It would be hard to find a more “hot button” topic for Jehovah’s Witnesses then the discussion of who goes to heaven. Understanding what the Bible really has to say on the subject is vital—in the fullest sense of the word. However, there is something standing in our way, so let’s deal with that first.
Dealing with Apostates
Most Jehovah’s Witnesses who stumble on a site like this will turn away immediately. The reason is conditioning. Men and women who boldly go from house to house not knowing whom they will encounter on the other side of the door; men and women who believe themselves to be thoroughly prepared to discuss and overturn whatever strongly entrenched belief is thrown at them on the spur of the moment; these same men and women will go mute, hold up a dismissive palm, and turn away from an honest scriptural discussion if it comes from someone they have labeled as an apostate.
Now there are real apostates to be sure. There are also sincere Christians who simply disagree with some teachings of men. However, if those men are the Governing Body, the latter get dumped into the same bucket as real apostates in the minds of most Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Does such an attitude reflect the spirit of the Christ, or is it the attitude of a physical man?
“But a physical man does not accept the things of the spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot get to know them, because they are examined spiritually. 15 However, the spiritual man examines all things, but he himself is not examined by any man. 16 For “who has come to know the mind of Jehovah, so that he may instruct him?” But we do have the mind of Christ.” (1Co 2:14-16)
We can all agree that Jesus was the epitome of a “spiritual man”. He ‘examined all things’. When confronted by the ultimate apostate, what example did Jesus set? He did not refuse to listen. Instead he refuted each of the devil’s specious scriptural allegations, using the opportunity to rebuke Satan. He did this by using the power of Holy Scripture and in the end, he was not the one who turned away. It was the devil who fled in defeat.[i]
If one of my Jehovah’s Witnesses brethren truly holds himself to be a spiritual man, then he will have the mind of Christ and will “examine all things” which includes the scriptural arguments that follow. If these are sound, he will accept them; but if flawed, then he will correct me and those who read this article by using solid Scriptural reasoning.
If, on the other hand, he holds to a teaching of the organization but will refuse to examine it spiritually—that is, guided by the spirit that leads us into the deep things of God—then he is fooling himself by thinking he is a spiritual man. He fits the very definition of a physical man. (1Co 2:10; John 16:13)
The Question Before Us
Are We Children of God?
According to the Governing Body there are more than 8 million Jehovah’s Witnesses who should consider themselves privileged to be called God’s friends. Being his children is not on the table. These ones are warned that it would be a sin for them to partake of the emblems at the upcoming memorial of Christ’s death on April 3rd, 2015. As we discussed in the preceding article, this belief originates with Judge Rutherford and is based on supposed prophetic antitypes which are not found in Scripture. The use of such types and anti-types has been disavowed by the Governing Body. Yet they continue to teach a doctrine even after removing its foundation.
Despite the complete lack of scriptural support for this doctrine, there is one Bible text that is always raised in our publications as proof and which is used to keep Jehovah’s Witnesses from reaching out to grasp hold of this hope.
The Litmus Test Text
You may recall from your high school chemistry that a litmus test involves exposing a piece of treated paper to a liquid to determine whether it is acid or alkaline. Blue litmus paper turns red when dipped in an acid.
Jehovah’s Witnesses have a spiritual version of this litmus test. We propose to use Romans 8:16 to measure whether we are God’s children or not.
“The spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are God’s children.” (Ro 8:16)
The idea is that at baptism we all start out as other sheep, God’s friends with an earthly hope. We are like the blue litmus paper. However at some point in their spiritual development, certain individuals are miraculously made aware through some undisclosed means that they are God’s children. The litmus paper has turned red.
Jehovah’s Witnesses do not believe in modern-day miracles, nor inspired dreams and visions. Our application of Romans 8:16 is the only exception to this rule. We believe that by some unexplained miraculous means, God reveals those he has called. Of course, God is entirely capable of doing this. If there is solid Scriptural evidence for this interpretation, then we must accept it. Failing that however, we must dismiss it as modern-day mysticism.
Let us therefore follow the counsel of the Governing Body itself and look at the context of verse 16 so that we can learn what Paul had in mind. We’ll start at the beginning of the chapter.
“Therefore, those in union with Christ Jesus have no condemnation. For the law of the spirit that gives life in union with Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. What the Law was incapable of doing because it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and concerning sin, condemned sin in the flesh, so that the righteous requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us who walk, not according to the flesh, but according to the spirit.” (Romans 8:1-4)
Paul is contrasting the effect of the Mosaic law which condemns all men to death, for none can fully keep it due to our sinful flesh. It was Jesus who set us free from that law by introducing a different law, one based on the spirit. (See Romans 3:19-26) As we continue our reading, we’ll see how Paul frames these laws into two opposing forces, the flesh and the spirit.
“For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the spirit, on the things of the spirit. For setting the mind on the flesh means death, but setting the mind on the spirit means life and peace; because setting the mind on the flesh means enmity with God, for it is not in subjection to the law of God, nor, in fact, can it be. So those who are in harmony with the flesh cannot please God.” (Romans 8:5-8)
If you who are reading this believe yourself to be one of the other sheep class with an earthly hope; if you believe yourself to be God’s friend but not his son; then ask yourself which of these two elements are you pursuing? Do you pursue the flesh with death in view? Or do you believe that you have the spirit of God with life in view? Either way, you must acknowledge that Paul presents you with only two options.
“However, you are in harmony, not with the flesh, but with the spirit, if God’s spirit truly dwells in you. But if anyone does not have Christ’s spirit, this person does not belong to him.” (Romans 8:9)
Do you wish to belong to Christ or not? If the former, then you want God’s spirit to dwell in you. The alternative, as we’ve just read, is to mind the flesh, but that leads to death. Again, we are faced with a binary choice. There are only two options.
“But if Christ is in union with you, the body is dead because of sin, but the spirit is life because of righteousness. If, now, the spirit of him who raised up Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the one who raised up Christ Jesus from the dead will also make your mortal bodies alive through his spirit that resides in you.” (Romans 8:10, 11)
I cannot redeem myself through works for my sinful flesh condemns me. It is only God’s spirit within me that makes me alive in his eyes. To keep the spirit, I must strive to live not according to the flesh, but according to the spirit. This is Paul’s main point.
“So, then, brothers, we are under obligation, not to the flesh to live according to the flesh; for if you live according to the flesh, you are sure to die; but if you put the practices of the body to death by the spirit, you will live.” (Romans 8:12, 13)
So far, Paul has only spoken of two options, one good and one bad. We can be led by the flesh which results in death; or we can be led by the spirit which results in life. Do you feel God’s spirit leading you to life? Has it guided you throughout your life? Or have you been following the flesh all these years?
You will notice that Paul makes no provision for a third option, a middle ground between the flesh and the spirit.
What happens if a Christian follows the spirit?
“For all who are led by God’s spirit are indeed God’s sons.” (Romans 8:14)
This is simple and straightforward. It needs no interpretation. Paul is simply saying what he means. If we follow the spirit we are God’s children. If we don’t follow the spirit, we are not. He speaks of no group of Christians who follow the spirit, but are not God’s sons.
If you believe yourself to be a member of the other sheep class as defined by Jehovah’s Witnesses, then you must ask yourself this: Am I led by God’s spirit? If no, then you are minding the flesh with death in view. If yes, then you are a child of God based on Romans 8:14.
Those who are still unwilling to give up the litmus test approach to Romans 8:16 will suggest that both the anointed and other sheep have God’s spirit, but that spirit only bears witness to some that they are God’s sons while rejecting others as only friends.
However, this reasoning forces a limitation which is not found in Romans 8:14. As further proof of this, consider the next verse:
“For you did not receive a spirit of slavery causing fear again, but you received a spirit of adoption as sons, by which spirit we cry out: “Abba, Father!” – Romans 8:15
It was the Mosaic law which caused fear by showing we are enslaved to sin and thus condemned to die. The spirit that Christians receive is one of “adoption as sons” by which spirit we all can cry out: “Abba, Father!” This makes absolutely no sense if we believe that all Jehovah’s Witnesses have God’s spirit but only some of them are his sons.
A test of the validity of any scriptural understanding is that it harmonizes with the rest of God’s inspired word. What Paul is presenting here is a single hope for Christians based on all receiving the one true spirit of God. He makes this reasoning abundantly clear in his letter to the Ephesians.
“One body there is, and one spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Eph. 4:4-6)
One Hope or Two?
When I first came to the realization that the heavenly hope was extended to all Christians I was greatly conflicted. I’ve learned that this is a common reaction among Jehovah’s Witnesses. The idea that everybody goes to heaven makes no sense to us. Accepting such a thought would be like going backwards into false religion from our point of view. The next words out of our mouth will be something like, “If everybody goes to heaven, then who stays on earth?” Finally, we’re bound to ask, “Who has the earthly hope?”
Let address these doubts and questions in point form.
- Some people go to heaven.
- Most people—in fact the vast, vast majority—will live on earth.
- There is only one hope.
- There is no earthly hope.
If points two and four seem to be in conflict, let me assure you that they are not.
We are talking about Christianity here. Within the Christian framework there is only one hope, one reward, which is imparted by one Spirit through the one baptism under the one Lord, Jesus, for the one father, Jehovah. Jesus never spoke to his disciples about a second hope, a kind of consolation prize for those who didn’t make the cut.
What gets us hung up is the word “hope”. Hope is based on a promise. Prior to knowing the Christ, the Ephesians had no hope because they were not in a covenant relationship with God. The covenant he made with Israel constituted his promise. The Israelites would then hope to receive the promised reward.
“At that time you were without Christ, alienated from the state of Israel, strangers to the covenants of the promise; you had no hope and were without God in the world.” (Eph 2:12)
Without a covenanted promise, the Ephesians had nothing to hope for. Some accepted the Christ and entered into the New Covenant, a new promise from God, and thus had the hope of the fulfillment of that promise if they did their part. The majority of the first century Ephesians did not accept Christ, and so had no promise to hope for. Yet, they will come back in the resurrection of the unrighteous. However, that is not a hope for there is no promise. All they had to do to be resurrected was die. Their resurrection is inevitable, but it holds no hope, only opportunity.
So when we say that billions will be resurrected and live in the New World, that is not a hope but an eventuality. Most will have died completely ignorant of all this and only learn of it upon their return to life.
So when we say that most people will live on earth, we are referring to the prospect of the resurrection of the unrighteous in which countless billions will be returned to life on earth and then be offered the promise of everlasting life if they put faith in Jesus Christ. At that point in time they will have an earthly hope, but for now there is no promise extended to Christians for life on earth.
The Four Slaves
In Luke 12:42-48, Jesus refers to four slaves.
- A faithful one who gets appointed over all his belongings.
- An evil one who is cut to pieces and banished with the unfaithful ones.
- A slave who willfully disobeyed the Master, beaten with many strokes.
- A slave who in ignorance disobeyed the master, beaten with a few strokes.
Slaves 2 thru 4 miss out on the reward offered by the Master. Nevertheless, it appears that slaves 3 and 4 survive, continuing in the Master’s household. They are punished, but not killed. Since the beating occurs after the Master has arrived, it must be a future event.
One cannot imagine the God of all justice condemning to eternal death someone who acted in ignorance. That would seem to dictate that such an individual would be given the opportunity to correct his course of action upon receiving accurate knowledge of God’s will.
The parable is addressing Jesus’ disciples. It is not intended to encompass all of earth’s inhabitants. His disciples have the one hope of everlasting life in the heavens with our Lord. The billions of Christians on earth today have that hope but they have been misled by their leaders. Some knowingly do not do the Lord’s will, but an even greater number act in ignorance.
Those who are not judged as faithful and discreet do not get the heavenly reward, but neither do they die for all eternity, save for the evil slave, it seems. Would you consider their outcome, their beating with few or many strokes, a hope to work toward? Hardly.
There is only one hope for Christians, but there are several outcomes for those missing out on the fulfillment of that promise.
For this reason, the Bible says, “Happy and holy is anyone having part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no authority, but they will be priests of God and of the Christ, and they will rule as kings with him for the 1,000 years.” (Re 20:5)
If follows then that those having a part in the second resurrection, that of the unrighteous, will still be under the authority of the second death, at least until the thousand years have ended.
What we have learned from our review of Romans chapter 8 should leave us with no doubt that all Christians are called to be God’s children. However, we must follow the spirit and not the flesh to achieve that. Either we have God’s spirit or we do not. Our mental disposition and our life course will reveal whether we are led by God’s spirit or by the flesh. The awareness of God’s spirit in us is what convinces us that we are God’s children. All of this is evident from Paul’s words to the Corinthians and the Ephesians. The idea that there are two hopes, one earthly and one heavenly, is a human invention that has no basis in Scripture. There is no earthly hope to strive for, but there is an earthly eventuality.
All of this we can say with a significant degree of certainty, but if someone should dissent, let him provide scriptural evidence to the contrary.
Beyond this, we enter the realm of speculation. Knowing the love of God as we do, it is hard to imagine a scenario that is consistent with that love wherein billions die out of ignorance of God’s purpose. Yet this is a scenario that the organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses would have us accept. What does seem more likely and what is consistent with the parable of the faithful slave is that there will be many of Jesus disciples who will be resurrected as part of the resurrection of the unrighteous. Perhaps this is what the punishment represented by the strokes, whether many or few, represents. But who can really say?
The majority of Christians will be unprepared for the reality of an earthly resurrection. Some may be pleasantly surprised if they died expecting to go to hell. While others will be severely disappointed to learn that their heavenly hope was misplaced. There is a quaint irony in the fact that the Christians best prepared for this unexpected turn of events will be Jehovah’s Witnesses. If our understanding of the slave who unwittingly disobeyed Jesus is correct, these millions of Jehovah’s Witnesses may find themselves in the very state they expected to be in—resurrected as still-sinful human beings. Of course, upon learning what they actually missed out on–that they could have been children of God reigning with Christ in the heavens—they are bound to feel anger and sadness. Of course, if this scenario is an accurate representation of what will happen, it still only applies to those who die prior to the events comprising the sign of Christ’s presence. What those events will presage, no one can foretell with certainty.
Whatever the case may be, we must stick with what we know. We know that there is one hope and that we have been extended the opportunity to grasp hold of a marvelous reward, that of adoption as sons of God. This is available to us now. Let no man dissuade us from this. Let not the fear of men keep us from obeying Christ’s command to partake of the emblems that symbolize the blood and flesh that he offered to redeem you and me so as to bring us into the family of God.
Let no one block your adoption!
We will continue our consideration of this theme in the next and final article in the series.
[i] The Governing Body has misapplied John’s warning at 2 John 10 to protect itself from those who could defeat its teachings scripturally. By telling us to keep our eyes closed, they make sure that we will not see. The idea that even talking with an apostate is dangerous imbues apostates with near-superhuman powers of persuasion. Are Jehovah’s Witnesses really that mentally weak? I don’t think so. Not the ones I have known. Do they love truth? Yes, many do; and therein lies the danger from the organization’s point of view. If they listen, they just might hear the ring of truth. What John was warning against was social interaction—not receiving an apostate into our homes; not saying a greeting to him, which was much more in those days than a casual hello as one passes another on the street. Jesus didn’t chum around with the devil, sit down and have a snack with him, invite him over for a friendly chat. Doing any of that would have granted implicit approval of his course of action, causing Jesus to become a sharer in his sin. However, refuting the devil’s false reasoning is quite another thing and John never meant to imply that we should refuse to talk with an opposer under those circumstances. Otherwise, it would be impossible for us to go from door to door in our ministry.