This was first posted in 2008, but much has changed since then, along with my attitude. Since finishing the study on Revelation, I had the notion to address rather common misconceptions and questions that I hear. The 144,000 is one of those misconceptions.
First, I think I need to explain my understanding of the 144,000.
They are Jewish young men, virgins who take God’s word and Jewish traditions very seriously.
God hand picks them from the twelve tribes, and, as an archaeologist recently pointed out, there are no lost tribes. Revelation 7:3-4 tends to uphold that scriptural fact.
God uses these Jewish men as evangelists to the Jews. The assumption is that they are pointing to Jesus as the Messiah and explaining from scriptures who He is and why He is the Messiah. The oddity here is that it seems they knew that.
With six of the seals containing God’s wrath having been opened, we are fortunate that these men are alive. In my understanding, the sealing of the men protects them from harm. Now that might not be true, but that is what I understood.
When it comes to people who missed the boat and, therefore, missed the rapture, calling them Christians kind of gets hung up in my throat. What I do see is that those who wake up and follow Jesus get martyred, and it is God that calls them saints. The first time we see these 144,000 is in Revelation 7. The second time is in Revelation 14, where they are with Jesus, before the throne, singing a new song that only they know, and you will not see them called saints.
I spent the last 14 years reading my Bible at every opportunity, asking questions about what I read and writing down the responses that I heard in my spirit. What I learned, more than anything else, was God’s nature and character. So it really grates on me when I hear statements like this one.
One day, in the men’s Bible study – that I no longer attend, a statement was made proclaiming that the one hundred and forty-four thousand bond-servants, sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel, would be caught up in the church’s rapture.
So, let’s all enlighten ourselves by reading a description of the 144,000 from God’s word.
Then I looked, and there was the Lamb standing on Mount Tziyon (Zion); and with him were 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads. I heard a sound from heaven, like the sound of rushing waters and like the sound of pealing thunder; the sound I heard was also like that of harpists playing on their harps. They were singing a new song before the throne and before the four living beings and the elders, and no one could learn the song except the 144,000 who have been ransomed from the world. These are the ones who have not defiled themselves with women, for they are virgins; they follow the Lamb wherever he goes; they have been ransomed from among humanity as firstfruits for God and the Lamb; on their lips, no lie was found—they are without defect.
(Revelation 14:1-5 CJB)
Allow me to reiterate verse five once again, but from the King James Version.
And in their mouth was found no guile: for they are without fault before the throne of God. (Revelation 14:5 KJV)
Now, with this pertinent information,
Is it true that the 144,000 will be caught up in the rapture?
Any serious student of the Bible knows that is not true, but if you want to expand your horizons, then you need to ask why it’s not true.
When we search for the one hundred and forty-four thousand, we only find three references, all of which occur within the Revelation of Jesus Christ, once in Revelation 7 and twice in Revelation 14. The first reference is in Revelation 7, where we see four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds so that they did not blow on the earth or sea or even on any tree.
“…Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees until we have sealed the bond-servants of our God on their foreheads.” And I heard the number of those who were sealed, one hundred and forty-four thousand sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel:” (Revelation 7:3-4 NASB)
Sealed? A logical assumption is that they are being sealed to protect them from the wrath of God.
(I use the term wrath because six of the seals have already been opened, subjecting those young me to at least some aspects of that wrath. If you must argue, then consider the goals of the antichrist – based on known current trends in technology, where most everyone is chipped and tracked on daily basis. Considering the 144,000 who are sealed, how do they dodge some like a vaccination mandate?)
If that is the case, the timing of their sealing alone enforces the idea that they are Jewish and are here during the time that God’s wrath is being poured out (As teenagers tend to say, NO DUH, in other words, how obvious.) The distinction is that they are NOT gentiles.
Can we assume they were evil people because they did not go up with the church?
Not necessarily. First off, Revelation 14 clearly tells us they are without defect.
Does that mean that they have no physical defects?
No, it means they are, according to the law, sinless. We, too, are sinless but only by the blood of Jesus, and this may be the same reason that they can be deemed “without defect.”
Secondly, the Jews are actively looking for the Messiah; but they have flatly rejected Jesus Christ as they feel He is a Gentile invention and designed for them alone. So, thanks to the veil being lifted and the help of these evangelists, many Jews come to Jesus after the catching away of the church.
Those who are sealed are specifically from the tribes of Israel, not Jehovah’s witnesses.
Verses five through eight of Revelation fourteen spell out how 12,000 of each tribe of the sons of Israel were chosen from the tribes listed there, and you can look these up on your own time.
Why is any of this important?
The layout of the Revelation is, for the most part, chronological, which is why we can say that the wrath of God began with the revelation of the lamb that looked as if it had been slain in Revelation chapter 4. By the time we reach chapter seven, where we see the 144,000, six of the seals have been broken.
“But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then recognize that her desolation is near. “Then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains, and those who are in the midst of the city must leave, and those who are in the country must not enter the city; because these are days of vengeance so that all things which are written will be fulfilled. “Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days; for there will be great distress upon the land and wrath to this people;”
(Luke 21:20-23 NASB)
While the entirety of Luke’s passage is worrisome, this, by and large, is pointed at one people group, the Jews. If I based my understanding of what is to come upon Luke’s version alone, I would be remiss by not providing adequate witnesses.
Since we can see that it is wrath that is coming, then let’s focus on that for a moment.
Who is this wrath for?
Based upon Luke’s gospel and the usage of the name Judea, it is simple to see that much of it is for and because of the Jews, and the Prophet Hosea acknowledges that as well.
“Israel, the time has come. You will get what you deserve, and you will know it. “Prophets are fools,” you say. “And God’s messengers are crazy.” Your terrible guilt has filled you with hatred.”
(Hosea 9:7 CEV)
Brenton’s translation uses terminology similar to Luke’s gospel.
“The days of vengeance are come, the days of thy recompense are come; and Israel shall be afflicted as the prophet that is mad, as a man deranged: by reason of the multitude of thine iniquities thy madness has abounded.”
(Hosea 9:7 Brenton)
Iniquities, in Hebrew, also means perversity or evil. Have you ever asked yourself why or where this happened? One of the first things the “children of Israel” did after coming out of Egypt was to pressure Aaron into making the god Moloch for them (think child sacrifice). Stephen, in Acts chapter seven, defines these things in a manner that we see nowhere else. Jewish tradition tells us that their acts were so detestable that they were unspeakable. So you see, NO one contest what Stephen said about what Israel did with Moloch. In Exodus 32, we see God’s reaction and commentary.
“Then the LORD spoke to Moses, “Go down at once, for your people, whom you brought up from the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves.”
(Exodus 32:7 NASB)
At this point, God practically disowns them. He uses the word corrupted to define them. The Hebrew word conveys that they had spoiled, ruin, and perverted themselves. The word perverted does not convey the depth of their perversion as they roasted their babies in the arms of Moloch and danced around the star of Ishtar the goddess of sex. Exodus 32:22, in the NASB, has Aaron defending them and himself by saying, “you know the people, that they are set on mischief.” Ah, mischief is an artful way of saying they are naturally and morally bad and evil. Now how would Aaron have known that? Remember Balaam and his donkey? This is the man that told Balak that they could defeat Israel by putting the pretty girls from the surrounding nations within reach of their men. Those men will take the girls into their beds, and when they whine, build me a high place to worship; the children of Israel will do what they ask. Those high places, especially among the Canaanites, were places of child sacrifice by dismemberment (I recently watched a Christian archaeologist who demonstrated exactly what I am talking about). Can you now see that one of the reasons God is so angry with Israel is that they perpetually invested in the perversion of the surrounding nations, and you see it throughout the Old Testament.
God’s wrath is also poured out upon the nations. In Jeremiah, we see God taking vengeance upon those who chose to fight against Him.
“But that day is a day of the Lord, the Lord of hosts–a day of vengeance, that He may avenge Himself on His adversaries. And the sword shall devour, and it shall be satiated and shall drink its fill of their blood; for the Lord, the Lord of hosts has a sacrifice [like that of a great sin offering] in the north country by the river Euphrates.” (Jeremiah 46:10 AMP)
Here in 46:10, Jeremiah uses the phrase “day of the Lord.” What does this phrase apply to? It applies to the entirety of the seven years in which He pours out His wrath upon Israel and the nations. The purpose is to eliminate “sinners,” though it is evident that it is not complete elimination. Some will say, Ah, see, this is one of those areas that prove that God cannot be trusted. What it proves is that God is merciful. In the example I showed you above, where Aaron makes the god Moloch for them, God told Moses that He was going to destroy them all. If you read the story in Exodus 32, then you will see that Moses dissuaded God, and God showed mercy. Eventually, your sins will find you out, and somehow, you will pay. This is where the blood of Jesus Christ comes into play because it covers all our sins.
“Behold, the day of the LORD is coming, Cruel, with fury and burning anger, To make the land a desolation; And He will exterminate its sinners from it.”
(Isaiah 13:9 NASB)
The Hebrew word for exterminate also means to pluck down. You should be able to realize that there is a reduction of sinners and not extermination, as that seems to go against the character and nature of God. Sinners, according to the Hebrew, are those accounted guilty. We already saw in Jeremiah 46:10 that God is going to avenge Himself on His adversaries. Avenge can also be read as bringing punishment. The context of Revelation demonstrates how God comes at His adversaries from every possible direction.
One last passage to help define how God’s wrath will purge the earth.
“The earth is also polluted by its inhabitants, for they transgressed laws, violated statutes, broke the everlasting covenant.”:
(Isaiah 24:5 NASB)
The everlasting covenant, what’s that?
It is the covenant that God made with Adam, Eve, Abraham, and Moses, and it applies to every follower of Christ. In every human interaction, God said, I will uphold my end of the bargain, even if you don’t. If you think about the family tree, no one failed to hear “the law,” but few upheld the covenant completely. In failing to uphold the covenant, we have destroyed this earth with our technological advances.
Sometimes you can determine to whom God’s wrath is directed by eliminating those who are excluded from the conversation.
“”But God demonstrates His own love toward us (the followers of Jesus Christ) in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him.” (Romans 5:8-9 NASB) Emphasis mine.
Romans 5 speaks of being justified; while that forgiveness was a blanket coverage, it still requires action on the part of the recipient. You must accept Jesus Christ as yours.
Paul goes on to say that we, followers of Christ, will be rescued from the wrath, much like Noah was.
“that is Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath to come.”
1 Thessalonians 1:10 (NASB)
Spend a few minutes looking at this transaction between God and Noah (Genesis 7:1-4.) Having followed God’s instructions, God closed the massive door behind them. (Genesis 7:16) And this saved the family from God’s wrath – the flood.
This theme of being rescued from wrath is continued in 1 Thessalonians 5:9-10.
“For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep, we will live together with Him.”
(1 Thessalonians 5:9-10 NASB)
This, too, demonstrates how God’s salvation is a blanket of escape – if you will, that works for all who accept His salvation.
This rescue or salvation from wrath is from God’s wrath, not the tribulations of everyday life. God’s wrath will be poured out upon everyone living on the earth at this time; we assume that there is an exception for the 144,000. I am puzzled, for if I look at the Revelation as chronological, then it tends to indicate that they, too, were killed in some brutal manner.
How does that work if the seal of God protected them? Again, we make assumptions about the extent of their protection. The passage where we see this sealing begins reads like this.
“…, Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees until we have sealed the bond-servants of our God on their foreheads.”
(Revelation 7:3 NASB)
It says nothing about NOT harming these Jewish believers. Now my understanding of them has shifted, and I see them as hand-picked evangelists up until the time that God sees fit to call them home. If the fourteenth chapter of Revelation is not an indication of that happening and fractures my idea of the Revelation retelling as a precisely chronological eschatological story. So, now I have to see the 144,000 as reinsertion into the Revelation timeline, much like a color commentary in a televised sporting event.
What’s the point so far?
Based on what I see in the verses that we have to work with, all this is happening within the seven years of wrath. Since we see an uncountable multitude standing before the throne, then there would have to have been an attempt to kill the followers of Christ. Since God has sealed these Jewish men, then they, too, would be deemed to be followers and potentially subject to death at the hands of Jewish leadership as well. This conversation is, of course, in consideration of the fact that three and one-half years into the seven, the false prophet will be unleashed upon the world, and, according to Islam, this man will be the enforcer of Sharia law. Sharia law dictates that the head of infidels are chopped off (anyone outside of Islam is an infidel) as the primary method of elimination.
“Then I looked, and behold, the Lamb was standing on Mount Zion, and with Him, one hundred and forty-four thousand, having His name and the name of His Father written on their foreheads.”
(Revelation 14:1 NASB)
If Jesus is standing on Mount Zion, then He has returned victoriously, and the earth is now in the hands of the Almighty God. Since the 144,000, to the best of our knowledge, have been witnesses to the Jews during the time of wrath, then it is obvious that their work is completed.
That would mean that they were not raptured, as only the church is caught up to be with Jesus; it also means that they are alive today, being prepared, and will have to endure the entirety of the seven years and its associated wrath. And, there is nothing that says they are exclusively in Israel, for we have Jews all over the world.