There are differing opinions on who the 144,000 mentioned in the New Testament book of Revelation, chapter 7, verse 4. Here’s a look at a variety of interpretations of what this passage means.
Here are a few different translations of this passage from the Bible.
“Then I heard the number of those who were sealed: 144,000 from all the tribes of Israel.” (NIV)
“And I heard the number of the sealed, 144,000, sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel:” (ESV) (NASB)
“And I heard the number of them which were sealed: and there were sealed an hundred and forty and four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel.” (KJV)
Chapter 7 of Revelation, verses 5-8 goes on to tell us that the 144,000 are totaled from taking 12,000 from each of the twelve tribes of Israel which includes Judah (were sealed), Reuben, Gad, Asher, Naphtali, Manasseh, Simeon, Levi, Issachar, Zebulun, Joseph and Benjamin (were sealed).
Verse 9 goes on to speak about “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages.”
Next, let’s look at who these “144,000” are according to different interpretations of this passage.
One interpretation, according to those who believe the church will be “raptured” prior to the great tribulation, is that the 144,000 are ethnic Jews who are converted (12,000 from each tribe), according to the Kevin DeYoung writing for the Gospel Coalition, who says:
“These Jewish converts, in turn, evangelize the Gentiles who make up the great multitude in white robes in Revelation 7:9.” DeYoung continues: “The 144,000 are not an ethnic Jewish remnant. The 144,000 represent the entire community of the redeemed.”
Bible teacher Dr. David Jeremiah says that the 144,000 will evangelize and lead a revival that will take place during the tribulation, a time when a great falling away from the church (1 Timothy 4:1) will occur. He mentions the passage of Joel were “sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions” (Joel 2:28-29).
Dr. Jeremiah refers to Revelation 14:4 which mentions that the 144,000 will be male virgins. He believes these men will evangelize full-time during the tribulation. And will be spared from the coming judgment (Revelation 7:3).
Writing for Christianity, crosswalk contributing writer Chad Napier compares symbolic and literal interpretations of the 144,000.
Napier says that “Christians agree the 144,000 does not denote the total of souls throughout history who will be ultimately be saved from the wrath of eternal damnation” and that they interpret Revelation 7:4 as either a literal 144,000 people or symbolic of “an indefinite number of people.”
The literal, futuristic count, says Napier, is the theory that the 144,000 are “sealed Jews” who are protected from the antichrist during the tribulation period.
Oppositely, there are those who see the number 144,000 as symbolic of completeness. Napier says that numerology may be at play, as “twelve” is the symbol of “completeness, perfection, and God’s power throughout the Bible.”
Therefore, twelve multiplied by twelve, and then multiplied by 1000 gives us the 144,000. The number 1000 is a common figurative whole number in the Old Testament.
Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that the 144,000 describes a literal, specific number of those who will rule in heaven with Christ over an undetermined number of subjects on Earth (Revelation 5:10) who will live in an earthly paradise that fulfills God’s original purpose for humankind.
These 144,000 will serve as kings and priests alongside Jesus Christ in heaven. They will be part of the “new heavens” or heavenly government that will rule over a “new earth” or earthly society.
The 144,000 in this heavenly government will help restore mankind to the righteous conditions that God originally intended.
The above interpretations are by no means complete, but rather an introduction to some of the theories regarding the 144,000. There are a variety of concerns and problems with all of the above interpretations.
There are considerations about biblical patriarchs such as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, all of whom did not belong to a specific tribe of Israel. You also have Joshua and Sampson belonging to the tribes of Ephraim and Dan that are excluded from the 144,000.
You have the issue of the 144,000 being virgin males. The list of concerns goes on and on and the reader is well advised to conduct further research on this topic, exploring further interpretations.