It was summer of 1995 and I settled into a routine of camping in the mountains and visiting my mother, friends the Sotos and the Parsons (not related to my wife’s family), and my son, Shawn. I knew matters between my wife and I were dim indeed. I also knew my misgivings about the Society were very deep. I planned to use this time to solve both problems.
I still thought there might be healing between my wife and I should she get some medical treatment. We corresponded about everyday matters but we were headed toward at least a temporary separation. Throughout the summer we kept up appearances: I was on a business trip and she remained in Spain pioneering. I know she must have had a delightful time living alone in a country she loved, among people she loved, doing what she loved.
I had given thought to this idea of separation, and though it repulsed me greatly, it spoke of failure on my part, I drew some comfort from the fact that two presidents of the Society, Russell and Rutherford, were separated from their wives. How could I be condemned or criticized for only doing what these august men had done?
Had she known the degree of my difficulty with the Society I knew it would only add to her depression. I had only told her the struggles I was enduring but without indicating exactly what they were. I told her I felt under demonic attack. My health was poor and my nerves were shot.
I had yet to determine that matters with the Society regarding fundamental teachings were bad enough to reject the organization. I went through the motions with my friends and family trying to hide the situation with my wife and the depths of my despair with the Society. I determined to solve the Biblical problems once and for all. After that I would address my marriage. After that I would try to discover what I was to do.
I was asked to give numerous public talks throughout southern California. I do not believe anyone would have detected my grief with the Society. I had turned down a speaking assignment at the District Convention in Spain. In California I met many friends and acquaintances. Some began to ask me questions. All of these questions dealt with the current congregation book study dealing with the “great crowd.” I had attended all of the lessons regarding this subject. I had never indicated I had any disillusions with this subject. I had, in fact, been asked to conduct one of these meetings and I did so without any indications of not agreeing with the material. I was disturbed by the fact so many asked me questions on this subject and expected me to go beyond the publication itself and improve on the answers already given. I was only to disappoint my friends and family by not answering.
While staying with my son Shawn in Aliso Viejo, California, he asked me several questions. He knew I was having a struggle with something but did not know what it was. He had asked a similar question in response to the current book study lesson. At one moment I asked him: “Son, if you were to prove there was to be some Christian earthly class who would survive the Great Tribulation to live on earth forever, what Bible texts would you use?” He immediately began to mention some, but I said: “Please think about this for a couple of days and then get back to me.”
He was to do so after some deep consideration. “Dad,” he said, “I have thought of John 10:16 but this does not prove of itself there is an earthly class. I have considered Matthew 25:31-46 and this does not exactly prove the sheep are an earthly class. That leaves Revelation 7:9-17. But, this does not clearly indicate an earthly class. What are you saying?” I told him I was not “saying” anything. If he believed there was an earthy class to live on earth forever, it was now his burden, in harmony with 1 Peter 3:15, to prove it. This set him on a course of deep personal study of the Bible.
At this same time some very close personal friends, Paul and Christiana Parsons (not related to my wife’s family) who had already written me about the subject of the Great Crowd and their “white robes” were pressing me for an answer. I actually attended the book study in their home when Paul conducted the meeting on this very subject. This was the material below. I will delete any sentence which does not have a direct bearing on the arguments presented. I will also provide footnotes on some of the material. These were the portions which were bothering some and I was the one they looked to for their answer. I had told one persistence group if they were not satisfied with the answers in the book their problem was with the GB and they needed to write them accordingly. I could not go beyond the answers given.
Here is the material on which the Bible study session was based: [for details on the Book of Revelation see the online publication Nazarene Apocalypse, a verse by verse commentary with 1,000 footnotes]
Revelation – Its Grand Climax At Hand
Chapter 20: A Multitudinous Great Crowd
Confirming the Identity of the Great Crowd
6 How can we state so positively that the great crowd is this modern-day group of dedicated Christians who hope to live forever on God's earth?74 Previously, John had seen in vision the heavenly group "bought . . . for God out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation." (Revelation 5:9, 10)75 The great crowd have a similar origin but a different destiny.76 Unlike the Israel of God, their number is not predetermined.77 No man can tell in advance how many there will be. Their robes78 are washed white in the blood of the Lamb, symbolizing that they have a righteous standing before Jehovah by virtue of their faith in Jesus' sacrifice. (Revelation 7:14) And they are waving palm branches,79 hailing Messiah as their King.
|74||THE PROPOSITION. The sentence seems to indicate there is solid reason for being so self-assured.|
|75||REVELATION 5:9, 10. This statement is correct. The language between 7:9 and 5:9 is the same, but this would mean those of 7:9 were the same as 5:9.|
|76||DIFFERENT DESTINY. No proof is given for this statement. This is a common error in JW publications. This is an example of the Magic Wand and Fairy Dust: a sweeping assertion without Biblical support here.|
|77||NUMBER. There is no proof provided here either.|
|78||ROBES. This was at the crux of the question people were asking. They had noted the only other occurrence of a similar phrase regarding white robes being washed was at Revelation 22:14: ‘Happy are those who wash their robes, that the authority [to go] to the trees of life may be theirs and that they may gain entrance into the city by its gates.’ But, it was clear these were destined for the heavenly city, not eternal life on earth.|
|79||PALM BRANCHES. Though this is discussed it is not explained this festival was Jewish and those in the Gospel of John so described were persons destined for heaven as “disciples” of the Nazarene. (Matthew 20:31; Luke 19:39, 40)|
In Heaven or on Earth?
12 How do we know that "standing before the throne" does not mean that the great crowd is in heaven?80 There is much clear evidence on this point.81 For example, the Greek word here translated "before" (e·no'pi·on) literally means "in [the] sight [of]" and is used several times of humans on earth who are "before" or "in the sight of" Jehovah. (1 Timothy 5:21; 2 Timothy 2:14; Romans 14:22; Galatians 1:20) On one occasion when the Israelites were in the wilderness, Moses said to Aaron: "Say to the entire assembly of the sons of Israel, 'Come near before Jehovah, because he has heard your murmurings.'" (Exodus 16:9) The Israelites did not have to be transported to heaven in order to stand before Jehovah on that occasion. (Compare Leviticus 24:8.) Rather, right there in the wilderness they stood in Jehovah's view, and his attention was on them.
|80||NOT IN HEAVEN. Most of the arguments presented are trying to disprove the group is a heavenly one. Little is provided to prove the group is actually an earthly one.|
|81||MUCH CLEAR EVIDENCE. Where was this “evidence”? This is another example of the Magic Wand and Fairy Dust. A big assertion with little evidence to support it. Though an interesting argument is presented it ignores the whole phrase: “before the Throne” and transpose that for another, “before God.” Note an elaborate presentation is given regarding Israel and others standing before God. Why is the occurrence of this Greek word enopion not compared in the Book of Revelation itself? The whole phrase under consideration is enopion tou thronou and this occurs nine times in Revelation, always with heaven in the context. For example, in Revelation 7:11 celestial beings are “before the throne” but this contextual point is ignored.|
13 Additionally,82 we read: "When the Son of man arrives in his glory . . . all the nations will be gathered before him." The whole human race is not in heaven when this prophecy is fulfilled.83 Certainly, those who "depart into everlasting cutting-off" are not in heaven. (Matthew 25:31-33, 41, 46) Instead, mankind stands on earth in Jesus' view, and he turns his attention to judging them.84 Similarly, the great crowd is "before the throne and before the Lamb" in that it stands in the view of Jehovah and his King, Christ Jesus, from whom it receives a favorable judgment.
|82||ADDITIONALLY. This is classic straw man. It has nothing to do with the point at hand and much is assumed about the parable that is not explained.|
|83||NOT IN HEAVEN. An effort at an absurdum. However, why are these not “all in heaven”? Another example of the Magic Wand and Fairy Dust. But, it does have great power with JWs.|
|84||STANDS ON EARTH. This is assumed and no proof is given to support the view the sheep and goats are on earth. The parable makes no such assertion.|
14 The 24 elders and the anointed group of 144,000 are described as being "round about the throne"85 of Jehovah and "upon the [heavenly] Mount Zion." (Revelation 4:4; 14:1) The great crowd is not a priestly class and does not attain to86 that exalted position. True, it is later described at Revelation 7:15 as serving God "in his temple." But this temple does not refer to the inner sanctuary, the Most Holy.87 Rather, it is the earthly courtyard of God's spiritual temple. The Greek word na·os', here translated "temple," often conveys88 the broad sense of the entire edifice erected for Jehovah's worship. Today, this is a spiritual structure that embraces both heaven and earth.-Compare Matthew 26:61; 27:5, 39, 40; Mark 15:29, 30; John 2:19-21, New World Translation Reference Bible, footnote.
|85||AROUND THE THRONE. It is completely ignored that they are described in the rest of the verse (Revelation 7:11): ‘And all the angels were standing around the throne . . . and they fell upon their faces before the throne and worshipped God.’ This is exactly what the Great Crowd are shown doing.|
|86||NOT ATTAIN TO. This phrase was to bother some. It gave the appearance of a group lesser in their attainments, that is a secondary class in relation to their faith and works.|
|87||IN HIS TEMPLE. This was a major point of question. Note the Magic Wand and Fairy Dust are used again by the Society. Nothing is provided to prove the assertion.|
|88|| OFTEN CONVEYS. Some had spotted this assertion instantly. It was to have a powerful affect on them. The word is “often” but only two examples are given in the use of naos. Some of these compared commentaries which all supported the view naos was always used of the Temple sanctuary itself. |
Some began an exhaustive study of the whole phrase en to nao autou. It was shown this phrase occurred at Revelation 11:19 exactly and referred to the appearance of the ark of the covenant in heaven. The argument that the Great Crowd were in the Temple in the sense of being in the “courtyard” was neutralized by Revelation 11:2 because there the “courtyard’ was outside the Temple, not in it.
The Great Crowd Makes Its Appearance
17 From the time of the apostle John and on into the Lord's day, anointed Christians were puzzled89 as to the identity of the great crowd. It is fitting, then, that one of the 24 elders,90 representing anointed ones already in heaven, should stir John's thinking by raising a pertinent question. "And in response one of the elders said to me: 'These who are dressed in the white robes, who are they and where did they come from?' So right away I said to him: 'My lord, you are the one that knows.'" (Revelation 7:13, 14a) Yes, that elder could locate the answer and give it to John.91
|89||PUZZLED. This infers the question of who the Great Crowd were has always puzzled the anointed throughout nineteen centuries. This is not proven but assumed. It appears the only ones puzzled were JWs.|
|90||ELDERS. Note they are viewed in heaven as Revelation 7:11 shows, but the Great Crowd, also “before the throne,” are not.|
|91||ANSWER. No where does the book indicate what this answer of the celestial presbyter means. It is a reference to Jesus’ words at Matthew 24:21 and Daniel 12:1. In these cases the subject is “the chosen ones” and Daniel’s “people.” Clearly the answer of the presbyter is the Great Crowd are “the chosen ones.”|
The Blessings of the Great Crowd
22 Through the divine channel, John receives further information regarding this great crowd: "And he [the elder] said to me: 'These are the ones that come out of the great tribulation, and they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. That is why they are before the throne of God; and they are rendering him sacred service day and night in his temple; and the One seated on the throne will spread his tent over them.'"-Revelation 7:14b, 15.
24 How do individuals of the great crowd qualify for survival? The elder tells John that they have "washed their robes and made them white92 in the blood of the Lamb." In other words, they have exercised faith in Jesus as their Ransomer, have made a dedication to Jehovah, have symbolized their dedication by water baptism, and "hold a good conscience" by their upright conduct. (1 Peter 3:16, 21; Matthew 20:28) Thus, they are clean and righteous in Jehovah's eyes. And they keep themselves "without spot from the world."-James 1:27.
|92||WHITE ROBES. Again Revelation 22.14 is ignored.|
26 The elder continues: "They will hunger no more nor thirst anymore, neither will the sun beat down upon them nor any scorching heat, because the Lamb, who is in the midst of the throne, will shepherd them, and will guide them to fountains of waters of life. And God will wipe out every tear from their eyes." (Revelation 7:16, 17) Yes, Jehovah is truly hospitable! But what depth of meaning is there to these words?
27 Let us consider a similarly worded prophecy: "This is what Jehovah has said: 'In a time of goodwill I have answered you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you . . . They will not go hungry, neither will they go thirsty, nor will parching heat or sun strike them. For the One who is having pity upon them will lead them, and by the springs of water he will conduct them.'" (Isaiah 49:8,93 10; see also Psalm 121:5, 6.) The apostle Paul quoted part of this prophecy and applied94 it to the "day of salvation" that began at Pentecost 33 C.E. He wrote: "For he [Jehovah] says: 'In an acceptable time I heard you, and in a day of salvation I helped you.' Look! Now is the especially acceptable time. Look! Now is the day of salvation."-2 Corinthians 6:2. (END QUOTE)
|93||ISAIAH 49:8. The fact is this next and surrounding contexts are applied by Paul to anointed Christians, not to an earthly group.|
|94||APPLIED IT. It is not explained that Paul’s application was to anointed Corinthians.|
This was the same question so many were asking about. Little did they know this whole matter had thrown Brooklyn Bethel into turmoil fifteen years before. Now anyone who asked a question on these subjects had their letters sent to the local body of elders with the statement: “These are questions apostates ask.” I had seen such letters a couple times. It was as if one was judged “apostate” by merely asking an innocent question, much as the celestial presbyter does when he asks: “These dressed in white robes, who are they?” If a JW were to ask that question he might be identified as an apostate!
My friends, Paul and Christiana Parsons (not related to the Parsons on my wife’s family side) were disappointed by my reticence to answer their questions.95 Many kept after me. It would be months before I was willing to suggest how they could find their answer. I would merely suggest they take the Greek phrases, enopion tou thronou (before the Throne) and en to nao autou (in his Temple) and they would discover the answer. Some did this and decided the Great Crowd was a heavenly group.
|95||THEIR QUESTIONS. This couple’s pictures had occurred in The Watchtower. She was to approach a Bethel elder known to her for fifteen years, a pioneer who had been in the full-time work for twelve years, a Gilead graduate, several elders, and none would even entertain her questions, let alone attempt to answer them. Later she was encouraged to send her questions to the Writing Department via a personal friend of one writer. The member of the writing department refused to answer the question and sent it back. Two years passed and she was never to receive an answer to the same question the celestial presbyter asked: “Who are (the Great Crowd)?” It I a question JWs cannot ask without being suspected of apostasy.|
My oldest son Shawn began his own investigation over a period of three months. This was to have an interesting result. My son was raised “in the truth” but only now, during this space of three months, did he actually begin to really study the Bible on his own without my influence.
Some time before, upon returning from Spain I asked for meetings with my wife’s two brothers, Robert Parsons of Yucca Valley, and William Parsons of Anza, who were respected elders. I talked to both of them about my problems with their sister. They expressed sympathy for my dealing with her menopausal problems. I told both I had some deep seated problems with some doctrinal points but I did not discuss or identify these to them. Something spread from them to my nephews, David Parsons96 of Palm Desert, and Duane Parsons of Ramona, who were also elders. Without every talking to me privately, the word “apostate” began to circulate.
|96||DAVID PARSONS. My nephew, an elder, told a sister who related this to me: “My uncle, Mark Miller, is an apostate!” Later, he came back and apologized stating he had spoken amiss. How many people he told this only he knows.|
These four were to spend hours on the phone with my son who had just begun to study the Bible. Mind you, two of these elders had been “in the truth” for 40 and 35 years and were well known for their knowledge of the Bible. All four were to say the same things to my son: “You have us at a disadvantage,97 for you know your Bible better that we do.” This was amazing. A young man who had just begun to study the Bible could more than hold his own with seasoned elders. All these elders used the word “apostate” in their conversations with my son. When this was reported to me, and I heard that word “apostate,” I knew it was only a matter of time before this became a serious charge.
|97||DISADVANTAGE. I believe my son would be willing to debate all four of these elders on a stage with only Bible’s on the table on the subject of the “great crowd.”|
In a letter written to me, my wife’s oldest brother, elder Robert Parsons, confessed later: “It seems you were correct on the matter of naos.” We had only the slightest of exchange on Biblical subjects; but he had stated to me he “had always been jealous of your Bible knowledge and wished I had the same.” This is a man clearly my intellectual superior. I told him: “It was only a matter of taking the time.”
While in private these two elders admitted their misgivings with the Society. My brother-in-law, William Parsons, went so far as to accuse them of being materialistic. The subject of the Pastor’s remarks about never soliciting for money98 as proof God was backing the Society came up. I had asked whether the brothers had ever been “solicited” for money. He was adamant that not only had the Society solicited for money, they had “donned” the brothers for payments. He related a story about their congregations being late in making a payment on the circuit overseer’s insurance policy. He said: “The Society had written a donning letter demanding payment.”99 He rubbed his fingers together to illustrate the point. When the traveling overseer visited he dressed down the entire body of elders for their negligence in this matter. I thought we had come a long way from the Nazarene who said: “Foxes have dens, and birds have roosts, but the Son of Man has no where to lay his head.” He confessed that had caused him some doubt with Brooklyn.
|98||SOLICITING FOR MONEY. The Pastor had stated the Society would never “beg” or “petition” funds or contributions. Many feel they have done just that many times over.|
|99||PAYMENT. This seemed to contradict: “More than ninety years ago the very second issue of this magazine stated: "'Zion's Watch Tower' has, we believe, JEHOVAH for its backer, and while this is the case it will never beg nor petition men for support. When He who says: 'All the gold and silver of the mountains are mine,' fails to provide necessary funds, we will understand it to be time to suspend the publication." (w70, 2/15, page 102) “Unlike the churches of Christendom, Jehovah's Witnesses do not take up collections or send out envelopes to solicit donations.” (w87, 12/1, page 30) “Individual countries with building projects have at times set up loan arrangements, whereby Jehovah's Witnesses in those countries have made short-term loans, which have been repaid after the financing of the project is completed. As this magazine has clearly stated many times during its 100 years of publication, Jehovah's Witnesses never solicit contributions.” (w79, 5/1, page 29) “No one has to solicit funds to carry on the work of the great Owner of the universe, we learned. Yes, we came to realize that it is repugnant to true Christians to beg, cajole and pressurize people into giving contributions. Responsible men in the congregations, we noted, were fully aware that such solicitation is not in harmony with the spirit and principles of Christianity.” (w73, 5/15, page 298)|
The word about “apostasy” was spreading fast. My wife returned and we had one or two bitter meetings. In one she accused me of adultery with a certain female friend. I challenged her to call this one on the phone right there and ask her. I said such an accusation was preposterous. Our separation became permanent right then.
I had thought matters could be worked out. I had invited my wife on a date that evening with the assurance I wanted matters to work out. Even now I did not try to sway her Scripturally. She told me: “No one can discuss the Bible with you because no one knows it like you.” She was later to warn others not to discuss the Bible with me because I “was dangerous in my knowledge of the Bible.” I had heard such words throughout my life: from Jewish rabbis, Mormon elders, Pentecostal evangelistists: “You have us at a disadvantage.” Now I was to hear it from JW elders.
My own wife was soon to use the word “apostasy” in the same breath as my name. This veiled accusation would spread like wild-fire. When I learned of it I knew it had originated with my wife and it would be a matter of time.
The strange thing is: no one had heard a word from me suggesting the Society was wrong. My failure to support views I suspected to be in error was enough to begin to brand me as an apostate. I was to be accused of more.
At one meeting on Sunday a sister approached me and began to accuse me of sexually abusing my daughter. She did this in a raised voice before others. I tried to remove my presence. Later this was brought to the attention of some friends, Paul and Christiana Parsons. They called one elder, Tim McDuffy, and asked for some rebuke of this woman. They were told that fifty percent of those accused of sexual abuse are guilty suggesting there was a good chance I was guilty of such a thing. Now I had been accused of adultery, child abuse, and apostasy. I was not guilty of any of these things.
Nazarene Commentary 2000©
Mark Heber Miller
©2000 All Rights Reserved