A Roadmap for the End-Time
During 1998, I plan to focus my Day Star articles on prophetic topics from the books of Daniel and Revelation. Last month, prophetic topics were addressed in a set of colorful prophetic charts called "Roadmaps for the End-Time."
I hope you will treasure these "maps" and more important, that they prove to be a valuable tool in your personal Bible study as you try to understand God’s forthcoming actions.
From time to time in articles, I will refer to the maps because "a picture can be worth a thousand words." (If you would like to obtain a copy of the "Roadmaps," call the Wake Up America office at 1-800-475-0876 or (937) 848-3322.)
I also hope that you will purchase additional copies to share with your friends and perhaps, even start your own Bible study group. I believe these charts will facilitate a good discussion!
This month, we will examine the subject of the 144,000 servants, so to familiarize yourself with this subject, please review the "Roadmaps" chart titled "The Two Witnesses" (Chart 5). Especially notice panel #8 because the time-period granted to the Two Witnesses is the same time-period granted to the 144,000.
Also notice that The Two Witnesses and the 144,000 are inseparably linked.
Some topics are presented more effectively if the conclusions are given first. The problem with this approach, however, is that the reader might fail to gain any benefit from the study if that individual cannot "get past" a concluding point with which he or she disagrees.
For example, a few years ago a man justified his rejection of my prophetic teachings by saying, "I do not have to drink an entire gallon of sour milk to know that the jug is bad." Unfortunately, this is the way most of us make decisions – we "taste" a small sample and if that sample is agreeable, we favor the "whole jug" based on that sample; otherwise, we tend to reject the "whole jug" if that small sample was bad. I suppose this is one of the frailties of human nature.
I would rather consider the example of the dozen eggs. Just because one egg of the dozen is cracked and has gone bad does not mean that the other eleven eggs are bad. In spite of the human tendency to reject conclusions based on a small sample, I will present some of my conclusions on the topic of the 144,000 first.
I hope you will study the entire article, and then determine for yourself if the "sample" is actually good or bad!
- The number, 144,000, as in any census is a literal number. The Bible never indicates that a number is anything other than literal. God required a census of the Israelites before they entered the Promised Land and He will carefully number all of the redeemed (in addition to the 144,000) before they enter His Kingdom, even though it will be a number beyond human ability to count.
- The 144,000 will be God’s "servants, the prophets." These servants will be anointed and appointed to speak on God’s behalf during the Great Tribulation.
- The 144,000 will be composed of men and women coming from every nation, kindred, tongue and people.
- The 144,000 will not originate from one particular church or denomination.
- The 144,000 are selected from the twelve tribes of Israel just before the Great Tribulation commences. The twelve tribes of Israel are not the biological offspring from Abraham. Since the end of the 70th week (which I believe occurred in A.D. 34), the twelve tribes of Israel have been reckoned as believers in Jesus.
- The 144,000 will begin their work at the same time.
- The 144,000 will not, for the most part, know each other, and yet, their unique message and ministry will be the same around the world.
- The 144,000 will be distributed throughout the world according to population. Nations with large populations will be blessed with a larger number of the 144,000.
- The 144,000 have not yet appeared.
- The 144,000 will be sealed just before the Great Tribulation begins.
- As "first fruits" of the numberless harvest who will live during the Great Tribulation, the 144,000 will be sealed first. This sealing will be a final and permanent transformation of their human nature. God will continue to seal all believers during the 1,260 days of the Two Witnesses. The sealing is a transformation of man’s nature from "a propensity for sin" to "a propensity for righteousness."
- Many, if not all, of the 144,000 will perish during the Great Tribulation.
- The 144,000 will perform many miracles, similar to Moses and Elijah. Their miracles will testify that they are God’s spokespersons. Of course, the devil’s prophets will also produce many miracles, signs and wonders during this time-period. Fortunately, the devil’s prophets will perform miracles which are inferior to the ones the prophets of God perform.
- The 144,000 will suffer much rejection and torture for their clear, straightforward and truthful testimony.
- Many different personality types will make up the 144,000. Most of them will not have a professional clerical background. Membership in this group is by divine appointment. In other words, no one can appoint or qualify himself to be a part of this group.
- The 144,000 will be highly dedicated and loyal to the service of God.
- The 144,000 will sing a song of experience and victory that others cannot sing.
- The 144,000 will not fail to accomplish the plans of God.
- The 144,000 will be taken to Heaven just before the seven last plagues begin.
- As they ascend to Heaven, the 144,000 will become Jesus’ "servants in waiting" – they will be His personal aides throughout eternity.
- The 144,000 will victoriously return with Jesus when He comes for His righteous people at the Second Coming.
- The 144,000 will wear the names of Jesus and the Father on their foreheads throughout eternity.
- The 144,000 will be empowered by the Two Witnesses for a limited time – 1,260 days.
- The 144,000 will accomplish in this short amount of time what denominations have failed to do during the past 2,000 years.
- The prophets of the Antichrist will greatly outnumber the 144,000.
The 144,000 will accomplish, through the enabling power of God, something that mere men and women cannot do. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, the 144,000 will proclaim the everlasting gospel to every living person on Earth in less than 1,260 days! The result will be an international harvest of people that will be numberless. Consider for a moment the significance of preaching the everlasting gospel. What is the everlasting gospel?
The everlasting gospel is the truth about God and the terms and conditions of His salvation. The 144,000 will proclaim THE TRUTH and this truth will expose the false teachings of every religious system on Earth! This is an amazing point: God will not use an existing denomination as a vehicle to proclaim the everlasting gospel during the end-time. If this startles you, consider this point: The book of Revelation does not identify a "true denomination" at the end of time. Instead, Revelation identifies a "true gospel" and identifies the people who cling to it as "the remnant of the woman." (Rev 12:17; 14:12)
Why does God "leapfrog" the great religious organizations that exist during the end-time and use a mere 144,000 ordinary people? If we consider the vast resources that some religious organizations have and then say that God will not use the great religions of the world to speak for Him during the end-time, we seem foolish! Nevertheless, here are six reasons why I believe God cannot use them:
- The glory of doing the impossible, proclaiming the gospel to the whole world in 1,260 days, belongs to God and not to man.
- The seven religious systems of the world are corrupt and therefore, cannot and do not speak for God. Consequently, they can neither correctly explain the everlasting gospel nor properly explain the plans and purposes of God for the Great Tribulation.
- Most people will agree that God does not save people because of a church affiliation. Salvation is not gained through membership in an Earthly organization. In fact, if God used a religious organization to proclaim the everlasting gospel during the end-time, church affiliation would be an insurmountable problem for many people. Prejudice is a human frailty. Some people would rather die and go to hell than to join another church or even worse, the church of someone who has offended them. Consider the following example: Let us suppose that God looks down on Earth and decides to use a particular sect within the Moslem faith to give the truth for the end-time. How many Catholics, Jews or Christians do you think would join "that church" to be saved? Now turn the table around and ask yourself how many Catholics, Jews, Protestants or Moslems would join your particular church to be saved?
- God does not save a person because his biological great-grandfather was Abraham or Daniel. The Lord has made it clear in the book of Ezekiel that one’s ancestry has nothing to do with salvation! (Ezekiel 14:18; 18:4-28; Matthew 3:9)
- One man cannot prove the superiority of his religion over that of another man. If history proves anything, this point has been proven true beyond question. Not even Elijah could prove that his God was superior to the god of Baal without the physical proof of fire falling from Heaven? Therefore, it will be impossible for any religious group to argue their superiority (e.g., it alone speaks for God) over another religious group without physical manifestations. But remember, the devil and his minions will be using physical manifestations to deceive "even the elect" if possible. Ultimately, what makes one view of God superior over another? Is it because one God is more powerful than another and able to do great signs and miracles? Is it only because God has the power to save you? Or is it because His ways are righteous, pure and true? Why do you serve your God? In the end, every knee will bow confessing that He is the only true God and the only One that deserves our worship. Not because of His power, but because everyone will realize His grace, mercy, justice and perfect love warrant it.
- God knows that Earthly religion has more to do with social structure than with a personal love for TRUTH. (Statistics show that 95% of people remain loyal to the religious system into which they were born and raised in – even if they fail to practice their religion.) Since properties of religion are so influential within the human race, God must test humankind. Because social relationships can be more important than loving truth, God must test people. A significant distinction exists between serving God and serving the church, and God must test humankind to see if we love Him and His truth above everything else. The test will be simple and applied without partiality. God will require everyone to leave his or her church for the sake of truth! Only then will the object of our deepest affection be revealed. At that time, some people will discover they loved their church more than they loved God! What a sad thought! Only when a contest exists between God and a person’s church can humans detect the distinction that exists between serving God and serving the church. Until this test is applied, most people cannot understand this distinction or problem. Remember, in Jesus’ day, the Pharisees could not discern how they were as blind as Jesus claimed! However, the day is coming when the same test given the Jewish nation will be applied to everyone, and each of us will be forced to make a choice – God or religion. Unfortunately, many people cannot separate themselves from their church of birth, even when presented with the plainest truth.
So, to help people make up their minds, God will allow the devil to appear on Earth. The devil (embodied as the Antichrist) will dissolve all religions and forcibly create a new global church. This event alone will help motivate some people to move beyond their denominations and leave their church for truth’s sake. On the other hand, all of the cowardly will prostitute their faith and join the Antichrist’s newly created church. The devil will make it difficult to refuse to join his church.
He will set up stringent laws, and if you choose to disobey and are caught, you will be put to death. Remember that God considers cowardice as great a sin as murder and sexual immorality. "But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars — their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death." (Revelation 21:8)
To make the religious playing field level for everyone during the end-time, God will choose 144,000 loyal men and women from all religions of the world to proclaim His truth. Just as Jesus gave Ezekiel and John little books to eat in their day, Jesus will give the 144,000 the words to speak in our day. Because all religious systems or denominations of the world are corrupt, they will be aligned against God’s truth. The line of demarcation will be very clear.
People who love God will leave Babylon and step across the line to God’s side. Conversely, people who refuse to surrender to the truth will have no other option but to join with the devil. In choosing his church people will receive his mark, which will allow them (through buying and selling) to obtain the necessities of life. The mark of the beast (a tatoo showing either the literal number 666 or the name of the devil) will indicate church membership in the devil’s church.
Consider the outcome: If people side with God, they will experience the devil’s wrath. If people side with the devil, they will experience God’s wrath. Surely, this will be a time of wrath for everyone!
Before leaving this section, one question needs to be asked. Why does God use a literal number of 144,000 people to proclaim the everlasting gospel during the end-time? Since nearly six billion people now live on Earth, why did He choose 144,000 – why not one million or 10 million to accomplish His task?
Answer: The 144,000, like Gideon’s army, are too few to accomplish the task humanly. By choosing such a tiny number of people, God will again demonstrate that He is not dependant upon man.
Why does God mention the twelve tribes in Revelation’s story? The 144,000 are mentioned in conjunction with the twelve tribes because of God’s original plan to proclaim the everlasting gospel through the twelve sons of Jacob. The history of the twelve tribes is as follows:
After the flood, God chose Abraham and his descendants as trustees of the gospel. Later, God renewed the trusteeship of His covenant with the thirteen descendants of Jacob. (Remember that Joseph had two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim.
They were counted at the Exodus as two tribes; thus the nation of Israel was reckoned as thirteen tribes until the tribe of Dan disappeared.) As trustees of the gospel, the twelve tribes were appointed to be "the light of the world." (Matthew 5:14; Acts 13:47) When the twelve tribes of Jacob failed to let the light of God’s truth shine, Jesus modified His covenant with Israel and basically put a constitutional amendment into effect.
This amendment offers gospel trusteeship to the disciples of Christ. (Matthew 28:18-20) Under the provisions of the amendment, anyone and everyone who receives Christ as Savior becomes an heir of Abraham and a member of Israel. (Galatians 3:28,29; Ephesians 2; Romans 10 & 11) Paul wrote, "If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise." (Galatians 3:29)
This is why Paul says, "For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him." (Romans 10:12) And again Paul said, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." (Galatians 3:28)
What is a Tribe?
During the end-time, God will take 12,000 people from each tribe to produce the 144,000. A "tribe" is a group or family of people having a certain distinction. (Those living in multiracial communities often speak of this phenomenon.) Notice three things about the twelve tribes: First, the twelve tribes must exist at the end-
time since God takes 12,000 from each tribe as "first-fruits." Second, very few people on Earth today can trace their biological ancestry back to Jacob, and since biological heritage means nothing when it comes to salvation (Ezekiel 14:12-21), I believe God groups all people on Earth according to twelve personality types.
This idea is supported by the fact that each of Jacob’s twelve sons was identified by unique personality characteristics that were passed down to their offspring and Jacob blessed the sons accordingly. (See Genesis 49 and 1 Chronicles 4:21,23 for an example of a unique characteristic.)
From this I deduce that the twelve tribes at the end-time are grouped according to personality traits or gifts similar to the sons of Jacob. God will use ordinary people to accomplish all that needs to be done. Jacob’s sons had very diverse personality traits and so will the 144,000. Third, God will choose 12,000 from each personality type as a practical matter. By dividing the population of the world into 144,000 segments, each prophet will have a "parish" of less than 40,000 people to serve during the end-time.
If we divide 40,000 people by 1,260 days, each servant-prophet will only need to speak to about 32 people per day to get the job done!
Note: Some people insist that the original twelve tribes of Israel still exist. The evidence they purport is widely disputed and lacks the historical and scientific authority to back up their claim. In A.D. 70, Jerusalem was destroyed and the genealogical records were destroyed with it.
Jewish ancestral tracing ended. Even if the original 13 tribes still exist, the divine amendment to the covenant allows anyone who receives Christ to be an heir of Abraham. (Galatians 3:28,29)
When are the 144,000 Sealed?
The 144,000 are selected and sealed just prior to the commencement of the Great Tribulation. "After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth to prevent any wind from blowing on the land or on the sea or on any tree. Then I saw another angel coming up from the east, having the seal of the living God. He called out in a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm the land and the sea: `Do not harm the land or the sea or the trees until we put a seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God.’ Then I heard the number of those who were sealed: 144,000 from all the tribes of Israel." (Revelation 7:1-4)
The four winds held back until the 144,000 are prepared for their work are the four terrible judgments contained in the fourth seal; sword, famine, plague and wild beasts. Jesus delays the opening of the fourth seal until the development and selection of the 144,000 is completed.
Then, when the fourth seal is opened, the seven angels that have the seven trumpets commence their destructive work. I believe the seven angels were given the seven trumpets in March 1994 – at the termination of the 70th Jubilee cycle. Since then, these seven angels await the sealing of the 144,000.
When the 144,000 are sealed, the first four angels of the seven trumpets will begin to harm the Earth. Specifically, the first two angels of the seven trumpets will harm the land, trees and sea – the very elements protected until the 144,000 are sealed. (Revelation 7:1-4; 8:7,8)
Importance of Character
John not only tells us the number of servant-prophets, but he also describes the characters of the 144,000. "These are those who did not defile themselves with women, for they kept themselves pure. They follow the Lamb wherever he goes. They were purchased from among men and offered as firstfruits to God and to the Lamb. No lie was found in their mouths; they are blameless." (Revelation 14:4,5)
Comments on Purity
What an interesting statement about ordinary people! "They kept themselves pure . . . No lie was found in their mouths; they are blameless." In the past, some popular TV evangelists in the USA have brought embarrassment upon Christians due to impropriety with women and money. Men claiming to be "servants of God" have been exposed as slaves of Satan. Perhaps the greatest sin in such cases is that these men did not come forward to confess their sins until "caught."
Reading the story of Achan (Joshua 7) one could wonder how sincere a confession can be after being "caught in the act." God rightfully expects those "talking the talk to be walking the walk." John says of the 144,000, "they are not defiled with women." This does not mean they remain unmarried, for the marriage relationship is holy and ordained by God.
This statement simply indicates that these people are morally pure and fully committed to Jesus. Some people insist the 144,000 are not defiled with false doctrines that come from the daughters of the harlot (false religions) mentioned in Revelation 17 – insinuating that there is one true religion on Earth today.
I do not believe a true religion on Earth exists today. I believe there is one God and one truth. It is the privilege of human beings to enjoy greater fellowship with God the closer they come to Him so they understand and practice His truth. However, the statement about "not being defiled with women" refers to dedication to God. The time will come when our allegiance to God will become more important than Earthly ties! (See Nehemiah 13 for a parallel study on the purity required of the Levites to serve God.)
One thing is certain about these 144,000 servants of God – they are blameless before God. Even the Old Testament prophet Zephaniah says of the remnant, "The remnant of Israel shall not do iniquity, nor speak lies; neither shall a deceitful tongue be found in their mouth . . . " (Zephaniah 3:13)
According to John, the Father’s name and the name of Jesus will be written in the foreheads of the 144,000. (Revelation 14:1) The placement of the names serves to indicate their exceedingly high rank in Heaven’s administration. The phrase "blameless before God" means that these men and women walk humbly in uprightness before God, just like Noah, Abraham and others. They speak truth, live truth and from living by faith, reflect the loving character of Jesus.
Through Jesus’ enabling, these individuals have come to love Jesus more than their besetting sins. The key to being selected as one of the 144,000 is perseverance to "overcome." Review the promises Jesus made to each of the seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3. Jesus said to the church in Laodicea, "To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne." (Revelation 3:21)
John also says the 144,000 are "offered as first fruits to God and to the Lamb." What does this mean? "Firstfruits" is a term describing a special offering presented to the Lord at various feasts. At the feast of Passover, Pentecost and the Feast of Tabernacles, which was the final feast of the religious year, an offering of first fruits was presented. The "firstfruits" became the property of the high priest after they had been presented at a sacred service.
The term "firstfruits" refers to the first fruits of the coming harvest. If a man grew peaches, then his "first fruits" would be the first peaches to ripen.
Old Testament feasts are shadows or patterns of the Heavenly Temple. From them, we learn that Jesus, our High Priest, will receive the first fruits of the coming harvest shortly before the great harvest takes place. He will receive the 144,000 as "first fruits" of Earth’s harvest and the 144,000 will become His special property.
This elite group will form a special entourage that will accompany Jesus at the Second Coming and later, throughout the eternal universe! John says, "They follow the Lamb wherever He goes." (Revelation 14:4) Think of the privilege that belongs to this group of people – being a personal attendant of Jesus!
The Holy City, new Jerusalem, has twelve gates and twelve foundations. Each gate bears the name of a tribe and each foundation, the name of an apostle. (Revelation 21:12,14) This should be an important point for those who think that God is going to use the twelve original tribes of Israel. The twelve foundations of the Holy City bear the names of the twelve apostles, not the twelve tribes! Perhaps the saints will enter the Holy City through the gate corresponding to their personality type.
If so, a group of 12,000 servants of God will lead their kinsmen through their gate! Everyone will belong to a tribe! Everyone will have a family! Think about the generosity of God. There will be an elite group from each character-type of the human family to help the newcomers as they move into their new homes. Even more interesting, God finds perfection in twelve different character types! No, He did not create the members of the human race to be identical.
What is the Sealing?
A few additional words are needed regarding the special sealing that the 144,000 will receive. Remember, the 144,000 are first fruits and they are sealed first. This means the rest of the harvest will eventually receive the same special sealing. What is this sealing? What does God do to His people before closing the door to salvation? After passing the test of faith, He transforms their nature. Notice, God does not propose to change our character, the development of character is our responsibility as we walk daily with God.
However, when the end-time arrives, God will test the faith of every person on Earth. Those who pass the test will be permanently transformed. No longer will sin be attractive to them. God’s children will be sealed with a nature like Adam and Eve before they fell. Attraction for sin will be gone – free from the influence of sin at last!
This is why Jesus declares at the close of mercy (seventh trumpet): "Let him who does wrong continue to do wrong; let him who is vile continue to be vile; let him who does right continue to do right; and let him who is holy continue to be holy." (Revelation 22:11)
Here are a few texts to confirm this point: Hebrews 8:10-12; 1 John 2:28-3:2; Zechariah 3:1-7; Revelation 11:12. In this last text (Rev. 11:12), God takes the 144,000 to Heaven before the Second Coming. Their ascension as "first fruits" proves their natures are transformed before the Second Coming; in fact, they were sealed before the Great Tribulation began!
The 144,000 will sing a new song in Heaven which no one else can learn. What does this mean? After leaving Egypt, Israel faced an excruciating moment on the shore of the Red Sea. Today’s vernacular would read, "Israel was between the devil and the deep blue sea" as Pharaoh’s army rushed to capture the fugitives. On one side Israel faced impassable mountains and on the other side, open desert. Before them was the Red Sea and behind them was Pharaoh’s advancing calvary of 600 chariots. What a predicament! What a moment of extremity!
The anguish of the moment was so great that the Hebrews cried out in terror for deliverance! The Lord heard the cries of His children and delivered them! God divided the water and the children of Israel walked through the Red Sea on dry ground. When Pharaoh’s army pursued the Israelites, God allowed the divided waters to come together again and it swallowed Pharaoh’s best soldiers. Israel’s worry with Egypt was over.
Their rejoicing knew no bounds and they sang this song to the Lord: "Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the Lord: `I will sing to the Lord, for he is highly exalted. The horse and its rider he has hurled into the sea. The Lord is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation . . . Pharaoh’s chariots and his army he has hurled into the sea. The best of Pharaoh’s officers are drowned in the Red Sea. The deep waters have covered them; they sank to the depths like a stone.’ " (Exodus 15:1-5)
This specific song of deliverance relates to a specific experience. Only the people who went through this experience could spontaneously sing the words in unison! In Heaven, a song is a personal testimony.
The 144,000 servants of God experience the most extreme circumstances on Earth. Because they are designated and anointed as special servants of God, Satan’s wrath will be extremely fierce against them. However, John saw them as more than conquerors! These "true prophets" will be victorious over the "false prophet," Satan, although a large number of the 144,000 will die. John saw them victorious – singing a new song that no one else could sing. No one else can sing this song because no one else goes through their experience. No one else can join in because no one else can sing that testimony!
Glory to God
The 144,000 accomplish a very great feat! They proclaim the everlasting gospel to every nation, kindred, tongue and people during the time-period of the seven trumpets. They walk with God, just as Enoch did and they reach a level of spiritual maturity that pleases God. Even though they will be allowed to experience the sufferings and burdens of Christ, they will receive the highest honor God can bestow upon a Christian – to enter into Christ’s suffering. (2 Corinthians 6:3-10, Mark 10:38,39)
What does spiritual maturity involve? The 144,000 will know what it means to live by faith, just as Jesus lived by faith. These people understand what it means to submit to the will of God completely and lovingly. They would rather die than willfully commit a sin. These people carry the responsibility of the gospel during the judgment hour to a reeling world – a compelling burden that most people cannot grasp or understand.
These people are serious about following God and they are the first recipients of the latter rain or outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Their lives are both a demonstration and proclamation of the character of Jesus. The 144,000 are the choicest fruits of Heaven’s harvest.
When does this maturity occur? "Do not harm the land or the sea or the trees until we put a seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God." (Revelation 7:3) Since these people have not appeared yet, and obviously, the first trumpet has not sounded yet, it is my conviction that the sealing of the 144,000 is taking place right now! Jesus says, "My eyes will be on the faithful in the land, that they may dwell with me; he whose walk is blameless will minister to me." (Psalm 101:6)
Stephanos Means Victory
In Revelation 12, the story of a great conflict between the "true church" (represented by a pregnant woman) and a violent dragon is told. The woman wears a crown of twelve stars on her head. From the Greek language, we learn that these stars are set in a stephanos or crown of victory.
Stars symbolize messengers or angels and by applying the words of Daniel 12:3 to this portion of Revelation’s symbolism we find a very beautiful fit. "Those who are wise (or teachers) will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness like the stars for ever and ever." In other words, the crown of victory worn by the woman is set with twelve stars that represent the glorious triumph of the twelve tribes. The 144,000 will be her "stars" in every sense of the word!
Is 144,000 a literal number? If the number is symbolic and does not represent a literal number of people, then the Scripture should reveal the meaning of the symbol (according to the rules of interpretation). Since no such explanation exists for the number 144,000 or for that matter, any number in Revelation, we can freely conclude that this number is literal. What value is there in treating numbers as symbolic? For example, in Revelation 17, John saw a beast having seven heads and ten horns.
The heads and horns are symbolic — not the numbers! The number 144,000 is a literal number. The term "servants of God" suggests that these people will powerfully lead out in proclaiming the everlasting gospel. In fact, in Revelation 10:7 the servants are called prophets! So, the work of the 144,000 will be to gather God’s remnant together.
Jesus said, "I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen [Israel]. I must bring them also [into my kingdom]. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd [when I claim all that has been given to me]." (John 10:16) [Words in brackets are supplied.]
The 144,000 Notified
"How will the 144,000 be notified of their appointment?" This is a question often asked. Of course, the only way to answer this question is to consider the relevant texts and look at a biblical parallel. In Revelation 10, John is given an open book and told to eat it. The book is sweet in his mouth and bitter in his stomach.
Then, John is told to prophesy again before kings, nations, etc. Within the context of Revelation 10, John is representing the experience of the 144,000. The book represents God’s message to Earth. The 144,000 will be given the words to speak. The final proclamation of the gospel is not a matter of human prowess. God will give the words and the Holy Spirit will provide the power. (Matthew 10:19)
A fine parallel of Revelation 10 is found in Ezekiel 2:8-3:4. From these verses we learn three things: First, Ezekiel was given a book to eat that was sweet in his mouth. The book represents an understanding of God’s will. Second, Ezekiel is told to speak to the people, whether they listen or not.
Having to speak the words of God which creates so much personal offense is the bitter part of the equation. (This is why the life-span of prophets is usually short.) Last, the enabling power within Ezekiel was the Spirit of God. In other words, the Holy Spirit enabled Ezekiel to say (and do) things that were beyond mere human capability.
When we combine the context of Revelation 10 with the parallel in Ezekiel 2 & 3, we can conclude the following: The 144,000 will be fully informed of their appointment by a direct and powerful confrontation with God. Their appointment will not come prematurely. In other words, until God speaks, the identity and selection of the 144,000 remains unknown.
How will the 144,000 be Recognized?
The 144,000 will be recognized in three ways: First, by the conformity of their message with Scripture. Remember, the 144,000 will operate during the Great Tribulation. They will proclaim and explain the everlasting gospel. Second, the 144,000 will be recognized by the power (simplicity and clarity) of their message. Remember John the Baptist? People walked out into the wilderness area of the Jordan to hear this man because he spoke with power and authority that comes from the Holy Spirit! (Luke 7:24-26)
People also marveled at Jesus because of the authority with which He spoke. (Mark 1:22) Last, the 144,000 will be recognized as prophets because their predictions come to pass. Their ability to perform signs and miracles will verify their appointment. However, this manifestation of power proves little in those days because the servants of the devil will also be doing "miracles." (Matthew 7:20-22)
The point here is simple: During the Great Tribulation, many will find it easier to put faith in "miracle workers" than to yield to the "faith testing" terms and conditions of salvation. If some "prophet" can perform a miracle upon demand, many will use the testimony of the miracle worker to justify rebellion against God. If God cannot reach mankind with a clear and penetrating presentation of truth, then a miracle won’t do much either. (Remember Moses in Pharaoh’s court.) This is why I say signs and wonders will not prove very much.
The purpose for the 144,000 servant-prophets will be to proclaim the everlasting gospel. God knows many people on Earth in all religions love Him and serve Him to the best of their ability. To gather these people into His sheep pen, He must first separate the sheep from the goats.
God has revealed in Revelation the process of how He intends to separate the sheep from the goats. First, He will empower the 144,000. Joel 2:28-30 says, "And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all [types of] people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my [144,000] servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days. I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and billows of smoke [as the Great Tribulation commences]." [Words in brackets supplied.]
Next, to gain the whole world’s attention, God will cause the seven trumpet events to occur. The resulting calamities will sharply awaken the inhabitants of Earth to the enormity of their sins. Then, while still in this frame of mind, God will have His servants speak. What will they say?
They will present the everlasting gospel with power and authority. (Revelation 14:6-10) Individuals who take to heart the message presented by the 144,000 will be saved. Those who have ears, but refuse to hear will be destroyed. Actually, when you look at the big picture, the story is quite simple and depends on a very tiny number of human beings. Personally, I believe the 144,000 could appear any day. When God reveals who they are, they will not show up on TV and they will not receive a round of applause or glittering rewards.
The 144,000 will not ride in limousines or have world fame. However, when they begin to proclaim God’s message, you will know God has taken control of the events on Earth and the end has come. No wonder Paul wrote, "But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong."
(1 Corinthians 1:27)