The beginning of "When Time and Chance Happen to You" describes the circumstances under which my wife and I lost our young son. After the accident, as I held his broken body in my arms for the last time, a deep realization dawned on me: This was not the end.
In a flash an amazing biblical truth became clear: My son would live again! The words of Jesus Christ—"for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth" (John 5:28-29)—suddenly took on new meaning.
The concept of a resurrection to life—a biblical teaching few understand—was no longer an intangible promise from the pages of the Bible. The resurrection suddenly became a real event for me. I saw it for the first time for what it is: a commitment from Jesus Christ Himself.
Jesus Christ is committed to "the hour" when we can again meet our little boy whom I was bidding farewell. That time will be a joyous family reunion, one we cannot afford to miss, no matter what the cost.
Hope Amid Tragedy
We had Jonathan's funeral the next day. The funeral director gave us a little white casket, his way of expressing sympathy in our time of loss. In the small parlor of his establishment my family and our relatives and friends paid Jonathan our respects.
The words of our pastor, spoken as I sat in the front row with my wife and two remaining children, ring in my ears to this day: "We are assembled here today on a very sobering occasion. The life of young Jonathan was snuffed out ever so quickly. But God's Word shows us that he will live again."
Then he proceeded to expound God's message of hope through the resurrection made possible by Jesus Christ.
As I looked at the little white casket, I wanted to weep, but I couldn't. That would come later. God's revelation through His Word was too profound. Scriptures I had read many times suddenly came alive with deep meaning. The vision of hope that had inspired me in the driveway within moments of Jonathan's death began to assume new dimensions.
The promise of a resurrection to life was not just for me, not just for my family, not just for Jonathan. I began to realize this promise was about a family reunion on an unparalleled scale for the family of man.
Death knows no social and economic boundaries, but neither does the resurrection by which victory is promised: "For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive," declared the apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 15:22).
Death seems so final. Death leaves gaping voids and numb and bewildered survivors in its wake. My wife and our other children know. We've been there. We laid little Jonathan to rest in a tiny grave and went home with an indescribable void in our hearts.
But death is not final. It is simply an interval before the life to come. The pain of death for those of us left behind is real, but so is the promise of the resurrection that will reunite us with our loved ones.
Believing the Promise
The promise of the resurrection has affected my family and me in a powerful way. It has brought much comfort and inspired abundant hope.
Confusion abounds on the subject of death. many who are unfamiliar with the Bible promises have much needless fear of the unknown. But God's Word provides answers—real answers—that give hope and comfort.
The truth of the resurrection is profound, and you can discover it yourself in the pages of your Bible.
We begin our journey in the book of Revelation, which provides a fascinating picture of mankind's future. This prophetic book provides a chronological framework of end-time events, including the resurrections.
The 19th chapter of Revelation sets the stage by describing the glorious return of Jesus Christ to earth. The heavens open and Christ rides out on a white horse followed by the armies of God. At this moment the people of God from all ages, past and present, are reunited in one dramatic event described by Paul in his letter to the Corinthians:
"Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep [die], but we shall all be changed—in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet shall sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed (1 Corinthians 15:51-52).
At this momentous time God's people from all ages receive eternal life in the family of God! As "heirs of God" and "joint heirs" with Jesus Christ, they are glorified with Him to become like Him in the truest sense (Romans 8:17; 1 John 3:2). The resurrection will be a dramatic reunion as the patriarchs of old, together with their brethren in Christ, attain what they awaited for so long—a "better resurrection" (Hebrews 11:35; Daniel 12:13)
The story continues in Revelation. Jesus Christ and His heavenly forces crush the rebellious armies of earth in a colossal battle. An angel binds Satan so he cannot influence humankind (Revelation 19:14-21; 20:1-3). Finally the world will be at one with God as Jesus and the resurrected saints usher in the long-awaited Kingdom of God.
The resurrected saints immediately inherit responsibilities. They have work to do, and Christ enlists the active participation of His brethren. The resurrected saints receive "thrones," say the Scriptures, along with "judgment." They reign with Christ for 1,000 years and then into eternity (Revelation 20:4).
A new and glorious age of peace and prosperity is a reality. Surely this is an event no Christian would want to miss. Surely there can be no greater victory over death than to participate in this "better resurrection."
What Will the Resurrected Saints Do?
The art of traditional Christianity depicts the blessed saints floating on clouds, strumming on harps and basking in the bliss of the eternal presence of God.
But the Bible paints quite a different picture of the future God has planned for the resurrected saints (Christians).
Jesus Christ makes "them kings and priests .... and they shall reign on the earth" (Revelation 5:10). They play an important part in a plan God designed to engage and benefit all—righteous leadership and spiritual education for everyone.
The Bible gets specific about the responsibilities of certain resurrected personalities. Jesus Christ assumes the role of King of Kings and Lord of Lords (Revelation 19:16). King David is resurrected as king over Israel (Jeremiah 30:9; Ezekiel 37:24), and each of the 12 apostles will rule over one of the tribes of Israel (Matthew 19:28).
In this resurrection all will be given rulership and responsibility, apparently administering different locales and cities (Luke 19:11-27), according to their ability and faithfulness.
Resurrected saints are not destined to tune harps for all eternity. They are meant to change the world. Indeed, the Bible foretells unparalleled prosperity as Christ and His resurrected brethren work to build a new and wonderful world, a kingdom governed by the laws of the living God. (For more information about this wonderful time, please request The Gospel of the Kingdom and God's Holy Day Plan: The Promise of Hope for All Mankind.)
But what about other people, those who do not attain this "better resurrection"? Will they miss out simply because they did not know? Will they suffer eternal damnation for failing to serve a God they had no idea even existed?
God says unequivocally He loves the whole world (John 3:16). Can God, who declares such love for all humanity, condemn people for not believing in a Being they never knew?
What about those who died prematurely and tragically? What about our son Jonathan, whose life was snuffed out in his innocence with no chance to know Christ? What is the fate of all those who have died at a tender age?
The answer is simple: God fulfills His purpose one step at a time. No one is left out. No one is forgotten. The first and "better" resurrection, far from being a case of divine preferential treatment, simply sets the stage for the capstone of God's great plan to save the rest of mankind.
We pick up the story in Revelation, where we find that "the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished" (Revelation 20:5). If the first resurrection were magnificent because of the glorification of the saints, the second resurrection is marvelous because of its sheer numbers. Imagine how many billions of people will be part of the resurrection of "the rest of the dead" when we consider how many people must have lived and died over the centuries.
The apostle John describes the second resurrection: "Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it .... And I sat the dead, small and great, standing before God and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to the things written in the books" (Revelation 20:11-12).
This is a great deal of information for only two verses. Let's let the Bible explain each aspect.
Small and Great Before God's Throne
The apostle John sees the formerly deceased, small and great, standing alive before the throne of God. What is the nature of their resurrection?
The prophet Ezekiel provides us with some specifics. Let's listen in to the dialogue between God and Ezekiel as the Creator shows the prophet a valley full of dry bones. "And He said to me, 'Son of man, can these bones live?' " (Ezekiel 37:3).
Notice God engaging Ezekiel in His powerful message. He wants it to be believable, extraordinary though it may be. He admonishes Ezekiel: "Prophesy to these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! Thus says the Lord God to these bones: 'Surely I will cause breath to enter into you, and you shall live. I will put sinews on you and bring flesh upon you, cover you with skin and put breath in you and you shall live ..." (verses 4-6).
What a challenge for Ezekiel! He was to prophesy to a massive accumulation of bones and tell them they would live again.
When Ezekiel prophesied as commanded, notice what happened: ".... There was a noise, and suddenly a rattling; and the bones came together, bone to bone. Indeed, as I looked, the sinews and the flesh same upon them, and the skin covered them over" (verses 7-8). Then "breath came into them, and they lived, and stood upon their feet, an exceedingly great army" (verse 10).
So here we read, in much greater detail, what is described in the prophetic framework of the book of Revelation as part of "the dead, small and great, standing before God" (Revelation 20:12). God brings them up out of their graves as described by Ezekiel and restores them to physical life.
Imagine what a grand reunion this will be. How many families will reunite? How many children will arise and look for their parents? How many grandparents and great-grandparents will see their posterity for the first time?
How many people do you know who will be there in this grand restoration to life? Will you be there to greet them?
The Books are Opened
God does not do anything capriciously. He brings people back to life for the special purpose He describes in His dialogue with Ezekiel: "Then you shall know that I am the Lord" (Ezekiel 37:6). God brings them back to life not to condemn them but to give them the opportunity to genuinely know Him for the first time.
How do we get to know God? We know Him through His Word. This truth harmonizes perfectly with the statement about "books" being "opened" in Revelation 20:12. The Greek word for "books" in this passage is biblia and is used to refer to the books of the Bible (Luke 4:17, 20; John 20:30; Revelation 22:7, 9, 10, 18, 19). For the first time these people have the opportunity to get know God and His Word.
Billions of people have lived and died without having heard of God and His Word. Billions who heard of God and His Word died without really understanding it. Untold billions of children have died in innocence before they had a chance to know God and commit their lives to Him.
These people will live again in the flesh in the resurrection described by Ezekiel. But they have more than physical life to look forward to as "another book is opened, which is the Book of Life" (same verse).
God will not resurrect these people just so they can again enjoy physical life. He will bring them back because He wants to give them the opportunity for eternal life through His Spirit.
God describes His intentions as He concludes his conversation with Ezekiel in the valley of dry bones: " 'I will put My Spirit in you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken it and performed it,' says the Lord" (Ezekiel 37:14).
The Bible paints a dramatically different, but clear, picture of the resurrection and judgment compared with the hellfire-and-brimstone concept held by many people. God is a merciful and loving Being who brings people out of their graves not to condemn them but to offer them the opportunity they never had: eternal life through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
This does not mean that God does not hold them accountable for their words and deeds. Indeed, He will judge them "according to their works." But He will judge them only after they fully realize what God would have them do.
Isn't it comforting and encouraging to know that God does not show partiality, that He offers equal opportunity for salvation to all who have ever lived?
Much more can be said about the resurrections to life, but one thing is sure: They provide hope and comfort to people who face the reality of their own mortality or the death of a loved one. The promise of a resurrection provides a concrete explanation of the fate of the deceased. More important, it promises reunification in a grand family reunion.
For members of my family and me, the coming reunion is an event we eagerly await. This promise of hope has profoundly affected each of us. It has been and remains a catalyst, a flame burning deep within us, that prods us toward the finish line when we will once again see and hold our son Jonathan.
May this vision also comfort, inspire and motivate you. GN