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Revelation 14:4 (KJV)

4 These are they which were not defiled with women; for they are virgins. These are they which follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth.

Nestle GNT 1904

οὗτοί εἰσιν οἳ μετὰ γυναικῶν οὐκ ἐμολύνθησαν· παρθένοι γάρ εἰσιν. οὗτοι οἱ ἀκολουθοῦντες τῷ Ἀρνίῳ ὅπου ἂν ὑπάγῃ· οὗτοι ἠγοράσθησαν ἀπὸ τῶν ἀνθρώπων ἀπαρχὴ τῷ Θεῷ καὶ τῷ Ἀρνίῳ,

The virgins mentioned in the above text, are they literal or metaphorical?

  • @OzzieNicolas Please don't use the comment section to answer questions. If you have answer content develop it into an answer and post it where the system is designed to work with answers: answer posts. Comments should be reserved for suggestions for improvement or requests for clarification on posts. – Caleb Jun 16 '19 at 6:28
  • Caleb: appreciate your positive comment, it helps me. Tell me, however where did I do this. – Ozzie Nicolas Jun 16 '19 at 6:33
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Revelation 1:5 (DRB)

1 And I beheld, and lo a lamb stood upon mount Sion, and with him an hundred forty-four thousand, having his name, and the name of his Father, written on their foreheads. 2 And I heard a voice from heaven, as the noise of many waters, and as the voice of great thunder; and the voice which I heard, was as the voice of harpers, harping on their harps. 3 And they sung as it were a new canticle, before the throne, and before the four living creatures, and the ancients; and no man could say the canticle, but those hundred forty-four thousand, who were purchased from the earth.These are they who were not defiled with women: for they are virgins. These follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth. These were purchased from among men, the firstfruits to God and to the Lamb: 5 And in their mouth there was found no lie; for they are without spot before the throne of God.

While "who were not defiled with women" precludes a purely metaphorical meaning, the proper understanding, I think, is that which takes into account the objective and ideal kind of Christian 21:27 by whom the whole of the redeemed are here called; so that whereas some of the redeemed falter, the redeemed as a whole are nonetheless called by the term 'saints' and 'virgins' for the reason that it is their calling to be such.1 Pt 1:15; Heb 12:14; 2 Pt 1:10-11

There is also the fact that the saints, or, the redemmed who end up in heaven, it is true, were not defiled (where "were defiled" implies a finality, or describes the end of the damned in contradistinction to the saints triumphant) 2:10 by women unto damnation.

Being carried away by the world is typified here by the example of giving in to the lusts of the flesh, and going after women. This leads to death.Rom 8:13 The elect, by contrast, have not given into such, but are typified rather by following the Lamb, Jesus Christ, wherever He goes.Jn 10:27 And have become victorious.Jude 1:12 That is,

"And in their mouth there was found no lie; for they are without spot before the throne of God." cf. Eph 5:27; Jude 1:24

In other words, they should be taken literally, as describing the elect, who by definition, were destined not by compulsion but by foreknowledge and the plan of God as a whole, to inherit salvation, where 'virgin,' 'blameless' and 'followers of Christ,' describes the kinds of people who are true Christians, in an objective sense.Eph 1:4

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    Any question or answer on this subject needs to be very precise and careful about definitions. In the last paragraph of your answer you conclude the term is "literal". And yet, based on any definition of literal/metaphorical that makes sense to me, you have argued persuasively for a metaphorical meaning. (You're not arguing that the elect are actual virgins; you're arguing that the elect are pure in the same way that a virgin may be considered pure. That's the classic example of metaphor.) – Peter Kirkpatrick Dec 13 '17 at 3:13
  • "precludes a purely metaphorical meaning" is to recognize that there is a metaphorical meaning. All I want to recognize is that a metaphor isn't usually this explicit; or, if it were a metaphor, the phrase added "were not defiled by women" would seem to be redundant as part of said metaphor. I favor the taking of them literally; that it applies them to the entire elect by way of generalization, that is, these are the kinds of people who make it to heaven: those who don't lie, those who don't indulge their lusts etc. Such a generalization could well be called a metaphor in this case. – Sola Gratia Dec 13 '17 at 11:05
  • It could also include priests, who are literally virgins/celibate, and of which there are many. – Sola Gratia Dec 13 '17 at 11:06
  • Your argument seems to be "I wouldn't have written the metaphor in that style, therefore it's not a metaphor." I don't see how you can say it's literal and metaphorical at the same time. – Peter Kirkpatrick Dec 14 '17 at 7:27
  • I'm specifically not saying that. Perhaps 'metaphor' is not strictly the right word. Perhaps 'generalization' is better. My answer takes the position that it is a literal 'virgins' applied as a generalization to the objective elect. Just as all are called generally in the NT 'saints,' while they differ in their sanctitty. I cited the redundancy of specifics in metaphor to militate against an exclusively metaphorical understanding. 'Be pure of heart; clean all the dirt off it so that it looks shiny' starts quickly to look less and less metaphorical. So does 'virgins' because 'no sex with women' – Sola Gratia Dec 14 '17 at 14:30
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It is metaphorical. The setting is the marriage to the Lamb, those that follow Christ. The opposite would be those that do not follow Christ, and therefore follow after "idols". Many times Israel had fallen away from God to worship idols, and were charged with being adulterous and whores. That is the opposite of a virgin bride.

See the answers to a previous question on this site here.

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It's clearly metaphor.

This question is important because it has a wider significance than this specific verse. Almost every sentence in Revelation has language which raises the same question. How do we read particular words? Literal or metaphorical?

First, it's important to lay down some definitions. Other answers to this question have concluded that "virgins" is literal, but they have given reasons which I consider make the word metaphorical. We are bound to reach different answers if we start with different assumptions and definitions.

So what makes a word literal or metaphorical? Let's consider an example:

  1. "The tramper found it difficult to keep his balance as he forded the stony river bed."

  2. "During the job interview the young woman felt intimidated by the stony glares of the men in the appointment panel."

Now in sentence 1, 'stony' is literal; in sentence 2 it is metaphorical. Note that the difference is not found in the meaning of the word. Stony means having the qualities of a stone, and that basic idea is evident in both sentences. Rather the difference is in the application of the word. What thing is being described as stony? In sentence 1 the river bed is stony. It is a reasonable deduction that this is because stones are involved. A stony stream has stones; a sandy stream has sand; a mossy stream has moss. The literal meaning is thus the most obvious and direct meaning. Suppose we compiled a list of things that are stony. Surely a stone will head the list. Can there be anything in the whole world more stony than a stone?

On the other hand, stony in sentence 2 is applied to a person's glare. Here we have an example of metaphor, because "stony" refers to something other than a stone. The writer describes the glare as stony; the glare thus has some of the same features as a stone. Perhaps it is hard ("hard" used this way is itself a metaphor). Perhaps it a fixed stare. Perhaps the hardness suggests opposition. These are all possible interpretations of the metaphor, because an undefined metaphor is to some extent open. We know that an analogy is intended by the writer; we don't know, other than by common sense interpretation, the precise scope or focus of the analogy.

Now let's apply these ideas to the OP. The question is whether "virgin" is literal or metaphorical. Suppose we take the text as literal. We would then be reading "virgin" as a person who has never had sex. That is the raw, primary, natural, literal meaning of the word. Or we might take the text as metaphorical. Then we are drawing an analogy between followers of Jesus and virgins. The scope of the analogy is open to interpretation, but the most obvious link is purity. A disciple is pure as a virgin is pure. That also explains why there is an additional sentence. "They are not defiled with women" is included to assist with the interpretation of the metaphor. It doesn't turn a metaphorical meaning into a literal meaning. It helps us know what scope of meaning the author intended by his metaphor. It's aim is precision or clarification.

In the same way, the context of the whole paragraph will influence the reading of particular words. Whatever the meaning of "virgins", it describes the 144,000. So our interpretation of that number will influence our reading of other phrases. If the 144,000 is a precise counted number of people, that might be a reason for reading "virgin" literally. Conversely, if the 144,000 is symbolic of all the (countless) disciples of the Lamb, then other elements of the description (virgins; name on the forehead) will probably also be metaphor. Personally, I find it hard to read the paragraph taken as a whole in any way other than symbolism and metaphor.

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For those who understand there will be more souls in heaven than 144,000, these are "literal virgins" -- just like Jesus.

1And 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. 2And I heard a voice from heaven, as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of a great thunder: and I heard the voice of harpers harping with their harps: 3And they sung as it were a new song before the throne, and before the four beasts, and the elders: and no man could learn that song but the hundred and forty and four thousand, which were redeemed from the earth. 4These are they which were not defiled with women; for they are virgins. These are they which follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth. These were redeemed from among men, being the firstfruits unto God and to the Lamb. 5 And in their mouth was found no guile: for they are without fault before the throne of God.
-- Revelation 14:1-5 (KJV)

These men were first mentioned by John in Revelation 7, where he identified them as being from "all the tribes of the children of Israel" (Revelation 7:4). But, clearly, they are not the sum total of all who will be redeemed because immediately following their identification as children of the tribes of Israel, John also says:

9After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands; 10And cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb.
-- Revelation 7:9-10 (KJV)

Peter and the other apostles with wives will have their white robes, and they will sit upon thrones judging the nations, but they are not of the 144,000 -- they are not virgins.

The 144,000 are all male descendants of the tribes of Israel that have been called out by Jesus for special service. It is unlikely they appeared at any one time on the earth, but rather were deployed at various times and places, being the first-fruits of the Gospel in new places and at new times -- exceptional souls necessary to keep humanity familiar with the reality of the Christ, and to keep his Gospel alive and growing.

They are the stem cells of the body of Christ.

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I believe the women of Revelation 14:4, are symbolic.

In a similar way to the woman that gives birth to the male child is symbolic of the one God used and approved to provide the male child, through His holy and pure arrangement, could be contrasted with the great harlot of Babylon the Great, all that is disgusting in the way of worship that is against God, idolatrous harlotry, deceitful; I believe those of the elect, those invited to be united as the Bride of Christ, those chosen from the nations, and bought by means of the blood of Christ, these ones remain unattached to 'women', religions, corrupted, defiled by men/women who promote the traditions of men rather than the truth of the Word of God.

Instead, the elect of God, give complete allegiance to the following of Christ and all he taught and keep him as their foundation, their guidance, their leader and of significance, their mediator.

For the elect to hesitate and drift away to the seized authority of men (or women) claiming to serve God and Christ, but who promote and pursue ideas and practices unsupported by Christs teachings, I believe, would be akin to their allowing themselves (the elect, the 144,000) to be 'defiled by women', by false religion, followers of humans.

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Are the “virgins” (παρθένοι) in Revelation 14:4 literally “virgins” or is it a metaphor?

Revelation 14:4-5 (KJV)

4 "These are they which were not defiled with women; for they are virgins. These are they which follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth. These were redeemed from among men, being the firstfruits unto God and to the Lamb. 5 And in their mouth was found no guile: for they are without fault before the throne of God."

The virgins mentioned in the above text, are they literal or metaphorical?

In short to you answer it is "Metaphorical."

John in referring to those redeemed from among mankind as "virgins", does not necessarily mean that those redeemed are unmarried in the flesh. Besides Apostle Peter , many others of those redeemed /virgins were married, Paul wrote:

1 Corinthians 9:5 (NET Bible)

5 "Do we not have the right to the company of a believing wife, like the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Cephas?

Cornelius the first gentile and his family were of the redeemed class, were married ,others mentioned are Aquila and his wife Priscila. (Romans 16: 3-4)

Acts 10:24, 44,45 (NASB)

24 "On the following day he entered Caesarea. Now Cornelius was waiting for them and had called together his relatives and close friends.44 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the [a]message. 45 All the [b]circumcised believers who came with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also."

Those of the redeemed class and Joint heirs with Christ could be male and female.

Galatians 3:28 (NASB)

28 "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus."

Those of the redeemed class are "spiritual virgins" because they have avoided spiritual adultery with the world of politics, false religions, heresies and have completely rid themselves of any emotional attachment to the wicked world, that is alienated from God.

James 4:4 (NASB)

4 "You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God."

Women.

"These are they which were not defiled with women. The "women" is symbolic and refers to false religions, designated as Babylon the Great.

Revelation 17:5 (AMP)

5 "And on her forehead a name was written, a mystery: “BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF PROSTITUTES (false religions, heresies) AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.”

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The virgins mentioned in the above text, are they literal or metaphorical?

It means they are virgins in the religious sense...did not go after false gods.

Same concept here:

2Co 11:2  For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. 

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Updated Answer (see original answer below)

The reference to "virgins" is an allusion to the elect remnant of the northern kingdom, that is, of the lost sheep of the house of Israel. These are the elect remnant of the northern kingdom and the elect remnant of the southern kingdom "fused" into one stick aka the 144,000 and "little flock". These were the bones in the valley of dry bones that were resurrected on Pentecost.

[Eze 37:1-28 ASV] (1) The hand of Jehovah was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of Jehovah, and set me down in the midst of the valley; and it was full of bones. (2) And he caused me to pass by them round about: and, behold, there were very many in the open valley; and, lo, they were very dry. (3) And he said unto me, Son of man, can these bones live? And I answered, O Lord Jehovah, thou knowest. (4) Again he said unto me, Prophesy over these bones, and say unto them, O ye dry bones, hear the word of Jehovah. (5) Thus saith the Lord Jehovah unto these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live. (6) And I will lay sinews upon you, and will bring up flesh upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and ye shall live; and ye shall know that I am Jehovah. (7) So I prophesied as I was commanded: and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and, behold, an earthquake; and the bones came together, bone to its bone. (8) And I beheld, and, lo, there were sinews upon them, and flesh came up, and skin covered them above; but there was no breath in them. (9) Then said he unto me, Prophesy unto the wind, prophesy, son of man, and say to the wind, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live. (10) So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood up upon their feet, an exceeding great army. (11) Then he said unto me, Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel: behold, they say, Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are clean cut off. (12) Therefore prophesy, and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah: Behold, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, O my people; and I will bring you into the land of Israel. (13) And ye shall know that I am Jehovah, when I have opened your graves, and caused you to come up out of your graves, O my people. (14) And I will put my Spirit in you, and ye shall live, and I will place you in your own land: and ye shall know that I, Jehovah, have spoken it and performed it, saith Jehovah. (15) The word of Jehovah came again unto me, saying, (16) And thou, son of man, take thee one stick, and write upon it, For Judah, and for the children of Israel his companions: then take another stick, and write upon it, For Joseph, the stick of Ephraim, and for all the house of Israel his companions: (17) and join them for thee one to another into one stick, that they may become one in thy hand. (18) And when the children of thy people shall speak unto thee, saying, Wilt thou not show us what thou meanest by these? (19) say unto them, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah: Behold, I will take the stick of Joseph, which is in the hand of Ephraim, and the tribes of Israel his companions; and I will put them with it, even with the stick of Judah, and make them one stick, and they shall be one in my hand. (20) And the sticks whereon thou writest shall be in thy hand before their eyes. (21) And say unto them, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah: Behold, I will take the children of Israel from among the nations, whither they are gone, and will gather them on every side, and bring them into their own land: (22) and I will make them one nation in the land, upon the mountains of Israel; and one king shall be king to them all; and they shall be no more two nations, neither shall they be divided into two kingdoms any more at all; (23) neither shall they defile themselves any more with their idols, nor with their detestable things, nor with any of their transgressions; but I will save them out of all their dwelling-places, wherein they have sinned, and will cleanse them: so shall they be my people, and I will be their God. (24) And my servant David shall be king over them; and they all shall have one shepherd: they shall also walk in mine ordinances, and observe my statutes, and do them. (25) And they shall dwell in the land that I have given unto Jacob my servant, wherein your fathers dwelt; and they shall dwell therein, they, and their children, and their children's children, for ever: and David my servant shall be their prince for ever. (26) Moreover I will make a covenant of peace with them; it shall be an everlasting covenant with them; and I will place them, and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary in the midst of them for evermore. (27) My tabernacle also shall be with them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. (28) And the nations shall know that I am Jehovah that sanctifieth Israel, when my sanctuary shall be in the midst of them for evermore.

[Jer 31:1-40 ASV] (1) At that time, saith Jehovah, will I be the God of all the families [IE: "tribes"] of Israel, and they shall be my people. (2) Thus saith Jehovah, The people that were left of the sword found favor in the wilderness; even Israel, when I went to cause him to rest. (3) Jehovah appeared of old unto me, saying, Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee. (4) Again will I build thee, and thou shalt be built, O virgin of Israel: again shalt thou be adorned with thy tabrets, and shalt go forth in the dances of them that make merry. (5) Again shalt thou plant vineyards upon the mountains of Samaria; the planters shall plant, and shall enjoy the fruit thereof. (6) For there shall be a day, that the watchmen upon the hills of Ephraim shall cry, Arise ye, and let us go up to Zion unto Jehovah our God. (7) For thus saith Jehovah, Sing with gladness for Jacob, and shout for the chief of the nations: publish ye, praise ye, and say, O Jehovah, save thy people, the remnant of Israel. (8) Behold, I will bring them from the north country, and gather them from the uttermost parts of the earth, and with them the blind and the lame, the woman with child and her that travaileth with child together: a great company shall they return hither. (9) They shall come with weeping; and with supplications will I lead them: I will cause them to walk by rivers of waters, in a straight way wherein they shall not stumble; for I am a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my first-born. (10) Hear the word of Jehovah, O ye nations, and declare it in the isles afar off; and say, He that scattered Israel will gather him, and keep him, as a shepherd doth his flock. (11) For Jehovah hath ransomed Jacob, and redeemed him from the hand of him that was stronger than he. (12) And they shall come and sing in the height of Zion, and shall flow unto the goodness of Jehovah, to the grain, and to the new wine, and to the oil, and to the young of the flock and of the herd: and their soul shall be as a watered garden; and they shall not sorrow any more at all. (13) Then shall the virgin rejoice in the dance, and the young men and the old together; for I will turn their mourning into joy, and will comfort them, and make them rejoice from their sorrow. (14) And I will satiate the soul of the priests with fatness, and my people shall be satisfied with my goodness, saith Jehovah. (15) Thus saith Jehovah: A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation, and bitter weeping, Rachel weeping for her children; she refuseth to be comforted for her children, because they are not. (16) Thus saith Jehovah: Refrain thy voice from weeping, and thine eyes from tears; for thy work shall be rewarded, saith Jehovah; and they shall come again from the land of the enemy. (17) And there is hope for thy latter end, saith Jehovah; and thy children shall come again to their own border. (18) I have surely heard Ephraim bemoaning himself thus, Thou hast chastised me, and I was chastised, as a calf unaccustomed to the yoke: turn thou me, and I shall be turned; for thou art Jehovah my God. (19) Surely after that I was turned, I repented; and after that I was instructed, I smote upon my thigh: I was ashamed, yea, even confounded, because I did bear the reproach of my youth. (20) Is Ephraim my dear son? is he a darling child? for as often as I speak against him, I do earnestly remember him still: therefore my heart yearneth for him; I will surely have mercy upon him, saith Jehovah. (21) Set thee up waymarks, make thee guide-posts; set thy heart toward the highway, even the way by which thou wentest: turn again, O virgin of Israel, turn again to these thy cities. (22) How long wilt thou go hither and thither, O thou backsliding daughter? for Jehovah hath created a new thing in the earth: a woman shall encompass a man. (23) Thus saith Jehovah of hosts, the God of Israel, Yet again shall they use this speech in the land of Judah and in the cities thereof, when I shall bring again their captivity: Jehovah bless thee, O habitation of righteousness, O mountain of holiness. (24) And Judah and all the cities thereof shall dwell therein together, the husbandmen, and they that go about with flocks. (25) For I have satiated the weary soul, and every sorrowful soul have I replenished. (26) Upon this I awaked, and beheld; and my sleep was sweet unto me. (27) Behold, the days come, saith Jehovah, that I will sow the house of Israel and the house of Judah with the seed of man, and with the seed of beast. (28) And it shall come to pass that, like as I have watched over them to pluck up and to break down and to overthrow and to destroy and to afflict, so will I watch over them to build and to plant, saith Jehovah. (29) In those days they shall say no more, The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge. (30) But every one shall die for his own iniquity: every man that eateth the sour grapes, his teeth shall be set on edge. (31) Behold, the days come, saith Jehovah, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: (32) not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was a husband unto them, saith Jehovah. (33) But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith Jehovah: I will put my law in their inward parts, and in their heart will I write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. (34) And they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know Jehovah; for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith Jehovah: for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin will I remember no more. (35) Thus saith Jehovah, who giveth the sun for a light by day, and the ordinances of the moon and of the stars for a light by night, who stirreth up the sea, so that the waves thereof roar; Jehovah of hosts is his name: (36) If these ordinances depart from before me, saith Jehovah, then the seed of Israel also shall cease from being a nation before me for ever. (37) Thus saith Jehovah: If heaven above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth searched out beneath, then will I also cast off all the seed of Israel for all that they have done, saith Jehovah. (38) Behold, the days come, saith Jehovah, that the city shall be built to Jehovah from the tower of Hananel unto the gate of the corner. (39) And the measuring line shall go out further straight onward unto the hill Gareb, and shall turn about unto Goah. (40) And the whole valley of the dead bodies and of the ashes, and all the fields unto the brook Kidron, unto the corner of the horse gate toward the east, shall be holy unto Jehovah; it shall not be plucked up, nor thrown down any more for ever.

Original Answer

I understand the word "virgins" to be metonymy for avoidance of all vices. That is, these "virgins" had self control and they were never of the lawless, idolatrous gentiles.

It is difficult to speak with much authority about the cryptic imagery of Revelation but speaking speculatively I would say that the 144,000 are the faithful Jewish remnant that were saved under the old covenant. This would include of course Moses, David, Matthew and Peter. These were Yehovah's sheep until he committed them into Jesus' care. They were the little flock. The remnant of the Jews. The reason they are called "virgins" (I believe, tentatively) is that they were never idolaters.

For some background on a group of elect being extracted prior to judgment consider Enoch, Noah, Lot, etc. and here:

https://biblehub.com/niv/ezekiel/9.htm

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So in all of what was said regarding the virginity of these 144000 is the conclusion that they are virgins more so spiritually than physically because of their change of direction to whom they are called?

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