Question: "Who are the 144,000?"
Written by J.R.Lawendowski
In Revelation chapter 7, just prior to the opening of the seventh seal on the scroll by the Lamb, we see discussion regarding two companies of people. How you view the study of the end times, Israel, the Church, and believers during the Tribulation is going to affect how you understand this chapter and the identity of these two bodies of people. As with all understanding of Bible prophecy, we feel it to be best to understand and interpret what is written in a literal manner and to also ensure that all pertinent passages are in harmony. By doing so one can simply read Scripture and it will tell you what you need to know and such is the case with Revelation chapter 7 and it’s associated passages dealing with this topic.
The significance here is that the first group of people (the 144,000) is being set apart from the remainder of the remnant of Israel and the Gentile world for that matter to receive the seal of God which will protect them from the judgments to come. Further, these 144,000 discussed again in Rev 14 are told to be “being the first fruits unto God and to the Lamb”. That being the first fruits of the redeemed Israel (Romans 11:25-27) of which the remainder will accept Christ upon His return (Zec 12:10).
Also of note, and of no coincidence, the first group are called “servants”:
What seems clear is that they are termed servants before they are called. As a saved believer we are “servants” to Christ, but this group is not yet called. When you view the entire chapter it seems apparent they are called “servants” as they have a job to do.
It is of no coincidence and would be totally irrelevant to any understanding of the Word if we are not to take the breakdown of the 144,000 literally as representatives of the people of Israel. Of note here is the tribes that are listed….the tribe of Dan is missing and one of Joseph’s sons, Manasses is listed. (Recall that Masasses was a Gentile – ½ Jewish and ½ Egyptian being of mixed blood). In Scripture there are approximately 19 arrangements listing the tribes of Israel...and this list is different than them all. One may ask why is Dan missing? Dan is most likely missing (as is Ephraim – Joseph’s other son) as the tribe of Dan apostized and turned to idolatry (Judges 18:14-31). Also, Joseph received a double blessing from his father (Gen 49:1-22). This is not insignificant as it’s an obvious parallel to the twelve apostles. Twelve apostles of Christ, one of which became apostate (Judas Iscariot) and his replacement by Matthias (Acts 1:16-26)
John begins the next passage with his standard expression “After this” (Gr. Meta tauta) which brings the reader to the next event or group (in this case). In Rev 7:9 we now see that this “great multitude” is not only from Israel and its twelve tribes but rather from every nation, kindred, people and tongue…so we have not only Jews but also Gentiles in this second group. The white robes signify that they are redeemed so therefore they had received Christ…also of note…unlike the 144,000 who are on Earth and are being sealed for protection from the coming judgments…but they are in Heaven as they are “standing before the throne”.
The next question is who does this second group represent? Fortunately Scripture once again tells us (of course only if you take it literally). In Rev 7:13 we see one of the elders (representative of the raptured church) asking John “What are these…?” and “whence came they?”. The fact that one of the elders asks who they are is indicative that this second group of people are not Church age saints.
In Rev 7:14 we see the answer… ”These are they which came out of the great tribulation”. Amazing!! A multitude which no man can number (must be bigger than 200,000,000) saved out of the Tribulation. They are martyred believers from the Tribulation and do not represent the martyrs and saints throughout the age of the Church.
Now, how do the 144,000 and the “multitude” connect? Are the 144,000 really witnesses? Yes! In Matthew 24:14 (of which Matt 24:3-31 is a parallel description of the Tribulation by Christ) we see that the Gospel is being preached and it chronologically aligns with the sealing of the 144,000:
Further one only has to look to Paul for an example of how we may understand the conversion of the 144,000. Before Paul was “called out” on the road to Damascus he was filled with hatred for the church and persecuted the followers of Christ with ferocity. Following his conversion his evangelical zeal was without match…the same could be said regarding the 144,000. Possibly astute and dedicated Jews disbelieving the testimony of Christ, yet when called by God….
Also of significance is satan’s response to this remnant (remember, a majority of Israel won’t believe until they see Christ returning (Zec 12;10)). In Rev 12:17 we see this animosity:
With the proper understanding of Rev 12:1-5 we know that the woman is representative of Israel so the remnant of her seed must be Jewish…they keep the commandments and “have the testimony of Jesus Christ”. We also know from the Old Testament that Israel is pictured as the witness for God unto the nations of the earth (though they shirked from this duty, God will raise up 144,000 faithful witnesses to finish His plan). There you go…a believing remnant (a remnant of the remnant of Israel if you will), witnessing to the world, protected through the Tribulation by the seal of God and producing a “multitude” out of the Tribulation….saved!!
There you have it…the 144,000 witnesses, spreading the Gospel during the Tribulation resulting in a multitude of saved people in light of what is going on during the Tribulation.
"Who are the 144,000?" ...
Answer: The book of Revelation has always presented the interpreter with challenges. The book is steeped in vivid imagery and symbolism, which people have interpreted differently depending on their preconceptions of the book as a whole. There are four main interpretive approaches to the book of Revelation:
1) Preterist (which sees all or most of the events in Revelation as having already occurred by the end of the 1st century);
2) Historicist (which sees Revelation as a survey of Church history from apostolic times to the present);
3) Idealist (which sees Revelation as a depiction of the struggle between good and evil);
4) Futurist (which
sees Revelation as prophetic of events to come). Of the four, only the futurist
approach interprets Revelation in the same grammatical-historical method as the
rest of Scripture. It’s also a better fit with Revelation’s own claim to be
prophecy (Revelation 1:3; 22:7, 10, 18, 19).
So the answer to the question, “who are the 144,000?” will depend on which interpretive approach you take to the book of Revelation. With the exception of the futurist approach, all of the other approaches interpret the 144,000 symbolically, as being representative of the Church, and the number “144,000” being symbolic of the totality—i.e., the complete number—of the Church. Yet when taking the passage at face value: “And I heard the number of the sealed, 144,000, sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel”(Revelation 7:4), there is nothing in the passage which necessitates interpreting the 144,000 as anything but a literal number of 144,000 Jews, 12,000 taken from every tribe of the “sons of Israel.” The New Testament offers no clear-cut text replacing Israel with the Church.
These Jews are “sealed,” which means they have the special protection of God from all of the divine judgments and from the antichrist to perform their mission during the Tribulation period (see Revelation 6:17, in which people will wonder who can stand from the wrath to come). The Tribulation period is a yet future seven-year period of time in which God will enact divine judgment against those who reject him and complete his plan of salvation for the nation of Israel. All of this is according to God’s revelation to the prophet Daniel (Daniel 9:24-27). The 144,000 Jews are a sort of “first fruits” (Revelation 14:4) of a redeemed Israel which has been previously prophesied (Zechariah 12:10; Romans 11:25-27), and their mission is to evangelize the post-Rapture world and proclaim the gospel during the Tribulation period. As a result of their ministry millions (“A great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands.”) will come to faith in Christ (Revelation 7:9).
Much of the confusion regarding the 144,000 is a result of the false doctrines of the Jehovah's Witnesses. The Jehovah’s Witnesses claim that the 144,000 is a limit to the number of people who will reign with Christ in heaven and spend eternity with God. The 144,000 have what the Jehovah’s Witnesses call the heavenly hope. Those who are not born again will enjoy what they call the earthly hope—a paradise on earth ruled by Christ and the 144,000. Clearly we can see that Jehovah’s Witness teaching sets up a caste society in the afterlife with a ruling class (the 144,000) and those who are ruled. The Bible teaches no such “dual class” doctrine. It is true that according to Revelation 20:4 there will be people ruling in the Millennium with Christ. These people will be comprised of the Church (believers in Jesus Christ), Old Testament saints (believers who died before Christ’s first advent), and Tribulation saints (those who accept Christ during the Tribulation). Yet the Bible places no numerical limit on this group of people.
Furthermore, the Millennium is different from the Eternal State, which will take place at the completion of the Millennial period. At that time, God will dwell with us in the New Jerusalem. He will be our God and we will be his people (Revelation 21:3). The inheritance promised to us in Christ and sealed by the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13-14) will become ours and we will all be co-heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17).
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