“Look! a great crowd, which no man was able to number, . . . standing before the throne and before the Lamb.”—Revelation 7:9.
[From ws 9/19 p.26 Study Article 39: November 25 – December 1, 2019]
Before we start this week’s Watchtower study review, let us take a moment to do some reading of the context of the theme scripture and apply exegesis, letting the scriptures explain themselves.
We will start with Revelation 7:1-3 which opens the scene with: “After this I saw four angels standing upon the four corners of the earth, holding tight the four winds of the earth, that no wind might blow upon the earth or upon the sea or upon any tree. 2 And I saw another angel ascending from the sunrising, having a seal of [the] living God; and he cried with a loud voice to the four angels to whom it was granted to harm the earth and the sea, 3 saying: “Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, until after we have sealed the slaves of our God in their foreheads.””
What do we learn here?
- The angels have already been given an important task to do, to harm the earth and the sea.
- The angels are commanded not to proceed until the slaves of God [chosen ones] are sealed on their foreheads.
- The sealing in the forehead is a clear choice visible to all.
Revelation 7:4-8 continues “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:”. Verses 5-8 then give the names of 12 tribes of Israel, and that 12,000 come from each tribe.
The question that is logically raised is: Is the number sealed (144,000) a literal number or a symbolic number?
Symbolic Number not Literal?
Verses 5-8 help us as does Genesis 32:28, Genesis 49:1-33, Joshua 13 – Joshua 21.
Firstly, let us compare the sons of Israel, with the tribes in the Promised Land and then with this passage in Revelation.
|Actual Sons of Israel||Tribes of Israel||Tribes of Revelation|
Points to notice:
- Revelation contains Manasseh who was actually a son of Joseph.
- Revelation does not contain Dan who was a son of Jacob / Israel.
- There were 12 tribes of Israel with allocations in the Promised Land.
- The Tribe of Levi was not given a land allocation, but were granted cities (Joshua 13:33).
- In the Promised Land Joseph had two portions through his sons Manasseh and Ephraim.
- Revelation has Joseph as a tribe, does not have Ephraim (Joseph’s son), but still has Manasseh.
Conclusions from this:
Clearly, the twelve tribes in Revelation must have been symbolic as they neither match Jacob’s sons nor the tribes given allocations in the Promised Land.
Additionally, the fact that they are not mentioned in any particular order, whether by birth order, (as in Genesis) or by importance order (e.g. Judah with Jesus as a descendant) has to be an indication that the description in Revelation is meant to be different. The Apostle John had to have known the tribes of Israel were 13 in reality.
The Apostle Peter came to realise the following when directed to go to Cornelius, a gentile [non-Jew]. The account tells us: “At this Peter began to speak, and he said: “Now I truly understand that God is not partial, 35 but in every nation the man who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him” (Acts 10:34-35).
Furthermore, If the tribes are symbolic, why would the amount chosen from each tribe be anything other than symbolic? If the amount from each tribe is symbolic as is the case, then how can the total of all the tribes of 144,000 be anything more than symbolic?
Conclusion: 144,000 has to be a symbolic number.
Little flock and Other Sheep
The rest of Acts and Apostle Paul’s letters all record how both Gentiles and Jews became Christians and chosen ones together. Also, it records the trials and problems as two very different groups became one flock under Christ, with the Jews very much in the minority as the little flock. The overwhelming evidence from this is that any twelve tribes of Israel in Revelation could not be literal. Why? Because if the twelve tribes were literal tribes of Israel it would exclude the Gentile Christians. Yet Jesus had clearly shown to Peter that the Gentiles were equally acceptable to him, confirming that fact by baptizing Cornelius and his family in holy spirit before they were baptized in water. Indeed, much of the New Testament/Christian Greek letters and record of Acts are the adjusting of the thinking of both Jews and Gentiles to serve together unitedly as one group, one flock under one shepherd. In this action recorded in Acts 10 Jesus did exactly what he promised in John 10:16. Jesus brought in other sheep [Gentiles] who were not of this fold [Christian Jews] and they listened to his voice, becoming one flock, under one shepherd.
Since this great crowd is drawn from all the nations and tribes, we can conclude that it refers to gentile Christians. We can get lost in interpretations, so let us not state anything categorically. However, one possibility is that the 144,000, being a number that is a multiple of 12 (12 x 12,000) indicates a divinely constituted and balanced administration. The number is representative of all christians making up the Israel of God (Galatians 6:16). The number of Jews making up the administration is small—a little flock. However, the number of gentiles is great, hence the reference to a “great crowd that no man can number”. Other interpretations are possible, but the takeaway from this is that the JW doctrine that the great crowd standing in the holy of holies, the sanctuary (Greek naos), cannot correspond to a non-existent group of non-anointed Christian friends of God who have no place standing in the temple before the throne of God. Why can we say that? Because they are still sinners and will not have their sin removed until the end of the thousand years. Therefore, they are not justified by God’s grace, not declared righteous, and as such cannot stand in the holy of holies as depicted in this vision.
Conclusion: The little flock are the Jewish Christians. The other sheep are the gentile Christians. All share with Christ in the Kingdom of the heavens. Christ united them into one flock under one shepherd starting from the conversion of Cornelius in 36 AD. The Great Crowd of Revelation does not describe a group of non-anointed Christians who are not God’s children as Jehovah’s Witnesses teach.
Before we move on to examine Revelation 7:9 we need to note at least one more point. Revelation 7:1-3 does not mention where the slaves of God are. Neither does verses 4-8. Indeed, verse 4 categorically states “And I heard the number of those who were sealed”.
Having heard the number of the chosen ones, what would John want to see? Would it not be to see who those chosen ones were?
What would logically be the next event? If you are told the earth and sea will not be harmed until all are sealed, then you are told the large symbolic number of those to be sealed, you would surely want to see those sealed, the reason for the holdup in God’s judgement.
Hence, in Revelation 7:9 Jesus ends the suspense as John records being shown these sealed ones. As to the symbolic number, that is also reaffirmed when John writes “After this I saw, and look! a great crowd, which no man was able to number”. Therefore, according to the context the symbolic number is confirmed to be a great crowd, so great it cannot be numbered. Ergo, it cannot be a literal number.
Significance of White Robes
Notice another common description. Just as the chosen ones are taken from all the symbolic tribes of Israel, so the great crowd is taken “out of all nations and tribes and peoples and tongues” (Revelation 7:9).
Surely at this wonderful revelation John could have echoed the words of the Queen of Sheba to Solomon “But I did not put faith in the reports [I had heard] until I had come and had seen it with my own eyes. And look! I had not been told the half of your great wisdom. You have far surpassed the report that I heard” (2 Chronicles 9:6).
This great crowd is also “standing before the throne and before the Lamb, dressed in white robes; and there were palm branches in their hands” (Revelation 7:9).
Just a few verses earlier John saw these same ones dressed in white robes. Revelation 6:9-11 reads “I saw underneath the altar the souls of those slaughtered because of the word of God and because of the witness they had given. 10 They shouted with a loud voice, saying: “Until when, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, are you refraining from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” 11 And a white robe was given to each of them, and they were told to rest a little while longer, until the number was filled of their fellow slaves and their brothers who were about to be killed as they had been.”
You will be able to note that the harming of the earth is being held back. Why? Until the [symbolic] number of their fellow slaves was filled. Further, they were issued with a white robe each. That is how the great crowd of chosen ones [slaves] obtained the white robes. Therefore, clearly this portion of scripture in Revelation 6 is followed by the events in Revelation 7. In turn the events in Revelation 7 are related to the earlier events in Revelation 6.
To emphasise their identity Revelation 7:13 continues “In response one of the elders said to me: “These who are dressed in the white robes, who are they and where did they come from?”. As the Apostle John humbly says to the elder that the elder knows better than him, the elder confirms the answer saying “These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:14). It cannot be a coincidence that the white robes are mentioned frequently as an identifying mark of the chosen ones. Additionally, accepting the robe from Christ, washing their robes in Christs blood indicates these are the ones who have put their faith in Christ’s ransom.
The final chapter of Revelation (22), continues this link. Referring to his [Jesus] slaves sealed in the forehead (with Jesus name) (Revelation 22:3-4, Revelation 7:3), Jesus says in Revelation 22:14, “Happy are those who wash their robes, so that they may have authority to go to the trees of life”, referring to those who wash their robes in his blood, by having faith in the ransom value of his sacrifice. (Revelation 7:14)
With the context of the theme scripture clear in mind we can now examine and easily identify the speculations that follow in the Watchtower article.
It starts early on in Paragraph 2:
“The angels are told to hold back the destructive winds of the great tribulation until the final sealing of a group of slaves. (Rev. 7:1-3) That group is made up of 144,000 who will rule with Jesus in heaven. (Luke 12:32; Rev. 7:4)”.
No, it is not 144,000 as a literal number, nor is it in heaven. It is based on speculation, not facts.
“Then John mentions another group, so vast that he exclaims: “Look!”—an expression that may indicate his surprise at seeing something unexpected. What does John see? “A great crowd”.
No, it is not another group, it is the same group. Again, based on speculation.
Why would Jesus suddenly change the subject during this revelation? Rather the surprise is because it is such a great crowd rather than limited to a literal 144,000. (Please see scriptural examination of Revelation 7 above in this review).
“In this article, we will learn how Jehovah revealed the identity of that great crowd to his people more than eight decades ago”. (Paragraph 3).
No, we will not be able to learn how Jehovah revealed the identity of the great crowd, because in the article there is neither claim nor evidence of the mechanism that he used. Rather we will learn of changing speculation by the Organization.
Evolution of men’s reasoning, not revelation from God, or Jesus
Paragraphs 4 to 14 deal with within the Organization, the evolution of men’s reasoning on the understanding of this teaching of the Organization. However, of Jehovah’s involvement and how Jehovah revealed or transmitted the current teaching there is not even a hint, let alone a viable provable explanation.
Par.4 – “They understood that God would restore Paradise on earth and that millions of obedient humans would live here on earth—not in heaven. However, it took time for them to discern clearly who these obedient humans would be”.
No divine revelation or divine transmission here!
Par.5 – “Bible Students also discerned from the Scriptures that some would be “bought from the earth”.
No divine revelation or divine transmission here!
Par. 6 – Citing Revelation 7:9 “Those words led the Bible Students to conclude”.
No divine revelation or divine transmission here!
Par. 8 – “the Bible Students felt that there were three groups”.
No divine revelation or divine transmission here!
Par. 9. – “In 1935 the identity of the great crowd in John’s vision was clarified. Jehovah’s Witnesses came to realize that the great crowd…. “.
No divine revelation or transmission here!
Paragraph 9 to be fair is accurate in nearly everything it states, except for the last sentence, which claims “Only one group is promised everlasting life in heaven—the 144,000, who will “rule as kings over the earth” with Jesus. (Revelation 5:10)”. Yet, the reality is there is only one group and the hope for all is to live on earth. Indeed, the scripture cited in support of this statement to imply a location in heaven is a subtle mistranslation. The Kingdom Interlinear, a Watchtower Bible Translation, instead reads “they are reigning [ἐπὶ] upon the earth”. If you read the extensive definitions of “epi” in different uses you will not find one place where it can be taken to mean “over” as in “above” location wise, especially when associated with the word “reigning” which is to exert power over, not to be in a different physical location.
Par.12 – “Furthermore, the Scriptures teach that those who are resurrected to heavenly life receive “something better” than do the faithful men of old. (Hebrews 11:40)”.
No, they do not. Quoting in full Hebrews 11:39-30 says “And yet all of these, although they received a favorable witness because of their faith, did not obtain the fulfillment of the promise, 40 because God had foreseen something better for us, so that they might not be made perfect apart from us”.
Here Paul states that the faithful men of old did not get the fulfillment of their promise. The reason why, was because he had something better in store for them, which could be realised once Jesus proved faithful to death. Furthermore, these faithful men of old would be made perfect with the faithful Christians, not at a separate time, not in a separate place, not apart, but together. Given that these faithful ones had a hope to be resurrected back to earth as perfect humans, it stands to reason that the faithful Christians would have this same reward.
Yet, the Organization in total contradiction to this scripture teaches exactly the opposite. How so? In that according to the Organization, those claiming to be faithful anointed christians who have died have already had a resurrection to heaven, apart from the faithful ones, like Abraham, God’s friend, who still lie in the memorial tombs.
The Beroean Study Bible reads “God had planned something better for us, so that together with us they would be made perfect.”.
Clearly, no divine revelation or divine transmission. Why would God choose to reverse the clear statement in this scripture against what it says!
A rare admission
Before moving on, we must highlight a seemingly insignificant statement at the beginning of paragraph 4. “Christendom generally does not teach the Scriptural truth that one day obedient humans will live forever on earth. (2 Cor. 4:3, 4)”.
Note the word “generally”. This is an accurate statement, but a rare and significant admission by the Organization. When the reviewer was researching what Mankind’s true hope for the future is, he was aware of only one group that taught differently. He only knew this from speaking to a member of the group in the door-to-door ministry, not from the Organization. On the completion of the research about Mankinds true hope for the future, he searched for similar beliefs among other Christian groups on the internet and found a number had come to similar conclusions. It was very interesting that an unbiased genuine search for the truth on this matter had resulted in very similar conclusions.
A Diverse great crowd
Yet more organization-centric interpretation, as if no other religious organization publishes literature in other languages and no other religious organization has members from all races and tongues.
The Bible Society, for instance, has distributing the Bible as its main aim, as opposed to a sectarian publication like The Watchtower. It makes available translations of the Bible in hundreds of languages. Also, interestingly, it publishes annual accounts on its website for all to see; what they receive and what they do with the money. (The Organization could take a hint from this about openness and honesty.) Further they make no claim to be God’s organization, they just aim to get the Bible into people’s hands as they are confident the Bible will make a difference to their lives. This is just one commendable example and there are no doubt many others.
Answers to The Watchtower article review questions:
What misconceptions about the great crowd were corrected in 1935?
The answer is: None, the Organization still has many misconceptions about the great crowd as clearly proven in this review.
How has the great crowd proved to be truly great in size?
The answer is: The “great crowd” as defined by the Organization is not truly great in size. Furthermore, there is much anecdotal evidence that the Organization is shrinking at present and that they are trying to disguise that fact. In reality the real great crowd is all the Christians, both Jew and Gentile, over the centuries who have lived as true Christians (not nominal Christians).
What evidence do we have that Jehovah is gathering a diversified great crowd?
The answer is: No evidence is provided that Jehovah is backing the Organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Rather, the fact that there are millions of genuine Christians around the world scattered amongst the Christian religions as wheat amongst the weeds is the evidence of Jehovah gathering those right hearted ones to him. Matthew 13:24-30, John 6:44.