The Other Sheep and the New Covenant
“The foreigners . . . , all those keeping the sabbath in order not to profane it and laying hold of my covenant, I will also bring them to my holy mountain.”—ISAIAH 56:6, 7.
1. (a) According to John’s vision, what is accomplished while the winds of Jehovah’s judgment are being held back? (b) What remarkable crowd did John see?
IN THE fourth vision in the book of Revelation, the apostle John saw the destructive winds of Jehovah’s judgment held back while the sealing of all members of “the Israel of God” was being completed. These are the first to be blessed through Jesus, the principal part of the seed of Abraham. (Galatians 6:16; Genesis 22:18; Revelation 7:1-4) In that same vision, John saw “a great crowd, which no man was able to number, out of all nations and tribes and peoples and tongues . . . , crying with a loud voice, saying: ‘Salvation we owe to our God, who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb.’” (Revelation 7:9, 10) In saying, “Salvation we owe . . . to the Lamb,” the great crowd show that they too are blessed by means of Abraham’s Seed.
2. When did the great crowd make its appearance, and how is it identified?
2 This great crowd was recognized back in 1935, and today it numbers more than five million. Marked to survive the great tribulation, its members will be separated for everlasting life when Jesus divides “the sheep” from “the goats.” Christians of the great crowd are among the “other sheep” in Jesus’ illustration of the sheepfolds. They hope to live forever on a paradise earth.—Matthew 25:31-46; John 10:16; Revelation 21:3, 4.
3. How are anointed Christians and other sheep different with regard to the new covenant?
3 For the 144,000, the blessing of the Abrahamic covenant is administered through the new covenant. As participants in this covenant, they come “under undeserved kindness” and “under law toward Christ.” (Romans 6:15; 1 Corinthians 9:21) Hence, only the 144,000 members of the Israel of God have properly partaken of the emblems during the Memorial of Jesus’ death, and only with them did Jesus make his covenant for a Kingdom. (Luke 22:19, 20, 29) Members of the great crowd are not participants in the new covenant. However, they associate with the Israel of God and live with them in their “land.” (Isaiah 66:8) So it is reasonable to say that they too come under Jehovah’s undeserved kindness and under the law toward Christ. While not participants in the new covenant, they are beneficiaries of it.
“Foreigners” and “the Israel of God”
4, 5. (a) According to Isaiah, what group would minister to Jehovah? (b) How is Isaiah 56:6, 7 fulfilled upon the great crowd?
4 The prophet Isaiah wrote: “The foreigners that have joined themselves to Jehovah to minister to him and to love the name of Jehovah, in order to become servants to him, all those keeping the sabbath in order not to profane it and laying hold of my covenant, I will also bring them to my holy mountain and make them rejoice inside my house of prayer. Their whole burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be for acceptance upon my altar.” (Isaiah 56:6, 7) In Israel, this meant that “foreigners,” non-Israelites, would worship Jehovah—loving his name, obeying the terms of the Law covenant, keeping the Sabbath, and offering sacrifices at the temple, God’s “house of prayer.”—Matthew 21:13.
5 In our day, “the foreigners that have joined themselves to Jehovah” are the great crowd. These minister to Jehovah in association with the Israel of God. (Zechariah 8:23) They offer the same acceptable sacrifices as the Israel of God. (Hebrews 13:15, 16) They worship in God’s spiritual temple, his “house of prayer.” (Compare Revelation 7:15.) Do they keep the weekly Sabbath? Neither anointed nor other sheep are commanded to do this. (Colossians 2:16, 17) However, Paul said to anointed Hebrew Christians: “There remains a sabbath resting for the people of God. For the man that has entered into God’s rest has also himself rested from his own works, just as God did from his own.” (Hebrews 4:9, 10) Those Hebrews entered into this “sabbath resting” when they subjected themselves to “the righteousness of God” and rested from trying to justify themselves by works of the Law. (Romans 10:3, 4) Anointed Gentile Christians enjoy the same rest by subjecting themselves to Jehovah’s righteousness. The great crowd join them in that rest.
6. How do other sheep today lay hold of the new covenant?
6 Further, other sheep lay hold of the new covenant just as foreigners of old laid hold of the Law covenant. In what way? Not by becoming participants in it but by submitting to the laws associated with it and benefiting from its arrangements. (Compare Jeremiah 31:33, 34.) Like their anointed companions, the other sheep have Jehovah’s law written ‘in their heart.’ They deeply love and obey Jehovah’s commandments and principles. (Psalm 37:31; 119:97) Like anointed Christians, they know Jehovah. (John 17:3) What about circumcision? Some 1,500 years before the making of the new covenant, Moses urged the Israelites: “You must circumcise the foreskin of your hearts.” (Deuteronomy 10:16; Jeremiah 4:4) While compulsory fleshly circumcision passed away with the Law, both the anointed and the other sheep must “circumcise” their hearts. (Colossians 2:11) Finally, Jehovah forgives the error of the other sheep on the basis of Jesus’ shed “blood of the covenant.” (Matthew 26:28; 1 John 1:9; 2:2) God does not adopt them as spiritual sons, as he does the 144,000. But he does declare the other sheep righteous, in the sense that Abraham was declared righteous as God’s friend.—Matthew 25:46; Romans 4:2, 3; James 2:23.
7. What prospect opens up for other sheep today, who are declared righteous as Abraham was?
7 For the 144,000, being declared righteous opens the way to their having the hope of ruling with Jesus in the heavenly Kingdom. (Romans 8:16, 17; Galatians 2:16) For the other sheep, being declared righteous as God’s friends allows them to embrace the hope of everlasting life in a paradise earth—either by surviving Armageddon as part of the great crowd or through the ‘resurrection of the righteous.’ (Acts 24:15) What a privilege to have such a hope and to be a friend of the Sovereign of the universe, to be “a guest in [his] tent”! (Psalm 15:1, 2) Yes, both anointed and other sheep are blessed in a wonderful way through Jesus, the Seed of Abraham.
A Greater Atonement Day
8. What was prefigured by the Atonement Day sacrifices under the Law?
8 When discussing the new covenant, Paul reminded his readers of the annual Atonement Day under the Law covenant. On that day, separate sacrifices were offered—one for the priestly tribe of Levi and another for the 12 nonpriestly tribes. This has long been explained as prefiguring Jesus’ great sacrifice that would benefit both the 144,000 with a heavenly hope and the millions who have an earthly hope.* Paul showed that in the fulfillment the benefits of Jesus’ sacrifice are administered through a greater Atonement Day under the new covenant. As High Priest of this greater day, Jesus gave his perfect life as an atonement sacrifice in order to obtain “an everlasting deliverance” for humans.—Hebrews 9:11-24.
9. Being in the new covenant, what could Hebrew anointed Christians embrace?
9 Many Hebrew Christians of the first century were still “zealous for the [Mosaic] Law.” (Acts 21:20) Fittingly, then, Paul reminded them: “[Jesus] is a mediator of a new covenant, in order that, because a death has occurred for their release by ransom from the transgressions under the former covenant, the ones who have been called might receive the promise of the everlasting inheritance.” (Hebrews 9:15) The new covenant freed Hebrew Christians from the old covenant, which exposed their sinfulness. Thanks to the new covenant, they could embrace “the promise of the everlasting [heavenly] inheritance.”
10. For what do anointed and other sheep thank God?
10 “Everyone” who “exercises faith in the Son” will benefit from the ransom sacrifice. (John 3:16, 36) Paul said: “The Christ was offered once for all time to bear the sins of many; and the second time that he appears it will be apart from sin and to those earnestly looking for him for their salvation.” (Hebrews 9:28) Today, those earnestly looking for Jesus include surviving anointed Christians of the Israel of God and the millions making up the great crowd, who also have an everlasting inheritance. Both classes thank God for the new covenant and for the life-giving blessings associated with it, including the greater Atonement Day and the ministry of the High Priest, Jesus, in the heavenly Most Holy.
Busy in Sacred Service
11. With consciences cleansed through Jesus’ sacrifice, what do both anointed and other sheep happily do?
11 In his letter to the Hebrews, Paul stressed the superior value of Jesus’ sacrifice in the new covenant arrangement as compared with the sin offerings under the old covenant. (Hebrews 9:13-15) Jesus’ better sacrifice is able to “cleanse our consciences from dead works that we may render sacred service to the living God.” For Hebrew Christians, “dead works” included “the transgressions under the former covenant.” For Christians today, they include sins committed in the past over which there has been true repentance and which God has forgiven. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11) With consciences cleansed, anointed Christians render “sacred service to the living God.” And so do the great crowd. Having cleansed their consciences through “the blood of the Lamb,” they are in God’s great spiritual temple, “rendering him sacred service day and night.”—Revelation 7:14, 15.
12. How do we show that we have “the full assurance of faith”?
12 In addition, Paul said: “Let us approach with true hearts in the full assurance of faith, having had our hearts sprinkled from a wicked conscience and our bodies bathed with clean water.” (Hebrews 10:22) How can we show that we have “the full assurance of faith”? Paul urged Hebrew Christians: “Let us hold fast the public declaration of our [heavenly] hope without wavering, for he is faithful that promised. And let us consider one another to incite to love and fine works, not forsaking the gathering of ourselves together, as some have the custom, but encouraging one another, and all the more so as you behold the day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:23-25) If our faith is alive, we too will not ‘forsake the gathering of ourselves together.’ We will delight to incite our brothers and be incited by them to love and fine works and to be strengthened for the vital work of publicly declaring our hope, whether it is earthly or heavenly.—John 13:35.
The “Everlasting Covenant”
13, 14. In what ways is the new covenant everlasting?
13 What happens when the last of the 144,000 realize their heavenly hope? Will the new covenant cease to apply? At that time, there will be on earth no remaining member of the Israel of God. All participants in the covenant will be with Jesus “in the kingdom of [his] Father.” (Matthew 26:29) But we remember Paul’s words in his letter to the Hebrews: “The God of peace . . . brought up from the dead the great shepherd of the sheep with the blood of an everlasting covenant.” (Hebrews 13:20; Isaiah 55:3) In what sense is the new covenant everlasting?
14 First, unlike the Law covenant, it will never be replaced. Second, the results of its operation are permanent, even as is Jesus’ kingship. (Compare Luke 1:33 with 1 Corinthians 15:27, 28.) The heavenly Kingdom has an eternal place in Jehovah’s purposes. (Revelation 22:5) And third, other sheep will continue to benefit from the new covenant arrangement. During Christ’s Thousand Year Reign, faithful humans will keep on “rendering [Jehovah] sacred service day and night in his temple” just as they do now. Jehovah will not bring up again their past sins that were forgiven on the basis of Jesus’ “blood of the covenant.” They will continue to enjoy a righteous standing as Jehovah’s friends, and his law will still be written in their hearts.
15. Describe Jehovah’s relationship with his earthly worshipers in the new world.
15 Will Jehovah then be able to say of these human servants: ‘I am their God, and they are my people’? Yes. “He will reside with them, and they will be his peoples. And God himself will be with them.” (Revelation 21:3) They will become “the camp of the holy ones,” earthly representatives of “the beloved city,” the heavenly bride of Jesus Christ. (Revelation 14:1; 20:9; 21:2) All of this will be possible because of their faith in Jesus’ shed “blood of the covenant” and their subjection to the heavenly kings and priests, who when on earth were the Israel of God.—Revelation 5:10.
16. (a) What possibilities await those resurrected to the earth? (b) What blessings will come at the end of the thousand years?
16 What of the dead who are resurrected on earth? (John 5:28, 29) They too will be invited to “bless themselves” by means of Jesus, the Seed of Abraham. (Genesis 22:18) They also will have to love the name of Jehovah, ministering to him, offering acceptable sacrifices, and rendering sacred service in his house of prayer. Those who do so will enter into God’s rest. (Isaiah 56:6, 7) By the end of the thousand years, all faithful ones will have been brought to human perfection through the ministration of Jesus Christ and his 144,000 fellow priests. They will be righteous, not merely be declared righteous as friends of God. They will “come to life,” being completely free of sin and death inherited from Adam. (Revelation 20:5; 22:2) What a blessing that will be! From our perspective today, it seems that the priestly work of Jesus and the 144,000 will then have been accomplished. The blessings of the greater Atonement Day will have been applied in full. Further, Jesus will ‘hand over the kingdom to his God and Father.’ (1 Corinthians 15:24) There will be a final test for mankind, and then Satan and his demons will be destroyed forever.—Revelation 20:7, 10.
17. In view of the joy that awaits us, what should each of us be determined to do?
17 What role, if any, will the “everlasting covenant” play in the exciting era that will then begin? That is not for us to say. What Jehovah has so far revealed is enough for now. It leaves us awestruck. Just think—everlasting life as part of “new heavens and a new earth”! (2 Peter 3:13) May nothing weaken our desire to inherit that promise. Standing firm may not be easy. Paul said: “You have need of endurance, in order that, after you have done the will of God, you may receive the fulfillment of the promise.” (Hebrews 10:36) Remember, though, that any problem to be overcome, any opposition to be surmounted, pales into insignificance beside the joy that awaits us. (2 Corinthians 4:17) Hence, may none of us be “the sort that shrink back to destruction.” Rather, may we prove ourselves to be “the sort that have faith to the preserving alive of the soul.” (Hebrews 10:39) May we all have full trust in Jehovah, the God of covenants, to the eternal blessing of each and every one of us.
See Survival Into a New Earth, chapter 13, published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.
Did You Understand?
□ Besides anointed Christians, who are being blessed through Abraham’s Seed?
□ In being blessed through the new covenant, how are the other sheep like proselytes under the old covenant?
□ How are the other sheep blessed through the greater Atonement Day arrangement?
□ Why did Paul call the new covenant an “everlasting covenant”?
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Sacred Service In The Temple
The great crowd worships with anointed Christians in the earthly courtyard of Jehovah’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 Gentiles. When Jesus was on earth, there was a Court of the Gentiles in the temple. However, in the divinely inspired plans of Solomon’s and Ezekiel’s temples, there was no provision for a Court of the Gentiles. In Solomon’s temple, there was an outer courtyard where Israelites and proselytes, men and women, worshiped together. This is the prophetic pattern of the earthly courtyard of the 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 enter the Most Holy. The inner courtyard and the Holy are understood to foreshadow the unique spiritual condition of anointed Christians on earth. And the Most Holy pictures heaven itself, where anointed Christians receive immortal life along with their heavenly High Priest.—Hebrews 10:19, 20.
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In view of the joy that awaits us, let us “have faith to the preserving alive of the soul”