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The Reformation Herald Online Edition

Jesus, Fully God

The Prophetic Word
The 144,000—Who Are They?
J. Grimaldi
The 144,000—Who Are They?

Many, many little boys long to be a fireman someday. They thirst for the challenge and relish the amazing adventure factor involved in fighting fires. For most youngsters, this notion is only a dream that passes with time. But for me, it became a reality—an actual career.

When I first took the test to join the Fire Department, there were about 5,000 other applicants also competing for only about 100 openings. So when I got hired I was really happy to get a job with a future. I knew that it wasn’t going to be easy, but I was going to give it my all—I was even willing to die trying. My aim was to be a part of something that would be really good not only for myself, but for the community as well.

Thirty-six years ago, I, together with about 60 other men whom I had never met before, went through fire academy—a very strenuous and dangerous training for a job about which we knew very little. For 16 weeks we had to learn to trust one another, to follow one another, and to help and encourage one another. It was not an easy thing to do. But when you share that common goal and make it through to the end, a bond is formed that cannot be easily broken, a bond that has lasted for over 36 years. We had a little reunion a few years ago and we reminisced and laughed and talked about our experiences and about those who were no longer with us—and that bond was still there, an enduring bond that does not shatter with time. In a similar way, the Spirit of Prophecy says that the bond of union between Jesus and His people is “the most enduring upon earth.”1 There was a shared experience with the other men that went through fire academy with me. Indeed, it formed a unique bond that is rare in this world.

So why do I bring up this illustration? There are a group of people in the Bible that also have a shared experience, an experience that unites them into one group—the 144,000. What is that unites them—and what does it take to be in this group? John the Revelator describes: “I heard the number of them which were sealed: and there were sealed an hundred and forty and four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel” (Revelation 7:4).

From where did they come?

“Of the tribe of Judah were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Reuben were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Gad were sealed twelve thousand.

Of the tribe of Aser were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Nephthalim were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Manasses were sealed twelve thousand.

Of the tribe of Simeon were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Levi were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Issachar were sealed twelve thousand.

Of the tribe of Zabulon were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Joseph were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Benjamin were sealed twelve thousand” (Revelation 7:5–8).

Who are these twelve tribes of Israel? Does it refer only to those from ancient Israel? In the Christian era, we read the explanation of this in a New Testament epistle from “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greeting” (James 1:1).

What about the gates of the New Jerusalem? Will we go through them?

We read that the heavenly city “had a wall great and high, and had twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and names written thereon, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel” (Revelation 21:12).

Of course these things are intended for us—after all, aren’t we adopted into the family of God!

Who exactly is an Israelite? We are assured, “Ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:26–29).

The Spirit of Prophecy has much to say about this group. The Lord’s messenger was shown, first of all, that “the 144,000 were all sealed and perfectly united. On their foreheads were the words God, New Jerusalem, and a glorious star containing Jesus’ new name.”2

Please notice that they are perfectly united, that is one very important point! What else? They have a Christlike character:

“John saw a Lamb on Mount Zion, and with him 144,000, having his Father’s name written in their foreheads. They bore the signet of heaven. They reflected the image of God. They were full of the light and the glory of the Holy One. If we would have the image and superscription of God upon us, we must separate ourselves from all iniquity. We must forsake every evil way, and then we must trust our cases in the hands of Christ.”3

John the Revelator describes: “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” (Revelation 14:1–3).

Here we see that they sing a new song that no one else could learn. What exactly is this song, and why could not anyone else sing it?

“Upon the crystal sea before the throne, that sea of glass as it were mingled with fire—so resplendent is it with the glory of God—are gathered the company that have ‘gotten the victory over the beast, and over his image, and over his mark, and over the number of his name.’ With the Lamb upon Mount Zion, ‘having the harps of God,’ they stand, the hundred and forty and four thousand that were redeemed from among men; and there is heard, as the sound of many waters, and as the sound of a great thunder, ‘the voice of harpers harping with their harps.’ And they sing ‘a new song’ before the throne, a song which no man can learn save the hundred and forty and four thousand. It is the song of Moses and the Lamb—a song of deliverance. None but the hundred and forty-four thousand can learn that song; for it is the song of their experience—an experience such as no other company have ever had.”4

What does this also tell us about this group of people and the song? They have gotten the victory over the beast, and his image and his mark and the number of his name; it is a song of deliverance—a song of their experience that no company has ever had.

What makes these people so special?

“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 firstfruits unto God and to the Lamb” (Revelation 14:4).

These are not defiled with women; they are virgins. Does this disqualify every married man and many single men? Obviously this cannot be talking about the command that God gave Adam and Eve, “Be fruitful and multiply;” it cannot be something that God sanctions for married couples. So what does a “woman” represent in prophetic Bible symbolism? The Scripture interprets itself as the Lord declares: “I have likened the daughter of Zion to a comely and delicate woman” (Jeremiah 6:2).

“What thing shall I take to witness for thee? what thing shall I liken to thee, O daughter of Jerusalem? what shall I equal to thee, that I may comfort thee, O virgin daughter of Zion? for thy breach is great like the sea: who can heal thee?” (Lamentations 2:13.) This “virgin daughter” is referring to God’s church. When the Lord calls the church His virgin daughter, what is it that makes her a virgin? Her actions? No! For her breach is great:

“During ages of spiritual darkness the church of God has been as a city set on a hill. From age to age, through successive generations, the pure doctrines of heaven have been unfolding within its borders. Enfeebled and defective as it may appear, the church is the one object upon which God bestows in a special sense His supreme regard. It is the theater of His grace, in which He delights to reveal His power to transform hearts.”5

So it is the pure doctrines within the church that keeps it a virgin—it is impure doctrines that defile a church, not impure people within the church.

“And in their mouth was found no guile: for they are without fault before the throne of God” (Revelation 14:5).

What is guile? According to Strong’s Concordance it means tricks or deceit or decoys; in the dictionary it means “to deceive craftily.”

So these people are true believers, straightforward and genuine. So, what is their mission on this earth; what is it that makes these people what they are?

Uniquely pure in a corrupt age

“The experience of Enoch and of John the Baptist represents what ours should be. Far more than we do, we need to study the lives of these men—he who was translated to heaven without seeing death, and he who, before Christ’s first advent, was called to prepare the way of the Lord, to make His paths straight.”6

Enoch lived without sin in a degenerate age and was translated without seeing death. John the Baptist also lived in a degenerate age, but his job was to pave the way for the Lord’s first coming. Both of these men lived in the country but worked the cities. One walked with God into heaven and one was beheaded. Which will be our experience? Only God knows.

“None but the hundred and forty-four thousand can learn that song; for it is the song of their experience—an experience such as no other company have ever had. ‘These are they which follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth.’ These, having been translated from the earth, from among the living, are counted as ‘the first fruits unto God and to the Lamb’ (Revelation 15:2, 3; 14:1–5). ‘These are they which came out of great tribulation;’ they have passed through the time of trouble such as never was since there was a nation; they have endured the anguish of the time of Jacob’s trouble; they have stood without an intercessor through the final outpouring of God’s judgments. But they have been delivered, for they have ‘washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb’ (Revelation 7:15).”7

All of these points are important, but perhaps the most solemn thing for us is the reality that that through the time of Jacob’s trouble we will need to stand without an intercessor pleading for us in the most holy place of the heavenly sanctuary.

What is Jacob’s trouble?

“Alas! for that day is great, so that none is like it: it is even the time of Jacob’s trouble; but he shall be saved out of it” (Jeremiah 30:7).

You can read the main part of the story in Genesis chapter 32 and 33, but to give a brief summary: In Genesis 31:11–13, God had directed Jacob to return to his homeland—yet the patriarch knew that this would involve seeing his brother whom He had wronged over 20 years before. The night before the meeting, Jacob went off to pray, wrestling alone—until he found himself wresting with God. It was a night of anguish and perplexity for Jacob.

“Jacob’s experience during that night of wrestling and anguish represents the trial through which the people of God must pass just before Christ’s second coming.”8

Yet despite this anguish, there is a glorious experience on the horizon for God’s people:

Glorious union with Heaven

“At the transfiguration, Jesus was glorified by His Father. We hear Him say: ‘Now is the Son of man glorified, and God is glorified in Him’ (John 13:31). Thus before His betrayal and crucifixion He was strengthened for His last dreadful sufferings. As the members of the body of Christ approach the period of their last conflict, ‘the time of Jacob’s trouble,’ they will grow up into Christ, and will partake largely of His spirit. As the third message swells to a loud cry, and as great power and glory attend the closing work, the faithful people of God will partake of that glory. It is the latter rain which revives and strengthens them to pass through the time of trouble. Their faces will shine with the glory of that light which attends the third angel.”9

In light of this truly awesome prospect before us, what is our duty and what should be our focus? We need to grow up into Christ unto perfection of character through His strength, richly partaking of His Spirit, cooperate with Him in giving the three angels’ message to the world, and receive the latter rain. Such a joyful experience will cause our faces to shine with the glory of God. This theme is where we need to focus our lives—not on this life, but on the life to come! Wouldn’t you like to go where Enoch went? Would you like to know where he went?

Just picture the scene: God’s servant describes,

“The Lord has given me a view of other worlds. Wings were given me, and an angel attended me from the city to a place that was bright and glorious. The grass of the place was living green, and the birds there warbled a sweet song. (The inhabitants of the place were of all sizes; they were noble, majestic, and lovely. They bore the express image of Jesus, and their countenances beamed with holy joy, expressive of the freedom and happiness of the place. . . . Then I was taken to a world which had seven moons. There I saw good old Enoch, who had been translated. On his right arm he bore a glorious palm, and on each leaf was written ‘Victory.’ Around his head was a dazzling white wreath, and leaves on the wreath, and in the middle of each leaf was written ‘Purity,’ and around the wreath were stones of various colors, that shone brighter than the stars, and cast a reflection upon the letters and magnified them. On the back part of his head was a bow that confined the wreath, and upon the bow was written ‘Holiness.’ Above the wreath was a lovely crown that shone brighter than the sun. I asked him if this was the place he was taken to from the earth. He said, ‘It is not; the city is my home, and I have come to visit this place.’ He moved about the place as if perfectly at home. I begged of my attending angel to let me remain in that place. I could not bear the thought of coming back to this dark world again. Then the angel said, ‘You must go back, and if you are faithful, you, with the 144,000, shall have the privilege of visiting all the worlds and viewing the handiwork of God.’”10

Yes, my brothers and sisters, I want to be in that place—how about you? Here we are in this sin-sick world. What must we do to be among the 144,000?

The lifestyle of the remnant

In conclusion, let us recall something from the experience of Daniel, that great man of God who remained unscathed by the corrupt society that surrounded him:

“In acquiring the wisdom of the Babylonians, Daniel and his companions were far more successful than their fellow students; but their learning did not come by chance. They obtained their knowledge by the faithful use of their powers, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. They placed themselves in connection with the Source of all wisdom, making the knowledge of God the foundation of their education. In faith they prayed for wisdom, and they lived their prayers. They placed themselves where God could bless them. They avoided that which would weaken their powers, and improved every opportunity to become intelligent in all lines of learning. They followed the rules of life that could not fail to give them strength of intellect. They sought to acquire knowledge for one purpose—that they might honor God. They realized that in order to stand as representatives of true religion amid the false religions of heathenism they must have clearness of intellect and must perfect a Christian character. And God Himself was their teacher. Constantly praying, conscientiously studying, keeping in touch with the Unseen, they walked with God as did Enoch.”11

The song, “Dare To Be a Daniel” should not only be for children! We all need to echo that theme.

“John saw a Lamb on Mount Zion, and with him 144,000, having his Father’s name written in their foreheads. They bore the signet of heaven. They reflected the image of God. They were full of the light and the glory of the Holy One. If we would have the image and superscription of God upon us, we must separate ourselves from all iniquity. We must forsake every evil way, and then we must trust our cases in the hands of Christ. While we are working out our own salvation with fear and trembling, God will work in us to will and to do of His own good pleasure. While you must do your part, yet it is God that must give you aid, and sanctify you. Christ makes us penitent that he may forgive us. We have an idea that we must do some part of the work alone. We have thought that there are two or three steps that we must take without any help or support. But this is not so. The Spirit of God is continually wooing and drawing the soul to right purposes, and into harmony with the law of God. The invitation is given to the helpless, ‘Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk, without money and without price’ (Isaiah 55:1, 2). As soon as we separate ourselves from evil, and choose to serve God, we shall respond to this invitation.”12

This is my prayer for you and for me. AMEN!

1 Testimonies, vol. 5, p. 47.
2 Ibid., vol.1, p. 59.
3 The Review and Herald, March 16, 1889. [Emphasis supplied.]
4 The Great Controversy, p. 648.
5 The Acts of the Apostles, p. 12.
6 Testimonies, vol. 8, p. 329.
7 The Great Controversy, p. 648.
8 Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 201.
9 Testimonies, vol. 1, p. 353.
10 Early Writings, p. 39.
11 Prophets and Kings, p. 486.
12 The Review and Herald, March 19, 1889.