A cursory reading of Revelation 7 quickly shows that there is an additional multitude of people to the 144,000 described there as worshiping before the throne of God. The Jehovah’s Witnesses describe this second group as The Earthly Class or Great Crowd which is an additional group of people, all Jehovah’s Witnesses which throughout eternity live in a perfect paradise on Earth, but who do not actually go to Heaven and who never have any personal contact or experience with God during that eternity.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses are quite mistaken to think that Heaven is limited to 144,000 individuals. If one takes the number of 144.000 to be a literal number then one is obliged to take all the information about the 144,000 literally. In doing so we find that that the 144,000
- Are Jews
- Precisely 12,000 each from 12 specified tribes of Israel (but not all the tribes – the tribe of Dan is missing)
- Have the Lamb’s Name and The Father’s Name written on their foreheads
- Are male
- Are virgins
- Follow The Lamb wherever He goes
Taking this passage literally we find that the only people who are in Heaven are male, Jewish virgins. How many Jehovah’s Witnesses meet this criteria ?
In addition to being male, Jewish virgins, everyone in heaven has two names literally written on their foreheads and follow The Lamb wherever He goes all the time. Surely this is somewhat inconvenient for both Jesus and for the 144,000, stumbling over each other for all eternity.
So we can easily see that taking a literal view of the 144,000 creates insurmountable problems with the text.
144,000 As Symbolic
The number 144,000 has a suspiciously symbolic look to it, being 12 x 12 x 1,000.
The structure of the number 144,000 denotes completeness. Firstly, the 12 Tribes multiplied by 12, meaning that the ‘twelve-ness’ of elect Israel is emphasised. None of Israel is missing. The multiplication by 1,000 is an intensifier signifying great magnitude. The total symbolism simply means all the elect of Israel will surely be saved and that there will be a large number of them.
To give just one example of the symbolic use of 1,000 in scripture consider Psalms 50:10 in which we read – “For every beast of the forest is mine, and the cattle upon a thousand hills.” As the Blog Scripture Revealed notes:
Now don’t you think there are more than a thousand hills on earth? Is the passage implying that God does not own the cattle on hill one thousand and one? Of course not. What is being conveyed is that the Lord owns all the cattle on all the hills, not just on a thousand hills
As Scripture Revealed goes on to say :The number one thousand (1,000) symbolizes “immensity,” “fullness of quantity” or “multitude.”
The number 144,000 applied to Israel is a symbolic way of saying that none of Israel whom God intends to save will be missing.
A further aspect of the 144,000 in Revelation 14, is that the 144,000 are a firstfruits, which means that they are representative of a larger group. The identification of the 144,000 as a Firstfruits is of itself proof that more than 144,000 are in Heaven. And this is precisely what we find in Revelation 7 where we see that in addition to the 144,000 there is a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.
The description of the great crowd as being from every nation, tribe, people and language shows that they are Gentiles. The Jewish saved are a firstfruits of the total saved population of humanity. So we see in Revelation 7 that there are two basic groups of people worshiping before God’s Throne: Jews and Gentiles
144,000 – The Fulfillment Of God’s Promises To Israel
The 144,000 of Revelation 7 show that God will be faithful in his promises to Israel to save them, thus honouring the covenant he made to Abraham and confirmed with Isaac and Jacob.
The Apostle Paul describes it this way in Romans 11: that Israel will certainly all be saved once God has completed His mercy among the Gentiles. Israel is currently experiencing God’s judgement at present – a breaking off from Christ and a hardening of their hearts. But Israel will be saved and restored due to God’s faithfulness. And this is what we see described in Revelation 7: Jews and Gentiles alike worshiping God in Heaven.
Revelation 7 does not show two classes of saved as Jehovah’s Witnesses would say, one of which, the 144,000, is supposedly superior to the other, The Great Crowd from all nations. No. Rather the passage describes two multitudes of people in heaven: one Jewish and one Gentile – the same groups that Paul describes in Romans 11.
The basic error that Jehovah’s Witnesses have made is to apply a literal interpretation to a passage which is intended to be understood symbolically. They have failed to recognise Genre. The Book Of Revelation is written in a Genre known as Apocalypse in the same way that Psalms is written in a genre known as Poetry and the Pastoral Letters in a genre known as Epistle. To select arbitrary elements from symbolic passages and interpret them literally is an invitation to poor interpretation.
Correct interpretation requires correct recognition of genre.