The Bible’s Viewpoint
Who Go to Heaven?
A TERRORIST bomb rips apart an airliner in flight, killing all on board. Relatives and friends of the victims are told that their loved ones are now in heaven, as if to compensate for their untimely and violent death.
A popular musician dies and is said to be ‘trumpeting with the angels in heaven.’
Disease, famine, or accidents rob infants of a full life, and the clergy say they now enjoy heavenly bliss, perhaps even as angels!
Is God correcting injustice to young and old by taking all such ones to himself in heavenly peace? Is admission into heaven simply God’s way of preserving all that is good and praiseworthy in mankind? What is the Bible’s viewpoint?
Those Not in Heaven
The Bible’s statement is clear: “What! Do you not know that unrighteous persons will not inherit God’s kingdom?” (1 Corinthians 6:9) However, the Bible also speaks of many righteous ones and victims of injustice who would not inherit the heavens.
Jesus himself said of the soon-to-be martyred John the Baptizer: “Truly I say to you people, Among those born of women there has not been raised up a greater than John the Baptist; but a person that is a lesser one in the kingdom of the heavens is greater than he is.” (Matthew 11:11) All the boys two years of age and under in Bethlehem and its districts were mercilessly slaughtered by wicked King Herod in his attempt to destroy the child Jesus. (Matthew 2:16) Yet, Jesus said: “Moreover, no man [or woman or child] has ascended into heaven but he that descended from heaven, the Son of man [Jesus].” (John 3:13) Why did Jesus not speak of these victims of injustice as being in heaven?
Jesus Opened the Way
Jesus called himself “the way and the truth and the life” and was referred to by the apostle Paul as “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep in death.” (John 14:6; 1 Corinthians 15:20) Consequently, no one could have preceded him into heaven. But when Jesus did ascend to heaven some 40 days after his resurrection, was he then followed by worthy men of faith already deceased? Some ten days later, the apostle Peter said concerning King 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, 34.
Thus, admission to heaven involves more than compensation for injustices suffered or even a rewarding of personal faithfulness. Instead, it provides for the formation of a heaven-based body of rulers composed of a representative number of humans under Christ’s direction, anointed by holy spirit.—Romans 8:15-17; Revelation 14:1-3.
A Heavenly Kingdom
Jesus referred to this rulership, or government, as “the kingdom of the heavens” or “the kingdom of God.” (Matthew 5:3, 20; Luke 7:28) It was not intended that great masses of mankind be included in this administrative body. Thus, Jesus referred to it as a “little flock.” (Luke 12:32) In the original language used in this part of the Bible, the word “little” (mi·krosʹ) is the opposite of great (meʹgas), and its use at Luke 12:32 refers to quantity or fewness in number. Hence, membership in “the kingdom of the heavens” does not allow for an unlimited number. To illustrate: If you were asked to pour a little water into a glass, you would make sure that it did not overflow. So, too, the “little flock” cannot be made up of overflowing numbers of people. God’s Kingdom has a set (“little”) number of corulers with Christ.
The exact number of these rulers, 144,000, was revealed to the apostle John. (Revelation 14:1, 4) Earlier in Revelation these same ones are said to be ‘out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation to be a kingdom and priests to God,’ and they are to rule as kings from heaven over the earth. (Revelation 5:9, 10) This administrative body in association with Jesus Christ is the Kingdom for which he taught his followers to pray. It is also the agency by which misrule of this earth will be terminated, thus restoring justice and peace to man’s home, the earth, as well as everlasting vitality to its inhabitants.—Psalm 37:29; Matthew 6:9, 10.
A Select Body of Rulers
Since the human rulerships that the Kingdom replaces are so riddled with corruption, can we not see why those included in that heavenly government must be carefully selected and tested by God? Mankind’s current situation might be likened to that of hundreds of passengers aboard a damaged jetliner in bad weather. In such a critical situation, would you want a flight crew made up of young, inexperienced people? Hardly! The situation would call for a crew carefully selected according to stringent qualifications.
With regard to those who will serve in heaven with Christ Jesus, we are relieved to know that “God has set the members in the body, each one of them, just as he pleased.” (1 Corinthians 12:18) Personal desire or ambition for a position in the Kingdom is not the determining factor. (Matthew 20:20-23) Specific standards of faith and conduct have been established by God so as to bar the admittance of unworthy ones. (John 6:44; Ephesians 5:5) The opening words of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount show that corulers with Christ must prove to be spiritually-minded, mild-tempered, lovers of righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, and peaceable.—Matthew 5:3-9; see also Revelation 2:10.
Happily, the great majority of mankind, although not chosen by God to be among this representative heavenly body of rulers, are not left without hope. They will inhabit this beautiful earth and enjoy the benefits of his divine rulership. Long dead victims of past injustices will be restored to life to live alongside those who survive to see God’s Kingdom “come” in the fullest sense. The promise will be kept: “The upright are the ones that will reside in the earth, and the blameless are the ones that will be left over in it.”—Matthew 6:9, 10; Proverbs 2:21; Acts 24:15.