Who Are The 144,000? (part 1)



Revelation 7, the chapter that deals with the 144,000, has been a very divisive chapter in Adventist history. Several years ago I became interested in the topic so I listened to two popular Adventist speakers present on it. One of the speakers said the 144,000 was a literal number. The other said it was symbolic. I was frustrated. Which one is it? Another theory I heard attempted to the merge the two by saying that the number was a literal number of end time leaders of Gods people but not a literal number of all of the faithful in the end time.Today I am certain, based on Revelation 7, that the term 144,000 is not a literal number. Here are the reasons why:
The first thing to notice is that John did not see the 144,000, he only heard the number “Then I heard the number of those who were sealed: 144,000”.
The second thing to notice is that John specifically says that this group of people are Jews, “144,000 from all the tribes of Israel.” He then proceeds to give a very detailed list of which Israelite tribes the 144,000 come from and how many come from each tribe (12 tribes with 12,000 from each tribe). If we are to take the number 144,000 literally then we must also conclude that they are all Jews and that they all come from 12 different tribes within Israel even though those tribes no longer exist. 
So who are the 144,000? The answer comes to us in verse 9 which says: “After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count.” While John heard the number 144,000 when he looks upon the scene he does not say he saw 144,000 but “a great multitude which no man could number.” John then goes on to say, “from every nation, tribe, people and language.” In other words, they are not just Jews from Israel but a diverse, multi-ethnic parade of saved people who are “standing before the throne and before the Lamb.” While John “heard” that there were 144,000 from Israel he “saw” a numberless multitude. And while John "heard" they were all Israelite's he "saw" people from all over the earth. The 144,000 is a symbolic number which refers to all of the saved of every culture of all time.

The final evidence I see for the rejection of a literal interpretation is the description of this group at the end of the chapter. The description John writes includes 1) They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands, 2) they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God…” 3) they… have come out of the great tribulation, 4) they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb, 5) they are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple, 6) he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence, 7) Never again will they hunger…[or] thirst, 8) The sun will not beat down on them,’ nor any scorching heat, 9) the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, 10) ‘he will lead them to springs of living water, 11) And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.

Notice that nothing in this description gives the impression that the 144,000 are a “special group” of people. They are not super saints. They have not suffered more or less than other saints in history. And they receive the same blessings that we can find elsewhere in scripture as being promised to the whole of the redeemed. However, what about their description in Revelation 14:1-5? Doesn't that do away with this entire argument? I will cover that in the next post.



Further Reading: Who Are the 144,000? (part 2)
Who Are The 144,000? (part 1) Who Are The 144,000? (part 1) Reviewed by Pastor Marcos on December 13, 2013 Rating: 5

4 comments

  1. Dear Marcos,
    This is an interesting post. The question on who the 144,000 had been debated by the likes of the Watchtower Society, insisting that they are the literal group of Jehovah's Witnesses who have been selected by Jehovah God to dwell in the heavenly realm with the invisible Jesus for ever. According to them, the 144,000 include the twelve apostles, Cornelius, the Eunoch in the chariot, and just about all of the early church as recorded in Acts and the letters. They also insist that there is a remnant of these heavenly-chosen Witnesses still alive today, and their number are constantly dwindling. The vast majority of Witnesses believe that they will be resurrected to dwell on earth, a phenomenon which did not commence until Charles Taze Russell, the founder of the Society, began to preach and publish his ideas in America during the 19th Century! Like the Adventists, the Witnesses believe in "soul-sleep" and literally go out of existence until after the Battle of Armageddon, when Jehovah "remembers" those who obeyed him (ie the Witnesses) and raises them up to dwell in a paradise-like earth.
    There is a dangerous fallacy with this line of thought, namely that much, if not all, of the New Testament becomes meaningless to the average Witness. For example, the tremendous truth of Divine Acquittal, better known as Justification by Faith, of Paul in his letter to the Romans, does not apply to the average Witness, who has to "earn" his salvation by staying true to every word delivered by the Watchtower Society, or remain eternally annhilated.
    Such conclusions one can come to when we try to "spiritualise" the 144,000 into something which John did not apply.
    John makes it clear that the 144,000 are literal Jews, 12,000 out of each of the twelve tribes of Israel. A close study will reveal that the tribe of Dan has been omitted, and replaced by Manasseh, the only patriarch who was not a direct son of Jacob, but his grandson. Manesseh was the son of Joseph, whose 12,000 were from his other son Ephraim. Such attention to detail seems nonsensical if these 144,000 were Jehovah's Witnesses, S.D.A.s or any other but Jews.
    There is a lot more that can be discussed on why these 144,000 are literal Jews, one of the main reasons is that God himself is faithful to Israel, and has not deserted them, despite their tarnished history. If God can be so faithful to Israel, the same applies to every Christian believer. However, this space will not allow a more detailed study of God's covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but a read of some of my blogs touching on the Cave of Machpelah, in the Middle East town of Hebron will throw more light on this matter.
    God bless.

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    Replies
    1. Hi Frank!

      Thank you so much for your comment. I really enjoyed reading it and was enlightened by your details on the JW movement. I would love to chat with you a bit on the 144,000 if you are interested. There is a part 2 to this post I am posting on Sunday. If you’d like, once you read that post you will get a fuller picture of my position and it will make our discussion more interesting. However, allow me to make some points here that I think will be beneficial.

      Firstly, lest there be any confusion the SDA church does not teach, nor has it ever, that the 144,000 are a literal number of SDAs. I know you did not say we did, but I just want to make sure that that is clear. The controversy in our history comes from fringe groups that have grown out of our church who have taught a perverted version of John Wesleys and Ellen Whites doctrine of perfection. For Wesley, White, and the SDA church perfection is a gift we receive through faith in Christ and is understood as perfection in love. Many extremists have perverted this teaching into sinless perfectionism. They have taught that in order for Gods people to be saved at last they must become absolutely perfect and they say that the 144,000 represent a literal group of people in the last days who have become absolutely perfect like Christ. Some have gone as far as to say that they have become so perfect that they no longer need the blood of Jesus to cover them. These heresies have been promoted within our church primarily since the 1950s with the onset of a doctrine known as Last Generation Theology (LGT A.K.A. Final General Perfection) and others. However, neither Wesley, White, nor the SDA church have ever taught or believed these things. Sadly, every church has its extremists. All we can do is pray for God to open their eyes.

      The legalistic interpretations of the 144,000 proposed by the JW’s and fringe SDA groups are in no way a result of seeing the 144,000 as a symbolic number. In that sense I must partly disagree with you when you say that, “Such conclusions one can come to when we try to "spiritualise" the 144,000 into something which John did not apply.” I do agree that any misunderstanding of scripture opens the door for further heresies. But I dont believe that seeing the 144,000 as symbolic opens the door for legalism. The problem comes when the gospel is reinterpreted in light of ones preconceived notions of the 144,000.

      Because the SDA church allows the gospel to interpret the 144,000 for us we cannot come to such legalistic conclusions as the JWs and LGT proponents have. ML Andreasen (the influential conservative SDA theologian in the 40s-50s who first proposed LGT) created his LGT doctrine by starting with eschatology instead of soteriology. As a result his legacy has been one of legalism and division. The JWs seem to have reinterpreted the gospel as well by placing eschatology ahead of soteriology. But as an Adventist nothing is more powerful in scripture than soteriology, the study of grace and salvation, and therefore it is systematically impossible for us to interpret the 144,000 legalistically as JWs and LGT proponents have done. I make this concept clearer in part 2 of this post.

      So I just wanted to clarify those two things. As far as whether the 144,000 are literal or symbolic I would love to chat with you on that when I post part 2 of this topic on Sunday. Just post a comment on that blog and we can have a chat about it. I don’t like to argue about religion, but a good intellectual and loving discussion blesses all of us.

      Again, thanks for your comment!

      Blessings,
      Marcos.

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    2. Dear Marcos,
      Thankyou for your response.
      I too, have no intention to argue over religion, as this will only create disputes instead of building each other up.
      However, since we are both from different faiths (I'm Baptist) I realise there will be some differences in what we believe, but as long as we both hold that believing that Jesus Christ alone is the source of salvation, we can be brothers in him.
      Why not follow my blog page, "Frank's Christian Thoughts"
      All the best.

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    3. I agree brother Frank! I first learned the gospel from a Seventh-day Adventist speaker and writer named Ty Gibson. When I did I thought it was so good I wondered for a few days if it was even true. Once I accepted it I realized that nothing else could ever come above it. Since Adventism has long been accused of legalism I decided to dig deep into our faith to discover if it was anti-gospel or not. I was increasingly pleased to discover how central salvation by Jesus Christ alone was to every aspect of Adventism. If you would like to read more about what I discovered I highly recommend this post I wrote:

      http://www.jesusadventismandi.com/2013/08/reclaiming-adventism-response-to.html

      It is very long but it basically covers it all.

      I would love to follow your blog. Would you follow mine as well?

      PS. I would still like t chat about the 144,000 so I can learn more about our differences. Feel free to post a comment in tomorrows part 2. God bless!

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