The 144,000 mentioned in the Bible are found in Revelation 7:2-4, which reads, “Then I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun, with the seal of the living God, and he called with a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm earth and sea, saying, ‘Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads.’ And I heard the number of the sealed, 144,000, sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel.” Who are these 144,000?
The following verses (Revelation 7:5-8) clearly note that these individuals include 12,000 people from each of the tribes of Israel. They are also mentioned as being servants of God, which indicates their role as believers. They are Jews who have received salvation in the Jewish Messiah, Jesus Christ. Further, they are sealed on their foreheads. Some see this as a visible sign, though it could alternatively be a symbolic seal referring to salvation. This would fit the idea of the “helmet of salvation” the apostle Paul mentions in Ephesians 6:17.
The time period during which these Jewish Christians will serve is specified. The angels are told, “Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, until…” The harm of the earth, sea, and trees takes place during the last three and a half years of the seven-year tribulation period. Therefore, the ministry of the 144,000 will begin during the first half of the tribulation period, though it may continue throughout the entire tribulation period. In fact, many interpreters see the 144,000 serving as part of the fulfillment of Matthew 24:14: “And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”
The prediction of these 144,000 Jews who serve during the tribulation argues strongly for the enduring nature of the Jewish people and of Israel into the future. During the tribulation period, Israel will be under threat, yet many Jews will continue to live during this time, with large numbers turning to Jesus as the Messiah.
A word should be mentioned regarding the use of this passage by Jehovah’s Witnesses. This religious movement believes the 144,000 are a select group of believers in Jehovah who will enjoy a special place with Him in the afterlife. In this view, the individuals are composed of devout Jehovah’s Witnesses who have served more faithfully than all others. This is inaccurate for a variety of reasons, including that the Bible clearly states the 144,000 are Jewish, will exist in the future, are believers in the resurrected Jesus as Messiah, and serve on earth rather than in the afterlife.
Revelation also makes clear these 144,000 Jewish servants of God are not the only people who will turn to the Lord during the tribulation period. Revelation 7 speaks of a vast number of individuals from every cultural background who worship the Lord in heaven.
The 144,000 Jews will play an important role during the tribulation period. Though often misunderstood by those who read Revelation, their work will serve as a vital part of God’s redemptive plan to share the Gospel to the ends of the earth in the last days.