The Apocalypse week 4. the 144 000

August 7, 2016

The Apocalypse week 4

The 144 000

Key Text: Revelation 7

In preparing this message I asked the question why all the interest in a number? Why do people take such interests in this obscure passage in Revelation?

Well, I believe it is because we wish to know our destiny. Some part of us want assurance. And now there has been some who have stated that only a few will be saved and that has affected our assurance so we react to it and therefore we have interest in it.

But in fact, it is only when we get past the obsession with the number that I believe that the message of the 144000 becomes relevant and powerful to us, here and now in the 21 century.

We are looking at the passage in Revelation 7 which deals with the 144000. A number of some controversy in modern years, but hopefully as we look into what it means it will be a number of great hope and a message of assurance.

So let’s read

Revelation 7New International Version (NIV)

 

144,000 Sealed

1After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth to prevent any wind from blowing on the land or on the sea or on any tree. 2Then I saw another angel coming up from the east, having the seal of the living God. He called out in a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm the land and the sea: 3“Do not harm the land or the sea or the trees until we put a seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God.” 4Then I heard the number of those who were sealed: 144,000 from all the tribes of Israel.

5From the tribe of Judah 12,000 were sealed,

from the tribe of Reuben 12,000,

from the tribe of Gad 12,000,

6from the tribe of Asher 12,000,

from the tribe of Naphtali 12,000,

from the tribe of Manasseh 12,000,

7from the tribe of Simeon 12,000,

from the tribe of Levi 12,000,

from the tribe of Issachar 12,000,

8from the tribe of Zebulun 12,000,

from the tribe of Joseph 12,000,

from the tribe of Benjamin 12,000.

The Great Multitude in White Robes

9After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10And they cried out in a loud voice:

“Salvation belongs to our God,

who sits on the throne,

and to the Lamb.”

11All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12saying:

“Amen!

Praise and glory

and wisdom and thanks and honor

and power and strength

be to our God for ever and ever.

Amen!”

13Then one of the elders asked me, “These in white robes—who are they, and where did they come from?”

14I answered, “Sir, you know.”

And he said, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15Therefore,

“they are before the throne of God

and serve him day and night in his temple;

and he who sits on the throne

will shelter them with his presence.

16‘Never again will they hunger;

never again will they thirst.

The sun will not beat down on them,’

nor any scorching heat.

17For the Lamb at the center of the throne

will be their shepherd;

‘he will lead them to springs of living water.’

‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’ ”

Once again John uses images to display to the readers of this book truths for their situation. And once again we will have to understand their situation in order to take the most out of this passage that we can.

I have said this before but will say it again Revelation is of a particular writing style called apocalyptic writing. This writing is highly symbolic and steeped in pictures that would convey eternal messages to the reading audience.

So how do understand a picture that written almost 2000 years ago? Well, John steeps his images in a language that is timeless. For his pictures are set in the Old Testament. Revelation quotes or makes reference to the Old Testament more than all of the New Testament Books combined. So therefore, our understanding of the Picture of Revelation comes from our understanding of the Old Testament.

When we combine this image from the Old Testament with the context of the letter, in other words, the situation of the people who received the letter from John. We see exactly what John was saying when he writes of this enigmatic number.

Before we get to the 144 000, let’s look at the context.

The churches of the Revelation were churches that were going through immense persecution, they had witness an outpouring of brutality upon the church and were questioning whether all this was worth it. What was the outcome must have been their question. Regularly these churches were experiencing the pains of persecution and even death. And it is to this context that John writes the Revelation.

John reveals a great truth, that Jesus Christ is in control, that He is fighting for His church, and nothing is happening that He doesn’t know about.

It is to this pain filled church that John rights an encouragement to those who were still suffering, he gives them a symbol of hope a sign with four hopes for this church.

This sign was the symbol of God sealing his 144000 people. So what does this sign mean? Well…

Firstly was a

1.    Sign of Ownership

Why do I say this? Well, we have to go to the context of the verse to truly understand. In 1century eastern and middle eastern culture the seal was a sign of ownership. Kings in the middle east would have a signet ring and this ring would produce a seal that would be placed on important documents to prove that the document actually had come from the king. It was a mark of the king’s property and authority.

It was a guarantee or royal protection, royal authority and royal possession. So when these people the 144 000 are sealed it is a sign that they belong to God and were under his power and authority.

This is a power image to the early church and even to us today, for God’s faithful are sealed with his seal and are therefore truly His! They have his protection, and are deemed to be his holy possession.

To the early church; seals would have been particularly connected in two lights. Firstly to baptism, this was seen as that person receiving a mark that he had become God’s property.

And secondly it was seen as Paul describes it as the Christian been sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit. Yet another sign that that person belongs to God.

So to the early Christian; this sealing of the Holy Spirit marked the Christian as a person who was sealed with the Holy Spirit which made him able to cope with life in a way that others couldn’t because that same Spirit gave the man/woman of God wisdom and strength from God.

So God was sealing his faithful, publically declaring that they are his! And today God has done the same, if you have Christ you have the Spirit of God are sealed by that same Spirit so you are God’s possession!

The next implication of this sign of the 144 000 is it was a… 

2.    Sign of Protection

We have to go to the Old Testament again to see what John was trying to show with this vision. Remember Revelation leans heavily on Old Testament for its images, and each of these images brings about an understanding of Christ that gave this suffering church hope.

The verse that comes to mind when talking about a sealing of the forehead is found in Ezekiel 9. Now we need to give a context for Ezekiel before we read.

In Ezekiel we see the prophecy from God about the absolute destruction of Jews who were idolaters and God’s protection for his faithful. In the previous chapter the Prophet of God is given insight into the people's wickedness. He is shown one “detestable act of idolatry” after another and after this he see in chapter 9.

READ 9:1-6

Ezekiel 9New International Version (NIV)
Judgment on the Idolaters

9 Then I heard him call out in a loud voice, “Bring near those who are appointed to execute judgment on the city, each with a weapon in his hand.”2 And I saw six men coming from the direction of the upper gate, which faces north, each with a deadly weapon in his hand. With them was a man clothed in linenwho had a writing kit at his side. They came in and stood beside the bronze altar.

3 Now the gloryof the God of Israel went up from above the cherubim,where it had been, and moved to the threshold of the temple. Then theLordcalled to the man clothed in linen who had the writing kit at his side4 and said to him, “Go throughout the city of Jerusalemand put a markon the foreheads of those who grieve and lamentover all the detestable things that are done in it.”

5 As I listened, he said to the others, “Follow him through the city and kill, without showing pityor compassion.6 Slaughterthe old men, the young men and women, the mothers and children,but do not touch anyone who has the mark.Begin at my sanctuary.” So they began with the old menwho were in front of the temple.

Now this is a very concerning passage, however, in this great destruction there is hope. God has sealed His people and they will not be harmed.

Go back to revelation and the symbol becomes profound! God has sealed His people just as He did in Ezekiel, they are under his protection!

Now to start to address your concern over the number 144 000, you might say there are only 144 000 sealed does that mean that God’s protection is limited? Will God only protect a few people in the end.

No, this number is concerned with the end but is symbolic in nature, the second part of this passage deals with a great number, a multitude that cannot be numbered, who are these, they are those who have come out of the great tribulation. A time of suffering that John foresees his generation to go through, and indeed they had already experienced.

And the message is; God will bring His people through this and present them to himself, in glory and joy!

This is the second point! God will protect His people, it’s not always by saving their life, but he will preserve them so that they will be presented to Himself one day as faultless and perfect.

Now dealing with the third aspect we need to go back and look at this number 144 000 this is a

3.    Sign of Perfection

This number of 144 000 is not a number of limitation, rather it is a number of perfection and completeness.

Many have tried to bring this limitation and explain it in practical terms, the Jehovah’s Witnesses try to limit this to those who God will be saved in general. This is absurd, and even they recognise this when you actually ask them.

Out of the billions and billions of people that have walked the face of this earth, God has not only called 144 000 from Israel to be with him in heaven. 

And John is clear that that is not his intention for his next passage talked about the great multitude that cannot be counted.

Some have argued that this must mean those who will be saved out of Israel in the end of days. Now this seems difficult to keep real for, these who are sealed are called servants of God, are Gentile Christians not also Servants of God.

To add to this if Jews are the only one protected does that mean gentile Christians, who made up a portion of the church that John was writing they will be harmed by the swarming locus mentioned in Rev 9? Because they are not included in this number?

Also are we to believe that exactly 144 000 Jews will be saved? No one is willing to actually outright say that. No, it is symbolic, a number of perfection that is a reference to the entire church of God. Israel and Gentile.

Now some have concern that John lists the 12 Tribes of Israel, look again, does he actually? No, Dan is not mentioned, nor Ephraim. Rather Joseph is mentioned who is never mentioned in the Tribes of Israel.

To add to this the Tribes are put together haphazardly Judah being placed first, when it was actually Ruben who was the first born. A Strong Jew like John would never write the names haphazardly unless he was making a point.

The point is this is Spiritual Israel, now Revelation is not alone in describing this Paul says in Rom2:28

“he is not a Jew who is one outwardly circumcised, but he is a Jew who is inwardly, who is circumcised of heart…”

Again Paul says in Rom 9:6 “they are not all Israel which are of Israel”

Galatians makes reference to this as does Philippians.

John is describing God’s people. God’s people will be the one sealed by God with a sign.

So what does this number stand for then?

Simply put perfection. It's 12 X 12 which is a perfect square which is what the New Jerusalem is later on in Rev and this is in turn times by 1000 which is also a perfecting number.

In Jewish imagery this number is an all-inclusive, perfect and complete number. This does not tell us that the number of saved will be small, it tells us that the number of saved will be great and complete!

Finally, John gives the early church one last image to give them hope, one last sign, this last sign is a

4.    Sign of Salvation

For this, we move from the image of the 144 000 to the next image which is of the great multitude.

This final image in this passage finishes off a great picture of hope to a suffering church and indeed of hope to the church today. God’s people will be present to himself pure and holy. The final message of the elder is a beautiful picture of what God’s children have to look forward to one day when their faith is made sight. When their hope is turned into full blown glorious vision.

It says

[READ vs 15-17]

15Therefore,

“they are before the throne of God

and serve him day and night in his temple;

and he who sits on the throne

will shelter them with his presence.

16‘Never again will they hunger;

never again will they thirst.

The sun will not beat down on them,’

nor any scorching heat.

17For the Lamb at the center of the throne

will be their shepherd;

‘he will lead them to springs of living water.’

‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’ ”

That is our hope today! God has called us to be with him one day, he will personally shepherd us and lead us, and we will be at peace and there will be no more sorrow or pain.

For the early church they would have been comforted for they would have know that all their fallen brothers and sister where before the throne rejoicing and celebrating with no more pain nor tears.

And they would have had the same hope that we have today, that our God will save us! He will be our hope and we will be with him one day!

So let us take hope in the message of the 144 000 for it is not a message of exclusivity, but rather of ownership, of protection of perfection and salvation.

Let’s not be concerned with what this world will through at us, let’s not worry when politicians go on with their agendas, let us hope in the fact that no matter what happens we are God’s, and in Him we have found protection and salvation. God will bring his people to Himself by His grace.

Our hope is a strong hope, an eternal hope, because our hope is settled in God alone, not in numbers, or systems, but in the LORD or lord and King of kings!

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