By Welton Weaver
According to the Jehovah’s Witnesses the number of the elect has been set by Divine decree at 144,000. “The church of Christ consists of Jesus Christ the head and the 144,000 members of his body.”(1) Only the 144,000 will go to heaven. “These are the only ones whom Jehovah God takes to heaven with the Son. All others who gain life in His new world will live in Paradise restored here on earth.”(2) This position is more fully developed in the following quotations:
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 . . . `a hundred and forty-four thousand . . . who have been bought from the earth’ (Revelation 14:1, 3).(3)
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.– John 10:l6; Revelation 7:6, 15.(4)
This view of the 144,000 and their relationship to Jesus Christ and the rest of mankind may be diagramed as follows:
The purpose of this article is to show that Rev. 7:4 and 14:1-3 do not teach that only 144,000 will go to heaven, as the Witnesses claim. Other passages cited in the diagram, such as Rev. 5:9, 10 and 20:6, are not within the scope of this review. It should be noted in passing, however, that these passages are also grossly misused in their argument. The “first resurrection” of Rev. 20:6 is the resurrection of the cause for which the martyrs of Rev. 6:9, 10 have been slain. The reign of those mentioned in Rev. 5:9, 10 is a present reign upon the earth and has no reference whatever to a reign of the 144,000 from heaven over the rest of mankind. The “little flock” of Lk. 12:32 refers to the then small band of disciples of Jesus who were about to receive the kingdom of God (see Mk. 9:1; Lk. 24:48, 49; Acts 1:4, 5; Acts 2:1-4). The “other sheep” of John 10:16 are the Gentiles, since the gospel was first preached to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matt. 1:6; Rom. 1:16).
Without getting into a discussion of whether the 144,000 in both Rev. 7:4 and 14:1-3 refers to the same subjects,, we need to give some attention to the matter of where they are. Are they on earth or in heaven? The Witnesses claim that since 1918 all of the 144,000, except a very small remnant, have gone to heaven. They also say that the “great multitude, which no man could number” (Rev. 7:9) is a separate group and represents all the other saved people who will remain on earth. But a careful reading of the verses in chapter seven will show that the multitude is in heaven and is contrasted with the 144,000 who are yet on earth. The 144,000 represent God’s elect on earth. These are sealed for protection against the tribulation about to be brought against the earth (7:1, 2). Their sealing does not protect them against martyrdom, for they are to be martyred by the beast which is to rise out of the sea (11:7). It only protects them against the “hurt” about to be brought upon the earth. This “hurt” is held back until the sealing is completed (7:3), or until the church on earth has been fully prepared for the coming judgments against the earth.
In addition to the 144,000, John sees “a great multitude, which no man could number . . . standing before the throne and before the Lamb” (7:9). Two factors in particular suggest that this multitude is in heaven. First, these subjects are not sealed, indicating they have passed beyond the need of protection because they have already passed through the tribulation (7:14). The 144,000 yet face the tribulation and are sealed for protection against it. Second, the multitude is “arrayed in white robes, and palms in their hands.” The white robes symbolize their righteousness, while the palm branches in their hands symbolize their victory. They now appear “before the throne and before the Lamb” with the angels, elders, and four living creatures (7:11, 13).
But we are told by the Witnesses that the multitude stands before the throne, and since the earth is God’s footstool the multitude is yet on earth. The fact that this multitude stands before the throne, however, does not in itself tell us whether it is on earth or in heaven. But other factors do strongly argue against the possibility of this multitude being on earth. For example, the angels, elders, and the four living creatures also appear “before the throne” (7:11). That the multitude is with them is made clear by the question asked by one of the elders: “These that are arrayed in the white robes, who are they, and whence come they?” (7:13). The elder is told that they are the ones who came out of the great tribulation (7:14), and this is the reason given that they are now “before the throne of God” (7:15). Now notice that this multitude has come from somewhere to appear before the throne. They have come out of the great tribulation, but they have also come “before the throne.” That is where the angels, elders, and four living creatures are (7:11). There is nothing to suggest that the multitude who now stands before the throne is yet on earth, while the other members of the heavenly host who also appear “before the throne” are in heaven. In fact, all the evidence is contrary to such a view. If the multitude standing before the throne means the multitude is on earth, why does not the angels, elders, and living creatures before the throne mean that they too are on earth? We also see in Rev. 8:2 seven angels standing “before God.” In 8:3, a golden altar is “before the throne,” and the angel takes fire from it and pours it upon the earth. Are the seven angels, the golden altar, and the angel who takes fire from the altar on earth because they are all before God or the throne? The fact that the multitude is standing before the throne does not change the matter. The angels in 7:11 and 8:2 are also standing, but they are in heaven.
How are we to identify the multitude? Is it the same as the 144,000? Some think so. But whether it is or is not, if it is in heaven, as we maintain, the view that only 144,000 will go to heaven is definitely wrong. If it is the same as the 144,000, John says it cannot be numbered. If it is a separate group (as I believe), then there will be the 144,000 plus the great multitude in heaven. The 144,000 is not to be taken literally. The number simply suggests completeness. In Rev. 7:4, it represents all of God’s elect on earth, or spiritualized Israel (see Jas. 1:1; 1 Pet. 1:1; Lk. 22:30; Matt. 19:28; Gal. 6:16 and Phil. 3:3). In particular, the number refers to those saints in John’s day yet facing martyrdom, who after death will join those saints already in heaven (the great multitude).
Truth Magazine XIX: 26, pp. 410-412
May 8, 1975