I've asked myself more than once if it is worth my time to meet with "my" Jehovah's Witnesses each week for a Bible study. They are obviously convinced of their point of view, as I am of mine. So what's the point? I've decided that hearing them explain their doctrine is a fabulous motivator for me to learn how to better articulate my own. Today is a case in point.
We got a bit hung up on the 144,000 in Revelation 7. I'm not a big end-times prophecy expert and I don't claim to have a solid handle on the book of Revelation. But their interpretation of this jumped out at me as quite unusual. In short, they believe that the 144,000 are a select group of faithful believers who will rule the earth from heaven with God. They have assured me that they are not part of that group and are quite content to live here on earth. So is this just a minor difference? Better to just 'agree to disagree' and move on? I thought maybe so until we wandered into another topic and I realized just how huge the implications are.
JW's believe that regular believers (like you and me, probably, unless you are one of the few) are NOT the bride of Christ. Only the 144,000 qualify. And when I took them to Ephesians 5 (where Christ is said to give himself for the church and make her radiant - v25-26) and asked them how that squares with their theology I got the shocking answer: Ephesians wasn't written for us. It was for the 1st century church in Ephesus, and they were part of the select, anointed group of individuals who will reign with Christ. We will not. Back up to Ephesians chapter one. Remember all the spiritual blessings we thought we had in Christ? adoption as sons, forgiveness of sins, the seal of the Holy Spirit, etc. Apparently those blessings are only for the elite.
I know that my JW friends believe they are saved through faith in Christ. I have found that we do have much in common. But their two-tiered version of Christianity strips the good news out of the gospel! Ephesians was written for the church in Ephesus, but by the grace of God we, too, are members of that same, ever-expanding body of Christ. We are offered the wonderful assurance of the Holy Spirit reminding us that we belong to God (Eph 1:13-14). When I told them that I was confident that I was part of the bride of Christ and would reign with him in the new creation it was their turn to be shocked. While they couldn't argue with that (because it's based on my own 'inner witness'), they have no such hope.
A pastor friend of ours has written a wonderful response to the JW doctrine of the 144,000 which shows that the number is used as a symbolic representation of all believers in Jesus. Here is the link if you're interested in exploring this for yourself:
All this reminds me why it is so important for us to diligently study God's Word and continue to question our own presuppositions so that we can be receptive to the truth. I have conceeded a few things over these weeks that I think the church at large has gotten wrong. But today was not one of those days. I'm hangin' on to this one!
Thursday, January 7, 2010
Dr. Carmen Imes is the Associate Professor of Old Testament at Prairie College in Three Hills, Alberta, and serves the broader church through teaching, speaking, and writing. She earned a PhD in Biblical Theology (Old Testament) from Wheaton College under Dr. Daniel Block, an MA in Biblical Studies from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (Charlotte), and a BA in Bible and Theology from Multnomah University. She and her husband, Danny, served as missionaries with SIM 15 years. They have three children: Ana, Emma, and Easton.