Much has been speculated as to the identity of the 144,000. However, if we let the Bible speak for itself, the answer becomes rather obvious.
Let us begin our analysis by quoting from a letter of the Worldwide Church of God, dated November 1987:
“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 the 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 (Gen. 49:1, 18). The 144,000 are to be given SPECIAL PROTECTION DURING THE DAY OF THE LORD.
“The 144,000 are sealed BY the Holy Spirit, IN their foreheads (minds). Revelation 14:1 shows that it is the Father’s name that is written there. Jesus’ very last prayer was that His Church would be kept in the Father’s name (John 17) [emphasis in original and added].”
This explanation is in accord with Mr. Armstrong’s writings, the late human leader of the Worldwide Church of God until his death in 1986. Please note the following excerpts from his booklet, “The key to the book of Revelation”:
“It is vital to understand the distinction between the Great Tribulation and the Day of the Lord. The heavenly signs do not occur until AFTER the Tribulation (Matt. 24:29). But they are to come BEFORE the ‘Day of the Lord’ (Joel 2:31)… But just as we come to the time of the terrible DAY OF THE LORD to strike, an angel appears holding back the four winds (Rev. 7:1-3), which are the first four Trumpet plagues (Rev. 8:7-12) of the Day of the Lord.
“They are held back until the 144,000 are sealed, and the great innumerable multitude of ALL NATIONS turn to God and His protection.
“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 innumerable multitude shall have COME OUT of THE Great Tribulation (Rev. 7:14… ) [emphasis in original and added].”
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 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 Great Tribulation, they will have to go THROUGH the Great Tribulation. There is no indication in the Bible that they will be protected from the Great Tribulation at a place of safety.
7) As the 144,000 will be protected from the plagues of the Day of the Lord, so the “great multitude” (Revelation 7:9) will turn to God for protection as well.
8) The “great multitude” is not a part of the 144,000, but it is a separate group of peoples.
9) The “great multitude,” which “no one can number,” consists “of ALL [other, that is, non-Israelite] nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues.”
10) The “great multitude” had to go through the Great Tribulation as well. They will not be at a place of safety, to be protected from the Great Tribulation. Revelation 7:14 reads: “These are the ones who COME OUT OF the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”
Today, neither the 144,000 nor the great multitude have 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 and 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 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, together with the great multitude of ALL [non-Israelite] nations, have experienced the fiery trial of the Great Tribulation.