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Jehovah’s Witnesses claim there will only be 144,000 people in Heaven. They base this belief on Revelation 7  and Revelation 14 in which the 144,000 are mentioned.

A cursory reading of Revelation 7 quickly shows that there is an additional multitude of people to the 144,000 described there as worshiping before the throne of God. The Jehovah’s Witnesses describe this second group as The Earthly Class or Great Crowd which is an additional group of people, also all Jehovah’s Witnesses, who throughout eternity live in a perfect paradise on Earth, but who do not actually go to Heaven and who never have any personal contact or experience with God during that eternity.

Misplaced Literalism

The Jehovah’s Witnesses are quite mistaken to think that Heaven is limited to 144,000 individuals. If one takes the number of 144.000 to be a literal number then one is obliged to take all the information about the 144,000 literally. In doing so we find that that the 144,000

  • Are Jews
  • Number precisely 12,000 each from 12 specified tribes of Israel (but not all the tribes – the tribe of Dan is missing)
  • Have the Lamb’s Name and The Father’s Name written on their foreheads
  • Are male
  • Are virgins
  • Follow The Lamb wherever He goes

Taking this passage literally we find that the only people who are in Heaven are male, Jewish virgins. How many Jehovah’s Witnesses meet this criteria ?

In addition to being male, Jewish virgins, everyone in heaven has two names literally written on their foreheads and follow The Lamb wherever He goes all the time. Surely this is somewhat inconvenient  for both Jesus and for the 144,000, stumbling over each other for all eternity.

So we can easily see that taking a literal view of the 144,000 creates insurmountable problems with the text.

144,000 As Symbolic

The number 144,000 has a suspiciously symbolic look to it, being 12 x 12 x 1,000 with the numbers 12 and 1,000 both being highly significant Biblically.

The structure of the number 144,000 denotes completeness. Firstly, the 12 Tribes are multiplied by 12, meaning that the ‘twelve-ness’ of elect Israel is emphasised. None of the twelve Tribes of Israel are missing from Heaven. The subsequent multiplication by 1,000 is an intensifier signifying great magnitude. The total symbolism simply means all the elect of Israel will surely be saved and that there will be a very large number of them.

The magnitude of 1,000 is present in both the overall count of all elect Israel (144 x 1,000) and in the count by each individual tribe e.g For Judah 12,000 are present (12 x 1,000). This indicates that the salvation of Israel is both complete and in great magnitude by tribe as well as by nation. All of Israel is present, all of Israel is present in great magnitude and each individual tribe of Israel is present and fully accounted for in great magnitude, saved by their covenant Lord who promised to do so. All are present who should be present. None are missing who should not be missing.

To give just one example of the symbolic use of 1,000 in scripture consider Psalms 50:10 in which we read – “For every beast of the forest is mine, and the cattle upon a thousand hills.” As the Blog Scripture Revealed notes:

Now don’t you think there are more than a thousand hills on earth? Is the passage implying that God does not own the cattle on hill one thousand and one? Of course not. What is being conveyed is that the Lord owns all the cattle on all the hills, not just on a thousand hills

As Scripture Revealed goes on to say :The number one thousand (1,000) symbolizes “immensity,” “fullness of quantity” or “multitude.” It then provides numerous examples of this application in Scripture.

The number 144,000 applied to Israel is a symbolic way of saying that none of Israel whom God intends to save will be missing.

First Fruits

A further aspect of the 144,000 in Revelation 14, is that the 144,000 are a first fruits, which means that they are representative of a larger group. The identification of the 144,000 as a First fruits is of itself proof that more than 144,000 are in Heaven. And this is precisely what we find in Revelation 7 where we see that in addition to the 144,000 there is  a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.

The description of the great crowd as being  from every nation, tribe, people and language shows that they are Gentiles. The Jewish saved are a firstfruits of the total saved population of humanity. So we see in Revelation 7 that there are two basic groups of people worshiping before God’s Throne: Jews and Gentiles

144,000 – The Fulfillment Of God’s Promises To Israel

The 144,000 of Revelation 7 show that God will be faithful in his promises to Israel to save them, thus honouring the covenant he made to Abraham and confirmed with Isaac and Jacob.

The Apostle Paul describes it this way in Romans 11: that Israel will certainly all be saved once God has completed His mercy among the Gentiles but that Israel is currently experiencing God’s judgement at present – a breaking off from Christ and a hardening of their hearts. But Israel indeed will be saved and restored due to God’s faithfulness. And this is what we see described in Revelation 7: Jews and Gentiles alike worshiping God in Heaven.

Revelation 7 does not show two classes of saved as Jehovah’s Witnesses would say, one of which, the 144,000, is supposedly superior to the other, The Great Crowd. No. Rather the passage describes two multitudes of people in heaven: one Jewish and one Gentile – the same groups that Paul describes in Romans 11.

Genre

The basic error that Jehovah’s Witnesses have made is to apply a literal interpretation to a passage which is intended to be understood symbolically. They have failed to recognise Genre. The Book Of Revelation is written in a Genre known as Apocalypse in the same way that Psalms is written in a genre known as Poetry and the Pastoral Letters in a genre known as Epistle. Epistle being pastoral letters should be interpreted literally. Poetry and Apocalypse, on the other hand, are figurative genres. To select arbitrary elements from symbolic texts and interpret them literally is an invitation to poor interpretation.

Why Specify ?

It may be reasonably asked if two multitudes are present in Revelation 7, then why specify only one of them using a symbolic number ? Isn’t this proof that the use of the specific number 144,000 is to be taken literally ? Indeed, Jehovah’s Witnesses take this very line of argument.

The question is reasonable and I think a partial answer to this is that Gentiles are not numbered by tribes in The Bible whereas Israel is so numbered. Thus, The Holy Spirit, in His inspiration of scripture can individually list the Israelite tribes and number them as a way of indicating The Lord’s individual care and oversight of all Israel and His commitment to save them. It also allows The Holy Spirit to omit Dan in such a list which leads to interesting speculation of why this might be the case.

A similar specific listing of Gentile nation, tribe, people and languages would obviously require thousands of pages to render fully and so is not done. Having said this, the symbolic number 10,000 or 10,000 times 10,000 used in other parts of Scripture might indicate the greatness and diversity of the Gentile multitude, so I agree there is no compelling reason why a symbolic could not be used for them also.

While this could be cited as a reason to indicate that the 144,000 should be taken as a literal number, we have seen that doing so creates insurmountable problems with interpreting the text. Specifically, the 144,000 are all male, Jewish, virgins. Are we really to believe that only male, Jewish, virgins will go to heaven ?

How many Jehovah’s Witnesses fit this category ?

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