The Twenty-Third Sunday of Otrdinary Time

Revelation 7:1-8

The 144,000

We now come to a place in the Book of Revelation subject to various interpretations among scholars and lay people alike.  For this reason, it is important that one not be dogmatic about one’s own interpretation but willing to listen.  Therefore, allow me to say at the outset that mine may be wrong; it wouldn’t be the first time, nor will it be the last.  Now, as I have said before, I agree with those who teach that Revelation tends to move back and forth.  What we have before us is what scholars call one of three “interludes” that come between major events—in this case between the opening of the sixth and seventh seals.  And what happens in this first interlude is the sealing of the 144,000.

But who are these 144,000?  We are told that they are 12,000 from certain Israelite tribes from the Old Testament.  But there are a couple of things odd about this list.  For starters, I say “certain tribes” because two are missing: Dan and Ephraim.  In the Old Testament, Ephraim and Manasseh, sons of Joseph, are adopted by Joseph’s father, Jacob (aka, “Israel,” Genesis 48:5-6).  As Jacob’s third son, Levi, was the priestly tribe and received no inheritance of land, the lists in the Old Testament usually replace Joseph with Ephraim and Manasseh to make twelve tribes, Levi not listed not because that tribe was forgotten but because as the priestly tribe, “the Lord was their inheritance.”  But here, oddly enough, Levi and Joseph are listed and Ephraim and Dan omitted.  Joseph would include Ephraim, but what of Dan?  And second, the list begins with Judah—the fourth born.  And though some cite the sins of Reuben, Simeon, and Levi as reasons for Judah’s priority, Judah was no better than his brothers (Genesis 37:26-28; 38:1-26). 

I do not see how these tribes could represent the twelve historical tribes of ancient Israel if one is left out.  Furthermore, it is obvious that Judah is listed first because our Lord was of this tribe.  I firmly believe that this list represents the Church of Jesus Christ from all ages, Jew and Gentile—the “Israel of God” (Galatians 6:16; Romans 2:28-29).  To sum: These 144,000 are the complete number of the redeemed, for whom the angels hold back the “four winds” (the four horsemen), so that they may be sealed by God—claimed as His very own—during that time between our Lord’s ascension and his return, which time is depicted in the breaking of seals one through six.  Thus, in eternity, chapter seven happens before chapter six.  And isn’t that wonderful!  The redeemed of the Lord are sealed, owned, and claimed by God through the blood of Christ—and we are His no matter what happens.

Author: The Reformed Baptist

My name is Stephen Taylor, ordained Baptist minister of eighteen years pastoral experience with a Ph.D. in Historical Theology from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. Better than that, I am married to a godly woman, Karla, who has been very patient with me since 1989. I have two daughters, both of whom I homeschooled for extended periods of time, who became godly young women, and who ran off and married godly young men, all of which is very proper. The oldest daughter has even seen fit to bless me with a grandson and a granddaughter, and my youngest daughter with a grandson, all three of whom are bundles of exceeding joy. As you can see, I am quite blessed. This website is dedicated to helping people grow in the wisdom and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ through the gift of writing that the Lord has given to me. It is specifically about helping His people grow in godliness, the theme you see repeated above. I write devotions with this aim and hope that they might be of some help to God’s people. Full disclosure: I am of a Reformed bent, meaning that my understanding of Scripture is primarily informed by the Reformers and their successors of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. However, as a student of church history and theology, I strive to remain true to that teaching handed down once for all unto the saints through every age of the Church. I like to think of myself as a “catholic” Christian, as the Reformers thought of themselves. At any rate, feel free to read, pray, and contact me if you wish, or correct me if need be. As you can see, I tend to follow the church year. Of course, I make no special claims about these devotions. I know very well that others have written better and plumbed the depths of God’s word with greater insight. But if my musings help someone draw closer to the Lord, well then, I have my reward. Blessings to you and may the God and Father of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ speak to you that word which He knows you especially need to hear. Grace & peace, Stephen Taylor

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