Hope of Israel Ministries (Ecclesia of YEHOVAH):
The 144,000 -- Future? or Fulfilled?
Some say the 144,000 are sealed sometime in the future -- after the Great Tribulation and heavenly signs. Some say the 144,000 will become the "kings of the earth" who alone enter the heavenly New Jerusalem. Is this true? How can we know?
by John D. Keyser
Many people in the Churches of YEHOVAH God believe that the appearance of the 144,000 in Revelation 14 is something yet to happen in the future. Some individuals feel they were called to train the 144,000 in the “last days,” one having gone so far as purchasing property in the desert for this purpose, while another purchased a large ranch in the mountains! Back in the early 1950s, a Los Angeles preacher claimed the Messiah appeared to him in a vision and commanded him to build a huge church, and that 144,000 manifested sons of YEHOVAH God would be raised up. Millions of dollars poured in for the building, which was never constructed, and the part about the 144,000 was proved to be untrue.
Probably the most popular and widely circulated interpretation about the 144,000 is the so-called futurist-dispensational view. According to this scenario, the 144,000 will not make their appearance until during the last seven years (or three and a half years, as some say) of this age. It is claimed by some that they -- like 144,000 “Jewish Pauls” -- will preach the gospel of the kingdom to all the world -- “after the church is gone”!
There are serious Biblical objections to this scenario. While much of the Book of Revelation is written in highly symbolic language, there are TWO CLEAR POINTS of identification regarding the 144,000 which we should carefully note –
1/. The 144,000 are taken out of “all the tribes of the children of ISRAEL” (Revelation 7:14).
2/. The 144,000 are “the FIRSTFRUITS unto God and to the Lamb” (Revelation 14:4).
The first point shows their identity -- they are Israelites. The term “Israel” is sometimes used in the New Testament in such a way that it includes all believers in the Messiah, regardless of race or national distinction (Galatians 3:29; 6:16). But New Testament verses which mention Israel in contrast to Gentiles clearly show a distinction in terms (Romans 1:16; 2:9; Acts 13:45, 46). There is such a contrast in the passage concerning the 144,000.
Revelation 7:4 states that the 144,000 are taken from “all the tribes of the children of ISRAEL.” Then, in verse 9, we read: “After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of ALL NATIONS and kindreds, and people and tongues” who were also redeemed by the Lamb (Yeshua the Messiah) -- a huge ingathering from the Gentiles. Note that the words “Gentiles” and “nations” are translated from the same word in the Greek -- Strong’s Concordance #1484. Bottom line: the 144,000 were from Israel; the innumerable multitude from all nations. Because of this comparison -- 144,000 from Israel on the one hand, and an innumerable multitude of converts from among the Gentiles on the other -- it seems very clear that the 144,000 were converts from Israel, Israel in the LITERAL sense of the word!
We agree with the futurist-dispensational interpretation that the 144,000 are from Israel, however we part company when it comes to point 2. According to Revelation 14:4, the 144,000 from the tribes of Israel are “the firstfruits unto God and to the Lamb.” Note: the FIRSTFRUITS!
In the Old Testament, the term “firstfruits” designated the FIRST gatherings of the crop which were presented to YEHOVAH god -- see Exodus 23:19; Leviticus 2:14 and Nehemiah 10:35. In the New Testament, Yeshua the Messiah, who was “the FIRST that should rise from the dead” to immortality (Acts 26:23), is called “the FIRSTFRUITS of them that slept” (1 Corinthians 15:20). The FIRST converts that the apostle Paul made in Achaia (Greece) were called “the FIRSTFRUITS of Achaia” (1 Corinthians 16:15). And so here, in a similar fashion, the 144,000 -- the firstfruits unto the Lamb (the Messiah) -- are the first converts to Yeshua the Messiah!
And who were the first converts? It is quite clear -- there can be no mistake about it! The gospel first went to Israelites and THE FIRST CONVERTS WERE FROM ISRAEL!
The converts from Israel in the early years of YEHOVAH’s church -- back in the first century A.D.! -- were the firstfruits unto the Lamb and are symbolized by the number 144,000. This is a perfect fit scripturally and historically. But -- and consider this -- if the 144,000 have not yet made their appearance, as futurists teach, HOW in the world could they possibly be “the firstfruits unto the Lamb”? If the 144,000 do not appear until the very last years of this age, they would be the LAST FRUITS instead of the first!
Let us now review the scriptural evidence that shows the gospel went first to ISRAEL and that the first converts to Yeshua the Messiah were ISRAELITES. When John the Baptist introduced the Messiah, he spoke of him as “the Lamb of God” and as he who was to be “made manifest to ISRAEL” (John 1:29-31). When Yeshua originally sent out his disciples, he said: “Go not into the way of the Gentiles...but rather to the lost sheep of the house of ISRAEL” (Matthew 10:5,6). A nucleus of believers from Israel was gathered at the Temple on Pentecost and were filled with the holy spirit. The Bible records that 3,000 ISRAELITES were converted on that day alone -- men from all the tribes of Israel being represented on that occasion (Acts 2:5, 36). Now the preaching of the gospel began at JERUSALEM (Acts 1:8; Luke 24:47). The gospel went “to the Jew FIRST” and then also to the Greek (Romans 1:16).
When the apostle Peter spoke to a multitude of Israelites in the Temple, he said: “Men of Israel...so it is to you FIRST that God has sent His servant whom He has raised up, so that He might bless you by turning each one of you from your evil ways” (Acts 3:12, 26). Later this very same principle was involved in the statement made by the apostles Paul and Barnabas to the Jews at Perga: “It was necessary that God’s word be spoken FIRST to you. But since you are rejecting it...we’re turning to the Goyim [Gentiles]!” (Acts 13:46).
Nevertheless, there were many thousands of Jews which did accept the Messiah -- so many in fact that we read the following statement in Acts 21:20: “You see, brother, how many TENS OF THOUSANDS of believers there are among the Judeans, and they are all zealots for the Torah.”
It should also be noted here that the people of the twelve tribes of Israel were not in unknown parts of the world, inaccessible or lost to the outreach of the early Church of YEHOVAH. Had this been the case, Paul could not have spoken of the “twelve tribes, instantly serving God day and night” (Acts 26:7).
We should realize that converts to the Messiah came from ALL the twelve tribes, though scattered throughout the then known world. It was to such converts that the apostle James addressed the New Testament book which bears his name: “To: The Twelve Tribes in the Diaspora: Shalom!” (James 1:1). Also significant is the fact that James refers to these converts as “a kind of FIRSTFRUITS of all that He created” (verse 18) -- a perfect cross-reference to the passage about the 144,000 from the twelve tribes of Israel!
In view of the fact that there were “many tens of thousands of believers...among the Judeans” alone -- FIRSTFRUITS to the Messiah -- it is not at all inconceivable that the total number from all the tribes could have been 144,000!
This number may not have been the actual numerical strength of this group. Writes Howard B. Rand --
"The same number appears in the seventh chapter [of Revelation] where Israel is numbered for Divine protection. It is used here, as it was used there, for it is the numerics of completion, denoting the summation of that which is numbered. Those in this group are His Body, for they are composed of the Overcomers in Israel, the "called-out ones," constituting a Royal Priesthood unto God" (A Study in Revelation, page 205).
Be that as it may, the "144,000" are still the Firstfruits of YEHOVAH God!
In Revelation 14:1 we read: “Then I looked, and there was the Lamb standing on Mount Tziyon [Zion]; and with him were 144,000...” Realize that it is not the literal Mount Zion that is here referred to. Rather, the term is applied to the spiritual experience of believers. Notice what is said concerning Mount Zion in the epistle addressed “to the Hebrews”: “For you have not come to a tangible mountain” -- as in the Old Testament under Moses, to a literal mountain -- “on the contrary, you have come to Mount Tziyon [Zion], that is, the city of the living God, heavenly Yerushalayim [Jerusalem]...to a community of the FIRSTBORN...[and] to the mediator of a new covenant, Yeshua” (Hebrews 12:18-24). So here, the firstfruits of Israel had come -- spiritually -- to Zion and were thus described in this vision.
Next we notice that the 144,000 were pictured as having the name of YEHOVAH God “written in their foreheads” (Revelation 14:1). References to a name in the forehead are found several times in the Book of Revelation. Those who serve the “beast” are said to have his name or mark “in their foreheads” (Revelation 13:16, 17). The “harlot” is seen with a name written upon her forehead (Revelation 17:5). In Revelation 22:3-4 we read that those who are servants of YEHOVAH God “shall serve Him: and they shall see His face; and His name shall be on their foreheads.”
What is meant by these strange verses about a name in the forehead? Writes Thomas Newton: “It was customary among the ancients for servants to receive the mark of their master...These marks were usually impressed on their right hand or on their forehead” (Dissertations on the Prophecies, Vol. 2, p. 296). Or, as the noted Biblical expositor Albert Barnes remarks, “Among the Romans, slaves were stigmatized with their master’s name or mark on their foreheads.”
When you understand the literal practice upon which the symbol in the Book of Revelation was based, it is easy to find the meaning intended by the use of this symbol. The mark (as literally used) showed that a person was a SLAVE and TO WHOM he belonged. In order to show that the 144,000 belonged to YEHOVAH God as His servants, they were pictured as having the name of YEHOVAH in their foreheads.
Although a literal branding of people and animals with a hot iron was a common practice of the time, such was used here symbolically. There is absolutely no reason to believe that the servants of the “beast” were to be literally branded any more than the servants of YEHOVAH God were to be branded in a like fashion. Those seen with the mark of the beast in their foreheads are slaves of the “beast” -- and those seen with the name of YEHOVAH God in their foreheads are slaves of the “Lamb.” We should be careful not to make any more of this symbol than was intended.
Notes Howard B. Rand in A Study in Revelation --
"With the Lamb on Mount Zion John saw "An hundred forty and four thousand, having his Father's name written in their foreheads." The fact that they are with the Lamb in Mount Zion designates these 144,000 as those who are to reign with Him in the restored Kingdom. The Father's name written in their foreheads is in contrast to the mark placed on the foreheads of those who worship the beast. The Father's name indicates that they are completely in accord with God in all their works, for His Spirit dominates their intellectual faculties and controls all their acts" (page 205).
We read in Revelation 14:4 that the 144,000 “were REDEEMED from among men.” The word “redeemed” here has the meaning of purchased, bought. The redeemed are those purchased to YEHOVAH God as slaves. They are His servants (in a servitude of love) and are “bought with a price” (1 Corinthians 7:23).
Being the servants of YEHOVAH God, the 144,000 (and also the innumerable multitude) are spoken of as being “before the throne of God” (Revelation 14:5; 7:9). Since they are His servants they are before the throne to heed His instructions and carry on His work. We should not think of this position as referring only to the future -- or to heaven. The servants of YEHOVAH God -- even in this life -- have access to the throne, to which they are told to boldly come (Hebrews 4:16).
We are also told, in Revelation 14:4, that the 144,000 “were not defiled with women; for they are virgins.” Now, it would be a carnal interpretation indeed to claim this means only unmarried people. Even Roman Catholic expositors -- with their desire to exalt celibacy -- do not read this into it. In 2 Corinthians 11:2 all believers are viewed spiritually as chaste virgins, and as having been presented as such to the Messiah. They are “without fault” before YEHOVAH God (Revelation 14:5) and can therefore stand “faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy” (Jude 24), “without blame before Him in love” (Ephesians 1:4), and as “a glorious church...without blemish” (5:27).
Unfortunately, many in the Churches of God have accepted the futurist viewpoint on the Book of Revelation without question. At first glance, it seems correct and true. But a closer study clearly reveals that this viewpoint is full of inconsistencies and problems. For one example, the futurist idea is that the bulk of the Book of Revelation has never been fulfilled. We are told that the events of many of the early chapters will not take place until the last years of this age. But this concept utterly fails to explain the opening words of the book which forcefully state that these things were written to show YEHOVAH God’s servants things “WHICH MUST SHORTLY COME TO PASS” and that the time for their fulfillment was “AT HAND” (Revelation 1:1, 3).
The futurist idea regarding the 144,000 is that they will not be converted until the very last years of this age -- whereas the Book of Revelation clearly reveals the 144,000 were the “FIRSTFRUITS” unto the Lamb! Since many, many thousands have already been converted to the Messiah over the past almost 2,000 years, HOW could a group converted in the future possibly be the firstfruits unto the Lamb? Obviously, the converts from Israel in the first century A.D. were the firstfruits unto the Lamb and are symbolized by the number 144,000!
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