Jehovah's Witnesses teach that when they die they will be resurrected to life on earth, and that only the 144,000 will go to heaven. The Bible's teaching on where the saved go after death is so different from that of the men who formed the Jehovah's Witnesses' doctrines that you may find this chapter hard to accept. I first realized just how hard when one of my sons came to me and said, "Dad, a Jehovah's Witness gets on the train at a stop after mine and always sits by me and talks about their teachings till I get off to go to my school. Today, he said, 'Those who are saved in our times don't go to heaven, but to an earthly kingdom.' Could you find me some verses that say that the saved go to heaven?"
I did, and wrote them out for him with a bit of explanation. He gave them to his friend the next day on the train. From that day on, this person never sat by him again or even looked his way. This has helped me realize how sensitive a point this can be. Since I don't want to offend you who are reading, I will just copy most of the verses on heaven without explaining them at all, in order that you may determine for yourself what God is teaching. By not inserting my comments, I hope that you will not be offended but will, "Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven" (Matt. 5:12).
There are quite a number of passages, so for brevity, I will just give the parts which deal directly with the subject at hand, emphasizing in bold the most important phrases, but suggest that you read these Scriptures in your own Bible together with the verses that surround them which often help determine their meaning.
Jehovah's Witnesses have usually been convinced that only the 144,000 will go to heaven. This is the opposite of what the Bible teaches. I go over all of the passages that mention the 144,000 at the end of this chapter. If you need to, you can read that part first, but do come back.
Passages on Heaven
"And I say unto you, that many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven. " (Matt. 8:11)
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you " (1 Pet. 1:3-4).
"…for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal. For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens . For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven" (2 Cor. 4:18-5:2).
"For our conversation is in heaven…" (Phil. 3:20).
But notice how the New World Translation renders this: "As for us, our citizenship exists in the heavens…")"For the hope which is laid up for you in heaven…" (Col. 1:5)
"Rejoice ye in that day, and leap for joy: for, behold, your reward is great in heaven " (Luke 6:23).
"But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly…" (Heb. 11:16).
"For when they shall rise from the dead, they neither marry, nor are given in marriage; but are as the angels which are in heaven" (Mark 12:25).
The words "which are" are not in the Greek, but even if they were, why would those who are raised from the dead be equipped for heaven if their destiny is earth?"And the Lord shall deliver me from every evil work, and will preserve me unto his heavenly kingdom " (2 Tim. 4:18).
The word translated "unto" is the normal Greek word for "into." See the word so translated twice in Matthew 9:17. "Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 18:3).
Three of the Beatitudes in Matthew Chapter Five Promise Heaven
- "Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven " (Matt. 5:3).
- "Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven " (Matt. 5:10).
- "Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven" (Matt. 5:12).
Believers in Christ Go To Be With Him and His Father
Jesus prepared a place for the believers where they would be with Him and His Father: "In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also. And whither I go ye know, and the way ye know. Thomas saith unto him, Lord, we know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way? Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me" (John 14:2-6).
Where are Christ and His Father?
Where is this place with many abodes which Christ prepared for us where His father is? "Our Father which art in heaven " (Matt. 6:9).
See also Matt. 5:16, 48; 6:1; 7:11.
In another prayer, Jesus asked that his followers would be where he was and he with the Father. "And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was" (John 17:5).
"I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am" (John 17:24).
"For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us" (Heb. 9:24).
"And it came to pass, while he blessed them, he was parted from them, and carried up into heaven. " (Luke 24:51)
"…by the resurrection of Jesus Christ: Who is gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God." (1 Pet. 3:21-22)
One day Jesus will return from heaven: "For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first. Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord " (1 Thess. 4:16-17).
Which Should We Desire, Heaven or Earth?
If you are a Jehovah's Witness, you have probably been taught not to desire to go to heaven, but to a paradise on earth. The Bible teaches: "Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth , where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven , where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also" (Matt. 6:19-21).
God wants it to be our hearts to desire to go to heaven with Him, not to be resurrected on earth.
While Our Eternal Home Is Not this Earth, We Have Two Types of Promises Regarding the Earth
- The unrighteous will not prosper for ever in this life on earth because God will step in, eliminate them, and give their land to the just. The just will pass it down as an inheritance to their children after them. Psalm 37 and Matthew 5:5 are examples.
- There will be a period in the future when Christ will reign on the earth for 1000 years (Rev. 20:1-6; Isa. 11:1-10). Don't think that the promise of a period when Christ reigns on earth eliminates the many promises of heaven. The many passages examined above clearly show that a place in heaven has been and is reserved for the saved in general, not for just a few of them. In addition, later, after Christ has ruled as king until God has subjected all things under His feet, He will hand the kingdom over to His Father (1 Cor. 15:24-25).
The Objection, the 144,000
Jehovah's Witnesses often answer that the 144,000 are the only ones who are born again and who will go to heaven, explaining that these are the apostles and the people who became Jehovah's Witnesses before 1914. The Watchtower has taught that some of these early Witnesses would still be alive at the coming of God's kingdom and would pass into it without dying. They consign the rest of the saved to God's earthly kingdom. The Bible, however, clearly states that the 144,000 are Israelites, that is, Jews. They are found only in Revelation 7 and 14. Since only chapter seven deals with who they were, we can easily check this. Let's do it.
Who Are the 144,000?
Chapter 7 clearly states that the 144,000 were sealed from among those on earth for special treatment during the great tribulation, and that they are from each of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel: "And I heard the number of them which were sealed: and there were sealed an hundred and forty and four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel. " (Rev. 7:4)
To reinforce this, the twelve tribes of Israel are then all listed by name, 12,000 from each tribe. It could hardly be stated more clearly that they are Israelites, that is, Jews. Had God been referring to "spiritual" Israel, he could easily have just said so and left out the long list of names of the 12 tribes.
Jehovah's Witnesses believe that the number is not to be taken spiritually, but literally, not "a large number," but exactly 144,000. Of what? Taken literally, the 144,000 were Jews, but Jehovah's Witnesses say that this part should not be taken literally, but spiritually, and means "Spiritual Israel." By this they mean mostly Jehovah's Witnesses with a few apostles and a few other early Christians thrown in. Neither of the two chapters that mention the 144,000 give any foundation at all to this man-made doctrine. While it is true that in this list of the 12 tribes, the descendants of Ephraim, who fell into idolatry, are listed by the name of Ephraim's father Joseph, this in no way infers that any of the 144,000 were Jehovah's Witnesses born before 1914, yet such are the arguments that have been used to back the claim that the 144,000 were not Jews but Jehovah's Witnesses.
The idea that the 144,000, born before 1914, would pass directly into heaven without dying has become ever more difficult to maintain as the years have passed. This quote from the October 8, 1968 issue of Awake! makes the problem clear. "Jesus was obviously speaking about those who were old enough to witness with understanding what took place when the 'last days' began… Even if we presume that youngsters 15 years of age would be perceptive enough to realize the import of what happened in 1914, it would still make the youngest of 'this generation' nearly 70 years old today… Jesus said that the end of this wicked world would come before that generation passed away in death."
By 1998, the youngest of "this generation" was 100 years old! It had gradually became obvious that this prophecy would not be fulfilled either, so it too is being abandoned. Let us pray that these facts will give you boldness to put the clear statements of the Bible above the words of fallible men.
The 144,000 Are Not the Only Ones in Heaven
The really important thing about the 144,000 is not that the Watchtower's opinion is changing about whether or not they will pass into heaven without dying, but whether they will be the only ones in heaven. In fact, the two times the Bible mentions them they are on earth. In Revelation 14:1 they are "on the Mount Zion" which is in Jerusalem and hear singing from heaven. In 7:2-3, they are also on earth.
While it might be reasonably inferred that at some later date they, along with many others would be in heaven, no passage in the Bible says so. Assuming that the Witnesses are not wrong in thinking that the 144,000 will one day be in heaven, a phrase which describes them in 14:4 becomes very important, "These were redeemed from among men, being the firstfruits unto God and to the Lamb." The word "firstfruits" in the Bible refers to the first of something that will be followed by many others. Under the law of Moses when the harvest began, the first of the firstfruits were to be offered to the Lord (Ex. 23:19). It taught the people to trust God for the rest of the harvest. If the 144,000 are in heaven as firstfruits, many others will be coming to heaven too.
A Great Multitude in Heaven
In chapter seven, right after explaining that the 144,000 are Jews, the scene changes from the earth where the 144,000 were sealed to heaven. In heaven we are shown a different group of people, an innumerable crowd from all nations and peoples: "After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands. And cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb" (Rev. 7:9-10).
The passage states that this great crowd, too big to count, of people from all nations, is standing before the throne of God. Jehovah's Witness' doctrine, in maintaining that the 144,000 are the only ones in heaven, contradicts this clear teaching of the Word of Jehovah!
There is no question that the throne where the great multitude is standing is in heaven, because all of chapter 4 is devoted to God's throne and what goes on around it, "Behold, a throne was set in heaven, and one sat on the throne" (Rev. 4:2). In chapter seven, we find a huge crowd of people of all nationalities (not part of the 144,000 who are Jews) in heaven before the throne.
Please read all of chapters four and seven so your faith will be based on the Scriptures themselves, in context, and not on my having said what a few of the verses teach, or on someone else's mistaken belief that only the 144,000 will be in heaven. Notice that 7:15 repeats that the great multitude clothed in white robes is "before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple". Notice the added information here: "in his temple". This temple is clearly "in heaven" in Revelation 11:19 and 14:17. The 144,000 are certainly not the only ones in heaven, and no passage in the Bible even infers that they might be. The teaching that only they are there is a man made doctrine which contradicts the clear teaching of God's Word that they are firstfruits, and that an innumerable multitude will have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb and be standing before God's throne in Heaven. An overwhelming number of passages tell us that the believer's hope is in heaven. Remember Christ's command: "Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also" (Matt. 6:19-21).
God is Not Dividing the Saved into Two Groups
Christ said: "And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd " (John 10:16).
See also John 11:52, Eph. 3:4-6.
God's purpose is just the opposite of maintaining two distinct groups of the saved, one aimed for heaven and the other for earth. It is to bring believers from all nations into one united group. The Biblical evidence is overwhelming. Christ died that those who trust in Him may be with Him and His Father in heaven. Trust the Savior to save you, and and to include you in that group.
The next chapter will help you decide, by considering what will happen if you don't.