The exact phrase, “great crowd of other sheep” occurs more than 300 times in our publications. The association between the two terms, “great crowd” and “other sheep”, is established in over 1,000 places in our publications. With such a plethora of references supporting the idea of a relationship between these two groups, it is little wonder that the phrase needs no explanation among our brothers. We use it often and we all understand its meaning. I recall many years ago a circuit overseer who asked what the difference was between the two groups. Answer: All the great crowd are other sheep, but not all the other sheep are the great crowd. I reminded me of the truism, all German Shepherds are dogs, but not all dogs are German Shepherds. (We are, of course, excluding those hard working Germans who happen to care for sheep, but I digress.)
With such a wealth of so-called accurate knowledge on this subject, would it surprise you to learn that the phrase “great crowd of other sheep” does not appear anywhere in the Bible? Perhaps not. But I am sure it would surprise many to learn that the supposedly obvious connection between these two groups is nonexistent.
The term “other sheep” is only used once in the inspired word of God at John 10:19. Jesus doesn’t define the term but the context supports the idea that he was referring to a future ingathering of Gentile Christians. Our official take on this is based on Judge Rutherford’s teaching that the other sheep refers to all Christians who are not spirit anointed and have an earthly hope. No scriptural support for this teaching is provided in our publications, simply because none exists. (In fact, there is no Scripture to show that some Christians are not spirit-anointed.) However, we hold it to be true and treat it as a given, requiring no scriptural support. (For a fuller discussion on this subject, see the post, Who’s Who? (Little Flock/Other Sheep).
What about the great crowd? It also occurs in only one place, at least in the context we use to link it to the other sheep.
(Revelation 7:9) “After these things I saw, and, look! a great crowd, which no man was able to number, out of all nations and tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, dressed in white robes; and there were palm branches in their hands.”
What is our basis for saying the two terms are linked? Human reasoning, plain and simple. Unfortunately, our track record over the past 140 years in these intellectual endeavors is dismal; a fact, lamentably, we willingly overlook as a community. Some of us, however, are no longer willing to overlook it, and we now require Scriptural support for every teaching. So let’s look to see if we can find any regarding the great crowd.
The Bible mentions two groups in the seventh chapter of Revelation, one numbering 144,000 and another which cannot be numbered. Is 144,000 a literal number or a symbolic one? We’ve already made a good case for considering this number to be symbolic. If that doesn’t convince you of the possibility, do a search in the WTLib program using “twelve” and notice the number of hits you get in Revelation. How many of these are literal numbers? Is the 144,000 cubits measuring the city wall at Rev. 21:17 a literal number? What about the 12,000 furlongs measuring the city’s length and breadth, literal or symbolic?
Admittedly, we cannot state categorically that it is literal, so any conclusion we draw must be speculative at this juncture. So why would one number be precise while the other is considered innumerable? If we take 144,000 symbolically, then obviously it isn’t given to measure the precise number of those making up this group. Their real number is unknown, like that of the great crowd. So why give it at all? We can presume that it is mean to represent a divinely constituted governmental structure that is complete and balanced, for this is how twelve is used symbolically throughout the Bible.
So why mention another group in the same context?
The 144,000 symbolize the total number of those throughout human history who are chosen to serve in heaven. The vast majority of these will be resurrected. However, none of the great crowd are resurrected. They are all still alive when they receive their salvation. The heavenly group will consist of both resurrected ones and transformed ones. (1 Cor. 15:51, 52) So the great crowd could be part of that heavenly group. The number, 144,000, tells us that the Messianic kingdom is a balanced, complete divinely constituted government, and the great crowd tells us that an unknown number of Christians will survive the great tribulation to go to heaven.
We’re not saying that’s the way it is. We are saying that this interpretation is possible and, failing specific Bible texts to the contrary, cannot simply be discounted because it happens to disagree with the official doctrine, since that one is also based on human speculation.
“Wait!”, you may say. “Isn’t the sealing completed before Armageddon and doesn’t the resurrection of the anointed occur then?”
Yes, you are right. So you are probably thinking that this proves the great crowd does not go to heaven, because they are only identified after surviving Armageddon, and by then, all the heavenly class have already been taken up. Actually, that is not totally accurate. The Bible says they come out of the “great tribulation”. Sure, we teach that Armageddon is part of the great tribulation, but that isn’t what the Bible teaches. It teaches that Armageddon comes after the great tribulation. (See Mt. 24:29) So the judgment that takes place after Babylon is destroyed but before Armageddon starts clearly identifies those marked for salvation, thus permitting them to be transformed in the twinkling of an eye along with those who will be resurrected then.
Ok, but doesn’t Revelation indicate that the great crowd serve on earth while the anointed serve in heaven? First of all, we should challenge the premise of this question because it assumes the great crowd are not spirit-anointed ones. There is no basis for this assertion. Second, we should look to the Bible to see where exactly they will serve.
(Revelation 7:15) . . .That is why they are before the throne of God; and they are rendering him sacred service day and night in his temple;. . .
The word translated “temple” here is naos’.
(w02 5/1 p. 31 Questions From Readers) “…the Greek word (na·os’) translated “temple” in John’s vision of the great crowd is more specific. In the context of the Jerusalem temple, it usually refers to the Holy of Holies, the temple building, or the temple precincts. It is sometimes rendered “sanctuary.””
This would lean toward a heavenly placement it would seem. It is interesting that after making this statement (no reference to a lexicon is given) the same article continues to an incongruous conclusion.
(w02 5/1 p. 31 Questions From Readers) Of course, those proselytes did not serve in the inner courtyard, where the priests performed their duties. And members of the great crowd are not in the inner courtyard of Jehovah’s great spiritual temple, which courtyard represents the condition of perfect, righteous human sonship of the members of Jehovah’s “holy priesthood” while they are on earth. (1 Peter 2:5) But as the heavenly elder said to John, the great crowd really is in the temple, not outside the temple area in a kind of spiritual Court of the Gentiles.
First, there is nothing in Revelation chapter seven linking the members of the great crowd to Jewish proselytes. We’re just making that up in an attempt to exclude the great crowd from the sanctuary even though the Bible puts them there. Second, we’ve just stated that naos’ refers to the temple itself, the holy of holies, the sanctuary, the inner chambers. Now we’re saying that the great crowd is not in the inner courtyard. Then we say in the same paragraph that “the great crowd really is in the temple”. So which is it? It’s all very confusing, is it not?
Just to be clear, here is what naos’ means:
“A temple, a shrine, that part of the temple where God himself resides.” (Strong’s Concordance)
“Refers to the sanctuary (the Jewish Temple proper), i.e. with just its two inner compartments (rooms).” HELPS Word-studies
“…used of the temple at Jerusalem, but only of the sacred edifice (or sanctuary) itself, consisting of the Holy place and the Holy of holies…” Thayer’s Greek Lexicon
This puts the great crowd in the same place in the temple where the anointed exist. It would appear that the great crowd are also spirit-anointed sons of God, not just friends as the aforementioned “Question from Readers” states.
However, doesn’t the Lamb guide them to “fountains of waters of life” and doesn’t that refer to those on the earth? It does, but not exclusively. All who get everlasting life, earthly or heavenly, are guided to these waters. That is what Jesus said to the Samaritan woman at the well, “…the water that I will give him will become in him a fountain of water bubbling up to impart everlasting life…” Was he not speaking of those who would become anointed with holy spirit after his departure?
There is clearly too much unexplained symbolism in Revelation chapter seven for us to construct a definitive doctrine to support the concept of a two-tier system of salvation.
We say the other sheep have an earthly hope, even though there is nothing in the Bible to support this. It is pure conjecture. We then link the other sheep to the great crowd, though again, there is no basis in Scripture for us to do this. Then we say that the great crowd serves God on earth even though they are depicted as standing before his throne in the holy sanctuary of the temple in heaven where God resides.
Maybe we should just wait and see what the great crowd turns out to be after the great tribulation has ended instead of diverting the hopes and dreams of millions with unfounded speculation and human interpretation of Scripture.
[…] refer to gentiles, not some secondary salvation classification. The Bible doesn’t speak of a great crowd of other sheep. Therefore, we have changed the good news. (Gal. […]
[…] are not two classes today, the heavenly class and those of the earthly class also called “other sheep” at John […]
I wish I read this article earlier this week….I didn’t realize you touched this topic…
Meleti, I just wanted to run something by you and others on this forum regarding the judging of the sheep and the goats of Matthew 25:31-46. An idea came to me during this week’s Watchtower study. The organization teaches that this judging takes place during the great tribulation. But that passage says that Jesus does this judging when he comes in his glory with all the angels and Matthew 24:29-31 indicates that Jesus comes “immediately after” the great tribulation. So it seems like this judgment takes place after the great tribulation. The basis for his judgment also seems to lend… Read more »
I guess that we should start by defining what the great tribulation is. Matthew 24:29-31 indicates that the signs in the heavens that precede Armageddon come after the great tribulation. So the great tribulation doesn’t include Armageddon. All those killed at Armageddon will have already been judged and condemned by God. So the judgment must precede Armageddon. Apparently, the great tribulation is a time of judgment upon individuals. If the great tribulation corresponds to the attack on false religion, then we can conclude that religion has already been judged by that point, but individual humans have not. Such a tribulation… Read more »
Jude – in support of your point about the similarity between sheep and goats, it is interesting that the word used in v33 is literally “little kids” (ftn.). These would be even closer in appearance to little sheep I imagine (although I’m no expert on domestic farm animals). I always thought it was a bit funny that in Matt 15:26 when Jesus refers to “little dogs” we say that he was tempering his words to the Phoenician woman, and yet here the “little kids” become eternal toast. But going back to your point could this separating not be the same… Read more »
I do believe that the great crowd is an earthly class. In fact, I have the same question regarding “na-os'” and in the very verse I found a key word that indicates me that the great crowd is on earth.
Of course, I don’t believe the great crowd appears in 1935 and that this serves in the outer courtyards of the temple. Let me see how I can send you my thoughts regarding this.
Hi Hugo, I hope you will expand your point and let us know what you found. Regards, Apollos
I have wrote something very “light” regarding this, but shows briefly why I think that regarding the great crowd. I’d like to send it to you through e-mail, could you please, give me an e-mail address? Thank you 🙂
I look forward to your e-mail. email@example.com
[…] We cannot prove from Scripture that the Great Crowd of Rev. 7:9 is comprised exclusively of other sheep. For that matter, we can’t prove that the Great Crowd has any connection whatsoever to the other sheep, nor that they will serve on earth. (See post: A Great Crowd of Other Sheep) […]
Questions for not only Vassy but anyone else: 1. Vassy said “In fact, I think many interpretations connected to past events of our history are obsolete and not in harmony with the scripture” this statement is something I’ve hear many times before from others but these same ones say it in secret for fear of being labeled. The bible discussion of Jehovah doing a “cleaning work” could this be something that might be happening as we speak since it seems the org has been distancing itself from its own past or something in the future? 2. When I did things… Read more »
Vassay you may want to look into what crazyguy posted , it seems as though he may have found some reasons that are not from scripture for the two class distinction. I think he mentioned Rutherford and his vindication 3 book.
There has been a wealth of input into this topic and I thank all the contributors. What has become clearer from all this is that there are a number of possible interpretations that can be made to fit the bill. Junachin’s is one I find particularly intriguing. However, what I think has to be honestly admitted is that no interpretation can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. We will understand the fulfillment when the time comes–when it is revealed. Given this fact, it is wrong to base a doctrine on any one interpretation; particularly when that doctrinal interpretation is being… Read more »
The words of Rev 19:1 gave me food for thought when I first read them objectively:
“After these things I heard what was as a loud voice of a great crowd in heaven.”
They WTS may have got some teachings clearly wrong (after all, they are humans), but I think they solved correctly the puzzle with the great crowd and 144000. I will not go into details here, but there is more, much more into these issues than sticking to the verses in Revelation which, implicitly, draws its symbolisms from the Hebrew Scriptures. I think some brothers fell prey very easily to the reasoning adopted by some Bethelites of the 1980’s (among whom Ray Franz).
Hi Vassy, I for one would be interested to hear the details. Apollos P.S. I’m not certain of the implication of your statement “some brothers fell prey very easily …” If some of us have independently seen issues with our current framework of doctrine and are trying to piece together what the truth of God’s Word might be, does that mean we are falling prey to someone else’s reasoning? In my case I can assure you that I don’t know what the particular reasoning was “adopted by some Bethelites of the 1980’s”. If it coincides with my point of view… Read more »
Hi Apollos, I hope I can get some free time in the future to post the details. And to answer your question on the Revelation book: no, I do not see the interpretation there as absolute truth. In fact, I think many interpretations connected to past events of our history are obsolete and not in harmony with the scripture. As for apostasy, I do not remember to have mentioned this word, it is not my duty to label someone as apostate. However, I do not agree with the “new light” propounded by Ray Franz and others during the 1980’s and… Read more »
Hi Vassy, Thanks for the clarifications. Given that background info, it’s most interesting that you accept the great crowd/144,000 interpretation. I am certainly interested to hear your reasons.
The keys to understanding the location of the great crowd can be found in Revelation 7. First of all, please note that the elder asks John “where did they COME from?” Why the phrase “come from”? If they are on earth – and always have been – such a question, which implies a change in location, would be entirely irrelevant. Secondly, please note this very key bit of reasoning given by the elder at Revelation 7:14,15: “. . . they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. THAT IS WHY they are BEFORE… Read more »
Thanks Jude, for the additional reasoning points. It makes the application of this passage all the clearer.
Hey Jude, Very interesting take on the whole great crowd thing. I think it’s as good an explanation as any other. However, I have the following reservations: The last three verses in Rev 7 don’t seem to jibe well with the great crowd being in heaven. 15 “For this reason they stand before God’s throne and worship him day and night in his temple. The one who sits on the throne will shelter them. 16 They will not hunger or thirst anymore, nor will the sun or any heat strike them. 17 For the Lamb who is in the center… Read more »
Hi Jude and Junichin I have to agree with some of Jude’s points. Junichin – to accept your first and primary argument regarding tense one has to ask the question – when does this happen to anointed Christians? In context are we not talking about when the great crowd has been spared from the great tribulation, but as yet the marriage of the Lamb has not yet taken place? In which case the leading to fountains of waters would still be future because all these things take place during the events of Rev 21 do they not? v7 of that… Read more »
My initial impression is that, once you’re in heaven, you don’t need anything like water of life, shelter or tear-wiping. Also, I don’t see any reason why receiving an inheritance and becoming God’s sons necessarily means a heavenly calling. I’m shooting from the hip here (and was before) so it may well be that I’ve overlooked something. If so, do share.
Hi Junachin Do you not think those are all symbolic ways of showing condition, rather than being literal? As I mentioned I’m basing that on the language of Rev 21:6,7, but also John 4:10-14. To deny that those who go to heaven need any of these things seems to miss the point. We can look at things in a purely material way (as the Samaritan woman did at the well) or we can see the greater meaning. Those going to heaven need the life giving water. I also see no reason why they would not require emotional healing, on the… Read more »
Hi Apollos, Believe me, I wasn’t thinking of literal tears in heaven, the views of the great petra-theologian Eric Clapton notwithstanding. Still, though I think that to say whether those resurrected to heavenly life will or will not need comforting and shelter is to go way out on a speculative limb, your point that resurrection to heavenly life may not automatically cure all ills of the psyche is well taken. I had assumed it would, but maybe it won’t. (If I got wings and could walk through walls and fly around the universe, I’m pretty sure it would take my… Read more »
Hi J all I am new to this site and enjoy the clear bible thinking being done. Recently stopped going to meetings at the KH as I had enough of the empty things taught there and felt that it was killing me spiritually. Any way: Is it necessary that this great crowd be in heaven could it not be a description of the way Jehovah’s views these ones? Was not man created to live on the earth Matthew 5:5, God had inter-action with humans before they sinned. Genesis 3:8,9 What is the bible basis for the 144,000 needing to be… Read more »
Welcome Sheepdog, Just a quick response as I’m pressed for time. We cannot be sure about the identify of the Great Crowd. All we know is that they come out of the great tribulation. As to what reward they get, we will have to wait and see. Perhaps someone will correct me on that and come up with a Scriptural basis for determining their reward. However, two things we can be sure of is 1) there will be a small group who will rule with Jesus over the earth, and 2) countless unrighteous ones will be resurrected to life on… Read more »
Hi Meleti Vivlon Thanks As I have looked into the scriptures I discover that there is little that we can be totally sure about as each interpretation of scripture has been thought out by the one putting it forward and some interpretations have developed over centuries. e.g. Ellicott’s commentary on Rev 7 is quite self consistent. Even the trinity doctrine can seem to hold when some explanations are put forward e.g CS Lewis. Maybe this apparent subjectivity is intended in scripture? , because should we work to act like Jesus rather than over study? Matthew 18:1-6, John 5:39. Not to… Read more »
Great article Meleti. Noting your conversation with Steve, I have been wondering for some time whether we have been somewhat diverted in our thinking from the real issue here. Our doctrines focus very much on “location”. i.e. The hope of living forever on a paradise earth or the hope of going to heaven. Isn’t the real message of the Bible and the Christian Greek scriptures about “condition” rather than “location”? The fact that there is so much ambiguity about where everybody ends up seems to indicate that it’s not vital for us to know. However, what we can be certain… Read more »
Like you said no were in the bible is the Great Crowd talked about in connection with the other-sheep. While doing research on the subject of the mediator and new covenant i discovered that Rutherford viewed the great crowd or great multitude as it was called back then as another group altogether and inferior to the 144k which he thought he was apart of. He called this new group the Jonadab class and since they were inferior, they could not get baptized (originally) or even attend the memorial celebration. His negative attitude towards this new class can be verified by… Read more »