The 144,000 and the “Great Crowd”

Jehovah’s Witnesses teach that only 144,000 people of mankind are saved and will be in heaven. These 144,000 are called “the anointed class” or “spiritual Israel.” The rest of JWs who constitute the majority, belong to “the great crowd” or the “earthly class” who will live forever on paradise earth instead of making it to heaven. Here are some quotes:

…[O]nly 144,000 chosen from among mankind over the past nineteen centuries would gain eternal life … the Bible holds out hope of eternal life under righteous conditions here on earth for all others who would become faithful servants of God…” (The Truth that leads to Eternal Life, 1968, 79).

These 144,000 Christians, including Jesus’ faithful apostles are raised to life in heaven. When does their resurrection take place? The apostle Paul wrote that it would occur during the time of Christ’s presence … So those few remaining ones of the 144,000 who die in our day are instantly resurrected to life in heaven …The vast majority of mankind, however, have the prospect of being resurrected in the future to life in Paradise on earth” (What Does the Bible Really Teach? 2005, 74).

All faithful men and women who died before Jesus died had the hope of living again on earth, not heaven” (You Can Live Forever in Paradise Earth, 1982, 122).

The last quote is as false as it sounds because Jesus stated in Matthew 8:11 that many shall come from the East and West to “sit down with Abraham, and Isaac and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven.” (Note: The NWT of JWs has spuriously pluralised the word “heaven” in this text to alter its meaning). The Old Testament saints were described as “foreigners and strangers on earth” who “were longing for a better country – a heavenly one” and that God prepared this for them (Hebrews 11:13, 16). The Psalmist says “You guide me with your counsel and afterward you will take me into glory” (Ps. 73:24). Remember also that both Enoch and Elijah were taken up to heaven.

Most JWs believe they do not need to be born again or look forward to heaven because they are part of the “great crowd”, thus sneer at Christians who speak of being saved or looking forward to heaven. They also believe that only these 144,000 people have the Holy Spirit in them:

Only Christ and his 144,00 spirit brothers can be born again and receive spirit baptism which is for body members only.” (Make Sure of All Things, 49)

This ‘great crowd’ of people are not ‘born again’ nor do they need to be ‘born again’ because they gain everlasting life on earth.” (The Watchtower, Nov. 15, 682)

Jesus Christ is the sinless Saviour; only sinners are in need of regeneration and a Saviour. So it’s blasphemy to teach that Jesus can be born again. The Watchtower teaches that all the New Covenant privileges – being born again, spiritual adoption into God’s family, approaching Jesus as Mediator, witness of the Spirit, partaking in the Lord’s Evening Meal and hope of heaven – belong only to these 144,000 elites. That implies that JWs are a battalion of unregenerate servants for the Watchtower Society. There are problems with this doctrine:

I. It conflicts with the clear teachings of Christ. He stressed the importance of being born again:
“Unless anyone is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3 NWT).

“Do not marvel because I told you, YOU people must be born again.” (Jn. 3:7)

“Jesus answered: Most truly I say to you, Unless anyone is born from water and spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” (Jn. 3:5).

Everyone believing that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God…” (1John 5:1)

The Bible is clear that the only way by which anyone can enter into God’s kingdom (whether heavenly or earthly) is to be born again. Notice the urgency of Jesus’ words on this. He kept referring to “anyone,” “YOU people,” and “everyone.” This leaves no one out; everyone is included. Jesus said that it’s God’s will “that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life” (Jn. 6:40). There is no justification for limiting Jesus’ command to everyone to 144,000.people.

2. This idea of a ‘two-tier salvation’ was not found in early Watchtower teaching. Charles Russell wrote that:
“The only way, by which any and all of the condemned race may come to God, is not by meritorious works, neither by ignorance, but by faith in the precious blood of Christ, which taketh away the sins of the world (1 Peter 1:19, John 1:29). This is the gospel, the good tidings of great joy, which shall be unto all people.” (The Divine Plan of the Ages, 1886, 103)

But today, JWs teach that the anointed class have been appointed between 33 AD and 1935. If their number has been completed since 1935, that means by now, most of them must have either died or become very old. In essence, all JWs who joined the organization since then are not part of the anointed class and will therefore live eternally on earth. What makes this rather intriguing is that these remaining 144,000 alive are the “spiritual house” or “temple” which constitute Watchtower leadership:

For Jesus said that, in this ‘time of the end,’ he separates to a position of favor those doing good to the remaining ones on earth of his ‘brothers,’ his joint heirs who make up the Christian congregation … These are the remaining ones of the ‘living stones’ that are built up into a spiritual house or temple, ‘a place for God to inhabit by spirit.’ Those doing good to the members of this temple class are… [the] ‘great crowd.” (The Truth that Leads to Eternal Life, 121)

Since these “temple class” are the only ones who have God’s Spirit and can hear from Him, they alone are qualified to lead and teach the “great crowd” of JWs. In the next few years when all these 144,000 finally die, to whom will the JWs be turning to for spiritual guidance? Does this imply that there will no more a place for Jehovah to inhabit by spirit again? This is an impending Watchtower crisis. Thus, they are now trying to manipulate the figures of the dead anointed class and shift the 1935 date.

3. The doctrine is plagued with inconsistencies. Under the heading “Ancient Babylonian Concepts” in Reasoning from the Scriptures, they state: “The distinction between the priest and layman is characteristic of this [Babylonian] religion” (p 51). But elsewhere, we read: “Jesus, the Head does not split up the body of his congregation into a clergy class and a laity class of the ‘common people’…there is no division among those who make up the true church.” (The Truth, 119).

So on one hand, the Watchtower attacks other religious groups for having a clergy-laity distinction, but at the same time teaches that Christians are in two classes – the anointed and servant class. To them it’s wrong to have a clergy class giving spiritual guidance to a laity class, but essential to have a “little flock” or “anointed class” giving spiritual guidance to the “other sheep” or “great crowd.” So where is the difference? This is hypocrisy.

There is no caste system in Christianity. It’s totally unbiblical. Even in the Old Testament, the anointed Levite priests (or kings) were still part of Israel. In the Church, the pastors, overseers or elders are drawn from the Christian congregations. They are not an elite class who receive all the benefits of the New Covenants at the exclusion of the inferior masses.

4. The Watchtower says: “only the 144,000…have properly partaken of the emblems during the Memorial of Jesus’ death, and only with them did Jesus make his covenant…Members of the great crowd are not participant in the new covenant.” (Feb. 1, 1998, 19)

But there’s no indication in all the Bible passages relating to the communion that it’s an ordinance to be partaken of only by an “elite” group (Lk. 22:14-20, 1 Cor. 11:23-24). None of Jesus’ promises to the apostles were only for them. For instance, He taught the inner circle disciples to ask for what they need in His name (Jn. 16:23), yet all Christians do so today. Why? Because the same commands that applied to them apply to us. Jesus told them to make disciples of all men and teach them all what He taught them – reserving not one for a special group (Matt. 28:19).

5. According to Watchtower records, there were 52,465 members of the anointed class sealed in 1935. This is known by the number of those partaking of the communion emblems each year. In 1985, they were 9,051 and in 1992, 8,683. But in 2002 t,hey had increased to 8,760. This is another problem for the Watchtower Society because logically, their number ought to be reducing with each year (if we take their average age to be 35 in 1985). In a “Questions from our Readers,” someone asked why the number of those partaking of the Memorial emblems have increased, because that implies they are having more people being “anointed” as part of the 144,00 – which was supposed to have been completed in 1935.

The Watchtower went into a lengthy explanation to drown the question and gallantly dismissed it:

On balance, that a few more chose to partake of the emblem is no cause for concern. Over the years, some newly baptized have suddenly begun to partake … Some have recognized that they partook as an emotional response to perhaps physical or mental strain…There is no need for any of us to be concerned if a person begins to partake of the emblems or ceases to do so. It really is not up to us whether someone actually has been anointed with holy spirit and called to heavenly life or not” (WT, Aug 1996).

Nice trick there. They deflect the question by telling the reader to mind his own business and attribute the increasing number to physical and mental strain! Wow. Bravo Watchtower! Consider this: if the 144,000 elites were completed in 1935, and 52,465 of them were alive then, that means for 18 centuries, God could only find 91,535 heaven-bound Christians but from 1879 when the Watchtower Society was founded, to 1935, God was able to find 52,465 heaven-bound elites. This makes no sense.

Consider the rate of growth of the early church. When Peter preached after Pentecost, “about three thousand souls were added” to the church in just one day (Acts 2:41). God also “added to the church daily such as should be saved” (vs 47). We also read of “more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women” (5:14). Why would God wait till 1935 to have 144,000 saints? Thousands of Christians were killed between the 1st and 4th century, so it would be credulous to believe that God bypassed over hundreds of thousands of faithful Christians for heavenly honours for 18 centuries but – for no reason at all – opened it up to those who joined the Watchtower between 1879-1935 on a first come first served basis. The more one examines this doctrine, the more absurd it looks, but Witnesses have been taught not to question it.

7. The proof texts used as support for this teaching are:
(a) Luke 12:32 “Have no fear, little flock, because your Father has approved of giving you the kingdom.” (NWT)

These were the comforting words of Christ to the disciples after He attacked the religious leaders (11:37-54). He was addressing a crowd of thousands (12:1-12). After telling them of what will befall His disciples, He tells them “do not worry” (v 22) and “do not be afraid” (v 32). His addressing them as “little flock” was a term of endearment, rather than an indication of the number of those who would be in heaven. He specifically promised to give them the kingdom so they will “sit on thrones to judge the twelve tribes of Israel” (v 30). Nothing here supports the JW claim.

(b) John 10:16 “And I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; those also I must bring, and they will listen to my voice, and they will become one flock, one shepherd.

JWs quote only the first part of this verse because its second part destroys their theory of a two-tier salvation. The text says that Jesus’ sheep and this “other sheep” will form “one flock” under one shepherd (Jesus). This contradicts the JW belief that Jesus mediates only for the 144,000 while the 144,000 mediate for the other sheep. There is only one mediator between God and men – Jesus Christ (1Tim. 2:5). If the 144,000 mediates for the great crowd, then 1st Timothy 2:5 is false. In context, John 10:3-4 speaks of the Gentiles (the other sheep) who will be brought into the Jewish Christian fold to form one flock. This was fulfilled in Acts 8:4-8.

(c) Revelation 7:4 “And I heard the number of those who were sealed, a hundred and forty four thousand, sealed out of every tribe.

These 144,000 are Jews from the 12 tribes of Israel (vs 4-8) and the names of their tribes are given, because they are not “spiritual Israel.” JWs can only appeal to this verse if they are literal Jews, but they are not. After listing these Jewish tribes, it speaks of a “great crowd which no man was able to number” standing “before the throne” of Jesus – which is in heaven – not on earth (See Rev. 7:9). Vs 15 also says they serve God “in his temple” in heaven (see Rev. 11:19, 14:17) and verse 16 adds that “neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat.” These prove  that they are in heaven (Rev. 21:23, 22:5).

The Watchtower Society also quote Revelation 14: 1,3 but slyly insert the words “taken (from the earth)” into the text to push the unwary reader into this doctrine. But if you read Revelation 19:1 directly from your Bible, you will see that both the 144,000 and the great crowd are in the same place -heaven!

(d) Psalm 37:29 “the righteous will inherit the land and dwell in it forever.”

Nothing here speaks of these righteous as the resurrected dead, so the feeble attempts of JWs to link them with the “great crowd” fall apart. The basic error in JW earthly paradise teaching is how they snag on the promises of God to the restored nation of Israel under the Messiah in the OT and apply it to themselves. In conclusion, Jesus fails to be a Saviour if He saves only 144,000. There is no single verse in the Bible that says only 144,000 are going to be in Heaven. This doctrine is a grievous lie.

Signs of a Sinking Church

The church can be likened to a ship sailing on a sea. As it sails, many barnacles can attach to its hull and sometimes they become so many that their weight sinks the ship. To prevent this, the ship has to be brought to a dry dock and the barnacles are knocked off. In the same vein, when a local church allows the barnacles of the world to attach to it, it’s in the danger of sinking spiritually. Down through the centuries, there has been a tendency for the church to be negatively influenced by the philosophy, music, arts, and traditions of the surrounding pagan culture. This is why in each generation, these barnacles must be removed to keep the church afloat.

As a Christian who desires to be grounded in the faith and grow to spiritual maturity, one of the challenges you will face today is how to find a church that is spiritually alive and Bible-based, out of the many churches dotting our landscape. Some church problems which do not affect doctrine, are minor, whilst others are major and could be indicators of a sinking church. For example:

1. Involvement of church leaders in the occult or partnership with cults.

This is a big sign that the ship has torn apart and is plunging down below. It’s no longer news in some churches that many of its clergy men are actively involved cult groups like AMORC, Ogboni, Freemasonry or other forms of witchcraft. Sometimes, it’s at the funeral of such clergymen that their involvement become known. All cultic initiations involve a clear rejection of God, Christ and the Holy Spirit, to make the initiate a vessel for demons. Therefore, if a church leader (particularly if they teach from the pulpit) has not verbally and prayerfully renounced a past/present association with a cult group or has not destroyed his “instruments” (regalia, rings, tokens, emblems or charms), he shouldn’t be allowed to minister to the congregation.

This is why spiritual death has been released into some Christian denominations today. An ungodly partnership comes into play when a Christian church invites false prophets, islamic clerics or seers to teach from its pulpits. By so doing, they are giving them a level of spiritual authority over the congregation. If a church sees nothing wrong with any of its leaders visiting pagan shrines or refuses to rebuke its key leaders who openly utilize or promote occult techniques, such a gathering can drown you spiritually (Lev. 20:26, 1Cor. 6:14-18).

2. Neglect of key Christian doctrines.

The current apostasy in the church has made it seem “out of fashion” to emphasize some basic Christian doctrines, like the exclusivity of Christ in salvation or inerrancy of Scripture. According to a US poll, only 7% of Protestant denominations, 13% of non-denominational Protestants, 10% Pentecostal and 8% Baptists have a Biblical worldview. That’s not a good picture. One Lutheran minister in Copenhagen even openly said: “There is no heavenly God, there is no eternal life, there is no resurrection.” (Associated Press, May 10, 2004). This is heresy.

Heresy literally means “choosing.” It’s when a group of people choose how much of the Bible they want to believe or accept. I call it a cut-and-paste-Bible-Syndrome. In many African churches today, “motivational” or material prosperity sermons and miracle rallies are lauded, but “meaty” doctrines like the sufficiency of Scripture, Christian discipline or exposing erroneous doctrines in the church, provoke responses ranging from cold apathy to outright opposition.

Be very careful of a “church” that peddles teachings distorting the nature, person or the work of Jesus Christ. They are teaching a “damnable heresy” (2Peter 2:1) and you need to jump off that ship as fast as you can. Another area of concern is when a church has its “pet doctrines” – a doctrine that is overemphasized at the expense of “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). Some teach only on faith and healing, while some teach only on spiritual warfare and nothing else.  This usually leads to excesses. When you keep feeding on the same spiritual diet, you won’t grow well. It’s just like taking potato chips and soda everyday. After a year, I can bet you won’t like what you’d see in the mirror

3. A redefinition of or total silence about sin

The more a church sinks into the world, the less it will speak against sin, because that is what the world loves. The secular society celebrates lust, envy and pride. Now, when Psychology, rather than Scripture is ruling a church, sins and sinners are redefined. For example, drunkards are called “alcoholics,” adulterers are “just having an affair,” child molesters or rapists are just “sex addicts,” gays are practicing “an alternative lifestyle.” By changing the labels, the seriousness of the sin is ignored.

A sinking church avoids using words like “sin” or “repentance.” A member of such a church once said to me “Jesus didn’t ask us to talk about sin.” Sorry, you need to start studying your Bible. Both the Old and New Testament talk about sin. How can you preach salvation without mentioning “sin?” What are the people being saved from? From a low self-esteem? Robert Schuller, once said “I preach repentance so positively that most people don’t recognize it.” How can you preach something and people wouldn’t know you preach it? Is he suggesting that Jesus and the saints of old who preached repentance were “too negative?” These “positive”, utilitarian, narcissistic ‘all about me’ messages that distort the Gospel are signs of a boat bringing in water.

4. Rejection of the doctrine of Hell.

One of the signs of liberalism in a church is silence about eternal damnation. Though, it shouldn’t be unduly overemphasized, an uncomfortable dismissal of the reality hell is a mark of apostasy. For example, the doctrinal commission of the Church of England states: “Hell is not eternal torment, but it is the final and irrevocable choosing of that which is opposed to God so completely and so absolutely that the only end is total non-being.”

Billy Graham once said in an interview: “Hell means separation from God. We are separated from his light, from his fellowship. That is going to be hell. When it comes to a literal fire, I don’t preach it because I am not sure about it” (Time Magazine, 15/11/93).

Schuller defines hell as “the loss of pride that naturally follows separation from God- the ultimate and unfailing source of our soul’s sense of self-respect. ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forasaken me?’ was Christ’s encounter with hell. In that ‘hellish’ death our Lord experienced the ultimate horror… A person is in hell when he has lost his self esteem” (Self-Esteem: The New Reformation, 1982, 14-15, 93).

Though these men used Christian terminologies, they have redefined hell to suit their false theology. Jesus – the embodiment of God’s love – warned us the most about Hell (Matt. 5:22, 8:11-12, 13:40 etc). We can play with anybody’s words, but we dare not play with the words of the Lord Jesus Christ. He wasn’t some theologian or a philosopher in search of truth.

5. Seeker or User Friendly methodologies

The “seeker friendly” method of church growth involves a pastor taking a survey in his community and asking unbelievers what sort of church service they want, the sermons they want to hear etc. Based on these surveys, he then adjusts his church to suit the people’s needs. It’s a marketing strategy. Pastors using this method believe they are competing in a buyer’s market, so they feel they cannot alienate their “customers.” This method attempts to re-define God to appease unbelievers. The emphasis of such churches is not on God or what He requires of us, but on man and what will increase his self-esteem.

The seeker movement gives people the “religion” they want instead of the convicting truth they need. When Paul preached the True God to the Athenians, “some mocked and others said, we will hear thee again of this matter” (Acts 17:32-34). Hardly a “seeker-sensitive” message. A big flaw of the “seeker friendly” movement is the assumption that number, buildings and other externalities are the only goals that count. Thus they invest more on things that will attract crowd, like entertainment, jamborees, sumptuous meals, basketball courts, spas etc.

As good as these things are, the real emphasis of Christianity is to be drawn by the Father to Christ and built up in Him. The early Believers didn’t utilize man-made strategies to bring people to Christ, rather “the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved” (Acts 2:47b). Jesus didn’t ask the Jewish leaders what type of church they wanted neither did His apostles take a survey of the heathen to know what they wanted to hear. This “seeker sensitive” method reduces Jesus to a needed “product,” and “sells” the gospel to the lost, who are the consumers. But any attempt to present Jesus as a “product” is to refashion Him or adjust His image to appeal to the felt needs of the consumer-happy culture. With such a backdrop, every teaching of Christ that the heathen finds “offensive” is tossed into the trash can.

A pastor of such a church was interviewed by Larry King and asked if Muslims or Hindus will be in heaven without accepting Christ. He answered: “You know, I’m very careful about saying who would and wouldn’t go to heaven. I don’t know…Well, I don’t know if I believe they’re wrong…I spent a lot of time in India with my father, I don’t know all about their [Hindu] religion. But I know they love God. And I don’t know. I’ve seen their sincerity. So I don’t know.”

How typical. They avoid offending their consumers with the truth, but rather soothe them with motivational philosophies dressed up in a carefully selected set of Bible verses. Christ Himself is “the rock of offence” (Rom. 9:33) and there is the “offence of the cross” (Gal. 5:11). The true gospel offends and convicts a sinner. Far from being “sensitive,” any gospel that is designed to tickle people is often a false gospel that will damn those who believe it.

If your church is sinking, there could still be hope. In some cases, you may need to sit down with your leader(s) and reason with him from the Bible. But if he’s not willing to go by Scripture, then it would be better to look for another fellowship where the Word of God is honoured and Christ is glorified. Men can create an organization and call it a “church” but that doesn’t mean it’s a true church of the Lord Jesus Christ.