A Question I Was Asked:

Are Only 144,000 People to Be Saved From All the Ages?

WHO Are the '144,000' Anyway?

It bothers me that out of the many millions of human lives which occur on our planet only 144,000 will ever be saved. I see no hope for myself

Only 144,000?

A careful study of Scripture reveals two clear groups to be redeemed from the Earth: Those sealed by God, called and chosen to serve in the work of the kingdom (the 144,000), these comprise 'Israel' but with spiritual Israel (the Church) engrafted in (Romans 11:17-24). Secondly, The 'Great Multitude' who are not counted/configured as 'Israel.' These people will be the recipients of God's bountiful mercy. Both groups will step forward into Eternal Life, however indications are that the people of 'Israel' will occupy higher positions in God's kingdom since they were specifically called and chosen.

UK Apologetics Reply:

Okay, this is not saying what you think it might be saying, but more on that later.

Who are the 144,000 anyway? For instance, "Jehovah's Witnesses" (so-called), claim that this is simply the numbers of their own group (but no other group!).

But first of all, I think my questioner is looking at this matter the wrong way around. The Bible is a revelation from God to Mankind. The Bible states that we should seek God and learn His will for us (since He is the Creator of all things), then eventually several wonderful promises may fall into place which will be applicable to us. If one is firmly an atheist, that person will not even be concerned about this matter; he or she will say, 'hey, that's just all nonsense to me.' If one should say, I don't care about all that God stuff, I just want to know how my family and I can be among the 144,000,' then salvation - at least on the surface - is not even open to such a person, yet there can be no complaints; hopefully one may at least attain to a normal life span upon this Earth and be reasonably happy and healthy. Just stop and think that several of the major religions don't even promise Eternal Life, there are certainly suggestions of it in some religions but only Christianity includes a comprehensive promise and plan of Eternal Life for the Christian believer who accepts and personally applies the sacrifice of Jesus Christ (or, for those who lived before the time of Christ, or who had no knowledge of the Name of Christ, the promise goes to those believers who have walked with the Eternal God, obeying as much knowledge as was available during their particular life period; God is able to assess whether such people would have accepted Jesus Christ if they had had knowledge of Him and, of course, the efficacy of the sacrifice of Christ projects both backwards and forwards throughout eternity).

Is 144,000 a Symbolic Number?

Having stated all of the above, 144,000 is probably - but not definitely - a symbolic number (in common with the other symbolic numbers in Revelation, since the writing style here is apocalyptic). The number is large yet terrifyingly small in view of the several thousands of years of the history of the Earth and the millions of births which have occurred; it worries us a little, it is intended to worry us a little. However, now we need to look at this a little closer.

The 144,000 are mentioned in two chapters of Revelation, chapters 7 and 14. In Revelation 7, this group are configured as the twelve tribes of Israel (verses 4-8), but we must remember that the Church has now been 'grafted in' and it is now spiritual Israel. See Romans 11:17-24 for how this 'spiritual grafting' works. Paul also wrote,

28. A person is not a Jew who is one only outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. 29. No, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a person’s praise is not from other people, but from God. (Romans 2:28-29).

So, in this New Testament age, the Bible is clear that the Church becomes spiritual Israel; one may note how the Church has replaced physical Israel in the parable of the wedding banquet in Matthew 22:1-10 as well as in the parable of the tenants in Matthew 21:33-41 (See the link at article ending to properly understand 'replacement theology')

Especially note these verses from Matthew 22:

8. "Then he said to his servants, 'The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. 9. So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.' 10. So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests. (Matthew 22:8-10).

Some dispensationalists won't like me saying this but, truthfully, no Bible commentator worthy of his salt has denied that this referred to physical Israel being replaced with spiritual Israel - the church! (Even if they might have sometimes used different descriptive words). Also, take the time out to read Matthew 21:33-41, taking special note of verse 45 where it is made clear that the Jewish religionists knew that the parable of the tenants was directed against them! Jesus admitted that these people sat in the 'seat of Moses,' in other words they - however imperfectly - represented old covenant Israel (Matthew 23:2), but now these religionists knew that, according to Jesus' teaching, they were about to be replaced.

Looking More Closely at the 144,000 and the 'Great Multitude'...

Okay, so notice how the mention of the 144,000 in Revelation 7 is of a very specific group: it is confined to Israel, it is the Church (verses 4-8), but the scene apparently then dramatically shifts from verse 9:

9. 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. 10. And they cried out in a loud voice: "Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb." 11. All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12. saying: "Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!" 13. Then one of the elders asked me, "These in white robes - who are they, and where did they come from?"

I must interject here: the elders did not know or understand who this second group from all nations were. How can that be? Because this second group were not part of the originally called and chosen but came into salvation through repentance after imploring God for mercy. But let us continue:

14. 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. 15. Therefore, "they are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. 16. 'Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat down on them,' nor any scorching heat. 17. For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; 'he will lead them to springs of living water.' 'And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.' (Revelation 7, verses 9-17, my emphasis in verse 9).

The repentance of these people, perhaps very late in some cases, is accepted in Heaven. So note how the Bible text makes clear that those who are saved in Revelation 7 are two separate groups. The one group of 'Israel' (which we may surely safely conclude as being substantially the Church), the second group: "...a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language..." Now, in view of the language used, this is certainly two groups. Encouragingly, the second group is "...a great multitude which no one could count" (verse 9), so there is a great harvest of souls to come, the Church only being 'the firstfruits.'

Two Groups Also Appear in Revelation 14

It is too often missed but these same two groups also appear in Revelation 14, which is the second place where the 144,000 are mentioned:

Group A: Revelation 14:1-5 - the 144,000.

Then immediately following on from this, we see a second group which we will call Group B:

Group B: Revelation 14:6-7 - The repentant who throw themselves on God's mercy. Look at this:

6. Then I saw another angel flying in midair, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth - to every nation, tribe, language and people. 7. He said in a loud voice, "Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come. Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water." (Revelation 14:6-7).

So here we have many others who may still repent and 'come on board.' So here we plainly see two groups to be redeemed from the Earth and this second group can obviously still repent, the door hasn't closed with the 144,000. So, the called and chosen (at this present time mainly comprising the Church), a comparatively small group (rounded up as 144,000), are followed by a very late major harvest of souls; all of course saved in and through Christ; there is no other way to be saved. This second group beng extremely large but unnumbered. Why are they not numbered? Because the door is left open! This group are, "... a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb." (Revelation 7:9).

We should all be greatly encouraged that this second group are unnumbered but, from the language used, this would appear to be a much, much bigger group than the 144,000!

How Augustine's Influence Affected Christianity

The understanding that it is a large group who will finally be redeemed from the Earth was well-accepted among the Church Fathers, but became lost at the time of Augustine, bishop of Hippo. In many ways he was a great theologian yet he was greatly influenced by Manichaeism, his belief system before becoming a Christian. This led to a harsh version of Christianity which stressed hellfire much more than salvation and stressed judgement and divine retribution much more than the mercy of God. Augustine went on to become the father of not only Catholicism but of Protestant evangelicalism as well; his gloomy version of the possibility of salvation has gone straight into both systems although more especially into five-point Calvinism.

One or Two Closing Comments on the 144,000

I have left the matter open as to whether the 144,000 is a symbolic number or a precise number, certainly the fact that Revelation 7 shows a careful calculation in achieving this number (through the 12 tribes, before the engrafting of Christians takes place), might indicate that the number will be found to be precise, but - against that - there is much symbolism in Revelation which is not meant literally; one day we will see. However, the Bible seems clear that there is a large additional group ('The Great Multitude') who will also be saved, undoubtedly the recipients of God's unbounded mercy.

Robin A. Brace. October 22nd, 2017.