Today’s Reading: Rev 7
Similarly to the Four Horsemen, the 144,000 is a symbol. Here is the verse:
And I heard the number of those who were sealed, one hundred forty-four thousand, sealed out of every tribe of the people of Israel: From the tribe of Judah twelve thousand sealed, from the tribe of Reuben twelve thousand, from the tribe of Gad twelve thousand, from the tribe of Asher twelve thousand, from the tribe of Naphtali twelve thousand, from the tribe of Manasseh twelve thousand, from the tribe of Simeon twelve thousand, from the tribe of Levi twelve thousand, from the tribe of Issachar twelve thousand, from the tribe of Zebulun twelve thousand, from the tribe of Joseph twelve thousand, from the tribe of Benjamin twelve thousand sealed. Rev 7:4-8
The one hundred and forty-four thousand is a symbol or perfection as it is twelve times twelve times one-thousand. It symbolizes that the end will come when God has finished the work of creation and salvation and therefore achieved the “perfection” he intends. Here perfection simply implies the finishing of the task.
We know the 144,000 is symbolic because there were not twelve tribes of Israel but actually thirteen. Even a cursory examination of the text shows that the tribe of Dan is missing from the list. Instead, the list counts the tribe of Joseph and its split-off, the tribe of Manasseh as two tribes. Ancient tradition holds that the tribe of Dan is left out because it is from Dan that the Anti-Christ will rise.
Some denominations and sects take the 144,000 too literally and hold that only that number of souls in all human history will be saved. However, there is an easy way to disprove that, simply look at the next sentence:
After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” Rev 7:9-10
Here are people, in heaven, clearly saved, who believe in and follow the Lamb, our Lord Jesus Christ. We are told that they are a “great multitude which no man could number”. Since 144,000 is a finite number which a person could, in fact, count too, by definition there must be more people in heaven then just 144k. That’s good news! (To say the least).
One interesting thing about the 144,000 is that they are “sealed”. In Ezekiel 9 there is a story of God’s people being sealed before destruction comes to the city. The people are sealed with the Hebrew letter “taw” which is written as an “X” or more correctly a “t” on its side. (Hmmm, what do you think that is a foreshadowing of?) Later, the Jewish priests of the temple in Jerusalem would bless people by holding up the Bread of Presence and using it to make a “taw” sign over the crowd as they filed by while repeating, “God loves you”. (Again, a not so subtle foreshadowing of the Eucharist). So in the past, there were literal sealings of the Jewish people. Catholics today are sealed with the Holy Spirit during the sacrament of confirmation. During the sacrament, the Bishop seals the confirmandi with oil by making the sign of the cross on their forehead.
We see that the imagery of the book of Revelation has reliable symbolic meaning that can be found in the Old Testament and in Catholicism. However, the 144,000 may also have a more literal prophetic meaning. Since the 144,000 are seen coming directly out of the Jewish tribes it may have something to do with Jesus’ prophecy that the end times will not arrive until the Jewish people convert and accept Jesus. Recall Luke 13:
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! Behold, your house is forsaken. And I tell you, you will not see me until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’ Luke 13:34-35
So while it does not mean that only 144,000 will be saved it might coincide with a great conversion of the Jews just before the end of days. One could envision a great war in which 144,000 represents a substantial percentage of Jews still living in Israel or Jerusalem. Potentially, their sealing with the “taw” could represent their conversion to Christianity and the final acceptance of Jesus by the Jewish people.
Tomorrow: Rev 8