Who are the 144,000 mentioned in Revelation?
The answer to the question “who are the 144,000?” will depend on whether one believes the Bible, and which interpretive approach you take with the book of Revelation. With the exception of the futurist approach, all of the other approaches interpret the 144,000 symbolically.
There are many, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses, who do not believe what the Bible plainly says, but believe that these are select Christians, and that only these 144,000 Christians will make it to Heaven. That means Heaven is going to be a pretty empty space, because New Jerusalem is describe in Rev. 21:15-17 as being approximately 1,500 miles square!
The following Commentaries show what is the norm when it comes to defining who the 144,000 are:
Adam Clarke: In the number of 144,000 are included all the Jews converted to Christianity; 12,000 out of each of the twelve tribes: but this must be only a certain for an uncertain number; for it is not to be supposed that just 12,000 were converted out of each of the twelve tribes.
Jamieson, Fausset & brown: Twelve is the number of the tribes, and appropriate to the Church: three by four: three, the divine number, multiplied by four, the number for world-wide extension. Twelve by twelve implies fixity and completeness, which is taken a thousandfold in 144,000.
Geneva Study Bible: That is, of the Jews a number certain in itself before God, and such as may be numbered of us: for which cause also the same is here set down as certain. But of the elect who are Gentiles, the number indeed is in itself certain with God, but of us not possibly to be numbered, as God.
Matthew Henry Commentary: The number of those who were sealed, may be understood to stand for the remnant of people which God reserved.
Robertson’s Word Pictures: Symbolical, of course, and not meant to be a complete number of the sealed (or saved) even in that generation, let alone for all time.
As you can see, even theologians do not believe the Bible. When the Bible is spiritualized, just who decides what verses to spiritualize and what verses to take as they’re written? If the passage is to be taken spiritually, then what does Revelation 7:7 mean, which says, “Of the tribe of Simeon were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Levi were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Issachar were sealed twelve thousand”?
We believe the Bible, and take it literally. The Bible interprets those things that are to be interpreted (see Revelation 7:9-10 interpreted in Revelation 7:13-14. Revelation 17:3-4 interpreted in Revelation 17:7,9,12,15,18. Matthew 13:24-30 interpreted in Matthew 13:37-42). Do not interpret what the Bible means to be taken literally! Billy Sunday said, “If scholars say one thing and my Bible says another, the scholars can go plumb to the devil.” Unfortunately, because they don’t believe the Bible, that is probably where most scholars and theologians are going.
The 144,000 are found in two places in Revelation. The first mention of them is in Rev. 7:2-8, which says
“And 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 given to hurt the earth and the sea, Saying, hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads. 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. Of the tribe of Juda were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Reuben were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Gad were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Aser were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Nepthalim were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Manasses were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Simeon were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Levi were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Issachar were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Zabulon were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Joseph were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Benjamin were sealed twelve thousand.”
Now notice that those who were sealed were “of all the tribes of the children of Israel.” Then it goes on to name the tribes. Twelve tribes with 12,000 from each tribe. So it is clear that these 144,000 are JEWS. Notice also that this takes place during the great tribulation, and that before the tribulation begins, God sends an angel to seal the Jews with the seal of God in their foreheads. This is to protect them from harm and from the plagues. Notice in Rev. 9:4, when it speaks of the creatures from the bottomless pit, it says that they hurt “only those men which have not the seal of God in their foreheads.” The 144,000 are not hurt by these creatures.
The other place the 144,000 is mentioned in Revelation is found in chapter 14:1-5,
“And I looked, and lo, a Lamb stood on the mount Sion, and with him an hundred forty and four thousand, having his Father’s name written in their foreheads. And I hear a voice from heaven, as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of a great thunder: and I heard the voice of harpers harping with the harps: And they sung as it were a new song before the throne, and before the four beasts, and the elders: and no man could learn that song but the hundred and forty and four thousand, which were redeemed from the earth. These are they which were not defiled with women; for they are virgins. These are they which follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth. These were redeemed from among men, being the firstfruits unto God and to the Lamb. And in their mouth was found no guile: for they are without fault before the throne of God.”
Here we see some more details of the 144,000. We see here that these are virgins, and they are men, because it says they were not defiled with women. Notice also that in verse 1, they still have the seal of God in their foreheads. The Bible is plain to those who want to understand it. Proverbs 14:6 says “knowledge is easy to him that understandeth.” The 144,000 are 12,000 Jewish, male virgins from each tribe of the nation of Israel.