And I heard the number of the sealed, 144,000, sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel.
Chapter 7 is one of the more misunderstood chapters of Revelation. Even though the book says it is “signified” (Revelation 1:1), many take what is written in the book literally instead of figuratively. For example, I’ve talked to some who read chapter 7 and conclude there will be only 144,000 souls in heaven when all is said and done. I’ve talked to others who think that in the end only 144,000 from the nation of Israel will be saved. Such is not the case.
To understand Revelation one must see the parallels in the Bible between the physical Israel of the Old Testament and the spiritual Israel in the New Testament. Scripture teaches that much of what is in the Old Testament foreshadows or symbolizes spiritual truths presented in the New Testament (Hebrews 10:1a). For example, God’s chosen people in the Old Testament lived in the earthly kingdom of Israel, whereas Christians are God’s chosen people in the New Testament and are Israel in a spiritual sense (Romans 2:28-29; Galatians 6:16; John 18:36).
This is why James addressed his book to “the twelve tribes scattered abroad” (James 1:1). He wasn’t meaning the twelve literal tribes of Israel one reads about in the Old Testament because by the time James wrote his letter ten of those twelve tribes had long ceased to exist. Rather, James was addressing his fellow Christians who are “spiritual Israel” under the New Testament. That is why he addressed them as “brethren” in the very next verse (James 1:2).
This is key to understanding who the 144,000 are in Revelation. Right after seeing a vision which showed the end of the world when the day of judgment from God arrives (6:12-17), John sees another vision in which four angels have been given power to harm the earth and sea (7:1-2). Yet another angel who has the seal of God stops them from destroying the world “until we have sealed the servants of God on their foreheads” (7:2-3). The number of those who receive this seal of God is 144,000 (7:4), specifically 12,000 from each of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel (7:5-8).
There are several reasons these numbers aren’t meant to be taken literally. First, we read elsewhere in the Bible that Christians are those who are sealed by God (Ephesians 1:13; 2 Corinthians 1:21-22; 2 Timothy 2:19). Secondly, comparing the names of the sons of Israel in verses 5-8 to an Old Testament list of the literal twelve tribes of Israel (Numbers 1:4-15) reveals several differences. For example, Jacob’s son, Dan, is listed in Numbers but not in Revelation. Levi is on the list in Revelation 7:5-8, but Levi was not listed among the twelve tribes of Old Testament Israel because Levi was a priestly tribe set apart from the others. Joseph is listed in Revelation 7, but Joseph’s sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, had actual tribes named after them instead of him because Jacob (Israel) adopted Joseph’s sons as his own (Genesis 48:1-5). Reuben was Jacob’s oldest son, and accordingly was listed first among the twelve tribes in Numbers. Yet Judah is above Reuben in Revelation because Judah is the tribe from which Jesus came (Hebrews 7:14).
Therefore, Revelation’s list of twelve tribes are not the literal twelve tribes of Old Testament Israel and thus should be viewed as symbolic. Since Christians are viewed as spiritual Israel in the New Testament and are said to be sealed by God, we know the 144,000 symbolizes Christians.
Why the number 144,000? Just as the number 13 is associated with being unlucky today, numbers in biblical times often had symbolic meanings. 12 could be associated with organized religion since the laws of Moses and Christ were given to twelve tribes and twelve apostles. 1,000 symbolized ultimate completeness. From each of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel which symbolizes all Christians, 12,000 are sealed: the complete number of those who have obeyed God. 12,000 multiplied by 12 (the number of the tribes) equals 144,000.
Are you part of their number? Have you obeyed the gospel? Are you a Christian? Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn from the Bible how to be born again.