Welcome to a Revelation of Jesus. In the last couple of videos we started looking at the two groups of people who will be alive at the second coming of Christ. The first group consists of those who have resisted and rejected Jesus, and who will want to hide from His presence when He returns to earth. The second group is those who will welcome Him with open arms. This video focuses on 144000 who “follow the Lamb wherever He goes”.
We saw that the revelation narrative is about to shift from events in heaven and the judgment of people who have been written in the book of life, to events on earth, and more specifically, to a time period that Jesus called the Great Tribulation. But something important has to happen first.
John saw “four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth” (Revelation 7:1). These evil angels were about to release the winds, which would bring on the strife and chaos of the Great Tribulation. But “[John] saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God” (Revelation 7:2). This angel of God restrained the four angels, not allowing them to release the four winds “until we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads” (Revelation 7:3).
John “heard the number of those who were sealed, one hundred and forty-four thousand, of all the tribes of the children of Israel” (Revelation 7:4). This is followed by a listing of the twelve tribes, with 12,000 sealed from each tribe. Who are the 144000, and what do the tribes of Israel have to do with them?
First of all, “One hundred and forty-four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel were sealed” (Revelation 7:4). The origins of Israel are chronicled in Genesis chapters 25-49.
Very briefly, Abraham was called by God to be the father of a new nation that would represent Him to the nations around them. Abraham’s grandson Jacob, whose name was changed to Israel by God, had twelve sons who were the patriarchs of the twelve tribes of Israel. The children of Israel went to Egypt to escape drought and famine, and stayed there and multiplied for about 400 years.
God through Moses delivered them from Egypt and established them as a nation in the land of Canaan. After the glory years of king David and his son Solomon the tribes split, with 10 tribes becoming the northern nation of Israel and the tribes of Judah and Benjamin along with many from the priestly tribe of Levi becoming the southern nation of Judah.
The 10 northern tribes rejected God and turned to idolatry, and God allowed them to be defeated by the Assyrians and taken into exile where they gradually disappeared. The three southern tribes also misrepresented God, although not to the same extent. They also were taken into captivity by Babylon, but after 70 years many returned and reestablished their nation. They were the ancestors of the present-day Jews.
The point of this bare-bones outline is that when Revelation 7 tells us that 12,000 were sealed from each of the twelve tribes of Israel, we need to keep in mind that 9 of the tribes have disappeared. Many commentators insist that the 144000 are people of Jewish heritage, but the Jews only include descendants of the 3 southern tribes. Speculation about “lost tribes” is not very convincing.
The identity of the 144000 seems even more confusing when we consider the actual tribes on the list.
The twelve patriarchs, listed in Genesis 49, were Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Zebulun, Issachar, Dan, Gad, Asher, Naphtali, Joseph, and Benjamin. Because Joseph was the most faithful of the brothers his father Israel gave a birthright to both of his sons, Ephraim and Manasseh.
To keep the number at twelve, most of the lists of the tribes leave Joseph on the list and leave off his two sons. When Ephraim and Manasseh are listed, for example, when talking about the army or the inheritance of the tribes, Joseph is left off the list and Levi, who was the priestly tribe with no inheritance of land, is given a special position, for a total of 13 tribes. But notice the unusual list in Revelation compared to typical lists found in the Old Testament.
|Revelation 7:4-8||Deuteronomy 27:11-13||1Chronicles 2:1,2||Numbers 2|
There is a lot that we could look into about these lists, but I want to zero in on a couple of details that will turn out to be important.
First of all, notice that the Revelation list has 12 tribes and Joseph is on it, so we would not expect his sons to be on it. But one of his sons, Manasseh, is on the list, and surprisingly, the other son, Ephraim, is not. Also, notice that Dan is on every other list, but he is not on the list in Revelation. Was John just sloppy in compiling the list of the tribes?
We already touched on this subject when we identified the link between the four leader tribes and the four living creatures in video 19. We learned that there were 4 leader tribes when they camped around the sanctuary in the wilderness, Judah, Reuben, Ephraim, and Dan. But in their later history both Ephraim and Dan became leaders in idolatry, and it was their influence that resulted in the 10 northern tribes being exiled and disappearing from the Biblical record.
Ten of the literal tribes have disappeared. Two of the literal tribes, Ephraim and Dan, disqualified themselves from spiritual ministry by leading out in national apostasy, and although they remained on other listings of the tribes, they are not included on the list of tribes in Revelation that make up the 144000. The obvious conclusion is that the 144000 do not consist of literal tribes; these are symbolic tribes.
The symbolic nature of Israel is clearly taught by the apostle Paul. He said in Romans, “They are not all Israel who are of Israel, nor are they all children because they are the seed of Abraham” “For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly… but he is a Jew who is one inwardly, and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit” (Romans 9:6,7, 2:28,29) He continues in Galatians, “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus… There is neither Jew nor Greek… for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:26-29). These and other texts show that often in the New Testament the designation “Israel” refers to those who are declared righteous because of their faith in Jesus, not according to physical lineage.
(James 1:1, Galatians 6:16, Romans 9:3,4)
The listing of the names of the tribes refers to the spiritual characteristics of those who are sealed. These characteristics are given in Genesis 49, where Jacob said to his twelve sons, “Gather together that I may tell you what shall befall you in the Last Days” (Genesis 49:1). The reference to the last days suggests that the descriptions of his son’s characteristics are particularly relevant to the 144000, who don’t appear until the last days.
There is a lot of diversity in the tribes. Judah with his kingly scepter (v. 10) and Joseph, the fruitful bough (v. 22) seem like likely candidates for the 144000. Less so are tribes like Reuben, “unstable as water” (vs. 3,4), Simeon and Levi with their cursed anger (vs. 5-7) and Benjamin, who is like a ravenous wolf (v. 27).
The point is that God can make almost any kind of character suitable for an exalted position among the 144000. God is not looking for perfection; what He seeks is love and loyalty. Even though the 144000 have human weaknesses and failings, they are totally devoted to Christ. “[The 144000] are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes” (Revelation 14:4).
The only ones left out are those like Ephraim and Dan, not because they have sinned or misrepresented Jesus, but because they reject Him.
This doesn’t mean that unbelievers can’t be saved. But the 144000 have a special role to play in the last days. Revelation chapter 14 identifies their essential qualifications.
“Then [John] looked, and behold, a Lamb standing on Mount Zion, and with Him one hundred and forty-four thousand” (Revelation 14:1). When we studied the chiastic structure we saw that Revelation chapters 13 and 14 are the twin climaxes of the Book of Revelation.
The first half focuses on Satan’s challenge and war against Jesus, and the second half shows God’s total and complete victory over sin and Satan. So when we see the Lamb standing with the 144000 at the climax of the story of Jesus’ victory over Satan, we can understand that the 144000 are an integral part of that victory.
The passage continues, “These are the ones who were not defiled with women, for they are virgins” (Revelation 14:4). This does not mean that they are celibate monks or priests; this section is highly symbolic.
Women in prophecy symbolize God’s chosen representatives. For example, God says in Jeremiah, “I have likened the daughter of Zion to a lovely and delicate woman (Jeremiah 6:2). Here God shows that the Children of Israel were chosen to be pure and faithful. This is contrasted with the way they became when they rejected God: “There were two women… they became harlots… their names are Oholah and Oholibah… Samaria is Oholah and Jerusalem is Oholibah” (Ezekiel 23). Samaria and Jerusalem were the capital cities of God’s representative nations. Their rejection of God was compared to women committing adultery.
In the Book of Revelation there are two women. The first is found in chapter 12:1-6 and is presented as pure and virtuous. When we get to chapter 12 we will see that the woman symbolizes the faithful church of God. She is persecuted by Satan, symbolized by a great red dragon.
This persecution is detailed in chapter 13 as coming from a confederation of nations, symbolized by a seven-headed beast coming out of the sea and a two-horned beast coming out of the earth; they create the mark of the beast and impose the death decree on those who refuse to submit.
In chapter 17 the persecuting beast has an immoral woman sitting on it called “the great harlot” (Revelation 17:1). “On her forehead, a name was written: Mystery, Babylon the Great, the Mother of Harlots and of the abominations of the earth” (Revelation 17:5). Here we see a confederation of churches, symbolized by the great harlot and her daughters, allied with the confederation of nations, symbolized by the beast.
This is a complicated scenario that will be a lot clearer when we study the details in chapters 12 and 17; but the point is, that the 144000 who are described in Revelation 14:4 as virgins are not involved with the confederation of churches that are called harlots in Revelation 17.
I want to emphasize again that this doesn’t mean that people who have been a part of these churches cannot be saved. God’s mercy and grace are extended to everyone, but the 144000 have a special role to play in the final moments of history. They cannot be a part of apostate Babylon because their purpose is to call people to come out of Babylon.
Revelation 14 continues: “[The 144000] follow the Lamb wherever He goes” (Revelation 14:4). Reading on, we may get the impression that this is a scene taking place in heaven. The 144000 are shown standing “before the throne” and “on Mt. Zion” (Revelation 14:1), “playing their harps” and “singing a new song” (vs. 1-3).
Are they in heaven following Jesus wherever He goes, maybe after the Second Coming or the millennium? That seems unlikely since the context of the previous verses is the image, number, and mark of the beast, and the verses following outline God’s last message to the world. Let’s go back to Revelation 7 to find out what it means that the 144000 are “before the throne” and “follow the Lamb wherever He goes” (Revelation 14:4).
The 144000 are pictured as standing “before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes” (Revelation 7:9) with “all the angels…and the elders and the four living creatures” (Revelation 7:11), in other words, they are portrayed as if they are in heaven. But paradoxically, they still seem to be on earth in the midst of the time of trouble. When John dialogues with the angel about who these people are, he is told, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation” (Revelation 7:14 NLV).
Although some versions translate this as “they which came out” (KJV) or “they who have come out” (NIV) as if they came out of the tribulation at some time in the past, a more accurate translation would be “the coming-out ones” or as the New Living Version translates it, “the ones coming out of the great tribulation”. By faith, they are already standing “before the throne” while they are still coming out of the tribulation.
This is important, so please bear with me as I focus on the grammar of this section. Notice the verb tenses that are used. In verse 14 the past tense is used: “they washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:14) “These were redeemed from among men… in their mouth was found no deceit” (Revelation 14:4,5).
The past tense in these verses refers to the characteristics they had which qualified them to become a part of the 144000.
John uses the present tense to show what is happening to them while they “are coming out of the great tribulation”. They “are before the throne and serve Him day and night in His temple” (Revelation 7:15) and they “follow the Lamb wherever He goes” (Revelation 14:4). This is not talking about their future activity in the new heaven and earth. They are following the Lamb and serving Him here on earth during the Great Tribulation.
Finally, John uses the future tense to show what their condition will be when the tribulation is over: “They shall neither hunger anymore nor thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any heat… the Lamb will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Revelation 7:16,17).
The future tense implies that at the time they are before the throne, following the Lamb wherever He goes, they may still be hungry, thirsty, and suffering from the heat of the sun. After the tribulation is over the Lamb will lead them to fountains of waters and God will wipe away every tear.
It makes sense that this vision of the 144000 is set during the Great Tribulation when we remember that the sixth seal describes the judgment of those who are alive just before the Second Coming. Remember that in video 22 we already studied the judgment of “the kings of the earth, the great men, the rich men, the commanders, the mighty men, every slave and every free man” (Revelation 6:15) who rejected Jesus and persecuted His followers. When Jesus returns they cry out “to the mountains and rocks, ‘fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne” (Revelation 6:15). In their judgment Jesus will give them what they ask for.
The 144000, on the other hand, will be so focused on Jesus that it will be as if they are already in heaven, even as the fearsome plagues and vicious persecution of the Great Tribulation are taking place all around them. They will be like Stephen, who preached to his persecutors through the power of the Holy Spirit, and as they raged at him, he cried out, “Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God! (Acts 7:56)
This incredible experience of being in heaven while still on earth will be an eternal blessing to anyone who gets to live through it. This is evidenced by the “new song” that “no one can learn except the hundred and forty-four thousand who were redeemed from the earth” (Revelation 14:3).
It is a song of their experience as they “follow Jesus wherever He goes” in His mission to win a great multitude out of Babylon at the very end of Human history. We will pick up on that story in the next video
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