Jehovah's Witnesses and the 144,000
The official teaching of the Watchtower Organization is that only 144,000 Jehovah's Witnesses go to heaven. They are named the “Anointed Class.” All remaining Jehovah's Witnesses will live forever on a “paradise earth.” All non-Jehovah's Witnesses will physically die and cease to exist; no soul no afterlife; just the grave and nothing else.
Does the Bible teach there are three groups of people (righteous, wicked, and 144,000) as the Jehovah's Witnesses believe? What is their evidence for this 3rd group, the 144,000?
First I will look for direct evidence. Does the Bible say only the 144,000 will be in heaven? The answer is no! There are zero passages in the Bible that make this claim. Only two passages in the entire Bible use the number 144,000. This fact should immediately send up red flags concerning this doctrine. Neither Revelations 7 nor 14 states only the 144,000 will be in heaven.
Second, if there isn’t direct evidence, can a compelling case be made indirectly for only the 144,000 in heaven? Since the Bible extols the glories of heaven, we would expect strong evidence for God restricting heaven to only 144,000. So what is the indirect Biblical support for this teaching?
First let’s examine Revelation 7:4-8 (NASB) 4 And I heard the number of those who were sealed, one hundred and forty-four thousand sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel: 5 From the tribe of Judah, twelve thousand were sealed, from the tribe of Reuben twelve thousand, from the tribe of Gad twelve thousand, 6 from the tribe of Asher twelve thousand, from the tribe of Naphtali twelve thousand, from the tribe of Manasseh twelve thousand, 7 from the tribe of Simeon twelve thousand, from the tribe of Levi twelve thousand, from the tribe of Issachar twelve thousand, 8 from the tribe of Zebulun twelve thousand, from the tribe of Joseph twelve thousand, from the tribe of Benjamin, twelve thousand were sealed.
Beginning in Revelations 4 and through chapter 7, John is writing about events, people, and creatures in heaven. The entire scene of those chapters is in heaven. The Jehovah's Witnesses teach only the 144,000 literally will be in heaven and the 12 tribes listed by name, verses 5-8, are figurative or symbolic. The 144,000 are faithful Jehovah's Witnesses and not members of the 12 tribes. In order to make their case against the 12 tribes being taken as literal, they say the list of tribes cannot be the natural Israel because there never was a tribe of Joseph (Except we see it as a tribe in Revelations 7:8). They also say the tribes of Dan and Ephraim are missing from the list. Another point they make is the Levites were never one of the 12 tribes. Their appointed job was temple service and don’t appear in the Old Testament lists.
The first problem with their interpretation is their switching from literal to figurative in the same verse. In Revelations 7 they want to hold the 144,000 as a literal number and the mentioning of the 12 tribes of Israel as figurative. A good question to ask a Jehovah Witness would be, do you have justification for switching in the middle of verse 4 from literal to figurative? I have yet to hear one. Either both should be taken as literal or both as figurative.
Nowhere in the Bible do we see the 12 tribes listed as figurative. Anytime the 12 tribes of Israel are mentioned, they are always listed as the literal 12 tribes of Israel. It is important to understand in the Old Testament there are approximately 20 different lists of the tribes, and these lists include anywhere from 10-13 tribes. The Jehovah's Witnesses ask why did the Revelations list eliminate Dan and Ephraim? The most likely reason is because both of these tribes were guilty of gross idolatry and God wanted them eliminated from the list. The writer John then adjusts this list to include Joseph and Manasseh. The Levites can now be listed as a tribe because their temple duties have ended.
Many scholars believe John’s reference to the 144,000 and the 12 tribes are literal. Others say they are both figurative. The Jehovah's Witnesses switching from literal to figurative in the middle of verse 4 is without warrant and violates good Biblical interpretation principles.
In summary there is no direct evidence in the Bible stating there will only be 144,000 Jehovah's Witnesses in heaven. Without direct evidence Jehovah's Witnesses have to rely on indirect evidence. What is their indirect evidence? Based on an examination of Revelations 7:4-8, and using good interpretive principles, we see the Watchtower Organization is without warrant to read the number 144,000 as literal and the 12 tribes of Israel as figurative. They are both either literal or figurative. If they are figurative then that destroys their doctrine that only 144,000 are in heaven. If they are both literal then we know the 144,000 are not Jehovah Witnesses but consist of the 12 tribes of Israel; just as the text says.
I will continue my examination of their indirect evidence. The next problem the Jehovah's Witnesses are going to face is verse 9 of Revelations 7.