The Beast’s fatal wound is its sixth head. (Rev 13:3-4)

PURPOSE

John saw a Beast coming out of the sea. It had “ten horns and seven heads” (Rev 13:1). One of his seven heads was “as if it had been slain,” for it had a “fatal wound” (Rev 13:3). In other words, the other six heads were still alive. The purpose of this article is to explain what this fatal wound is and which of the seven heads was dead.

REVELATION 13:3-4

The Beast continues the Roman Empire.

The Sea Beast received its authority from the Dragon (Rev 13:2). Previous articles identified these two beasts:

In the context of Revelation 13:2, the Dragon is identified as the fourth animal in Daniel 7, which was identified as the Roman Empire.

The Sea Beast has been identified as the 11th horn of that fourth animal, symbolizing a world power that:

        • Came into existence after the Roman Empire fragmented into many kingdoms,
        • Inherited the authority of the Roman Empire (cf. Rev 13:2), and
        • Therefore, became more powerful than the kingdoms in the territory previously ruled by the Roman Empire (Dan 7:20).

The Fatal Wound killed the Beast.

A “fatal wound” is a wound that kills. In other words, the Beast was dead. Therefore, when the wound is healed, it is said that the Beast “has come to life” (Rev 13:12, 14). That same expression is also used for Christ’s resurrection (Rev 2:8) and the resurrection of God’s people when Christ returns (Rev 20:4).

It was only a temporary death.

But the entire Beast did not die; only “one of his heads” was “slain” with this fatal wound (Rev 13:3).

Since the seven heads exist one after the other (Rev 17:9-10), the seven heads symbolize the seven phases of the Beast’s existence. So, the death of one of its heads is the death of the whole Beast but only for a time.

The whole world worshiped the Beast.

“The whole earth … worshiped the beast” (Rev 13:3-4). This does not mean that the world thought that the Beast is God or a god. The Greek word that is translated as “worshiped” (proskuneó) simply means to bow down before a superior. In the current verse, people proskuneó the Beast as a mighty king, for they say:

“Who is like the beast, and who is able
to wage war with him?” (Rev 13:4)

For a discussion of proskuneó, see – Why do we worship Jesus?

They also “worshiped the dragon because he gave his authority to the beast” (Rev 13:4). Since the Dragon symbolizes the Roman Empire, and since the Sea Beast came into existence after the Roman Empire fragmented, that empire no longer existed when the Beast received its fatal wound. But, by worshiping (showing respect to) the Sea Beast, which is the continuation of the authority of the Dragon (Rev 13:2), the people indirectly ‘worship’ the Roman Empire.

REVELATION 17

The Scarlet Beast on which the harlot sits, as described in Revelation 17, provides a different perspective of the same Beast-power. This section interprets the Fatal Wound by showing that Revelation 17 describes and explains that same Fatal Wound as well as the healing of that wound. Revelation 17 explains what that Fatal Wound is and which of the seven heads is dead.

Describes the Beast as incapacitated.

The following indicates that, at the point in history described by Revelation 17, the Scarlet Beast has been incapacitated:

Is not – The Beast “is not” (Rev 17:8). In other words, in some sense, at this time, the Beast does not exist.

Wilderness – In Revelation 12, the pure woman was in the wilderness (Rev 12:6, 14), symbolizing circumstances in which it is difficult to survive. But, in Revelation 17, it is the Beast’s turn to be in the “wilderness” (Rev 17:3).

Abyss – The Beast is in the “abyss” (Rev 17:8), which symbolizes incapacity (Rev 20:3).

Diadems – In contrast to the Dragon and the Sea Beast, the Scarlet Beast has no diadems (ruler crowns) (Rev 12:3; 13:1; 17:3), implying that it does not rule.

So, in Revelation 17, the Beast is suffering, weakened, and unable to rule. In that sense, it “is not.”

This is the Fatal Wound of Revelation 13.

For the following reasons, this incapacity is the same as the fatal wound:

Firstly, for the Beast to be in an incapacitated condition must be a strange condition. Since two different chapters of Revelation describe this condition, they likely describe the same weak period.

Secondly, both the fatal wound and the abyss symbolize the inability to persecute God’s people (Rev 20:3):

For the Sea Beast to be alive means to blaspheme God and to persecute God’s people (Rev 13:5-7; cf. Dan 7:25). Therefore, for it to be dead (to have a fatal wound) means being unable to persecute.

To be in the abyss also means the inability to persecute. For example, Satan is bound in the abyss “so that he would not deceive the nations any longer” (Rev 20:3). And after the Beast comes up from the abyss, it immediately proceeds to persecute God’s witnesses (Rev 11:7, 3). In Revelation 17, it is the harlot Babylon who kills God’s people (Rev 17:6), but she does it through the beast.

Also describes the same healing of the Wound.

Further evidence that Revelation 17 describes the same fatal wound as 13:3 is that it describes the same healing of the wound as in Revelation 13. Revelation 17 predicts that the Beast will come up out of the abyss (Rev 17:8). The following confirms that its escape from the abyss is the healing of the wound in Rev 13:

After the Sea Beast’s “fatal wound was healed … the whole earth was amazed and followed after the Beast” (Rev 13:3).

After the Scarlet Beast has “come up out of the abyss … those who dwell on the earth … will wonder when they see the Beast” (Rev 17:8).

Note the similarities:

      1. In both, the whole world adores the Beast.
      2. “Amazed” and “wonder” are similar.
      3. In both chapters, the Beast is exalted after its recovery.
      4. And, perhaps most strikingly, in both, those who adore the Beast are described as “everyone whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life” (Rev 13:8; 17:8).

For these reasons, the two chapters describe the same period of incapacity, symbolized by the Beast’s fatal wound in Revelation 13 and by the Beast being in the abyss in Revelation 17.

THE SIXTH HEAD

The Fatal Wound is the Sixth Head.

Revelation 17 explains the Beast and its heads by referring to the past, the present, and the future:

The Beast (Rev 17:8) Heads (Rev 17:10)
Past Was Five have fallen.”
Present Is not and is in the abyss “One is.” This would be the sixth head.
Future Will “come up out of the abyss.” The whole world will “wonder when they see the beast.” “The other” (the seventh) “has not yet come.”

Therefore:

The sixth head is the phase during which the Beast is in the abyss, which is the head with the fatal wound.

The seventh head follows after the fatal wound has been healed, and the entire world follows after the Beast (Rev 13:4).

The entire sixth head is dead. The sixth head or phase begins when the Beast-power is killed and ends when “his fatal wound was healed” (Rev 13:3, 12). This is confirmed by the fact that we never read that the head with the mortal wound comes to life; it is always the Beast that becomes alive (Rev 13:14).

When in history is the Sixth Head?

This article does not identify the period in history of the sixth head. To identify it, one needs to identify all seven heads. This is done in other articles on this website. See:

Many commentators assume that the ‘present time’ in Revelation 17 must refer to John’s own time because he had to understand what he was told. But that would mean that the Beast was dead in John’s time, which most certainly was not the case. At that time, the authorities were very able to persecute Christians.

My view is that, when the angel “carried” John “into a wilderness” (Rev 17:3), he took John not to a specific place but to a specific time in history. And since he carried Joh away, he carried John to a different time.

OTHER ARTICLES

Who are the 144,000 “sons of Israel” in the Book of Revelation?

PURPOSE

In Revelation 7, an angel “ascends” with “the seal of the living God.” He commands four other angels to continue holding back the four winds of disaster “until we have sealed the bond-servants of our God on their foreheads” (Rev 7:1-3). Then John heard that 144,000 were to be “sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel” (Rev 7:4).

The purpose of this article is to determine who the 144,000 “sons of Israel” are. It begins by showing that it cannot be interpreted literally; and that it is a symbol that consists of two parts:

      • The number 144,000 and
      • “The sons of Israel.”

It then discusses these two parts of the symbol separately.

SUMMARY

144,000 Israelites cannot be literal.

For the following reasons, the 144,000 “sons of Israel” are not literal:

1) The twelve tribes of ancient Israel no longer exist in any literal sense.

2) The list in Revelation 7 is not a valid list of tribes. It excludes certain tribes and includes both Joseph and his son Manasseh; which is effectively a double count.

3) 12000 from each of the 12 tribes (Rev 7:4) is too exact to be literal. It simply does not make any Biblical sense.

4) Literally interpreted, the 144,000 all men, never had sex, and never told a lie (Rev 14:4-5), which is impossible (cf. Rom 3:23).

For the following reasons, the 144,000 “sons of Israel” are a symbol:

1) Revelation is a book of symbols. It has been given in the form of signs (signified – Rev 1:1) and it is filled with obvious symbols.

2) All numbers in Revelation are symbols. For example, 4 signifies ‘the whole world’ and 7 should be understood as ‘the whole time’. See – The numbers in Revelation.

What “Sons of Israel” mean

The 144,000 “sons of Israel,” therefore, are a symbol, consisting of two parts; “sons of Israel” and “144,000.” 

Old Testament things become symbols.

Firstly, Revelation frequently uses literal things from the Old Testament as symbols for spiritual realities during the church age. For example:

1) Jerusalem becomes “the New Jerusalem” a symbol for God’s people (Rev 21:2, 9-10; cf. Heb 12:22).

2) Babylon – the main enemy of God’s people in the Old Testament – becomes “Babylon the great, the mother of harlots;” a symbol for the enemies of God’s New Testament people (Rev 17:5).

Revelation merges the Church into Israel.

In the view of many Christians, the nation of Israel has a distinct role during the end-time events. However, secondly, Revelation does not distinguish between Israel and Christianity but merges the church and Israel. For example:

(a) One of the things in the Jewish temple, namely, the seven-fold lampstands, symbolizes the seven churches (Rev 1:20).

(b) Before Christ, the woman of Revelation 12 represents Israel but, after Christ, she represents the Church. See – Who are the woman and her child?

(c) “Those who had been victorious over the beast … sang the song” of both Moses and the Lamb (Rev 15:3).

(d) “The New Jerusalem” – a symbol of God’s people (Rev 21:9-10) – has written on it the names of both the 12 apostles and the 12 tribes of Israel (Rev 21:12, 14).

The many references in the book of Revelation to Jewish things, therefore, must be understood as referring to Christians.

The entire NT merges the Church into Israel.

This is a huge study. Whole books have been written on this subject and I will not attempt to do justice to this topic here. The following are a few examples:

(A) My study of Romans 9 and 11 – two key chapters for this purpose – concluded that God elected a remnant from Israel to inherit Israel’s promises and covenants, but included believing Gentiles into this chosen remnant.

(B) Paul illustrated this principle by saying that Israel is an olive tree from which unbelieving Jews were removed and believing Gentiles have been added (Rom 11:17). The important point is that the root of the tree, symbolizing the things God gave to Israel (Rom 3:2; 9:4-5), now belongs to Christianity.

(C) “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise” (Gal 3:29).

(D) By choosing twelve disciples and not eleven or thirteen, Jesus signaled His intention to re-shape Israel.

They are Christians from all nations

All references in Revelation to Israel and the things that previously belonged to literal Israel, now refer to Christianity. The “sons of Israel” (Rev 7:4) and “Jews” (Rev 2:9; 3:9), therefore, are Christians from all nations.

What makes this difficult to understand for us today is the fact that Christianity has become essentially a non-Jew organisation. But when Paul wrote and when Revelation was received, most Christians were Jews. We need to interpret Revelation against that context. See, Early Church History.

What 144,000 mean

But what does it mean that they are 144,000 in number?

12 symbolizes God’s People.

The number 144,000 is derived from the number 12 because it is equal to 12 x 12 x 1000. The number 12 appears more than a hundred times in Scripture and consistently represents THE PEOPLE OF GOD. For example:

      • The lists of the tribes in the Old Testament differ, but there are always 12 tribes in these lists.
      • Jesus chose exactly 12 disciples; not 11 or 13.
      • Judas fell away, leaving only 11 disciples, but Revelation still refers to “the twelve apostles of the Lamb” (Rev 21:14).

Revelation also uses the number 12 to symbolize God’s people:

The pure woman (Rev 12:1), representing God’s people both before and after Christ, has a crown of “twelve stars” (Rev 12:1).

The New Jerusalem, the future home of “the bride, the wife of the Lamb” (Rev 21:9-10), has 12 gates with the names of the 12 tribes of Israel written on them (Rev 21:12) as well as 12 foundations with the names of the 12 apostles written on them (Rev 21:14).

144,000 is God’s end-time army.

In Israel, “a thousand” was a military unit (cf. Num 31:5). In preparation for the war to invade the promised land, Israel selected an army of exactly 1,000 elite warriors from each tribe, giving exactly 12,000 in total (Num 31:5). It is proposed that the 144,000, which is God’s army for the final war before Christ returns and God’s people enter the eternal promised land (See – Seal of God), is based on Israel’s army, but since the number 12 symbolizes God’s people, the repetition of the number 12 (12×12=144) symbolizes the perfection of God’s end-time people.

Toughened by persecution

One of the articles on the sealing (Rev 7:1-3) concluded that the 144,000 will also be sealed DURING AND THROUGH the persecution of Revelation 13. During that persecution, nominal Christians will flee. Those who remain are the remnant; the 144,000 “sons of Israel.”

Receive power from God

The second article on the sealing argued that those who remain (the 144,000) will be strengthened by receiving power from God, symbolized by the seal of God:

They have “His name and the name of His Father written on their foreheads” (Rev 14:1), meaning to think like God.

“No lie was found in their mouth; they are blameless” (Rev 14:5).

They “have not been defiled with women, for they have kept themselves chaste” (Rev 14:4), meaning that they have not been defiled by false Christianity, symbolized by the harlot Babylon and her harlot daughters (Rev 17:5).

The 144,000 “sons of Israel,” therefore, symbolize the perfection of God’s end-time people. They will remain “faithful until death” (Rev 2:10; cf. Rev 12:11).

– End of Summary – 


CANNOT BE LITERAL

The purpose of this first section is to show that a literal interpretation of the 144,000 Israelites is not possible.

The twelve tribes no longer exist.

The twelve tribes of ancient Israel no longer exist in any literal sense. There are Jews today who can trace their descent back to Judah, Benjamin, and Levi but the ten northern tribes have disappeared. These ten tribes broke away from the rest after the death of Solomon and formed the independent kingdom of Israel, with Jeroboam as the first king. In 723-722 BC, they were later taken into captivity by the Assyrians (2 Kings 17:5-23), were assimilated into the peoples of the Middle East (2 Kings 17:34), and essentially disappeared from history.

Furthermore, a substantial portion of the Jews in the world today do not come from the 12 tribes but descended from converts over the centuries.

For these reasons, it would not be possible to identify 12,000 people from each of the twelve tribes in any literal sense.

This is not a valid list of tribes.

The Tribes in the Old Testament

The “sons of Israel” (Rev 7:4), in the original sense, were the twelve sons of Jacob. After he wrestled with the Angel, God changed Jacob’s name to Israel, meaning “prince with God” (Gen 32:27-28).

The original list of the twelve tribes, based on the sons of Jacob, were Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulon, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Joseph, and Benjamin. In Genesis 49, Jacob blesses his twelve sons, but after he had already given special attention to the two sons of Joseph; Ephraim and Manasseh (Gen 48:8-22). So, Joseph’s two sons also become ancestors of recognized tribes, taking the place of Joseph. Therefore, right from the beginning, the tribes actually numbered 13; not 12.

The number returned to 12 after Levi was withdrawn for the priesthood, and given no distinct territorial inheritance (Joshua 13:14; 14:3-4; 18:7; Num 18:20-24). Consequently, in Numbers and Joshua, the tribes were listed consistently as Reuben, Simeon, Judah, Issachar, Zebulon, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Benjamin, Ephraim, and Manasseh. (Both Joseph and Levi were left out).

The Tribes in Revelation 7

The list of tribes in Revelation 7:5-8 excludes Dan and Ephraim; probably because of their idol worship:

Dan was the first tribe to fall into idolatry. Jeroboam placed one of his two golden calves in Dan (1 Kings 12:29-30). These calves served as substitutes for the worship of Yahweh in Jerusalem (cf. Gen 49:17; Judges 18:27-31).

“Ephraim is joined to idols; Let him alone” (Hosea 4:17; cf. 8:11).

To restore the number 12, the list in Revelation 7 adds Joseph and Levi. In doing so, it includes both Joseph and his son Manasseh; which is effectively a double count. And, by including Levi, it deviates from the Old Testament lists.

The order in which the tribes were listed in the Old Testament was never fixed. The order of the tribes in Revelation, with Judah first and Reuben second, is not unusual. Judah was Jacob’s fourth son (Gen 29:35). In Revelation 7, he is in the pre-eminent (first) place because he is the ancestor of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, who is “from the tribe of Judah” (Rev 5:5). For that reason, Reuben, the eldest son of Jacob, is no longer listed as first.

144,000 is too exact to literal.

The number 12,000 is too exact to be literal. To say that God will select exactly 12,000 from each of the 12 physical tribes simply does not make any Biblical sense and is inconsistent with the freedom in God’s kingdom.

They are all men who have never sinned.

If the 144,000 Israelites are interpreted literally, then their description in Revelation 14 must also be literal. There it says that they “have not been defiled with women” and “no lie was found in their mouth; they are blameless” (Rev 14:4-5). Literally interpreted, this means that they are all men who never had sex and never sinned, but we know that all people are sinners (Rom 3:23) and that God’s people consist of both men and women.

144,000 IS A SYMBOL.

The previous section lists four reasons why the 12000 from the 12 tribes of Israel cannot be taken literally:

      1. The twelve tribes of ancient Israel no longer exist literally.
      2. The list in Revelation 7 is not a valid list of tribes.
      3. 12000 from each of the 12 tribes is too exact to be literal.
      4. Read literally, they are all men and never sinned,

This section provides additional evidence to show that the 144,000 Jews must be interpreted symbolically.

Revelation is a symbolic book.

Firstly, Revelation 1:1 tells us that Jesus Christ received this revelation from God and He “signified” (Literal Standard Version) it and handed it on to John to write down for the churches. Strong defines the word “signified” (sémainó) as “to give a sign.” In other words, this revelation has been received in the form of signs (symbols).

Consequently, this book is filled with obvious symbols, such as the four horsemen of the apocalypse (Rev 6:1-8) and a beast with seven heads (Rev 13:1). Revelation, therefore, is a book of symbols.

While the normal way to read any work is to assume straightforward language unless it becomes evident that a symbol is intended, in Revelation, the opposite is advisable: You take everything as symbolic unless it is compelling that the author intended something to be taken literally. For a further discussion, see – Is a consistently literal interpretation of Revelation appropriate?

All numbers in Revelation are symbols.

2 symbolizes ‘the Word of God’.

The number 2 symbolizes the word of God. Most often, it appears in a hidden form, for example:

“(1) the word of God and to
(2) the testimony of Jesus Christ” (Rev 1:2; cf. Rev 1:9; 6:9; 12:17; 14:12; 20:4).

Another example of the number 2 is the two witnesses (Rev 11:3) who also are the two feet of the strong angel (Rev 10:2). This symbolism is based on the Old Testament principle that at least two witnesses are required to confirm evidence (e.g., 2 Cor 13:1; 1 Tim 5:19).

4 symbolizes ‘the whole world’.

The number 4 signifies the whole world (e.g., Rev 7:1). It is also often hidden in phrases that use four synonyms to describe ALL the people of the world. For example:

“You must prophesy again concerning
many peoples and nations and tongues and kings

(Rev 10:11; cf. 7:9; 11:9; 14:6; 17:15).

7 symbolizes ‘all time’.

Seven is the most prominent number in Revelation (e.g., seven churches, seven seals, seven trumpets, seven bowls, seven heads of the beast, etc.). It is derived from the seven days of the week. Similar to the days of the week, many of the sevens in Revelation imply a chronological sequence, namely, the second follows after the first—the third after the second, and so forth, with the seventh being the last or the end. The same cannot be said of the other important numbers in Revelation, such as 4, 10, and 12.

The number seven, therefore, has to do with time and should be understood as the completion or perfection of time—ALL TIME. For example, God has seven Spirits (Rev 4:5; 5:6), but God does not literally have seven Spirits. It should be understood symbolically, namely that His Spirit is ALWAYS with us. Similarly, the seven heads of the beast are the seven phases of the beast, covering all time.

SONS OF ISRAEL

The 144,000 “sons of Israel,” therefore, are a symbol. As stated, it consists of two parts. This section discusses one part of the symbol, namely, the phrase “sons of Israel” (Rev 7:4). The next section discusses the number 144,000.

Old Testament things become symbols.

Firstly, Revelation very frequently uses literal things from the Old Testament as symbols for New Testament realities. As mentioned, in Revelation, Israel’s capital Jerusalem becomes “the New Jerusalem;” a symbol for God’s New Testament people (Rev 21:2, 9-10). Further examples are:

The Old Testament sacrificial ritual, in which the blood of animals was “poured out” at the base of the altar, becomes a symbol for the martyrdom of God’s people (Rev 6:9). See – Are the souls under the altar alive?

Babylon – the main enemy of God’s people in the Old Testament – becomes “Babylon the great, the mother of harlots;” a symbol for the enemies of God’s New Testament people (Rev 17:5).

The Euphrates – the river that flowed through ancient Babylon – becomes a symbol for “peoples and multitudes and nations and tongues” who support Babylon and who are controlled by her (Rev 17:15).

In chapters 2 and 3, the seven churches are promised the things that previously belonged to Israel, such as the tree of life (Rev 2:7), manna (Rev 2:17), the book of life (Rev 3:5), the temple (Rev 3:11), and Jerusalem (Rev 3:12).

So, if the things of Israel become symbols in Revelation, then the 144,000 Israelites themselves may also be a symbol.

Revelation merges the Church into Israel.

The purpose here is to show that the Book of Revelation does not distinguish between Christianity and Israel but merges the church into Israel. The following are specific indications that the references to the things of Israel must be interpreted as references to the church:

The Woman Is both Israel and the Church.

Secondly, as discussed in the articles on Revelation 12, the woman in that chapter represents Israel while she expects Christ, but after Christ ascended to heaven, she remains on earth and represents the Church (cf. Rev 12:1, 5, 17). In other words, Revelation uses the same symbol for both Israel and the Church. She has a crown of 12 stars (Rev 12:1). In her Old Testament existence, the 12 stars represent the 12 tribes. After Christ, the 12 stars represent the 12 apostles. Parallel to this, Jesus declared the 12 apostles to be the new leaders of the 12 tribes (Matt 19:28).

The New Jerusalem contains both.

The eternal home of “the bride, the wife of the Lamb” is “the holy city, Jerusalem” (Rev 21:9-10); also called the “New Jerusalem” (Rev 21:2; 3:12). Just as the first Israel had its capital in ancient Jerusalem, so God’s New Testament people are promised the New Jerusalem.

And, as already stated, the names of the 12 apostles are written on the foundations of the New Jerusalem (Rev 21:14). This implies that it is built on their message. But “the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel” are written on its gates (Rev 21:12). In other words, only Israelites are allowed into the New Jerusalem. This, by itself, should be sufficient proof that Revelation regards Israel and the Church to be a single entity.

The Seven Churches inherit Israel’s things.

Firstly, the entire book of Revelation was written to the seven churches (Rev 22:16). These seven churches, therefore, represent the entire Church. But Revelation uses one of the things from the Jewish temple, namely, the seven-fold lampstands, to symbolize the seven churches (Rev 1:20). Furthermore, it promises to the seven churches the things that previously belonged to Israel, such as:

      • The Tree of Life (Rev 2:7),
      • Manna (Rev 2:17),
      • The Book of Life (Rev 3:5),
      • The temple (Rev 3:11) and
      • Jerusalem (Rev 3:12).

The Song of both Moses and the Lamb

Thirdly, “those who had been victorious over the beast … sang the song of Moses, the bond-servant of God, and the song of the Lamb” (Rev 15:2-3). This combines the two main people from the Old and New Testaments into a single song.

The Innumerable Multitude is the 144,000.

While the 144,000 in the first part of Revelation 7 are on earth, only from Israel, and precisely numbered, the multitude in the second part of Revelation 7 is before God’s throne in heaven, from every nation, and innumerable (Rev 7:9). Read literally, these two groups are unrelated. However, they are NOT two completely different groups. In a number of instances, John hears about one thing, but when he looks, he sees something completely different, but the two things are different perspectives of the same thing. For example:

1) In Rev 5:5, John hears of a Lion that overcame, but when he looks, he sees a Lamb as if slain (Rev 5:6). The lion and the lamb are opposites in the animal kingdom but both are symbols of Jesus—representing two different aspects of His work. He allowed Himself to be slaughtered like a lamb, but He will return as the “Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David” (Rev 5:5). “To him shall be the obedience of the peoples” (Gen 49:10). “He will rule them with a rod of iron” (Rev 19:15).

2) In Rev 17:1, John hears about a woman sitting on many waters but when he looks, he sees her sitting on a seven-headed beast (Rev 17:3). The water is explained as the peoples of the world (Rev 17:15). The beast with its heads and horns represents those same people but organized into the kingdoms of the world (Rev 17:9-12 – see the article on The Seven-Headed Beasts of Revelation).

3) An angel says to John that He will show him the other woman in Revelation—the bride of the Lamb (Rev 21:9) but then John sees a city—the New Jerusalem—descending from heaven (Rev 21:10). A city is a collection of people; not just a collection of buildings. The New Jerusalem is the collection of God’s people, just like Babylon is also both a city and a woman (Rev 17:18), representing the people who oppose God’s people.

Similar to these examples, in Revelation 7, John does not see the 144,000; he only hears their number (Rev 7:4). But when he looks, he sees the innumerable multitude from every nation (Rev 7:9-12). Literally read, the two groups are unrelated, but the hear/see combination implies that the 144,000 and the multitude are two perspectives on God’s people. The 144,000 represents God’s people on earth living during the end-time conflict. The next article will identify the innumerable multitude.

Say they are Jews, meaning Christians.

In the seven letters, we read of people “who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan” (Rev 2:9; 3:9). A claim to be a literal Jew does not make any sense. In the context of a Christian church at the end of the first century, after Jerusalem has been destroyed more than two decades earlier, what benefit would a person derive from claiming to be a literal Jew? But, to claim to be a Jew, in the context of Paul writing that “he is a Jew who is one inwardly” (Rom 2:29) does make sense. It would mean to be a true believer.

Conclusion

Revelation is a Christian book. The many references in the book to Jewish things must be understood in a Christ-centered spiritual sense as referring to Christians.

The NT merges the Church into Israel.

This is a huge study by itself. This section will only make a few key observations to show that the entire New Testament merges the church into Israel:

Romans 9 and 11

The article – Israel in Prophecy – is a study of Romans 9 and 11. Since these chapters are key to that discussion, the purpose was specifically to determine who Israel in the Book of Revelation is. This article concludes that:

In Paul’s day, God elected a remnant from Israel but included believing Gentiles into this chosen remnant. This is the definition of “Israel” which we should take with us to the study of the book of Revelation, for the interpretation of the Jewish symbols in that book.

God did not annul His word. Israel’s promises and covenants remain but now belong to this chosen remnant. Believing Gentiles, therefore, now also share in Israel’s promises and covenants (cf. Gal 3:29).

The NT did not replace the OT but is built on the foundation of the OT. Everything in the OT remains valid, except to the extent that the NT announces specific changes. The chosen remnant is a continuation of the chosen nation of the Old Testament; not a new entity with new founding principles.

The Olive Tree

One key passage is Romans 11:17-21, where Israel is described as an “olive tree” from which branches were broken off (the unbelieving Jews). Branches from “the wild olive” (the Gentile world) were grafted into Israel’s olive tree. Paul concluded:

“A partial hardening has happened to Israel
     (some branches of the olive tree were broken off)
until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in;
     (branches from the wild olive were grafted in
and so all Israel will be saved
(all believers from both Israel and non-Israel)”

(Rom 11:25-26).

Paul warns the Gentiles not to be arrogant:

“Remember that it is not you who supports the root,
but the root supports you” (Rom 11:18).

The root refers to the covenants, the Law, the temple service, the promises, and the fathers (Rom 9:4-5). Is that not clear evidence that Israel and the church cannot be separated?

Specific New Testament Verses

In the New Testament, the things of Israel are applied to the church; the faithful followers of Jesus. Many texts from the New Testament can be quoted, for example:

“He is not a Jew who is one outwardly,
nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh.
But he is a Jew who is one inwardly;
and circumcision is that which is of the heart,
by the Spirit, not by the letter” (Rom 2:28-29).

“They are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; …
it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God,
but the children of the promise
are regarded as descendants” (Rom 9:6-8).

“If you belong to Christ,
then you are Abraham’s descendants,
heirs according to promise” (Gal 3:29).

“Neither is circumcision anything,
nor uncircumcision,
but a new creation.
And those who will walk by this rule,
peace and mercy be upon them,
and upon the Israel of God.” (Gal 6:15-16)

“We are the true circumcision,
who worship in the Spirit of God
and glory in Christ Jesus
and put no confidence in the flesh” (Phil 3:3).

In the following text, James describes the church as the twelve tribes scattered among the nations:

“James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,
To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations” (James 1:1, NIV).

Jesus selected 12.

Just as Israel (previously called Jacob) had twelve sons, so Jesus chose twelve disciples (Matt 10:1-5, Mark 3:14; Luke 6:13, John 6:70-71, etc.). They became the twelve apostles—the first church fathers. It is not an accident that Jesus chose twelve and not eleven or thirteen. He was deliberately signaling His intention of re-shaping Israel. This is clear from what He said to them:

“At the renewal of all things,
when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne,
you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones,
judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matt 19:28, NIV).

In other words, Jesus appointed the twelve apostles as the heads of the twelve tribes of Israel. So, since the first leaders of the Church were all Jews and the Church leaders will judge Israel, it is not feasible to distinguish between Israel and the Church. The true followers of Jesus have become a new Israel.

Conclusion: The Sons of Israel are Christians.

This section analyzed the phrase “sons of Israel” and concluded:

Revelation often uses literal things from the Old Testament as symbols for New Testament realities, for example, the “New Jerusalem” and “Babylon.”

Revelation merges Christianity into Israel. The New Jerusalem, for example, has the names of both the twelve tribes and the twelve apostles.

The NT does the same. Paul described Israel as an olive tree from which unbelieving Jews were removed and believing non-Jews were added. The root of the tree, symbolizing Israel’s things, now belongs to the Church.

Therefore, all references in Revelation to Israel and the things of Israel, now refer to Christianity. The “sons of Israel,” therefore, are Christians from all nations.

What makes this concept difficult to understand today is that Christianity today is essentially a non-Jew organization. But when Paul wrote and when Revelation was received, most Christians were Jews. We need to interpret Revelation against that context.

THE NUMBER 144,000

It was argued above that the 144,000 “sons of Israel” (Rev 7:4) are a symbol and that it consists of two parts:

      • The number 144,000, and
      • The “sons of Israel.”

The purpose of this section is to discuss the meaning of the number 144,000. As argued above, all numbers in Revelation are symbols. So, what does it mean that they are said to be 144,000 in number?

The Number 12

The number 144,000 is derived from the number 12 because 144,000 is equal to 12 x 12 x 1000. Therefore, to determine the meaning of the number 144,000, we first need to determine the meaning of the number 12.

The number 12 appears more than a hundred times in Scripture and consistently represents the people of God. For example:

12 in the Old Testament

Since Jacob became the father of the twelve patriarchs (Acts 7:8), Israel consisted of twelve tribes (Gen 35:22; 49:28). The lists of the tribes in the Old Testament differ, but there are always 12 in the list. Since the number 12 was regarded as important, there were:

    • Twelve spies of Israel (Deut 1:23),
    • Twelve stones of the Jordan River (Josh 4:2-9),
    • Twelve cities of the Levites (Josh 21:40),
    • Twelve governors for Solomon (1 Kings 4:7),
    • Twelve bronze oxen held up the bronze sea in Solomon’s temple (1 Kings 7:44; 2 Chr 4:2-4; Jer 52:20),
    • Twelve lions in front of Solomon’s throne (1 Kings 10:18-20; 2 Chr 9:17-19),
    • Elijah’s twelve stones (1 Kings 18:31), and the
    • Twenty-four courses of priests, each with twelve trained musicians (1 Chr 25:1-31).

12 in the New Testament

Similarly, Jesus chose exactly 12 disciples; not 11 or 13. Judas fell away, but Revelation still refers to “the twelve apostles of the Lamb” (Rev 21:14).

12 in the Book of Revelation

The number 12 symbolizes God’s people also in Revelation. For example:

The pure woman (Rev 12:1) first gave birth to Christ (Rev 12:5) but, after Christ ascended to heaven (Rev 12:5), she also had other “children” (Rev 12:17) . She, therefore, represents God’s people both before and after Christ. She is associated with the number 12 because she has a crown of “twelve stars” (Rev 12:1).

The New Jerusalem, the future home of “the bride, the wife of the Lamb” (Rev 21:9-10), has 12 gates with the names of the 12 tribes of Israel written on them (Rev 21:12), meaning that only Israelites may enter. But it also has 12 foundations with the names of the 12 apostles written on them (Rev 21:14).

There are 24 elders in Revelation (e.g., Rev 4:4) and 24 is equal to 12 + 12.

In conclusion, the number 12 symbolizes God’s people – both in the Old and New Testaments.

The Number 144,000

Since the number 12 symbolizes God’s people, and since the number 144,000 is derived from the number 12, the number 144,000 symbolizes something specific about God’s people. This section argues that this number symbolizes the perfection of the end-time remnant of God’s people.

It is OT Military Language.

Firstly, the number 144,000 converts Old Testament military language into a symbol. The LORD ordered Moses:

“Take a census … of the sons of Israel …
every male … from twenty years old and upward,
whoever is able to go out to war.” (Num 1:1-3)

When Moses did this, he counted, for example, 46,500 from the tribe of Reuben and 59,300 from “the sons of Simeon” (Num 1:20-23). In this way, each tribe had an army of between 30,000 and 75,000 (Num 1:17-43).

Numbers 31 describes Israel’s preparation for the invasion of the promised land. Moses commanded the people to send “a thousand from each tribe … to the war” “against Midian” (Num 31:3-4):

“So there were furnished from the thousands of Israel,
a thousand from each tribe,
twelve thousand armed for war” (Num 31:5).

“The thousands of Israel” in this verse refers to Israel’s entire army, as counted in Numbers 1.

Since they selected “a thousand from each tribe,” it is implied that “a thousand” was a military unit; equivalent to what we today may call a regiment or a platoon. Support for this is that the Hebrew word for “thousand” (eleph) can also mean a military unit.

Therefore, the “twelve thousand” in verse 5 can be understood as twelve military units of 1000 men each that went out for that war. In other words, only the very best soldiers were selected.

It is proposed that the 144,000 in Revelation 7:4-8 are based on Numeri 31:5 (quoted above) because both:

      • Describe people of God
      • Who are numbered in thousands, and
      • Selected equally from the 12 tribes
      • In preparation for the war to invade the promised land.

As discussed, Revelation 7:1-8 describes an end-time event. It describes, therefore, the preparation of God’s end-time people for the final evil onslaught before Christ returns.

It symbolizes God’s people perfected.

Based on Numeri 31:5, we may interpret the 144,000 as follows:

1) It is the end-time army of God’s people.

2) In Numeri 31:5 a specific number of men were selected for that war. The parallel implies that the 144,000 are a select group of elite warriors. This may be compared with Gideon’s 300 chosen men (Judges 7:2-7). From the 32,000 warriors available, God led Gideon to select only 300.

3) Since a thousand is a military unit, the 12,000 from each of the tribes imply 12 military units from each tribe; in total 12 x 12 = 144 military units.

4) Since the number 12 symbolizes God’s people, the repetition of the number 12 (12×12=144) symbolizes the perfection of God’s people.

Toughened by Persecution

One of the articles on the sealing (Rev 7:1-3) concluded that the 144,000 will also be sealed DURING AND THROUGH the persecution of Revelation 13. During that persecution, nominal Christians will flee. Those who remain – the remnant – are the 144,000 “sons of Israel.”

Strengthened by God

The second article on the sealing argued that those who remain (the 144,000) will be strengthened by receiving additional power from God. This should not be understood as physical strength.  Revelation 14 helps us to understand the nature of the seal. It describes the 144,000 as follows:

They have “His name and the name of His Father written on their foreheads” (Rev 14:1), meaning that they think like God.

“No lie was found in their mouth; they are blameless” (Rev 14:5).

They “have not been defiled with women, for they have kept themselves chaste” (Rev 14:4), meaning that they were not defiled by Babylon, the mother of harlots, or by her harlot daughters (Rev 17:5). They will be pure in their worship of God and Christ.

Joyner, in his vision of the 144,000, similarly wrote, “the spiritual atmosphere that I felt when close to them was as awesome as their appearance. … I could not detect ambition or pride anywhere in the ranks.”

The 144,000 “sons of Israel,” therefore, symbolize the perfection of the remnant of God’s people after the nominal Christians had fled the persecution. The remnant will remain “faithful until death” (Rev 2:10; cf. Rev 12:11).

Rick Joyner’s description of the 144,000

Rick Joyner discusses the 144,000 in chapter 10 of his book The Call. He refers to them as 12 divisions in the vanguard of God’s army.

Joyner begins by describing Christianity as it is today. It moves erratically and wears “tattered, dull gray uniforms.” “Fights were constantly breaking out in the ranks causing many of the wounds.” “In a real battle, they would be much more of a liability than an asset.” However, Rick quotes Jesus as saying:

Before the last great battle, My army will be holy, even as I AM holy. I will remove those who are not circumcised of heart and the leaders who do not uphold My righteousness.

Jesus will purify His church through persecution. Quoting Jesus, Joyner wrote:

I will stop the march of the entire army until those in this group have been disciplined to become soldiers or dispersed.

Those who want to be called by My name but do not walk in My ways will be trodden underfoot.

The Wall of Jerusalem is also 144.

The other symbol in Revelation that includes the number 144 is the wall of the New Jerusalem, which “was 144 cubits thick” (Rev 21:17; NIV or YLT). In ancient times, the wall of a city was the most important defense for the people of that city. Both this huge wall and the 144,000 sons of Israel in Revelation 7 use military strength as a symbol. The 144,000 Israelites symbolize that God’s end-time army will not surrender. They will be willing to die for their testimony (Rev 12:11). The huge wall symbolizes the same concept but for God’s people in eternity.

CONCLUSION

So, Revelation 7:4-8 should not be taken literally. Revelation uses literal things from the Old Testament as symbols. The 144,000 is a figurative description of the perfection of the remnant. They will be sealed through the persecution described in Revelation 13 in preparation for the seven last plagues; in particular for the very final war as described in the sixth plague; Armageddon. See – Where does the sealing (Revelation 7:1-8) fit in the end-time events?

In Old Testament times, God made a covenant with Israel as the literal descendants of the twelve sons of Jacob. In the New Testament, the covenant is between God and Israel’s Messiah (Gal 3:16). So, the meaning of Israel was expanded from literal Jews to everyone who belongs to Christ (Gal 3:14).

This passage is best understood within the larger picture of the book of Revelation:

While God’s faithful people proclaim the final message of God to the world (Rev 14:6-12), God protects the world from the end-time catastrophes (the four angels hold back the four winds).

At the same time, the image of the beast persecutes God’s people and attempts to put the mark of the beast on all people (Rev 13:15-17).

As a result of these two gospels, all people are more and more conformed to the image of the one that they choose to worship. These decisions are confirmed by the seal of God, on the one hand, and the mark of the beast, on the other (Rev 7:1-3; 14:1-3; 13:16-17).

When all have been settled into their respective beliefs and characters (when all people are marked with either the seal of God or the mark of the beast), the four winds (the seven last plagues of destruction) are released on the whole world. God’s people are not exempt from that hour of trial (Rev 3:10; 16:15), but they are under the special protection of the Holy Spirit and are brought safely through it.


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