Do only 144,000 make it to Heaven?
My doctrinal stance while asking this question was that all believers go to heaven after they die. I cited 2 Corinthians 5:8 in support of my position. There, Paul argues that it is “better to be absent from the body, because we become present with the Lord.”
Their response to 2 Cor. 5:8 was ““because the Israelite’s were a disobedient nation, they forfeited their ability to enter into heaven.” Therefore, those who would be “present with the LORD” at death were a “gentile substitute” to what is called the 144,000. These 144,000, according to the JW’s, are a people of priests of God. By JW reasoning they are the only ones who will make it to heaven in order to “reign upon the earth”. In support of this small number of “gentile priest substitutes”, the JW’s quote Rev. 5:9-10 and Rev. 20:6.
“And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. “You have made them to be a kingdom and PRIESTS to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.” Rev. 5:9-10
“Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no power, but they will be PRIESTS of God and of Christ and will reign with Him for a thousand years.” Rev. 20:6
When I heard them give the explanation for these “gentile priest substitutes”. 1 Peter 1:1; 2:9 immediately came to mind.
“Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who reside as aliens, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, who are chosen…you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God’s OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;”
Here we see Peter address five gentile churches (1:1) as A ROYAL PRIESTHOOD (2:9). Again, the JW’s labeled these as apart of the “gentile priest substitutes” who numbered 144,000, and were the only ones who were admitted into heaven. According to their view, when Paul instructed the Corinthian Church that it is “better to be absent from the body because we become present with the Lord”, this only applied to the Corinthian church. Also when Peter called the five gentile churches “a royal priesthood”, he was speaking to people who would enter into heaven with the Lord and reign with Jesus for a thousand years.
When we look at the text in Revelation 7 and 14 concerning the 144,000, their identity is clearly explained.
“And I heard the number of those who were sealed, ONE HUNDRED AND FORTY-FOUR THOUSAND sealed from every TRIBE OF THE SONS OF ISRAEL: from the tribe of JUDAH, TWELVE THOUSAND were sealed, from the tribe of RUEBEN TWELVE THOUSAND, from the tribe of GAD TWELVE THOUSAND, from the tribe of ASHER TWELVE THOUSAND, from the tribe of NAPHTALI TWELVE THOUSAND, from the tribe of MANASSEH TWELVE THOUSAND, from the tribe of SIMEON TWELVE THOUSAND, from the tribe of LEVI TWELVE THOUSAND, from the tribe of ISSACHAR TWELVE THOUSAND, from the tribe of ZEBULUN TWELVE THOUSAND, from the tribe of JOSEPH TWELVE THOUSAND, from the tribe of BENJAMIN, TWELVE THOUSAND were sealed.” Rev. 7:4-8
Then I looked, and behold, the Lamb was standing on Mount Zion, and with Him ONE HUNDRED AND FORTY-FOUR THOUSAND, having His name and the name of His Father written on their foreheads. And I heard a voice from heaven, like the sound of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder, and the voice which I heard was like the sound of harpists playing on their harps. And they sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders; and no one could learn the song except the one hundred and forty-four thousand who had been purchased from the earth. These are the ones who have not been defiled with women, for they have kept themselves chaste. These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes. These have been purchased from among men as first fruits to God and to the Lamb. And no lie was found in their mouth; they are blameless. Revelation 14:1-5
From this text we gather three things clearly. 1) The 144,000 are 12,000 members from every tribe of the sons of Israel. 2) The tribes are not figurative, they are literal because they are mentioned by name. 3) They were purchased as first fruits from the earth. They were virgins. Never lied. They are blameless.
Two questions now arise that the Jehovah’s Witness must answer.
1) How can the 144,000 be “gentile priest substitutes”, when the text explicitly states that they are the sons of the tribes of Israel?
2) Since they are sons of the tribes of Israel and not gentile substitutes, does it still follow that Paul’s argument was only applicable to those at the church of Corinth or the five gentile churches?
Also, who is the great multitude standing before the throne in heaven?
After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands; and they cry out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures; and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, “Amen, blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might, be to our God forever and ever. Amen.” Then one of the elders answered, saying to me, “These who are clothed in the white robes, who are they, and where have they come from?” I said to him, “My lord, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. “For this reason, they are before the throne of God; and they serve Him day and night in His temple; and He who sits on the throne will spread His tabernacle over them. “They will hunger no longer, nor thirst anymore; nor will the sun beat down on them, nor any heat; for the Lamb in the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and will guide them to springs of the water of life; and God will wipe every tear from their eyes.” Rev. 7:9-17
This subsequent portion of Scripture in Revelation 7 mentions “a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues” (v.9). They are there because they owe “Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb” (v.10). This great multitude which no one could count were the “ones who come out of the great tribulation” (v.14) and who “are before the throne of God and serve God day and night in His temple” (v.15).
Revelation 19:1-6 also places this ‘great multitude’ in Heaven.
After these things I heard something like a loud voice of a great multitude in HEAVEN, saying, “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God; BECAUSE HIS JUDGMENTS ARE TRUE AND RIGHTEOUS; for He has judged the great harlot who was corrupting the earth with her immorality, and HE HAS AVENGED THE BLOOD OF HIS BOND-SERVANTS ON HER.” And a second time they said, “Hallelujah! HER SMOKE RISES UP FOREVER AND EVER.” And the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God who sits on the throne saying, “Amen. Hallelujah!” And a voice came from the throne, saying, “Give praise to our God, all you His bond-servants, you who fear Him, the small and the great.” Then I heard something like the voice of a great multitude and like the sound of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, saying, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God, the Almighty, reigns. Revelation 19:1-6
What I thought was amiss was the Scripture these JW’s applied to the “gentile priest substitutes” from Rev 5:9-10. When reading it it describes those from ‘every tribe and tongue and people and nation.”
“And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. “You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.” Rev. 5:9-10 [Compare with Rev. 7:9-17]
When Revelation 7 is taken in context with Revelation 5, we see that the great multitude is this nation of priests who reign with Jesus. This great multitude is without number.
So who is accounted for in heaven?
The 144,000 spoken of in Rev. 7:4. The sons of Israel.
The great multitude spoken of in Rev. 7:9-17 + Rev. 19:1
The Martyrs from Rev. 6:9-10…
“When the Lamb broke the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained; and they cried out with a loud voice, saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?”…
In conclusion to the question, “Do only 144,000 make it to heaven?”
When we examine the context of what is being taught, there are many more who will be residing in heaven. The 144,000 are not “gentile priest substitutes” but are “sons of the tribes of Israel”. Paul’s argument “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord” applies to all believers in Christ. And when Peter calls the believers at five gentile church’s “a royal priesthood”, he is speaking of a priesthood of believers. The JW’s insert into the text their predetermined ideas. Instead of allowing the Bible to form their belief, they conform it to theirs.