Saturday, May 29, 2010

Jehovah’s Witnesses and the 144,000

The seventh chapter of Revelation introduces two large groups of people. One group is specifically numbered at “an hundred and forty and four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel” (7:4). The other group is given no specific number but is simply called, “a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues” (7:9). The group known as Jehovah’s Witnesses (JWs) make the claim that the 144,000 represent the literal number of people that will be saved and allowed into heaven. Their counterpart, the great multitude, will be those saved that will live on a new earth after the judgment day. Is this what Revelation 7 teaches concerning these two groups? The short answer is no, but if these two groups do not represent what JWs claim they represent then what are these two groups?

Before we answer the questions concerning these two groups, we must remember the nature of the book we are studying. Revelation is a book made up of primarily visions. The visions are written in what is often known as apocalyptic language. What does that mean? Basically it means that we do not take these visions literally. The scenes which are shown to John are not meant to portray anything literal, but are symbols. It is the exact same language and principles used in visions given in the Old Testament. We must remember that the whole of these visions are figurative. The JWs make a very big mistake when they pick and choose the parts of the visions they want to be literal and the parts they want to by symbolic. Why would we few Revelation as figurative, but suddenly decide the 144,000 and great multitude are literal?

Next, let us tackle the question concerning the 144,000 and who they are. Revelation 7:1-3 set the location of these people as being on earth. This is where the JWs make a huge mistake. They make the claim that the 144,000 are in heaven, but the text makes it clear that that is not so. The events that have preceded this chapter have shown symbols of judgment upon the nations that opposed God. Chapter seven serves as an interlude that is meant to give comfort to the saints on earth. Before the seventh seal was to be opened, God wanted all of the saints on earth to be sealed. We see a similar vision given to Ezekiel in 9:1-9 of his writings. In both visions, judgment was soon to come and God wanted to mark those who were His in order to show that they would be safe through what was to come.

Now the question may be asked, why are these 144,000 noted as being from the tribe of Israel. We most note here something interesting about the JWs belief. If the 144,000 is a literal amount of people that will be in heaven, then God makes it clear to John in this vision that only those of the Jewish tribes will be in heaven, and only 12,000 from each of the tribes mentioned. This will be hard to fulfill as there was no literal tribe of Joseph since it was his two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh that were made tribes.
One must conclude though that if the number is literal, then God’s revealing of who makes up this large group must also be literal. What that also means is that any JW who is not from the nation of Israel has no chance of going to heaven based upon his own belief. Why name them this group Israel then? When John speaks of the tribes of the children of Israel, he’s speaking about spiritual Israel. We see this painted in the scripture as well. Paul said, “for they are not all Israel, that are of Israel (Rom 9:6). He also wrote that, “in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature. And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God” (Gal 6:15-16). John here is not speaking about the literal nation of Israel, but the spiritual and figurative nation of Israel of the New Covenant, which is the church.

The final question concerning the 144,000 is why that specific number? Oftentimes in apocalyptic writings, numbers had great meaning and symbolism. The number twelve is thought to represent holiness, and here we see twelve times itself. This would put greater emphasis on the aspect of holiness or righteousness of these people. 12 x 12 is then multiplied by one thousand. This is a number which represents completeness or fullness. Thus, in the symbolic context of the vision, we have the complete and full people of holiness. Who would this represent? Well we noted in the last paragraph that Israel represents the church and throughout the Bible we see the church as part of God’s plan for redemption and that they are to be pure and holy. Why do we have the 144,000 sealed? It is God’s reminder to all of the saved on the earth that He watches over them and protects them. It does not mean we will not face persecution, but when He brings judgment upon a nation, He knows and will protect those which are His.

The other group of people mentioned in Revelation 7 are the “great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues” (7:9). The 144,000 are those saints still living on the earth who have been sealed for protection against the judgments that are to come, so what does this mass of people represent? First we need to make note of their location. They are not on earth, but are before the throne and before the Lamb, which represents God and Christ respectively. The JWs claim that this mass of people are on earth and will be those who will live on a supposed new Earth while the 144,000 live in heaven. Where is the throne of God though, and where does Christ reign? The Hebrews author notes that in his reign, Christ reigns as prophet, priest and king. Because Christ was from the tribe of Judah, he could never be a priest on earth, and Jeremiahs words as recorded in Jeremiah 22:30 make it clear that Christ could never reign as king in Judah. Hebrews 8:1 tells us exactly where Christ reigns, and that is on the right hand of God in heaven. Based on that information, we know that the throne room of God as seen in the book of Revelation symbolizes heaven. The JWs are already found at fault in their teaching of the location of these people.

It is easy to know what these people represent because the Bible makes it clear. One of the twenty-four elders which are before the throne (which seem to represent the redeemed of the Old and New Testament) asks John who these people are, but John retorts that the elder already knew who these people were. The elder responds the great multitude, “are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (7:14)

We know who the people are, but what is this tribulation? The King James translation is a bit unfortunate. It better translates to “they that come out of great tribulation.”The verb tense here indicates a continuous coming, not a past or completed coming out. That is to say that this tribulation was still occurring at the moment. Jesus had told his disciples of “great tribulation” which would come on the people of Jerusalem in its own destruction (Mat 24:21,29). This had happened 20-30 years before this though, and this tribulation being discussed was still going on. Some claim that this is “the great tribulation” is to take place between what they call “The Rapture” and “The Revelation” of Jesus. The thought is that at this time, the saints will be caught up to the marriage supper of the Lamb. This theory has no foundation in scripture though. Jesus had forewarned of general tribulation (John 16:13). Paul said that, “through many tribulations we must enter into the kingdom of God (Acts 14:22). This view says that the great tribulation is the sum of all tribulations from Pentecost till the coming of the Lord. This idea fits within the context of the book and the surrounding chapters. Some say this “great tribulation” took place in the Roman Empire from the time of Nero (A.D. 64) up until the Edict of Constatine (A.D. 313). This persecution would have lasted 249 years, and also fits within the theme and context of this book. Regardless of what this tribulation was, we know from the elder’s revelation of what the symbols mean that these before the throne are those who have endured tribulation and gone onto their reward. From this one should gain comfort that God not only knows His and protects them in this life, but that His children have a place with Him for all eternity as well.

The JWs teaching on heaven and who will be in it is not one that is found within the scripture. Throughout the Bible we see that heaven is the eternal home of ALL of the saved, not just a small flock of Israelites (Phil 3:20; II Ti 4:18; Jn 13:36-14:6). This teaching of the JWs undermines the promises made by God and Christ and makes them both liars concerning the destination of men.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Good post, Carl.

    Also, Revelation 14:3-4 is interesting. If the Jehovah's Witnesses are correct, these verses narrow it down even further: Only 144,000 virgin male Israelites.