The 144,000 and the Great Crowd of Revelation

by Leolaia 66 Replies latest watchtower bible

  • Leolaia

    One of the defining doctrines of the WTS is the "two hopes" teaching concerning the 144,000 and the "great crowd". As we all know, the concept is that "spiritual Israel" is limited to only 144,000 members and only these have a "heavenly calling". These are the only ones to benefit directly from the New Covenant, adopted spiritually as "sons of God", for whom the New Testament was written, and the only ones to have Jesus as their mediator. Not only that, but the WTS claims that the calling of the 144,000 effectively ended in 1935 -- and they don't even bother to find a biblical basis for this claim. Everyone else born after this date is automatically expected (except in rare exceptions) to have an "earthly hope". This hope is shared by the "great crowd" of Revelation who are drawn from all the nations of the earth and survive Armageddon to live on a renewed Paradise Earth. Unlike the 144,000, the great crowd cannot be numbered (which is held to prove that 144,000 is a literal number) and would benefit from material blessings including eternal life in perfect bodies. They do not however experience heavenly communion with God and Christ and must depend on the 144,000 for their "sprititual food" in the here and now.

    This major doctrine, so idiosyncratic to the JWs, results from an eisegesis methodology which imposes a conceptual frame onto a text rather than discovering from the context what concepts are expressed therein. A little reflection can show how eisegesis is the usual approach taken by the WTS in interpreting Revelation. Rather than try to determine from the text itself what the trumpet blasts of ch. 8-11 correspond to, the WTS arbitrarily claims that these refer to certain declarations proclaimed by the Society in the 1920s. Of course, nothing in the text uniquely points to such a fulfillment. Rather the idea that the trumpet blasts represent Rutherfordian proclamations is read into the text. The same could be said about almost anything in Revelation that the Society applies to itself or the modern era, such as the 3 1/2-year period (11:3, 12:6, 14), the two witnesses of ch. 11, the fulfillment of ch. 12 in 1914, and so forth. There is nothing in the context of ch. 17 that identifies Babylon the Great with religion (instead she is the city that rules over the earth, the city that carries on trade including exotic goods and slaves, the city that sits on seven hills, i.e. Rome), but yet that is the identification that is stipulated. So it is with the 144,000 and the "Great Crowd". These names have become invested with so much meaning absent from the biblical text and repeated so many times in meetings and literature that it can be almost impossible for a JW to approach Revelation 7:1-17 and 14:1-5 without reading those complex concepts into the text. Yet does the text say that only the 144,000 have a heavenly reward? No. Does it say that the "Great Crowd" are the ones who have an earthly destiny? No. Does it say that the 144,000 is the total number of Christians under the New Covenant? No. These are concepts alien to the text but the average JW will have them in mind when reading these two passages. Furthermore, the WTS arbitrarily links the 144,000 and Great Crowd of Revelation with the "little flock" of Luke 12:32 and the "other sheep" of John 10:16 respectively, so that the 144,000 = the "little flock" and the Great Crowd = the "other sheep". Of course, there is nothing in the context of either Revelation or the gospels to warrant such equations; it is through stipulation that unrelated passages are taken out of context and interpreted as referring to the same thing. When read in its context, John 10:16 could be interpreted as referring to the Gentiles (who would be brought into the same fold as the Jewish believers) or perhaps to future believers not yet in the fold, but as the text stands, the "Great Crowd" of Revelation is nowhere in view, much less the specific interpretation preferred by the Society -- that these are individuals with an earthly destiny. Yet the frequent conflation of the two in Watchtower literature (such as in phrases as "great crowd of other sheep") makes it all the more difficult for JWs to read the texts on their own terms.

    Aside from these isolated proof texts (including perhaps Matthew 5:4) that are strung together like beads to create a division of Christians into two hopes and destinies, there is no extended discussion delineating the "two hopes" in the NT or even in the Apostolic Fathers and early Apologists. Instead there are confessions about "one body, one hope, one faith, one baptism" (Ephesians 4:4-5; cf. 1 Corinthians 12:12-13, Ignatius, Ephesians 20:2, 21:2, Magnesians 7:1). But if the WTS interpretation of Revelation 7 and 14 is flawed and not geniune exegesis, who really are the 144,000 and the "Great Crowd" within the context of Revelation? This is an important question because a careful examination of the literary and broader conceptual context will show that the WTS doctrine is not only absent from the biblical passages but is also directly contradicted by them. Also as far as I can ascertain, there has not yet appeared in this forum any thread that presents the usual scholarly analysis of Revelation 7 and 14, so I thought it would be worthwhile to present it in this thread. The research in this thread primarily reflects the critical commentaries of David Aune, Grant Osborne, and G. K. Beale. The methodology is exegetical in seeking to understand how the passages function in their literary context and how the symbols and motifs relate to their OT (and subsequent Jewish) sources and to the use of these symbols and motifs in parallel literature of the period.


    The 144,000 are mentioned in just two passages in Revelation: the vision-audition in 7:1-8 and the vision in 14:1-5. The first text is followed by a vision of a "great multitude which no man could number" (7:9-17), and the mention of both groups together forms a literary diptych:

    "Next I saw four angels, standing at the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the world back to keep them from blowing over the land or the sea or in the trees. Then I saw another angel rising where the sun rises, carrying the seal of the living God; he called in a powerful voice to the four angels whose duty was to devastate land and sea, 'Wait before you do any damage on land or at sea or to the trees, until we have put the seal on the foreheads of the slaves of our God.' Then I heard how many were sealed: a hundred and forty-four thousand, out of all the tribes of Israel. From the tribe of Judah, twelve thousand had been sealed; from the tribe of Reuben, twelve thousand; from the tribe of Gad, twelve thousand; from the tribe of Asher, twelve thousand; from the tribe of Naphtali, twelve thousand; from the tribe of Manasseh, twelve thousand; from the tribe of Simeon, twelve thousand; from the tribe of Levi, twelve thousand; from the tribe of Issachar, twelve thousand; from the tribe of Zebulun, twelve thousand; from the tribe of Joseph, twelve thousand; and from the tribe of Benjamin, twelve thousand were sealed. After that I saw a huge multitude, impossible to count, of people from every nation, race, tribe, and language; they were standing in front of the throne and in front of the Lamb, dressed in white robes and holding palms in their hands. They shouted aloud, 'Victory to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!' And all the angels who were standing in a circle round the throne, surrounding the elders and the four animals, prostrating themselves before the throne...One of the elders then spoke, and asked me, 'Do you know who these people are, dressed in white robes, and where they have come from?' I answered him, 'You can tell me, my lord.' Then he said, 'These are the people who have been through the great tribulation, and because they have washed their robes white in the blood of the Lamb, they now stand in front of God's throne and serve him day and night in his sanctuary; and the One who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them. They will never hunger or thirst again; neither the sun nor scorching wind will ever plague them, because the Lamb who is at the throne will be their shepherd and will lead them to springs of living water; and God will wipe away all tears from their eyes" (Revelation 7:1-19).

    First of all, note the scene here. The 144,000 are on earth. These are individuals who need protective sealing and until they are all sealed, the angels "whose duty was to devastate land and sea" had to wait before unleashing their fury on the earth. The 144,000 would not need protection (further evidence will be considered below that the sealing is protective) unless they were in actual peril on the earth. Already we have encountered two problems with the WTS interpretation of the 144,000: (1) They represent people on the earth, not in heaven at the time God unleashes his wrath on the earth, and (2) They do not represent the total number of people who have ever been in the New Covenant, but rather a people who are living at the eschaton, at the time of the end, who might be in peril by what is to come. The WTS teaching, in contrast, is that the vast majority of the 144,000 have already died and only a small "remnant" of the number remain on earth. It is also important to note that John doesn't actually see the 144,000, he only hears their enumeration. What he does see is a "huge multitude, impossible to count, of people of every nation, race, tribe, and language". But instead of being on earth, this group is in heaven. They "stand in front of God's throne" and serve him "in his sanctuary" and God spreads "his tent over them". Previously, the throne was located "in heaven" (Revelation 4:2), and the temple is located "in heaven" as well in 11:19, 14:17, 15:5. Indeed, the "great multitude" is specifically located in heaven in 19:1: "After this I heard what sounded like a roar of a great multitude in heaven". According to the WTS, this "Great Crowd" has no heavenly hope at all and are only in the sight of the throne and temple; this is flatly contradicted by the language of the passage which claims that they are in front of the Throne, inside the sanctuary (the inner part of the Temple), and underneath God's tent. What we see here thus is the opposite of what the WTS claims: the 144,000 on earth where they are imperiled by the plagues on the earth and the Great Crowd is in heaven in the inner sanctuary where they serve God day and night as priests of the Temple and receive eternal blessedness.

    The second passage mentioning the 144,000 is Revelation 14:1-5:

    "Next in my vision I saw Mount Zion, and standing on it a Lamb who had with him a hundred and forty-four thousand people, all with his name and his Father's name written on their foreheads. I heard a sound coming out of heaven like the sound of the ocean or the roar of thunder; it seemed to be the sound of harpists playing their harps. There in front of the throne they were singing a new hymn in the presence of the four animals and the elders, a hymn that could only be learnt by the hundred and forty-four thousand who had been redeemed from the world. These are the ones who have kept their virginity and not been defiled with women; they follow the Lamb wherever he goes; they have been redeemed from amongst the men to be the first fruits for God and for the Lamb. They never allowed a lie to pass their lips and no fault can be found in them" (Revelation 14:1-5).

    First of all, it should be noted that although the visions do not necessarily follow in chronological order, ch. 14 does depict events subsequent to the plagues of ch. 8-11; ch. 7 introduces the final judgment of humanity and the harvest of the world. As in ch. 7, the 144,000 are described as having a seal on their foreheads, specifically the "name" of the Lamb and his Father. But the 144,000 are standing with the Lamb on "Mount Zion". Is this the earthly Mount Zion or a heavenly one? The text itself is confusing: the mention of a "sound coming out of heaven" would imply an earthly locale of the 144,000, and yet the 144,000 understand and learn this heavenly song; moreover, the 144,000 have now been redeemed "from the world" and the Lamb is elsewhere described as "in heaven" (cf. 7:9) and does not come to earth until the battle of the End (19:11-16).

    From these texts, it is clear that the 144,000 and the "Great Crowd" are distinguished from each other in certain ways: (1) the 144,000 is drawn from the twelve tribes of Israel, while the Great Crowd is drawn "from every nation and tribe and people and language", (2) the 144,000 are specifically numbered whereas the Great Crowd is impossible for man to count, and (3) the 144,000 are endangered on the earth and need protective sealing whereas the Great Crowd have already undergone a "great tribulation" and are described as receiving their reward in heaven. These three points should thus be kept in mind in any consideration of the identity of these groups.

    The first point has one straightforward explanation: the 144,000 represent a gathering of the twelve tribes of Israel (or Christians of Israelite or Jewish descent), whereas the Great Crowd represents a gathering of Gentiles from all nations. Such a scenario is indeed expressed in contemporaneous Jewish apocalypses, which expect that before the final war and judgment, the scattered tribes of Israel would be gathered together in their land:

    "He will gather a holy people whom he will lead in righteousness, and he will judge the tribes of the people that have been made holy by the Lord their God...He will distribute them upon the land according to their tribes; the alien and the foreigner will no longer live near them. He will judge peoples and nations in the wisdom of his righteousness, and he will have Gentile nations serving him under his yoke" (Psalms of Solomon 17:26-30).
    "You will be scattered to the four corners of the earth; in the dispersion you shall be regarded as worthless, like useless water, until such time as the Most High visits the earth, crushing the dragon's head in the water. He will save Israel and all the nations....You will be scattered like Dan and Gad, my brothers, you shall not know your own lands, tribe, or language. But he will gather you in faith through his compassion and on account of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob" (Testament of Asher 7:3-7).

    The lost ten tribes of Israel have been dispersed to the nations, so that they "shall not know your own lands, tribe, or language". Similarly, the Testament of Moses 4:9 says that "the ten tribes will grow and spread out among the nations during the time of their captivity". When the tribes are regathered, it is a "holy people" that is put together; the Testament of Moses even notes that "some parts of the tribes will arise and come to their appointed place" (4:7), it is a gathering of those in the diaspora who are still righteous. These are brought into the land of Israel and distributed according to their tribal allotments, and the "Gentile nations" will serve God under his yoke and God will "save ... all the nations". The final eschatological picture is thus of a restored Israel on its land and the Gentile nations in subjection to Israel's messianic king. Another text also mentions the Gentile nations together with restored Israel:

    "In your allotted place will be the Temple of God, and the latter temple will exceed the former in glory. The twelve tribes shall be gathered together and all the nations, until such time as the Most High shall send forth his salvation through the ministration of the unique prophet" (Testament of Benjamin 9:2).

    The picture here is a little different; in the restored Israel, natural Israelites will dwell with Gentiles at the Temple of God. Justin Martyr also seems to draw on the same eschatological tradition. Applying it to the gathering of Gentiles into the Church, he quotes what these Gentiles say: "Come, let us go to the light of the Lord; for he has liberated his people, the house of Jacob. Come, all nations; let us gather ourselves together at Jerusalem, no longer plagued by war for the sins of her people" (Dialogue, 24.3). Later, Trypho the Jew summarizes Justin's view in the form of a question: "Do you really believe that this place Jerusalem shall be rebuilt, and do you expect your people to be gathered together, and made joyful with Christ and the patriarchs and the prophets, both the men of our nation and other proselytes who joined them before your Christ came?" (80.1).

    The most striking parallel to Revelation however is in the Jewish apocalypse of 4 Ezra which posits a similar regathering scenario and uses language very reminiscent of c. 7 and 14 of Revelation:

    "He who brings the peril at that time will himself protect those who fall into peril, who have works and have faith in the Almighty. Understand therefore that those who are left are more blessed than those who have died....Behold, the days are coming when the Most High will deliver those who are on the earth. And bewilderment of mind shall come over those who dwell on the earth. And they shall plan to make war against one another, city against city, place against place, people against people, and kingdom against kingdom. And when these things come to pass and the signs occur which I showed you before, then my son will be revealed, whom you saw as a man coming up from the sea. And when all the nations hear his voice, every man shall leave his own land and the warfare that they have against one another; and an innumerable multitude shall be gathered together, as you saw, desiring to come and conquer him. But he will stand on the top of Mount Zion. And Zion will come and be made manifest to all people, prepared and built, as you saw the mountain carved without hands. And he, my son, will reprove the assembled nations for their ungodliness, and will reproach them to their face with their evil thoughts and with the torments with which they are to be tortured, and he will destroy them without effort by the Law. And as for your seeing him gather to himself another multitude that was peaceable, these are the ten tribes which were led away from their own land into captivity in the days of King Hoshea, whom Shalmaneser the king of the Assyrians led captivel he took them across the River, and they were taken into another land. But they formed this plan for themselves, that they would leave the multitude of the nations and go to a more distant region, where mankind had never lived....There they dwelt until the last times; and now, when they are about to come again, the Most High will stop the channels of the River again, so that they may be able to pass over. Therefore you saw the multitude gathered together in peace. But those who are left of your people, who are found within my holy borders, shall be saved. Therefore when he destroys the multitude of the nations that are gathered together, he will defend the people who remain" (4 Ezra 13:23-24, 29-41, 46-49).

    There are some startling differences, especially in the fact that the "innumerable multitude" is here a gathering of wicked Gentiles to make war against God. But even this has a parallel in Revelation: "I saw three foul spirits come ... demon spirits, able to work miracles, going out to all the kings of the world to call them together for the war of the Great Day of God the Almighty .... They called the kings together at the place called, in Hebrew, Armageddon" (16:13-16). And yet this passage from 4 Ezra contains many motifs also found in Revelation: (1) There is a contrast between the gathering of the "ten tribes" of Israel and an "innumerable multitude", (2) the messianic warrior "stands on the top of Mount Zion", almost exactly the wording in 14:1, (3) the holy Israelites gathered together are in peril but God will "protect" them, and those "found within my holy borders shall be saved". In Revelation, the 144,000 are protected by being "sealed" with a signet ring, in 4 Ezra they are protected by being gathered into one place, saved within its borders (as destruction is meted out outside the borders):

    "And it shall be that everyone who will be saved and will be able to escape on account of his works, or on account of the faith by with he believed, will survive the dangers that have been predicted, and will see my salvation in my land and within my borders, which I have sanctified for myself from the beginning....But he will deliver in mercy the remnant of my people, those who have been saved throughout my borders, and he will make them joyful until the end comes, the day of judgment". (4 Ezra 9:7-8, 12:34)

    The idea of the final eschatological battle is also elaborated in the War Scroll (first century BC), which depicts a protracted war of the Gentile nations and Sons of Darkness from Israel who side with them (with battles involving the "forces of Belial" among the Kittim, the Assyrians, the Edomites, the Moabites, the Ammonites, the Philistines, the "sons of Japheth", etc.) against the "Sons of Light" in a regathered Israel, culminating in a final defeat of Belial by the army of Michael consisting of thousands of troops from the twelve tribes of Israel. The final battle is summarized as follows:

    "There shall be a time of salvation for the people of God, and a time of dominion for all the men of his forces, and eternal annihilation for all the forces of Belial. There shall be great panic among the sons of Japheth, Assyria shall fall with no one to come to his aid, and the supremacy of the Kittim shall cease, that wickedness be overcome without a remnant. There shall be no survivors of the Sons of Darkness. Then the Sons of Righteousness shall shine to all ends of the world, continuing to shine forth until the end of the appointed seasons of darkness...On the day when the Kittim fall there shall be a battle and horrible carnage before the God of Israel, for it is a day appointed by him from ancient times as a battle of annihilation for the Sons of Darkness. On that day the congregation of the gods and the congregation of men shall engage one another, resulting in great carnage. The Sons of Light and the forces of Darkness shall fight together to show the strength of God with the roar of a great multitude and the shout of gods and men; a day of disaster. It is a time of distress for all the people who are redeemed by God. In all their afflictions none exists that is like it, hastening to its completion as an eternal redemption" (1QM 1:5-12).

    Here again there are striking similarities with Revelation; the evil forces of the Gentile nations are gathered together to do battle against God, like the 144,000 the "Sons of Light" who battle against the Sons of Darkness are "redeemed by God", and there is even the mention of a "great multitude". Note also the widespread Jewish tradition that at the eschaton the Gentile nations "will be judged by the twelve tribes of Israel" (Testament of Abraham 13:6), that "at the time of his [God's] visitation they [Israel] will shine out ... they shall judge nations, rule over peoples" (Wisdom 3:7-8), and so forth (cf. Daniel 7:12, Jubilees 32:19, 1QpHab 5:4). In the synoptic tradition, this expectation is Christianized so that the twelve apostles will judge the twelve tribes of Israel instead (cf. Matthew 19:28, Luke 22:30). This reversal of the relationship between Gentiles and natural Israelites is also found elsewhere in Christian literature. Whereas in 4 Ezra it is the "innumerable multitude" of Gentiles that is judged and restored Israel that is vindicated, Justin Martyr regards the gathered Gentiles as God's holy people whereas the twelve tribes would "mourn" at Christ's parousia (Dialogue 126.2).

    In light of the above, the references to the 144,000 in Revelation are almost certainly connected to the apocalyptic expectation of the reconstitution of the twelve tribes of Israel, occurring alongside a gathering of a multitude of Gentiles for either battle (viz. 4 Ezra, 1QM) or salvation (viz. Testament of Benjamin, Testament of Asher, Justin Martyr). However it would be a mistake to simply conclude from the foregoing that the 144,000 in Revelation represents fleshly Israel, or a portion of fleshly Israel. If Revelation draws on a pre-Christian Jewish apocalyptic source (as a number of scholars believe), then it is certainly plausible that in an earlier edition or source the 144,000 originally referred literally to Israelites. But the author or redactor of Revelation may well have adapted these symbols and motifs to a new conceptual setting and intended the 144,000 to represent the Christian community or a portion thereof. The NT frequently appropriates traditional Jewish and Israelite motifs for the Church. Galatians 3:29 pointedly states that "If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed". Romans 2:29 notes that "a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly and circumcision is circumcision of the heart by the Spirit". 1 Peter 2:9 describes the Church as a "chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation". See also Ephesians 1:11, 14, Philippians 3:3-8, Titus 2:14, James 1:1, 1 Peter 1:1, which may or may not express similar views. Hermas (Similitude 9.17.1) states that "the Son of God was proclaimed by the apostles ... to the twelve tribes that inhabit the whole world", this may be a closer parallel to the "twelve tribes" in Revelation 7 as referring to Christians. Ignatius (Philadelphians 9:1) even lumps "Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and the prophets" together with "the apostles and the church" as people who come together in unity in Christ (i.e. as Christians). The author of Revelation, too, seems to suggest that Christians are the true Israelites. Unbelieving ethnic Jews are "those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan" (2:9, 3:9). Moreover, the 144,000, while described as chosen "from the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel" in ch. 7, are nowhere described as Jews or Israelites in ch. 14 but are clearly followers of Jesus Christ, "following the Lamb wherever he goes" (14:4). To understand who the 144,000 and "Great Crowd" are in Revelation, we need to take a closer look at the text and how the author adapts OT source traditions.


    First of all, it would help to understand the overall "plot" of Revelation and how the 144,000 and the "Great Crowd" fit into it. Although the book is formally composed of a series of visions and auditions not necessarily in strict chronological order, there are basically four "acts" to its story (after the unsealing of the scroll in ch. 5-6, which reveals what is to follow): (1) The plagues and woes sent by God against humanity (ch. 8-9), (2) The persecution and martyrdom of God's people by the Dragon, his Beast, and the vassal nations in retaliation (ch. 11-13, 17), (3) The parousia of Jesus Christ, bringing judgment and execution to the slaves of the Beast, Babylon, and the vassal nations and imprisonment to the Dragon (ch. 14-16, 18-19), and (4) The millennial kingdom, the resurrection, and the establishment of New Jerusalem (ch. 20-22). In ch. 7 of Revelation, the 144,000 are mentioned in connection with the woes of (1), whereas the "Great Crowd" is mentioned in connection with the great tribulation of (2). That is to say, the 144,000 is presented as the group that is protected against the woes brought against the world whereas the innumerable multitude is the group that has emerged out of the great tribulation. Thus, rather than being static categories of people that exist throughout the history of the Church (as the WTS contends), these are groups of people defined by their involvement with certain end-time events.

    The 144,000 are enumerated because the full number of them need to be sealed before the devastation of the earth could occur. Four angels were "standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the world" and the duty of these four angels "was to devastate land and sea" (v. 1-2). They were told: "Wait before you do any damage on land or at sea or to the trees, until we have put the seal on the foreheads of the slaves of God" (v. 3). The devastation occurs after the seventh seal is broken (8:1) and the seven trumpets are sounded, such that "hail and fire mixed with blood were dropped to the earth; a third of the earth was burnt up, and a third of all trees" (8:7), "a great mountain, all on fire, was dropped into the sea, a third of the sea turned into blood and a third of all living things in the sea died" (8:8-9), another "ball of fire" fell into a third of all rivers and springs "so that many people died from drinking it" (8:10-11), and demonic locusts rose up from the abyss to torture people who lacked the seal given to the 144,000:

    "Out of the smoke dropped locusts which were given the powers that scorpions have on the earth. They were forbidden to harm any fields or crops or trees and told only to attack any men who were without God's seal on their foreheads. They were not to kill them, but to give them pain for five months, and the pain was to be the pain of a scorpion's sting. When this happens, men will long for death and not find it anywhere; they will want to die and death will evade them" (Revelation 9:3-6).

    The reference to the sealing of the 144,000 in 7:3 (in the face of impending devastation of land and sea, the woes of ch. 8-9) is proleptic to the locusts' attack of "any men who were without God's seal on their foreheads" (9:4). The doublet correspondence between 7:3 = 9:4 and the analeptic reference back to 7:3 in 9:4 indicates that the two passages interpret each other. Thus, the 144,000 would have been on the earth at the time of the woes, so that the locusts' attack is selective (otherwise the specification that they attack only those lacking the seal would make little sense). The fact that those who possess the seal are not tortured by the locusts (and presumably not killed by the other plagues on the earth and sea) confirms that the sealing is indeed protective. The motif about the tortured people seeking death but not finding it is a commonplace in Jewish apocalyptic literature. Some examples:

    "The land will groan together because your children will be seized. Many will desire death in those days, but death will flee from them...Those who are in Egypt will weep together. They will desire death, but death will flee and leave them. In those days, they will run up to the rocks and leap off, saying, 'Fall upon us.' And still they will not die. A double affliction will multiple upon the whole land" (Apocalypse of Elijah 2:4-5, 32-34).
    "The world, in disorder, will hear no useful sound. The deep sea will resound with a great sound of threat. All the swimming creatures of the sea will die, trembling. No longer will a ship bearing cargo sail on the waves. The earth, being bloodied by wars, will bellow. All the souls of men will gnash their teeth with the wailings and panic of the lawless souls, dissolving with thirst and famine and pestilence and murders, and they will call death fair and it will evade them. For no longer will death give rest to those, or night" (Sibylline Oracles 8.345-354).

    Death will evade them so that they will seek their revenge; the "nations were seething with rage" by the time of the seventh trumpet (11:18), and "the Beast coming out of the abyss" will lead the nations "to make war on them [the saints] and overcome them and kill them" (v. 7), bringing about the "great tribulation" for God's people. This wholesale persecution and martyrdom of God's people however represents their moment of triumph over the Beast and the Dragon (12:10-11), just as Jesus triumphed over the demonic powers of the world through his crucifixion, and those "who had been beheaded for having witnessed for Jesus" would be exalted like Jesus in their resurrection (20:4-5). The seal, therefore, is aimed at protecting God's people from God's own wrath, not the wrath of those led by the Beast, and it "empowers the 144,000 to perform the witnessing role intended for true Israel" (Beale, p. 411).

    Moreover, the delay motif is also found elsewhere in apocalyptic literature in regard to the execution of God's judgment. For instance, sometime before the Flood, "the angels of punishment" were all set to "release all the powers of the underground waters to become judgment and destruction unto all who live an dwell on the earth", but the Lord of Spirits gave them an order to wait until he had preserved Noah, his family, and the seed of the animals (1 Enoch 66:1-2, 67:1-13). This is analoguous to the four angels in Revelation 7 being told to wait until the 144,000 had been sealed. Even more striking is the parallel in 2 Baruch relating to the destruction of Jerusalem. "There were standing four angels at the four corners of the city" (= "the four angels standing at the four corners of the earth" in Revelation 7:1), "each of them with a burning torch in his hands," but another angel told them to wait until he had salvaged the sacred treasures from the Holy of Holies before setting the city aflame (2 Baruch 6:1-7:1). In both cases, the delay is to safeguard people or things from the execution of punishment by God.

    The OT sources for the "sealing" metaphor in Revelation 7:3 also confirms that it is protection against God's wrath that is in view here, not necessarily protection against persecution. This verse alludes to Ezekiel 9:3-6 which discusses the protective marking of God's faithful in Jerusalem so they will not perish when God brings the Babylonians to execute his judgment on Jerusalem:

    "The glory of the God of Israel rose off the cherubs where it had been and went up to the threshold of the Temple. He called the man in white with a scribe's ink horn in his belt and said, 'Go all through the city, all through Jerusalem, and mark a taw on the foreheads of all who explore and disapprove of all the filth practiced in it.' I heard him say to the others: 'Follow him through the city, and strike. Show neither pity nor mercy; old men, young men, virgins, children, women, kill and exterminate them all. But do not touch anyone with a taw on his forehead" (Ezekiel 9:3-6).

    Compare with the injunction to the locusts to "attack only men who were without God's seal on their foreheads" (Revelation 9:4). In rabbinical interpretations of Ezekiel 9, the taw is referred to as "the seal of the Holy One" (b. Shabbat 55a). The situation in Ezekiel 9 is also reminiscent of the protection by the mark of lamb's blood on Passover in Exodus 12:7-28, those whose doorsteps contained the mark were spared whereas those who lacked the mark were not; this too was a protective mark against divine punishment. One later development of Ezekiel 9 is the interpretation of two marks: a mark of salvation for those saved and a mark of destruction for those killed. The first-century BC Psalms of Solomon expresses this motif and uses language strikingly similar to Revelation:

    "He who performs these things shall never be shaken by evil. The flame of fire and the wrath against the unrighteous shall not touch him, when it goes forth from before the Lord against sinners, to destroy all the substance of sinners; for the mark of God is upon the righteous for salvation. Famine and sword and death (limos kai rhomphaia kai thanatos, compare Revelation 6:8) shall be far from the righteous, for they shall flee from the holy as men pursued in war; but they shall pursue sinners and overtake them, and those who act lawlessly shall not escape the judgment of the Lord. As by enemies skilled in war shall they be overtaken, for the mark of destruction is upon their forehead (epi tou metópou autón)" (Psalms of Solomon 15:4-9).

    This text is striking because Revelation also has two antithetical marks: the "slaves of God" receive a "seal on their foreheads" (7:3), "God's seal" (9:4), "the name of the Lamb and his father on their foreheads" (14:1). But those who belong not to God but to the Beast receive something different: "The Beast ... compelled everyone -- small and great, rich and poor, slave and citizen -- to be branded on the right hand or on the forehead and made it illegal for anyone to buy or sell anything unless he had been branded with the name of the Beast or with the number of its name" (13:16-17). Thus EVERYONE who did not have the name of the Father or Lamb already written on their foreheads was written with the name of the Beast. All these people, "all those who ... have had themselves branded on the hand or forehead, will be made to drink the wine of God's fury which is ready undiluted in the cup of his anger ... and the smoke of their torture will go up forever and ever" (14:9-10). And in 19:18, the birds shall gorge themselves on "the flesh of all people, free and slave, small and great"; the similarity of language with 13:16-17 indicates that EVERYONE who had the mark of the Beast perish on the day of God's vengeance. So like the Psalms of Solomon, we are here dealing with two kinds of marks: one that saves God's people, the 144,000 from destruction and another, given by the Beast to EVERYBODY ELSE, that leads to their eternal destruction and torment.

    Note also that it is the "slaves" of God (7:3), the 144,000, who receive the "seal on their foreheads". According to Osborne, "a brand or tattoo on the forehead of a slave was common in the ancient world as a sign of ownership, and there were also religious tattoos to show allegiance to a particular god" (p. 310). As one example, Petronius (first century AD) wrote: "Then I will come and mark your foreheads with some neat inscription so that you will look like slaves punished by branding" (Satyricon, 103). Interestingly, Paul also used a metaphor of all Christians as "slaves of God" released from ownership by their former master (sin) and under a new master, God (Romans 6:1-23). 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 similarly states: "You are not your own, you were bought at a price". Another similarity with Paul is his use of the word "seal" in reference to Christians. In 2 Corinthians 1:22, he says that God has "set his seal on us and given us the Holy Spirit as a deposit". The parallelism would suggest that the "seal" is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in each Christian. There is a similar usage in the deutero-Pauline Ephesians:

    "Now you too, in him, have heard the message of the truth and the good news of your salvation, and have believed it; and you too have been stamped with the seal of the Holy Spirit of the promise, the pledge of our inheritance which brings freedom for those whom God has taken for his own, to make his glory praised" (Ephesians 1:13-14).
    "Guard against foul talk ... otherwise you will only be grieving the Holy Spirit of God who has marked you with his seal for you to be set free when that day comes" (Ephesians 4:29-30).

    An even more striking parallel is Hermas (Similitude 9.16-17), where "the name of the Son of God" is referred to as "the seal of the Son of God" which itself is equated with "the water of baptism". In light of the above, there is a good possibility that the "seal" in Revelation 7:3 is symbolic of either having the Holy Spirit or baptism. If this is the case, then the 144,000 would be representative of all Christians living on earth at the time of the end who have the Spirit and would be imperiled by the woes of ch. 8-9. The binary division of humanity into those who have "the seal of God" and those who are branded by the Beast would also support this conclusion.

    The wording of Revelation 7:4-8 however poses a problem to such a view. The 144,000 are sealed "out of all the tribes of Israel" (7:4); ek + GEN "out of, from" is a partitive genitive, implying that only a portion of Israel is separated out of a larger group. Thus the 144,000 are not synonymous with "Israel" as a whole (if Israel = the Christian community). But since the concept is indebted to Ezekiel 9, it is noteworthy there that only some of the inhabitants of Jerusalem were marked with a taw of salvation. Similarly, not all in the Christian churches would be saved as well. The letters to the seven churches in ch. 2-3 make this clear. To the church of Ephesus, Jesus warns: "If you will not repent, I shall come to you and take your lampstand from its place" (2:5). To the church of Pergamum, Jesus says: "You must repent, or I shall soon come to you and attack these people with the sword out my mouth ... to those who prove victorious I will give the hidden manna and a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the man who receives it" (2:16-17). Most scholars have here noted the parallel between the "new name" written on the stone given to each "victorious person" and the "name of God" written on the foreheads of the 144,000; this would suggest that some individuals of the church of Pergamum would be numbered among the 144,000 while others would not. Similarly, for those in the church at Thyatira, Jesus warns the idolators that he "will give each one of you what your behavior deserves" whereas "the rest of you in Thyatira" are encouraged to hold fast to their faith and they will be rewarded (2:23-26). As for those in Sardis, the majority are destined to be judged if they do not repent while "there are a few in Sardis, it is true, who have kept their robes from being dirtied" (3:3-4). As for the Christians in Philadelphia, Jesus promises them that "I will keep you safe in the time of trial which is going to come for the whole world" and encourages them to "hold firmly to what you already have, and let nobody take your prize away from you" (3:10-11). Jesus promises to make them into pillars and "inscribe on them the name of my God" (3:12), the wording here again evokes the 144,000 being marked with "the name of the Father" (14:1). Finally, Jesus urges the sinners in the church of Laodicea to "repent in real earnest" while those who welcome him "I will allow to share my throne" (3:18-21). Thus, if "the tribes of Israel" represent the Christian community in Revelation, the picture is clearly that not all who have been gathered into the Church will be saved. Only those who have been sealed are safe from the woes and judgments that God will unleash on the world. There is a similar viewpoint in Matthew, which attests to the existence of "wolves disguised as sheep" in the Church (7:15), or people who confess Jesus as Lord and prophesy in his name who will be judged unfavorably by Jesus (7:21-23), and which likens the Christian community to a field in which the Devil has sowed weeds which will be collected and burned at harvest time (13:36-43). We could also note the parallel to the War Scroll. There, the Sons of Darkness include not just the Gentile nations but those among Israel who are "violators of the covenant" and there they battle against the army of the Sons of Light who represent a remnant of faithful Israel (cf. 1QM 14:2-12).

    The 144,000 in Revelation are similar to the "Sons of Light" in the War Scroll in another way. The way they are enumerated in 7:4-8 is suggestive of an army of soldiers because this passage has the literary form of a census. The purpose of a census in the OT was always to determine the number of people who can be conscripted into battle (cf. Numbers 1:20-46, 2:3-32, 26:2-51; 2 Samuel 24:1-9; 1 Chronicles 27:1-24). The repetition of ek phulés "from the tribe of" in Revelation 7:4-8 recalls the ek tés phulés "from the tribe of" in Numbers 1:21, 23, etc. (LXX). Such censuses also often draw equal numbers from each tribe, like the 12,000 chosen from each tribe in Revelation. In Numbers 31:4-6, 1,000 troops were dispatched from each tribe against Midian; the size of a battalion was 1,000 troops. Interestingly, the 144,000 in Revelation is composed of (12 x 12) x 1,000, such that the total of 12,000 soldiers from Israel sent against Midian in Numbers is what each tribe would furnish in the much greater war in Revelation (i.e. 12,000 troops x 12 tribes = 144,000). The War Scroll gives another parallel. In 1QM 6:11, an array of 6,000 horsemen is mentioned, 500 drawn from each tribe (i.e. 500 x 12 tribes = 6,000 in the cavalry). Moreover, the War Scroll organizes the army of the "Sons of Light" into contingents from the twelve tribes (cf. 1QM 2:2-3, 7, 3:13-14, 5:1-2, 6:10, 14:16). Furthermore, the individuals enumerated in the OT were males of military age, and Israelite soldiers were required to keep themselves chaste (Deuteronomy 23:9-10; 1 Samuel 21:5; 2 Samuel 11:8-11), and thus the 144,000 in Revelation 14:1-4 are "male virgins" undefiled by women. Similarly, the holy warriors of the War Scroll are all "volunteers for battle, pure of spirit and flesh", under the age of 30, and "any man who is not ritually clean in respect to his genitals on the day of battle shall not join them in battle" (1QM 7:3-6). At the same time, there is another striking similarity with the OT and apocalyptic war tradition in the "Great Crowd" who "wash their robes white in the blood of the Lamb" (Revelation 7:14). According to Numbers 31:19-24, the washing of garments was required after the shedding of blood as a form of ritual purification, and the War Scroll notes that the soldiers "shall wash themselves of the blood of the guilty cadavers" (1QM 14:2-3).

    In short, the 144,000 in Revelation could be narrowly defined as the people of God living on earth at the time God sends his woes on mankind who are protected by God from his woes, or more broadly defined (in light of the "mark of the Beast" in ch. 13 and the binary division of humanity into those bearing the mark of the Beast or the mark of God) as the totality of God's saved people on earth at the end of the world. They are sealed so that they would not be harmed by the woes brought to earth in ch. 8-9. The preservation of this body of Christians on earth ensures that there would be a continued witnessing of Christ, so that the number of the elect would not be cut off (compare Mark 13:20 and Barnabas 4:3 which express a similar notion). But how does this group relate to the "Great Crowd" or the "huge innumerable multitude" seen in heaven after the "great tribulation" in ch. 7? Who are the Great Crowd?


    In the second part of the diptych in ch. 7, the Seer witnesses a "huge multitude, impossible to number, of people from every nation, race, tribe and language" standing in heaven in front of the Throne and "in the sanctuary" (Revelation 7:9, 15). These are people, not angelic beings (as they are drawn from national, tribal, and language groups), and since they are in heaven these are likely either deceased individuals or living resurrected individuals (in the "first resurrection" of ch. 20). The vision of 7:9-17 thus likely pertains to a time much later in the plot of Revelation than the vision-audition of 7:1-8, which by definition relates to what happens before the woes of ch. 8-9. Indeed, the depiction of the blessed life of the "Great Crowd" in heaven in v. 15-17 is identical to the experience of the Bride of Christ in New Jerusalem in 21:3-6, which follows the execution of Judgment Day. And the praising of God by the "Great Crowd" in v. 10-12 clearly pertains to the songs of victory in heaven in ch. 19:

    "And I saw a huge multitude, impossible to count, of people from every nation, race, tribe, and language; they were standing in front of the throne and in front of the Lamb, dressed in white robes and holding palms in their hands. They shouted aloud: 'Victory to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!' " (Revelation 7:9-10).
    "I seemed to hear the loud sound of a huge multitude in heaven, singing, 'Alleluia! Victory and glory and power to our God! He judges fairly, he punishes justly, and he has condemned the famous prostitute who corrupted the earth with her fornication; he has avenged his servants that she killed" (Revelation 19:1-2).

    This indicates that the vision of the Great Crowd in ch. 7 is a proleptic preview of the songs of victory in heaven in ch. 19, and thus looks to a time subsequent to the "great tribulation" of God's people and God's judgment and execution of Babylon and those following the Beast. It is this "victory" that is logically referred to in 7:10.

    Since the "Great Crowd" are all likely deceased individuals, the statement in 7:14 that they "have come out of the great tribulation" probably means that they experienced martyrdom. The phrase "great tribulation (tés thlipseós tés megalés)" in Revelation must be understood in light of Jewish apocalyptic tradition, where it denoted the final and most savage persecution against God's people. The notion has its origin in the "time of distress" (kairos thlipseós) of Daniel 12:1 (LXX), "such as has not happened from the beginnings of the nations until then". Within the context of ch. 11-12 of Daniel, this tribulation referred to the horrific persecution of Antiochus IV Epiphanes (during 170-164 BC), who "made war on the saints" (7:21), until the time would come for the saints to take the kingdom away from him, and who "will plot incredible schemes and destroy powerful men and the people of the saints ... taking many unawares and destroying them, challenging the power of the Prince of Princes" (8:24-25). All these events occurred during bloody wars between the Syrian army and Jerusalem, as well as against Egypt, Parthia, and other nations (Daniel 11:25-45). 1 Maccabees 9:27 referred to the persecution of the time as a "great tribulation" in language reminiscent of Daniel: "So there was a great tribulation (thlipsis megalé) in Israel, the likes of which had not occurred since the time that a prophet was not seen among them". The persecution is described in detail below:

    "On the fifthteenth day of Chislev in the year one hundred and forty-five [i.e. 167 BC] the king erected the abomination of desolation above the altar; and altars were built in the surrounding towns of Judah and incese offered at the doors of houses and in the streets. Any books of the Law that came to light were torn up and burned. Whenever anyone was discovered possessing a copy of the covenant or practising the Law, the king's decree sentenced him to death...Women who had had their children circumcised were put to death according to the edict with their babies hung round their necks, and the members of their household and those who had performed the circumcision were executed with them. Yet there were many in Israel who stood firm and found the courage to refuse unclean food. They chose death rather than contamination by such fare or profanation of the holy covenant, and they were executed. It was a dreadful wrath that visited Israel" (1 Maccabees 1:54-64).

    When the resurrection and establishment of an eternal kingdom failed to materialize after the death of Antiochus, and when the Romans replaced the Hellenized Syrians as the oppresors of Judea, a new expectation arose that the "great tribulation" was still future. The War Scroll (1QM 1:11-12, 15:1) interprets the "time of distress" of Daniel as the period of war against the Kittim (Romans). Mark 13:14 expects a still future "abomination of desolation" to be installed in Judea and a future tribulation of God's people:

    "They will hand you over to sanhedrins, you will be beaten in synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for my sake to bear witness before them ... You will be hated by all men on account of my name, but the man who stands firm to the end will be saved.... Woe to those with child, or with babies at the breast, when those days come! Pray that this may not be in winter. For in those days there will be such a tribulation that until now has not been equalled since the beginning when God created the world, nor ever will be again. And if the Lord had not shortened the time, no one would have survived; but he did shorten the time, for the sake of the elect whom he chose" (Mark 13:9, 13, 17-20).

    Like the Jews who stood firm to the covenant in the face of persecution (Daniel, 1 Maccabees), so the "elect" would stand firm and be saved from sharing in the same destruction as the rest of the world, tho many will die -- in fact most. The motif of a "great tribulation" is almost a required element of Jewish and early Christian apocalypses of the end, as the following texts show:

    "And there will come upon them punishment and wrath such as never happened to them from creation until that time, when he stirs up against them a king of the kings of the earth who, having supreme authority, will crucify those who confess their circumcision. Even those who deny it, he will torture and hand them over to be led to prison in chains. And their wives will be given to the gods of the nations and their young sons will be cut by physicians to bring forward their foreskins. Still others among them will be punished by torture, both by fire and sword, and they will be compelled to bear publicly as burdens idols which are polluted" (Testament of Moses 8:1-4).
    "Woe to those who survive in those days! And still more, woe to those who do not survive! For those who do not survive will be sorrowful, because they understand what is in store for the last days, but not attaining it. But woe also to those who do survive, for this reason: they shall see great dangers and much tribulation, as these dreams show. Yet it is better to come into these things, though incurring peril, than to pass from the world like a cloud and not to see what shall happen in the last days" (4 Ezra 13:14-20).
    "That time will be divided into twelve parts, and each part has been preserved for that for which it was appointed. In the first part: the beginning of commotions. In the second part: the slaughtering of the great. In the third part: the fall of many into death. In the fourth part: the drawing of the sword. In the fifth part: famine and the withholding of rain. In the sixth part: earthquakes and terrors....Those who live on earth in those days will not understand that it is the end of times....And the time will come of which I spoke to you and that time is appearing which brings affliction. For it will come and pass away with enormous vehemence, and arriving in the heat of indignation, it will be turbulent... Many will be agitated by wrath to injure many; and they will raise armies to shed blood, and they will perish with those at the end" (2 Baruch 27:1-15, 48:31, 37).
    "Then the deceiver of the world will appear as a son of God and will perform signs and wonders and the earth will be delivered into his hands, and he will commit abominations the likes of which have never happened before. Then all humankind will come to the fiery test, and many will fall away and perish; but those who endure in their faith will be saved by the accursed one himself" (Didache 16:4-5).
    "The son of lawlessness will not prevail over them. He will be angry at the land, and he will seek to sin against the people. He will pursue all the saints. They and the priests of the land will be brought back bound. He will kill them and destroy them... And their eyes will be removed with iron spikes. He will remove their skin from their heads. He will remove their fingernails one by one. He will command that vinegar and lime be put in their nose. Now those who are unable to bear up under the tortures of that king will take gold and flee over the fords to the desert places. They will lie down as one who sleeps. The Lord will receive their spirits and their souls to himself" (Apocalypse of Elijah 4:20-25).
    "For the Master has sworn by his own glory regarding his elect, that if sin still occurs, now that this day has been set as a limit, they will not find salvation, for repentance for all the saints are over, although for the heathen there is the possibility of repentance until the last day.... Blessed are those of you who patiently endure the coming great tribulation (tén thlipsin tén erkhomenén tén megalén) and who will not deny their life. For the Lord has sworn by his Son that those who have denied their Lord have been rejected from their life, that is, those who now are about to deny him in the coming days" (Hermas, Vision 2.2.5-8).

    Most of these emphasize endurance in faith during these tribulations, as people did in the "great tribulation" of Antiochus Epiphanes, even if it means their death and execution. Taxo, a Levite priest at the end of days, tells the suffering people during the tribulation: "Which nation or which province or which people, who have all done many crimes against the Lord, have suffered such evils as have covered us? ... Let us die rather than transgress the commandments of the Lord of Lords, the God of our fathers. For if he do this, and do die, our blood will be avenged before the Lord" (Testament of Moses 9:1-7).

    So it is in Revelation. The word thlipsis "tribulation" is used to refer to the then-present suffering of the saints in 1:9, 2:9-10. But the "great tribulation" occurs at the time of the end. When the Dragon delegates his power and "worldwide authority" to the Beast (13:2-4), in order to "make war on the rest of ... those who obey God's commandments and bear witness for Jesus" (12:17), the Beast "mouthed its boasts and blasphemies against God, against his name, his heavenly Tent and all those who are sheltered there" (13:2-6). Then, the Beast was given permission to wipe out the saints who hold fast to their faith:

    "It was allowed to make war against the saints and conquer them, and given power over every race, people, language, and nation, and all people of the world will worship it, that is, everybody whose name has not been written down since the foundation of the world in the book of life of the sacrificial Lamb. If anyone has ears to hear, let him listen: Captivity for those who are destined for captivity, the sword for those who are to die by the sword. This is why the saints must have constancy and faith....Anyone who refused to worship the statue of the Beast was put to death" (Revelation 13:7-10, 15).

    Clearly, then, all those who remained steadfast in their faith and refused to accept the mark of the Beast were executed and this wholesale extermination of the people of God is alluded to later, in which Babylon the Great (i.e. Rome, as ruled by the Beast) "was drunk with the blood of the saints, and the blood of the martyrs of Jesus" (17:6). As Taxo promised in the Testament of Moses, their deaths are avenged by God who made Babylon "drink the full winecup of his anger" (Revelation 16:19, ch. 18) and afflict "all the people who had been branded with the mark of the Beast" with the seven bowls of plagues (15:5-8, ch. 16) and destruction at the Day of Judgment (cf. 14:8-20, 19:11-21).

    The martyrdom of the saints by the Beast actually facilitated the defeat of the Devil: "They have triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the witness of their martyrdom, because even in the face of death they would not cling to life" (12:11). This is a crucial text, as it refers to the martyred Christians who remained steadfast in their faith as having triumphed "by the blood of the Lamb". This is the same phrase that describes the "Great Crowd" in 7:14, which states that the great multitude "have washed their robes white in the blood of the Lamb". In 1:5, the author states that Jesus "has washed away our sins with his blood" and 5:9 claims that "with your blood you bought men for God of every race, language, people, and nation", i.e. the same descriptors of the "Great Crowd" in 7:9. By conquering the Devil "by the blood of the Lamb," the martyred saints share in the redemption by undergoing their own deaths, triumphing over the evil powers as Christ had done (compare John 12:31-32, 2 Corinthians 2:14, Colossians 2:14-15), and being raised in glory as he was (cf. Revelation 20:5-6).

    Not only have God's people triumphed over the Devil and the Beast by undergoing martyrdom, but they also take an active part in the war between Christ Jesus and the Beast: "They [the kings of the earth under the Beast's control] are all of one mind in putting their strength and their powers at the Beast's disposal, and they will go to war against the Lamb, but the Lamb is the Lord of Lords and the King of Kings, and he will defeat them and they will be defeated by his followers, the called, the chosen, the faithful" (Revelation 17:13-14). Since this represents the war against Jesus which results in the execution of the Beast and his followers, and since the Beast had already killed off all of Jesus' faithful ones (13:7-15), these "followers of the Lamb" would probably be martyred Christians. A similar scenario is expressed in Daniel, and these chapters are highly allusive of Daniel. For instance, the statement that the Beast "is going to make war on them and overcome them" (11:7) is a citation of Daniel 7:21, the reference to the hiding of the woman for 3 1/2 years (12:14) is a citation of Daniel 7:25, the mouth of the Beast uttering boasts and blasphemies (13:5-6) is a citation of Daniel 7:8-11 and 11:36-37, the statement that the Beast is "to make war against the saints and conquer them" and is "given power over every race" (13:7) is a combined allusion to Daniel 7:6, 21, and the reference to people "refusing to worship the statue of the Beast being put to death" (13:15) is an allusion to the story in Daniel 3:5-15. Just as in Revelation, Antiochus Epiphanes is the "little horn" of a Beast which utters boasts and blasphemies, makes war against the Jews in Judea, and puts them to the test -- executing those who remain faithful to the covenant. The "wise" are those who maintain their faith, some of whom are destroyed in the persecution:

    "Those who break the covenant he [Antiochus] will corrupt by his flatteries, but the people who know their God will stand firm and take action. Those of the people who are wise will instruct many. For some days, however, they will be brought down by sword and flame, by captivity and by plundering. And thus brought down, little help will they receive, though many will be plotting on their side. Of the wise, some will be brought down, as a result of which certain of them will be purged, purified and made white, until the time of the end" (Daniel 11:32-35).

    Interestingly, the martyrdom of the "wise" is here depicted as purifying them and making them "white", which is reminiscent of the "Great Crowd" in Revelation who have emerged out of the Great Tribulation "dressed in white robes" for "they have washed their robes white" (7:9, 14). In ch. 12 of Daniel, the "time of distress" will involve the sparing of "your own people" from destruction, "all those names who are found written in the Book" will be spared (12:1-2). This notion is utilized in Revelation 13:8 and 17:8, which claims that those who do NOT have their names written in "the book of life" will be followers of the Beast and undergo destruction (19:20). The "wise" who had died faithfully would then be raised to life and "shine as brightly as the vault of heaven ... as bright as stars for all eternity" (Daniel 12:2-3), and Antiochus' power would be "stripped from him, consumed, and utterly destroyed" and "sovereignty and kingship ... will be given to the people of the saints of the Most High" (7:26-27) who are described earlier (in the guise of "one like a son of man", i.e. as humanlike) as "coming on the clouds of heaven" (v. 13). The ambiguity of the word "saints" in Daniel as referring either to angels or to faithful Jews suggests that the martyred faithful have entered into the angelic host, and this idea was expressed in the Dead Sea Scrolls as well, for example:

    "And I know that there is hope for him whom you have created from the dust for the eternal assembly, and the perverse spirit you have cleansed from great transgression to be stationed with the host of the saints and to enter into fellowship with the congregation of the children of heaven. And you have apportioned to man an eternal destiny with the spirits of knowledge" (1QH 3:21-22).

    This is an apt description of the "great multitude which no man can number" in Revelation 7 who serve God in his Temple in heaven, who are near "all the angels standing in a circle around the throne" (7:11). To the church at Sardis, Jesus also says that "those who prove victorious will be dressed in white robes" and be acknowledged "in the presence of the Father and his angels" (3:5), and to the church at Laodicea Jesus offers to "share my throne" with them (3:21).

    In short, the "great multitude which no man could number" in Revelation 7:9 and the "great multitude in heaven" in 19:1 may be narrowly defined as the group of faithful Christians who undergo the "great tribulation" and testify their faith in Jesus by experiencing martyrdom (all those who refused to accept the mark of the Beast were "put to death", 13:15), or more broadly defined as all deceased Christians who had been martyred for their faith or died "in Christ", all of whom are gathered into the presence of God in heaven. In no sense are these living survivors of the great tribulation or Armageddon who do not die, as all faithful Christians were "put to death", and all who did receive the "mark of the Beast" were themselves executed on Judgment Day. Thus, those who held fast in their faith and died in Christ, "the souls of all who had been beheaded for having preached God's word, and those who refused to worship the Beast and would not have the mark on their foreheads or hands" are brought back to life in "the first resurrection" (20:4-6), while "everyone else" who died -- including those who persecuted the Christians or had been slaves of the Beast -- would be brought back in the "second resurrection" for judgment and punishment (20:11-15).


    Thus far we have examined the two groups from different points of view: the "144,000" in relation to the first set of woes they are protected against (so that they would survive to later testify to their faith), and the "Great Crowd" in relation to the great tribulation and the final defeat of the Beast and the pagans (the occasion of the cry of "Victory" in ch. 7 and 19). But are these really dichotomous groups or are they to be identified with each other in some way? Indeed, they are blurred together in certain ways.

    Consider, for instance, the motif of enumeration. This is a primary criterion of distinguishing the 144,000 and the Great Crowd in ch. 7; the 144,000 are specifically numbered whereas the Great Crowd is "impossible to count". Bearing this in mind, try to figure out which group is in view in the following passage below:

    "When he broke the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of all the people who had been killed on account of the word of God, for witnessing to it. They shouted aloud, 'Holy, faithful Master, how much longer will you wait before you pass sentence and take vengeance for our death on the inhabitants of the earth?' Each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to be patient a little longer, until the roll was complete and their fellow servants and brothers had been killed just as they had been" (Revelation 6:9-11).

    Much of this resembles the "Great Crowd" of ch. 7. Thus here we have "the souls of all the people who had been killed on account of God's word", i.e. the martyrs like those who come out of the "great tribulation", the saints who keep the commandments and die in 14:12-13, and especially "the souls of those who had been beheaded because of the testimony of Jesus and the word of God" in 20:4. Like those in the "Great Crowd", they are "given a white robe" (cf. 7:9, 14). And like the "Great Crowd" in the "sanctuary" in 7:15 and "in heaven" in 19:1, the dead souls (psukhas, a clear instance in the NT of psukhé "soul" being used to refer to a disembodied soul after death) are located "underneath the altar". The altar is the golden altar of incense mentioned in 8:3-5 and 9:13, located inside the Holy of Holies ("the sanctuary") of the heavenly Temple, which corresponds to the altar of incense in the early Temple or tabernacle upon which the sacrificial blood was poured out on Yom Kippur and incense burned on top of it (Exodus 30:1-10; Leviticus 4:7; Hebrews 9:4). This suggests that the martyrdom of the faithful was atoning as an expiatory sacrifice and the "souls" of the dead are thus offered up on the heavenly altar. The notion can also be found in rabbinical sources, which note that "he who is buried under the altar is as though he were buried under the Throne of Glory" (Abot R. Nat. 26), and the souls of the pious were believed to be sacrificed on a heavenly altar (b. Menahoth 110a), so that the martyred victims are "near the divine throne" (b. Peshahim 50a, Midrash Rab. Eccl. 9:10). Hermas (Mandate 10.3.2-3, Similitude 8.2.5) and Irenaeus (Adversus Haereses, 4.18.6) also referred to a "heavenly altar". In addition, there are many Jewish sources that claim that the souls of the dead wait in heaven for their later resurrection. 1QH 3:21-22 quoted above referred to the post-mortem blessed existence of the righteous dead. Joseph and Asenath 15:7 refers to "a place of rest in the heavens" (cf. 8:11, 22:13), 1 Enoch mentions a "treasury of souls ... with the holy angels ... underneath the wings of the Lord of Spirits" in "the ultimate ends of the heavens" (39:3-7), the Testament of Abraham refers to the "tents of my righteous ones and the mansions of my holy ones" in the "bosom" of Abraham in heavenly Paradise, where the patriarchs ascended after death (A:20:14), the gospel of Luke similarly refers to a "bosom of Abraham" were the pious Lazarus went upon death (16:19-31), Paul mentioned his hope of going to heaven when his "earthly tent is destroyed" and departed from his body (2 Corinthians 5:1-10), and Josephus reports that "the souls without blemish ... receive the most holy place in heaven" until "the ages come round again" and they "come back again to live in holy bodies" (Jewish War, 3.8.5). Finally, the belief that martyrdom constitutes a sacrificial offering is attested in 2 Maccabees 7:37-38, 4 Maccabees 6:28-29, 2 Timothy 4:6, Ignatius Romans 2:2, 4:2, and in the Martyrdom of Polycarp 14:1-2. Thus, the overall picture in the above quoted passage is that the "souls underneath the altar" are martyred Christians in heaven roughly corresponding to the members of the "Great Crowd" who underwent the "great tribulation" in ch. 7.

    But note also that the "souls underneath the altar" had to wait "until the roll was complete and their fellow brothers and servants had been killed just as they had been" before they would receive justice (6:11). Implicit in this is the suggestion that there were still Christians living on the earth who had not yet been martyred and God would wait until they had been killed off before destroying their enemies, and this fits with what happens subsequently in Revelation: (1) Those who would not receive the "mark of the Beast" are killed off by the Beast and his cohorts (13:15), and then (2) God kills off the Beast and those bearing the "mark of the Beast" (14:8-20, 19:11-21). It is in (2) that the souls underneath the altar are avenged, but God waits until (1) has happened because his own people (bearing the "seal" of the Son and Father on their foreheads) are protected against experiencing divine wrath. The suggestion that there is a preordained number of martyrs is of course reminiscent of the 144,000, not the innumerable "Great Crowd". And yet, elsewhere in early Christian literature the same motif is found with respect to martyrs. In the Martyrdom of Polycarp (written shortly after AD 156), the venerable faithful Christian Polycarp asks God in prayer if he can "have a share among the number of the martyrs" (14:2), and the Epistula Lugdunum (13; cf. Eusebius, H.E. 5.1.13), dating to about AD 177, states: "Every day, the worthy were arrested to fill up the number of the martyrs". There is also a similar notion in the "Book of Parables" (first century AD) of 1 Enoch: "The hearts of the holy ones are filled with joy because the number of the righteous has been offered, the prayers of the righteous ones have been heard, and the blood of the righteous has been admitted before the Lord of Spirits" (47:4). An echo of the notion may appear in Paul: "Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in" (Romans 11:25). 1 Clement similarly refers to "the number of the elect" (2:4), and people who are "enrolled and included among the number of those who are saved" (58:2), and hopes that "the Creator of the universe may keep intact the specified number of his elect throughout the whole world" (59:2). The notion of a delay in God's execution of judgment until a specified number is completed is also found in numerous sources:

    "The multitude of those who would be born was numbered. And for that number a place was prepared where the living ones might live and where the dead might be preserved. No creature will live again unless the number that has been appointed is completed" (2 Baruch 23:4-5).
    "Did not the souls of the righteous in their chambers ask about these matters, saying, 'How long are we to remain here? And when will come the harvest of our reward?' And Jeremiel the archangel answered them and said, 'When the number of those like yourselves is completed, for he has weighed the age in the balance, and measured the times by measure, and numbered the times by number, and he will not move or arose them until that measure is fulfilled" (4 Ezra 4:35-37).
    "God the Father of all brought Christ to heaven after he had raised him from the dead, and would keep him there until he has subdued his enemies, the devils, and until the number he foreknows as good and virtuous has been completed, on whose account he has still delayed the consummation" (Justin Martyr, 1 Apology 45.1).

    The resemblance between 4 Ezra 4 and Revelation 6:9-11 is particularly close. The group of martyrs in ch. 6, which is strikingly like the innumerable "Great Crowd" of ch. 7, is explicitly a numbered entity....and just as the angels in ch. 7 had to wait until the full number had been sealed before they unleashed God's wrath, so does God wait in ch. 6 until the full number of the martyrs has been completed before he avenges their deaths. Thus the group of "souls underneath the altar" in ch. 6 has points of contact with both the 144,000 and the "Great Crowd" in ch. 7.

    At the same time, phrases like "great multitude" are used in various sources to refer to Christian martyrs. 1 Clement 6:1, after mentioning the examples of Peter and Paul, wrote: "To these men who lived holy lives there was joined a vast multitude of the elect (polu pléthos eklektón) who, having suffered many torments and tortures because of jealousy, set an illustrious example among us". Similarly, Tacitus, in referring to the victims of the Neronian persecution, states that "vast numbers" (multitudo ingens) were arrested and executed (Annals 15:44). With some reflection, the two contradictory approaches are compatible: God knows the complete number of martyrs or the elect, and thus they can be enumerated from his point of view, whereas the actual number is unknown to man and thus appear (with some hyperbole) to be an innumerable "vast multitude".

    Another respect in which the 144,000 and the "Great Crowd" are similar to each other is the military connotation of the phrase "great multitude". As noted earlier, the 144,000 are enumerated in a census like the Hebrew armies of the OT and the eschatological army of the "Sons of Light" in the War Scroll. The word okhlos "crowd, multitude" in Revelation 7:9 has the sense of "army" in the OT (cf. 1 Kings 20:13, Isaiah 43:17, Ezekiel 16:40). Ezekiel 17:17 (LXX) refers to Pharaoh coming in war with "his mighty army and great company (okhló polló)", precisely the words that occur in Revelation 7:9. 2 Chronicles 20:15 (LXX) says: "Do not be dismayed by this great multitude (okhlou pollou), for the battle is not yours, but God's". Even closer analogues can be found in Daniel:

    "The herald cried aloud to the crowd (tois okhlois), 'To you it is commanded, O peoples, nations, and languages (khórai kai laoi kai glóssai)'... And his sons shall war, and shall assemble a great multitude (sunagógén okhlou pollou), which shall come on and overflow and pass through...And he shall stir up his power and his courage against the king of the south with a great army (okhló polló); and the king of the south shall war in battle with an exceeding great and mighty army (okhló iskhuró)" (Daniel 3:4, 11:10, 25; LXX).

    As for such "great crowds" being innumerable, Aeschylus refers to the Lydian troops in the Persian army as constituting an "innumerable multitude (pléthos anarithmoi)" (Persians, 40). Justin Martyr uses the phrase "innumerable multitude" to describe the Christians of his day (1 Apology 15.7). Other motifs of the "Great Crowd" of Revelation 7:9-17 have militaristic connotations as well. White garments are associated with military victory in 2 Maccabees 11:8 and palm branches also are used to celebrate victory:

    "The Jews made their entry on the twenty-third day of the second month in the year one hundred and seventy one [i.e. 141 BC], with acclamations and carrying palms, to the sound of harps, cymbals and zithers, chanting hymns and canticles, since a great enemy had been crushed and thrown out of Israel" (1 Maccabees 13:51).
    "Carrying branches, leafy boughs and palms, they offered hymns to him who had brought the cleansing of his own Holy Place to a happy outcome" (2 Maccabees 10:7).

    Philo of Alexandria (Legum Allegoriarum, 3.74) similarly calls the "palm tree a symbol of victory" and one rabbinical text states: "We do not know who the victor is, but whoever carries the palm in his hand, by this we know that he is the victor" (Leviticus Rabba, 20). As it is, the scene in Revelation 7:9-12 is one of celebrating a victory, with the Great Crowd shouting forth "Victory to our God, who sits on the throne and to the Lamb!", just as the Great Crowd sings a song of victory in 19:1, singing: "Victory and glory and power to our God! He judges fairly ... and has condemned the famous prostitute who corrupted the earth with her fornication; he has avenged his servants that she killed" (this avenging of the martyrs analeptically looks back to 6:10-11). Finally, as mentioned earlier, the act of washing garments in 7:14 is reminiscent of the war tradition in the OT and in the War Scroll.

    The second mention of the 144,000 in ch. 14 also reveals some kinship with the "Great Crowd". They are described as "redeemed from the world" and "redeemed from amongst men to be the first fruits for God and for the Lamb" (14:3-4). This does not necessarily mean that the 144,000 are dead or no longer live in the world; Christians, by accepting the "seal" through the Spirit or baptism, could well be said to be "redeemed" tho still alive in the flesh. The reference to them being on Mount Zion is also a little ambiguous since Zion could refer to heavenly Jerusalem or earthly Zion. The Targum of Isaiah 24:23 claims that "the kingdom of the Lord of hosts will be revealed on Mount Zion," and 2 Baruch 40:1-3 envisions Mount Zion as where the Anointed One will kill the "last ruler" and "protect the rest of my people". In an allusion to Daniel 2:24-25, the author of 4 Ezra identifies the stone "not made by human hands" that grows into a "mountain" as Mount Zion which "will come and be manifest to all people, prepared and built" (13:35-36). This concept is probably related to the descent of New Jerusalem from heaven in ch. 21 of Revelation. So it is a little unclear what is meant in ch. 14 by "Mount Zion". The 144,000 however are also said to be the only ones who could learn "the new hymn" that was sung by heavenly harpists "in front of the throne" (14:3). What is possibly meant here is the sublime nature of heavenly sounds which "must not and cannot be put in human language" (2 Corinthians 12:4), but if only the 144,000 can learn this song, and if the reason why others could not learn it was because of its heavenly nature, then why was the "Great Crowd" singing in heaven as well in 19:1? But the most interesting phrase about the 144,000 is that "they follow the Lamb wherever he goes" (14:4). This phrasing (akolouthountes tó arnió "following the Lamb") anticipates the description of the war between the "ten kings" and the Lamb (i.e. Armageddon) in 17:13-14, for it says that "the Lamb ... will defeat them and they will be defeated by those with him (hoi met autou), the called (klétoi), the chosen (eklektoi), the faithful". This pictures the "chosen" ones as accompanying Christ as his military forces (as they defeat the kings) in the battle of Armageddon; the fact that they are "with him" is like the 144,000 following the Lamb wherever he goes (cf. 6:9, where Hades is said to be ékolouthei met autou "following with him", or the angels thrown down met autou "with him [the Dragon]" in 12:9), and the fact that they are "chosen" echoes the sealing of the 144,000. At the same time, the "Great Crowd" also follows the Lamb: "The Lamb who is at the throne will be their shepherd and will lead them to springs of living water" (7:17). There is another dimension to the "following" motif that also suggests martyrdom. In Mark 8:34, Jesus states: "If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me (akoloutheitó moi)" (cf. Matthew 10:38; Luke 9:23-24). In John 13:36, just before his Passion, Jesus tells Peter: "Where I am going (i.e. execution) you cannot follow me now, you will follow (akolouthéseis) me later". Similarly, in the appendix of ch. 21 (cf. John 21:19), Jesus describes "the kind of death by which Peter would give glory to God" and adds immediately afterward: "Follow me" (akolouthei moi). 1 Peter 2:21 states: "Christ suffered and left an example for you to follow (epakolouthéséte) his footsteps". The reference to the 144,000 following the Lamb (a designation of Jesus that emphasizes his sacrificial death) may thus imply that the 144,000 are martyrs. In fact, this is exactly how Revelation 14:4 was interpreted in the second century by Christian martyrs. In the previously quoted Epistula Lugdunum (c. AD 177), a martyr named Vettius Epagathus was said to be "a true disciple of Christ, following the Lamb wherever he goes".

    Taken together, the above evidence leaves one with a rather muddled conception of the difference between the 144,000 and "Great Crowd". Although they each seem to have their own properties (i.e. only the 144,000 are mentioned in Hebraic terms, only the "Great Crowd" are clearly described as "in heaven"), and they share other properties with each other (such as militaristic language or the motif of martyrdom), both descriptors seem to refer roughly to the same group: Christians on earth who subsequently are martyred and join earlier martyred Christians in heaven (i.e. "underneath the altar"). The muddledness of the text is, of course, likely due to the disparate origins of the apocalyptic traditions in Revelation.

    Yet assuming that the author tried to make some sense out of these symbols, a coherent picture is quite possible. We start with the martyred souls in heaven in ch. 6. Each of these souls receives a white robe when they go to heaven. They long for their revenge, but they are told that God must wait until the "full number" of the martyred is completed before he exacts his vengeance. Within the plot of Revelation, this vengeance is described in 14:6-20 and ch. 16-19 (cf. especially 19:2 "he has avenged his servants that she killed"). But God will first give a foretaste of his vengeance to induce non-Christians to test his servants' faith, thereby completing the number of martyrs. So in ch. 7, we learn of the sealing of God's people from these woes (receiving a seal on their foreheads)...for they are protected from the initial series of woes God would bring to the earth. The angels would have to wait until all the people are sealed before they start unleashing God's wrath. The enumeration is done by angels and the Seer learns that the number is 144,000. The Seer is also given a visual glimpse of the future existence of the full number in heaven, but since this is subsequent to the "victory" of the Lamb, we shall deal with this later. Next, the angels blow the seven trumpets and unleash the woes on the earth (ch. 8-11). God also brings forth the Messianic king to take over his throne (ch. 12), but Satan the Devil resists and is cast to the earth to torment and make war on God's people. This, of course, is according to plan, because God wants to wait until all the martyrs have died before he wages the final war. Satan raises up the Beast to rule over the earth, with ten vassal kings under his control; he is a "king" of Babylon (i.e. Rome, personified through the city's patron goddess) who is the last of the kings and at the same time one of Babylon's earlier kings (i.e. Nero redivivus, 17:11). The Beast requires everyone in the world to bear his own mark on their forehead or right hand, and anyone who refuses to receive the mark or worship the Beast's image is put to death. Thus, the Beast makes war on the saints and kills them off (ch. 13-14). With the full number of the martyrs now in heaven, God is ready to exact his vengeance. The martyrs, like those who preceded them, meanwhile have themselves triumphed over the Beast and Satan by "the witness of their martyrdom" (12:11). God first tortures the Beast and his servants like he did with the initial woes by unleashing his plagues on the earth (ch. 15-16). This was to provide one last chance for repentance (16:10-11) but instead of repenting they cursed God. Then the ten kings and the Beast attack Babylon and destroy it (ch. 17-18; cf. the Nero redivivus myth that Nero would return with the armies of the East and destroy Rome once and for all), and then the ten kings go to Judea, to Armageddon, to make war against the Lamb and those with him (16:14-16) and they are wiped out by the Lamb. Everyone who possessed a mark of the Beast, no matter whether they were poor or rich, little or large, slave or free, were executed (ch. 19). The "Great Crowd" in heaven, all those who came out of the great tribulation on earth and testified for Jesus Christ, rejoices to the succession of victories (cf. 7:9-19, 19:1-5). Now that the full number of God's people has been assembled in heaven, and now that vengeance has been executed, the "Bride of Christ" is finally ready for her marriage to the Lamb and is dressed "in dazzling white linen" (cf. all the members of the Great Crowd who have been given white robes) (cf. 19:6-9). Then the souls of all the martyrs are brought back to life in the first resurrection (ch. 20) and rule with Christ for a thousand years.

    In short, the 144,000 and the innumerable "Great Crowd" are best regarded as the same group at different temporal and perceptive viewpoints. Let us review the three features which seem to distinguish the two groups in ch. 7: (1) The 144,000 is drawn from the twelve tribes of Israel, while the Great Crowd is drawn "from every nation and tribe and people and language". At first glance, this would seem to be a firm criterion for treating the two groups as discontinuous. But since the text appears to treat the Christian community with Israelite designations, one could simply conclude that the "144,000" emphasizes the "servants of God" as "true Israel" (as the "nation" with whom God has made a covenant, i.e. the New Covenant). This community, at the same time, is composed of people "from every nation and tribe and people and language". The views of Justin Martyr quoted earlier are quite relevant in this regard. He believed that the "house of Jacob", the Israel of God's promise, was being regathered together...all the dispersed tribes that had been scattered to "all the nations". But the gathering was in Christ and thus Israel included both pagans and Jews, "all nations ... gathering ourselves together at Jerusalem" alongside the "patriarchs and prophets" (Dialogue, 24:3, 80.1). (2) The 144,000 are specifically numbered whereas the Great Crowd is impossible for man to count. This also would seem to imply that two different groups are meant here. But again, we should notice from the text that the Seer does not actually see the 144,000...he only hears their enumeration and what God has determined the total number to be (bear in mind the numbers are symbolic as well). It is only when he turns to look, that he sees an innumerable "Great Crowd" in heaven. But the text also makes plain that this vision of the "Great Crowd" pertains to events much later than his audition of the 144,000. The 144,000 must all be sealed before the woes of the seven trumpets can begin (ch. 8-9), whereas the vision of the "Great Crowd" occurs after there is "victory" (cf. ch. 18-19). Note also that there were martyred souls in heaven before this (ch. 6), and they had to wait for the rest of the martyrs to join them, so the "Great Crowd" could well include not just the 144,000 on earth at the time of the woes but also those martyred before then. (3) The 144,000 are endangered on the earth and need protective sealing whereas the Great Crowd have already undergone a "great tribulation" and are described as receiving their reward in heaven. This is to be expected considering the temporal disparity between the audition of the 144,000 and the vision of the "Great Crowd". Chapter 7 would then approach the same group at different points in time: first when they are imperiled by the coming woes, and later after the great tribulation when they are in heaven.

    There are two other pieces of evidence that support the above picture. Bauckham and those after him have noted the following striking passage in Revelation:

    "I wept bitterly because there was nobody fit to open the scroll and read it, but one of the elders said to me, 'There is no need to cry, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed, and he will open the scroll and its seven seals'. Then I saw standing between the throne with its four animals and the circle of the elders, a Lamb that seemed to have been sacrificed, it had seven horns, and it had seven eyes.... The Lamb came forward to take the scroll from the right hand of the One sitting on the throne, and when he took it, the four animals prostrated themselves before him and ... they sang a new hymn, 'You are worthy to take the scroll and break the seals off it because you were sacrificed, and with your blood you bought men for God of every race, language, people, and nation, and made them a line of kings and priests, to serve our God and rule the world' " (Revelation 5:4-10).

    Like ch. 7, the Seer first reports an audition followed by a vision. That is to say, he hears the Lion of Judah described but when he turns and looks, what he actually sees is a Lamb that had been slain. This is similar to hearing about the 144,000 but seeing "an innumerable great multitude". Of course, the Lion of Judah and the Lamb are actually the same being, i.e. Christ. The similarities between this passage and ch. 7 run deeper. The "Lion" is "from the tribe of Judah" (ek tés phulés Iouda), almost exactly the wording in Revelation 7:5 (Judah heads the list of the twelve tribes enumerated). The epithets "Lion of Judah" and "Root of David" are also messianic titles (drawn from Genesis 49:9, Isaiah 11:1, 10) suggestive of a Davidic Messiah who establishes a restored Israel (cf. 4QFlor 1-3 i 12, 4QPatr Bless 3-4, 4QpIsa 3:15-22, 4Q285 7:1-4, Testament of Judah 24:4-6, 4 Ezra 11:36-46, 12:32, Targum of Isaiah 11:1, 10), and this comports well with the militaristic and Israel-focused language pertaining to the 144,000 in 7:1-8. Furthermore, the Lion of Judah has "triumphed", again a phrasing with militaristic connotations. The vision of the Lamb also has many points of contact with the vision of the Great Crowd in 7:9-19. The word "Lamb" is the descriptor of choice for Jesus in this latter passage, and the word expresses the sacrificial death of Jesus... just as the martyrs who came out of the great tribulation also die their own deaths. The description of the Lamb emphasizes the fact that "you were sacrificed" and that it is "with your blood" that men have been redeemed for God. The Lamb also has a strictly heavenly setting, "standing between the throne with its four animals and the circle of elders", just as the "Great Crowd" was described as "standing in front of the throne and in front of the Lamb" and near the "angels in a circle round the throne, surrounding the elders and the four animals" (7:9, 11). Since the Lion of Judah and the Lamb are the same being, and since they are introduced in similar ways and with similar language as the 144,000 and the "Great Crowd" in ch. 7, this makes it all the more plausible that 144,000 and the "Great Crowd" both refer to God's people from different points of view, emphasizing different aspects of their identity and role. Indeed, the people that the Lamb purchases for God (as described in 5:9-10) have traits of both the 144,000 and the "Great Crowd". Like the "Great Crowd", they are "of every race, language, people, and nation (cf. 7:9), but like the 144,000 they have been "bought" or "redeemed" from the earth by the blood of the Lamb (cf. 14:3-4), and are mentioned in relation to the "new hymn" sung in heaven. And they are like those of the "first resurrection" (20:6), who serve as "priests" and reign as "kings" with Christ.

    Finally, the notion of Israel or "the seed of Abraham" more specifically, already has internationality and innumerability built into it. This is due to the promise made by God to Abraham in Genesis:

    "I will make your descendants like the dust on the ground. When men succeed in counting the specks of dust on the ground, then they will be able to count your descendants....Look up to heaven and count the stars if you can. Such will be your descendants....I will make your descendants too many to be counted...I will make you father of a multitude of nations. I will make you most fruitful. I will make you into nations, and your issue shall be kings...I will make your descendants as many as the stars of heaven and the grains of sand on the seashore. Your descendants shall gain possession of the gates of their enemies. All the nations of the earth shall bless themselves by your descendants...Your descendants shall be like specks of dust on the ground; you shall spread to the west and the east, to the north and the south, and all the tribes of the earth shall bless themselves by you and your descendants....I will make you prosper, and make your descendants like the sand on the seashore, so many that it cannot be counted" (Genesis 13:16, 15:5, 16:10, 17:5-6, 22:17-18, 28:14, 32:12; cf. Jubilees 13:20, 14:4-5, Hebrews 11:12).

    Like the "Great Crowd", Abraham would be the father of "many nations" and "innumerable" numbers of descendants, and "all the nations of the earth" would receive blessings through his descendants. The promise of innumerability was believed to have been fulfilled in the Israelite nation, which is the reason why census-taking was frowned down upon. 1 Chronicles 27:23-24 states: "David took no census of those who were twenty years old and under, since Yahweh had promised to make Israel as numerous as the stars of heaven. Joab son of Zeruiah began a census, though he did not finish it. That is why the wrath came on Israel". In light of this OT tradition, it is striking that the vision of the innumerable "Great Crowd" in 7:9-19 of Revelation immediately follows a census of Israel! It is, of course, only a census that God himself takes through his angels; from the Seer's vantage point, the masses indeed seemed "innumerable". As for the ten tribes lost in the diaspora, Josephus refers to them as living east of the Euphrates and as being, in his own day, "countless myriads whose number cannot be ascertained" (Antiquities, 11.133). So like the "Great Crowd" of Revelation, the twelve tribes of Israel were also believed to have become "innumerable". The number 144,000 moreover is not literal but symbolic of the fullness of the remnant of Israel. In the NT, the promise made to Abraham is spiritualized to refer to those in the New Covenant, those in Christ:

    "I would willingly be condemned and be cut off from Christ if I can help my brothers of Israel, my own flesh and blood ... They are descended from the patriarchs and from their flesh and blood came Christ who is above all, God forever blessed. Amen! Does this mean that God failed to keep his promise? Of course not. Not all those who descend from Israel are Israel; not all descendants of Abraham are his true children. Remember, 'it is through Isaac that your name will be carried on', which means that it is not physical descent that decides who are the children of God; it is only the children of the promise who will count as the true descendants" (Romans 9:3-8).
    "If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed" (Galatians 3:29).

    Thus, those who are gathered into the Church, who confess Jesus as their Lord and testify to their faith in him, are all part of the "innumerable" descendants of Abraham. In this light, the census of the 144,000 and the innumerability of the "Great Crowd" both reflect two aspects of the nation of Israel: (1) its promised vast size (like the sands of the sea, or the stars of the sky), such that it should not ever be enumerated in a census, and (2) the fact that censuses were still taken of Israel for military purposes. And since Israel had been scattered to all nations, so will all nations be brought into Israel.


    The foregoing exploration of the literary conception surrounding the 144,000 and the "Great Crowd" in Revelation (drawing largely on recent critical analysis) shows just how distant the WTS conception is from what can be ascertained from the text itself. The 144,000 does not represent all "true" Christians who have ever lived but just those on earth at the final days who would be imperiled by the first set of woes sent by God's angels. The number is also likely not literal, but to be understood in light of the innumerable "Great Crowd". The Great Crowd, meanwhile, are not living survivors of Armageddon but are martyrs of the great tribulation that precedes the war of Armageddon. They join the dead martyrs already residing "underneath the altar" in heaven and both references to the "Great Crowd" places them either "in heaven" or "inside the sanctuary". All of this is almost the exact opposite of what the WTS claims. It is also not likely that the 144,000 and the "Great Crowd" are to be strictly distinguished from each other. All the people on earth who bear the "mark of God" on their foreheads are members of the 144,000 (so that God's agents would not harm those bearing the mark), whereas everyone who is a follower of the Beast has the "mark of the Beast" on their foreheads or hands, and everyone who refuses the mark is put to death. This doesn't leave much room for a third group on earth...a group of faithful Christians on earth who don't receive a "mark of God" (i.e. a group that is not part of the 144,000), or a group of faithful Christians who don't receive a "mark of the Beast" and survive the tribulation anyway, without dying. The binary, black-and-white scenario in Revelation would not allow for this. The two groups however are clearly distinguished in localized terms: (1) With respect to the specific woes sent by the angels in ch. 8-9, the group of Christians protected against them are the 144,000, and (2) With respect to the great tribulation which kills off the faithful Christians on earth who refuse to worship the Beast, the group of Christians that passes through the tribulation to their heavenly reward is the "Great Crowd". But for the most part, they appear to overlap. Of course, since there were already martyrs in heaven prior to the woes of ch. 8-9 (cf. 6:9-11), the number of the "Great Crowd" could well be larger than the 144,000 on earth at the time of the woes. However this is overly pedantic and unnecessary because the 144,000 number is figurative to begin with, as discussed earlier. It is meant to evoke that the number of saved Christians is a complete number, which looks backward to 6:9-11 with respect to the completion of the number of martyrs.

    The interpretation of Revelation is incredibly difficult and complex owing to the disparate and ecclectic origins of the symbols and motifs, which could be employed and adapted into a myriad of new ways. Because of this, the above analysis of the constellation of elements surrounding the 144,000 and the "Great Crowd" is necessarily conjectural. Nevertheless, having reviewed the history of tradition from pre-Christian Jewish sources to the early apologists, I am willing to offer my own ideas on how the author of Revelation shaped and reshaped these source traditions. The earliest stage is the notion that in the end times, Israel would be regathered into her original borders -- or a true remnant of Israel would be symbolically divided into twelve tribes -- and an army (= Great Crowd) of Gentiles would come to attack Israel in a final eschatological battle and be defeated. This is the point of view in the War Scroll and in 4 Ezra, and it draws on the OT traditions of Daniel 11-12 and Ezekiel 37-39 (which, curiously, the author of Revelation separately employs in 20:7-10 as a second battle of the end distinct from the battle of Armageddon). So at this point, the "Great Crowd" (still pregnant with militaristic connotations) is construed as an evil force, perhaps in collusion with the wicked violators of the covenant from Israel (cf. Daniel, the War Scroll). The second stage assumes a two-fold in-gathering of Israel and a gathering of pious Gentiles; this is the point of view in the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs and likely lay behind the original Jewish conception in Revelation 7. The third stage occurs within the Christian community, and construes regathering of Israel as the gathering of the Church, Gentiles and Jews alike. This conflates the two groups originally distinct in the source traditions. This is the stage attested by Justin Martyr and the author of Revelation. There is also a current of supercessionism at this stage, because non-Christian Jews are thus regarded as not really part of regathered Israel.

    Although this has been a very long read, I hope some will take the time to read and digest the analysis. Thus far I have not yet seen any decent analysis on ex-JW boards on who the 144,000 and the "Great Crowd" are on the merits of the text itself. Many, I am sure, don't care at all, because such beliefs have long been assigned to the dustbin of the mind (including, for some, the merits of biblical exegesis at all), and thus such a thread would welcome a "Who cares?" from a few. However, the "two hopes" doctrine is one of the most basic, important teachings of the is a primary basis for their control system, as they teach that the vast majority of JWs cannot approach Christ directly but through the mediation of their organization because they are not Christians under the New Covenant. Whether or not you care for the New Covenant, the system of control is something to care about. And since the "two hopes" notion, resting as it does on the interpretation of the 144,000 and the "Great Crowd" of Revelation, is a major justification for this control (as well as supplying another unique, seemingly Bible-based teaching that separates the JWs from other religions as teaching presumed "truth"), I believe that a thorough re-examination of how Revelation characterizes the 144,000 and the "Great Crowd" has been worth doing.

  • Leolaia

    Anyone read my post?

  • googlemagoogle

    i will... but tomorrow, it's just too long for now.

    i read all posts with leolaia as the author's name.

  • truthseeker

    I read your post Leolaia, rather quickly I might add as I am at work. A good summary.

    I have to ask this though, was there anytime throughout Jesus' ministry, where he held out the hope of living forever on earth? It seems the only hope at the time was to go to heaven. What if I don't want to go to heaven, but just want to stay a Christian?

  • Hellrider

    I read thru half, but now my brain overloads (I have to read the net bible on the side to look up what the bible references mean, cause I don`t know the Bible very well anymore, I forgot a lot of that stuff years ago). Excellent stuff, though! I think I`ve said it before, but I`ll say it again, you, sir, should write a book!

    Truthseeker, I don`t think so: "My Kingdom is not of this world" - would mean "not earthly"; I assume?

  • metatron

    Utterly brilliant.

    You well articulate the problem with this situation. Most folks who leave the organization have no further interest in the Bible,

    so they leave behind a complete mess of interpretation that Witnesses unquestioningly believe, with no alternative presented.

    If you've seen the new "What the Bible Really Teaches" book, it's clear that the Society is relying on this cloud of ignorance

    to advance their cultish interests.


  • Shania

    Thank You for all your hard work, I'll be printing it off to share with other Questioning friends.......

  • Ingenuous

    Leolaia - thank you for such an extensive and interesting post!

    Since exegesis is new to me, could I have your feedback on a few things?

    1) "In the second part of the diptych in ch. 7, the Seer witnesses a "huge multitude, impossible to number, of people from every nation, race, tribe and language" standing in heaven in front of the Throne and "in the sanctuary" (Revelation 7:9, 15). These are people, not angelic beings (as they are drawn from national, tribal, and language groups), and since they are in heaven these are likely either deceased individuals or living resurrected individuals (in the "first resurrection" of ch. 20). "

    Could you explain the difference between "deceased individuals" and "living resurrected individuals"? Would the latter be defined as those individuals (theoretically) taken to heaven in a "rapture"-like process?

    2) "This doesn't leave much room for a third group on earth...a group of faithful Christians on earth who don't receive a "mark of God" (i.e. a group that is not part of the 144,000), or a group of faithful Christians who don't receive a "mark of the Beast" and survive the tribulation anyway, without dying."

    The explanation of the relationship between the 144,000 and the "great crowd" makes a lot of sense and, as you said, wouldn't leave much (if any) room for the understanding that one is a heavenly group while the other is earthly. But, do chapters 20 and 21 leave open the possibility of a "third group on earth", namely, those resurrected and whose names were found in the "Book of Life"? (20:12,15) I'd be interested in your analysis of 20 & 21, especially since I'm confused by 20:3-9.

    I found your post quite eye-opening. It's amazing what you can learn when you don't have blinders on!

  • Honesty
    Anyone read my post? Yes, and with a lot of enthusiasm.

    The WT interpretation of the identity of the 144,000 and the 'Great Crowd' never made much sense until I left the cult and then I recognised it as a tool the Governing Body uses to maintain their control over the organisation. Within the last year I have been researching Revelation for a better understanding of the revealing of Jesus contained therein. Many of my notes on chapter 7 (15 pages) agree with yours regarding Revelation 7 Below are a few excerpts of some of the discoveries that are in harmony with other scriptures that refute WT doctrine:

    Rev 7:1-17 (HCSB)

    The Sealed of Israel

    1 After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, restraining the four winds of the earth so that no wind could blow on the earth or on the sea or on any tree.

    After this - After the devastation of Rev. 6

    four angels - God is still at work even during times of distress. The 4 corners of the earth are covered by His messengers.

    wind -

    Ps. 148:8 You tempestuous wind, accomplishing his word,

    Symbol of War:

    Jeremiah 49:36 And I will bring in upon E'lam the four winds from the four extremities of the heavens. And I will scatter them to all these winds

    Jeremiah 51:1 This is what Jehovah has said: “Here I am rousing up against Babylon and against the inhabitants of Leb-ka'mai a ruinous wind;

    2 Then I saw another angel rise up from the east, who had the seal of the living God. He cried out in a loud voice to the four angels who were empowered to harm the earth and the sea:

    east - Origin of light (Sun and light rise in the east). (Zondervan) Emphasizes mission of salvation

    3 “Don’t harm the earth or the sea or the trees until we seal the slaves of our God on their foreheads.”

    seal the slaves -

    Ezekiel 9:3-4 And Jehovah went on to say to him: “Pass through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and you must put a mark on the foreheads of the men that are sighing and groaning over all the detestable things that are being done in the midst of it.”

    Contrasts the mark of the Beast in Rev. 13:16 which represents beast worshippers and are the object of eternal wrath

    Given as a mark of identification and protection

    Early church seals were baptism and the Holy Spirit

    Sign that their actions are sanctified by God

    on their foreheads -

    Slaves usually had the seal of a slave owner's name on their shoulders or foreheads

    Characteristics of this Seal:

    Appointed by God

    Apparent to others

    Assigned as a distinguishing mark

    Applied to offer security

    4 And I heard the number of those who were sealed: 144,000 sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel:

    2 views as to their identity:

    1. Jews to be saved during the Great Tribulation Galatians 6:15-16 And all those who will walk orderly by this rule of conduct, upon them be peace and mercy, even upon the Israel of God.

    2. Those who become Christians during the Great Tribulation. In other words, the completed church.

    Galatians 3:28-29 Moreover, if YOU belong to Christ, YOU are really Abraham’s seed, heirs with reference to a promise.

    Romans 2:28-29 For he is not a Jew who is one on the outside, nor is circumcision that which is on the outside upon the flesh. 29 But he is a Jew who is one on the inside, and [his] circumcision is that of the heart by spirit, and not by a written code. The praise of that one comes, not from men, but from God.

    In any event these are true believers

    They are included in a greater crowd in Rev. 7:9 whose number is too great to count

    144,000 is not a limitation, it is a number of completeness

    12X12 is a perfect square

    multiplied by 1,000 adds inclusiveness

    Rev. 7:5-8

    5 12,000 sealed from the tribe of Judah,

    12,000 from the tribe of Reuben,

    12,000 from the tribe of Gad,

    6 12,000 from the tribe of Asher,

    12,000 from the tribe of Naphtali,

    12,000 from the tribe of Manasseh,

    7 12,000 from the tribe of Simeon,

    12,000 from the tribe of Levi,

    12,000 from the tribe of Issachar,

    8 12,000 from the tribe of Zebulun,

    12,000 from the tribe of Joseph,

    12,000 sealed from the tribe of Benjamin.

    Judah comes first - the tribe of the Messiah

    Dan and Ephraim omitted because they were connected to idolatry

    Judges 18:29-30 After that the sons of Dan stood up the carved image for themselves; and Jon'a·than the son of Ger'shom, Moses’ son, he and his sons became priests to the tribe of the Dan'ites until the day of the land’s being taken into exile

    Genesis 49:16-17 “Dan will judge his people as one of the tribes of Israel. 17 Let Dan prove to be a serpent by the roadside, a horned snake at the wayside, that bites the heels of the horse so that its rider falls backward.

    Hosea 4:17 E'phra·im is joined with idols. Let him be to himself!

    Barnes Notes on Rev. 7:1-8

    Danger is coming

    It is restrained by God's messengers

    A new influence has arisen

    God's true people are marked

    There is no favoritism

    A Multitude from the Great Tribulation

    9 After this I looked, and there was a vast multitude from every nation, tribe, people, and language, which no one could number, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were robed in white with palm branches in their hands.

    Barclay calls this a word of encouragement

    There is a better day coming

    Romans 8:18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is going to be revealed to us.

    from every nation, tribe, people, and language - Universality of the crowd

    no one could number -

    Gen 32:12 You have said, ‘I will cause you to prosper, and I will make your offspring like the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted.’

    H.B. Swete speaks of "the polygot cosmopolitan crowd who jostled one another in the agora or quays of the Asian sea-port towns. In any Asian harbor or market-place there would be gathered people from diverse lands, speaking many different tongues. Any evangelist would feel his heart afire to bring the message of Christ to this assorted crowd of people. Here is the promise that the day will come when all this motley crowd of many nations and many tongues will become the one flock of the Lord Jesus Christ.

    robed in white

    Stolas - long robes which contrast work clothes

    Signify justification (Tyndale)

    Color of:


    victory over the devil, the flesh and the world

    Contrasts with:

    Filthy rags: Isaiah 64:6 All of us have become like something unclean, and all our righteous acts are like a polluted garment; all of us wither like a leaf, and our iniquities carry us away like the wind.

    palm branches

    Used during the Feast of tabernacles for celebrating the ingathering of the harvested fruits

    Symbols of triumph and joy

  • BluesBrother

    178 of us have read it so far.. Like others I always turn to Leolaia's posts, and you do not fail to intrigue us.

    The book of Revelation is so open to interpretation, that who knows what was really intended?

    Reminds me of a ministry call on an old man once. He wanted ask a question. the question was "Who really are the fulfillment of the 'two witnesses left on the broad way? [ Rev 11] . That is not a question you hear very often.We answered as best we could, according to the J W teaching. But he was not convinced.

    I reasoned when we studied the Revelation book, that one only accepted it because we already believed that the F & D S were "Spirit directed" , so we believed whatever they said .

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