On July 8, 2018 The Mentionables received this question from Kyle Peer:
I had a coworker retort to me he just couldn’t believe only 144000 would be saved. This statement has problems for a variety of reasons. Some that occur to me off the top of my head: A- the context of the text(revelation 14) appears to be referencing the saved from the 12 tribes of israel, not making a total statement about mankind. B: humans aren’t in any kind of position to say what number of saved individuals is likely or unlikely.
Here are the answers from the team:
Revelation is a book full of symbolism. It is a mistake to take things, especially numbers, literally. The references to the twelve tribes has signs that it is symbolic. The list does not include Dan and Ephraim and includes both Joseph and Manasseh, when the latter would be a subset of the former. Also in Revelation 14, it says that these remain virgins, so that would mean that only people who have never had sex are saved. They also have never defiled themselves with women and since that's tied to virginity, then only men are saved.
What's really going on is that this is a symbol of purity. Later in Revelation 7 we are shown a great crowd in Heaven no man can number from every tribe, language, people, etc. The 144,000 message is that the scene on Earth is nothing compared to that in Heaven. John gives a comparison and contrast. There is a small number now, but it doesn't compare to what's really going on. The great crowd shows us how great the number is of those who are saved.
I am assuming this question is thinking that the problem with the 144,000 is disbelief that there would only be 144,000 people saved. If that is what the text were saying, I would hold to the same disbelief. I simply do not think that this is the case. I have done a whole episode on this very passage and the difference between the two most prominent Protestant views of the text – that of Dispensationalism and Reformed Amillennialism (see link below).
Let me here simply give a quick summary of what I think is the best understanding of that particular text. First, we must remember that this verse is found in the book of Revelation – a highly stylized apocalyptic letter that employs vast amounts of symbolism. Numbers are of particular interest to the author and he more often than not uses them in a symbolic manner. Here I would argue that the 144,000 is simply the multiplication of the 12 tribes and the 12 apostles (a prominent symbol in Rev. 21:12) multiplies by 1,000, which was the Hebraic was of saying “a gagillion.” So this number represents the fullest of fullness of the people which God has brought into salvation.
We can see this idea of fullness by examining another major motif in Revelation – that of “hear and see.” Throughout the entire book of Revelation, John uses a literary device to further expand on an image where he will hear the proclamation of something, and then he will look and see the actual reality of what was announced. This fits with the shadow/substance or type/antitype structure that is replete through the Hebrew scriptures. We can give numerous examples of this.
- In 1:1 John hears the voice like a trumpet and in 1:12-13 he turns and sees the one that is like the Son of Man walking in the lampstands who was speaking to him.
- 5:5 tells us that John hears of the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, the root of Jesse who has overcome, but when he looks John sees the lamb that looked as though it had been slain.
- In 5:9-10 John hears the proclamation that the lamb has made men from every tribe to be a kingdom and a priesthood to God. Then in 5:11 he looks and sees an innumerable myriad of elders serving and worshiping before the throne of God.
- In 9:16 he hears the number of the armies from the East, and when he looks in 9:17 he sees their frightful appearance.
In fact, John expressly states that he was commanded to use this hear/see structure in 22:8 when he writes that the purpose of his visions was to hear and see. So when we come to 7:4-8 where John hears the number of the tribes of Judah, we should be on the lookout for the substance of what he hears. And in 7:9 he does just that. What he heard was 144,000 from the tribes of Israel, but when looks he sees a multitude from every tribe, nation, people and tongue worshipping before the throne of God.
So what we see in 7:4-9 is not a statement that God will only save 144,000 Israelites, but rather that the promise given to Abraham, the father of the Jews, would become a father of the nations – that his children would be greater than the stars in the sky or the sand on the shore. Here John is showing us that the promises given to the Jews were a shadow of the substance that was to come in Jesus Christ – that those redeemed by the blood of the lamb and dressed in white (a symbol of purity before God) would be innumerable.
For my full treatment of this passage (both text and audio versions), please see my work here.