Church of God, New World Ministries

The Book of Revelation’s 144,000 – Who Are They?

About 1/3 of the Bible is prophecy. Bible prophecy is history written in advance. It is an outline of God’s plan He is working out here on planet earth. Christ was the greatest prophet who ever lived.

Christ’s most important prophecies are found in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21, where three of the four gospel writers relate various details of Christ’s famous “Olivet prophecy.”

For the purposes of understanding the answer to the question “Who are the 144,000” it is well to be very familiar with Christ’s Olivet prophecy, particularly in Matthew’s account.

For many years, many Bible scholars have known that Christ’s Olivet prophecy is the vital key to understanding the overall framework of the book of Revelation! Many other Bible scholars have known that the book of Daniel and the book of Revelation are virtually inseparable; that the one helps to interpret the other. Remember, the Bible interprets the Bible, the scriptures are of no “private interpretation.”

We are warned, not to attempt to put our human reasoning, point of view, arguments or contentions into the scriptures.

The book of Revelation carries its own stern warning, saying “For I testify unto every man that hears the words of the prophecy of this book, if any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book” (Rev. 22:18-19).

This is a solemn warning placed by the apostle John at the end of the series of great visions which he saw!

In determining who the 144,000 are, we must completely reject any human reasoning, vanity or egotistical desire to be “named” in the Bible. Any clever arguments, slogans, peculiar teachings of cults or various organizations of men must be abandoned.  It is the Bible only which we shall consider!

But first, read with your own eyes the biblical account of the 144,000.  “And after these things I saw four angels standing on the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth, that the wind should not blow on the earth, nor on the sea, nor on any tree. 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 thousands of all the tribes of the children of Israel. Of the tribe of Juda were sealed 12,000. Of the tribe of Reuben were sealed 12,000. Of the tribe of Gad were sealed 12,000. Of the tribe of Aser were sealed 12,000. Of the tribe of Nepthalim were sealed 12,000. Of the tribe of Manasses were sealed 12,000. Of the tribe of Simeon were sealed 12,000. Of the tribe of Levi were sealed 12,000. Of the tribe of Issachar were sealed 12,000. Of the tribe of Zabulon were sealed 12,000. Of the tribe of Joseph were sealed 12,000. Of the tribe of Benjamin were sealed 12,000.

“After this I beheld, and lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands; And cried with a loud voice, saying, salvation to our God which sits upon the throne, and unto the Lamb. And all the angels stood round about the throne, and about the elders and the four beasts, and fell before the throne on their faces, and worshipped God. Saying, Amen: Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving and honour, and power, and might, be unto our God for ever and ever, Amen. And one of the elders answered saying unto me, what are these which are arrayed in white robes? And whence came they?

“And I said unto him, Sir, thou knowest. And he said to me. These are they which came out of the great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Rev. 7:1-14).

We have printed here, for your convenience, every word of Revelation 7, verses 1 -14. Notice, first, the time setting of this prophecy.

Notice John writes “And after these things (what things) I saw four angels standing on the four corners of the earth.” “These things” which John saw before the vision of the 144,000 certainly includes the statements made immediately prior to Revelation 6!

Dr. Bullinger’s Companion Bible has an interesting appendix concerning Revelation 6. In it, he, together with many other Bible scholars, recognized that Jesus Christ gave a step by step interpretation of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse (the first four seals) and the fifth and sixth seals of the book of Revelation, one after the other, in the sixth chapter!

The Seals

  1. The false messiah (Rev. 6:1-2; Matt. 24:4-5)

  2. Wars (Rev. 6:3-4; Matt. 24:6-7)

  3. Famines (Rev. 6:5-6; Matt. 24:7)

  4. Pestilences (Rev. 6:7-8; Matt. 24:7)

  5. Martyrdoms (Rev. 6:9-11; Matt. 24: 8-28)

  6. Signs in heaven of Advent (Rev. 6:12-17; Matt. 24:29-30)

By reading each verse set forth above, carefully comparing each one of Christ’s statements to His disciples with each of the verses in Rev. 6, you will see there can be no other understanding of the sequence of events in Rev. 6!  Now, to a great key concerning the timing of these events!

First, read Matt. 24:29, “Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken.” Now, turn to Joel 2:31, “The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and terrible day of the Lord come.” Basically, the book of Revelation is divided into thirds.

First, after the introductory letters to the churches, and together with other introductory or inset chapters (such as, chapters 4 and 12) the book of Revelation depicts, (1) the Great Tribulation; (2) the heavenly signs, and, (3) the Day of the Lord! In that order.

Christ was describing to His disciples (Matthew 24:1-30) the Great Tribulation! Notice, “For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.

“And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened” (Matt. 24:21-22).

Now turn to and read Jeremiah 30:7-9! “Alas! For that day is great, so that none is like it: it is even the time of Jacob’s trouble; but he shall be saved out of it. For it shall come to pass in that day, saith the Lord of hosts, that I will break his yoke from off thy neck, and will burst thy bonds, and strangers shall no more serve themselves of him: But they shall serve the Lord their God, and David their kings, whom I shall raise up unto them.”

Here, you have two times, each of which are spoken of as being utterly unique! The Great Tribulation of Matthew 24 and the “time of Jacob’s trouble” of Jeremiah 30:7, are both said to be “unlike any other”! Now, notice Daniel 12:1, “And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince which stands for the children of thy people: and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time: and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book.

“And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.”

Daniel says this great “time of trouble” will be a time “such as never was since there was a nation even to that some time!” You are reading of the biblically-prophesied Great Tribulation in each of these three passages. Each is speaking of the same time!

In each case, you will notice that immediately after this great, troublous time to come, primarily upon God’s people Israel, the second coming of Jesus Christ occurs, and the resurrection! Daniel summarized the two great resurrections which are actually one thousand years apart (Rev. 20:5), and Jeremiah refers to King David being resurrected to become Israel’s king in the millennium!

Now refer back to the scriptures in Matthew 24:29 and Joel 2:31! Notice the inescapable time setting!

When do the heavenly signs occur? Joel tells us they occur before the great and terrible day of the Lord. Jesus Christ tells us they occur after the tribulation! With that carefully in mind, turn again to the scriptures at the beginning of this article, or, in your own Bible, to Revelation the 7th chapter.

Now, when are the 144,000 sealed by the Spirit of God? When are they given God’s protection, and depicted as individuals who have repented and who are to receive salvation?

John says, “After these things” he see the four angels (a symbol of God’s plagues about to fall during the day of the Lord) and God halts all human activity by the heavenly signs, so that no plagues are to fall “until we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads the number of them 144,000 (Rev. 7:3-4).

The 5th seal of Revelation 6:9 is the religious martyrdom phase of the Great Tribulation!

Notice it is after this horrifying event has already commenced that God halts all human activity until he seals the 144,000! Did not Jesus say except God would cut short those days, no flesh would be saved alive” (Matt. 24:21-22)

The very purpose for the heavenly signs is to halt any further warfare; any further nuclear blasts or attacks, and further spiritual martyrdom, until God is able to preserve and protect this group of 144,000, and another great group, too numerous to count (Rev. 7:9)! When? After the Great Tribulation (Joel 2:31; Matt. 24:29), and as a direct result of the heavenly signs!

But what of the church of God? The church, God’s “assembly” of “called-out ones” for the purpose of accomplishing His work have been given the great commission from Jesus Christ to warn the entire world of the coming Great Tribulation!

The church is commissioned to preach the gospel – the good news of the imminent second-coming of Jesus Christ, together with the bad news of the ominous Great Tribulation! As such, the message of the church is both a witness and a warning! Primarily, it is a warning of the impending Great Tribulation!

For decades, God’s church has understood the time setting of the great events seen in vision in Revelation. Briefly, they are as follows:

The Church is busily engaged in preaching the witness and the warning of the tribulation and God’s intervention culminating in the second coming of Jesus Christ to a heedless God-rejecting world.

A “king of the south” is to emerge who will “push at” a “king of the north” (A United States of Europe, comprised of ten nations in central Europe in some political-economic fashion, which triggers an outbreak of war in the Middle East! Read Daniel 11:40 to the end of the chapter.)

Just prior to this, or about the same time, the literal fulfillment of the first seal takes place! It is also quite likely, the literal fulfillment of II Thessalonians, the second chapter, which tells us that the great false prophet of Bible prophecy will set himself up in the “temple of God,” claiming to be very God!

For many decades, God’s church has believed this means the Pope at Rome will actually move his position of authority to Jerusalem!

First, then, you have the efforts of an heretofore unidentified “king of the south” who triggers the wrath of the emerging United States of Europe, causing a lightening-like armed attack into the Middle Ease on the part of a European “multi-national force.”

As a part of this scenario, it becomes obvious Jerusalem, the city of most importance to the three great “monotheistic religions” of the world: (Christianity, Islam and Judaism), could be destroyed. Probably, since former Pope John Paul II called for a corpus separatum (an open city, or international city) for Jerusalem – in May of this year Pope Francis will visit Israel and Palestine. The visit comes during a period of dramatic outreach for the Roman Catholic Church under Francis, not only to other faiths, but also to groups often marginalized by the church in the past. He will probably lend his good offices to the preservation of the “holy places “of that most important city.

Otherwise, it might well be destroyed in the war to strike the Middle East, as described in Daniel 11:40. This is the match which will ignite World War III.

At this time, the organized preaching of the gospel of the kingdom of God by the church is over! God says, “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord God, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Eternal. And they shall wander from sea to sea, and from north even to the east, they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the Eternal, and shall not find it” (Amos 8:11-12).

Jesus said, “I must work the works of Him that sent me – for the night comes when no man can work!”

This war in the Middle East, resulting in the opening round of another world war, coupled together with the final emergence of the great False Prophet, comprises the opening of the first seal (false Christ and false prophets), followed swiftly by the opening of the second seal (global war), resulting in the droughts, famines and pestilences described in the third and fourth seals, and, immediately thereafter, upon the declaration of total supremacy of one man over all world religions, will come a bloodletting such as the world has never witnessed; probably hundreds of thousands if not millions of all opposing religions, including Islam, Judaism, and what are viewed as “rebellious” segments of Christianity will be put to death!

Once this great false prophet has taken to himself his arrogant, illicit power, backed up by the military might of the beast, the 5th seal (martyrdom), or the “religious phase” of the great tribulation will occur!

As Jesus said, they will “scourge you in their synagogues, “and “some of you they will put to death!” Some of God’s people will be supernaturally protected! Others will be martyred for their faith!

We know that there are several contemporaneous periods which consist of three and one-half years revealed in Bible prophecy.

Carefully comparing Revelation 12:6; 12:14 and Revelation 13:5, you can see that the “time, times and half a time” during which the “dragon (Satan) persecutes the church is exactly the same period of time as “a thousand two hundred and three score days,” (Rev. 12:6), and “forty and two months” (Rev. 13:5).

On the one hand, you see the remnant of God’s true church being supernaturally protected in “her place (Rev. 12:14) under the symbolic protection of Almighty God depicted by “two wings of a great eagle” (v. 14)!

On the other hand, you see that “the dragon was wroth with the woman and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ and it was given unto him to make war with the saints and to overcome them (Rev. 12:17; 13:7). Some of God’s faithful servants will be called upon to give a last testimony, and will be martyred. Others, perhaps those who are not able to withstand such persecution (God promises He will not lay any burden upon His people which they cannot bear) will be protected.

The point is, under this terrible religious persecution and the martyrdom of some, God’s church will have ceased functioning!

The tribulation, heavenly signs and day of the Lord apparently occupy three and one half years, or slightly longer. Notice a parallel three and one-half year period! Turn to Revelation the 11th chapter. Read of the ministry of the two witnesses who will “prophesy a thousand two hundred and threescore days, clothed in sackcloth” (Rev. 11:3).

Like an end-time repetition of Moses and Aaron going repeatedly before Pharaoh and commanding, “LET MY PEOPLE GO” these two witnesses will no doubt appear frequently before the BEAST and the FALSE PROPHET, right in Jerusalem, and be demanding the same thing; demanding that these leaders halt their vicious extermination of millions of Muslims, Asians of other religious, professing Christians, Jews, and truly converted members of God’s Church! They will have, as did Moses and Aaron (except in far greater power, for Moses’ and Aaron’s power was limited to the land of Egypt only) “power to shut heaven that it rain not in the days of their prophecy; and have power over waters to turn them to blood, and to smite the earth with all plagues, as often as they will” (Rev. 11:6).

Where is the church during this time? What is it doing? Some scattered, fragmented remnants of the true Church of God are here and there, scattered all over the world, under God’s spiritual protection depicted by  “two wings of a great eagle” (Rev. 12:14; Ex. 19:4). 

God supernaturally protected ancient Israel while they were yet in Egypt! He did not spirit them away on eagle’s wings: there were no aircraft to carry them anywhere, they could not even mount fast horses and run away. No, they remained in Goshen, right in the land of Egypt during the outpouring of all of the plagues which broke the economic back of Egypt!

But God made a difference between the Israelites and the Egyptians; the Israelites sacrificed a lamb that first Passover, and by the symbolic spreading of the blood of the lamb on the lintel and doorposts of their homes, they avoided the visit of the death angel which slew the firstborn in every Egyptian home. God’s protection is symbolically called “eagle’s wings.”

The symbolism of this is obvious! Study Psalm 91! Christians have the blood of the lamb sprinkled on their hearts, speaking metaphorically. Almighty God is able to protect them anywhere, just as he was able to protect the ancient Israelites while they were in Egypt; as He was able to protect Daniel in the lion’s den, and as He was able to protect Jeremiah, Elijah, and others in various occasions through history. Some of God’s true Christians will be put to death. Make no mistake! God will not call upon the weak for such a fate! Who are the chief among these future martyrs? Read it! “And when they (the two witnesses) shall have finished their testimony, the beast that ascended out of the bottomless pit shall make war against them, and shall overcome them, and kill them. And their dead bodies shall lie in the street of the great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified.

“And they of the peoples and kindreds and tongues and nations shall see their dead bodies (possibly via satellite television) three days and an half and shall not suffer their dead bodies to be put in graves. And they that dwell upon the earth shall rejoice over them, and make merry, and shall send gifts one to another; because these two prophets tormented them that dwelled on the earth. And after three days and an half the spirit of life from God entered into them, and they stood upon their feet, and great fear fell upon them which saw them” (Rev. 11:7-11).

These powerful prophets who are greatly honored to occupy the final, end-time responsibility of preaching the final last witness face to face before the beast and the false prophet will be killed.

It is perhaps at exactly the moment of their resurrection (probably not at the instant of Christ’s second coming, but slightly before, for they are described as receiving “the spirit of life from God” and being resurrected to physical life, and not necessarily taking part at that time in the first resurrection) that the heavenly signs occur, halting all human activity, stopping the terrible war that has now spread around the globe, and halting the vicious martyrdom of saints which is under way.

It is now, long after all of the organized work of the church is over; at the end of the testimony of the two witnesses; as a direct result of the great heavenly signs that the 144,000 are sealed.

Who are the 144,000? The Bible tells us plainly! They are exactly 12,000 human beings (probably male and female) from each of the twelve tribes of Israel save Dan! Joseph, true to prophecy, is given a double portion! Manasseh is mentioned, and “Joseph” (v. 8) is mentioned. Joseph consisted of both Ephraim and Manasseh, so Joseph would mean Ephraim, while Manasseh (probably the United States of America) is identified specifically.

Notice that they, together with the vast innumerable multitude of all nations (which may include other Israelites, not specifically numbered among the 144,000) are said to have “come out of the Great Tribulation” (Rev. 7:14)!

Very likely, these huge multitudes of people are those who are not heeding the witness and warning message of God’s church now!

Most likely, while the seeds of thought have been deeply imbedded within their subconscious, they have, true to Jesus’ prophecy that it would be just “like the days of Noah” in the time prior to His coming, been going about their daily concerns and pursuits, oblivious to the real significance of the times in which they live! They will no doubt be caught up in the complacency toward God and His laws and be going along with the ways of the world.

It takes the shock of nuclear war; for the vicious bloodletting of the most heinous martyrdom of saints in all history, coupled together with great signs from God Himself to shock these lethargic ones out of their stupor, and cause them to fall to their knees, begging God for repentance and forgiveness from their sins, resulting in their being “sealed” with God’s Holy Spirit, and protected from the further plagues yet to fall, and the consequences of the day of the Lord!

Now, in rehearsing the time sequence of events, you can see how ludicrous it truly is for some to claim that the 144,000 are the church!

In one sense, technically, at the very instant they are given God’s Holy Spirit, they then become members of God’s true church! However, it is quite obvious they represents a later harvest of the earth as part of the first born from God’s work, and are not the body of the church that was actively preaching the gospel as a witness and a warning just prior to the beginning of the ministry of the two witnesses!

Those who make the claim that the 144,000 are the church do so in violation to the scriptures! In the first place, think how ludicrous it would be for any church which claims the entire church is in a secret place of safety in the Jordanian desert all during the Great Tribulation, and yet to turn around and claim the 144,000 is the church! How can that be, as it says these are they which came out of great tribulation (Rev. 7:14).

If one assumes he understand the national identity of each of the tribes (some believe, for example, that Benjamin is Norway, Dan is both Ireland and Denmark, Issachar is Finland, France is Reuben, and so on) then one must be able to prove that, out of the 144,000 adult, mature baptized members (no, children are not mentioned as being “sealed in their foreheads”) there are present 12,000 Dutch, 12,000 Finns, 12,000 Norwegians, 12,000 Swedes, 12,000 British, 12,000 French, 12,000 Americans, and not this, 36,000 Jews! Why 36,000? Neither Simeon nor Levi had any inheritance in the land! There has been no attempt to identify any particular tribal areas or modern nations pertaining to Simeon and Levi, even by those who espouse the doctrine of Petra as a place of safety!

It has been known for years that most of those whom we refer to as Jews are in fact, from the tribe of Levi! Names such as Cohen, Kahn, Kuhn, (“Cohen” in Hebrew means “priest”): names such Leibowitz, Spellman, Pearlman, Goldman, Weinstein, etc., together with Levy, Levi, Levine, Levitt, and other derivations are probably Levite, if not from Simeon, or in some cases from Judah.

Any Church which makes the claim that it represents the 144,000 had better be able to number among its baptized, adult members 36,000 from the “house of Judah”! Also, any church which claims to be the 144,000 is arrogantly excluding its entire international membership, and all its minorities!

Obviously, they would be saying to their own members “If you are black you are not a member of this church! They would be saying the same thing to Filipinos, Laotians, Indians, Indonesians, Fijians and Hawaiians, Germans, Poles, Czechs, Ukrainians, Russians, Africans – all Gentiles!

Remember, the 144,000 are physical Israelites! Any church which is global in nature: which has a worldwide membership including members of many races would appear absolutely ridiculous to claim they are the 144,000! And, while God may give them His protection, are children and unbaptized, unconverted relatives members of God’s spiritual church? Nonsense!

Any church which numbers among its members Mexicans, Portuguese, Spanish, Arabs, Greeks, Italians, members of any gentile race cannot be the 144,000, for the 144,000 are physical Israelites!

Finally, then who are the 144,000? They are exactly what the Bible says they are! They are 12,000 adult, mature, thinking human beings from each one of the specific tribes of Israel mentioned! They have been shocked into repentance and into calling out to God for His forgiveness and protection by the events of the tribulation and the heavenly signs! They, together with the great innumerable multitude, will represent a Great Harvest of human beings which are, in a direct sense, the final “fall-out” from the great work being done by God’s church today!

These  144,000, together with the great countless multitude seen by John in vision, will be like dazed, wounded and frightened refugees, Each will have his own personal, private story to tell. Each individual with his loved ones and family will no doubt have experienced some of the most mind boggling horrors imaginable! They will have lived through the terrible Great Tribulation! The Great Tribulation will prove to be the catalyst coupled with the heavenly signs, which brings about their conversion!

Why does God choose exactly 12,000 from each tribe? Perhaps there is information to be gleaned from the fact that God began His true church with twelve equal apostles. The holy city has 12 gates.  Twelve is God’s perfect governmental number; it is also a number which connotes “organized beginnings”!

No doubt, these 12,000 from each of the tribes will be that group of individuals under each one of the 12 apostles responsible for helping to set up the government of God on this earth, in the very beginning of the millennium!

Even as Jesus said, “The last shall be first,” believe it or not, there are many of those, your kinsmen and brethren, perhaps family and relatives in this world, right now, who are not heeding the warning message; not interested, not concerned, not converted!

But it is some of them who will come to the shocking awareness of the existence of their God; who will come to that point of revulsion and abhorrence of their own personal sins and deep repentance at the last moment of this age who will truly be the first in God’s sight.

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