It’s All about Jesus
The book of Revelation begins and ends with Jesus Christ.
Indeed, all of Scripture contains God’s revelation to the human race of the coming Messiah; the arrival of Messiah on earth as fully God and fully man; a detailed account of Messiah’s birth, life, death, and resurrection; and his glorious return to the earth he created. Seven years before he sets foot on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, Jesus will raise born-again believers from the dead. Those still alive will be caught up (raptured) to heaven. Then the Great Tribulation will begin and, “…there will be greater anguish than at any time since the world began. And it will never be so great again” (Words of Jesus, Matthew 24:21).
The combination of man-made catastrophes and divine judgment directly from God will be so unprecedented that only Jesus Christ is allowed to break the seven seals which allow the Satanic forces of evil symbolized by the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse to unleash death and destruction like never before. Breaking the seven seals also leads to seven trumpets and seven bowls (vials) containing the final wrath of God on a warped and wicked world.
John tells us why only Messiah Jesus is qualified to open the scroll:
“…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. And you have caused them to become a Kingdom of priests for our God. And they will reign on the earth” (Revelation 5:9-10).
The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are obviously symbolic by virtue of the scene (vision) itself and the descriptive imagery of the passage. Also, with the plain understanding that each of the four riders on four horses couldn’t inflict the massive massacre that will follow. Yet, the devastation and death are all too real. For example: “Then another horse appeared, a red one. Its rider was given a mighty sword, and the authority to take peace from the earth. And there was war and slaughter everywhere” (Revelation 6:4).
Just one generation ago, the nations of the earth experienced firsthand an unparalleled world war with unheard of casualties and unrivaled brutality and evil on a scale never before seen in the annals of mankind, particularly the Holocaust. But the military and civilian casualties of World War II will pale in comparison to the “war and slaughter everywhere” during the Great Tribulation. (See Eye of Prophecy article, Shocking Statistics of the Great Tribulation, posted 6-6-15).
Very soon after the Rapture, many will recognize what the Rapture was all about and turn to Jesus Christ for salvation. They are also those who, “…had been martyred for the word of God and for being faithful in their testimony” (Revelation 6:9). This is the fifth seal that was opened by Christ Jesus. However, they will be far outnumbered by the people who belong to the world (Revelation 13:8).
The sixth seal is the first of God’s direct judgments on the earth. Listen to the astonishing description:
“I watched as the Lamb broke the sixth seal, and there was a great earthquake. The sun became as dark as black cloth, and the moon became as red as blood … The sky was rolled up like a scroll, and all of the mountains and islands were moved from their places” (Revelation 6:12, 14).
Notice the language here: “The sky was rolled up like a scroll.” Whatever happens in/to the earth’s atmosphere during this massive earthquake (most likely accompanied or triggered by a colossal volcanic eruption to darken the sun and make the moon blood-red), is better understood by John’s imagery of a scroll being rolled up. The scroll is metaphorically used to depict the traumatic results of this enormous “natural” disaster. Natural signifying nature itself, but supernatural in origin and scope because only God has ultimate control over nature.
Then, however, there is an abrupt interruption between the sixth and seventh seal. What causes this unexpected and dramatic pause?
None other than the divine selection and sealing of the 144,000 … 12,000 from each tribe of Israel. With, as alluded in last week’s article, the clear contextual absence of anything symbolic going on in Chapter 7, and equally strong evidence that both the number and the identity of the 144,000 are literal.
Spiritualizing or Symbolizing Scripture That Is Clearly Literal
One hindrance to correct understanding of Scripture, especially prophecy, is a tendency of even well-meaning Christians to do way too much symbolizing. Of course there are metaphors and similes in, for example, the book of Revelation. But there is also a ton of literal people, places, things, and events.
Before we take a closer look at the 144,000, permit me to quote a couple of excerpts from my second book, Out of the Abyss … can the number of the beast be solved? 666
On the subject of the Abyss, specifically the sea (that contains the Abyss) referenced in Revelation 13 from where the beasts arises, I propose that the sea is literal—not symbolical as several scholars maintain. Following a detailed explanation on pages 234-236, I ask (I’ll place the excerpt in italics):
Why can’t the Revelation 13 Sea be literal? The Antichrist beast of Revelation 13 is not a kingdom or kingdoms; it is a personal pronoun (he) person. A symbolic application in one part of the Bible does not have to be the same symbolic representation in another passage, or even symbolic at all. (Here I’m referring to the “stormy sea” of Daniel Chapter 7). Or the place or thing in question can be both literal and figurative at the same time. It all depends on the context of the passage to include, if necessary, comparison or contrast to other passages… Thus, the staff of Moses was a literal piece of wood that turned into a literal snake in Pharaoh’s court; but the staff also symbolized the power of God, when Moses struck the rock and water gushed out.
Unless the Scriptural text is clearly and exclusively symbolic, or specifically interprets an image of something, or explains the imagery by such words as like, many scholars contend that the word or phrase should be taken literally. For one thing, it’s far less confusing to understand the verse or verses literally. For another thing, a figurative interpretation could often have two or more meanings. Which one is correct?
I then use another example (the fifth trumpet judgment) in which John utilizes image comparisons to describe the locusts that torment unbelievers for five months. Followed by another observation:
Conversely, there’s no reason to create a metaphor or simile comparison for something that is what it is. In Revelation 13, there’s every reason to consider the sea as the sea. The same reasoning can be applied to the False Prophet who “came up out of the earth.” The angel is making a distinction as to the origination point for the first and second beast.
I’m not referring to clear metaphors used in the Bible; such as used by Jesus himself when he said, “I am the bread of life.” Literature is full of metaphors and we even talk in those terms today. For example we might say, “He’s a rock.” There is rarely a misunderstanding over a metaphor. We don’t need to wrestle over another comparison phrase used by Christ, “I am the door.” Does anyone think that Jesus is a literal loaf of bread or a wooden door? Of course not.
…we find the dragon (Satan) taking his stance beside the sea. In the very next verse John tells us that he saw a beast rising up out of the sea. But the angel doesn’t indicate that the sea represents something else. If the sea is the mass of humanity (as many scholars contend) why would the dragon take “his stand on the shore beside the sea?” Why wouldn’t he take his stand right in the middle of humanity? If the sea is humanity, then what does the shore represent?
…the sea of humanity doesn’t have or need a shoreline. Or, if it does need a shore, then the entire imagery is extremely awkward and ineffective.
I could have added in my book something to the effect that all figurative imagery in Scripture is directly from the Lord (inspired), thus none of them are awkward or ineffective. Rather, they are meant to be understood; albeit sometimes with a good deal of study, focus, and correlation with other passages and connection to history and current events.
In applying this fundamentally sound principle (literal application of the text unless clearly indicated otherwise), a student of the Bible should rarely have difficulty in determining what is figurative and what is literal.
Who Are the 144,000?
As alluded, the answer is amply accessible … literally!
“Then I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds so they did not blow on the earth or the sea, or even on any tree. And I saw another angel coming up from the east, carrying the seal of the living God. And he shouted to those four angels, who had been given power to harm land and sea, ‘Wait! Don’t harm the land or the sea or the trees until we have placed the seal of God on the foreheads of his servants.’
“And I heard how many were marked with the seal of God—144,000 were sealed from all the tribes of Israel: from Judah 12,000, from Reuben 12,000 … from Benjamin 12,000” (Revelation 7:1-8).
(12 Tribes–Shown In Last Week’s Article, But Worth Showing Again)
The 12,000 Jews from each tribe listed in Revelation Chapter 7 are as literal as the number from each tribe in Jewish history—determined by a census ordered by God through Moses (see Numbers Chapter 1 and following). If the 144,000 Jews are symbolic, then what is the purpose of specifically stating 12,000 from each tribe? Or using any numbers at all? Or going to the trouble of listing all twelve tribes?
Certainly, some numbers in the Bible have consistent meaning and significance, but the numbers themselves are quite literal. Twelve in Scripture—twelve sons of Jacob, the twelve tribes, and twelve disciples—represent God’s cohesive administrative authority on earth for the nation of Israel and later the Church, composed of Jew and Gentile alike. Twelve is also the multiplied number of three (perfection of divinity) and four (number of the earth, i.e. four seasons, four directions and others).
There were 12,000 sealed (chosen) from the 12 tribes of Israel … 12,000 x 12 equals 144,000. It doesn’t get any more real (literal) than that. I’m referring to both the number and those sealed by God … Jews and Jews alone. There is absolutely no symbolizing taking place with the identity of each tribe and the number from each of those tribes.
“What about the seal,” you might ask? “Is it literal, too?”
You bet it is. Just as literal as the mark that Nero will require on the forehead or right hand of everyone who wants to buy and sell anything and everything to stay alive during the Tribulation. How providentially ironic, however, that God first seals this select group of 144,000 Jews. Antichrist Nero’s mark is a copy-cat imitation to further advance his counterfeit copy-cat kingdom, but one that is pure evil in marked contrast to the perfectly good Kingdom of God that will be established on the earth.
There is, however, a slight difference between the 12 tribes listed in Revelation and those listed in Old Testament passages. In Revelation we see that the tribe of Joseph has replaced Ephraim and Levi has replaced Dan. An entire article could be written just to explain the Biblical history of why the tribe of Joseph became two tribes (his sons Ephraim and Manasseh) and why the tribe of Levi is not listed in the Old Testament census (there is a reason … perhaps you know or might want to read up on it). Actually, there was more than one census; the second one for a different purpose (Numbers Chapter 26).
A brief commentary for purpose of today’s article will simply summarize by saying that Ephraim and Dan are excluded in the list of the twelve tribes of Revelation primarily because of some bad things that Jews from these tribes did in terms of their rebellion and idolatry; apparently even worse than what the other ten tribes did that led to God’s discipline of all twelve tribes.
As a memory refresher, soon after King Solomon’s death the twelve tribes of Israel split apart with only Judah and Benjamin comprising the southern kingdom called Judah. The other ten tribes retained the name of Israel, referred to as the northern kingdom. In 722 B.C. God allowed Assyria to completely conquer Israel and exile them to other nations. In 586 B.C. the same thing happened to Judah, but with Judah’s conqueror as the mighty empire of Babylon, which had vanquished Assyria.
A Stunning Feature of the 144,000
Now that we’ve answered the question of exactly who the 144,000 are and from where they originate, we need to appreciate the astounding implication of what’s going on here. Many Eye of Prophecy articles have been devoted (some partially, others more fully) to the subject of spectacular Old Testament prophecies of the Jews providentially returning to Israel after being banished to the four corners of the earth. It took nearly 2000 years, but it’s happening before our 20th and 21st century eyes. It is nothing short of miraculous.
Yet, there are really only two tribes, Judah and Benjamin, through which a few Jews can trace their lineage … emphasis on few. Some Jews have been identified (mostly through DNA) from the tribe of Levi; thereby, qualifying to be priests in the new Temple that many Jews say is just around the corner. Yes, a third temple will be rebuilt (see Eye of Prophecy articles, A Third Jewish Temple and A Third Jewish Temple Part II, posted 4-26 & 5-3-14).
So what about the ten tribes, the so-called Lost Tribes of Israel? What happened to them? We know that Assyria exiled them to other nations and they eventually intermarried enough to lose much of their heritage or identity as Jews. Are there any of those Jews left? Where are their descendants?
(No, they are NOT Mormons living in America, as the misnamed Church of Latter Day Saints would have us believe. There is absolutely no archeological or genealogical or historical evidence at all to substantiate such a ludicrous entitlement. Mormons claim that many of their membership descends from the tribe of Ephraim. Do you suppose that’s another reason why Ephraim is not listed in Revelation?)!
Are the Jews alive today throughout the world and/or the Jews living in Israel only from the tribes of Judah, Benjamin or perhaps, Levi? No, Scripture is replete with prophecies that God will return his people to Israel from all over the world, from both Israel (ten northern tribes) and Judah. Such as:
“I will preserve a remnant of the people of Israel and of Judah to possess my land. Those I choose will inherit it, and my servants will live there” (Isaiah 65:9). There is no repetition or duplication here. Both Israel and Judah are identified for a reason. At the time the prophecies were made and until they are fulfilled, these two kingdoms remain divided. Thus, the Lord referred to them as Israel and Judah, the northern kingdom and southern kingdom, respectively.
Sometimes the two kingdoms are referred to just as Israel in order to emphasize that all twelve tribes will one day be united, especially when the prophecy focuses on the Promised Land of Israel belonging to God’s special possession, the Jews. Such as:
“I will bring my exiled people of Israel back from distant lands, and they will rebuild their ruined cities and live in them again … I will firmly plant them there in their own land. They will never again be uprooted from the land I have given them, says the Lord your God” (Amos 9:14-15).
In another passage (one of literally hundreds in Scripture applicable to Israel’s restoration) we read:
“Nevertheless, the time will come when I will heal Jerusalem’s wounds and give it prosperity and true peace. I will restore the fortunes of Judah and Israel and rebuild their towns. I will cleanse them of their sins against me and forgive all their sins of rebellion. Then this city will bring me joy, glory, and honor before all the nations of the earth! The people of the world will see all the good I do for my people, and they will tremble with awe at the peace and prosperity I provide for them” (Jeremiah 33:6-9, italics for emphasis).
My generation is nearly 70 years into this remarkable reestablishment of Israel and the Jews. The only thing remaining concerning national restoration is true peace, immediately preceded by spiritual revival of God’s chosen people through and to their Messiah.
One day (soon), “…all Israel will be saved…” (Romans 11:26).
When will all Israel be saved, both physically and spiritually? Answer: At the very end of the Great Tribulation as it gives way to the magnificent millennial reign of Messiah Jesus on the earth.
Who or what is (at that time) all Israel? None other than Messianic Jews, beginning with the 144,000 Witnesses and ending with the full remnant of Jewish tribulation saints. To be saved is to be redeemed and to be redeemed is to be saved—by personal trust in the death, burial, and resurrection of Yeshua HaMashiach (Jesus the Christ).
The personal will then become the national restoration of Israel.
Let’s look at another extraordinary prophecy of Israel’s and Judah’s reunion as found immediately after the passage known to many as the Valley of Dry Bones (depicting Israel’s miraculous rebirth), that brings the ten northern tribes together with the two southern tribes:
“…This is what the Sovereign Lord says, ‘I will take Ephraim and the northern tribes and join them to Judah … I will gather the people of Israel from among the nations. I will bring them home to their own land from the places where they have been scattered. I will unify them into one nation on the mountains of Israel. One king will rule them all; no longer will they be divided into two nations or into two kingdoms” (Ezekiel 37:19-22).
*Note: In the Old Testament, Ephraim is sometimes used in place of Israel for the ten northern tribes. However, Ephraim’s absence as one of the 12 tribes in Revelation doesn’t alter the fact that some Jewish descendants from that tribe will undoubtedly be part of the 12,000. Reason: Ephraim’s father was Joseph, and the tribe of Joseph is listed as one of the twelve tribes in Revelation. However, it doesn’t appear that any of Dan’s descendants will be among the 144,000 sealed. If not, that can simply be deferred to the sovereignty of God.
Thus, the Lost Tribes of Israel have never been lost to God. He knows each one and to which tribe they belong. And one day they, too, will know.
An equal number will be sealed from each tribe as post-Rapture Tribulation Messianic Jews. Why do we know they are Messianic? Easy answer, as found in the next (and final) passage about the 144,000, that clearly tells us:
They are Messianic Jews
In the Revelation Chapter 7 passage, it’s logically and logistically evident that the 144,000 Jews sealed by the Lord are not in the same place (together) at that time. One very viable reason is that John didn’t actually see them; rather, he “…heard how many were marked with the seal of God—144,000 were sealed from all the tribes of Israel” (Verse 4). Also because this is fairly early in the Tribulation, and their mission for God had just begun by God anointing them from all over the world … mostly, I believe, in Israel. Nearly half of all Jews alive today live in Israel.
In Revelation Chapter 14 we do find them all together with Messiah Jesus, having completed their task, as we read about their service to the Lord in the past tense. Beginning with:
“Then I saw the Lamb standing on Mount Zion, and with him were 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads” (Revelation 14:1).
The Lamb is obviously Messiah Jesus, as shown in numerous passages throughout the book of Revelation. The 144,000 couldn’t be a different (numbered) group than those identified in Chapter 7; if for no other reason than they have the seal—specifically identified as the name of God and Messiah “written” on their foreheads.
Thus, they are what we already see and call Jews in today’s world who have acknowledged and accepted Jesus as their Messiah, a term that has just taken hold in the 20th and 21st centuries. They are literally Jews for Jesus (also the name of a world-wide Messianic ministry). They are, in fact, Messianic Jews.
Let’s look at a passage that would lend substantial credibility to the fact that the 144,000 Messianic Jews specifically selected and supernaturally sealed are, indeed, tremendous testifiers to the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Here’s what John did and what the angel said after John received another magnificent prophetic vision from the angel:
“Then I fell down at his feet to worship him, but he said, ‘No, don’t worship me. I am a servant of God, just like you and your brothers and sisters, who testify about their faith in Jesus. Worship only God. For the essence of prophecy is to give a clear witness for Jesus’” (Revelation 19:10).
Back to Revelation Chapter 7: “…until we have placed the seal of God on the foreheads of his servants” (Verse 3, italics for emphasis).
The angel equated God’s servants with those who testify of their faith in Jesus as we just read in Chapter 19. There’s every reason to make this same connection to the 144,000, as witnesses (testifying) for the Lamb. Even more so, with the emphatic reminder that they were sealed (chosen) from among billions left behind after the Rapture. Hence, they are a unique group with a distinct mission, one that will produce a tremendous impact on the entire world, especially in Israel. Coupled with the spectacular achievements of the two witnesses portrayed in Revelation Chapter 11, the global testimony of the 144,000 will generate the greatest evangelical explosion of the Gospel of Jesus Christ ever seen.
(Concerning the identity and accomplishment of the two witnesses of Revelation Chapter 11, please refer to Eye of Prophecy articles, The Two Witnesses, Part I, II, III, posted 6-7, 6-14, & 6-21-14).
I will clarify that observation by pointing out that a few Messianic Jews today are spreading the gospel despite anti-missionary resistance from orthodox Jews. In that sense, the God-given responsibility to his chosen people, the Jews, is being fulfilled … to be a light to the Gentiles, through first sharing the Gospel to their brethren (to the Jew First). I’m convinced that between God’s massive judgments on mankind to demonstrate that he means business and the amazing appeal that these 144,000 born-again Jews will have through their testimony for Jesus, millions upon millions of those left behind will be saved, Jew and Gentile alike.
(In English It Says: Blessed Is The Name of The Lord Yeshua (Jesus)
On Pentecost, the Lord, through the Messianic Jewish Apostle Peter, saved 3,000 in just one day. What if that many or more embrace Jesus as Messiah as a result of each of the 144,000 proclaiming the truth of God’s magnificent salvation to a world teetering on the brink of annihilation?
Just do the math. Literally! (144,000 x 3,000 equals 432 million) Who knows!
What Else Do We Know About the 144,000?
“This great choir sang a wonderful new song in front of the throne of God … No one could learn this song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth. They have kept themselves as pure as virgins, following the Lamb wherever he goes. They have been purchased from among the people on the earth as a special offering to God and to the Lamb. They have told no lies; they are without blame” (Revelation 14:3-5).
It’s clear from this final passage that the 144,000 Messianic Jews’ commitment and devotion to God and Messiah is unequaled. Their lives—who they are, all they have, and what they will do—belong completely to God. Without hesitation, without any worldly encumbrance, without looking back, they follow Messiah Jesus wherever he leads them. They are disciples extraordinaire of our Lord.
The vast majority of the book of Revelation including the meaning of mysteries explained to John (indeed, nearly all of Scripture) is knowable … correct understanding and application of the text and context. But this is one of just a small handful of prophetic passages that we cannot be sure about.
Meaning that it’s uncertain if the 144,000 are “redeemed from the earth … as a special offering to God and to the Lamb,” because they killed by “those who belong to the world.” Or if they were spared through God’s supernatural protection, then taken to heaven without dying. Whether by death or by conveyance to heaven in the fashion of Elijah and then born-again believers at the Rapture, I do believe that it will be all or nothing. Either all 144,000 will be killed or none of them will die before their transport to the presence of the Lord, because they are always referred to as the (group of) 144,000. Either way, all of them will finish their amazing assignment to accomplish exactly what Jesus said would happen at the very end of days.
Said Jesus to his twelve disciples: “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” (Matthew 24:14).
Personally, I believe the 144,000 will be martyred for their wonderful witness of Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of Heaven on earth; but will be protected in the same fashion as the two witnesses (Moses and Elijah) before the appointed time of their deaths.
Indeed, they are “redeemed from the earth,” and redeeming means to literally purchase (pay a price) someone in order to free them or release them from a situation of bondage or peril or persecution. If Revelation only told us that they would be redeemed, then I would lean toward the option that they were taken from the earth without dying.
But, Revelation 14 also tells us that they were “purchased from among the people on the earth as a special offering (first fruits or the best of the harvest) to God and to the Lamb.”
This would be an offering of praise or thanksgiving as opposed to a sin or guilt offering; however, all offerings require a sacrifice. Thus, the stronger application of the passage is that the 144,000 will be killed (sacrificed) for their incomparable testimony for Messiah Jesus and God the Father. Like the two witnesses of Revelation Chapter 11, so will the 144,000 be killed at the hands of the Antichrist beast (Nero). These 144,000 witnesses plus 2 will die near the end of the Tribulation.
We then see them standing on Mount Zion with Messiah Jesus. They will join him there much in the same manner that all raptured believers will join the Lord during the final battle of Armageddon.
“The armies of heaven, dressed in the finest of pure white linen, followed him on white horses” (Revelation 19:14).
Also, the fact that the 144,000 are actually numbered fits well with what the angel told the tribulation saints murdered earlier in the Tribulation as we previously saw in the 5th seal: “…And they were told to rest a little longer until the full number of their brothers and sisters—their fellow servants of Jesus who were to be martyred—had joined them” (Revelation 6:11, italics for emphasis).
Things to Ponder
Jesus said he is the “light of the world” (John 8:12 & 9:5). And God’s original purpose was for the Jews to be a light to the Gentiles. The two go together. Messianic Jews, especially the 144,000, will fulfill Israel’s divinely orchestrated destiny by proclaiming the light of salvation (Messiah Jesus) to the whole world.
By modern technology and transportation, the Good News is being disseminated over the globe in the 20th and 21st century like never before. Nevertheless, it will also take the two witnesses (Moses and Elijah), the 144,000, and angels themselves (Revelation 14:6) to proclaim the magnificent Gospel of salvation through Messiah Jesus to the world, one last time. It will also take God’s wrath poured out on the earth to get the full attention of those left behind, then turn that attention to those who will tell and show them how they can be saved from the terrible penalty of their sins and rebellion.
And then the end (of this age) will come … when Jesus returns to complete the physical and spiritual restoration of Israel and the Jews.
When that day comes:
“…People from nations and cities around the world will travel to Jerusalem. The people of one city will say to the people of another, ‘Come with us to Jerusalem to ask the Lord to bless us. Let’s worship the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. I’m determined to go.’ Many peoples and powerful nations will come to Jerusalem to seek the Lord of Heaven’s Armies and to ask for his blessing.
… In those days ten men from different nations and languages of the world will clutch at the sleeve of one Jew. And they will say, ‘Please let us walk with you, for we have heard that God is with you’” (Zechariah 8:20-23).