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Who Are the 144,000?
by Gregory John Monroe
4/07/2013 / Education
Rev. 7: 2-4: "Then I saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God. And he cried with a loud voice to the four angels to whom it was granted to harm the earth and the sea, saying, 'do not harm the earth, the sea, or the trees till we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads.' And I heard the number of those who were sealed. One hundred and forty-four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel were sealed."
Rev. 14: 1-5: "Then I looked, and behold, a Lamb standing on Mount Zion, and with Him one hundred and forty-four thousand, having His Father's name written on their foreheadsThey sang as it were a new song before the throneand no one could learn that song except the hundred and forty-four thousand who were redeemed from the earth. These are the ones who were not defiled with women, for they are virgins. These are the ones who follow the lamb wherever He goes. These were redeemed from among men, being firstfruits to God and to the Lamb. And in their mouth was found no deceit, for they are without fault before the throne of God."
*Ten Lost Tribes*
According to scripture, the 144,000 is a group comprised of 12,000 from each of the 12 tribes of Israel. Therefore, it is taught by many Christian preachers and scholars that this is an after-the-rapture, end-time group of Jewish believers that will come from the nation of Israel.
The problem with identifying this group as only literal, ethnic Jews, is that from 10 of the tribes, there aren't any pure bloodied Jews today to fit the above popular prophecy.
In 722 B.C., because the 10 northern tribes gave in to idolatry, God allowed Israel to be defeated and its people carried away to Assyria. History shows that long before the time of Jesus, the 10 exiled tribes intermarried with the Assyrians.
Furthermore, history doesn't show a mass return to the homeland, as is the case with the southern tribes, Judah and Benjamin, returning from Babylonian exile.
The result of the 10 tribes being eventually scattered around the world (Ezekiel 12: 15), means that it would be extremely rare to find one current descendant from those tribes who is a pure blood Israelite. Forget about coming up with 12,000.
Scripture's 12,000 from each of the 12 tribes is speaking of not literal Israel, but instead spiritual Israel. Most of the New Testament prophecies, from the time of Jesus, speak of Israel as children of faith. That denotes a transition.
That a transition has been made from the physical to the spiritual is seen in this passage, "For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit" (Romans 2: 28, 29).
Then there are these passages: Paul says, "If you are Christ's, then you're Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise" (Galatians 3: 29). Peter applies an Old Testament title of ancient Israel (found in Exodus 19: 6) to spiritual Israel. He calls the Christian church, "You are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people" (1 Peter 2: 9).
Furthermore, in James 1: 1, it can be clearly seen that James, Jesus' brother, also viewed and addressed the Christian church as spiritual Israel"James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the 12 tribes which are scattered abroad, greetings."
*Not a Separate Saved Group*
There are some, mentioned earlier, who teach that the 144,000 is a group of literal, ethnic Jews. Others teach, as this article suggests, that the group is comprised of spiritual Jewsin other words, Christians. However, both sets of teachers think of the 144,000 as a special, separate group of saved ones who are akin to Jesus' 12 disciples. Like the disciples, who turned the world upside down by spreading the gospel, these teachers tout the 144,000 as a separate, super evangelistic group for the end-times.
This article, however, favors another point of view. Consider this about John, the writer of the book of Revelation. Usually, what John hears is the same as what he then sees. For instance, John "heard a great voice like a trumpet" and "then saw the Son of Man" (Rev. 1: 10-13). He "heard the number of horsemen" and "then saw the horses" (Rev. 9: 16, 17).
Following that pattern, in Rev. 7: 4, 9, John first hears the number of them that are sealed (the 144,000). Then he sees a great multitude, uncountable, from every nation on earth. One can infer, then, that the 144,000 is the same as the multitude that couldn't be counted. Both stated groups can be looked at as representing all of the saved from Old to New Testament times. If so, that would make the 144,000 a symbolic number.
Such a conclusion is underscored by Rev. 7: 4. It says that the sealed are from the "tribes of the children of Israel." That term is used for both the Old Testament church ("tribes of Israel," Gen. 49: 28) and the New Testament church ("the 12 tribes scattered abroad, James 1: 1).
Furthermore, Rev. 7:3 says that it is the "servants of our God" that will be sealed. All the saved will have the name (seal) of God in their foreheads (Rev. 22: 4). The word "name" in both Testaments means "character." Those saved have the mind of Jesus and have developed the attributes of His character.
Therefore, the sealing of the "servants of our God" would include all the redeemed, not a separate, end-time group.
*A Symbolic Group*
That the 144,000 is symbolic can also be inferred from the picture painted by Rev. 14: 1-5. Here, the group is on Mount Zion with Jesus. The following description of the group lists characteristics possessed by all the redeemed.
- The Father's name is written on their foreheads (so too all the saved: Rev. 22: 4).
- The group was redeemed from the earth (so too all the saved: 1 Peter 1: 18, 19).
- The group is comprised of all virgins (so too all the saved: 2 Corinthians 11: 2). (The context of "virgin" is one who is devoted, exclusively, to the simplicity and purity of the gospel. They have not allowed themselves to be spiritually corrupted by apostate women; meaning churches. Biblically, the symbol of a woman is often used to represent a church.)
- They follow the Lamb (so too all the saved: 1 Thessalonians 1: 6).
- They are firstfruits (so too all the saved: Jeremiah 2: 3; James 1: 18).
- There isn't any guile in their mouths (so too all the saved: 1 Peter 3: 10).
- The group stands without fault before God (so too all the saved: Jude 1: 24).
- They are called the "servants of our God" (so too all the saved: Rev. 7: 15).
First, 144,000 is a number based upon the kingdom number 12. For example, 12 is the number of tribes of ancient Israel. Furthermore, it's the number of spiritual Israel, the Christian church, built upon the 12 apostles. 12 x 12 = 144.
The thousands that John added to the 144 has to do with chap. 7 being an alert to the church to get ready for a final conflict. John would have seen it that way because, after all, the book of Revelation contains a theme of war between Jesus and Satan. And later in the vision, John is introduced to an army opposed to God and His people. John hears that army's symbolic number as two hundred million (Rev. 9: 16).
The 144,000, comprised of the patriarchs, apostles, and the thousands upon thousands upon thousands that make up old Israel and today's Christian church (spiritual Israel), is a number not to be thought as limiting. Instead, it's a thought that suggests an expanding, encompassing wholeness.
The 144,000 is a symbolic group comprised of all the end-time faithful who are sealed before the great tribulation takes place. It is a group that represents all generations of faithful believers that constitute the vast, unified, and complete multitude known as God's people.
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