Questions From Readers
◼ Can a Christian who has earthly hopes be spoken of as part of the “great crowd” now, in view of the fact that he has not yet survived “the great tribulation”?—Revelation 7:9, 14.
Yes, that is appropriate in view of his or her prospects.
Revelation chapter 7 mentions two groups. First the 144,000 “sealed out of every tribe of the sons of Israel.” (Revelation 7:4) Comparing Revelation 14:1-5 shows that the 144,000 are “bought from the earth,” to become “firstfruits to God.” These, therefore, are the ones who will reign in heaven with Christ. (Galatians 6:16; 2 Timothy 4:18) The second group is “a great crowd, which no man was able to number,” who “come out of the great tribulation.”
In its setting, Revelation 7:9-17 depicts the earthly survivors of the coming tribulation. So someone who wanted to be extremely exacting might restrict the term “great crowd” to persons who have survived that tribulation. But is it necessary to be that restrictive? We do not believe so. Obviously, those who will survive had to have been gathered before “the great tribulation” so that they could qualify for survival. Thus we have applied the term “great crowd” to loyal Christians who at this time serve Jehovah God with the prospect of survival and of their being ‘guided to fountains of waters of life’ on earth. (Revelation 7:17) If one of the “great crowd” should die now, just before the “great tribulation,” there is every reason to look forward to his or her resurrection to life on earth.
Similar points can be made concerning the term “other sheep.” In John 10:7-16, Jesus first spoke of his “sheep,” whom we understand to be the “little flock” destined for heavenly life. Jesus next said: “I have other sheep, which are not of this [heavenly] fold; those also I must bring, and they will listen to my voice, and they will become one flock, one shepherd.” We have often presented Scriptural evidence identifying the “other sheep” as those whose prospect is earthly life.—Luke 12:32.
Someone might reason: Jesus was pointing to a future gathering of “other sheep,” hence the term applies only to those who, after Jesus spoke, would accept the Biblical hope of everlasting life on earth. However, it seems unnecessary to confine the term thusly, as if Jesus were defining matters chronologically or sequentially. We believe that he was stressing that he was the shepherd of the unified sheep. Some sheeplike persons come into a fold to go to heaven. There are also other sheep who will accept him as shepherd; these will be at unity with those first mentioned. Having this view, the term “other sheep” includes men of faith who died before Jesus inaugurated the way to heaven, such as Noah, Abraham, Job, David, and John the Baptizer. (Matthew 11:11; Acts 2:29; Hebrews 10:19, 20) When these are resurrected in the new system of things, they can accept the Fine Shepherd and have the prospect of endless earthly life with the rest of Jesus’ “other sheep.”