One Flock, One Shepherd
“You who have followed me will also yourselves sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”—MATT. 19:28.
1. How did Jehovah deal with Abraham’s descendants, and why does this not mean that he totally disregarded all other people?
JEHOVAH loved Abraham, so He showed loyal love to Abraham’s descendants. For over 15 centuries, he viewed the nation of Israel, which descended from Abraham, as his chosen people, his “special property.” (Read Deuteronomy 7:6.) Did that mean that Jehovah totally disregarded people of other nations? No. During that time, non-Israelites who desired to worship Jehovah were allowed to attach themselves to his special nation. These converts, or proselytes, were viewed as part of the nation. They were to be treated as brothers. (Lev. 19:33, 34) And they were required to obey all of Jehovah’s laws.—Lev. 24:22.
2. What startling declaration did Jesus make, leading to what questions?
2 However, Jesus made this startling declaration to the Jews of his day: “The kingdom of God will be taken from you and be given to a nation producing its fruits.” (Matt. 21:43) Who would make up this new nation, and how are we today affected by this change?
The New Nation
3, 4. (a) How did the apostle Peter identify the new nation? (b) Who make up this new nation?
3 The apostle Peter clearly identified this new nation. He wrote the following to his fellow Christians: “You are ‘a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for special possession, that you should declare abroad the excellencies’ of the one that called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” (1 Pet. 2:9) As foretold, natural Jews who accepted Jesus as the Messiah were the first members of that new nation. (Dan. 9:27a; Matt. 10:6) Later, many non-Israelites were also included in this nation, for Peter went on to say: “You were once not a people, but are now God’s people.”—1 Pet. 2:10.
4 To whom was Peter here speaking? In the beginning of his letter, he says: “[God] gave us a new birth to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an incorruptible and undefiled and unfading inheritance. It is reserved in the heavens for you.” (1 Pet. 1:3, 4) So this new nation is made up of anointed Christians, who have the heavenly hope. They are “the Israel of God.” (Gal. 6:16) In a vision, the apostle John saw that these spiritual Israelites number 144,000. They are “bought from among mankind as firstfruits to God and to the Lamb” to serve as “priests” and to “rule as kings with [Jesus] for the thousand years.”—Rev. 5:10; 7:4; 14:1, 4; 20:6; Jas. 1:18.
Are Others Also Included?
5. (a) To whom does the expression “Israel of God” refer? (b) Why is the term “Israel” not always limited in its meaning?
5 Clearly, then, the phrase “Israel of God” at Galatians 6:16 refers exclusively to anointed Christians. However, are there instances when Jehovah uses the nation of Israel as a picture, or illustration, that includes Christians other than the anointed? The answer can be found in these words of Jesus to his faithful apostles: “I make a covenant with you, just as my Father has made a covenant with me, for a kingdom, that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and sit on thrones to judge the twelve tribes of Israel.” (Luke 22:28-30) This will take place during “the re-creation,” or time of regeneration, during Christ’s Millennial Rule.—Read Matthew 19:28; ftn.
6 The 144,000 will serve as heavenly kings, priests, and judges during the Thousand Year Reign. (Rev. 20:4) Whom will they judge, and over whom will they rule? At Matthew 19:28 and Luke 22:30, we are told that they will judge “the twelve tribes of Israel.” Whom do “the twelve tribes of Israel” picture in this context? They represent all those with an earthly hope—those who put faith in Jesus’ sacrifice but are not included in the royal priestly class. (The tribe of Levi was not included in the listing of the 12 tribes of natural Israel.) Those pictured in this context by the 12 tribes of Israel are the ones who will gain spiritual benefits from the priestly services of the 144,000. These nonpriestly beneficiaries are also God’s people, and he loves and accepts them. It is appropriate that they are likened to his people of ancient times.
7 Fittingly, after the apostle John saw the 144,000 spiritual Israelites being permanently sealed before the great tribulation, he also observed a numberless “great crowd,” who come “out of all nations.” (Rev. 7:9) These will survive the great tribulation into Christ’s Millennial Reign. There they will be joined by billions of resurrected ones. (John 5:28, 29; Rev. 20:13) All of these will make up the symbolic “twelve tribes of Israel,” who will be judged by Jesus and his 144,000 corulers.—Acts 17:31; 24:15; Rev. 20:12.
8. How do the events of the annual Atonement Day foreshadow the relationship between the 144,000 and the rest of mankind?
8 This relationship between the 144,000 and the rest of mankind was foreshadowed in the events of the annual Atonement Day. (Lev. 16:6-10) The high priest was required, first of all, to sacrifice a bull as a sin offering “in behalf of himself and his house.” Thus, Jesus’ sacrifice is applied first to his household of underpriests, those who will serve with him in heaven. Also on the ancient Atonement Day, two goats were provided for the sins of the other Israelites. In this setting, where the priestly tribe pictures the 144,000, the rest of Israel pictures all those with an earthly hope. This application shows that the term “the twelve tribes of Israel” at Matthew 19:28 refers, not to Jesus’ spirit-begotten underpriests, but to all others who put faith in Jesus’ sacrifice.a
9. Whom do the priests in Ezekiel’s temple vision represent, and whom do the nonpriestly Israelites represent?
9 Consider another example. The prophet Ezekiel was given an extensive vision of Jehovah’s temple. (Ezek., chaps. 40-48) In that visionary setting, the priests worked in the temple, providing instruction and receiving Jehovah’s counsel and correction. (Ezek. 44:23-31) In the same setting, members of the various tribes came to worship and offer sacrifices. (Ezek. 45:16, 17) In this context, then, the priests picture the anointed, while Israelites from the nonpriestly tribes picture those with an earthly hope. The vision emphasizes that the two groups work together harmoniously, with the priestly class taking the lead in pure worship.
10, 11. (a) What faith-strengthening fulfillment of Jesus’ words have we seen? (b) What question arises about the other sheep?
10 Jesus spoke of “other sheep,” who would not be of the same “fold” as the “little flock” of his anointed followers. (John 10:16; Luke 12:32) He said: “Those also I must bring, and they will listen to my voice, and they will become one flock, one shepherd.” How faith-strengthening it has been to see the fulfillment of those words! Two groups of people have been joined together—the small group of anointed ones and the great crowd of other sheep. (Read Zechariah 8:23.) Although the other sheep do not symbolically serve in the inner courtyard of the spiritual temple, they do serve in the outer courtyard of that temple.
11 But if Jehovah sometimes uses the nonpriestly members of ancient Israel to picture these other sheep, should those with an earthly hope also partake of the Memorial emblems? We will now consider the answer to this question.
The New Covenant
12. What new arrangement did Jehovah foretell?
12 Jehovah foretold a new arrangement for his people when he said: “This is the covenant that I shall conclude with the house of Israel after those days. . . . I will put my law within them, and in their heart I shall write it. And I will become their God, and they themselves will become my people.” (Jer. 31:31-33) By means of this new covenant, Jehovah’s promise to Abraham was to have a glorious and lasting fulfillment.—Read Genesis 22:18.
13, 14. (a) Who are participants in the new covenant? (b) Who are beneficiaries, and how do they ‘lay hold’ of this new covenant?
13 Jesus referred to this new covenant on the night before his death when he said: “This cup means the new covenant by virtue of my blood, which is to be poured out in your behalf.” (Luke 22:20; 1 Cor. 11:25) Are all Christians included in this new covenant? No. Some, like the apostles who drank of that cup that evening, are participants in the new covenant.b Jesus made another covenant with them to rule together with him in his Kingdom. (Luke 22:28-30) They will share with Jesus in his Kingdom.—Luke 22:15, 16.
14 What of those who will live on earth under his Kingdom? They are beneficiaries of the new covenant. (Gal. 3:8, 9) Although not participants, they ‘lay hold’ of this covenant by submitting to its requirements, just as was foretold by the prophet Isaiah: “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.” Jehovah then says: “For my own house will be called even a house of prayer for all the peoples.”—Isa. 56:6, 7.
Who Should Partake?
15, 16. (a) To what does the apostle Paul link the new covenant? (b) Why should those with an earthly hope not partake of the Memorial emblems?
15 Those in the new covenant “have boldness for the way of entry into the holy place.” (Read Hebrews 10:15-20.) These are the ones who are “to receive a kingdom that cannot be shaken.” (Heb. 12:28) So, then, only those who will be kings and priests in heaven with Jesus Christ should drink from the “cup” that represents the new covenant. These participants in the new covenant are the ones promised in marriage to the Lamb. (2 Cor. 11:2; Rev. 21:2, 9) All others who attend the annual Memorial are respectful observers, who do not partake of the emblems.
16 Paul also helps us to understand that those with an earthly hope do not partake of the Memorial emblems. He said to anointed Christians: “For as often as you eat this loaf and drink this cup, you keep proclaiming the death of the Lord, until he arrives.” (1 Cor. 11:26) When does the Lord ‘arrive’? When he comes to take the last of his anointed bride class to their heavenly home. (John 14:2, 3) Clearly, the annual observance of the Lord’s Evening Meal is not to continue endlessly. “The remaining ones” of the woman’s seed yet on earth will continue to partake of this meal until all of them have received their heavenly reward. (Rev. 12:17) If, though, those who will live forever on earth were entitled to partake of the emblems, then this Memorial meal would need to continue forever.
“They Will Actually Become My People”
17, 18. How has the prophecy recorded at Ezekiel 37:26, 27 been fulfilled?
17 Jehovah foretold the unity of his people in these words: “I will conclude with them a covenant of peace; an indefinitely lasting covenant is what there will come to be with them. And I will place them and multiply them and place my sanctuary in the midst of them to time indefinite. And my tabernacle will actually prove to be over them, and I shall certainly become their God, and they themselves will become my people.”—Ezek. 37:26, 27.
18 All of God’s people are privileged to benefit from the fulfillment of this marvelous promise, this covenant for Christian peace. Yes, Jehovah has guaranteed peace for all of his obedient servants. The fruitage of his spirit is evident among them. His sanctuary, here picturing pure Christian worship, is among them. They have truly become his people, for they have abandoned all forms of idolatry and have made Jehovah the only God whom they worship.
19, 20. Who are included in those whom Jehovah calls “my people,” and what does the new covenant make possible?
19 How thrilling it has been to witness this unifying of two groups in our time! Although the ever-growing great crowd do not have the heavenly hope, they are proud to be associated with those who do. They have attached themselves to the Israel of God. By doing this, they are included among those whom Jehovah calls “my people.” In them we find the fulfillment of this prophecy: “Many nations will certainly become joined to Jehovah in that day, and they will actually become my people; and I will reside in the midst of you.”—Zech. 2:11; 8:21; read Isaiah 65:22; Revelation 21:3, 4.
20 By means of the new covenant, Jehovah has made all of this possible. Millions of spiritual foreigners have become part of Jehovah’s favored nation. (Mic. 4:1-5) They are determined to continue to lay hold of that covenant by accepting its provisions and obeying its requirements. (Isa. 56:6, 7) In so doing, along with the Israel of God, they enjoy the rich blessings of continued peace. May that be your blessed lot—now and for all time to come!
a Similarly, the anointed are primarily spoken of as “the congregation.” (Heb. 12:23) However, the word “congregation” can have another meaning, referring to all Christians, no matter what hope they have.—See The Watchtower, April 15, 2007, pages 21-23.
b Jesus is the Mediator of that covenant, not a participant. As the Mediator, he evidently did not partake of the emblems.
Do You Remember?
• Who are “the twelve tribes of Israel” that the 144,000 will judge?
• What is the relationship of the anointed and of the other sheep to the new covenant?
• Should all Christians partake of the Memorial emblems?
• What unity was foretold for our day?
[Graph/Pictures on page 25]
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Many are now serving along with the Israel of God
1950 | 373,430
1970 | 1,483,430
1990 | 4,017,213
2009 | 7,313,173