In a recent telephone conversation, a young man asked me about the 144,000 people that will be saved. He had a few conversations with a friend who identified himself with the Jehovah’s Witness religion. His friend believed that only 144,000 people would go to heaven and the rest of the righteous people would inherit a newly renovated earth. This zealous teen sought the answer to his friend’s limited doctrine.
While on the phone we read Revelation 7:4, “And I heard the number of the sealed, 144,000, sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel.” John, the apostle responsible for penning Revelation, has entered God’s throne room in a vision. While in the vision he hears the angels calling to one another that the servants of God must be sealed or marked. Those marked will be spared destruction on the day of Judgment�they’ll be saved. Then John hears the exact number of sealed people, 144,000.
Are Jehovah’s Witnesses correct in saying heaven will be filled with 144,000 souls? Or is there another explanation? We searched for the answer together.
To properly understand Revelation 7:4, we must be mindful of the context. Revelation 7 answers the question posed in the previous chapter, “For the great day of their wrath is come, and who can stand?” (6:17). Yet, understanding this question and why it was asked takes us back to another query in verse 10, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” (6:10).
In Revelation 6:10, the souls of Christian martyrs ask how long their blood would go unavenged. They don’t want their sacrifices to be empty. They long to see justice on those who persecuted and killed Christians. God tells them to be patient and rest for a little while (6:11).
Then God assures them that justice would be served on the infidels. With the opening of the sixth seal in verse twelve, judgment begins. In this horrific scene of judgment, the wicked seek an outlet of safety from the wrath of “him who is seated on the throne” and “the Lamb” (6:16). In their terror the condemned ones ask, “Who can stand?” That is, who will be able to stand on the judgment day�the day of heavenly wrath unleashed?
So far so good; the caller and I understood these questions. Like a lot of people he began guessing their answers, “The saved? Christians? Angels?” Then I told him to look at chapter seven, the divine answer to the inquiry.
The Answer: Part 1
The angels answer the question in two parts. The first part of the answer comes in Revelation 7:1-8. The destruction of Judgment halts while the faithful servants of God under the Jewish system are marked or sealed. They declare the name of each tribe and separate twelve thousand saved souls in each one. Twelve thousand out of twelve tribes equals 144,000 souls. The first part of the answer is faithful Jews.
The voice on the other end of the phone spoke with enlightenment, “So the Jews will be saved.” I affirmed his answer. Then he asked why only 144,000 Jews would be saved. I explained how the number was not intended to be an exact count of saved Jews, but to signify a definite multitude. He understood, so we continued.
The Answer: Part 2
We looked further into chapter seven. After the 144,000 Jews are identified, John sees another group of people (7:9). This group contains people from every tribe, nation and language who wear white robes indicative of salvation.
Who are these people? They own Yahweh as their God (7:10). They worship God sitting on his throne (7:11). They have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb (Jesus) (7:14).These serve God daily in his temple the church (7:15) and Jesus guides them (7:16). Who are these people? Christians.
So the full answer to the question in 6:17 is faithful Jews under the Mosaic system and faithful Christians under Christ’s system. He grasped the meaning, but still had a question about why the Jews had a definite number and the Christians did not.
A fair question. Why did the Jews get limited to 144,000, while the Christians were “a great multitude that no one could number?” I had to do some more checking and reading. After some thought it came to me. The Jews were described by a definite number because the Jewish system of salvation had stopped. Judaism had already saved all it ever would save. If we could go to the hadean realm and have all those in paradise who lived and died under the Jewish economy raise their hands, we could count them. If we did it again tomorrow, we would get the same number (given we didn’t make a counting error).
On the other hand, the Christian scheme of redemption continues today. People are still being saved daily by the blood of the Lamb. If we counted the number of Christian souls in the hadean realm today, that number would be different tomorrow. That number continues to grow because that system continues as God’s current salvation system. Therefore, as John said, it is a multitude that no one could number.
After I stopped preaching, he answered in excitement, “So the Jews had a number because there wouldn’t be any more people saved by the Jewish law; and the Christians didn’t have a number because there are still people being saved by Christ’s law?” Exactly.
People living today aren’t part of the 144,000 because that number only applied to the number of saved Jews under a system that was nailed to the cross (Col. 2:14). Today we take heart in the knowledge that God has room in heaven for all Christians�no matter how “great” the multitude gets.
Thank God heaven ain’t full!