144,000 males from the tribes of Israel are numbered and assembled for the journey to the city of New Jerusalem – Revelation 7:4-8.
The “servants of God” have been “sealed” against the onslaught of the “four winds of the earth,” but now they must be “numbered” to ensure that no member of the covenant community is lost in the coming “tribulation.” The full complement of “witnesses” must be assembled to witness the “day of the wrath of the Lamb.”
The present passage follows the pattern set in the vision of the “sealed scroll” with its introduction of the messianic conqueror. John “heard” one of the “twenty-four elders” declare that the “lion of Judah…overcame to take the scroll,” however, when he looked, rather than the predatory “lion” he “saw” the “slain Lamb” – What he “saw” interpreted what he first “heard.”
In the next two paragraphs, John will “hear” the “number” of the “sealed servants,” 144,000 males from the “twelve tribes of Israel,” but he will “see” an assembly of men and women from every nation too numerous to count.
- (Revelation 7:4-8) – “And I heard the number of the sealed, a hundred and forty-four thousand sealed out of every tribe of the sons of Israel: Of the tribe of Judah, twelve thousand sealed, of the tribe of Reuben, twelve thousand, of the tribe of Gad, twelve thousand, Of the tribe of Asher, twelve thousand, of the tribe of Naphtali, twelve thousand, of the tribe of Manasseh, twelve thousand, Of the tribe of Simeon, twelve thousand, of the tribe of Levi, twelve thousand, of the tribe of Issachar, twelve thousand, Of the tribe of Zebulun, twelve thousand, of the tribe of Joseph, twelve thousand, of the tribe of Benjamin, twelve thousand, sealed.”
When the fifth seal was opened, the martyrs discovered “under the altar” were told to remain there until the completed number of the saints destined to die “just as them” had been assembled. That “number” is now proclaimed as twelve thousand “males” are gathered from each of the “twelve tribes of Israel,” 144,000 in total.
The sum is built on the number ‘12’; here, it is squared and multiplied by a thousand. The final number is figurative and stresses fullness, the full congregation of the servants of God. To state the obvious, ‘twelve’ is associated with the “twelve tribes” that comprised the nation of Israel; 144,000 symbolizes the full number of the people of the “Lamb.”
Twelve is squared by multiplying the twelve tribes by the names of the twelve “apostles of the Lamb.” In “New Jerusalem,” the city is laid out with square numbers. Its wall is 144 cubits, or 12 x 12 – (“The city lies foursquare…its wall, a hundred and forty-four cubits”). The group of 144,000 male Israelites echoes the ancient image of the nation’s army numbered and arrayed for battle by its “thousands” – (Numbers 31:14, 31:48, Deuteronomy 1:15, 1 Samuel 8:12, Revelation 21:12-14).
In the Hebrew Bible, when the twelve tribes are listed, their order varies. Reuben is often first, Israel’s firstborn. Distinctive in the present passage is the placement of Judah first, the position of prominence. In chapter 5, the “Lamb” was described as originating from the “tribe of Judah,” and the present list echoes the previous declaration by the “elder,” the “lion out of the tribe of Judah” – (Genesis 35:23-26, Exodus 1:2-4, Numbers 1:5-15).
John “heard” the number of the sealed; “out of the tribe of Judah, twelve thousand sealed, out of the tribe of Reuben, twelve thousand,” and so on. And he “heard” the names of the twelve tribes. Just as in chapter 5, what he first heard is about to be interpreted by what he will see. He heard the “number” of the “sealed servants of God,” 144,000 males from Israel, but when he looks, he will “see” something quite extraordinary – the vast innumerable multitude of men and women from every nation – (Revelation 7:9-17).
The tribe of Dan is excluded from the list, but why is not clear. The image portrays ancient Israel assembled to invade and conquer the Promised Land. Under the old covenant, the tribe of Levi was excluded from the census because it was prohibited from participation in warfare. Its priestly duties took priority – (Numbers 1:47-53).
Possibly, Dan was excluded to make room for the tribe of Levi on the list of the “twelve tribes.” Under the rule of the “Lamb,” all members of his people belong to the priestly class, and in the present vision, the entire company is assembled – (Revelation 1:6, 5:10).
The paragraph ends with God’s servants sealed, numbered, and presumably, ready for whatever awaits them on their journey to the new promised land in the “city of New Jerusalem.” But first, the church must “overcome” and stand victorious before the “Lamb” and the “throne.”