Who Go to Heaven and Why?
While Jesus Christ was yet with his followers here on earth he spoke to them about heavenly life. For example, the night before his death he told them: “In the house of my Father there are many abodes. Otherwise, I would have told you, because I am going my way to prepare a place for you. Also, if I go my way and 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 14:1-3.
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?
IN HEAVEN AS KINGS AND PRIESTS
During his earthly ministry Jesus often spoke of the “kingdom of the heavens” or “kingdom of God.” (Matt. 10:7; 13:44-47; Luke 4:43; 8:1) That kingdom is a heavenly rule or government that Almighty God will use to accomplish his purpose. Jesus taught his followers to pray that, by means of the Kingdom, God’s will would be done here on earth. (Matt. 6:9, 10) Thus, under the rule of God’s kingdom, the earth will become a delightful home for all mankind.
This helps us to understand what Jesus meant when he said to his faithful followers: “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.
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. As the Bible says: “They will rule as kings over the earth.”—Rev. 5:9, 10.
Why are they chosen from the earth for such a work? Because it was here at this earth that Jehovah God’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.
Those taken from earth to serve as heavenly kings and priests 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. (Eph. 1:9-12) Under the direction of God’s own loyal Son they will have a further part, from heaven, in clearing God’s name of reproach as he brings this present wicked system of things to its end.—Rom. 16:20; Rev. 2:26, 27.
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! (Rev. 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.—Heb. 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! In this way, Almighty God will fulfill toward his earthly subjects his grand promise to “wipe out every tear from their eyes, and death will be no more, neither will mourning nor outcry nor pain be any more. The former things have passed away.”—Rev. 21:2-4.
HOW MANY GO TO HEAVEN?
Those who are called by God to Share in 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.”—Rev. 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; Heb. 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. (Rom. 6:5) When compared with the thousands of millions of persons who live on earth, they are, indeed, a “little flock.” Even single cities that have more than 144,000 residents are common on earth today.
However, the “little flock” who go to heaven are not the only ones who receive salvation. As we have seen, they will have a vast number of 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; Rev. 7:9, 15.
What is your hope? Is it to receive eternal life with Christ in the heavens? Or is it to enjoy the blessings of the Kingdom rule as one of its earthly subjects?
AN EARTHLY DESTINY OR A HEAVENLY ONE?
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.”—Rom. 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. The witness of the spirit is unmistakable.
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. (2 Pet. 1:21) With this in mind, let us examine the situation.
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? Yes, the Bible clearly says: “David did not ascend to the heavens.”—Acts 2:29, 34; Matt. 11:11.
Also, 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? “The righteous themselves will possess the earth,” the Bible promises, “and they will reside forever upon it.”—Ps. 37:10, 11, 29.
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 God’s inspired Word clearly says: “The soul that is sinning—it itself will die.” So those who die must depend on God to resurrect them to whatever place he wills for them.—Ezek. 18:4; 1 Cor. 15:35-38.
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 Thess. 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.” (Rev. 21:2) That is what God has set before them, and they show deep appreciation for it.
However, 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 and where it will be possible to enjoy life to the full. The facts show that it is principally to such an earthly hope of life that God has been pointing persons in recent years.
Truly, Jehovah God has made marvelous arrangements for blessing obedient mankind. How grand is His purpose to take from among humankind 144,000 tried and faithful persons to share with his Son Jesus Christ in ruling over the earth! And what a wonderful prospect God has provided for the rest of obedient mankind to live forever in happiness on earth under the rule of His heavenly kingdom!