WILL THE “GREAT CROWD” BE ON EARTH WHEN ARMAGEDDON BREAKS OUT?
Revelation 7:9, 15: “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 … That is why they are before the throne of God; and they are rendering him sacred service day and night in his temple.” (New World Translation)
For years, Jehovah’s Witnesses have taught that the vast majority of their followers will resurrect to everlasting life upon an Earthly Paradise, and that only a select group of 144,000 followers will live and reign with Jesus Christ in Heaven. These two groups of followers are called “the Earthly Class” and “the Heavenly Class.” The “Earthly Class” is also called “the Other Sheep” of John 10:16 and “the Great Crowd” of Revelation 7:9, while the “Heavenly Class” is called “the Little Flock” of Luke 12:32, “the Anointed Class” of 2 Corinthians 1:21-22 and “the 144,000” of Revelation chapters 7 and 14. These terms are used frequently to reinforce this two-class structure of the Watchtower belief system.
This two-class system is so foundational to the beliefs of Jehovah’s Witnesses that Scripture is constantly twisted and reinterpreted to support this ideology. Although there is not a single Scripture that excludes people who are not in the 144,000 group of Revelation 7 and 14 from the New Covenant privileges of being “born again” (John 3:3), spiritually “adopted” into God’s family (Romans 8:14-16), partaking of the Memorial or Lord’s Supper celebration of Christ’s redemptive sacrifice, looking to Jesus as their “mediator” (1 Timothy 2:5), and the resurrection “hope” of living and reigning with Christ in Heaven, the Watchtower Society imposes an oppressive belief system that denies these basic Christian privileges from the majority of its members. Likewise, the Watchtower Society rejects the literal descriptions given of the 144,000 listed in the only two Scriptural passages that describe this group, namely Revelation 7:3-8 and Revelation 14:1-5. These descriptions that the Jehovah’s Witnesses completely deny and distort are as follows:
- The 144,000 are “sealed” on earth during the Great Tribulation (Revelation 7:1-4).
- The 144,000 are Jews from “every tribe” of Israel 1. (Revelation 7:4-8).
- The 144,000 will stand with Jesus upon Mount Zion when He begins to rule the earth (Revelation 14:1).
- The 144,000 are “virgin” men who “did not defile themselves with women” (Revelation 14:4).
DOES SCRIPTURE SUPPORT A TWO-CLASS BELIEF SYSTEM?
It is true that the Bible speaks of “two parties” or groups of believers, but these groups are not described as a Heavenly Class and an Earthly Class, but rather the difference between “circumcised” Jews and “uncircumcised” non-Jewish nations. Throughout the New Testament, Jews are identified as the “lost sheep” to whom Jesus came with the Good News of His redemption (Matthew 15:22-24). He even commanded His followers at one point to avoid preaching the Kingdom message to the “nations” or “Gentiles” (non-Jews) (Matthew 10:5-7), so that the Jews would have the opportunity to accept it and become the “light of the nations” that God commanded them to be for the salvation of all mankind (Isaiah 49:6; Acts 13:47). It wasn’t until God gave Peter the vision of unclean food at Acts 11 that God opened the door for non-Jews to receive the Good News of the Kingdom (Acts 11:18). This is why the Apostle Paul exclaims:
“Therefore keep bearing in mind that formerly YOU were people of the nations as to flesh; ‘uncircumcision’ YOU were called by that which is called ‘circumcision’ made in the flesh with hands — that YOU were at that particular time without Christ, alienated from the state of Israel and strangers to the covenants of the promise, and YOU had no hope and were without God in the world. But now in union with Christ Jesus YOU who were once far off have come to be near by the blood of the Christ. For he is our peace, he who made the two parties one and destroyed the wall in between that fenced them off.” (Ephesians 2:11-14 2.)
Thus, in the context of Scripture, we see that the “two parties” or two groups of people refer strictly to the division between the “Jews” and the “nations” or “Gentiles.” Jesus broke this division down when He paid the price in His “blood” for human sin and “destroyed the wall in between that fenced them off” when He combined His “other sheep” of non-Jewish followers with His “one” flock of Jewish believers. He did this in accordance with His promise at John 10:16:
“And I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; those also I must bring, and they will listen to my voice, and they will become one flock, one shepherd.”
DOES SCRIPTURE TEACH THAT THE “GREAT CROWD” WILL LIVE FOREVER ON EARTH?
We have already mentioned that the Bible NEVER claims that the “New Covenant” privileges of eternal life in Heaven exclude everyone but the people in a select group of 144,000. On the contrary, Scripture proclaims:
- There is only “one hope” — not “two hopes” (an earthly and a heavenly hope) (Ephesians 4:4).
- Many Old Testament believers will be in Heaven (Matthew 8:11; Luke 13:28; Hebrews 11:10, 16).
- All people must be “born again” to see God’s Kingdom (John 3:3, 5).
- “Everyone believing that Jesus is the Christ has been born from God” (1 John 5:1).
- Spiritual adoption is for “all” who are led by God’s Spirit (Romans 8:14-16).
- Jesus Christ is the “mediator” between all “mankind” (1 Timothy 2:5).
- Followers of Jesus must “eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood” by partaking in the symbolic Lord’s evening meal in order to have everlasting life (John 6:53).
- The “Great Crowd” will be “before the throne” and serving God “day and night” in His temple in Heaven when Armageddon breaks out (Revelation 7:9, 15; 16:16-17).
- “After these things I heard what was as a loud voice of a great crowd in heaven” (Revelation 19:1).
Notice that NO condition in these passages assigns the terms “all” and “everyone” to a select group of only 144,000 believers. Rather these promises are open to “everyone” who believes. Furthermore, if the 144,000 are to be “sealed” (protected) from the tribulation wrath of God that has yet to send upon the earth as Revelation 7:3 clearly describes, how could this group have been living in the first century when these New Covenant promises were given to Jesus’ followers? Thus, when the entire context of Scripture is considered, the Jehovah’s Witness two-class belief system is clearly impossible to sustain from the text of Scripture.
WHY DO JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES FEAR ARMAGEDDON?
As if the Watchtower Society’s denial of basic Christian New Covenant privileges wasn’t enough, the Society goes a step further to instill a deep fear of the wrath of God that will be poured out upon wicked mankind during the Great Tribulation and the Battle of Armageddon described in Revelation chapter 16.
Although 1 Thessalonians 5:9 promises Christians that: “God assigned us, not to wrath, but to the acquiring of salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ,” Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that Jehovah God will test their loyalty by having them endure His wrath throughout the entire Tribulation period and the Battle of Armageddon. The only way Jehovah’s Witnesses are told that they will have a chance at surviving this terrible “end” of world governments is to serve the Watchtower organization faithfully in hopes that Jehovah will spare their lives when He brings His judgment.
These fears are totally unfounded because not only are the 144,000 “sealed” from God’s wrath at Revelation 7:3, but the “great crowd” is protected as well because the “Son of Man” (Jesus) will send forth His angels to gather His followers to Heaven before His final judgment hits the earth.
“They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send forth his angels with a great trumpet sound, and they will gather his chosen ones together from the four winds, from one extremity of the heavens to their other extremity.” (Matthew 24:30-31)
Thus, immediately following the “sealing” of the 144,000 in Revelation 7:4-8, we read of the position of the “great crowd” being “before the throne” of God in Heaven:
“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.” (Revelation 7:9)
Verse 11 of Revelation 7 elaborates on the location of this “great crowd” when it speaks of “all the angels” who, like the “great crowd,” are worshipping “before the throne.” Furthermore, the “great crowd” is identified at verse 14 as being “the ones that come out of the great tribulation,” all of which occurs before Armageddon in Revelation 16. Likewise, Revelation 7:15 boldly proclaims:
“That is why they are before the throne of God; and they are rendering him sacred service day and night in his temple; and the One seated on the throne will spread his tent over them.”
This “temple” is indeed “in Heaven” as Revelation 11:19 explains:
“And the temple [sanctuary] of God that is in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant was seen in his temple [sanctuary]. And there occurred lightings and voices and thunders and an earthquake and a great hail.”
As a result, members of “great crowd” of Revelation 19:1 have a reason to rejoice “in heaven”!
“After these things I heard what was as a loud voice of a great crowd in heaven. They said: ‘Praise Jah, YOU people! The salvation and the glory and the power belong to our God.’”
Attempting to avoid the clear implications of the “great crowd in heaven” phrase of Revelation 19:1, some Jehovah’s Witnesses argue that this “great crowd” must be a crowd of “angels” instead of humans. However, it is noteworthy that this “great crowd in heaven” is singing of the “salvation” of “our God.” We ask, how these angels could possibly be singing of their “salvation” when humans are the only creatures that God saves? Since angels in Heaven have no redemption or “salvation” to sing about because they never sinned and “fallen angels” are not offered “redemption” whatsoever, Jehovah’s Witness arguments again fail the test of Scripture. With the “great crowd” being “in heaven,” serving “day and night” in God’s “temple,” and singing of the “salvation” of “our God,” we see that the Watchtower fear of Armageddon is completely baseless.
WATCHTOWER ARGUMENTS AGAINST REVELATION 7:15 EXPOSED
The Watchtower has consistently offered several arguments to try to reconcile their conflicting beliefs with the Biblical text of Revelation 7:15. The May 1, 2002 issue of The Watchtower admitted that one of the arguments the Society has given over the years was the idea “that the great crowd worships Jehovah in one of the earthly courtyards of his great spiritual temple, specifically the one that corresponds with the outer courtyard of Solomon’s temple.” This article went on to provide several points of new light that disproved their earlier claims about the temple being somehow “one of the earthly courtyards” or the “Court of the Gentiles.” They noted that:
“The Greek word (hi-e-ron’) translated ‘temple’ that is used with reference to the Court of the Gentiles’ refers to the entire complex, rather than specifically the Temple building itself’ … In context, the Greek word (na-os’) translated ‘temple’ in John’s vision of the great crowd is more specific. In the context of the Jerusalem temple, it usually refers to the Holy of Holies, the temple building, or the temple precincts. It is sometimes rendered ‘sanctuary’ (Matthew 27:5, 51; Luke1:9, 21; John 2:20). … But as the heavenly elder said to John, the great crowd really is in the temple, not outside the temple area in a kind of spiritual Court of the Gentiles.” (The Watchtower, May 1, 2002, p. 31)
On the surface, it would appear that the Watchtower Society has finally admitted the error of their reasoning against the “great crowd” serving in the inner courtyard of the Heavenly temple, and admitted that their arguments cannot be reconciled with the Biblical text of Revelation 7:15. Yet, regardless of the evidence they provide for the Greek word (na-os’)translated “temple” at Revelation 7:15 meaning the “sanctuary” or “the Holy of Holies” (which could only refer to the innermost portion of the Temple and therefore must be in Heaven), they refuse to accept this evidence and stubbornly stick to their faulty claim that:
“Members of the great crowd are not in the inner courtyard of Jehovah’s great spiritual temple.” (The Watchtower, May 1, 2002, p. 31)
Yet, not only do we see in Revelation 7:15 that the “great crowd” is serving Jehovah “day and night” in the “Holy of Holies” of God’s temple “in Heaven,” but we read that their standing “before the throne and before the Lamb” (Revelation 7:9) is the same as the angels’ worship “before the throne” (Revelation 7:11). Therefore, we can only conclude the “great crowd” is “in Heaven” by the point when we read all the terrible things that will happen to those who refuse God’s plan of salvation in Christ Jesus. Indeed, this is what Revelation 7:15-17 says about the pleasures that the “great crowd” will enjoy as they are “in Heaven” while Armageddon breaks out upon the earth:
“That is why they are before the throne of God; and they are rendering him sacred service day and night in his temple; and the One seated on the throne will spread his tent over them. They will hunger no more nor thirst anymore, neither will the sun beat down upon them nor any scorching heat, because the Lamb, who is in the midst of the throne, will shepherd them, and will guide them to fountains of waters of life. And God will wipe out every tear from their eyes.” (Revelation 7:15-17)
IF ALL ARE IN HEAVEN, WHO WILL LIVE ON EARTH?
During the 1 thousand-year reign of Christ, unbelievers who survive the Great Tribulation and the Battle of Armageddon will live on earth in their mortal bodies and produce children who will have the opportunity to hear the good news about Jesus’ ransom sacrifice and gift of eternal life. Those who receive this gift by personally asking Jesus to be their Lord and Savior will resurrect to Heavenly life after death. Thus, Christian believers who are in Heaven will rule over non-Christians here upon the earth during the 1 thousand-year reign of Christ.
After the 1 thousand-year reign of Christ, God will create a New Heaven and a New Earth in which the New Jerusalem will transcend between Heaven and Earth (2 Peter 3:7, 10-13; Revelation 21). Since Jesus was able to travel between this current Heaven and Earth (Acts 1:11) and since the resurrection bodies that Christians will receive will be similar to Christ’s body (Philippians 3:20-21), it is reasonable to conclude that all Christian believers will be able to travel between the New Earth and the New Heaven and enjoy both places.
FOR MORE INFORMATION SEE:
1. Note: The tribes of Dan and Ephraim are not included in this list because Dan was guilty of idolatry at Leviticus 24:11; Judges 18:1, 30; and 1 Kings 12:28-30 and Ephraim guilty of idolatry at Hosea 4:17 and Judges 17. Thus, the tribes of Joseph and Manasseh were substituted at Revelation 7:5-8 in place of these two tribes.
2. All Scriptures are quoted from the Jehovah’s Witness Bible, The New World Translation.