The 144,000 and the Great Multitude – It’s Not What You May Think
Revelation 7:1-4, “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 on any tree. Then I saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God. And he cried with a loud voice to the four angels to whom it was granted to harm the earth and the sea, saying, ‘Do not harm the earth, the sea, or the trees till we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads.’ 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 …”
Many of us have been taught that the 144,000 of Revelation 7 were literally all Jewish virgin men — and exactly 12,000 each from the 12 tribes of Israel — that would “go through the tribulation” in an effort to evangelize an untold number of lost souls to the saving knowledge of Christ after a pre-trib rapture of Christians, and that they would do all of this without the guidance, giftings, empowerment and conviction power of the Holy Spirit (cf John 15:26; 16:8-11). That was pretty much the story I had been given growing up, sometimes with slight variations of the narrative depending on who was teaching or preaching at the time. But have you ever wondered how on earth they could find salvation if they were not saved at the time of a “pre-trib rapture” to be whisked away when, according to many of these same teachers, the Holy Spirit — the One who convicts the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment (John 16:8-11) — would also be removed from the earth along with all Christians? Well, hold your breath brothers and sisters because some of you may be surprised to hear this — it’s wrong. Oh, it’s all in the text, but many of us haven’t read what’s all in the text.
Allow me to explain.
I no longer view the 144,000 as an actual number of Jewish male virgin evangelists, but rather as a two-fold or three-fold way of signifying completion into the Israel of God once the fullness of the Gentiles has come in (cf Rom 11:23-27). To help explain my position in this respect, we first need to pay particularly close attention to the sequence of the twelve tribes in Revelation 7. This is the only place in the Bible that the list appears in this order. To understand why they are in this order and what the significance of this list entails, we also need to understand that the Hebrews often named their newborn child a word that had a phrase/meaning to the name given. For example, when Leah gave birth to Judah she said “I will praise the Lord.” When Reuben was born she said “He has looked upon my affliction”. Normally the first born is listed first, but in the list of Revelation 7 Judah is listed first, not Reuben. Dan and Ephraim are completely left out, likely because of disbelief and idolatry (cf. Deut 29:18-21; Hosea 5:9,11) so it’s a very interesting sequence that John, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, puts together for us. Here is the list and order they appear in Revelation –> 1. Judah, 2. Reuben, 3. Gad 4. Asher, 5. Nepthalim, 6. Manasses, 7. Simeon, 8. Levi, 9. Issachar, 10. Zebulon, 11. Joseph, and 12. Benjamin.
When we take the tribes as listed in the Revelation of Jesus Christ, and then take the time to discover the meaning of and/or why those names were given, we get something very interesting after constructing it in the listed order. Here are all the verses with the names (KJV/NASB):
- Judah — Gen 29:35 And she conceived again, and bare a son: and she said, NOW WILL I PRAISE THE LORD, therefore she called his name Judah; and left bearing.
- Reuben — Gen 29:32 And Leah conceived, and bare a son, and she called his name Reuben: for she said Surely THE LORD HATH LOOKED UPON MY AFFLICTION; now therefore my husband will love me.
- Gad — Gen 30:11 Then Leah said, “HOW FORTUNATE!” So she named him Gad.
- Asher — Gen 30:13 And Leah said, HAPPY AM I for the daughters will call me blessed: and she called his name Asher.
- Nepthalim — Gen 30:8 And Rachel said, WITH GREAT WRESTLINGS HAVE I WRESTLED with my sister, and I have prevailed and she called his name Naphtali.
- Manasses — Gen 41:51 Joseph called the name of the firstborn Manasseh: “FOR GOD HATH MADE ME FORGET ALL MY TOIL and all my father’s house.”
- Simeon — Gen 29:33 And she conceived again, and bare a son; and said, BECAUSE THE LORD HATH HEARD THAT I WAS HATED, HE HATH THEREFORE GIVEN ME THIS SON also: and she called his name Simeon
- Levi — Gen 29:34 “And she conceived again, and bare a son; and said, NOW THIS TIME WILL MY HUSBAND BE JOINED UNTO ME, because I have born him three sons: therefore was his name called Levi.
- Issachar — Gen 30:18 Then Leah said, “GOD HAS GIVEN ME MY WAGES because I gave my maid to my husband.” So she named him Issachar.
- Zebulon — Gen 30:20 Then Leah said, “GOD HAS ENDOWED ME WITH A GOOD GIFT; NOW MY HUSBAND WILL DWELL WITH ME, because I have borne him six sons.” So she named him Zebulun.
- Joseph — Gen 30:24 And she called his name Joseph; and said, THE LORD SHALL ADD TO ME another son.
- Benjamin — Gen 35:17-18 And it came to pass, when she was in hard labour, that the midwife said unto her, Fear not; THOU SHALT HAVE THIS SON also. And it came to pass, as her soul was in departing, (for she died) that she called his name Benoni: but his father called him Benjamin.
Now, when we take them all and put them in the order that the tribes appear, we get the following:
“Now will I praise the LORD, Surely the LORD hath looked upon my affliction, How fortunate!, Happy am I, With great wrestlings have I wrestled and I have prevailed, For God hath made me forget all my toil, Because the LORD hath heard that I was hated he hath therefore given me this son, Now this time will my husband be joined unto me, God has given me my wages, God has endowed me with a good gift; my husband will dwell with me, The LORD shall add to me, thou shalt have this son.”
The name Benjamin literally means “Son of My right hand” so another reading of the last portion could be “The LORD shall add to me the Son of [His] right hand.”
Let this sink in for a moment. The way that the 12 tribes are listed in Revelation 7 describes the Bride of Christ and the complete story of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ marrying His bride after delivering her from her affliction. This is fulfillment of the prophecy regarding Israel in Hosea 2:
Hosea 2:14,16,19, “Therefore I am now going to allure her (Israel) … ‘In that day,’ declares the Lord, ‘you will call me ‘my husband‘; you will no longer call me ‘my master… [and] I will betroth you to me forever.’“
Not only is this evident of the Divine inspiration of the Scriptures, it also points us to the understanding that believing Israel is the Bride of Christ. It always has been, and what we see above is incontrovertible proof in my opinion. Does Scripture confirm this elsewhere? Yes.
Revelation 21:9-12, “And there came unto me one of the seven angels … saying, come hither, and I will shew thee the bride, THE LAMB’S WIFE. And he … shewed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem … which had a wall great and high, and twelve gates… and names written thereon which are the NAMES OF THE TWELVE TRIBES OF ISRAEL.”
But what about us? What about Gentile Christians? Those of us that are Gentiles who now have a relationship with YHWH the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob have been adopted or “grafted in” to the household of God through Jesus Christ (cf. Ephesians 2; Read here to learn what Scripture really has to say about the nature of the Church). As believers in Yeshua ha’Maschiach we have become fellow citizens with the saints. We are members of the household of God and “are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus” (Eph 3:6). Since we have been incorporated into believing Israel we experience the blessings of the New Covenant today. “National Israel” will experience her blessings when the fullness of the Gentiles comes in and she believes again and is grafted back in. Then all of Israel will be saved (Romans 11:25-26).
It is therefore no surprise that after John describes the 144,000 that he then sees a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues standing before the throne and before the Lamb. We will come out of the Great Tribulation that will be invited to this wedding (Matthew 22:9-10). Revelation 19:9, “Then the angel said to me, ‘Write: ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!’’ And he added, ‘These are the true words of God.'” Indeed, and as the prophecy in Hosea concludes, “… Then I will say to those who were not My people, ‘You are My people!’ And they shall say, ‘You are my God!'” (Hosea 2:23b). Whether this is intended for restored national Israel who now believes, or to Gentiles that are grafted in, we’ll have to wait and see. It may even allude to both.