Copyright © 1996 BEACON All rights reserved.

Where Is The Great Crowd Serving God?
Synopsis of the booklet by the same title which discusses one of the key issues in the 1980 Watch Tower headquarters shake-up, as witnessed by the author, Jon Mitchell, former secretary to the Governing Body of Jehovah's Witnesses [Jon Mitchell]

Where is the "great crowd" of Revelation 7:15? One of the core doctrines of Jehovah's Witnesses is that the group depicted in this verse resides on the earth. Witnesses believe that the vast majority of redeemed mankind will be blessed with everlasting human life on earth, while only a "little flock" of 144,000 will go to heaven to serve with Christ. Thus, one of the Watchtower Society's main doctrines is that there are actually two classes of Christians--the earthly class, and the heavenly class. They are taught that Christ is the mediator for only the "anointed" 144,000 members of the heavenly class. (See the 11/15/79 Watchtower article, "Benefiting from 'One Mediator Between God and Men'" under the subheading "Mediator to How Many?," specifically paragraph 12 on page 24 and paragraph 22 on page 26. See also Questions from Readers in the 4/1/79 Watchtower, "Is Jesus the 'mediator' only for anointed Christians?") Those of the earthly class, therefore, are not in the new covenant mediated by Christ and enjoy a relationship with God only by virtue of their association with those who profess to be the last remaining members of the 144,000 still on earth. (This number is reported as less than 9,000 out of over 5 million members worldwide in 1998. Current numbers can be seen in the Statistics of Jehovah's Witnesses webpage at the Information Center for Jehovah's Witnesses website (http://www.aracnet.com/~muramoto/).

This two-class doctrine came into question among some members of the Watchtower Society's headquarters staff both during and after the events which shook this part of the Witness community in 1980. At that time, Jon Mitchell was a secretary at Bethel (as the Witness headquarters is called), serving in both the Service Department and the "Tenth Floor Offices" where several Governing Body members worked. This made him privy to some of the behind-the-scenes dealings with this and other issues of concern at the time. (Observations by Jon about some of these events appear in the Commentary Press book, Crisis of Conscience by Raymond Franz on pages 290, 291 and 295.)

The following synopsis explains some of the discrepancies which surfaced about the Society's teachings regarding Revelation 7:9-17, and how these helped to lead Jon to his own Christian "crisis of conscience." To understand the scope of this controversy and its implications, it is essential to know the meanings of two Greek words--naos and hieron--as they relate to God's temple in the Bible.

Hieron is the Greek word for the entire temple complex with all its sub-structures and courts. Naos refers to the inner sanctuary of the temple complex which included the Holy and Holy of Holies (or Most Holy).

The distinction between these two terms is well defined in the Watchtower of August 15, 1960. Explaining the second chapter of John (which describes the presence of the money changers and all the animals which were being sold in the temple), page 493, paragraph two of the article entitled "The Temple of the Apostles' Time" says:

What kind of building could this be that had room for all this traffic? The fact is that this temple was not just one building but a series of structures of which the temple sanctuary was the center. In the original tongue this is made quite clear, the Scripture writers distinguishing between the two by the use of the words hieron and naos. Hieron referred to the entire temple grounds, whereas naos applied to the temple structure itself, the successor of the tabernacle in the wilderness. Thus John tells that Jesus found all this traffic in the hieron.

[WT illustration of temple]
1. Court of the Gentiles;
2. Outer Court;
3. Court of the Women;
4. Court of Israel;
5. Court of the Priests;
6. Holy Place;
7. Holy of Holies;
8. Royal Colonnade;
9. Solomon's Porch or Colonnade;
10. Soreg (wall of division);
11. Tower of Antonia.


Page 493 of the August 15, 1960 issue of The Watchtower correctly identifies the outer part of the temple area (where the Bible says the money changers were located) by the Greek word hieron. Twenty years later, however, page 15 of the August 15, 1980 issue of The Watchtower misleadingly implied that the money changers were located in the area of the temple described by the word naos. This was done in an article designed to uphold the Society's teaching that the "great crowd" is an earthly class despite their being located in God's naos according to Revelation 7:15. The subject matter and writing style indicate that F. W. Franz was the author of both articles. (The sanctuary of the temple, the naos, pictures heaven in the Bible.)

Therefore, in the literal, word-for-word rendering found under the Greek text in The Kingdom Interlinear Translation of the Greek Scriptures:

hieron is translated "temple"
naos is translated "divine habitation"

The Watchtower teaching about the Great Crowd in Revelation 7:15

Revelation 7:15 in the New World Translation says of the "great crowd":

That is why they are before the throne of God; and they are rendering him sacred service day and night in his temple; and the One seated on the throne will spread his tent over them.

Commenting on this, the December 1, 1972 Watchtower says on page 722:

This beautiful vision presents the international "great crowd" as serving Jehovah in his temple, that is, in the earthly courtyards reserved for those who are not spiritual Israelites, as it were in the "courtyard of the Gentiles." [emphasis ours]

Similarly, the July 1, 1996 issue of The Watchtower says on page 20:

As foretold, the great crowd "are worshiping God day and night in his temple." ... Since they are not spiritual, priestly Israelites, John likely saw them standing in the temple in the outer courtyard of the Gentiles. [emphasis ours]

This teaching is also illustrated by a drawing in the August 15, 1980 issue of The Watchtower on page 17. Here the artist explicitly shows the "great crowd" with palm branches in the outer court of the Gentiles behind the soreg (wall of division).

[WT illustration of Great Crowd]
The Watchtower Society's conception of "Jehovah's Temple Arrangement." Note the portrayal of the court of the gentiles as a place where happy worshippers of God render sacred service day and night. This contrasts sharply with the Bible's use of this courtyard to symbolize a period of oppression by those not numbered among true worshippers at Revelation 11:2.

The Discrepancy in the New World Translation

One might suppose the Greek word hieron is what the New World Translation renders as "temple" at Revelation 7:15. However, an examination of this text in The Kingdom Interlinear Translation of the Greek Scriptures reveals it is the word naos, not hieron, which appears in this verse. The Kingdom Interlinear translation properly renders this word as "divine habitation" in the word-for-word translation beneath the original Greek, but its appearance in this text is disguised in the adjacent English column by the rendering "temple." (Naos is also translated by the word "temple" at Revelation 3:12 in the New World Translation, but all other appearances of this word in Revelation are rendered "sanctuary" or "temple [sanctuary]."--Rev. 11:2,19; 14:15; 15:5-8; 16:1,17.)

Reports of "apostate" teachings reached the ears of the Governing Body in 1980 and Bethel workers were cautioned not to give ear to these. Nevertheless, the leadership realized they faced a dilemma and they sought to smooth things over by promising that answers would be forthcoming in the Society's literature and in special, televised comments presented by members of the writing staff and others at the morning breakfast table. The August 15, 1980 issue of The Watchtower addressed the questions concerning the Society's two-class interpretation of Scripture in an article entitled "The 'Great Crowd' Renders Sacred Service Where?" The author was presumed to be Frederick Franz. The article attempted to make a case that the word naos was sometimes used in the Bible to mean the entire temple complex, not just the inner sanctuary. (This is a crucial point since the inner sanctuary pictures heaven.) The following chart appeared on page 15 claiming scriptural examples of naos referring to the "entire temple," including the Court of the Gentiles.

Text items in the above illustration are copied below for the benefit of those with computers which do not possess graphical capabilities.
The Greek word na·os' refers often to the inner sanctuary representing heaven itself
  • BUT it was the entire temple (na·os') that had been 46 years in the building
  • It was the entire temple (na·os') that was destroyed as a judgment from God
  • It was from the courts of the outer temple (na·os') that Jesus drove the money changers
  • It was in the outer temple (na·os') that Judas threw back the 30 pieces of silver
  • HENCE it is consistent that the "great crowd" serve God in the earthly court of the spiritual temple
The Watchtower - August 15, 1980, page 15

Normally, Jehovah's Witnesses are content to accept information presented in The Watchtower without question. But, in this case, some highly respected and admired members of the Watchtower headquarters staff had been disfellowshiped on charges of "apostasy." This prompted other members to verify the points made, and what they discovered was shocking. The Watchtower article had refrained from citing the scripture references for the above statements. However, contrary to the clear implications of the summary chart, a search of the Society's own Kingdom Interlinear Translation of the Greek Scriptures revealed that the word naos did not even appear in two of the Biblical accounts to which the statements alluded. Specifically, it is hieron, not naos, which appears in all of the verses which describe the following events:

It was from the court of the outer temple (hieron--not naos) that Jesus drove the money changers. (See Matt. 21:12, Mark 11:15, Luke 19:45 and John 2:14,15 in the Kingdom Interlinear Translation.)

It was the entire temple (hieron--not naos) that was destroyed as a judgment from God. (See Matt. 24:1,2, Mark 13:1-3 and Luke 21:5,6 in the Kingdom Interlinear.)

Additionally, research showed that the other two Biblical accounts referred to (Matt. 27:5 and John 2:19,20) were by no means indisputable examples of texts in which the term naos is used to describe the whole temple area.

This blatant misrepresentation of scripture (and now evident mistreatment of sincere Christians, in the spirit of Matt.24:48,49 and 3John 9,10) in an effort to uphold the Society's doctrine greatly troubled those who were seeking to validate the information presented in the Watchtower article.

The further the matter was studied, the more apparent it became that the apostle John's use of the word naos in the pertinent texts in Revelation referred to the inner sanctuary representing heaven. (See for example Revelation 3:12, 7:15, 11:1, 11:19, 14:15, 15:5, 16:1,17 in The Jerusalem Bible .) Even one of the Society's own books, Then Is Finished The Mystery of God (1969) says on page 260 concerning Revelation 11:2:

The temple sanctuary or naos occupied only part of the temple area. [emphasis ours]
Revelation 11:2 says in the New World Translation:
But as for the courtyard that is outside the temple [sanctuary] (naos), cast it clear out and do not measure it, because it has been given to the nations ["Gentiles"--AV, NEB, Moffat], and they will trample the holy city underfoot for forty-two months.
It is commonly recognized by Bible scholars that the "courtyard that is outside" the naos referred to in this verse alludes to the courtyard of the gentiles in the temple rebuilt by Herod. (See, for example, the footnote on this verse in The New American Bible.) Clearly, this outermost court is in no way the naos (inner sanctuary or "divine habitation"--Interlinear) where the "great crowd" is depicted as serving God in Revelation 7:15. It is said to be "outside" the naos and those occupying this courtyard are portrayed as opposers, not supporters of true worship.

Another point of importance is the fact that, at Revelation 7:9, 15, the "great crowd" is said to be "before the throne" of God. As the Society's publications have pointed out, the Greek word translated "before" in this text is enopion and it literally means "in [the] sight [of]." (See for example page 123 of the book, Revelation--Its Grand Climax at Hand [1988].) This Greek word is used repeatedly throughout the book of Revelation to locate objects and persons "before" or "in the sight of" God in heaven. Looking up the following verses in The Kingdom Interlinear Translation of the Greek Scriptures makes this clear:

Revelation 1:4 - "seven spirits that are before (enopion) his [God's] throne, ...."
Revelation 4:5 - "seven lamps of fire burning before (enopion) the throne [of God], ...."
Revelation 4:6 - "And before (enopion) the throne [of God] there is, as it were, a glassy sea like crystal."
Revelation 4:10 - "the twenty-four elders fall down before (enopion) the One seated upon the throne..., and they cast their crowns before (enopion) the throne, ...."
Revelation 7:9 - "a great crowd, ... standing before (enopion) the throne and before (enopion) the Lamb ...."
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, ...."
Revelation 7:15 - "That is why they [the great crowd] are before (enopion) the throne of God; and they are rendering him sacred service ...."
Revelation 8:3 - "And another angel arrived and stood at the altar, having ... incense ... to offer ... with the prayers of all the holy ones upon the golden altar that was before (enopion) the throne."
Revelation 9:13 - "And I heard one voice out of the horns of the golden altar that is before (enopion) God."
Revelation 11:16 - "And the twenty-four elders who were seated before (enopion) God ...."
Revelation 14:3 - "And they [the 144,000] are singing as if a new song before (enopion) the throne and before (enopion) the four living creatures and the elders; ...."

Clearly, when considered in context, there is little reason to doubt that the "great crowd" is "before the throne" in the same manner as the seven lamps of fire, the glassy sea like crystal, the crowns of the 24 elders, the angels, the elders themselves, the four living creatures, the golden altar, and the 144,000.

Soon after these happenings, Jon resigned his position at Bethel after ten years of full-time service and now endeavors to practice Christianity without the interference of organizational constraints which so often obstruct the promulgation of truth.


UPDATE - February 1998

In a surprising doctrinal shift, only nineteen months after the July 1, 1996 issue (page 20) of The Watchtower reaffirmed their long-held position regarding the location of the "great crowd," the Society changed this teaching. Reproduced below is the new information which is presented in a shaded box on page 21 of the February 1, 1998 edition of The Watchtower in an article entitled "The Other Sheep And The New Covenant":


SACRED SERVICE IN THE TEMPLE
_ 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 the

THE WATCHTOWER—FEBRUARY 1, 1998 21

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.

What is particularly striking about this change in teaching, aside from stating the "great crowd" is not in "a separate Court of the Gentiles," is the fact that the Society has very clearly made a definite link between Revelation 7:15 and 11:2. The "courtyard that is outside the temple [sanctuary] (naos)" described at Revelation 11:2 is now positively identified as the "earthly courtyard of Jehovah's great spiritual temple" occupied by both the "great crowd" and anointed Christians. When F.W. Franz was alive (and even during the intervening years since his death on December 22, 1992) the Society seemed to carefully avoid making this connection. This apparently was because of the evident distinction between the sanctuary (naos or "divine habitation") and the outer courtyard mentioned in this text. Perhaps this can be seen most clearly in the way the first part of this verse is rendered in the word-for-word translation beneath the original Greek text in the Society's Kingdom Interlinear Translation of the Greek Scriptures:

And the courtyard the (one) outside of the divine habitation
Now, however, the organization has placed the "great crowd" squarely inside of the courtyard depicted at Revelation 11:2 and clearly defined it as part of the same "spiritual temple" Jehovah's Witnesses are taught that Revelation 7:15 refers to when it places the "great crowd" in God's temple [naos].

Attempting to change the widely accepted prophetic type of the courtyard from the Court of the Gentiles to the outer courtyard of Solomon's temple does not solve the Society's interpretative problem however. Regardless of which temple one chooses to link to Revelation 11:2, be it Solomon's, Ezekiel's or Herod's, the plain fact of the matter is that this earthly courtyard is "outside the temple [sanctuary] (naos)" while the "great crowd" of Revelation 7:15 is described as being inside the temple sanctuary or naos.

It is evident that throughout the book of Revelation the term naos is used repeatedly to refer exclusively to the innermost part of the temple, the heavenly sanctuary in its figurative application. The Watchtower Society publication Then Is Finished the Mystery of God (1969) says on page 260 in its comments on Revelation 11:2

The temple sanctuary or naos occupied only part of the temple area.
The 1986 edition of The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology (Vol. 3, page 784) refers to other verses in the book of Revelation where the Greek word naos appears and comments:
The Apocalypse speaks often of the heavenly temple (Rev. 7:15; 11:19; 14:15ff; 15:5-8; 16:1,17), clearly on the basis of Ps. 11:4.
And the August 15, 1980 Watchtower correctly observed on page 15:
The Greek word naos refers often to the inner sanctuary representing heaven itself.
Proving the "great crowd" is not in God's heavenly sanctuary would therefore require somehow demonstrating that the term "naos" can also include the "courtyard that is outside the temple [sanctuary] (naos)" described at Revelation 11:2. But, as the Society's own above-quoted publication has pointed out, this verse itself makes it plain that it does not since it makes a clear distinction between the courtyard and the temple sanctuary. John obviously uses the term naos in a limited sense as applying to God's "divine habitation" only.—See these verses in The Kingdom Interlinear Translation of the Greek Scriptures.

Again it is a case of the Society reasoning from traditional beliefs and interpretations and endeavoring to make the Bible align with these, instead of starting with the Scriptures and then changing its teachings to conform to God's Word. (Compare Matthew 15:1-9 and Mark 7:6-9 where Jesus condemned the scribes and Pharisees for allowing tradition to take precedence over God's Word.) So it still remains to be seen if the Society will one day return to its pre-1935 position of accepting the Bible's plain teaching that the great crowd is located "before the throne" in God's heavenly sanctuary (naos) or if instead they will just continue to obscure matters by trying to force the Bible to agree with the present teachings of the organization.


A complete discussion of this episode and how it related to events in the 1980 headquarters shake-up are detailed in Jon's illustrated booklet, Where Is The "Great Crowd" Serving God? Price is $1.25 plus postage.

Available from:
Commentary Press
P.O. Box 43532
Atlanta, GA 30336

To order, click HERE for the COMMENTARY PRESS web page and printable order form for this and other available publications.


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