This review will be from the June JW Life and Ministry Workbook for the week of June 24-30.
Treasure’s From God’s Word – Digging for Spiritual Gems
Next, anointed members of “the Israel of God” must join the Lord Jesus Christ in heavenly glory, where they will “always be with the Lord.” (Galatians 6:16; 1 Thessalonians 4:17) That event is called “the earlier resurrection” or “the first resurrection.” (Philippians 3:10, 11; Revelation 20:6) When that resurrection is completed, the time will be at hand for millions to be resurrected back to the earth with the prospect of gaining everlasting life in Paradise. Hence, whether our hope is heavenly or earthly, we have a keen interest in “the first resurrection.” What kind of resurrection is it? When does it occur?w07 1/1 26-27 ¶5
Ideally, we would examine the entire article, but it would be better to resist for the sake of space. Who are the Israel of God? While commentators have various perspectives on this controversial verse in Galatians 6:16, let’s just keep it simple and agree that it refers to Christians. We’ll leave the dispensationalist and covenant theology debate for another time. If Galatians 6:16 is referring to Christians, then what requirement is needed for such Christians to be included in this group?
“Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham.” (Gal. 3:7)
The book of Galatians provides no other means to be included in this group other than faith in Christ (3:11, 14, 26, 29, etc.). Had Paul desired to exclude the vast majority of Christians from consideration (i.e. anyone not of the 144,000), then he would have stated as much. One would search in vain to find any indication that the “Israel of God” has anything to do with a special heavenly hope. At the very least, the “Israel of God” is limited to Jewish Christians. Even so, it would refute the Watchtower’s position since the anointed class consists of both Jewish and non-Jewish JW’s.
The Watchtower also quotes 1 Thessalonians 4:17. But the context says nothing of “heavenly glory” or anything that would limit this resurrection to a specific set of Christians to the exclusion of other Christians. The verse does speak of being “in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.” I don’t see any reason to think that a) this is a recreation of Christians into spirit creatures and b) that this means an eternal dwelling in heaven. The key is that we will “be with the Lord.” The text doesn’t say one way or another where the “be with” will be following the “meeting in the air.” I have good reason to believe that the eternal dwelling place for Jesus and all Christians is the new earth.
It’s rather odd that the NWT renders Phil. 3:11 as an “earlier resurrection”:
“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, to see if at all possible I may attain to the earlier resurrection from the dead.” (Phil. 3:11, NWT)
The Kingdom Interlinear renders the Greek word ἐξανάστασιν as an “out-resurrection.” Here’s a small survey of lexical sources:
BDAG: the state or condition of coming up from among the dead, resurrection ἡ ἐ. ἡ ἐκ νεκρῶν resurrection fr. the dead Phil 3:11 (the compound in contrast to the simplex ἀνάστασις that precedes connotes a coming to fullness of life, as vss. 12–21 indicate).
Louw-Nida: ἐξανάστασις: εἴ πως καταντήσω εἰς τὴν ἐξανάστασιν τὴν ἐκ νεκρῶν ‘if in some way I might attain to the resurrection from among the dead’ Php 3:11. The phrase ‘the resurrection from among the dead’ may be rendered as ‘to live again’ or ‘to live again after having died.’
ἔγερσις: μετὰ τὴν ἔγερσιν αὐτοῦ ‘after his resurrection’ or ‘after he rose from death’ Mt 27:53.
In a number of languages there is a difficulty involved in formulating some expression for ‘resurrection’ or ‘living again,’ since such a phrase may refer to what is technically known as metempsychosis, that is to say, the rebirth of the soul in another existence, a belief which is widely held in a number of areas of south Asia. This problem may be avoided in some languages by speaking of ‘his body will live again’ or ‘his body will come back to life’ or ‘he will be the same person when he lives again.’
As I scoured through lexicons and commentaries, I just couldn’t find any basis for the NWT translation of “the earlier resurrection.” As far as I can tell, this is nothing more than theological bias entering the translation. Clearly though, they are interpreting the Phil. 3:11 resurrection as that of the “first resurrection” mentioned in Revelation 20:6. But like 1 Thess. 4:17, there isn’t any basis for limiting the “first resurrection” to a special heavenly class. In fact, there is nothing in Revelation 20 about these ones being in heaven at all.
Humans are made from dust. (Genesis 2:7; 3:19) We are not spirits living in a body of flesh. We are physical creatures, so no part of us survives death. When we die, our brain dies too, and our thoughts perish. Thus, Lazarus said nothing about his experience of death because the dead are unconscious. – Read Psalm 146:4; Ecclesiastes 9:5, 6, 10.
Does God torment people with fire after death? Since the Bible shows that the dead are unconscious, hellfire is clearly a false teaching that slanders God. The very idea of tormenting people with fire disgusts him. – Read Jeremiah 7:31.fg lesson 6 ¶3-4
Genesis 2:7; 3:19 say nothing for or against an immaterial soul. Moreover, it is an argument from silence to say that Lazarus “said nothing” about his experience of death. Perhaps he did say something and there is just not a record of it.
Psalm 146:4 speaks of the dead’s “thoughts perishing.” Ecclesiastes 9:5 say that the dead “do not know anything.” I’m surprised the Watchtower doesn’t see the double standard here. What’s been happening to the anointed class since 1914 following their deaths? They have been ruling and reigning with Christ in heaven. While this is not the same thing as dualism, you do have these ones fully alive and conscious following their death.
When Christians say that God doesn’t torment anyone with fire after death, I have to wonder which Bible they are reading?
“His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clear His threshing floor; and He will gather His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” (Matthew 3:12)
“So just as the tares are gathered up and burned with fire, so shall it be at the end of the age.“The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 13:40–42)
“Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels;” (Matthew 25:41)
“If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mixed in full strength in the cup of His anger; and he will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; they have no rest day and night, those who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name.” (Revelation 14:9–11)
Clearly, the Bible employs “fire” when speaking of judgement. So the question is not whether you believe that God uses fire for judgment. Rather, it’s what you think it means by fire. Whether it’s literal or figurative, judgement is likened to fire (let’s not forget brimstone too!). It’s also a question of duration. Is the fiery punishment temporal or eternal? That’s a question for another discussion.
Lastly, the Watchtower uses Jeremiah 7:31 as an argument against judgment by fire. But why? We’ve already established that the very words of Scripture employ fire. Is the Watchtower going to deny the words of Scripture? We have to harmonize these things rather than ignore them. But Jeremiah 7:31 is just a bad text to use anyway. Of course God didn’t command innocent children to be thrown into the fire by ungodly men. That’s all the text is saying.