From the Jehovah Witnesses who have knocked on my front door, I’ve gathered a small stack of their primary publication, a slim magazine called The Watchtower.
The most recent copy in my collection bears the title “Life in a Peaceful New World.” The cover illustration is an idyllic scene of meadows and snow-peaked mountains. It’s half pastoral England and half Swiss Alps. The foreground shows people of all races smiling, gathering fruit and vegetables. An Asian toddler feeds blueberries to a grizzly bear. The inside text reads, “The whole earth will eventually be brought to a gardenlike paradise state….no longer will people be crammed into huge apartment buildings.”
At the Kingdom Hall, I take a padded seat near a polyester plant while the young woman who has offered me companionship fetches me a small song book called “Sing to Jehovah.” I recognize the style of the illustration on the cover, the hordes of happy people of all colors and ages. Here they cradle hymnals and float in a golden light. The tinkling of piano keys begins and we stand to sing hymn number 19, “God’s Promise of Paradise.” We warble the first verse:
A paradise our God has promised,
By means of Christ’s Millenial Reign,
When he’ll blot out all sin and error,
Removing death and tears and pain.
The pace of the piano is painfully slow; each person draws out different words and in different ways. The result is a sound I’d liken to a gang of drugged alley cats. I scan the room for the culprit. “Where’s the piano?” I whisper to my companion. She points up. Suddenly it makes sense. It’s prerecorded and piped in through speakers in the ceiling.
The founder of the Witnesses, Charles Taze Russell, accepted that after the Great Disappointment, the messiah took up residence in a heavenly sanctuary closer to earth and would soon make it the rest of the way down. With this next step, the dead will rise and everyone who ever lived will be sorted into one of two groups: believers or nonbelievers.
Nonbelievers will be obliterated; no hell: just poof and gone.
Believers will occupy earth forever with perfect bodies that never get old.
The Book of Revelation appears to state that only 144,000 slots exist for the faithful who will get the perfect bodies. This must have seemed a sufficiently huge figure 2,000 years ago, but now it’s not even a fifth of Albuquerque.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses have solved the 144,000 dilemma. That relatively small number only refers to a special group—what they call the “small flock”—that will help Jesus run the new earthly paradise. Small flock members will hold official administrative positions. It includes the original apostles and leaders in the Jehovah’s Witness organization, past and present.
However, you can still be an inhabitant of the new earth without being a member of the small flock. According to some old Watchtower articles, there will also be a “great flock” and the only requirement for inclusion is to be an obedient Witness. Members of the great flock won’t just feed blue berries to grizzlies all day—they’ll have tasks too. They will be on post-apocalypse clean-up duty. The article mentions that they will be assigned the job of gathering the bleached bones of the annihilated.
Personally, I think it sounds like the better deal because it means you get to live in paradise without taking on managerial duties.