QB59 The 144,000 (Part4)

We are coming to the end of our journey through scripture following the footsteps of the Bridegroom and the Bride. This has been their story and throughout all these Quick Bites we have heard “The Gospel According to the Bride”. Even though we have covered a lot of subjects in our studies, I feel we have only just scratched the surface of this most wonderful of all Biblical paradigms and realities. My prayer has always been that you will be encouraged and inspired to see just how much the Lord loves His Bride and will do everything necessary to ensure she is ready in time for their Wedding.

In the first two parts of this mini-series, we began by taking the literal approach since this is the simplest and plainest interpretation of the 144,000. We read in Revelation 7:1-8 how John heard this number was comprised of 12,000 from each of the tribes of Israel. So, this was our starting place: the 144,000 does represent Israel and we would require a very solid reason to deviate away from this interpretation. After all, if this number were not Israel, then why go to such great length to describe their number in this intricate detail? However, we cannot close our study and conclusions at this point, because in many ways, both the Revelation 7 and Revelation 14 passages do contain some metaphor and non-literal details; not least the Lamb in Revelation 14 is clearly symbolic and depicts the Lord Jesus Christ. But more than this, the picture of the Lamb illustrates the Lord as the atoning sacrifice which is consistent with the context of the Revelation passages, which as we saw in Revelation 14:3, describe the 144,000 as being redeemed from the earth. So, by taking only the literal approach the meaning of the text is partially obscured, and therefore we must be willing to consider the figurative also. But therein lies the problem: because as soon as we deviate away from the literal, we immediately open the door to subjectivity. The challenge we are faced with is how to incorporate both the literal and metaphorical interpretation without one cancelling the other. Is there a way in which literal Israel remains represented by this number even though the number itself can be argued as representational? Is there a way in which this 144,000 represents Israel but not exclusively?

I shared last time in part three how to approach this passage metaphorically, and the clue or key is in the number itself. I suggested that 144 is the number of the Bride and is the agreed measurement for the Bride between man and the angel in Revelation 21:17[1].

Therefore, I further suggest that though the tribes of Israel are literal, their number speaks more of their Bridal identity than the size of their population. 144,000 is not arbitrary, not just a number without meaning, but it represents who they are and how the Lord sees them; He is attributing to the tribes of Israel their Bridal identity.

If we can accept this point, then it follows all those numbered as the Bride are included in this number also. In other words, the 144,000 has a dual application! It represents those tribes of Israel who shall be redeemed when the Son of Man (the Lamb of God) comes for them as we have studied previously in the Second Exodus series, but it also represents the entirety of the Bride both Jew and Gentile. I believe this position is consistent with other scriptures and emphatically places Israel at the heart of the Bridal paradigm, and any inclusion within the Bride is only possible by the covenant made between the Lord and her. This is what John saw in Revelation 21:12[2], the twelve gates having the names of the twelve tribes written upon them. Anyone who enters into the New Jerusalem will have done so through the gates of Israel.

Yet I should point out I do not refer to the geo-political Israel, neither to the unregenerate Israel of the Old Testament. But when we consider all the wonderful promises God made with Israel through the Law and the Prophets, we must understand these are fulfilled through the work and person of Jesus Christ.

Yes, the promises and covenant were made to Israel, but their fulfilment is through the atoning work and person of Jesus Christ, who fulfilled the spring feasts on His first coming, and will fulfil the prophetic significance of the autumn feasts on His second.

Even literal Israel cannot be numbered among the Bride without first accepting Jesus Christ for all that He is and all that He has accomplished for her.[3] That’s why He’s coming back for her, to bring her into the New Covenant, Zechariah 12:10 reads:

“And I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look on Me whom they pierced. Yes, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for [his] only [son], and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn.

Now, finally as promised, I want to share my understanding on how those redeemed from Israel, who have been brought down into the wilderness of the peoples[4], sifted, redeemed, and now returned home to Mount Zion, will enter into Heaven for the wedding of the Lamb. Let me explain the dilemma: When we studied “The Second Exodus[5], I shared that when Jesus first returns to earth on Yom Teruah[6], He will come to gather His Elect; His Bride. That includes those who are saved and waiting for His glorious appearing but also for unsaved Israel, to come as their long-awaited Messiah. It is on this return of Jesus as the Lamb (also the Son of Man), that the resurrection of the righteous and rapture will occur and all those who are ready will enter into Heaven with a glorified body just like the Lord’s body[7]. But for the redemption of Israel Jesus will remain upon the earth for a short time as the Lamb and He will lead them at first into the wilderness to restore them into the marriage covenant and then back to Mount Zion along the Highway of Holiness. However, this creates a real conundrum! Since the rapture will have already taken place by the time the 144.000 return to Mount Zion, how is it these newly redeemed are able to enter into Heaven to join those already there to complete the Bride? As always, I will share my thoughts not as absolute but as my personal belief and best fit from the Bridal lens. Let’s head back to Revelation chapter fourteen for a short exposition on the first three verses and see if they can tell us anything more.

Then I looked, and behold, a Lamb standing on Mount Zion, and with Him one hundred [and] forty-four thousand, having His Father’s name written on their foreheads. Revelation 14:1

First of all, let’s look at the symbolism here: The last time we saw the Lamb was in Revelation chapter five where He was hailed as the one worthy to take the scroll and to open its seven seals[8].  On that occasion the Lamb who symbolises our Lord Jesus Christ was in Heaven but now in Revelation chapter fourteen He is no longer in Heaven. Jesus has come down to earth and is standing upon Mount Zion. Also symbolic is the number 144,000 which as we have previously seen represents the Bride. Then finally, the Father’s name written on their foreheads goes beyond the description of the seal of protection on the forehead found in Revelation 7:3[9] and symbolises ownership and adoption[10] [11]. But since the context of this whole passage is about the 144,000 following the Lamb wherever He goes, let us not allegorise Mount Zion here as anything other than the promised physical location of the eternal throne where the Lord shall reign upon the earth.[12]

Now despite the obvious symbolism in this passage, we can be assured there is a literal interpretation also. For here we are presented with a glorious glimpse into the returned and redeemed tribes of Israel standing with their Saviour upon Mount Zion all of which are very real. To have arrived here, is to have survived the great tribulation[13], to have experienced ten days of awe and wrath against the nations[14] and to have been saved individually and corporately on the Day of Atonement. In an act of great deliverance, the Lord has been in their midst and met with them face to face. He has been at their head and led them upon a ‘Highway of Holiness’, from the ‘wilderness of the peoples’ in Edom, all the way back to Mount Zion in Jerusalem.[15]

And I heard a voice from heaven, like the voice of many waters, and like the voice of loud thunder. And I heard the sound of harpists playing their harps. Revelation 14:2

The apostle John’s focus is now drawn to the mysterious sounds he hears coming from Heaven. The description here is “a voice from heaven like the voice of many waters” and “like the voice of loud thunder”. Though we find such descriptions elsewhere in the Bible[16], here there is a plurality in their number but a singularity in their voice. John’s continuation sheds further light: “I heard the sound of harpists playing their harps.”

They sang as it were a new song before the throne, before the four living creatures, and the elders; and no one could learn that song except the hundred [and] forty-four thousand who were redeemed from the earth. Revelation 14:3

Remember at this point Heaven’s population has just had a huge upgrade[17]. There will be those who, like the five wise virgins, were ready when Jesus came for them now raptured and transformed into His glorious state. And there will be all those countless souls through the ages already in Heaven who have just received their resurrected bodies. Wow, can you imagine it? What rapturous praise we shall certainly sing together on that day? But there will be more than one new song Heaven will host during that time. For example, we read of a new song in Revelation 5:9,10

And they sang a new song, saying: “You are worthy to take the scroll, And to open its seals; For You were slain, And have redeemed us to God by Your blood Out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, And have made us kings and priests to our God; And we shall reign on the earth.”

But this is not the same new song that we read of in Revelation 14:3. Why? Because the song in Revelation 5:9 is sung by the saints still upon the earth before the opening of the seven seals and its focus is upon the worthiness of the Lamb to take the scroll and to open its seals. Whereas the new song in Revelation 14:3 will be sung by the saints in heaven after the seals have been opened and seven trumpets sounded[18]. In Revelation 5:9 we are given the words that are sung, but no so in Revelation 14:3, this is a song reserved especially for that time and for that company of believers who will collectively incorporate and complete the Bride.

There are songs that only the Bride can hear, songs that only she can learn, and songs that only she can sing. I believe this is as true now as it will be then!

In Revelation 14:3 there is something different being heard in Heaven, a new sound coming like never before. This new song in Heaven will be heard and learnt by those standing with the Lamb upon the earth on Mount Zion. O how beautiful, I hope you catch this: for the first time in all of history, there will be an actual harmony between Jew and Gentile that’s never been heard before! A convergence will take place on Mount Zion not only of Jew and Gentile, but between Heaven and Earth also, where the veil between the visible and invisible realms will be removed, the sky rolled back like a scroll[19] and a touchpoint established between that which is seen and that which is unseen. I cannot explain how this will happen, but I can give you scriptural support.

Then the LORD will create over all of Mount Zion and over those who assemble there a cloud of smoke by day and a glow of flaming fire by night; over all the glory there will be a canopy. Isaiah 4:5

We will explore this verse in more detail next time and bring all these wonderful truths together and see how the Lord beautifully fulfils all the Autumn Feasts at the climax of this extraordinary period of the Lamb upon Mount Zion with the 144,000.

[1] Revelation 21:17 Then he measured its wall: one hundred [and] forty-four cubits, [according] to the measure of a man, that is, of an angel.

[2] Revelation 21:12 Also she had a great and high wall with twelve gates, and twelve angels at the gates, and names written on them, which are [the names] of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel:

[3] Hence the walls (and therefore the gates) are upon the foundations inscribed with the names of the apostles of the Lamb. Note, these twelve apostles were all Jewish. But it’s not their nationality referenced in Revelation 21:14 but who they were in relation to the Lamb. They represent the atoning work of Jesus to Israel, but as apostles, they also represent the missional reach of the Gospel to all who will receive their Messiah, but Jew and Gentile.

[4] Ezekiel 20:35

[5] Quick Bites 47 to 55

[6] Viz the Feast of Trumpets

[7] 1 John 3:2 Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.

[8] Revelation 5:5-7 But one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep. Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has prevailed to open the scroll and to loose its seven seals.” And I looked, and behold, in the midst of the throne and of the four living creatures, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as though it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent out into all the earth.

Then He came and took the scroll out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne.

[9] Revelation 7:3 saying, “Do not harm the earth, the sea, or the trees till we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads.”

[10] Once again, we see this beautiful interplay between adoption and betrothal. For the Son has come to restore us as many children to the Father in a personal and intimate relationship, but the Father presents us corporately to His Son as one Bride.

[11] Incidentally, this mark vividly contrasts with the mark of the beast either on the hand or forehead stamped upon its followers Revelation 13:16 He causes all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hand or on their foreheads,

[12] Micah 4:7 I will make the lame a remnant, And the outcast a strong nation; So the LORD will reign over them in Mount Zion From now on, even forever.
Joel 2:32 It will so happen that everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be delivered. For on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be those who survive, just as the LORD has promised; the remnant will be those whom the LORD will call.

[13] For which the 144,000 were sealed three and a half years earlier

[14] This wrath is not the seven bowls which are yet to be poured out once the Bride is in Heaven but is the wrath of the Lamb (Revelation 6:16,17) who will “go forth and fight against those nations, as He fights in the day of battle.” Zechariah 14:3

[15] For an in-depth study about this final pilgrimage of Israel please refer to Quick Bites 47 to 55.  

[16] Revelation 1:15 His feet [were] like fine brass, as if refined in a furnace, and His voice as the sound of many waters;  See also Ezekiel 1:24, Ezekiel 43:2

[17] I want to point out how Revelation 14 does present some chronological challenges if we take the way in which John writes to always be sequential. For example, Revelation 14:14-20 contains a duration of time spanning from the rapture and end time harvest to the Battle of Armageddon and it is within this timeframe that Revelation 14:1-5 occurs. But from a literary perspective the passage on Mount Zion has to be written either before or after and in this case John we assume has been instructed to write it down first. Furthermore, when considering the placement of Revelation 14:1-5 we should note that it follows immediately after the mark of the beast passage in Revelation 13:11-18 which includes details of another “lamb” but which spoke like a dragon. The parallels are significant. Revelation 14:1-5 makes a stark contrast and remedy for Revelation 13:11-18.

[18] The seven bowls of wrath are yet to be released.

[19] Isaiah 34:4 And all the powers of the heavens shall melt, and the sky shall be rolled up like a scroll: and all the stars shall fall like leaves from a vine, and as leaves fall from a fig-tree. LXX
Revelation 6:14 Then the sky receded as a scroll when it is rolled up, and every mountain and island was moved out of its place.