Last edited on 23/Jan/2021
The Bible’s Answer
The Bible’s answer to this question is no; 144,000 is not the set number of people who will go to Heaven. In contrast, the Christian-based cult called the Jehovah’s Witnesses (The Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society) teaches that only 144,000 people will go to Heaven based on mistaken interpretations on two Scriptures in the Bible: Revelation 7:1–8 and Revelation 14:1–5. Because the Watch Tower Society used the King James Version of the Bible up until 1950, that translation will be quoted from throughout this article.
Who Are the 144,000?
According to the passages above, the 144,000 people are all “servants of God“, “sealed … in their foreheads” by angels, “children of Israel”, and they “were redeemed from the earth”. The passages also say that they are all male “virgins”, that they “follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth”, that they are the “firstfruits unto God and to the Lamb”, that there is no “guile” in their mouths, and that they are “without fault before the throne of God”. What are we to make of this?
According to the Watch Tower Society, these 144,000 people are baptised Jehovah’s Witnesses, and they are the only people in the world who are anointed with the Holy Spirit, born again, and who will go to heaven, while all other Jehovah’s Witnesses do not have the Holy Spirit, are not born again, and will rebuild a kingdom on Earth through manual labour for one thousand years after everything has been destroyed from the Battle of Armageddon, in which they will live forever (1, pp. 71-74, 91-95, 104-109). It teaches that there are two classes of Jehovah’s Witnesses: those who are of the 144,000 are the “anointed” class (the more elite one), while the rest are “the great crowd” (1, p. 97). There is a problem with such a view, however.
Everyone Who Is Not Among the 144,000 Is an Unbeliever
The Bible says that those who do not receive the seal of God on their foreheads (those who aren’t one of the 144,000 people) will be tormented from an unbearably painful plague (Revelation 9:3–6), possibly killed by angels (Revelation 9:13–15), and they will be worshippers of demons and idols, as well as murderers, sorcerers, fornicators, and thieves (Revelation 9:20–21). God puts his seal on those who believe in him to preserve them from the plague (Revelation 9:4).
For those who choose not to believe because they refuse to love the truth, God sends them a strong delusion so that they may believe what is false (2 Thessalonians 2:9–12), but he has chosen those who believe to be saved through sanctification of the Spirit and belief in the truth (2 Thessalonians 2:13), and it is them on whom he puts his seal. Because of this, there are clearly more than 144,000 people who will have the seal of God and go to heaven, because it is given to all Christians who believe, while only the non-believers do not have it. There is another problem with the Watch Tower Society’s interpretation on these passages.
The Watchtower’s Governing Body Is Not Among the 144,000 and Thus Has No Authority
The Watch Tower Society teaches that the governing body of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, which is the authoritative leadership of the Watch Tower Society, which alone can interpret the Bible for all of its members, must be a part of the 144,000 anointed ones (1, pp. 71-74). According to the Watch Tower Society, one has to be born before 1935 in order to be one of the 144,000 anointed ones, and to become a part of the governing body (1, pp. 71-72, 91). It also teaches that God began choosing the 144,000 Christians since the Holy Spirit’s coming on the day of Pentecost (1, p. 94).
The problem with this view is that if God began choosing the 144,000 on the day of Pentecost, then all of them would have already been chosen a very long time ago. There were approximately 250,000 Jewish Christians in the early church, and the book of Acts mentions approximately 100,000 Christians (1, p. 94). The church spread quickly amongst the Gentiles in the first century, and hundreds of thousands became Christians (1, p. 95). At least 250,000 Christians were martyred under Roman rule (1, p. 95). Therefore, because the 144,000 were already chosen a long time ago, none of the members of the governing body today can be anointed and hence have no authority to teach or interpret the Scriptures (according to their own literal interpretation).
A Biblical View of the 144,000 Children of Israel
On top of all this, it is a well-known fact that the book of Revelation makes use of symbolism quite a lot (e.g. Revelation 17:15–18). Therefore, it is reasonable to suggest that this number is symbolic (In fact, to read it symbolically is the only way that is in harmony with the rest of the Scriptures). It is most likely that the twelve tribes of the “children of Israel” symbolise the church of Christ; its number, 144,000, symbolises that the church is militant, ready for mission, and in marching order; the names in the list show that the church is cleansed from idolatry and apostasy; and the church is sealed and protected in the faith (2, p. 2212). This view agrees with the rest of the Bible’s teachings.
The Holy Spirit and Heaven
Let’s now take a look at some Bible passages for additional proof. The Bible teaches that the moment a Christian believes in Jesus, they will be sealed with the Holy Spirit (This is similar to the Christians receiving a seal on their foreheads in Revelation 7):
In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, 14 Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:13–14)
This passage also mentions that the Holy Spirit is “the earnest of our inheritance”, or “the guarantee of our inheritance” (English Standard Version). What is the inheritance of all Christian believers who have received the Holy Spirit? The Bible answers this in 1 Peter 1:3–4 and Colossians 1:12–13:
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, 4 To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, (1 Peter 1:3–4)
Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light: 13 Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son: (Colossians 1:12–13)
What these passages tell us is that the moment a Christian believes in Jesus, they receive the Holy Spirit who guarantees their inheritance reserved in Heaven, and that they are translated into Christ’s Kingdom, which the Bible defines as Heaven (compare Ephesians 5:5 with Matthew 8:10–12 and Luke 13:28–29). When we believe in Jesus, we become “partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light”. In other words, Christians today partake in the same inheritance with the Christians in the early church that is “reserved in heaven” for us.
We Must Have the Holy Spirit to Be Christians
If we do not have the Holy Spirit, then we have no inheritance of eternal life. This is in contrast to the Watch Tower Society’s teaching that only 144,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses born before 1935 can receive the Holy Spirit and go to Heaven. The Bible teaches if one does not have the Holy Spirit dwelling in them (Remember, the Bible teaches that all Christians have him), then they cannot please God, they do not belong to Christ, and they won’t be raised to eternal life:
For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. 7 Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. 8 So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God. 9 But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. 10 And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you. (Romans 8:6–11)
It also teaches that if one does not have the Holy Spirit, then they are not children of God, an heir of God, or a joint-heir with Christ:
For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. 15 For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. 16 The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: 17 And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together. (Romans 8:14–17)
The Bible tells us that we need to be a child of God in order to be part of Abraham’s seed, “heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:26–29). Part of the “promise” mentioned in the passage refers to receiving the Holy Spirit and thus the inheritance of eternal life (Galatians 3:14), but it also refers to justification before God by faith (Galatians 3:7–9). This gives us peace with God (Romans 5:1) and it saves us from his wrath and reconciles us to him (Romans 5:9–10). In other words, those who are not the children of God (those who lack the Holy Spirit) do not have peace with God, and his wrath remains on them. What a terrible state to be in! This is exactly the state that the Watchtower Society teaches its members are in who aren’t a part of the 144,000 anointed ones.
Being Born Again and Heaven
With regards to being “born again”, the Bible teaches that Christians are born again “by the word of God” by which “the gospel is preached unto you”:
Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently: 23 Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever. 24 For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away: 25 But the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you. (1 Peter 1:22–25)
It teaches that everyone who receives Jesus is born of God:
But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: 13 Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:12–13)
Those who are not born again cannot enter the kingdom of God:
Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. (John 3:3)
Again, this stands in contrast to the Watch Tower Society’s teachings that only the 144,000 anointed ones are born again. A Christian must be born again to have eternal life. Some passages have been examined with regards to receiving the Holy Spirit, our heavenly inheritance, and being born again, but let’s examine just a few more verses.
Additional Scriptures Teaching That Every Christian Goes to Heaven
Jesus said with regards to his suffering, crucifixion, and resurrection:
Then he said unto them, O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken: 26 Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory? (Luke 24:25–26)
When Jesus said that he would “enter into his glory”, he meant that he was going to Heaven, as the Bible elsewhere explains (Ephesians 1:20; Mark 16:19). But what does this have to do with us? 1 Peter 5:10 explains that God calls all Christians to his eternal glory by Jesus Christ:
But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you. (1 Peter 5:10)
Therefore, because all Christians are called to God’s eternal glory, this means that all of them will live with Jesus in Heaven for eternity. All Christians, both dead and alive, will be caught up together in the clouds one day, and be together forever with the Lord:
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: 17 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 Thessalonians 4:16–17)
This eliminates the Watch Tower Society’s theory that there are two classes of believers, one which receives the better reward, Heaven, simply because they lived at a certain time, while the other receives the lesser reward, a paradise Earth, but one in which they must transform into a paradise through manual labour for 1,000 years from scratch, because the battle of Armageddon will have destroyed everything.
Christians Will Not Rebuild the Earth into a Paradise
Also, contrary to the view of rebuilding the Earth into a paradise, the Bible says that those who “die in the Lord from henceforth … may rest from their labours”:
And I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them. (Revelation 14:13)
Rebuilding and transforming an entire planet into a paradise—which has been completely ravaged from a large battle—for 1,000 years is not rest from labour. Jesus said that he has already prepared a place for every Christian in Heaven (his Father’s house):
Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. 2 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. 3 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. (John 14:1–3)
Christians can rest assured knowing that the heavenly abode they will stay in has already been lovingly provided by Jesus. The Bible describes Jesus as the bridegroom and his followers as his bride (Mark 2:18–20; John 3:28–30). It says that the church is the Bride of Christ whom he loved to the point of death (2 Corinthians 11:2; Ephesians 5:25–27). Every Christian will dwell in the heavenly New Jerusalem, and they will not be divided into two classes as has already been established (Revelation 21:1–4).
The New Jerusalem is described as the “Bride of Christ” because it consists of all the members of his church (Revelation 21:9–10). There will only be one flock, and one Shepherd, the Lord Jesus Christ (John 10:14–16). The Shepherd will put the sheep (Christians) on his right hand, and the goats (Non-believers) on his left; the sheep will inherit Christ’s Kingdom (Matthew 25:31–34), while the goats will be cast off into “everlasting fire” (Matthew 25:41). Therefore, as Christians who have Jesus Christ as our Shepherd, let us give thanks to God for receiving a kingdom that cannot be moved!
But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, 23 To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, 24 And to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel. … 28 Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear: (Hebrews 12:22–24, 28)
In conclusion, the Watch Tower Society’s teaching that there are two classes of believers in Jesus, “the anointed”, which is the more elite one that has the Holy Spirit, is born again, and inherits Heaven, and “the great crowd”, which is the inferior class that does not have the Holy Spirit, is not born again, and will have to dwell on Earth and rebuild it into a paradise through manual labour for 1,000 years, is false.
The Bible teaches that every Christian will be together with the Lord in Heaven forever (1 Thessalonians 4:16–17; Colossians 1:12–13), in the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:1–4), and that they are born again as children of God (John 1:12–13; Romans 8:14–17), and have the Holy Spirit as a guarantee of their heavenly citizenship (Ephesians 1:13–14; 1 Peter 1:3–4). Because the Watch Tower Society rejects this, it is a non-Christian cult. Jehovah’s Witnesses need to trust in Jesus Christ alone for their salvation, and not the Watch Tower Society, in order to be reconciled to God (John 14:6; Acts 4:10–12; 1 John 1:7; 1 John 5:13).
1. Lingle, W 2009, What the Watchtower Society Doesn’t Want You to Know: A Glimpse Behind the Walls of the Kingdom Halls, CLC Publications, Fort Washington
2. Engelbrecht, E A, Murray, S R, Paavola, D E, Prange, V H, Sorensen, R A, Walther, M P (eds) 2009, The Lutheran Study Bible, Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis
All scripture quotations are from the King James Version unless specified otherwise.