The 144,000 Identified
This article will set to rest the true identity of those mentioned in Revelation 7:4:
“And I heard the number of those who were sealed, one hundred and forty-four thousand sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel.”
It will also reveal the actual identity of the other sheep spoken of in John 10:16:
“And I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they shall hear My voice; and they shall become one flock with one shepherd.”
In a nutshell, the Watchtower asserts that the 144,000 mentioned in Revelation are those exclusively destined for heaven, and the other sheep mentioned in John 10 are those chosen to live on Earth. In other words, only 144,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses will go to heaven, and the rest of the Watchtower’s organization will reside on Earth. So the question is … does Scripture harmonize with the Watchtower’s theology?
Whenever we consider biblical topics, it is imperative that we use Scripture as our ultimate authority. That being said, let us examine the Watchtower’s teachings with respect to the 144,000, and shine the light of Scripture over the Organization’s interpretation.
“And I heard the number of those who were sealed, 144,000, sealed out of every tribe of the sons of Israel: Out of the tribe of Judah 12,000 sealed; out of the tribe of Reu’ben 12,000; out of the tribe of Gad 12,000; out of the tribe of Ash’er 12,000; out of the tribe of Naph’ta∙li 12,000; out of the tribe of Ma∙nas’seh 12,000; out of the tribe of Sim’e∙on 12,000; out of the tribe of Le’vi 12,000; out of the Is’sa∙char 12,000; out of the tribe of Zeb’u∙lun 12,000; out of the tribe of Joseph 12,000; out of the tribe of Benjamin 12,000 sealed. After this I saw, and look! a great crowd, which no man was able to number, out of all nations and tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, dressed in white robes; and there were palm branches in their hands.” Revelation 7:4-9 (NWT)
I will start our analysis of Revelation 7 by allowing Greek scholar Spiros Zodhiates to share with us what the above passage, in context, is actually communicating. This is taken from his book, The Hebrew-Greek Key Study Bible —New American Standard Bible (pg. 1680):
“This contains the parenthetical portion between the sixth and seventh seals mentioning two distinct groups: (1) The 144,000, which are sealed, are from the twelve tribes of the children of Israel. This does not mean that the number of Israelites who will be saved will be limited to 144,000. Rather, it refers to 12,000 out of each tribe who are sealed from the wrath of Satan and the antichrist. These are called ‘the first fruits to God and to the Lamb’ (Rev. 14:4). (2) A great multitude, without naming the exact number from all nations as distinct from the nation of Israel, will also be saved. These are described as ‘the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb’ (Rev. 7:14).”
In Revelation 7, Scripture describes two groups: the numbered 144,000 sealed who come from the literal twelve tribes of the Nation of Israel (the tribes are named), and an unnumbered great crowd who come out of all nations. Both are seen coming out of the Great Tribulation; both wash their robes and make them white in the blood of the Lamb.
The Watchtower asserts that the 144,000 is a literal number, representing those who are heaven-bound after death. However, they do not take literally who (what people) make up the 144,000, even though that information is specifically set forth in verses 5-8. In other words, the Watchtower insists that verse 4 is literal, but verses 5-8 are not. Then they revert back to a literal position for verse 9 (concerning the great crowd).
However, the Bible message is very clear. Jehovah even distinguishes both groups by name: natural Jews and those of the Gentile nations. Nowhere in this biblical passage or context do the Scriptures communicate that the 144,000 are heaven-bound — only that they are seen coming out of the Great Tribulation. There is no reference to them going to heaven.
Since the Watchtower’s interpretation is not supported by Scripture, their dogma questions God’s ability to communicate. Essentially, the Organization is calling Jehovah a liar. They not only contradict Him, they replace His message to mankind with their own.
If we listen to Jehovah Himself, He explains who the 144,000 are and from where they come:
“And I said to him, ‘My lord, you know.’ And he said to me, ‘These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.’” Revelation 7:13-14
Scripture clearly contradicts the Watchtower’s doctrine regarding the 144,000. Jehovah explicitly states that this group does not even appear until the Tribulation. Hence, they are not even known until that terrible time of future history. Why is this, and what is their function?
In his book, Israelology: The Missing Link In Systematic Theology (pg. 537), Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, Th.M., Ph.D., helps us further identify the 144,000:
“This is an exact number because of their special role in the Tribulation. They are sealed for the purpose of being preserved through the Tribulation and, therefore, ‘are not subject to death.’ For that reason, they ‘must be viewed as a separate company.’ … Because these are set apart by God as special witnesses, then there should be no problem with such a specific number like 144,000, and no reason not to take that figure literally. The 144,000 are to be viewed as being ‘part of the remnant of Israel, but not the entire remnant itself.’ This is obvious from at least one fact alone: the 144,000 are saved at the beginning of the Tribulation, while the nation or ‘the remnant’ of Romans 11:26 is not converted until the second advent of Christ. Furthermore, these 144,000 are not only a part of the remnant, they ‘are ministering as sealed witnesses immediately after the church has been raptured.’ … The 144,000 in Revelation seven are ‘set apart … before the great tribulation begins’ and are ‘sealed at the very outset of the tribulation period.’ The myriad of Gentiles saved ‘come to a knowledge of salvation through the ministry of this group.’ In Revelation 14, the same 144,000 are viewed as being with the Messiah in the Messianic Kingdom. These 144,000 Jews are called firstfruits which means ‘they are the first of the harvest of the tribulation period that will come into the millennium to populate the millennial earth.’ They are the firstfruits of many more Jews to come to saving faith. … The specific destiny of the remnant is the Messianic Kingdom when their Messiah will rule over them from the Throne of David.”
From the above, it is clear that the 144,000 do not appear until the Great Tribulation and are chosen because of their special role during the Tribulation period. Thus, the Organization’s position that the 144,000 are Watchtower members destined for heaven fails to find support from Scripture and, therefore, cannot be correct.
The “Other Sheep”
Now we will analyze John 10:16 by addressing the following questions:
(1) Who are the “other sheep”?
(2) Why are they called “other sheep”?
(3) Does the context of John Chapter 10 support the Watchtower “other sheep” doctrine?
To avoid any misunderstanding about the Organization’s position with respect to the identity of the “other sheep,” their doctrine is set forth below:
Identifying the Great Crowd …
“In 1923, Jehovah’s servants discerned that ‘the sheep’ of Jesus’ parable found at Matthew 25:31-46 and the ‘other sheep’ to which he referred as recorded at John 10:16 are people who would have the opportunity to live forever on earth. In 1931 those described at Ezekiel 9:1-11 as being marked in their foreheads were also seen to be those with the earthly hope. Then in 1935 it was learned that the great crowd form part of the other sheep class Jesus spoke about. Today, this favored great crowd numbers in the millions.’” (wt chap. 13 pp. 120-127 – Worship God wt)
Man’s opinions and their interpretation of Scripture cannot usurp God’s intended message. The Bible is and must always be our ultimately authority. Therefore, the Watchtower’s doctrine must be supported within the context of the Scripture they quote from; otherwise, their theology is nothing but a man-made doctrine which is condemned by God, because the true message Jehovah is communicating through Scripture is not being accurately represented.
I want to begin by discussing my third question (does the context of John Chapter 10 support the Watchtower “other sheep” doctrine). According to the Watchtower’s article, the “other sheep” do not receive a heavenly reward but an earthly one. Jehovah’s Witnesses are taught that only a certain number are destined for heaven (that is, 144,000). The remainder of Watchtower members fall into the category of the “other sheep,” and they are told that they do not receive a heavenly reward after death but will live forever on earth.
As we examine John 10:16, we will look for any support of the Watchtower’s teaching regarding the “other sheep:”
“And I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they shall hear My voice; and they shall become one flock with one shepherd.” John 10.16
Jesus Christ is communicating here that He has other sheep who will listen to Him and will become part of the one flock. However, this Scripture and its surrounding context fail to address who they are or their final destination after death. So where did the Watchtower learn that information? What biblical passage teaches that the “other sheep” live on earth? From where or whom did the Organization gain the discernment that Christ meant these “other sheep” would not live in heaven but on earth? Similarly, the Watchtower has said, “in 1935 it was learned that the great crowd form part of the other sheep class Jesus spoke about.” Where did they gain this knowledge? Who told the Watchtower that the people of all nations coming out of the Great Tribulation were the “other sheep” Christ was referring to at John 10:16?
Before I continue, I want to illustrate why it is imperative to understand the context which surrounds any biblical verse quoted. The “why” of this will paint an indelible picture in your mind. In my example, I will bring two verses together (by pulling them out of their original context), and then I will form a doctrine around the message I want delivered. The verses I will use are Matthew 27:5 and Luke 10:37:
Matthew 27:5: “And he threw the pieces of silver into the sanctuary and departed; and he went away and hanged himself.”
Luke 10:37: “And he said, ‘the one who showed mercy toward him.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do the same.’”
By combining these two verses, an erroneous doctrine can be created:
Jesus Christ taught that suicide was biblically-approved.
Obviously, this is an extreme example, but it demonstrates a dangerous practice called collapsing context. This is the method used by the Watchtower in creating their interpretation of the 144,000. They combine John 10 with Revelation 7, even though these two passages have individual and separate contextual meanings. The context of John 10 and the context of Revelation 7 involve different settings, time frames, audiences and discussions — they have absolutely nothing to do with each other. By collapsing (ignoring) the context of these passages, the Watchtower disregards the art and science of correct biblical hermeneutics (i.e., whenever interpreting Scripture, you cannot pull a Scripture out of its original context and bring it alongside a different context of Scripture to form a doctrine.) In doing this, the Watchtower creates an erroneous doctrine.
Organizations (like the Watchtower) who practice this method substitute God’s truth for their own man-made doctrine and inflict spiritual harm on the unwary and innocent. Please protect yourself from being misled. How? By reading the entire context of the passages being discussed.
Now turning to my first two questions:
Who are the “other sheep” Christ spoke of …
and why are they called the “other sheep”?
When the Gospel was first preached, it was only preached to the Nation of Israel, although most of the Jews rejected Christ as the Messiah. However, Christ assured us that other sheep would listen to Him and they, too, would be included in the one flock. So who was He referring to? The Gentiles (the rest of mankind). It was the Gentiles who would later be given a chance to accept Jesus Christ, and the ones that did accept Him, Christ referred to as the “other sheep.”
“The eye that Christ had to the poor Gentiles. He had sometimes intimated his special concern for the lost sheep of the house of Israel, but, saith he, I have other sheep. Those who in process of time should believe in Christ, from among the Gentiles, are here called sheep … Christ speaks of those other sheep to take off the contempt that was put upon him, as having but a little flock, and therefore, if a good shepherd, but a poor shepherd: ‘But saith he, ‘I have more sheep that you see.’” Matthew Henry’s Commentary (pg .1564)
In John 10:16, Jesus Christ was simply saying that the Jews were not the only sheep. When the time was right, the Gentiles would also come into the one fold. They were called “other sheep” because they were not Jews. To read anything else into this passage would be improper. Nowhere in the context of John 10 does Jesus Christ inform us that these “other sheep” are something other than what the passage is communicating. They are called other sheep because they were not part of the original Nation of Israel fold. The Gentiles would also listen to His voice and as Christ said, “they shall become one flock with one shepherd.”
Now that we have compared the Watchtower teachings concerning the 144,000 to Scripture, it is obvious that the Organization’s doctrines are not supported by the Inspired Word of Jehovah. Nevertheless, to further illustrate the erroneousness of their 144,000 doctrine, we can look to history itself. The Watchtower asserts that the 144,000 started to be fulfilled in the first century and was completed by 1935 (about 2,000 years later).
But ask yourself, how many Christians accepted Christ in the first century? The answer is 500,000!
According to some published material, 500,000 Christian were accounted for in the first century, and 7.5 million accepted Jesus Christ during the first three centuries. Yet the Watchtower insists that the 144,000 number was not fulfilled until the year 1935 (which is within the 20th century). When I mentioned this fact to a former member of the Watchtower and close friend of mine, he said, “I don’t understand.”
I explained it to him this way: If the door for the great crowd did not open until 1935 (waiting for the 144,000 number to be completed), where did the 500,000 go in the first century, or for that matter, where did the 7.5 million go during the first three centuries? Christians at that time were eaten by lions, burned at the stake to light Nero’s torches, and made to drink boiling hot oil … yes, these Christians were martyred because they were faithful to Jesus Christ. With that, my friend replied, “Oh, I get it now … I understand … the 144,000 number would have been completed during the first century.” So as you can see, history also contradicts the Watchtower’s 144,000 doctrine.
The Bible teaches us that anyone who accepts Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior will live in heaven once they die.
“we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord.” 2 Corinthians 5:8
Greek scholar Spiros Zodhiates has this to say about the context of 2 Corinthians 5:1-10:
“This passage tells us very clear what happens to the believer when he dies. He goes to be with the Lord, The chapter is closely connected with v. 18 of the previous chapter in which we are told to look at the things which cannot be seen with the physical eye.”
Therefore, everyone accepting Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior is guaranteed an eternal future in heaven when they die.