The Bible’s answer
God selects a limited number of faithful Christians who, after their death, will be resurrected to life in heaven. (1 Peter 1:3, 4) Once they have been chosen, they must continue to maintain a Christian standard of faith and conduct in order not to be disqualified from receiving their heavenly inheritance.—Ephesians 5:5; Philippians 3:12-14.
What will those who go to heaven do there?
They will serve alongside Jesus as kings and priests for 1,000 years. (Revelation 5:9, 10; 20:6) They will form the “new heavens,” or heavenly government, that will rule over the “new earth,” or earthly society. Those heavenly rulers will help restore mankind to the righteous conditions that God originally intended.—Isaiah 65:17; 2 Peter 3:13.
How many will be resurrected to heaven?
The Bible indicates that 144,000 people will be resurrected to heavenly life. (Revelation 7:4) In the vision recorded at Revelation 14:1-3, the apostle John saw “the Lamb standing on Mount Zion, and with him 144,000.” In this vision, “the Lamb” represents the resurrected Jesus. (John 1:29; 1 Peter 1:19) “Mount Zion” represents the exalted position of Jesus and the 144,000 who rule with him in the heavens.—Psalm 2:6; Hebrews 12:22.
Those “who are called and chosen” to rule with Christ in the Kingdom are referred to as a “little flock.” (Revelation 17:14; Luke 12:32) This shows that they would be relatively few in comparison with the complete number of Jesus’ sheep.—John 10:16.
Misconceptions about those who go to heaven
Misconception: All good people go to heaven.
Jesus said: “No man has ascended into heaven.” (John 3:13) He thus showed that good people who died before him, such as Abraham, Moses, Job, and David, did not go to heaven. (Acts 2:29, 34) Instead, they had the hope of being resurrected to life on earth.—Job 14:13-15.
The resurrection to heavenly life is called “the first resurrection.” (Revelation 20:6) This indicates that there will be another resurrection. It will be an earthly one.
Misconception: Each person chooses whether he or she will receive life in heaven or on earth.
Fact: God determines which faithful Christians receive “the prize of the upward call,” that is, the hope of heavenly life. (Philippians 3:14) Personal desire or ambition has no bearing on a person’s being chosen.—Matthew 20:20-23.
Misconception: The hope of everlasting life on earth is an inferior one, offered only to those not worthy of going to heaven.
Fact: God calls those who will receive everlasting life on earth “my people,” “my chosen ones,” and “those blessed by Jehovah.” (Isaiah 65:21-23) They will have the privilege of fulfilling God’s original purpose for humankind—everlasting life in perfection on a paradise earth.—Genesis 1:28; Psalm 115:16; Isaiah 45:18.
Misconception: The number 144,000 mentioned in Revelation is symbolic, not literal.
Fact: Although Revelation contains symbolic numbers, some of the numbers it uses are literal. For example, it speaks of “the 12 names of the 12 apostles of the Lamb.” (Revelation 21:14) Consider the evidence for concluding that the number 144,000 should likewise be taken literally.
Revelation 7:4 records “the number of those who were sealed [or, confirmed for life in heaven], 144,000.” In the immediate context of this verse, a second group is contrasted: “a great crowd, which no man was able to number.” Those of the “great crowd” also receive salvation from God. (Revelation 7:9, 10) If the number 144,000 were symbolic, referring instead to a group without number, then the contrast between the two groups would be lost. *
In addition, the 144,000 are described as being “bought from among mankind as firstfruits.” (Revelation 14:4) The expression “firstfruits” refers to a small representative selection. It aptly describes those who will rule in heaven with Christ over an undetermined number of subjects on earth.—Revelation 5:10.
^ par. 21 Similarly, Professor Robert L. Thomas wrote regarding the figure 144,000 mentioned at Revelation 7:4: “It is a definite number in contrast with the indefinite number of 7:9. If it is taken symbolically, no number in the book can be taken literally.”—Revelation 1-7: An Exegetical Commentary, page 474.