The First Resurrection
—and the Great Crowd


"Happy and holy is anyone having part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no authority,
but they will be priests of God and of the Christ, and will rule as kings with him for the thousand years."
—Revelation 20:6.

"If a man dies, will he live again? All the days of my hard work I will wait for the time when you give me new life. You will call out to me, and I will answer you. Your hands created me. So you will long for me." With those words Job expressed his strong faith in the resurrection, when he cried out to God on account of the tremendous suffering inflicted on him by Satan, although at the time Job believed it was from God. Therefore he begged God: "I wish you would hide me in a grave! I wish you would cover me up until your anger passes by! I wish you would set the time for me to spend in the grave and then bring me back up!" (Job 14:13-15, NIRV) Perhaps there have been times in your own life when you pleaded similarly as
Job did. To know the truth about death, and that the dead will one day live again, gives a person courage and a positive outlook for the future, no matter how bleak the present may be.—1 Thessalonians 4:13. 

he hope of the resurrection, that is, being awakened from "sleeping" in death at God's appointed future time, has been the confidence of God's servants ever since the death of righteous Abel. It is an integral part of God's original promise which he made in the Garden of Eden immediately after the rebellion, namely, that he would raise up a seed who would "bring to nothing the one having the means to cause death, that is, the Devil." (Gen 3:15; John 5:28,29; Heb. 2:14; 11:4, 13, 17-19) That hope is reliable, for it is among the "things in which it is impossible for God to lie."—Hebrews 6:18.

As Job noted, God actually "longs" to bring "back up" from the grave all his faithful men and women who have ever walked this earth, for he knows everyone of them by name. (Matt. 10:29-31; 2 Tim. 2:19) To him they are not dead, but simply asleep in the dust. (John 11:11-14, 23-26; Rom. 14:8) When the Sadducees, "those who say there is no resurrection," scoffed that the dead will live again, Jesus pointed to Moses as one who believed in the resurrection, saying: “But now, as to whether the dead will be raised—even Moses proved this when he wrote about the burning bush. Long after Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had died, he referred to the Lord as ‘the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ So he is the God of the living, not the dead, for they are all alive to him.”—Luke 20:37, 38; NLT; Hebrews 11:17-19.

In his answer, Jesus was not implying that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, or anyone else for that matter, were all alive to God because they were now in heaven with him as angels. He made that clear when he told Nicodemus: "Moreover, no man has ascended into heaven but he that descended from heaven, the Son of man." (John 3:13) The apostle Peter likewise told the crowd at Pentecost that, except for Jesus [the Son of man], no man had gone to heaven upon his death, not even faithful king David, saying: “Men, brothers, it is allowable to speak with freeness of speech to you concerning the family head David, that he both deceased and was buried and his tomb is among us to this day... Actually David did not ascend to the heavens." (Acts 2:29-36; 13:36,37, TNIV) David too became a "resident in the dust" when he "lay down with his forefathers and was buried in the City of David," from then on awaiting the day when he will once again "stand up," for that is what the Greek word anastasis (translated resurrection) literally means.—1 Kings 2:10; Isaiah 26:19.

Jehovah made possible the future resurrection of all who have died throughout the millennia, when he ransomed mankind from death by means of his only-begotten Son. (John 3:16) The apostle Paul explains: "Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures; and he was buried, yes, he has been raised up the third day according to the Scriptures... For since death is through a man, resurrection of the dead is also through a man. For just as in Adam all are dying, so also in the Christ all will be made alive." (1 Cor. 15:3,4, 21,22) Jesus himself never doubted that his Father would resurrect him on the third day, according to his promise. This in turn is God's guarantee that the time will come when "all those in the memorial tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who did good things to a resurrection of life, those who practiced vile things to a resurrection of judgment."—John 5:25-28; 1 Corinthians 15:12-19.

Jesus provided irrefutable evidence that he had received from his Father power over death by the resurrections he performed. (Hosea 13:14) For example, he brought back to life the twelve year old daughter of Jairus, the presiding officer of the synagogue. When Jesus comforted the grieving relatives and neighbors, saying that the girl "did not die but is sleeping," many scoffed. But their scorn turned to amazement when Jesus "took her by the hand and called, saying: 'Girl, get up!' And her spirit returned, and she rose instantly, and he ordered something to be given her to eat." We can well imagine how her parents "were beside themselves" with joy. (Luke 8:41,42, 49-56) And what about the resurrection of Lazarus, who had been dead four days? In consoling Martha and Mary, Lazarus' sisters, Jesus had assured them: "I am the resurrection and the life. He that exercises faith in me, even though he dies, will come to life; and everyone that is living and exercises faith in me will never die at all."—John 11:23-27, 38-44.

If you had been there and witnessed the occasion—hearing Jesus call out to Lazarus and seeing the dead man come out from the tomb, still bound in burial wrappings—how might that have affected you and your faith in the resurrection? Lazarus had not gone to heaven during those four days, but rather he was simply asleep in death, his mortal body already having started to decay, as Martha noted. His spirit, the life force that God had originally breathed into Adam when he was created "out of the dust of the ground"—and which has been passed on to all of us—had "returned to God who gave it;" and God in turn was able to restore it to Lazarus.—Ecclesiastes 12:7; 3:19-21; Genesis 2:7.

The resurrection of Lazarus, besides the many other resurrections mentioned in the Scriptures, are recorded for our hope and comfort; and they are merely a fore glimpse, a token, of what God's kingdom will accomplish on a much larger scale. (Rom. 15:4) Whereas all those resurrected in the past eventually died again, everyone returning in the resurrection under Christ's rule has the prospect of never dying again, yes, to live forever. (John 10:27,28; 1 Kings 17:20-23; 2 Kings 4:32-37; 13:21; Acts 9:36-41; 20:9-12) It is this kingdom that Jesus preached and taught us to pray for: "Let your kingdom come. Let your will take place, as in heaven, also upon earth."—Matt. 4:17; 6:9,10; 10:5-8.

There is nothing that men have to offer that can even remotely compare with what Jehovah has in store for obedient mankind! Can you visualize the jubilation, the songs of praise that will ascend to our Creator, and the rivers of tears for joy when loved ones will embrace each other once again, having been awakened from their sleep in the dust by the resurrection? (Psalms 104:29-31; 105:1-4; Rev. 5:13,14; 19:4-6) This is our Creator's promise! This is what Jesus taught! When Jesus asked Martha: "Do you believe this?" Martha replied: "Yes, Lord!" How about you?

"Everyone that is living and exercises faith in me will never die at all"

The world that is estranged from God scoffs at the very thought of a resurrection of the dead, like the Greeks in Athens to whom Paul preached. (Acts 17:31, 32) They do not know God, and therefore they cannot appreciate his wonderful promises. And if the resurrection seems too miraculous for them to contemplate, well, Jehovah has something even more amazing in store for his people that he protects through the coming great tribulation. It is to them that Jesus' words apply, when he said: "And everyone that is living and exercises faith in me will never die at all." (John 11:26) Having survived the destruction of Satan's entire system of things, Jesus will then "shepherd [the great crowd], and will guide them to fountains of waters of life." (Matt. 24:21,22; 25:46; Rev. 7:9, 14-17; 19:19-21) The survivors of "the great day of Jehovah" will have the unique distinction and fame for all eternity of being the only ones of mankind to never have experienced death, and therefore never were in need of a resurrection!—Zephaniah 1:14, 18; 2:2,3

These ones will be present when all God's faithful servants, who Paul mentions in his letter to the Hebrews, return in the resurrection of the righteous: "All these people died having faith. They didn’t receive the things that God had promised them, but they saw these things coming in the distant future and rejoiced." (Heb. 11:13, GW) Imagine the thrill of actually meeting and inviting into your home your favorite Bible characters; conversing with them face to face and hear first hand their faith strengthening experiences that you had only read about. Have you wondered how Noah had room for all those many animals in the ark? He'll tell you! You will be able to get all your many questions answered, and be glad that you didn't need all the details before then in order to have believed them. You had put your trust in Jehovah; you endured and waited on him for his time to act; and it did not lead to disappointment.—Romans 10:11; 5:3-5.

If these things fill you with eager anticipation, consider yet another blessing that Jehovah has in store uniquely for the great crowd, one that will make the resurrection of "the righteous and the unrighteous" seem anticlimactic. First, the great crowd will witness "the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven with his powerful angels in a flaming fire," when he executes "the judicial punishment of everlasting destruction" upon all those "who do not know God and those who do not obey the good news about our Lord Jesus." This is the foretold "great tribulation" that the great crowd comes out of. Now the long awaited time has arrived for Jesus to be "glorified in connection with his holy ones and to be regarded in that day with wonder in connection with all those who exercised faith." (2 Thess. 1:7-10) What will that mean for the great tribulation survivors, who exercised faith? Paul writes that they will regard with wonder the things that will follow next. In fact, Jesus referred to this most joyous occasion in one of his parables.

The First Resurrection and the Holy Ones

Jesus had many things to tell his apostles in the way of encouragement on the final night with them. They had not yet grasped that he was going to die and be taken from them, and that he would be resurrected on the third day. (Luke 24:1-11) Therefore, they were puzzled when Jesus said to them: “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust in me. 2 There are many rooms in my Father’s house; I would not tell you this if it were not true. I am going there to prepare a place for you. 3 After I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me so that you may be where I am. 4 You know the way to the place where I am going.” 5 Thomas said to Jesus, 'Lord, we don’t know where you are going. So how can we know the way?'” (John 14:2-5, NCV)

Because Jesus did not provide a lot of details in the way of explanation, he also seemingly left some important questions unanswered, such as: Where did Jesus go for his disciples to follow, as Thomas asked? Who is it that Jesus receives to himself upon his return? When will Jesus return? In what manner will he return? Under what circumstances will his disciples join him; do they go to him upon their death, or will they simply disappear one day? Is it possible that most of them have already joined Jesus?

We should not be surprised that there are many differing and confusing explanations offered to the above questions. After all, they have to do with "the sacred secrets of the kingdom of the heavens," which, frankly, Jesus said has been hidden from all but those to whom God is willing to reveal them. (Luke 8:10; 10:21; Isa. 6:9; Rom. 9:18) It is God's holy spirit that teaches us "the mysteries" [NASB] of his kingdom, yes, "even the deep things of God." Paul wrote: "People who do not have God’s Spirit do not accept the things that come from his Spirit. They think these things are foolish. They cannot understand them, because they can only be understood with the Spirit’s help." (1 Cor. 2:10, 14; ERV) With the help of God's spirit we are able to receive the answers to the above questions, all of which are in harmony with the rest of the Scriptures, and provide us much encouragement.—John 14:25,26; 2 Timothy 3:16,17; 4:3,4.

WHERE does Jesus go to prepare a place for his disciples? We don't need to guess, for he told them when he said: "These things, however, I did not tell you at first, because I was with you. But now I am going to him that sent me, and yet not one of you asks me, 'Where are you going?' ... I am going to the Father and you will behold me no longer." (John 16:4,5, 10) The disciples understood that the Father is in heaven! (Matt. 6:9; 10:32,33) Jesus was with his Father before he came to earth; and there is where he would return. (John 17:4,5, 11, 24) The apostle Paul states that "Christ entered, not into a holy place made with hands, which is a copy of the reality, but into heaven itself, now to appear before the person of God for us." (Heb. 9:24; Acts 7:55,56; Col. 3:1-4) Yes, it is in heaven, where Jesus is at the right hand of God, that he prepares a place for his disciples.—Luke 22:30; Revelation 3:21.

Undoubtedly, Jesus will receive his disciples home to himself in heaven,
"at the time he comes to be glorified in connection with his holy ones." But the ascension to heaven is not the "first resurrection." Rather, according to the Scriptures, it makes possible the ascension to heaven of the holy ones who had died.—2 Thessalonians 1:10.

WHO are the ones Jesus receives home to himself upon his return? Is it only the twelve apostles to whom he made the promise; or does it include others, possibly all Christians? Perhaps the apostles themselves had contemplated that same question; but the answer could not have been determined until the close of the first century, when John, one of the twelve and the last surviving among them, received "a revelation from Jesus Christ, which God gave him," that sheds light on the matter. (Rev. 1:1,2; NLT) John tells us:

"Then I looked, and there before me was the Lamb, standing on [the] Mount Zion, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads. 2 And I heard a sound from heaven like the roar of rushing waters and like a loud peal of thunder. The sound I heard was like that of harpists playing their harps. 3 And they sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders. No one could learn the song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth. 4 These are those who did not defile themselves with women, for they kept themselves pure. They follow the Lamb wherever he goes. They were purchased from among men and offered as firstfruits to God and the Lamb."—Revelation 14:1-4; NIV1984.

Here Jesus reveals that there will be 144,000 with him; more than just the twelve apostles, but less than all of his disciples. The 144,000 are purchased from among mankind, indicating where they come from. They are seen standing with Jesus on [the] Mount Zion, where they will rule with Jesus; just as the kings of Israel in ancient times sat on Jehovah's throne in Jerusalem, which was located on the physical Mount Zion. (Jer. 3:17; Heb. 12:22,23; Rev. 3:12; 22:3-5) And after all, isn't that what Jesus promised his apostles, that they will be where he is, and rule with him in his kingdom? Matthew 19:27,28; Luke 12:32; Revelation 5:9,10; 21:2, 9,10. (For a discussion on the "the elders" before whom the 144,000 sing their new song, please see "Who are the 24 elders?")

Here are a few facts that we are told about the 144,000: They have the name of the Lamb and his Father written on their foreheads, which signifies that they belong to both. It is their seal, not just a seal of approval but also of ownership. (John 6:27; 2 Tim. 2:19; Rev. 7:3) They do not take the name upon themselves, but receive it from God. (Rev. 2:17; 3:12) They also sing a "new song" that no one else is able to learn, because it is about their unique relationship with God and the Lamb.
(Deut. 1:19-21; Psalms 40:3,4) As well, they are spiritually chaste, they are virgins, for they kept themselves "without spot from the world," of which Satan is the ruler, and in imitation of their Lord. They knew that any involvement in the affairs of this world, such as an NGO (non-Governmental Organization) in association with the United Nations, would make them unfit for God's kingdom. (James 1:27; 4:4; John 16:11) Jesus told his disciples that they would be hated by the world because they are no part of it; and therefore, in times of persecution they look to God for help rather than appeal to such worldly associations as the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), where "representatives of civil society can sit with government officials on an equal footing." (John 15:19) In imitation of the harlots of this world, the governing body of the Watchtower Society, which considers itself to be foremost among the 144,000, has become polluted by doing these things, especially in the last couple of decades, and therefore cannot be counted among the virgins. —Revelation 17:1,2; 21:7,8; James 1:27; 4:4; John 15:18,19.

How do we know that the 144,000 is a literal and definite number, and not merely figurative? Because John also sees in his vision that the four winds of the great tribulation are being held back until the very last ones of the 144,000 have been "sealed in their foreheads." (Rev. 7:1-4) Would that make any sense if it were not a fixed number? For example: If a charter bus has 48 names on its passenger list, and cannot leave until every last one of the 48 is accounted for and on board, would anyone actually argue that the passengers are merely symbolic, and the number 48 as being figurative? Ask any of the 48 passengers, for they certainly know. And to everyone else who does not have a seat on the bus, does it really matter, since they are not going anywhere? The 144,000 know who they are, and where they are going.
Compare 1 John 2:27; Matthew 5:5.

Jesus further stated that the great tribulation will be so severe, so destructive, that "unless those days were cut short, no flesh would be saved; but on account of the chosen ones those days will be cut short." Why? Because not a single one of the chosen ones will be missing at the time when Jesus receives them to himself immediately after the great tribulation. (Matt. 24:21,22; Zeph. 1:18; John 10:28,29; 17:12; 18:9) The exact number of them was "foreordained" by Jehovah "before the founding of the world." From the beginning he fixed the number of those whom he would select to rule with his Son in his kingdom.
Ephesians 1:3-14; Romans 8:28-30.

The sealing of the 144,000 began when Jesus selected the twelve apostles from among the "great crowd of his disciples," and the choosing of them continued throughout the centuries right up until "the time of the end," where we find ourselves today. Yes, throughout all those many years God has always had a few of his chosen ones on earth, who were persecuted because they were "no part of the world." And although they did not understand the full range of truths from God's word (which neither the apostles did in their days), they nevertheless were zealous in preaching the good news of the kingdom as they understood it at the time.
Luke 6:12-17; Daniel 7:21,22; 8:16-19; 12:1, 9,10; John 15:19-21.

The Scriptures definitely indicate that some of them, a remnant, would still be alive on earth at the time Jesus returns. And just as God himself selected the apostles, so also all the rest of the 144,000 have been chosen by him, each one according to God's own purpose; which may not reflect the standards of the world on how they choose their CEOs, as the apostle Paul explains: "Brothers and sisters, God chose you to be his. Think about that! Not many of you were wise in the way the world judges wisdom. Not many of you had great influence, and not many of you came from important families. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise. He chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. And God chose what the world thinks is not important—what the world hates and thinks is nothing. He chose these to destroy what the world thinks is important. God did this so that no one can stand before him and boast about anything." —1 Corinthians 1:26-29, ERV; 2 Timothy 1:9; 2:19.

Therefore, if someone feels that God has put his seal upon him, let him also humbly realize that God was looking for a person considered foolish, and weak, someone despised and looked down upon by the world's standards; yes, the opposite of someone who wants to be viewed as special and looked up to. This is God's answer to Satan, who was at one time the exceedingly beautiful, powerful, and wise, covering cherub "in Eden, the garden of God;" but who made himself the Devil when on account of his glory he became vain, and his desire to make himself resemble God caused him to rebel. (Ezek. 28:13-17; Isa. 14:12-14) It is not beauty, nor wisdom, nor power, that Jehovah is looking for in a person he chooses to serve his purpose; but humility and obedience! A lowly humble and obedient person from among mankind can prove successful with the power of God's holy spirit, where the most powerful spirit creature, like the glorious cherub, will fail.—Luke 10:17-20; 1 Timothy 3:6,7; Psalms 138:6; 1 Samuel 15:17, 22,23.

"At the time he comes to be glorified in connection with his holy ones"

WHEN does Jesus return to receive to himself the 144,000? That cannot happen until the full number of them has been completed. And that will not be until just prior to the great tribulation, as already mentioned. (Rev. 7:1-4) Therefore, the apostle Paul tells us:

"We are obligated to give God thanks always for you, brothers, as it is fitting, because your faith is growing exceedingly and the love of each and all of you is increasing one toward the other. 4 As a result we ourselves take pride in you among the congregations of God because of your endurance and faith in all your persecutions and the tribulations that you are bearing. 5 This is a proof of the righteous judgment of God, leading to your being counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are indeed suffering.
 This takes into account that it is righteous on God’s part to repay tribulation to those who make tribulation for you, 7 but, to you who suffer tribulation, relief along with us at the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven with his powerful angels 8 in a flaming fire, as he brings vengeance upon those who do not know God and those who do not obey the good news about our Lord Jesus. 9 These very ones will undergo the judicial punishment of everlasting destruction from before the Lord and from the glory of his strength, 10 at the time he comes to be glorified in connection with his holy ones and to be regarded in that day with wonder in connection with all those who exercised faith, because the witness we gave met with faith among you."2 Thessalonians 1:3-10.

At his revelation from heaven with his powerful angels, the Lord Jesus will bring vengeance upon those who do not know God and who failed to obey the good news. (Matt. 24:14) This is the foretold "great tribulation" that the "great crowd" comes out of, because they exercised faith and were obedient. (Rev. 7:9, 14) By then the last ones of the holy ones will have been sealed. Among those who will undergo the judicial punishment of "everlasting destruction" will be everyone who called Jesus their Lord but failed to obey to him. They also failed to do good to his brothers, the holy ones, in connection with whom Jesus will now be glorified, as he positively identifies them and comes to receive them home to himself.—Matthew 7:21-23; 25:40, 45,46; John 15:14.

Jesus returns only once, at which time he will accomplish everything that he purposes. (2 Tim. 4:8; Tit. 2:13,14; Heb. 9:28) The apostle Peter tells us that the judgment starts with the house of God.
(1 Peter 4:17-19) Accordingly, even before the great tribulation sweeps over the earth, Jesus will have settled accounts with his slaves who had been appointed in his absence to care for the domestics of God household. He will now identify and reward the slaves among them who had proven faithful; while at the same time reveal and dismiss the wicked slaves, particularly the foretold "man of lawlessness" within God's house, whose presence was "according to the operation of Satan," and who had elevated himself even above the holy ones. (Matt. 24:45-51; 25:19-30; John 21:15-17; 1 Peter 5:1-4) The great crowd of God's faithful worshipers, on the other hand, will be richly blessed at the revelation and glorification of Jesus in connection with his holy ones. They will be astonished at the events that Jehovah has in store for them.—2 Thessalonians 2:3-12; Revelation 3:3-5; 7:9, 14; Exodus 20:18-20.

The time arrives for Jesus to be glorified in connection with the "holy ones," for the "marriage of the Lamb has arrived." Even the angels in heaven are rejoicing over this development as Jesus comes to receive his bride home to himself. (Rev. 19:7-9; Dan. 7:18) None of the 144,000 are already in heaven with him. Paul explains that all of the holy ones
those who died and the ones still alive at the time Jesus returnswill together, as one congregation, "meet the Lord in the air." He writes:

"Brothers and sisters, we don’t want you to be ignorant about those who have died. We don’t want you to grieve like other people who have no hope. 14 We believe that Jesus died and came back to life. We also believe that, through Jesus, God will bring back those who have died. They will come back with Jesus. 15 We are telling you what the Lord taught. We who are still alive when the Lord comes will not go into his kingdom ahead of those who have already died. 16 The Lord will come from heaven with a command, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, the dead who believed in Christ will come back to life. 17 Then, together with them, we who are still alive will be taken in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. In this way we will always be with the Lord. 18 So then, comfort each other with these words!"—1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; GW.

Paul received this information from "what the Lord taught," so we know that it is not his own opinion. He explains that none of the holy onesnot the ones who have died, neither the ones still alive when Jesus comeswill precede any of the others into God's kingdom. They will all of them, together, "be caught away in clouds to meet the Lord in the air" at the same time, the living together with the ones who have died. How is this possible? Paul answers that first the dead in union with Christ "will come back to life" ("rise from their graves," NLT). Yes, all the holy ones who have died since the days of the apostles "will come back to life" and join the ones still alive. Where are the ones "still alive"? Here on earth! The dead are not resurrected straight to heaven, as is commonly believed, for the entire congregation of 144,000 will, as one body, "be taken in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air." They come back to life in "the first resurrection," which Paul also calls the "earlier resurrection from the dead," which he himself was hoping to attain.—Philippians 3:10,11; Revelation 20:4,6.  

But you may wonder, how can a physical body enter into heaven? Does the apostle Paul not say that they are resurrected with a spirit body? Paul explains that the purpose of the first resurrection is to be with Jesus in heaven. Upon coming back to life in the first resurrection, and being with their brothers who are still alive at the time Jesus arrives, they will all of them be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, when they "meet the Lord in the air." This is how Paul describes it:

"What I am saying, dear brothers and sisters, is that our physical bodies cannot inherit the Kingdom of God. These dying bodies cannot inherit what will last forever. 51 But let me reveal to you a wonderful secret. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed! 52 It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed. 53 For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies. 54 Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this Scripture will be fulfilled: 'Death is swallowed up in victory.'"1 Corinthians 15:50-54; NLT.

Paul again says that not all of the holy ones will have experienced death; but all of them will be transformed. When the dead in union with the Lord are raised up in the first resurrection, they will have mortal physical bodies like they had before they died, the same as their brothers who are still alive at the presence of the Lord, with whom they are now united. When Jesus comes down from heaven to receive them home to himself, they will all of them together meet the Lord in the air. It is at that moment, when they are caught away in the clouds, that they are transformed, and their mortal physical bodies are changed into immortal spirit bodies that will never die. That is why Paul says, "if there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual one." (1 Cor. 15:4) Their transformation will happen "in a moment, in the blink of an eye." (Rom. 6:5; 1 Cor. 15:35, 38, 42-49) "In this way we will always be with the Lord."

Someone may ask: If Jesus was "put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit," why are his disciples who have died in the flesh, not likewise resurrected in the spirit? (1 Peter 3:18) Jesus was resurrected in the spirit because that is where he was before he came to earth; he was with his Father in heaven, and that is where he was returning. (John 17:5) He gave up his perfect physical human body, which he sacrificed on behalf of mankind. (Luke 22:19) Likewise his disciples who have a share in the first resurrection return to where they previously existed, which was not in heaven but here on earth. It is in this manner that they join "the living who survive to the presence of the Lord." Because the resurrection of the holy ones is first in time, before the resurrection of God's righteous men and women of old, it is called the "first" resurrection.—1 Thessalonians 4:15-17; Luke 20:37,38; Hebrews 11:13.

The First Resurrection – Blessings for the Great Crowd

Paul's description of Jesus' arrival in glory, and the manner in which he meets his bride, the 144,000, to take them with him into his kingdom, should not surprise us. It is in harmony with the words of the two angels who told the disciples, when they were looking on as Jesus ascended to heaven, that he would return in the same manner. Luke wrote: "While [the disciples] were looking on, he was lifted up and a cloud caught him up from their vision. And as they were gazing into the sky while he was on his way, also, look! two men in white garments stood alongside them, and they said: 'Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus who was received up from you into the sky will come thus in the same manner as you have beheld him going into the sky.'”—Acts 1:9-11; Matthew 26:29.

In the same way that the apostles witnessed the ascension of Jesus to heaven, as he was lifted up before their very eyes, so too the great crowd will be present "
at the time [Jesus] comes to be glorified in connection with his holy ones," as they "regard with wonder" the ascension of the 144,000 to meet the Lord in the air until they disappear from their vision in the clouds; at which time Jehovah will transform their physical bodies into suitable spirit ones, and "in this way [they] will always be with the Lord." This will be an event never to be forgotten by those who were present to witness it. It will make the demonstration of God's presence and power at Mount Sinaiwhen Jehovah came down upon the mountainpale in comparison.—Exodus 19:17-19; 20:18-21.

If all these things sound implausible, please remember that these are God's promises and not from men or an organization that claims to speak in his name. This is our assurance that our hope will not lead to disappointment. Yes, you will inherit these promises if you remain faithful and endure your present suffering, for they will pale in comparison to the blessings that will then be yours. (Joshua 23:14; Rom. 5:1-5; 10:11) And as if these blessings were not enough, Jehovah has something more in store for his faithful people who are present at the time of Jesus' return, for he wants them to share in the joy of the occasion, which will never again be repeated. How true Paul's words will prove to be: "No one’s ever seen or heard anything like this, Never so much as imagined anything quite like it—What God has arranged for those who love him."1 Corinthians 2:9; The Message.

Jesus did not ascend to heaven immediately upon his resurrection, for he continued to show himself to his disciples for another forty days. (Luke 20:17,18) We can well imagine how the proof of his resurrection, and his presence with them
however brief, would have encouraged and strengthened them. (Luke 24:44-53; Acts 1:3-5) Similarly, it is not unreasonable to expect the holy ones to not immediately ascend to heaven upon their resurrection from the dead, but rather to gather with the remaining holy ones who survive to the presence of the Lord. (Matt. 24:31) After all, isn't that what Paul means when he says that they will all of them together meet the Lord in the air? Clearly, Jehovah desires to introduce the rulers of his kingdom to its subjects.

Jehovah's loyal worshipers will witness miraculous events, even beyond their deliverance at the time the wicked are destroyed at Armageddon; much like his people the Israelites who came out of Egypt, who had seen Jehovah's miracles and were now spectators to the fear inspiring events at Mont Sinai, where they entered into the covenant with God.
Their experience served as a witness and reminder for all their future generations.—Exodus 19:16-21.

"Happy are those invited to the evening meal of the Lamb's marriage"

The brief time that the holy ones will spend with the great tribulation survivors will not be wasted. Jehovah has special blessings in store for them! The marriage of the Lamb has now arrived, and they are the ones invited to the evening meal. They are the guests spoken of in Jesus' illustration of the King's marriage feast.

"Also, a voice issued forth from the throne and said: 'Be praising our God, all you his slaves, who fear him, the small ones and the great.'
 And I heard what was as a voice of a great crowd and as a sound of many waters and as a sound of heavy thunders. They said: 'Praise Jah, you people, because Jehovah our God, the Almighty, has begun to rule as king. 7 Let us rejoice and be overjoyed, and let us give him the glory, because the marriage of the Lamb has arrived and his wife has prepared herself. 8 Yes, it has been granted to her to be arrayed in bright, clean, fine linen, for the fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the holy ones.'
 And he tells me: 'Write: Happy are those invited to the evening meal of the Lamb’s marriage.' Also, he tells me: 'These are the true sayings of God.'”Revelation 19:1-9.

This "great crowd" that John sees in heaven, jubilantly shouting the praises of God, is not the same great crowd that he saw earlier coming out of the great tribulation; for these ones are God's heavenly sons, "a thousand thousands" and "ten thousand times ten thousand that kept standing right before [the throne]." They too are enthusiastically applauding God's kingdom. After all, the time has come for God's will to take place, as in heaven, also upon earth. After the many centuries of Satan's rule over the earth, God's time has finally arrived for the "Son of man" and the "holy ones" to receive the kingdom.—Daniel 7:9,10, 13,14, 27; Revelation 5:11-14; Matthew 6:9,10; John 12:31.

The Lamb's wife "has prepared herself," and she is "arrayed in bright, clean, fine linen." She looks beautiful to her husband in her spotless marriage garment, which "stands for the righteous acts of the holy ones." The fact that she has prepared herself indicates that the holy ones performed their "righteous acts" while still on earth, after the first resurrection and before the coming of Jesus to receive them home to the house of his Father. (John 3:29; 14:2) In Jesus' own case, as already mentioned, the time between his resurrection and ascension to heaven amounted to forty days. It remains to be seen how brief this time period will be for the holy ones to remain on earth.

We remember that after Jesus had chosen his twelve apostles, he also gave them "power and authority over all the demons and to cure sicknesses." It established their apostleship. (Luke 9:1; Rom. 15:17-19) Therefore, it is not unreasonable to expect the 144,000 to have authority and power in the same manner, which will establish their credentials as the holy ones in God's kingdom. The "righteous acts" of theirs will include the curing of all sicknesses. It will be just as when Jesus sent the disciples of John the Baptist back to him with the report that "the blind are seeing again, and the lame are walking about, the lepers are being cleansed and the deaf are hearing." (Matt. 11:5) Whatever your ailment may be, you won't have to wait for a hundred years before you are released from your pain and suffering. (Isa. 33:24) The blessings that the great crowd will enjoy during the brief presence of the holy ones, will be in preparation of the righteous acts they will achieve on a much larger scale once they are ruling as kings and priests in God's kingdom.—Revelation 22:1-7.

As invited guests to the evening meal of the Lamb's marriage, the great crowd will further enjoy a spiritual feast, a "dinner" of "bulls and fattened animals," such as they have never enjoyed before, according to Jesus' illustration of the marriage feast. (Matt. 22:1-13; Heb. 5:13,14) Previously, under the wicked shepherds, who had been "feeders [merely] of themselves," God's people had gone hungry, so that they "kept straying on all the mountains and on every high hill," searching for food. But now the time has arrived for Jehovah to personally reward their faith in him, for he says: "I myself shall feed my sheep, and I myself shall make them lie down [in security]. . . the broken one I shall bandage and the ailing one I shall strengthen." (Ezek. 34:2-11, 15,16; Isa. 32:17,18; Rev. 7:16,17) This will definitely be the greatest marriage feast that anyone has ever been invited to.

According to Jesus' parable of the marriage feast, those who are in attendance at "the evening meal of the Lamb's marriage" are required to be dressed appropriately, for it is a royal affair, the marriage of the king's son. Jesus relates that once "the banquet hall was filled with guests, the king came in to meet the guests, [and] he noticed a man who wasn’t wearing the proper clothes for a wedding. ‘Friend,’ he asked, ‘how is it that you are here without wedding clothes?’ But the man had no reply. Then the king said to his aides, ‘Bind his hands and feet and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’"—Matthew 22:11-13; NLT.

The point of the illustration is that not just anyone is permitted to be a guest at the wedding feast, although all of the guests had responded to the invitation, "both wicked and good." Only those who wear the appropriate "wedding clothes" are allowed to remain for the dinner. And what are the proper garments for the royal wedding? The bride herself is arrayed in "bright, clean, fine linen." That is her wedding gown. And that is also the proper attire for the guests, as we can see from the apostle John's description of the great crowd who are dressed "in the white robes," which they have "washed and made white in the blood of the Lamb." (Rev. 7:13,14) As in the case of the bride, not only have these ones exercise faith in Jesus, calling him their Lord; but more importantly, they listened to Jesus and were doing his Father's will. (Matt. 7:21-23) It is their "righteous acts" of obedience that gains them access to the king and the wedding feast. That is why "they are before the throne of God; and they are rendering him sacred service day and night in his temple; and the One seated on the throne will spread his tent over them." (Rev. 7:15; Psalms 15:1-5; 27:4-6) The man expelled from the marriage feast clearly had failed to clothe himself in the mandatory white garment. Knowing all this will be of benefit to us only if we make personal application and take it to heart. We need to frequently check our appearance in the mirror to verify that we are dressed in clean white garments, for the marriage garments will not be handed out at the wedding feast.—James 1:22-25.

According to the Scriptures, none of the 144,000 are already with Jesus, contrary to what many believe! None of the "saints," to whom many pray, are already in heaven. The first resurrection did not begin around 1935. It is still future, but close at hand. (Matt. 24:32,33) We still have the opportunity to "wash our robes and make them white in the blood of the Lamb," in order to qualify as guests at the marriage feast. Please consult your own Bible and verify for yourself these wonderful promises of God, for they are trustworthy. May they prove to be a source of encouragement in your present time of pain and suffering, as you too are experiencing the foretold "critical times hard to deal with" in these "last days." (2 Tim. 3:1-5; James 1:2-8) You have God's assurance that, at his appointed time, he will more than make up to you anything that you might be enduring at the present time. REMEMBER JOB!—James 5:11.

The sequence of events according to the Scriptures:

The judgment starts with the house of God. (1 Peter 4:17,18) The first thing that Jesus does upon his return is to judge the members of God’s house, and settle accounts with the slaves whom he had appointed to feed the domestics. This will proof that Jesus is now present! It is at this time that he will identify the true “faithful slave,” and also "rip away the veils" of the wicked slave, the man of lawlessness (the governing body) “whom the Lord Jesus will do away with by the spirit of his mouth and bring to nothing by the manifestation of his presence.” (Matt. 24:45-51; 25:14-30; 2 Thess. 2:3-10; Ezek. 13:21,22) The holy spirit will once again become operative among God’s people in their congregations, who may find it necessary to meet in private homes as they did in the first century.

The judging of the sheep and the goats, of Jesus illustration, takes place at this time, when "the Son of man arrives in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit down on his glorious throne. . . and he will separate people one from another, just as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will put the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on his left." The judging will be based on how a person treated Christ's brothers prior to his return, in connection with whom he will shortly be glorified, as explained below. (Matt. 25:31-46; 7:21-23)

The many prophecies regarding the wicked being removed from God’s house and the righteous ones “shining as brightly as the sun in the kingdom of their Father,” will find their fulfillment then. (Matt. 13:40-43, 49; Dan. 12:3, 9) Jehovah will replace the wicked shepherds with faithful ones, and gather back his lost and scattered sheep, many of whom had been expelled as apostate because of not submitting to the Society’s governing body. Indeed, the entire 34th chapter of Ezekiel is devoted to Jehovah’s lost sheep, and his promise to search for them and bring them back. He is already preparing for their return. (Ezek. 34:15,16, 31; 14:23)

2. After God’s own house has been judged, “Babylon the Great, the mother of the harlots and the disgusting things of the earth,” that is, all religions of which Satan is the god, will experience God’s judgment and be completely destroyed as by fire. (Rev. 17:5, 15-17; 19:1-3; 1 Cor. 10:20,21; 2 Cor. 4:4)

The vacuum resulting from the destruction of Babylon the Great will be filled by the setting up of “the image to the wild beast,” which all persons will now be put under compulsion to worship. In fact, "the image of the wild beast [will] both speak and cause to be killed all those who [will] not in any way worship the image of the wild beast." (Rev. 13:14-17) This reminds us of the image of gold that king Nebuchadnezzar set up in the plain of Dura, which everyone was compelled to worship under penalty of death for refusing to comply. (Dan. 3:1-7) The modern day idolaters will receive a "mark in their right hand or upon their forehead," as proof of their compliance (their physical or material support, or indirect mental endorsement), without which no one will "be able to buy or sell," thus being denied the necessities of life. (These are not literal marks, such as the red dot on the forehead in the Hindu religion. But it will clearly identify the individual as being a supporter of the worship of the wild beast and its image.) 

Of course, Jehovah’s people will not share in any of that, in spite of any hardship they might have to endure as a consequence! We are told: “If anyone worships the wild beast and its image, and receives a mark on his forehead or upon his hand, he will also drink of the wine of the anger of God that is poured out undiluted into the cup of his wrath.” (Rev. 14:912; 15:2-4; 16:2; 19:19-21; 20:4) In spite of intense persecution brought upon them, they will remain faithful to Jehovah as were Daniel and his three companions, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. (Dan. 3:12-28; 6:16)

3. The stage is now set for Jehovah to fight on behalf of his people as he comes to deliver them. (Zech. 2:8; 1 Cor. 3:17) This will be the foretold war of Armageddon. The term “great tribulation” describes "the war of the great day of God the Almighty," namely, Armageddon. (Rev. 16:13,14, 16) This is how the prophet Zephaniah describes Jehovah's day: "That day is a day of fury, a day of distress and of anguish, a day of storm and of desolation, a day of darkness and of gloominess, a day of clouds and of thick gloom. And I will cause distress to mankind, and they will certainly walk like blind men; because it is against Jehovah that they have sinned. And their blood will actually be poured out like dust, and their bowels like the dung. Neither their silver nor their gold will be able to deliver them in the day of Jehovah’s fury; but by the fire of his zeal the whole earth will be devoured, because he will make an extermination, indeed a terrible one, of all the inhabitants of the earth.” (Zeph. 1:15-18; Rev. 19:19-21; Ezek. 38:14-23) Jehovah’s day will be so terrible, yes, so severe, as Jesus said, that “unless those days were cut short no flesh would be saved, but on account of the chosen ones those days will be cut short.” (Matt. 24:21,22)

The apostle Paul explains that this is when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven as he comes with his powerful angels to bring “vengeance upon those who do not know God and those who do not obey the good news about our Lord Jesus. These very ones will undergo the judicial punishment of everlasting destruction from before the Lord and from the glory of his strength.” (2 Thess.
1:6-10; Rev. 19:11-16) After the destruction of all the inhabitants of the earth, only God’s people will remain over in it
the "chosen ones” (on whose account the great tribulation was cut short), and the “great crowd” who had “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb,” and who had done good to Christ's brothers, the holy ones. (Rev. 7:14; 14:1, 3; Matt. 25:40, 45,46) Just as in the days of Noah, only those who heeded God's warning will have escaped the global destruction. (Matt. 24:37-39; 2 Peter 2:5) Now, Jesus comes “to be glorified in connection with his holy ones and to be regarded in that day with wonder in connection with all those who exercised faith (the great crowd), because the witness we gave met with faith among you.” (2 Thess. 1:10; Psalms 37:10,11, 34)
4. Jesus' glorification "in connection with his holy ones" includes all his holy ones, not just the few who survived to his presence. This means that the foretold and long anticipated “first resurrection” will now take place, and "the dead in union with the Lord" will rise and come back to life in order to join the holy ones who are still living at this time. According to the apostle Paul, all of the 144,000, all the “holy ones” will be together as one group, and will together meet the Lord in the air as he comes to receive them and take them with him to heaven, to his Father. (1 Thess. 4:14-17; Rev. 14:1-3; Dan. 7:22; Matt. 24:31) The great tribulation survivors will be present to witness this amazing event, just as Jesus’ few disciples watched him ascend to heaven forty days after his resurrection. (Acts 1:9-11) There will be some sort of visible manifestation of the glorified Jesus’ presence, as Paul explains, perhaps similar to his experience when Jesus appeared to him on the road to Damascus. (Acts 9:3-8; 26:12-18)

The time for the marriage of the Lamb has now arrived. “Happy are those invited to the evening meal of the Lamb’s marriage.” (Rev. 19:6-9) The great crowd of true worshipers will have good reason to be "happy," as they are blessed by these events [as the Scriptures explain], and had the opportunity of personally meeting and associating with the Lamb’s bride (including the twelve apostles who return in the first resurrection), for the brief period of time that they spent with them, while they were awaiting the arrival of their Bridegroom. (Matt. 22:1-13) It is after the holy ones ascend to heaven, and the marriage has taken place, that the thousand year rule of God's kingdom begins. (Rev. 20:6)

5. It is shortly after God's kingdom begins its 1,000 year rule that the “resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous” takes place, just as Jesus promised and Paul preached. (John 5:28,29; Acts 24:15) God’s many loyal servants of the past will return to “a resurrection of life”; while the majority of mankind, who lived in ignorance of God and his purpose, will return to “a resurrection of judgment.” These ones will have the opportunity to learn about God and avail themselves of his ransom provision for everlasting life without interference from Satan and his perverted form of religions. (Rev. 20:1-3)

As we can well imagine, a tremendous teaching work will open up for the Armageddon survivors, which will be enhanced by being able to relate their own personal experiences, by having survived that world destruction and then having been eyewitnesses to Jesus’ return when he came to be “glorified in connection with his holy ones.” (2 Thess. 1:10) We are not told how soon after God’s kingdom begins its rule that this resurrection will take place, but there is no reason to assume that it will delay. (Rev. 20:6; Dan. 7:21,22, 27)


 "No one’s ever seen or heard anything like this, Never so much as imagined anything quite like it—What God has arranged for those who love him."
1 Corinthians 2:9; The Message

(Make Sure of All Things)