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This is the second in a series of three questions about the beliefs of Jehovah’s Witnesses. This is the first question: How do Jehovah’s Witness support their belief that Jesus started ruling (invisibly) from heaven in 1914? What has been happening in those 107 years?

I have been asked to write an article on what Jehovah’s Witnesses believe with regard to the number of the 144,000 (as mentioned in Revelation7:4) being a literal number, but the description of the 144,000 (male, Jewish virgins from the 12 tribes of Israel) as being symbolic. Here is a partial quote from their 1 September 2004 Watchtower article, Questions from Readers:

The context of Revelation 7:4 and related statements found elsewhere in the Bible bear out that the number 144,000 is to be taken literally. It refers to those who will rule in heaven with Christ over a paradise earth, which will be filled with a large and undetermined number of happy people who worship Jehovah God.

Of critical importance is their belief that the 144,000 have been anointed by Jehovah’s spirit and they alone are in the New Covenant. They have a “heavenly hope.” Those Jehovah’s Witnesses who are not among the 144,000 have an “earthly hope”—to live forever on a paradise earth ruled from heaven by Christ and the 144,000. They are not part of the New Covenant. Speaking of the New Covenant that Jesus introduced on the night before he was betrayed, their ‘Bible Teach’ book says this in the Appendix on pages 207-208:

This covenant, or contract, makes it possible for 144,000 faithful Christians to go to heaven. There they will serve as kings and priests for the blessings of all mankind.... Only those in the new covenant – that is, those who have the hope of going to heaven – should partake of the bread and wine. God convicts such ones that thy have been selected to be heavenly kings.

In 1935 the number of Witnesses who believed they were part of the 144,000 numbered 52,465. The number of Witnesses who believed they were heaven bound decreased dramatically over the following decades but in 2005 there were only 8,524 partakers of the bread and wine at the annual memorial service. By 2020 the number had increased again, up to 21,182. Now the Society says the number of the 144,000 will be sealed just before the Great Tribulation starts. What is the explanation for the numbers of Witnesses partaking of the emblems going up and down so much?

And what about the hundreds of thousands of Christians who lived and died for Christ Jesus since the first century? Are we to believe that there were less than 100,000 Christians between then and the 1930’s who were indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and who were in the New Covenant?

What is the official explanation that over the past 2,000 years only 144,000 persons can ever be in the New Covenant, be filled with the Holy Spirit, thereby qualifying them to go to heaven?

My information is incomplete, and may be out of date, so I would appreciate an up to date explanation from official sources so that I can write an article that accurately represents the views of Jehovah’s Witnesses as they understand who the 144,000 are and why only they can be in the New Covenant and to to heaven.

There is no intention to belittle or refute the official view with regard to their views; rather I wish to present an accurate account.

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    Closely related. christianity.stackexchange.com/q/71805/23657
    – Kris
    Nov 1 '21 at 13:38
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    Well spotted, Kris, I'd forgotten about that question. Some useful links to articles there. However, it does not deal with the issue regarding the majority of Witnesses being excluded from the New Covenant (and the implications of that), or why there were less than 100,000 spirit-filled Christians up till now. I really would like to get an official explanation about these questions.
    – Lesley
    Nov 1 '21 at 14:48
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    jw.org/en/library/magazines/watchtower-study-january-2016/…. Couple of articles that may shed light
    – Kris
    Nov 2 '21 at 1:49
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Q - How do Jehovah’s Witnesses support their belief that only 144,000 persons can be in the New Covenant and go to heaven, there to rule with Christ Jesus?

A – On the day of Pentecost, when the disciples were gathered in an upper room (Acts 1:8), about 3,000 persons repented, were baptised and received the promised Holy Spirit (Acts 2:37-41). The January 2106 Study Watchtower article on the “anointing process” acknowledges this biblical truth and then goes on to explain their views:

[paragraph 7] Does the Christian who receives this token [of the Holy Spirit] have a guaranteed future in heaven? No. That person is sure of his invitation. But whether he finally receives his reward in heaven or not depends on his proving faithful to his calling. Peter explained it this way: “Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and choosing sure for yourselves, for if you keep on doing these things, you will by no means ever fail. In fact, in this way you will be richly granted entrance into the everlasting Kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (2 Pet. 1:10, 11) Each anointed Christian must, therefore, struggle to remain faithful. If he does not, his heavenly calling, or invitation, will be of no value to him.

[paragraph 9] “You did not receive a spirit of slavery causing fear again, but you received a spirit of adoption as sons, by which spirit we cry out: ‘Abba, Father!’ The spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are God’s children.” (Rom. 1:7; 8:15, 16) Simply put, by means of his holy spirit, God makes it clear to that person that he is invited to become a future heir in the Kingdom arrangement.

[paragraph 17] The vast majority of God’s servants today do not have this heavenly calling. They entertain the same hope as did David, John the Baptist, and other faithful men and women of old. Like Abraham, they look forward to living as subjects under the Kingdom arrangement. (Heb. 11:10) Only a remnant of those selected for heavenly life remains here on earth in this time of the end. (Rev. 12:17) This means that the majority of the 144,000 chosen ones have already died faithfully. https://www.jw.org/en/library/magazines/watchtower-study-january-2016/anointing-process/

Another article in that same Watchtower magazine goes on to confirm that if someone has received the heavenly calling, that person has received only an invitation, not a final confirmation of the reward, which is to rule with Christ Jesus in heaven. In response to the fact that many more Jehovah’s Witnesses now think they are part of the “anointed remnant” and who partake of the bread and wine at the annual memorial service, the article gives this explanation:

[paragraph [13] The number of partakers includes those who mistakenly think that they are anointed. Some who at one point started to partake of the emblems later stopped. Others may have mental or emotional problems that lead them to believe that they will rule with Christ in heaven. Therefore, the number of partakers does not accurately indicate the number of anointed ones left on earth.

[paragraph 15] Jehovah began choosing anointed ones after Jesus’ death and resurrection, and it seems that all in the first-century Christian congregation were anointed. From the first century until the beginning of the last days, the vast majority of those who claimed to follow Christ were false Christians; Jesus likened them to “weeds.” Even so, Jehovah continued to anoint some faithful ones throughout that time, and they proved to be like the “wheat” Jesus described. (Matt. 13:24-30) During the last days, Jehovah has continued to select those who will make up the 144,000. https://www.jw.org/en/library/magazines/watchtower-study-january-2016/we-want-to-go-with-you/

The official explanation that over the past 2,000 years only 144,000 persons have been anointed with the Holy Spirit, have a heavenly hope and are in the New Covenant is that after the first century until now, “the vast majority of those who claimed to follow Christ were false Christians; Jesus likened them to “weeds”. Even today, many people who think they are part of this heavenly number are either mistaken or “have mental or emotional problems”.

But what about their view that only those 144,000 persons can be in the New Covenant? Speaking of the New Covenant that Jesus introduced on the night before he was betrayed, their ‘Bible Teach’ book says this in the Appendix on pages 207-208:

“This covenant, or contract, makes it possible for 144,000 faithful Christians to go to heaven. There they will serve as kings and priests for the blessings of all mankind.... Only those in the new covenant – that is, those who have the hope of going to heaven – should partake of the bread and wine. God convicts such ones that thy have been selected to be heavenly kings.”

To conclude: This means that the majority of Jehovah’s Witnesses (about 8.5 million persons) have been excluded from the New Covenant. Yet they have been told that they can be partakers of the benefits of this covenant because they will be granted the opportunity to live forever on a paradise earth, providing they remain faithful to the anointed till the end. They have no assurance of salvation because they could still fail the final test. Neither do the “anointed remnant” of the 144,000 (about 21,000 persons) who have supposedly been sealed – they might stumble and fall and so forfeit their heavenly inheritance.

NOTES: Jehovah’s Witnesses use the expression “holy spirit” and not Holy Spirit because they think it is Jehovah’s impersonal energy or power.

Quotes from articles that are shown in bolt italics are to indicate my emphasis.

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