Vs 4: In this verse we are introduced to a group known as the 144,000. According to John they are 144, 000 who are sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel. However, the interpretation of this group is not as simple as clear as one would think. There are varying interpretations as to who this group really is, and we will look at them together. Before we do this, we need to be reminded of who this prophecy is written to (Seven churches in Asia Minor) and the temperature of society at the time (first century churches facing with persecution).
First, we need to note that John does not see the 144,000 at this time. We are told that he HEARS the number of those sealed. He does not actually see the 144,000 until chapter 14. Second, we need to establish what/who the 144,000 represent and we can interpret them two ways
Some believe the 144,000 is a literal reference to the nation of Israel. It is believed that these are 12,000 evangelists from each of the tribes who go out and share the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the world. This interpretation does bring up some issues though because it brings in racial distinctions that no longer exist. This means it disregards the historical fact that ten of the twelve tribes disappeared in Assyria and the remaining two lost their individual identity when Jerusalem fell in 70 AD. Some do believe that the tribes were in hiding and would return before the end. But we do need to keep in mind that apocalyptic writing is often not literal.
Now, when we look at the interpretation as symbolic, we do not make it any easier. However, if we take the number 144,000 to be symbolic then as Mounce writes, “Twelve (the number of the tribes) is both squared and multiplied by a thousand – a twofold way of emphasizing completeness.”
The Twelve Tribes of Israel
Vs 5 – 8: It is interesting to note the enumeration and irregularities in listing the twelve tribes.
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