Two separate covenants established by Jesus
In better understanding the confusion that has led to error in the Watchtower’s understanding about this subject it is important to note that Jesus created two distinct covenants on the night of his death, yet the Watchtower Society teaches that both covenants are essentially the same thing.
The new covenant and kingdom covenant are conflated by the Watchtower Society when they are actually separate covenants with different purposes. The “Insight On The Scriptures” (Vol 1) talks about the new covenant and a “Covenant with his followers”, as the Watchtower calls the kingdom covenant (page 524,525), but no clear difference between them is made other than to suggest that the new covenant is about priesthood and is between Jehovah and others while the kingdom covenant is between Jesus and his followers.
If you carefully read the account in Luke 22, you’ll notice that Jesus first creates the “new covenant” for “forgiveness of sins” and there is no mention of thrones or rulership at this point. Then there is an interlude, a gap in time, when the apostles start arguing amongst themselves about who is the greatest, for which Jesus counsels them. After this discussion, Jesus then establishes what is commonly known as the “kingdom covenant”. Only this covenant is said by Jesus to be about sitting on thrones to judge. Reading the account, it seems that Judas Iscariot shared in the emblems constituting the “new covenant” but that he left the room when the apostles were arguing amongst themselves, and so was not in attendance when the “covenant for a Kingdom” was established (Luke 22; John 13).
The new covenant was explicitly stated by Jesus to be about forgiveness of sins and is about his shed blood (the wine) – nothing more, nothing less. It was necessary to replace old law covenant. It is therefore a covenant all Christians must be in if they are to have their sins forgiven by the blood of Jesus. The kingdom covenant, however, is a subset of the new covenant, or derives from it. It only becomes possible because of the new covenant, but it is not about forgiveness of sins – it is about a promise of future rulership sitting on thrones for a limited number of Christians. All true Christians must of necessity be in the new covenant while only the 144,000 are in the kingdom covenant.
This leads directly to another important aspect of this subject: correctly understanding the parallels between the old and new covenants.
Parallels between old and new covenants
The law covenant foreshadowed the new covenant. It was established in order for the entire nation of Israel to have their sins forgiven, and required Moses as mediator and a High Priest to offer atonement. The law covenant was not limited to Priests; it covered the sins of all the nation of Israelites and also could include the Alien resident. The great crowd is paralleled by the Watchtower with the alien residents under the law covenant:
“Since a number of these faithful foreigners, or alien residents, are viewed as foreshadowing the great crowd today, their situation is of interest to us. Such ones were proselytes, dedicated worshipers of Jehovah under the Mosaic Law who were separated from the nations along with the Israelites. (Leviticus 24:22) They offered sacrifices, kept clear of false worship, and abstained from blood, just as the Israelites did.” – Watchtower 1995 July 1 p.17 “The Israel of God” and the “Great Crowd”
“The terms of the Law covenant allowed for persons of all national backgrounds to come into membership of the congregation of Israel by accepting the true worship of Jehovah and becoming circumcised … The alien resident who had become a circumcised worshiper was bound to one law with the Israelites, that is, to obey all the terms of the Law covenant.” Insight on the Scriptures, Volume 1 p.72, ‘Alien Resident’.
Since the great crowd are said to be foreshadowed by circumcised alien residents under the old covenant then it follows that the Great Crowd are included in the new covenant in the same way alien residents were included in the law covenant.
Another crucial point is that all the nation of Israel and not just the priestly class ate the Passover meal, including circumcised alien residents (Exodus 12:48, 49; compare 2 Chronicles 30:25-27). This shows that persons professing to be a member of the great crowd should be free to partake of the memorial emblems.
Exodus 19:6 says: “And you yourselves will become to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” The Society’s position is that the 144,000 are an anti-typical nation of “spiritual Israelites” (note that this term is not found in scripture.) But if the 144,000 are supposed to prefigure the kings and priests yet also prefigure the entire nation of spiritual Israel, who are they to rule over?
In Revelation chapter 7, the 144,000 are sealed “out of” the tribes of Israel. How can the 144,000 be “spiritual Israel” yet be taken out of Israel? The “twelve tribes of Israel” must really be a group larger than the 144,000.
These difficulties become reconciled upon understanding that the 144,000 is a subset of a larger spiritual nation that is altogether in the new covenant, just as all the ancient Israelites, both the priests and the rest of the nation (including circumcised alien residents), were all in the “old covenant”.
Exodus 19:6 is referred to by Peter in 1 Peter 2:9 “But you are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for special possession, that you should declare abroad the excellencies of the one that called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” Who is this Christian chosen race, royal priesthood and holy nation? Since 1 Peter 2:9 is paralleled with the entire nation of Israel in Exodus 19:6 and that entire nation was in the old covenant, including faithful alien residents who obeyed the law, then it should be applied to all true Christians, regardless of their desire to live in heaven or on earth.
This spiritual nation comprises all who have come to Jesus as a living stone and who are “believers” in him (please read the entire context of 1 Peter 2). 1 Peter was written to all Christians, not different classes of Christians with different hopes. There is no justification for saying that whole passages of the Christian Greek scriptures only apply to some Christians but not others, or that all Christians in the first century had a heavenly hope whereas an opposite situation would apply in modern times. To say that would be claiming secret knowledge beyond what the scriptures reveal, which is mysticism.
There was also a covenant given through Moses for the Levitical priesthood, with certain unique features. One could be a Levite and not a priest, but all priests were Levites and descended from Aaron.
God had already said that all the Israelites were priests (Ex 19:5), but a special Aaronic priesthood was also included as part of the Law. The 144,000, who are sealed “out of” the figurative 12 tribes of Israel, are paralleled by the Levitical priesthood, which was a small subset of the entire Israelite nation that was subject to the law (old) covenant and numbered into the millions. Likewise, the 144,000 are to have a special priestly function according to Rev 5:9, 10 (assuming this scripture is talking about the 144,000). These are the ones who are in the kingdom covenant (Luke 22) to serve in a special rulership role but they are also in the “new covenant”, although both covenants are not the same. Similarly, the Levitical priesthood were in a unique covenant with Jehovah but were also in the old covenant as part of the entire nation. Two separate old covenants prefiguring the two new covenants. The old covenants were terminated and the new ones inaugurated on Nisan 14, 33 AD.
The kingdom covenant is a more exclusive covenant within the larger new covenant. Just as there were millions of Israelites in the old covenant, so the new covenant must have millions of persons in it today. Members of the new covenant and covenant for a kingdom together form a large spiritual nation of true Christians all having their faith in Jesus Christ and being declared righteous at the Great Tribulation (Rev 7).
This spiritual nation comprises the 144,000 and prospective members of the great crowd, with both groups being in the new covenant as one flock under one shepherd, all having washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb. But only the 144,000 is in the covenant for a kingdom.
It is interesting to note that each term that identifies the great crowd in Revelation 7:9-17 is elsewhere applied by the Watchtower to the anointed ones in heaven. This supports the view that the great crowd will be in a sanctified state, being in the new covenant. Following are descriptions of the great crowd from Rev 7 followed by a scripture using the same term to describe the anointed heavenly class:
1. “great crowd”
Revelation 19:1 – “After these things I heard what was as a loud voice of a great crowd in heaven…” It is interesting to note that the New World Translation leaves reference to Revelation 19:1 out of it’s Bible Words Indexed section under the heading Great Crowd.
2. “out of all nations and tribes and peoples and tongues”
Revelation 5:9 – And they sing a new song, saying: “You are worthy to take the scroll and open its seals, because you were slaughtered and with your blood you bought persons for God out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, 10 and you made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God, and they are to rule as kingsover the earth. ”
3. “standing before (enopion) the throne”
Revelation 7:11 – “And all the angels were standing around the throne and the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell upon their faces before (enopion) the throne and worshiped God.”
See also Revelation 14:3 which has the 144 000 standing before the throne.
4. “before (enopion) the Lamb”
Revelation 5:8 – “And when he took the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before (enopion) the Lamb, having each one a harp and golden bowls that were full of incense, and the [incense] means the prayers of the holy ones.”
5. “dressed in white robes”
Revelation 6:11- “And a white robe was given to each of them; and they were told to rest a little while longer, until the number was filled also of their fellow slaves and their brothers who were about to be killed as they also had been.” The Watchtower ascribes this passage to the 144,000
6. “crying with a loud voice, saying: “Salvation [we owe] to our God, who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb.””
Revelation 19:1 – “After these things I heard what was as a loud voice of a great crowd in heaven. They said: “Praise Jah, YOU people! The salvation and the glory and the power belong to our God” (w81 1/15 p.16 “The singing of those heavenly voices”)
7. “come out of the great tribulation”
Matthew 24:21-22 “For then there will be great tribulation such as has not occurred since the world’s beginning until now, no, nor will occur again. In fact, unless those days were cut short, no flesh would be saved; but on account of the chosen ones those days will be cut short.
Mark 13:24-27 24 “But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling out of heaven, and the powers that are in the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And then he will send forth the angels and will gather his chosen ones together from the four winds, from earth’s extremity to heaven’s extremity.”
8. “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
Rev 22:14 – “Happy are those who wash their robes, that the authority [to go] to the trees of life may be theirs and that they may gain entrance into the city by its gates.”
9. “rendering him sacred service day and night in his temple”
Revelation 11:1-2 – “And a reed like a rod was given me as he said: “Get up and measure the temple [sanctuary] of God and the altar and those worshiping in it. But as for the courtyard that is outside the temple [sanctuary], cast it clear out and do not measure it, because it has been given to the nations,…”
10. “One seated on the throne will spread his tent over them”
2 Corinthians 6:16 – For we are a temple of a living God; just as God said: “I shall reside among them and walk among [them], and I shall be their God, and they will be my people.
Great crowd are in the temple sanctuary
Reinforcing that the great crowd must be in the new covenant is the Watchtower Society’s admission in 1998 that the great crowd is not in the temple courtyard with the Gentiles (Hieron) but is in the very ‘temple sanctuary’ itself (Naos). The 2002 Questions from Readers article further notes that Israelite proselytes were subject to the law covenant. How can the Watchtower Society admit all this but still deny that the great crowd is in the new covenant?:
|The great crowd worships with anointed
Christians in the earthly courtyard of Jeho-
vah’s great spiritual temple. (Revelation 7:
14,15; 11:2) There is no reason to conclude
that they are in a separate Court of The Gen-
tiles. When Jesus was on earth, there was a
Court of the Gentiles in the temple. How-
ever, in the divinely inspired plans of Solo-.
mon’s and Ezekiel’s temples, there was no
provision for a Court of the Gentiles. In Sol-
omon’s temple, there was an outer courtyard
where Israelites and proselytes, men and
women, worshiped together. This is the pro-
phetic pattern of the earthly courtyard of theWatchtower 1998 February 1 p21
|spiritual temple, where John saw the great
crowd rendering sacred service.
However, only priests and Levites could
enter the inner courtyard, where the great
altar was situated; only priests could enter
the Holy; and only the high priest could en-
ter the Most Holy. The inner courtyard and
the Holy are understood to foreshadow the
unique spiritual condition of anointed Chris-
tians on earth. And the Most Holy pictures
heaven itself, where anointed Christians re-
ceive immortal life along with their heaven-
ly High Priest.—Hebrews 10:19,20.
Watchtower 2002 May 1 pp.30-3. Questions from Readers: 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.
A: It is reasonable to say that the great crowd worships Jehovah in one of the earthly courtyards of his great spiritual temple, specifically the one that corresponds with the outer courtyard of Solomon’s temple. In times past, it has been said that the great crowd is in a spiritual equivalent, or an antitype, of the Court of the Gentiles that existed in Jesus’ day. However, further research has revealed at least five reasons why that is not so….” Fifth, the Greek word (hi·e·ron’) 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,” says A Handbook on the Gospel of Matthew, by Barclay M. Newman and Philip C. Stine. In contrast, 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.”-Matthew 27:5, 51; Luke 1:9, 21; John 2:20. Members of the great crowd exercise faith in Jesus’ ransom sacrifice. They are spiritually clean, having “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” Hence, they are declared righteous with a view to becoming friends of God and of surviving the great tribulation. (James 2:23, 25) In many ways, they are like proselytes in Israel who submitted to the Law covenant and worshiped along with the Israelites. 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. What a privilege that is! And how it highlights the need for each one to maintain spiritual and moral purity at all times!”
How many in the new covenant?
Galatians 4:22-31 shows that the number of persons in the New Covenant would be larger than in the old covenant. The account mentions how Abraham had two sons, one by Hagar the bondwoman and another by Sarah the free woman, their sons being Ishmael and Isaac respectively. Verse 24 states clearly that these two women: “stand as a symbolic drama, for these women mean two covenants.”
Verses 24 & 25 tell us that Hagar symbolizes the old law covenant from Sinai, while in verses 26 & 27 Sarah stands for the new covenant and the Jerusalem above, our [i.e. the Christian’s] mother. In verse 27, Paul quotes from Isaiah 54:1 where Jehovah God is married to the nation of Israel via the law covenant. Compare also Jeremiah 3:14, 31:32.
The barren or desolate woman, which represents the new covenant, has children “more numerous” than the woman who has the husband, the latter representing the old law covenant between Israel and Jehovah.
It is evident that the old law covenant brought forth millions of children from the time of Moses to John the Baptist – Matthew 11:13. Yet we read here that the new covenant would bring forth many more than this; yes they would be “more numerous”. The new covenant would comprise Jews and Gentiles, without any distinction – see Romans 3:22. Thus, it can be scripturally argued that the new covenant is made up of millions of persons and not just 144,000.
Apart from these scriptural problems, the Watchtower Society is facing a challenging situation within the organisation by the sharply increasing number of memorial partakers in the last few years. This is leading to suspicions that something may be wrong with the Society’s interpretation that the 144,000 is a literal number, or that perhaps members of the ‘other sheep’ should be free to partake of the memorial emblems (and by extension be included the new covenant).
For 30 years or so before 2005 the number of annual memorial partakers remained about the same. Suddenly in 2006 the number surged from 8524 partakers to 8758 with continuing large increases. In 2011 the number of partakers was 11,824, an increase of 3,300 partakers, or 28%, in only 6 years.
In 2000, the Society reassured Jehovah’s Witnesses that a sure sign that we are close to the end of this system is the declining number of anointed ones (who only partake at the memorial):
“Six Convincing Lines of Evidence” that we are in the Last Days. Sixth, the number of genuine anointed disciples of Christ is dwindling, though some will evidently still be on earth when the great tribulation begins. Most of the remnant are quite elderly, and over the years the number of those who are truly anointed has been getting smaller.” – Watchtower 2000 Jan 15 p.13
On the contrary, there has been no average decline over the last 30 years, and as we have seen, the number has been surging recently (in 1977 the number of partakers was 9762). Despite this, it was again stated in the 15 Feb 2009 Watchtower (p.28) that the number of anointed has been decreasing over the years. Many Jehovah’s Witnesses are understandably bemused about all this and are asking questions.
What are the doctrinal ramifications of these increases? How can the numbers be going up so much if new partakers are really meant to be replacements of anointed ones who have lost their calling? How can the numbers be going up as we get closer to the end of this system? The Society has yet to offer any explanation other than to insinuate than many of these new partakers may not be genuine.
The reason for the increase is quite simple. For many years it was taught that the calling to heaven ended around 1935, but in 2007 the Society announced that apparently the calling did not end in that year (Watchtower 2007 May 1 p.31). This ‘new light’ was introduced because the pool of anointed males born before 1935 who could become new Governing Body members was all but exhausted (there are no members of the current Governing Body born before 1935 following the recent deaths of Jack Barr and Theodore Jaracz.) As a result of this change, it seems many persons who previously felt inclined to partake of the memorial emblems but refrained in the belief the heavenly calling closed in 1935 suddenly felt free to partake.
In 2007, there was another revision announced on what the ‘generation’ of Matt 24:3 is. The new position was that the generation is the ‘anointed class’ in these last days (the “remnant”). Jesus said that this generation would “by no means pass away” until the end comes, a clear implication that the generation would dwindle, would gradually decrease in number as they got older and died. But in recent years the opposite of this has been happening; the ‘generation’ of anointed memorial partakers has been increasing markedly. As a result of this glaring problem, the Watchtower Society recently again reinterpreted ‘generation’ to mean ‘overlapping generations’ of the anointed class (please read the blog article on this subject).
If this trend of large increases in memorial partakers continues, eventually the Society is going to be backed into a corner and will have to revisit whether the 144,000 is a literal or symbolic number, and/or reconsider whether prospective members of the Great Crowd may also be in the ‘new covenant’, as this article asserts, and can therefore partake of the emblems. Alternatively, the Society may simply decide to no longer publish the number of annual memorial partakers.
Does it really matter?
Does it really matter if most Jehovah’s Witnesses are just “observers” at the memorial and do not partake of the emblems? It does matter if Jehovah’s Witnesses are genuinely concerned about obeying the voice of their Master, because taking the bread and wine was something Jesus commanded. Jehovah’s Witnesses stand accused of, in a sense, denying Christ’s ransom by not partaking of the memorial emblems. There are possibly also implications for individual Jehovah’s Witnesses prospects for salvation if the Watchtower is horribly wrong on this; can someone really have their robes washed in the blood of the lamb and survive the great tribulation having avoided Adamic death itself, a privilege not even enjoyed by those who are resurrected to heaven, while rejecting the emblem of Christ’s shed blood and claiming not to be in the new covenant?
Where does it say in scripture that a Christian can merely be an “observer” to the most important event of the year for a Christian? What did Jesus command all his followers to do? Did he allow for anyone to merely be an “observer” and still be a ‘true Christian’? Did the apostle Paul allow it? What was the instruction to the entire congregation? Jehovah’s Witnesses know the answers to these questions but most choose to ignore their import. Like the noble-minded Boreans, Christians must reject any teaching that does not fully accord with scripture. They will not rationalise and dilute Jesus’ commands to fit contrived interpretations of a few men in the history of a modern-day religion.
This is a serious matter for Jehovah’s Witnesses who hope to eventually survive the great tribulation by being covered by Jesus ransom sacrifice at that time and being counted as a member of the future “Great Crowd” (Rev 7). Jesus’ instructions are clear:
John 6: 53: “Accordingly Jesus said to them: “Most truly I say to YOU, Unless YOU eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, YOU have no life in yourselves. 54 He that feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has everlasting life, and I shall resurrect him at the last day; 55 for my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. 56 He that feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood remains in union with me, and I in union with him. 57 Just as the living Father sent me forth and I live because of the Father, he also that feeds on me, even that one will live because of me.”
Because this matter gets to the very heart of what it means to be a Christian, the Watchtower Society should give all Jehovah’s Witnesses the freedom to partake of the emblems whether they hope to be counted as a member of the future great crowd and receive everlasting live on the earth, or whether they have a ‘hope’ of immortal life in heaven. The location of one’s eternal destiny is not the crucial factor, for there is to be a “new heavens and a new earth” in which righteousness is to dwell. Both the 144,000 and Great Crowd are depicted in Revelation as being in a holy state before God, rendering him sacred service in the Naos, the temple itself, dressed in white robes. Scripturally speaking, both groups are in the new covenant and can partake at the memorial.
It is interesting to note that in the latest ‘new light’ offered by the Watchtower Society regarding the ‘faithful and discreet slave’ of Matt 24:45-47, it has been announced that the ‘domestics’ comprise both the anointed class and ‘other sheep’. If both groups are all domestics in the same household, it follows that they are all together in the new covenant. Jesus taught that all Christians would be one flock under one shepherd, not two flocks in two separate penfolds or covenants. It was the law covenant that separated the Jews from the gentiles. Jesus removed this barrier, yet the Watchtower Society has harked back to a class distinction that existed in pre-Christian times by creating a two-class system within Jehovah’s Witnesses, with one small group inside the new covenant and a much larger group outside of it.
It is apparent that the Society’s long-held understanding on these matters, which was formulated by Judge Rutherford and never taught by C T Russell, is not firmly rooted in the Bible. The fact that according to the scriptures all Christians are to partake of the emblems, and yet 99% of Jehovah’s Witnesses reject the emblems, should be a cause of real concern to all Jehovah’s Witnesses deeply concerned with following the scriptural pattern. It should make them seriously ask whether their organisation can really claim to be following the first century model on this.
There is simply no scriptural precedent to merely be a passive ‘observer’ at the memorial and not partake of the emblems if you have genuine faith in Christ’s ransom sacrifice and shed blood, and your conscience does not accuse you otherwise. If you profess those things, you are by definition a Christian and ipso facto are in the new covenant.
Recall the warning of Paul at Galatians 1: 8 & 9 about teaching a gospel (good news) beyond what was given by them. There is no question that Jehovah’s Witnesses teaching on this subject is something beyond what is found in the Christian Greek Scriptures. Essentially, it comes down to making a choice between what Jesus and the Apostles taught or what Judge Rutherford taught.
The Watchtower leadership needs to take a long, hard look at their doctrine on this, particularly in view of the fact that in the last few service years there is a trend of large increases in partakers. In short, it should abandon Joseph Rutherford’s increasingly untenable interpretations related to the new covenant, and announce that all Jehovah’s Witnesses are at liberty to make up their own mind on the matter, and that all are free to partake of the emblems in good conscience whether they have an earthly or heavenly hope. “Let God be found true, though every man be found a liar… (Rom 3:4).”