A key characteristic of the 144,000 is found in Revelation 14:4: “These [the 144,000] are they which were not defiled with women, for they are virgins.” Women in the prophetic writings refer to God’s people (or those who claim to be God's people, see 12:1,2 The Woman). They may be either pure and virtuous as in Revelation 12:1-6[1] or an immoral harlot as in Revelation 17.[2] A virgin has not committed fornication or adultery, and the context of Revelation 14 shows that it is spiritual adultery that the 144,000 have not committed.

There are two important passages in Revelation which refer to spiritual immorality. In Revelation 2:20, the church of Thyatira is condemned because they “allow that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, to teach and seduce my servants to commit sexual immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols.” Jezebel symbolized the great apostasy of the medieval papal church (see 2:18-20 You Tolerate Jezebel). This passage emphasizes the false teachings and doctrines that seduce people to worship a false god in the name of worshiping the true God.

In Revelation 17 spiritual adultery at the very end of time is depicted under the symbolism of the “great harlot who sits on many waters” (v.1). Like the 144,000 she also has a name written on her forehead, but it is the blasphemous name, “Mystery, Babylon the Great, the Mother of Harlots and of the Abominations of the Earth” (v.5). This woman is obviously Rome,[3] but Rome is not the only harlot: one of the woman’s names is “The Mother of Harlots,” so obviously she has daughters as well. The angel explained to John, “Come, I will show you the judgment of the great harlot…with whom the kings of the earth committed fornication” (Revelation 17: 1,2). This verse emphasizes the illicit political relationships that characterize the apostate church.

From these two passages we can see that spiritual adultery is to believe the teachings and participate in the ceremonies of a false god and to be a part of a false religious system that exploits political powers (“the kings of the earth”) to accomplish her purposes. This is seen in the beast/Babylon system of Revelation 13, which uses false teaching and political alliances to deceive the world into persecuting God’s true people. The false doctrines and political power are very seductive and addictive—they are called a “golden cup full of abominations and the filthiness of her fornication” and “the inhabitants of the earth were made drunk with the wine of her fornication” (Revelation 17:4,2).

The 144,000 have not been involved in this kind of spiritual immorality—they are virgins, which means that they have not been a part of Babylon. In fact, in chapter 14 they are the ones who announce Babylon's fallen condition[4] and warn the world not to commit fornication with her—“Babylon is fallen, is fallen, that great city, because she has made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication” (Revelation14:8). Their message is repeated in chapter 18 with even more power, where they are depicted as an “angel coming down from heaven, having great authority, and the earth was illuminated with his glory. And he cried mightily with a loud voice, saying,‘Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and has become habitation of devils” (Revelation 18:1,2).[5] This is God’s final plea for His people to escape from Babylon. “And I heard another voice from heaven saying, ‘Come out of her My people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues” (v.4).

Incredible as it may seem, there are many people who are a part of Babylon but who are called God’s people (“come out of her My people”). These are people who love God, who want to serve him, but who have been deceived or “seduced” (Revelation 2:20) into worshiping idols in the name of God. The Lord's 144,000 messengers will call them to come out of Babylon. Even the Greek word “come out” can have the sense of ending a sexual relationship.[6] The message is for those who have “come in to” the harlot to “come out of her.” So compelling is the appeal of the 144,000 that “a Great Multitude” will come out of Babylon.

Continue to next section: 7:9,10 THE GREAT MULTITUDE

[1] Other examples include Jeremiah 6:2, Isaiah 54:1-6, Ephesians 5:22-33.

[2] Other examples include Ezekiel 23 and Hosea 3:1-5

[3] “The woman whom you saw is that great city which reigns over the kings of the earth” (Revelation 17:18). Rome is the only city which is also a church (symbolized by the harlot), and during the Middle Ages she did reign over the kings of the earth, and according to the prophecy of Revelation 17 she will do so again. Moreover, “The seven heads [of the beast which the woman rides] are seven hills on which the woman sits” (v. 9 NIV). Since ancient times Rome has been known as the city built on seven hills. Finally, the beast that the woman rides is nearly identical to the sea beast of Revelation 13, which is obviously the Roman Catholic Church of the Middle Ages.

[4] In chapter 14 the Lamb with the 144,000 are presented. After describing their character (vs. 1-5) God's final message to the world is presented (the “three angels’ messages of vs. 6-12). The juxtaposition of the 144,000 with the message suggests that the 144,000 are the ones who give the message.

[5] The message of Revelation 18 is the same as that of Revelation 14, which is given by the 144,000. This suggests that the 144,000 give both messages. This theme will be developed in more detail in chapters 11 and 14.

[6] The Greek word is exelthate, which is from two roots, erhome, come, and ex, out. The Greek Septuagint word for sexual relations is eiserhome, with the same root erhome, come, and eis, into. For example, “Now Samson went to Gaza and saw a harlot there, and went in to her” (Judges 16:1).