That 144,000 Thing in Revelation
Dan Phillips of the Pyromaniacs has a good question: He tweets:
Let’s first look at the passage itself, Revelation 7:4-9:
And I heard the number of those who were sealed, one hundred and forty-four thousand sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel:
from the tribe of Judah, twelve thousand were sealed, from the tribe of Reuben twelve thousand, from the tribe of Gad twelve thousand, from the tribe of Asher twelve thousand, from the tribe of Naphtali twelve thousand, from the tribe of Manasseh twelve thousand, from the tribe of Simeon twelve thousand, from the tribe of Levi twelve thousand, from the tribe of Issachar twelve thousand, from the tribe of Zebulun twelve thousand, from the tribe of Joseph twelve thousand, from the tribe of Benjamin, twelve thousand were sealed.
And here is verse 9:
After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands;
First it’s good to remember that chapter 7 is the first of many visions in which the Holy Spirit displays the glorious hope that should be prominent in the heart of every true believer. In this vision, John hears the number of those sealed.
Now, who in Scripture is “sealed” by God? Christians! The entirety of believers, in other words, the entire militant Church. We are sealed by the Father and enjoy His protection throughout our journey here on earth in this life; we are sealed by Jesus who bought and redeemed us by His own precious blood. Moreover, we are sealed by the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13). Three times the believer is sealed by the Triune Godhead! We are sealed by God for our protection, as a mark of God’s ownership of us and as a certification that we not only belong to God, but that we are adopted as true sons of God (Romans 8:15).
Some believe the 144,000 listed here are converted Jews because it says they came “from every tribe of the sons of Israel” (v4). But that cannot be, because if you compare this list of the tribes with any list of the tribes in the OT for the actual, historical tribes, well, they just do not jive. There’s no agreement. Levi, for example, was not to receive any portion of the promised land when it was divided in the OT. Yet, it’s listed here. Also the tribe of Dan is not listed here at all.
Listen brethren, the sealed number of 144,000 represents the entire, completed, militant church on earth. How so? Everywhere in the book of Revelation, the number 12 is associated with the Church. Now what is 12 squared? 144. This number is multiplied by 1000, which is 10x10x10, a perfect cube, representing completeness. The book of Revelation is replete with symbolic numbers which are cubed and squared many times.
The 144,000, a symbolic number, is quite simply, the entirety of the Church, more specifically, the symbolic number representing those elected unto salvation – the redeemed.
So, back to Dan’s question. Who are the “great multitude which no one could count” in verse 9?
In this chapter, and specifically verses 1-8, John sees that the special people of God, the Church, are safe and secure. In verses 9 and following, John sees another vision which has the Church not on earth, but in heaven standing before the throne of God, before the Lamb, Jesus Christ.
In other words, in the first part of this chapter, we see the Church on earth prior to the destruction of earth, the Church militant. In the second part of this chapter, we see the Church after it has come through the ‘great tribulation’ of chapter 6. Now, bear in mind that when each Christian dies today, he ‘comes out of’ many tribulations and goes to be with the Lord Jesus. We must all go through many and great tribulation (Acts 14:22).
The Scriptures make no mention of any ‘secret rapture’ of the Church. One will search in vain to find it. In fact, John is told by God in verse 14 of this chapter here that the multitude he sees are the ones who come out, and more specifically, are coming out. The Greek present participle in this text may be translated “the ones who are coming out”. The preposition “out of”, in light of the entirety of New Testament teaching regarding the Church and the many tribulations we must go through, implies that Christians are going through ‘great tribulation’ right now. As long as this cursed earth remains, the Church must suffer, along with the rest of creation, until the time comes when God will consummate His kingdom.
In the meantime, Romans 8:28 is more precious than ever. For those who are loving God, we know that all things, be they good or bad, are working for our betterment, for our good and to the glory of God.
Who is the great multitude whom John said no one could count? In reference to the twelve tribes of Israel, and in context, we should be reminded of the promise our great God made to Abraham and Jacob – that their descendants would be as innumerable as the stars of heaven themselves – and the sands on the seashore (Gen. 15:5-6; 22:17;32:12; Heb. 11:12).
That innumerable multitude is none other than the Bride of Christ, the Church. Let those who have ears to hear, listen.
Salvation is of the Lord alone! Salvation to our God who sits upon the throne and to the Lamb! Amen.