Who are the 144,000 from all the Tribes of Israel?

In the Revelation, we read of the 144,000 from all the Tribes of Israel who will be set apart by the Seal of God that is placed on their forehead.

After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth to prevent any wind from blowing on the land or on the sea or on any tree. Then I saw another angel coming up from the east, having the seal of the living God. He called out in a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm the land and the sea: “Do not harm the land or the sea or the trees until we put a seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God.” Then I heard the number of those who were sealed: 144,000 from all the tribes of Israel. Rev. 7:1-4

The literal nature of the 144,000 can be seen in the detailed list of the individual tribes that will make up this Faithful Remnant from Israel.

Then I heard the number of those who were sealed: 144,000 from all the tribes of Israel.
From the tribe of Judah 12,000 were sealed,
from the tribe of Reuben 12,000,
from the tribe of Gad 12,000,
from the tribe of Asher 12,000,
from the tribe of Naphtali 12,000,
from the tribe of Manasseh 12,000,
from the tribe of Simeon 12,000,
from the tribe of Levi 12,000,
from the tribe of Issachar 12,000,
from the tribe of Zebulun 12,000,
from the tribe of Joseph 12,000,
from the tribe of Benjamin 12,000. Rev. 7:4-8


The above list corresponds with the original twelve tribes that made up the nation of Israel and their Biblical history. This history includes the separating of the tribe of Levi from the rest of the 11 tribes in order that they might serve as priest. To fill in the vacancy lefty by the tribe of Levi, the tribe of Joseph was was also removed and replaced by the tribes of his two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh. In addition, we read how the tribes of Dan and Ephraim eventually rebelled against God and established their own places of worship in order to lead Israel into idolatry. (1 Kings 12:28-30) Accordingly, these two tribes are not mentioned in the above list and, instead, the tribes of Levi and Joseph are reinserted. This corresponds with how only the faithful from among Israel will be included within the 144,000.

NOTE: The sealing of the 144,000 from all the Tribes of Israel will not be dependent upon the 144,000 being able to recognize their tribal affiliation or prove their ancestry. Instead, the Seal of God will be placed by the angels who will identify the 144,000 and place the seal on their forehead.

In the above verses, we read that the 144,000 will be sealed before the angels are released to harm the land, the sea, and the trees. In this way the 144,000 will be set apart them from the rest of the Inhabitants of the Earth* before the Wrath of God is poured out. This can be seen in the events of the Fifth Trumpet when the Plague of Locusts, with the sting of scorpions, will strike those who do not have the Seal of God on their foreheads.

And out of the smoke locusts came down on the earth and were given power like that of scorpions of the earth. They were told not to harm the grass of the earth or any plant or tree, but only those people who did not have the seal of God on their foreheads. They were not allowed to kill them but only to torture them for five months. And the agony they suffered was like that of the sting of a scorpion when it strikes. Rev. 9:3-5

From these passages, we see how the 144,000 will be identified by the Seal of God on their foreheads and will not suffer from the plagues that will take place when God judges the Inhabitants of the Earth. Accordingly, following the judgments of the Seven Trumpets, John was shown the 144,000 standing with the Lord on Mount Zion.

Then I looked, and there before me was the Lamb, standing on Mount Zion, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads. Rev. 14:1

In the Scriptures, whenever we read of the Lamb ruling from Mount Zion, we are reading about the 1,000 Year Reign of Christ, which will take place after the judgments of God have been poured out. When John was shown the 144,000 standing with the Lord on Mount Zion, it tells us that the 144,000 will live through the judgments of the Seven Trumpets and will rule with the Lord over the nations.

*NOTE: In the Revelation, the phrase “Inhabitants of the Earth” always refers to the unrepentant among mankind who will take the Mark of the Beast. Some Bible translations use the phrase “those who live on earth” to describe this same group of people. (See: Rev. 3:10, 6:10, 8:13, 11:10, 13:8, 13:12, 13:14, 17:2, 17:8

The 1,000 Year Reign of Christ

The 1,000 Reign of Christ is a literal event that will take place after God’s enemies have been defeated and will last for a literal 1,000 Years. During this period the Lord will rule over the nations through his people, and His glory will be seen over Mount Zion just as the Glory of the Lord presided over the Temple in the days of Moses. These events will take place in fulfillment of the many prophecies that describe how the Lord would choose a Faithfull Remnant who will rule over the nations.

The Lord will have compassion on Jacob; once again he will choose Israel and will settle them in their own land. Foreigners will join them and unite with the descendants of Jacob. Nations will take them and bring them to their own place. And Israel will take possession of the nations and make them male and female servants in the Lord’s land. They will make captives of their captors and rule over their oppressors. Isa.14:1-2

Once more a remnant of the kingdom of Judah will take root below and bear fruit above. For out of Jerusalem will come a remnant, and out of Mount Zion a band of survivors. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this. Isa. 37:31-32

During the 1,000 Year Reign of Christ, the 144,000 will not have relations with women, but will follow the Lamb wherever he goes.

These are those who did not defile themselves with women, for they remained virgins. They follow the Lamb wherever he goes. They were purchased from among mankind and offered as firstfruits to God and the Lamb. Rev. 14:4

The Origin of the 144,000

The origins of the 144,000 can be seen in the Gospels and in the Revelation where we read of a future Attack on Jerusalem that will take place after the city is surrounded by armies.

“When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those in the city get out, and let those in the country not enter the city. Luke 21:20-21

When Jerusalem is attacked, those who heed the word of the Lord will flee to the mountains where they will be protected for 3 1/2 years out of the serpent’s reach.

When the dragon saw that he had been hurled to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child. The woman was given the two wings of a great eagle, so that she might fly to the place prepared for her in the wilderness, where she would be taken care of for a time, times and half a time, out of the serpent’s reach. Then from his mouth the serpent spewed water like a river, to overtake the woman and sweep her away with the torrent. But the earth helped the woman by opening its mouth and swallowing the river that the dragon had spewed out of his mouth. Then the dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to wage war against the rest of her offspring—those who keep God’s commands and hold fast their testimony about Jesus. Rev. 12:13-17

The above passages are a picture of the Attack on Jerusalem when the woman (Israel) will flee to the wilderness where she will be taken care of for 3 1/2 years out of the serpent’s (Satan) reach. Following the escape of the Remnant, the dragon (Satan) will be enraged and will wage war against those who hold fast their testimony of Jesus, which is a description of the Great Tribulation. The 144,000, themselves, will will exist within the Remnant that will flee into the wilderness as well as within a Hidden Remnant that will exist throughout the world and who will also be kept safe from the serpent.

NOTE: We know that the Hidden Remnant will exist throughout the world based on later passages, which tell us that God will gather His people from all the nations.

Following the Great Tribulation, the Wrath of God will be poured out on the Inhabitants of the Earth in great judgments that will conclude with the Battle of Armageddon. Following these events, the survivors from the Inhabitants of the Earth will tremble in fear of the Lord and will facilitate in the gathering of the Hidden Remnant to Mount Zion.

This is what the Sovereign Lord says: “See, I will beckon to the nations, I will lift up my banner to the peoples; they will bring your sons in their arms and carry your daughters on their hips. Kings will be your foster fathers, and their queens your nursing mothers. They will bow down before you with their faces to the ground; they will lick the dust at your feet. Then you will know that I am the Lord; those who hope in me will not be disappointed.” Isa. 49:22-23

“And they will bring all your people, from all the nations, to my holy mountain in Jerusalem as an offering to the Lord—on horses, in chariots and wagons, and on mules and camels,” says the Lord. “They will bring them, as the Israelites bring their grain offerings, to the temple of the Lord in ceremonially clean vessels.”  Isa. 66:20

NOTE: The events that are described in the above verses have never occurred in Israel’s history and are not an account of the creation of the modern nation of Israel, which occurred in1948. We know this, because, the establishment of the nation of Israel, in 1948, was opposed by the nations that surrounded them, which, in turn, led to a full-scale war between the new nation of Israel and the neighboring, Arab countries. Although Israel was victorious in this war, several other wars have since taken place, and Israel’s existence as a nation is still contested by her enemies. By contrast, the above passages tell us that when the Faithful Remnant are gathered to Mount Zion, during the 1,000 Year Reign of Christ, the nations will voluntarily bring Israel to their ancestral land.

When the Hidden Remnant is gathered to Jerusalem and Mount Zion, not all of the Israelites who attempt to return to Jerusalem will be allowed to enter Zion. Instead, the Remnant that returns to Jerusalem will be judged, just as the children of Israel were judged in the Days of Moses before they entered the Promised Land. At that time, all those who rebelled against the Lord died in the wilderness and were not allowed to enter into the land. In the same way, during the 1,000 Year Reign of Christ, the rebellious from among the Hidden Remnant will be purged and will not be allowed to enter into the land of Israel.

“I will bring you from the nations and gather you from the countries where you have been scattered—with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm and with outpoured wrath. I will bring you into the wilderness of the nations and there, face to face, I will execute judgment upon you. As I judged your ancestors in the wilderness of the land of Egypt, so I will judge you, declares the Sovereign Lord. I will take note of you as you pass under my rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant. I will purge you of those who revolt and rebel against me. Although I will bring them out of the land where they are living, yet they will not enter the land of Israel. Then you will know that I am the Lord.” Ezek. 20:34-38

The above verses clearly refer back to the period of the Exodus, when all those who rebelled against the Lord died in the wilderness and were kept from entering the Promised Land. These verses also describe a future period when Israel will once again be judged and the rebellious will be removed from among them. As mentioned above, this second purging of Israel has not yet occurred in their history, which tells us that this is a future event that will take place when the Lord will set apart the 144,000 from all the Tribes of Israel.

The 1,000 Year Reign of Christ will take place on our present earth, and is not a description of life in eternity. Likewise, the picture of the 144,000 standing with Christ on Mount Zion does not tell us that only a faithful few will earn the right to live with God into eternity but, rather, that God will set apart a Faithful Remnant from Israel who will rule over the nations on earth before the final events of the Last Days take place.

The Martyrs of the Great Tribulation

In addition the 144,000 from all the Tribes of Israel, we also read of the Martyrs of the Great Tribulation who will be resurrected, and who will also serve as priests during the 1,000 Year Reign of Christ.

I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony about Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years. Rev. 20:4-5

When the Martyrs of the Great Tribulation are joined together with the 144,000 from all the Tribes of Israel, they will form the true Israel of God made up of Gentile believers and the faithful from Israel. The Martyrs of the Great Tribulation are also described in the following passages, which tell us that their number will be too great to count.

After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. Rev 7:9

Then one of the elders asked me, “These in white robes—who are they, and where did they come from?” I answered, “Sir, you know.” And he said, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Rev. 7:13-15

The above description of the Martyrs of the Great Tribulation is found in the same chapter that describes the 144,000 from all the Tribes of Israel. Accordingly, these two groups will be joined together to reign with Christ for a thousand years.

Literal or Symbolic?

From the above discussion, the question often arises as to whether the description of the 144,000 From All the Tribes of Israel is a literal or symbolic description of God’s people. In answer to this question, it can be said that in every instance in the Old and New Testament where the phrase Tribes of Israel is used, it always refers to the literal Twelve Tribes of Israel. (See: Matt. 19:28Lk. 22:30Acts 26:7Jas. 1:1No other group of people, including the church, is ever described as the Twelve Tribes of Israel. From this we can say that the 144,000 from all the Tribes of Israel will come from the literal descendants of Jacob (Israel).

Within the above description, the number 144,000 is often thought to be a symbolic reference as well, because the number 12 is used repeatedly in the Scriptures in such cases as the 12 apostles, the 12 tribes of Israel, and the 24 elders etc. This has lead to the belief that the number 12 is a symbolic number representing government and that the number 144,000, which is a product of 12, is also a symbolic number that should not be taken literally. This idea is countered by the fact that, although, the number 12 does have spiritual meaning in the Scriptures, in each of the above instances, the number 12 is also the literal number of people being described i.e., there are 12 literal apostles, 12 literal tribes of Israel, and 24 elders. From this, we can say that the number 144,000 does have spiritual significance in the Bible, but it is also the literal number of people who will be sealed.

The use of a number that is both spiritual and literal, such as 144,000, can also be seen in the story of Elijah and the 7,000 who did not bow their knee to Baal,[1] and in the story of Gideon whose army was pared down to just 300 men.[2] In both cases, the numbers 7,000 and 300 come from two of the most spiritually significant numbers in the Bible, 7 and 3., and as with the number 144,000, represent the literal number of men who were set apart by God.


Footnotes:
[1] 1 Kings 19:18

[2] Judg. 7:4-7

[3] Josh. 5:6

For a Chapter-by-Chapter study of the Revelation, click here: Revelation by Chapter