The “144,000” of Revelation 7 are NOT those who come out of the great tribulation. It’s easy to make errors while reading the Bible, and this one’s a common one. Fortunately, however, this one is easily demonstrated and put away. Here’s the text; look for the word “AFTER” in red below (vs 9).
Revelation 7:After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth, that no wind might blow on earth or sea or against any tree. 2 Then I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun, with the seal of the living God, and he called with a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm earth and sea, 3 saying, “Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have sealed the servants[a] of our God on their foreheads.” 4 And I heard the number of the sealed, 144,000, sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel:
12,000 from the tribe of Judah were sealed,
12,000 from the tribe of Reuben,
12,000 from the tribe of Gad,612,000 from the tribe of Asher,12,000 from the tribe of Naphtali,12,000 from the tribe of Manasseh,712,000 from the tribe of Simeon,12,000 from the tribe of Levi,12,000 from the tribe of Issachar,812,000 from the tribe of Zebulun,12,000 from the tribe of Joseph,12,000 from the tribe of Benjamin were sealed.A Great Multitude from Every Nation
9 After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” 11 And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”
13 Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” 14 I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
Two groups are envisioned here. The first we are specifically told are “from every tribe of the sons of Israel”. This vision is shown, and it was specified to John that these Jews had been assembled “from every nation” (vs 8). This does not mean that they were gentiles. No, they were faithful Jews whose ancestors had been deliberately scattered across the Earth in previous generations by Yahweh, for the exact purpose of spreading the fame of Jesus’ coming and re-coming to the Earth. At some point in time (you’ll have to figure out when), they were to be sealed, apparently at such a time as they had totaled to some “full number”.
For whatever reason (you figure it out), God wanted John to see a vision of this group first. Then, after John saw that vision, he saw another—a greater multitude that had come out of the tribulation. This passage, therefore, has two visions, and not just one. That’s the common and simple error under which so many erroneously operate.
Thus does John in his visions of those eternally approved by Christ see the Jew first, and then the gentile. Now, regarding the location of each group, the location of the Jews is not given, but the gentiles are specifically said to be standing before God’s throne in heaven. Further, the first group is numbered (whether you think the numbers are figurative or literal), but the second group was said to be innumerable.
The 144,000 are shown again later, this time with Christ at his arrival on Mt. Zion. There they are identified as those “redeemed from mankind as firstfruits for God and the Lamb. This is very important. Here’s the text.
Revelation 14:Then I looked, and behold, on Mount Zion stood the Lamb, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads. 2 And I heard a voice from heaven like the roar of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder. The voice I heard was like the sound of harpists playing on their harps, 3 and they were singing a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and before the elders. No one could learn that song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth. 4 It is these who have not defiled themselves with women, for they are virgins. It is these who follow the Lamb wherever he goes. These have been redeemed from mankind as firstfruits for God and the Lamb, 5 and in their mouth no lie was found, for they are blameless.
Though it would have been nice to have this “firstfruits” information in Revelation 7, we do get it here. And this does not present a huge problem for us if we are indeed the diligent sort who will go search out the entirety of a topic in the scriptures before drawing adamant conclusions about it. And on that note, it’s important to note, however, that in no place are we told that those coming out of the great tribulation—John’s second envisioned group—were “firstfruits”. No, only the 144,000 were firstfruits. This means they had to come first. Indeed, if they were going to return with Christ in 70AD, they had to be resurrected from Sheol/Hades before the great tribulation, which began in 66AD. So, when was that resurrection? Is there any mass resurrection on record before 70AD? I’ll get to that shortly, after I set up another fact for your consideration.
The identity of this group causes a real problem for many Preterists as they see no opportunity for so many to have been taken out of the world in order to come back to the Earth with Christ at his return. And to be specific, John tells us two specific things about this group’s redemption. He says that they were both “redeemed from the Earth” (14:3) and “redeemed from mankind” (14:4). As to the latter, to be redeemed “from mankind,” if taken at face value, is to be taken away from the the place where mankind generally resides. In my view, this is more likely a reference to being removed from the planet, than to being removed to some remote location on the planet. And as to the former, being redeemed “from the Earth,” this might seem to back up the idea of them having been removed from the Planet, but I suspect it may be a reference to them having been redeemed from inside the Earth–from the underworld. (I’ll post another article to support the opinions expressed in this paragraph, as time allows.) I think that these people were redeemed “from the Earth” (that is, from the underworld) here:
Matthew 27:50 And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit. 51 And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. 52 The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, 53 and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many.
This would have been the event at which they were “redeemed from the Earth”. And although it is not mentioned in Acts 1, I believe that they ascended to Heaven with Jesus at that time, which was the event of their being “redeemed from mankind”. These two events, roughly forty days apart, may be generally understood as the “First Resurrection” of Revelation 20:4-6. Here is the commonly mistranslated passage with the keyword highlighted in red.
Revelation 20:4 Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. 5 The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. 6 Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years. (ESV)
Many people misunderstand both the nature of this First Resurrection and the identity of those so raised because nearly half the translations of that latter passage make it appear as if only martyrs are in view, and not the “whole house of Israel”. This, too, is a simple problem (getting the translation of Revelation 20:4 right), yet so few seem to go to the trouble to look it up and nail it down. Indeed, I’ve even seen people who have looked it up and seen that not only the martyrs were in view, and still go off and say that only the martyrs were in view. For some reason, it is very hard to keep some folks on the straight and narrow, even after demonstrating the facts to them. (For more on the proper translation and interpretation of this passage, read this post.)
Regardless, that important “and” is missing from about half the translations, giving the wrong impression that only the martyrs were in view. See it for yourself here.
These 144,000 were the faithful from Abraham’s seed. They were not only to reign with Christ during the time of Satan’s imprisonment, but they were to return with him at his second coming, which was to happen at the end of the great tribulation.
Enoch, expressing the fullness of their number by different math from John’s, has them coming back with Christ, too:
1 Enoch 1:9. And behold! He cometh with ten thousands of ⌈His⌉ holy ones To execute judgment upon all, And to destroy ⌈all⌉ the ungodly:And to convict all flesh Of all the works ⌈of their ungodliness⌉ which they have ungodly committed, And of all the hard things which ungodly sinners ⌈have spoken⌉ against Him.
And we need not worry at this juncture over whether 1 Enoch is inspired, for Jude attests to the authority of this very passage by quoting it verbatim. (Jude 14-15)
Now, let us be careful to notice that at this coming in judgment, some they would “destroy” and others they would only “convict”. This is a very important distinction, because a great many believers have a model of the second coming that has the Christians being taken off to heaven and the rest of mankind totally destroyed. They don’t have a model in which “all flesh” would become merely convicted, yet that is exactly what is prophesied here. And this model, I note, does not seem to rule out a Second Coming (70AD) in which the greater population of the Earth is allowed to survive here.
Secondly, we need to be careful in identifying the “ungodly” in Enoch’s language, for if we are hasty, we will take it as a reference to any human who is not righteous. If this were the case, however, who would be left (undestroyed) to be “convicted”? Indeed, the righteous would not be freshly convicted by this coming in judgment, for they had previously been under conviction in order to be converted to Christ in the first place. No, the “ungodly” here is not a reference to humans, as we might assume, but a reference to the angel-types who had sinned. His “all flesh” refers to humankind, which is obviously a different group from the angels.
And that brings us to my model for the return and judgment at 70AD. It was primarily a judgment against the fallen angels, as per the sentence pronounced in Psalm 82. It was also a judgment against those in Israel who had been unfaithful as God’s chosen people, and had gone over to Satan. The faithful among the Jews (who had previously died), were going to be raised in 30AD (with Jesus) and would come back with Jesus for that Judgment.
In the vision of this return and battle in Revelation 19, these 144,000 appear (probably with other angels) as “the armies of heaven”. Please read this passage carefully:
Revelation 19:14 And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. 15 From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron.
These “nations” striken down are not to be understood as the peoples themselves (for Jesus did not strike down any culture on Earth in 70AD other than that of Israel) Rather, each country was known by the gods (the lesser elohim) that that had been appointed by Yaweh to rule over it. These were the ones who were to be struck down. And that’s what Jesus did at his return; he changed the world order by removing those unjust “shepherds”, so as to become the only and eternal shepherd—to which all the people of the Earth could gather if they please.