The Jehovah's Witness Version of the 144,000
Jehovah’s Witnesses teach that only 144,000 people will go to heaven. God chooses these 144,000 individuals and the process began with the first century Christians and was completed in the year 1935. Of course from 1879 (the year the Watchtower started) till 1935 only faithful Jehovah’s Witnesses were chosen for this special role. All faithful Jehovah’s Witnesses not chosen to be among the 144,000 elite that go to heaven will spend eternity on earth. All others including unfaithful Jehovah’s Witnesses will be destroyed at Armageddon.
There are of course many holes in this theory and if this is your first exposure to this teaching you are probably in a state of disbelief. This is however a Watchtower teaching accepted by six million Jehovah’s Witnesses. The purpose of this article is to take a realistic look at this theory.
First, what is this theory based on?
The Watchtower has come to this conclusion based on Revelation 7:1-9
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." |
4 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:
5 Out of the tribe of Judah twelve thousand sealed;
out of the tribe of Reu´ben twelve thousand;
out of the tribe of Gad twelve thousand;
6 out of the tribe of Ash´er twelve thousand;
out of the tribe of Naph´ta·li twelve thousand;
out of the tribe of Ma·nas´seh twelve thousand;
7 out of the tribe of Sim´e·on twelve thousand;
out of the tribe of Le´vi twelve thousand;
out of the tribe of Is´sa·char twelve thousand;
8 out of the tribe of Zeb´u·lun twelve thousand;
out of the tribe of Joseph twelve thousand;
out of the tribe of Benjamin twelve thousand sealed.
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. 10 And they keep on crying with a loud voice, saying: "Salvation [we owe] to our God, who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb."
The most apparent flaw in this teaching is that the Watchtower takes the number 144.000 in verse 4 to be literal but the explanation of these numbers in verses 5 through 8 they discard as figurative. Convenient, because if they take verses 5 through 8 literally as they do verse 4 then they could not be part of the 144,000 unless they were descendents of one of the tribes mentioned. One certainly has to question the reasoning if not the motive of anyone that picks and chooses verses in one passage to be literal and figurative.
But for the moment let’s say they are correct, only 144,000 faithful Christians will go to heaven and that it started with Christ’s apostles. According to the Watchtower there were 52,465 of the select 144,000 still alive in 1935. That means that in 1800 plus years, from the time of the apostles till 1879 God could find only 91,535 faithful Christians worthy of a heavenly calling, but in the short span of 56 years He was able to find 52,465.
It certainly does not seem reasonable that the preaching work of the apostles and the first century Christians would only reach 91,535 people not to mention the next 1700 years. Any thinking person would realize that the number of 144,000 Christians would have been filled long before 1879, most likely in the first century.
Consider for example Acts Chapter 2: 40-47 NIV
|With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, "Save yourselves from this corrupt generation." Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.|
Three thousand added in one day and the number was added to daily! Doesn't seem like it would take very long to get to 144,000. At the rate of three thousand a day the number would be filled in just forty eight days. Of course we do not know that three thousand were added every day but we know that the process of adding believers continued for many years.
Consider Acts 5: 12-16 NIV
From the second half of the 1st century till the early 4th century, thousands of Christians were killed in the Roman Coliseum. There are records of Christian martyrs from the first century to modern times. The records in the book of Acts record thousands of Christian conversions.
|The apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon's Colonnade. No one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people. Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number. As a result, people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter's shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by. Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by evil spirits, and all of them were healed.|
To say that the number of people that are to go to heaven is limited to 144,000 and that it took over 1800 years to find that many Christians is absurd. But regardless of how absurd the theory may be let’s examine the modern numbers of the Watchtower Bible and tract Society.
As we mentioned the Watchtower claims the number was filled in 1935 and let’s assume the average age of those 52,465 still alive when the number was sealed to be 35. 35 is an extremely conservative number because as the Watchtower says these are ones whose faith have been tested. That means in 1985, the first year on our chart we have 9,051 people with the average age of 85 and in 2004 8,570 of these folks are still alive at the average age of 104.
One has to question why the number of the heavenly class left on earth increased several years. If fact in 1992 the number was 8,683 and over he next ten years it increased to 8,760. Apparently the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society is concerned about how this increase is viewed by it's followers because they addressed the issue in the August 15, 1996 Watchtower in the following 'Questions From Readers" article.
|Questions From ReadersThe reports for some years show that the number partaking of the Memorial emblems increased slightly. Does this suggest that many new ones are being anointed with holy spirit?There is good reason to believe that the number of 144,000 anointed Christians was complete decades ago.At Acts 2:1-4, we read about the first ones in that limited group: "Now while the day of the festival of Pentecost was in progress they were all together at the same place, and suddenly there occurred from heaven a noise just like that of a rushing stiff breeze, and it filled the whole house in which they were sitting. And tongues as if of fire became visible to them and were distributed about, and one sat upon each one of them, and they all became filled with holy spirit and started to speak with different tongues, just as the spirit was granting them to make utterance."After that, Jehovah selected others, and he anointed them with his holy spirit. Thousands were added in the very early years of Christianity. At the Memorial celebration in our time, the speaker often calls attention to the apostle Paul’s words at Romans 8:15-17, which mention that the anointed ‘receive a spirit of adoption as sons.’ Paul added that the holy spirit they receive ‘bears witness with their spirit, that they are God’s children, joint heirs with Christ.’ Those who truly have this spirit-anointing know it with certainty. It is not a mere wish or a reflection of an emotional and unrealistic view of themselves.We understand that this heavenly calling continued down through the centuries, though during the so-called Dark Ages, there may have been times when the number of anointed ones were very few. With the reestablishment of true Christianity near the end of the last century, more were called and chosen. But it seems that in the mid-1930’s, the full number of the 144,000 was basically completed. Thus there began to appear a group of loyal Christians with the earthly hope. Jesus termed such "other sheep," who unite in worship with the anointed as one approved flock.—John 10:14-16.The facts over the decades reflect both the completion of the calling of the anointed and Jehovah’s blessing on the growing "great crowd," who hope to survive "the great tribulation." (Revelation 7:9, 14) For example, at the Memorial celebration in 1935, attended by 63,146, those partaking of the emblems in evidence of their profession to be anointed numbered 52,465. Thirty years later, or in 1965, the attendance was 1,933,089, while the partakers decreased to 11,550. Moving 30 years closer, in 1995 the attendance jumped to 13,147,201, but only 8,645 partook of the bread and the wine. (1 Corinthians 11:23-26) Clearly, as the decades passed, the number of those professing to be of the remnant greatly decreased—some 52,400 in 1935; 11,500 in 1965; 8,600 in 1995. However, those with earthly hopes have been blessed, and their number has increased abundantly.The most recent published report is for the year 1995, and it shows 28 more partakers than in the preceding year though the ratio of partakers to those attending did actually drop. On balance, that a few more chose to partake of the emblems is no cause for concern. Over the years some, even ones newly baptized, have suddenly begun to partake. In a number of cases, after a while they acknowledged that this was an error. Some have recognized that they partook as an emotional response to perhaps physical or mental strain. But they came to see that they really were not called to heavenly life. They asked for God’s merciful understanding. And they continue to serve him as fine, loyal Christians, having the hope of everlasting life on earth.There is no need for any of us to be concerned if a person begins to partake of the emblems or ceases to do so. It really is not up to us whether someone actually has been anointed with holy spirit and called to heavenly life or not. Recall Jesus’ solid assurance: "I am the fine shepherd, and I know my sheep." Just as assuredly, Jehovah knows those whom he has chosen as spiritual sons. There is every reason to believe that the number of anointed ones will continue to decline as advanced age and unforeseen occurrences end their earthly lives. Yet, even as these truly anointed ones prove faithful till death, in line for the crown of life, the other sheep, who have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb, can look forward to surviving the impending great tribulation.—2 Timothy 4:6-8; Revelation 2:10.|
The 144,000 theory falls apart on all fronts.