The exact phrase, “great crowd of other sheep” occurs more than 300 times in our publications. The association between the two terms, “great crowd” and “other sheep”, is established in over 1,000 places in our publications. With such a plethora of references supporting the idea of a relationship between these two groups, it is little wonder that the phrase needs no explanation among our brothers. We use it often and we all understand its meaning. I recall many years ago a circuit overseer who asked what the difference was between the two groups. Answer: All the great crowd are other sheep, but not all the other sheep are the great crowd. I reminded me of the truism, all German Shepherds are dogs, but not all dogs are German Shepherds. (We are, of course, excluding those hard working Germans who happen to care for sheep, but I digress.)
With such a wealth of so-called accurate knowledge on this subject, would it surprise you to learn that the phrase “great crowd of other sheep” does not appear anywhere in the Bible? Perhaps not. But I am sure it would surprise many to learn that the supposedly obvious connection between these two groups is nonexistent.
The term “other sheep” is only used once in the inspired word of God at John 10:19. Jesus doesn’t define the term but the context supports the idea that he was referring to a future ingathering of Gentile Christians. Our official take on this is based on Judge Rutherford’s teaching that the other sheep refers to all Christians who are not spirit anointed and have an earthly hope. No scriptural support for this teaching is provided in our publications, simply because none exists. (In fact, there is no Scripture to show that some Christians are not spirit-anointed.) However, we hold it to be true and treat it as a given, requiring no scriptural support. (For a fuller discussion on this subject, see the post, Who’s Who? (Little Flock/Other Sheep).
What about the great crowd? It also occurs in only one place, at least in the context we use to link it to the other sheep.
(Revelation 7:9) “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.”
What is our basis for saying the two terms are linked? Human reasoning, plain and simple. Unfortunately, our track record over the past 140 years in these intellectual endeavors is dismal; a fact, lamentably, we willingly overlook as a community. Some of us, however, are no longer willing to overlook it, and we now require Scriptural support for every teaching. So let’s look to see if we can find any regarding the great crowd.
The Bible mentions two groups in the seventh chapter of Revelation, one numbering 144,000 and another which cannot be numbered. Is 144,000 a literal number or a symbolic one? We’ve already made a good case for considering this number to be symbolic. If that doesn’t convince you of the possibility, do a search in the WTLib program using “twelve” and notice the number of hits you get in Revelation. How many of these are literal numbers? Is the 144,000 cubits measuring the city wall at Rev. 21:17 a literal number? What about the 12,000 furlongs measuring the city’s length and breadth, literal or symbolic?
Admittedly, we cannot state categorically that it is literal, so any conclusion we draw must be speculative at this juncture. So why would one number be precise while the other is considered innumerable? If we take 144,000 symbolically, then obviously it isn’t given to measure the precise number of those making up this group. Their real number is unknown, like that of the great crowd. So why give it at all? We can presume that it is mean to represent a divinely constituted governmental structure that is complete and balanced, for this is how twelve is used symbolically throughout the Bible.
So why mention another group in the same context?
The 144,000 symbolize the total number of those throughout human history who are chosen to serve in heaven. The vast majority of these will be resurrected. However, none of the great crowd are resurrected. They are all still alive when they receive their salvation. The heavenly group will consist of both resurrected ones and transformed ones. (1 Cor. 15:51, 52) So the great crowd could be part of that heavenly group. The number, 144,000, tells us that the Messianic kingdom is a balanced, complete divinely constituted government, and the great crowd tells us that an unknown number of Christians will survive the great tribulation to go to heaven.
We’re not saying that’s the way it is. We are saying that this interpretation is possible and, failing specific Bible texts to the contrary, cannot simply be discounted because it happens to disagree with the official doctrine, since that one is also based on human speculation.
“Wait!”, you may say. “Isn’t the sealing completed before Armageddon and doesn’t the resurrection of the anointed occur then?”
Yes, you are right. So you are probably thinking that this proves the great crowd does not go to heaven, because they are only identified after surviving Armageddon, and by then, all the heavenly class have already been taken up. Actually, that is not totally accurate. The Bible says they come out of the “great tribulation”. Sure, we teach that Armageddon is part of the great tribulation, but that isn’t what the Bible teaches. It teaches that Armageddon comes after the great tribulation. (See Mt. 24:29) So the judgment that takes place after Babylon is destroyed but before Armageddon starts clearly identifies those marked for salvation, thus permitting them to be transformed in the twinkling of an eye along with those who will be resurrected then.
Ok, but doesn’t Revelation indicate that the great crowd serve on earth while the anointed serve in heaven? First of all, we should challenge the premise of this question because it assumes the great crowd are not spirit-anointed ones. There is no basis for this assertion. Second, we should look to the Bible to see where exactly they will serve.
(Revelation 7:15) . . .That is why they are before the throne of God; and they are rendering him sacred service day and night in his temple;. . .
The word translated “temple” here is naos’.
(w02 5/1 p. 31 Questions From Readers) “…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.””
This would lean toward a heavenly placement it would seem. It is interesting that after making this statement (no reference to a lexicon is given) the same article continues to an incongruous conclusion.
(w02 5/1 p. 31 Questions From Readers) Of course, those proselytes did not serve in the inner courtyard, where the priests performed their duties. And members of the great crowd are not in the inner courtyard of Jehovah’s great spiritual temple, which courtyard represents the condition of perfect, righteous human sonship of the members of Jehovah’s “holy priesthood” while they are on earth. (1 Peter 2:5) 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.
First, there is nothing in Revelation chapter seven linking the members of the great crowd to Jewish proselytes. We’re just making that up in an attempt to exclude the great crowd from the sanctuary even though the Bible puts them there. Second, we’ve just stated that naos’ refers to the temple itself, the holy of holies, the sanctuary, the inner chambers. Now we’re saying that the great crowd is not in the inner courtyard. Then we say in the same paragraph that “the great crowd really is in the temple”. So which is it? It’s all very confusing, is it not?
Just to be clear, here is what naos’ means:
“A temple, a shrine, that part of the temple where God himself resides.” (Strong’s Concordance)
“Refers to the sanctuary (the Jewish Temple proper), i.e. with just its two inner compartments (rooms).” HELPS Word-studies
“…used of the temple at Jerusalem, but only of the sacred edifice (or sanctuary) itself, consisting of the Holy place and the Holy of holies…” Thayer’s Greek Lexicon
This puts the great crowd in the same place in the temple where the anointed exist. It would appear that the great crowd are also spirit-anointed sons of God, not just friends as the aforementioned “Question from Readers” states.
However, doesn’t the Lamb guide them to “fountains of waters of life” and doesn’t that refer to those on the earth? It does, but not exclusively. All who get everlasting life, earthly or heavenly, are guided to these waters. That is what Jesus said to the Samaritan woman at the well, “…the water that I will give him will become in him a fountain of water bubbling up to impart everlasting life…” Was he not speaking of those who would become anointed with holy spirit after his departure?
There is clearly too much unexplained symbolism in Revelation chapter seven for us to construct a definitive doctrine to support the concept of a two-tier system of salvation.
We say the other sheep have an earthly hope, even though there is nothing in the Bible to support this. It is pure conjecture. We then link the other sheep to the great crowd, though again, there is no basis in Scripture for us to do this. Then we say that the great crowd serves God on earth even though they are depicted as standing before his throne in the holy sanctuary of the temple in heaven where God resides.
Maybe we should just wait and see what the great crowd turns out to be after the great tribulation has ended instead of diverting the hopes and dreams of millions with unfounded speculation and human interpretation of Scripture.