The Watchtower teaching concerning the 144,000 mentioned in Revelation 7:4 and 14:1-3 has the great majority of true believers missing out on the heavenly hope spoken of in the Bible. The great majority will live on paradise earth, with only 144,000 ‘anointed ones’ going to Watchtower Heaven, and no women among them.
Consider this in the context of the mass destruction so eagerly anticipated in generations of Watchtower literature and teaching. It is a destruction in which Watchtower leaders seem to take a particular delight. It is a destruction so appalling it will see the end of everyone who is not a Jehovah’s Witness. No matter that you have confessed Christ, served sacrificially, read your Bible, and remained faithful.
That leaves a paltry few millions to populate a world once populated by billions. That leaves the Watchtower Heaven populated by two gods, Almighty God, and the lesser god of John 1:1 (NWT), angels and archangels, and just 144,000 ‘anointed ones’. No women need apply.
This ’anointed class’ first appears in Revelation7:4, where they are described as divided into lots of 12,000, ‘sealed from every tribe of Israel.’ The key text here, however, is Revelation 14:
‘Then I looked, and behold, on Mount Zion stood the Lamb, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads. And I heard a voice from heaven like the roar of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder. The voice I heard was like the sound of harpists playing on their harps, and they were singing a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and before the elders. No one could learn that song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth. It is these who have not defiled themselves with women, for they are virgins. It is these who follow the Lamb wherever he goes. These have been redeemed from mankind as first-fruits for God and the Lamb, and in their mouth no lie was found, for they are blameless.’ (Rev.14:1-6 ESV)
The 144,00 are not specifically identified as men but they are, ‘these who have not defiled themselves with women.’ The Society associates these with those who reign with Christ for a thousand years as ‘priests of God in Christ’ (Rev.20:6)
Of course, only men hold any position of authority in the Watchtower Society, so these priests will not be women. Even a complementarian would struggle with this scenario; there are no women in the Watchtower Heaven.
What does the Bible say about this? The first thing to note is that this Rev.14 text tells us the 144,000 are the ‘first-fruits for God and the Lamb’ (v4) First-fruits indicate a main harvest to come. Where is the main harvest?
‘Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people. And he said with a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.’ (Rev.14:6/7)
Here, three angels fly, the first with a gospel (not the gospel) but a gospel nevertheless. A gospel of God’s sovereignty, calling ‘every nation and tribe and language and people’ to ‘fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgement has come…’
Since the time of the first disciples the gospel has been preached and here, in the face of impending judgement, people everywhere are yet called to acknowledge God’s sovereignty and know salvation.
Later in the same chapter we see two harvests, one of grain, signifying a harvest of God’s people, the other a harvest of grapes representing the destruction of the wicked (Joel 3:12/13). It is clear that people are here divided into two classes the saved and the lost, the righteous and the wicked.
Each class, then, will have both men and women since both are fallen and both are called to repentance and to offer right worship to the Lord. God is an equal opportunity judge and Saviour.
The Society, however, teaches that at Armageddon, people will be divided into three classes and women will be in the second and third.
1.The 144,000 or ‘little flock’ who will reign with Jesus in heaven. Those of their number who have already died received an immediate resurrection into the Watchtower Heaven.
2.The great crowd or‘ other sheep’ who are worthy of a resurrection will come to life and live on paradise earth. The majority of people will receive such a resurrection and a second chance but they could still be annihilated if they are disobedient.
3.Those not worthy of a resurrection or those destroyed at Armageddon will be annihilated and have no future at all.
A summary of the Society’s teaching on the 144,000 is that Luke 12:32 shows only a ‘little flock’ inheriting the kingdom. Rev.7:1-8 and 14:1-5, they claim, show this ‘little flock’ to number 144,000. Rev.5:9-10, they insist, further shows they will rule as ‘kings and priests’.
The 144,000 are in direct contrast to the ‘great crowd’ which does not have a heavenly future but an earthly one. According to the Society, John10:16 shows that this earthly group is called ‘other sheep’ or ‘great crowd’ (Rev.7:9-17). They are joining up verses here that the Bible does not join, to arrive at conclusions not found in Scripture.
During the millennium, when the earth is a paradise, all those counted worthy of a resurrection (John5:28-29) will have an opportunity to learn obedience and loyalty to the organisational structures that God establishes through the 144,000 and Jesus Christ reigning in heaven (Rev.20:11-15).
“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 up on Mount Zion, and with him a hundred and forty-four thousand…who have been bought from the earth’.”-The Truth that Leads to Eternal Life, WBTS, 1968, p.77. (see also Reasoning p.166.)
The Society claims a scriptural link between the ‘little flock’ and the 144,000. The ‘little flock’ promise was made to literal Israel, but the 144,000 are, according to the Watchtower, spiritual Israel. Also, the ‘little flock’ of Luke 12:32 is a comparison with the thousands of v.1. There is no link there.
Does the Bible do what Jehovah’s Witnesses do?
In John 10:16 the Jews were told that there were ‘other sheep’ who would be brought into ‘one flock with one shepherd. ’Eph. 2:11-16 explains that the ‘other sheep’ are Gentiles who would become ‘one body’ with Jews through Jesus. There is no link here; there are not two distinct groups. The Watchtower proof-text:
“144,000 redeemed from Earth to be Kings and Priests with Christ in Heaven…Rev14:1,4…Rev 5:9-10.” – Make Sure Of All Things, 1965, p.303.
The Bible does not link these two Revelation texts, an important point. A good question to ask when addressing these issues is, does the Bible do what Jehovah’s Witnesses do? In fact, the 144,000 are shown to be different from the people in Rev.5.
One group is “…from every tribe of the sons of Israel.”-Rev.7:4 NASB
The other is “…from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.” – Rev.5:9 NASB.
Those in Rev.5 are not the 144,000 but they are a kingdom of priests to God. They are actually the great crowd, “…from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues.” – Rev.7:9,NASB.
“Revelation does not say of them [the great crowd] as it does of the 144,000, that they are ‘bought from the earth’…The description of them as ‘standing before the throne and before the Lamb ’indicates not necessarily a location, but an approved condition…The expression [means] literally, ‘insight of the throne’.”-Reasoning, p.167.
When we compare Rev.5:9 with 7:9, we do find that the great crowd are ‘bought,’ ‘ransomed for God’ (Rev. 5:9).Also, Rev.7:1-4 shows that the 144,000 are ‘on the earth’!
Before the Throne means in the Temple where God is
Further, the phrase ‘in sight of the throne’ (Greek, enopion tou thronou) is unique to the apostle John in Revelation, and seven out of the nine times it appears, Jehovah’s Witnesses are convinced that it literally means, ‘in the temple of God where the heavenly throne is’. The remaining two occurrences, where the ‘great crowd’ is before God’s throne, are said to be not literal. The only way to make that distinction is by bringing your private interpretation to Scripture.
Strong’s translates enopion, 1) in the presence of, before 1a) of occupied place: in that place which is before, or over against, opposite, any one and towards which another turns his eyes.
There is another phrase, other than ‘before the throne’, used of the great crowd. Rev7:15 shows them to be, “in His temple,” the divine habitation. The Greek word is naos. Vine translates:
“…a shrine or sanctuary…into which only the priests could lawfully enter, e.g. Luke1:9,21,22; Christ, as being of the tribe of Judah, and thus not being a priest while upon earth…did not enter the naos.” – Vine, Vol.4, p.115.
The great crowd must be where the Lord is, not just in an approved condition. Indeed Rev.19:1 in the NWT talks of ‘a great crowd in heaven’.
The Heaven of God is for everyone who calls on the name of the Lord
Scripture shows that not only is there no link between the little flock and the 144,000, but that the 144,000 cannot be who the Society says they are. The Society teaches that the 144,000 are in heaven and the great crowd on earth but the Scriptures teach that the 144,000 are on earth and the great crowd is in heaven.
Remember, however, what the Bible actually says. There are two groups, not three (Rev.14:14-15; Mt.13:24-30) and there are men and women in both groups. The Watchtower Heaven may be an exclusive men’s club, but the Heaven of God is for everyone who calls on the name of the Lord (Acts 2:21; Ro.10:13; Jn.3:16)