The 144,000 are mentioned in two chapters of Revelation. There is much misunderstanding about the 144,000, and some cults build their theology around it, but what does the Bible tells us?
Facts from Rev. 7:1-8:
- They are Jews.
The Bible says specifically: “144,000 from all the tribes of Israel.” Then the Bible
names the twelve tribes they are from.
- They are “the servants of our God.”
- They are sealed on the forehead with “the seal of the living God.”
Facts from Rev. 14:1-5:
- The seal on their foreheads contains the name of the Lamb and his Father’s name.
- The picture here is later than the picture in Rev. 7. Much has happened in the interim. The 144,000 are now in heaven. They are standing on the heavenly Mount Zion, singing “before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders,” as pictured in Rev. 4.
- They are believers “redeemed from the earth.”
- They are exclusively male. “These are those who did not defile themselves with women.” They are either faithful to their wives or they are celibate.
- They are pure and undefiled, not liars, blameless.
- “They follow the Lamb wherever he goes.”
- In case you are starting to think otherwise, they are human, “purchased from among men.”
- They are “offered as firstfruits to God and the Lamb.”
First some quick conclusions:
- The 144,000 of chapter 7 and chapter 14 are the same. Any child reading the book would come to that conclusion. Why go though mental contortions to prove otherwise?
- When we first see the 144,000 in chapter 7, they are not believers, though by chapter 14 they are “redeemed,…purchased from among men” by the blood of Jesus. They were not saved at the time of the Rapture or they would have been raptured. (A more thorough discussion of this follows.)
What other pieces of the puzzle can be put together?
I assume that the book of Revelation is primarily chronological regarding events on earth, with a few flashbacks or sidebars which reveal simultaneous events or reveal what is happening in heaven. From this viewpoint Revelation chapter 7 and 8:1-5 are sidebars, and Rev. 8:6 continues where chapter 6 left off.
When does the Rapture occur?
- Clue of the persecuted saints
The Rapture has not occurred at the time of the fifth seal. With the opening of the fifth seal, we see martyrs in distress because their blood has not yet been avenged.
In chapter 7 we see “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands” (v.9). When someone asks, “Who are they?” the answer comes: “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation” (v.14). So obviously the Rapture has occurred before chapter 7, even though it was not mentioned at the time.
- Clue of the 144,000
Before the 144,000 are sealed, an angel with the seal of God calls out in a loud voice to the four angels itching to destroy the earth, “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” (6:2-3). Yet when the sixth seal is opened, a great earthquake occurred in which “every mountain and island was removed from its place” (6:12, 14). Surely the earthquake which removes every mountain and island from its place will damage the land, the sea and many trees.
So the sealing of the 144,000 comes before the sixth seal, yet the 144,000 are on earth; so they obviously have not been raptured with the persecuted saints.
- Clue of the wrath of God
The opening of the sixth seal ushers in the “wrath of the Lamb.” This is obvious to everyone at the time of the great earthquake. They are calling to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall of us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?”
Since “God did not appoint us [the Church] to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ,” and since the “wrath of the Lamb” fell with the opening of the sixth seal, the Rapture occurred, “like a thief in the night,” between the fifth and sixth seals.
Since the 144,000 were sealed before any harm came to the land or the sea or the trees, they also were sealed before the sixth seal.
Therefore both events of Revelation chapter 7, the Rapture of the Church and the sealing of the 144,000, occur between the fifth and sixth seals. Furthermore since the 144,000 do not appear in heaven until chapter 14, they were not believers at the time of their sealing or they would already have been in heaven with the raptured church.
 Rev. 6:9-11
 Rev. 6:16-17
 1 Thes. 5:9
 1 Thes. 5:2