My source for this post is Worldview Everlasting, you can find the specific video and links to others they have done in the one that is embedded at the bottom. Basically I am just going point out a few key things in the text that so many gloss over. When taken as the Bible presents it, the 144,000 isn’t some mysterious number. It’s really just a comforting truth to God’s elect.
“And I heard the number of the sealed, 144,000, sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel:
12,000 from the tribe of Judah were sealed,
12,000 from the tribe of Reuben,
12,000 from the tribe of Gad,
12,000 from the tribe of Asher,
12,000 from the tribe of Naphtali,
12,000 from the tribe of Manasseh,
12,000 from the tribe of Simeon,
12,000 from the tribe of Levi,
12,000 from the tribe of Issachar,
12,000 from the tribe of Zebulun,
12,000 from the tribe of Joseph,
12,000 from the tribe of Benjamin were sealed.
After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” Revelation 7:4-10 ESV
Above we can see that in verse 4 John says that he “heard” and in verse 9 it says that he “saw”. I would contend that the plainest reading of this passage would be that John is speaking of the same group of people. At first he hears a symbolic representation of them and then after that he sees the group right before his very eyes. Numerically the groups are presented differently to convey a deeper meaning rather than to give us a western mathematical understanding.
To help with this I have put together a list of the 12 tribes of Israel as they are presented in different places of the Bible. Take a look and check the hyperlinks if you want. This is by no means comprehensive, the twelve tribes are listed many times.
The first thing that should be obvious is that these list don’t all match! Notice that when the 12 tribes are first given to us Dan is included, but by the time it gets to John he is removed. John replaces Dan with Manasseh but leaves out Ephraim. Some argue that he implies Ephraim with Manasseh as they were both Josephs sons, others argue that there is a specific reason that Ephraim was removed. I can’t honestly say which is correct but I am more comfortable speculating the former.
There is likely a very good reason Dan was removed though, a good example of this is a passage in Genesis with regards to Dan in the first place.
“17 Dan shall be a serpent in the way,a viper by the path,that bites the horse’s heels so that his rider falls backward.” Gen 49:17 ESV
Perhaps I am reading into it but I think it’s telling that the author of Genesis is referring to Dan as a serpent. Those of you who read the book likely remember the third chapter when we first see a serpent, so it’s possible that a connection here is implied.
11 “Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord God,“when I will send a famine on the land—not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water,but of hearing the words of the Lord.12 They shall wander from sea to sea,and from north to east;they shall run to and fro, to seek the word of the Lord,but they shall not find it.13 “In that day the lovely virgins and the young men shall faint for thirst. 14 Those who swear by the Guilt of Samaria,and say, ‘As your god lives, O Dan,’and, ‘As the Way of Beersheba lives,’they shall fall, and never rise again.” Amos 8:11-14 ESV
The passage above is more clear, it’s very possible that John left Dan out due to the sin of idolatry. Why 12,000 from each tribe though? Pastor Jonathan Fisk has a good explanation for this with symbolic numbers in the Bible. The idea is that in this passage 12 is the number of God’s Church new testament and old. This is why you have 24 elders in heaven just a bit earlier:
Just as you have 12 houses of Israel in the old testament you also have 12 Apostles in the new. With 10 you have a number of completion represented three times, one for each person of the Trinity.
10 x 10 x 10 x 12 x 12 = 144,000
Thus, symbolically the number of the elect which John heard is a representation of the same group that he saw. Just as believers of all nationalities are grafted into the olive tree of Israel today (Rom 11:17) and consist in that number, so is the multitude that John witnessed of every nation, tribe, and tongue.
What you have here is a group symbolically represented with a number that cannot be numbered because it is so large. I find this very comforting because what we are seeing is a representation of the elect outside of time. No man has the power to add or remove people from that group.
But… Are you saying all believers are virgins????
Well no I am not saying that at all. First let’s take a look at the verse people are talking about when they say you have to live a chaste life to be part of the 144,000.
First off, it’s helpful to keep in mind the rest of Revelation where idolatry is represented by a woman, specifically, the whore of Babylon. Notice that the passage also says that these people are “blameless”. This is because they are covered by the blood of the lamb as stated in the text when you continue reading Revelation 7.
Those redeemed from the earth are perfect in Christ, which is the only way any man or woman can be perfect as all have sinned.
Stated simply the 144,000 is just another way of saying all believers of all time. Another word for the same thing would be the “elect”. These are the people redeemed from the Earth by the blood of the Lamb on the cross. You can’t add anyone to this list and you can’t take anyone off it. If you’re ever so honored to be used as a mouthpiece for God to call his elect into the fold then that’s a beautiful thing. But don’t ever forget that he is the one doing it, not you.
To see the video that I used as a source for the blog post please click play on the one I have embedded below. It’s 5 minutes long and well worth your time.