It is not uncommon for people to believe the appearance of the 144,000 is something yet to happen in the future. I have met individuals who felt they were called “to train the 144,000”. One had purchased property in the desert for this purpose, another a large ranch in the mountains. Back in the early 1950’s a preacher with a large following, taught that he would be instrumental in raising up “144,000 manifested sons of God”.
Probably the most popular and widely circulated interpretation at the present is the 144,000 will not make their appearance until the last seven years of this age. It is claimed they, like 144,000 “Jewish Pauls” will preach the gospel of the kingdom unto all the world – “after the church is gone”. We believe there are serious scriptural objections to this view. (Ralph Woodrow, His Truth is Marching On, chapter 5)
Who are the 144,000 in Revelation?
By Kevin Daly at Messianic Good News
“Then I looked, and there before me was the Lamb, standing on Mount Zion, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads. (2) And I heard a sound from heaven like the roar of rushing waters and like a loud peal of thunder. The sound I heard was like that of harpists playing their harps. (3) And they sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders. No one could learn the song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth. (4) These are those who did not defile themselves with women, for they kept themselves pure. They follow the Lamb wherever he goes. They were purchased from among men and offered as first-fruits to God and the Lamb. (5) No lie was found in their mouths; they are blameless.” (Revelation 14:1-5)
The fourteenth chapter of the Book of Revelation contains a vision of a hundred and forty-four thousand companions of the glorified Messiah. These are they who were redeemed from the earth, who did not defile themselves with women and are virgins. In chapter seven, we see that the same hundred and forty-four thousand are sealed, spared from the wrath of God, and joined with “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language,” before God’s throne in heaven.
The writers of the New Testament often allude to events and practices recorded in the Old Testament. The few verses cited above contain at least ten references of this nature, including the first-fruits of God (Jer. 2:3), redemption (Ex. 6:6), Mount Zion (Isa. 35:10), the census of Israel (Num. 1:17 and following), and a name or mark applied to the forehead (Ezek. 9:4). Knowledge of the Old Testament is thus required to interpret the New. The New Testament claims moreover to be the perfection or fulfilment of that contained in the Law as types and shadows. References to Old Testament events and practices may thus be intended to mean the New Testament realities that now overshadow them – and this possibility should always be considered.
Prophecy is moreover written in allegoric and symbolic language, and a crass literal interpretation is usually inappropriate. “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned”.
These principles are thus applied in relation to the hundred and forty-four thousand.
The Revelation to the apostle John was apparently given to comfort and encourage faithful Christians at a time of almost unbearable persecution. While persecution continued from the time of the Crucifixion, onward, it was executed with extraordinary zeal and cruelty during the times of Nero and Domitian, and in Palestine believing Jews who refused to follow the false messiah, Bar Kohba, appointed by Rabbi Akiva and his school, were executed for high treason.
John is shown visions of God’s impending judgments against an unbelieving world, deliberately set against Him and His children. From the viewpoint of eternity, the martyrs are sealed, cleansed by the blood of the Lamb and secure in God’s presence – while wave upon wave of God’s wrath is poured out upon the earth, until its final consummation.
The Psalmist confessed:
“Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart. But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold. For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked … Surely in vain have I kept my heart pure; in vain have I washed my hands in innocence. All day long I have been plagued; I have been punished every morning … When I tried to understand all this, it was oppressive to me till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny. Surely you place them on slippery ground; you cast them down to ruin.” 
It is this exact conclusion that the Book of Revelation makes inevitable for the faithful. While it seems from the temporal perspective that the enemies of God vanquish His servants, their suffering is but momentary when viewed from eternity. Not even death conquers them, for “we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in his presence”.
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: ‘For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord”.
The Lord encourages the faithful: “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell”.
Israel the first-fruits
God’s purpose from the origins of creation was to gain, for His own glory, a portion of mankind, to unite these with Himself, and then in the culmination and fulfilment of His purpose, to live with them in eternity. The Lord’s plan is implemented in stages. First the descendents of Abraham are brought near to God under the Sinai covenant. Subsequently, Messiah and his gospel are revealed as the fulfilment of the Law, and God’s ministry of reconciliation spreads out to all nations.
Israel as constituted under the Sinai covenant is consequently described as the first-fruits of God:
“ Israel was holy to the LORD, the first-fruits of his harvest”.
The faithful of Israel is then appointed as God’s ‘servant’, “a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth”. This task was eventually accomplished by the Jewish apostles of Messiah, soon after his coming. After the vision of the hundred and forty-four thousand, the apostle John sees, “another angel flying in midair, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth – to every nation, tribe, language and people…”. This reveals the means by which the “great multitude which no-one could count” that appears with the hundred and forty four thousand before the throne in heaven, is gathered.
In the provision to each Jewish household of a Passover lamb, and the application of the blood, Israel was redeemed from Egypt in a manner that prefigured the final redemption. The nation then existed for a thousand years under the Law of Moses, until the ‘Lamb of God’ appeared.
The redemption from Egypt nurtured the expectation of a future, final redemption, but this redemption did not amount to a further release from Gentile oppression, as generally understood, but rather as a release from the bondage to sin which avoids reconciliation with God and prevents the perfect society in which God’s will alone, be done.
The ultimate redemption that Jesus wrought on the cross applied retrospectively as much as it did prospectively. Jesus died also for Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – and those of their posterity who lived in obedience to God in Old Testament times, in anticipation of their Saviour. Jesus is described as the ‘once for all’ sacrifice who by the manner of his death was also ‘accursed under the Law,’ in order to redeem those who had sinned against Moses, from the curse of the Law.
At the time of Jesus’ death,
“the tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus’ resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people”.
These self-same righteous souls are no doubt among the number that appears before the heavenly throne in Revelation fourteen, as “first-fruits to God and the Lamb”.