Heaven's Population 144,000?|
Q. How is it that only 144k will be allowed into heaven - is this like a lottery? This is an obvious sign the bible is not modern… (M.A.)
Thanks for your questions. I'm sure others will appreciate them. If it's OK with you we'll post one question at a time starting with your question about the 144,000.
144k in Heaven?
Although you may have heard this number the Bible doesn't say that only 144 thousand will be allowed into heaven. In Revelation 5:11 the apostle John saw "myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands around the throne in heaven."
"Myriads" means millions. So John says he saw millions upon millions and thousands of thousands around the heavenly throne. This is appropriate. By calculating the number of professing Christians in current and past history since about A.D. 40 we can estimate billions of Christians in heaven!
Not only does the Bible say there are billions in heaven, but John also "saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne"… (Revelation 7:9, NLT). This means that all nations and cultures are represented in heaven among the billions there.
144,000 Powerful Evangelists
The number "144,000" that you refer to comes from Revelation 7:4-8. This specifically describes certain Jews from their 12 tribes. The tribes are even listed:
(And so on…from the New Living Translation).
The famous pastor John MacArthur says these 144,000 marked men are powerful evangelists - "a missionary corps of redeemed Jews" - who effectively preach the gospel during a time of terrible cataclysms upon our planet described in Revelation chapters six through eighteen (MacArthur 1997, 2001).
Not the only Heavenly Residents
There is nothing in these verses that state these particular Jews are the only ones allowed into heaven. Chapter seven describes them as "marked with the seal of God" for their protection and/or their identification during this terrible tribulation period.
However, you may already know that there are a few modern-day cults who hold to a belief that somehow the 144,000 are referring to themselves - the only ones allowed into heaven. They have made the mistake of broadly misapplying and misinterpreting Scriptures as they wish. By any standard their interpretation is arbitrary and unscholarly.
While we don't always take every passage in the Bible "literally" (the Bible uses at least 200 literary devices such as idioms, symbols, metaphors, poetry, historical narrative, etc.) we do take it "seriously."
Unfortunately, these cults have not studied the Bible in its cultural context. They have not considered who wrote which book nor to whom it has been written, nor do they consider its literary figures-of-speech.
Own a Good Study Bible
To avoid this kind of blatant misinterpretation and misapplication, be sure to own a good study bible in a modern translation. Remember that the Bible is an ancient book translated from the Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic languages. So a good study Bible will take this into account.
There are several translations and study bibles with notes available to you. Translators have not rewritten the Bible. Rather, good scholars have translated the ancient languages into easier or more difficult English (among hundreds of other modern languages).
For astute, sincere students we recommend the MacArthur Study Bible (NASB), Scofield Study Bible (NKJV), or the Life Application Study Bible in the New Living Translation or the New International Version. The NLT and NIV use clear English and are fairly easy to understand. Furthermore, the notes in our recommended study bibles are provided by good, reputable scholars.
Belief is far from being a "lottery." The apostle Paul succinctly told us that "If you confess with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord,' and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved" (Romans 10:9, NIV).
In other words, it's our choice.
Since ancient times we have evidence from "thousands of archaeological discoveries and dozens of external sources (e.g. Flavius Josephus) that the Bible is, at bare minimum, a historically reliable book" (Campbell 2005, 64).
Don't take our word for it. Check it out for yourself.
Would you Die for a Lie?
Many of the earliest Christians died for their belief that Jesus is Lord who was raised from the dead. People will die for what they believe is the truth - but they won't purposely die for a lie. Would you?
Early Christians knew that Jesus fulfilled as many as 300 specific prophecies from the Old Testament written hundreds of years before He appeared on earth. The Bible makes it clear that God's offer of eternity is available to all who call on Him, not just a privileged or lucky 144,000!
Campbell, Charlie H. 2005. Answers to skeptics top forty questions. USA: Aquintas. Available from: www.AlwaysBeReady.com
Life Application Study Bible, New Living Translation. 2004. Carol Stream, ILL: Tyndale.
MacArthur Study Bible, New King James Version. 1997. Nashville, TN: Nelson.
Authors Valorie Emilio holds an M.A. in History from UCLA. Ken received his M.A. in Biblical Studies from Louisiana Baptist University.