4 And I heard the number of the sealed, a hundred and forty-four thousand sealed, out of every tribe of the sons of Israel, 5 twelve thousand sealed out of the tribe of Judah, twelve thousand of the tribe of Reuben, twelve thousand of the tribe of Gad, 6 twelve thousand of the tribe of Asher, twelve thousand of the tribe of Naphtali, twelve thousand of the tribe of Manasseh, 7 twelve thousand of the tribe of Simeon, twelve thousand of the tribe of Levi, twelve thousand of the tribe of Issachar, 8 twelve thousand of the tribe of Zebulun, twelve thousand of the tribe of Joseph, twelve thousand sealed out of the tribe of Benjamin.
Are numbers use figuratively in this book? 12000! 12000! 12000! 12000! 12000! 12000! 12000! 12000! 12000! 12000! 12000! 12000! What do you think?
Who are the 144,000 in verse 4? Don’t panic (and the exits are clearly marked!), but square roots and cube roots are needed here! The number 12 often denotes God’s people (12 patriarchs, 12 tribes, 12 apostles), and 12 times 12 is 144. 1000 takes 10, the number of completeness (10 fingers, 10 toes), and raises it to the power of 3, the number of divinity. Thus, many symbols are wrapped up in the number 144,000.
How many of God’s people were sealed? Before we answer that question, what would we expect the answer to be? What would the initial readers, seeking comfort, expect the answer to be?
How much comfort would there be if we take 144,000 literally, as many do today? Can we really imagine God turning to the poor, persecuted Christian wearing the number 144,001 on his chest and saying “Sorry, but you are out of luck. You’re a day late, and a dollar short! Better luck next time ... if there were going to be a next time!” How ridiculous!
We would expect the answer to be that all of God’s people would be sealed. We would expect to hear that not one of God’s children would be left out. We would expect to hear that he was marking all of his possessions. And that is exactly what we are told here! The number 144,000 is a beautiful symbol for all of God’s people.
The number 144,000 = 12 × 12 × 10 × 10 × 10 is God’s way of emphasizing that all of his people are under his care and protection — which is just what we would expect him to say!
The 144,000 are mentioned again in 14:1–5, where they are described as virgins and said to be those redeemed from mankind as first fruits for God and the Lamb. Does this description from Chapter 14 help us here with the 144,000 in Chapter 7? Yes. In 2 Corinthians 11:2 Paul said he wanted to present the Corinthian church as a chaste virgin to Christ. James 1:18 says that we are “a kind of first fruits of his creatures.” The church is comprised of those who have been redeemed from mankind. The church is sealed with the name of God and the Lamb. (Recall Revelation 3:12.)
The descriptions of the 144,000 in Chapter 7 and Chapter 14 confirm that the number 144,000 denotes the church.
But why are they called Israelites? Israel is an established name for God’s people. The name literally means “he who prevailed with God.” Could there be a better description for these Christians. As we discussed in Chapters 2 and 3, the church is the true Israel. The church is the new Jerusalem.
Although Jacob had 12 sons, only 11 sons received a tribal inheritance. The tribe of Levi received 48 cities that were scattered among the other tribes. The tribe of Joseph was split into two tribes named for his two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh. Thus, when the tribes are listed in the Bible the list generally omits Levi and Joseph and includes Ephraim and Manasseh instead. But this is not the case here.
In fact, the list is unusual in several respects. First, Judah rather than Reuben (the oldest son) heads the list. Why? Because Christ belonged to the tribe of Judah.
Second, Manasseh and Joseph are both included even though Manasseh was Joseph’s son. And Levi is included on the list, while Joseph’s other son, Ephraim, and Dan are not included.
Why was Dan left out? Dan was very early connected with idolatry —
Judges 18:30 And the Danites set up the graven image for themselves.
1 Kings 12:28-29 So the king took counsel, and made two calves of gold. And he said to the people, “You have gone up to Jerusalem long enough. Behold your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.” And he set one in Bethel, and the other he put in Dan.
Genesis 49:17 Dan shall be a serpent in the way, a viper by the path, that bites the horse’s heels so that his rider falls backward.
Rome was full of idolatry and so was Dan. Hence Dan was not used in the description of the church. Dan was the classic example of a tribe that compromised with the world! The theme of the letters to the seven churches was a warning not to compromise with the world!
And why was Ephraim left out? For the same reason —
Hosea 4:17 E’phraim is joined to idols, let him alone.
Hosea 12:1 E’phraim herds the wind, and pursues the east wind all day long; they multiply falsehood and violence; they make a bargain with Assyria, and oil is carried to Egypt.
Ephraim had forsaken God and was busy trying to make deals with the world. They made a covenant with Assyria, but at the same time were making deals with Egypt. Again, Ephraim was guilty of compromise!
Why are the tribes listed by name? The names are listed so that God can give us a lesson about compromise with the world by the omission of Dan and Ephraim.
Note here the careful use of symbolism in the omission of Dan and Ephraim because of their compromise with the world and in the inclusion of Manasseh and Joseph to keep the total number at 12. This book is truly a work of art! The painting itself is beautiful beyond compare, as are the individual brushstrokes.Please visit ThyWordIsTruth.com for free audio lessons on Revelation, for a unique daily Bible reading calendar, to read about God's plan of salvation, to read the answers to hundreds of questions submitted by our readers, and for much, much more.