Who are the 144000 and the great multitude of Revelation 7?

And, who are the first-fruits or virgins of Revelation 14:1–4?

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There are many kinds of dogmas in regard to who the first-fruits group of 144000 of Revelation 14 are, and in regard to the innumerable multitude of Revelation 7. Some churches and preachers have tickled their members’ or followers’ egos by causing them to think that they are the “first-fruits”. In that way, they have swept aside the true first-fruits group in God’s spiritual harvest, those who received the Holy Spirit in biblical times, first century CE or earlier, as if they had never even existed. And then, there are many other kinds of doctrines concerning Revelation 7 and 14.

This article takes a closer look at that matter.

Both Revelation 7 and 14 mention a group of 144000.

The 144000 Revelation 7 were “sealed”, while of the 144000 of Revelation 14 it is said that Jesus’ and his Father’s name was written on their foreheads.

Revelation 7:4 And I heard the number of those who were sealed, one hundred forty-four thousand […] (NRSV)

Revelation 14:1 Then I looked, and there was the Lamb, standing on Mount Zion! And with him were one hundred forty-four thousand who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads. (NRSV, note sign added)

This with “seal” and “name” can refer to the same matter. It appears that both passages talk about the same group.

What does the word ‘virgins’ in Revelation 14:4 refer to?

Revelation 14:3 […] the one hundred forty-four thousand who have been redeemed from the earth. 4 It is these who have not defiled themselves with women, for they are virgins; these follow the Lamb wherever he goes. They have been redeemed from humankind as first fruits for God and the Lamb (NRSV)

As the above-quoted NRSV has it, those people “have not defiled themselves with women, for they are virgins”. Should that be interpreted literally?

Were it so that the first-fruits group of 144000 of Revelation 14 only consists of literally virgin males, that would close out most of the saints [a] who clearly were a “first-fruits” group for God here on Earth. So, perhaps we can assume that the words “women” and “virgins” in verse 4 are used in a symbolic way. The exact meaning of that symbolic expression is not clear, but here is an interesting passage which can be considered in connection with Revelation 14:4:

2 Corinthians 11:2 For I am jealous for you with a jealousy of God. For I betrothed [b] you to one husband, a pure virgin to present to the Christ. (ACV)

a Saints: In this article, that word refers to those who received the Holy Spirit in biblical times, first century CE or earlier.

b The apostle Paul wrote, “I betrothed”, but of course, it was really God the Father who betrothed people to his son Jesus. Paul and others acted as God’s servants in that regard, similar to how it was when Abraham sent his servant to betroth a woman to his son Isaac, see Genesis 24.

The sealing of Revelation 7.

In Revelation 7:4, where the earlier quoted NRSV has “those who were sealed”, even the wording in the Greek NT text is in the past tense, with the meaning “those having been sealed”. That was regarding the 144000.

It is reasonable to assume that that group of 144000 (which are in Revelation 14:4 called “first-fruits”) consists of those who were first – those who received the Holy Spirit in biblical times, first century CE or earlier. We know that the saints were sealed, with the Holy Spirit. [c]

It is quite obvious that the 144000 of Revelation 7 and 14 consists of the saints, as a “first-fruits harvest” for God, here on Earth.

What about the great multitude which is mentioned in Revelation 7? That group has not been formed yet. So, there is a time-wise difference between the first-fruits group of 144000 and the innumerable multitude, and their sealing.

(Revelation 7 shows that that multitude will be by God’s throne, in Heaven. This makes it clear that by that time, they must have received the Holy Spirit. And so, even they will be “sealed”, just as the saints were.)

c The apostle Paul wrote to the saints in Ephesus and Corinth, and mentioned the seal which they had received.

Ephesians 1:13 In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, 14 who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory. (NASB95)

Ephesians 4:30 Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. (NASB95)

2 Corinthians 1:21 Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and anointed us is God, 22 who also sealed us and gave us the Spirit in our hearts as a pledge. (NASB95)

Those passages show that the seal or sealing which the saints had received, was the Holy Spirit. (Keep in mind that in the above-quoted passages, the words “us” and “you” refer to Paul and the saints whom he wrote to, people of the first century.)

Some notes.

Someone who casually reads English translations of Revelation 7, might come to think that the first-fruits group of 144000 was to be sealed later, after New Testament times. Some preachers have made use of that, for the purpose of making their followers think that they are “the 144000”. In that way, they have tickled their followers’ egos and made them feel happy, so that they continue to support the preacher.

But, as was noted above, it appears that Revelation 7 refers to the sealing which is mentioned in Ephesians 1:13 and 4:30 and 2 Corinthians 1:22. The sealing of the 144000 took place in New Testament times (and even before that, in the case of a few people).

What about ‘the great tribulation’?

Revelation 7 which mentions the great multitude, mentions also a “great tribulation”.

As was noted earlier, many preachers have caused their followers to think that they are “the 144000” or “the first-fruits”. Some preachers have told people that those who follow the preacher, will be taken to a “place of safety”, and that those who do not follow him will have to go through “great tribulation”.

But, the Bible does not promise anyone such a “place of safety”, here on Earth. Even the saints had to suffer. They were persecuted, and some of them were killed. Likewise, the Scriptures tell us that many of those who turn to God in what we today view as “end time”, will be persecuted and will have to suffer, and that some of them will be killed. And, as for those who survive – yes, they will be saved from more troubles, but that saving will be done by taking them to Heaven. [d] In other words: Their “place of safety” is not an earthly one.

The Bible simply does not mention any earthly “place of safety”, in connection with the persecution (“tribulation”) that is to come, or in connection with the horrors which will follow after that. In those days, Heaven is the only safe place.

Now, it is true that the first-fruits group of 144000 will not have to suffer in what we today view as “end time”. The simple reason for this is that that group consists of people of the apostles’ day. Their tribulation and martyrdom took place in the first century, and they no longer live here on Earth.

But yes, it appears that even in what we today view as “end time”, there will be a period of intense persecution of people who turn to God (the great multitude).

The article nta040.htm has some notes on that coming time of persecution or “tribulation” (Revelation 7), and also on the time of persecution which Matthew 24 mentions.

d It is clear that the great multitude of people who in coming times turn to God, will be taken to Heaven. For, Revelation 7 and the wider context shows that they will stand by the throne of God there.

In summary.

2 Corinthians 1:22 and Ephesians 1:13 and 4:30 show that the saints’ “sealing” consisted of the Holy Spirit.

It is obvious that the first-fruits group of 144000 of Revelation 14:4 (and 7:4) consists of those who received the Holy Spirit in biblical times, first century CE or earlier.

It is reasonable to assume that the “tribes” of John’s vision, Revelation 7, are not related to physical race but refer to a spiritual Israel.

The forming (and sealing) of the great multitude still remains to be done.

The great, innumerable multitude will contain people of all nations. It appears that the formation of that multitude will take place before the seven angels of Revelation 8 are given their trumpets. It may be that that group will come into being during the two witnesses’ work. The article nta010.htm has some notes on those witnesses.

The article nga040.htm considers what happened to the saints, why they vanished from the scene some time after the middle of the first century.

See also the “recommended reading” section, below.

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Recommended reading here at the Bible Pages, on related as well as other matters

An explanation of the short names for the bible-translations that are quoted or mentioned at this site. → nsa090.htm

What does the Bible say about the “great tribulation”? On Matthew 24:21 and Revelation 7:14. → nta040.htm

The two witnesses of the book of Revelation. Also: Similarities between their work and that of Moses, Elijah and John the Baptist. → nta010.htm

What happened to the saints? Why is there no record of their doings, after the middle of the first century? → nga040.htm

What does the Bible say about Heaven? Were the saints to go there? What about others? What does it look like, in Heaven? → nba040.htm

What does the word “saint” mean and refer to, in the Bible? → nga030.htm

On the different kinds of prophetic trumpets which are mentioned in the Bible – trumps of God, and those of the seven angels. Also: What did the apostle Paul mean and refer to when he wrote about a “last” trump or blast? → nta050.htm

“Church eras” – do they exist? Are there seven “eras of the church”, as some say – “Sardis era”, “Philadelphian era”, “Laodicean era” and so on? → naa031.htm

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