Why can we say that the Israel of God corresponds to all the loyal worshipers of Jehovah from the time of Jesus? The Apostle Paul clearly explains it in his letter to the Romans. Please read chapters 9 to 11 carefully. Here the apostle explains that "not all who descend from Israel are really ‘Israel’" (Romans 9:6). Shortly before he wrote: "he is not a Jew who is one on the outside […] but he is a Jew who is one on the inside" (Romans 2:28, 29). So you can also be "Israelite" symbolically.
Jesus spoke "of those who call themselves Jews and really are not" (Revelation 2:9). Did he question the fact that they were Jews according to the flesh? No; they could easily prove to be Jewish fleshly descendants of Abraham. But Jesus reaffirms: "They say they are Jews yet are not, but are lying" (Revelation 3:9). Decades earlier, to those who proclaimed themselves Abraham’s children he had also said: "You are from your father the Devil, and you wish to do the desires of your father. That one was a murderer when he began, and he did not stand fast in the truth, because truth is not in him. When he speaks the lie, he speaks according to his own disposition, because he is a liar and the father of the lie"(John 8:39, 44). Evidently, in a symbolic sense, Jesus calls 'Jew' the worshiper of Jehovah.
Reconnecting with the apostle Paul, he wrote: "Surely you know that it is those who adhere to faith who are sons of Abraham […] There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor freeman, there is neither male nor female […] if you belong to Christ, you are really Abraham’s offspring, heirs with reference to a promise” (Galatians 3:7, 28,29). Undoubtedly, therefore, speaking in "Christian" terms, the Israelite, who belongs to the Israel of God, is generally a loyal worshiper of Jehovah, regardless of his physical nationality.
In chapter 11 of the letter to the Romans, the apostle makes the excellent illustration of the garden olive tree and the wild olive tree grafted into it, applying it to natural Jews and gentiles. Then he says: "I do not want you to be unaware of this sacred secret, brothers, so that you do not become wise in your own eyes: A partial dulling of senses has come upon Israel until the full number of people of the nations has come in, and in this manner all Israel will be saved” (Romans 11:25, 26). Paul clearly says "all Israel will be saved" while speaking of "people of the nations": these are therefore included in “Israel".
"All Israel will be saved" in the sense that after their death they will go in heaven and reign with Christ? This is the present understanding of the Jehovah's Witnesses. But this assertion is not supported by the Scriptures. Those who reign with Christ are taken from “every tribe of the sons of Israel" and reign over the "twelve tribes of Israel" (Revelation 7:4; Matthew 19:28). These scriptures are very clear in this regard.
So who rules with Christ? We read it directly from Jesus’ words: "Have no fear, little flock, for your Father has approved of giving you the Kingdom" (Luke 12:32). Jehovah decides to give the kingdom to some Christ’s sheep, a small number of them. In Revelation it is said that they are 144'000. Daniel was told that "the holy ones of the Supreme One will receive the kingdom" (Daniel 7:18, 27). Among these holies there are certainly the apostles and other Jehovah’s worshipers of the first century, as well as Paul and Timothy (2 Timothy 2:12; Matthew 19:28; Revelation 3:21). But there are others! "You [Jesus] were slaughtered and with your blood you bought people for God out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and you made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God, and they are to rule as kings over the earth" (Revelation 5:9, 10). So who will live on the earth? "The twelve tribes of Israel" (Luke 22: 28-30).
Unlike the exact number of Christ's joint heirs, the great crowd is uncountable (Revelation 7:9). "One of the elders" explained to the apostle John the identity of the great crowd saying, "These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation" (Revelation 7:13, 14). Who comes out of the great tribulation? The answer is found in Chapters 24 and 25 of Matthew. Jesus Christ pointed at a period of "great tribulation" (it can be shown that the "great tribulation" is a period of time still to come, culminating in the destruction of the satanic system and the beginning of the kingdom of God on earth), and adds: "unless those days were cut short, no flesh would be saved; but on account of the chosen ones those days will be cut short" (Matthew 24:21, 22). We note here that Jesus distinguishes the "saved flesh", that is, the saved human beings, and the “chosen ones". Who are the last ones? The apostle Peter speaks of “calling" and “choosing," by bringing together the two concepts (2 Peter 1:10). In this regard, let us see what the Apostle Paul said: "those whom he gave his first recognition he also foreordained to be patterned after the image of his Son, so that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. Moreover, those whom he foreordained are the ones he also called” (Romans 8:29, 30). Notice how the following terms are used in the same meaning: "chosen", "called", "foreordained," "brothers" of Christ (Hebrews 2:11).
Why are we interested in matching the term "chosen" to "brothers"? Let’s read Jesus’ following words: “Immediately after the tribulation of those days […] all the tribes of the earth will beat themselves in grief, and they will see the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a great trumpet sound, and they will gather his chosen ones together […] When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit down on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another, just as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will put the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on his left” (Matthew 24:29-31; 25:31-33). Christ's chosen ones are gathered "immediately after the tribulation of those days" (perhaps after the beginning, that is during the great tribulation, but this particular is not fundamental to our speech now). At the same time, or immediately afterwards, "all nations" are gathered by Christ and individuals are judged as sheep or goats. Both the chosen and the sheep are people who worship Jehovah unfailingly, but have a different destiny: the “chosen ones" reign with Jesus in heaven (note Revelation 7:3, 4, where the "sealed" are chosen, stamped before the end of the satanic system, and not after the great tribulation, unlike the "great crowd") and the "sheep" receive eternal life on earth under the Kingdom of God. "[Jesus] will say to those on his right [the sheep]: 'Come, you who have been blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom' […] the righteous ones (the sheep) [will go] into everlasting life" (Matthew 25:34, 46) We come to the point: what is the basis for the judgment of the sheep? Jesus explains that they have served, helped, sustained his "brothers" (Matthew 25:34-40, compares Mark 9:41, where again there is a difference between those who belong to Christ and those who support him).
Who goes out alive, safe, from the great tribulation? According to John's vision it is the "great crowd". But whoever passes the great tribulation is also identified as a "sheep" by Jesus. Therefore, the "great crowd" corresponds to the "sheep" of Christ who receive eternal life on earth under the Kingdom of God. What else do we know about the components of the great crowd? They come “out of all nations", they are seen "standing before the throne [of God] and before the Lamb", they are "dressed in white robes" and “there were palm branches in their hands". They also attribute to God, who they call "our God”, and to his Christ their salvation. We know that they "have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb" and "they are rendering [God] sacred service day and night in his temple" (Revelation 7:9, 10, 14, 15). Therefore, the members of the great crowd worship, serve consciously Jehovah, and they regard him as their God. And they are grateful to Christ for the expiatory value of his blood (Ephesians 1:7; Hebrews 9:14). So they are not profiteers who, wanting to use a metaphor, at the last moment want to enter the ark to be saved; they are rather people who have a sincere faith (John 3:16).
There is an objection. The great crowd is "standing before the throne [of God] and before the Lamb": does this mean that it is in heaven? No. From what do we understand it? We could make an example. If we accused someone of a crime and said, "I will bring you before the Law," it means that we will bring him where? Will we bring him to the Legislator of our country? No. More simply we mean that we bring him to court, where law is enforced. Or can we say that the government of our country is also in our city? Yes, although the capital of the government is elsewhere, the government is also makes feel its presence in our city. So being "before the throne" does not necessarily mean being in the same place where the throne is, that is, in heaven. We have seen how Jesus, speaking of the final judgment, says that "all the nations will be gathered before him" (Matthew 25:32). Does it mean that "all nations", including goats, will go to heaven? Obviously not. "All nations" will be before Christ, the Lamb, to be judged, and will be subject to his will, thus sensing the effects. We can add another example. Cornelius, the first member of the "other sheep," said to the apostle Peter: "now we are all present before God to hear all the things you have been commanded by Jehovah to say”. Cornelius and his relatives with Peter were perhaps in heaven? No, they were at "home"! (Acts 10:22, 33). So in what sense did Cornelius say that they were all "before God"? In the sense that they were ready to accept His word and were ready to do His will. What can we add? We note that the members of the great crowd are "standing". What does it mean? That they are approved by God. We know it by understanding the meaning of Luke 21:36 and Revelation 6:17. If we want to further deepen, we can see how the original Greek expression translated "before" (enòpion) can literally translate "in the sight, in the presence". (The excellent translation of 2001translation.com’s site indicates “they were standing within view of the Lamb”) So the elder tells John that the members of the great crowd are "at the sight" of God, who looks and examines men on earth from his throne in heaven (Psalm 11:4).
About the members of the great crowd it is said that "they are rendering [God] sacred service day and night in his temple”. Can this happen on earth on our days? Yes, and it had been prophesied in ancient times! It has been said that "in the final part of the days" the mountain of the house of Jehovah will be “raised up" and that in this "house of Jehovah," or temple, there would be a gathering of people of "all the nations" (Isaiah 2:1-4; Micah 4:1-4). These visions are inevitably terrestrial.
Is there another proof to show that the big crowd will be on earth and will live forever on it? Please read this verse: "the One seated on the throne [that is, God] will spread his tent over them. They will hunger no more nor thirst anymore, neither will the sun beat down on them nor any scorching heat, because the Lamb, who is in the midst of the throne, will shepherd them and will guide them to springs of waters of life. And God will wipe out every tear from their eyes” (Revelation 7:15-17). Jesus Christ is the shepherd of the great crowd. This is a remarkable comparison: he compared himself to a shepherd who divides the sheep from the goats in the climax of the great tribulation. Christ also drives the great crowd to the "waters of life", which produce vegetation "for the healing of the nations" (Revelation 22:1, 2) Are there nations in heaven? Or are these a typical element of human society? Definitely. And this is another clue that tells us that the big crowd is, and remains, on the earth. We also read that God spreads his tent on the components of the great crowd and wipe out every tear from their eyes. These expressions are quite similar and parallel to the following: “The tent of God is with mankind, and he will reside with them, and they will be his people. And God himself will be with them. And he will wipe out every tear from their eyes, and death will be no more, neither will mourning nor outcry nor pain be anymore. The former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:3,4). We note that it is explicitly stated that the tent of God is with the human race, with human beings; that death will no longer be, as opposed to before (there was never death in heaven). The wiping of the tears brings to mind another typical writing that says: "He will swallow up death forever, and the Sovereign Lord Jehovah will wipe away the tears from all faces. The reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth” (Isaiah 25:6-8). The references to earth and to humanity are explicit and enlightening.
Were the Christians in the first century all "chosen"?
After having amply demonstrated that "the Israel of God" is composed of all Jehovah's worshipers since Christ's time, and that its "sheep-like" components have two different life hopes, that is, the "little flock" in heaven to reign with Jesus and the "great crowd" on earth to live forever, we wonder whether in the first century, as Jehovah's Witnesses currently claim, all Christians belonged to the "little flock”, the “144'000", or not . Here's what the Watchtower says:
Not all 144'000 anointed Christians were selected in the first century. Their calling continued throughout the apostolic period and then apparently slowed down. However, it did continue throughout the succeeding centuries into modern times. – The Watchtower, January 15, 2008, p. 22, § 13
In particular, this is what the Society claims, though with caution, about the first century:
Is that so? It seems to us that we can not prove that in the first century all Jehovah's worshipers were part of the 144'000. Indeed, some clues suggest the opposite. We note that Jesus said, "And I [already] have other sheep" (John 10:16). Jesus, still living on earth, already knew that he had other sheep and the need to gather them; in fact, he uses the present time of the verb. Notice the contrast with this other statement: “when the Son of man sits down on his glorious throne, you who have followed me [till now] will sit [in the future] on 12 thrones, judging the 12 tribes of Israel” (Matthew 19:28). In this case Jesus, choosing conscientiously his words, says that the time when his chosen ones would judge humanity would be future.
Another clue is found in the resurrections after the resurrection of Christ. There are at least two examples, Tabitha and Eutychus. According to Paul's reasoning, if these two were part of the "little flock" of the 144'000, chosen to reign with Christ in heaven, they would have preferred to remain dead, and while they were alive they would have earnestly desiring to die (2 Corinthians 5:1-8). In the case of these two, the resurrection would have been a disaster! But that is not what happened. (Consider what correctly says this publication of Jehovah's Witnesses: "Those who will reign with Christ in his heavenly Kingdom must likewise be baptized into death. (Mark 10:37-40; Col. 2:12) At their death they lay aside forever their human life, as Jesus did. And at their resurrection they join him in heavenly rulership. This is a baptism performed, not by any human, but by God through his heavenly Son. – United in Worship of the Only True God, P. 98, §7) Therefore those two, as surely many others, were resurrected because they had the hope of living forever, but in a carnal body. And like them, there is to believe that others also had this hope.
Another interesting indicator is the introduction of the first canonical letter to the Corinthians: "Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by God’s will, and Sosʹthe·nes our brother, to the congregation of God that is in Corinth, to you who have been sanctified in union with Christ Jesus, called to be holy ones, together with all those everywhere who are calling on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours” (1 Corinthians 1:1,2). It is quite evident that in the congregation there were “holy ones" along with other disciples of Christ. It is remarkable that Paul specifically makes this distinction: "their Lord and ours." This particular reminds us of the "one flock" who has “one shepherd", where there is no distinction between "sheep", "other sheep" and "little flock".
Are there still components of "144'000"?
Yes, undoubtedly. With this article, we are not concerned with determining who are today's components of the "little flock" that will rule with Christ. But we can say with certainty that there are still components of the 144'000 and they will exist until a certain point after the beginning of the great tribulation. We have read it clearly in the words of Jesus: "Immediately after the tribulation of those days [… Jesus] will send out his angels with a great trumpet sound, and they will gather his chosen ones together” (Matthew 24: 29-31). According to Mark's version, Jesus locates the gathering, saying, “[Jesus] will gather his chosen ones […] from earth’s extremity to heaven’s extremity” (Mark 13:27). Perhaps by this particular, we can understand that Jesus will gather the full number of the 144'000, both those who are already in heaven, since they died long ago, and those still alive on earth (note how in Revelation 6:9-11 those already dead and resurrected in heaven are invited to wait "until the number was filled of their fellow slaves and their brothers” still living on the earth). Then we see that the final gathering takes place "with a great trumpet sound": in this respect, compare similar references in 1 Corinthians 15:51, 52 and 1 Thessalonians 4:14-17.
Also the parable of the wheat and the weeds responds to this question? We will see it when this and other parables will be examined in a next article.