Many men and women of ancient history looked forward to a resurrection of the dead. Countless others had no knowledge of such a thing as a resurrection and had no such expectation. Their religions taught them otherwise. Will they be surprised with a resurrection from the dead when Almighty God uses his power during the reign of his kingdom over the earth?
Only one ancient book of religion has the authority to answer that question. It is the only book that teaches such a thing as the resurrection of the dead by means of God’s kingdom, in which kingdom his most beloved Son will rule as king for the blessing of all mankind. This unusual religious book is the Holy Bible, which even today, nineteen hundred years since its completion, ranks first among all the books on the earth, religious or nonreligious. In its opening fifty chapters the Holy Bible points to a resurrection of the human dead. In its last twenty-two chapters it speaks of (1) the resurrection of the faithful Son of God, Jesus Christ, (2) the resurrection of his faithful disciples in what is called “the first resurrection,” and (3) the resurrection of mankind in general. In that final statement of the resurrection the writer of that last section of the Bible says:
“And I saw a great white throne and the one seated on it. From before him the earth and the heaven fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and scrolls were opened. But another scroll was opened; it is the scroll of life. And the dead were judged out of those things written in the scrolls according to their deeds. And the sea gave up those dead in it, and death and Ha′des gave up those dead in them, and they were judged individually according to their deeds. And death and Ha′des were hurled into the lake of fire. This means the second death, the lake of fire.”—Rev. 20:11-15.
Notice, in verse 12 above quoted, that the writer, the Christian apostle John, does not say that those resurrected are either good or bad. He does not say, ‘I saw the dead, the good and the bad,’ but says: “I saw the dead, the great and the small.” In other words, people of all ranks of life. But whether great or small, they all came in for a judgment before the throne of the Judge of all creation, the Most High and Almighty God. At that time, if they have never known it before, they will know what Psalm 83:18 (King James Version) says to this supreme Judge, who is God: “That men may know that thou, whose name alone is JEHOVAH, art the most high over all the earth.” Thus the dead cannot escape a judgment by the Most High God named Jehovah.
Death is the state of being dead. But from what place will the dead ones about whom Revelation 20:11-14 prophesies come forth? Verse 13 says: “And the sea gave up those dead in it, and death and Ha′des gave up those dead in them.” All of us know what the sea is and know that many have found a watery grave in it. But what is Ha′des? To most people this has been explained incorrectly, that is, not Biblically. The apostle John, although being a Christian, was a Hebrew or Jew by birth. He wrote Revelation 20:11-14 in the international language of his day, the common Greek, and so he used the Greek word Ha′des. But if he had written in Hebrew, John would have used the Hebrew word Sheol. In fact, nine modern Hebrew translations of the Revelation to John use the word Sheol; and the Syriac translation, which was read in the Middle East, uses the related word Shiul.
In other words, in the complete Holy Bible made up of the inspired Hebrew Scriptures and the inspired Greek Scriptures, Ha′des and Sheol mean the same thing. Ha′des or Sheol means the common grave of mankind dead in the dust of the ground. In fact, the Authorized or King James Bible Version translates the Hebrew word Sheol thirty-one times as “the grave.” So, now, by finding out from the Holy Bible who it says are in Sheol or Ha′des, we can know who will be resurrected from there, aside from the sea.
THOSE WHO ARE IN SHEOL
More than seventeen hundred years before our Common Era people in the Middle East used the word Sheol to mean the common grave of those dying on land, not of those dying at sea. In the year 1750 B.C.E., when Joseph was kidnaped and sold into Egypt, his responsible brothers reported that he had been killed. So his father Jacob (or Israel) refused to take comfort from his other children and said: “I shall go down mourning to my son into Sheol!” (Gen. 37:35) Twenty-two years later nine of Jacob’s older sons wanted to take his youngest son Benjamin down to Egypt to help them to get food from there for the famine. At first Jacob refused and said: “My son will not go down with you men, because his brother is dead and he has been left by himself. If a fatal accident should befall him on the way on which you would go, then you would certainly bring down my gray hairs with grief to Sheol.” (Gen. 42:38) Later, Jacob’s fourth son Judah repeated those very words of his father when Benjamin seemed in danger of being kept as a slave down in Egypt. (Gen. 44:29) Judah also said:
“Then it is certain to occur that as soon as he sees that the boy is not there he will simply die, and your slaves will indeed bring down the gray hairs of your slave our father with grief to Sheol.”—Gen. 44:31. (The Greek LXX translates Sheol as Ha′des.)
At that critical time Jacob’s beloved son Joseph was found to be alive in Egypt as its Food Administrator. So there was a happy reunion there of all the sons of Jacob. The aged man Jacob was sent for and brought down to Egypt to live there the rest of his one hundred and forty-seven years. As his death drew near, Jacob said to his son Joseph, the prime minister of Egypt: “I must lie with my fathers, and you must carry me out of Egypt and bury me in their grave.” (Gen. 47:30) Joseph swore to do this.
On his deathbed Jacob blessed all twelve of his sons and said to them: “I am being gathered to my people. Bury me with my fathers in the cave that is in the field of Ephron the Hittite, in the cave that is in the field of Machpelah that is in front of Mamre in the land of Canaan, the field that Abraham purchased from Ephron the Hittite for the possession of a burial place. There they buried Abraham and Sarah his wife. There they buried Isaac and Rebekah his wife, and there I buried Leah.” (Gen. 49:29-31, 33) This last request of Jacob was carried out, and thus the earthly remains of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob came to rest together in the same burial place, the cave of Machpelah, in what became the territory of Judah. (Gen. 50:12-14) Thus Jacob finally went down, not to his son Joseph, but to his forefathers, in Sheol.
From the Holy Bible it is thus established that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are in Sheol. Many centuries later Abraham was still there when his descendant, Jesus Christ, was on earth and told about a “certain rich man” and a “certain beggar named Lazarus.” Knowing as we do what the Holy Bible teaches about Sheol or Hades, we know that what Jesus said about this “rich man” and this “beggar” must have been a parable or illustration. Thus Jesus talked in picture language, even using Abraham as a picture. To prove this to yourself, note how Jesus worded this story, in Luke 16:22-26, American Standard Version Bible:
“And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and that he was carried away by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: and the rich man also died, and was buried. And in Ha′des [Sheol, Hebrew; Shiul, Syriac] he lifted up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am in anguish in this flame. But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things: but now here he is comforted, and thou art in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, that they that would pass from hence to you may not be able, and that none may cross over from thence to us.”
Now let the reader ask himself, Did Jesus really mean that the angels carried the dead body of Lazarus, full of sores, to the cave of Machpelah in front of the city of Hebron and there laid the dead Lazarus in the bosom of Abraham, crowding out Abraham’s dead wife Sarah? Furthermore, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are all in Ha′des or Sheol. So did Jesus really mean that there is flaming fire in Ha′des or Sheol, the place in which, Jesus said, the dead and buried “rich man” found himself? And does that flaming fire torment certain ones in Ha′des or Sheol and not torment others? Can those in Ha′des or Sheol see one another and talk back and forth across a “great gulf”? And is there water down in Ha′des or Sheol into which a person can dip the finger?
Many religious Bible readers say that Jesus was not telling a parable or pictorial illustration but was telling things as they actually are. This makes Jesus ridiculous. It makes him talk contrary to the rest of the Bible as to what it has to say about Ha′des or Sheol. Go, please, to the Middle East today, to the traditional location of the burial place of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the city of Hebron, under a Mohammedan mosque. Will they tell you that either the beggar Lazarus or the “certain rich man” (the so-called Di′ves) lies buried there? No! Furthermore, the Holy Bible says that Ha′des or Sheol is not the location of Paradise for some dead ones and of fiery torment for others, but that it is the place of silence and of inactivity in every respect; that the dead ones there do not speak even to laud and praise God, and that there is no work nor device nor knowledge nor wisdom in Ha′des or Sheol.—Isa. 38:18; Eccl. 9:5, 10; Ps. 6:5.
The honest-hearted Bible readers have eyes of understanding to see that in Luke 16:19-31 Jesus Christ was telling a parable or pictorial illustration. Such readers see that Jesus was using Abraham as a picture of the heavenly Father, Jehovah God, who made the promise to his earthly friend Abraham to bless all the families of the earth by means of Abraham’s seed or offspring. Just as Abraham at God’s command presented his son Isaac for human sacrifice, so Jehovah God actually sacrificed his Son Jesus Christ, the real promised Seed of Abraham for the blessing of all the nations of the earth.—Gen. 22:1-18; John 3:16.
Accordingly, the “certain rich man” and the “certain beggar named Lazarus” were not literal men; they simply pictured two classes of people. The one class died to its favored position with the Greater Abraham, Jehovah God, and thereafter had a tormenting religious experience on earth. The other class died to its unfavorable religious condition and was conducted by angelic power into the favor of the Greater Abraham, Jehovah God, through his sacrificed Son, Jesus Christ. This understanding and explanation of Jesus’ prophetic parable is based upon the actual historical experience of the two general religious classes among the natural descendants of the patriarch Abraham in Jesus’ day.
Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in Sheol are awaiting the fulfillment of Revelation 20:12-14 by their resurrection from the dead, when Sheol will give them up. Long ago when Abraham obediently attempted to sacrifice his beloved son Isaac, he displayed his own faith in the resurrection of the dead. Hebrews 11:17-19 tells us so in these words: “By faith Abraham, when he was tested, as good as offered up Isaac, and the man that had gladly received the promises attempted to offer up his only-begotten son, although it had been said to him: ‘What will be called “your seed” will be through Isaac.’ But he reckoned that God was able to raise him up even from the dead; and from there he did receive him also in an illustrative way.”
Thus, when Abraham received his son Isaac back alive from the altar and was provided with a ram to offer as a substitute sacrifice, it illustrated how the Greater Abraham, Jehovah God, would receive his only-begotten Son Jesus Christ from the dead by a resurrection, thereby fulfilling Psalm 16:10: “Thou wilt not leave my soul to Sheol; neither wilt thou suffer thy holy one to see corruption [or, the pit].”—AS, margin.
The coming resurrection of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is a certainty. The words of Jesus Christ strengthen this certainty. The religious sect of the Sadducees of Jesus’ day did not believe in the resurrection of the dead. To try to prove that the resurrection would be an unreasonable thing, they put a tricky question to Jesus, one having to do with a woman seven times married.
To show that their problem would furnish no difficulty for God in the resurrection, Jesus said to these Sadducees: “You are mistaken, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God; for in the resurrection neither do men marry nor are women given in marriage, but are as angels in heaven. As regards the resurrection of the dead, did you not read what was spoken to you by God, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob’? He is the God, not of the dead, but of the living.” (Matt. 22:29-32) In other words, if those three patriarchs were to stay dead forever, God would not have said regarding Abraham, Isaac and Jacob: “I am the God.” He would properly have said, ‘I was the God.’ But, knowing His own purpose to have those three faithful men “living” again by means of the resurrection, Jehovah said: “I am the God” of them.—Mark 12:24-27.
That Abraham, Isaac and Jacob would live again by a resurrection from the dead was so definitely fixed that God spoke to Moses as if they were already alive, “living.” According to Luke 20:37, 38, Jesus said: “But that the dead are raised up even Moses disclosed, in the account about the thornbush, when he calls Jehovah ‘the God of Abraham and God of Isaac and God of Jacob.’ He is a God, not of the dead, but of the living, for they are all living to him.” At the time that Jehovah God spoke to Moses at the burning thornbush in the wilderness of Arabia, Jehovah did not mean that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were then alive. If they had been then alive in the days of Moses, there would have been no need for resurrecting them from Sheol or Hades and Jehovah’s words would have been no proof that there will be a resurrection of the dead. But only because it was God’s purpose that there be a resurrection, He spoke of the three patriarchs as though they were already living. From the standpoint of the coming resurrection they all are “living” to God.
WHAT OF THE FOREFATHERS?
At this point, however, the question of Abraham’s ancestors or forefathers comes up for attention. These being dead now for thousands of years, where are they? Will they also have a resurrection? How shall we settle these questions? By the written Word of God! According to Genesis 15:15, Jehovah God said to Abraham in the Promised Land: “As for you, you will go to your forefathers in peace; you will be buried at a good old age.” The fulfillment of this came ninety years later, concerning which we read: “Then Abraham expired and died in a good old age, old and satisfied, and was gathered to his people. So Isaac and Ishmael his sons buried him in the cave of Machpelah in the field of Ephron the son of Zohar the Hittite that is in front of Mamre, the field that Abraham had purchased from the sons of Heth. There Abraham was buried, and also Sarah his wife.”—Gen. 25:8-10.
Thus, as God had said, Abraham went to his forefathers in peace; he was gathered to his people. Who were Abraham’s forefathers, and who were his people? Abraham’s immediate father was Terah of the city of Ur of the Chaldeans; and chapter eleven of Genesis lists the forefathers of Abraham all the way back, through nine generations, to Shem, the son of Noah. Noah died two years before Abraham was born, whereas Shem died only twenty-five years before Abraham died. To these men as his people Abraham was gathered, and to these as his forefathers Abraham went in peace at death. What, then, does this mean? This, that, if at death Abraham went to Sheol or Hades, to which place Isaac and Jacob followed him, then Abraham’s people or forefathers back to Noah must also be in Sheol or Ha′des, and there they too are awaiting the resurrection of the dead under God’s kingdom by his Christ.
Isaac’s half-brother Ishmael was the son of Abraham by his Egyptian concubine Hagar. Ishmael lived one hundred and thirty-seven years, and then, as Genesis 25:17 tells us, “he expired and died and was gathered to his people.” His people included his father Abraham, whom both Ishmael and Isaac buried ninety years previously. Ishmael, too, was thus gathered to Sheol or Ha′des, the common grave of the human dead who lie in earth’s dust.
God’s written Word mentions the gathering of others to their forefathers at death. Just a hundred and fifteen years after the patriarch Jacob died down in Egypt, his great-great-grandson Aaron was born and three years later Aaron’s brother, who became the prophet Moses. When Aaron was a hundred and twenty-three years old God said: “Aaron will be gathered to his people, for he will not enter into the land that I shall certainly give to the sons of Israel.” So God’s high priest Aaron died on Mount Hor east of the Promised Land. (Num. 20:23-29) Later that same year Jehovah said to the prophet Moses: “You must be gathered to your people, yes, you, just as Aaron your brother was gathered.”—Num. 27:13.
Before this occurred, Jehovah had Moses execute vengeance upon the enemy Midianites. (Num. 31:1, 2) On the day of Moses’ death in 1473 B.C.E., Jehovah told him to climb Mount Nebo and view the Promised Land from there and then be gathered to his people. (Deut. 32:48-52) Moses obeyed this command; and the postmortem report about him says: “After that Moses the servant of Jehovah died there in the land of Moab at the order of Jehovah. And he proceeded to bury him in the valley in the land of Moab in front of Beth-peor, and nobody has come to know his grave down to this day.” (Deut. 34:5, 6) But wherever Moses’ grave was, he went to Sheol or Hades. From there God can deliver him and also Aaron through a resurrection by means of Jesus Christ the King.
Who succeeded Moses as the visible judge of God’s chosen nation? It was Joshua the son of Nun. He led the chosen people across the Jordan River into the Promised Land. He was faithful to God until he died. Concerning Joshua and others of his day Judges 2:8-10 tells us: “Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of Jehovah, died at the age of a hundred and ten years. So they buried him in the territory of his inheritance in Timnath-heres in the mountainous region of Ephraim, on the north of Mount Gaash. And all that generation too were gathered to their fathers, and another generation began to rise after them.” The gathering of all these to their fathers signifies that they all descended to Sheol, Hades.
Centuries later David of Bethlehem became king of all twelve tribes of Israel. He was the first Jewish king to rule at Jerusalem. In a number of the psalms that David wrote he speaks about deliverance from Sheol or Hades. He lived to see his wise son Solomon installed as his successor on the throne of Jerusalem. “Then David lay down with his forefathers and was buried in the city of David.” (1 Ki. 2:10; Acts 13:36) He joined his forefathers in Sheol or Ha′des. Long afterward, on the festival day of Shabuoth (Pentecost) of 33 C.E., David was reported to be still in Sheol or Ha′des. On that day the Christian apostle Peter reported that Psalm Sixteen (composed by David) had then been fulfilled in David’s promised descendant, Jesus Christ. As Peter said concerning David: “He saw beforehand and spoke concerning the resurrection of the Christ, that neither was he forsaken in Hades nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God resurrected, of which fact we are all witnesses. . . . Actually David did not ascend to the heavens.” (Acts 2:1-34) According to Peter’s words David’s resurrection is yet future. (Life, Death and Beyond)
One of David’s faithful successors to the throne of Jerusalem was Josiah of the seventh century before our Common Era. By turning back his people to the law of Jehovah God, Josiah tried to do what he could to prevent national calamity from coming upon them. When he inquired through the prophetess Huldah what the future held for his nation, Josiah was given this promise from God: “Here I am gathering you to your forefathers, and you will certainly be gathered to your own graveyard in peace, and your eyes will not look upon all the calamity that I am bringing upon this place.”—2 Ki. 22:20.
Josiah died from a wound received in battle at Megiddo. So it was not during the terrible calamity that was to come upon Jerusalem. After Josiah was fatally wounded, “his servants took him down from the chariot and had him ride in the second war chariot that was his and brought him to Jerusalem. Thus he died and was buried in the graveyard of his forefathers; and all Judah and Jerusalem were mourning over Josiah.” (2 Chron. 35:22-24) Not all the kings of Jerusalem who preceded Josiah were buried in the same place at Jerusalem, in the “burial places of the kings of Israel.”—2 Chron. 28:27; 21:20; 24:25; 32:33; 16:14.
For all these kings and patriarchs to be gathered to their people or to go to their forefathers and to lie with their forefathers, it did not mean that they all had to be buried in the same grave or tomb. Certainly when the patriarch Abraham died and was “gathered to his people,” he was not buried in the same grave with his father Terah, who died up north in Haran in the Mesopotamian valley, nor in the same graveyard or cemetery with Noah and Shem.
Certainly when high priest Aaron died at Mount Hor and his brother Moses died at Mount Nebo and they were gathered to their people, they were not buried with their forefathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the cave at Machpelah near Hebron in the Promised Land. Yet they were all gathered to Sheol or Hades. They all lie dead in the one Sheol or Hades; and from there, Revelation 20:13 tells us, the dead will come forth in a resurrection.