Sunday, September 24, 2017

Do All Good People Go to Heaven?

How attractive the prospect of going to heaven can sound! The hope of life after death is held in various forms by Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, members of Christendom's churches, and even many who are not interested in religion. Heaven is usually imagined as a place of beauty and pleasure where people gain relief from suffering and are reunited with "departed loved ones." And yet, for most of mankind, the old adage is true: Everyone wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die to get there. Why is that so?
If we were designed to die and go to heaven, would not more people look forward to it as much as a child looks forward to growing up or a youth looks forward to getting married? But most people do not want to die.
Even so, preachers claim that our short sojourn on earth, heaven is where we intended to live. For example, Theodore Edgar Cardinal McCarrick, archbishop emeritus of Washington D.C., was quoted as saying: "This life is not what we're made for. We're made for heaven." Similarly, a former president of the U.S. National Association of Evangelicals was quoted as saying: "The purpose of life is to glorify God and go to heaven...'cause heaven is our home."
Those who believe in an afterlife in heaven commonly base their faith on scant information. George Barna, president of a company that researches religious opinions, found that many people adopt "views of life and the afterlife based upon ideas drawn from disparate sources, such as movies, music and novels." An Episcopalian pastor in Florida was quoted as saying: "We don't know anything about heaven except that heaven is where God is."
Heaven, however, is an important topic discussed in the Bible. According to God's word, what is heaven like? Was man made to live in heaven? If people do go to heaven, what will they do there?
What is Heaven like?
Some people think that it is impossible to know about heaven because no one has ever come down from there to tell us about it. Perhaps they have forgotten that Jesus said: "I have come down from heaven." (John 6:38) To some religious leaders, he also said: "You are from the realms below; I am from the realms above." (John 8:23) What did Jesus say about heaven?
Jesus confirmed that heaven is where Jehovah resides. He called God "my Father who is in heaven." (Matthew 12:50) But Jesus used the word "heaven" in more than one sense. For example, he referred to the earth's atmosphere as "heaven" when he said: "Observe intently the birds of heaven." (Matthew 6:26) Nevertheless, Jehovah lives beyond the atmosphere. The Bible says: "There is One who is dwelling above the circle of the earth." -Isaiah 40:22
Does the "Father who is in heaven" live among the stars? The physical universe is also called "heaven" in the Holy Scriptures. For example, one psalmist wrote: "When I see your heavens, the works of of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have prepared, what is mortal man that you keep him in mind?" --Psalm 8:3,4.
No, Jehovah God does not have to live inside the physical universe that he created any more than a carpenter has to live inside a cupboard that he makes. Thus, when King Soloman dedicated the temple in Jerusalem to Jehovah, he said: "Will God truly dwell upon the earth? Look! The heavens, cannot contain you; how much less, then, this house that I have built!" (1 Kings 8:27) If Jehovah does not dwell in the physical heaven, where is the heaven where he does dwell?
Although men have studied the physical heavens with powerful telescopes and some have traveled to outer space, what the Bible says remains true: "No man has seen God at any time." (John 1:18) Jesus explained why when he said: "God is a spirit." -John 4:24
A spirit is a form of life higher than a human. A spirit is not composed of physical material, such as flesh and blood, that can be seen and felt by human senses. So when Jesus said he used to dwell alongside his Father in "heaven," he meant that he used to have a form of life that is more glorious than any physical form of life. (John 17:5; Philippians 3:20,21) The spirit realm where Jesus used to live with his Father is what the Bible calls "heaven." What is it like? What happens there?
A Place of Happy Activity
The Bible describes heaven as a hive of activity. It mentions hundreds of millions of faithful spirit creatures who live there. (Daniel 7:9,10) Each of these spirit creatures has his own distinct personality. How do we know that? In all observable creation, no two living things are exactly alike, so we can be sure that in heaven. there is a great diversity as well. Remarkably, all these heavenly personalities work together in unity, thus providing an admirable contrast to the earth today, where people rarely cooperate well.
Notice how the Bible describes activity in heaven. "Bless Jehovah, O you angels of his, mighty in power, carrying out his word, by listening to the voice of his word. Bless Jehovah, all you armies of his, you ministers of his, doing his will." (Psalm 103:20,21) So a lot of work is being done in heaven. We can be sure that it is satisfying work.
Angels have a long history of happy service that goes back to a time even before the earth was created. According to the Scriptures, when Jehovah founded the earth, the sons of God "joyfully cried out together" and "began shouting in applause." (Job 38:4,7) One of God's heavenly sons was even privileged to work along with God in the creation of all other things. (Colossians 1:15-17) This appealing description of happy activity in heaven may raise questions in your mind about heaven and mankind.
Were Humans intended to go to Heaven?
Since angels were serving God in heaven before the founding of the earth, the first man and woman were evidently not created to populate the heavens. Rather, God said to that first human pair: "Be fruitful and become many and fill the earth." (Genesis 1:28; Acts 17:26) Adam was the first of a new form of earthly life, and to know God and able to serve him faithfully. He was to father a race of humans whose home would be the earth. "As regards the heavens, to Jehovah the heavens belong, but the earth he has given to the sons of men." --Psalm 115:16
People do not normally want to die; death is not natural for humans. God mentioned death to Adam only as the punishment for disobedience. Had Adam obeyed, he would have never died.--Genesis 2:17; Romans 5:12
Not surprisingly, then, God said nothing to Adam about going to heaven. So the earth was not going to be a proving ground where people would be tested to see if they were fit for heaven. Man was created to live forever on earth, and that purpose of God will yet be fulfilled. The Bible promises that "the righteous themselves will possess the earth, and they will reside forever upon it." (Psalm 37:29) Clearly, humans were not originally meant to go to heaven. Why, then, did Jesus promise heavenly life to his apostles? Did Jesus mean that all good people will go to heaven?
Do all good people go to Heaven?
After Jesus' final meal with his apostles on the evening before his execution, Jesus promised to reward them with a place in heaven. He said: "In the house of my father there are many abodes. Otherwise, I would have told you, because I am going my way to prepare a place for you." (John 14:2) Why would Jesus provide them a place in heaven? What will they do there?
Jesus had in mind a special assignment for his disciples. During that same evening, he said: "You are the ones that have stuck with me in my trials; and I make a covenant with you, just as my Father has made a covenant with me, for a kingdom." (Luke 22:28,29) God had promised Jesus that he would be the King who would provide for one of mankind's greatest needs-good government. Jesus will save people from affliction and will crush those defrauding them. Although Jesus will have subjects extending "to the ends of the earth," his throne will be in heaven.--Psalm 72:4,8; Daniel 7:13,14
However, Jesus will not rule alone. Hence, he promised his apostles a place in heaven. They were the first ones chosen to "rule as kings over the earth." --Revelation 5:10.
How many go to heaven? As in any government, the rulers in God's heavenly Kingdom are few in comparison with all the people who live under its authority. To those who rule with him, Jesus said: "Have no fear, little flock, because your Father has approved of giving you the kingdom." (Luke 12:32) That "little flock" will finally number 144,000. (Revelation 14:1) That number is small in comparison with the millions who will enjoy endless life on earth as loyal subjects of the kingdom. --Revelation 21:4.
Thus, not all good people go to heaven. About good King David, the apostle Peter plainly said: "David did not ascend to the heavens." (Acts 2:34) John the Baptist was a good man. Yet, Jesus indicated that he would not be exalted to rule as a king in heaven. "Among those born of women," Jesus said, "there has not been raised up a greater than John the Baptist; but a person that is a lesser one in the kingdom of the heavens is greater than he is."--Matthew 11:11.
Will you receive the reward of good people?
To receive the reward of living forever on earth, what must a person do? Jesus said: "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) Notice that God's love for the world leads him to make everlasting life available to all, but only those "exercising faith" actually receive that reward.
Faith needs to be based on accurate knowledge. (John 17:3) You can demonstrate that you are a good person by learning more about Jehovah's purpose for man. Respond in faith to what you learn. And be assured that the opportunity of life without end is really open to you.
- We must obey God as ruler rather than men - Acts 5:29

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