- Revelation 7:4
- "And I heard the number of them which were sealed: and there were sealed an hundred
and forty and four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel."
- Revelation 14:3
- "And they sung as it were a new song before the throne, and before the four beasts,
and the elders: and no man could learn that song but the hundred and forty and four
thousand, which were redeemed from the earth."
- These verses are cited by J.W.'s to support the doctrine that most of the 144,000 are
now reigning over the earth. This "little flock" of the "anointed
remnant", it is claimed, commenced its rule in 1914. Members of this group are said
to depart to heaven at the instant of death. As of Jan. 1969, 10,619 J.W.'s claim to be
living members of this group.1
A J.W. publication comments as follows:
- "Those who are called by God to share in such heavenly service are few in number.
As Jesus said, they are a 'little flock'. Years after his return to heaven, Jesus made
known the exact number in a vision to the apostle John . . . So the 144,000 are persons
who die on earth as humans and are resurrected [at the instant of death] to heavenly life
as spirit creatures, as Jesus was . . . Members of the 'little flock' know that God has
called them to heavenly life. How? By means of the operation of God's spirit, which
implants and cultivates in them the hope of heavenly life."2
- It is usually undesirable to begin by saying, "the book of Revelation is primarily
symbolic, therefore, the 144,000 is a symbolic number". Consistency would demand that
the 1,000 years of Rev. 20:4, 6 should also be taken figuratively.
- But, consistency also demands that the J.W. settle for either a literal or figurative
interpretation, but not an indiscriminate mixing of the two to suit a presupposition. If
the J.W. insists on a literal 144,000, then all J.W.'s are excluded from this group
because literally the 144,000 only come from the tribes of Israel!3 If, on the other hand, the J.W.
takes the stand that the passage is figurative because the tribes are symbolic, then
likewise the 144,000 is a symbolic, and not a literal number.
- The following evidence from Rev. 14 indicates that the number 144,000 is symbolic, and
- John "looked", vs. 1, but could he see a Lamb on Mount Zion from 1,000 miles
away on the Aegean Island? (John was on the Island of Patmos, Rev. 1:9).
- Did he really hear the harper's playing over the same distance?
- Were these saints literally virgins? If so, are the first fruits only bachelors and
spinsters? (vs. 4).
- It is usually inconclusive to assert that the 144,000 and the great multitude are two
presentations of the same redeemed group. There appears to be too much evidence
that two different groups are intended. Although it is sometimes stressed that John
"heard" the number and "saw" the great multitude, this in itself does
not establish that he saw and heard the same group. The two groups have these
significantly differing descriptions:
- John saw the great multitude
- precisely numbered as 144,000
- sealed out of the tribes of Israel (7:4)
- from all nations, kindreds and people (7:9)
- A more fruitful approach is to trace the allusions in Scripture. It is suggested that to
do so establishes the 144,000 as the first fruits i.e., those faithful at Christ's return,
and the great multitude, as the final in-gathering of the saints at the end of the
- The following is the evidence for identifying the 144,000 with the saints at Christ's
- The 144,000 are said to be "firstfruits" (Rev. 14:4). Two New Testament
passages identify the first fruits:
- James 1:18 - "Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be
a kind of firstfruits of his creatures."
- I Cor. 15:22,23 - " . . . in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his
own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming."
- The word first fruits is taken from the Old Testament feasts in Lev. 23. Using the above
two quotations to identify the types, the following pattern becomes apparent:
- The sheaf of the first fruits represents Christ in type. (Lev. 23:10). (Notice in I Cor.
15:23 that both Christ and the saints are first fruits, following the similar Old
Testament usage in Lev. 23:17 where the two wave loaves are also "first
- The two wave loaves signify the Jew and Gentile composition of the firstfruits. (Lev.
23: 17; cf. Eph. 2:12-16).
- "The firstfruits unto the LORD" are the saints at Christ's coming. (Lev.
- The evidence that the great multitude, which no man can number, represents the final
in-gathering of the saints at the end of the millenial age comes from the following:
- The great multitude have palms in their hands. (Rev. 7:9). This is another
allusion to Lev. 23. Following the pattern of the types, the great multitude represents
the final in-gathering of the fruit and the carrying of palms occurs at the end of
the harvest. (Lev. 23:40).
- I Cor. 15:23-28 supports this interpretation in-so-far as the first fruits of the
harvest are set out in verse 23. The final in-gathering is described from vs. 24-28 -
"then cometh the end."
- The symbolic 144,000 reign on the earth (Rev. 5:10)4 for a period designated as a
1,000 years. (Rev. 20:6). Nowhere is their reigning either stated or implied to be in
heaven. They will have power over the nations (Rev. 2:26,27), and since they follow the
Lamb "whithersoever he goeth" (Rev. 14:4), they will be reigning on the earth -
this is where the Lamb will be. As Yahweh's accredited representative "his feet shall
stand in that day upon the mount of Olives which is before Jerusalem on the east . .
." (Zech. 14:4). He will then sit on David's throne in Jerusalem, the city of the
great King. (Lk. 1:32,33; Matt. 5:35).
- The import of the J.W. teaching on the 144,000 becomes apparent once it is realized that
10,619 J.W.'s expect to obtain immortality at the instant of death in heaven, whereas
worthies commended for their faith and works, such as Abraham and David, are relegated to
second-rate positions of everlasting life on the earth without immortality.5 It is expressly stated that the
worthies catalogued in Hebrews 11 died in faith not having received the promises,
"God having provided some better thing for us [New Testament believers], that
they without us should not be made perfect". (Heb. 11:13,39,40). Yet, according to
J.W. teaching, Abraham sleeps unconsciously in his grave awaiting resurrection to
everlasting (not eternal) life on the earth, while thousands of J.W.'s since 1914, said to
belong to the 144,000, have gone straight to heaven at the instant of death.
- "The Watchtower", (Jan. 1969), No. 1 Vol. XC, p. 25. Return
- The Truth that Leads to Eternal Life, (Brooklyn, N.Y.: Watchtower Bible and Tract
Society, Inc., 1968), pp. 77, 78. Return
- It should be noted that the tribes of Dan and Ephraim are omitted and the tribes of Levi
and Joseph included, which, in itself, suggests a symbolic interpretation of the 144,000. Return
- This point is observed in the J.W. New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures
which translates this verse " . . . and they will rule as kings over the earth."
The Greek word "epi" translated "over" in this text is translated
"on the earth" or "upon the earth" in six other places, (Rev. 6:10;
7:1; 11:10; 13:14; 14:6; 17:8, A.V.), but not "over the earth" so as to suggest
remote control. The Emphatic Diaglott, a J.W. publication, renders the text
"on the earth". Return
- It is sometimes argued by J.W.'s that the kingdom of heaven is for the 144,000, whereas
the kingdom of God is for the great multitude on the earth. But Abraham will be in both
the kingdom of heaven and kingdom of God, (Matt. 8:11, cf. Lk. 13:28), thereby indicating
that the terms are used interchangeably and that they are not intended to convey the idea
of a "heavenly" and an "earthly" reward. Return