144,000 male Jewish virgins?!? What….??? Another mark on the forehead of some people?
“With this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth, that no wind might blow on earth or sea or against any tree. Then I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun, with the seal of the living God, and he called with a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm earth and sea,
Revelation 7 and the 144,000 number is possibly the most controversial topic of the entire book. Some see it literally and some, like myself, see this number as a symbolic word picture using allusions to Old Testament images. There are even conflicted belief systems that view this number as all the people that are going to Heaven!!! It is to say the least, controversial! And honestly, within the two dominant Christian views, both sides have much to be answered. I believe that the two visions of this chapter are one and the same. Much like when Joseph and Pharoah each had two dreams, both images were merely two different narratives pointing to the same Truth.
Chapter 7 is like a pause in the flow of things to bring an answer to the final question of chapter 6…“and who will be able to stand?” John sees here two visions of who it is that is able to stand before Christ in this moment: the day of the return of the Lord. Chapter 7:1-8 occurs before chapter 6:1-8. Why? Because the sealing of these people of God must occur before the judgments we read in chapter 6. Remember?…REVELATION IS NOT IN CHRONOLOGICAL ORDER.
In this chapter we see what some believe to be God’s end time army, or the people of the “New Jerusalem.” Who are the 144,000? Like with all the symbolisms of the book, we need to be consistent and either take them literally or figuratively. It is figurative.
There are very strong reasons to view this symbolically, as we have the rest of the book of Revelation. When I say.. “symbolically“…it doesn’t mean nothing happens in the future, per se. There is tribulation coming, but tribulation is a constant thing for the people of God. What “symbolically” means in context, is that whatever is truly to come is wrapped up in Old Testament symbolism in the New Testament text through the imagery of the ancient scriptures. Ancient world views from scripture were used to paint an image of what John saw while concealing it from those without scriptural understanding, some of which is past and continuing until the eschaton, a.k.a. return of Christ. John “signified it”, or put it in scripturally symbolic language to conceal it from the unintended audience who were killing the Church. To quote a friend and scholar, “The tribulation is a reality not confined to some future seven year period, and the 144,000 are not confined to those martyred, but all saints……it includes, but is not limited to these two aspects. John states that he is a companion in tribulation in his own day….so it has to include all saints. That is the point. Tribulation has been and always will be enforced by the world on the people of God, while God brings tribulation on the world, and not the saints.” Well said.
In verse 1 we see more imagery of the four horsemen, or “four angels”. They are depicted as standing at the four corners of the earth, denoting North, South, East, and West, withholding their destructive forces of death, famine, war, conquest, and mass deception. (See Zechariah 6:1-8)
saying, “Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads.”
In 7:3 we see a seal on the “foreheads” of God’s servants. The “servants of God” throughout the Book of Revelation refers to followers of Jesus. The Church is called the “Servants of God” in Revelation 22:3,6,9 and says we will be at God’s throne as servants. But how many of us are actually male Jewish virgins? Sure, some believers are, but the majority certainly are not.
Verse 3 explains why the horsemen depicted are being held back from their charge. It reveals an angel with the “seal of God” coming forth to put a mark upon these 144,000 in this vision. These people of God are marked before the judgments of Revelation 6:1-8 are released upon the earth. The four horsemen of the vision are told in verse 3 to stand down until the servants of God are sealed. This is symbolism of loyalty, or allegiance to God. Like the mark of the Beast, this is not a literal, future mark on the forehead or hand, but rather it denotes whom one has served, whether Yahweh, or the world beast system. It symbolizes the spirit in which an individual is marked with: the Spirit of God or the spirit of the father of evil, the Devil; humility to honor God, or selfish lust and pride like the Sa’tan. This word picture speaks of the protection of God’s people through what is coming. Remember the Israelites in Egypt? Where were they when these plagues of judgment alluded to here were poured out on Pharaoh’s day? They were right in the midst of it!! Not taken out. God raptures before wrath, not before judgments. Big difference!!! The day of His wrath is His return at the last day of “Tribulation.”
And I heard the number of the sealed, 144,000, sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel: 12,000 from the tribe of Judah were sealed, 12,000 from the tribe of Reuben, 12,000 from the tribe of Gad, 12,000 from the tribe of Asher, 12,000 from the tribe of Naphtali, 12,000 from the tribe of Manasseh, 12,000 from the tribe of Simeon, 12,000 from the tribe of Levi, 12,000 from the tribe of Issachar, 12,000 from the tribe of Zebulun, 12,000 from the tribe of Joseph, 12,000 from the tribe of Benjamin were sealed.
Here we see 144,000 of these, 12,000 from each of the 12 tribes referred to as “servants of God”, (except for the tribe of Dan, who is not listed here). Ezekiel 48 says Dan is the first of the tribes to receive its inheritance. That alludes to the thinking that these 144,000 is a symbolic list rather than literal, along with several other reasons. Also, Judah is listed first??? Who comes from the tribe of Judah? The One who the book is about: Jesus, the Lion of the tribe of Judah….the Head of the Church.
Twelve is a number representing God’s people in general, not just Jewish tribes. It is a governmental number. Twelve governs creation. Twelve is the number of established eternal government, hence twelve tribes and twelve Apostles. No matter the covenant, we had a twelve governing. Twelve represents the “people of God.” From the New Covenant forward, that means followers of Christ only.
The numerics?? An Old Testament military census is implied in the imagery of this type of groupings. This is the view I ascribe to. Military gatherings used males. They were generally supposed to remain celibate in times of holy war, (and this image also signifies purity and devotion to the Lord as well.) You have the New Jerusalem as the image of the chaste bride, and then here, you have the male version of chastity as well.
The imagery of an equal number from each tribe was used to describe military expeditions in the Old Testament, like in Numbers 31 and 1 Chronicles 27. Battalions of 1000 were very standard in books like 1 Maccabees, and elsewhere. The image of an end time holy war you can find in places like the the Qumran War Scroll. So many see this as a military census, and if so then it represents God’s people ready to go to war. Although, God’s people do not actually do any fighting. They have won the war, just as Jesus did thru martyrdom.
So here we have a number of 144,000. (The only other time John hears a number is in Revelation 9:16 where there’s “two-hundred million.”) So is this really an end-time Jewish virgin army who’s going to go out and slaughter the Gentiles?!? Probably not a Christian concept, ya think? Most who see this narrative as an “end-time army” apply it symbolically, and rightfully so.
Elsewhere in Revelation, believers are “spiritually Jewish.” Believers are represented as lamp-stands in Revelation 1:20, which is certainly a Jewish symbol that represents the Jewish people. Believers in Jesus are viewed as “true Jews” in Revelation 2:9 and in Revelation 3:9. All of Revelation is full of symbolism, but it all has great significance in right context. Paul made clear that ethnic Israel is not the covenant people of God, but whoever is in Christ. That is the Israel of God in the New Covenant.
144,000 is an allusion to the Temple, or more specifically the Holy of Holies, which houses the presence of God. What does Jesus declare to be the Temple in the New Covenant? Yes, the followers of Christ. Dispensational Evangelical false Christianity has taught, through things like the Left Behind series, that there is to be a third physical temple built in Jerusalem for Jesus to rule from for a thousand literal years. This is something that scripture in no way supports in context. They arrive at that conclusion because this very modern movement known as the “pre or mid-tribulation Rapture”, dispensational doctrine has pulled things utterly out of context in an attempt to support this very new doctrine that is less than 200 years old, (at the time of writing this). Remember how the Pharisees took everything literally, like having to re-enter a mother’s womb to be born again? Yeah…..
This vision is a parallel of the next vision of this chapter, in verses 9-17, in which it answers the first vision of who the 144,000 symbolically represent.
“After this I looked, and behold, agreat multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”
John writes…“along with this first vision, I looked and saw this second vision…”
This is a vision of people from every tribe, people, language, and nation. Just like we mentioned prior, Joseph and Pharoah both had two dreams, and in both cases, both dreams meant basically the same thing. What we have is that this second vision of verses 9-17 interprets the first vision in verses 1-8. So it is not just 144,000 literally, but an innumerable multitude of God’s redeemed, purified saints out of all nations, tribes, languages, and people. These are true believers, those who truly followed the life of Christ in word and deed. This is the true Church!!! This is not the millions who gather in His name on Sunday, but rather those among them who truly live set apart lives from the world, who are about the Father’s business, and have laid down their own lives for the cause of Christ in winning souls, and who have put themselves to death on their own carried cross.
“Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
“Therefore they are before the throne of God,
and serve him day and night in his temple;
and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence.
They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore;
the sun shall not strike them,
nor any scorching heat.
For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd,
and he will guide them to springs of living water,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
Verses 13-17 confirm who these people are. One of the church fathers speaks to John in this vision and asks John a rhetorical question: “Who are these innumerable hosts of people?” Then John describes imagery that we have seen in the previous chapters, depicting them in white robes of purity through the walk of salvation, and the cleansing blood of Jesus. He says something peculiar as well…. “These are they who come out of the Tribulation. They have washed their robes in the blood of Christ.” How did they do it? By following Jesus’ path of martyrdom. They stood faithful even to their execution! They have received the highest honor of heaven, in the receipt of the martyr’s crown. With it comes the high honor of serving the throne of Christ firsthand, forever, and He will shelter them with His presence! They suffered with Him through persecution, hunger, scorching heat, and martyrdom. Because of this He will honor them and they will be rewarded with eternal life and never suffer pain, hunger, nor tears again forever and ever. They will bask in the presence of Yahweh and serve in worship at His throne for all eternity, and never know another sorrow, for they have been found worthy of the Lamb and He wipes away all sorrow from their eyes.