Built Upon the Rock
by E.H. ‘Jack’ Sequeira

Chapter 10:  The Remnant and Its Mission
Fundamental Belief #13 The universal church is composed of all who truly believe in Christ, but in the last days, a time of widespread apostasy, a remnant has been called out to keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus.  This remnant announces the arrival of the judgment hour, proclaims salvation through Christ, and heralds the approach of His second advent.  This proclamation is symbolized by the three angels of Revelation 14; it coincides with the work of judgment in heaven and results in a work of repentance and reform on earth.  Every believer is called to have a personal part in this worldwide witness.
[Revelation 12:17; 14:6-12; 18:1-4; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Jude 3, 14; 1 Peter 1:16-19; 2 Peter 3:10-14; Revelation 21:1-14]

Both the remnant (literally “the rest of the seed”) of Revelation 12:17 and the 144,000 of Revelation 7 and 14 represent the last generation of Christians alive at the Second Coming of Christ, which is why the two topics appear together in this chapter.

Revelation 12:17
Then the dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to wage war against the rest of her offspring — those who keep God’s commands and hold fast their testimony about Jesus.

They play an important part in Seventh-day Adventists’ understanding of last-day events, though the Adventist statement of fundamental beliefs does not specifically mention the 144,000.

In 1993, the last Jack W. Provonsha, a prominent Adventist scholar, published The Remnant in Crisis, a thought-provoking book dealing with this fundamental belief.  In his introduction, Provonsha pointed out that:

The Remnant in Crisis
There was a time when most Seventh-day Adventists felt they knew who they were.  They were the remnant, the true church of the last days.  But today Adventists face an identity crisis.  Many sincere, educated Adventists, especially in the first world, are not sure that we have the right, as a church, to call ourselves ‘the remnant church’; they question the validity of this claim.

In 1963, 30 years before Provonsha’s book appeared, Calvinist scholar Anthony A. Hoekema had already challenged Seventh-day Adventists on this very point.  Dr. Hoekema came to this conclusion in his book:

Seventh-day Adventism, p. 56
We conclude, then, that Seventh-day Adventist teachings on the remnant church are not consistent with their claim that they recognize the existence of an invisible or universal church of Christ which is larger than their fellowship.  It should be added that their application of the concept ‘remnant church’ to themselves is neither exegetically nor doctrinally defensible.
To begin with the exegetical matter, the idea that Revelation 12:17 refers to a ‘remnant church’ is based on a misinterpretation of the Greek of this passage.  The King James Version, to be sure, translates here:  ‘the dragon ... went to make war with the remnant of her seed.’ The Greek here, however, does not use either the word leimma (translated remnant in Romans 11:5) or the word hupoleimma (translated remnant in Romans 9:27, a rendering of the Hebrew she’ar in Isaiah 10:22), but rather the plural, hoi loipoi, literally, the rest of them.  In the American Standard Version, the expression hoi loipoi is in every instance translated ‘the rest.’  Here, in Revelation 12:17, the expression rendered in the American Standard:  ‘the rest of her seed’; both the Revised Standard Version and the New English Bible have ‘the rest of her offspring.’
The usual interpretation of this passage is that, after having failed to wipe out the church (represented by the woman), Satan (represented by the dragon) now makes war against certain individual believers:  ‘the rest of her seed.’ To read a separate church into this phrase ‘the rest of her seed,’ is completely unwarranted.

The Remnant

This challenge to Seventh-day Adventists’ understanding of themselves as the “remnant church,” coming both from inside and outside the church, can no longer be ignored.  The best solution I have found to this problem was published in an article some years ago in the magazine Insight.  According to its author:

Insight Magazine, 13 March 1979, 1
Technically, two movements must occur before God will have a remnant church on earth.  First, many Seventh-day Adventists will decide to leave the church and will join Babylon.  Some of these will become the most bitter enemies of God’s people (see The Great Controversy, pg. 608).
Second, a great number of people who are not now Seventh-day Adventists will be convinced that God is truthfully perceived by this church, and will join (see The Great Controversy, pg. 390).
This blending of God’s friends at the end of time is what will make up the remnant church.

[Note:  The two quotations below from The Great Controversy (mentioned in the Insight article above) are included for the reader’s information.  These did not appear in the original BUTR publication.]

The Great Controversy, pg. 608
As the storm approaches, a large class who have professed faith in the third angel’s message, but have not been sanctified through obedience to the truth, abandon their position, and join the ranks of the opposition.  By uniting with the world and partaking of its spirit, they have come to view matters in nearly the same light; and when the test is brought, they are prepared to choose the easy, popular side.  Men of talent and pleasing address, who once rejoiced in the truth, employ their powers to deceive and mislead souls.  They become the most bitter enemies of their former brethren.  When Sabbath-keepers are brought before the courts to answer for their faith, these apostates are the most efficient agents of Satan to misrepresent and accuse them, and by false reports and insinuations to stir up the rulers against them.
The Great Controversy, pg. 390
The Bible declares that before the coming of the Lord, Satan will work “with all power and signs and lying wonders, and with all deceivableness of unrighteousness;” and they that “received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved,” will be left to receive “strong delusion, that they should believe a lie” [2 Thess. 2:9-11].  Not until this condition shall be reached, and the union of the church with the world shall be fully accomplished throughout Christendom, will the fall of Babylon be complete.  The change is a progressive one, and the perfect fulfilment of Rev. 14:8 is yet future.
Notwithstanding the spiritual darkness and alienation from God that exist in the churches which constitute Babylon, the great body of Christ’s true followers are still to be found in their communion.  There are many of these who have never seen the special truths for this time.  Not a few are dissatisfied with their present condition, and are longing for clearer light.  They look in vain for the image of Christ in the churches with which they are connected.  As these bodies depart farther and farther from the truth, and ally themselves more closely with the world, the difference between the two classes will widen, and it will finally result in separation.  The time will come when those who love God supremely can no longer remain in connection with such as are “lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof.”
Revelation 18 points to the time when, as the result of rejecting the threefold warning of Rev. 14:6-12, the church will have fully reached the condition foretold by the second angel, and the people of God still in Babylon will be called upon to separate from her communion.  This message is the last that will ever be given to the world; and it will accomplish its work.  When those that “believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness” [2 Thess. 2:12] shall be left to receive strong delusion and to believe a lie, then the light of truth will shine upon all whose hearts are open to receive it, and all the children of the Lord that remain in Babylon will heed the call, “Come out of her, My people”  [Rev. 18:4].

This view of the remnant harmonizes with the fundamental belief of the church, as now stated — that “in the last days, a time of widespread apostasy, a remnant has been called out to keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus.”  This remnant, I believe, is what the 144,000 is all about.  They are the last generation of Christians, the rest of her seed, those against whom Satan makes war and who will be victorious in the war of Armageddon, the great tribulation.  They will demonstrate to the universe the full power of the everlasting gospel, for they are the final product of that gospel, proclaimed by the three angels of Revelation 14.

Revelation 7:9-17
After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.  They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.  And they cried out in a loud voice:  “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”
All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures.  They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying:  “Amen!  Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever.  Amen!”
Then one of the elders asked me, “These in white robes — who are they, and where did they come from?”
I answered, “Sir, you know.”
And he said, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.  Therefore, “they are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence.  ‘Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst.  The sun will not beat down on them,’ nor any scorching heat.  For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; ‘he will lead them to springs of living water.’ ‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’”
Revelation 14:12
This calls for patient endurance on the part of the people of God who keep his commands and remain faithful to Jesus.

The Two Requirements

In the Old Testament, the yearly Day of Atonement service in the Sanctuary pointed symbolically to the culmination of the Plan of Salvation.  On that day, God’s people performed a twofold work.  While the High Priest entered the Most Holy Place of the earthly Sanctuary to cleanse the people of their sins, the people themselves had to (1) deny, or humble themselves (“afflict their souls,” in some translations), and (2) do no work, that is, keep it as a Sabbath day of rest:

Leviticus 16:29-31; 23:26-32
“This is to be a lasting ordinance for you:  On the tenth day of the seventh month you must deny yourselves and not do any work — whether native-born or a foreigner residing among you — because on this day atonement will be made for you, to cleanse you.  Then, before the Lord, you will be clean from all your sins.  It is a day of sabbath rest, and you must deny yourselves; it is a lasting ordinance.”
...The Lord said to Moses, “The tenth day of this seventh month is the Day of Atonement.  Hold a sacred assembly and deny yourselves, and present a food offering to the Lord.  Do not do any work on that day, because it is the Day of Atonement, when atonement is made for you before the Lord your God.  Those who do not deny themselves on that day must be cut off from their people.  I will destroy from among their people anyone who does any work on that day.  You shall do no work at all.  This is to be a lasting ordinance for the generations to come, wherever you live.  It is a day of sabbath rest for you, and you must deny yourselves.  From the evening of the ninth day of the month until the following evening you are to observe your sabbath.”

This twofold requirement harmonizes with the gospel formula of the New Testament, Not I, but Christ...

Galatians 2:20
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.  The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

...as expressed by Paul himself in Philippians 3:3-10, and ends with these words (verses 8-9, emphasis added):

Philippians 3:3-10
For it is we who are the circumcision, we who serve God by his Spirit, who boast in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh — though I myself have reasons for such confidence.  If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more:  circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.  But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.  What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things [his self-righteousness].  I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ — the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.  I want to know Christ — yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death....

This is the what the Day of Atonement requirements symbolized, but the Jews instead gave them an unfortunate legalistic application.  The 144,000, however, fulfill the requirements spiritually, when the true gospel of Revelation 14 is restored.  Note how Ellen G. White expresses the process:

Sons and Daughters of God, Pg. 259 [emphasis added]
“As Christ’s ambassadors, they [Adventists] are to search the Scriptures, to seek the truth that has been hidden beneath the rubbish of error.  And every ray of light received is to be communicated to others.  One interest will prevail, one subject will swallow up every other, Christ our righteousness.”

This, I believe, is the global mission for which God raised the Advent movement, out of the Great Disappointment of 1844.  The context of this mission is the cleansing of the Sanctuary (the gospel in type) predicted in Daniel 8:14 (see Appendix A).

Daniel 8:14
He said to me, “It will take 2,300 evenings and mornings; then the sanctuary will be reconsecrated.”

The restoration of the everlasting gospel, as we shall see, will produce the 144,000, God’s remnant of the last days.

Rather than claiming to be the remnant church, would it not be far better (and more biblical) to claim that God has raised the Seventh-day Adventist church to preach the remnant message, the everlasting gospel of Revelation 14?  Not all members on the church books are at this time born-again Christians or committed to the church’s vision.  The remnant will emerge as the final product of “the gospel of the kingdom”:

Matthew 24:14
And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.

Both Bible testaments use the word remnant in two ways.  It can refer to believers faithful to God in times of widespread apostasy, or to those loyal to Him during persecution.  In either case, remnant applies to those who remain faithful during terribly difficult times.  For example, we find these words in Isaiah:

Isaiah 1:9
Unless the Lord Almighty had left us some survivors [a remnant], we would have become like Sodom, we would have been like Gomorrah.

This remnant consisted of Jews who remained faithful during Israel’s apostasy.

We note in Paul’s writings two uses of the word remnant, in quotes he takes from the Old Testament.  Paul writes, using Isaiah’s words [emphasis added]:

Romans 9:27
Isaiah cries out concerning Israel:  “Though the number of the Israelites be like the sand by the sea, only the remnant [the faithful ones] will be saved.”

Elsewhere Paul quotes God’s reply to the prophet Elijah, who believed he alone remained faithful in Israel [emphasis added]:

Romans 11:4-5
And what was God’s answer to him?  “I have reserved for myself seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal.”  So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace.

The Great Controversy

The word remnant (KJV) as it appears in Revelation 12:17 means, literally, the rest of her seed:

Revelation 12:17
Then the dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to wage war against the rest of her offspring [seed] — those who keep God’s commands and hold fast their testimony about Jesus.

The situation, as described in Revelation 12, is that of the great controversy between Christ and Satan, from beginning to end.  Verses 1 to 4 use symbolic language to describe how the struggle began:

Revelation 12:1-4
A great sign appeared in heaven:  a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head.  She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth.  Then another sign appeared in heaven:  an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on its heads.  Its tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth.  The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that it might devour her child the moment he was born.

Verses 7 to 9, then, tell how the controversy escalated into war in which Satan and his angels were defeated and cast out of heaven to earth, where the great controversy gains a foothold and intensifies after Christ redeems the human race and reconciles the world to God, for Satan is desperate, knowing he has but a short time left (verses 10-12):

Revelation 12:7-12
Then war broke out in heaven.  Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back.  But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven.  The great dragon was hurled down — that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray.  He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.
Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say:  “Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Messiah.  For the accuser of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down.  They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.  Therefore rejoice, you heavens and you who dwell in them!  But woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has gone down to you!  He is filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short.”

Beginning with verse 13, the apostle John then shares a brief visionary account of what happens to the Christian church throughout history.  At first Satan tries to destroy the infant church through persecution, but fails.  As the Church Father Tertullian puts it, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.”  The more Satan kills the faithful believers, the more new ones join the church.  God helps His faithful people — the remnant — survive in the wilderness:

Revelation 12:13-14
When the dragon saw that he had been hurled to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child.  The woman was given the two wings of a great eagle, so that she might fly to the place prepared for her in the wilderness, where she would be taken care of for a time, times and half a time, out of the serpent’s reach.

So Satan tries a new tactic, and meets with far greater success.  By filling the church with unconverted pagans (symbolized as floods of water entering the church, verse 15), Satan succeeds in perverting the truth of the gospel and corrupting the church:

Revelation 12:15
Then from his mouth the serpent spewed water like a river, to overtake the woman and sweep her away with the torrent.

Thus begins the “Dark Ages.”  This fulfills the prophecy of the “little horn” spoken of by Daniel 7 and 8 and the “man of sin” (or “man of lawlessness”) mentioned by Paul in 2 Thessalonians:

2 Thessalonians 2:1-4
Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers and sisters, not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by the teaching allegedly from us — whether by a prophecy or by word of mouth or by letter — asserting that the day of the Lord has already come.  Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction.  He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God.

Then comes the Sixteenth-Century Reformation, in which God begins to restore the everlasting gospel, by laying the foundation for the proclamation of the Three Angels’ Messages to follow.

Revelation 12:16
But the earth helped the woman by opening its mouth and swallowing the river that the dragon had spewed out of his mouth.

The three fundamental principles of the Reformation laid down are “Sola Scriptura” (the Bible is the only source of authority), “Sola Gratia” (salvation is by God’s grace alone), and “Sola Fide” (mankind is saved through faith alone).

The reformers began the restoration of gospel truth, but many Christian theologians of the Seventeenth Century and onward began to undermine the authority of Scripture by introducing liberal ideas associated with the scientific method.

Finally, God raised up a movement destined to eventually restore and proclaim the everlasting gospel in all its fullness and purity.  This movement, I believe, is the Advent Movement (see Revelation 10:7-11, where “the little book which is open” refers to the book of Daniel):

Revelation 10:7-11
“But in the days when the seventh angel is about to sound his trumpet, the mystery of God will be accomplished, just as he announced to his servants the prophets.” Then the voice that I had heard from heaven spoke to me once more:  “Go, take the scroll that lies open in the hand of the angel who is standing on the sea and on the land.”
So I went to the angel and asked him to give me the little scroll.  He said to me, “Take it and eat it.  It will turn your stomach sour, but ‘in your mouth it will be as sweet as honey.’”  I took the little scroll from the angel’s hand and ate it.  It tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it, my stomach turned sour.  Then I was told, “You must prophesy again about many peoples, nations, languages and kings.”

The everlasting gospel is the Three Angels’ Messages of Revelation 14.  When this work is complete, the earth will be illuminated with the glory of the Lord, Jesus Christ, and His righteousness, through the power of the fourth angel:

Revelation 18:1
After this I saw another angel coming down from heaven.  He had great authority, and the earth was illuminated by his splendor.

Satan will then become enraged and will make war with the remnant of her seed:

Revelation 12:17
Then the dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to wage war against the rest of her offspring — those who keep God’s commands and hold fast their testimony about Jesus.

This war is the great tribulation, the war of Armageddon, “the battle of that great day of God Almighty”:

Revelation 16:13-16
Then I saw three impure spirits that looked like frogs; they came out of the mouth of the dragon, out of the mouth of the beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet.  They are demonic spirits that perform signs, and they go out to the kings of the whole world, to gather them for the battle on the great day of God Almighty.
“Look, I come like a thief!  Blessed is the one who stays awake and remains clothed, so as not to go naked and be shamefully exposed.”
Then they gathered the kings together to the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon.

The final showdown in the great controversy between Christ and Satan will take place, and the remnant (whom I believe are the triumphant 144,000), will represent God’s faithful people.  At that time, the remnant will remain loyal to their Lord, Jesus Christ, though they may feel forsaken of God:

Isaiah 54:5-8
For your Maker is your husband — the Lord Almighty is his name — the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer; he is called the God of all the earth.  The Lord will call you back as if you were a wife deserted and distressed in spirit — a wife who married young, only to be rejected,” says your God.  “For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with deep compassion I will bring you back.  In a surge of anger I hid my face from you for a moment, but with everlasting kindness I will have compassion on you,” says the Lord your Redeemer.

They will vindicate the power of the gospel to save mankind totally from the power of sin and self.

The 144,000 of Revelation, Chapter 7

Questions about the 144,000 have produced much speculation and controversy within Adventism.  It is a literal or a figurative number?  Are the 144,000 composed only of Jews, or does the number include Gentile believers?  Since the 144,000 are described as virgins (Revelation 14:4), are they all unmarried?

Revelation 14:4
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.

What does the Word of God have to say about this group?

Only two passages allude to the 144,000 — Revelation 7 and 14.  By analyzing each passage in context, however, we can get a true picture of this special group.  Let’s begin by reviewing the context of Revelation 7, in Chapter 6.  The first 12 verses symbolically describe the Lamb’s opening of a succession of five seals — about two verses are devoted to each.  But when we come to the opening of the sixth seal, beginning in Revelation 6:12, the narrative goes on through the end of Chapter 7.  Clearly, this sixth seal has to do with the signs and Second Coming of Christ in all His glory.  Note how it describes the coming of the great day of the Lord:

Revelation 6:14-17
The heavens receded like a scroll being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place.  Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and everyone else, both slave and free, hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains.  They called to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb!  For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can withstand it?”

This description seems to suggest that no one will be able to stand at His coming.  No wonder the apostle John raises the question, “Who is able to stand?” [or “who can withstand it?”].

Luke 18:8
“I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly.  However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

But John does not leave us in darkness.  Chapter 7 answers the question of Revelation 6:17 — the 144,000 will be able to stand!  But before they can endure the Second Coming and the great tribulation that precedes it, their faith must be sealed so that it becomes unshakeable.

So God holds back the four winds of strife (the great tribulation) until His faithful ones, the remnant, are sealed in their foreheads:

Revelation 7:1-3
After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth to prevent any wind from blowing on the land or on the sea or on any tree.  Then I saw another angel coming up from the east, having the seal of the living God.  He called out in a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm the land and the sea:  “Do not harm the land or the sea or the trees until we put a seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God.”

At this time, John does not see the sealed ones, but he hears:

Revelation 7:4
Then I heard the number of those who were sealed:  144,000 from all the tribes of Israel.

John does not see them, apparently, because they are not grouped together and, according to verses 5 to 8, are composed of 12,000 from each of the 12 tribes of Israel:

Revelation 7:5-8
From the tribe of Judah 12,000 were sealed, 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 12,000.

Since events surrounding the opening of the seals are described in symbolic language, it stands to reason that this group of men may not be literal, either.  One notable clue is that as we examine the list of 12 tribes in Revelation 7:5-8, the tribe of Dan is omitted and replaced by that of Manasseh, a son of Joseph, not Jacob.  Toward the end of this chapter, we will look at the significance of each of the 12 tribes and see how they represent the 144,000, God’s remnant of the last days.  But first we must determine the identity of true Israel, as represented here.

God’s True Israel

According to the apostle Paul:

Romans 2:28-29
A person is not a Jew who is one only outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical.  No, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code.  Such a person’s praise is not from other people, but from God.

Later, in Romans 9, Paul clearly states that to belong to Israel does not mean that one must be a literal descendant of the three fathers of Israel (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob); rather, those who belong to Israel have the experience and character qualities of these men.

Romans 9:6-8, 30-32
It is not as though God’s word had failed.  For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel.  Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham’s children. On the contrary, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.”  In other words, it is not the children by physical descent who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring.  ...What then shall we say?  That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; but the people of Israel, who pursued the law as the way of righteousness, have not attained their goal.  Why not?  Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works.  They stumbled over the stumbling stone.

Abraham stands for unquestioning faith in God and His Word:

Romans 4:13-18
It was not through the law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith.  For if those who depend on the law are heirs, faith means nothing and the promise is worthless, because the law brings wrath.  And where there is no law there is no transgression.  Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring — not only to those who are of the law but also to those who have the faith of Abraham.  He is the father of us all.  As it is written:  “I have made you a father of many nations.”  He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed — the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not.  Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”

Galatians 3:6-9
So also Abraham “believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”  Understand, then, that those who have faith are children of Abraham.  Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham:  “All nations will be blessed through you.”  So those who rely on faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.

Isaac represents the new birth, those who are born from above.  All who by faith have received the righteousness of Christ and have experienced the new birth, “as Isaac was, are children of promise”:

Galatians 4:28
Now you, brothers and sisters, like Isaac, are children of promise.

But what about Jacob?  What does he represent?  The name Jacob means schemer or one who deceives.  How can he represent God’s remnant?

Jacob’s experience is actually typical of all God’s faithful ones, for it represents the constant struggle between the unconvertible flesh, on the one hand, and the converted mind, on the other hand — what Paul refers to as the inner, or inward man:

Romans 7:21-24
So I find this law at work:  Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me.  For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me.  What a wretched man I am!  Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?

On his own, Jacob tried very hard to fulfill the promise God made to his mother Rebekah, that he would have the birthrights:

Genesis 25:23
The Lord said to her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger.”

But all his attempts failed, until finally he found himself wrestling with the Man of God, all night long.  When he failed to defeat his assailant and instead suffered a dislocated hip himself, Jacob realized that he was wrestling against a supernatural being and refused to let him go without first receiving a blessing from God.  Note the dialogue between Jacob and the Man of God:

Genesis 32:27-28
The man [the Man of God] asked him [Jacob], “What is your name?”
“Jacob
[deceiver or schemer],” he answered.
Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.”

So Jacob represents all those whose faith endures to the end, in spite of human failure.  According to Jesus, these three fathers of Israel represent the living — that is, the saved:

Matthew 22:31-32
“But about the resurrection of the dead — have you not read what God said to you, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’?  He is not the God of the dead but of the living.”

It is not enough for one to believe in Christ (to be Abraham’s descendant) and to experience the new birth (to be the child of Isaac).  For a believer to ultimately make it to heaven, one’s faith must also endure to the end, as did Jacob’s:

Matthew 10:16-22
“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves.  Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.  Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues.  On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles.  But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it.  At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.  Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death.  You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.”
Hebrews 10:35-39
So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded.  You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.  For, “In just a little while, he who is coming will come and will not delay.”  And, “But my righteous one will live by faith.  And I take no pleasure in the one who shrinks back.”
But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved.

In the case of the last generation of Christians (the 144,000), faith must endure to the end, in spite of the great tribulation that will try their faith, as no other generation of believers has been tested before:

Daniel 12:1
“At that time Michael, the great prince who protects your people, will arise.  There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then.  But at that time your people — everyone whose name is found written in the book — will be delivered.”

The prophet Jeremiah describes this Time of Trouble in these words:

Jeremiah 30:7
How awful that day will be!  No other will be like it.  It will be a time of trouble for Jacob, but he will be saved out of it.

Going back to the description of the 144,000, as John describes them in Revelation 7, notice in verse 9 and following that John then actually sees their group in heaven, after the great tribulation is over and the remnant is delivered by the Second Coming.  He describes the scene as follows:

Revelation 7:9-10
After this [the Second Advent] I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.  They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.  And they cried out in a loud voice:  “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”

Some prefer to interpret this great multitude as representing all of the saved.  But this cannot be, for at least two reasons.  First, the chapter itself does not deal with the question of who makes it to heaven, but, “Who is able to stand (the Second Coming of Christ)”?  Second, in Revelation 7:13, one of the 24 elders voices this question:

Revelation 7:13
Then one of the elders asked me, “These in white robes — who are they, and where did they [referring to verses 9 and 10] come from?”

The answer is instructive:

Revelation 7:14b [emphasis added]
And he said, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

These are clearly the 144,000, and they represent a vast multitude made up of “every nation, tribe, people and language” (verse 9).

John had not yet seen the 144,000 (verse 4) but hears “the number of those who were sealed”:

Revelation 7:4
Then I heard the number of those who were sealed:  144,000 from all the tribes of Israel.

Only after the great tribulation and the Second Coming does John see them assembled before the throne of God and of the Lamb.  That is because the 144,000 constitute believers from “every nation, tribe, people and language.”

The 144,000 in Revelation 14

What more can we learn about the 144,000 in Revelation 14?  In this description of the final generation of Christians, the topic at hand is the everlasting gospel of the three angels — the full and pure gospel, restored and cleansed.  This is the everlasting gospel that produces the 144,000 — this special group that demonstrates the full power of the gospel and vindicates Christ in the final showdown, the war of Armageddon.

The first thing we notice in Revelation 14:1-5 about the 144,000 is that they are standing in heaven before the Lamb on Mount Zion (verse 1). 

Revelation 14:1-5
Then I looked, and there before me was the Lamb, standing on Mount Zion, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads.  And I heard a sound from heaven like the roar of rushing waters and like a loud peal of thunder.  The sound I heard was like that of harpists playing their harps.  And they sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders.  No one could learn the song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth.  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.

So we can assume that, in Chapter 14, John is describing this group after they have endured the full force of Satan’s attack in the Time of Trouble and have been delivered at the Second Coming.  This scene is basically the same as the one described in Revelation 7:9:

Revelation 7:9
After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.  They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.

That God’s name is written on their foreheads simply means that their minds have been fully rooted and grounded in the truth of God’s agape-love and the righteousness of Christ.

Ephesians 3:13-19
I ask you, therefore, not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you, which are your glory.  For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name.  I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.  And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge — that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Then John hears something — the noise of rushing waters, as in a thunderstorm, created by a multitude of harpists:

Revelation 14:2
And I heard a sound from heaven like the roar of rushing waters and like a loud peal of thunder.  The sound I heard was like that of harpists playing their harps.

He also hears the 144,000 singing a new song that only they can sing:

Revelation 14:3
And they sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders.  No one could learn the song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth.

All this harmonizes with what John was shown in Revelation 7:

Revelation 7:9-10
After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.  They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.  And they cried out in a loud voice:  “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”

And why can only the 144,000 from among the redeemed sing this new song?  The answer comes:

Revelation 14:4-5
These are those who did not defile themselves with women [false churches], 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.

The 144,000 describe mature Christianity that has experienced the full power of the gospel and is, therefore, fully reflecting the character of the Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  They are called “virgins” in the same sense as these words by Paul to the Corinthians:

2 Corinthians 11:2 [emphasis added]
I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy.  I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him.

They are called “firstfruits to God and to the Lamb” (Revelation 14:4) because they are the first among the redeemed to have reached full maturity (though they are the last generation chronologically).  As Jesus told Peter after the experience with the rich, young ruler:

Mark 10:31
“But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

As we review Revelation 14, we see that it first describes the 144,000 (verses 1-5):

Revelation 14:1-5
Then I looked, and there before me was the Lamb, standing on Mount Zion, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads.  And I heard a sound from heaven like the roar of rushing waters and like a loud peal of thunder.  The sound I heard was like that of harpists playing their harps.  And they sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders.  No one could learn the song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth.  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.

In verses 6-11, then, we are told that this group is the product of the everlasting gospel, proclaimed with power by the three angels. 

Revelation 14:6-11
Then I saw another angel flying in midair, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth — to every nation, tribe, language and people.  He said in a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come.  Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water.”
A second angel followed and said, “‘Fallen!  Fallen is Babylon the Great,’ which made all the nations drink the maddening wine of her adulteries.”
A third angel followed them and said in a loud voice:  “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives its mark on their forehead or on their hand, they, too, will drink the wine of God’s fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath.  They will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb.  And the smoke of their torment will rise for ever and ever.  There will be no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and its image, or for anyone who receives the mark of its name.”

This is the fulfillment of what Christ predicted:

Matthew 24:14
And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.

In Revelation 14:12-13, John sums up the 144,000 in these words (emphasis added):

Revelation 14:12-13
This calls for patient endurance on the part of the people of God who keep his commands and remain faithful to Jesus.
Then I heard a voice from heaven say, “Write this:  Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.”
“Yes,” says the Spirit, “they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them.”

In verses 14-20, then, the harvest of the earth is described, at the Second Coming of Christ, when the 144,000 and all the saved are taken to heaven and the lost are destroyed by fire:

Revelation 14:14-20
I looked, and there before me was a white cloud, and seated on the cloud was one like a son of man with a crown of gold on his head and a sharp sickle in his hand.  Then another angel came out of the temple and called in a loud voice to him who was sitting on the cloud, “Take your sickle and reap, because the time to reap has come, for the harvest of the earth is ripe.”  So he who was seated on the cloud swung his sickle over the earth, and the earth was harvested.
Another angel came out of the temple in heaven, and he too had a sharp sickle.  Still another angel, who had charge of the fire, came from the altar and called in a loud voice to him who had the sharp sickle, “Take your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of grapes from the earth’s vine, because its grapes are ripe.”  The angel swung his sickle on the earth, gathered its grapes and threw them into the great winepress of God’s wrath.  They were trampled in the winepress outside the city, and blood flowed out of the press, rising as high as the horses’ bridles for a distance of 1,600 stadia
[180 miles or about 300 kilometers].

The Twelve Tribes

The 12,000 from each tribe of Israel, as listed in Revelation 7:5-8, are symbolic and clearly do not represent literal Jews:

Revelation 7:5-8
From the tribe of Judah 12,000 were sealed, 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 12,000.

In Genesis 29:31-30:24 we find the meanings of ten of the twelve tribes:

Genesis 29:31-30:24
When the Lord saw that Leah was not loved, he enabled her to conceive, but Rachel remained childless.  Leah became pregnant and gave birth to a son.  She named him Reuben, for she said, “It is because the Lord has seen my misery.  Surely my husband will love me now.”
She conceived again, and when she gave birth to a son she said, “Because the Lord heard that I am not loved, he gave me this one too.” So she named him Simeon.
Again she conceived, and when she gave birth to a son she said, “Now at last my husband will become attached to me, because I have borne him three sons.”  So he was named Levi.
She conceived again, and when she gave birth to a son she said, “This time I will praise the Lord.”  So she named him Judah.  Then she stopped having children.
When Rachel saw that she was not bearing Jacob any children, she became jealous of her sister.  So she said to Jacob, “Give me children, or I’ll die!”
Jacob became angry with her and said, “Am I in the place of God, who has kept you from having children?”
Then she said, “Here is Bilhah, my servant.  Sleep with her so that she can bear children for me and I too can build a family through her.”
So she gave him her servant Bilhah as a wife.  Jacob slept with her, and she became pregnant and bore him a son.  Then Rachel said, “God has vindicated me; he has listened to my plea and given me a son.” Because of this she named him Dan.
Rachel’s servant Bilhah conceived again and bore Jacob a second son.  Then Rachel said, “I have had a great struggle with my sister, and I have won.” So she named him Naphtali.
When Leah saw that she had stopped having children, she took her servant Zilpah and gave her to Jacob as a wife.  Leah’s servant Zilpah bore Jacob a son.  Then Leah said, “What good fortune!” So she named him Gad.
Leah’s servant Zilpah bore Jacob a second son.  Then Leah said, “How happy I am!  The women will call me happy.” So she named him Asher.
During wheat harvest, Reuben went out into the fields and found some mandrake plants, which he brought to his mother Leah.  Rachel said to Leah, “Please give me some of your son’s mandrakes.”
But she said to her, “Wasn’t it enough that you took away my husband?  Will you take my son’s mandrakes too?”
“Very well,” Rachel said, “he can sleep with you tonight in return for your son’s mandrakes.”
So when Jacob came in from the fields that evening, Leah went out to meet him.  “You must sleep with me,” she said.  “I have hired you with my son’s mandrakes.”  So he slept with her that night.
God listened to Leah, and she became pregnant and bore Jacob a fifth son.  Then Leah said, “God has rewarded me for giving my servant to my husband.”  So she named him Issachar.
Leah conceived again and bore Jacob a sixth son.  Then Leah said, “God has presented me with a precious gift.  This time my husband will treat me with honor, because I have borne him six sons.”  So she named him Zebulun.
Some time later she gave birth to a daughter and named her Dinah.
Then God remembered Rachel; he listened to her and enabled her to conceive.  She became pregnant and gave birth to a son and said, “God has taken away my disgrace.”  She named him Joseph, and said, “May the Lord add to me another son.”

The other two, Benjamin and Manasseh, are found in Genesis 35:18 and 41:51, respectively:

Genesis 35:18
As she breathed her last — for she was dying — she named her son Ben-Oni.  But his father named him Benjamin.
Genesis 41:51
Joseph named his firstborn Manasseh and said, “It is because God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father’s household.”

In Bible times, names represented traits of those named, and the following is a list of the names of the 12 tribes, and the meaning of each: Judah means praise; Reuben means a son; Gad means a company; Asher means happy; Simeon means hearing; Napthali means wrestling; Manasseh means forgetting; Levi means joined; Issachar means servant; Zebulun means dwelling; Joseph means added; and Benjamin means son of the right hand.

These beautifully describe the 144,000, who represent the remnant of God.  They will endure the full force of Satan’s attack in the great tribulation and come out victorious, vindicating the power of the gospel.  Someone has penned this elegy to the 144,000:

Praise these sons of God, this company of happy Christians, who having heard and responded to the Three Angels’ Messages of Revelation 14, wrestled with Satan in the War of Armageddon (the final conflict in the great controversy); they are now in heaven forgetting the past and have joined themselves as servants of Christ in His temple and are now dwelling with Him as added sons of the right hand.”

As we approach the last days of earth’s history, may we fully surrender to the claims of the everlasting gospel and join this special group of believers who will vindicate the Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, in the final showdown of the great controversy.


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