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The 144,000 - Revelation 14:1-5

Stained glass showing Lamb of God with vexillu...
Stained glass showing Lamb of God with vexillum and chalice, from chapel that used to be part of a convent (now a Baptist church and school complex) in El Cajon, California (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Can I admit that this subject has brought me much irritation. At the last church I attended the pastor taught on Revelation but he made everything in the book symbolic of something, That might not have been a problem, however he never bothered to define where he got this information. Which leads me to say this, don't make statements, trying to pass it off as truth, without providing evidence for what you are saying (This is called conjecture and makes you a false teacher.) Write with the determination of providing two or three witnesses.
Although my former pastor attributed all of Revelation to symbology, that certainly does not make it the case. However, symbology, history, analogy, and types can not be excluded. It is all in there, and must be considered. I will try to help you understand it.

The 144,000

Then I looked, and behold, on Mount Zion stood the Lamb, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father's name written on their foreheads. And I heard a voice from heaven like the roar of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder. The voice I heard was like the sound of harpists playing on their harps, and they were singing a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and before the elders. No one could learn that song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth. It is these who have not defiled themselves with women, for they are virgins. It is these who follow the Lamb wherever he goes. These have been redeemed from mankind as first fruits for God and the Lamb, and in their mouth no lie was found, for they are blameless. (Revelation 14:1-5 ESV)
Sometimes I like to work from the assumption that I just stumbled upon a section of the bible. If you attend church then you are aware that you constantly sit by those that never open their bibles. How can you know that? Just listen to the statements they make and questions they ask; anyone who has read their bible, would never ask the questions many of them do.
Assuming you were that person and were directed to Revelation 14: 1-5, how would you come to understand what you were reading?
Some quick keys to understanding Revelation.
  1. Maintain the attitude that this is meant for you to understand. If you do not understand then humble yourself and get a book to help. Of the thousands out there, I strongly suggest The Islamic Antichrist, and the Mideast Beast, by Joel Richardson.
  2. Know this, the Apostle John was an evangelist to the Jewish community (yes I am taking liberties in making this statement, but the evidence is there.) That means that he wrote in a language that meant something to the Jewish readers of this letter. The symbols, such as a lamb that had been slain; the beast with seven heads that we see in Revelation 13, and even the 144,000 are intended to strike an immediate and scriptural chord within the heart of a Jew.
  3. While the book itself is the Revelation of Jesus Christ, it is also prophecy. Prophecy covers a tremendous amount of ground from the past to the future. But prophecy to a Jew is repeatable patterns, not flash and bright lights. Remember, no one in the old testament was convicted on the basis of one witness alone; God knows the heart and therefore demands witnesses. This works the same with prophecy. You will find these same phrases - if you look for them - scattered throughout the Old Testament in the writings of Daniel, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and so many others.
With that said, let's dive in. We will attempt to take this verse by verse.
Revelation 14:1 KJV And I looked, and, lo, a Lamb stood on the mount Sion, and with him an hundred forty and four thousand, having his Father's name written in their foreheads.
There was a time that I would not have had any idea how to interpret this without some help. Fortunately those days are gone, but maybe it does not need interpretation as much as it needs an understanding. As a young reader, with the understanding I had, I read it as a literal event.
You find the first reference to these Jewish men in Revelation 7 and there God holds back destruction while he marks them. Because I had nothing to show what that marking aspect looked like, I just took it and ran with it.
Now I find them, and God, standing on Mount Zion.
Do a word search for the phrase “Mount Zion” and you will find 21 verses, most of which are found in the Old Testament – the Torah and the Tanakh.
One of the first I found is:
And the surviving remnant of the house of Judah shall again take root downward and bear fruit upwardFor out of Jerusalem shall go a remnant, and out of Mount Zion a band of survivors. The zeal of the LORD will do this. (2 Kings 19:30-31 ESV)
This is one of those prophecy establishing word pictures that a Jew would have picked up on. In case you do not know, Jewish boys are made to go synagogue to learn and memorize the law and prophets. This is accomplished by age twelve as an aspect of their transition into manhood.
While Isaiah 10:12 says nothing about the 144,000 who are standing on Mount Zion the following verse indicates what happens after the Lamb conducts business. (Conducting business seems very polite considering that the Lord comes back to kill all those who would dare fight against him.)
Isaiah 10:12 ESV When the Lord has finished all his work on Mount Zion and on Jerusalem, he will punish the speech of the arrogant heart of the king of Assyria and the boastful look in his eyes.
Apparently his interactions with the 144,000 come before he finalizes the punishment of the arrogant king. If you have read the Revelation before, then you are aware that at the end of the seven-year period the Antichrist and the False prophet are thrown into the lake of fire – forever.
The IVP Bible Background Commentary tells us that:
Mount Zion was the Temple Mount (sometimes loosely encompassing all Jerusalem), thus applied to the heavenly temple in the present (Rev_11:19) but pointing to the new Jerusalem of the future (Rev_21:2), a hope shared by nearly all ancient Jews, who longed for the restoration of their city and its sanctuary.”
And this is backed up by the Prophet Isaiah: 
And it is literal, for it is where the Lord of hosts will reign.
Isaiah 24:23 ESV Then the moon will be confounded and the sun ashamed, for the LORD of hosts reigns on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem, and his glory will be before his elders.
However, Mount Zion is also symbolic, as John also sees the 144,000 before the throne, which causes us to include the throne as an aspect of Mount Zion.
I find several things grabbing my attention as I read Revelation 14:1.
Revelation 14:1 KJV And I looked, and, lo, a Lamb stood on the mount Sion, and with him an hundred forty and four thousand, having his Father's name written in their foreheads.
  • I looked, and, lo, a Lamb stood on the mount Zion, and with him an hundred forty and four thousand,”
    Knowing that Jerusalem will be destroyed, I see a remnant coming out of Jerusalem, and out of Mount Zion a band of survivors. Does this tell us that there will only be 144,000 survivors, and that there will only be Jewish men? Not at all. We are told by the prophet Zechariah that one-third of Israel survives.
    Zechariah 13:8-9 KJV And it shall come to pass, that in all the land, saith the LORD, two parts therein shall be cut off and die; but the third shall be left therein. (9) And I will bring the third part through the fire, and will refine them as silver is refined, and will try them as gold is tried: they shall call on my name, and I will hear them: I will say, It is my people: and they shall say, The LORD is my God.
  • a Lamb stood on the mount Zion, and with him an hundred forty and four thousand.
    From this I can learn that John is seeing into heaven, because that is the only place in Revelation that the Lord appears as a lamb.
    Revelation 5:6 KJV And I beheld, and, lo, in the midst of the throne and of the four beasts, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth.
Other prophets describe him as a lamb: Isaiah 53:7-8; John 1:29, John 1:36; Acts 8:32; 1Peter 1:19-20
  • with him an hundred forty and four thousand,”
    One might make the assumption that they are with Him in heaven and are therefore resurrected. Scripture gives us no clear insight on this.
  • having his Father's name written in their foreheads.”
    I covered God marking people earlier in this post. Cain was marked to protect him. Interesting isn't it.
What else can I know about these 144,000.
Our first occurrence finds them in Revelation chapter seven.
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, saying, "Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads." And I heard the number of the sealed, 144,000, sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel: (Revelation 7:2-4 ESV)
Should you decide to read this in your bible, you will find that the specifics about them go on to verse eight, and describes 12,000 taken from designated ancestral groupings (tribes) of Israel. How vital that is to our understanding I do not know. What is important to me is this: “they come from every tribe of the sons of Israel.” There are no lost tribes.
I have come to see that my former pastor was not alone in his thinking, as others apparently think these 144,000 are merely symbolic. I believe my former pastor is a fairly intelligent guy, but if you cannot backup your statements with some solid evidence then you need to shut up, and he did not. Having read several commentaries on the 144,000 I believe I can see where he got what he was preaching, however that does not make it right; and if you are a student of the bible, you can find it very annoying.
Here is what the IVP Bible Background Commentary, and a few others imply:
The Sealing of 144,000 Servants - One can take the 144,000 either consistently literally (literally twelve thousand male Jewish virgins from each tribe—Rev_14:4) or consistently symbolic (the spiritual people of God, not literally 144,000). (Those who take the number but not the ethnicity, gender and sexual history literally are inconsistent.) Against taking it literally is Revelation’s usage elsewhere of “servants” (Rev_1:1; Rev_6:11), suggesting that they constitute the whole of the saved community (Rev_7:3-4). But whether they represent the innumerable multitude of Rev_7:9 or the restored remnant of ethnic Israel remains debated.
A few questions about the logic of these 144,000 being entirely symbolic
If this group was entirely symbolic, why would you have to protect them from four angels that are here to harm the earth? The act of harming the earth is an aspect of God's wrath upon the nations, and the Israel for rejecting him. God is protecting 144,000 “virgin Jews” (this may have some symbology also, such as those that have not rejected God.)
If, the 144,000 represents the “whole of the saved community”, and the general consensus is that the saved community will be caught up, then why would you need to protect them from bad things that happen after the rapture? You wouldn't would you; there would be no need. So that really does not make sense does it.
However, if the number was representative of the martyred who are slain for their testimony, then we have a problem with that logic as well, because God does not protect them from harm, and protecting these marked ones is a common assumption (I am sure that we get this idea of protection from God marking Cain). In neither chapter seven or fourteen do we see them protected, but merely designated for God. Another assumption, and quite possibly a good one, is that they function on earth as witnesses, but most specifically to the Jewish community. That would make sense but there is still nothing to show that they are excluded from harm, nor is there anything that indicates how long they stay here on earth after they are marked. I am bringing this up because I have heard all kinds of speculation espoused adamantly as religious folk try to push their theories and understanding off for truth.
Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads."
After 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, saying, "Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads." (Revelation 7:1-3 ESV)
These angels are released with the express purpose of destroying the earth. And yet, just prior to this destruction, God intentionally seals 144,000 Jewish men.
It seems John's attention is pulled back to heaven because of a voice, a voice like a mixture of sounds.
Revelation 14:2-3 ESV And I heard a voice from heaven like the roar of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder. The voice I heard was like the sound of harpists playing on their harps, (3) and they were singing a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and before the elders. No one could learn that song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth.
Almost as soon as they have been sealed, we find them redeemed from earth. The implications are that they are no longer on earth. This again demonstrates our assumptions. It seems fair and logical to build a chronological timeline and place them on it. The problem is God controls both the timeline and calendar on which it is based, and scripture does not always lay things out so clearly for us. Sure, there are many points in which specifics are detailed such as: Israel's release from Babylonian captivity, or the Messiah's triumphant entry into Jerusalem, but we have no clear point at which we can say the rapture comes here and therefore all these other things can find themselves a spot on our timeline.
Revelation 14:3-4 MSG and the harpists singing a new song before the Throne and the Four Animals and the Elders. Only the Hundred and Forty-four Thousand could learn to sing the song. They were bought from earth, (4) lived without compromise, virgin-fresh before God. Wherever the Lamb went, they followed. They were bought from humankind, first fruits of the harvest for God and the Lamb.
lived without compromise”
How do I relate to that? We were all born into a corrupted nature, therefore it seems impossible to imagine someone living without compromise.
Zephaniah 3:13 KJV The remnant of Israel shall not do iniquity, nor speak lies; neither shall a deceitful tongue be found in their mouth: for they shall feed and lie down, and none shall make them afraid.
We already know that some will try to assign these characteristics symbolically to the church. If you try to assign the characteristics of these chosen Jews to the church, it simply does not fit because they have too many human characteristics, therefore I will cling hard to a literal interpretation of the 144,000.

Consider an irony.

God has written His name on their foreheads, and no, we do not know what that looks like; who will be able to see it (we know these four angels can see it); or how it gets there. However, Satan/the beast goes around trying to copy God's idea, by having people marked that have converted to a worship of the beast. (Again, I point out that I believe this is Islam doing this and the beast is Allah.)

One of the things I tell people, is that the Apostle John fully intended for his writing to strike the ears of Jewish converts. You can pick up on this idea because he uses terminology and symbolism found throughout the law and the prophets; books any Jew would have been forced to memorize by the time they were twelve.
One example of this marking of the head is found in the Prophet Ezekiel's writings where judgment could not begin until the foreheads of the righteous (those who mourned over the sin of their land) were marked.
Ezekiel 9:4-5 ESV And the LORD said to him, "Pass through the city, through Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the abominations that are committed in it." (5) And to the others he said in my hearing, "Pass through the city after him, and strike. Your eye shall not spare, and you shall show no pity.
Another example of marking a person comes from Genesis.
Genesis 4:15 ESV Then the LORD said to him, "Not so! If anyone kills Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold." And the LORD put a mark on Cain, lest any who found him should attack him.
We still do not know what that mark looked like, but the imagery is well entrenched in the Jewish mind. It is a shame that it is not in ours.
Another thing that we are in a loss to figure out, is when these are brought before the throne.
We like to assume that they are protected from what ever comes, but you do not see that in scripture. Many seem to believe that they will serve as witnesses to the world. If they do serve in that function I believe it would be to the Jews. However there is no clear time frame between their being marked and finding them before the throne.
and they were singing a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and before the elders. No one could learn that song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth. (Revelation 14:3 ESV)
Considering that this song is for them alone, I see no reason to lose sleep over what they are singing.
It is these who follow the Lamb wherever he goes.
Revelation 14:4 ESV It is these who have not defiled themselves with women, for they are virgins. It is these who follow the Lamb wherever he goes. These have been redeemed from mankind as first fruits for God and the Lamb,
They follow the Lamb wherever he goes. This is the relationship that we were designed for – sheep in love with the shepherd.
There may be a clue about the timing of their departure from earth, because it says they are first fruits. If they, in a sense, are like the first offering of many. Not that we are directly going to be sacrificed, but then God can do what he wants with us, can't he. Because this takes place within the framework of the seven-year period, then the implications of those being offered up as an offering to the Lord would apply to anyone coming to Jesus Christ during this time. They are called the martyred saints.
The 144,000 are blameless before the throne of God.
Revelation 14:5 AMP No lie was found to be upon their lips, for they are blameless (spotless, untainted, without blemish) before the throne of God.
Two things catch my attention when I consider this. Those that are in Christ were first forgiven – no longer guilty for the sin nature that was handed down to us (that happened on the cross.) Over and above our own personal compulsions, this sin comes through being born into the earth. So to will we who have turned out lives over to Jesus Christ stand blameless before the throne. Now, what did these Jewish men do to get such a status? I think the obvious answer lies in our relationship with the shepherd.

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