Posts tagged The 144000
Who Are The 144,000? (part 2)

In part 1 we saw who the 144,000 are in Revelation 7. Revelation 14 begins by revisiting the 144,000. This time rather than John hearing the name 144,000 he looks and sees them. One could argue this is evidence for the literality of the 144,000 but such is not the case. At this point John has already heard the number 144,000 and seen that it represents the numberless multitude. Rather than say, “Then I looked, and there before me was the Lamb, standing on Mount Zion, and with him a numberless multitude that no man could number who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads” John used the nickname for this group and instead said, “…and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads.” John is not here saying that he saw a literal 144,000. Based on previous evidence it is clear that the number 144,000 refers to all of the saved of all ages. Therefore, John saying he looked and saw 144,000 is a simplified way of saying he looked and saw the numberless multitude of the redeemed. He is simply making use of the symbolism in the same way the angel made use of it in chapter 7. 

Another evidence is found in the description of this group. John says, “These are those who did not defile themselves with women, for they remained virgins. They follow the Lamb wherever he goes. They were purchased from among mankind and offered as firstfruits to God and the Lamb. No lie was found in their mouths; they are blameless.” There is nothing in this description that demands this be a “special” group. This description can easily apply to any Christian. Take the Apostle Paul for example. Did he "not defile himself with women" (false doctrines)? Did he not "follow the lamb wherever he goes"? Was he not "purchased from among mankind and offered as firstfruits to God and the Lamb"? Can it not be said that "no lie was found in his mouth and that he was blameless"? It is clear, the description of the 144,000 presents no evidence of a special elite group of last day Christians who have attained a perfection that no one else has ever attained before.

But why did the angel choose the term 144,000? Couldn't he have chosen a less confusing symbol? While there may be many answers to this question allow me to propose one that I believe is very significant. 

In Revelation 11:1 John is "given a reed like a measuring rod" and told to measure the temple. We see this same picture in Ezekiel 41. The act of measuring is a symbol of judgment. That which is being measured is being inspected. The same scenario takes place in Revelation 21:16-17 when the angel measures the New Jerusalem. John says, 
And he who talked with me had a gold reed to measure the city, its gates, and its wall. The city is laid out as a square; its length is as great as its breadth. And he measured the city with the reed: twelve thousand furlongs. Its length, breadth, and height are equal. Then he measured its wall: one hundred and forty-four cubits, according to the measure of a man, that is, of an angel.
Notice that the height of the city is 12,000 furlongs.  Its breadth is 12,000 furlongs. Its height is also 12,000 furlongs. All of the measurements are equal. The number 12,000 is used by the angel when describing the 144,000 in Revelation 6:5-8
of the tribe of Judah twelve thousand were sealed; of the tribe of Reuben twelve thousand were sealed; of the tribe of Gad twelve thousand were sealed... etc.
Notice also that when the angel measures the wall of the city it is 144 cubits, a number which parallels the 144,000. When the inspection is over the New Jerusalem is described as a beautiful city with walls of jasper, streets of pure gold as clear as glass, twelve gates made of 12 pearls etc. In the end the angels inspection revealed how beautiful the city was. The interesting part is that the earthly Jerusalem was a city of rebellion and apostasy and yet here we have a New Jerusalem that has been measured and is a symbol of loyalty and beauty. 

Likewise, I believe the angel refers to the saved as 144,000 because they too have been measured ("inspected" or "judged") in the pre-advent judgment. The inspection has revealed how beautiful they are, arrayed in the white robes which they made white in the blood of the Lamb. They were not defiled, they follow the Lamb wherever He goes, in their mouth was found no deceit, and they are without fault before the throne of God. Thus the term 144,000 is not used to describe a literal number of a group of last day super saints, but it is used to describe the all sufficiency of the blood of Jesus to cleanse and transform a filthy sinner of any age, of any tribe, and of any culture into a beautiful creature. Like the New Jerusalem which replaces the earthly Jerusalem, the 144,000 are "new creatures" in Christ. The number 144,000 is not a numerical description of people but a redemptive description of all the saved. It is a number that symbolizes measurement, inspection, and judgment which reveals the beauty of those who were once sinners and are now saints. The number testifies to the promise of scripture:
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (1 Cor. 5:21).
How sad that many waste their time debating back and forth over whether the number is symbolic or literal. While these discussions are good and beneficial, if we focus on them at the expense of the gospel message, at the end of the day we miss the true meaning of the 144,000. They, like the city, have been measured and the act of measuring has revealed God's saving grace in taking these sinful human beings and transforming them. It is a testimony to the power of grace and it is beautiful. 

So who are the 144,000? They are the saved of every age who, by virtue of the blood of Jesus, have been found spotless and who, by virtue of the power of grace, have been transformed into beautiful new creatures. Ah yes, heaven is all about the new. New heavens and new earth. New bodies and new life. New Jerusalem and new humanity. Jesus says, "Behold, I make all things new" (Rev. 21:5). And its all because of grace.
Who Are The 144,000? (part 1)

Revelation 7, the chapter that deals with the 144,000, has been a very divisive chapter in Adventist history. Several years ago I became interested in the topic so I listened to two popular Adventist speakers present on it. One of the speakers said the 144,000 was a literal number. The other said it was symbolic. I was frustrated. Which one is it? Another theory I heard attempted to the merge the two by saying that the number was a literal number of end time leaders of Gods people but not a literal number of all of the faithful in the end time.Today I am certain, based on Revelation 7, that the term 144,000 is not a literal number. Here are the reasons why:
The first thing to notice is that John did not see the 144,000, he only heard the number “Then I heard the number of those who were sealed: 144,000”.
The second thing to notice is that John specifically says that this group of people are Jews, “144,000 from all the tribes of Israel.” He then proceeds to give a very detailed list of which Israelite tribes the 144,000 come from and how many come from each tribe (12 tribes with 12,000 from each tribe). If we are to take the number 144,000 literally then we must also conclude that they are all Jews and that they all come from 12 different tribes within Israel even though those tribes no longer exist. 
So who are the 144,000? The answer comes to us in verse 9 which says: “After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count.” While John heard the number 144,000 when he looks upon the scene he does not say he saw 144,000 but “a great multitude which no man could number.” John then goes on to say, “from every nation, tribe, people and language.” In other words, they are not just Jews from Israel but a diverse, multi-ethnic parade of saved people who are “standing before the throne and before the Lamb.” While John “heard” that there were 144,000 from Israel he “saw” a numberless multitude. And while John "heard" they were all Israelite's he "saw" people from all over the earth. The 144,000 is a symbolic number which refers to all of the saved of every culture of all time.

The final evidence I see for the rejection of a literal interpretation is the description of this group at the end of the chapter. The description John writes includes 1) They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands, 2) they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God…” 3) they… have come out of the great tribulation, 4) they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb, 5) they are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple, 6) he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence, 7) Never again will they hunger…[or] thirst, 8) The sun will not beat down on them,’ nor any scorching heat, 9) the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, 10) ‘he will lead them to springs of living water, 11) And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.

Notice that nothing in this description gives the impression that the 144,000 are a “special group” of people. They are not super saints. They have not suffered more or less than other saints in history. And they receive the same blessings that we can find elsewhere in scripture as being promised to the whole of the redeemed. However, what about their description in Revelation 14:1-5? Doesn't that do away with this entire argument? I will cover that in the next post.

Further Reading: Who Are the 144,000? (part 2)