleeping in death, were raised to spirit life in heaven to share with Jesus in his rulership over mankind.—Rev. 20:4. – par. 12
There is no proof, neither empirical nor Scriptural, for these beliefs. They are strange indeed, because it means that the anointed who will rule with Christ for a thousand years have been doing so for the past century, yet we still believe the thousand year reign is future. So will they rule for a thousand and one hundred years? How very strange and strained this teaching is becoming.
Make no mistake, there will be a resurrection of the unrighteous to earth. These will get the opportunity to accept Jesus as their savior. Eventually, when 1 Corinthians 15:24-28 is fulfilled, the earth will be filled with the family of God living in peace and harmony. However, that is not the hope being held out to Christians. We have the opportunity for a better resurrection. Do not allow anyone to take that from you with “various and strange teachings.”
[i] There is some dispute as to whether “earlier resurrection” is the best translation of the Greek word, exanastasis. HELPS Word-studies gives (…“completely out from,” intensifying anístēmi, “rise up”) – properly, rising up to experience the full-impact of resurrection, i.e. thoroughly removed from the realm of death (the grave).
[ii] it-1 p. 606 “Like Abraham, they are accounted, or declared, righteous as friends of God.”; w12 7/15 p. 28 par. 7 “…Jehovah has declared…the other sheep righteous as friends…”
[iii] See “Who Will Be Resurrected”, w05 5/1 p. 15, par. 10
[iv] Hence, any faithful dedicated Christian now a part of the “great crowd” who dies before the great tribulation can be sure of having a part in the earthly resurrection of the righteous. – w95 2/15 pp. 11-12 par. 14 “There Will Be a Resurrection of the Righteous”