Tuesday, December 9, 2014

THE 144,000 (Revelation Chapter 7)

Revelation 7:1-8, “After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth, that no wind might blow on earth or sea or against any tree.  Then I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun, with the seal of the living God, and he called with a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm earth and sea, saying, “Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have sealed the servants[a] of our God on their foreheads.”  And I heard the number of the sealed, 144,000, sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel: 12,000 from the tribe of Judah were sealed, 12,000 from the tribe of Reuben, 12,000 from the tribe of Gad, 12,000 from the tribe of Asher, 12,000 from the tribe of Naphtali, 12,000 from the tribe of Manasseh, 12,000 from the tribe of Simeon, 12,000 from the tribe of Levi, 12,000 from the tribe of Issachar, 12,000 from the tribe of Zebulun, 12,000 from the tribe of Joseph, 12,000 from the tribe of Benjamin were sealed.”

Between the opening of the sixth and seventh seals an interlude takes place.  Chapter six concluded with the question, “Who can stand?”  (Revelation 6:17).  The answer to that question is provided in chapter 7.  The winds of judgment are held back by “four angels standing at the four corners of the earth” (Cf. Revelation 1) until certain individuals are “sealed” by God (Cf. Revelation 7:2).  The seal will work to keep these individuals from harm amidst the pending judgments (Cf. Revelation 9:4).

There is much debate regarding the identity of the 144,000 individuals referred to in this passage.  In their beginnings the Jehovah Witnesses cult claimed that they constituted this select band of individuals.  But they soon faced a challenge when their numbers grew beyond that point, so they started another category of 144,000.  According to their heresy, if you believed in the early decades of the 1900s you belonged to a heavenly group, but the later recruits belonged to an earthly one.  Their numbers have since bypassed 288,000, so they created a third group called “the servant band."

Who are these 144,000?  They are called “the servants of our God” (Revelation 7:3).  They are “sealed…on their foreheads (Revelation 7:3).  They come from “every tribe of the sons of Israel” (Revelation 7:4).  Twelves thousand from 12 different tribes are listed (Revelation 7:5-8).  The 144,000 are spoken of again in Revelation chapter 14.  It tells us there that this group alone could learn the “new song” that was sung before the throne (Cf. Revelation 14:3).  They are furthered described as being sexually celibate, truthful, and blameless (Cf. Revelation 14:4-5).  They “follow the Lamb wherever he goes” and represent “the firstfruits for God and the Lamb” (Revelation 14:5).

There are those that teach that God no longer has a plan for Israel.  One version of that kind of teaching applies the Old Testament promises to Israel to the church.  Another version says that the church has superseded (or replaced) Israel in God’s plan.  But God made literal promises to Israel that are yet to be fulfilled.  He repeatedly affirmed these promises through His prophets even as they rebuked the nation for its idolatry and disobedience.  The Apostle Paul, who both loved the church and his Jewish brethren (Cf. Romans 9:1-5; 10:1), foresaw the future salvation of Israel (Cf. Romans 11:25-26).  In this chapter we read of the beginnings of this work.  God will surely bring to fruition that which He has promised.

J. Vernon McGee has commented on the identity of the 144,000: “The Old Testament is filled with prophecy that God has given to these people that they are to be a nation forever and that they are to be in the land of Israel forever.  If you come to the New Testament and write Israel off as having disappeared and that God is through with them, you have to contradict the whole tenor and tone of the Old Testament.  I have said that the Book of Revelation is like a great union station or an airport where trains or planes come in from everywhere: all the major themes of prophecy come into Revelation.  Therefore, you would certainly expect Israel to be here in the Book of Revelation—and, lo and behold, here it is.  “Israel” means Israel.  If God had wanted to call Israel the church, I think He would have just said “church” when the time came.  But now the church is not mentioned anymore, and He is talking about 144,000 who are sealed to witness for Him.  The 144,000 are sealed, especially because they are going to witness during this period, and it is going to cost them a great deal.  If they were not sealed, they sure wouldn’t be able to make it through.  God never leaves Himself without a witness upon the earth.”

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