Hidden in Plain Sight
Of all the inscrutable characters, groups, symbols, and events portrayed in the book of Revelation, few seem to have caused more controversy and spawned a greater diversity of doctrine than a mysterious group simply referred to as the 144,000.
The 144,000 are mentioned twice in the book of Revelation, once in chapter 7 and again in chapter 14, and with a small handful of exceptions, most Bible scholars believe both mentions refer to the exact same group (even though they may not agree on their identity). Although the plain text of Scripture appears to connect the 144,000 with Israel, there are people who see them as a variety of different things.
Not surprisingly, the bulk of the corporate Christian world today believes this enigmatic aggregation must represent the Church. Like most things in the book of Revelation, many denominations within organized Christianity tend to interpret this group allegorically and spiritualize away most of what the Bible says about them, which unfortunately leads people to turn the 144,000 into something other than what Scripture clearly teaches.
So, what does Scripture clearly teach? The answer to that question is not as straightforward as you might think, since it depends on one's handling of the following tenet of biblical exegesis, widely referred to as the Golden Rule of Biblical Interpretation:
"When the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense; therefore, take every word at its primary, ordinary, usual, literal meaning unless the facts of the immediate context, studied in the light of related passages and axiomatic and fundamental truths, indicate clearly otherwise."
— Dr. David L. Cooper,
Biblical Research Monthly
In other words,
When the plain sense of Scripture makes good sense,
seek no other sense lest you end up with nonsense.
If one properly applies this rule—and as we'll see in a moment it is quite easy to do so in this case—then you will come away with one interpretation. If, on the other hand, you do as many within Christianity do and approach the Bible in search of ways to support your preconceived notions and prejudices, you won't properly apply this rule and will come away with a different interpretation.
I have four broad objectives in this article: (a) discuss who the 144,000 are, (b) discuss who the 144,000 aren't, (c) discuss what the 144,000 do, and (d) introduce you to them.
"Are you nuts?! These 144,000 whatevers gotta be some kind of symbolic thing—just like everything else in that wacky book of Revelation. You've totally lost it, Bible dude! How on earth can you or anybody else 'introduce' us to the 144,000?!"
Easy. They're here—hidden in plain sight.
Who are these guys?
Although the Bible seems to clearly identify this group as Jews in Revelation 7, this pesky detail has failed to deter a parade of (non-Jewish) cults and denominations from either claiming to be the 144,000, or that the 144,000 come exclusively from their numbers. They then proceed to perform open-heart surgery on other passages of Scripture in a valiant but vain effort to back up their claims.
For example, the Roman Catholic Church teaches that the number 144,000 is a purely symbolic number representing perfect totality, and represents the redeemed Church (aka "spiritual Israel"). Ditto for many mainstream Protestant denominations. Note that this interpretation dovetails nicely with their concomitant belief that God has washed His hands of the Jews, and has permanently revoked their status as the Chosen People and bestowed it upon the Church (or specifically the Roman Catholic Church, as the case may be).
On the other hand, the Jehovah's Witnesses believe the number 144,000 is literal, and represents the number of super-duper, ultra-anointed members of the Jehovah's Witnesses who will reign in heaven while all other ordinary Jehovah's Witnesses (the "Great Crowd") will live forever in bliss here on good old terra firma under the rule of that most noble 144,000...and I'm sure they work Jesus in there somewhere.
By the way, just in case you're interested in checking out the Jehovah's Witnesses so that you too can be one of those elite 144,000, here's a tip. Before you run out and get license plates for your car that read 144K4ME, be advised of one thing. The Jehovah's Witnesses used to teach that all JWs in good standing were part of the 144,000; however, according to a modern revision of their doctrine (necessitated by something called arithmetic), apparently all 144,000 positions were taken by 1935. Sorry, but I'm afraid the Great Crowd is the best that's available.
But hey, cheer up—I'm sure you'll have better luck with another cult.
Speaking of which, the Seventh Day Adventists also interpret the number 144,000 as a literal number. They believe it represents the number of Seventh Day Adventists who will be faithfully observing the Sabbath on Saturday when Jesus returns, just as their great "prophetess" Ellen G. White told 'em to. For that, they will be raptured at the Second Coming (which they no doubt assume will happen on a Saturday while they're in church). I'm not quite sure what they think will happen to the rest of us, but I'm guessing that all of us heathens who persist in going to church on Sunday are toast.
Well, why don't we take a look at what the Bible actually says.
The 144,000 are first mentioned in Revelation 7, during a brief lull in the action following the sixth seal judgment, and prior to the opening of the seventh seal (which introduces the next series of trumpet judgments). So, without further ado, let's meet the 144K:
4I heard the number of those who were sealed, one hundred forty-four thousand, sealed out of every tribe of the children of Israel: 5of the tribe of Judah were sealed twelve thousand, of the tribe of Reuben twelve thousand, of the tribe of Gad twelve thousand, 6of the tribe of Asher twelve thousand, of the tribe of Naphtali twelve thousand, of the tribe of Manasseh twelve thousand, 7of the tribe of Simeon twelve thousand, of the tribe of Levi twelve thousand, of the tribe of Issachar twelve thousand, 8of the tribe of Zebulun twelve thousand, of the tribe of Joseph twelve thousand, of the tribe of Benjamin were sealed twelve thousand.
(Revelation 7:4–8 / emphasis added)
I'm literally giggling as I write this, because if you were afraid that I was going to launch into some lengthy discourse about the identity of these mysterious 144,000, you can relax. There's no need—Scripture tells us precisely who they are, and tells us in the clearest, most unambiguous terms the Holy Spirit could possibly muster.
They are Jews.
You heard me, Jews—144,000 of 'em, 12,000 from 12 tribes, with each tribe specified by name. Now, you tell me: does this sound figurative to you? Does this strike you as allegorical or symbolic in some way? I dare you—read the above verses, then look me in the eyes and try to tell me with a straight face that they're somebody else. You know, Greek does have capital letters, so the Holy Spirit may as well have inspired John to shout:
"H-E-L-L-O, I'M TALKIN' ABOUT JEWS HERE, YOU MORONS!!"
Incidentally, the phrase "the children of Israel" is used 14 times in the New Testament, including verse 4 above, and it always refers to the literal nation of Israel. It never refers to the Church.
I just have to pause here to mention this guy, if for no other reason than to give you an object lesson on the perils of not treating God's Word with the respect it deserves. While preparing this article, I stumbled across this guy on YouTube who claims the 144,000 are not Jews for the simple reason that most Jews today have no idea what tribe they descended from! So, gosh, how could they possibly find 12,000 from these 12 tribes?
He then launches into an exegetical train wreck, complete with creative dot-connecting and equating of apples and kumquats, and concludes that the 144,000 are the male children under the age of two that were butchered by King Herod in his attempt to destroy the child the magi had informed him had been born King of the Jews (Matt. 2:1–18).
Seriously. Aside from comic relief, the takeaway from this foolishness is something that every serious student of the Bible should never forget:
The performance of God's Word does not depend on man—it depends on God alone. It is completely irrelevant what man knows or doesn't know, or what man does or doesn't do. In Revelation 7, God is doing the sealing. That means God knows who to seal. End of discussion.
It astonishes me how so many major Christian denominations can twist such thunderingly clear Scripture in an effort to make the 144,000 something they are not—and do so simply because they so desperately want them to not be who Scripture plainly says they are: Jews.
On second thought, it really doesn't surprise me. Tossing the Golden Rule of Biblical Interpretation out the window and forcing the 144,000 to be something else is a natural outgrowth of the concerted effort by a large portion of Christianity to read those stiff-necked, Christ-killing Jews right out of the Bible and replace them with the glorious, victorious Church.
Which is a natural outgrowth of replacement theology.
Which is a natural outgrowth of the fact that people hate the Jews.
Which is a natural outgrowth of the fact that Satan hates the Jews.
Which is a natural outgrowth of the fact that God loves the Jews.
God's Word says Israel is the apple of His eye, and always will be. For the thousandth time: the Church is not Israel, and Israel is not the Church—and anyone who doesn't know the Bible well enough to understand this certainly has no business spitballing about who they think the 144,000 might be.
Why the Church?
Before discussing why I don't think the 144,000 are the Church, I want to elaborate on one of the key reasons why many people within Christianity do.
One of the most misunderstood, misinterpreted, and misapplied verses of Scripture in the entire New Testament is Matthew 21:34—a verse that has almost single-handedly given birth to Christianity's collective dismissal of the prophetic significance of the re-establishment of the nation of Israel (1948), and has fueled such heresies as replacement theology, dominion theology, and so on.
As we pick up the narrative in Matthew 21, Jesus has entered Jerusalem and has presented Himself as the Jews' prophesied Messiah. He is teaching in the temple, and during the course of His teaching some of the religious leaders of Israel—Pharisees and chief priests—confront Jesus in a fairly combative, antagonistic manner:
23When he had come into the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, "By what authority do you do these things? Who gave you this authority?" 24Jesus answered them, "I also will ask you one question, which if you tell me, I likewise will tell you by what authority I do these things. 25The baptism of John, where was it from? From heaven or from men?" They reasoned with themselves, saying, "If we say, 'From heaven,' he will ask us, 'Why then did you not believe him?' 26But if we say, 'From men,' we fear the multitude, for all hold John as a prophet." 27They answered Jesus, and said, "We don't know." He also said to them, "Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things."
Jesus knows their hardened hearts will never accept Him, and so He doesn't hesitate to stick it in their ear with the Parable of the Two Sons and the Parable of the Wicked Tenants, both of which are clearly intended as condemnations of the religious leadership of Israel for their hard-hearted rejection of their promised Messiah and their historic mistreatment of the prophets God had sent them in times past.
When He's finished, Jesus looks these highly venerated religious leaders in the eyes and says:
43Therefore I tell you, the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you, and will be given to a nation bringing forth its fruit.
Strong words indeed. But what exactly did Jesus mean? It's not hard to see how many people could read this verse out of context and interpret it to mean the kingdom was being taken away from Israel and given to...oh, let's see, who can we give the kingdom to...think think think...oh, the Church, of course. Obviously.
"After all, we're the ones who are gonna produce its fruit, right? We're the ones who are gonna go out and preach the gospel and win the world for Christ, aren't we?"
This interpretation (which didn't emerge until the second century) effectively gives the Church a license to view itself as taking Israel's place in the plan of God and as the recipients of all their promised blessings.
But is that what Jesus meant? Did Jesus really mean that God was done with the Jews, and that the promise of the kingdom God had made to them was being revoked and transferred to the Church? It's a question that needs to be addressed in a straightforward biblical manner, since this has become the official position of a substantial portion of mainstream Christianity.
To gain a clearer understanding of this verse, there are two key points that need to be examined in Jesus' statement, and the first is this:
1. From whom was the kingdom being taken?
Those who adhere to replacement theology insist Jesus meant the kingdom was being taken away from Israel as a nation. This interpretation, however, fails to stand up to closer scrutiny.
Notice what Jesus says two verses later:
45When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he spoke about them. 46When they sought to seize him, they feared the multitudes, because they considered him to be a prophet.
(Matthew 21:45–46 / emphasis added)
It is clear from the context of the entire chapter that Jesus is specifically condemning the religious leaders of Israel, if the testy, in-your-face exchange he had just had with them and the blistering parables he had just not so subtly directed their way are anything to go by. And in these last two verses of the chapter, we see that they got the message loud and clear:
They knew Jesus was saying the kingdom was being taken from them, the religious leadership of Israel—the very ones who should have recognized Jesus for who He was and led the nation of Israel in receiving Him.
After all, it was they who rejected Jesus, not all of the people of Israel, and God would hold them accountable as leaders for their willful refusal to properly interpret their own Scriptures that clearly and unmistakably pointed to Jesus as their prophesied Messiah. There were in fact multitudes of ordinary Jews in the area who came to embrace Jesus as the Messiah, in spite of being censured by their religious leaders. Christians today often forget that in the beginning, the Church was composed almost entirely of Jewish believers, and make no mistake—they were Jewish believers who paid a heavy price for their newfound faith.
The fact that Jesus didn't mean the kingdom was being permanently revoked from Israel as a nation is evident in other places in the Gospels where Jesus clearly talks about Israel receiving its promised kingdom at a future time. In fact, we only have to back up two chapters to see an example of this:
27Then Peter answered, "Behold, we have left everything, and followed you. What then will we have?" 28Jesus said to them, "Most certainly I tell you that you who have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on the throne of his glory, you also will sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel."
Here, Jesus is telling His Jewish disciples that they will sit on thrones and judge the tribes of Israel during the coming kingdom. Well, that doesn't make much sense if the kingdom has been taken from Israel and handed over to the Church, wouldn't you agree?
If you insist the kingdom has been taken from Israel as a nation, the only possible way to massage this into something intelligible is to argue that the Church has simply replaced Israel because God's done with the Jews. So, whenever you see the word "Israel" in the New Testament, just cross it out and insert the word "Church." Yeah, that's the ticket.
I guess somebody forgot to tell Jeremiah:
35Thus said the LORD, which gives the sun for a light by day, and the ordinances of the moon and of the stars for a light by night, which divides the sea when the waves thereof roar; The LORD of hosts is his name: 36If those ordinances depart from before me, said the LORD, then the seed of Israel also shall cease from being a nation before me for ever. 37Thus said the LORD; If heaven above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth searched out beneath, I will also cast off all the seed of Israel for all that they have done, said the LORD.
(Jeremiah 31:35–37 AKJV)
The sun still shines by day. The moon and stars still shine by night. The waves still roar. So Israel is still a nation before God. And unless God is a liar and a welcher, His promises to His people are just as ironclad and unshakable today as they were when He made them to Abraham.
There are many in the Church today—not to mention the world—who will blow a gasket trying to convince you otherwise. Don't listen to them.
2. To whom was the kingdom being given?
As strong as this first point is, it's not enough for people who have made up their minds that God has transferred the blessings promised to Israel over to the Church. They are not easily dissuaded from this heresy because it inappropriately elevates, glorifies, and empowers the Church. As an added bonus, it gives them a high-sounding, Christianized outlet for their pent-up hatred for the Jews.
Many of them would be inclined to argue something along these lines:
"Well, the religious leaders of Israel represented the nation, so the kingdom was still, in a sense, being 'taken from Israel.' Just because Jesus was addressing the religious leaders at the time doesn't change that. And the kingdom was still being given to the Church, a people who would produce its fruit. How 'bout them apples, Mr. Jew-Lover?"
And it sounds like a good argument...that is, until you take a closer look at the Greek word Jesus used to refer to this future recipient of the kingdom.
In Matthew 21:34, Jesus said the kingdom would given to a people who would produce its fruit, and He used a form of the Greek word ethnos (which is where we get the English words "ethnic" and "ethnicity"). Now, when ethnos is used in the plural in the Bible, it normally refers to the Gentile nations of the world. When it is used in the singular, however, it refers to a particular race, people, nation, ethnic group, etc. But regardless of what sense it is used in, it always carries ethnic connotations.
And that's the rub. There is simply no way that the Church is any sort of ethnic group. None. Zero. If the word had been used in the plural, you just might have an argument (a faulty argument that could still be refuted, but an argument nonetheless). But with ethnos being singular, the argument for it referring to the Church simply dries up and blows away. POOF...it's gone.
There is no ethnicity associated with the Church, because there is no ethnicity associated with Christ, who transcends and dispenses with all ethnic divisions. As born-again believers, we are one in Christ:
26For you are all children of God, through faith in Christ Jesus. 27For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, 28there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
Ephesians 2:11–18 and Colossians 3:9–11 say essentially the same thing. Believers are one in Christ, and in the body of Christ ethnicities are out the window. The Church, which is never called an ethnos, is normally referred to in the New Testament as an ekklesia (assembly, congregation; a group called out from the world to God). The Church doesn't have an ethnos bone in its body.
And if that doesn't clinch it, then Paul does when he quotes Deuteronomy 32:21 in his letter to the Romans:
19But I ask, didn't Israel know? First Moses says, "I will provoke you to jealousy with that which is no nation, with a nation void of understanding I will make you angry."
(Romans 10:19 / emphasis added)
In other words, that which is not an ethnos. That's the Church, and it drives Jews batty when we go on and on about Jesus being their Messiah. By the way, the "nation (ethnos) void of understanding" that angers Israel is most likely a reference to the Arab people surrounding them in the Middle East.
"Well, Mr. Jew-Lover, what about Peter calling the Church a 'holy nation'? There's your word ethnos, bud. Guess that blows your little theory, huh?"
Here's the passage in question, and Peter is clearly speaking of the Church:
9But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation [ethnos], a people [laos] for God's own possession, that you may proclaim the excellence of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10who in time past were no people [laos], but now are God's people [laos], who had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.
(1 Peter 2:9–10 / emphasis & comments added)
When Peter uses the phrase "holy nation," he is harking back to Exodus 19:6, where God is establishing His covenant with the nation of Israel at Mt. Sinai. When God said if Israel would obey His covenant that they would be to Him a "holy nation," He meant "nation" literally, because Israel is a nation: an ethnos in the literal sense. Here, however, Peter is merely drawing a spiritual parallel between Israel and the Church, and is not calling the Church a literal ethnos (because it isn't). In other words, Peter is clearly using the word ethnos figuratively in verse 9.
As a confirmation of this, note that in these two verses, Peter uses the Greek word laos three times, which usually refers to God's people rather than a literal ethnic group. At the same time, it should be noted that there is nothing in Matthew 21:43 that suggests that Jesus is using the word ethnos figuratively—there is no indication that He is using the word with anything other than a literal meaning, and so it simpy cannot refer to the Church.
Now that we have ruled out the Church, there is only one single ethnos that Matthew 21:34 can possibly be referring to: Israel.
Israel—as a people, as a nation, as an ethnic group that God has promised to give the kingdom to some day, after a remnant of them return to Him with all their hearts after being purged in the Great Tribulation. When Christ returns at the Second Coming, a believing remnant of Jews will be gathered into the land from all the places God has scattered them (Matt. 24:29–31), and they will be ushered into their long-awaited kingdom just as promised in His Word.
And the hard-hearted hypocrites who rejected their Messiah and plotted to have Him executed two thousand years ago?
They'll have no part in it.
Since so many in the Church have bought into the idea that the Church has replaced Israel in God's plan, it's easy to see how they can read a passage of Scripture like Revelation 7:4–8 and see 12,000 Jews sealed from 12 specific tribes of Israel and insist without blinking an eye that they really represent the Church in some convoluted way, because, after all, God has washed His hands of the Jews, right?
Why not the Church?
Although many who subscribe to replacement theology believe the 144,000 are the Church in both chapters 7 and 14 based on a misinterpretation of Matthew 21:34 (and other errors), there are a few Bible teachers who reject replacement theology but still see the group in chapter 14 as the Church, even though they believe the group mentioned in chapter 7 are literal Jews.
It will become clearer as we go, however, that there is simply no biblically sound reason for believing that the 144,000 are Jews in chapter 7 and suddenly become the body of Christ in chapter 14. What I want to do is go over a few scriptural reasons why I do not believe the 144,000 (in either chapter) can be the Church.
Now, I personally am fully convinced of the truth of the pre-tribulation Rapture, and I am also acutely aware of the impact this doctrine has on how end-times events are viewed. But the Rapture per se is not the main issue here, and so I want to do this in two phases: first ignoring and then assuming the pre-trib Rapture.
1. Ignoring the pre-trib Rapture.
Even if we pretend as if there were no such thing as the Rapture, pre-trib or otherwise, there are still several scriptural reasons why I believe the 144,000 are not the Church. But first, let's look at what Revelation 14 says:
1I saw, and behold, the Lamb standing on Mount Zion, and with him a number, one hundred forty-four thousand, having his name, and the name of his Father, written on their foreheads. 2I heard a sound from heaven, like the sound of many waters, and like the sound of a great thunder. The sound which I heard was like that of harpists playing on their harps. 3They sing a new song before the throne, and before the four living creatures and the elders. No one could learn the song except the one hundred forty-four thousand, those who had been redeemed out of the earth. These are those who were not defiled with women, for they are virgins. 4These are those who follow the Lamb wherever he goes. These were redeemed by Jesus from among men, the first fruits to God and to the Lamb. 5In their mouth was found no lie, for they are blameless.
Note that although a few people believe the scene described here takes place on earth and is a brief fast forward to the Second Coming, I see nothing in the text to clearly suggest this. John sees and hears everything from the vantage point of heaven from Revelation 4:1 on, never returning to earth for the duration of his vision. Although he is shown events occurring both in heaven and on earth, the flow of his narrative is a steady stream of "I saw...I heard...I saw...I heard..." with no evidence of a preview of coming attractions here, jumping ahead to the end of the Tribulation and describing Jesus literally standing on Mt. Zion with a big crowd around Him after He has physically returned to earth to establish the kingdom.
For me, the clincher is the simple fact that the 144,000 are singing before the throne in verse 3, and the throne is in heaven. So, I see no logical reason to assume they are anywhere but heaven (and yes, that means the 144,000 have been martyred by chapter 14).
Here are several reasons that I have heard people use to try to make the 144,000 the Church that are unrelated to the Rapture, and why I believe the reasons don't stand up to biblical scrutiny.
• Some insist that the fact Scripture calls them virgins (v. 3) proves they are Church Age saints, but it doesn't. Yes, the Church is characterized as a virgin, that's true:
2For I am jealous over you with a godly jealousy. For I married you to one husband, that I might present you as a pure virgin to Christ.
(2 Corinthians 11:2 / emphasis added)
But so is Israel (and more frequently, too). People who believe these 144,000 are the Church automatically assume the reference to virgins here is figurative and speaks to spiritual purity, as is clearly the case in the above verse. But let's stop and consider what Revelation 14:4 actually says.
Notice that verse 4 reads "These are those who were not defiled with women, for they are virgins." The Holy Spirit takes the time to give us a literal definition for the word "virgin." So, do you think the Holy Spirit is afraid we'll forget the meaning of the word? Does the Holy Spirit think we're that stupid?
If the word "virgins" is explained literally and then used figuratively here, then why doesn't 2 Corinthians 11:2 read "...that I might present you as a group of people who have never had sexual relations outside the confines of marriage, a pure virgin to Christ"?
I'm sorry, but that's just plain stupid (not to mention the fact that it would probably disqualify an embarrassingly large portion of the Church). In my view, the only logical reason the Holy Spirit would go out of His way to give us a literal definition of the word "virgins" here is because He wants us to understand that He means it literally, not figuratively.
Now, I have read a lot of fancy commentaries written by some highly educated Bible scholars that insist that the use of "virgins" here is purely spiritual. OK, fine. Look, I can't translate Greek. I can't translate Hebrew. I can't claim to have a degree in theology from some prestigious seminary. But there is one thing I can do, and that's detect the distinct odor of somebody trying to sell me a bill of goods. And with all due respect, that's what I smell when I read such commentaries.
I believe Scripture is telling us in the plainest, most straightforward way possible that the 144,000 are single, sexually pure Jewish men. That's exactly what it says—and I believe that's exactly what it means.
• Some insist that the fact they were "redeemed by Jesus from among men" (v. 4) proves they are Church Age saints, but it doesn't. The 144,000 are saved by faith in Christ just like everybody else, including the Church. But that certainly doesn't mean they are the Church. Heaven is going to filled with tons of people who were "redeemed by Jesus from among men" that are not part of the Church.
• Some insist that the fact they are called the "first fruits to God and to the Lamb" (v. 4) proves they are Church Age saints, but it doesn't. The term "first fruits" (or "firstfruits") is a term that refers to the first, prime batch of a distinct group, and is used in other ways in the Bible. For example:
20But now Christ has been raised from the dead. He became the first fruits of those who are asleep.
(1 Corinthians 15:20 / emphasis added)
When Christ was resurrected, He was first and foremost among all those who would be resurrected from death to eternal life, which includes but is not restricted to the Church. So, no matter what else is said about the use of the word "first fruits" in this verse, it proves nothing in regard to them actually being the Church.
• Some insist that the fact they are called blameless (v. 5) proves they are Church Age saints, but it doesn't. Every single person who ever has or ever will have faith in the atoning work of the Redeemer for their salvation, either from a future perspective as in the case of Old Testament saints or from a past tense perspective as in the case of Church Age saints, Tribulation saints, members of the Jewish remnant, or members of the 144,000 has been forgiven of sin and is blameless in God's eyes. This doesn't make the 144,000 the Church, it's something they have in common with the Church.
• Some insist that the fact the 144,000 are sealed (Rev. 7:4) proves they are Church Age saints, but it doesn't. Church Age believers are sealed the moment they repent of sin and believe the gospel in faith (2 Cor. 1:22; Eph. 4:30). The 144,000 are sealed between the sixth and seventh seal judgments. So, how many times are Church Age saints sealed, anyway?
The moment we take
Rapture as a given,
things suddenly get
Unless of course, the seal the 144,000 receive is different from that received by Church Age saints the moment they believed, which it very well could be. The seal the 144,000 receive could be something that in some way affords them a greater degree of divine protection during the Tribulation. It's hard to say with 100 percent certainty, but if that's the case then all bets are off. But any way you look at it, it certainly doesn't prove they are the Church.
2. Assuming the pre-trib Rapture.
The moment we take the pre-tribulation Rapture as a given, things suddenly get drop-dead easy. There is no conceivable way the 144,000 can be the Church in that case—the argument just disintegrates.
As I have discussed in a previous article, I am 100 percent convinced that the 24 elders first mentioned in Revelation 4 can be absolutely no one but the Church: redeemed, resurrected, raptured, rewarded, and ready to rock in heaven before the judgments of the Tribulation start in Revelation 6.
That being the case, consider:
• Ephesians 4:30 says that Church Age believers are sealed "unto the day of redemption," which is the Rapture. That means by the time the 144,000 get sealed after the first six seal judgments, the Church is already long gone.
• As John observes the 144,000, he hears the sound of harps (v. 2). Now, what group of individuals in the vicinity of the throne has harps, pray tell? We do! The 24 elders—the raptured Church (Rev. 5:8). How can the 144,000 be the Church if the 144,000 are listening to the Church play their harps?
• Some insist that the fact the 144,000 are singing a new song before the throne (v. 3) proves they are Church Age saints, but it doesn't. We (the 24 elders) are singing our new song before the throne back in Revelation 5:9 before the Tribulation starts. Why would the song sung by the 144,000 nine chapters later have to be the same song? It makes no sense.
• Notice also in verse 3 that the 144,000 are singing their new song before the throne and "before the four living creatures and the elders." The 24 elders, that is. That's us, the raptured Church, and we are clearly mentioned separately from the 144,000. That nails it point blank:
The 144,000 simply cannot be the Church.
By the way, this is just one of a veritable laundry list of reasons why the 24 elders cannot be angels, as most pre-trib haters insist. In Revelation 7:11, the 24 elders and "all the angels" are clearly mentioned separately.
So the bottom line is that the 144,000 are single, sexually pure Jewish men, and by chapter 14 they have been martyred and are in heaven around the throne with Jesus. Their job is finished.
So...just what is their job?
So, why does God seal these 144,000 single, sexually pure Jewish males, anyway? For what purpose? Well, we saw the 144,000 first introduced in Revelation 7:4–8, so let's pick it up in the very next verse:
9After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude, which no man could number, out of every nation and of all tribes, peoples, and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, dressed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands. 10They cried with a loud voice, saying, "Salvation be to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!"
Immediately after the 144,000 are sealed, we see a great multitude of saints arriving in heaven. Not only that, but a careful study of the Greek grammar used a couple verses later indicates that this group of martyrs doesn't all arrive at once, but come streaming in over a period of time.
What we are looking at here is one of the greatest revivals in history—huge multitudes of people will come to faith in Christ (and many will be martyred for that faith) because these 144,000 Jews will be the greatest evangelists the world has ever seen—essentially 144,000 apostle Pauls, preaching the gospel throughout the world. They will survive intense persecution at the hands of the government of the Antichrist long enough to fulfill their mission before ultimately being martyred by Revelation 14.
In Revelation 6, we already see many Tribulation saints being martyred, and verse 11 says something worth noting:
11A long white robe was given to each of them. They were told that they should rest yet for a while, until their fellow servants and their brothers, who would also be killed even as they were, should complete their course.
(Revelation 6:11 / emphasis added)
Bunches of folks are being martyred, and this verse makes a cryptic reference to their "brothers" who would also be martyred at some point in the future. Then, just six verses later, we are introduced to the 144,000. I am convinced these are the "brothers" being referred to, and by Revelation 14, they have "completed their course" and have joined them in heaven.
Speaking of brothers, I also believe that people who survive the Great Tribulation and stand before Christ at the Sheep and Goat Judgment (Matt. 25:31–46) will be judged by how they treated (or mistreated, as the case may be) these 144,000 Jewish evangelists, or what Jesus refers to as "these my brothers":
40The King will answer them, "Most certainly I tell you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me."
(Matthew 25:40 / emphasis added)
Notice I said these guys would be like 144,000 apostle Pauls, and I said that for a reason. In 1 Corinthians, Paul, in his typical self-deprecating manner, is explaining how he is the least of all the apostles since Christ appeared to him last (in a vision on his way to Damascus to arrest Christians):
3For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6Then he appeared to over five hundred brothers at once, most of whom remain until now, but some have also fallen asleep. 7Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8and last of all, as to the child born at the wrong time, he appeared to me also.
(1 Corinthians 15:3–8 / emphasis added)
But note the odd way he refers to himself: as a "child born at the wrong time." The word in Greek is a form of the word ektroma (an untimely birth; one born too soon) and is often used as a reference to a miscarriage or an abortion. I have read commentaries that read the word that way and do a decent job of spinning a reasonable interpretation around it. But is that the sum total of what Paul meant?
Some Bible teachers see something more in this phrase "one born too soon," and I am inclined to agree. Some believe the Holy Spirit is telling us here that Paul is literally an apostle born sooner than he should have been, or sooner than others like him.
In other words, perhaps the apostle Paul was a prototype for the 144,000 Jewish men who will evangelize the world during the Tribulation.
• Paul was a single, sexually pure Jewish man (1 Cor. 7:7–9).
And, like the great majority of Orthodox Jews today:
• He was extremely well versed in the Torah (Acts 22:3).
• He hated Jesus and those who believed He was the Messiah (Acts 22:4).
Not only that, but just as I believe will be the case for the 144,000:
• He was transformed after meeting Christ in a vision (Acts 22:7–10).
• He traveled the world to boldly proclaim the gospel (Acts 13–28).
• He had divine protection during his ministry (Acts 28:1–6).
• When his job was done, he was martyred (early church historians).
It all fits.
This is why I disagree with sincere, well-meaning Christians who go to Israel to proselytize Jewish people with some idiotic and utterly unscriptural idea about how the Rapture will occur as soon as they get 144,000 Jews saved, or some such nonsense. Trust me—anyone standing on any street corner in Israel holding a copy of the New Testament and talking about Jesus had better run for their lives if they see any ultra-Orthodox Jews (or "black-hatters") coming their way, because they are about to find out what it's like to be stoned. (If you don't believe me, YouTube can provide you with plenty of graphic examples.)
Nobody is going to proselytize these virulently Christ-hating 144,000. I am convinced they will be brought to faith in Christ the same way Paul was: by a direct, life-transforming encounter with the Lord Himself. And when that happens, I believe the first thing they're going to do is exactly what Paul did: march right into the nearest synagogue and start preaching Christ and Him crucified, and proving to Jews from their own Scriptures that the Jesus they crucified is their real Messiah.
And trust me—they're not going to be shy about it.
I believe the 144,000 will pick up the torch left behind by the raptured Church, and will proceed to take the gospel throughout the post-Church Age world. By the time they're done, they will all be martyred and in the very next verse in Revelation 14 the torch is passed to an angel for one final proclamation of the gospel:
6And I saw another angel fly in the middle of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach to them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people, 7Saying with a loud voice, Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come: and worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters.
(Revelation 14:6–7 AKJV)
In other words, this is it folks—this is your last chance. What follows is the worst of the worst: the bowl judgments of the Great Tribulation. This is the period of time about which Jesus had this to say:
21For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be. 22And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect's sake those days shall be shortened.
(Matthew 24:21–22 AKJV)
I know I won't be here. I hope you can say the same.
Meet the 146,092
What motivated me to write about the 144,000 was an article I read recently by a respected minister of the gospel who frequently travels to Israel. In the article, which focused on the 144,000 and the ultra-Orthodox Jews, he made a statement that almost knocked me off my chair. He wrote something to the following effect:
"There are around 150,000 single, male, ultra-Orthodox Jews between the ages of 18 and 35 in the world today...the only ones who can fulfill Scripture in the book of Revelation!"
I suspect this information knocked him off his chair as well. I was stunned, because although I knew of the 144,00 in Revelation, I had never really given much thought to the ultra-Orthodox Jews before. I had seen pictures of them, with their long black coats, black hats, and long curly sideburns, but beyond that I knew very little about them. But this...
This was nothing short of an eschatological bombshell.
In my excitement, I began to search for more information about them on the Internet. They are usually referred to as Haredi Jews or the Haredim, a name that comes from a word that means "to tremble before God." The majority of Haredi families live below the poverty line in highly insular communities, since most of the men do not work and any interaction with secular society is strongly discouraged. Modern technology is largely eschewed, and computers are only allowed in companies and even then only with filters. In Haredi schools, many foundational secular subjects like science and mathematics are given minimal attention.
Most Haredi men receive a monthly stipend from the Israeli government while they pursue full-time study in yeshivas (Jewish seminaries or Torah academies), and as long as they do so they are exempt from compulsory military service. Most marry young via arranged marriages and have large families, and after marriage most continue full-time religious studies in advanced institutes known as kollels.
One noteworthy thing about the Haredim is that they are extremely bold and confrontational about their religious beliefs—about devotion to God and obedience to the Torah. Like I said, stand on any street corner in any city in Israel and open a New Testament and begin speaking to people about Jesus. When the Haredim show up, you will be aggressively shouted down and physically intimidated until you run. If you're lucky, someone will call the police before the rocks start flying.
I have literally caught myself thinking:
Wow, if those guys ever got born again, just imagine what kind of powerhouse evangelists they would make!
The bottom line is that the Haredi population contains thousands of unmarried Jewish men who are extremely devout and spend their lives doing essentially nothing but studying the Torah and other Talmudic or rabbinical writings, and are exceptionally bold in promoting and defending their beliefs. Perfect candidates for the 144,000 Jewish evangelists of Revelation!
But...just how many thousands? The article said there were about 150,000, and as exciting as that is to any student of the Bible, my inner number-cruncher got the best of me and I felt compelled to check it out for myself. So, I started looking for numbers to crunch, and here's what I found:
The total population of Haredi Jews worldwide today is approximately 1.5 million, so let's start with that. Now, figure about 50% are male:
1,500,000 x 0.5 = 750,000
Haredi families tend to be large, with Haredi women having two to three times as many children as other Jewish women. As a result, a surprisingly large percentage of the Haredi population—roughly 45%—is under 18, so about 55% are over the age of 18. Of those over 18, approximately 82% are under 60. So, 0.55 x 0.82 = 0.451 means approximately 45% of the males are between 18–60. Some might think this is a tad on the old side, but our prototype Paul ministered until he was over 60, so they're in:
750,000 x 0.45 = 337,500
A larger than average percentage of Haredi men are married, with the best figures I could find indicating that only about 21% of adult Haredi men are single. So, that means the number of single, ultra-Orthodox Jewish men between the ages of 18–60 in the world today is roughly (drum roll, please):
337,500 x 0.21 = 70,875
Uh...Houston, we have a problem.
Obviously there are many ways to jiggle the numbers up and down a bit, but it's clear that they're just not out there. No matter how you slice it, there simply aren't 150,000. Not even close—not by half.
After checking and re-checking my information and my calculations a dozen times, I wrote an email to the author of the article I had read and asked him where he had found his information. He graciously took the time to respond and said that he had read it in an Israeli magazine article about politics some months earlier, but didn't have it with him at the moment.
I explained that it wasn't that I doubted him, but that any magazine article that reported there were 150,000 single, adult male Haredim in the world today simply had to be in error, and shared my figures with him to show him what I was talking about. I showed him how the numbers just didn't add up.
As I said, the Haredim tend to have large families, and it is estimated they are growing at 6.2% per year. Let's assume some of my information is a couple of years old, and bump it up to an even 80,000 single adult male Haredim today. Even if you start with 80,000 now, at an annual growth rate of 6.2% it will be about 12.9 years until there are 144,000 such Jews.
In other words, it could be 2029 until the 144,000 are ready, if we restrict this exclusively to the Haredim, or ultra-Orthodox Jews. I was crestfallen—the numbers had rained on my apocalyptic parade.
Oh, swell...so it could be another decade until the Rapture. Great.
But as I read more about other groups of Orthodox Jews, I began to realize there was really no reason to restrict this exclusively to the Haredim. I began to see that there are plenty of Orthodox Jews today who, although they don't wear the long black coats and black hats, study the Torah voraciously and have a single-minded devotion to God. In fact, some "regular" Orthodox Jews have a greater heart for God than some of the Haredim, a small percentage of whom are content to do what they do just to avoid the military and get paid doing it, or were raised in that insulated, hyper-religious environment and as a result are inadequately trained for any other type of meaningful career. Finally it began to occur to me:
God cares about the condition of
one's heart, not the color of one's hat.
So, I decided to start over and include both ultra-Orthodox and Orthodox Jews. For that, I found some separate information for Israel and the United States, so I broke the calculation down into two tracks.
Globally, there is a population of about 14.2 million Jews, with about 40% living in the United States and about 43% living in Israel (I just omitted the 17% scattered among the other countries of the world, since I couldn't find out much specific information about them):
United States Israel
14,200,000 x 0.40 = 5,680,000 14,200,000 x 0.43 = 6,106,000
About 50% male:
5,680,000 x 0.5 = 2,840,000 6,106,000 x 0.5 = 3,053,000
I didn't have any better numbers to go with, so I used the same percentage (45%) for adults from 18–60:
2,840,000 x 0.45 = 1,278,000 3,053,000 x 0.45 = 1,373,850
Here is where the two tracks clearly differ. In the United States, about 10% of the Jews are considered Orthodox (with the Haredim being included within that group). In Israel, conservative estimates put the Haredim at about 8% (some put it as high as 10%), and another primary group of Orthodox Jews referred to as Religious Zionists at about 17%.
Perhaps a bit ironically, many Haredim are anti-Zionists and refuse to recognize the legitimacy of the secular Israeli government—the same government that literally pays them to study the Torah. In fact, as the Haredi population explodes, many in secular Israeli society feel increasing resentment toward what they see as a bunch of hyper-religious freeloaders who are too busy imposing their beliefs and standards on others and biting the hand that feeds them to contribute to society.
The Religious Zionists are basically as devout as the Haredim in ways that matter, but they don't sport the long black coats and black hats and are far more integrated into secular society than the Haredim. So, I felt safe with a figure of 8% + 17% = 25% for Israel:
1,278,000 x 0.10 = 127,800 1,373,850 x 0.25 = 343,463
Now, although only about 21% of Haredim men are single, that percentage goes up a bit when we consider all Orthodox Jews. The best information I could find was that overall, about 31% of all Orthodox Jewish men (including Haredim) were single:
127,800 x 0.31 = 39,618 343,463 x 0.31 = 106,474
Combining the totals for the United States and Israel, we get:
39,618 + 106,474 = 146,092
Uh...Houston, belay my last.
OK, it's still not 150,000, but it'll do. My attitude in cranking through all this is what you might call "soberly tongue in cheek," and the only reason I'm doing it is to show you that if God wanted to seal 144,000 single, adult Jewish men who had a heart for Him, there's nothing stopping Him.
God could seal the 144,000 today.
They're here—hidden in plain sight.
Of course, He doesn't need to seal them today because even if the Rapture occurred now, it would be at least three or so years and possibly much longer (maybe another 12.9 years) until it would be time for the 144,000 to be sealed. Also, although it's true that God could seal the 144,000 today, there's no obvious way He could have done it up until just a couple of years ago. We have literally just entered the window in which this is possible.
The point I want to leave you with is simply that things are coming together; Bible prophecy is being fulfilled as we speak. Trends and events the Bible describe as congealing in the last of the last days are happening today, and the prophetic scenario continues to take shape with increasing clarity.
To all my brothers and sisters in Christ, I would just say:
20Even so, come, Lord Jesus.
(Revelation 22:20b AKJV)
To a few of my brothers in Christ who are intent on blustering away about how the Rapture is a non-event that occurs at the Second Coming (or not at all), and about how it's time to store food and guns in the basement and scout the horizon for the Antichrist, I would say this:
The time for vain, fleshly arguments is past. The time for mocking those who are anticipating the Lord's return is at an end. It's time to rightly divide the Word, crucify the flesh, and walk in the Spirit.
To everyone else, I would say:
Like it or not, believe it or not, ready or not—it's just about show time.
The lights are being dimmed, the curtain is about to come up, and the actors are taking their places—hidden in plain sight.
Greg Lauer / April 2016
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1. Deriv. of "Sunset Over Grass Field" © AOosthuizen at Can Stock Photo
2. "Orthodox Jewish Man at Wailing Wall" © Stockninja at Fotolia.com
3. Deriv. of "New York Empire State Plate" © Al at Fotolia.com
4. "Woe unto You, Scribes and Pharisees" by James Tissot [PD]
5. "You Can't Cross Them Out" by Greg Lauer (own work)
6. "The Pharisees and the Herodians Conspire Against Jesus" by James Tissot [PD]
7. "The Conversion of St. Paul" by Domenico Morelli [PD]
8. "Yeshiva Students Learning Talmud" © Kuvien at Fotolia.com
9. "Orthodox Jews at the Western Wall" © Nina Mikryukova at Fotolia.com
(All PD works are via Wikimedia Commons.)
All Scripture is taken from the World English Bible, unless annotated as KJV (King James Version) or AKJV (American King James Version).