Our discussion will take the form of a simulated conversation between a Jehovah's Witness named Joe and a Christian named Chris.
Chris: Joe, I am puzzled about your organization's teaching on the great crowd. Where is the great crowd - in heaven or on earth?
Joe: Chris, I suppose you believe that all Christians go to heaven, however the Bible doesn't teach that. Instead the Bible shows that there are actually two classes of Christians. The heavenly class, or the 144,000 will be the only ones to go to heaven. The earthly class or the great crowd will not go to heaven but get to spend eternity here on paradise earth.
Chris: That appears to conflict with the Bible. Can you explain to me Rev. 7:9?
Joe: Certainly. It says "After these things I saw, and, look! a great crowd, which no man was able to number, out of all nations and tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb..."
Chris: Joe, If the great crowd is on earth, then why are they standing before the throne in heaven?
Joe: The position of standing' is sometimes used in the Bible to indicate the holding of a favored or approved position. The great crowd isn't really in heaven, they are just in an approved position before God.
Chris: This sure appears to be a heavenly scene to me since there are also angels standing in the same place. Joe, if the great crowd is not in heaven can you explain Rev. 7:15 where the great crowd is in God's temple?
Joe: It says, "That is why they are before the throne of God; and they are rendering him sacred service day and night in his temple..."
Chris: This same great crowd is serving God in his temple. Isn't God's temple in heaven?
Joe: You see Chris, there are two Greek words translated as temple. I have a copy of the Watchtower Aug. 15, 1960 page 493. It talks about the presence of the money changers and animals in the temple. It says that this temple was not just one building but a series of structures of which the temple sanctuary was the center. In the original Greek there are two distinct words hierón and naós.Hierón referred to the entire temple grounds, whereas naós applied to the temple structure itself. John tells that Jesus found the money changers and animals in the hieron.
Chris: So then are you saying that naós represents heaven and hieron represents earth?
Joe: That's right. Hierón is the earth, which is the outer court. Naós is actually heaven itself which is represented by the inner court.
Chris: Then why does Rev. 7:15 says that the great crowd is in the naós? Look in your Kingdom Interlinear Translation. It uses the Greek word naós in Rev. 7:15 and the English under the Greek says "Divine habitation". That means that the great crowd is in the naós, the divine habitation of God or heaven.
Joe: I can explain that, too. I have a copy of the Aug. 15, 1980 Watchtower that says although the Greek word naós refers often to the inner sanctuary representing heaven there are examples where it means the entire temple including the courtyard. For example it was in the naós (the temple courtyard) that Jesus drove out the money changers and it was the entire temple naós that was destroyed as a judgment from God.
Chris: That contradicts the 1960 Watchtower that you quoted before. In that magazine it said that Jesus drove out the money changers from the hieron. Maybe we should check out the Bible references to see what it actually says. The account where Jesus threw out the money changers is found in Matt. 21:12, Mark 11:15, Luke 19:45 and John 2: 14 & 15. The Watchtower Aug. 15, 1980 that you showed me, say that these are all examples of where naós is used to represent the entire temple complex.
Joe: Oh, my!...All these scriptures used the Greek word hieron. None of these references use the Greek word naós. I don't understand why the Watchtower would use this as an example. It isn't true.
Chris: What about the entire temple which was destroyed of God? The references are Matt. 24:1,2; Mark 13:1-3 and Luke 21:5,6. Is the Watchtower hiding the truth about these examples when they said that the word naós is used for the entire temple?
Joe: They couldn't be wrong about that.
Chris: Look, here. All these references to the destruction of the entire temple are the Greek word hieron. It appears to me that the Society has misrepresented the scriptures in an attempt to uphold their doctrine that the great crowd is on earth not in heaven.
Joe: I don't understand this. Why would the Watchtower misrepresent the Greek word that is used in these texts? I can see that the Society has not been entirely honest about the Greek word naós. But I still believe they have to be right. After all, if there aren't two classes of Christians, then who are the 144,000 ruling over?
Chris: Let's talk about that subject next week.
(Go to part two for continuation.)