After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth to prevent any wind from blowing on the land or on the sea or on any tree.
Then I saw another angel coming up from the east, having the seal of the living God. He called out in a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm the land and the sea: “Do not harm the land or the sea or the trees until we put a seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God.” Then I heard the number of those who were sealed: 144,000 from all the tribes of Israel. Rev 7:1-4
Revelation 7:5-8 goes on to describe this group as coming from among the Jewish people, with 12,000 from each of 12 named tribes. There is too much of a specific nature to suggest anything other than a literal interpretation of this passage. These are newly converted Jewish evangelists who will pick up where the Church leaves off after the rapture. It’ll be their job to bring the Gospel to the world during Daniel’s 70th Week.
Had they been believers before the rapture, they’d have disappeared with the Church. If the church was still here, there’d be no need for them. But the Church is in Heaven (Rev. 5), Daniel’s 70th Week has begun (Rev. 6) and the Lord needs someone on Earth to tell His story for Him. (Matt. 24:14).
How Many Tribes Are There, Anyway?
A careful reading reveals that while 12 tribes are identified, there’s one (Dan) missing altogether and another (Ephraim) is there, but under the name of Joseph. How can this be?
There were originally 12 tribes but after the reunion in Egypt Jacob adopted the two sons of Joseph and split his tribe between them. So counting Ephraim and Manasseh, Joseph’s sons, there are actually 14 names to choose from. If you want the original 12, use Joseph instead of Ephraim and Manasseh. If you’re going to war and want to exclude Levi because the priests are exempt from war, split Joseph in half and call one half Ephraim and the other Manasseh. You’ll have 12 tribes without using either Joseph or Levi. In Revelation 7 the Lord wanted to avoid mentioning Dan and Ephraim so He included Levi, split Joseph with Manasseh, and still had 12 tribes on His list.
Why Dan and Ephraim?
In 1 Kings 12:12-33 the City of Dan is identified as the location where one of two golden calves was set up for worship after Solomon’s death. The other was in Bethel in the region of Ephraim. This took place nearly 300 years after their deliverance from Egypt. Even so, when they were dedicated, the pagan priest actually quoted the words Aaron and the people had spoken at the original introduction of the golden calf at Mt. Sinai, saying “These are your gods, Israel, that brought you up out of Egypt.” (Exodus 32:4) Incredible.
The placement of golden calves in these two cities marked the beginning of idol worship in Israel. It was the reason for all the faithful of all the tribes moving south (2 Chron 11:16 … so no lost ten tribes after all), and the subsequent destruction of the Northern Kingdom by the Assyrians.
2 Kings 10:29 explains that those calves were still being worshiped in Dan 100 years later. Perhaps this is why the Tribe of Dan is not mentioned at all and Ephraim is only included by inference.
So it makes sense to view the 144,000 of Rev. 7 just as they’re described … Messianic Jews called by the Lord to witness to the world after the church is gone. They are the end times fulfillment of the prophecy in Isaiah 43:10, being witnesses for the Lord to the heathen nations of Earth.
Then Who Are These Guys?
Then I looked, and there before me was the Lamb, standing on Mount Zion, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads. And I heard a sound from heaven like the roar of rushing waters and like a loud peal of thunder. The sound I heard was like that of harpists playing their harps. And they sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders. No one could learn the song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth. These are those who did not defile themselves with women, for they kept themselves pure. They follow the Lamb wherever he goes. They were purchased from among men and offered as first fruits to God and the Lamb. No lie was found in their mouths; they are blameless
As you can see, the group identified in Rev 14:1-5 is substantially different from the one in Rev. 7. This group is standing on Mt. Zion and they have the names of both the Father and the Son written on their foreheads. They are described as having been redeemed from the earth and are before the Throne of God singing a new song, a song only they can sing. They are pure and blameless, they’ve been purchased from among men, and are offered as first fruits to God and the Lamb.
A Beautiful Description
Hebrews 12:22-24 provides a beautiful description of this group. “But you have come to Mt. Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the Living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the Church of the Firstborn whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of a new covenant and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.”
The similarity is unmistakable. Their location (heaven), their spiritual state (pure and blameless), the fact that they’ve been purchased from among men and follow the Lord wherever He goes tells us who they are. Though some mistakenly identify them as the original 144,000, martyred and in heaven, only one group fits that description perfectly … the Church.
This 144,000 is a sampling of the redeemed, brought to heaven in the rapture and presented as the first fruits of God’s great harvest of souls, just as the wave offering was the first fruits of the harvest of grain (Lev. 23:9-14). All the grain was harvested, but only a sample was presented. So it is with the Church. The 144,000 is not meant to be the full number of raptured believers, just a sample.
As far as the phrase “defiled themselves with women” is concerned, it’s used to symbolize the worship of idols. Since pagan worship was sexual in nature, the Lord sometimes described idol worship in sexual terms. (Read Ezekiel 16 & 23if you dare.) These 144,000 had not done that. In fact they were found to be totally blameless, further evidence that they’re the redeemed in Heaven. No human on Earth is blameless, and there’s no Biblical evidence that men who remain celibate will receive special rewards.
A Word About The Number 12
Like 7, 12 is a divine number, denoting perfection of government or rule. There were 12 tribes of Israel, 12 spies went into the Promised Land, Jesus chose 12 disciples, there are 24 (12 X 2) elders around the Throne of God, etc.
In Revelation 7 and 14, 12,000 times 12 (144,000) can be is seen as ultimate expressions of this. In the first case the 144,000 sealed servants of God are the diplomatic corps of the Coming King, sent ahead to inform the world of His imminent arrival. And in the second, it’s the Church, the King’s perfect instrument of government, chosen to rule and reign with Him.