Who are the 144,000 of Revelation 7?
It’s strange that we ask that question, since John seems to know precisely who they are, or if not, he is not interested. What he really wants to know is the identity of the innumerable host dressed in white robes before the throne of God.
Unless, of course, the 144,000 and the innumerable host are the same people.
How would these first readers, Christians in Asia Minor at the end of the first century, regard the 144,000?
First off, we might ask why the 144,000 are divided into the twelve tribes of Israel – especially since ten of them were part of the northern kingdom. Second, we might wonder why the tribe of Joseph is included, since in the Old Testament, Joseph as a tribe is seldom mentioned being replaced by the tribes of his sons, Ephraim and Manasseh.
The twelve tribes stand for all of Israel. Not, by this time, the Jewish people, but the people of God, made up of those from all nations who have placed faith in Christ. The fact that they are numbered indicates that God knows who and how many they are. We are reminded of Paul’s more pointed assurance in 2 Timothy 2:19 – God’s solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: “The Lord knows those who are his . . .”
It makes no sense to say that “only 144,000 will be saved” when, in point of fact, the rest of the chapter details the salvation of more people than can be counted. To be in their number however, at least at this point, requires two things: cleansing in the blood of Christ, and perseverance through the difficulties that allegiance to the great Lord are likely to entail. In the word of chapters 2 and 3, they have “overcome.”