Dear Aebi: "A relative thinks the 144,000 in the book of Revelation are the only ones who will go to heaven. What do you think? Is this number literal or symbolic?"
The number 144,000 appears in Revelation chapters 7 and 14, and it is a multiple of 12x12x10x10x10 (twelve times twelve times ten times ten times ten). Seven, ten, and twelve are all considered perfect or complete numbers and are found in many places in Scripture. Here are a few examples. There were seven days of creation, as there are seven days in a week; the sevens in the book of Revelation; the seven years in Genesis 29, 41, Leviticus 25, 2 Kings 8:1, and other places; the seven times and seventy times seven in Matthew 18:21-22; and other sevens. Twelve is seen in the number of months in the year, the sons of Jacob, and the twelve apostles, to name a few. Ten is often used the ten commandments, the ten plagues on Egypt, ten lepers in Luke 17, ten virgins in Matthew 25, ten horns on the dragon in Revelation 12 and 13, and other tens. So it seems likely that the 144,000, being multiples of seven, ten, and twelve, symbolizes the complete number of persons being described.
The 144,000 in Revelation 7 are said to be the servants of God who are sealed 12,000 out of each of the twelve tribes of Israel, but notice that the twelve tribes named in 7:5-8 are not the same as the twelve sons of Jacob, nor are they identical to the twelve landed tribes of Israel. Dan is omitted here, and Dan was both a landed tribe and a son of Jacob. Manasseh is named here, and it was a landed tribe, but Manasseh was the son of Joseph rather than of Jacob. It may be argued that Jacob adopted Manasseh and Ephraim (Joseph's sons), but then why were both Joseph and Manasseh named in Revelation 7? Why was Ephraim left out when it was often the most prominent of the northern tribes (so much so that the whole northern kingdom of Israel is referred to sometimes as "Ephraim")?
The names given in Revelation 7 seem to make it incapable of a literal application, since they cannot refer to either the sons of Jacob or to the landed tribes. When Dan and Ephraim are omitted and Joseph is counted twice (once as "Manasseh"), we conclude that the number is symbolic, applying to the complete number sealed. Besides that, there is an innumerable multitude standing before the throne of God and the Lamb serving Him night and day (7:9-17); they seem to be every bit as much in heaven as the 144,000 previously named. Some believe that this description does not refer to heaven at all, but to the church; in any case, they are not just 144,000.
In Revelation 14:1-5, the 144,000 are with the Lamb on Mount Zion singing a new song that no one else could learn. These are said to be the ones redeemed from the earth (14:3-4), but they are also said to be truthful, virgin men "ones who were not defiled with women" (14:4-5). If these 144,000 are the only ones going to heaven, there will be no women there, and it has been our experience that women are at least as faithful in the service of God as men, and often more so. Surely, this number has to be symbolic, both in Revelation 7 and 14.
Isn't it interesting that this symbolic number appears in chapters divisible by seven, itself a symbolic number that appears over and over in Revelation (seven churches, seven trumpets, seven bowls of wrath, etc.)? 2660 Layman Road, Vincent OH email@example.com
Return to West Virginia Christian