Who are the 144,000 in Revelation 7?
A Conversion in Israel
There seems to be much confusion over the identity of the 144,000 individuals of Revelation 7.
And I heard the number of them which were sealed: and there were sealed a hundred and forty and four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel (Revelation 7:4).
The LIBERTY BIBLE COMMENTARY attempts to resolve the confusion of the identity of the 144,000 with the following comments:
Strangely, at this point there is much divergence of views as to the identity of the company [144,000] in verses 4-8. Some take an allegorical interpretation, but this allows for great latitude for the imagination and provides nothing firm upon which to rest one’s interpretation. Some indicate the group must be the first fruits of the church (“the Israel of God,” cf. H. Alford, THE GREEK TESTAMENT, Vol. IV, Part 11, pp. 623-625). Still others hold they are the Jewish nation in general. First, that they are of Israel is manifest from their identity (vs. 4); they are from all the tribes of the children of Israel. Second, they cannot be reckoned as the church; for that body is never called Israel … Third, they cannot be Israel in general; for God would not place His seal upon unbelievers for service to Him. Finally, these servants are from the tribes of Israel, literally so, redeemed by God and sealed for service when the church has been raptured to Heaven (see Revelation 14:4) [page 8081.
In the CRISWELL STUDY BIBLE referring to Revelation 7:4 the following explanation is given:
Seals imply possession and ownership. The 144,000 individuals sealed during the Tribulation are the possession of God. Attempts to represent them as the Church are futile and even absurd in light of their reappearance in the midst of the 24 elders in chapter 14. The text is to be taken as it logically reads. God still has for Israel a program to which He will be faithful. Israel is loved and treasured by God because of God’s faithfulness to His promises. The Lord has marvelous last-day purposes for Israel. The 144,000 Jews (12,000 from each tribe) will be wonderfully converted to Christ during the Tribulation after the exodus of the Church [Rapture]. Not only does the text clearly maintain this, but also the care in listing each of the tribes adds validity to the interpretation (see vv. 5-8) [p. 1488].
Dr. John F. Walvoord, the former President of Dallas Theological Seminary, in his book entitled True Revelation of Jesus Christ, gives the following comments as to the identity of the 144,000 of Revelation 7:4:
… The implication is that the judgment of God is impending and that prior to its infliction on the earth, God wants to set apart and protect His servants. In the verses which follow, 12,000 from each of the twelve tribes of Israel are protected by the angelic seal. It is implied that these who are thus sealed have been saved in the time of trouble [tribulation] pictured in the book of Revelation and by this means are being set apart as a special Divine remnant to be a testimony to God’s grace and mercy during this time of judgment … Protection will be given to this group of 144,000 Israelites. The matter is so significant to God that the names of the tribes and the number to be saved from each are given in detail …
A number of significant details are mentioned in connection with the sealing of the 144,000 in Israel. This Scripture makes it plain that there are twelve tribes in Israel still in existence, as the names of the different tribes are given … Though Israelites today do not normally know what tribe they belong to, in the mind of God there is no question … The fact that the twelve tribes of Israel are singled out for special reference in the Tribulation time is another evidence that the term “Israel” as used in the Bible is invariably a reference to the descendants of Jacob, who was first given the name Israel… The word Israel is never used of Gentiles and refers only to those who are racially descendants of Israel or Jacob (pp. 140, 141, 142).
It may be concluded that there is a great deal of controversy surrounding the identity of the 144,000 individuals of Revelation 7. Many people are perplexed by the conflicting views and theories regarding the 144,000. It should be noted there are many unscriptural and often positively heretical sects and cults that identify themselves as the 144,000. The Seventh-Day Adventists apply it to the faithful of their communion, based on their faithful observing of the Jewish Sabbath at the Lord’s return. The Jehovah Witnesses teach that the 144,000 include only their own “overcomers,” a heretical teaching of the system commonly called “Millennial Dawnism.”
Besides these cults, there are many other groups who consider their peculiar followers to be the 144,000 sealed ones at the time of the end. All of these, however, overlook a very simple fact which, if observed, would save them from their folly. That is, the 144,000 are composed of 12,000 from each tribe of the children of Israel! There is not a Gentile among them, nor is there confusion as to the identification of their tribe. Therefore, a proper question to ask anyone identifying themselves as one of the 144,000 would be, “Which tribe do you belong to?” (Excerpts taken from H. A. Ironside’s LECTURES ON THE BOOK OF REVELATION, pp. 123, 124, 125).