What Sort of ‘New’ Command Did Jesus Give His Disciples Before His Death + Will Only 144,000 Be Saved? #362
Happy Wednesday to you, dear friends, or happy Christmas Adam as my daughter Phoebe likes to say. Welcome to new listeners from Hamburg, Germany, Guatemala City, Guatemala, Hong Kong, Singapore, Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Monroe, Louisiana – thanks for joining us!
Two topics today, and I think we will begin with the one from Revelation. 144,000 is quite an important number to many sects and religious groups, quite an outsize importance relative to the biblical importance of the number. 144,000 appears only in Revelation 7 and Revelation 14 in the Bible, yet many groups, even non Christian groups like Islam and New Age movements, have 144,000 as a central part of their theology. Islamic people consider the number of companions of Muhammad to be 144,000, the Raelists believe that there will be 144,000 people who will continue on after some future disaster. The Skoptzists in Russia believe that Jesus will return when there are 144,000 Skoptzist believers, but I am not holding out hope for that, because the name ‘Skoptzist’ is far too difficult to pronounce or spell for them to be able to attract 144,000 adherents, and for other reasons that I will decline to discuss here. The Moonies believe that Jesus must find 144,000 thousand saints to fulfill some mission that I honestly don’t understand at all, even after reading it twice. The Mormons believe there will be 144,000 high priests, and finally, and most famously, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, a roughly 8 million member cult group believes that there will ONLY be 144,000 believers (dating back to the resurrection of Jesus to the present day) who will be resurrected into Heaven to spend eternity with God. If you are doing the math, you realize that this belief leaves 98 percent of the current Jehovah’s Witnesses out, not to mention all of the ones that died. The JW’s believe that these other believers won’t go to Heaven, but they will be resurrected and live on Earth. It won’t be as good, but it will be decent, I guess. I share all of this to point out the folly of going beyond what is written, or having doctrine and beliefs that are not even remotely found in the Bible. So – are the Jehovah’s Witnesses correct about the 144,000?? Let’s read our passage today and find out!
So that we can have the full Bible’s teaching on 144,000, here is the Revelation 7 passage as well:
2 Then I saw another angel rising up from the east, who had the seal of the living God. He cried out in a loud voice to the four angels who were allowed to harm the earth and the sea, 3 “Don’t harm the earth or the sea or the trees until we seal the servants of our God on their foreheads.” 4 And I heard the number of the sealed:
144,000 sealed from every tribe of the Israelites: 5 12,000 sealed from the tribe of Judah, 12,000 from the tribe of Reuben, 12,000 from the tribe of Gad, 6 12,000 from the tribe of Asher, 12,000 from the tribe of Naphtali, 12,000 from the tribe of Manasseh, 7 12,000 from the tribe of Simeon, 12,000 from the tribe of Levi, 12,000 from the tribe of Issachar, 8 12,000 from the tribe of Zebulun, 12,000 from the tribe of Joseph, 12,000 sealed from the tribe of Benjamin. Revelation 7:2-4
What do we learn in Scripture about these 144,000:
#1 – They are 12,000 from each of the 12 tribes of Israel. (this would seem to rule out most American Jehovah’s Witnesses, including the founder, Charles Taze Russell, who was born in Alleghany, Pa…which is not in Israel, in case you were wondering. His parents were Scotch-Irish, which is also not Israel.
#2 They stand with Jesus on Mount Zion, and have His name and His Father’s name written on their foreheads.
#3 They were the only ones able to learn the song from Heaven that John hears when he is watching this scene unfolding. (It appears the 144,000 are on the earth at this point, interestingly)
#4 The 144,000 are VIRGINS, which, again, rules out many Jehovah’s Witnesses from being in this elite group, including possibly the founder, who was married for almost twenty years, before his wife separated from him, claiming mental cruelty.
#5 The 144,000 do not lie and are blameless in terms of the truth, which is a special problem for the early Jehovah’s Witnesses, who falsely predicted the return of Jesus many, many times.
Now, where the rest of the beliefs about the 144,000 come from is a bit of a mystery, because the Bible says so little about this group of people. Much of what these various splinter groups believe about this appears to be invented whole-cloth apart from the Bible. Will only 144,000 people be able to go to Heaven, as the JW’s believe? Well, I think this is a very, very easy biblical claim to dispute, and we can do it right in Revelation 7. Notice what comes RIGHT after the 144,000 are COUNTED and NUMBERED:
9 After this I looked, and there was a vast multitude from every nation, tribe, people, and language, which no one could number, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes with palm branches in their hands. 10 And they cried out in a loud voice:
Salvation belongs to our God,
who is seated on the throne,
and to the Lamb!
Who is this vast number? All Christians in Heaven? NO! This vast and uncountable multitude represents, “the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” (vs. 14) These are only those saved and IN HEAVEN who came out of the 7 years of Tribulation. How many of them are there? We don’t know, because, as John says, it is a vast number that nobody could count! This vast number of people, in HEAVEN, must assuredly be larger than 144,000 because the 144,000 was able to be counted and numbered, but this group was NOT. Also, it is probably worth considering that the Kings of Israel conducted censuses that calculated the total number of people, or soldiers as being well over a million several times. Point being that the claim that only 144,000 people will be in Heaven is very easily contradicted by the vast, uncountable multitude of Revelation 7:9.
Of greater spiritual import, let us now turn to our John 13 passage, where Jesus gives His disciples a ‘NEW’ command. What is that new command? Let’s read!
So, tonight in the prep for this episode, I kind of noticed that ‘new’ part of John 13 for the first time, and it stood out to me. How can this be a NEW command to Jesus’ disciples? He has already told them to love their neighbor as themselves, and He has already told them who their neighbor is…so, is this command new because He is telling them to love each other? That is certainly possible. I find it interesting that John, writing in the epistles of 1st John and 2nd John says that the command to love each other, or the command to love your brothers and sisters is not a new command, but an old command that they had had since the beginning. It is certainly possible that John is referring to the beginning as the beginning of the church…but I actually think something different might be happening here – there is something in Jesus’ command that really is new…BRAND NEW. And that is this:
Just as I have loved you, you are also to love one another.
The new command is not to merely love each other…but to love each other JUST AS I HAVE LOVED YOU! That, my friends, is revolutionary, and it really is new and mind-blowing for the disciples. The reason I believe this is because of the foot-washing episode earlier in chapter 13. Consider how John begins this episode in the life of Jesus:
Before the Passover Festival, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.
And then notice how Jesus explains His act of service:
“Do you know what I have done for you?13 You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are speaking rightly, since that is what I am.14 So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.15 For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done for you.
So, I believe that the ‘NEW’ command of loving each other that Jesus is referring to is exemplified by this foot-washing. NOT so much that we should have a regular ceremony of foot-washing, but that we should SERVE each other in love, taking care of each other’s needs, lowering ourselves to help others out, and outdoing each other in showing honor. Jesus is telling His disciples (AND US!) to love each other in the exact same self-sacrificing, servant hearted and humble manner that He had loved them. Revolutionary!