The Watchtower has always taught that the 144,000 are the ones to go to heaven—but most Jehovah’s Witnesses today don’t realize that Russell taught that they were all part of the “anointed” “remnant” going to heaven.
The remnant are a small portion of all the anointed followers of Christ who are pictured in heaven in Revelation.
Indeed, until 1935 when the teaching changed, the Watchtower presented the urgency for all to become one of the limited 144,000 who would go to heaven. With the message that of the doors of heaven would soon be closed, membership swelled…
“In 1931 there were under 50,000 Witnesses in fewer than 50 lands… In 1943 there were only 126,329 Witnesses preaching in 54 countries… by 1946 Jehovah’s Witnesses had reached a peak of over 176,000 Kingdom preachers. Forty-four years later, there were nearly four million active in over 200 lands, islands, and territories.” — Mankind’s Search for God, p. 359 par. 30,32
Today there are more than 7 million Jehovah’s Witnesses worldwide. They still believe only 144,000 will go to heaven—and they teach the rest are part of “the great crowd on earth”.
“Who, and how many, are able to enter the Kingdom? Revelation limits the number to 144,000 that become a part of the Kingdom and stand on Mount Zion. (Revelation 14:1,3; 7:4-8) Thus it is seen that God never purposed to ‘convert this old world and take the good to heaven’. … This may all seem like a mystery to those who have no knowledge of the Bible and its teachings. Indeed, it is the “mystery of Christ”. (Colossians 1:27, Goodspeed)” — Let God Be True (1946), The Kingdom of Heaven: The Mystery, pg. 121, par. 6,7
Jesus once said, “There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?” (John 14:2)
Meanwhile, the “mystery of Christ” isn’t that there’s only 144,000, which Revelation designates as Israelites out of the twelve tribes of Israel, who enter the Kingdom—the mystery is that the body of Christ consists of both Jews and Gentiles. It says so in the very same verse that is quoted. The body of Christ as the Lamb marries the bride New Jerusalem, the remnant of Israel. The 144,000 are from before the ministry was opened up to the Gentiles, and after the full number of the Gentiles comes in—and the mystery isn’t a mystery anymore—”To them [the remnant of Israel] God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.”
Jesus also said, “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” (Matt. 18:3, Mark 10:15, Luke 18:17)
With a childlike mind, I ponder—
“Jehovah now had begun to select those who would be associate rulers with Jesus Christ. For some 19 centuries after this there was only one calling, the heavenly one. It was an undeserved kindness that God bestowed on a limited number in furtherance of his own wise and loving purposes.—Eph. 2:8-10.
In time the prescribed but limited number of 144,000 would be filled.” — United in Worship, chap. 14 pp. 111-112 pars. 5-6
Wow. So from Pentecost 33 C.E. until the 20th century, there was only one hope—a heavenly hope, which the Watchtower teaches is a limited number, 144,000. Like a child, I wonder where did everyone think they were going as centuries passed? I mean, we’re now in the 21st century. That means of every 100 years only 7,000 people on average could hope to obtain the one hope—that’s only about 70 people per year.
“Then Jehovah, by means of his spirit and the understanding of his Word that he made possible for his visible organization, would direct matters so as to fulfill another part of his purpose, as described in Revelation 7:9-17. A “great crowd” out of all nations would be gathered, with the thrilling prospect of surviving the great tribulation and living forever in perfection amid an earthly Paradise. When we consider what has actually occurred, it seems evident that the heavenly calling in general was completed by about the year 1935 C.E., when the earthly hope of the “great crowd” was clearly discerned.“
Hmmm. “When the earthly hope of the “great crowd” was clearly discerned.”
I can’t help but wonder a few things, like a child. If there was only one hope—a heavenly calling—prior to the Watchtower’s teaching in 1935 of “the earthly hope of the ‘great crowd'”, then where did all the “good people” think that they were going to go?… Then I realize perhaps the better question is where did people for the past 20 centuries believe that the “great crowd” would be?
And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. (Genesis 15:5, Genesis 17:5)
After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands. (Revelation 7:9)
Like a child I can’t help but wonder—did God have Abraham look up to the sky and tell him “So shall your offspring be” and name him the father of a great multitude of nations in the book of Genesis, and then by coincidence there is a great multitude from every nation in the book of Revelation? Or are these the children of Abraham, the promised children of faith, the fulfillment of that promise? And when Abraham looked up at the stars, from that night forward, did he picture his promised children—a great multitude of nations—as the stars in the sky?
It it possible that when I read the bible, it means simply what it says to my childlike eyes? Abraham was promised children—a great crowd of nations—who shall be as the stars of the sky. Israel was promised the land, and that the meek shall inherit the earth. Jesus came and introduced to followers the Kingdom of heaven—though they couldn’t seem to give up asking about when their earthly Kingdom would come. Then for 19 centuries, there was one calling—a heavenly hope. Prior to Jesus, and even still to this day, the Jews rely on the promises of the old covenant in the old testament—inheriting the land. Christians have always focused on the new covenant in the new testament—the kingdom of the heaven. We know that there is a remnant, and it would seem that 144,000 regardless of how you cut it, is a remnant, meanwhile the scriptures tell us that the 144,000 is out of Israel. Is it possible that it means what it says? A small remnant, the little flock, are given the kingdom of the heaven. Those of Israel on earth will one day inherit the land. God makes good on his promises. Sure, not all Israel is Israel and neither are all Christians Christian—you have to walk the walk and talk the talk… And what about Christians?
Well, what about them? We believe in a resurrection don’t we? Instead of arguing over how many people can fit in heaven, think like a child—how many people can fit on earth? Sure, not everyone will live forever. So you eliminate people there. But there have been an estimated 108 billion people alive on earth.
Now back to that 19 centuries of one hope—the heavenly calling. Jesus told the little flock that they would be given the kingdom of the heaven. Indeed, it was a small number of Israel who followed Jesus—thus, a little flock. Jesus also said, “I have other sheep, too, that are not in this sheepfold. I must bring them also. They will listen to my voice, and there will be one flock with one shepherd.” (John 10:16, cf Rom 11:25) God also promised salvation for “others”, “The Sovereign Lord declares—he who gathers the exiles of Israel: “I will gather still others to them besides those already gathered.” (Isaiah 56:8) ”
Notice how “they” will listen to his voice—as opposed to the Jews? “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:27)
This is how we have a little flock out of the lost sheep of the house of Israel, and other sheep who will listen to his voice and follow him, and he must bring them also—bring them? Where?
“Lord, where are you going?” Jesus replied, “Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later… And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” — John 14:1-7
If we are to listen to his voice and follow him, and we know where he is going—Again, thinking like a child, I consider the Watchtower’s teaching against the what the scriptures say. I try to picture, the little flock in heaven, and the other sheep on earth—I suppose we could say that Jesus is super-powered, so he can be in more than one place at a time, thus still able to be the “one shepherd”. But how is it that you can call two flocks in two places one flock?
Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, “You know nothing at all! You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.” He did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation, and not only for that nation but also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one.” (John 11:49-52)
Since I’ve decided to give up on keeping pace with The Truth the organization, and instead decided to believing that the Word is Truth. Well, I’ve started thinking like a child.
“You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve. Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68,69)
When I read the verse above, I am struck. My mind wants to replace “whom” with “where”. And I know the answer to “where”. If the choice is to follow The Word, The Truth, The Way, The Life, or The Watchtower—which Way would you choose? As a child I have to laugh—that’s a trick question! There’s only one way.
In any case, the “good news” is that those who don’t follow his voice apparently get to live on earth, once they learn the error of their ways. But that’s not the “144,000” of the “little flock” nor “the great crowd” of “other sheep”, nope. That’s the people spoken of here, the ones “left behind” as it were:
“This is what the God of Heaven’s Armies says: People from nations and cities around the world will travel to Jerusalem. The people of one city will say to the people of another, ‘Come with us to Jerusalem to ask God to bless us. Let’s worship the God of Heaven’s Armies. I’m determined to go.’ Many peoples and powerful nations will come to Jerusalem to seek the God of Heaven’s Armies and to ask for his blessing.
“This is what the God of Heaven’s Armies says: In those days ten men from different nations and languages of the world will clutch at the sleeve of one Jew. And they will say, ‘Please let us walk with you, for we have heard that God is with you.’” — Zec 8:20-23
Is it news to you that people will travel to Jerusalem?
“When the thousand years are over, Satan will be released from his prison and will come out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together for the war; the number of them is like the sand of the seashore…. They marched across the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of God’s people, the city he loves. But fire came down from heaven and devoured them. And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.” Revelation 20:7-10
If you are still on earth after Jesus comes for whoever it is he’s coming for to take to heaven, then know that you’re going on a camping trip! And did you notice?! Who is it that Satan deceives when he’s let out? It’s the nations—not the camp of God’s people at the city he loves. They march across the whole earth to earthly Jerusalem—do you know any other city God loves?
Jesus once told parables to people who wouldn’t listen to them. He told one about a wedding, and how people were especially invited, but they had better things to do—so other people were invited instead. I do hope you can make the wedding—but, if not, I’m sure there’s still a happy ending.
Meanwhile—here’s how the Witnesses came to believe that they weren’t all going to heaven…
“Spirit of Life from God Entered into Them”
Holy Spirit, Published by the Watchtower, 1976: Chap. 8 pp. 154-159 pars. 33-41
What are some things that differentiate this “great crowd” from the previously mentioned 144,000 spiritual Israelites, and why are they fit to serve God in his spiritual temple?
That numberless “great crowd” is not a part of the numbered 144,000 spiritual Israelites. They are not sealed in their foreheads with the “seal of the living God.” They are not envisioned as standing on the heavenly Mount Zion with the Lamb of God. They are not spoken of as being “bought from among mankind as firstfruits to God and to the Lamb.” As to nationality, in comparison with the 144,000 spiritual Israelites, they are Gentiles, as people of all the nations. Yet they have come to know Jehovah God and to recognize him as seated on the throne of the universe, as Universal Sovereign. They know and confess who the slaughtered Lamb of God is, for they exercise faith in the purifying, cleansing power of his blood in order to get a clean appearance before God on his throne. Thus cleansed, they render sacred service to him day and night in the earthly courtyards of his spiritual temple.
The “great crowd” is classified as being made up of which “sheep,” and what hope do they have for future life?
What about the hope that they hold in common? It is not a heavenly hope. Revelation 7:17 likens them to sheep, of whom the Lamb is their Shepherd. The “fountains of waters of life” to which he guides them are “fountains” bubbling forth divine provisions for perfect human life in the promised earthly paradise. They are part of the figurative “sheep” for whom the Fine Shepherd has surrendered his human soul. After he spoke about the “fold” into which John the Baptizer as “the doorkeeper” opened the door in 29 C.E., Jesus went on to say: “And I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; these also I must bring, and they will listen to my voice, and they will become one flock, one shepherd.” (John 10:3, 16) Accordingly, the “great crowd” of Revelation 7:9-17 consists of “other sheep” who are alive today and who commit themselves to following Jesus Christ, the Fine Shepherd.
With whom does the “great crowd” become “one flock” under “one shepherd”?
With whom, then, did this “great crowd” become “one flock” under “one shepherd”? It is with the “sheep” of the other “fold,” namely, the remnant of the “little flock” of spiritual Israelites. (Luke 12:32; 1 Peter 2:25) Although the “great crowd” are not in the new covenant that Jesus Christ mediated for spiritual Israel, he unites them with the anointed remnant as of “one flock” in one pen. From when onward has the Fine Shepherd been doing so?
By what event was the beginning of the gathering of the “other sheep” marked?
From 1935 onward. At the end of May of that year a five-day convention of Jehovah’s Christian witnesses was in session at Washington, District of Columbia, U.S.A. There were specially invited to this convention persons who associated with the anointed remnant and yet who were interested in surviving the “great tribulation” and entering, without dying, into God’s new order with its earthly paradise. They had no heavenward aspirations. Everlasting life on a paradise earth would completely meet their heart’s desire.
What prospect was set before them, to their great joy?
Great, then, was their joy at that Washington convention when the president of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society discussed the subject of the “great multitude,” spoken of in Revelation 7:9-17, Authorized Version. He made it clear that the “multitude” was no spiritual or spirit-begotten class; it would not attain the angelic nature in heaven so as to assist the 144,000 joint heirs with Christ. It was distinctly an earthly class with hope of endless perfect human life in the earthly paradise under Christ’s kingdom. Now, by means of the Fine Shepherd Jesus Christ, Jehovah God was beginning to gather this “multitude” into active service with the anointed remnant.
How did the “spirit” of those of the “great crowd” react to the hope set before them, and what hope has since been held forth prominently before all seekers of God?
The hearts of hundreds present at that Washington convention had never been warmed by a prospect of joint heirship with Christ. But now at the making clear of the earthly hope contained in Revelation 7:9-17, their “spirit,” the reactive force within them, surged forth in heartfelt responsiveness. They hailed such a hope with vigorous applause. Later on, when thousands of others read in the columns of the Watchtower magazine the reproduction of the discussion of the “great multitude,” their “spirit,” too, responded. Ever since, the hope of the “great multitude” has been prominently held out to all seekers of God earth wide. Hundreds of thousands have been baptized in the name of God’s Son and have been put in line for realizing such a beautiful hope.
In view of what differences between them and the anointed remnant is the question raised as to whether the dedicated, baptized “other sheep” have holy spirit upon them?
Of course, these dedicated, baptized “other sheep” of the “great crowd” have not been begotten to be God’s spiritual sons, with a heavenly inheritance. They are not spiritual Israelites. They have not been taken into the new covenant with the opportunity to become God’s “kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” (Exodus 19:5, 6) They have never been sealed with God’s spirit as an advance token of their heavenly inheritance. They have not been anointed with God’s spirit as prospective joint heirs with Christ in his celestial kingdom. (Isaiah 61:1-3; 1 John 2:20, 27; 2 Corinthians 1:21, 22) But do they nonetheless have holy spirit on them?
What Scriptural proof is there to show whether a person on earth who is devoted to God has to be begotten of God’s spirit in order to have holy spirit operate on him?
Overwhelmingly the facts answer Yes! Especially since 1935 C.E., the “great crowd” have worked with the spirit-begotten, anointed remnant. They have given convincing evidence that God’s holy spirit is operative upon them. A person on earth does not need to be begotten by God’s spirit in order to have His active force go into operation upon him. Look at the prophet Moses, at Judge Othniel, at Judge Gideon, at Judge Samson, at King David, at John the Baptizer. Yes, look at all the pre-Christian prophets upon whom Jehovah’s spirit came to inspire them to write the Bible books from Genesis to Malachi. Granted that no heavenly hope was set before such ancient persons, yet Jehovah God put his spirit upon them because they devoted themselves to him and lovingly offered themselves for his service. God enveloped them with his active force. He filled them with his holy spirit. It operated on them.
In view of the small number of those making up the anointed remnant today, how has God seen to it that the Kingdom preaching and disciple-making work is carried out on a worldwide scale?
Today, the remnant of spiritual Israelites anointed with holy spirit number how many? According to the number of those who partake of the emblematic bread and wine at the annual celebration of the Lord’s Supper, they number at present around 10,000. But those baptized Christians whose spirit responds appreciatively to the hope of everlasting life in a paradise here on earth number more than two million. Who, then, do the major part of the Kingdom preaching and disciple-making world wide? (Matthew 24:14; 28:19, 20) The aging anointed remnant, being so few in number, could not possibly carry the bulk of the work. So, God’s spirit, operating mightily upon the “great crowd” of “other sheep,” has enabled them along with the anointed remnant to do a worldwide witness work without equal in Christian history.