EDITOR’S NOTE: This groundbreaking series is being offered in celebration of a previously top-secret project and now unprecedented new 3-Volume book series (over 10-years in the making) from best-selling scholar Dr. Thomas Horn and acclaimed biblical history and theology majors Donna Howell and Allie Anderson: THE MYSTERY OF JESUS FROM GENESIS TO REVELATION—YESTERDAY, TODAY, AND TOMORROW
The one hundred forty-four thousand come into a parenthetic enlargement (they are further described) in Revelation 14:1–15:4. However, since they first appear here, we will address their identity at this point, and not later: Interpretations about just who these people are can be vast, including viewpoints such as: 1) the same people who were viewed as the multitude John saw in Revelation 7:9; 2) the only ones who will ever inherit the Kingdom of God (primarily a confusion from a false doctrine belonging to Jehovah’s Witnesses); 3) Christians who have kept the Sabbath holy; 4) all the redeemed who died during the Church Age; 5) ethnic Israelites; 6) recently converted messianic Jews; 7) folks who have already gone to heaven who are being sent back for another mission; 8) those who will rule alongside Christ in the millennial reign; 9) the physical Jews who rule during the millennial reign while the Christians rule spiritually; 10) those who died in the first three and a half years of the Tribulation; 11) the Old Testament saints who died before Christ’s First Advent; 12) those destined for martyrdom who are protected until after they have given their witness about Christ; and likely a billion others. Upon further study, many fall flat because of verses that refute them or because there are no verses that directly teach these concepts as being true.
For many who believe Christians will go through the seven-year Tribulation, the one hundred forty-four thousand is frequently viewed as symbolic of all of God’s people in the Church Age. An extension of this postmillennial teaching often states that these marked ones will be paramount to the restoration of Israel during the millennial reign, which will include some or all aspects of the reinstatement of Mosaic Law. Though this method of interpretation has a great following, and we respect this as a valid opinion, this is not our conclusion.
Some discount the idea that Scripture is referring to the tribes of Israel in Revelation 7 as an ethnic race—those who receive the mark of God because they’re direct descendants of one of the sons of Jacob—believing them instead to be a “spiritual Israel” (the Church universal), as supported by Romans 9–11. This passage states that: 1) not all of the descendants of Abraham will inherit God’s promise to Abraham, as it is a matter of the heart, not birthright (Romans 9:6–9); 2) a large number of Israelites did not believe, and therefore, have rejected God (9:27– 33); and 3) Gentiles have been conjoined through the Branch (Jesus) of God’s elect (11:11–24). However, Revelation 7 in no way suggests that these people receive God’s mark only because they’re related by blood to Jacob. The salvation or protection for those who receive the mark of God are obviously among the men and women who choose to follow Him. Therefore, as it pertains to the condition of the soul, bloodline inheritance is irrelevant…but we think there is reason to believe bloodline is key to identity.
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As to whether or not they will be literal Jews, the plain, literal writing of Revelation 7:5–8 appears to suggest they are. The word “tribes” in the Bible always refers to ethnic Israelites, though here, in Revelation, it’s not the same as the original twelve, providing another clue that a literal, ethnic identification is intended (for if a “spiritual Israel” was in view, the original names of the tribes would have sufficed). In Genesis 35:23–26, the tribes are as follows (and in this order): Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, Joseph, Benjamin, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, and Asher. In Revelation 7:5–8, there is no mention of Dan, and Manasseh is added. The short version of the backstory on this is that Jacob pronounced a blessing on Joseph’s sons, Ephraim and Manasseh (Genesis 48:11–20), making them heirs among the tribes, technically bringing the number to fourteen total tribes. In Deuteronomy 10:9, it is stated that the tribe of Levi would not receive an inheritance, because this tribe made up the priesthood God promised to personally provide for, initially taking them off the list (thirteen). But, because Christ fulfilled their function forever (Hebrews 7–10), and this section of Revelation is not referring to that kind of inheritance, Levi is listed among those marked by God (taking the number back to fourteen). When Rachel’s handmaiden gave birth to Dan, she considered it a judgment from God against her well before Dan ever had a chance to sin (Genesis 30:6). Then, in Judges 18:30–31, Dan was the first tribe that embraced pagan idolatry (they were essentially obliterated because of this), and in 1 Kings 12–15, after the split of Israel into two kingdoms, Jeroboam established centers of pagan worship in the lands of Dan and Bethel (which was on Ephraim’s soil). Both Dan and Ephraim spiritually “prostituted” themselves, “divorcing” their “Husband” and forsaking their inheritance, and in Hosea 4:17, we see that God’s response to such a decision is to leave them to their idols (also see Hosea 5:9, which states that Ephraim will be “desolate” in “the day of rebuke”). Once the idolatrous Dan and Ephraim are removed, we’re back at twelve tribes—eleven original, Manasseh added in place of Dan and Ephraim never listed—who will be marked by God in Revelation. (It’s interesting that Irenaeus believed the Antichrist would rise from the tribe of Dan![i]) If this section of Revelation is only about a “spiritual Church” and has nothing to do with Jewish ethnicity, the tweaks needed to arrive at the adjusted twelve are completely unnecessary, since they’re all symbolic anyway.
We also believe the phrasing of Revelation 7 places the great multitude from verse 7 as an addition to the twelve tribes in the first half of the chapter (“every people” does not suggest Jews only), so they are seen separately. If that is the case, then the one hundred forty-four thousand could, in fact, be ethnic Jews (whether literal or figurative, numerically). Assuming for a moment that they are, using the same passage as those who seek to disprove this theory, the book of Romans refers to an Old Testament group called the “remnant” (as a couple of examples where we find this word, see Micah 5:7; 7:18; Haggai 1:12, 14; and Isaiah 11:16): “And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, ‘There shall come out of Zion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob’” (Romans 11:26). But note:
“All Israel” is a recurring expression in Jewish literature, where it need not mean “every Jew without a single exception,” but “Israel as a whole.” Thus “all Israel has a portion in the age to come,” says the Mishnah tractate Sanhedrin (10.1), and proceeds immediately to name certain Israelites who have no portion therein.[ii]
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It seems most fitting to allow the natural reading of Revelation 7:5–8. Thus, we conclude that the people who receive the mark of God on their foreheads are Jews, and more specifically, the “remnant” Jews who are saved in that day through faith in Christ, the true Messiah. Due to the number twelve meaning “completion,” we could say that “one hundred forty-four thousand” is symbolic for “all Israel.” In other words, if we pretend that “twelve” is the equivalent of “completion,” the math would be: completion times completion equals “the fullness of all,” regardless of what that literal number would be. Bearing in mind the exception just noted in the source we quoted, the new equation is “the fullness of all who are saved through Christ.”
The purpose of this group, we believe, will be to stand as witnesses, Jewish missionaries, from the time of their conversion to the time of their physical death, where they will join up with the Messiah they have now accepted. This is supported by the idea that immediately after the numbering of them in Revelation 7:5–8, a great multitude comes forth wearing white robes and holding palm leaves. (Some scholars have worked out the chronology of Revelation and believe that the one hundred forty-four thousand are saved as a direct result of the two witnesses in chapter 11, which we find to be quite possible. In fact, some believe this so heartily that they say this conclusion is “doubtless.”[iii] If this is true, then it naturally bleeds into the idea that this “complete” army of now-messianic Jews could be the reason Israel recognizes the Man of Sin for who he is and turns against him, either causing him to break his own peace treaty with them, or his broken vow is the final straw that tips the scales of their recognition of his true identity. Either way, we believe those two events to be close in proximity.)
With that in mind, consider that Paul is a kind of representative of the Jews (as suggested by 1 Corinthians 15:8). If his example is any indicator of the zeal and passion these messianic Jews will have in those days, we may be looking at one hundred forty-four thousand—at least—mini-Pauls running around in the last days. After the Epistles, we’ve seen how incredible that one man was in establishing the glorious Church of Jesus, right? So many discussions about Revelation refer to the end of the world, doom, gloom, and tragedy, destruction of the planet, and all kinds of sorrow. In the midst of this, however, God’s plan paves the way for a massive multitude of Pauls to absolutely and irrefutably bombard the forces of evil with an end-time harvest larger than even the Christian growth described in the book of Acts!
God is so good. He is so, so merciful to the people He has created! That even while the world is raising up the anti-God-man, the Beast from the sea of humanity, and enthroning him above the true Son, God would personally provide a means to still—despite everything people have done against Him—come to redemption in the Name of the real Messiah…that’s unfathomable! Pauls everywhere!
Oh my gosh, we could scream with excitement at this picture!
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DOES “THE MYSTERY OF JESUS” INCLUDE THE WORLD PREPARING FOR ANTICHRIST?
Folks, Revelation is not all bad news. If even a fraction of these messianic Jews follow in the footsteps of Paul, though the churches they “plant” in that time will be underground, we’re talking about a New-Testament-style era of Christian passion the globe will have never seen.
Imagine: There they will be, in the future, when all hell literally breaks loose on the earth, damned and without hope, lost in the snares of the serpent’s seed, feeling the demoralizing, internal weight of a religious faith built upon the promiscuous seduction of the whore of Babylon (false religion, addressed soon). Whatever technology in operation at that time—television, the Internet, electronic devices, etc.—will assail their every moment with news of what Antichrist is up to. Pictures of him shaking hands with foreign politicians will cover public walls, transportation hives, universities, apostate church buildings, and any other place the imagination can devise. If we’re correct in our theology of the image of God, then these end-time sinners, too, will be made in that image and have just the smallest inkling in their discerning spirits that something isn’t right about this ten-coalition leader. Something about his eyes are darker than they should be; something about that smile creeps them out and makes the hair on their arms stand erect; his foreign policies and worship demands look a little too close to what that old book called “Rev-something” that was written by a guy on an island somewhere that predicted this “superman” to be a grand deceiver; their great Gramma So-and-So said some revealing things about a “Man of Sin ” that make him just look too similar to this “world savior”… They will watch his speeches, delivered against the backdrop of his intensely good looks and unparalleled articulation, and will believe that everything he says makes sense, drawing them back into his plan. He will outshine every human mega-hero who has ever lived, and the sheer volume of his world-dominating power will attest to every word that falls out of his mouth, reinstating the faith of the masses…but something is going to feel “off” about him that some of them can’t ever completely shake. The invisible but vile smoke of hell swirling about his presence as he speaks with the tongues of demons challenges his authority for those with “eyes to see” in the latter days. Many will silence that internal voice, as is clear in the Word, but some will not, as is obvious by the ministry of this army bearing the mark of God. So, as they watch the destruction of the world crumbling around them and feel just the beginning seed of doubt in their beloved Antichrist, in walks—wait for it…
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One hundred and forty-four thousand Pauls, marked with apostolic boldness by God, Himself, carrying the only message that saves, anointed by the Holy Spirit, preaching in the streets with a craving for holiness and love so unmatched that they will be willing to die mid-sermon, just like our disciple-making, God-fearing, kick-the-devil-where-it-hurts apostle!
WHOA! BOOM! Behold the power of God in the face of the grandest manifestation of satanic forces in the history of the world. Total knock-out. TKO! Game, set, match…then Jesus!
BOY that’s powerful!
Hallelujah! Glory to the Prince of Peace! We can’t not get excited about the light that outshines the darkness of this future time when God takes hold of it! An entire world will one day fall under the influence of Satan’s son, but when the darkness is at its most permeating depths, a light will break through the suffocating stronghold, that solid rock of iniquity—not just cracking through, but busting it into smithereens and bringing a revelation of the Son of Glory to those who have not yet completely rejected Him.
Thank You, Jesus, for Your endless grace to the wicked human race…
As to the identity of the great multitude, Revelation 7:14 directly identifies these as the ones who have washed their garments in the blood of the Lamb and who have been saved out of the Great Tribulation. This seems to indicate that they are different from all who found Jesus prior to the start of the Tribulation. They also appear to be a different group from the tribes, because the tribes were numbered, and this particular multitude is one that “no man could number” (7:9). These “Tribulation saints” have been somewhat of a puzzle for premillennialists, leading to the question: “If the saints are raptured before the Tribulation, and therefore there are no believers on the earth during this time—and if the one hundred forty-four thousand are Jews—then who is this group, and how did they come to be saved? Furthermore, if they missed the Rapture, how can they join up with Christ? They missed their chance, didn’t they?”
First, let us state quite firmly that we (along with the majority of scholars) believe the whole purpose of the Tribulation is to gather up the last of those who will come to the knowledge of God and be spared His wrath. (The scroll with the seven seals is God’s plan of redemption, so the unfolding of it at the onset of the Tribulation is the unfolding of God’s redemptive plan for all who have not yet received the Messiah as personal Savior.) Therefore, we have no problem believing this group is absolutely saved, as the Bible says here. Though some theological threads claim that there will be no second chances after the Rapture, that makes no sense in light of Revelation 20:4, which talks of those who are beheaded because they believe. Again, if there were no second chances, what is the point of persecuting believers?
Second, though we don’t know specifics yet, we also believe God will take up the saints, but will leave their ministries on earth in a way that they can continue the harvest even after we’re gone. These ministries include platforms such as books, blogs, articles, online video sermons, or the Bible, itself (though one of Howell’s popular theories is that Antichrist will have those largely destroyed and replaced with what he will teach is “the real Bible,” cut and twisted from our current canon into a new, blasphemous, mangled, web-of-deception canon, and the true Holy Bible will be preserved only under the radar, in secret). Further, when the Rapture occurs, the teaching of the saints will live on in the memories of those who remain, and when a countless number of Christians are suddenly gone, they will take seriously what they had been taught, along with those who claimed to be Christians but didn’t really believe in Christ until the disappearance of the rest of their congregations. All of this is in addition to those who come to Christ as a direct result of the one hundred forty-four thousand messianic Jews, as well as the “two witnesses” (we will address these men later, in our look at Revelation 11:1–13).
So, the idea that they can somehow come to know Christ is a nonissue for us.
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As to their identity, most evidence (we believe) points to the idea that, because of the severe persecution on earth in those days against Christians, anyone who becomes saved after the Rapture is likely a martyr. Most simply put, these “Tribulation saints” could synonymously be called “Tribulation martyrs” (not to be confused with those martyred in the Church Age prior to the Rapture in 6:9–11).
Attending to their “joining” with Christ, the angel explains to John that they are already standing at the throne of God day and night, serving Him in His temple (7:13–17). Though they miss the Rapture, we see clearly they are in the presence of God after death, though their admission into His presence came at a much higher cost than those who were able to escape God’s wrath: “And I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years” (Revelation 20:4b).
Before we move on, we will share a few brief notes regarding the timing of all these events: Many premillennial scholars associate the opening of the first six seals to be the beginning of the seven-year Tribulation, while chapter 7 (the mark of God on the foreheads of the one hundred forty-four thousand) is at the midway point (approximately three and a half years in). If this is the correct understanding, then the seventh seal is in the early part of the second half of the Tribulation. This places a number of events that we haven’t yet covered (the opening of the scroll, the death and resurrection of Antichrist, the death of the two witnesses, the abomination of desolation in the Temple, and other occurrences) all between the first six seals and the forthcoming trumpets and bowl judgments. Other possibilities are that the seven years begin in Revelation 12 (around the time the dragon is ready to devour the child of the travailing woman who is clothed with the sun); and still others say it begins in Revelation 16 (bowl judgments). While the authors of this book don’t claim to have all the answers—again, we subscribe primarily as pan-tribbers (it will all pan out in the end, so we should not allow this discussion to cause division in the Body, or as Dr. Thomas Horn says, “we should be ready for pre-trib or pre-wrath alternatives regarding Rapture timing”)—our personal approach to the book of Revelation is mainstream premillennial. (Some of our timing is around the idea that Revelation 9:3–4 shows that the seal of God protects the one hundred forty-four thousand from the fifth trumpet; this is material we will look at soon.) We will continue in our study as if that is the case, but we want our readers to know that they can fully expect our timing to be different than other works on this topic, and we respect those opinions also.
Finally, the Lamb opens the seventh and final seal of the scroll. As this transpires, there is a silence throughout heaven for about a half hour. John sees seven angels stand before God, who are each given a trumpet. Another angel approaches carrying a gold incense burner. He mixes a great amount of incense together with the prayers of God’s people and offers it upon the altar. After the angel pours this mixture out, the smoke ascends to God, and the angel fills the incense burner with fire from the altar and throws it down to the earth. Thunder and lightning ensue, and there is a terrible earthquake (Revelation 8:1–5).
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WILL BLOOD OF THE ANTICHRIST “SAVE” PEOPLE FROM THIS!?
Utter silence in heaven, Bible interpreters say, is possibly in respect for the prayers of God’s people, but it could also be the awesome reverence for God’s forthcoming judgment upon the planet and a moment of silence for what the people on earth are about to experience.
The source of the thunder, lightning, and earthquake here appear to be, at least in part, the prayers of the saints, including the early martyrs who were killed innocently, merely because they believed in Jesus. Revelation 6:10 says the martyrs “cried with a loud voice, saying, ‘How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?’” This moment—this absolutely terrifying moment at the beginning of the end of the world—is their answer.
UP NEXT: The Seven Trumpets (Revelation 8:6–11:19)
[i] Ibid., 114; footnote/endnote 6.
[ii] Bruce, F. F., Romans… 218.
[iii] Hoyt, Herman A., The End Times, 142.
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