Some contend that there are two groups of 144,000, one in Revelation 14, the other in chapter 7. Apparently, the idea is that the ones in chapter 7 are physical Israelites that are the seed of physical government for the Millennium, and the 144,000 in chapter 14 are the bride, the firstfruits, the elect of God.
First, we must ask why God would see a need for physical rulers when He has prepared 144,000 humans-turned-spirit beings to rule as kings and priests? Isaiah 30:21 shows that they will be visible and audible to humans.
We can ascertain the truth of the matter simply by defining the "sealing" of those in Revelation 7. We will see that sealing has to do with protecting and setting aside for special use.
In II Corinthians 1:22, Paul describes himself and the spiritual Israelites, the church, as being "sealed . . . and given . . . the spirit in our hearts as a deposit" (see also II Corinthians 5:5). In a real estate transaction, earnest or "sincerity and serious intent" money is put down ahead of time. If the buyer fails to finish the purchase, he loses the money. Spiritually, God gives us "earnest money" in the form of the Holy Spirit. He buys, redeems, or purchases us with Christ?s blood, which seals us or designates us as His. The Holy Spirit and the mind of Christ in us are the evidence of this, recognizable to Him and others. God completes the transaction when He returns and changes us into spirit as members of the God Family and co-heirs with Christ (John 3:6; I Corinthians 15:42-55).
Ephesians 1:13-14 combines sealing, as in Revelation 7, with redemption, a characteristic of the 144,000 of Revelation 14:
In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, which is the guarantee [earnest, KJV, NKJV margin] of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory.
Here, "sealed," "earnest," "redemption," and "purchase" are all included in one passage, showing they are inseparable! There is only one group of 144,000!
Ephesians 4:30 makes the same connection, showing we are "sealed [protected, set aside or apart] for the day of redemption" by the Holy Spirit. Hebrews 9:11-15 shows the redemption from our sins is of Christ so that we can "receive the promise of eternal inheritance," which occurs at the return of Christ (Luke 21:27-28).
The time element of Revelation 7 is the sixth seal and the day of Christ?s wrath (Revelation 6:12-17). The angels are instructed to hold back opening the seventh seal and seven last plagues until the sealing of the 144,000 is complete (Revelation 7:1-3). The last two to be sealed, set aside, given the final stamp of approval may be the Two Witnesses, who die only three-and-a-half days before Christ returns. God resurrects them to meet Christ in the air with the 143,998 others who form the bride and government of Christ, the mother for the rest of humanity, who will then have the opportunity for salvation in their order.
The sealing is not just physical protection of 144,000 physical Israelites. The Bible clearly defines sealing as being of the Holy Spirit of promise toward inheritance of the promises. This includes the patriarchs and all true Christians right until Christ returns. Notice they are called "the servants of our God" (Revelation 7:3). God does not use this term lightly in the Bible. Could we legitimately classify 144,000 people who had just endured the Tribulation because of sin, barely surviving and not yet converted, "servants of our God?"
Those who survive into the Millennium will be humbled and ready to become converted, not already converted and ready to rule. That opportunity is reserved for those who have already proved themselves worthy to rule, servants of God, the firstfruits.
Why are they numbered by tribe? Because the apostles rule over the twelve tribes (Matthew 19:28), and as we see in Revelation 21, twelve is the governmental number of the bride. Whether we are physically of Judah, Gad, Asher, or whatever tribe is not important. Very likely, God places us spiritually in those tribes as He organizes His government.
We know this because the twelve apostles were not all physically from the tribes they will rule! They were apparently mostly of Judah, Levi, or Benjamin. Since there were several sets of brothers among the Twelve, it is impossible that all twelve tribes could physically be represented, so Christ will place them over whichever tribe He chooses. He will do the same with us.
Who Are the 144,000?
Within the book of Revelation, there are inset chapters. An inset chapter is one that does not follow the time sequence established by the rest of the book. It explains in more detail events that are necessary to understand more fully what is happening in time sequence, so the insets are historical digressions that give greater clarity to the revelation.
In Revelation 6:12, we find the sixth seal is opened. But the seventh seal is not opened until Revelation 8:1—a whole chapter and a half later. But between these occurrences is a description of an event that is a necessary digression so that we will understand what is happening to a group of people during some of the events that have already been prophetically described. In the case of chapter 7, the digression is very close to being within the sequence of events, but it is still a digression, still an inset chapter.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Revelation 10 and the Laodicean Church
Who Are the 144,000 (Revelation 7 and 14)?
In Revelation 7, verse 1, we find that the Day of the Lord—a time of terrible plagues—is to be delayed temporarily, until the servants of God have been sealed (verse 3). According to the sequence of prophesied events, this sealing is yet in the future. It will occur after the coming Great Tribulation and the appearance of the heavenly signs, but just before the plagues of God's judgments are poured out.
Next, notice Jesus' own explanation of the 144,000: They are of the tribes of Israel, 12,000 of each tribe (verse 4), who are set apart from the rest of humanity (see Ezekiel 9:3-10 for a similar occurrence). In Galatians 6:16, the church is called "the Israel of God," so this separation into "tribes of the children of Israel" may be a spiritual designation rather than physical lineage.
The 144,000 are sealed by the Holy Spirit in their foreheads (minds). Revelation 14:1 shows that this sealing is done by writing the Father's name there. Jesus' very last prayer was that His church would be kept—preserved, guarded—in the Father's name (John 17:11). This suggests that the 144,000 are set apart, and thus protected (in an eternal sense), by God's work of building character in them, as God's name identifies and defines His character.
So, like those in Ezekiel's day who "sigh and cry over the abominations that are done," the 144,000 will be spared the terrors of the Day of the Lord because they have proven their sterling character before God. This is confirmed in Revelation 14:4, which describes them as "not defiled with women, for they are virgins," that is, morally upright and undefiled by false religion. Verse 5 adds, "And in their mouth was found no guile, for they are without fault before the throne of God." Their sealing is obviously based on their spiritual condition rather than their physical descent.
They are also called "redeemed from among men, . . . firstfruits to God and the Lamb" (verse 4). This can only mean that they are those who take part in the first resurrection (Revelation 20:4-6; I Corinthians 15:23). They are a special first "crop" of God's harvest, who are given special rewards and privileges because of their struggles in overcoming of Satan and their sins—Hebrews 11:35 calls it "a better resurrection."
The 144,000 are a unique group of people who overcome their sins and grow in character, and their reward is to live and rule forever by the side of Jesus Christ.
Basic Doctrines: The First Resurrection
Who Are the 144,000?
Our Awesome Destiny (2000)
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