The question for this issue is very simple, but the answer is not so simple. The questioner asks, "Who are the 144,000 - are they Jews?" The reference is to Revelation 7:1-8 and 14:1-4, where we learn the following concerning these 144,000:
(1) they are the servants of God (7:3);
(2) they are sealed (7:3-8) with Jesus' Father's name in their foreheads (14:1);
(3) they are represented as standing with the Lamb on Mount Sion (14:1);
(4) they are redeemed from the earth (14:3) and from among men (14:4) and are the firstfruits unto God and to the Lamb (14:4);
(5) they are virgins (14:4), without fault (justified) before the throne of God (14:5).
These 144,000 are commonly understood to be Jews who will reign with Christ on earth during a future millennium. Mount Zion, where they stand, is taken to be the earthly city of Jerusalem in the earthly land still called "Israel" today.
This is the premillennial and dispensational understanding of the passage, part of the teaching which looks for a future, earthly reign of Christ in the present city of Jerusalem with and over the Jews (Premillennialsts say over Christians also). Those who hold this view claim that they only take the Bible 'literally" and do justice to the passages.
The great Reformation principle for the interpretation of Scripture, however, is not literalism, but the principle that Scripture must interpret itself. Here Scripture itself shows that the "literal" interpretation cannot possibly be the correct interpretation of the passage. Let us note the following:
(1) The term "servants of God' is never elsewhere limited to Jews only, but is one of the common NT names for Christians, both Jews and Gentiles (I Cor. 7:22; etc.);
(2) The sealing referred to, no matter what it may mean, belongs to all those who are in Christ (II Cor. 1:22; Eph. 1:13; 4:30; II Tim. 2:19).
(3) Mount Sion in the book of Revelation is identified with the glorified church (ch. 21:9-10; cf. also Heb. 12:22-23), not with the earthly city of Jerusalem. To stand with the Lamb on Mount Sion is synonymous, therefore, with the heavenly glory of the church.
(4) "Redemption" refers in Scripture to salvation by grace, through faith, as it is granted both to Jews and Gentiles alike and finished in heaven (Rev. 5:9; Eph. 4:30);
(5) The description of people as 'virgins" can not be limited to the Jews, but must be applied to NT Christians of every nation in their holiness and purity in Christ (Matt. 25:1; II Cor. 11:2).
Who, then, are these 144,000? There can be no doubt about it that they are Christians out of every nation, in heaven with Christ. That they are described as Jews is not surprising, either, since that is the common language of the NT. The NT rejects the teaching that "Jews" are exclusively the physical descendants of Abraham as we have noted in other articles (Rom. 3:28-29; 9:6-8; Gal. 3:29; Phil. 3:3), but identifies all believers as true "Jews," true children of Abraham, and true children of God.
Does it matter? Indeed it does, for if these passages refer only to the physical descendants of Abraham, then they have no application to us as NT Christians. It has to do with whether we shall stand as part of this multitude, and where we shall stand if indeed we are part of this throng. Rev. Ronald Hanko
- Volume: 8
- Issue: 5
Rev. Ronald Hanko (Wife: Nancy)
Ordained: November 1979
Pastorates: Wyckoff, NJ - 1979; Trinity, Houston, TX - 1986; Missionary to N.Ireland - 1993; Lynden, WA - 2002; Emeritus October 15, 2017Website: www.lyndenprc.org/sermons/
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