“The Israel of God” and the “Great Crowd”
“I saw, and, look! a great crowd, which no man was able to number.”—REVELATION 7:9.
1-3. (a) What glorious heavenly prospects do anointed Christians have? (b) How did Satan try to destroy the first-century congregation? (c) What happened in 1919 that showed that Satan’s efforts to corrupt the anointed Christian congregation had failed?
THE founding of “the Israel of God” in 33 C.E. was a major step in the outworking of Jehovah’s purposes. (Galatians 6:16) Its anointed members have the hope of being immortal spirit creatures and ruling with Christ in God’s heavenly Kingdom. (1 Corinthians 15:50, 53, 54) In that position they have a leading part in sanctifying Jehovah’s name and crushing the head of the great Adversary, Satan the Devil. (Genesis 3:15; Romans 16:20) No wonder that Satan did all in his power to destroy this new congregation, both by persecuting it and by trying to corrupt it!—2 Timothy 2:18; Jude 4; Revelation 2:10.
2 While the apostles were alive, Satan could not succeed. After their death, however, apostasy spread unchecked. Eventually, to human eyes, the pure Christian congregation founded by Jesus seemed to have been corrupted when Satan brought forth the apostate religious travesty today known as Christendom. (2 Thessalonians 2:3-8) Nevertheless, true Christianity persisted.—Matthew 28:20.
3 Jesus, in his illustration of the wheat and the weeds, foretold that true Christians would grow for a time along with “weeds,” or false Christians; and this happened. But he also said that during the last days, “the sons of the kingdom” would again be visibly separate from “the weeds.” (Matthew 13:36-43) This also proved true. In 1919 genuine anointed Christians came out of Babylonish captivity. They were divinely recognized as “the faithful and discreet slave,” and they boldly set about preaching the good news of the Kingdom. (Matthew 24:14, 45-47; Revelation 18:4) Nearly all of them were Gentiles; but because they had the faith of Abraham, they were in reality ‘Abraham’s offspring.’ They were members of “the Israel of God.”—Galatians 3:7, 26-29.
The “Great Crowd”
4. What group of Christians became noticeable, particularly in the 1930’s?
4 To start with, those who responded to the preaching of these anointed Christians also became spiritual Israelites, the remaining ones of the 144,000, with a heavenly hope. (Revelation 12:17) However, particularly in the 1930’s, another group became noticeable. These were identified with the “other sheep” of the illustration of the sheepfolds. (John 10:16) They were disciples of Christ with the hope of everlasting life on a paradise earth. They were the spiritual offspring, as it were, of anointed Christians. (Isaiah 59:21; 66:22; compare 1 Corinthians 4:15, 16.) They recognized the anointed Christian congregation as the faithful and discreet slave, and like their anointed brothers, they had deep love for Jehovah, faith in Jesus’ sacrifice, zeal for praising God, and willingness to suffer for righteousness’ sake.
5. How has the position of the other sheep become progressively better understood?
5 At first the position of these other sheep was not well understood, but with the passing of time, things became clearer. In 1932 anointed Christians were encouraged to urge other sheep to share in the preaching work—something many other sheep were already doing. In 1934 other sheep were encouraged to submit to water baptism. In 1935 they were identified with the “great crowd” of Revelation chapter 7. In 1938 they were invited to attend the Memorial of the death of Jesus Christ as observers. In 1950 mature men among them were discerned to be among the “princes” who serve as “a hiding place from the wind and a place of concealment from the rainstorm.” (Psalm 45:16; Isaiah 32:1, 2) In 1953, God’s earthly organization—the greater part of which by then was made up of other sheep—was seen as the nucleus of the earthly society that would exist in the new world. In 1985 it was understood that on the basis of Jesus’ ransom sacrifice, other sheep are declared righteous as friends of God and with a view to surviving Armageddon.
6. What are the relative positions of the anointed and the other sheep today, leading to what questions?
6 By now, in this latter part of “the last days,” the great majority of the 144,000 have died and received their heavenly reward. (2 Timothy 3:1; Revelation 6:9-11; 14:13) Christians with an earthly hope now do most of the preaching of the good news, and they count it a privilege to support Jesus’ anointed brothers in this. (Matthew 25:40) However, these anointed ones are the faithful and discreet slave by means of whom spiritual food has been supplied all through these last days. What will be the situation of the other sheep when all the anointed ones have received their heavenly reward? What provisions will then be made for the other sheep? A brief look at ancient Israel will help us answer those questions.
A Typical “Kingdom of Priests”
7, 8. To what extent was ancient Israel a kingdom of priests and a holy nation under the Law covenant?
7 When Jehovah chose Israel as his special nation, he made a covenant with them, saying: “If you will strictly obey my voice and will indeed keep my covenant, then you will certainly become my special property out of all other peoples, because the whole earth belongs to me. And you yourselves will become to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” (Exodus 19:5, 6) Israel was Jehovah’s special people on the basis of the Law covenant. How, though, would the promise involving a kingdom of priests and a holy nation be fulfilled?
8 Israel, when faithful, acknowledged Jehovah’s sovereignty and accepted him as their King. (Isaiah 33:22) Thus, they were a kingdom. But, as was later revealed, the promise about “a kingdom” would mean even more than that. Further, when they obeyed Jehovah’s Law, they were clean, separated from the nations around them. They were a holy nation. (Deuteronomy 7:5, 6) Were they a kingdom of priests? Well, in Israel the tribe of Levi was set aside for temple service, and within that tribe there was the Levitical priesthood. When the Mosaic Law was inaugurated, Levite males were taken in exchange for the firstborn of every non-Levite family.* (Exodus 22:29; Numbers 3:11-16, 40-51) Thus, every family in Israel was, as it were, represented in temple service. This was the closest the nation got to being a priesthood. Nevertheless, they represented Jehovah before the nations. Any foreigner who wished to worship the true God had to do so in association with Israel.—2 Chronicles 6:32, 33; Isaiah 60:10.
9. What caused Jehovah to reject the northern kingdom of Israel ‘from serving as a priest to him’?
9 After the death of Solomon, God’s people split into the northern nation of Israel under King Jeroboam and the southern nation of Judah under King Rehoboam. Since the temple, the center of pure worship, was in the territory of Judah, Jeroboam instituted an illegal form of worship by setting up images of calves in his own national territory. Further, “he began to make a house of high places and to make priests from the people in general, who did not happen to be of the sons of Levi.” (1 Kings 12:31) The northern nation sank deeper into false worship when King Ahab allowed his foreign wife, Jezebel, to establish Baal worship in the land. Finally, Jehovah pronounced judgment on the rebellious kingdom. Through Hosea, he said: “My people will certainly be silenced, because there is no knowledge. Because the knowledge is what you yourself have rejected, I shall also reject you from serving as a priest to me.” (Hosea 4:6) Soon after, the Assyrians wiped out the northern kingdom of Israel.
10. How did the southern kingdom of Judah, when faithful, represent Jehovah before the nations?
10 What of the southern nation, Judah? In the days of Hezekiah, Jehovah said to them through Isaiah: “You are my witnesses, . . . even my servant whom I have chosen, . . . the people whom I have formed for myself, that they should recount the praise of me.” (Isaiah 43:10, 21; 44:21) When faithful, the southern kingdom served to proclaim to the nations Jehovah’s glory and to attract righthearted ones to worship him at his temple and be ministered to by the legitimate Levite priesthood.
Foreigners in Israel
11, 12. Name some foreigners who came to serve Jehovah in association with Israel.
11 As for the foreigners who responded to this national witness, provision was made for them in the Law given through Moses—whose wife, Zipporah, was a Midianite. “A vast mixed company” of non-Israelites left Egypt with Israel and were present when the Law was given. (Exodus 2:16-22; 12:38; Numbers 11:4) Rahab and her family were saved out of Jericho and later accepted into the Jewish congregation. (Joshua 6:23-25) Soon after, the Gibeonites made peace with Israel and were assigned tasks in connection with the tabernacle.—Joshua 9:3-27; see also 1 Kings 8:41-43; Esther 8:17.
12 Eventually, foreigners served in high positions. Uriah the Hittite, Bath-sheba’s husband, was counted among “the mighty men” of David, as was Zelek the Ammonite. (1 Chronicles 11:26, 39, 41; 2 Samuel 11:3, 4) Ebed-melech, an Ethiopian, served in the palace and had access to the king. (Jeremiah 38:7-9) After Israel returned from exile in Babylon, non-Israelite Nethinim were given increased responsibility in assisting the priests. (Ezra 7:24) 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.
13, 14. (a) What were the privileges and responsibilities of proselytes in Israel? (b) How were Israelites to view faithful proselytes?
13 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. (Leviticus 17:10-14; 20:2) They helped in the construction of Solomon’s temple and joined in the restoration of true worship under King Asa and King Hezekiah. (1 Chronicles 22:2; 2 Chronicles 15:8-14; 30:25) When Peter used the first key of the Kingdom at Pentecost 33 C.E., his words were heard by “Jews and [non-Jewish] proselytes.” Possibly, some of the three thousand baptized that day were proselytes. (Acts 2:10, 41) Shortly after, an Ethiopian proselyte was baptized by Philip—before Peter used the final key of the Kingdom with Cornelius and his family. (Matthew 16:19; Acts 8:26-40; 10:30-48) Clearly, proselytes were not viewed as Gentiles.
14 Nevertheless, the position of proselytes in the land was not like that of native-born Israelites. Proselytes did not serve as priests, and their firstborn were not represented in the Levitical priesthood.* And proselytes had no land inheritance in Israel. Still, Israelites were commanded to be considerate of faithful proselytes and to view them as brothers.—Leviticus 19:33, 34.
The Spiritual Nation
15. What resulted when natural Israel refused to accept the Messiah?
15 The Law was designed to keep Israel clean, separate from the nations around them. But it served another purpose. The apostle Paul wrote: “The Law has become our tutor leading to Christ, that we might be declared righteous due to faith.” (Galatians 3:24) Unhappily, most Israelites failed to be led to Christ by the Law. (Matthew 23:15; John 1:11) So Jehovah God rejected that nation and caused “the Israel of God” to be born. Moreover, he extended to non-Jews the invitation to become full-fledged citizens in this new Israel. (Galatians 3:28; 6:16) It is on this new nation that Jehovah’s promise at Exodus 19:5, 6 about a royal priesthood has its wonderful, final fulfillment. How?
16, 17. In what sense are anointed Christians on earth “royal”? a “priesthood”?
16 Peter quoted Exodus 19:6 when he wrote to anointed Christians of his day: “You are ‘a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for special possession.’” (1 Peter 2:9) What does this mean? Are anointed Christians on earth kings? No, their kingship is still future. (1 Corinthians 4:8) Nevertheless, they are “royal” in the sense that they are marked for future royal privileges. Even now they are a nation under a king, Jesus, appointed by the Great Sovereign, Jehovah God. Paul wrote: “[Jehovah] delivered us from the authority of the darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of the Son of his love.”—Colossians 1:13.
17 Are anointed Christians on earth a priesthood? In a sense, yes. As a congregation, they serve an undisputable priestly function. Peter explained this when he said: “You yourselves . . . are being built up a spiritual house for the purpose of a holy priesthood.” (1 Peter 2:5; 1 Corinthians 3:16) Today, the remnant of anointed Christians as a body are “the faithful and discreet slave,” the channel for the distribution of spiritual food. (Matthew 24:45-47) As was the case in ancient Israel, any who wish to worship Jehovah have to do so in association with these anointed Christians.
18. As a priesthood, the anointed Christian congregation on earth has what primary responsibility?
18 Moreover, anointed Christians took over from Israel the privilege of witnessing to Jehovah’s greatness among the nations. The context shows that when Peter called anointed Christians a royal priesthood, he had the preaching work in mind. Indeed, he combined in one quotation Jehovah’s promise at Exodus 19:6 with His words to Israel at Isaiah 43:21 when he said: “You are . . . ‘a royal priesthood, . . . [so] that you should declare abroad the excellencies’ of the one that called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” (1 Peter 2:9) In harmony with this, Paul spoke of the declaration of Jehovah’s excellencies as a temple sacrifice. He wrote: “Through [Jesus] let us always offer to God a sacrifice of praise, that is, the fruit of lips which make public declaration to his name.”—Hebrews 13:15.
A Heavenly Fulfillment
19. What is the final, grand fulfillment of the promise that Israel would be a kingdom of priests?
19 However, Exodus 19:5, 6 ultimately has a far more glorious fulfillment. In the book of Revelation, the apostle John hears heavenly creatures applying this scripture as they praise the resurrected Jesus: “You were slaughtered and with your blood you bought persons 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) In its final sense, then, the royal priesthood is God’s heavenly Kingdom, the ruling authority for which Jesus taught us to pray. (Luke 11:2) All 144,000 anointed Christians who endure faithful to the end will have a part in that Kingdom arrangement. (Revelation 20:4, 6) What a wonderful fulfillment of the promise made so long ago through Moses!
20. What question still has to be answered?
20 What does all of this have to do with the situation of the great crowd and their future when all the anointed have received their wonderful inheritance? This will become clear in the final article of this series.
When Israel’s priesthood was inaugurated, the firstborn sons of the non-Levite tribes of Israel and the males of the tribe of Levi were counted. There were 273 more firstborn than Levite males. Hence, Jehovah ordered that five shekels for each of the 273 should be paid as a ransom for the excess.
The vast mixed multitude of non-Israelites were present when the Law was inaugurated in 1513 B.C.E., but their firstborn were not taken into account when the Levites were taken as an exchange for the firstborn of Israel. (See paragraph 8.) Hence, the Levites were not taken in exchange for the firstborn of these non-Israelites.
Can You Explain?
□ How has the position of the other sheep become progressively better understood?
□ Why did Jehovah reject the northern kingdom of Israel from serving as a priest to him?
□ When faithful, what was the position of Judah before the nations?
□ What was the position of faithful proselytes in Israel?
□ How does the anointed congregation serve as a kingdom of priests?
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As a royal priesthood, anointed Christians declare Jehovah’s glory on earth
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The final fulfillment of Exodus 19:6 is the Kingdom