SPECIAL TOPIC: The One Hundred, Forty Four Thousand (from Rev. 7:4)
This mysterious group is mentioned in Rev. 7:4 and 14:1,3. There has been much discussion about this number and who it represents. This number is symbolic, not literal, for the following reasons.
1. the number itself is a round number and all the tribes have an equal number (which they never did in the OT)
2. the number is a multiple of twelve which is the biblical number of organization (or possibly the people of God) and ten, which is the biblical number of completion (see Special Topic: Symbolic Numbers in Scripture)
3. Revelation 7 is in apocalyptic language
4. the list of the tribes of Israel is slightly altered (Dan is omitted, and Ephraim is replaced by Joseph); a Jew would know that it was not meant to be taken literally
Some of the possible interpretations of this group have been:
1. that it is literally end-time believing Israel (cf. Zech. 12:10)
2. that it is those newly-converted believers present after the secret rapture of the Church
3. that it is the believing Jewish remnant (cf. Romans 11)
4. that it is a title for the NT Church (cf. Rev. 1:6)
The sealing is not limited in Revelation to one group, but represents God's ownership and protection of His people (cf. Rev. 2:20; 11:18; 19:2,5; 22:36). Satan seals all of his followers (cf. Rev. 13:16,17; 14:9,11; 16:2; 19:20; 20:4), in an act of mimicking God (cf. Rev. 3:12; 7:3; 14:1; 22:4).
The NT often describes the Church in terms which were used of Israel (cf. Rom. 2:28-29; 4:11; 9:6,8; Gal. 3:29; 6:16; Phil. 3:3) and particularly in the book of the Revelation where in Rev. 1:6 the Church is addressed by a title used of Israel in Exod. 19:4-6 (cf. 1 Pet. 2:5,9). In the books of James (cf. 1:1) and 1 Peter (cf. 1:1) the Church is also described as the "Diaspora," the name for scattered Jews who were not living in Palestine.
It seems best to me at this point in my study of this book to identify the 144,000 in Rev. 7:4 and "the great multitude" of Rev. 7:9 as the NT people of God—those who trust Christ, but viewed in two different senses (believing Jews and believing Gentiles).
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