For years the Watchtower taught that the great crowd served God in the figurative “courtyard of the Gentiles” of the temple of God. Then, suddenly, in 1998 that teaching was changed. Here are some quotes from Watchtower publications that show the old teaching and the change.
This teaching was evidently introduced at the district conventions in 1972 as can be seen from the following quote from a review of those conventions that appeared in The Watchtower of October 1, 1972.
The speaker next showed that these spirit-begotten sons of God, as “spiritual Israelites,” were not the only ones who are found serving at Jehovah’s temple today. People of all kinds are being invited to come and serve at this temple, even as the Bible foretold would occur. (Isa. 2:2, 3; Rev. 7:9, 15) Those who respond have the privilege of worshiping Jehovah in the nonpriestly courtyard, comparable to the “courtyard of the Gentiles” of the temple built by King Herod. – The Watchtower, 10/1/1972. p. 607 “The Big Issue – Are We for or Against Divine Rulership?”
This same teaching was repeated later in 1972 and periodically for 25 more years.
This beautiful vision presents the international “great crowd” as serving Jehovah in his temple, that is, in the earthly courtyards reserved for those who are not spiritual Israelites, as it were in the “courtyard of the Gentiles.” – The Watchtower, 12/1/1972, p. 722 “The Gathering of All Nations to One Temple to Worship”
This beautiful vision presents the international “great crowd” as serving Jehovah in his temple, that is, in the earthly courtyards reserved for those who are not spiritual Israelites, as it were in the “courtyard of the Gentiles.” – The Watchtower, 5/15/1979, p. 16 “Persistence in Prayer Has Its Reward”
Those making up this “great crowd” are not described in terms that identify them as underpriests. So they must be understood to be standing in what was represented by the courtyard of the Gentiles, a special feature of the temple as rebuilt by Herod. – Insight on the Scriptures, Volume 2, p. 1081 “Temple”
A “great crowd of Jehovah’s other worshipers is “rendering [God] sacred service” in what was represented by the courtyard of the Gentiles at the temple rebuilt by Herod. – The Watchtower, 1/15/1993, p. 25 “Guard Against Idolatry of Every Sort”
As foretold, the great crowd “are worshiping [God] day and night in his temple.” (Revelation 7:15, footnote) Since they are not spiritual, priestly Israelites, John likely saw them standing in the temple in the outer courtyard of the Gentiles. – The Watchtower, 7/1/1996, p. 20 “The Triumph of True Worship Draws Near”
Then, in the 2/1/1998 issue of The Watchtower, the following change appeared.
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. – The Watchtower, 2/1/1998, p. 21 “The Other Sheep and the New Covenant”
“There is no reason to conclude that they are in a separate Court of the Gentiles.” ? Basically, they are saying “There is no reason to believe what we taught for 25 years.” On that point, I agree wholeheartedly with the Watchtower. As a friend of mine once put it, “Every time the governing body changes direction, 6 millions JWs get whiplash.”