Gospel Issues in Adventism
By E.H. “Jack” Sequeira

#16 – The 144,000

(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 peak 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 kept themselves pure.  They follow the Lamb wherever he goes.  They were purchased from among men and offered as firstfruits to God and the Lamb.  No lie was found in their mouths; they are blameless. [Revelation 14:1-5]

Now for our final study:  the 144,000, a topic that has produced more heat than light in our church, as well as in other denominations.  It is amazing some of the conclusions and speculations you hear about these special brand of Christians who will live to see the second advent [of Jesus Christ].

Some believe this is a literal number, i.e., 144,000; others insist that they will only be Jews, because Revelation 7:4 describes them as being taken from all the tribes of Israel.  There is also a third group who insist that they will be only single people because, as the Scripture reading indicated, they are described as virgins.

In actual fact, there are only two passages in all of Scripture that actually or explicitly describes the 144,000.  Both are found in the apocalypse, the book of Revelation, which is a prophetic book whose primary purpose is to describes last day events.  And what makes this book difficult or subject to speculations is that it presents truth in symbolic language.

The two passages that speaks about the 144,000 are Revelation chapter 7 and the first five verses of chapter 14 (above).  The first, chapter 7, describes the 144,000 in the context of the seven seals, and the second, chapter 14, in the context of the everlasting gospel of the three angels.  If we are to come to a correct understanding of what these 144,000 are all about, we have to examine them in the context they are described.  That is what we will attempt in this study.  We will begin with chapter seven.

Beginning with chapter 6 of Revelation, we have a description of the book sealed with seven seals and which only Christ, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, is worthy to open:

Then I saw in the right hand of him who sat on the throne a scroll with writing on both sides and sealed with seven seals.  And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming in a loud voice, “Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?” But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside it.  I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside.  Then one of the elders said to me, “Do no weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed.  He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.” [Revelation 5:1-5].

In examining these seven seals, we find Revelation 6:1-2 describes the first seal; verses 3-4 describe the second seal, verses 5-6 describe the third seal; verses 7-8 describe the fourth seal; and verses 9-11 describe the fifth seal.

However, when we come to the sixth seal, we find the description begins with verse 12 and goes on until the end of chapter 7.  Finally, the seventh seal is described by only one verse, chapter 8:1:

When he opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. [Revelation 8:1]

What do we conclude from this brief description of the seven seals?  Obviously, the sixth seal, which takes up most of the room, must be the most important.

What is the context of the sixth seal?  For it is in this context we must understand the 144,000.  So before we can examine the 144,00, described in chapter 7 of Revelation, let us first examine the context of the sixth seal:

[12] I watched as he opened the sixth seal.  There was a great earthquake.  The sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair, the whole moon turned blood red, [13] and the stars in the sky fell to earth, as late figs drop from a fig tree when shaken by a strong wind. [14] The sky receded like a scroll, rolling up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. [15] Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and every slave and every free man hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. [16] 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! [17] For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?” [Revelation 6:12-17]

Several things are revealed in this passage which describes the events that take place under the sixth seal:

  1. The sixth seal begins with the signs of the second coming of Christ [verses 12-14].

  2. These signs are followed by the actual second coming of Christ along with the reaction of the men and women who have rejected Him [verses 15-16].

  3. Judging from this description, the implication is that no one living in these last days will be able to stand the great day of the wrath of the Lamb.  So the big concern and valid question asked is who will be able to stand [verse 17].  This question is similar to the question Jesus Himself asked when He was on this earth:

    ...However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth? [Luke 18:8]

In chapter seven of Revelation is the answer to the important question of verse 17 of chapter 6.  The 144,00 will be able to stand.  But before they can do so, something must take place.  Their faith must be sealed, just as Abraham’s had to before he could pass the test of sacrificing his son Isaac [read Romans 4:11; then Hebrews 11:17-19, the chapter describing the Hall of faith].

As we saw in our last two studies, before Christ can come to take us to heaven, the last generation of Christians will have to face a time of trouble such as has never been experienced by any other generation before them.  But before this can happen, their faith has to be sealed.  The first three verses of Revelation 7 describe this sealing:

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.” [Revelation 7:1-3]

Then in verse 4, John hears the number sealed:

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

Note he does not see them but only hears the number sealed.  The obvious reason for this is that they are scattered throughout the world.  What about the fact that they are only from the twelve tribes of Israel, outlined in verses 5-8?

We must keep in mind that in the New Testament, and especially in the writings of the apostle Paul, who was a Jew himself, Israel is defined as all those who, like Abraham, have put their faith in Christ.  Let me give you some examples:  Romans 2:28,29; Romans 4:16-18; Romans 9:6-8; Galatians 3:6-9.

So I believe the 144,000 does not refer to literal Israel but to spiritual Israel.  And the twelve tribes represent Christians whose experience resembles the twelve tribes of literal Israel.  Besides, the book of Revelation presents truth in symbolic language and, therefore, must not be taken literally.

But let us continue analyzing Revelation 7, which describes the 144,000 who will be able to stand the great tribulation and face the second coming of Christ in confidence.  Look at verse 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 in front of the Lamb.  They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. [Revelation 7:9]

Who are these great multitude from all nations, kindred, tongues and people?  I would like to suggest they are the 144,00.  Here is my evidence.

  1. The context of this chapter is the question raised in verse 17 of chapter 6:  who will be able to stand the second coming of Christ?  The answer chapter 7 gives is the 144,000.

  2. In verse 4, John hears the number whose faith is sealed:  144,000.  But in verse 9, after Christ has come and taken them to heaven, he sees the number.  It is a vast multitude.  Therefore, I believe the 144,000 is not a literal number but a figurative number that constitutes people from all over the world.

  3. But you may argue that verse 9 refers to all of the saved who will make it to heaven.  Let me show you why this is not so.  Besides the context of chapter 7, note the question of verse 13:

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

    Clearly, verse 13 is a description of those mentioned in verse 9.  Now look at the answer given to the question in verse 13:

    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 spread his tent over them.  Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst.  The sun will not beat upon 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 7:14-17]

    Surely, these who have come out of great tribulation cannot refer to the experience of all the saved?  The only conclusion I can come to, in examining chapter 7 in context is that the 144,000 is a vast multitude of believers who have experienced the full power of the gospel and who will vindicate God in the final showdown in the great controversy between God and Satan.

This brings us to chapter 14 of Revelation, the other passage that deals with the 144,000.  The context of this chapter is the everlasting gospel of the three angels’ message.  Time does not permit us to look in detail at the three angels’ message itself, which we have already studied.  The conclusion we came to is that the three angels’ message is the full restoration of the everlasting gospel which will be preached into all the world as God’s final plea to mankind before the end comes.  In other words, the three angels’ message is the fulfillment of the prediction made by Christ in Matthew 24:14 as one of the last signs of His second coming

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. [Matthew 24:14]

Revelation 14:1-5 is a description of the 144,00 who will experience the full power of the gospel and the truth of justification by faith alone.  These verses are not describing the 144,000 while on earth but rather as they stand before the throne of Christ in heaven, after the second advent.  Once again, these verses tell me that they represent a vast multitude.  What makes them virgins?  Not because they are unmarried but because they are loyal only to Christ [read 2 Corinthians 11:2].  May you be one of them.

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