Good and Bad News About the 144,000
By Werner E. Lange | 1 February 2019 |
This commentary corresponds to Sabbath School Lesson 6 for February 2-8, “The Sealed People of God.”
Revelation 7 describes the sealing of the 144,000. The meaning of this seal is described in Rev 9:4: “They [the locusts] were told not to harm the grass of the earth … but only those people who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads” (ESV). The seal of the living God has a protective function for the sealed servants of God (7:2-3).
To answer the question who these sealed 144,000 actually are, we must consider a special structure in the Revelation, that we also find in this chapter. John expresses it with the words I heard… I looked. We already found it in chap. 1, when John first heard behind him a loud voice (1:10b) and only then saw the one who was speaking to him (1:12), so that he could describe him. We find the same structure in chap. 5: John first heard Christ’s titles (lion from the tribe of Judah, root of David), then he saw him as a slaughtered lamb (5:5-6).
In the same way John first heard the number of the sealed (144,000, 7:4), and then saw them and was surprised that it was a large crowd that no one could number (v. 9). We do not need to speculate about their identity, because one of the elders is very interested that John should know where they have come from (v. 13). He then describes the negative experiences that the great multitude had to go through: “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation … They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat” (vs. 14, 16). This great tribulation is mentioned in Daniel 12:1; it occurs shortly before the Second Coming of Christ. The described experiences allude to the second and fourth of the seven last plagues (16:3, 8-9). The great multitude went through this terrible time; they are all those faithful followers of Christ who are subsequently transformed alive and brought to heaven by Jesus (cf. 1 Thess 4:17). This is the good news about the 144,000: It is an innumerable large group—you can belong to it!
The bad news is: Not every Christian belongs automatically to this group at the end of time. As only authentic documents are sealed, so only true followers of Christ will get the seal of the living God. This is obvious from the description of the 144,000 in Rev 14:1-5. They have the name of the Lamb written on their forehead (v. 1b). In biblical parlance, name is often a code word for character (cf. Ex 33:19). The sealed 144,000 obviously have a Christ-like character. “In their mouths there was found no falsehood (v. 5)”. All those who love lies and habitually lie will not come into the New Jerusalem, but will suffer the second death (22:15; 21:8b). The 144,000 are blameless (v. 5b); they “have not defiled themselves with women, for they are virgins” (v. 4). Like the other terms in this section is this expression symbolic. In Ezekiel 18:6, 11, 15 the phrase defiling a woman refers to unfaithfulness. The women refer to the whore Babylon, the mother of prostitutes (17:5). Virgins refer in Greek to both women and men. So, this phrase is about spiritual infidelity; the 144,000 have remained faithful to Christ despite all satanic delusions and temptations: “They follow the Lamb wherever he goes” (14:4b). I hope that you will be among this group!
You’ll find more on the 144,000 in Rev 7 in my elaboration Revelation DIY 6, which you can access here.
Werner E. Lange is the retired book editor of the German Adventist Publishing House.