This study brings us to a new chapter in Revelation, and to the consideration of an interesting and important group of people in the book: the 144,000. Before we delve into the chapter itself, some preliminary remarks need to be made. As noted on several occasions in these studies, I have no doubt that Revelation is simply an expanded version of the Olivet Discourse as recorded inMatthew 24,Mark 13andLuke 21. The book was given as a prophecy to prepare the church for an earth-shattering event: the destruction of the temple,Jerusalem, Judaism and the dispersion of the Jews.
Because of this, the book is filled with what scholars have called ‘decreation language’ (e.g. the stars not giving their light, the sun turning to blood, the moon turning black, etc.). Such language is employed because God is stating His intention of replacing the old with the new. The author of Hebrews gives something of a commentary on this inHebrews 12:22-27. The author tells us that earth and heaven are being shaken in order that the old covenant might be removed and the new covenant instated. And the old covenant was fully removed in the destruction ofJerusalemand the Jewish temple; a tragic event during which some 1.1 million Jews were slaughtered in a 42-month period, and many more displaced. Revelation, then, is the ‘curtain call’ for Jerusalem, Judaism and the old covenant.
In light of the sombre subject matter of the book, it is important that we approach our discussion of it with great humility. Perhaps the worst thing we can do when approaching the subject matter of Revelation is to get caught up in eschatological debates, thereby losing sight of the historical event foretold in the book, in which many lost their lives and homes.
That being said, I must ask the question, Does it matter how we interpret Revelation? It certainly does matter – for at least two reasons. First, Revelation is the Word of God; we had better, therefore, be very careful how we interpret it. God intended for the prophecy to be interpreted in one way and we should not be cavalier in our interpretive approach. Second, our eschatology (doctrine of the last things) has a profound effect on our worldview and our outlook on history. The interpretation set forth in these studies, I believe, is the proper biblical interpretation and it leaves no room for individualistic pietism. That is, the proper understanding of the book will not allow us to sit back and focus only on our own relationship with God, whilst neglecting Christian witness. Instead, it calls for daily engagement of cultures to bring all things under the dominion of Jesus Christ.
So what about Revelation 7? Who are these 144,000 Jews of whom we read? I trust that we can examine the biblical text and come to some very definite convictions.
A Providential Pause
Having read the opening of the first six seals in Revelation 6, we might well expect to read in Revelation 7:1, “And when He had opened the seventh seal…” But this is not what we read. Instead, we see something of a pause in the seal judgements:
And after these things I saw four angels standing on the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth, that the wind should not blow on the earth, nor on the sea, nor on any tree. And I saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God: and he cried with a loud voice to the four angels, to whom it was given to hurt the earth and the sea, Saying, Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees…
At the end of Revelation 6, we read of unbelievers crying out, ‘The great day of [the Lamb’s] wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?’ (Revelation 6:17). If the old covenant, made with the Jewish nation, is to be removed, who will stand? It is a question that must be answered, and Revelation provides the answer for us.
John sees ‘four angels standing on the four corners of the earth’. Many interpret the word ‘earth’ here as the entire planet; others interpret it, quite legitimately, as thelandofPalestine(the word ‘earth’ can mean ‘land’ or ‘earth’, depending on the context).
These angels are seen to be ‘holding the four winds of the earth’. As noted in earlier studies, when interpreting the book of Revelation, we must know something of the Old Testament, for Revelation alludes to the Old Testament more than any other New Testament book. A survey of the ‘winds’ in the Old Testament soon shows that the word generally refers to God’s judgement. Consider some examples:
- Jeremiah 13:24—Therefore will I scatter them as the stubble that passeth away by the wind of the wilderness.
- Jeremiah 22:22—The wind shall eat up all thy pastors, and thy lovers shall go into captivity: surely then shalt thou be ashamed and confounded for all thy wickedness.
- Jeremiah 51:1-3—Thus saith the Lord; Behold, I will raise up against Babylon, and against them that dwell in the midst of them that rise up against me, a destroying wind; And will send unto Babylon fanners, that shall fan her, and shall empty her land: for in the day of trouble they shall be against her round about. Against him that bendeth let the archer bend his bow, and against him that lifteth himself up in his brigandine: and spare ye not her young men; destroy ye utterly all her host.
- Ezekiel 1:4—And I looked, and, behold, a whirlwind came out of the north, a great cloud, and a fire infolding itself, and a brightness was about it, and out of the midst thereof as the colour of amber, out of the midst of the fire.
- Ezekiel 13:11-16—Say unto them which daub it with untempered mortar, that it shall fall: there shall be an overflowing shower; and ye, O great hailstones, shall fall; and a stormy wind shall rend it. Lo, when the wall is fallen, shall it not be said unto you, Where is the daubing wherewith ye have daubed it? Therefore thus saith the Lord God; I will even rend it with a stormy wind in my fury; and there shall be an overflowing shower in mine anger, and great hailstones in my fury to consume it. So will I break down the wall that ye have daubed with untempered mortar, and bring it down to the ground, so that the foundation thereof shall be discovered, and it shall fall, and ye shall be consumed in the midst thereof: and ye shall know that I am the Lord. Thus will I accomplish my wrath upon the wall, and upon them that have daubed it with untempered mortar, and will say unto you, The wall is no more, neither they that daubed it; To wit, the prophets of Israel which prophesy concerning Jerusalem, and which see visions of peace for her, and there is no peace, saith the Lord God.
- Jeremiah 4:12-14—Even a full wind from those places shall come unto me: now also will I give sentence against them. Behold, he shall come up as clouds, and his chariots shall be as a whirlwind: his horses are swifter than eagles. Woe unto us! for we are spoiled. O Jerusalem, wash thine heart from wickedness, that thou mayest be saved. How long shall thy vain thoughts lodge within thee?
- Nahum 1:3—The Lord is slow to anger, and great in power, and will not at all acquit the wicked: the Lord hath his way in the whirlwind and in the storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet.
- Zechariah 7:14—But I scattered them with a whirlwind among all the nations whom they knew not. Thus the land was desolate after them, that no man passed through nor returned: for they laid the pleasant land desolate.
That the winds of Revelation 7 are winds of judgement is clear from the fact that holding back these winds would prevent the earth, sea or trees from being hurt. Most likely, these four winds are the same judgements as the first four horsemen of Revelation 6. However, these four horsemen, or four winds, cannot be released until ‘the servants of our God’ have been ‘sealed…in their foreheads’ (Revelation 7:3). Whatever this sealing is, it must happen before the judgements can take place.
The pause takes place because it is so commanded by ‘another angel ascending from the east’ (i.e. from God’s throne room). He commands that the judgement angels withhold their judgement until some other angels have done their task. Judgement has been ordered, but it must first await its appointed time.
A Permanent Pledge
The judgement that will come can only take place once ‘we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads’ (Revelation 7:3). A proper understanding of what it meant to be sealed is crucial to our understanding of who the 144,000 are. In ancient times, something or someone was sealed as a designation that that person or things was set apart. The seal might take a number of different forms, but it showed ownership. By extension, it showed that the person or thing sealed was under the protection of the one who owned him, her or it. Since the sealing in this case is done by God (or His angels), it signifies that the persons sealed belong to God and are, therefore, under His protection.
There is clear Old Testament precedent for this. In Genesis 4, Cain has murdered his brother and has been confronted and judged by God. His judgement is that he might be a vagabond in the earth. Cain is immediately frightened, believing that someone might execute him for the murder he has committed. But God makes it clear that He will not allow this to happen: ‘And the Lord said unto him, Therefore whosoever slayeth Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold. And the Lord set a mark upon Cain, lest any finding him should kill him’ (Genesis 4:15).
Now, was the ‘mark’ that God set upon Cain visible? We cannot say for sure. Perhaps it was. Perhaps not. Whatever the case, God somehow made Cain recognisable to all so that all would know that they could not take his life in vengeance. The point of the ‘mark’ is that Cain was under God’s protective custody. Those in Revelation 7 are sealed in a similar way: whether their mark was visible or not, God’s divine protection was upon them. Another Old Testament parallel is to be found in Ezekiel 9:
He cried also in mine ears with a loud voice, saying, Cause them that have charge over the city to draw near, even every man with his destroying weapon in his hand. And, behold, six men came from the way of the higher gate, which lieth toward the north, and every man a slaughter weapon in his hand; and one man among them was clothed with linen, with a writer’s inkhorn by his side: and they went in, and stood beside the brazen altar. And the glory of the God of Israel was gone up from the cherub, whereupon he was, to the threshold of the house. And he called to the man clothed with linen, which had the writer’s inkhorn by his side; And the Lord said unto him, Go through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and set a mark upon the foreheads of the men that sigh and that cry for all the abominations that be done in the midst thereof. And to the others he said in mine hearing, Go ye after him through the city, and smite: let not your eye spare, neither have ye pity: Slay utterly old and young, both maids, and little children, and women: but come not near any man upon whom is the mark; and begin at my sanctuary. Then they began at the ancient men which were before the house. And he said unto them, Defile the house, and fill the courts with the slain: go ye forth. And they went forth, and slew in the city. And it came to pass, while they were slaying them, and I was left, that I fell upon my face, and cried, and said, Ah Lord God! wilt thou destroy all the residue of Israel in thy pouring out of thy fury upon Jerusalem? Then said he unto me, The iniquity of the house of Israel and Judah is exceeding great, and the land is full of blood, and the city full of perverseness: for they say, The Lord hath forsaken the earth, and the Lord seeth not. And as for me also, mine eye shall not spare, neither will I have pity, but I will recompense their way upon their head. And, behold, the man clothed with linen, which had the inkhorn by his side, reported the matter, saying, I have done as thou hast commanded me.
Ezekiel 9 is a prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem by King Nebuchadnezzar. As such, it is a prophecy that had already come to pass by the time John recorded Revelation. Ezekiel sees the inhabitants of Jerusalem being slaughtered – all except those who were protected by the mark in their forehead. Revelation 7 is a pretty precise parallel. Jerusalem is again about to be destroyed – this time by the Romans – and only those sealed by God will be protected from the judgement. So, who will be able to stand in the great day of the Lamb’s wrath? Only those who have been sealed and are under the divine protection of the Lord God.
The mark in Revelation, then, is a picture of loyalty and protection. If it is the mark (or seal) of God, it pictures loyalty to and protection from God. If it is the mark of the beast, then it pictures loyalty to and protection from the beast.
Now, no believer that I have ever met has been physically marked by God in his or her hand or forehead to show his or her allegiance to Him. Nevertheless, the Scriptures make it clear that all believers have been sealed by God. Paul writes to the Corinthians of Christ ‘who hath also sealed us, and given the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts’ (2 Corinthians 1:22). To the Ephesians, the apostles writes that believers are ‘sealed with that holy Spirit of promise’ (Ephesians 1:13). And again, we are told to ‘grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption’ (Ephesians 4:30). Furthermore, we are told that ‘the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his’ (2 Timothy 2:19).
With that in mind, it is clear that the 144,000 – whoever they are specifically – are believers. Since only believers are sealed by God, and since the 144,000 are sealed, we can be sure that they are believers. But we are not left there: we are given some clues to help us know precisely who they are.
A Particular People
Having noted the angel’s intention to seal the servants of God, John now tells us of the number of those sealed, and breaks it down very specifically for us:
And I heard the number of them which were sealed: and there were sealed an hundred and forty and four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel. Of the tribe of Juda were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Reuben were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Gad were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Aser were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Nephthalim were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Manasses were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Simeon were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Levi were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Issachar were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Zabulon were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Joseph were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Benjamin were sealed twelve thousand.
The first clue afforded us as to the exact identity of these 144,000 is the time frame of Revelation. There is absolutely no doubt that the original readers expected the events prophesied in the book to take place within a short space of time (1:1, 3; 2:5, 16; 3:11; 22:7, 12, 20; 22:6, 10). I will not belabour the point, but it should be clear to us by now that 2,000 years cannot be interpreted as ‘shortly’, ‘soon’ or ‘at hand’. Whoever these 144,000 are particularly, they were believers in the first-century church.
The second clue takes the form of their identification: they are identified as believers from the twelve tribes of Israel. We can assume, then, that these are Jewish believers. We know that, biblically, there are true Jews and false Jews (Romans 2:28-29; 9:6). The true Jew is the Jew who has embraced Jesus Christ as Messiah; the false Jew is the one who rejects Christ as Messiah – regardless of his or her physical lineage. Many commentators who agree with my overall interpretation argue that the 144,000 are the true church, whether Jew or Gentile. The scene, however, appears too ‘specifically Jewish’ to me for that to be true. I would assume that these are Jewish believers of the first century.
There are said very specifically to be 12,000 from each of the twelve tribes of Israel, which calculates to 144,000 Jewish believers. Now, is this number literal? Our first consideration in this regard is that there are a host of numbers in Revelation that are not to be taken in a strict literal fashion. For instance, the Holy Spirit is represented as ‘the seven Spirits’ of God (Revelation 1:4; 3:1; 4:5; 5:6). We know that the Holy Spirit is not made of seven individual Persons; the number, therefore, is to be understood symbolically. Let us, then, consider the number very carefully.
It might seem a little imaginative to assume that there are precisely 12,000 from each Jewish tribe. Of course, this is not impossible, but it is perhaps unlikely. Furthermore, the symbolic note of the numbers may lend support to symbolic interpretation. The number 12 is clearly a significant number for Israel, and the number 1,000 is frequently used in Scripture in a symbolic manner. For instance, are we to assume that the Lord owns the cattle on only a thousand hills (Psalm 50:10), but that someone else owns the cattle on the other hills? Of course not. Asaph is simply using the number 1,000 to indicate that God owns the cattle on all hills. In Ecclesiastes 7:28, Solomon tells us that he sought for a man that was righteous; he considered a thousand men but not one was righteous. Does that mean that the thousand-and-first person might have been righteous? No. Solomon is simply emphasising that he could not find a single righteous man in all the earth. The number 1,000 speaks in Scripture of quantitative completion. To say that each tribe had 12 × 1,000 believers is simply to speak of Israel idyllically.
The number 144,000, then, may not be a literal number. I will not argue the point dogmatically, however, for it may actually be literal. We could never argue that it is impossible that God saved 12,000 from each tribe of Israel: He may very well have done that. A literal number could fit the biblical interpretation of the 144,000 just as well as a symbolic number.
Before we nail down exactly who these believers are, some may wonder as to the tribes mentioned. It appears upon careful inspection that the usual rendering of the twelve tribes is not mentioned. Generally, we would expect to find these tribes: (1) Judah, (2) Rueben, (3) Gad, (4) Asher, (5) Naphtali, (6) Manasseh, (7) Simeon, (8) Dan, (9) Issachar, (10) Zebulon, (11) Ephraim, and (12) Benjamin. However, in Revelation 7 listing, no mention is made of Dan or Ephraim. They are replaced respectively by Levi (which generally had no inheritance and was not, therefore, listed) and Joseph. Of course, the argument might be made that Joseph is simply another name for Ephraim. Joseph’s tribe was divided in two (Ephraim and Manasseh). Since Manasseh is already mentioned, the only ones of Joseph’s tribe that would have remained were Ephraimites. Dan, however, is missing entirely.
So what happened to Dan? I suppose we cannot say for sure, but several clues are provided in the Old Testament. In Deuteronomy 29, the Lord issued a stern warning to His people:
Neither with you only do I make this covenant and this oath; But with him that standeth here with us this day before the Lord our God, and also with him that is not here with us this day: (For ye know how we have dwelt in the land of Egypt; and how we came through the nations which ye passed by; And ye have seen their abominations, and their idols, wood and stone, silver and gold, which were among them:) Lest there should be among you man, or woman, or family, or tribe, whose heart turneth away this day from the Lord our God, to go and serve the gods of these nations; lest there should be among you a root that beareth gall and wormwood; And it come to pass, when he heareth the words of this curse, that he bless himself in his heart, saying, I shall have peace, though I walk in the imagination of mine heart, to add drunkenness to thirst: The Lord will not spare him, but then the anger of the Lord and his jealousy shall smoke against that man, and all the curses that are written in this book shall lie upon him, and the Lord shall blot out his name from under heaven.
The promise in these verses is that idolatry would have one result: having one’s name blotted out from under heaven. This was part of the covenant made with the Israelites in the Old Testament. As you study the Old Testament, you will find Dan involved in idolatry time and again. The story of Judges 17-18, for instance, involved the Danites. A man named Micah had hired a Levite as his own personal priest, believing that this would ensure him favour with God. A group of Danites learned about this, and told the Levite that he should come with them instead. He did so, taking the idols that were in Micah’s house with him. The Danites, thus, invited idolatry into their tribe.
An even more blatant slide into idolatry is recorded during the reign of King Jeroboam, the first king of the northern tribes after the split in the Israel. Realising that Jerusalem was under the southern kingdom’s jurisdiction (led by Rehoboam), Jeroboam grew fearful that his people would defect to Judah, desiring to worship God in Jerusalem as always. Thus, he erected two idols, placing one in Bethel and the other in Dan. Once again, the Danites had welcomed idolatry into their tribe.
Perhaps, then, the tribe of Dan is excluded because of their frequent idolatry. This is a very real possibility, for it would fit well with the subject material of Revelation. In this prophecy, judgement is pronounced upon Israel because they had failed to keep their covenant obligations. It makes sense, then, that Dan should be excluded already for having broken covenant obligations. At the end of the day, it is immaterial, but perhaps the Lord is seeking to remind Israel that Dan had been blotted out of heaven because of their idolatry, and this was soon to happen to the other tribes, too.
Ephraim, too, was involved in idolatry. Bethel, where the other calf was erected, was one of Ephraim’s cities. Though they would be covered by Joseph, perhaps the Lord specifically used Joseph’s name as a reminder that Ephraim was as guilty of idolatry as was Dan.
The question remains, however: Who specifically are these 144,000 and how do they fit into the prophecy? The answer is quite clear in light of the prophecy’s subject matter.
A Promised Protection
Since Revelation is essentially an expanded version of the Olivet Discourse, we might expect to find a parallel to Revelation 7 in the Discourse. And we are not disappointed:
And ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake. But there shall not an hair of your head perish. In your patience possess ye your souls. And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh. Then let them which are in Judaea flee to the mountains; and let them which are in the midst of it depart out; and let not them that are in the countries enter thereinto. For these be the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled. But woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck, in those days! for there shall be great distress in the land, and wrath upon this people. And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled.
Matthew’s parallel to this can be found in Matthew 24:15-22, where the Lord refers to the surrounding Roman forces as ‘the abomination of desolation’. But who would obey the Lord’s words in these verses? Who would flee at the sight of the Roman armies? The Jewish believers, of course. When the holy city was surrounded by Roman armies, it would be the Jewish Christians in the city who would seek and opportunity to flee. And this is precisely what happened. Early church historian Eusebius writes:
But the people of the church in Jerusalem had been commanded by a revelation, vouchsafed to approved men there before the war, to leave the city and to dwell in a certain town of Perea called Pella. And when those that believed in Christ had come thither from Jerusalem, then, as if the royal city of the Jews and the whole land of Judea were entirely destitute of holy men, the judgement of God at length overtook those who had committed such outrages against Christ and His apostles, and totally destroyed that generation of impious men.
Whether such a revelation actually came to the Jewish Christians prior to the destruction of Jerusalem might be debated. What is not debated is the fact that they fled and that no record can be found of a single Christian being killed in the siege of Jerusalem.
In 66 A.D., General Vespasian – under orders from Nero Caesar – led Roman forces to Jerusalem, where (in the spring of 67 A.D.) a 3½ year siege commenced. On 9 June 68 A.D., Nero commits suicide, which throws the Roman Empire into chaos. Between June 68 A.D. and December 69 A.D. Rome witnessed the successive rise and fall of Galba, Otho and Vitellius. Finally, it was decided that Vespasian must be called back as Emperor if stability would be restored to the Empire. General Titus is left in charge of the siege.
It was during this time of chaos in the Roman Empire and the calling back of Vespasian as Emperor that the Roman siege slackened around Jerusalem. Whilst Vespasian made his way back to Rome, and the armies awaited orders from their new general, they pulled back from the city. When the Christians noticed this, they immediately fled the city for Pella, where they found refuge. No Christian remained in Jerusalem and, when the city was destroyed, there was no Christian there to be killed.
So, who specifically are the 144,000? They were the church in Jerusalem of 70 A.D. Perhaps it would help for me to quote from two authors who also take this interpretation:
- Jay E. Adams: “…it is obvious that these 144,000 Christian Jews who are sealed against the destruction ought to be identified with those who escaped to Pella in accordance with Christ’s command (Luke 21:20-24) when they saw Jerusalem surrounded by Roman armies. No other group of Jewish Christians can fit the picture. Consequently, their identification is certain.”
- Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.: “…before the Jewish war reaches and overwhelms Jerusalem, God providentially causes a brief cessation of hostilities, allowing the Jewish Christians in Judea to escape (as Jesus urges inMatthew 24:16-22). This happened when the emperor Nero committed suicide (A.D. 68), causing the Roman generals Vespasian and Titus to cease operations and withdraw for a year because of the turmoil in Rome. We know from the church father Eusebius and Epiphanius that Christians fled to Pella before the war overwhelmed Jerusalem…”
Do you see God’s control of history here? God moves, not only to bring the Roman armies against Jerusalem, but actually to stop them for a year in order that Christians might flee the city! “Thus far, and no more!” He says to General Vespasian. “For I have people in the city who must first escape before it is destroyed.” And it was the 144,000 who fled to Pella. Thus, we see the providential pause of Revelation 7:1-3 probably refers to these historically verifiable events.
In Revelation 11:8, Jerusalem ‘spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified.’ In Exodus 12, the Lord had passed over those (mostly Jews) who put the blood of the Passover lamb on their lintels and doorposts when judgement came upon Egypt. They were ‘sealed’ for deliverance. Now, Israel is Egypt! Israel will face the judgement and only Christians will be spared. Destruction would come upon Israel, but those under the blood of Christ would escape just as Israel had escaped Egypt and Lot had escaped Sodom. He would not destroy the righteous with the wicked! Whether the number 144,000 is literal or figurative is not the point: the point is that God delivered His own (the ‘sealed’) from the judgement that befell Jerusalem.
The point in all of this is that Jesus Christ fulfilled His prophecy. He said that He would destroy Jerusalem in that generation and deliver His own, and that is precisely what He did. All that called upon the name of the Lord were saved. When the disciples on Pentecost began speaking in tongues, they were accused of being drunk. Peter assured those watching that this was not the case, and then delivered this message:
But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel; And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams: And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy: And I will show wonders in heaven above, and signs in the earth beneath; blood, and fire, and vapour of smoke: The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before that great and notable day of the Lord come: And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved… And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation.
(Acts 2:16-21, 40)
There can be no doubt that Peter is speaking here of the destruction of Jerusalem. Preaching to Jews, he assures them that their city and temple will be destroyed, all because they had crucified Messiah. But in the midst of the promise of judgement, he offers a wonderful promise of deliverance: ‘Whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’ How would the first century Jews escape the judgement that would come upon Jerusalem? Only by calling on the name of the Lord. And who was it that called on the name of the Lord? Revelation refers to them as the 144,000.
The Pertinent Principles
The goal of Bible study is never merely to satisfy curiosity. Though it is important that we understand the identity of and promise to the 144,000, it is equally important that we understand what it is that God wants to teach us in the 21st century. There are several principles to be gleaned from the record of the 144,000.
First, we should understand that there is absolutely no Scriptural reason to relegate the events just studied to the distant future. In fact, I would say that it can be both distracting and potentially dishonouring to do so. Jesus Christ staked His reputation on the Olivet Discourse being fulfilled in the generation to which He ministered. To say that it did not can cast aspersion on the character of Christ! For the last two centuries, Bible critics have arrogantly declared Jesus Christ to have been wrong. But He was not wrong! He promised judgement upon Jerusalem in that generation, and He visited His vengeance upon Jerusalem in that generation.
Second, we see that the Bible is both believable and able to be understood. If we will allow Scripture to interpret Scripture, things will become clear. Years ago, I was taught a system of eschatology. In order to explain that system, I would have to point you to charts. Today, I have no eschatological charts in my study, yet I understand what Revelation teaches. I do not need charts: I have Scripture with which to interpret Scripture.
Third, we must be careful of giving geo-political Israel unwarranted attention. Revelation 7 was not designed to show a future for geo-political Israel. I have an idea – based on Romans 11 – that God is not done with the Jewish race; that He will one day save a multitude of Jews. But I do not believe the Scriptures to teach that Jerusalem will one day house the physical throne of Christ on this earth. I do not believe in a Millennium in which all revolves around Israel. A Jewish Christian recently made contact with our church, expressing interest in partnering with our church in his ministry. This man ministered for years to the Jews as God’s special people but, through studying the Scriptures, he has come to realise that believing Jews today are actually part of the church, that God does not have two distinct plans: one for Israel and one for the church. He has written some wonderful material pointing to the fact that the lost Jew needs the Lamb, not the land!
Fourth, we learn that we can depend on the Word of the Lord. What He says always comes to pass, and he cares for His own. As such, we must learn to be biblically bold. The first century Christians went through the great tribulation with biblical boldness. If the Lord gave the Olivet Discourse in 33 A.D., why did the Jewish Christians not flee Jerusalem then? Perhaps they stayed so that they might witness to the lost Jews in the city? Then, when the abomination of desolation was seen, they fled the city. They were bold enough to stay and witness for Christ, even though they knew for a fact that the city was destined for destruction. Biblical boldness was perhaps exemplified in the German Reformer, Martin Luther. At the Diet of Worms, he was ordered to recant of all teaching that went against Roman Catholic doctrine. Initially, he requested a day to think through it, but when he returned the following day (after a full night of prayer and searching the Scriptures), his answer was clear:
Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason – I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other – my conscience is held captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise. God help me, amen!
Through the biblical boldness of one man, the world was changed. Biblical boldness, dear reader, can make a difference in our world!
Fifth, we should note that God always gives fair warning concerning judgement. It was 34 years before the siege began that the Lord uttered in the Olivet Discourse. For 34 years, He continued to send His messengers with warnings of judgement and offers of deliverance through calls to repentance. The gospel, indeed, went to the Jew first, and then to the Gentile. As you read this, let me assure you that judgement is coming! You will one day stand before Jesus Christ, the Man whom God has appointed by whom alone we can be saved. Save yourself from eternal judgement by casting yourself fully upon Him. You cannot reject the Word of the Lord forever: judgement is certain to fall. The unbelieving Jews who remained in Jerusalem expected Messiah to deliver them. But they had ignored the words of Messiah, and they were destroyed for their disobedience. We will all stand before Christ – either at death or at His return – and the only way to escape judgement is to receive Him in repentance and faith.
Sixth, and finally, we note that God is serious about covenant keeping. It was because the Jews had forsaken their covenant with Him that they felt the sting of His judgement. And what about you? Christians cavalierly violate marriage covenants without realising just how seriously God takes covenant keeping! Have you made a covenant before God to pray with your local church? Know that God takes that covenant very seriously! Have you covenanted before Him to give faithfully? Know that He takes covenant keeping very seriously! If you do not take your covenants seriously, it is because you do not take Jesus Christ seriously! He removed His old covenant people because they had violated their covenant, and replaced them with a new covenant people. If you claim to be a child of God under the new covenant, be sure that you do not violate your covenant. Heed the words of the apostlePaul:
Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; And were all baptised unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; And did all eat the same spiritual meat; And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ. But with many of them God was not well pleased: for they were overthrown in the wilderness. Now these things were our examples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted. Neither be ye idolaters, as were some of them; as it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play. Neither let us commit fornication, as some of them committed, and fell in one day three and twenty thousand. Neither let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed of serpents. Neither murmur ye, as some of them also murmured, and were destroyed of the destroyer. Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come. Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.
(1 Corinthians 10:1-12)
God did not trifle with Israel when she violated her covenant. Neither will He trifle with believers and churches that violate their covenant before Him. Let us pray individually, and as churches, that we will do all we can to biblically walk in faithfulness in the new covenant in Christ.