144,000 & the “Other Sheep”

by William J. Stewart

The past week,

myself and another brother had the opportunity to study with a couple of Jehovah’s Witnesses at a local Kingdom Hall. The atmosphere was pleasant; the nature of the discussion respectful. Some might think it best to discuss the nature of Christ, the failings of the Watchtower Society, or some other similar topic. However, after several weeks of study with one of these men, I suggested that our discussion center upon the 144,000 and the great crowd spoken of in the Revelation. Why? Quite simply, the Witnesses’ position on the identity of these figures affects their understanding and application of most other New Testament texts. For example, texts addressing the “saints”, “brethren” or “elect” are not considered to be unto all who are disciples of Christ, but just a small segment.

Our purpose herein is twofold: 1) to expose the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ false teaching about the 144,000 and the great multitude, and 2) to make known the truth on the same matter. the benefit for the child of God is twofold: 1) to gain knowledge about this great figure in John’s Revelation, and 2) to prepare ourselves, should we perhaps have an opportunity someday to share this truth with one who has been caught in the Witnesses’ error. WITNESS DOCTRINE OF THE 144,000 & OTHER SHEEP
“So the 144,000 are persons who die on the earth as humans 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’. However, the ‘little flock’ who go to heaven are not the only ones who receive salvation. As we have seen, they will have happy earthly subjects. Jesus referred to these as his ‘other sheep,’ of whom ‘a great crowd’ are even now serving God faithfully.”
(The Truth That Leads To Eternal Life, 1968 ed. p. 77)

Jesus said to His apostles, “And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd.” (John 10:16) Note that these “other sheep” were distinct from the original fold; they, like the originals would hear his voice, and they would be added to the original fold, such that there would be one “flock and one shepherd”. There would not be two parts of one flock, but simply one flock.

Who are the original sheep? Jesus sent His disciples “…to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” (Matthew 10:6). He Himself was “…not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” (Matthew 15:24). The Scriptures identify the house of Israel or the house of Judah as God’s original fold (Ezekiel 34:30-31; Micah 7:14-15; Zechariah 10:3).

Who are the “other sheep”? At Pentecost, Peter said to the Jews who were coming to Christ, “…the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off…” (Acts 2:39) Who was “afar off”? Paul later wrote, “…remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh… who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” (Ephesians 2:11, 13) Of the Jew and Gentile, we’re told that Christ “…has made both one… to create in Himself one new man from the two… that He might reconcile them both to God in one body…” (v 14-16). Time and again, the New Testament reveals that salvation is no longer of the Jews only (John 4:22), but for the Gentile also (Matthew 10:18, 21; Luke 2:32; Acts 10:45; 11:18; 13:46-48; 14:27; 15:3, 8, 14; Romans 10:16; 1 Corinthians 12:13; Galatians 3:8, 14, 28; Ephesians 3:6, etc.). The Gentiles who would respond to the gospel would be added to the faithful of the flock of God; Jew and Gentile would be brought together in one.

Jesus taught that there would be “one flock”, that the original sheep and the other sheep would be made one. The Witnesses give lipservice to Jesus’ teaching, but reject it in their doctrine, making a distinction where Jesus has made none.

The primary source for the two class teaching of the Witnesses is found in Revelation, where we are told of the 144,000 and the great multitude. Before looking at the texts in detail, I believe it appropriate to consider a statement made by Charles T. Russell, the founder of the Jehovah’s Witnesses with regard to the use of Revelation. In debate with L.S. White, on the issues of eternal punishment, Russell stated:

“The Book of Revelation is not something that is properly brought in in such a controversy as this. Nor would it generally be considered usage to bring in the symbols of Revelation as proof on any point. It is a rule among those who are doctors on this line to exclude anything like the Book of Revelation from being direct proof. We ought to have it in the words of Paul, in the Corinthians, or Romans, or Ephesians, or Philippians, or some of these plain statements in which he declares that he did not shun to declare the whole counsel of God.”
(Russell-White Debate, pg. 101, Rowe Publishing, 1912, Cincinnati, OH)

Russell hit the nail on the head. It is not prudent to appeal to the book of Revelation as the source of proof with regard to a Bible doctrine. And yet that is the very thing which has been done. The Witnesses have established a doctrine based upon Revelation 7 and 14, and then have gone on a rabbit hunt throughout the rest of Scripture to find texts which can be manipulated to support their misuse of the Revelation texts.

John tells us in Revelation 1:1 that the things contained in his writing were “signified”. Consider the figure or symbol of those who are sealed.

144,000 is not a literal number, but represents those who are sealed. Two other numbers are used to arrive at this figure, the number twelve (12) and one thousand (1,000). Twelve (12) is often associated with the people of God (sons of Jacob, tribes of Israel, stones in High Priest’s breastplate, cakes of showbread, apostles of Christ, age of Jesus’ first teaching, baskets of fragments, etc, etc.). One thousand (1,000) signifies that which is complete or whole. The LORD says, “…every beast of the forest is mine, and the cattle upon a thousand hills.” (Psalm 50:10; cf. Psalm 105:8) Do not the cattle on the 1,001st hill also belong to God? The number is used to denote completeness. Those who are sealed are 12 x 12 x 1,000 — the complete number of God’s people.

Of The Twelve Tribes Of Israel, like the number, is not a literal but figurative description. It is simply a reference to the people of God. Paul told us that “…they are not all Israel who are of Israel, nor are they all children because they are the seed of Abraham; but, ‘In Isaac your seed shall be called.” (Romans 9:6-7; cf. 2:28-29). James wrote to “…the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad…” (James 1:1). Was his instruction not as much for Greek Christians as it was for those of Jewish origin? The phrase is simply used to refer to the people of God.

Not Defiled With Women, For They Are Virgins is a further description of this group of people. Just as the number and their identify as being of the twelve tribes were figures, this also is a symbol. There is “…neither Jew nor Greek…”, nor is there “..male nor female…” in Christ. There are no secondary citizens among the Lord’s people, but “…all are one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28). The image here is that of purity. With regard to the Corinthian church, Paul sought to “…present a chaste virgin to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 11:2). The desire is “…to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight” (Colossians 1:22).

The latter portion of Revelation 7 speaks of “the great multitude.” Who are these? Consider:

  • numbered at 144,000 (7:4; 14:1)
  • of the tribes of Israel (7:4-8)
    (a figure of ALL God’s people)
  • male virgins (14:4)
    (a figure of purity)
  • before the throne of God (14:5)
  • no one could number (7:9)
  • of all nations, tribes, peoples (7:9)
    (Jews and Gentiles together)</li)
  • clothed in white (7:9, 14)
    (washed by the blood of Christ)
  • before the throne of God (7:9, 15)
The description of the 144,000 and the great multitude sure look the same. They are both “before the throne of God” (7:9, 15; 14:5). They are both characterized as pure (7:9, 14; 14:4). Both comprise God’s people taken from all nations upon the earth (7:4-9, remember the symbolic use of the tribes). They are both a great number which man cannot tally (7:4, 9; 14:1, remember the symbolic use of 12x12x1,000). These are not two groups, as some (including the Witnesses) have concluded, but describe the very same group of people  – God’s people.

Jehovah’s Witnesses are taught that the 144,000 “…go to heaven…” and that the “…other sheep…” (the great multitude) are their “…happy earthly subjects.” However, a thorough investigation of John’s vision reveals that there is one

144,000 or could not be numbered?
In 7:4, John heard the number (which is symbolic), but did not see the crowd. In 7:9, he sees them. But how is it possible that the number of this crowd is both numerated and beyond numeration?
One at a football game might exclaim, ‘There’s no telling how many are here!’ In the 2nd quarter, it is announced over the P.A. system, ‘Today’s attendance is 144,000.’ Are there two crowds spoken of, since the patron indicated that he did not know the number, but the P.A. announcer gave it?Though no man is able to number the people of God, the LORD is able to number His people, and signified it with the 144,000 (12x12x1,000).

group, not two, and that they are ALL before the throne of God (7:9, 15; 14:5). Where is the throne of God located? According to Scripture, it is in heaven (Psalm 11:4; 103:19; Isaiah 66:1; Matthew 5:34; Hebrews 8:1; 12:2; Revelation 4:2). In fact, according to the Watchtower, it is in heaven,

“To fit his unequaled position, his throne is in the heavens and our earthly globe is beneath his feet.”
(New Heavens and a New Earth, pg. 16)

The 144,000 and the great multitude are one. The other sheep are Gentiles who would come to Christ, added to the original fold, those from Israel who would be faithful to the Lord. The letters written by Paul, Peter, John and the other inspired writers, though not written directly to us, are applicable to us, for we are God’s people. Those who have responded to the message of the gospel in faith are called to be saints (1 Corinthians 14:33; Ephesians 5:3; Revelation 14:12), chosen and elect (Ephesians 1:4; Colossians 3:12; 2 Thessalonians 2:13; 1 Peter 1:2; 2:9), blessed to be the brethren of our Lord Jesus (Matthew 12:50; Romans 8:17, 29; Galatians 4:7; Hebrews 2:11).

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