Do the 144,000, Mentioned in Revelation 7, Describe Spiritual Israelites Prior to the Great Tribulation, Including Those Who Have Already Died?
When considering carefully what the Bible says about the 144,000, we find that they cannot refer to spiritual Israelites who have lived and died prior to the beginning of the Great Tribulation and the Day of the Lord. When the book of Revelation begins to describe the time of the terrible DAY OF THE LORD to strike, an angel appears holding back the four winds (Revelation 7:1-3), which are the first four trumpet plagues (Revelation 8:7-12) of the Day of the Lord, until the 144,000 are sealed. We should also note, even though this is not the topic of this Q&A, that in addition to the sealing of 144,000, a great multitude of ALL NATIONS will turn to God and His protection, BEFORE the plagues of the Day of the Lord begin. The innumerable multitude shall have COME OUT of THE Great Tribulation (Revelation 7:14) to be protected during the Day of the Lord.
In chapter 9 of our free booklet, The Mysteries of the Book of Revelation, we state the following:
“In verse 1 of Revelation 7 we find that the Day of the Lord—the time of terrible plagues—is to be delayed temporarily UNTIL 144,000 servants of God have been sealed. According to the sequence of prophesied events, this sealing is yet IN THE FUTURE. It will occur AFTER THE COMING GREAT TRIBULATION AND THE APPEARANCE OF THE HEAVENLY SIGNS, but just BEFORE THE PLAGUES of God’s judgments are poured out.
“Next, notice Jesus’ own explanation of the 144,000. They are 144,000 of the TRIBES OF ISRAEL, 12,000 of each tribe. The tribe of Dan is not mentioned—perhaps because they went to idolatry anciently, and will thus have to WAIT for God’s salvation (Genesis 49:1, 18). The 144,000 are to be given SPECIAL PROTECTION DURING THE DAY OF THE LORD…”
From this it follows that the 144,000 cannot include those who have already died prior to the beginning of the Day of the Lord. Those who have died do not need to be sealed to receive any special physical protection during the plagues of the Day of the Lord, as they are already “protected” in the grave (compare Isaiah 57:1-2). Clearly, the 144,000 mentioned in Revelation 7 are those who will be alive and receive protection from God’s wrath during the time span of approximately one year prior to Christ’s return. [For the approximate equation of the DAY of the Lord with one YEAR, please notice Isaiah 63:4; 61:2; 34:8).]
However, there is no indication that the 144,000 will be protected at a special place, and the Bible does not say that they will be brought to a place of safety where some Church members will have arrived approximately 2 ½ years earlier to receive protection from the Great Tribulation (Revelation 12:14; 3:10; Luke 21:36).
Considering the lack of protection during the Day of the Lord, as pertaining to the tribe of Dan, it is also interesting that, according to some early tradition, as mentioned by James Hastings, Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, under “Antichrist”, the man of sin of 2 Thessalonians 2:3 will come from the tribe of Dan. Even though we are not vouching for the accuracy of the tradition, here are some comments:
“Antichrist [the false prophet] is to come from the tribe of Dan… He shall appear in Jerusalem as a mighty ruler… assemble the armies of the world around him, perform signs and wonders, and demand Divine worship… The Jews shall believe on him, and he will rebuild the Temple.”
In regard to the events of sealing 144,000, a similar description of protection from God’s wrath and punishment can also be found in Ezekiel 9:4-11. Protection from God’s plagues is emphasized as well in Revelation 9:4. Note that the reference to those who are sealed for protection is in connection with the time of the seventh seal—the Day of the Lord (compare Revelation 8:1).
We continued to say the following in our above-mentioned booklet:
“In considering the Biblical revelation regarding the 144,000…, we can see the following:
“1) None of the 144,000 have already been sealed.
“2) The 144,000 will be sealed in the future, AFTER the [beginning of the] Great Tribulation.
“3) The 144,000 will be sealed in order to be protected from the plagues of the Day of the Lord.
“4) The 144,000 are physical Israelites that will be alive at the time of their sealing.
“5) 12,000 of each tribe of Israel will be sealed. Since the tribe of Dan is omitted…, the tribe of Joseph is represented through Joseph and through his son Manasseh (Revelation 7:6, 8).
“6) Since the 144,000 will be sealed AFTER the [beginning of the] Great Tribulation, they will have to go THROUGH [parts of] the Great Tribulation. There is no indication in the Bible that they will be protected from the Great Tribulation at a place of safety…”
“Today… the 144,000 have [not yet] turned to God. But they will—when they remember the message of the gospel of the Kingdom of God, which is being preached today, and which will continue to be preached by God’s Church (compare Matthew 24:14; 28:18–20), combined with the activities of the two witnesses (Revelation 11:1–6), the martyrdom of some of the saints (Revelation 6:9–11; 12:13–17) and the sufferings of national Israelites and Jews during the Great Tribulation, and the heavenly signs.
“When the 144,000 find themselves in the midst of the Great Tribulation, they will reflect on their lives and the situation they are in, and will come to their senses. THEN they will repent—not before then! Speaking of the modern houses of Israel and Judah, we read a remarkable prophecy in Deuteronomy 30:1–3, 6, and 8. This prophecy refers to ‘the latter days’ (Deuteronomy 31:29) and might also include a description of the conversion of the 144,000:
“‘Now it shall come to pass, when all these things come upon you, the blessing and the curse which I have set before you, and you call them to mind among all the nations where the LORD your God drives you, and you RETURN to the Lord your God (i.e., REPENT) and OBEY His voice, according to ALL that I command you today, you and your children, with all your heart and with all your soul (describing CONVERSION), that the LORD your God will bring you back from captivity (which will be experienced by the modern houses of Israel and Judah during the time of the Great Tribulation)… And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, THAT YOU MAY LIVE (that is, that you might be PROTECTED from the PLAGUES of the Day of the Lord)… And you will again obey the voice of the LORD and do all His commandments which I command you today.’
“When the 144,000 and the great multitude turn to God, become converted and receive the Holy Spirit, they will be protected from the plagues of the Day of the Lord. Their conversion is still in the future. It will take place after they have experienced the fiery trial of the Great Tribulation.”
Lehman Strauss, The Book of Revelation, makes the following comments on pages 171–173 regarding the 144,000:
“Judgment is suspended till 144,000… are sealed… If language means anything, these sealed ones are literal Israelites… The 144,000 are sealed with ‘the seal of the living God.’ The seal is the mark of divine possession, protection, and preservation.”
We also find a reference to 144,000 in chapter 14 of the book of Revelation. The time setting is after Christ’s return. We explain in chapter 17 of our free booklet on the Mysteries of the Book of Revelation that the 144,000 in Revelation 14 might perhaps be the same group of 144,000 mentioned in Revelation 7. Most commentaries suggest this, but we cannot be totally certain, stating this: “Although it appears possible or even probable that the two groups of 144,000 in Revelation 7 and 14 are identical, we need to wait for God’s clear revelation to us as to who, exactly, the 144,000 in Revelation 14 will be.”
Herbert Armstrong wrote the following in The Key to the Book of Revelation, seemingly equating without further explanation the 144,000 in Revelation 7 with the group in Revelation 14:
“The 144,000 are 12,000 from each of the literal tribes of Israel. They are sealed by the Holy Spirit, IN their foreheads, and it is the FATHER’S NAME that is sealed there (Rev. 14:1). THE TIME OF THIS SEALING, THEN, IS YET FUTURE — AFTER THE TRIBULATION, AFTER THE HEAVENLY SIGNS…”
The Life Application Bible adds:
“God’s seal is placed on the foreheads of his servants. This seal is the exact opposite to the mark of the beast… in [Revelation] 13:16. These two… place the people in two distinct categories—those owned by God and those owned by Satan.”
The 144,000 will have to go through the Great Tribulation, but when they come to conversion, they will receive protection from the plagues of the Day of the Lord. It does not appear that the 144,000 will originally be part of God’s end-time Church of the Laodiceans, mentioned in Revelation 3:14. Church members of Laodicea will likewise not be counted worthy by God to be brought to the place of safety. But they will already be part of God’s Church prior to the Great Tribulation, even though they have become lukewarm. They will be tested in the Great Tribulation with the hope that they will renew their former zeal. Many of them will be killed during this time. Those who survive and find genuine repentance before the Day of the Lord by rededicating themselves to God and using God’s Spirit powerfully will undoubtedly be protected from these plagues as well.
But it seems that the 144,000 will only receive God’s Holy Spirit and become converted during the time of the Great Tribulation; they will not become converted prior to that time but only later, when the Holy Spirit seals them on their foreheads. From this it follows that they were not part of God’s Church prior to that time, but they will become spiritual Israelites during that time; in other words, prior to or at the beginning of the Great Tribulation, the 144,000 do NOT describe the Church of God; neither does the number of 144,000 comprise the end-time Church of God prior to or at the beginning of the Great Tribulation.
All of this shows that the Church of God will continue preaching the gospel powerfully in all the word, leading to mass conversions in the future, prior to Christ’s return. Sadly, many could be spared from the terrible times to come, if they were to turn to God now with all their heart, soul and mind. But this is not happening for the vast majority of those who WILL turn to God later, but only after some horrible and unspeakable suffering, persecution and martyrdom.
While the 144,000 mentioned in Revelation describe individuals who will come out of the world to follow the Truth, the opposite will also take place. In fact and paradoxically, the Bible even prophecies that in the future, prior to Christ’s return, true Church members will fall away from the Truth, because they did not receive the love of the Truth and did not believe the Truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness (2 Thessalonians 2:10, 12). Because of lawlessness, the love of God within them will grow cold (Matthew 24:12), and they will become an easy target for Satan’s ministers (2 Corinthians 11:14-15) who will deceive them through their lying signs and wonders (2 Thessalonians 2:9, 11; Matthew 24:11, 24). Hopefully, their falling away will not be permanent and they will come again to “repentance so that they may know the truth,” and that they “may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will” (2 Timothy 2:25-26).
But most of them will have to go through the Great Tribulation and may even have to experience some of the terrible plagues of the Day of the Lord. What insanity and shortsightedness of those who understood the Truth, but threw it away to follow doctrines of demons and engage in demonic practices. Their future looks grim. All of us had better make sure that this will not be our future, and if God has given us understanding of the Truth and bestowed on us the gift of His Holy Spirit, we had better treat it as a very costly and precious treasure which we must never lose or neglect.
Lead Writer: Norbert Link