Who are the 144,000?

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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.

 

Revelation Genesis Exodus Numbers
Judah Reuben Reuben Reuben
Reuben Simeon Simeon Simeon
Gad Levi Levi Judah
Asher Judah Judah Dan
Naphtali Zebulun Issachar Naphtali
Manasseh Issachar Zebulun Gad
Simeon Dan Benjamin Asher
Levi Gad Dan Issachar
Issachar Asher Naphtali Zebulun
Zebulun Naphtali Gad Benjamin
Joseph Joseph Asher Ephraim
Benjamin Benjamin ? Manasseh

 

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:

 

“8 And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.” Revelation 5:8 ESV 

 

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.

 

“9 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, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” ” Revelation 7:9-10 ESV 

 

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.

 

“1 Then I looked, and behold, on Mount Zion stood the Lamb, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads. ; 2 And I heard a voice from heaven like the roar of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder. The voice I heard was like the sound of harpists playing on their harps,  3 and they were singing a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and before the elders. No one could learn that song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth. 4 It is these who have not defiled themselves with women, for they are virgins. It is these who follow the Lamb wherever he goes. These have been redeemed from mankind as firstfruits for God and the Lamb, 5 and in their mouth no lie was found, for they are blameless.” Revelation 14:1-5 ESV 

 

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.

 

“13 Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” ; 14 I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” Revelation 7:13-14 ESV 

 

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.

 

“9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith” Php 3:9 ESV 

 

Conclusion

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.

 

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About ACTheologian

I am a layman who blogs my Biblical studies. Enjoy, please read with an open Bible and do double check with your pastor.
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