Friday, April 08, 2011

Do all faithful Christians go to heaven? Review of the June 2011 Watchtower Public Edition

In this review, I would like to address an article written by the Watchtower titled, "Do all faithful Christians go to heaven?"  While it is common for the organization to mention their so-called "two-class system," whereby Christians will be eternally separated into a class in heaven (consisting of 144,000 anointed Jehovah's Witnesses) and a class on earth (the rest of faithful Jehovah's Witnesses); it is not all that common for a full article to be written on the subject.

While there is nothing new here, it is important that these issues be addressed.  As I mentioned in this REVIEW, there are some profound implications in holding to this doctrine that goes far beyond one's eternal location.  Another reason for addressing this is to equip those interested in reaching JW's on an issue that is often overlooked in so-called "counter-cult apologetics."  Lord willing, this review will provide something insightful for both JW's and non-JW's.

 Many have read Jesus’ comforting words: “God loved the world so much that he gave his only-begotten Son, in order that everyone exercising faith in him might not be destroyed but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16) Did Jesus mean that all faithful worshippers of his Father, Jehovah God, would go to heaven to enjoy everlasting life in true happiness? 
Note Jesus’ thought- provoking statement: “No man has ascended into heaven but he that descended from heaven, the Son of man.” (John 3: 13) This implies that faithful worshippers in the past, such as Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David, had not gone to heaven. (Acts 2:34) Where, then, did they all go? In brief: The faithful of old are in the grave, sleeping in death, un- conscious, awaiting resurrection.—Ecclesiastes
9:5, 6; Acts 24:15.
For the sake of avoiding an issue that could potentially cloud the discussion, I would like to assume the Watchtower is correct on these points.  However, one thing they say is correct; Jesus' statement does not say or imply that Christians will go to heaven for eternity.
The Bible’s first reference to heavenly life after death was also by Jesus. He told his apostles that he would prepare a place for them in heaven. (John 14:2, 3) This was something new for God’s people.
While it is true that life in heaven would be a new concept to any Jew, it is not true that John 14:2-3 has something to do with this.
“In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you.“If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.”
(John 14:2–3)
A quick glance at this verse may reveal that what the Watchtower says is true.  But a closer look may reveal otherwise.  Notice what Jesus will do after the "preparation"; he will "come again."  Where will he come to?  Could it be that Christ comes to earth, since "heaven must receive [him] until the period of restoration (Acts 3:21)?"  If Christ comes to earth, where will the "receiving" take place?  It seems that this will take place on earth since Christ is said to, "descend from heaven...then we...will...meet the Lord in the air." (1 Thess. 4:16-17)

But what are the "dwelling places...prepared for you?"  Whatever it is, could it be the same city that is being prepared for Abraham and others for whom the Watchtower claims an "earthly hope?"
“But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them.”
(Hebrews 11:16)
There are also several texts which speak of a "place prepared" that is specifically referring to the preparation of believers.
“For He has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses, by just so much as the builder of the house has more honor than the house. For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God. Now Moses was faithful in all His house as a servant, for a testimony of those things which were to be spoken later; but Christ was faithful as a Son over His house — whose house we are, if we hold fast our confidence and the boast of our hope firm until the end.”
(Hebrews 3:3–6)
“you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”
(1 Peter 2:5) 
“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone,in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.”
(Ephesians 2:19–22 NAS95)
 If one is to insist that Jesus is preparing and building a literal place, then cross references should be provided as have been done above.  However, there is nothing inconsistent in the view that the preparing is actually the body of believers and the kingdom itself.
The apostle Paul later explained that after Jesus’ death and resurrection to heaven, Jesus ‘inaugurated for his disciples a new and living way’—a way no other human had traveled before.—Hebrews 10:19, 20.
While it is true that these verses are speaking of a "new way," it is not the case that it is referring to "going to heaven."  In fact, the very next 2 verses explicitly assert what v. 19-20 are speaking of.
“and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.”
(Hebrews 10:21–22)
The "new way" is the privilege of believers to now "draw near" to God through Christ as their high priest.  If one has this privilege in this life, why would one think that they must go to heaven to do so?  Also consider Revelation 21:3, where God draws near to us by "dwelling among" us.  This happens after the "holy city" (Hebrews 11:16, 12:22) comes "down out of heaven from God" onto the new earth.
Does this mean that from then on all faithful ones would go to heaven? No, for resurrection to heaven is closely related to an assignment given only to some humans. On their last evening together, Jesus told his apostles that they would “sit on thrones to judge” in his heavenly Kingdom. Thus, ruling with Jesus in heaven was to be their assignment.—Luke 22:28-30.
This interpretation assumes two things:
  1. Jesus' eschatological kingdom will be in heaven.
  2. The judgment thrones will be in heaven.
Contrary to what the Watchtower says, Luke 22:28-30 specifies neither of these.  However, it is interesting that Jesus mentions "eating and drinking" in the kingdom (also mentioned in Luke 14:15; Matthew 26:29).  Will there really be eating and drinking in heaven?  Furthermore, it is interesting that Luke 13:28-29 mentions, "Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God...reclining at the table"; a group of people the Watchtower claims will not be in heaven.
Besides the apostles, other humans would also be given this marvelous commission. In a vision, the apostle John saw Jesus with a group of resurrected ones in heaven described as ‘a kingdom and priests to rule over the earth.’ (Revelation 3:21; 5:10)  
Again, neither of these texts mention heaven.  Furthermore, the Watchtower takes it for granted that "over" can just as easily be translated as "upon," which is how many translations render it. In fact, the Kingdom Interlinear Translation of the Greek Scriptures, published by the Watchtower, renders it as such (see the left column):



But regardless of what epi can be translated as; what is important is what it means in the context.  One lexicon defines epi in the context of Revelation 5:10 as,
marker of power, authority, control of or over someone or someth., over
w. gen. (Hdt. 5, 109 al.; Mitt-Wilck. I/1, 124, 1=BGU 1120, 1 [5 b.c.] πρωτάρχῳ ἐ. τοῦ κριτηρίου; 287, 1; LXX; AscIs 2:5 τοῦ ἐ. τῶν πραγματε[ι] ῶν=Denis p. 109) βασιλεύειν ἐ. τινος (Judg 9:8, 10; 1 Km 8:7) Rv 5:10
-William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 365.
  
 In the context of Revelation 5:10, it is not location that is in view, but authority.
How many of them were there? As in every government, only a limited number govern. So, too, with this heavenly Kingdom. Jesus, the Lamb of God, rules with 144,000 corulers “bought from among mankind.”—Revelation 14:1, 4, 5.
There is an interesting contrast between what John "saw" and what he "heard."
  • John saw, "the Lamb standing on Mount Zion, and with Him one hundred and forty-four thousand..."
  • John heard, "a voice from heaven, like the sound of many waters..."

What John saw must have been relative to his location, which would have been earth since this is contrasted to what he heard from heaven.  Therefore, it is reasonable to infer that v. 1 depicts an earthly scene rather than one in heaven.
True, 144,000 is a small number compared with the number of all faithful ones, past and present.
What the Watchtower fails to mention is that the "anointed" class must be a group larger than a literal 144,000 in light of the following,
“But the Jerusalem above is free; she is our mother. For it is written, “REJOICE, BARREN WOMAN WHO DOES NOT BEAR; BREAK FORTH AND SHOUT, YOU WHO ARE NOT IN LABOR; FOR MORE NUMEROUS ARE THE CHILDREN OF THE DESOLATE THAN OF THE ONE WHO HAS A HUSBAND.””
(Galatians 4:26–27)
According to the Watchtower, the "children of the desolate" are the anointed class of 144,000 whereas the "one who has a husband" is in reference to natural Israel.  However, it is doubtful that the Watchtower is prepared to argue that natural Israel was smaller in number than 144,000.
But this is understandable because the 144,000 are resurrected to heaven for a specific sacred assignment of work. If you were to build a house, would you contract all the skilled builders in your area? No. You would need only as many as were required for the job. Similarly, not all faithful ones are chosen by God for the unique privilege of ruling with Christ in heaven.
This heavenly government will accomplish God’s original purpose for mankind. Jesus and his 144,000 corulers will oversee the transformation of the earth into a global paradise, where an untold number of faithful ones will live forever in happiness. (Isaiah 45:18; Revelation 21: 3, 4) This will include those in God’s memory, who will be resurrected.—John 5:28, 29.
Every faithful worshipper of Jehovah—past or present—can receive the marvelous gift of everlasting life. (Romans 6:23) A few will receive life in heaven for a special assignment, and the great majority will receive life on earth in a global paradise.
While is true that the earth will one day be restored to a paradise (Revelation 21:1), it is not the case that there will be a "heavenly government" whereby a literal 144,000 will rule in heaven with Christ over the rest of faithful Christians living on the earth.  Instead, the eternal dwelling for all Christians on the new earth is far more consistent with the Scriptures.

If you would like to read this issue of the Watchtower in its entirety, you can download the PDF HERE

6 comments:

micheygirl66 said...

Well articulated Mike.I'm so glad you are able to see beyond the trinity and hell when it comes to reaching the mind and hearts of Jehovah's Witnesses.There are many out there like me who were drawn to the "organization" precisely because of being nontriniatrian,being repelled by the traditionalist concept of hell,and understanding that the meek shall possess the earth.So I reaaly enjoy blogs like these and hope the JW's will carefully consider what you've said.God bless.

The Apologetic Front said...

Thank you Kellie! What you describe is an interesting methodology by Christians in that they think its wise to first present ideas to JW's that they find most ridiculous. It would be like a Catholic thinking its a good idea to first try to convince an evangelical that they should pray to Mary.

Since the early Church didn't always first evangelize in presenting Christ's deity, why should I? As long as i'm faithful to Scripture, I believe God has given us the freedom of discernment in how we evangelize.

Kellie, is that your kid in the picture??

micheygirl66 said...

Get real,Mike.

Genesis 3:16 To the woman he said,

“I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing;
in pain you shall bring forth children.
Your desire shall be for your husband,
and he shall rule over you.”

I don't like the sound of any of that.=-/

That's my nephew.

Very good point about the early Church evangelizing.May Yah bring you much success in your seed planting to the JW's in regards to these integral Kingdom matters!Be encouraged & God bless!

The Apologetic Front said...

Ouch!! Yeah, that doesn't sound too appealing!

Anonymous said...

Mike,
You got that right --- Yeah, your article certainly doesn't sound too appealing!!!Kellie is right too, in that you are planting a seed to JWs. It is Satan's seed that you are planting.

The Apologetic Front said...

@Anonymous,

Care to share any specific disagreements with my post? Claiming that I am "planting Satan's seed" is a bold accusation, indeed.