BIBLE SIGNS & SYMBOLS (ONE HUNDRED FORTY-FOUR THOUSAND)

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The number 144,000 is used in only one book of the Bible: Revelation. The number relates to a group mentioned in Revelation 7:4-8 made up of twelve thousand people from each of the twelve tribes of Israel. The significance of twelve is heightened by using twelve times twelve as a number. This large, exact number is immediately followed by an even larger and more expansive number in verse 9 (“a large crowd from every

nation, tribe, people, and language. No one was able to count how many people were there”). This may mean that 144,000 indicates God’s specific inclusion of his original chosen people as part of heaven’s throng, or it may symbolize a final harvest of believers. While some groups like Jehovah’s Witnesses use the number 144,000 in a restrictive or selective sense, this doesn’t seem to be the point of these passages.

INCLUSIVE BODY

By the end of the New Testament age, Paul’s insight on the inclusiveness of the gospel was accepted by the church. Instead of insisting, like some of the early Jewish followers of Jesus, that all non-Jews must become Jews before being eligible to believe in the Jewish Messiah, Paul taught that God had actually created one new people out of both Jews and Gentiles and did not exclude anyone who believed. As he put it to the Galatians:

You are all God’s children by believing in Christ Jesus. Clearly, all of you who were baptized in Christ’s name have clothed yourselves with Christ. There are neither Jews nor Greeks, slaves nor free people, males nor females. You are all the same in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants and heirs, as God promised. (Gal 3:26-29)

As Paul explains at length in Romans 9-11, God gave a special task to the Jewish nation to be the people from which the Messiah would be born. But as human beings they stand in the same position as Gentiles: spiritually separate from God because of sin and needing the Savior as much as anyone. “In the past, you disobeyed God. But now God has been merciful to you because of the disobedience of the Jewish people. In the same way, the Jewish people have also disobeyed so that God may be merciful to them as he was to you. God has placed all people into the prison of their own disobedience so that he could be merciful to all people” (Rom 11:30-32). So 144,000 could conceivably be made up of Jewish believers in the final days, but not necessarily. This number reminds us that the blood descendants of Abraham as well as the rest of us who are adopted under the grace of God all become citizens of God’s kingdom in the same way-by spiritual birth into that citizenship.

HEAVENLY CHOIR

The other three uses of 144,000 in Revelation (14:1,3-4) number a group no longer identified by race but by a unique song. “They were singing a new song in front of the throne, the four living creatures, and the leaders. Only the 144,000 people who had been bought on earth could learn the song” (Rev 14:3). Twice in these verse, the group is described as people who were “bought,” a frequent expression in Scripture for Christ’s work on the cross. They had been through the crucible of life and emerged blameless. Out or their experience comes a song that only they can sing, which they lift continuously as they follow the Lamb who bought them with his life. The picture of a heavenly choir of 144,000 raising their voices in a special song comes with an overwhelming sound John can only describes as “a sound from heaven like the noise of raging water and the noise of loud thunder” (Rev 14:2). We are given in this number a hint of the power of worship in the presence of God.

 

Source: The A to Z Guide to Bible Signs & Symbols pg,178

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