The Jehovah’s Witnesses believe in a “two class” theology whereby only 144,000 will reign in heaven for eternity. The rest of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, or the “great crowd,” will reside on a paradise earth. The focus of this article will deal with the Watchtower’s belief that none of the saints mentioned in the Hebrew Scriptures have gone or will ever go to heaven.
“I say to you that many will come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 8:11)
“In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but yourselves being thrown out. And they will come from east and west and from north and south, and will recline at the table in the kingdom of God.” (Luke 13:28-29)
What does Jesus mean when He expresses that Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and all the prophets will be in the kingdom of heaven? While the eternal hope for all true Christians and Old Covenant believers will include a restored earth (Matthew 5:5, Romans 4:13, Revelation 21:1-3), “the kingdom of God” is in reference to all God has rule over. However, the Watchtower is very strict in locating “the kingdom of God/Heaven” to heaven itself,
“God’s Kingdom is a government established by Jehovah God with a King chosen by God…Hence, that is where God’s Kingdom is—in heaven. That is why the Bible calls it a ‘heavenly kingdom.’ (2 Timothy 4:18) Although God’s Kingdom is in heaven, it will rule over the earth. –Revelation 11:15 (What Does the Bible Really Teach, p. 77)
If “the kingdom of God/Heaven” is strictly located in heaven, then what is the most natural and reasonable interpretation of Matthew 8:11/Luke 13:28? The conclusion would have Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob located in God’s government in heaven. This conclusion presents a problem for the Watchtower’s “two class” theology since they do not believe any of the saints mentioned in the Hebrew Scriptures will be in heaven.
The March 15, 1962 Watchtower (p. 191-192, “Questions from Readers) provides their explanation as to how Matthew 8:11/Luke 13:28-29 can be reconciled with their “two class theology.”
Questions From Readers
● How can Matthew 8:11, which speaks of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of the heavens, be harmonized with Matthew 11:11, which indicates that not even John the Baptist will be in it? (3/15/62 WT p. 191-192)
Matthew 11:11 reads:
“Truly I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist! Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”
Remember, it is the Watchtower who insists that “kingdom of heaven” is a locality that is limited to the heavenly realm. This will be important to keep in mind as the article continues.
In Hebrews 11:8-19 we read: “By faith Abraham . . . dwelt in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the very same promise. For he was awaiting the city having real foundations, the builder and creator of which city is God. . . . But now they are reaching out for a better place, that is, one belonging to heaven. Hence God is not ashamed of them, to be called upon as their God, for he has made a city ready for them. By faith Abraham, when he was tested, as good as offered up Isaac . . . But he reckoned that God was able to raise him up even from the dead; and from there he did receive him also in an illustrative way.”
How did Abraham expect to receive Isaac back from the dead? In heaven as a spirit? No, but here on earth as a human creature. In an illustrative way he got Isaac back from the dead here on earth. So Abraham was not looking for any spiritual, heavenly resurrection to put him among the celestial angels any more than he was expecting Isaac to have such a resurrection and rejoin him in heaven. (Ibid. 191-192)
The Watchtower is correct in denying that Abraham and Isaac will be resurrected as spirit creatures (1 Corinthians 15:35-54). The problem isn’t with Abraham’s expectation to receive Isaac back from the dead; instead, problem is the Watchtower’s view of the Kingdom of God being limited to a location in heaven. If God’s kingdom encompasses all that He has rule over (both heaven and earth), then Abraham’s reunion with Isaac on earth (e.g. the kingdom of God on earth) isn’t an issue.
Abraham had come out of Ur of the Chaldeans, and he did not want that city any more. He and his son Isaac and grandson Jacob wanted a better place, that is, one belonging to heaven, a city government, namely, the government or city that God has prepared and in which the promised Seed or Offspring of Abraham will be God’s King. This is the “kingdom of God,” or “the kingdom of the heavens,” as these two expressions are interchangeable, the expression “the heavens” having reference to God. Under that kingdom of the heavens or kingdom of God Abraham, Isaac and Jacob expected to live on earth. (Ibid. 191-192)
Hebrews 11:16 explicitly refers to a “heavenly city” that is being prepared for Abraham to enter. The Watchtower provides an unscriptural interpretation by asserting that a “city government” is what God is preparing for Abraham. They argue this to avoid the conclusion that Abraham will be in the same location as Christ and the 144,000. Yet, there is no Scriptural basis for the Watchtower’s view in separating the Old Covenant saints from Christ and the 144,000.
Instead, the Scriptures are clear in teaching that Christ will physically come to the earth (Acts 1:9-11; 3:21, etc.), separate the sheep from the goats (Matthew 25:32-33), and say to the sheep, “Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” (Matthew 25:34). Matthew 25 does not speak of two classes of believers; it speaks of two classes of persons. These two classes consist of sheep and goats. All of the sheep are believers who will all inherit the kingdom. Therefore, there is only one class of believers who will rule with Christ on the earth (Revelation 5:10).
In the year 30 (A.D.) Jesus told Nicodemus that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were not in heaven. (John 3:13) Three years later, on the day of Pentecost of the year 33, the apostle Peter said that the descendant of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, namely, King David, had not ascended to heaven and so was not in any kingdom of the heavens or kingdom of God. (Acts 2:34) Peter said that after Jesus made the statement about Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in Matthew 8:11 at the time of healing the servant of a Roman centurion. (Ibid. 191-192)
Even if these arguments are granted, how does this change the fact that Matthew 8:11 explicitly affirms that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob will be “in” the Kingdom of Heaven? The Watchtower avoids this question by focusing on the intermediate state, which is the idea that the Christian’s soul will be with the Lord following death (Philippians 1:21-24; 2 Corinthians 5:6-8). However, the Watchtower’s arguments are irrelevant to Matthew 8:11 because it refers, using future tense verbs (e.g. “will come”), to the establishment of the Kingdom of God after the physical resurrection of Christians (see also Matthew 26:29 and Luke 22:16-18).
Hence those three patriarchs could not be in the Kingdom class as joint heirs with the Lord Jesus Christ. They were his ancestors, who preceded him by more than seventeen hundred years. It is therefore evident that in Matthew 8:11 Jesus referred to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob figuratively.
On the occasion when Abraham offered up his son Isaac, Abraham represented Jehovah God and Isaac represented God’s only-begotten Son Jesus Christ, who was offered up in sacrifice. Accordingly Jacob represented the spiritual Christian congregation, the “kingdom of the heavens” class; for, just as the congregation gets life through Jesus Christ, so Jacob got life from Abraham through Isaac. From this standpoint Abraham, Isaac and Jacob mentioned together in Jesus’ illustration would picture the great theocratic government, in which Jehovah is the Great Theocrat, Jesus Christ is his anointed representative King, and the faithful, victorious Christian congregation of 144,000 members is the body of Christ’s joint heirs in the Kingdom. (Ibid. 191-192)
The Watchtower apparently believes that if the Scriptures contradict their doctrine, then they should be interpreted figuratively. There are several problems with this approach. First, there is no contextual basis for holding to a figurative view of Matthew 8:11. Recognizing types and shadows in the Hebrew Scriptures has nothing to do with interpreting Matthew 8:11 figuratively. After all, if the Watchtower didn’t hold to their “two class” doctrine, they would not have come to this conclusion on Matthew 8:11. But even so, the figurative view falls short in explaining the parallels. The Watchtower interprets the persons mentioned in the following manner:
- Abraham = Jehovah
- Isaac = Jesus Christ
- Jacob = the 144,000
Unfortunately for the Watchtower, Luke 13:28 mentions another group as being “in the kingdom.” This group includes “all the prophets.” The Watchtower does not provide a figurative explanation of “all the prophets.” Therefore, their interpretation of Matthew 8:11 and Luke 13:28 falls short.
When the Christian congregation was founded on the day of Pentecost, its spirit-anointed members were made Christ’s joint heirs and were put in line for a place in the heavenly kingdom, to recline there at the spiritual table with the Greater Abraham and the Greater Isaac. The natural or fleshly Jews of the nation of Israel claimed to be the “sons of the kingdom” or the prospective members of God’s kingdom. From the day of Pentecost forward they saw the beginning and the gradual development of this theocratic arrangement, but because of their lack of faith in Christ they were not in it. Hence, as Jesus said (Matt. 8:12): “The sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the darkness outside. There is where their weeping and the gnashing of their teeth will be.” (Ibid. 191-192)
The Watchtower insists that these “joint heirs with Christ” will have a separate eternal dwelling place than the rest of Christianity. This is a perspective that is nowhere articulated in the Scriptures. Instead, the Scriptures teach that all Christians will inherit the heavenly kingdom (Matthew 25:34).
For this reason it became necessary that many Gentiles (non-Jews), like the Roman centurion whose faith brought a miraculous cure by Jesus, should come “from eastern parts and western parts,” from all around the earth, to become dedicated, baptized Christians. Thus they could help make up the full number of the Kingdom class. For faithfulness to the death these converted Gentiles are resurrected to heavenly life to recline at the heavenly table, as it were, with Jehovah God and Jesus Christ “in the kingdom of the heavens.”
When understood this way, Matthew 8:11 agrees with Jesus’ words in Matthew 11:11: “Among those born of women there has not been raised up a greater than John the Baptist; but a person that is a lesser one in the kingdom of the heavens is greater than he is.” Since Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are not greater than John, they will not be literally in the kingdom of the heavens. Jesus used them only as an illustration of those who will actually be in it. (Ibid. 191-192)
The Watchtower completely misses the point of Matthew 11:11. Jesus is teaching a contrast between this age and the ago to come. This is similar to what is found in Mark 10:29-31,
“Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or farms, for My sake and for the gospel’s sake, but that he will receive a hundred times as much now in the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms, along with persecutions; and in the age to come, eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last, first.” (Mark 10:29–31)
Those who received little in the present age will receive much in the age to come. In addition, those who are last in the present age will be first in the age to come. Jesus speaks of this age in Matthew 11:11 when he mentions that no one has arisen who was greater than John the Baptist. The age to come will not only include those before John the Baptist, but those after him. Jesus’ point is that anyone living in the Kingdom of God in the age to come is greater than John the Baptist was in the present age.
In conclusion, it has been demonstrated that Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and all believers will be in the Kingdom of God ruling with Christ. The Watchtower has failed to prove that Matthew 8:11 can be reconciled with their two class theology.
16 thoughts on “Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and the Kingdom of Heaven”
If one keeps in mind that the word for kingdom can mean not only the rulers or government, but also the DOMAIN of those rulers and government, there is no problem to resolve when it comes to Matthew 8:11. Clearly then, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob could be in the domain of that kingdom as subjects without being part of the government (kingdom).
Do you agree or disagree with the WT’s interpretation of Matthew 8:11 as cited above? Or is your interpretation a private one?
But to answer your question directly, I think the WT is guilty of equivocation in their definitions of “kingdom.” I agree and could cite WT’s where they have defined “kingdom” as you have defined it here. However, I believe that the semantic range is defined by context rather than what better fits one’s theology.
However, if “kingdom” is defined as such here, then why did the WT not provide that definition?
They did. “Kingdom” can mean the “government” or it can mean the “domain of the government”. According to context, both immediate and the larger one, kingdom can mean either thing.
If the meaning is not apparent in the immediate context, it can be determined via the larger one. But that would require a fairly large discussion.
Perhaps I missed it, but is that what the “bible teach” definition tells us?
While I don’t have the time to hash it out here, I’ll try to in a future post explain the WT’s equivocation and why their definitions are based on theological import rather than context/exegesis.
This is an excellent post. There is an obvious contradict between what Matthew 8:11 says and in how the Society interprets Matthew 11:11.
If Abraham and his kin are to be in the kingdom then John the Baptist must too. Yet, according to the Society none of them are although “all the prophets” will be! That Rotherham cannot see this is a shame.
Yes, that’s a perfect example of equivocation as there is nothing contextual that would limit Matthew 11:11 as kingdom=government in heaven.
YOu both misunderstand the problem. Really there is none.
Everyone righteous will in the kingdom of God, either in the domain or the governemnt. One must discern by the greater context, not just the immediate one, whether the word “kingdom” refers to the domain or the government.
If one pays attention to the patterns and the precedents set by the word of God, the book of Revelation clearly shows that the church will be in heaven ruling as kings, priests and judges over the inhabited earth to come. As I stated before, Ivan and I have discussed this in depth but if we need to do it again, that would be fine.
Please do not be disingenuous and pretend like there’s no problem. There obviously is. This is why the Society took the time and space to dedicate a response to this issue. If there weren’t a problem they wouldn’t speak of a need for harmonization.
Matthew 8:11 states Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob would be seated with Jesus Christ at his “table.” The Lukan parallel includes “all the prophets.” So, for example, the prophet Daniel will be in the kingdom of heaven alongside Jesus Christ. Similarly, the wrongdoer who has executed alongside Jesus will be “with” Jesus personally.
You make a sharp distinction between “domain” and “government” but offer no evidence that these are locationally separate.
Sure, there are many times when “harmonization” is called for but what I am saying is that the harmonization erases the problem. Once things are harmonized with the larger context of scripture, then there is no problem.
I think we have already done the debate thing about the differences in the use of the word kingdom. Do you want to do that again here?
I wouldn’t mind debating what it means to be anointed/born again and who receives the new birth.
That’s sounds like a promising discussion. When and where would we do it?
Please check your email. I’ve sent some details. Let me know what you think.
OK. I sent a response.
The JWs cannot answer this. Seated in the kingdom, it is unambiguous. In Matt’ it states, ‘in the kingdom of heaven whist Luke refers to the kingdom of God. All Christians are in the kingdom of God, born of the Spirit of God!!. The Scriptures will not allow the JWs to circumvent what is plain to him who has eyes to see.
Current GB Position on Entrace into Kingdom
*** it-2 p. 168 Kingdom of God ***
Entrance Into the Kingdom. Jesus emphasized the special period of opportunity that had thus arrived. Of his forerunner John the Baptizer, Jesus said: “Among those born of women there has not been raised up a greater than John the Baptist; but a person that is a lesser one in the kingdom of the heavens is greater than he is. But from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of the heavens is the goal toward which men press [bi·aʹze·tai], and those pressing forward [bi·a·staiʹ] are seizing it. [Compare AT; also the Zürcher Bibel (German).] For all, the Prophets and the Law, prophesied until John.” (Mt 11:10-13) Thus, the days of John’s ministry, which were soon to end with his execution, marked the close of one period, the start of another. Of the Greek verb bi·aʹzo·mai used in this text, Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words says, “The verb suggests forceful endeavour.” (1981, Vol. 3, p. 208) Regarding Matthew 11:12, German scholar Heinrich Meyer states: “In this way is described that eager, irresistible striving and struggling after the approaching Messianic kingdom . . . So eager and energetic (no longer calm and expectant) is the interest in regard to the kingdom. The [bi·a·staiʹ] are, accordingly, believers [not enemy attackers] struggling hard for its possession.”—Meyer’s Critical and Exegetical Hand-Book to the Gospel of Matthew, 1884, p. 225.
Membership in the Kingdom of God, therefore, would not be easy to gain, not like approaching an open city with little or nothing to make entrance difficult. Rather, the Sovereign, Jehovah God, had placed barriers to shut out any not worthy. (Compare Joh 6:44; 1Co 6:9-11; Ga 5:19-21; Eph 5:5.) Those who would enter must traverse a narrow road, find the narrow gate, keep on asking, keep on seeking, keep on knocking, and the way would be opened. They would find the way to be “narrow” in that it restricts those who follow it from doing things that would result in injury to themselves or others. (Mt 7:7, 8, 13, 14; compare 2Pe 1:10, 11.) They might figuratively have to lose an eye or a hand to gain entrance. (Mr 9:43-47) The Kingdom would be no plutocracy in which one could buy the King’s favor; it would be a difficult thing for a rich man (Gr., plouʹsi·os) to enter. (Lu 18:24, 25) It would be no worldly aristocracy; prominent position among men would not count. (Mt 23:1, 2, 6-12, 33; Lu 16:14-16) Those apparently “first,” having an impressive religious background and record, would be “last,” and the ‘last would be first’ to receive the favored privileges connected with that Kingdom. (Mt 19:30–20:16) The prominent but hypocritical Pharisees, confident of their advantageous position, would see reformed harlots and tax collectors enter the Kingdom before them. (Mt 21:31, 32; 23:13) Though calling Jesus “Lord, Lord,” all hypocritical persons disrespecting the word and will of God as revealed through Jesus would be turned away with the words: “I never knew you! Get away from me, you workers of lawlessness.”—Mt 7:15-23.
Those gaining entrance would be those putting material interests secondary and seeking first the Kingdom and God’s righteousness. (Mt 6:31-34) Like God’s anointed King, Christ Jesus, they would love righteousness and hate wickedness. (Heb 1:8, 9) Spiritually minded, merciful, purehearted, peaceable persons, though the objects of reproach and persecution by men, would become prospective members of the Kingdom. (Mt 5:3-10; Lu 6:23) The “yoke” Jesus invited such ones to take upon themselves meant submission to his kingly authority. It was a kindly yoke, however, with a light load for those who were “mild-tempered and lowly in heart” as was the King. (Mt 11:28-30; compare 1Ki 12:12-14; Jer 27:1-7.) This should have had a heartwarming effect on his listeners, assuring them that his rule would have none of the undesirable qualities of many earlier rulers, both Israelite and non-Israelite. It gave them reason to believe that his rule would bring no burdensome taxation, forced servitude, or forms of exploitation. (Compare 1Sa 8:10-18; De 17:15-17, 20; Eph 5:5.) As Jesus’ later words showed, not only would the Head of the coming Kingdom government prove his unselfishness to the point of giving his life for his people but all those associated with him in that government would also be persons who sought to serve rather than be served.—Mt 20:25-28; see JESUS CHRIST (His Works and Personal Qualities).