I had another conversation with some Jehovah’s Witnesses, once again concerning the kingdom of God. I do consider the kingdom of God to be an essential topic (unlike attitudes toward birthdays or the shape of the cross).
We had agreed to disagree about whether the kingdom began to appear during Jesus’ ministry. I know of Christians who also see the kingdom of God as only a future reality (although I didn’t tell the Jehovah’s Witnesses that).
We transitioned toward their belief that there is a division among believers, a smaller group who will rule with Jesus and a larger group who will live on the new earth.
They brought me to Daniel 7:27 and the reference to the holy ones. They see the holy ones as being a reference to this inner core. However, in context they seem to be contrasting the holy ones not with other believers but with the wicked. I didn’t mention it, but in the New Testament, “saints” means holy ones and it means all believers and not just a special class of believers (contra the Roman Catholic doctrine).
They then pointed my toward John 14:1-3 in an attempt to show that only the inner core (in this case the apostles) will go to heaven. However, Jesus is not contrasting them to other believers. He is talking to the disciples, who at this point included all of the believers.
They then took me to 1 Corinthians 15:42-44 to show that only this small group would receive spiritual bodies like Jesus. But once again, Paul is referring to the experience of all believers, not a special class. By the way, we disagree on the nature of these spiritual bodies. I believe they will have a physical nature, as Jesus’ did. They believe neither Jesus’ body nor these bodies will be physical in any way.
Then we looked at Luke 12:32 and the reference to the “little flock.” They see this as a contrast between the little flock (the holy ones) and the larger flock of believers. Instead, Jesus is using a poetic description that contrasts their outward weakness with their great destiny.
This then brought to the heart of the matter, Revelation 7, where they get the specific number of the 144,000. They seemed surprised when I said that I didn’t take the 144,000 literally (the use of 12s is very symbolic in the Bible). They asked for biblical reasons for not taking it literally.
I pointed them to Revelation 7:4-8. I asked them if they believed that the 144,000 would literally be from the twelve tribes of Israel. No, they saw that as symbolic. Just as the tribal identities are symbolic, I see the numbers as being symbolic. I actually understand the 144,000 as representing the righteous remnant and not a special class appointed to rule.
An interesting part of our conversation also revolved around Revelation 7. They saw this chapter as showing the two groups of believers. The elite (holy one, little flock) are in Revelation 7:1-8 and the rest of believers in Revelation 7:9-17. I disagree with their interpretation, but I would like to do more study before commenting further.
I decided to take a break from our conversations for the summer, but be watching for more posts about the Jehovah’s Witnesses.