© Copyright 2003 by Bob Passantino
Next time you’re frustrated trying to share with your Jehovah’s Witness friend about how he’s been taught false doctrine by the Watchtower, don’t give up in frustration because there are too many issues to cover at one time. Instead, do what I do and ask your friend a simple question: “What would you do if I could show you one passage in Scripture that teaches the deity of Christ, Christ’s bodily resurrection from the dead and that death does not mean that you cease to exist?”
Jehovah’s Witnesses are taught that humans cease to exist when they die, that “resurrection” means to be recreated from Jehovah’s memory. They are taught to deny the doctrine of the Trinity and the deity of Christ. Jehovah’s Witnesses are also taught that Jesus was not raised physically from the dead, but was raised as a spirit creature.
It could take many hours to help a Jehovah’s Witness understand the errors he’s been taught by the Watchtower, to help him understand that the Bible really does teach that Jesus is and always has been God, that he did not cease to exist when he died, and that he was raised immortal in the same physical body that had died on the cross. Next time, use this one passage to show all three teachings at once.
John 2:18-21 contains a conversation Jesus had with Jews in front of the Jerusalem temple during his ministry. In this passage, John quotes Jesus, notes the response of those he is speaking to, explains what Jesus meant by what he said, and explains how his disciples came understand what he meant.
The passage reads this way:
Then the Jews demanded of him, “What miraculous sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” The Jews replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” But the temple he had spoken of was his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the Scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.
Let’s look at the passage step by step. First, the basic meaning of the passage is that the skeptical Jews were asking Jesus to prove that he was the Messiah. He replied that although his body would die, he would raise himself from death to immortality to prove to them that he was the Messiah.
Jesus is claiming that after his death he will still have conscious existence – he must exist and have consciousness in order to raise himself. If Jesus continues to have conscious existence after the death of his body, then death must not mean that one ceases to exist. In fact, as we know well from many other passages, the dead are conscious and face the judgment of God, either of salvation through faith in Christ, or of condemnation by rejecting Christ. Matthew 25:46 promises, “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to life eternal.”
Jesus is also claiming (and John is affirming) that his resurrection would be bodily – in fact, the same body that was crucified on the cross. Jesus said, “Destroy this temple and I will raise it again.” John defines “this temple” as his body. Therefore, Jesus is declaring and John is affirming that Jesus was resurrected in a human body, the same body in which he lived and died. In fact, as we know from many other passages, Jesus’s resurrection is a bodily resurrection, not a “spirit” resurrection. Luke 24:39 quotes the resurrected Jesus assuring his disciples, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost [spirit] does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”
Finally, Jesus is also claiming to be God Almighty by claiming that he will raise himself from the dead. Although sometimes prophets were used by God to resuscitate people who have died, and Jesus raised others during his ministry, the power to resurrect someone from the dead never to die again, belongs to God alone. The Bible clearly declares that it is God who raised Jesus from the dead (see, for example, Acts 2:22, 24, 32, 36; Acts 3:13-15; Romans 10:9). In John 10, Jesus explains how it is possible for him to die and yet raise himself from the dead: as God he has the power to raise himself from the dead. He declares, “The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life – only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again” (John 10:17-18). (When we say that Jesus is God, we mean that he is the Son, the Second Person of the Trinity. For information on the doctrine of the Trinity, see my debate, “Is the Creedal Doctrine of the Trinity Biblical?”)
If you study John 2:18-21 in its context and understand exactly what Jesus and John mean by what is said in the passage, you can have an effective “multi-purpose tool” for sharing with your Jehovah’s Witness friends the truth about life after death, the deity of Christ, and Christ’s bodily resurrection. Remember to wait patiently for your friend to answer “What would he do?” if you could show all three teachings from one passage. When eternal life is on the line, one should be willing to follow Scripture no matter where it leads – even if it leads to renouncing what the Watchtower has taught and clinging to what Jesus declares in God’s Word.