Symbols in the book of Revelation continue to baffle and dazzle many who are unfamiliar with the nature of apocalyptic literature. The 144,000 found in chapters 7 and 14, are a part of that symbolism? 144,000 in Heaven in Revelation, Who Are They? To answer this question requires basic and some specific knowledge of the book. Jehovah’s Witnesses do great harm to this text by teaching that only 144,000 people will go to heaven while the rest remain on a renovated utopian earth.
There are clues to help us understand who the 144 thousand are. But, as the key to unlocking the meaning of Revelation is time, we must consider this element to arrive at a sensible interpretation. Otherwise, one may engage in all sorts of fanciful speculative interpretations. The key problem in understanding any of the messages in Revelation is time, (1:1-3; 22:6, 10), a point which most disregard and therefore remain in the dark on much of its symbolism.
Identifying the Time Frame of Revelation and the 144,000
John writes that the Revelation of Jesus Christ was sent to the seven churches which were in Asia. Those churches are mentioned by name in chapters 2 and 3. Whomever the symbolic number represents, must have some relevance to those seven churches. This brings up the question of audience relevance. We know that John lived in the first century and so did the audience to whom he wrote. Is it not reasonable that his message be relevant to his contemporary audience?
The urgency of the Revelation message is found in the beginning,(Revelation 1:1-3) the middle (12:12), and at the end of the book, (22:6, 10, 12). God apparently desires for us to respect his temporal indicators. First, he says the events in the book were shortly to come to pass. This means that whatever the message was, there would be no delay in its fulfillment. To approach the book from a continuous historical viewpoint runs counter to the angelic messenger.
Next, the time had drawn near. So not only would the events happen swiftly over a short period of time, but the time for their fulfillment had already come. We suggest that the proper direction for identifying the 144,000, lies in the past versus the present or future.
Restraint of Judgment
As chapter seven opens, we find that four angels stand at the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds to prevent it’s blowing on the earth, sea or trees. Another angel approaches from the East with the seal of God and cries out to restrain the four winds until the servants of God are sealed on their foreheads. Thus, we know that the 144,000 are God’s servants.
The sealing here is God’s protection and authentication of his people. It is a mark that is opposite of the mark of the beast which indicates those destined for destruction. God’s servants are sealed for their preservation. When the plagues are released by the fifth of the seven angels they fell only upon those men who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads. (Revelation 9:4) Note the present tense of John’s language. This indicates that this group of servants already were sealed.
John’s perspective is one who is looking at the end rather than the beginning of the events in Revelation. Since the time of Christ’s coming was near, indicated by the time statements, the apostle saw the soon to come consummation. As in the Exodus plagues, those afflicted are the rebellious ones who do not serve God, (Revelation 16:2). The righteous are protected as Israel was saved during the Passover from the death of the their firstborn through the blood of the paschal lamb.
A corresponding sealing of God’s servants by the Holy Spirit is mentioned in 2 Corinthians 1:22, Ephesians 1:14, and chapter 4:30. They are sealed unto the day of redemption, which was an eschatological day that brought salvation and redemption to the righteous but indignation, vengeance and wrath to the wicked.
Further, they are sealed from among all the tribes of the children of Israel. Now, as their were more than 12,000 per tribe of the children of Israel, this number is representative of a remnant. We know that most of the nation rejected Christ, (John 1:11), thus only a remnant was saved. However, as Don Preston points out in “Who Is This Babylon”, the remnant from among Israel are joined by the Gentiles.
As in the type meaning the deliverance from the plagues in Egypt, Israel left Egypt along with a mixed multitude who went up out of Egypt with them, (Exodus 12:38-39). The prophecy in Isaiah 11:11, says God would set His hand again the second time to recover the remnant of His people who are left, from Assyria and Egypt…” The chapter describes a second Exodus to come to pass during the time of Christ when the Gentiles seek God. James declares the Gentiles were seeking God during the first century, thus the second exodus already was in progress, (Acts 15:17, cf. Isaiah 11:10).
In Revelation we see that the 144,000 are joined by the a great multitude so that no one could number them. They now stand before the throne of God clothed with white robes with palm branches in their hands and receive salvation.
What Are These With White Robes?
When one of the elders asked who are these arrayed in white robes, and where did they come from? John was told “These are the ones coming (ESV, erchomenoi) out of the great tribulation. Again, note the significance of the present tense action. The 144,000 were at the time John wrote, coming out of the great tribulation. Remember, John said, he too was a companion in the tribulation.
Daniel prediction the great tribulation at the close of Israel’s history, i.e. in connection with the fall of the nation, (Daniel 12:2). Jesus placed that great tribulation in connection with the overthrow of Israel and the temple, within the first century generation, (Matthew 24:21, 34). That identifies the first century as the time of the great tribulation in connection with the A.D. 70 destruction of Jerusalem. The church was coming out of the great tribulation being spared of its horrors, suffering and destruction.
The 144,000, were a part of this great number and therefore belong specifically to those in the first century.
144,000 Who Are They? -The Firstfruits
In chapter 14, the 144000 are called the first fruits, again identifying them as belong to the first century Christians. Thus, no one today can be a part of that number. However, they are described in very figurative terminology.
- They sing a new song which no one could learn but them
- They are virgins
- They are male
- As the firstfruits they belong to God as did the firstborn who opened the womb per Exodus 13.
- They do not lie and are blameless.
The above are all descriptions of their spiritual status before God. This is not literal, else only male virgins could be saved who lived in the first century could be saved. They were on physically on earth, but spiritually in the heavenly places in Christ. (See Ephesians 1:3; 2:6)
What About the Rest of Mankind Who Accept the Gospel? Can They Be Saved Also?
It is clear that after Christ returned, nations continue to receive salvation. After the New Heaven and Earth comes, John writes of the Holy City: “By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day-and there will be no night there. They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations.” (Revelation 21:24, 26). Thus, after the one hundred forty four thousand are saved, the nations and kings of the earth continue to be saved.
As Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus, “So that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable i of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” No one today need worry about whether they are part of the 144,000. They should simply seek the Lord and be obedient to his word. In so doing, they can be saved.