While speaking to a crowd of Jews, Jesus made this startling revelation:
“And I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; those also I must bring, and they will listen to my voice, and they will become one flock, one shepherd.”
– John 10:16
Among Jehovah’s Witnesses, this scripture has been understood to mean that the ‘other sheep’ are not part of the ‘little flock’ that goes to heaven. (Luke 12:32) Instead, they have been taught that the ‘other sheep’ are the greater portion of Jesus’ disciples who will live on earth forever. But according to the ‘new light’ published at the Annual Meeting of the Watchtower Bible & Tract Society, held on October 6, 2012, this teaching has changed! Let’s examine what came out of that Meeting.
While there was much speculation about what occurred at that meeting, the Society has now prepared its own official report of events, and published the report, entitled Annual Meeting Report, “Food At the Proper Time” on its official website at www.jw.org. It is only a summary, and given the importance of the subject matter, we expect to see a full exposition on the ‘new light’ in an upcoming Watchtower magazine.
While the main focus of the ‘new light’ is a clearer understanding of the identity of the Faithful and Discreet Slave referred to at Matthew 24:45-47, in clarifying its new understanding, the Society pivoted on the relationship of the ‘other sheep’ to the ‘little flock.’
Before we go into detail on that significant pivot, we want to explain that not everyone views the account at Matthew 24:45-47 as a prophecy. Many, including the authors of this site, view it as merely a parable giving us a lesson in the need to be faithful, discreet and alert. Here is the account:
“Who really is the faithful and discreet slave whom his master appointed over his domestics, to give them their food at the proper time? Happy is that slave if his master on arriving finds him doing so. Truly I say to you, He will appoint him over all his belongings.”
– Matthew 24:45-47
A Prophesy or a Parable?
Whether we view the verses at Matthew 24:45-47 as a prophesy, as does the Governing Body, or as a parable, the final impact is the same, as we will discuss below. The difference in views is a matter of theology, not truth.
Theology is defined as (1) the study of the nature of God and religious truth; (2) rational inquiry into religious questions; and (3) a system or school of opinions concerning God and religious questions. Thus, theology is not truth, it is a study of what one thinks might be true. And there can be differing opinions when we are discussing religious questions, such as whether Matthew 24:45-47 is a prophecy or a parable.
Truth, rather than being a study or an inquiry or an opinion, is a reality. Truth is the experience which leaves no questions. Truth is known by personal experience, not simply belief. For example, many can postulate as to whether a particular orange is sweet. But the truth is known only by tasting it. This is why the Bible tells us:
“Taste and see that Jehovah is good, O you people; Happy is the able-bodied man that takes refuge in him.”
– Psalms 34:8
The Father wants us to take a leap of faith and ‘bite into’ His promises, so to speak. When we do so, we will know without question the truth of the Father’s great and unparalleled purpose.
We make this effort to distinguish truth from theology to encourage unity in our association on this point. And if we truly understand this distinction, we can use it to foster better relations with others who hold differing theological beliefs, rather than attacking them for not holding our opinion of truth. It is theology that separates Christians, not truth. And in time, the truth will become evident to all without dispute.
If Matthew 24:45-47 is a prophecy, then a class of individuals who prove themselves faithful and discreet will be feeding Jesus’ disciples healthy spiritual food as needed, and they will be rewarded for such faithful and discreet service. We note that the parable does not say whether such a class would be very small or very large. If it is a parable, then all Christians must endeavor to be faithful and discreet in all their activities and if they do, they will be rewarded for their faithfulness. In either instance, whether it is a prophecy or a parable, all Christians must be faithful, discreet and alert in their preaching and teaching. As to this fact, there is no dispute. Each Christian will have to answer to the Christ the question, “Was I faithful and discreet?” Now, back to the ‘new light.’
Two Folds, One Flock
In the Annual Meeting Report, the Society asks the question: "Who Are the “Domestics?" and provides the following answer:
"Jesus said that “his domestics” would receive “food at the proper time.” All genuine followers of Jesus are fed by “the faithful and discreet slave.” Therefore, all of Christ’s disciples—both individual anointed Christians and members of the “other sheep”—are “his domestics.”— John 10:16.
The prior understanding was that the domestics were the individual anointed Christians, whereas the ‘other sheep’ were those with the earthly hope who were not a part of the body of Christ. Thus, the ‘other sheep’ were never considered to be part of the household of God, the Christian congregation, which is the body of Christ:
“Also, he is before all [other] things and by means of him all [other] things were made to exist, and he is the head of the body, the congregation.”
– Colossians 1:17-18
“I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for you, and I, in my turn, am filling up what is lacking of the tribulations of the Christ in my flesh on behalf of his body, which is the congregation.”
– Colossians 1:24
“He also subjected all things under his feet, and made him head over all things to the congregation, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills up all things in all.”
– Ephesians 1:22-23
But by grouping the ‘other sheep’ together with the anointed, the Society is bringing those ‘out in the field’ so to speak, into the household of God! They are now domestics! They are no longer getting fed from different tables – now they would be fed with the same food from the same table!
From now on, when a spiritual meal is served, all members of the household of God are entitled to freely take what is provided as their very own! So extinguishes the idea that the Christian writings are primarily for the anointed, and only secondary leftovers for the ‘other sheep.’ And how did the audience at the Annual Meeting respond to this ‘new light’:
After the speaker explained this aspect of Jesus’ prophecy, the audience erupted in sustained applause. Several in attendance later expressed their profound gratitude that Jesus considers them among “his domestics.”
Though we did not attend, we are likewise filled with profound gratitude that the Society has destroyed the wall separating the flock of God! It is similar to when the first century Christians understood that the wall separating the Jews and the Gentiles was torn down:
“But now in union with Christ Jesus you who were once far off have come to be near by the blood of the Christ. For he is our peace, he who made the two parties one and destroyed the wall in between that fenced them off. By means of his flesh he abolished the enmity, the Law of commandments consisting in decrees, that he might create the two peoples in union with himself into one new man and make peace; and that he might fully reconcile both peoples in one body to God through the torture stake, because he had killed off the enmity by means of himself.”
– Ephesians 2:13-16
No, brothers. This is ‘new light’ not a demotion of the anointed; it is a promotion of the ‘other sheep!’ We should all rejoice that the enmity of two hopes and two destinations has been killed off! Yes, all of Christ’s disciples – all of this sheep – are now one flock, with one shepherd as the Christ intended:
“One body there is, and one spirit, even as you were called in the one hope to which you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all persons, who is over all and through all and in all.”
– Ephesians 4:4-6
We are proud of our Governing Body for pivoting on this most important issue and making it clearer and clearer that all Christians have the same hope – the heavenly one.
The Great Crowd is Not the Other Sheep
This ‘new light’ further establishes that the ‘other sheep’ are not the ‘great crowd’ of Revelation. We reach this conclusion based on Jesus words that when the two folds become one flock, ‘these also he must bring.’ (John 10:16) We know the ‘little flock’ will be going to heaven, so this tells us that the entire flock, including the ‘other sheep’, will be brought to heaven where Jesus is.
But there is another reason we say the ‘other sheep’ are not the ‘great crowd.’ Notice how the ‘great crowd’ is described:
“After these things I saw, and, look! a great crowd, which no man was able to number, out of all nations and tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, dressed in white robes; and there were palm branches in their hands. And they keep on crying with a loud voice, saying: “Salvation [we owe] to our God, who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb.”
– Revelation 7:9-10
“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.” And he 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 7:13-15
Since the ‘great crowd’ is said to come out of the great tribulation, we will not be able to identify the ‘great crowd’ until after the great tribulation is over. However, the Society has identified the ‘other sheep’ as the domestics who are feeding alongside the anointed – now – at this time in our history! Therefore, in reality, there are currently no members of the ‘great crowd.’
Hence, from this point forward, brothers, do not degrade yourselves by claiming a secondary standing before God by extension, as mere friends of His. Do not be satisfied as mere associates of His anointed sons. Do not humiliate yourselves by accepting only the crumbs off the table of the anointed, like little dogs. (Mark 7:28) No, brothers. Follow your spirit’s yearning and cry out “Abba! Father” (Romans 8:15-16; Galatians 4:6-7), which we know you do in your inner rooms, as do all members of the household of God – all the domestics!