My mother recently became a Jehovah’s Witness. She says that only 144,000 are going to be in heaven — the “anointed ones”. Who exactly are the 144,000 that they are so fixed upon?
This is a confusing false doctrine. The 144,000 is referred to in only two passages, Rev. 7:4 and 14:1-3. Consider the writings of two scholars on the subject.
First let us look at some writings of my father-in-law, a preacher in Africa for half a century, who spend a lot of time studying Jehovah’s Witness doctrine:
Rev. 7:4 – 8. “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 Israel (5) Of the tribe of Judah were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Reuben were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Gad were sealed twelve thousand. (6) Of the tribe of Asher were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Naphtali were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Manasseh were sealed twelve thousand. (7) Of the tribe of Simeon were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Levi were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Issachar were sealed twelve thousand. (8) Of the tribe of Zebulun were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Joseph were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Benjamin were sealed twelve thousand.”
The 144,000 refers to spiritual Israel, the church or kingdom of Christ. Under the New Testament, fleshly Israel was cast out. They, represented by the son of the bondwoman, cannot be heirs with the Christians, represented by the son of the free woman. Gal. 4:21-30. By faith in Christ Christians are heirs of Abraham according to the promise. Gal. 3:26-29. Christians make up the twelve tribes of spiritual Israel over whom the twelve apostles sit as judges. Matt. 19:28. Christians are the people to whom the kingdom of God was given when it was taken away from fleshly Israel, as predicted by Jesus. Matt. 21:43. Christians are the true Israel, in the Spirit, according to the promise made to Abraham. Rom. 2:28,29; 9:6-8. Christians, who rejoice in Christ, are the real circumcision. Phil. 3:2,3. They are the Israel of God. Gal. 6:15,16. They were the twelve tribes who were sealed by the angel. The number, 144,000, is symbolic, signifying the full or complete number of the Christians. That the number is symbolic is in harmony with the other details of the context which are symbolic. That the names of the tribes are symbolic is evident in the fact that the list deviates from the normal listing of the names of the tribes that inherited the promised land. Judah is listed first as if he, and not Reuben, were the first firstborn. Ephraim is not named, though Manasseh is, as also Joseph, although it was Ephraim and Manasseh who inherited land under the Old Covenant. Levi is named although this tribe was devoted to the Lord and did not inherit land as the other tribes did. Dan, one of the twelve which inherited land, is not named. All of this shows the listing was not intended to represent the fleshly tribes, but was symbolic.
SOME SYMBOLS USED IN REVELATION CHAPTER FOURTEEN:
THE LAMB: without controversy this can refer only to Christ.
MOUNT ZION: the church. Heb. 12:22-24.
THE 144,000: the Christians, who are spiritual Israel (Rom. 2:28,29; 9:6-8; Phil. 3:3), the Israel of God (Gal. 6:15,16), over whom the apostles rule as judges delivering the laws of Christ (Matt. 16:19; 18:18; 19:28).
FATHER’S NAME IN THEIR FOREHEADS: God’s seal or mark (7:3,4). In this chapter, v.1, the seal or mark is given as God’s name. Amos prophesied that Gentiles who became Christians would “bear” God’s name. Amos 9:11,12; Acts 15:13-18. The impress or seal of God’s possession would be seen in the Christians in their teaching of His word and in their obedience to it. It would not be a secret, but a public mark of ownership, being visible to all in their foreheads. Their doctrine, worship, and manner of life would distinguish them from those who worship the beast.
THE NEW SONG: it was a song of deliverance. In this song it was deliverance from the power of Satan that was celebrated. On previous occasions God’s people had celebrated in song their deliverance from their enemies, as for example when Israel was delivered from the power of Egypt. Exod. 15:1-21. But now God’s new people, bearing a new name, serving under a new covenant, having a new priesthood, with better promises and a better hope, sing a new song of a new and better deliverance than fleshly Israel had ever known. See Heb. 8:8-13; 9:11-15; 10:11-22; 13:10-15; 2:14,15.
NOT DEFILED WITH WOMEN: obviously symbolic of spiritual faithfulness to God. A literal application would exclude women from being Christians. Adultery, fornication, harlotry, are all used symbolically in the Bible to picture unfaithfulness to God. Exod. 34:14-17; Judges 2:11,17; Ezek. 16:1-63; 23:1-49; Hos. 1:1-3; 3:1-5; Isa. 1:20; Jer. 2:20; and many more examples.
THEY ARE VIRGINS: purity of life as Christians is symbolized. Paul used this symbolism to describe the Christian’s proper relationship to Christ. 2 Cor. 11:2. Jesus promised that the pure in heart would see God. Matt.5:8.
Rev. 14:1. “And I looked, and, lo, a Lamb stood on the mount Zion, and with him a hundred and forty and four thousand, having his Father’s name written in their foreheads.”
The prophets had foretold that God would call to himself a new people. e.g. Hosea 2:23. Paul’s letter to the Romans is devoted to explaining who these people are, and how they have become the people of God in place of fleshly Israel. In Rev. 7 they are pictured as the 12 tribes of the Israel of God, and they are sealed (marked) as God’s chosen, to be preserved through the tribulation to come. Their number is given as 144,000, being made up of 12,000 from each of the twelve tribes. 12 is the product of 3 and 4: “three” being the number of divinity, and 4 symbolizing humanity, thus man in relationship to God. “1,000” is symbolic of totality, all of anything. e.g. The Lord keeps covenant to a thousand generations. Deut. 7:9. No one has difficulty understanding this means “to ALL generations”. The cattle on a thousand hills are the Lord’s. Psa. 50:10. Again no difficulty. ALL the cattle on ALL the hills are the Lord’s. We say to our children, “I’ve told you a thousand times (or a million!?!) not to do that.” Even our children understand what we mean! Then why should there be any difficulty in recognizing the symbolic usage of “thousand” in an admittedly highly figurative book? The 144,000 symbolizes ALL of spiritual Israel, the total number of God’s chosen people. Mount Zion of the New Testament is the church of the New Covenant. Gal. 4:25-31; Heb. 12:22-24. Isaiah pictured the setting up of the church as the establishing of a mountain above the hills. Isa. 2:2. The church is the security and the glory of spiritual Israel. The Father’s name written in their foreheads is evidently the seal placed upon them by the angel. Rev. 7:3. This would be symbolic of a way of thought and life that openly manifested their intimate relationship with God. All who saw their manner of life would know them to be Christians.
REv. 14:2. “and I heard a voice from heaven, as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of a great thunder: and I heard the voice of harpers harping with their harps:…”
The “many waters” and “great thunder” picture a mighty and terrifying sound, loud enough to catch the attention of all. Saul found David’s voice and harp soothing. Here John heard not only the fear inspiring voice, but also the soothing and comforting voices of the harpers with their harps. The Revelation is a message of fearful judgment to the wicked, but also of soothing comfort to the suffering saints who are to find deliverance. Harps in heaven, of course, furnish no authority for instruments of music in the church. Just as incense in heaven is symbolic of the worship and prayers of the saints, so harps are symbolic of their praise. God has told us to “SING” in the church. He has made no mention of either incense or harps to be used in the worship of the church on earth.
REv. 14:3. “And they sung as it were a new song before the throne, and before the four beasts, and the elders: and no man could learn that song but the hundred and forty and four thousand, which were redeemed from the earth.”
Fleshly Israel, delivered from Egypt after crossing the Red Sea, sang a new song of deliverance. Exod. 15:1-21. Now spiritual Israel, delivered from the bondage of sin, sing a new song. Its theme would surely be praise for deliverance.
Here is another in-depth study. It is deep, so take it slowly:
WHO ARE THE 144,000? By David J. Riggs
The number “144,000” is mentioned in two passages in the Scriptures, both in the book of Revelation (Rev. 7:4; 14:1-3). In Rev. 7:4, the 144,000 were the faithful who were sealed on earth as shown in verses 2 and 3. The “seal” signifies ownership and consequent protection (Ezek. 9:6; 2 Tim. 2:19; 2 Cor. 1:21-22; Eph. 1:13-14; 4:30).
In chapter six of Revelation we see the saints under the altar (9-11) and a terrible judgment coming upon the earth which was closed with the question, “Who shall be able to stand?” (12-17). In view of this one might ask, “Will the saints on earth be able to stand and what will happen to the souls under the altar?” John’s vision (an interlude of two parts between the six and seventh seals) answers these questions. The saints on earth are sealed and those martyred are before the throne of God. Thus, the first part of the interlude is to permit the sealing of the saints in order that they will be able to endure the afflictions set forth in chapter six. The judgments seem to be altered so that they will not hurt God’s children.
In chapter seven, the four angels standing at the four corners (used to designate the four directions) were holding the four winds of the earth (the four winds of judgment–conquest, war, famine, and death–as in 6:1-8 and as seen from the word “hurt” in 7:2-3). (Compare Jer. 49:36-38; 51:1-2). They were given to hurt the earth and the sea, but another angel ascending from the sunrising (from the direction of the morning light; suggests a message of cheer and encouragement), having the seal of the living God, said, “Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we shall have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads.” (7:3). Hence, God’s people will not be affected by the forthcoming judgments as will the people of the world. (See Rev. 9:4).
After the vision of the 144,000, John sees a great multitude which no man could number out of every nation and from every tribe, people and tongue. (7:9-17). Jehovah’s Witnesses try to teach that these are the saved who inherit the earth and the 144,000 are those who receive heaven. However, the 144,000 are those on earth who are sealed and the great multitude are those souls with God who had come out of the great tribulation (6:9; 7:13-14). Furthermore, the expression, “before the throne” is used both of the great multitude (7:9) and later in the heavenly setting of the 144,000 (14:1-5). The white robes of the great multitude are symbolical of holiness, and justification (3:4-5; 6:11; 7:14), and the palms suggest a joyful, festive occasion (Lev. 23:40; John 12:13).
They cried with a loud voice saying “Salvation to our God, who sitteth on the throne and unto the Lamb” (an expression of praise and gratitude to both God and Christ for the salvation provided). They are followed by angels who fell before the throne on their faces and worshiped God with a sevenfold praise similar to that given to the Lamb in Rev. 5:12. The angels stood around the throne, as well as the elders, and the four living creatures (7:11), which again shows that this occurred in heaven and is not something that is to occur on earth.
One of the elders speaks asking John, “Who are these arrayed in white robes, and where did they come from?” John did not know, but he was certain that the elder knew. The elder answered, “These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation…” (7:14). The “great tribulation” here is the one that took place under the world wide persecution (not fully identified until the 13th chapter) in John’s day. It was “world wide” because this great multitude with the white robes were of “all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues” (7:9). They are the same ones with “white robes” who cry for the avenging of their blood (6:9-11). They had been put to death for their faith, had gained the victory, and are now before the throne. They had washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. By Christ’s blood the saint is washed from his sins (Rev. 1:5), redeemed (Rev. 5:9-10; 1 Pet. 1:18-19), given remission of sins (Matt. 26:28), has constant cleansing as he continually complies with the conditions (1 John 1:7-9), and is able to overcome (Rev. 12:11).
In chapter 14 of Revelation, the victorious Lamb stood on mount Zion and with Him were 144,000 who had the Father’s name written in their foreheads (14:1). These are those who were sealed earlier and are now also before the throne (14:5). The term “before the throne” is figurative of the place of comfort or paradise. Thus, the 144,000 represent the complete number of the martyred saints including the rest of those who were to come out of the great tribulation (6:9-11). They were the holy city that would be tread underfoot (11:2); the beast had made war with them and overcome them (14:3). They had obtained the victory over the beast (15:2) and their blood would soon be avenged (16:5-6; 17;6; 18:24; 19:2). They were the martyrs living and reigning with Christ (20:4).
Again, the number “144,000” must not be taken literal. It simply represents the complete number of the martyred saints. If one makes the number literal, he must also make their description literal. This would mean that only virgin men will go to heaven (14:4). On the contrary, these were the “firstfruits” to God and the Lamb (14:4) indicating others would follow. The Bible speaks of heaven for every faithful child of God (2 Cor. 5:1-2; Phil. 3:20-21; 1 Pet. 1:4-5). Those who limit heaven to only 144,000 have completely misunderstood the Bible, not to mention John’s teaching in Revelation. As we explained, the sealing of the 144,000 in chapter 7 was done to those living on earth and does not refer to those in heaven at all. We pray that all those who are presently striving to serve God, will someday be in heaven with all the redeemed of the ages.
By David Baize