Revelation 7:3-8 describes that God seals and selects 144,000 servants. As with many other Bible prophecies in Revelation, Christians have differing conclusions about the 144,000. These include which people make up the 144,000, when God chooses these people, and whether the number 144,000 is a symbolic or literal number. Generally, preterists, historicists, idealists, and futurists believe the following:
- Preterist View – Since preterists understand that the prophecies of Revelation occurred in the first century, they believe that the 144,000 is a symbolic number representing the Jews who escaped Jerusalem before its fall in 70 A.D.
- Historicist View – Historicists believe that the prophecies of Revelation primarily have been fulfilled between the time of the apostles through the present. They understand 144,000 to be a symbolic number representing the growth and development of the Christian church through the centuries. A subset of this view is the Jehovah's Witness' understanding that the 144,000 are people God has chosen throughout history to reign with Him in Heaven while the rest of the saints who are saved will live on the new Earth.
- Idealist View – Idealists understand that the Revelation prophecies are symbols, so the 144,000 are symbolic of God's chosen people either past or future.
- Futurist View – Futurists understand that this prophecy will occur in the future and believe that the 144,000 are a literal number of Jews who are selected before Jesus returns. Those who believe in a pre-tribulation rapture understand that after the "Church" is taken to Heaven, 144,000 Jews will finish evangelizing the world before Jesus returns at the second coming.
Each of the general prophetic views regarding the 144,000 have flaws, so let's address some of these flaws. One of the rules of interpretation used throughout this website is that for an apocalyptic prophecy to be considered symbolic, a relevant text must exist that defines the symbol of a prophetic element. Since no applicable text defines the symbols used, the 144,000 must be a literal number. The only view that accepts the 144,000 as a literal number is the futurist view. However, there is a problem with the generally accepted futurist view.
Futurists believe that both the 144,000 and the twelve tribes are literal. When Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 A.D., all genealogical records regarding the composition of the twelve tribes were also destroyed. Today, there is no delineation between the twelve tribes and over the past 19 centuries, intermarriage between the tribes has destroyed any separation that would be expected when naming the tribes by name. In fact, Paul made it clear that lineage was no longer important regarding the tribes of Israel. (Galatians 3:28-29; Romans 10:12) Paul also states that the olive branches of the Jews were broken off and the Gentiles have been grafted in. (Romans 11:13-24) The harvest from the olive tree comes from the branches, not from the roots. God has given the branches, including the Gentiles, the task finishing the Lord's work on Earth. John describes the 144,000 as firstfruits, which, according to Paul, includes both Jew and Gentile believers. (Revelation 14:4)
Here are some key facts about the 144,000:
- They are a literal number
- They are called God's servants, the prophets
- They will come from every nation
- They will not belong to a particular denomination
- They will be believers in Jesus without regard to genealogy
- They will begin their work simultaneously
- They will preach the same message that God has given them
- They have not appeared yet
- God will seal them before the Great Tribulation
- They will perform miracles like Moses & Elijah
- They will be rejected and will suffer torture and death for their loyalty to God
- They will sing a song that others cannot sing
- As firstfruits, they will ascend to Heaven before Jesus returns at the second coming
Read more about the basis for these conclusions at the following LINK.