WHO ARE THE 144,000?

PMT 2014-001 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.

Jerusalem besieged 2In my latest blogs I have been focusing on Revelation 6 and the seven-sealed scroll. John separates the seventh seal from the preceding six by inserting an interlude. At Revelation 7:1 a gracious interlude interrupts the seal judgments (Rev 7:1–8) before presenting the seventh seal, which will finally be opened a Rev 8:1.

In this interlude we find “four angels” temporarily hold back the “winds” (of destruction; cp. Jer 49:36, 37; 51:1, 2; Da 7:2; Mt 7:24ff), countering the four destroying horsemen (Rev 6:1–8).  Then another angel appears (Rev 7:2) and commands: “Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees until we have sealed the bond-servants of our God on their foreheads” (Rev 7:3).

This is a hotly-debated passage in the New Testament’s mostly hotly-debated book. Who are these 144,000? And how do the function in Revelation’s story-line?


Book of Revelation Made Easy (by Ken Gentry)
Helpful introduction to Revelation presenting keys for interpreting.
Also provides studies of basic issues in Revelation’s story-line.


This angelic interruption of the seal judgments symbolically portrays a providential halt in God’s judgments on Israel. This halt is not for Jerusalem’s assistance. Rather it allows the minority population of Jewish Christians in Jerusalem to flee as the Roman general Vespasian is distracted (with the fall of Nero and the Roman Civil Wars) before he destroys Jerusalem (cp. Mt 24:16–22).

As an eyewitness writing the history of the Jewish War with Rome, the Jewish historian and priest Josephus shows that a pause in the military operations did in fact occur (Josephus, J.W. 4:9:2; 4:11:5). This cessation of hostilities provide the Christians trapped in Jerusalem an opportunity to flee before the war erupts anew. We have both Christ’s prophecy (Lk 21:20–22) and historical records (Eusebius and Epiphanius)1 showing that Christians would flee Jerusalem and be spared.

In this context the 144,000 sealed saints of God appear on stage in John’s forensic drama. The figure “144,000” is a perfect number composed of exactly twelve squared times 1,000. The perfectly rounded figure appearing in this symbolic book must itself be symbolic. But of what?

The 144,000 saints represent Jewish converts to Christianity who dwell in Israel. Note the following evidence:

  1. The text expressly refers to the twelve tribes of Israel: “I heard the number of those who were sealed, one hundred and forty-four thousand sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel” (Rev 7:4; cf. vv 5–8). John later calls this body of 144,000: “first fruits” (Rev 14:4). Christianity’s first converts hail from Israel (Ac 1:8; 2:5–12, 22–24, 36–42; cp. Ro 1:16; 2:9–10). They are the remnant of Israel that forms the seed of the new covenant church.
  2. John distinguishes them from “the great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues” (Rev 7:9). John is careful to make this strong distinction between the two groups.
  3. The Old Testament source from which John draws his imagery is Ezekiel 9:4, which clearly specifies they are from Jerusalem: “The LORD said to him, ‘Go through the midst of the city, even through the midst of Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the abominations which are being committed in its midst.’”
  4. God protects them in “the Land” which is being judged (Rev 7:1; 14:3). The Greek phrase he ge in Rev often means “the land,” i.e., the promised Land of Israel. This fits well with the previous action occurring in Israel.
  5. Such a designation comports well with Christ’s warning his followers to flee Jerusalem before its final overthrow (Mt 24:15–16; Lk 21:20–24). He promises that those who heed his prophecy will be protected (Lk 21:18–19).
  6. We must always remember that Revelation’s events are to occur “shortly” because the “time is near” (Rev 1:1, 3; 22:6, 10). This fits perfectly with the historical flight of Jewish Christians from Jerusalem prior to its fall.

Footnote

  1. Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 3:5. Epiphanius Heresies 29:7:7ff; 30:2:7.

Jesus, Matthew, and the Rejection of Israel” (1 CD) by Ken Gentry
Surveys the Gospel of Matthew and highlights the numerous references — direct and indirect — that suggest that Matthew’s Gospel was written (at least in part) to demonstrate that God was rejecting Israel. A great many passages in Matthew are surveyed and briefly elaborated upon.


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7 thoughts on “WHO ARE THE 144,000?

  1. pilgrimsarbour January 1, 2014 at 1:46 pm

    Thanks, Ken. I really appreciate how you’ve laid things out here. Very helpful. — Tim Roof

  2. CJ January 9, 2014 at 2:32 pm

    Ken Gentry offers an interpretation of the 144,000 in Revelation.

  3. CJ January 9, 2014 at 2:38 pm

    Can you unravel how/why 12 squared times 1000 is significant to the original readers? What about that number to the original readers would lead them to think, “Oh that’s a number signifying a perfect amount of Jewish converts?”

  4. Kenneth Gentry January 9, 2014 at 3:33 pm

    So? You want me to unscrew the inscruitable, eh? :) I will use your question for writing a full blog article. It will appear on January 24, 2014 (which is my first open time slot). So stay tuned. Thanks for your question.

  5. CJ January 9, 2014 at 4:03 pm

    Great I can’t wait.
    Your resources along with others are helping me piece together this eschatology thing.
    Thanks to you, I’m a lot closer.

  6. Werner Skaug January 30, 2014 at 4:03 am

    Thank you for an informative article, Kenneth. Didn’t know there was such a thing as preterism before last year (used to be a futurist). Have a lot of details to work out, but I think I understand the broad stokes of preterism. The 144 000 in Rev. Your explanation fits with history and the Bible. :-)

  7. Horace Abreu March 3, 2014 at 1:34 am

    I like your blog. I would like to subscribe to it. Where can i do it?

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