A recent Watchtower Magazine (May 1, 2002) addresses a question that we thought would be interesting to cover in this edition of BP&BC. In the section titled, Questions from Readers the magazine answers the question, “When John saw the ‘great crowd’ rendering sacred service in Jehovah’s Temple, in which part of the temple were they doing this? -Revelation 7:9-15”
The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society (WT) teaches that there are two classes of Christians, the anointed, numbered at 144,000, and the other sheep, which is an innumerable “great crowd.” The anointed serve Jehovah in the sanctuary of the temple (heaven) while the great crowd is said to serve Him in the outer courts of the temple (on earth).
Any time a Christian tells a Jehovah’s Witness (JW) that they know they are going to heaven, the JW quickly dismisses the idea because the WT has taught for scores of years that only 144,000 JW’s will go to heaven to serve Jehovah in the temple. Since the Born-again Christian obviously isn’t a JW, there is no possibility in the JW mind that anyone else has a heavenly hope. According to WT doctrine, the door was closed to heaven in 1935. In fact, most JW’s believe that they will not go to heaven and don’t even want to go there! The WT teaches that the rest of the JW’s will live forever on a paradise earth and all other people will be destroyed in the battle of Armageddon. The only hope that others have is to join the WT and be counted among the number of the great crowd and serve Jehovah in the outer courts of the earth.
The question is, is the Great Crowd really confined to this earth with no heavenly hope? According to WT interpretation, the Book of Revelation places the 144,000 in heaven and the great crowd on earth. The 144,000 is mentioned only twice in all of scripture (Rev 7:1-8, 14: 1-5), but the great crowd is mentioned three times in the Book of Revelation (Rev 7:9, 19:1, 19:6). Two Greek words are used to differentiate between the sanctuary, where the 144,000 are said to dwell, and the outer courts of the temple, where the great crowd supposedly resides.
The Greek word hierón, means “sacred” or “temple.” It often includes not only the building, but the courts and all the sacred ground or enclosure. The other word, naós, means “to dwell.” A dwelling, temple. (Sometimes naós referred only to the interior and most sacred part of a temple…) (The complete Word Study Bible and Reference CD) The WT recognizes this fact by quoting a bible commentary in this recent WT magazine. It states, …the Greek word (hieron) translated ‘temple’ that is used with reference to the court of the Gentiles ‘refers to the entire complex, rather than specifically to the temple building itself…’ In contrast, the Greek word (naos) 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.’” (WT, May 1, 2002 P.30-31)
The above WT quote is the last of five reasons given to explain why, according to their view, the great crowd is not in heaven. The only problem with this interpretation is that Revelation 7:15, speaking of the great crowd, states, “For this reason, they are before the throne of God; and they serve Him day and night in His temple; and He who sits on the throne will spread His tabernacle over them. The word used in this verse for temple is not hieron, but is naos.
In this recent WT magazine, the WT attempts to draw the attention of the reader away from this fact by talking about the word hieron in context of the heavenly temple when the word hieron doesn’t even appear in the whole book of Revelation!
In 1980 the WT recognized that the word naos is used in Rev 7:15 and wrote an article that gives five reasons why naos in Rev. 7:15 doesn’t refer to the sanctuary. “The Greek word na•os’ refers often to the inner sanctuary representing heaven itself
- BUT it was the entire temple (na•os’) that had been 46 years in the building
- It was the entire temple (na•os’) that was destroyed as a judgment from God
- It was from the courts of the outer temple (na•os’) that Jesus drove the money changers
- It was in the outer temple (na•os’) that Judas threw back the 30 pieces of silver
- HENCE it is consistent that the “great crowd” serve God in the earthly court of the spiritual temple” (WT, August 15,1980 P. 15)
Although the first four statements are true, the last one is a logical fallacy. Just because a word can mean something doesn’t mean it always does. Context is always helpful in defining words. For instance, if I were to go into my attic to look into my trunk, I’m referring to a piece of luggage. If I’m at the zoo looking at the animal with a trunk, I’m talking about an elephant. If I have to climb up a trunk to get a kite down, I’m referring to a tree. The same word in different contexts means different things. What about the context of the book of Revelation? What does the word “naos” mean there?
Unlike the word hieron, which doesn’t appear in the book of Revelation, naos appears 40 times in the New Testament and 13 times in Revelation alone. We’ll look at just a few examples and then make comments.
REV 7:15- “For this reason, they are before the throne of God; and they serve Him day and night in His temple; and He who sits on the throne will spread His tabernacle over them.
Even the footnote to this verse in the JW’s own New World Translation (NWT) says, “divine habitation (dwelling).” In other words, this verse puts the great crowd in the sanctuary of God’s temple.
REV 11:1-2- Then there was given me a measuring rod like a staff; and someone said, “Get up and measure the temple of God and the altar, and those who worship in it. “Leave out the court which is outside the temple and do not measure it, for it has been given to the nations; and they will tread under foot the holy city for forty-two months.
This verse makes a distinction between the outer courts and the temple proper. As we can see, God is only interested in the sanctuary and those who worship in it and not the outer courts.
REV 11: 19- And the temple of God which is in heaven was opened; and the ark of His covenant appeared in His temple, and there were flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder and an earthquake and a great hailstorm.
If verse two of this same chapter makes a distinction between the naos and the outer courts, and verse nineteen tells us that the naos is in heaven, where do we get the idea that the great crowd is in the outer courts? We cannot emphasize enough the fact that the word hieron is never used in the book of Revelation! The context always refers to a heavenly scene.
If this isn’t enough, there is one passage in the NWT in Revelation that specifically states that the great crowd is in heaven.
REV 19:1- After these things I heard what was as a loud voice of a great crowd in heaven.
There is no mistaking where this verse places the great crowd.