144,000 Sealed–no more, no less
“And I heard the number of those who were sealed, one hundred and forty-four thousand sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel: from the tribe of Judah, twelve thousand were sealed, from the tribe of Reuben twelve thousand, from the tribe of Gad twelve thousand, from the tribe of Asher twelve thousand, from the tribe of Naphtali twelve thousand, from the tribe of Manasseh twelve thousand, from the tribe of Simeon twelve thousand, from the tribe of Levi twelve thousand, from the tribe of Issachar twelve thousand, from the tribe of Zebulun twelve thousand, from the tribe of Joseph twelve thousand, from the tribe of Benjamin, twelve thousand were sealed.”
Many people have kept this particular passage caged. Therefore, we need to use the CAGED method to free it from behind the bars. Consider the context: It is in the midst of a pause from the action in chapter 6. We have learned that God has commanded that his servants be sealed and we read that 144,000 are sealed from every tribe of Israel.
From Judah, not the first born, 12,000
From Rueben, the first born, 12,000
From Gad, not the third born, nor the third largest, to our knowledge. Also, an illegitimate child 12,000
From Asher, 12,000
From Naphtali, 12,000
From Manasseh, originally half a tribe with Ephraim; eventually elevated to full tribe with Ephraim when settled in the land because Levi had no land inheritance, 12,000
From Simeon, 12,000
From Levi, not a land tribe, yet on this list, 12,000
From Issachar, 12,000
From Zebulun, 12,000
From Joseph, the whole of the two half-tribes, Ephraim and Manasseh, 12,000
And finally, the last born, Benjamin, 12,000
Tribes not appearing on this list, Dan and Ephraim.
The questions are…why? Why one son of Joseph but not the other? Why is Levi included? Why is Dan absent? To get into specifics would be complete conjecture. Even if utilizing the CAGED, or other hermeneutical method, every reason and conclusion to which one comes is at best a hypothesis. I’m sorry, I don’t have specific answers and no one else does either. One may have an accurate account, but we simply can’t know with certainty the specifics.
However, we can zoom out and see the big picture. We can use the CAGED method to free the text.
Genre. It is an apocalypse, an unveiling. We expect to be enlightened to what is happening behind the scenes by the use of analogy, metaphor, hyperbole and vivid imagery. We should be learning the genre as we move through Revelation. Two literary devices that are beneficial to remember are the use of numbers and of contrasting imagery.
We remember that although we are moving relatively quickly through Revelation, it is meant to be taken as a whole, complete work. As we read and learn the genre, we also remember the context. For instance; “And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.” And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain,” should be fresh in our minds. John was told to look at the Lion and saw a Lamb, and though slain, was standing. Two contrasting images representative of the same person.
The same is true for the 144,000. We have noticed that the tribes are out of order–names added–names removed. Remembering the genre, we notice the context: 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, saying, “Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads.” And a 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, 12,000 from the tribe of Asher, 12,000 from the tribe of Naphtali, 12,000 from the tribe of Manasseh, 12,000 from the tribe of Simeon, 12,000 from the tribe of Levi, 12,000 from the tribe of Issachar, 12,000 from the tribe of Zebulun, 12,000 from the tribe of Joseph, 12,000 from the tribe of Benjamin were sealed. 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…” Based on the CAGED method and a close examination of the original Greek, we’ll see as clearly as the golden streets of heaven, that the 144,000 are the same people as the great multitude. The 144,000 sealed are the bondservants. The use of numbers is imagery of the great multitude. Don’t let the preposition “after” hinder your belief or steal your joy. Trust me, you’ll love this: “After,” in this context, transliterated from Greek is “Meta.” The root word for, “Metanoeo;” change after being with; as in “Metamorphosis.”
From Word Help Studies, Strong’s 3326 metá a preposition – properly, with (“after with”), implying “change afterward” (i.e. what results after the activity). Looks towards the after-effect (change, result) which is only defined by the context.
Can I get an Amen? We know the context and the genre, John clearly presents the church as the 144,000 descendents of Israel, sealed by God, that is also the great multitude. It’s consistent with the Greek, the context and the genre. The word “Meta” doesn’t mean, “moving on,” as many commentators suggest. Yes, John uses the word to separate the visions and imagery but also clearly used “Meta” to link the imagery as well. Remember, Revelation was written like a letter, in a scroll. It was fluid and had no chapter or verse breaks. Again, the context dictates the use of the word. Meta “is only defined by the context,” and the context is the people of God,
The use of numbers, the imagery, the out of order and inconsistent arrangement of the twelve tribes, and the great multitude itself, demonstrate to us that the people of God are the people of God. That and; “For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall.”
In John’s list of the 144,000, the numbers may literally add up, but the notion that they are anything else besides the great multitude doesn’t.