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Is the number "144,000" mentioned in Revelation 14:1-5 a literal number or a prophetic number representing a bigger multitude?

1 Then I looked, and there before me was the Lamb, standing on Mount Zion, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads. 2 And I heard a sound from heaven like the roar of rushing waters and like a loud peal of thunder. The sound I heard was like that of harpists playing their harps. 3 And they sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders. No one could learn the song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth. 4 These are those who did not defile themselves with women, for they remained virgins. They follow the Lamb wherever he goes. They were purchased from among mankind and offered as firstfruits to God and the Lamb. 5 No lie was found in their mouths; they are blameless. (NIV)

  • The only way, (I think), to keep this question from being "opinion-based" and to collect "opinions" - is to ask if there are any other Scriptural passages that use 144000, or explain it in some ways. Also, appealing to early Christian interpretations would be helpful too. Prophetic interpretations are usually always opinion-based. Also, to note, Revelation explicitly references numerology, and 360 is a factor of 144,000, 1260, etc. So - if anything it might be a word phrase, or the multiplicative "factors" might spell out a particular word. – elika kohen Aug 27 '17 at 21:17
  • Perhaps Related: Which forms of Numerology might have been used in Revelation?. In other words, 144,000 might actually be a reference to words too. – elika kohen Aug 27 '17 at 21:30
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    Well the answers given so far prove your point. It's all opinion based. – Peter Kirkpatrick Feb 18 '18 at 2:55
  • I wonder if there are any unambiguously literal numbers in the entire Bible. Even the apparently literal ones are given symbolic meaning (Mark 8:17-21). But certain numbers are a strong clue in themselves. 7 suggests completeness (probably through homophony), 40 is the symbolic length of a generation, 12 is the number of tribes. Doubles and squares are common ways of intensifying the significance. Matthew famously miscounts generations in his genealogy to get 14, 7x2, each time. Here it being 144, 12x12, is impossible to ignore even if it happens to also be literal (and who can say if it is?). – Luke Sawczak Dec 25 '18 at 15:35
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The other mention of 144,000 occurs in Chapter 7 (4-8), which refers specifically to members of each of the 12 tribes of Israel (12,000 per tribe):

Then I heard the number of those who were sealed: 144,000 from all the tribes of Israel. From the tribe of Judah 12,000 were sealed, from the tribe of Reuben 12,000, from the tribe of Gad 12,000, ...

This is definitely not what is referred to here, since - as you quote - the multitude listed were virgins (v.4). This was explained in the earliest complete commentary ever written on Revelation, by Andrew of Caesarea (563-637):

We believe that these, after the aforementioned twenty-four elders, are superior to the rest on account of both virginity [v.4] and blamelessness in tongue and hand [v.5], after the appearance of Christ possessing splendor in virtues through which they are taught the new song, the song which is unknown to the many, not only in the present life but also in the future age.1

The passage you quote may be an allusion to 2 Esdras 2:42-48:

I, Ezra, saw on Mount Zion a great multitude, which I could not number, and they all were praising the Lord with songs. In their midst was a young man of great stature, taller than any of the others, and on the head of each of them he placed a crown, but he was more exalted than they. And I was held spellbound. Then I asked an angel, “Who are these, my lord?” He answered and said to me, “These are they who have put off mortal clothing and have put on the immortal, and they have confessed the name of God; now they are being crowned, and receive palms.” Then I said to the angel, “Who is that young man who places crowns on them and puts palms in their hands?” He answered and said to me, “He is the Son of God, whom they confessed in the world.” So I began to praise those who had stood valiantly for the name of the Lord. Then the angel said to me, “Go, tell my people how great and many are the wonders of the Lord God which you have seen.”2

The number is almost certainly symbolic, though the precise meaning is not spelled out here as it is in 7:4. Regarding the meaning of the numbers, commentator Lawrence Farley writes:

As is usual in apocalyptic literature, the numbers here have symbolic significance. One thousand is the number of vast plurality. To say that God owns “the cattle on a thousand hills” (Ps. 50:10 [LXX]) is to say that He owns the cattle on all the hills. Further, twelve is the number that denotes completeness— such as in the twelve tribes of Israel, the twelve apostles.3

That the virgins follow the Lamb wherever he goes suggests that the passage refers to members of the Church:

1 Peter 2:21

For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.


1. Translated from the Greek in E. Constantinou, Andrew of Caesarea and the Apocalypse in the Ancient Church of the East (Ph.D. thesis, Université Laval, 2008).
2. RSV
3. The Apocalypse of Saint John: A Revelation of Love and Power

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The number is literal.

Contrast -Definite with Indefinite.

1/ We have at 7:4 a definite number in contrast with an indifined number at 7:9 If taken symbolically the contrast would be meaningless and lost, and John would have to rewrite his verse. Also if taken symbolically, then all numbers in the book of Revelation will have to be taken as symbolic.

Admittedly the book of Revelation has many symbolic numbers,however for example" the thousand years" in Revelation 20:3-7 is taken literally. So whether the number is taken symbolically or literally is determined by the context in the verses.

7:4 And I heard the number of those who were sealed, one hundred forty-four thousand, sealed out of every tribe of the people of Israel: (NRSV)

7:9 After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. (NRSV)

Little flock.

2/ In view of Jesus words at Luke 12:32 "little flock" (NRSV) that God will give them a Kingdom to rule him , indicates that the number is small, definite, unlike the great multitude where the number is not numbered.

Luke 12:32 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. (NRSV)

Israel of God.

3/ Natural Israel had twelve tribes ( and was rejected by God ) so does the "Israel of God" (Galatians 6:15-16), in Revelation 7:4 and 14:1-4 we read that 144.00 were redeemed from the earth.

Revelation 14:3 " And they sing a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and before the elders. No one could learn that song except the one hundred forty-four thousand who have been redeemed from the earth."(NRSV)

Conclusion;

We have the contrast of definite against indefinite number ,the number redeemed from the earth is 144.000 and Jesus words: Matthew 7:14 For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it. In context of the book of Revelation and elsewhere in the Bible the number must be taken literally.

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"Literal or prophetic?"

Surely it must be seen as prophetic, for the passage moves from one imagery to another - one aspect to another of the same thing; but seen in a different way.

Thus the passage itself would answer the question, for the 144,000 are the same as a multitude which no man can number.

But 144,000 can be numbered.

Thus it must be a number with a significant meaning and it must represent, in a way of instructive imagery, something about that numberless number.

  • “the passage moves from one imagery to another - one aspect to another of the same thing; but seen in a different way”. The angels knows how many hairs we have on our heads, although they appear “uncountable” to the physical eye. Thus, there are two different criteria involved here: God’s knowledge, on the one hand, and our eye-witness perception, on the other. – Constantthin yesterday
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It is a symbolic number. It represents the twelve apostles, 1 each for the tribes of Israel x the 1,000 symbol for fullness / completeness. 12x12 = 144 x 1,000 = 144,000 that were sealed for God.

Rev. 14:1,

"And I looked, and, lo, a Lamb stood on the mount Sion, and with him an hundred forty and four thousand, having his Father's name written in their foreheads." (KJV)

The Lamb = Christ. The 144,000 were the believers who were sealed for God in Rev. 7:4, the new Jewish converts to the gospel of Christ, the remnant of old Israel.

Excerpt from the Benson Commentary on Rev. 14:1,

"The same select number that was mentioned Revelation 7:4, the genuine followers of the twelve apostles, apostolically multiplied, and therefore the number of the church, as six hundred and sixty-six is the number of the beast; and as the followers of the beast have the name of the beast, so these have the name of God, and, as some copies add, of Christ, written in their foreheads — As being the redeemed of God and of the Lamb, his now unalienable property, and as having been, when on earth, his professed servants, and the same as the witnesses." Source: here

Those that were sealed in Chap. 7:4 were to be kept from harm.

  • If the text explicitly states that this is a reference to the 12 tribes, not the 12 disciples, then how did you conclude it was about the disciples and not the 12 tribes? Were the disciples each from a different tribe? I am not sure what your reference to the disciples means. – elika kohen Aug 27 '17 at 21:31
  • The representation of the believers in Christ of the remnant of Israel is the basis. The believers in Christ were led by the 12 apostles. It was the apostles who were teaching the gospel of Christ throughout the "earth" / land of Judea and the "world" of the Roman empire. So those "sealed" with the name of the Lamb's Father were the followers of Christ. That let's out the non-believing of the tribes of Israel. This is recognized by most commentators. – Gina Aug 28 '17 at 0:11
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Not sure why it would matter other than the fact that god does everything by number,weight and measure. They are the remnant chosen from the tribes of Israel who are judged worthy of ruling and reigning as 'priests' with Christ during his priesthood (he had 3 offices to fulfill before the end came) judging the tribes of Israel. They were martyrs for the faith, kept the commandments as Paul said, 'Some did not sin as Adam did.' Since reconciliation came in 70 AD and medaitors, priests, and third parties are not needed then we can safely say it occured before 70 AD destruction of the elements of the old covenant ceremonial worship and kingdom with it's temple and priesthood. There are no other TEACHERS needed since God and mankind were reconciled, making US the temple where God tabernacles. All these things pertaining to covenant eschatology occured in the old covenant timetable. If all prophesy wasnt fulfilled by 70 AD then by God's Word which identifies a false prophet, they were false prophets. Religion has lied to maintain their power and authority which Jesus forbid 2000 years ago. Matt 23:8-10. We have no TEACHER but JESUS, who is the spirit. 2 Cor 3:17. We can all learn from each other but there is no elevation of one over the other in the new creation, spiritual kingdom. There are 41,000 'sects' in Christianity which have caused division, elevation and confusion/babel. God is not the author of confusion. The 'church' is the same word used for the congragation/assembly of Israelites in the wilderness. They are god's people from all nations, all walks of life, all having the same access to the father without the need of middle men, 3rd parties, mediators, Teachers. 'Prove all things. Let God be true and every man a liar.'

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The number 144,000 occurs in Rev 7. Here is a counter-image: for in Judgment 6 the judicial action of God sets in, and afterwards the question arises, what happens to the people who confess to the Lamb? The eschatological people of God will escape the judicial action of God, they will be sealed. The supporters of the animal also carry a sign (another contrast image) - the bad guys and the good guys are showing signs. The good ones carry a sign of ownership that identifies them as the property of God, which also means that they are under the protection of God. It can also be seen as an Old Testament image (see Ez 9), which has mingled with contemporary influences. There are no foreign images used, but those that are known. If you want to communicate, you have to speak the language of your time. Without a doubt: this group will be spared in the final court and will not burn in the lake of fire.

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Re The question asked "Is the number 144000 mentioned in REVELATION 14:1 a literal number or a prophetic number. Answer "And I looked, and ,lo, a LAMB (this lamb represents Jesus) stood on the mount Sion (Zion).Note that Mount Zion speaks of the place of the government of our Lord, ( worth a "bo peep" MICAH chapter 4 verses 1-4) Note the verse 2 re "Zion" and the 144000 signifies in Bible Numerics perfect government - 12 x 12 x 1000.A super government under the leadership of the Lord Jesus Christ.

This 144000 (a symbolic number) represents the overcomers,the saints who will eventually return with the Lord.Note: These have the Father's name written in their foreheads. That is they have the Father's approval as they have been faithful to the TRUE FAITH.John 14 verses 21 and 23. This portion of scripture is virtually preview of the destiny of the overcomers.

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In the genesis account God made heaven and earth in 6 days which total 144 hours but this is but one thing showing that God himself is a many membered body of 144 persons in which the electrons revolve around the nucleus of atoms in the flesh at 1000 times per second or 1000 electron years while they are in temporal reality thus they shall rule and reign with christ for a thousand years. New Jerusalem's walls (salvation) is measured (experienced) to be 144 cubit [lively] stones paved with gold [gold represents divinity].

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