The 144,000 are an important group of people who play a vital role in the events that take place just before the Second Coming of Christ. They first appear in Revelation chapter 7. This chapter is a continuation of chapter 6, in which the various categories of people who will be judged in the “Investigative Judgment” are presented. You may want to read “What’s Going On in Revelation Chapters 4 and 5?” and “What are the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” in order to get oriented to this concept.
The last category of people to be presented in chapter 6 are the unbelievers who are alive at the time of the Second Coming of Christ. They are so terrified that they cry out to “the mountains and rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb” (Revelation 6:16). In their rebellion and unbelief they can see nothing in Christ except exposure of their own guilt and sin, and they cannot imagine that anyone could stand to see Him coming—they cry out, “For the great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand?” (Revelation 6:17).
Chapter 7 answers this question by presenting two groups of faithful believers who will be alive and will “stand” when Jesus comes: The 144,000 and the Great Multitude.
The 144,000 are “the servants of God” and they are “sealed on their foreheads” (Revelation 7:3). In chapter 14 the parallel passage says that they have “the Father’s name written on their foreheads” (Revelation 14:1). This means that they have allowed God to develop His character in them, and God with His invisible seal is pledging to the unseen inhabitants of the universe (the angels) that they will remain true to Him through the Great Tribulation and for all eternity.
They are selected and sealed out of “all the tribes of the children of Israel” (Revelation 7:4). This statement is followed by a listing of all the tribes. It is an unusual listing in that two of the tribes (Dan and Ephraim) are missing from the list. This fact, along with the way the Apostles Paul and James use the term “Israel” in their letters, shows that they are sealed from spiritual Israel, not from so-called physical descendants of the ancient Hebrew tribes.
The characteristics of the spiritual tribes are found in Genesis 49, where Jacob blessed his 12 sons, telling them “what shall befall you in the last days” (Genesis 49:1). The two tribes that were left off the list in Revelation were the leaders of idolatry in ancient Israel. This does not mean that idolaters cannot be saved; anyone who repents can be saved. But those who have committed spiritual adultery (worshipping other gods) are disqualified for the important work of the 144,000.
The second group who can “stand” at the Second Coming are called the “Great Multitude”. They come from “all nations, tribes, peoples and tongues” (Revelation 7:9). In chapter 18 God calls them “My people”, but reveals that they are “captives” in spiritual Babylon (the great false politico-religious system of the last days). God sends a powerful message to them, “Come out of her, My people” (Revelation 18:4).
In chapter 14 we learn that it is the 144,000 who give this message. The full message, which centers around the “everlasting gospel”, informs the inhabitants of the world that the judgment has already begun, and calls on them to worship the Creator rather than the “Beast” who is the leader of fallen Babylon. When the Great Multitude comes out of Babylon they join the 144,000 so that in the end there is only one group waiting for Jesus to come.
Because there has been so much speculation and false teaching about the 144,000 it is important to emphasize that they are not Jews, they are not the only ones who will be saved, they will not have a special place or privileges in the eternal Kingdom of God, and no church on earth today can say that they are the 144,000. All efforts to prove that they are a literal or a spiritual number are simply speculations, and anyone who says, “I am a part of the 144,000” probably isn’t.
The ideas presented here may be quite a bit different from what you have read or heard previously. There are a lot more details and scriptural support for these concepts in chapter 7 of The Book.