Who are the 144,000?
In Revelation it talks about 144,000 in a couple of places, I was talking to my friend about it. It's been six months since I have read Revelation straight through and I have never done a real "study" on it. But what are the requirements for the 144,000 people? I told my friend they had to be virgins and Israelites, and it had most likely from an uneducated guess had nothing to do with us Gentiles as I put it to him. I couldn't think of any other way to say it. I was wondering if you any insight or anything of the sort on the topic.
First, let's look at the verses that mention the 144,000.
"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: 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; of the tribe of Asher twelve thousand were sealed; of the tribe of Naphtali twelve thousand were sealed; of the tribe of Manasseh twelve thousand were sealed; of the tribe of Simeon twelve thousand were sealed; of the tribe of Levi twelve thousand were sealed; of the tribe of Issachar twelve thousand were sealed; of the tribe of Zebulun twelve thousand were sealed; of the tribe of Joseph twelve thousand were sealed; of the tribe of Benjamin twelve thousand were sealed." (Revelation 7:2-8).
"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 foreheads. And I heard a voice from heaven, like the voice of many waters, and like the voice of loud thunder. And I heard the sound of harpists playing their harps. They sang as it were a new song before the throne, before the four living creatures, and the elders; and 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" (Revelation 14:1-5).
Since the only mention of 144,000 is in the book of Revelation and we are specifically told that Revelation is written in symbolic language (Revelation 1:1, see "An Introduction to Revelation" for more details), even the numbers given can an often do have a symbolic meaning (See "Biblical Numbers" for more details).
In this case, we do not have to guess as to what the 144,000 as a whole represent. God told us they are "the servants of our God" (Revelation 7:3). These people have the seal of the Living God on their foreheads. Sealing was a method of marking the ownership of something. "In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory" (Ephesians 1:13-14). So these are people who are owned by God or are people belonging to God. Since the mark is on the forehead, it means that the fact that they belong to God is noticeable."Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven" (Matthew 5:16).
We are also told that these are the ones who have been redeemed (Revelation 14:3). They are undefiled virgins -- remember, not in a literal sense, but this represents something. "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish" (Ephesians 5:25-27). They are followers of the Lamb, Jesus Christ. "And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch" (Acts 11:26). And they were the firstfruits to God and Jesus. The firstfruits were the portion of the harvest that was dedicated exclusively to God. "Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures" (James 1:18).
If you read through the list of tribes in Revelation 7, you should notice that this is not a typical list of the twelve tribes of Israel. Dan and Ephraim are missing, while Joseph (the father of Manasseh and Ephraim) and Levite (the priestly tribe that is never counted) are included. What do Dan and Ephraim have in common? They were the two tribes that were the centers of the idol worship created by Jeroboam. Thus this list is not physical Israel, but a list of spiritual Israel -- those who follow God. "For they are not all Israel who are of Israel" (Romans 9:6).
Combinations of numbers have significance. Twelve represents both the twelve tribes of Israel, but it also represents the twelve apostles of the New Testament. A thousand is a symbol of a large number or large group that is a complete representation of that group (10 being complete and 1,000 being 10 x 10 x10). The 144,000 is 12 x 12,000 in the list or you can see it as 12 x 12 x 1,000. In other words, it is the complete group of saved people from both the Old Covenant (12 tribes) and the New Covenant (12 Apostles).
OK, I get what you are saying, but I am a little confused still; sorry. So are you saying there is only 144,000 saved at one time, such that a few die off and other people take their place in the 144,000, or representation of the firstfruits of Christian ministry? Or should I just read your writings on Revelation and it would answer the question?
So are you saying there are only 144,000 saved people on earth at one time? For example, say 20,000 die off and then they can be replaced, or that the 12 apostles are the saved because they are the firstfruits, and then the number can be billions as they all turn to God, or ... ahh, I'm confused. Wish I could ask you in person. It would be so much easier to understand. I'm more of a visual person and talking with my hands on e-mail isn't always the best for me. Anyway thanks again for your patience. Have an awesome week.
You're getting closer, but you're stuck seeing the 144,000 as a literal number instead of representing a concept. John, in Revelation, is not saying there is exactly 144,000 saved people on the earth at any one time. In the scene he is describing for us, he saw a group of 144,000 individuals divided into twelve smaller groups of 12,000 each. He told us that this picture represents the saved on earth who will be marked to receive God's protection. There is not a one-to-one correspondence between each person seen and a real live person on earth. It is a concept that John is trying to get us to visualize.
The New Testament in various places tells us that physical Israel has been replaced by spiritual Israel under the new covenant. Spiritual Israel is the church. John wanted his readers to understand he was not talking about physical Israel by changing the tribes which are named for the numbering. The change is significant because the tribes left out were the centers of idolatry. Idolatry is not a part of the church (spiritual Israel).
Twelve is an important number because it represents the Old Testament with the twelve tribes. It also represents the New Testament with the twelve apostles. One thousand is a number used in Revelation to represent a large group which is complete in its representation.
Adding all of this up, the 144,000 seen by John was a representation of all the saved people on earth. That number could have been used to talk about something that happened under the Old Testament or something that happens under the New Testament. In this case, we are seeing a scene that John already told us was to shortly take place (Revelation 1:1), so these are the saved people on earth in the first century (i.e. the Christians who make up the church). It is not saying that at the end of the first century there were only 144,000 people in the church on earth. This is a picture of the church and to represent the church a group of 144,000 people was used to represent Christians on earth.