One of the fundamental teachings of Jehovah’s Witnesses is that there are a literal 144,000 persons who will go to heaven and reign with Christ during the 1000 years. There are presently about 10,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses who identify themselves as part of that 144,000 by partaking of the bread and wine at Jehovah’s Witnesses annual celebration of the Memorial.
Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that those who are not of the 144,000 and who remain faithful will live forever on a paradise earth. These are referred to as the “other sheep” in reference to John 10:16 where Jesus says “I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen,”.
When asked about it, many Jehovah’s Witnesses will try to minimize the differences between the 144,000 and the “other sheep”, saying that the only difference is where they will spend eternity. They will say that the 144,000 will spend eternity on heaven, while the “other sheep” will live forever on a paradise earth. I can understand the minimizing of the difference between the two classes, I’ve been there, and done that. If the WT version of the “earthly hope” is the only hope you have, you don’t want to portray it, or see it yourself as being widely separated from, or in any way inferior to the “heavenly hope.” I see the minimizing of the differences as a defense mechanism. What separates the self-proclaimed 144,000 from the “other sheep” goes way beyond their place of residence in the future. The actual teachings of Jehovah’s Witnesses draw several significant distinctions between the 144,000 and the “other sheep.” Here are some of them.
Born again – The Watchtower teaches that the 144,000 are born again, but the other sheep are not.
“16 As individuals, those of the “little flock” and the multitudinous crowd of the “other sheep” show comparable joyful zeal for God’s service. (Luke 12:32; John 10:16; Titus 2:13, 14) Most of the remaining anointed ones may be far more advanced in age and in Christian experience, but both groups display the Christian personality and the fruitage of the spirit. (Ephesians 4:24; Galatians 5:22, 23) There is a difference, though, as Jesus indicated to Nicodemus even before he spoke of everlasting life. He said: “Unless anyone is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3-5) So a spiritual rebirth is experienced by those baptized Christians whom God calls to be joint heirs with Jesus in his Kingdom.(1 Corinthians 1:9, 26-30) The “other sheep” do not need any such rebirth, for their goal is life everlasting in the restored earthly Paradise as subjects of the Kingdom. -Matthew 25:34, 46b; Luke 23:42, 43.” – The Watchtower, 2/15/1984, page 14
This is a significant distinction because it is the foundation for those that follow.
Anointed sons of God – In the theology of the Watchtower, the 144,000 are born again as anointed sons of God, the other sheep are not.
“12 As in the ancient pattern, God provides his spirit also for these hoping to live forever on earth. True, they are not born again. Each of the 144,000 has the singular experience of being born again as a spiritual son of God and anointed with holy spirit. (John 3:3, 5; Romans 8:16; Ephesians 1:13, 14) Of course, that anointing is a unique manifestation of God’s spirit in behalf of the little flock. But God’s spirit is also needed to carry out his will. Hence, Jesus said: ‘The Father in heaven gives holy spirit to those asking him.’ (Luke 11:13) Whether the one asking has the heavenly hope or is of the other sheep, Jehovah’s spirit is abundantly available to carry out His will.” – The Watchtower, 4/15/1002, page 14
So, while they teach that both groups have the Holy Spirit, they teach that the 144,000 have an anointing, “a unique manifestation of God’s spirit in behalf of the little flock” that the “other sheep” do not.
Declared righteous – The 144,000 are declared righteous in a different way than the other sheep.
“5 The great crowd do not serve God in the condition pictured by the inner priestly courtyard. They are not declared righteous for the purpose of being God’s adopted, spiritual sons. (Romans 8:1, 15) Nevertheless, by exercising faith in Jesus’ ransom, they have a clean standing before Jehovah. They are declared righteous with the purpose of being his friends.” – The Watchtower, 7/1/1996, page 20
“Then all on earth will be put to one last test by the loosing of Satan and his demons from the abyss, to which they had been confined while the uplifting work of Christ’s reign was taking place. While, during the thousand-year reign, those who refused to get in line were destroyed, the test at the end of the thousand years will reveal all those who turn selfish at heart, who will then be destroyed together with Satan and his demons in what is termed “the lake of fire” and “the second death.” (Rev. 20:1-10, 14) Those maintaining integrity will be declared righteous by Jehovah and be given the right to everlasting life.
Thus, in summing up, we see that from Pentecost to the present time only those of the “body of Christ” are declared righteous, and that by faith; these will gain actual righteousness in the “first resurrection.” And the rest of the obedient ones of mankind will be declared righteous to life everlasting after meeting the test at the end of the thousand-year reign of Christ.” – The Watchtower, 9/1/1954, page 523
Body of Christ – The 144,000 are part of the body of Christ, the other sheep are not.
“16 Paul wrote that we should let the peace of the Christ control in our hearts because we were ‘called to it in one body.’ The anointed Christians to whom Paul wrote were called to be part of the body of Christ, as are the remaining ones of the anointed today. Their ‘other sheep’ companions are united with them as ‘one flock’ under ‘one shepherd,'” – The Watchtower, 9/1/2001, page 18
Vine, branches – The 144,000 are branches of the “true vine”, Jesus Christ. The other sheep are not.
“At Pentecost, 51 days later, the apostles and others become branches of the vine when holy spirit is poured out on them. Eventually, 144,000 persons become branches of the figurative grapevine. Along with the vine stem, Jesus Christ, these make up a symbolic vine that produces the fruits of God’s Kingdom – The Watchtower, 8/15/1990, page 8
“14 While the ‘other sheep’ are not branches of the Abrahamic-covenant ‘olive tree’ or of ‘the true vine,’ Christ Jesus, they must prove themselves to be Christ’s disciples. Like all the anointed Christian ‘branches,’ they must ‘keep bearing much fruit.’ This they do by producing Christlike qualities of the new personality, including ‘the fruitage of the spirit.’ (Galatians 5:22, 23; Matthew 28:19, 20; Colossians 3:5-14) But to be really fruitful they give active expression to such qualities by sharing in the work of preaching ‘this good news.’ (Matthew 24:14) Just as the anointed ‘branches’ of the ‘true vine’ must remain in union with Christ, the ‘other sheep’ must remain in close union with ‘the faithful and discreet slave,’ Christ’s anointed ‘brothers.’ Only thus can they hope to ‘inherit the Kingdom prepared for them from the founding of the world.” – The Watchtower, 8/15/1983, page 23
So then, while the “other sheep” are expected to bear fruit, they are told they are not branches of the True Vine, Jesus Christ. How do they bear fruit? According to this, it is by their connection, not directly with Jesus, but with the 144,000. That takes it from being the fruitage of the spirit to being the fruitage of their association with the “anointed.” The final point goes to the very core of their relationship with God. The 144,000 and the “other sheep” have very different relationships with God.
Abba – Time and again, the Watchtower quotes and cites Romans 8: 15-17 with regard to their 144,000 relationship with God, highlighting the teaching that it is the 144,000 that are God’s children and address Him as “Abba, Father”.
10 All 144,000 anointed Christians have had absolute evidence that they have God’s spirit. In this regard, Paul wrote: “You received a spirit of adoption as sons, by which spirit we cry out: ‘Abba, Father!’ The spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are God’s children. If, then, we are children, we are also heirs: heirs indeed of God, but joint heirs with Christ, provided we suffer together that we may also be glorified together.” (Romans 8:15-17) Anointed Christians have a filial spirit toward their heavenly Father, a dominant sense of sonship. (Galatians 4:6, 7) They are absolutely certain that they have been begotten by God to spiritual sonship as joint heirs with Christ in the heavenly Kingdom. In this, Jehovah’s holy spirit plays a definite role. – The Watchtower, 2/15/1998, page 14
Yes, those with the heavenly calling have the testimony of God’s spirit to that effect. Concerning this, Paul wrote at Romans 8:15-17: “You did not receive a spirit of slavery causing fear again, but you received a spirit of adoption as sons, by which spirit we cry out: ‘Abba, Father!’ The spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are God’s children. If, then, we are children, we are also heirs: heirs indeed of God, but joint heirs with Christ, provided we suffer together that we may also be glorified together.” It is by means of God’s spirit, or active force, that anointed ones cry out, “Abba, Father!”
The chief evidence that a person has been anointed to the heavenly calling is a spirit, or dominant sense, of sonship. (Galatians 4:6, 7) Such an individual is absolutely sure that he has been begotten by God to spiritual sonship as one of the 144,000 joint heirs of the heavenly Kingdom. He can testify that his heavenly hope is not his own cultivated desire or his imagination; rather, it is from Jehovah as a result of the action of God’s spirit toward him.-1 Peter 1:3, 4.
Under the influence of God’s holy spirit, the spirit, or dominant attitude, of anointed ones acts as an impelling force. It moves them to respond positively to what God’s Word says about the heavenly hope. They also respond in a positive way to Jehovah’s dealings with them by means of the holy spirit. Thus, they are sure that they are God’s spiritual children and heirs.
When anointed ones read what God’s Word says about his spiritual children and the heavenly hope, their spontaneous inclination is to say within themselves, ‘This means me!’ Yes, they respond joyfully when their Father’s Word promises a heavenly reward. They say, ‘That means me!’ when they read: “Beloved ones, now we are children of God.” (1 John 3:2) And when anointed ones read that God has brought people forth “to be certain firstfruits of his creatures,” their mental inclination is to respond, ‘Yes, he brought me forth for that purpose.’ (James 1:18) They know that they have been “baptized into Christ Jesus” and into his death. (Romans 6:3) So they have the firm conviction of being part of Christ’s spiritual body and entertain the hope of undergoing a death like his and being resurrected to heavenly life. – The Watchtower, 3/15/91, pp 19, 20
8 God’s spirit gives positive assurance of adoption as spiritual sons to baptized Christians who have received the heavenly calling. The apostle Paul showed this when he wrote to the “holy ones” in Rome, describing what was at that time the situation of all true Christians. He said: “All who are led by God’s spirit, these are God’s sons. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery causing fear again, but you received a spirit of adoption as sons, by which spirit we cry out: ‘Abba, Father!’ The spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are God’s children. If, then, we are children, we are also heirs: heirs indeed of God, but joint heirs with Christ, provided we suffer together that we may also be glorified together.”-Rom. 1:7; 8:14-17. – United in Worship of the True God, p 112
So, according to the teachings of Jehovah’s Witnesses, the 144,000 know who and what they are because of a positive action on the part of the Holy Spirit toward them. On the other hand, the “other sheep” know who and what they are due to a lack of that positive action toward them by the Holy Spirit. Nowhere does the Bible show us Christians who are not born again, not anointed sons of God, not declared righteous for life, not members of the body of Christ, not branches of the True Vine, not able to cry out “Abba, Father”, and who do not have the positive assurance of their relationship with God from the Holy Spirit. The only people in the Bible who lack those things are unbelievers.