Nazarene Apocalypse ©2000

THE 144,000 --- WHO ARE THEY?

INTRODUCTION

#170. It is very easy with this type of subject to wave the Magic Wand and sprinkle Fairy Dust with some grand authoritarian pronouncement regarding the identity of the 144,000. Many have done so throughout the centuries. While refraining from being judgmental or critical of these views and opinions, we first ask: “How does one go about interpreting this subject?”

Guidelines for Interpretation.

#171. The ancient rule from Joseph’s mouth is still the best, ‘Does not interpretation belong to God?’ (Genesis 40:8) How are we to do this? How can we possibly let God interpret such matters as the Apocalypse?

#172. First, we ask if someone else, someone inspired by God, has quoted or alluded to these verses regarding the 144,000? We do find some amplification of the 144,000 in REVELATION 7:1-8 by reading a couple later remarks: REVELATION 9:4 and 14:1-5. We may view these later verses as commentaries on the earlier occurrence. Secondly, we look to see if there are Hebrew Bible allusions buried within the word choices and context of the 144,000. Third, we examine the contexts themselves of all three locations where the 144,000 are being referenced (REVELATION 6:12-7:17, 9:1-4, and REVELATION 13:16-14:5) looking for a general chronological time frame. Fourth, we seek a general pattern in the rest of the Bible where such a group like the 144,000 might be in harmony with, or consistent with, what we have found by examining the three methods above. Finally, if these fail or have serious limitations, we must admit we are in an area where a firm answer does not exist and we then seek what we have called a bias, a leaning toward a certain possibility.

#173. Though we may consider 9:4 and 14:1-5 as amplifications on the subject of the 144,000, it seems our best possibility is to examine the context. We find three immediate contexts to the 144,000:

  • REVELATION 6:12-7:17
  • REVELATION 9:1-4
  • REVELATION 13:16-14:5

1) The 144,000 within the Sixth Seal.

#174. The first occurrence of the 144,000 is in the context of the sixth seal. (REVELATION 6:12-7:17) This Seal begins with language very similar to that of the Nazarene in his answer to his disciples’ questions: celestial darkness. We learned earlier that Jesus’ language is very much like that of Isaiah where such a heavenly phenomenon is foretold in conjunction with the gathering of Israel from the four winds. (REVELATION 6:12, 13; Matthew 24:29; Isaiah 11:12; 13:10, 13) If we view REVELATION 6:12, 13 as an allusion to Jesus’ own prophecy cited above, then the Sixth Seals occurs following the Great Oppression of Matthew 24:21, 22. We understand this period of oppression to be three and a half years in length. (Luke 21:24; REVELATION 11:2; 13:5-7; Daniel 7:21, 22) It is a particular period of persecution brought upon the Elect (the Chosen Ones) or Saints just prior to the Return of our Lord in his foretold Arrival or Parousia. (Daniel 7:18-22; 12:1-7; Mark 13:24-26; Luke 21:25-27; REVELATION 13:5-7, 10, 15)

#175. We understand the series of events to occur in this sequence: the great oppression, celestial phenomenon, earthwide anguish, the Revealing of the Sign of the Son of Man, the coming of the King, international lamentation, the gathering of the Saints (by resurrection and rapture), the ascension of the Church to heaven, a period of great turmoil on earth, the descent of the New Jerusalem, the destruction of Babylon the Great, Armageddon, the abyssing of Satan and the beginning of the 1,000-Years. We will leave it to another discussion to establish the Scriptural support for this chronology of events. However, these should become obvious as we proceed through the Apocalypse.

#176. For our purposes here, the immediate context of REVELATION 6:12-7:17, within the frame of the Sixth Seal, is after the celestial darkness and thus after the Great Oppression, but before the end of Babylon the Great. It is precisely that period of angelic gathering foretold by the Nazarene. (Matthew 13:41; 24:29, 30; 2 Thessalonians 2:1) This is the time for the parousia-Judgment of the Household of God. (Matthew 24:43-25:46; 2 Corinthians 5:10; 1 Peter 4:5, 13, 17; 1 John 2:28; 4:17) We understand this judgment to occur in two parts: the dead and the living. (2 Timothy 4:1; 1 Peter 4:5) According to Paul the Christian dead are raised first and then judged. (1 Corinthians 15:23; 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17; 2 Corinthians 5:10) It is our view that the Christian ‘living’ at this moment are judged while in the flesh for only the called, chosen and faithful are raptured. (REVELATION 17:14) The unfaithful are assigned their part with the hypocrites. (Matthew 24:51; Luke 12:46; Matthew 25:46) Rather than be taken up in the Rapture, they are left or abandoned to those events which will yet occur on earth. (Matthew 24:40-42, 51; Luke 21:34; REVELATION 11:11, 12)

#177. Therefore, the precise moment here during the Sixth Seal is that moment when the Great Oppression is over and the ‘living’ believers come up for judgment, just as the Nazarene foretold. The believers know ‘their deliverance is getting near.’ It is in this context of celestial darkness and the global fear described in REVELATION 6:15-17 that the selection of the 144,000 on earth takes place. (Luke 21:25-28) The Great Day has arrived but does not yet carry on to an actual conclusion. The actual “end” is months off. (REVELATION 9:5; Daniel 12:11, 12) It is the moment when the Four Winds ought to break forth but those responsible angels are held in restraint, bound as it were at the symbolic Euphrates river. (REVELATION 7:2, 3; 9:14, 15) There is a hesitation as it were to wait for an important work to be accomplished: the King’s angelic representatives ‘gather’ or ‘seal’ those living End-time Saints who have the Father’s approval. (Matthew 24:30)

2. The Fifth Trumpet.

#178. Judging from Revelation 9:1-11 those “sealed,” that is the 144,000, are present on earth during the moment the fifth angelic trumpet sounds and that apocalyptic locust plague breaks forth. In this stage of sequential blowing of the Seven Trumpets there are only two groups among mankind: those sealed and those not sealed. (REVELATION 9:4) Although Revelation 9:4 does not mention this number 144,000, it appears to be the same group as mention in Revelation 7:3 and we do not believe it unfair to state that the 144,000 are all sealed at this moment in the prophetic timing of things. This has a strong bearing on their identity.

3. The victorious over the Image of the Wild Beast.

#179. The final context regarding the 144,000 falls within a similar historic moment. Revelation 13:1-14:5 describes the period of the Great Oppression of three and a half years and the ultimate victory in vivid detail. A wild Sea-Beast is revived and all the earth is held in religious awe over this. A second Earth-Beast makes an Image to this revived Sea-Beast and there is global worship of this Image. There is some kind of international or global economic control with earth’s inhabitants forced to accept a “mark” or “engraving.” Those that refuse are subject to prison or execution. It is during a period of 42 months that the Sea-Beast makes an oppressive war on those End-time Saints still living just prior to the Return of Christ. These “saints” mentioned in Revelation 13:5-7, 10 are identical to those described in Daniel 7:18-22. (Compare Daniel 12:1-7) It seems reasonable to us that these “saints” at this precise moment, after the rise of the Sea-Beast, as well as the Lamb-like Earth-Beast and the Image it creates, are the same was what Paul calls, ‘we the living’ at 1 Thessalonians 4:16.

#180. We say this for several reasons, but one we mention here: Revelation 15:2. Following the account of the 144,000, the Apocalypse describes a vision of ‘those who come off victorious from the Wild Beast and from its Image and from the number of its name.’ These victorious ones must be the same as the “saints” of Revelation 13:7, 10. Later, at the beginning of the 1,000-Years, the total number of the Saints are described in two groupings, as it were: a) the ancient saints who suffered martyrdom described at Revelation 6:9-11; and, b) those saints contemporary with the Wild Beast and who did not receive or accept the number or mark of the wild Sea Beast. (Revelation 20:4; Revelation 13:5-7, 10)

#181. So, this context in Revelation 13:1-14:5 is consistent with those of Revelation 6:12-7:17 and Revelation 9:1-12. These contexts would likely place the 144,000 at this future period of human history: after the Great Oppression but before the Rapture.

Is the number 144,000 a symbol?

#182. There are many numbers in the Apocalypse. How could we take this number, 144,000? We have at least three options: it is literally 144,000; or, the number is symbolic for something else; or, it is both symbolic and literal. What would be our first inclination? Judging from the announcement in the first verse in the Apocalypse we would have the tendency to view it as symbolic, or a sign. There are literal numbers in Revelation which can be such and yet still have symbolic value. For example, the number seven must be literal in the case of the seals and trumpets for they are sequential.

#183. The number twelve (12) is packed with symbolism as it relates to Israel. In the ancient Orient, including Babylon, numbers with values or cryptic meanings were heightened or amplified by squaring them. Thus, the number 9400 is very sacred as the square of 3. If we square the number of Israel, 12, we get 144. Another way to heighten the value of a number was to multiply it against 1,000 or 10,000. If this be the case, the number 144,000 is the result of squaring 12 and multiplying by 1,000. It seems strange that this number, 144,000, does not occur elsewhere in the Apocalypse when one might expect it, such as in the description of the New Jerusalem where various numbers are mentioned, including 144.
400 9. The sacred number 9 is absent in the Apocalypse though the cardinal “ninth” appears once in the list of gates of the New Jerusalem.

#184. There is something in the description of the 144,000 in Revelation 14:1-5 which has a priestly tone to it. This causes us to look at the ancient Mosaic tabernacle for a clue. We have found the possibility in the number of the cherubs on the interior tapestry of the sacred compartments, the Holy and the Most Holy. According to our estimate there are 144. If this be true, the tabernacle number of cherubs would be the source for the number 144,000. It would emphasize that this group is a priestly class of great significance.

#185. Some see the 144,000 as the literal number of all the Christian saints who have ever existed. But, right off, this seems unreasonable as there have been many, many times that among the faithful martyrs alone. The Apocalypse alludes to what one might call the Christians of history, that is from the time of the writing of the Book of Acts up to that period yet in the future as described in Revelation 6:9-11 with the outcry of the martyrs. Those who view this number literally also interpret the action of sealing 12,000 out of each tribe of Israel as symbolic. In other words, if the ‘12,000 out of the tribe Judah’ is symbolic, then it seems reasonable that the entire number 144,000 is symbolic.

#186. However, the main emphasis in the Apocalypse is upon those Saints alive during the contemporary history of the revived Sea-Beast and the global marking with the number of its name. In our view nearly every chapter from 7 through 20 in some way allude precisely to those saints alive during this Great Oppression of 42 months. This is similar to our Lord’s own emphasis on those watchful believers who have remained in faithful anticipation of his Return and are actually “living” when the Parousia arrives. (Matthew 24:42-25:46; John 11:25, 26; 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17; 2 Timothy 4:1; Revelation 11:18) This can be seen in the many parable in Matthew chapters 24, 25, Mark 13:34-36, and Luke 12:35-48. The reason for this is simple: these End-time Saints are those who have obeyed all of the Master’s warnings precisely at the moment of his Return for inspection and judgment.

12,000 out of what ‘tribes’?

#187. There is something hidden here we need to examine. If this ‘sealing’ by the angels is the same as the ‘gathering’ the Nazarene foretold at Matthew 24:30 (Isaiah 11:12), we want to ask: “When Revelation 7:4-8 describes the sealing out of the tribes of Israel, what Israel is this?” Or, put another way: ‘Israel’ has existed since 1512 BC, or more than 3,500 years, precisely when do the angels gather out or seal 144,000 out of 12 tribes of Israel? We have discussed what must be that future moment when this occurs: after the Great Oppression and before the Rapture. Thus, this special selection out of ‘Israel’ must be from (or, out of) Israel at that future prophetic moment.

#188. When Jesus foretells in Matthew, ‘And the Son of Man will send forth his angels with a great trumpet sound, and they will gather the Elect together from the four winds,’ (Matthew 24:31) there is something here like Revelation 7:1, “the four winds.” Also, it must be noted that the Nazarene’s words in Matthew 24:31 may well be drawn from a paraphrase of Isaiah 11:12, ‘And (Messiah) must raise a sign for the Gentile, and he will gather the dispersed of Israel and the scattered ones of Judah he will collect together from the four ends of the earth.’ There is much that is similar in Jesus’ speech at Matthew 24:30, 31, a Sign and the gathering of the Chosen Ones from the four winds. This gathering, or sealing, must be from ‘Israel’ at that moment precisely just after the Parousia (or, Arrival) of the King-Messiah begins.

#189. We note that in the discussion of the Large Crowd in Revelation 7:9-17 there are numerous allusions to Isaiah chapter 49. For example, Revelation 7:16, 17 are compound paraphrases from Isaiah 49:10. So, the mention of these ‘tribes’ in 7:4 may also be an allusion to Isaiah 49:5, 6, ‘Bring back Jacob to Yahweh, in order that Israel may be gathered. ... To raise up the tribes of Jacob (Israel) and to bring back even the safe-guarded ones of Israel . . . that my salvation may come to the extremity of the earth.’ If Revelation 7:4 is a subtle reference to this, then the context of Revelation 7:4, 16, 17 are brought much closer together, hinting that the 144,000 are very much linked in identity to the Large Crowd.

#190. Therefore, the sealing of the 144,000 out of the tribes of Israel would occur at this same contextual moment in Jesus’ own prophesy: after the Great Oppression and contemporary with the celestial darkness and Messiah’s Appearing. Now, we must ask: Which ‘Israel’? We remember that Paul speaks of his brethren the Jews and himself in this manner: ‘Our twelve tribes, by earnest worship, night and day, are hoping to attain the hope promised by our forefathers.’ (Acts 26:6, 7) Paul makes himself a part of that ‘Israel.’

#191. Peter also opens his first letter with, ‘to the tribes in the Diaspora.’ (1 Peter 1:1) This is, of course, all in agreement with Paul’s statements about the real or true ‘Israel’: ‘the visible Jew and the hidden Jew’; and, ‘For, not all from Israel are Israel,’ and also, ‘If you are a Christian you are really of Abraham’s seed.’ (Romans 2:28, 29; 9:6; Galatians 3:29) So, we could expect an ‘Israel’ with its own ‘twelve tribes’ to be present upon the Return of Jesus Christ from heaven. Now, ‘the Lord knows those who are his,’ and for this reason he can send forth his angels to gather these scattered or dispersed ones of the True Israel --- the New Israel of God. (Galatians 6:16; Hebrews 10:15-17; Jeremiah 31:31-34)

#192. However, it would be that ‘Israel’ at the precise moment described above: just as the Day of Wrath401 is upon the world with its celestial darkness. (Revelation 6:12, 17) This is in harmony also with the Nazarene’s words about the deliverance out of the Great Oppression: it is ‘the Chosen Ones’ who are saved. This is a term used of Israel itself. (Matthew 24:20, 22; 1 Samuel 26:2; 1 Chronicles 16:13; Psalm 105:6, 43; 106:5; Isaiah 65:9, 15, 22; Luke 18:7)
401 DAY OF WRATH. The way the “tribes of the earth” cry in Revelation 6:16, 17 may well suggest “they see the Son of Man coming on clouds.” (Matthew 24:30; Daniel 7:22)

The 144,000 and the Large Crowd.

#193. Many read Revelation 7:1-17 and draw a distinction between the 144,000 and what Revelation 7:9-17 describes as a Large Crowd402 out of all nations. Remember that the gathering of the dispersed of Israel is by angelic direction and from the four winds, or out of all nations. So that the description of the Large Crowd out of all nations may not necessarily mean they are Gentiles in the sense of Romans 2:25, 26. This Large Crowd could be ‘Israel’ out of all nations as Matthew 24:31 has it. (Isaiah 11:13)
402 LARGE CROWD. Sometimes translated “great multitude.” The Greek is ochlos polys. For a discussion of this “large crowd” see the commentary on Revelation 7:9-17.

#194. What is often overlooked is that John does not “see” the 144,000 in Revelation 7:1-8. Rather, John “hears” the tally or roll-call of the number 144,000. It is not until verse 9 that he begins to “see” something! May he now be seeing with verse 9 what he was hearing in verses 4-8? Note, that the Large Crowd is identified as ‘those who come out of the Great Oppression.’403 Is this not an allusion to Matthew 24:21, 22, 31? And, are not Jesus’ own words drawn from Daniel 12:1? So, the Large Crowd is the same as the Elect of Matthew 24:21, 22 and what would be Daniel’s own people (the Jews) at Daniel 12:1. Also, the Large Crowd is described in terms that make them very much ‘Israel’: waving palm branches as if at the Jewish Festival of Booths and worshipping God day and night in his Temple. If you were in Jerusalem when Jesus was present at a Festival of Tabernacles and you saw people waving palm branches and worshipping God in His Temple, who would they be? Jews, or Israelites! (Luke 19:36-40; John 12:13)
403 COME OUT. Does not the text seem to infer that these are the only ones who “come out” or are “rescued” from (Daniel 12:1, 2) the Great Oppression? Interestingly, the expression “come out” in Revelation 7:14 is similar to the “Come out!” in Isaiah 49:9.

#195. Therefore, it seems to us that the 144,000 is a symbol for this Large Crowd404 of spiritual Jews who are rescued from the Great Oppression. So, the 144,000 and the Large Crowd are identical with what Paul has called, ‘we the living’ at the Return of Christ. (1 Thessalonians 4:15-17) There is something else which helps us draw this conclusion.
404 LARGE CROWD = 144,000. This view is similar to that expressed by the New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology (Colin Brown editor), Vol 2, page 695: “ . . . 12 x 12,000 = 144,000 who are sealed ... from the tribes of Israel; cf. also 14:3. Thus the number 144,000 does not denote a numerical limitation of those who are sealed; it symbolizes the final perfection of the people of God (cf. also 7.9). In this respect when John sees them, as opposed to hearing the number of the sealed, they are ‘a great multitude which no man can number . . . (cf. Rev. 7:9 with 7.4).”

#196. In the account of the 144,000 in Revelation 14:1-5 there is phrase very much like that in Zechariah 3:13 in the Jewish Greek Septuagint. In Zechariah this reads from the LXX, ‘and the remnant of Israel shall fear the name of Yahweh and shall do no iniquity, neither shall they speak vanity; neither shall a deceitful tongue be found in their mouth.’ Note that Revelation 14:5 is identical to this in Greek. Zechariah describes the “remnant” of Israel and not all Israel. This harmonizes with the idea that the 144,000 are those sealed at the moment of the Lord’s Return, having endured 42 months of war and oppression at the hands of the Wild Sea-Beast. The Large Crowd is this same remnant that comes out of the Great Oppression. The word remnant has been used in Revelation 12.17 to describe the Seed of the Woman during a period exactly 42 months, or 1,260 days, long. In other words, this “seed of the woman” is the same as the 144,000 sealed after this moment, and thus the same as the Large Crowd that comes out of the Great Oppression.

Other features identifying the 144,000.

#197. There are several features in Revelation 14:1-5 which point again to similarities with that group of End-time Saints of the True Israel who are ‘rescued’ after the Great Oppression. (Daniel 12:1) For example, the 144,000 are described as being ‘in sight of the Throne’ just as the Large Crowd of Revelation 7:9, 14 are. From this the conclusion could be drawn that they are the same.

#198. The 144,000 are pictured in heaven on Mount Zion with the Lamb-Messiah. (Psalm 2:7) They are described as having the ‘name of the Lamb and the name of his Father written upon their foreheads.’ This may be a description of ‘the Seal of the living God” of Revelation 7:3, 4. Are the 144,000 the only ones on Mount Zion, or are they the only ones to go to heaven as it were?

#199. The 144,000 are described as ‘a firstfruits’ from the earth and mankind. Judging from 1 Corinthians 15:20, 23, where the same Greek word aparkhe is used, means the first part of a general harvest of the same type. (note 1 Corinthians 15:23, 48, 49) In other words, the 144,000 are the first of the harvest, but not the total of all the fruitage harvested to the heavenly Kingdom. There is something of this in Revelation 14:14-16 which seems a paraphrase of Matthew 24:30, 31: the Arrival of the Son of Man and the gathering of the Elect. In what way could the 144,000 be ‘firstfruits’ of a greater harvest?

#200. If we judge what has been described above correctly, and the living Saints at the moment of Christ’s Return are judged while in the flesh, and thus sealed for immediate gathering in the Rapture, they would be the first of the Christian Church so judged. For Paul has it that the ‘dead in Christ rise first’; but, upon their resurrection there must occur their judgment. (Daniel 12:2; John 5:29; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Hebrews 9:26, 27; Matthew 25:31-46) The living Christians must be judged in the flesh so they may partake of the Rapture. This, in affect, makes them the firstfruits to God and the Lamb. The after-fruits, or a later product of the Christian harvest, will come from the Faithful Dead after the parousia-Judgment.

#201. Finally, we see a parallel between the “harps” in Revelation 14:2 and those in Revelation 15:2. These harpists in Revelation 15:2 are described as those who are victorious from the Wild Beast, its Image, and the number of its name. This would place these harpists in Revelation 15:2 as those living at the time of the mark (Revelation 13:7, 17) and most likely identical with the 144,000 who have endured the captivity and sword of Revelation 13:9, 10. Everything seems to point to the 144,000 being the same as those Saints who come out victorious over the wild Sea Beast, and thus come out of the Great Oppression as a Large Crowd of spiritual Jews from the prophetic tribes of Israel.

SUMMARY

#202. Judging from the contexts described above, similar parallels between the 144,000 and the Large Crowd, as well as those Biblical allusions which demonstrate a similarity, we feel the 144,000 are identical with the Large Crowd. Precisely, both terms can be applied to what Paul calls “WE THE LIVING” (1 Thessalonians 4:16); or, what the Nazarene calls “THE CHOSEN ONES” (Matthew 24:21, 22), and Isaiah, “THE REMNANT.” (Isaiah 11:13; Zechariah 3:13; Revelation 12:17)

#203. The appearance of the 144,000 can only occur following the test of the Great Oppression and before the Rapture, during what we have called the parousia-Judgment. This angelic work of sealing the 144,000 is the Master’s judgment of his own Household upon his Return, while the judging of the resurrected Christians is also taking place in heaven. With the Rapture,405 the living End-time Saints, having been ”changed” (1 Corinthians 15:50-52), join the approved Christian dead and then, ‘together with them, at the same time, ascend to meet the Lord in the air,’ and, thereafter, enter the glorious New Jerusalem. (1 Thessalonians 4:16, 17; Revelation 3:12; 21:2-4) All of this raises a most interesting question.
405 RAPTURE. Compare the Dictionary of New Testament Theology (DNTT), Vol 3, page 602-3: “In 1 Thess. 4:17 Paul deals with the final rapture into the fellowship of the redeemed at the last day. It was not the sufferings of the church that caused Paul to make the statement, but the concern some of its members about the fate of Christians who had already died. This concern is removed by the certainty of resurrection. Those Christians who were still alive would not die but would be taken up directly into the fellowship of those who had already been raised, ‘as they leave the gates of the world to meet in the air the Christ acclaimed as Lord.’” When Jerome in the Fourth Century was to translate the Greek into Latin in his famous Vulgate he came to 1 Thessalonians 4:17 and used what amounts to the English “raptured” for the Greek harpagesometha, used rapiemur. The whole phrase in Latin goes, ‘deinde nos qui vivimus qui relinquimur simul rapiermur cum illis in nubibus obviam Domino in aer et sic semper cum Domino erimus ... .’

Nazarene Commentary 2000

Mark Heber Miller

2000 All Rights Reserved