Who Are the 144,000 in Revelation?

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  • Who Are the 144,000 in Revelation?

    Kevin DeYoung

    And I heard the number of the sealed, 144,000, sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel. (Rev. 7:4)Many sincere Bible-believing Christians would understand the 144,000 like this: The church is raptured prior to the great tribulation. During the time when the church is gone, a remnant of 144,000 ethnic Jews is converted (12,000 from each tribe). These Jewish converts, in turn, evangelize the Gentiles who make up the great multitude in white robes in v. 9. That’s one understanding of Revelation 7. A lot of godly people hold that understanding. Let me explain why I understand the 144,000 differently.

    The 144,000 are not an ethnic Jewish remnant, and certainly not an Anointed Class of saints who became Jehovah’s Witnesses before 1935. The 144,000 represent the entire community of the redeemed. Let me give you several reasons for making this claim.

    First, in chapter 13 we read that Satan seals all of his followers, so it makes sense that God would seal all of his people, not just the Jewish ones.

    Second, the image of sealing comes from Ezekiel 9 where the seal on the forehead marks out two groups of people: idolaters and non-idolaters. It would seem that the sealing of the 144,000 makes a similar distinction based on who worships God not who among the Jewish remnant worships God.

    Third, the 144,000 are called the servants of our God (Rev. 7:3). There is no reason to make the 144,000 any more restricted than that. If you are a servant of the living God, you are one of the 144,000 mentioned here. In Revelation, the phrase “servants of God” always refers to all of God’s redeemed people, not just an ethnic Jewish remnant (see 1:1; 2:20; 19:2; 19:5; 22:3).

    Fourth, the 144,000 mentioned later in chapter 14 are those who have been “redeemed from the earth” and those who were “purchased from among men.” This is generic everybody kind of language. The 144,000 is a symbolic number of redeemed drawn from all peoples, not simply the Jews. Besides, if the number is not symbolic then what do we do with Revelation 14:4 which describes the 144,000 as those “who have not defiled themselves with women”? Are we to think that the 144,000 refers to a chosen group of celibate Jewish men? It makes more sense to realize that 144,000 is a symbolic number that is described as celibate men to highlight the group’s moral purity and set-apartness for spiritual battle.

    Fifth, the last reason for thinking that the 144,000 is the entire community of the redeemed is because of the highly stylized list of tribes in verses 5-8. The number itself is stylized. It’s not to be taken literally. It’s 12 x 12 x 1000—12 being the number of completion for God’s people (representing the 12 tribes of Israel and the 12 apostles of the Lamb) and 1000 being a generic number suggesting a great multitude. So 144,000 is a way of saying all of God’s people under the old and new covenant.

    And then look at the list of the tribes. There are over a dozen different arrangements of the twelve tribes in the Bible. This one is unique among all of those. Judah is listed first because Jesus was from there as a lion of the tribe of Judah. All twelve of Jacob’s sons are listed—including Levi who usually wasn’t because he didn’t inherit any land-except for one. Manasseh, Joseph’s son (Jacob’s grandson), is listed in place of Dan. So why not Dan? Dan was left out in order to point to the purity of the redeemed church. From early in Israel’s history, Dan was the center of idolatry for the kingdom (Judges 18:30-31). During the days of the divided kingdom, Dan was one of two centers for idolatry (1 Kings 12:28-30). And there is recorded in some non-Biblical Jewish writings that the Jews thought the anti-Christ would come out of Dan based on Genesis 49:17. The bottom line is that the number and the list and the order of the tribes are all stylized to depict the totality of God’s pure and perfectly redeemed servants from all time over all the earth. That’s what Revelation means by the 144,000.

  • #2
    And I looked, and, lo, a Lamb stood on the mount Sion, and with him an hundred forty and four thousand, having his Father's name written in their foreheads. And I heard a voice from heaven, as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of a great thunder: and I heard the voice of harpers harping with their harps: And they sung as it were a new song before the throne, and before the four beasts, and the elders: and no man could learn that song but the hundred and forty and four thousand, which were redeemed from the earth. These are they which were not defiled with women; for they are virgins. These are they which follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth. These were redeemed from among men, being the firstfruits unto God and to the Lamb. And in their mouth was found no guile: for they are without fault before the throne of God. (Revelation 14:1-5 KJV)

    The above passage is the second mention of 144,000 (as an aside I met a guy online who insisted that one hundred and forty and four thousand meant 4,140!) in the book of Revelation. The first mention in in chapter seven. There are some qualities mentioned in the fourteenth chapter that are worth observing; the 144,000 (1) have the Father's name written in their foreheads, (2) they sang a new song which they alone can sing, (3) they are redeemed from the earth, (4) they are virgins who are not defiled with women, (5) they follow the lamb no matter where he goes, (6) they are firstfruits to God and the Lamb, (7) they are guileless and faultless. quite a combination. Anybody you know who is like that?
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    • #3
      Originally posted by peppermint View Post
      Anybody you know who is like that?
      Literalisitically?

      God bless,
      William
      Comment>

      • #4
        What's that mean? I don't often get a question consisting of a single adverb ;)

        But if you know somebody who matches the qualities listed then you are truly blessed:
        (1) they have the Father's name written in their foreheads,
        (2) they sang a new song which they alone can sing,
        (3) they are redeemed from the earth,
        (4) they are virgins who are not defiled with women,
        (5) they follow the lamb no matter where he goes,
        (6) they are firstfruits to God and the Lamb,
        (7) they are guileless and faultless. quite a combination.
        Comment>

        • #5
          Revelation 7:4-9 is quite literal. The 12,000 from each tribe, named and listed, plus a separate group from all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people are also mentioned. This is inarguably the Israelites and Gentiles, separately mentioned. The detail is perfectly clear. Peppermint's posts #2 and 4 makes 7 good points. Right now we are not in the tribulation or the post-tribulation.

          Just because the Lord figuratively mentions that 1000 years is as one day and one day as 1000 years to the Lord, does not mean that 1000 years is always figurative. In that verse, the Lord was describing eternity as it relates to time in general... that one time only. The other references to 1000 years are literal when one checks the context to which 1000 years refers. The context, detail, timing, all point to literal meaning of the 144,000 with 12,000 from each tribe of Israel. It is what the Scriptures say, and I believe them, just as they are written. What man says this means is wrong if it contradicts the Scriptures, and I see that Kevin De Young is wrong, based on what the Scriptures say and how they say it. Peppermint's points are quite valid here. Where are these people, either in history or present day?
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          • #6
            Originally posted by peppermint View Post
            What's that mean? I don't often get a question consisting of a single adverb ;)

            But if you know somebody who matches the qualities listed then you are truly blessed:
            (1) they have the Father's name written in their foreheads,
            (2) they sang a new song which they alone can sing,
            (3) they are redeemed from the earth,
            (4) they are virgins who are not defiled with women,
            (5) they follow the lamb no matter where he goes,
            (6) they are firstfruits to God and the Lamb,
            (7) they are guileless and faultless. quite a combination.
            What does that mean? Please elaborate on point 4 with emphasis on virginity. Literalistically, I meant whether there are only 144 thousand, comprising of males that are not married. :rolleyes:

            God bless,
            William
            Comment>

            • #7
              Originally posted by William View Post

              What does that mean? Please elaborate on point 4 with emphasis on virginity. Literalistically, I meant whether there are only 144 thousand, comprising of males that are not married. :rolleyes:

              God bless,
              William
              So the text says; shall we not take the text to heart?
              Comment>

              • #8
                Originally posted by peppermint View Post
                So the text says; shall we not take the text to heart?
                I am asking how do you understand this text? Elsewhere you stated that you did not believe in a literal 1000 years, and here my question is whether you believe in a literalistic approach to the Scripture. Does the 144 thousand correspond to an actual number, and virgins unmarried males?

                God bless,
                William
                Comment>

                • #9
                  Originally posted by William View Post

                  I am asking how do you understand this text? Elsewhere you stated that you did not believe in a literal 1000 years, and here my question is whether you believe in a literalistic approach to the Scripture. Does the 144 thousand correspond to an actual number, and virgins unmarried males?

                  God bless,
                  William
                  I take the numbers as representative of a twelve fold by twelve fold multiplication of one thousand; a numeric way of expressing absolute completeness. And I take the attributes - celibacy, masculinity, the new song, and so forth - as indications of purity and perfection in communion with God.
                  Comment>

                  • #10
                    Originally posted by peppermint View Post

                    I take the numbers as representative of a twelve fold by twelve fold multiplication of one thousand; a numeric way of expressing absolute completeness. And I take the attributes - celibacy, masculinity, the new song, and so forth - as indications of purity and perfection in communion with God.
                    Hi pepper,

                    Thank you kindly for sharing that. I think the sexual imagery is used to denote spiritual purity. Christ's faithful followers keep away from Babylon the Harlot and are loyal to Him exclusively.

                    God bless,
                    William
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                    • #11
                      I take it for what it says, without interpretation.
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                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Stratcat View Post
                        I take it for what it says, without interpretation.
                        That is interesting; then these alone are redeemed from the earth - they which were not defiled with women; for they are virgins, they which follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth, in their mouth was found no guile: for they are without fault before the throne of God.
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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by peppermint View Post
                          That is interesting; then these alone are redeemed from the earth - they which were not defiled with women; for they are virgins, they which follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth, in their mouth was found no guile: for they are without fault before the throne of God.
                          I do not know anybody like that.

                          God bless,
                          William
                          Comment>

                          • #14
                            Originally posted by William View Post

                            I do not know anybody like that.

                            God bless,
                            William
                            I know none myself, none face to face.
                            Comment>

                            • #15
                              That is in the future, during the tribulation, which has not yet happened. They will be martyred. Also there are going to be the two powerful witnesses who consume with fire from their mouths. They are martyred, then after three (3) days they rise from the dead for all to see. At least, that's what the Bible says. Since the tribulation has not yet come, it is no wonder nobody knows anybody like them! Oh, well. All I can do is be a messenger, I'm not the author.
                              Last edited by Stratcat; 06-18-2015, 06:32 PM.
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