The American 19th Century was a religious boiling pot from which all kinds of ideas, abstractions, and movements emerged, from the early days of the Seventh Day Adventists, through the followers of William Miller (Millerites), and John Thomas (Christadelphians), to the Watchtower Society in the latter part of the century. Such groups were overwhelmingly preoccupied by the second Adventism that grew out of the 18th century.
With Christ’s return insistently taught as imminent, caution was thrown to the wind as people sold off their properties, gave away money, and confessed teachings that, on reflection, they might have treated with greater caution. Date setting was commonplace, failed prophecies were legion, and teachings were not-so-subtly changed to accommodate new circumstances.
We are familiar with the Watchtower teaching regarding the Old and New Covenants, that the Old, or Law, Covenant is between Jehovah and Israel, and the New Covenant is between Jesus and 144,000 ‘anointed Christians.’ We know very well the problem Jehovah’s Witnesses face when challenged to explain which covenant they fall under. That they are not in the Old Covenant is clear enough, because that is done away with, but they are not in the New because only a limited number (144,000) enter that covenant.
We are told on JW.og, under the title How God Will Accomplish His Purpose that the New Covenant:
…legally unites anointed Christians with Christ to be kings and serve as priests in heaven.
…provides a legal basis for 144,000 Christians to be adopted as sons of God and to become the additional part of the “offspring”
As Christians we believe that the whole body of Christ is ‘a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God…’ (1 Pet.2:9) and all are adopted into the family of God, with the privilege of calling God ‘Abba, Father.’ (Ro.8:15-16 cf. V23, 9:4; Gal.4:5; Eph.1:5) Jehovah’s Witnesses restrict these privileges to the 144,000, who will reign from heaven. The rest, the ‘great crowd,’ will live on earth and be ruled from heaven by this ‘little flock.’ So far we are on familiar, if questionable, territory.
What is the status of this select ‘little flock’ before the throne of God? In the book What Does the Bible Really Teach they are described as kings, ‘selected by God [to] rule together with Jesus in the heavenly Kingdom.’ (p.78) In Reasoning From the Scriptures they are described as ‘priests of God…[who will] rule as kings over the earth.’ (p168) The Watchtower of 1 July 1990, p.9 tells us:
‘The new covenant, which is made operative by Jesus’ shed blood, replaces the old Law covenant. It is mediated by Jesus Christ between two parties – on the one hand, Jehovah God, on the other, 144,000 spirit-begotten Christians. Besides providing for forgiveness of sins, the covenant allows for the formation of a heavenly nation of king-priests.’
These are, then, 144,000 king-priests who will reign with Christ in the new creation. In the 19th Century they appear to have been much more than simply king-priests.
The Divine Nature
In an early Watchtower publication, Zion’s Watch Tower, October/November 1881 (forerunner of the Watchtower magazine of today) we read:
‘No one is justified to the Divine nature by Christ’s death – no, it was human life that was lost through Adam, and to human life all are justified by Christ. It was because it was a human nature that was lost that Jesus left the glory he had with the Father, and took upon him the human nature – that he might give or sacrifice it as a ransom for our human nature. In a word, it was to be evident to all that Jesus’ death is the basis or cause of the restitution of the human nature, but not a cause of the giving of the Divine nature.
Secondly, we remark that the Divine nature is Jehovah’s gift – given as a reward of obedience (even unto death), to those who, by patient perseverance, in well doing seek for it – “Glory, Honour, and Immortality.”’ (Italics in original)
In keeping, in other words, with how we understand Watchtower teaching, Jesus’ shed blood redeems, or ransoms fallen humanity back to its original state to Live Forever in Paradise on Earth. Scripture refers to those who those who, participate in the Divine nature,’ (2 Pet.1:4) Whoever participates in the Divine nature, it is not the Great Crowd, who are not in the covenant, and therefore cannot rule with Christ. There are, however, those who will thus participate, as the second point above makes clear. It seems they qualify themselves by the sheer weight of obedience. The article goes on:
‘Paul informs us that it was because of obedience even unto the death of the human, that God highly exalted Jesus, or made him a Divine being…And the promise held out during the Gospel age, under which the Bride or Body of Christ is called out of the world is, that if we follow in Jesus’ footsteps, we shall attain to the same prize and experience that high exaltation from the human nature to the Glory, Honour, and Immortality of the Divine – as members of a body under Jesus our head.
The conditions of this high exaltation are so severe though many are called, few will be chosen, because only a few will make their calling and selection (sic) sure by so running as to attain that great prize (1 Cor.9:24)
It is an extraordinary prize and it is no easy race as all the runners testify from the head all down through this age. Yet, though difficult we run it with joy for the same reason as the head – who for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross despising the shame (ed. Note: reference here is to ‘the cross’, reflecting their use of the KJV. The 2013 NWT gives ‘torture stake’)
Brother Paul tells us that the exceeding great and precious promises of the Word were given us, that by these (the strength and encouragement that they would afford us, as they did Jesus, to be “obedient even unto death”) we might become partakers of the Divine nature. (2 Pet.1:4)
There is then presented in the article a list of these, ‘exceeding great and precious promises,’ including sitting with Christ on his throne (Rev.3:21); power to rule over the nations (Rev.2:27); living and reigning with Christ (2 Tim.2:11-12). But if it was the restoration of the human nature that was brought about by Jesus’ sacrifice, and the Divine nature is not in Jesus’ gift but in the gift of Jehovah, and few find it, who are these few and what is their end and ultimate nature?
‘Few there be that find this narrow difficult way. It is, “a little flock to whom it is their Father’s good pleasure to give the kingdom.”
Watchtower’s Jesus is – God?
We conclude then that the titles, Mighty God, and Everlasting Father, are titles, which fully understood, are very appropriate to our Lord Jesus Christ. And we might add that so perfectly is his Bride – body – church, associated with him, both in filling up the measure of the sufferings – being joined in sacrifice and also in the Glory that shall follow, that the same titles are applicable to the church as his body – for “He that hath freely given us Christ, shall He not with him also freely give us all things?” “Therefore all things are yours, and ye are Christ’s and Christ is God’s”
After the sacrifice soon follows the power which will, under him as our head, constitute the whole body of Christ the “Mighty God” (el – powerful one) to rule and bless the nations – and the body with the head, shall share in the work of restoring the life lost in Adam, and therefore be members of the company which as a whole will be the Everlasting Father to the restored race.’
So, what do we have?
Christ’s sacrifice restores humanity to its original state to live in a recreated order.
Because of his perseverance and sacrifice, Jesus becomes a legitimate participant in the Divine nature and can rightly be called Mighty God, Everlasting Father. They have just called Jesus ‘God.’
Of those restored from their fallen state to original humanity some, following Jesus’ example and through perseverance and sacrifice, become elect of God and also participate in the Divine Nature along with Christ.
A 144,000 person Godhead
They are so united with Christ, as the body with the head, as to also be participants in the Divine nature, and may also share in the titles ascribed to Jesus and, ‘therefore be members of the company which as a whole will be the Everlasting Father to the restored race.’ They have just called Jesus and the 144,000 ‘God.’
This 144,000, joined to the head, constitute the whole body of Christ, the “Mighty God” (el – powerful one). It is this company, God, Jesus, and the 144,000 who will rule and reign and be instrumental in restoring the life lost in Adam.
This is so reminiscent of the Mormon teaching of a council of gods presided over by God the Father to plan for the progression of God’s children through creation to a celestial existence as gods. Both ideas came from the same century and religious milieu, both have subsequently been less spoken of than once they were. If Jehovah’s Witnesses struggle with the Trinity, what would they make of this ‘godhead’ of 144,002?