Tag Archives: the 144000

Are the 144,000 and Great Multitude Two Different Groups or Two Ways of Describing the Same End-Time People of God? (Interlude 5)

A surface reading of Revelation chapter seven suggests that the two groups are totally different. The 144,000 is a specific number of Jews made up of a specific number from each of the twelve tribes (7:4-8). The Great Multitude, on the other hand, is an innumerable collection of Gentiles from every nation, tribe, people and language (7:9). The 144,000 is also called “first fruits” in 14:4, implying that there is a second group like them in some way. But closer reading of these texts militates against those initial impressions.

First of all, the terms used for God’s end-time people are often interchangeable in Revelation. God’s people are not only called 144,000 and great multitude, they are also called remnant (12:17), saints (14:12), those who keep their garments (16:15) and the called, chosen and faithful followers of the Lamb (17:14). And several of these names are explicitly interchangeable. Two examples. 1) God’s people are called “remnant” in 12:17, then 144,000 in 14:1. But 14:1 alludes to Joel 2:32, where the same group is called “remnant.” The two groups have different names in Revelation but are the same end-time group. 2) The 144,000 of chapter 14 are then called “saints” in 14:12. So remnant, 144,000 and the saints are different ways of describing the same end-time group.

Second, John never sees the 144,000, he hears the number (7:4). But after hearing the description of the 144,000 (7:4-8) he looks and sees an extremely large group that no one can number (7:9). This hearing/seeing comparison is a literary pattern throughout the book of Revelation. John hears one thing (Lion) then sees its opposite (Lamb), but the two are different ways of describing one reality (Rev. 5:5-6). He hears a voice like a trumpet, but when he looks he sees the son of man speaking to him (Rev. 1:10-12). John hears that a prostitute is sitting on many waters, but when he looks he sees a woman sitting on a scarlet beast (17:1, 3). In each case, the two images are in strong contrast, even at opposite poles (like lion and lamb), yet they are different images that described the same thing.

Third, in Revelation 14 there are two harvests, the wheat and the grapes. So when the texts speaks about the 144,000 as first fruits (Rev., 14:4), the “second fruits” are explicitly mentioned later on in the chapter. The wheat grains, representing the righteous, are the first fruits of that harvest. The grapes, on the other hand, are the second fruits or the completion of the harvest image. The 144,000 in Revelation 14, then, are not a separate group or a portion of the whole, they themselves represent the entirety of God’s end-time people.

The 144,000 and the Great Multitude (Interlude 1)

Back to our series on the theology of Revelation. This blog begins a series on the interlude between the sixth and seventh seals, chapter seven.

Chapter seven functions as an interlude between the sixth and seventh seal. The chapter and verse designations in our English Bibles were not original, but were added many centuries after the Bible was written. So the division between chapters six and seven may mask the fact that chapter seven is part of the sixth seal. In the context of the very final events of earth’s history (Rev. 6:15-17) a crucial question is asked and is left dangling at the “end” of the chapter. The question of Revelation 6:17 is: “Who will be able to stand at the second coming of Jesus?” Chapter seven offers a two-part answer to that question. The ones who will be able to stand when Jesus returns are the 144,000 sealed ones (Rev. 7:1-8) and the Great Multitude in white robes (Rev. 7:9-14). Both groups represent the end-time people of God who will make it through the challenging events of the End-time.

Careful examination of chapter seven will lead us to address a number of themes:

1. The Meaning of Seals and Sealing. Documents are sealed to conceal or validate their contents. People are sealed as a sign of ownership or for protection.
2. Eph. 4:30 and the Cosmic Conflict. In context, the grieving of the Spirit in one’s own life is a localized version of the cosmic conflict.
3. Is the number 144,000 Literal or Symbolic? This is a controverted question, but evidence in the text leads me to believe that the number should be taken symbolically, and this will be detailed in a later blog.
4. Are the 144,000 and Great Multitude Two Different Groups or Two Ways of Describing the Same End-Time People of God? This question is also controverted and will be addressed in a later blog.
5. Rom. 3:19-23 and the Meaning of “Without Fault” (Rev. 14:5). The 144,000 are described in Revelation 14 as “without fault.” What exactly is that supposed to mean? I will make reference to Romans 3 to argue against an absolute perfection interpretation of “without fault.” Stay tune for blogs that follow this one.
6. Other Issues Concerning the 144,000. The picture of the 144,000 raises many practical questions. To what degree is God responsible for the suffering and violence in today’s world? What are we supposed to make of the military imagery in Revelation 7:1-8? What is the new song that only the 144,000 can sing (Rev. 14:3)? Stay tuned.