Glossary of Terms

Significance of 144,000 in Revelation 7:4 and 14:1,3


Harper’s Bible Commentary

edited by James Luther Mays (NY: Harper and Row, 1988)



[Rev] 7:1-17, First Digression: The Sealing of the 144,000.

The question of 6:17 provides an introduction to 7:1-17, a digression dealing with how the “servants of God” (7:3) will fare during the coming catastrophes. A twofold answer is provided in 7:1-17. First (vv. 1-8), the effects of the plagues on Christians are delayed while 144,000 servants of God (prospective martyrs) are sealed on their foreheads, 12,000 from each of the twelve tribes of Israel. This throng of 144,000 constitutes the martyr-witness cadre of the church (cf. 14:1; 15:1-2). Their sealing does not protect them against death at the hands of Roman authorities but against the plagues aimed at unbelievers. The motif of immunity derives from the tradition that the Exodus plagues harmed only Egyptians, not Israelites (Exod. 8:22; 9:4-7, 26; 10:23; Philo Life of Moses 1.143-46). Second (Rev. 7:9-17), John receives a visionary preview of an innumerable host (Gen. 15:5) representing all of the people of God (Rev. 7:9). Unlike the 144,000 martyrs, other Christians will perish in the “great tribulation” (v. 14) but will enjoy an eternal state of blessedness with the dawn of the everlasting kingdom (cf. 21:1-5).

[Rev] 14:1-20, Sixth Digression: Three Visions of Victory.

John now reports a more comforting series of victory visions. First (vv. 1-5), he sees on Mount Zion the Lamb with the throng of 144,000 faithful martyrs who have the names of Christ and God written on their foreheads (cf. 7:4-8). This group of celibate males (v. 4) is the “first fruits” of the people of God who will share Christ’s millennial reign (19:4-6). Their sexual purity represents separation from all forms of sin and idolatry; they are males because they are depicted as victorious soldiers. ot prerequisites for participation in holy wars included the preservation of ritual purity through sexual abstinence (Deut. 23:9-10). This holy war theology was understood eschatologically by the Essenes, who kept themselves in a state of continual ritual purity in readiness for the imminent eschatological conflict.


The Jerome Biblical Commentary

edited by Raymond E. Brown, Joseph A. Fitzmyer, and Roland E. Murphy (Englewood Cliff, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1968)



[Rev 7:] 4-8. a hundred and forty-four thousand: That is, 12 x 12 x 1000. The number 12 is the symbol of perfection, especially in the physical and human world. The second 12 corresponds to the tribes of Israel, the People of God. Finally, 1000 indicates a very large number, and 144,000 then symbolizes the multitude of the elect whose real number is known to God alone (6:11). from every tribe…: The number scarcely refers only to Jewish Christians; rather it stands for all the members of the Church, the true Israel. Judaism cherished the hope that Israel would be completely restored with all its tribes in messianic times (Is 49:6; Pss Sol 17:44; 2 Baruch 78:1ff.; 2 Esdras 13:39-50). The first Christians asserted the fulfillment of this hope in the Church of Christ (Mt 19:28; Gal 6:16; Jas 1:1), and John shares completely in this idea (21:12-14; cf. 2:9; 3:9ff.). Judah: This tribe is named first because Christ was born of it (5:5). Levi: Replaces Dan, a tribe considered unfaithful and, according to a later tradition, held to be the tribe from which would spring the Antichrist.

The Vision of the Lamb with His Own ([Rev] 14:1-5). After the description of the aggressive activities of the two Beasts, the present vision is consoling and reassuring: The Church of God will survive the fury of brutal and hostile powers. The traditional notion of the “remnant” of Israel (Is 4:2-3; 10:19-21; 28:5-6; Jer 3:14; Zeph 2:7, 9; Rom 11:5) seems to provide the background for this picture of the assembly at Zion (Is 2:3).

1. upon Mount Zion: Zion is the throne of Yahweh (Mi 4:7; Is 24:23), the holy mountain of the Messiah-King (Ps 2:6), the unshakable rock (Is 28:16), the city of the living God (Heb 12:22), the sanctuary of fugitives (Jl 3:5). The Church is built upon a solid foundation (Mt 16:18), like a house built upon a rock (Mt 7:24). a hundred and fourty-four thousand: This is also the number of those marked with the seal of God (7:4). name written: Cf. 3:12; 22:4. Companions of the Lamb are thus distinguished from the votaries of the Beast, who are marked with his seal (13:16; 14:11). To have God’s name upon the forehead signifies that one is consecrated to his service.2-3. These two verses describe the powerful and melodious heavenly song that only the 144,000 can learn (2:17; 19:12). The song is presented in terms of familiar biblical metaphors: “the sound of many waters” (1:15; 19:6; Ez 43:2), “of great thunder” (4:5; Ex 19:16; Ez 1:7), “the voice of harpers” (5:8; 15:2). a new song: See 5:9. purchased from the earth: The earth means “world” in the Johannine sense, the “world” for which Jesus did not pray (Jn 17:9) because it refused to believe and was condemned. The 144,000 are not taken away from the world (Jn 17:15), but bought back by the blood of the Lamb (5:9).4. they are virgins: Since they are contrasted with those who adore the Beast, the 144,000 virgins must be those who have refused to follow him; they have not yielded to idolatry (1 Kgs 19:18). As the parallel passages show (7:3; 22:4), the 144,000 whose foreheads bear the seal constitute the totality of the Christian people; the number is not restricted to virgins in the proper sense of the word. In many OT texts (Hos 2:14-21; Jer 2:2, 3, 32; Zeph 3:9-13) virginity is a metaphor for fidelity to God; idolatry is associated with prostitution (2:14; Ez 16; 23). Babylon is a whore (v. 8; 17:4-6); but the Church is the spouse of the Lamb (19:7; 21:2-9; see M.-E. Boismard, RB 59 [1952] 161-72; R. Devine, Scr 16 [1964] 1-5). first fruits: They represent the total harvest, which belongs entirely to God (Dt 26:2); the Levites were consecrated to the exclusive service of God as a substitute for the first-born in Israel (Nm 3:12, 40-51). Christian life is a spiritual cult (Rom 12:1), and the fruit of the lips is a sacrifice of praise (Heb 13:15).5. no lie: Lying is the characteristic conduct of followers of the father of lies (Jn 8:44), but there is no deceit on the lips of the Servant of Yahweh (Is 53:9; 1 Pt 2:22). without blemish: Behind the notion of first fruits is the idea of sacrifice, which reappears in the present expression, taken from the vocabulary of ritual (Ex 12:5; 1 Pt 1:19).

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