What is the purpose of the 144,000?

The first thing we learn about them is that they are “the servants of our God” (7:3). We are told that before we learn that they are Jews.

Let’s stop here to review what we know about Jews in general.

God originally intended that the Jewish nation be a light to the whole world. As God told Abraham, “All peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”[1] Through the Jews would come the Messiah; but before He came, the Jews and their system of worship were intended to point the way to God. Unfortunately Israel as a nation rejected God, so He dispersed them among the nations.

But God is not finished with His people Israel. The apostle Paul said, “My heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved… But not all the Israelites accepted the good news [of the Gospel]… I ask then, Did God reject his people? By no means!… Again I ask, Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all! Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious.”[2]

Paul then goes on to equate the Jews to an olive branch that has been broken off, and the Gentiles to a wild olive shoot that has been grafted into the Vine, Jesus Christ. God’s intention is that the Jews will be grafted back into the Vine. “If they do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in,” Paul says, “for God is able to graft them in again.” He goes on to say: “I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved.”[3]

Paul is saying that Israel as a nation will be Jesus-followers, just as Americans at the time their country was formed were Christians. Within any “Christian” nation there are always some who “persist in unbelief.” God qualified “all Israel” (v.26) with an “if” (v.23).

Many Jews today have no interest in religion and many Jews observe Judaism the way many Gentiles observe Christmas and Easter—without any heart response to God. But there are Jews who sincerely observe “the Lord’s appointed feasts.”[4] Like the rich young ruler whom Jesus loved, they can say, “I have kept all the commandments since I was a boy.”[5] They celebrate the feasts recognizing that they point to their Messiah without recognizing that Jesus is that long-awaited Messiah.

Any Gentile believer who has taken part in Jewish Passover celebration wonders, “How can that be? How can Jews not see Jesus in their Passover rituals?”

Jesus answered that question.

Mingled with the Jews’ diligent keeping of their laws is a deliberate blindness. The Bible points this out. “Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence,” the Bible tells us, “they still would not believe in him.” The passage goes on to say “they could not believe” because…God “has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts, so they can neither see with their eyes, nor understand with their hearts, nor turn.” If they would turn, “I would heal them.”[6]

But God has a plan to remove the scales that blind Jewish eyes. And the 144,000 have a part to play in bringing salvation to Israel. The 144,000 will connect the dots for them so they will see Jesus is their only hope and their long-awaited Messiah.

 

Character of the 144,000

In Revelation chapter 14 the 144,000 are described as model Jews. (The description is given after they are redeemed, but it probably started with a lifestyle that began when they were children—“Since I was a boy,” as the rich young ruler said.)

The 144,000 are men; we know that because they “did not defile themselves with women.” They are sexually pure—some may be married, but it is likely that most are celibate—and “no lie was found in their mouths; they are blameless.”

I find it interesting that no mention is made of keeping the Sabbath—the defining law of the Jews. The Sabbath was the sign of God’s covenant with Israel as a nation. God told the Israelites, “You must observe my Sabbaths. This will be a sign between me and you for the generations to come, so you may know that I am the Lord, who makes you holy.”[7] The penalty for working on the Sabbath was death.[8] Many of the disasters that befell Israel as a nation were because they failed to observe the Sabbath.

I believe the reason the Sabbath is not mentioned in connection with the 144,000 is because Sabbath-keeping for most Jews has become divorced from true worship of God. It has become a matter of works rather than faith. The apostle Paul pointed out that salvation is “not by works, so that no one can boast.”[9]

Jesus stressed that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.[10] Yet the Jewish have added many regulations, some of them ridiculous, to God’s simple command to rest and worship Him. For example, if a button falls off your coat and you put it into your pocket, you are carrying a burden, therefore breaking the Sabbath. The same button still on your coat is not a burden. Shabbat elevators automatically stop at every other floor of highrises in Israel on the Sabbath so you don’t have to push the button (work), yet if the elevator does not stop at your floor, you must walk a flight of stairs (which is not work!).

Outward keeping of such rules is no mark of true holiness. Keeping yourself sexually pure and guarding your tongue so you don’t lie are much better indications of a heart that is tender toward God.

It is 144,000 men like these who will be sealed by God. They are “servants of our God” but not raptured; therefore they must be sincere followers of Judaism, but not convinced that Jesus is their Messiah—until God opens the sixth seal and turns the world upside down.

 

How do they come to believe?

We don’t know for sure, but it may happen something like this:

One morning in the near future 144,000 Jews will look in the mirror to discover a strange sign like a tattoo on their foreheads. How did it get there and what does it say? they wonder. They either need a second mirror to read the mirror image or they need someone to read the sign to them.

They will be stunned to learn that the sign on their foreheads contains two words: “Jesus” and “YHWH.” They have never put these two words together before. Now they instantly believe that Jesus is both God and their Messiah.

While they are still marveling at the sign and pondering what to do next, the Lamb, Jesus Himself,[11] opens the sixth seal, the earth beneath them shakes violently, and they run outdoors for safety lest the building they are in collapses over them. Their attention is immediately drawn toward the sky. Though it is daytime, the sky is dark. The sun is not just obscured with clouds. Nor is there a total solar eclipse, in which case there would be a corona. The sun is black! Totally black, like they have never seen. “Black like sackcloth made of goat hair.”[12]

A few of the 144,000 had in the past read some of the New Testament. They now remember the account of Jesus’ crucifixion. The sky that day was black for three hours.[13] Will this blackness last three hours? they wonder.

In the darkness the 144,000, who are widely scattered, have time to ponder Jesus’ life and death and resurrection. Jesus was their Messiah, and they—the Jews—insisted that He be put to death. The 144,000 sense that they themselves were complicit in Jesus’ crucifixion. “Would I have shouted, ‘Crucify him!’?” they wonder.

The darkness lifts, but not for long. Night falls, and the wonders in the sky continue. The moon when it rises is blood red. Stars in the sky fall to earth in record numbers. Not just the occasional shooting star or meteor. It is as if someone has shaken the heavens, shaking the stars out of the sky—the way a strong wind shakes a fig tree, and the ripe figs drop as if being harvested. Is that what is happening now? the 144,000 wonder. Is the earth ripe for harvest?

While they continue to watch the sky, the awesome wonders continue. As the apostle John described it: “The sky receded like a scroll, rolling up,” and the earth went into convulsions. “Every mountain and island was removed from its place.”

What is this sight in the sky? they wonder. Is the whole sky really rolling up, or are these simply clouds in the shape of a scroll?

 

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What does it mean that “the sky receded like a scroll”?

I have never had it explained to me, but I wonder, does it have anything to do with Simchat Torah? This Jewish holiday, which means “Rejoicing with the Torah,” is traditional rather than biblical. The celebration marks the conclusion of the annual cycle of public Torah readings, and the beginning of a new cycle.

Simchat Torah is a component of the festival of Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles), following immediately after “the last and greatest day of the Feast,”[14] which occurs

in the month of Tishrei (mid-September to early October on the Gregorian calendar).

Radio Bible Class gives us this information in a booklet about the Fall Feasts:

 

In Jewish communities all over the world, worshipers gather together in their synagogues and re-roll the Torah scroll. Unlike a book that can be turned to any page, a scroll is one continuous length of parchment. When one reaches the end of Deuteronomy—as is true on the day of Simchat Torah—the scroll must be re-rolled all the way back to Genesis. The Jewish community gathers together to hear the final words, of Deuteronomy read…

Great celebration, music, and dancing ensues as the scroll is wound back to “the beginning,” when they listen to the first declarations of Genesis: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1).[15]

 

In the last days will there be a formation in the sky which reminds the Jews of the Torah scroll? If so, what will their response be?

My guess is that many will respond by searching the Scriptures diligently, and in the process many will be saved.

 

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The 144,000 are called “servants of our God,” showing that they have been sealed for a purpose other than their personal comfort and safety. What is that purpose, and how will they serve God during the “great day” of God’s wrath[16]?

We know that God is not willing that any should perish. The final seven years before Jesus’ physical return to earth are designed not just for judgment. God’s goodness and kindness have failed to draw to Himself the people who remain on earth. When the Church is removed, God will change His tactics. He will use trouble, sometimes extreme trouble, to put pressure on people and hopefully drive some of them to Himself.

The tribulation will polarize those who remain on earth, either driving them toward God or hardening their hearts. The more severe the tribulation the more polarized the earth will be.

But God will not leave the earth without a witness. That witness will primarily be 144,000 chosen from those observant Jews whose hearts are most open to Him.

 

[1] Gen. 12:3

[2] Romans 10:1, 16; 11:1, 11

[3] Romans 11:17-32, esp. v.23, 25-26

[4] Lev. 23:4

[5] See Mark 10:17 – 23.

[6] John 12:37-40, italics added.

[7] Exodus 31:13, 16-17

[8] Exodus 35:2

[9] Eph. 2:8-9

[10] Mark 2:27

[11] See Rev. 6:1, 11.

[12] Rev. 6:12. This is more than a solar eclipse. Even during a total eclipse the sun has a corona.

[13] A total solar eclipse usually lasts 4 to 5 minutes. Maximum 7.5 minutes.

[14] John 7:37

[15] Martin R. De Haan II, “The Holidays of God, the Fall Feasts,” © 2000, p. 29.

[16] Rev. 6:17

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