The Reason Why a “Little Flock” Goes to Heaven
1. (a) When Jesus was on earth, what did he tell his followers about heavenly life? (b) Why do many persons want to go to heaven?
WHILE Jesus Christ was yet with his followers here on earth, he spoke to them about heavenly life. He told them that he was going to prepare a place for them and that, in time, they would be there with him. (John 14:1-3) Millions of persons have set their hearts on such heavenly life. To them it has represented a prospect of relief from the troubles of this life. But do you know why God has arranged for some persons to go to heaven? Do you know what they will do there?
2. (a) What is the kingdom of God, and where is it located? (b) So when Jesus said that the “little flock” would inherit “the kingdom,” what did that mean?
2 During his earthly ministry Jesus said much about the “kingdom of God.” He taught his followers to pray that, by means of the Kingdom, God’s will would be done here on earth. Thus, the earth would become a delightful home for mankind. But the kingdom, or government itself, would be that of God in heaven, and for this reason Jesus often referred to it as the “kingdom of the heavens.” (Matthew 5:20; 6:9, 10) This helps us to understand what he meant when he said: “Have no fear, little flock, because your Father has approved of giving you the kingdom.” (Luke 12:32) Yes, God would give this “little flock” a share in the heavenly government over all mankind.
3. What does Revelation 20:6 say that those resurrected to heavenly life will do there?
3 At Revelation 20:6 we read concerning those who would be resurrected to heavenly life: “They will be priests of God and of the Christ, and will rule as kings with him for the thousand years.” Jesus Christ is the principal king and the high priest, and these faithful ones taken from the earth serve with him.—Revelation 5:9, 10.
4. Why is it fitting that those whom God arranges to be in the heavenly kingdom are taken from this earth?
4 Why are they chosen from the earth for such a work? Because it was here at this earth that Jehovah’s rulership was challenged. It was here that the faithfulness of men to God could be put to the test under opposition from the Devil. It was here that Jesus proved his full loyalty to God under test and gave his life as a ransom for mankind. So it was from this earth that Jehovah arranged to take a “little flock” of persons to be associated with his Son in the heavenly kingdom. They are persons who show full faith in God’s provision for salvation through Christ. They are ones whose lives prove the Devil a liar when he charged that men serve God only for selfish advantage. Jehovah has marvelously purposed to use them for his glory—Ephesians 1:9-12.
5. (a) Why is it a loving arrangement of God to put in office those who have experienced problems common to mankind? (b) What blessings will earth’s inhabitants enjoy when these heavenly priests apply the benefits of Christ’s ransom sacrifice?
5 As kings and priests under the direction of Jesus Christ, they will serve from their heavenly positions in carrying out Jehovah’s will toward mankind. How wonderful it will be to have as rulers those who have proved faithful to God! (Revelation 20:4) And how loving of God to put in office those who have experienced the problems common to humankind! Surely, they, like Christ, will deal in an understanding way with their subjects. (Hebrews 2:17, 18) What a blessing it will be to the inhabitants of earth as these heavenly priests apply to them the benefits of Christ’s ransom sacrifice, healing them spiritually, mentally and physically until they reach perfection!—Revelation 21:2-4.
HOW MANY GO TO HEAVEN?
6. How many make up the “little flock”?
6 Those who are called by God to share in such heavenly service are few in number. As Jesus said, they are a “little flock.” Years after his return to heaven, Jesus made known the exact number in a vision to the apostle John, who wrote: “I saw, and, look! the Lamb standing upon the Mount Zion, and with him a hundred and forty-four thousand . . . who have been bought from the earth.” (Revelation 14:1, 3) The “Lamb” referred to here is, of course, Jesus Christ; and this “Mount Zion” is not on earth, but in heaven where Jesus is. (John 1:29; Hebrews 12:22) So the 144,000 are persons who die on earth as humans and are resurrected to heavenly life as spirit creatures, as Jesus was. (Romans 6:5) When compared with the thousands of millions of persons who live on earth, they are, indeed, a “little flock.”
7. (a) Are the 144,000 the only ones to receive salvation? (b) By what term did Jesus refer to those who will live on earth?
7 However, the “little flock” who go to heaven are not the only ones who receive salvation. As we have seen, they will have happy earthly subjects. Jesus referred to these as his “other sheep,” of whom “a great crowd” are even now serving God faithfully.—John 10:16; Revelation 7:9, 15.
HOW ONE KNOWS WHETHER HE IS OF THE “LITTLE FLOCK”
8. How does one who has been called to heaven know that?
8 Members of the “little flock” know that God has called them to heavenly life. How? By means of the operation of God’s spirit, which implants and cultivates in them the hope of heavenly life. The apostle Paul, as one of the “little flock,” wrote: “The spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are God’s children. If, then, we are children, we are also heirs: heirs indeed of God, but joint heirs with Christ, provided we suffer together that we may also be glorified together.” (Romans 8:16, 17) The operation of God’s spirit changes the entire outlook of such a person, so that his thoughts and prayers are centered upon serving God with the heavenly hope in view. Being with Christ in heaven is more important to him than any earthly ties.
9. Before one can analyze his situation with regard to heavenly life, what is needed?
9 No doubt you have thought about this matter, and perhaps you have wondered whether you are one who will receive heavenly life. Before one can properly analyze his situation, he needs an understanding of what the Bible teaches on this matter. Why? Because God’s holy spirit that bears witness that one has been called to heavenly glory is the same spirit that directed the writing of the Bible. With this in mind, let us examine the situation.
10. (a) What belief may have caused one to expect to go to heaven? (b) What Bible truths are not known by those who think that all good people go to heaven?
10 In the past did you believe that all good persons go to heaven? If so, and if you endeavored to live a good life, you may well have expected to be included among them. You may also have hoped in this way to be reunited with your loved ones whom you had lost in death. But when you had that expectation, did you know that the Bible says that such faithful servants of God as King David and John the Baptist did not go to heaven? (Acts 2:29, 34; Matthew 11:11) At that time did you know that only 144,000 chosen from among mankind over the past nineteen centuries would gain heavenly life? And did you know then that the Bible holds out hope of eternal life under righteous conditions here on earth for all others who would become faithful servants of God?—Psalm 37:10, 11, 29 [36:10, 11, 29, Dy].
11. Because of what false teaching as to the soul do many persons think that they will go to heaven?
11 When you were then thinking about heavenly life for yourself, did you believe in the immortality of the human soul? Then, understandably, you may have hoped that your soul would go to heaven. But if you had such a hope it was not because God’s spirit was bearing witness to you. To the contrary, as you now know, God’s inspired Word says that the human soul dies and goes out of existence. So those who die must depend on God to resurrect them to whatever place he wills for them.—Ezekiel 18:4; 1 Corinthians 15:35-38.
12. (a) Who does the choosing of persons who will receive heavenly life? (b) To what hope is God principally pointing persons today?
12 In this matter, then, we must look to the Scriptures for guidance and not let emotions, or a background of unscriptural beliefs, confuse our thinking. Those who receive heavenly life are not persons who choose it for themselves; God is the one who does the choosing. (2 Thessalonians 2:13, 14) They are called on to leave behind close family members and friends and all earthly things for the privilege of sharing as assistant kings and underpriests with Christ and as part of his “bride.” (Revelation 21:2) That is what God has set before them, and they show deep appreciation for it. But it is not necessary to be of that heavenly group to gain relief from the troubles of this life. God loves his earthly “other sheep” too. He promises that he is going to make this earth a paradise, where pain and sorrow will be no more. The facts show that it is principally to such an earthly hope of life that God has been pointing persons in recent years.
13. (a) Who properly partake of the bread and wine at the annual Memorial of Christ’s death? (b) Who else are present?
13 However, each year, on the anniversary of Christ’s death, the few remaining members of the “little flock” yet on earth keep the Memorial of Christ’s death. As Jesus directed, they partake of unleavened bread and red wine, which are symbols representing the flesh and blood that Jesus gave for mankind. Jesus said to those whom he instructed to partake of these emblems that he was making with them ‘a covenant for a kingdom’; so those who are not heirs of the heavenly kingdom do not partake of the emblems. (Luke 22:19, 20, 29) Nevertheless, those who look forward to earthly life are present each year in large numbers as observers at the Lord’s evening meal. As one who is keenly interested in life under the heavenly kingdom, you too should be in attendance.
THE RETURN OF CHRIST
14. What promise did Jesus make about coming again?
14 On the evening before his death Jesus Christ promised eleven faithful members of the “little flock” that he would come again, saying: “I am going my way to prepare a place for you. . . . I am coming again and will receive you home to myself, that where I am you also may be.”—John 14:2, 3.
15. (a) What does Revelation 1:7 say about Christ’s return, and is this to be understood in a visible sense? (b) How do we know that mankind in general would not behold Christ at his return?
15 Will this be a visible, physical return? Some may point out that Revelation 1:7 says: “Look! He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him.” Does this mean that they will see him literally with their physical eyes? The Bible speaks not only of seeing with our physical eyes, but of seeing in the sense that we understand or discern. Jesus showed that the religious Pharisees of his day were blind although they said, “We see.” They were spiritually blind. (John 9:39-41; Isaiah 43:8) It is in such a sense of spiritual seeing that Revelation 1:7 is to be understood. “Every eye” is made to “see” him because, even though they may refuse to show faith now, when Christ executes the wicked, they will know what is happening because they have been told in advance. However, that Jesus would not visibly return he himself made clear, saying: “A little longer and the world will behold me no more, but you will behold me, because I live and you will live.” (John 14:19) Mankind in general would behold him no more because he was going to return to heaven. But the “little flock” would behold him because he was going to take them to be with him there.
16. What, then, does Christ’s return mean?
16 So Christ’s return does not mean that he returns as a man to live on earth. Rather, it means that he takes up his kingly rule toward the earth and that he resurrects his “little flock” from the dead to their reward in the heavens. There they share in carrying out the loving purpose of God by means of his kingdom. You are living in the time when you, too, can experience blessings from that Kingdom rule.—Revelation 11:15-18.