Certain groups such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses will promote the idea that only 144,000 people throughout the history of time are going to go to heaven. Can this be true and where might they be getting this idea from in the Bible?
The Jehovah’s Witnesses’ position is that only 144,000 redeemed people will actually ascend to heaven while the rest of the redeemed people will actually live or dwell on the glorified Earth and then the people who are not redeemed will actually go to hell. Where are they getting this from in the Bible? There are two places in the book of Revelation that mention a group of people that number 144,000. The first is in Revelation 7 and it reads “Then I heard the number of those who were sealed: 144,000 from all the tribes of Israel” and if you go on to read to the next couple of verses, the Apostle John quotes or lists 12,000 Jews from each of the 12 tribes and that numbers 144,000.
First of all, if only 144,000 people total are going to go to heaven, then that means the majority of their members who are alive today, not even considering all of their members who have died in past generations, would not actually enter into heaven and that already is a problem for the Jehovah Witnesses’ view.
Second of all, it’s important to look at this series of verses within the context. When you look at the book of Revelation specifically chapter 7, this is in the portion of the book that is talking about the Great Tribulation, which many theologians believe is going to be a literal 7-year period where God is going to unleash his wrath upon the inhabitants of the earth in a series of very serious judgments. It is during this time that John sees a vision of 144,000 people, 12,000 Jews from each tribe getting sealed. What does it mean to be sealed and who are these people? There is a big argument in debate in terms of who these people exactly are but one view that I personally believe is the right one is the idea that these are going to be specifically Jewish men who are going to be charged with the responsibility to share God’s truth or to share the gospel to those who are still alive and will remain on the earth. They cannot do that if they are susceptible to the judgments and the wrath of God so they must be sealed or protected so that they can successfully carry out their mission to share the gospel with those who are still alive. The 144,000 in the book of Revelation 7 is not referring to all the people from all generations that are going to go to heaven; it’s referring to a specific group of people who are going to be Jewish evangelists specifically called during this time to share the gospel with people in hope that they will believe in the gospel and ultimately go to heaven.
Third, if we continue to read the context in Revelation 7, it suggests that there is going to be innumerable number of people in heaven surrounding the throne of God. John continues in his vision and says “this a great multitude that what no one could count from every nation tribe, people and language standing before the throne and before the lamb.” If John says that this is a number that no one could count, then that means that it can’t be 144,000 people that go to heaven because that is a number that we actually can count. So the context makes it very clear that the number of people that are going to get into heaven are innumerable and will exceed far beyond 144,000. In addition to this, if we just took Revelation 7 literally and assume that only 144,000 Jews were gonna get to heaven, that that would once again contradict the idea that John says here he saw people from every nation and every tribe and every tongue surrounding the throne, which indicates that there’s going to be people from all sorts of nations and ethnic backgrounds that are getting into heaven. We can go all the way back to Genesis 12 when God called Abraham and he said “through you, all the nations of the earth are going to be blessed.” In other words, God is going to use the Jews but he’s going to use them as an instrument to bless the entire world more specifically through the birth and the death of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and his offer of his life as a sacrifice for us on the cross.
Finally, if we go to Revelation 14, we will see the next time that this group of 144,000 is actually mentioned, it says no one could learn the song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth. These are those who did not defile themselves with women for they remained virgins. If it’s true that only these 144,000 people are going to heaven, then that would once again indicate or suggest that only Jewish men and Jewish virgin men could get to heaven, which means that that excludes all of the church fathers, that excludes the apostles, and that also excludes the Jehovah’s Witness founder himself Charles Taze Russell.