Wednesday, February 25, 2015


Next to the number 666, the number 144,000 is the most discussed and debated number in the Book of Revelation.  Interpretations range from that of The Watchtower Society of Jehovah’s Witnesses, who claim that the 144,000 sealed servants of God refer to members of their organization, to Classic Dispensationalists who see those thousands as Jews in the last days who are chosen witnesses during the Great Tribulation[i], to the growing number of commentators who see the number as symbolic of the whole company of believers in Christ.  Those in the last category can be divided into two camps: Those who see the 144,000 as believers from all epochs of redemptive history,[ii] Old and New Covenants up to the present and on to the culmination of this age; and those who believe it applies to martyrs during the end-time tribulation and judgments of God. [iii]

Both of these latter views see the number as symbolic, not literal.  There are good reasons for viewing this number as symbolic.  First, while the first mention of 144,000 sealed believers lists twelve tribes of Israel (Rev. 7:4-8), the verses following describe “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, and crying out with a loud voice, "Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!" (Rev. 7:9-10 ESV)  Then in Chapter 14 the 144,000 appear again:

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. 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, 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. (Rev 14:1-3)

It would certainly seem that those who bear the name of Jesus (“the Lamb”) and God the Father, and who sing the new song are all the redeemed of God, regardless of ethnic background.  Verse 3 also states that they “have been redeemed from the earth.”  Mounce, a pre-millennialist, states: “The number is obviously symbolic.  Twelve (the number of the tribes) is both squared and multiplied by a thousand – a two-fold way of emphasizing completeness.”[iv]  While Mounce limits this “completeness” to “that generation of faithful believers about to enter the final turbulent period that will mark the end of human history,” Beale, an amillennarian idealist, sees the 12 x 12 x 1000 as the whole number of believers from Old Testament times through to the very end.  He relates the number to “the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Rev. 21:2 ESV).[v]  John consistently uses the title “bride” to refer to the Church, those for whom He shed his blood on the Cross (John 3:29;[vi] Rev. 19:7; 21:2, 9; 22:17).  

I agree with Beale.  The Holy City described in Revelation 22 clinches it for me.  The angel clearly identifies the “city” as “the Bride, the wife of the Lamb" (Rev. 21:9).  Then he goes on to describe this Bride in richly symbolic terms:

Then came one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues and spoke to me, saying, "Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb." And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. It had a great, high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel were inscribed—on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates. And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. And the one who spoke with me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city and its gates and walls. The city lies foursquare, its length the same as its width. And he measured the city with his rod, 12,000 stadia. Its length and width and height are equal. He also measured its wall, 144 cubits by human measurement, which is also an angel's measurement. (Rev 21:9-17 ESV)

Look at the twelves in that passage!  Twelve gates have the names of the twelve tribes of Israel – a reference to Old Testament believers.  The twelve foundations of the wall of the city bear the names of the twelve apostles – a reference to New Testament believers.  And the wall is 144 cubits – 12 x 12.  Multiply 144 by 1,000 (indicating an innumerable company) and you get 144,000, the totality of the redeemed people of God.  And that “city?”  Are those measurements literal?

The city lies foursquare, its length the same as its width. And he measured the city with his rod, 12,000 stadia. Its length and width and height are equal. (Rev. 21:16 ESV)

The measurement “stadium” is equal to a furlong, or about 1/8 of a mile.[vii] The city described would be a cube of 1,500 miles!  Symbolic, don’t you think?

I find great blessing in the grand and glorious plan of God and its culmination in the glorification of all God’s redeemed children, united in the presence of God Himself!  “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev. 22:20)

Next: "666 -- What Does It Mean?"

[i] Walvoord, John F. The Revelation of Jesus Christ. Chicago: Moody Press, 1971.
[ii] Hendriksen, William. (1967) More Than Conquerors.  Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1967; Beale, G. K. The Book of Revelation. Grand Rapids, Michigan/Cambridge, U. K.: William B. Eermans Publishing Company, 1999.
[iii] Mounce, Robert H.  The Book of Revelation.  Grand Rapids, Michigan/Cambridge, U. K.: William B. Eardmans Publishing Company, 1977.
[iv] Ibid. p. 158.
[v] Beale, pp. 1076-77
[vi] This statement of John the Baptist might seem to imply that only the New Testament Church is the Bride, and that John does not include himself in that number.  The “Bride” is a corporate designation, not individual. Each believer is not personally “married” to Christ; each believer is a part of that corporate body that makes up the Bride.  John was simply saying that Jesus, not John himself, was the Bridegroom.  This does not exclude Old Testament believers from the body that makes up the “Bride of the Lamb.” 
[vii] American Heritage Dictionary

Monday, February 16, 2015


I promised in my last blog article that I would deal with the subject of the 144,000 in Revelation 7 and 14.  That I will do very soon, but I felt that I needed to explain first the pilgrimage I began years ago that has led me into a new understanding, not only of the Book of Revelation, but of God’s grand plan of redemption.

Having been nurtured spiritually on the New Scofield Reference Bible and educated in the Classic Dispensational system of interpretation, I found it hard to consider anything but a literal view of the numbers and names in the Book of Revelation, even though dispensational commentators themselves admitted that the book contains much symbolic language.  The dispensational mission board with whom I served for twenty years required missionaries to sign their statement of faith every year, and that dampened any impulse to question the validity of pre-millennial dispensationalism.  Still dispensational interpretations of certain Scriptures always bothered me.

When I became chaplain of the Hiawatha Correctional Facility in Kincheloe, Michigan, it happily occurred to me that my employer, the State of Michigan, was no longer requiring me to adhere to a particular doctrinal position.  I could explore every issue, every doctrine, in light of Scripture, allowing commentators from differing viewpoints to have their input.  As a result, the Scriptures took on new life!  My wife and I had new enthusiasm in our Bible study.  We also saw prophecy and apocalyptic Scriptures in a new light.

I saw more clearly than ever that each Bible student views the Scriptures through a set of prisms that organize the data into a system.  That is not necessarily bad, but we need to be careful that our system doesn’t take on the authority of Scripture itself, that we realize that our understanding is never infallible.  I recently bought an instrument that most people consider a toy: a kaleidoscope.  I hadn’t looked through one since I was a kid.  The kaleidoscope holds a lesson for everyone who wants to interpret and understand the Bible.  The same little pieces of plastic lie in the bottom of the lens, yet as you look through the scope and turn the outer chamber, ever so slightly, the whole pattern changes!  What might be predominantly red and purple flowers in separate groups suddenly transform into one large pattern of green and yellow mixed with flecks of red and orange!  Now don’t take this illustration too far: I’m NOT SAYING that the Bible can mean different things.  I’m just illustrating how the same bits of information – Scriptural statements and passages – can form different patterns depending on our presuppositions, and if we never bother to turn the “prism,” we would never see anything but the one pattern.  I decided to turn the prism on prophetic and apocalyptic Scripture, and it has been very rewarding.

One of the first books I explored was a very helpful book titled, Plowshares and Pruning Hooks: Rethinking the Language of Biblical Prophecy and Apocalyptic, by D. Brent Sandy.[1]  Another helpful book was Four Views on the Book of Revelation, C. Marvin Pate, Gen. Ed.[2]  That was followed by Understanding Dispensationalists, by Vern S. Poythress.[3]  Then I took the bold step of buying and reading Kim Riddlebarger’s A Case for Amillennialism.[4] Most recently I have been working my way through G. K. Beale's commentary on the Book of Revelation, along with my own studies in the Greek text of Revelation.

What I have discovered has been a blessing beyond my expectations!  The Book of Revelation itself promises: “Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy . . .” (Rev 1:3a).  Yet, according to the Classic Dispensational viewpoint, the Church is gone after Rev. 4:1, raptured, and God returns to dealing with ethnic Israel. What’s more, the numbers in Revelation were to be taken largely as literal.  When I began to question that presupposition, Scripture in general began to make more sense to me, not only, but especially, the Book of Revelation.

I found that there is great blessing in the imagery and symbolism of Revelation, and it’s not difficult to understand. There is sound exegetical and hermeneutical[5] grounds for the symbolic interpretations. The Book of Revelation was intended by God to be an encouragement and a preparation for His people as we face the trials and challenges of serving Christ in this increasingly godless world.  We know that The Lamb of God will overcome!  His Kingdom will come!  “Even so, come Lord Jesus!” (Rev. 22:20b)

Copyright 2015 by Thomas L. Jones

[1] Sandy, D. Brent.  Plowshares and Pruning Hooks: Rethinking the Language of Biblical Prophecy and Apocalyptic.  Downer’s Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2002.
[2] Pate, C. Marvin, Gen. Ed.  Four Views on The Book of Revelation. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1998.
[3] Poythress, Vern S.  Understanding Dispensationalists, 2nd Ed. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1994.
[4] Riddlebarger, Kim.  A Case for Amillenialism: Understanding The End Times. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2003.
[5] Exegesis is the process of observing what a text is actually saying, literally “reading out” a text, as opposed to reading something into a text!  Hermeneutics is the science of interpreting a text.

Saturday, February 7, 2015


Now the glory of the God of Israel had gone up from the cherub, where it had been, to the threshold of the temple. And He called to the man clothed with linen, who had the writer's inkhorn at his side; and the LORD said to him, "Go through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and cry over all the abominations that are done within it." To the others He said in my hearing, "Go after him through the city and kill; do not let your eye spare, nor have any pity. Utterly slay old and young men, maidens and little children and women; but do not come near anyone on whom is the mark; and begin at My sanctuary." So they began with the elders who were before the temple.  (Ezekiel 9:3-6)

Then I saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God. And he cried with a loud voice to the four angels to whom it was granted to harm the earth and the sea, saying, "Do not harm the earth, the sea, or the trees till we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads." (Revelation 7:2-3 compare 14:1)

He [the beast from out of the earth] causes all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hand or on their foreheads, and that no one may buy or sell except one who has the mark or the name of the beast, or the number of his name. (Revelation 13:16-17)

Then a third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, "If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives his mark on his forehead or on his hand, he himself shall also drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out full strength into the cup of His indignation. He shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. (Revelation 14:9-10)

And I saw something like a sea of glass mingled with fire, and those who have the victory over the beast, over his image and over his mark and over the number of his name, standing on the sea of glass, having harps of God.  (Revelation 15:2)

So the first went and poured out his bowl upon the earth, and a foul and loathsome sore came upon the men who had the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image.
(Revelation 16:2)

And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was committed to them. Then I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands. And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. (Revelation 20:4)[i]

            During the 1960’s and ‘70’s there was a great deal of hysteria regarding the Antichrist and the “mark of the beast,” fired up by popular TV and radio preachers and books on the End Times.  Many back then speculated on exactly what the “mark of the beast” would be, and what the “number of his name” meant.  Even today many sincere Christians – and some non-Christians fascinated with prophecy – are concerned that the government might require them to receive some sort of mark or implanted chip for identification, and that this might be the mark that condemns them before God.  While they focus on a feared physical mark, most people in this world miss the vitally important spiritual meaning of the passages quoted above.  External symbols can neither save us nor condemn us. It is the condition of the heart that we must examine.

The key to understanding the Book of Revelation[ii] is recognizing its richly symbolic and metaphoric nature.  The images of a seal, a mark, the forehead, and the hand, are all symbols of spiritual realities. When Moses exhorted the new generation of Israelites who were entering the Promised Land to remember and obey God’s commandments, he said,

And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Deuteronomy  6:6-9)

"Therefore you shall lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul, and bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. (Deuteronomy 11:18)

Though Israelites then, as well as Jews today, have taken literally the binding of commandments on their hand and between their eyes, and thus have made phylacteries and mezuzahs to show honor to the Torah, these passages in Deuteronomy clearly command that God’s words are to be “in your heart and in your soul.”  It’s not difficult to discern the spiritual meaning behind symbols like “hand” -- what we do -- and “between your eyes,” -- what we see -- and since “frontlets” would be on the forehead, God’s word should guide what we think.

In the Book of Revelation, two groups of people are said to be “sealed” with a mark on their foreheads or their hand: The servants of God and the worshipers of the Beast, the devil incarnate.  A seal can mean several things in Scripture, but in this context two aspects are certain: It signifies ownership and protection.  God seals those who belong to Him, and he guards their faith, keeping them from spiritual harm from their enemies and physical harm from His judgments which will fall on the wicked.  On the other side are those who identify themselves with the Beast, the representative of Satan, “the god of this age” (2 Corinthians 4:4).   

God’s seal on His children protects them spiritually.  As G. K. Beale points out: “The nature of the protection is spiritual.  This is apparent from the fact that believers and unbelievers suffer similar physical afflictions . . . But, whereas these trials purify God’s servants, they harden the ungodly in their response to God (so 9:19-20)."[iii]  In Ephesians 1:13 we read: In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise . . .  And again in Ephesians 4:30 we are admonished:  And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.  The Holy Spirit of God is the seal on God’s children, and by that indwelling Holy Spirit, we bear the Name of God – the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  (Compare Revelation 14:1)[iv]

On the other hand, those who cherish their life in this world more than life eternal are those who worship the Beast.  Jesus said, For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. (Matthew 16:25)  In Revelation, John assures us that those who follow Jesus to the death will be victorious over Satan:

Then I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, "Now salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren, who accused them before our God day and night, has been cast down. And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death.
(Revelation 12:10-11)

Clearly, God’s people are marked, but that mark is not a physical but spiritual mark.  Just as the angel in Ezekiel 9 marked all those in Jerusalem who sighed and cried over all the abominations done in that city, God has marked, and will mark, all those who choose to follow Jesus and mourn over the abominations being committed in this evil world.  Blessed are those who mourn, Jesus said, for they shall be comforted.  (Matthew 5:4)

If the mark of God is a spiritual mark, it seems clear that the mark of the Beast is also a spiritual mark.  The location of the mark is also packed with symbolic meaning.  Those who follow the Beast, the Antichrist, do the will of the devil (mark on the hand), and they think like the devil (mark on forehead). 

But if this mark of the Beast is not a physical mark, how is it that those who do not have the mark will not be able to buy or sell?  The Greek word for “mark,” charagma, “was used for the emperor’s seal on business contracts and the impress of the Roman ruler’s head on coins.” (Beale, p.715)  During the persecutions under Emperors Diocletian and Decius, certificates were issued to those who offered incense to the image of the emperor, and those certificates authorized the person to buy and sell.  G. K.  Beale explains the symbolism of the mark in Revelation:

The “mark on the forehead,” which is “the name of the beast” and “the number of this name” (so v. 17), is the parody and opposite of the “seal” in 7:3-8, which is the divine “name written on the foreheads” of true believers (14:1; so likewise 22:4; 3:12)  
Since the seal of true believers is invisible, so also is the "mark" on the unbeliever.  That the two are parallel in being spiritual in nature and are intended to be compared is evident from the immediately following mention of God and Christ's name "written on the foreheads" of the saints (14:1). (p. 716) 

The ungodly world has always been able to identify its friends and its enemies.  Christians all over the world are being denied access to basic necessities because of their loyalty to Christ.  And even in America, Christians are being discriminated against for their stand against evil laws enacted by state, federal, and local governments.  Ungodly society also knows who its friends are, even when they masquerade as Christians! 

Lots of people today are carrying around “the mark of the Beast” and don’t even know it!  Even many who profess to be Christians!  In my decades of ministry I have met professing Christians who were living in immorality, all the while firmly declaring that they would never accept “the mark of the Beast” on their hand or forehead!

What spiritual seal, what mark, is upon your life?  Those who are born of God through repentance and faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior have a spiritual birthmark!  It ought to be evident in everything we think and everything we do.  In this age of grace, there is yet time to repent, but the time is coming when hearts will be so hardened that they will not repent no matter what judgments fall upon them. (see Rev. 9:20-21)

Coming Next: The 144,000: Who Are They?

[i] All Scripture passages from the New King James Version.  Bold print added for emphasis.
[ii] In some Bibles the title is The Apocalypse, which comes from the Greek title, which means unveiling.
[iii] Beale, G. K. The New International Greek Testament Commentary: The Book of Revelation, p. 409.
[iv] For the argument in favor of the 144,000 representing all believers, the faithful remnant of ethnic Israel and Gentile believers “grafted into” the root of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Rom. 11:17), see G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation, William Hendriksen, More Than Conquerors, and Simon J. Kistemaker, Revelation