Who are the 144,000 in Revelation 7:1-8?
Rev 7:1. After these things I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth, that the wind should not blow on the earth, on the sea, or any tree.
We are talking in symbolic language in Rev 7:1-8. The four corners of the earth are symbolic of the four points of the compass of the earth: North, South, East and West. The winds represent the winds of strife and the seven plagues Rev 16: are to come upon the world before the Second Coming of Christ.
The four angels have been active before the Second Coming of Christ in Rev 9:14.15., under the sixth trumpet. “Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates.” So the four angels, who had been prepared for the hour and day and month and year, were released to kill a third of mankind. (This happened when the Ottoman Turks attacked the Byzantine Empire and ended its 150 year rule of infliction and torment upon men in 1849.)
The river Euphrates as explained in a further study in Rev 17:14-16 is a symbol of the boundary line between God´s people and unbelievers. The work of these four angels in Rev 7:1, are related to the seven angels with the seven plagues to be poured out onto the earth before the Second Coming of Christ. When the boundary line of the great river Euphrates is taken away, that is the boundary line between God´s people and the unbelieving nations; then the way for the kings of the east is prepared and they go in for the attack, to destroy God´s people before the Second Coming of Christ. Rev 16:12.
This time, is explained in “The Great Controversy,” “In that fearful time the righteous must live in the sight of a holy God without an intercessor. The restraint, which has been upon the wicked, is removed and Satan has entire control of the finally impenitent. God´s long-suffering has ended. The world has rejected His mercy, despised His love, and trampled upon His law. The wicked have passed the boundary of their probation; the Spirit of God, persistently resisted, has been at last withdrawn. Unsheltered by divine grace, they have no protection from the wicked one. Satan will then plunge the inhabitants of the earth into one great, final trouble. As the angels of God cease to hold in check the fierce winds of human passion, all the elements of strife will be let loose. The whole world will be involved in ruin more terrible than that which came upon Jerusalem of old[i].”
In Rev 7:1-3., it says that these four angels will harm the earth, the sea and the any tree.
What do trees mean in prophetical symbolic language from the Bible?
Word study on trees
Ps 1:1-3 Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly – – – But his delight is in the law of the Lord. And in His law he meditates day and night. He shall be like a tree.
Luk 3:9 And even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore, every tree, which does not bear good fruit, is cut down and thrown into the fire. (John the Baptist is talking to the multitudes in Luk 3:7 who came out to hear him. These were tax collectors, soldiers, scribes and Pharisees. So trees in this text, are a symbol of people who were believers in God but have fallen and do not bear the fruits of righteousness).
Math 7:19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. (Christ is referring to false prophets in this text. Math 7:15 Beware of false prophets).
Rev 9:4 They were commanded not to harm the grass of the earth, or any green thing, or any tree, but only those men who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads. (This event has occurred under the fifth trumpet. The Byzantine Empire inflicted and tormented men for 150 years. As the text states, only those men who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads were tormented. Seal and foreheads are related to men and not literal trees).
Judges 9:8 The trees once went forth to anoint a king over them, and they said to the olive tree, reign over us! (Trees in this text refer to the citizens of Shechem in Israel. The king they wanted to anoint was Jotham).
Prov 3:18 She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her. (This text likens wisdom and understanding to a tree. Prov 3:13).
Prov 11:30 The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life.
Song 2:3 Like an apple tree among the trees of the woods, so is my beloved among the sons.
Ezek 31:3 Indeed Assyria was a cedar in Lebanon, with fine branches that shaded the forest, and of high stature; and its top was among the thick boughs.
Ezek 31:18 To which of the trees in Eden will you then be likened in glory and greatness? Yet you shall be brought down with the trees of Eden to the depths of the earth; you shall lie in the midst of the uncircumcised, with those slain by the sword. (This is referring to Pharaoh and all his people).
Dan 4:20-22 The tree that you saw, which grew and became strong, whose height reached to the heavens and which could be seen by all the earth, whose leaves were lovely and its fruits abundant, in which was food for all, under which the beasts of the field dwelt, and in whose branches the birds of the heaven had their name – it is you, O king, who have grown and become strong – – -. (This is the prophet Daniel named Belshazzar who is explaining the dream to king Nebuchadnezzar).
Trees are a symbol of men, both believers in God and non-believers in God. Trees are a symbol of men tormented by soldiers. Trees are a symbol of false prophets, the citizens of Shechem, king Jotham, wisdom, the fruit of the righteous, beloved, Assyria, Pharaoh and King Nebuchadnezzar.
Rev 7:4 And I heard the number of those who were sealed. One hundred and forty-four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel were sealed.
What does the word “number” mean her in this text? Is it to be taken as a literal number or a symbolic number?
In the book of Revelation, the rule of interpretation is, if the passage of scripture is symbolic, then everything has to be interpreted symbolic. If the passage of scripture is literal in its content, then everything has to be interpreted literally.
The passage of scripture Rev 7:1-8 is using symbolic language. For example trees in Rev 7:1.3., are interpreted symbolically. When we look in Rev 5:11 it writes about the angels of God around the throne in heaven. “and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands.” This is not a precise number of angels, however there was a number of angels around the throne. The word number means that there were many angels and only God knows that number. Again, in Rev 9:16 now the number of the army of horsemen was two hundred million; I heard the number of them. Is this number exactly two hundred million? No one could know, only God. Both texts in Rev 5:11 and Rev 9:16 are used were symbolic language is used in its content.
We shall now find out and see if the tribes of Israel in Rev 7:5-8 are also symbolic or literal.
In the first column (with verse numbers on the left) are the original tribes, which were the sons of Jacob. The next column are the tribes comprised of the 144,000.
The first thing one notices in these two columns is that the tribe of Dan is missing in the 144,000 in Rev 7:5-8. Therefore, these tribes in the 144,000 cannot be from the same tribes as the original in Gen 49:3-27. There is a belief from some Charismatic churches that the original 12 tribes of Israel will return to Jerusalem some day in the future, to welcome the Messiah at the Second Coming of Christ. From a careful study of these texts, we can see that the 144,000 are not the same tribes as the original tribes in Gen 49:3-27. Therefore, this belief is a false teaching that does not agree with the Bible.
The next, one notices is that the tribe of Manasseh, which ascended from one of the two sons of Joseph is added to the 144,000.
In addition, many of the tribes of Israel were deported to Assyria or Babylon, so they could integrate with the local people there and marry them. This was a way the Assyrians destroyed the nationality and religion of the Israelites, when they were deported to a different land. For example:
1 Chron 5:25.26. And they were unfaithful to the God of their fathers, and played the harlot after the gods of the peoples of the land, whom God had destroyed before them. So the God of Israel stirred up the spirit of Pul king of Assyria, that is, Tiglath-Pilser king of Assyria. He carried the Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh into captivity. He took them to Halah, Habor, Hara, and the river of Gozan to this day.
2 Kgs 15:29. (In another deportation, came the king of Assyria again) In the days of Pekah king of Israel, Tiglath-Pileser king of Assyria came and took Ijon, Abel Beth Maachah, Janoah, Kedesh, Hazor, Gilead, and Galilee, all the land of Naphtali; and he carried them captive to Assyria.
2 Kgs 17:22.23. For the children of Israel walked in all the sins of Jeroboam, which he did; they did not depart from them, until the Lord removed Israel out of His sight, as He said by all His servants the prophets. So Israel (the eight tribes) was carried away from their own land to Assyria, as it is to this day.
2 Kgs 24:10-15. At that time the servants of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came up against Jerusalem, and the city was besieged. And Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came against the city, as his servants were besieging it. Then Jehoiachin king of Judah, his mother, his servants, his princes, and his offices went out to the king of Babylon; and the king of Babylon, in the eighth year of his reign, took him prisoner.
And he carried out from there all the treasures of the house of the Lord and the treasures of the king´s house, and he cut in pieces all the articles of gold which Solomon king of Israel had made in the temple of the Lord, as the Lord had said. Verse 14. Also he carried into captivity all Jerusalem: all the captains and all the mighty men of war, ten thousand captives, and all the craftsmen and smiths. None remained except the poorest of the land. And he carried Jehoichin captive to Babylon.
There were three major captivities from Jerusalem to Babylon, and some minor captivities.
- The first was when the prophet Daniel and his friends were taken into captivity. Dan 1:1 in 605 B.C.
- The second attack on Jerusalem by King Nebuchadnezzar. 2 Kgs 24:10-15 in 598/597 B.C.
- The third attack by king Nebuchadnezzar. 2 Kgs 25:1 in 589/588 B.C.
Who and how many came back from the 70 year captivity from Babylon?
None of the Israelites who were deported to Assyria came back to Israel. They were integrated with the Assyrian people, married them and disappeared as tribes of Israel.
Ezra 2:64. 42,360 people.
Ezra 1:5 Then the heads of the father´s houses of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and the Levites, and all whose spirits of God had moved, arose to go up and build the house of the Lord which is in Jerusalem. (So there were only people from three tribes of Israel who came back to Jerusalem).
However, having said that, there were some from the ten tribes of Israel who went over to the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, when Jeroboam forbade his people to go to Jerusalem and pray in the temple during the annual feasts. He installed the worship of a calf, which he learnt from his stay in Egypt.
2 Chron 11:14 For the Levites left their common-lands and their possessions and came to Judah and Jerusalem, for Jeroboam and his sons had rejected them from serving as priests to the Lord.
2 Chron 11:16 And after the Levites left, those from all the tribes of Israel, such as set their heart to seek the Lord God pf Israel, came to Jerusalem to sacrifice to the Lord God of their fathers.
Who is spiritual Israel today?
Rom 2:28.29. For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God.
Gal 3:26-29. For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ´s, then you are Abraham´s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
James 1:1. James, a bondservant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes, which are scattered abroad. (Here in this text, James does not mention the three tribes who are in Israel e.g. Levites, Benjamin and Judah, but only the twelve tribes that are scattered in the “diaspora” in the Greek language. Where is the diaspora? It is a general term used for Jews and Christian believers who had settled outside of Palestine).
In conclusion, nine of the twelve literal tribes of Israel have disappeared by integration with the people in Assyria and Babylon. The apostle Paul says that a Jew is not a Jew by birth anymore, and there is no difference between Jew and non-Jew in God´s eyes, for we are all one in Christ Jesus.
Therefore, when coming to the text in Rev 7:1-8 referring to the 144,000, we find from the Bible, that this is a symbolic number and symbolic tribes of which only God knows.
Where do the 144,000 come from?
They are related to the martyrs under the alter under the fifth seal in Rev 7:9-11, and those who experience the great tribulation before the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.
Math 23:29-35. (This is Christ talking about the woes upon the scribes and Pharisees). Verses 34.35. Therefore, indeed, I send you prophets, wise men, and scribes: some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city, that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zachariah, son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar.
So all who have been slain for the word of God would refer to all believers from the time of Abel to the time of Zachariah and thereafter. This would include all the millions that were slain during the Dark Middle Ages by the papacy in the Roman Catholic Church.
Rev 6:11 Then a white robe was given to each of them; and it was said to them that they should rest a little while longer, until both the (number) of their fellow servants and their brethren, who would be killed as they were, was completed.
Rev 6:9.10. Refers to all the believers who have been slain for the word of God through all ages. Rev 6:11 refers to a time in the future when Christians who keep the Ten Commandments of God and the faith of Jesus Christ will be slain. These white robes which were given to the those slain under the altar are related to the white robes given to the great multitude standing before the throne of God in heaven, after the Second of Coming of Christ. Rev 7:9.
Even more so, those slain for the word of God during all ages would be related to the 144,000, who will be sentenced to death in the future, because they will not worship the image of the beast Rev 13:15. The souls under the altar of burnt offering are related to the 144,000, because the text Rev 6:11 states, “until both the number of their fellow servants and their brethren, who would be killed as they were, was completed.” Therefore, those who were killed for the word of God through all ages of time, are related to those who will be killed (or condemned to death) for the word of God in the future, just before Christ´s Second coming.
This will occur during the time of Rev 13:14.15. And he deceives those who dwell on the earth by those signs which he was granted to do in the sight of the beast, telling those who dwell on the earth to make an image to the beast who was wounded by the sword and lived. He was granted power to give breath to the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak and cause as many as would not worship the image of the beast to be killed. (This is referring to the time just before the Second Coming of Christ. The personal pronoun “he” is referring to the protestant nation USA).
Ellen G, White makes this text clearer: “By condemning the people of God to death, they have as truly incurred the guilt of their blood as if it had been shed by their hands. In like manner Christ declared the Jews of His time guilty of all the blood of holy men which had been shed since the days of Abel; for they possessed the same spirit and were seeking to do the same work with these murderers of the prophets[ii].”
Therefore, we are talking about many millions of martyrs killed throughout all ages from the time of Abel, who are part of the 144,000.
Rev 7:9 After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands.
Before the thrown of God was a multitude which no one can number, and amongst this multitude were the 144,000, which only God can number.
Referring to the 144,000 Rev 7:13.14. Then one of the elders answered, saying to me, “Who are these arrayed in white robes, and where did they come from?” And I said to him, “Sir, you know.” So he said to me, “These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”
When is this great tribulation?
Math 24:21 For then will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no nor ever shall be. (Jesus is talking about the signs of the last days on earth, just before his Second Coming. In accordance with its context in Math 24:27 For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will be the coming of the Son of Man be.
Dan 12:1.2. At that time Michael shall stand up, the great prince who stands watch over the sons of your people; And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation, even to that time. And at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone one who is found written in the book. And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting contempt. (Michael is a symbol of Jesus Christ. Jude 9. Rev 12:7-9. This time of trouble will take place just before Christ´s Second Coming and when the resurrection takes place, at the Second Coming of Christ).
Math 24:21 “such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time,” and in Dan 12:1.2 “such as never was since there was a nation, even to that time,” is talking about the same tribulation just before the Second Coming of Christ.
Rev 13:14.15. And he deceives those who dwell on the earth by those signs which he was granted to do in the sight of the beast, telling those who dwell on the earth to make an image to the beast who was wounded by the sword and lived. He was granted power to give breath to the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak and cause as many as would not worship the image of the beast to be killed. (This is referring to the time just before the Second Coming of Christ. The personal pronoun “he” is referring to the protestant nation USA. The image to the beast, is the keeping of the day Sunday as a holy day instead of the Saturday Sabbath as stated in the Bible. Rev 12:17. Rev 14:12).
Ellen G, White makes this text clearer “By condemning the people of God to death, they have as truly incurred the guilt of their blood as if it had been shed by their hands. In like manner Christ declared the Jews of His time guilty of all the blood of holy men which had been shed since the days of Abel; for they possessed the same spirit and were seeking to do the same work with these murderers of the prophets[iii].”
Rev 16:13.14. And I saw three unclean spirits like frogs coming out of the mouth of the dragon, out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet. For they are spirits of demons, performing signs, which go out to the kings of the earth and of the whole world, to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty. (The great tribulation is related to the last great war, where the kings of the earth attack all those who do not worship the image of the beast, that is who do not keep Sunday as a holy day).
Other texts referring to part of the 144,000
Rev 14:1-5 Then I looked, and behold, a Lamb standing on Mount Zion, and with Him one hundred and forty-four thousand, having His Father´s name written on their foreheads. And I heard a voice from heaven, like the voice of many waters, and like the voice of loud thunder. And I heard the sound of harpists playing their harps. They sang as it were a new song before the throne, before the four living creatures, and the elders, and no one could learn that song except the hundred and forty-four thousand who were redeemed from the earth. These were the ones who were not defiled with women, for they are virgins. These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes. These were redeemed from among men, being the first fruits to God and to the Lamb. And in their mouth was found no deceit, for they are without fault before the throne of God.
Rev 15:2 And I saw something like the sea of glass mingled with fire, and those who have victory over the beast, over his image and over his mark and over his number standing on the sea of glass, having harps of gold. They sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb.
Ellen G. White statements regarding the 144,000. www.whiteestate.org
“Nearest the throne are those who are were once zealous in the cause of Satan, but who, plucked as brands from the burning, have followed their Savior with deep, intense devotion. Next are those who perfected Christian characters in the midst of falsehood and infidelity, those who honored the law of God when the Christian world declared it void, and the millions, of all ages, who were martyred for their faith. And beyond is the great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindred’s, and people, and tongues, . . . before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands. Rev 7:9[iv].”
Ellen G. White states that there were three groups before the throne of God.
- The first group were those who had followed Satan, but became converted and followed God with intense devotion. For example the apostle Paul.
- The second group were those numbered amongst the 144,000. They are the millions, who were martyred for their faith in God, throughout all ages from the time of Abel.
- The third group were those in the great multitude of which no man could number.
Regarding the “first fruits” in Rev 14:4 Ellen G. White writes, “As Christ arose, He brought from the grave a multitude of captives. The earthquake at His death had rent open their graves, and when He arose, they came fourth with Him. They were those who had been colaborers with God, and who at the cost of their lives had borne testimony to the truth – – -.
I have brought them from the grave as the first fruits of My power, to be with me where I am, nevermore to see death or experience sorrow. These went into the city, and appeared unto many, declaring, Christ has risen from the dead, and we be risen with Him[v].”
The text White is referring too, is found in Math 27:52.53. The graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the graves after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many.
“I saw that the four angels would hold the four winds until Jesus´ work was done in the sanctuary, and then will come the seven last plagues. These plagues enraged the wicked against the righteous; they thought that we had brought the judgments of God upon them, and that if they could rid the earth of us, the plagues would then be stayed. As decree went forth to slay the saints, which caused them to cry day and night for deliverance. This was the time of Jacob´s trouble. Then all the saints cried out with anguish of spirit, and were delivered by the voice of God. The 144,000 triumphed[vi].”
[i] Ellen G. White, Confrontation (Grantham, Lincolnshire: The Stanborough Press, 1978), 614. The same book is under the title, The Great Controversy.
[ii] Ibid., 628.
[iii] Ibid., 628.
[iv] Ibid., 665.
[v] Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages (Mountain View, California: Pacific Press Pub., Assoc., 1940), 786.
[vi] Ellen G. White, Early Writings (Washington D. C.: Review & Herald Pub., Assoc., 1945), 36. 37.