According to the JW publication, The Watchtower, 144,000 is the total number of people who will make it into heaven, and every last one of them will have been a Jehovah’s Witness. From time to time we receive these publications in the mailbox as their evangelists still travel door to door in hopes of finding new disciples to add to their flock. Today’s blog offers a different breakdown of that mystical number, one which adds a greater depth to the mystery.
The Sealing of the 144,000, 7:1-8
Rev 7:1 Next I saw four angels, standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the world to keep them from blowing over the land or the sea or any tree.
Rev 7:2 Then I saw another angel rising where the sun rises, carrying the seal of the living God; he called in a powerful voice to the four angels whose duty was to devastate land and sea,
Rev 7:3 ‘Wait before you do any damage on land or at sea or to the trees, until we have put the seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God.’
Rev 7:4 And I heard how many had been sealed: a hundred and forty-four thousand, out of all the tribes of Israel.
Rev 7:5 From the tribe of Judah, twelve thousand had been sealed; from the tribe of Reuben, twelve thousand; from the tribe of Gad, twelve thousand;
Rev 7:6 from the tribe of Asher, twelve thousand; from the tribe of Naphtali, twelve thousand; from the tribe of Manasseh, twelve thousand;
Rev 7:7 from the tribe of Simeon, twelve thousand; from the tribe of Levi, twelve thousand; from the tribe of Issachar, twelve thousand;
Rev 7:8 from the tribe of Zebulun, twelve thousand; and from the tribe of Benjamin, twelve thousand had been sealed.
The following segment of the Book of Revelation offers a type of respite from all the cataclysmic destruction which has preceded it. This holds fast to the admonition that the Lord will comfort his people in the midst of toils and tribulations. It opens with previous biblical-apocalyptic foreshadowing:
Obviously, like his contemporaries, John held to a flat earth cosmology. In an early Jewish apocalyptic text, often called the “Book of the Heavenly Luminaries” (1 En. 72–82), the author described twelve openings in the sky from which the winds blow across the earth, three from each of the four cardinal directions. From four of the openings blow winds of blessing; from twelve blow winds of pestilence, which will “destroy the whole earth, the water upon her, all those who dwell upon her, and all those which exist in the waters and the dry land” (76:4). Other apocalyptic texts describe angels who are in charge of the winds (Jub. 2:2; 1 En. 60:11-21). [Angels of Destruction] The destructive winds represent the eschatological woes that are ready to be unleashed upon the earth. (Smyth Helwys Bible Commentary)
Hence, the four-winds are agents of God’s punishment. But wait, there is a pause as the divine decree issues forth a resolution in the form of sacred seals:
This symbolic sealing was inspired by Ezek 9, where an angel makes a mark on the foreheads of those who have avoided idolatry, a mark that causes their lives to be spared. According to the vision of the souls under the altar, at least some of the faithful will die. The sealing in Rev does not symbolize protection “from” death, but protection in and through death upon their foreheads: The seal may be equivalent to the name of God written upon the foreheads of the faithful. (JBC)
Buddhism issues a different take in the form of “Four Seals of the Dharma”:
1. All compounded things are impermanent.
2. All stained emotions are painful.
3. All phenomena are empty.
4. Nirvana is peace.
Of course, the first involves mindfulness of the dependent origination that occurs in a sea of impermanence. One change initiates another and then another in one continuous chain of alternating phenomena. The Buddha helps us in the final run to accept the inevitable end of existence and so to plan accordingly in its wake. Total and unequivocal acceptance that builds upon spiritualization’s that will help us to escape the diurnal wheel of another samsaric environment.
Emotions are painful because we envision ourselves as being separate from other equal dharmatas. Hence, the Second Noble Truth states that insatiable craving is the culprit that keeps us on the wheel of pain. We cannot stands being apparently separable from all we value but in Self-realization we realize that there really isn’t any separation—it’s all of One Mind Substance.
All phenomena are indeed empty since they have no separate and intrinsic existence apart from the One Mind. Hence, all is Śūnyatā. In light of this what need is there of a savior—a savior for whom and from what?
Nirvana is beyond all feeble mind projections and constitutes Absolute Freedom of all extremes. No this, no that. Just total and unequivocal Union on the Dharmakayaic shore of Suchness.
Now comes that apparent mystery of the 144,000. The text itself provides an answer that it is composed of 12,000 from each of the twelve tribes of Israel. It speaks a form of completeness, i.e., the special group known as the martyrs of the Church:
This interpretation of the 144,000 does justice to the importance of the theme of martyrdom in the Apocalypse. Since the martyrs are those who pay the ultimate price for their faithfulness, John singles them out for special mention and special encouragement.
If the 144,000 are identified as the martyrs, then 7:1-8 can be understood as a response to the martyrs’ cry in chapter 6, “How long?” The martyrs under the altar are told that they must wait for vindication until the number of martyrs is complete. Chapter 7, in a symbolic way, shows the completed number of the martyred saints—144,000. (ibid)
The Multitude from Every Nation, 7:9-17
Rev 7:9 After that I saw that there was a huge number, impossible for anyone to count, of people from every nation, race, tribe and language; they were standing in front of the throne and in front of the Lamb, dressed in white robes and holding palms in their hands. They shouted in a loud voice,
Rev 7:10 ‘Salvation to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’
Rev 7:11 And all the angels who were standing in a circle round the throne, surrounding the elders and the four living creatures, prostrated themselves before the throne, and touched the ground with their foreheads, worshipping God
Rev 7:12 with these words: Amen. Praise and glory and wisdom, thanksgiving and honour and power and strength to our God for ever and ever. Amen.
Rev 7:13 One of the elders then spoke and asked me, ‘Who are these people, dressed in white robes, and where have they come from?’
Rev 7:14 I answered him, ‘You can tell me, sir.’ Then he said, ‘These are the people who have been through the great trial; they have washed their robes white again in the blood of the Lamb.
Rev 7:15 That is why they are standing in front of God’s throne and serving him day and night in his sanctuary; and the One who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them.
Rev 7:16 They will never hunger or thirst again; sun and scorching wind will never plague them,
Rev 7:17 because the Lamb who is at the heart of the throne will be their shepherd and will guide them to springs of living water; and God will wipe away all tears from their eyes.’
Interesting how the people in this vision are deliberately contrasted with those in the previous account; the first group is meticulously numbered, whereas the second is innumerable. The first come from the people of Israel; the second from all nations. (JBC) The scene here also shifts from earth to heaven. John is actually looking into the future when the redeemed will be honored on the heavenly plane. All present are inclusively accepted, people from every ethnicity, and nation. This great crowd is dressed in white—symbolizing their pure and inner-spiritual state. They all cry out, ‘Salvation to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’ [The Greek word sōtēria, translated here as “salvation,” can also mean deliverance or safety. (ibid)] Washing their robes in the “blood of the lamb” signals that they have been purified in the image of the Cosmic and Bodhisattvic Christ. The concluding acclamation’s are the reassurance that after being redeemed in Bodhisattvic-Blood they will never hunger or thirst again as eternal freedom is won.