Who are the 144,000(s)?
And I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun, having the seal of the living God; and he cried out with a loud voice to the four angels to whom it was granted to harm the earth and the sea, saying, "Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have sealed the bond-servants of our God on their foreheads." And I heard the number of those who were sealed, one hundred and forty-four thousand sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel . . . (Revelation 7:2-4).
And I looked, and behold, the Lamb was standing on Mount Zion, and with Him one hundred and forty-four thousand, having His name and the name of His Father written on their foreheads. And I heard a voice from heaven, like the sound of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder, and the voice which I heard was like the sound of harpists playing on their harps. And they sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders; and no one could learn the song except the one hundred and forty-four thousand who had been purchased from the earth. These are the ones who have not been defiled with women, for they have kept themselves chaste. These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes. These have been purchased from among men as first fruits to God and to the Lamb. And no lie was found in their mouth; they are blameless (Revelation 14:1-5).
We should not automatically assume that the first group of 144,000 in Revelation Chapter 7 is the same group presented in Chapter 14. There are significant differences between the two groups, both in their descriptions and the timing of their appearances on the scene. Those of Chapter 7 are selected from every tribe of Israel, while those of Chapter 14 are selected from among men. Those of Chapter 14 are in heaven before the gospel is preached to the whole world and before the trumpet judgments, while those of Chapter 7 are on earth after the preaching of the gospel to the whole world, being sealed to go through the trumpet judgments. Those in Chapter 7 are marked with the seal of God on their foreheads, while those in Chapter 14 are marked with the name of God and the name of the Lamb on their foreheads.
The 144,000 of Revelation Chapter 7
The first group of 144,000 in Revelation Chapter 7 from the twelve tribes of Israel is sealed during the time delay between the sixth and seventh seals to protect them from the oncoming wrath of God in the form of the trumpet judgments. They are mentioned at the time of the fifth trumpet as being protected from the demonic hordes. Satan has obviously been released in the trumpet judgments to serve as an instrument of God’s wrath. This is a much different function of Satan than was allowed during the great tribulation, where the saints were subject to the limited fury of Satan. Satan was tethered on a restraining leash during the great tribulation, but in the trumpets he is given more rope. Satan’s restrained fury, evidenced against the Church during the great tribulation, will pale in comparison to God’s wrath allowed in the form of the trumpet judgments. But the Church is not appointed to God’s wrath. The Blood of Jesus will protect the Church from God’s wrath even as the blood on the doorposts of the Israelites protected them from the plagues that befell Egypt. The similarities between some of the plagues of Egypt and some of the trumpet judgments are obvious.
We, the Church, are sealed with the seal of the Holy Spirit when we are born again. We won’t need another seal applied just before the trumpet judgments to protect us from God’s wrath.
We are protected and will continue to be protected from God’s wrath and from Satan and his demonic hordes, and not by being removed from the earth.
I do not ask Thee to take them out of the world, but to keep [protect, NIV] them from the evil one (John 17:15).
Jesus’ prayer has been answered. We must remember, however, that being kept and protected from Satan in this context is not the same as being protected from physical death at the hands of Satan, which will be allowed during the great tribulation. Being protected from Satan as used in this context refers to being protected from being spiritually overcome. It has nothing to do with preserving our earthly lives.
But you will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death, and you will be hated by all on account of My name. Yet not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your lives (Luke 21:16-19).
Not a hair of our heads will perish and by our endurance we will gain our lives --- even though we may be put to death. This is an eternal perspective, not an earthly one, and one which makes sense only to those who have put their total trust in Jesus Christ and see eternity beyond as more real than this life’s transient vapor.
In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation --- having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory (Ephesians 1:13-14).
Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and anointed us is God, who also sealed us and gave us the Spirit in our hearts as a pledge (2 Corinthians 1:21-22).
If They were the Church, They would Already be Sealed!
The Scriptures we have just looked at indicate that, by definition, the Church is sealed and protected from God’s wrath. Why then does this group of 144,000 from twelve tribes of Israel need special provision between the sixth and seventh seals to protect them from the beginning of wrath which follows the breaking of the seventh seal?
Those who hold to the pre-tribulation rapture position will say that all this indicates that the Church has already been raptured, and that these 144,000 are Jewish evangelists left on earth during the last three and one-half years to preach the gospel. But according to pre-trib logic, if they are evangelists believing in Jesus, they would have been raptured with the rest of the Church. And if they are not believers in Jesus, they cannot preach the gospel. There must be another explanation as to who these 144,000 are.
Since the Church does not need to have things put on hold between the sixth and seventh seals until they are given a special seal to protect them from God’s wrath, this must be a special group not yet sealed with the Holy Spirit. Their sealing at this time does not prove prior rapture; it is a special sealing of those not yet covered by the Blood of the Lamb. Who is this unique Jewish group, identified and sealed for protection at this time, apparently not previously sealed with the Holy Spirit, yet referred to as bondservants? I believe the descriptions of the markings on their foreheads, though subtle in difference, may be important.
Matching the 144,000 of Revelation 7 with the Woman of Revelation 12
The conclusions of the last chapter were that a reserved and blinded remnant of Israel must be supernaturally protected during the last three and one-half years of the age in order to fulfill the prophetic role of Zion destined for labor pains until her children are brought forth. These 144,000 of Revelation 7 fit that description. They are reserved for salvation at the end of the age, but not yet covered by the Blood of the Lamb at the time of the trumpet judgments. They will need special provision to survive until the end of the age. They are protected from Satan during the great tribulation as they flee into the wilderness. In addition, they are sealed here for protection from the wrath of God so that they can survive until the fullness of the Gentiles comes in at the end of the age at which time they will be brought into the New Covenant of the Blood of Jesus Christ.
And out of the smoke came forth locusts upon the earth; and power was given them, as the scorpions of the earth have power. And they were told that they should not hurt the grass of the earth, nor any green thing, nor any tree, but only the men who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads (Revelation 9:3-4).
In addition to these 144,000 reserved Israelites who have the seal of God on their foreheads, every living member of the Church of Jesus Christ left on earth is already sealed with the seal of the Holy Spirit. Those marked and protected with the seal of God and the Holy Spirit will directly contrast those sealed with the mark of Satan. Everyone on the planet will wear one seal or the other. There will be no neutral ground. Satan is a counterfeiter, and when he sees the seal of God on the forehead of the male child in the form of the name of God and the name of the Lamb (Revelation 14:1), he will respond with his own counterfeit mark to be placed on the wrist or forehead of his own sons.
The 144,000 of Revelation Chapter 14: A Different Group!
I believe that the beginning of Revelation Chapter 14 is a flashback because the preaching of the gospel to the entire world described in Revelation 14:6, which takes place during the last three and one-half years of the age, has to have already taken place by the sixth seal. This has to be true, because in order for the great multitude of Revelation 7:9 to have come out of the great tribulation from every nation and tribe and people and tongue, they had to have had the gospel preached to them! There must therefore be two independent groups of 144,000 in view, as one group would not be identified both in heaven before the great tribulation is over and also on earth being marked so as to be protected from the trumpet judgments which follow that great tribulation.
You shall count fifty days to the day after the seventh sabbath; then you shall present a new grain offering to the LORD. You shall bring in from your dwelling places two loaves of bread for a wave offering, made of two-tenths of an ephah; they shall be of a fine flour, baked with leaven as first fruits to the LORD (Leviticus 23:16-17).
And you shall celebrate the Feast of Weeks, that is, the first fruits of the wheat harvest . . . Exodus 34:22).
The two loaves of the Feast of Weeks (also known as the Feast of Harvest of the First Fruits) that are baked with leaven (as opposed to the unleavened bread representing Jesus) are commonly considered as representing the Church, composed of redeemed Jew and Gentile. The day of this feast, when the two loaves of bread are brought before the Lord as a grain wave offering of first fruits, is also known as the day of Pentecost.
And when the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent, rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance. . . but this is what was spoken of through the prophet Joel: "AND IT SHALL BE IN THE LAST DAYS," God says, "THAT I WILL POUR FORTH OF MY SPIRIT UPON ALL MANKIND; AND YOUR SONS AND YOUR DAUGHTERS SHALL PROPHESY, AND YOUR YOUNG MEN SHALL SEE VISIONS, AND YOUR OLD MEN SHALL DREAM DREAMS; EVEN UPON MY BONDSLAVES, BOTH MEN AND WOMEN, I WILL IN THOSE DAYS POUR FORTH OF MY SPIRIT and they shall prophesy. AND I WILL GRANT WONDERS IN THE SKY ABOVE, AND SIGNS ON THE EARTH BENEATH, BLOOD, AND FIRE, AND VAPOR OF SMOKE. THE SUN SHALL BE TURNED INTO DARKNESS, AND THE MOON INTO BLOOD, BEFORE THE GREAT AND GLORIOUS DAY OF THE LORD SHALL COME. AND IT SHALL BE, THAT EVERYONE WHO CALLS ON THE NAME OF THE LORD SHALL BE SAVED" (Acts 2:1-4,16-21).
Matching the 144,000 of Revelation 14:1 with the Male Child
As presented in the previous chapter, I believe this second group of 144,000 of Revelation 14:1 is the male child of Revelation 12:5. The offspring of the woman of Revelation 12 are two: the "male child" and the "rest of her offspring." The rest of her offspring are clearly identified as the saints warred against by the dragon (Satan), while the male child is snatched up to heaven out of reach of Satan’s grasp. This snatching up is described as taking place at the three and one-half year point (the midpoint) of the final seven years of the age, and it corresponds in timing to Revelation 14:1 where we see the 144,000 in heaven before the gospel is preached to the entire world. This preaching of the gospel to the entire world will be the substance of the last three and one-half years of the age, performed by a Church in the anointing and authority and power described in Revelation 12:10.
They have matured early as first fruits into the likeness of Jesus. There is no need for them to be further tested and refined by the great tribulation, as they are ready to be taken into the house of God. Hence they may correspond to the overcoming saints of the church of Philadelphia who are said to be kept from the hour of testing coming upon the whole earth and who have the Father’s name and the name of Jesus on their foreheads. They may also correspond to the overcoming saints of the church of Thyatira who will rule the nations with a rod of iron. All indications are that they are a mixed company of Jew and Gentile.
What is revealed here may indeed be a pre-tribulation rapture, but if so, it is a pre-great tribulation rapture of only the select few who will qualify as first fruits. The bulk of the saints will not have ripened sufficiently before the great tribulation to qualify. Satan still has something in them that has to be burned out by the purifying fires of tribulation in order to make them worthy of the Kingdom of God and refine them into the bride company without spot or wrinkle.
All indications are that a great outpouring of the Holy Spirit takes place at this point when the male child in the form of the first fruits is snatched up to heaven and Satan is hurled to earth.
And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, "Now the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, who accuses them before our God day and night" (Revelation 12:10).
This power and authority and salvation and evidence of God’s Kingdom which comes to earth are descriptive of what happened when the Holy Spirit fell on the day of Pentecost two thousand years ago. It takes place here again at the end of the age at the timing of the waving of the first fruits before the Lord, i.e., the snatching up of the male child.
The first fruits are speaking from heaven in Revelation 12:11 prophesying the victory of their brethren left on earth who will overcome Satan by the Blood of the Lamb, the word of their testimony, and by loving not their lives unto death.
Therefore, He will give them up until the time when she who is in labor has borne a child. Then the remainder of His brethren will return to the sons of Israel (Micah 5:3).
The makeup of the one-new-man first-fruits company of Jew and Gentile that forms the male child will establish the standard for those remaining on the earth. It will be a call to a primarily Gentile Church left on earth to establish the proper understanding and relationship to God’s chosen people of irrevocable covenant. There is definitely a returning and a rejoining that takes place during this period of time after the birth of the male child. The Church that will demonstrate the wisdom of God to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places during the last three and one-half years of the age can only be a one-new-man Church comprised of redeemed Jew and Gentile.