The ‘144,000’ – who are they?

Author: Mike Troke

In the Watchtower Society’s book Knowledge That Leads to Everlasting Life (1995), under the heading ‘Mankind Transformed’ we read the following:

“How grand it will be when the knowledge of God fills the earth! There will be an extensive educational program under the direction of the King Jesus Christ and his 144,000 co-rulers.” (Page 185)

Belief in the importance of the 144,000 is, perhaps, the most well-known distinctive emphasis of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, other than the refusing of blood transfusions. But what do Jehovah’s Witnesses really believe about the 144,000? Where does the teaching come from and how does it relate to accurate Bible teaching?

In order to find answers to these questions we need review a variety of quotations from Watchtower Society publications. You will find the text of a number of the Scriptures at the end of the article – just click on the reference. All quotations are from the New World Translation (NWT) unless otherwise stated.

“How many go to heaven? – Since they are to rule over the earth, it is clear that those who go to heaven will be tried and tested followers of Christ. This means that babies or young children, who have not been fully tested during years of Christian service, will not be taken to heaven. (Matthew 16:24) However, such young ones who die have the hope of being raised to life on earth. (John 5:28, 29) So the total number who go to heaven will be small when compared with the many who will receive life on earth under Kingdom rule. Jesus told his disciples: ‘Have no fear, little flock, because your Father has approved of giving you the kingdom.’ – Luke 12:32. How small a number will that class of Kingdom rulers be? Will it include only the apostles and other early followers of Jesus? No, the Bible shows that the ‘little flock’ will include more. At Revelation 14:1, 3 the Bible says: ‘And I saw, and, look! the Lamb [Jesus Christ] standing upon the [heavenly] Mount Zion, and with him a hundred and forty-four thousand…who have been bought [or, taken] from the earth.’ Note that only 144,000 persons are seen with the Lamb, Jesus Christ, on heavenly mount Zion. (Hebrews 12:22) So rather than all good people going to heaven, the Bible reveals that only 144,000 tried and faithful persons will be taken there to rule with Christ.” – You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth (1989), p.124

“The Congregation of God… However, when the Bible speaks of ‘the congregation of the living God,’ it is referring to a particular group of Christ’s followers. (1 Timothy 3:15) They are also called ‘the congregation of the firstborn who have been enrolled in the heavens.’ (Hebrews 12:23) So this ‘congregation of God’ is made up of all Christians who have the hope of heavenly life. In all, only 144,000 persons finally make up the ‘congregation of God.’ Today only a few of these, a remnant, are still on earth. Christians who hope to live forever on earth look for spiritual guidance from members of this ‘congregation of the living God.’ The Bible also refers to this congregation of 144,000 members by such terms as ‘the bride, the Lamb’s wife,’ ‘the body of the Christ,’ ‘the temple of God,’ ‘the Israel of God,’ and the ‘New Jerusalem’ – Revelation 21:9; Ephesians 4:12; 1 Corinthians 3:17; Galatians 6:16; Revelation 21:2… As we have seen, his Son, Jesus Christ, is the main ruler in this government, and 144,000 persons will be taken from among humankind to rule in heaven with him. – Revelation 7:4Ibid., pp.125, 126

“The Reason Why a ‘Little Flock’ Goes to Heaven… During his earthly ministry Jesus said much about the ‘kingdom of God.’ He taught his followers to pray that, by means of the Kingdom, God’s will, would be done here on earth. Thus, the earth would become a delightful home for mankind. But the kingdom, or government itself, would be that of God in heaven, and for this reason Jesus often referred to it as the ‘kingdom of the heavens,’ (Matthew 5:20; 6:9) This helps us to understand what he meant when he said: ‘Have no fear, little flock, because your Father has approved of giving you the kingdom.’ (Luke 12:32) Yes, God would give this ‘little flock’ to share in the heavenly government over all mankind.

At Revelation 20:6 we read concerning those who would be resurrected to heavenly life: ‘They will be priests of God and of the Christ, and will rule as kings with him for the thousand years.’ Jesus Christ is the principal king and the high priest, and these faithful ones taken from the earth serve with him. – Revelation 5:9,10 Why are they chosen from the earth for such a work? Because it was here at this earth that Jehovah’s rulership was challenged. It was here that the faithfulness of men to God could be put to the test under opposition from the Devil. It was here that Jesus proved his loyalty to God under test and gave his life as a ransom for mankind. So it was from this earth that Jehovah arranged to take a ‘little flock’ of persons to be associated with his Son in the heavenly kingdom. They are persons who show full faith in God’s provision for salvation through Christ. They are ones whose lives prove the Devil a liar when he charged that men serve God only for selfish advantage. Jehovah has marvellously purposed to use them for his glory. – Ephesians 1:9-12 As kings and priests under the direction of Jesus Christ, they will serve from their heavenly positions in carrying out Jehovah’s will toward mankind. How wonderful it will be to have as rulers those who have proved faithful to God! (Revelation 20:4) And how loving of God to put into office those who have experienced the problems common to humankind! Surely, they, like Christ, will deal in an understanding way with their subjects. (Hebrews 2:17,18) What a blessing it will be to the inhabitants of earth as these heavenly priests apply to them the benefits of Christ’s ransom sacrifice, healing them spiritually, mentally and physically until they reach perfection! – Revelation 21:2-4

“How Many Go To Heaven? Those who are called by God to share in such heavenly service are few in number. As Jesus said, they are a ‘little flock.’ Years after his return to heaven, Jesus made known the exact number in a vision to the apostle John, who wrote: ‘I saw, and, look! the Lamb standing upon the Mount Zion and with him a hundred and forty-four thousand…who have been bought from the earth.’ (Revelation 14:1, 3) The ‘Lamb’ referred to here is, of course, Jesus Christ; and this ‘Mount Zion’ is not on earth, but in heaven where Jesus is. (John 1:29; Hebrews 12:22) So the 144,000 are persons who die on earth and are resurrected to heavenly life as spirit creatures, as Jesus was. (Romans 6:5). When compared with the thousands of millions of persons who live on earth, they are, indeed, a ‘little flock.'” – The Truth that leads to Eternal Life (1968), pp.75-77

TWO CLASSES OF CHRISTIAN

There are a number of points we could make from the above quotes but perhaps the most serious issue is that of two classes of Christian. In Reasoning from the Scriptures (1985) we read, under the heading “Ancient Babylonian religious concepts and practices are found in religions worldwide,” with the subheading ‘Position of the priesthood’:

“The distinction between priest and layman is characteristic of this [Babylonian] religion.- Encyclopaedia Britannica (1948), Vol. 2, p.861.” p. 51

Also, consider the following:

“A United Church. Jesus, the Head, does not split up the body of his congregation into a clergy class and a laity class of the ‘common people.’ He says to his followers: ‘Do not you be called Rabbi, for one is your teacher, whereas you are all brothers. Moreover, do not call anyone your father on earth, for one is your Father, the heavenly One. Neither be called ‘leaders’ for your Leader is one, the Christ.’ (Matthew 23:8-10) So Jesus shows that there is no division among those who make up the true church. However, he did arrange for men to take the lead in the Christian congregation, to serve the spiritual needs of their brothers and organize the work of preaching the good news. Jesus said such ones were not to ‘lord it over’ their brothers but were to be like slaves or servants to them. (Matthew 20:25-28) Is that true of the clergymen you know.” – The Truth that leads to Eternal Life (1968) p.119

Within Watchtower Society publications, there are many negative generalisations aimed at ‘clergymen’ attempting to show a) that these regularly teach unbiblical doctrines and b) that only the Watchtower Society, by way of contrast, represent God on the earth. These pronouncements about clergymen are never specific and are often reflecting ideas that most self-respecting clergymen would never express. These are Watchtower ‘straw men’ set up with the express purpose of being knocked down – they only exist in Watchtower publications, backed up by vague media caricatures which, also have no basis in reality.

Under normal circumstances, no-one who reads Watchtower publications regularly will come into contact with real clergymen – so who will challenge the Watchtower image of the bumbling, servant of Satan? Ordinarily, no-one – certainly no-one Jehovah’s Witnesses will talk to, without fear of being disfellowshipped. This suits the Watchtower Society’s purpose perfectly, for if other churches are led by clergymen, who all make such glaringly vague and unclear statements, then there can be no hope outside of the Watchtower organisation. Consider the following examples:

“The Bible’s teaching about the condition of the dead leaves many of Christendom’s clergymen in an awkward position. The very book on which they claim to base their teachings, the Bible, conflicts with their doctrines. Yet, consciously or unconsciously, they feel impelled to reach into the Bible to seize on something to prove their point, thereby blinding themselves and others to the truth. Often this is done deliberately.” – Is This Life All There Is? (1974) pp.98, 99

On page 187 of the same book we read:

“The ‘burning anger of Jehovah’ is against all who have misled their fellow men by lying about God and his purpose. And he does not hold guiltless those who support such men by attending their religious services or being members of their organizations. The time left before the execution of divine judgement is short. If you are a lover of righteousness you need to act quickly to obey the Scriptural command to break all ties with the world empire of false religion.”

If Jehovah’s Witnesses must stay away from other religious organisations, how would the book’s author possibly know what a clergyman might say or do – ‘consciously or unconsciously?’

The main point that needs to be understood is that the Watchtower Society criticise other religious groups for having a clergy-laity distinction: “Jesus, the Head, does not split up the body of his congregation into a clergy class and a laity class of the ‘common people.'” Hence, every opportunity is taken to represent clergymen as deliberate deceivers and pawns of Satan. Jesus has, however, according to Watchtower teaching, divided Christians into two classes: “In all, only 144,000 persons finally make up the ‘congregation of God’…Christians who hope to live forever on earth look for spiritual guidance from members of this ‘congregation of the living God.'” In contrast to the way clergymen are written about, the ‘anointed class’ are always mentioned with complete reverence and awe. For example, in The Watchtower, 1 June, 2005, p.10 we read:

“The relatively few remaining anointed brothers of Jesus still on earth can rely on Jehovah’s promise: ‘An incorruptible and undefiled and unfading inheritance…is reserved in the heavens for you, who are being safeguarded by God’s power through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last period of time.’ (1 Peter 1: 4, 5)…Some of these faithful Christians have been anointed by God’s spirit to become joint rulers with Christ in heaven. They have been declared righteous as spiritual sons of God, and to them these words apply: ‘He delivered us from the authority of the darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of the Son of his love, by means of whom we have our release by ransom, the forgiveness of our sins.’ – Colossians 1: 13, 14.”

It is wrong to have a clergy class who give spiritual guidance to a laity class, but it is essential to have a ‘little flock, anointed, heavenly’ class who give spiritual guidance to an ‘other sheep, earth-inhabiting’ class! And the function of this ‘anointed’ class? “Heavenly priests”; some churches call their clergy ‘priests.’

So what is the difference? When it comes down to it, the Watchtower Society is being, at best, less than honest about their organisation and at worst, totally hypocritical in their attitude. There are two classes of Christian within the Jehovah’s Witnesses – a concept totally foreign to Scripture. Israel’s priests were from the tribe of Levi, yet they were still descendents of Israel. Christian pastors, overseers (bishops) and elders are drawn from the Christian congregation, but are not a separate class of Christian. The concept of a ‘class’ system is not found in the Bible, therefore it is a man-made interpretation of selected passages of Scripture, and is not in harmony with the revelation God has given in the Bible.

In the passage above from You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth, p.124, we read:

“At Revelation 14: 1, 3 the Bible says ‘And I saw, and, look! the Lamb [Jesus Christ] standing upon the [heavenly] Mount Zion, and with him a hundred and forty-four thousand…who have been bought [or, taken] from the earth.” Note that only 144,000 persons are seen with the Lamb, Jesus Christ, on heavenly Mount Zion.”

This is a very serious statement especially as it comes from a publication designed to inform and instruct prospective converts. But the Bible does not say that the Lamb was standing on heavenly Mount Zion, or that the 144,000 were ‘taken’ from the earth. The words ‘heavenly’ and ‘taken’ are not mentioned or implied in Revelation 14:1 and 3, but have been inserted, albeit in brackets, in order to push the reader into thinking that what they have just read was Biblical. To confuse the casual reader even more, they insert, also in brackets, the legitimate explanation that ‘the Lamb’ refers to Jesus Christ in order to justify their later use of brackets, making their wrong interpretations seem legitimate also. Why is there a need to do this, unless they know that the Bible does not teach what they are teaching?

KINGDOM BEGAN IN 1914

The Watchtower Society are, here, attempting to link in their teaching that the Kingdom of God began in 1914. In the same publication, p.136, we read:

“Yes, Jesus then began to rule over his congregation of followers who, in time, were to join him in the heavens. Thus the Bible speaks of them as being taken into ‘the Son of [God’s] love.’ (Colossians 1: 13) But this rule or ‘kingdom’ over Christians with the hope of heavenly life is not the Kingdom government for which Jesus taught his followers to pray. It is a kingdom over only the 144,000 persons who will rule with him in heaven. Down through the centuries they have been its only subjects. Thus this rule, or ‘kingdom of the Son of God’s love,’ will end when the last one of these subjects with a heavenly hope dies and joins Christ in heaven. No longer will they be Christ’s subjects, but they will then be kings with him in God’s long-promised Kingdom government.”

Then, on p.141, it states that:

“In 1914 C.E. Jesus Christ began to rule as king of God’s heavenly government.”

TWO ADMISSIONS

Important issues emerge from this; not least being the two admissions that the Watchtower Society must hope no-one notices! Below I quote a complete appendix note in the 1969 edition of The Kingdom Interlinear Translation of the Greek Scriptures, p.1162

“Philippians 1: 23 – ‘the releasing’. The verb a-na-ly’sai is used as a verbal noun here. It occurs only once more in the Christian Greek Scriptures, and that is at Luke 12:36, where it refers to Christ’s return. The related noun (a-na’ly-sis) occurs but once, at 2 Timothy 4:6, where the apostle says: ‘The due time for my releasing is imminent.” At Luke 12:36, we have rendered the verb ‘returns’ because it refers to the breaking away and departing of the servants’ master from the wedding feast, so dissolving the feast. But here at Philippians 1:23 we have not rendered the verb as ‘returning’ or ‘departing,’ but as ‘releasing.’ The reason is that the word may convey two thoughts, the apostle’s own releasing to be with Christ at his return and also the Lord’s releasing himself from the heavenly restraints and returning as he promised. In no way is the apostle here saying that immediately at his death he would be changed into spirit and would be with Christ forever. Such getting to be with Christ the Lord will first be possible at Christ’s return, when the dead in Christ will rise first, according to the apostle’s own inspired statement at 1 Thessalonians 4:16,17. It is to this return of Christ and the apostle’s releasing to be always with the Lord that Paul refers to at Philippians 1:23. He says there that two things are immediately possible for him, namely, (1) to live on in the flesh and (2) to die. Because of the circumstances to be considered, he expressed himself as being under pressure from these two things, not knowing which thing to choose as proper. Then he suggests a third thing, and this thing he really desires. There is no question about his desire for this thing as preferable, namely, the releasing, for it means his being with Christ. The expression to a-na-ly’sai or the releasing cannot therefore be applied to the apostle’s death as a human creature and his departing thus from this life. It must refer to the events at the time of Christ’s return and second presence, that is to say, his second coming and the rising of all those dead in Christ to be with him forevermore. (Italic emphasis added)

The reader should, at this point, check Philippians 1:23 and judge for themselves what the apostle Paul meant. In case you are finding it difficult to see the first admission, I hope the following is helpful.

The writer of Philippians 1:23 was the apostle Paul, whose encounter with Jesus and conversion to the ‘Way’ of Christ is well documented in the book of Acts, which also chronicles his remarkable journeys preaching the gospel. His letters (epistles) to churches and close associates form the majority of the New Testament, and have framed Christian teaching and practice since the first century. The apostle Peter referred to Paul’s letters as ‘Scripture’ in 2 Peter 3:16, however, according to the above Watchtower quote he did not expect, at his death, to immediately be with Christ. What he was referring to was being with Christ after he, along with other dead believers, had risen at the final resurrection.

However, according to the quotation from p.136, when members of the 144,000 ‘anointed class’ die they go to join Christ in heaven. So when we compare these writings, we can see that, according to Watchtower teachings, the expectation of the 144,000 is of joining Christ immediately upon death, but the apostle Paul could not expect to join Christ until the resurrection. Therefore, the 144,000, including members of the Watchtower organisation, have become more ‘approved by God’ than the apostle Paul, who (by comparison) must be content to be one of the ‘other sheep.’ There is another explanation, of course, that the Watchtower Society has not represented Jehovah’s true teaching. After all, it is not Watchtower teaching that the apostle Paul should hold out hope for ‘heavenly citizenship,’ yet missed the mark.

We must also emphasise that elsewhere – see among others, The Watchtower, 1 December 1964; The Watchtower, 15 December 1973 and The Watchtower, 15 July 200 – Paul is shown to be a member of the 144,000 and this makes the above claim even more confusing.

SECOND ADMISSION

To highlight the second admission we quote from Reasoning from the Scriptures (1985), p.100:

“What is the condition of the dead?
Eccl. 9:5 ‘The living are conscious that they will die; but as for the dead, they are conscious of nothing at all.”
Ps. 146:4 ‘His spirit goes out, he goes back to his ground; in that day his thoughts…do perish.’…

Is there some part of man that lives on when the body dies?
Ezek. 18:4 ‘The soul…that is sinning – it itself will die.’
Isa. 53:12 ‘He poured out his soul…to the very death.'”

Also, a quote from Knowledge That Leads to Everlasting Life (1995), p.82:

“Jehovah clearly explained what death would mean for the sinner Adam. God said: ‘In the sweat of your face you will eat bread until you return to the dust of the ground, for out of it you were taken. For dust you are and to dust you will return.’ (Genesis 3:19) Adam would return where? To the ground, to the dust from which he had been created. At death Adam would simply cease to exist!”

The teaching Jehovah’s Witnesses follow – and have always followed – is that at death, humans cease to exist and become a thought in the mind of Jehovah. If that is true, how can members of the 144,000, who are human at death, “…die and join Christ in heaven?” If they die, they cease to exist, so how can they join Christ in heaven after death?

These are two admissions that Jehovah’s Witnesses need to see for themselves. For if the Watchtower Society has printed an erroneous statement, can they truly be the ‘faithful and discreet slave’? If the statements are true, has the teaching changed? If so, were they wrong before, and what does that say about people who claim to be the ‘faithful and discreet slave’?

The Watchtower Society, in the ‘You can live forever…‘ quotes highlighted above, have again pushed the idea of the 144,000 having being ‘taken,’ this time into the ‘kingdom of the Son of God’s love.’ In the New World Translation of Colossians 1: 13, we read

He delivered us from the authority of the darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of the Son of his love…”

So how do they justify saying that the Bible speaks of them (the 144,000) being ‘taken into’ the kingdom of the Son of God’s love, words which alter the meaning expressed in the text of Scripture? Cross referencing with Revelation 14:1&3, as referred to on p.124 of the same publication (quoted above) we see that the Watchtower Society needs to replace the meaning of ‘bought from the earth’ with ‘taken from the earth.’ And where is the ‘authority of darkness?’ Consider the words found on p.16 of ‘You can live forever…’;

“There is no need to guess at the matter. The Bible clearly shows that an intelligent unseen person has been controlling both men and nations. In the Bible, Jesus Christ calls this powerful one ‘the ruler of this world.’ (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11)

And on p.17:

“Think about what the Devil offered Jesus Christ. It was ‘all the kingdoms of the world.’ Did all these worldly governments really belong to the Devil? Yes, for how else could he have offered them to Jesus? Jesus did not deny that they were Satan’s, which he would have done if Satan did not own them. Satan is really the unseen ruler of all the nations of the world!”

So, in Watchtower thinking, being taken from the earth and being taken into the kingdom of God’s Son is one and the same event. The problem is that it is not what the Bible actually says, so change a word here, a word there – change the meaning a little, let it say what we want it to say rather than allowing the real God’s Word to change us! That’s the issue! And, had they not considered Jesus’ words in John 8: 44:

“YOU are from YOUR father the Devil, and YOU wish to do the desires of YOUR father. That one was a manslayer when he began, and he did not stand fast in the truth, because truth is not in him. When he speaks the lie, he speaks according to his own disposition, because he is a liar and the father of [the lie].”

Jesus, therefore, did not necessarily accept Satan’s claim on the world, but refused to argue with the lie. He simply countered the lies of Satan with the truth of the right application of God’s Word – an excellent example for us for when we are facing the Devil’s attacks. Is it possible that an organisation which claims to be God’s sole visible channel on earth wanted to deceive people about this, or worse, didn’t know about it?

If you read the whole of Colossians chapter 1 in context, there is no hint of the 144,000 concept, and in the New World Translation, the verses following verse 13, which should reflect the apostle’s view of the deity of Christ, have been altered by placing words in brackets to change the original meaning. Such textual dishonesty is unforgivable. The Bible either teaches something or it does not. If it does not, men actually break God’s command by altering the text, in brackets or not, for in verse 27, when compared with the Kingdom Interlinear Translation it can be seen that words, not in brackets this time, have been added to the text in order to change it.

How does the Watchtower teaching relate to accurate Bible teachings?

The main Bible texts we need to look at are Luke 12:32; John 10:16; Revelation 7:4 and 14:1,3.

Luke 12: 32

“Have no fear, little flock, because YOUR Father has approved of giving YOU the kingdom.” New World Translation

“Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.” New International Version

These are comforting words of Jesus to His disciples (v.22); encouragement after hearing Jesus lay into the religious leaders of His day (11:37-54), and addressing a crowd of thousands about judgments that were likely to come upon those who follow Him seriously (12:1-12). He then delivered a stinging rebuke to a pair of squabbling brothers. It would be natural for the twelve disciples to wonder just what they had got themselves into. Jesus is not insensitive to their feelings and says to them ‘do not worry’ (v. 22), and ‘do not be afraid’ (v. 32). He addresses His disciples as ‘little flock’ as a term of endearment, rather than an indication of the number of those who would be in heaven. ‘Give you the kingdom’ is reflected in Jesus’ words in Luke 22:28-30:

“However, 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, that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones to judge the twelve tribes of Israel.” New World Translation

“You are those who have stood by me in my trials. And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one to me, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” New International Version

The mistake the Watchtower Society has made is lifting a simple statement of Jesus out of its natural context, and giving it a meaning it was never meant to have. This reference, at Luke 22:28-30 would not fit Watchtower teaching, as literal Israel is considered to be irrelevant to the end times. The similar reference in Revelation 7 is, as we shall see, interpreted symbolically to be the heavenly ‘anointed’ class by Jehovah’s Witnesses.

John 10: 16

“And I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; those also I must bring, and they will listen to my voice, and they will become one flock, one shepherd.” New World Translation

“I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They, too, will listen to my voice, and they will be one flock and one shepherd.” New International Version

In most publications only the first part of the verse is quoted, for the last part completely destroys what the Watchtower wants people to believe. The Jehovah’s Witnesses believe, as shown above, that Jesus has called out a 144,000 ‘little flock’ who are to be co-rulers with Him in the Kingdom of God. Watchtower teaching is that Jesus is the mediator of the 144,000, who in turn mediate for the ‘other sheep.’ However the final part of the verse is clear – ‘His’ sheep and the ‘other sheep’ will form ‘one flock’ with ‘one shepherd.’ The one shepherd is Jesus which, therefore, means the Watchtower-style 144,000 would have no function. Therefore the first part of the verse is wrenched out of its natural setting in order to show that there are two classes of Christians, a heavenly class and an earthly class, whilst the last part is ignored. In 1 Timothy 2: 5 we read;

“For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, a man Christ Jesus.” New World Translation

If the 144,000 teaching were true, and the 144,000 are also mediators, then 1 Timothy 2: 5 would be a lie. However, it agrees with the last part of John 10: 16 and is Biblical truth.

In the context of John 10, v.16 comes as part of Jesus’ discourse about being the Good Shepherd of the flock. Verses 3 and 4 record Jesus as saying;

“The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep out by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice.”

As if to emphasise his point here, verse 5 continues;

“But they will never follow a stranger; in fact they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” New International Version

As we have already seen, the ‘other sheep’ also listen to Jesus’ voice. Therefore, they literally become ‘one flock with one shepherd.’ What did Jesus mean when he said ‘I have other sheep who are not of this fold.’ Jesus was speaking as a Jew, to other Jews. This is confirmed by verse 19. Therefore, the ‘this fold’ He spoke about is Judaism. What about the ‘other sheep?’ The answer lies in references such as Acts 1:8; 8:4-8, Galatians 6:15 and Ephesians 2 that relate to the bringing in the Gentiles to the same ‘fold’ as Jewish believers. These are the ‘other sheep’ who are given equal status as Christian believers, with Jewish believers, without having to follow the whole of the Jewish law. This is the natural meaning of the verse, consistent with the rest of God’s Word.

Revelation 7:4 and 14:1,3

“And I heard the number of those who were sealed, a hundred and forty-four thousand, sealed out of every tribe of Israel.” Rev. 7: 4, New World Translation

“Then I heard the number of those who were sealed: 144,000 from all the tribes of Israel.” Rev. 7: 4, New International Version

This is the first time the number 144,000 is mentioned in Scripture. That they are ‘sealed’ gives the Watchtower the reason to claim that they are the only ones to join Jesus in heaven, or does it? The other place the number is mentioned is in Revelation 14:

“And I saw, and, look! the Lamb standing upon the Mount Zion, and with him a hundred and forty-four thousand having his name and the name of his Father written on their foreheads. And I heard a sound out of heaven as the sound of many waters and as the sound of loud thunder; and the sound that I heard was of singers who accompany themselves on the harp playing on their harps. And they are singing as if a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders; so that no one was able to master that song but the hundred and forty-four thousand, who have been bought from the earth.” Verses 1 to 3, New World Translation

“Then I looked, and there before me was the Lamb, standing on Mount Zion, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads. And I heard a sound from heaven like the roar of rushing waters and like a loud peal of thunder. The sounds I heard was like that of harpists playing their harps. And they sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders. No one could learn the song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth.” Verses 1 to 3, New International Version

To explain all the imagery involved in these verses is a task too large for this study, however, we can cover various points which are vital to the understanding of the issues.

First, from these verses in Revelation, Jehovah’s Witnesses claim that Jesus revealed that the ‘upper’ class of Christians numbered 144,000 and that these were in heaven. In Revelation 14:1, we see that the Lamb and the 144,000 are standing on Mount Zion. This was the main mountain upon which Jerusalem was built, and was often a synonym for the city itself. As already shown the Watchtower Society wants to push the idea that this was ‘heavenly Mount Zion’ rather than its physical counterpart. It is sufficient to say that the Bible passage itself does not support their view.

Revelation 7 names the tribes of Israel which the 144,000 represented and this part of the passage is rarely covered in Watchtower publications. This specifically nominates the 144,000 as Jewish, but Jehovah’s Witnesses do not admit to the significance of the Jewish people. The Society say that this refers to ‘spiritual’ Jews and not the literal tribes of Israel. They seek some justification for this by pointing out that the tribes in Revelation 7 do not match those of Exodus 1.

G.R. Beasley-Murray says of this in The New Bible Commentary (1977), p.1290

“5-8 The enumeration of the tribes one by one here serves to emphasize the completeness of the number of God’s saints for whom He cares during the coming ordeal. For the church as the true Israel cf. Rom. 2:28; Gal. 3:29; 6:16; Phil. 3:3; Jas. 1:1; 1 Pet. 1:1 with 2:9. The order of the tribes is curious in a number of ways. Judah heads the list, an unusual procedure amongst the Jews; here it is because it is the tribe of the Messiah. Dan is omitted whereas Manasseh appears, although the latter is included in Joseph. Irenaeus explained this as being due to the ancient belief that antichrist was to spring from Dan. The half-tribe of Manasseh was then inserted to make up the twelve. Buchanan Gray discovered that if vv. 5c, 6 (i.e. Gad to Manasseh) were placed after v. 8, the list would conform to the usual enumeration of the Jewish tribes by which they are arranged according to descent by their mothers: the sons of Leah are Judah to Benjamin; the sons of Rachel, Joseph and Benjamin; the sons of Leah’s handmaid, Gad and Asher; the sons of Rachel’s handmaid, Naphtali and Dan (here replaced by Manasseh). It is possible that our text originally maintained this order but suffered a dislocation by a copyist in early days.”

We can also add that if the writer intended to show a ‘spiritual’ Israel, why go to the lengths of detailing the tribes represented? The nation of Israel continues to be important to God’s prophetic revelation from beginning to end; that is what is being stressed.

In Revelation 7, after the listing of the tribes of Israel, we read about ‘a great crowd, which no man was able to number, out of all nations and tribes and peoples and tongues…’ These, say Jehovah’s Witnesses, are the ‘other sheep’ – faithful Witnesses who are not in heaven, but on the earth – they are not the same class of the 144,000 ‘anointed’ ones. However, the passage (v.9) informs us that they were ‘before the throne,’ but according to the Watchtower Society this does not indicate heaven, but the earth. However, Revelation 14:3, we learn that the 144,000 were ‘before the throne,’ but, as we have seen, the Watchtower Society wants people to believe that means in heaven. So the 144,000 and the ‘great crowd’ are in precisely the same place! We have further information about the 144,000 in Revelation 14:4,5:

“These are the ones that did not defile themselves with women, in fact they were virgins. These are the ones that keep following the Lamb no matter where he goes. These were bought from among mankind as firstfruits to God and to the Lamb, and no falsehood was found in their mouths, they are without blemish.” New World Translation

“These are those who did not defile themselves with women, for they kept themselves pure. They follow the Lamb wherever he goes. They were purchased from among men and offered as firstfruits to God and the Lamb. No lie was found in their mouths; they are blameless.” New International Version

This is very specific information which does not seem to find its way into Watchtower articles. Many Jehovah’s Witnesses will seek to spiritualise these verses; virgins, for example, has been taken to mean that these persons had not allowed themselves to be influenced by ‘apostate teachings.’ However, the reference to ‘no falsehood was found in their mouths’ and being ‘without blemish’ is, at best, semi-literal in that it proves that the Watchtower Society teachings are ‘the truth.’ However they do not seem to ever say that the 144,000 were morally pure in every way, which, actually, seems to be more likely than any of the spiritualised meanings.

CONCLUSION

How authentic is the 144,000 teaching? In every area we have shown this teaching to be false – based on misinterpretation of biblical texts. A more rigorous study of many of the quoted texts would show that, on the basis of personal and corporate identification with the sacrificial death and physical resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, all who die in Christ join Him immediately after death occurs. Therefore, all true Christians have the hope of heavenly life, because the Lord Jesus Christ is, bodily, in heaven at the right hand of God the Father.

As the Watchtower teaching about the 144,000 is false, all teachings connected with it must, at best, be questionable. This includes the impossible notion of the kingdom being installed in 1914. In fact, so many of the Watchtower teachings collapse with the 144,000 doctrine that any Jehovah’s Witness who reviews these things honestly and Biblically must, surely, abandon them as false, and seek for the true. And the true exists outside the scope of the Watchtower Bible & Tract Society. The true Church of the Lord Jesus Christ is the whole company of people who have entered into a personal relationship with the Father, through Jesus Christ the Son, and in the transforming power of the Holy Spirit. This is true Bible centred Christianity, and makes sense of the entire New Testament record.

All Jehovah’s Witnesses are warmly invited to thoroughly investigate these matters. The true Church of God is waiting to welcome them home.

Scriptures

Matthew 16:24 Then Jesus said to his disciples: ‘If anyone wants to come after me, let him disown himself and pick up his torture stake and continually follow me.’ back

John 5:28, 29 Do not marvel at this, because the hour is coming in which all those in the memorial tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who did good things to a resurrection of life, those who practice vile things to a resurrection of judgment. back

Hebrews 12:22 But YOU have approached a Mount Zion and a city of [the] living God, heavenly Jerusalem…) back

1 Timothy 3:15 … but in case I am delayed, that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in God’s household, which is the congregation of [the] living God, a pillar and support of truth. back

Revelation 7:4 And I heard the number of those who were sealed, a hundred and forty-four thousand, sealed out of every tribe of the sons of Israel… back

Matthew 5: 20; 6: 9, 10 For I say to YOU that if YOUR righteousness does not abound more than that of the scribes and Pharisees, YOU will by no means enter into the kingdom of the heavens; “YOU must pray, then, this way: Our Father in the heavens, let your name be sanctified. Let your kingdom come. Let your will take place, as in heaven, also upon the earth…” back

Revelation 5: 9, 10 And they sing a new song, saying: “You are worthy to take the scroll and open the seals, because you were slaughtered and with your blood you bought persons for God out of every tribe and tongue and nation, and you made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God, and they are to rule as kings over the earth.” KIT “… upon (epi) the earth”. back

Ephesians 1: 9-12 “… in that he made known to us the sacred secret (KIT mystery) of his will. It is according to his good pleasure which he purposed in himself for the administration at the full limit of the appointed times, namely to gather all things together in the Christ, the things in the heavens and the things on the earth. [Yes,] in him, in union with whom we were also assigned as heirs, in that we were foreordained according to the purpose of him who operates all things according to the way his will counsels, that we should serve for the praise of his glory, we who have been first to hope in the Christ.” “And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put in effect when the times have reached their fulfilment – to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ. In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.” New International Version. (NIV) back

Revelation 20: 4 And I saw the thrones and there were those who sat down on them, and the power of judging was given them. Yes, I saw the souls of those executed with the ax for the witness they bore to Jesus and for speaking about God, and those who had worshiped neither the wild beast nor its image and who had not received the mark upon their hand. And they came to life and ruled as kings with the Christ for a thousand years.” back

Hebrews 2:17,18 “You made him a little lower than angels: with glory and honour you crowned him, and appointed him over the works of your hands. All things you subjected all things to him [God] left nothing that was not subject to him. Now, though, we do not yet see all things in subjection to him.” back

Revelation 21: 2 – 4 I saw also the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God and prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. With that I heard a loud voice from the throne say; Look! The tent of God is with mankind, and he will reside with them, and they will be his peoples. And God himself will be with them. And he will wipe every tear from their eyes, and death will be no more, neither will mourning nor outcry nor pain be anymore. The former things have passed away.” back

John 1: 29 The next day he beheld Jesus coming toward him, and he said: ‘See, the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world!’ back

Romans 6: 5 For if we have become united with him in the likeness of his death, we shall also be [united with him in the likeness] of his resurrection. ‘If we have been united with him like this in his death, we shall certainly also be united with him in his resurrection.’ NIV back

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