Who are the 144,000 in Revelation XIV?

By Pastor F. E. MARSH.

(Delivered at the Liverpool Conference, November, 1894.)

Taken from Things to Come Magazine 1894


"And I looked, and, lo, a Lamb stood on the Mount Sion, and with him an hundred forty and four thousand, having his Father's name written in their foreheads. And I heard a voice from heaven, as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of a great thunder: and I heard the voice of harpers harping with their harps: and they sung as it were a new song before the throne, and before the four beasts, and the elders; and no man could learn that song but the hundred and forty and four thousand, which were redeemed from the earth. These are they which were not defiled with women; for they are virgins. These are they which follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth. These were redeemed from among men, being the first-fruits unto God and to the Lamb. And in their mouth was found no guile: for they are without fault before the throne of God."

THERE is one thing we need to remember in relation to the book of the Revelation, and that is, that it presupposes an acquaintance with the previous portions of Scripture. We have good ground for saying this, for there are from two hundred to three hundred references and allusions to the Old Testament in the book of Revelation. No one, therefore, who does not understand the Bible can possibly understand the book of Revelation.

If you ask me for a good commentary on the book of Revelation I should recommend the Bible. The best interpreter of the Bible is the Bible. If we would rightly divide the word of truth we must know the truth we have to divide. We cannot possibly divide that of which we are ignorant Now the book of the Revelation is a mysterious book to one of three classes.

1. It is a mysterious book to those who are ignorant of the Scriptures. The one thing Christ had to say to the Sadducees was, "Ye do err, not knowing the Scriptures." The reason of all erring from the plan of God is ignorance of the Scriptures. We can only know the plan as it is revealed to us in His Word.

2. The book of the Revelation is a mysterious book to those who lack spiritual perception. We must always remember that this is a spiritual book given to a spiritual people, and that it is to be interpreted on spiritual principles by Him who is the spiritual teacher, namely, the Holy Ghost. Unless we carry out the truth we already know, unless we are true to the light we have already received from the word of God, we cannot expect more light, but if we are true to the light given, God will lead us into greater light. So the main thing is to do His will, and we shall know His doctrine.

3. There is another class to whom this book is mysterious, namely, those who are not accustomed to compare Scripture with Scripture. We want more comparative scriptology. We need to be continually coming to the word, and as wc read any given portion to study that portion in the light of other Scriptures. The entrance of God's Word giveth light, that enables us to see the truth of other portions of God's truth. Having said so much by way of introduction, I want to take up the passages in the 7th and 14th chapters of Revelation that relate to the 144,000. Prayerfully let us look at them, and then take these things home to our hearts, for all Scripture is profitable if we come to it with a spirit that is subject to the Spirit of God.

I. The place where the one hundred and forty and four thousand stand. "And I looked, and, lo, a Lamb stood on Mount Sion, and with him an hundred forty and four thousand, having His Father's name written in their foreheads" (Rev. xiv. 1). The place where they stand is Mount Sion. There is one thing that all students of prophetic Scriptures insist upon, and that is that when God speaks of Israel He means Israel; when He speaks of the Church He means the Church; and when He speaks of the Gentiles He means the Gentiles. The Spirit of God never mixes these three parties. When we read of. the Lord Jesus Christ standing on the Mount of Olives, we understand that He means the literal Mount of Olives, not some other place. We cannot possibly spiritualise the Mount of Olives into any spiritual meaning. It simply means the mountain that is known as the Mount of Olives near Jerusalem. When God speaks of the city of Babylon we understand Him to mean the literal city, and not something mystical. When He speaks of the mystical Babylon, He is speaking of Christianity in its corruption. When I read of the Lamb of God standing on Mount Sion, I take it that He means Mount Sion, and not some other mount. There are seven places in the New Testament where Sion is referred to. Twice reference is made to Christ entering into Jerusalem. "Fear not, daughter of Sion, thy King cometh, sitting on an ass's colt" (Matt. xxi. 5; John xii. 15). Twice Sion is mentioned in relation to Christ as the Stone, namely, in Rom. ix, 33; and 1 Peter ii. 6, Once Sion is spoken of in an illustrative sense, that is, as symbol of the grace of God, in contrast to Mount Sinai, which represents Law, as we read in Heb. xii. 22; and the place is named in relation to Christ's future deliverance of Israel, "There shall come out of Sion a Deliverer (Rom. xi. 26, R.V.).

From these Scriptures I gather that the Lord Jesus Christ shall literally stand upon the mount that is known as Mount Sion in Palestine, and not the throne mentioned in Rev, v. 6; and with Canon Faussett I must conclude "That Christ, having left His position 'in the midst of the throne,' now takes His stand on Mount Sion."

II. The number of the first-fruits. In Rev. vii. 4 it is distinctly stated that there are an hundred and forty and four thousand, twelve twelves. The same number is given in chapter xiv. Twelve is nearly always associated with Israel, and Israel in a governmental sense, as one has said, "Twelve is the manifest number of Divine sovereignty, as it was exercised in Israel by the Lord in the midst of them, or as it will be exercised in the world to come." That twelve is related to Israel we have abundant evidence.. We read of the twelve patriarchs, of the twelve cakes of shew-bread which illustrated the twelve tribes of Israel. We read of the twelve precious stones in the breast-plate of Israel; we read of the twelve tribes; of the twelve stones taken out pf the Jordan which represented the twelve tribes; we read of the twelve apostles; and the twelve thrones on which they are to sit and judge Israel. And there are seven twelves in connection with the new Jerusalem. Seven is the church number, and twelve is Israel's number, and why should there be seven twelves in connection with the new Jerusalem f. Because it presents the church in relation to Israel. But in relation to the 144,000 the number is twelve times twelve — 144, which symbolises the administration of the Divine purpose in relation to Israel, and through Israel in its fulness. As Faussett says, "Twelve by twelve signifies fixity and completeness; taken a thousand-fold in 144,000, a thousand signifies the world perfectly pervaded by the Divine; for it is ten, the world number, raised to the power of three, the number of God." Thus the hundred and forty and four thousand are a pledge of what God is going to do with the rest of Israel, and through them for the world, for we know that their restoration shall be as life from the dead, as we read in Rom. xi. 15.

III. The names on the foreheads of the hundred and forty and four thousand. In Rev. xiv. 1, we read "Having His Father's name written in their foreheads," or, as the Revised Version says, "Having His [the Lamb's] name and His Father's written on their foreheads." There are some truths that stand out with greater prominence if viewed from the point of contrast than by definite statement. Thus if we note the sealing of the believer in Christ now^and the hundred and forty and four thousand, we shall see several points of distinct difference. For instance, I have noted seven points of difference between God's sealing of the believer, and God's action in connection with the hundred and forty and four thousand ip their sealing,

First. Believers in Christ are sealed by God the Father, as we read in 2 Cor. i. 22, "God who hath sealed us." The 144,000 are sealed by an angel of God, as we are told in Rev. vii. and not by the direct act of God.

Second. The seal in connection with the believer is the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, as the Holy Spirit said to the Church at Ephesus, "Ye were sealed with the Holy Spirit" (Eph. i. 13). The seal upon the 144,000 is the name of the Lamb and of His Father on their foreheads (Rev. xiv. 1).

Third. The Person in whom believers are sealed is Christ: "In whom ye were sealed" (Eph. i. 13). Believers are sealed by virtue of what they are in Christ. The 144,000 are a company in the twelve tribes of Israel who are marked, and who are set apart for a given, time and for a special purpose (Rev. vii. 5, etc.).

Fourth. The place where believers are sealed is in the heart, as we read in 2 Cor. i. 22: "Who hath sealed us, and given the earnest of the Spirit in our' hearts." The 144,000 are sealed in their foreheads (Rev. vii. 3).

Fifth. The time when believers are sealed is when they believed in Christ. "After that ye [or upon believing] believed, ye were sealed" (Eph. i. 13). The sealing was not some after act of God, but when we received Christ, that moment the Father sent the Spirit into our hearts crying, "Abba, Father!" The 144,000 are sealed after they have proved their fitness to be the witnesses of God, for the four angels are stayed in their mission of judgment till the sealing has taken place (Rev. vii. 2, 3).

Sixth. The reason why believers are sealed is because they are sons. The sealing is the pledge of our sonship: "Because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of His Son" (Gal. iv. 6); but the 144,000 are not sons, neither are they sealed as such, but they are sealed as "servants of God" (Rev. vii. 3).

Seventh. The evidence of believers being sealed with the Holy Spirit is the fruit of the Holy Spirit in the life. Just as; when a seal is pressed upon a soft piece of wax the impression is left, so the evidence that we possess the Spirit of God is that the fruit of the Spirit is seen in our lives. What is the evidence of the 144,000 being sealed? They simply have the name of the Lamb and of His Father, not their father, in their foreheads.

These points of difference lead me to (conclude that the hundred and forty and four thousand are altogether distinct from the Church of God, and that they cannot possibly constitute a part of the Church of God, and therefore, their being sealed and taken up to God as the first fruits does not represent the Church at all, but the Godly remnant of Israel who are saved out of the nation, who are described in Ezekiel ix. 4-6, who are marked with the mark of God, because they have nothing in common with the abominations of Israel, and 1 who are preserved in consequence from the judgments that 4re to come upon the nation.

IV. The position which the hundred and forty and four thousand occupy. In chap. xiv. 3 we are told, "And they sung, as it were, a new song before the throne." The hundred; and forty and four thousand are singing before the throne and the living creatures- Here again we may learn a good deal by contrast If we note the difference between the ciders and the living creatures (R.V.) of Rev. v. and the 144,000, we shall be better able to come to a conclusion. There is diversity of opinion to who the four living creatures, and the twenty-four elders represent But, at least, most of us are agreed in this, that the twenty-four elders, if not the four living creatures, represent the redeemed, for the term elder is not applied to angels but to men. The elders have crowns on their heads; harps in their hands; a song on their lips; and are clothed with white robes (Rev. iv. 44 v, 8, 9, 10); and besides they are seated on thrones, and that Christ himself promised to the overcomer. So that the redeemed, from the clear and positive statement from the lips of Jesus, as well as the description given to us pf the twenty-four elders, are associated with Christ in the glory in contrast to these hundred and forty and four thousand who stand before the throne in the presence of the elders. The church is seated on the throne with Christ, while the 144,000 stand before the throne and before the elders. The latter occupy a different position to the former.

V. The song which the hundred and forty and four thousand sing. "They sang a new song" (Rev. xiv. 3). There are two things that are peculiar about this "new song." (1) The song is not given like the new song of the elders. (2) No one was able to learn the song which they sang. The song that the redeemed shall sing, surely we know it? Surely the Church of God knows the song already which she will sing when she is with her Lord in glory? Is it not given to us in contrast to the wail in Revelation i.? Those without Christ shall wail out the bitterness of their sorrow, but we who are redeemed love to sing unto Him who has redeemed us. In contrast with this we are told that no one was able to enter into the song which the hundred and forty and four thousand sang. Dr. Seiss says "They have a song which is peculiarly exclusively their own. Though not connected with the throne, as living ones, nor crowned and seated as the elders, they have a ground and subject of praise which neither the living ones nor the elders have; nor is anyone able to enter into that song except the 144,000. None others ever fulfil just such a mission, as none others ate ever sealed with the seal pf the living God in the same way as they were sealed, no others have just such an experience in such a world as that through which they come to glory. No other share with them in that particular administration of God. . . Therefore as the angels cannot sing the song of the redeemed, never having been the subjects of redemption, so no other saints can sing the peculiar song of the 144,000."

VI. The action of God in relation to the hundred and forty and four thousand. We read in chap. xiv. that they " were redeemed from the earth," and they "were redeemed from among men." It is of peculiar interest to notice the preposition which the Holy Spirit uses here. "Redeemed from the earth," and "from among men." The preposition signifies to put on one side, to separate from. It is not the preposition which the Holy Spirit invariably uses in relation to the Church, the preposition ek, out of. The believer is said to have passed from out of death into life; he is taken right out of the old sphere of separation from God, and placed in a new sphere altogether. The Lord Jesus Christ in His high-priestly prayer uses this preposition again and again, in speaking of those who are "chosen out of the world" (John xvii. 6. R.V.). In Col. i. 13 it says the believer is saved out. of the power of darkness, not merely from it.

In Revelation v. we find that the elders sing of the company that are redeemed out of every kindred and every tongue and every nation. Those spoken of in chap. v. are distinct from the company spoken of in chap. xiv. God's action to those who are sharers of His throne and one with Him in administration is that He has redeemed them out of all people, but the hundred and forty and four thousand are those who are separated from men and the earth and not as the church, who are a heavenly people (Phil. iii. 20).

VII. The name given to the hundred and forty and four thousand. " They are virgins " (Rev. xiv. 4). This, of course, simply implies their separation from the beast, all his superstition, false worship, and idolatry. I take it that these virgins are identical with those mentioned in Psalm xlv. and the wise virgins mentioned in Matthew xxv. Remember how Matthew xxv. opens. "Then" — mark the point of time — "Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins." When? At the time of the terrible tribulation, of which Christ had been speaking in Matthew xxiv. These virgins have kept themselves from the defiling influence of the powers of evil, hence, the appellation bestowed upon them.

VIII. The time when the 144,000 appear. They are sealed under the sixth seal, according to Revelation vi., vii., and they are described as singing and standing on Mount Sion, under the seventh trumpet, which was sounded under the seventh seal. The seven seals describe what will take place- on the earth during the last of Daniel's seventy weeks. The first three seals unfold the doings of Christ during the first half of the week, and the last four seals picture what will take place on the earth during the last three and half years of the great tribulation.

Dr. Seiss has well said,

"The account of the 144,000 is only another side of what is related of the beasts, the counterpart of the same history.

"Over against the wild and savage monster is a gentle and loving Lamb.

"Over against the confessors and worshippers of the beast, is the company of the Lamb's followers.

"Over against the beast's moral system, which is nothing but harlotry, spiritual and literal, the worship of idols, and the trampling under foot of all God's institutes, here is an opposing style and life of conformity, a virgin purity which refuses to be debauched by the prevailing fornication.

"Over and against the slavery of those who sell themselves to the powers of perdition which then have command of the world, here is redemption from the earth, and from man, a ransom out of the thraldom which holds others.

"Over and against the new order of things set up by the Antichrist, these sing 'a new song,' and have a victory and glory never shared by any but them.

"Over against the going of the beasts and their dupes into perdition, there is here going whithersoever the Lamb goeth.

"Over against the doing in the presence of the beasts, the doings here are in the presence of heaven.

"Everything in the mouth of the beasts is false, in the mouth of these nothing is false.

"The beast's number is 666, the bad number intensified; these it is 12x12, the sacred number of completeness. And in every item there is distinct allusion to the beast, and the order of things under him, by way of contrast and opposition, proving that the account of the 144,000 is a counterpart of the same history, which cannot properly apply to none but persons who live contemporaneous with the beast."

IX. The simile that is used to describe the 144,000. "First-fruits." It seems to me that the basis of the whole question is found in the word "first-fruits." Where are we told that a part of the Church is a firstfruit of the rest? The terra first-fruit occurs eight times in the New Testament, and in six relations. We read of the "First-fruits of Achaia" (1 Cor. xvi. 15; Rom. xvi. 5); Christ, the First-fruits of the sleeping ones (1 Cor. xv. 20, 21); the first-fruits of the Spirit (Rom. viii. 23); the Church, the first-fruits of creation (James i. 18); and of the first-fruits of Israel (Rom. xi. 16). And we also read of the 144,000 who are a first-fruits unto God and the Lamb. A first-fruits of what? The Church? Certainly not. What is a first-fruit? A part of the whole harvest. Where is any part of the Church said to be a first-fruit of the other? For any part of the Church to be taken away before the rest would be to mutilate the body of Christ. The one and repeated teaching of the epistles is that the Church is one in association with the Lord Jesus, who is the Head of the- body, and what He has all His members enjoy. 'The first-fruits in Revelation xiv. are identical with the 144,000 in Revelation vii. They are the elect remnant of the twelve tribes of Israel, and the pledge that the whole nation shall be gathered in.

In conclusion let me say that we cannot possibly give a true interpretation of the Church's position now and in the time to come, only as we view her from the standpoint of the epistles. If we view things from the Old Testament we' are simply looking for earthly blessings; like the Old Testament saints our sins are forgiven prospectively, that is, God meantime. forgives in view of the sacrifice that Christ shall make,' and not on the ground for the atonement offered, for the basis upon which God acted before Christ came, was, as we read in Rom. iii. 25, "Whom God set forth to be a Propitiation, through faith, by His blood, to shew His righteousness, because of the passing over of the sins done aforetime." The sins of the believer are not merely passed over, they are absolutely, and for ever forgiven, so that we can say, "We have redemption through His blood, even the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace (Eph. i. 7). Again if we look at the question of sonship from the Old Testament, we find that we have no part in the blessings of the gospel. Those under the law were under a tutor, but we who believe in Christ have the privilege of sons, and all the dignity of the relationship (Gal. iii. 24-26, R.V.). Again, the Holy Spirit was not an abiding presence with Old Testament. believers, He came and went, but now He abides, "Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?" (1 Cor. iii. 16). Further we must not view things from the standpoint of the gospels, for they have mainly to do with the King, Who was crucified, but Who is coming back again to set up His kingdom, when He comes with His Church, which, He is building meantime. Much less must we look at the things, described in the greater part of the book of the Revelation for there we have pictured what shall take, place after the Church is taken away. I repeat, the only safe position to view the Church is from the epistles, for in them we have revealed the Church's present position and future glory. The great mistake that the friends make, who speak of the 144,000 as a part of the Church is, that they do not view things from the right standpoint. They apply Scriptures which relate to the Jew to the Church.

The position of the Church is peculiar, and above any and every other position, because we are members of the body of Christ, and as such, bone of His bone and flesh of His flesh; therefore we have a greater and corresponding responsibility. May we show that we appreciate our privileges by fulfilling our responsibilities.