Q Who are the 144,000?
by Pastor Matt Ritchey, Managing Editor
Estimated Time to Read: 8 Minutes
ANSWER: The answer to this question is simple and straightforward, as long as people are willing to allow the Scriptures to say exactly what they say. Unfortunately, Christendom is not known for allowing the Scriptures to state what God intended to convey, tending to interpret Scriptures through their church beliefs and a desire for every verse to be about them directly. Because of this, there are many erroneous teachings regarding the identity of the 144,000 mentioned in the Book of Revelation. One religious leader claimed that the identity of the 144,000 were the people that would convert to his teaching of the Kingdom on Earth. Others teach that the tribes mentioned aren’t literal but describe the contemporary nations that have replaced the sons of Jacob. This is a sad example of mankind twisting the Scriptures for his own gain and also the dangers of allegorizing vs. a normal interpretation.
When, as a ten-year old, I heard a pastor speak of Israel being God’s chosen people during the Tribulation, I didn’t think it was fair. Why did Israel get a second chance and other people did not? I was not given a satisfactory answer to my conflict until I learned of the Mystery revealed through the Apostle Paul.
Now I recognize that it is this age that is unique, not the Tribulation period. The time in which we are living is an interruption in the continuity of the Prophetic Program. Today, I realize it is the underserving Gentile nations that are getting their undeserved second chance in this unprophesied Age of Grace. The answer ultimately is to recognize Paul’s unique message in the Bible so that we understand the Book of Revelation is not written with us in mind. The Body of Christ will be delivered to Heaven BEFORE the Tribulation begins. Actually, without Pauline dispensationalism, you are left to explain why Jesus proclaimed the “Kingdom is at hand” (Mk. 1:15) 2,000 years ago but it isn’t here yet.
The Disciples in Matthew 24:3 privately asked Jesus regarding the signs of His (second) coming and about the events during the end of the world (Tribulation). His answer pointed to the events that would have taken place if God had not paused His Prophetic Program to reveal a Secret Program to Paul. The events Jesus described (vv. 6-9) will take place in the Tribulation and correlate with the Book of Revelation. The instruction for salvation is different (v. 13) and the gospel for the time is different than today (v. 14). The focus during this end-time will be on the nation of Israel.
I finally call your attention to Revelation chapter 7, where we read of the 144,000. Remember, the Church, the Body of Christ, has been raptured away (I Thess. 5:1-11) by this time; Israel is the focus of this future prophecy. After an unprophesied Program of God’s Grace toward all nations, God is getting back to fulfilling His promises to Israel in prophecy. So, as we come to Revelation 7, there are two parts: an earthly vision (vv. 1-8) and a heavenly vision (vv. 9-17). This chapter is the response to the question posed in Revelation 6:17 where the seal judgments have fallen upon earth. The question: Who will withstand this? Chapter 7 presents the answer to this question.
Notice the names of the tribes. There are twelve names from the nation of Israel. There is nothing in the Scriptures that would lead us to believe that these people are any less than actual descendants from the twelve names mentioned in Revelation 7:1-8. These are not code names of spiritual individuals or replacement nations; they are actually people from the line of Reuben, Simeon, Judah, Zebulon, Issachar, Levi, Gad, Naphtali, Asher, Benjamin, Joseph, and Manasseh. Twelve is the number for the nation of Israel; for example, there were twelve sons of Jacob, twelve tribes of Israel, twelve apostles, twelve thrones, etc. The focus on the number twelve is not surprising, for Revelation is a book detailing the fulfilling of God’s promise to the nation of Israel. During the (future) time of the events of Revelation, Israel will once again be the focus.
The student of the Scriptures will note there are some discrepancies between the names mentioned here in Revelation 7:1-8 and the names given in Ezekiel 48:1-7. See the lists below.
Why the Discrepancies?
After we account for the spelling differences due to differing languages used in the Old and New Testament books, we are left with a seeming contrast of Dan/Levi and Ephraim/Joseph. The contradiction goes away when we realize that Ezekiel is speaking of inheritance in the (future) land, while Revelation details those who will enjoy God’s divine protection during the Great Tribulation. Concerning the discrepancy between Ephraim/Joseph, both Manasseh and Ephraim were Joseph’s sons. The Lord, wishing Joseph to receive a double blessing, allowed the names of his two sons to stand for Joseph, giving him two inheritances in the land (Gen. 48:20-22). Levi’s sons were not counted for a land inheritance, for their responsibility as priests required them to be located throughout the entire land. Therefore, Levites were given inheritance cities within each of the tribes (Josh. 21; I Chron. 6:54-81). Also, it is mentioned that the Lord and His work are the Levites inheritance (Josh. 13:14, 33; 18:7).
So, why are Dan and Ephraim not mentioned in Revelation 7, leaving them unprotected during the time of Great Tribulation? It seems to have to do with their disobedience. The Lord warned the people that those who persisted in disobeying God would be under His judgment, even having his name blotted out of the book (Deut. 29:18-21). This is especially true of the sin of idolatry (Deut. 29:24-26). When the Israelite kingdom split into two, the northern kingdom set up their own centers of worship to idols. This was true of the tribe of Dan who had worshiped idols from their origin until the day they were taken into captivity (Judg. 18:30-31). For this reason, they are left without God’s protection during the Tribulation. It is said of Ephraim in Hosea 4:17, “Ephraim is joined to idols: let him alone.” This denotes a separation, which describes why some of Ephraim may be sealed under the name of Joseph, but Ephraim does not get the honor of being named.
Revelation 7:1-8 tells us that 144,000 from 12 of the families of Israel (12,000 from each family) will be sealed. Sealing was a divine protection and responsibility. It was visible and displayed their faith (cf. 9:4 where locusts are directed to harm only those who do not have seal in forehead). This also stands in direct contrast to the seal, or mark, of the Beast (13:1,16-18) that will be required to buy and sell during the Tribulation. Those who take the Beast’s mark will have their choice sealed, just as those who belong to the Lord will have their future sealed with Him. Revelation 14:1-5 describes this same number having received this seal due to their stand against the anti-Christ. They are pictured in Revelation 14 as standing with the Lamb on heavenly Mount Zion after being martyred for their faithfulness to the Messiah.
Revelation 7 seems to skip from their sealing (vv. 1-8) to their deliverance (vv. 9-17). What were they doing during their time on earth before they were martyred? It would seem that they were God’s protected witnesses to proclaim the Gospel of Kingdom throughout the earth (Mt. 24:14), imploring people to remain patient, keeping the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus (Rev. 14:12). Remember, the determining faith for these people will be faithfulness to the Messiah (cf. letters to the churches in Revelation 2-3). Since God has never left Himself without a witness, these 144,000 Israelites seem to be his witness for this time. These 144,000 are physical descendants from the nation of Israel.
Remembering that chapter 7 is answering 6:17, as Revelation chapter 7 moves forward to a date in the future and switches the location of the vision from earth to Heaven, we see that these 144,000 from Israel have remained faithful to the Lord throughout the Tribulation (7:9-12). We go to, what I believe to be, the end of the Tribulation and see the effect these 144,000 had during their ministry. Because of them “a great multitude” will be saved (v. 9). Though a great number will be saved, I believe it is still a small percentage of the population. I also think we must be very careful not to become complacent in our witnessing today because we assume “they will get a second chance.” We are told by the Apostle Paul that those who reject the truth today will believe the lie and delusion (II Thes. 2:10-12). It is so important that TODAY you know you are ready and prepared to be delivered from this time of Tribulation. You can be assured that we will be taken to Heaven before God pours out His wrath on earth during the Tribulation by trusting that Jesus Christ died for your sins, was buried, and rose again. The Tribulation is a time of God’s wrath; accept His grace through Christ today.
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