The 144,000

The Watchtower Society teaches that only a restricted number of persons will be allowed to enter heaven. This doctrine is based on verses in the Book of Revelation.

The Society explains that "According to Revelation 7:4 and 14:1-4, these are to number merely 144,000 individuals, the 'little flock,' called to God's heavenly Kingdom. (Luke 12:32) The selection of these especially favored ones of Jehovah God began with the selection of the 12 apostles of Jesus Christ. (Matthew 10:2-4; Acts 1:23-26)"1 According to the Watchtower Society, this gathering of the 144,000 began in the first century C.E. and continued through the year 1935. At that time, the number of those chosen was completed and no more were added. Since the establishment of the Watchtower Society in the latter half of the nineteenth century, only those associated with it prior to 1935 have been numbered among the 144,000. Jehovah's Witnesses who have joined the organization since 1935 are not part of the heaven-bound 144,000 but form a secondary class called the "'great crowd' of 'other sheep'" 2 who are destined to spend eternity in a post- Armageddon earth. Only the 144,000 have the hope of heaven, and only they may partake of the "emblems" of "the Lord's Evening Meal," that is, the loaf and cup, at the annual Jehovah's Witness Memorial observance of Jesus' death.

Yes, some good people do go to heaven. A most interesting fact about good people, or true Christians, that is unknown to most churchgoers is that there are two groups. A small minority go to heaven to reign with Jesus Christ, while the majority will enjoy everlasting life on earth. . . ."

The minority group are given a very special privilege, that of reigning with Christ in heaven. In other words, they will share with Jesus in governing those living on earth. . . .

Does the Bible reveal how many are going to enjoy the very great privilege of reigning with Christ in heaven? Yes, it does. Says Revelation chapter 14, verse 1: "I saw, and, look, the Lamb standing upon the Mount Zion, and with him a hundred and forty-four thousand having his name and the name of his Father written on their foreheads." Keep in mind that Revelation uses many symbols, or "signs," as expressed in the opening verse, Revelation 1:1. "The Lamb" is Jesus Christ. (Compare John 1:29.) And Mount Zion refers not to the political capital of Israel but to "heavenly Jerusalem."--Hebrews 12:22.

Revelation chapter 7 gives us information about both the heavenly group and the earthly group we have mentioned. Verses 4-8 mention the 144,000 "sealed out of every tribe of the sons of Israel." This is another case of symbolism and means spiritual Israel, or "the Israel of God." (Galatians 6:16) Romans 2:29 says: "He is a Jew who is one on the inside, and his circumcision is that of the heart by spirit." Revelation 7:9 next describes the earthly group, saying: "Look! a great crowd, which no man was able to number, out of all nations and tribes and peoples and tongues."3

Revelation 7:4 states that the 144,000 are "of the sons of Israel," but the Watchtower Society contends that the Christian congregation, that is, the Jehovah's Witnesses, is here symbolically portrayed as "spiritual Israel." The 144,000, the Society contends, are therefore drawn from among its members belonging to several different racial, social, and national groups. The "spiritual Israel" explanation is problematical. Revelation 7:4-8 states:

And I heard the number of those who were sealed, a hundred and forty-four thousand, sealed out of every tribe of the sons of Israel: Out of the tribe of Judah twelve thousand sealed; out of the tribe of Reuben twelve thousand; out of the tribe of Gad twelve thousand; out of the tribe of Asher twelve thousand; out of the tribe of Naphtali twelve thousand; out of the tribe of Manasseh twelve thousand; out of the tribe of Simeon twelve thousand; out of the tribe of Levi twelve thousand; out of the tribe of lssachar twelve thousand; out of the tribe of Zebulon twelve thousand; out of the tribe of Joseph twelve thousand; out of the tribe of Benjamin twelve thousand sealed. (NWT).

The many Christian denominations and sects generally disagree as to the composition of the 144,000. As a result, there are a number of Christian interpretations that are at odds with each other. In any case, they all share a basic difficulty that is not satisfactorily addressed by any Christian group. The Watchtower Society interpretation, with its over-all symbolism, only adds to the confusion. In listing Manasseh, the text leaves out Dan, the son of Jacob, without offering any explanation for this omission. As a rule, when Joseph is listed as one of the tribes, it automatically includes Manasseh (and Ephraim). There is no satisfactory reason for the omission of Dan and the inclusion of Manasseh. Moreover, the text states explicitly that each group of 12,000 would be drawn literally from the tribes of Israel. Could it be that the author of the Book of Revelation was referring symbolically to Israelites? If so, then why the exclusive enumeration tribe-by-tribe? Indeed, if "every tribe of the sons of Israel" is to be taken symbolically why should one not take the number 144,000 to also be symbolic? If the number 144,000 is symbolic it nullifies the Watchtower Society's doctrines which depend on it. Most significant would be a collapse respectively of the belief that only 144,000 have the hope of heaven and the belief that the "'great crowd' of 'other sheep'" are destined to spend eternity in a post-Armageddon earth. Symbolically, heaven would be open to an undetermined number of people.

1 The Watchtower, August 15, 1989, p. 12. 2 Ibid., September 15, 1988, p. 24. 3 Ibid., pp. 6-7.

© Gerald Sigal