I’m taking a break from my summer summary series because there are some changes I need to make to my doctrinal thesis. In a couple weeks I will re-start the series on theology, so for now here are some more posts working through the book of Revelation.
A. Past Lessons
- The Two Witnesses (Rev 11:1-14)
- The Seventh Trumpet Reveals the Third Terror (Rev 11:15-19)
- The Woman, Dragon, and Son (Rev 12:1-6)
- Michael vs. Dragon (Rev 12:7-12)
- The Dragon and His Pursuit (Rev 12:13-18)
- The Beast of the Sea (Rev 13:1-10)
- The Beast of the Earth (Rev 13:11-18)
B. Text of Rev 14:1-5
“1Then I looked and behold. The Lamb was standing on Mount Zion and with him were 144,000 who had his name and his father’s name written on their foreheads. 2I heard a noise from heaven like the sound of lots of water and the sound of mighty thunder. 3They sang a new song in front of the throne, in front of the four living beings and elders. No one was able to learn the song except the 144,000 who had been purchased from the earth. 4These are the ones who have not defiled themselves with women, these are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever he goes, and these are the ones who were purchased from the people of the earth. They are the first fruits of God and the Lamb. 5From their mouths no lie came. They were faultless.” (Rev 14:1-5) 1
C. General Remarks
“Chapter 14 brings to a conclusion the material found in chapters 12 through 14. Chapter 12 deals with the important characters of the period, chapter 13 with the evil rulers of the period, and chapter 14 with the ultimate triumph of Christ. This material is not chronological, but prepares the way for the climax that begins in chapter 15. Chapter 14 is a series of pronouncements and visions assuring the reader of Christ’s ultimate triumph and the judgment of evil. Much of the chapter is prophetic of events that have not yet taken place, but that in the context are now impending.” (Walvoord, Revelation, 219)
“The whole of chapter 14 is proleptic. A summary of the Millennium (20:4-6), the first five verses feature the Lamb in place of the beast, the Lamb’s followers with His and the Father’s seal in place of the beast’s followers with the mark of the beast, and the divinely controlled Mount Zion in place of the pagan-controlled earth. The remainder of the chapter furnishes a proleptic outline of the catastrophes and the bliss that receives a chronological and more detailed treatment of 16:17-22:5. In this fashion, the chapter is a sort of intermezzo to provide encouragement by telling the ultimate triumph for those who refuse the beast’s mark and to predict the doom of those who do receive it.” (Thomas, Revelation 8-22, 189)
Part of my weaknesses with the book of Revelation is that I want to see everything as chronological and in order. Walvoord’s comments above help to assure me that I don’t have to assume that what happens in chapter fourteen comes after chapter thirteen. While the flow of the book [link to chart] does have a loose chronological aspect, there are chapters that go back in time or even prophesy things that are to come.
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II. JOHN SEES AND HEARS (REV 14:1-2)
A. The Lamb and 144,000 (v. 1)
Καὶ εἶδον, καὶ ἰδοὺ τὸ ἀρνίον ἑστὸς ἐπὶ τὸ ὄρος Σιὼν καὶ μετʼ αὐτοῦ ἑκατὸν τεσσεράκοντα τέσσαρες χιλιάδες ἔχουσαι τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ καὶ τὸ ὄνομα τοῦ πατρὸς αὐτοῦ γεγραμμένον ἐπὶ τῶν μετώπων αὐτῶν.
“Then I looked and behold. The Lamb was standing on Mount Zion and with him were 144,000 who had his name and his father’s name written on their foreheads.” (Rev 14:1)
1. A Review of the 144,000
These 144,000 people are the same people mentioned in Rev 7:1-8. They consist of 12,000 people from each of the twelve tribes of Israel. In chapter 7 of Revelation there are four angels that are told to not harm the earth, sea, or tree (Rev 7:1) until the seal of the living God could be placed on the 144,000 (Rev 7:3). These 144,000 were marked with the seal of God (Rev 7:4). A further explanation of these 144,000 and the views on who they are listed below.
2. What Is Mount Zion?
QUESTION: WHAT IS MOUNT ZION? WHERE ELSE IN THE BIBLE HAVE YOU HEARD IT MENTIONED?
For some reason, I always thought that Mount Zion was another name for the city of Jerusalem. However, there are different views.
The location of Mount Zion:
In Heaven. Strengths. Maybe they can hear and understand the song from Rev 14:3. Weaknesses. First, it seems odd that the 144,000 would be placed in heaven in Mount Zion when Rev 7:1-8 said that they were sealed and protected on earth during the tribulation period. Second, just because the 144,000 could “learn” the song that was sung in heaven (Rev 14:3) does not mean that they were able to “hear” it.
On Earth During Eschatological Kingdom. Strengths. First, the group of 144,000 are specifically said to have been sealed and protected during the tribulation period according to Rev 7:1-8. “No, you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to countless thousands of angels in a joyful gathering” (Heb 12:22, NLT).
On Earth After Christ’s Second Coming. Walvoord holds this view and says that this vision is a prophetic vision of the ultimate triumph of the Lamb following his second coming. This is the time when Christ joins the 144,000 on Mount Zion for his 1,000 year millennial reign (Walvoord, Revelation, 220). There are several places in the Bible that describe a future gathering of the faithful remnant of Jews at Mount Zion (Pss 48:1-2; Isa 11:9-12; 24:23; Joel 2:32) and that gathering appears to be described here. This view is held by Walvoord, Revelation, 220; Thomas, Revelation 8-22, 190.
But, where “exactly” on earth? Thomas writes, “whether the hilly area of the southeast Jerusalem, the temple mount, the whole city of Jerusalem, or the whole land of Judah and the whole Israelite nation, any one would amount to a literal understanding of the earthly Zion” (Thomas, Revelation 8-22, 191).
3. Altar Piece at St. Baron in Ghent
The picture I used above in this blog post is an altar piece at St. Baron in Ghent. AT Robertson has a great commentary on the meaning and significance of this painting:
“The Adoration of the Lamb is the subject of the great altar piece in the church of St. Baron at Ghent, by John and Hubert Van Eyck. The scene is laid in a landscape. The background is formed by a Flemish city, probably intended to represent Jerusalem, and by churches and monasteries in the early Netherland style. The middle ground is occupied by trees, meadows, and green slopes. In the very centre of the picture a square altar is hung with red damask and covered with a white cloth. Here stands a lamb, from whose breast a stream of blood issues into a crystal glass. Angels kneel round the altar with parti-colored wings and variegated dresses, many of them praying with joined hands, others holding aloft the emblems of the passion, two in front waving censers. From the right, behind the altar, issues a numerous band of female saints, all in rich and varied costumes, fair hair floating over their shoulders, and palms in their hands. Foremost may be noticed Sta. Barbara and Sta. Agnes. From the left advance popes, cardinals, bishops, monks, and minor clergy, with crosiers, crosses, and palms. In the centre, near the base, a small octagonal fountain of stone projects a stream into a clear rill. Two groups are in adoration on each side of the fountain,—on the right, the twelve apostles kneeling barefoot, and an array of popes, cardinals, and bishops, with a miscellaneous crowd of church-people; on the left, kings and princes in various costumes. They are surrounded by a wilderness of flowering shrubs, lilies, and other plants. On the wings of the picture numerous worshippers move toward the place of worship,—crusaders, knights, kings, and princes, including the figures of the two artists on horseback” (Vincent, Word Studies in the NT, vol. 2, 532).
4. Two Names or One Name?
John may or may not have distinguished between the Father’s name and Lamb’s name. According to Mathewson, the singular participle suggests that the name of the Lamb and name of the Father are the same name (Mathewson, Revelation, 185).
5. Location of the Name
The victorious have the name of their Father and the Lamb on their foreheads. This is also stated two other places in Revelation:
- “All who are victorious will become pillars in the Temple of my God, and they will never have to leave it. And I will write on them the name of my God, and they will be citizens in the city of my God—the new Jerusalem that comes down from heaven from my God. And I will also write on them my new name.” (Rev 3:12, NLT, emphasis added)
- “And they will see his face, and his name will be written on their foreheads.” (Rev 22:4, NLT, emphasis added)
The location of this name is in the same location as the mark of the beast which is described here:
- “He required everyone—small and great, rich and poor, free and slave—to be given a mark on the right hand or on the forehead.” (Rev 13:16, NLT, emphasis added)
- “The smoke of their torment will rise forever and ever, and they will have no relief day or night, for they have worshiped the beast and his statue and have accepted the mark of his name.” (Rev 14:11, NLT, emphasis added)
In the book of Revelation, a clear distinction is made between God’s people and the worldly satanic people.
B. A Sound from Heaven (v. 2)
καὶ ἤκουσα φωνὴν ἐκ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ ὡς φωνὴν ὑδάτων πολλῶν καὶ ὡς φωνὴν βροντῆς μεγάλης, καὶ ἡ φωνὴ ἣν ἤκουσα ὡς κιθαρῳδῶν κιθαριζόντων ἐν ταῖς κιθάραις αὐτῶν.
“I heard a noise from heaven like the sound of lots of water and the sound of mighty thunder.” (Rev 14:2)
This is a wonderful chorus sung by the angels in heaven (Rev 10:4, 8; 14:13; 18:4), not by the 144,000 (Robertson, Word Pictures). However, the voice also has the characteristics of Jesus in Rev 1:10, 15. According to Thomas these singers are an innumerable angelic chorus as in Rev 5:11 and Rev 7:11.
III. THE AMAZING 144,000 (REV 14:3-5)
A. An Exclusive Club (v. 3)
καὶ ᾄδουσιν [ὡς] ᾠδὴν καινὴν ἐνώπιον τοῦ θρόνου καὶ ἐνώπιον τῶν τεσσάρων ζῴων καὶ τῶν πρεσβυτέρων, καὶ οὐδεὶς ἐδύνατο μαθεῖν τὴν ᾠδὴν εἰ μὴ αἱ ἑκατὸν τεσσεράκοντα τέσσαρες χιλιάδες, οἱ ἠγορασμένοι ἀπὸ τῆς γῆς.
“They sang a new song in front of the throne, in front of the four living beings and elders. No one was able to learn the song except the 144,000 who had been purchased from the earth.” (Rev 14:3)
1. “New” and “New”
There are two common words for “new” in the New Testament: νέος and καινός.
νεός. This word describes “what was not there before” or “what has only just arisen or appeared.” It describes a time that something is “new” but belongs to the present moment, meaning it has not existed before, but it exists now. It is new in time or origin, meaning young, with a suggestion of immaturity or of lack of respect for the old. It is less common than καινός. Unlike καινός, νεός does not have an eschatological meaning and it does not reference the consummation of salvation. Instead, it emphasizes the salvation that is present at this moment because of what Christ has done. For more on νεός see TDNT vol. 4, pp. 896-899.
καινός. This word describes “what is new and distinctive” as compared to other things. This is “what is new in nature, different from the usual, impressive, better than old, superior in value or attraction.” In the NT this word means “not yet used” (Matt 9:17; Mark 2:21; Luke 5:36; Matt 27:60; John 19:41) “unusual” or “interesting” (Acts 17:21; Mark 1:27; Acts 17:19) “new in kind” (Matt 13:52). According to the TDNT, καινός is “the epitome of the wholly different and miraculous thing which brought by the time of salvation” (TDNT 3, 449). Examples are “new heaven and new earth” (Rev 21:1; 2 Peter 3:13), “new Jerusalem” (Rev 3:12; 21:2). In this way, it has a slightly “eschatological” significance for future things that will be new. For more on καινός see TDNT vol. 3, pp. 447-450.
What’s the importance of καινός? Καινός is used to show that this is something that has never been revealed before and is part of the end times. It is only something that arises at the last days as a sign of the end days and our ultimate salvation and glorification.
2. Old Testament Prophecy and God’s Chosen People
Numerous Old Testament passages describe the future restoration of Israel and the promises of God fulfilled to them. (Isa 2:2-4; 11:11-16; Jer 31:8, 31-34; Ezek 37:15-22; Rom 9-11).
3. “Had” or “Have”
Translations differ on the timing of the “purchasing” of these 144,000. The translation differences are:
- “had been” (NLT, NIV, HCSB, LEB, NASB)
- “were” (NKJV, AV, KJV1900)
- “have been” (NRSV).
What does it mean that these people are purchased from the earth? The best Greek lexicon—BDAG—suggests the use of the Greek word, ἀγοράζω, in this context is the idea that someone secures the rights to someone by paying a price. Often it is translated as “buy, acquire as property” (BDAG, 14-15) This meaning of the word can be seen in these examples:
- “for God bought you with a high price. So, you must honor God with your body.” (1 Cor 6:20, NLT, emphasis added)
- “God paid a high price for you, so don’t be enslaved by the world.” (1 Cor 7:23, NLT, emphasis added)
- “But there were also false prophets in Israel, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will cleverly teach destructive heresies and even deny the Master who bought them. In this way, they will bring sudden destruction on themselves.” (2 Peter 2:1, NLT, emphasis added)
- “And they sang a new song with these words: ‘You are worthy to take the scroll and break its seals and open it. For you were slaughtered, and your blood has ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.’” (Rev 5:9, NLT, emphasis added)
B. Pure as Virgins (v. 4)
οὗτοί εἰσιν οἳ μετὰ γυναικῶν οὐκ ἐμολύνθησαν, παρθένοι γάρ εἰσιν, οὗτοι οἱ ἀκολουθοῦντες τῷ ἀρνίῳ ὅπου ἂν ὑπάγῃ. οὗτοι ἠγοράσθησαν ἀπὸ τῶν ἀνθρώπων ἀπαρχὴ τῷ θεῷ καὶ τῷ ἀρνίῳ,
“These are the ones who have not defiled themselves with women, these are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever he goes, and these are the ones who were purchased from the people of the earth. They are the first fruits of God and the Lamb.” (Rev 14:4)
1. Meaning of Virgins
The meaning of “virgins” here is interesting because you need to combine the verb “defile” with the noun “virgins” to deduce the correct interpretation of virgins (in my humble opinion).
Defile. The Greek verb here, μολυνω, means to cause something to be ritually impure, “defile” also in Corinthians, “However, not all believers know this. Some are accustomed to thinking of idols as being real, so when they eat food that has been offered to idols, they think of it as the worship of real gods, and their weak consciences are violated.” (1 Cor 8:7, NLT, emphasis added). It can also mean to “stain, soil” as in “Yet there are some in the church in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes with evil. They will walk with me in white, for they are worthy” (Rev 3:4, NLT, emphasis added).
Virgin. The Greek noun here, παρθενος, is used in this context to describe someone who has never had sexual intercourse, “virgin, chaste person.” However, this is the only place in the Bible where it describes a male. It is used many times to describe women:
- “Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means ‘God is with us.’” (Matthew 1:23, NLT)
- “Then the Kingdom of Heaven will be like ten bridesmaids who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom.” (Matthew 25:1, NLT)
- “All the bridesmaids got up and prepared their lamps.” (Matthew 25:7, NLT)
- “Later, when the other five bridesmaids returned, they stood outside, calling, ‘Lord! Lord! Open the door for us!’” (Matthew 25:11, NLT)
- “to a virgin named Mary. She was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of King David.” (Luke 1:27, NLT)
- “He had four unmarried daughters who had the gift of prophecy.” (Acts 21:9, NLT)
- “Now regarding your question about the young women who are not yet married. I do not have a command from the Lord for them. But the Lord in his mercy has given me wisdom that can be trusted, and I will share it with you.” (1 Corinthians 7:25, NLT)
- “But if a man thinks that he’s treating his fiancée improperly and will inevitably give in to his passion, let him marry her as he wishes. It is not a sin. But if he has decided firmly not to marry and there is no urgency and he can control his passion, he does well not to marry. So the person who marries his fiancée does well, and the person who doesn’t marry does even better.” (1 Corinthians 7:36–38, NLT)
- “For I am jealous for you with the jealousy of God himself. I promised you as a pure bride to one husband—Christ.” (2 Corinthians 11:2, NLT)
There are various views about what it means that these men are “virgins.”
God’s People as the Bride of the Lamb. Matthewson, Revelation, 188 takes this view.
Literal Celibacy. This view sees it as not committing adultery, fornication, nor being married. These men have not defiled themselves with women. These men are totally devoted to the Lord and to serving him (1 Cor 7:26-35). This view is held by Thomas, Revelation 8-22, 196-197; Hitchcock, The End, 291. However, the Bible says that sex within a marriage is good, and not defiling (Prov 5:18-19; 18:22; 31:10; Matt 19:4-6; Mark 10:6-9; Heb 13:4-7).
Abstinence from Sex During War. Based on Deut 20; 23:9-11; 1 21:5; 2 Sam 11:8-11. I could not find anyone that held this view.
Spiritual Purity. This view finds support in four areas. First, the 144,000 are said to follow the Lamb wherever he goes. This suggests that they are normal people on the earth that follow our Lord. Second, they are redeemed from the earth as the first fruits to God and to the Lamb. This suggests that they are among the first to be there when Christ ushers in his 1,000 year reign. Third, the next verse says that the 144,000 are faultless which likely refers to their rejection of false religion (see Rom 1:25; Rev 21:27; 22:15). Fourth, is the imagery of the “great prostitute” in Rev 17-18 which suggests that worshipping this false nation and religion is infidelity. Writing about the 144,000 Walvoord notes, “This can refer to abstinence from marriage in the critical days of the tribulation when a normal marital life for a person true to God is impossible or to spiritual purity by not being defiled by love of the world or compromise with evil in a morally filthy world” (Walvoord, Revelation, 222). This view is held by Walvoord, Revelation, 221-222; Metzger, Breaking the Code, 78; Mulholland, “Revelation” in Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, 528-529.
2. First Fruits
The “first fruits” is the first portion of a great harvest about to occur. This supports the idea that these 144,000 minister during the Millennial Kingdom in the future. This same idea is described in Rom 8:23; 16:15; 1 Cor 15:20, 23; 16:15; James 1:18.
C. No Lies and No Blame (v. 5)
καὶ ἐν τῷ στόματι αὐτῶν οὐχ εὑρέθη ψεῦδος, ἄμωμοί εἰσιν.
“From their mouths no lie came. They were faultless.” (Rev 14:5)
1. No Lies
As a little boy that told lots of lies when he was a kid, I find it difficult to understand how these people told no lies. The Greek noun used here is ψεῦδος which means “a lie, falsehood.” The word is used several other times throughout the Bible:
- “For you are the children of your father the devil, and you love to do the evil things he does. He was a murderer from the beginning. He has always hated the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, it is consistent with his character; for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8:44, NLT, emphasis added)
- “They traded the truth about God for a lie. So they worshiped and served the things God created instead of the Creator himself, who is worthy of eternal praise! Amen.” (Rom 1:25, NLT, emphasis added)
- “So stop telling lies. Let us tell our neighbors the truth, for we are all parts of the same body.” (Eph 4:25, NLT, emphasis added)
- “This man will come to do the work of Satan with counterfeit power and signs and miracles.” (2 Thess 2:9, NLT, emphasis added)
- “So God will cause them to be greatly deceived, and they will believe these lies.” (2 Thess 2:11, NLT, emphasis added)
- “So I am writing to you not because you don’t know the truth but because you know the difference between truth and lies.” (1 John 2:21, NLT, emphasis added)
- “But you have received the Holy Spirit, and he lives within you, so you don’t need anyone to teach you what is true. For the Spirit teaches you everything you need to know, and what he teaches is true—it is not a lie. So just as he has taught you, remain in fellowship with Christ.” (1 John 2:27, NLT, emphasis added)
- “Nothing evil will be allowed to enter, nor anyone who practices shameful idolatry and dishonesty—but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.” (Rev 21:27, NLT, emphasis added)
- “Outside the city are the dogs—the sorcerers, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idol worshipers, and all who love to live a lie.” (Rev 22:15, NLT, emphasis added)
This word for “lie” as you can see from the examples, seems to be something different from God’s true and holy character. It appears to be a lifestyle of devil worship and outright disobedience of God. In this way, I do not think that these 144,000 never told a little white lie about whether or not they stole a cookie from the cookie jar. Instead, it means they lived spiritually pure lives.
To be blameless here means being without fault. It is the Greek noun, ἄμωμος, which like several other words in this section are difficult to interpret. Here are some examples of this word’s usage in the New Testament:
- “Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes.” (Ephesians 1:4, NLT, emphasis added)
- “He did this to present her to himself as a glorious church without a spot or wrinkle or any other blemish. Instead, she will be holy and without fault.” (Ephesians 5:27, NLT, emphasis added)
- “so that no one can criticize you. Live clean, innocent lives as children of God, shining like bright lights in a world full of crooked and perverse people.” (Philippians 2:15, NLT, emphasis added)
- “Yet now he has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body. As a result, he has brought you into his own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault.” (Colossians 1:22, NLT, emphasis added)
- “And so, dear friends, while you are waiting for these things to happen, make every effort to be found living peaceful lives that are pure and blameless in his sight.” (2 Peter 3:14, NLT, emphasis added)
- “Now all glory to God, who is able to keep you from falling away and will bring you with great joy into his glorious presence without a single fault.” (Jude 24, NLT, emphasis added)
Based on these examples these people are not “perfectly holy.” Instead, they are described in the same terms that New Testament Christians are described in. Now, this is during the end-times so their lives might be different or they might be able to live holy lives unlike us now, but based on how this word is used in the rest of the Bible, it appears to me that these 144,000 Jews are just like Gentile Christians now.
IV. THE IDENTITY OF THE 144,000
A. A Brief Exposition
The 144,000 people are mentioned here in Rev 7:1-8 and again in Rev 14:1-5. In Mark Hitchcock’s excellent work, The End: A Complete History of Bible Prophecy and the End of Days, he lists six main characteristics of the 144,000 servants of God (pp. 289-292).
These 144,000 were “purchased” (NASB) from the earth, meaning, they had been redeemed by Jesus paying the price for them. They belong to the Lord, and they are his possession.
The seal of God has prepared the 144,000 for service (Rev 7:3-4). The evil doers who belong to the earth will accept the mark of the beast (Rev 13), but these 144,000 people have accepted God’s spiritual seal (Rev 14:1).
The seal (as seen in my word study above) serves as a sign of ownership and protection. Before the angels are allowed to harm the earth, land, and sea, the seal must be placed on the 144,000 in order to protect them (Rev 7:3). In Rev 14:1-5 John sees the 144,000 standing triumphantly and victoriously on Mount Zion. They all have been protected.
The 144,000 have never had sex and that is a sign of them being pure and undefiled (Rev 14:4). Paul wrote about the purity of men who have not had sex to the Corinthians, “But let me say this, dear brothers and sisters: The time that remains is very short. So, from now on, those with wives should not focus only on their marriage. Those who weep or who rejoice or who buy things should not be absorbed by their weeping or their joy or their possessions. Those who use the things of the world should not become attached to them. For this world as we know it will soon pass away. I want you to be free from the concerns of this life. An unmarried man can spend his time doing the Lord’s work and thinking how to please him. But a married man has to think about his earthly responsibilities and how to please his wife. His interests are divided. In the same way, a woman who is no longer married or has never been married can be devoted to the Lord and holy in body and in spirit. But a married woman has to think about her earthly responsibilities and how to please her husband. I am saying this for your benefit, not to place restrictions on you. I want you to do whatever will help you serve the Lord best, with as few distractions as possible” (1 Cor 7:29–35, NLT). Apparently, these 144,000 will not be bogged down with a spouse or family.
In the midst of the Great Tribulation the 144,000 follow the Lamb wherever he goes (Rev 14:4). Jesus is the Lamb and the shepherd, and the 144,000 follow him (Rev 14:4).
The 144,000 are a fulfillment of Matt 24:14: “And the Good News about the Kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, so that all nations will hear it; and then the end will come” (Matt 24:14, NLT). These servants of God proclaim the message of the Lord and as a result John sees the millions and millions of people saved in heaven because of their preaching (Rev 7:9-14).
B. The Christian Church
Some propose that the 144,000 represent the Christian church and that 144,000 is a “symbolic number” (Metzger, Breaking the Code, 77). Many commentators take this view, but there are three problems with this view. First, Rev 7:4 says that 144,000 people are “marked with the seal of God . . . from all the tribes of Israel” (NLT). The word “Israel” is never used in the New Testament to refer to the church. Second, if someone holds the pre-trib rapture view then the church is already gone. Third, Rev 7:1-8 describes Israel and Rev 7:9-17 describes the church in heaven. Mark Hitchcock explains the issue this way, “Since Galatians 3 and Ephesians 3 unite Jews and Gentiles as one and since Revelation 7 does not reflect that unity, the Rapture must reinstitute a division between Jews and Gentiles. Revelation 7 reflects that division” (Hitchcock, The End, 289). This view is held by Wright, Revelation for Everyone, 70-71; Metzger, Breaking the Code, 60; Mulholland, Revelation , 478-482.
C. Representative of the Godly Remnant of Israelite Jews
I believe the 144,000 are 12,000 males from each tribe of Israel. I hold this view for several reasons.
First, the word “Israel” is never explicitly used to refer to Gentiles. It is used only used in the New Testament (66 times) to refer to those who are racially descendants of Israel or Jacob. Second, if the church has “replaced” Israel and Israel now represents the church, then it would not make sense for Jesus and John to—in effect—go backwards to describe the church with the twelve tribes. Third, Isa 2:2-4; 11:11-16; Jer 31:8, 31-34; Ezek 37:15-22; and Rom 9-11 give clear evidence that God still has a future for Israel. This vision of the 144,000 on earth can be a fulfillment of the prophecy of Rom 9:26-27. Fourth, if someone believes in the pretribulational rapture, the church and the Holy Spirit are already gone by this point. It would be convoluted for the church to be gone as well as the Holy Spirit that established the church, yet there be another church on earth. Fifth, Rev 7 makes a clear distinction between two separate groups of people. (In Rev 7:1-8 it describes Jews from the twelve tribes of Israel, while in Rev 7:9-17 it describes People from every nation, tribe, people, and language. In Rev 7:1-8 it describes people numbered at 144,000, while in Rev 7:9-17 the people are innumerable. In Rev 7:1-8 the people are standing on the earth, while in Rev 7:9-17 the people are standing before God’s throne. In Rev 7:1-8 the people are sealed for protection, while in Rev 7:9-17 the people have ascended after persecution.) There appear to be two unique and separate groups of people in Rev 7:1-8 versus Rev 7:9-17. Therefore, a distinction as the first group being Jesus—believing Jews (Israelites) and the second group being the Christian raptured church (Gentiles) makes sense. Sixth, James starts his letter saying that he is writing to the “twelve tribes” of Jewish believers that are scattered abroad (James 1:1). Therefore, the tribes still exist somewhere in the world and God knows where they are.
This view is held by Walvoord, Revelation, 137; Johnson, Bible Expositor’s Commentary, vol. 13, 660; Hitchcock, The End, 287-292; Thomas, Revelation 8-22, 190.
V. CONCLUSION AND APPLICATION
A. God is not finished with his people yet.
God has had a plan for the nation of Israel for a long time. And, even though the fall of Israel (2 Kings 17), fall of Judah (2 Kings 25), and the Jewish rejection of the Gospel might have derailed that plan, God still has a plan for the nation of Israel (Isa 2:2-4; 11:11-16; Jer 31:8, 31-34; Ezek 37:15-22; Rom 9-11). These 144,000 are the Jesus-believing Jews that love God and follow his Son.
B. Living Out Our Faith
What does it mean to have the Father’s name and Lamb’s name on our foreheads? I have found Mulholland’s practical implications from this to be profound. “Having the Lamb’s name and his Father’s name on our foreheads, being spiritually undefiled, blameless, and without falsehood, are not forensic but formational realities. Such quality of being comes from ‘following the Lamb wherever he goes.’ This calls for abandonment of our lives to God in all things. Our agenda, our plans, our purposes, our wants, our needs, our desires, and our goals all become expendable for God’s purposes in and through our lives” (Mulholland, “Revelation” in Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, 531).
C. The Lamb Brings Victory
After three long passages about the Dragon (Rev 12), the Beast of the Sea (Rev 13:1-10) and the Beast of the Earth (Rev 13:11-18) the beginning of Rev 14 starts out with a vision of the “Lamb” (vv. 1, 4). Through our belief in the Lamb and his sacrifice for us, we get to experience eternal life in heaven with God. Interesting, it is through the meekness of a Lamb that we experience life, not through the power of a dragon or a beast. This shows that it truly is God who is in power because the most powerful animals (a beast and dragon) do all they can to win the battle, yet it is a meek Lamb that wins the battle.