144000 are sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel (Rev 7:4-8)


  • In Rev 7:1-3, an angel comes down from heaven with “the seal of the living God.” He commands four other angels to hold back the four winds of destruction “until we have sealed the bond-servants of our God on their foreheads” (Rev 7:1-3). Then John heard that 144000 were “sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel” (Rev 7:4).


For the following reasons, the 144000 Israelites cannot be interpreted literally:

    • Ten of the twelve tribes have disappeared long ago.
    • This is not a valid list of tribes.
    • 144000 is too exact to be literal.
    • Literally interpreted, they are all men and without sin.

Rather, the number 144000 is symbolic. Revelation is a symbolic book and all numbers in Revelation are symbols. Revelation frequently uses literal things from the Old Testament as symbols and the number 144000 is Old Testament military language converted into a symbol.

As indicated by the following, the number 144000 symbolizes that they will remain faithful until death:

    • As argued. the sealing of “the bond-servants of our God” (Rev 7:3) is equivalent to the ‘completion’ of “their fellow servants” in the fifth seal (6:11) and that is qualitative completion.
    • Revelation 14 describes the 144000 as spiritually mature.


Israel in exileFurthermore, as discussed under Rev 4:4, Revelation merges the church into Israel. For example:

    • The seven churches are promised the things that previously belonged to Israel.
    • The woman of Revelation 12 represents both Israel and the Church.
    • “Those who had been victorious over the beast … sang the song” of both Moses and the Lamb; the main characters in the Old and New Testaments.
    • The New Jerusalem” symbolizes God’s people and has the names of the 12 apostles on its foundations but the names of the 12 tribes its gates.
    • John hears about the 144000 Jews but then sees the innumerable multitude from all nations. Such hear-see combinations, in Revelation, actually are different perspectives OF THE SAME THING.
    • In the seven letters, there are people “who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.” In this context, to claim to be a Jew is a claim to be a true Christian.


The entire New Testament merges the church into Israel. This is a huge study by itself. The following are a few examples:

    • In Romans 11, Gentiles are grafted into Israel’s olive tree.
    • The study of Romans 9 and 11 concluded that God elected a remnant from Israel to inherit Israel’s promises and covenants, but included believing Gentiles into this chosen remnant.
    • If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise” (Gal 3:29).
    • By choosing twelve disciples and not eleven or thirteen, Jesus signaled His intention to re-shape Israel.



This first section shows that a literal interpretation of the 144000 Jews is not appropriate.


Firstly, 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. Therefore, it would not be possible to define 12000 people from the twelve tribes in any literal sense.



old testament prophetsThe “sons of Israel” (Rev 7:4), in the original sense, were the twelve sons of Jacob. After his wrestling with the angel, God changed Jacob’s name to Israel, which means “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 list of tribes in Revelation 7:5-8 is Judah, Reuben, Gad, Asher, Naphtali, Manasseh, Simeon, Levi, Issachar, Zebulun, Joseph, and Benjamin. This list excludes Dan and Ephraim; probably because of their sin:

      • 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 here 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.


The list in Revelation 7 is not a valid list. It excludes two tribes that were connected to idol worship. To retain the number 12 (tribes), it has to double count Joseph and Manassah and add Levi, who was not counted as a tribe in the Old Testament. Furthermore, it puts Judah first because Jesus descended from that tribe.


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


If the 144000 Israelites are interpreted literally, then their description in Revelation 14 must also be literal. There it says they have not been defiled with women, which would imply that all of them are men.  It also says they have never “no lie was found in their mouth; they are blameless” (Rev 14:5). But we know that all people are sinners (Rom 3:23) and that God’s people consist of both men and women.


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


Firstly, Rev 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.” This means that the overall context of the book is symbolic. A study of this book will confirm that symbols are pervasive.

While the normal way to read any work is to assume straightforward language unless it becomes evident that a symbol is intended, in Revelation 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?


Secondly, the number 144000 converts Old Testament military language into a symbol. The number 144000 is modeled after Israel’s army. Numbers 31 describes the preparation for the invasion of the promised land as follows:

3 Moses spoke to the people, saying, ‘Arm men from among you for the war, that they may go against Midian … 4 A thousand from each tribe of all the tribes of Israel you shall send to the war.’

5 So there were furnished from the thousands of Israel, a thousand from each tribe, twelve thousand armed for war. (Num 31:3-5)

The thousands of Israel” in verse 5 describe Israel’s army. Each tribe had an army of between 30,000 and 75,000 (Num 1:17-43).

A “thousand” was a military unit; equivalent to what we today may call a regiment or a platoon. The Hebrew word for “thousand” (eleph) can also mean a military unit. Out of the “thousands of Israel,” Moses chose “a thousand from each tribe” (a military unit from each tribe) to fight the Midianites (Num 31:5). Therefore, the “twelve thousand” in verse 5 can be understood as twelve thousands or 12 military units.


This is the background to the 144000 in Revelation 7. The tribes of Israel were divided into clans or families. For example:

      • Gideon said, “my family is the least in Manasseh” (Judges 6:15)
      • Bethlehem Ephrathah, too little to be among the clans of Judah” (Micah 5:2).

The 144000 is equal to 12 x 12 x 1000. It means 12 military units (12 thousands) from each of the 12 tribes; in total 144 military units. Just as Revelation 7 divides the number 144000 into exactly 12 tribes, it symbolically divides each tribe is into exactly 12 clans. So, the core symbolism of the 144000 is the totality of Israel’s army.


Revelation very frequently uses literal things from the Old Testament as symbols. Above it was already shown that the 144000 convert literal military language into a symbol and that Jerusalem becomes “the New Jerusalem.” Further examples are:

    • The fifth seal converts an Old Testament sacrificial ritual, in which the blood of animals was “poured out” at the base of the altar, into a symbol of God’s slain people, screaming for revenge.
    • Babylon was the main enemy of God’s people in the Old Testament. In Revelation, Babylon becomes a symbol for the enemies of God’s New Testament people (Rev 17:5).
    • The Euphrates was the river that flowed through ancient Babylon. In Revelation, it becomes a symbol for “peoples and multitudes and nations and tongues” (Rev 17:15).


Thirdly, all numbers in Revelation are symbols:


Two is the number of the gospel (e.g., Rev 12:17; 14:12 or the two witnesses). Most often, it appears in a hidden form, for example, “the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ” (Rev 1:2). It 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).


Four signifies “the whole earth” or ‘worldwide’ (e.g., Rev 7:1). The number four is also often hidden in phrases such as “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).


Seven is the number most often found in Revelation (seven churches, seven seals, seven trumpets, seven bowls, etc.).

The number seven 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 completion or perfection of time—the full period. 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 will ALWAYS be with us.


The number twelve, which is the foundation of the number 144000, appears more than a hundred times in Scripture and consistently represents the people of God. For example:

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

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


The pure woman, who first gave birth to Christ (Rev 12:5) but afterward had other “children” (Rev 12:17), has a crown of “twelve stars” (Rev 12:1).

The New Jerusalem, where “the bride, the wife of the Lamb” will live (Rev 21:9-10), has 12 gates with the names of the 12 tribes of Israel written on them (Rev 21:12). It also has 12 foundations with the names of the 12 apostles written on them (Rev 21:14).

The wall of the New Jerusalem “was 144 cubits thick” (Rev 21:17; NIV). Therefore, both the wall and the 144000 sealed Jews:

    • Are military concepts. The 144000 represents Israel’s army and the walls symbolize the New Jerusalem’s protection against invading armies.
    • Include the number 144, which divides the 12 tribes into 12 military clans.

There are 24 elders in Revelation 4 and 24 is equal to 12 + 12. The number 24 could be drawn from the fact that the Old Testament priests were organized into 24 divisions.


This is the third part of this article. The first two parts showed that (1) the 144000 cannot be interpreted literally and (2) must be interpreted symbolically.  This third part shows that the Book of Revelation 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:


Firstly, the entire book of Revelation was written to the seven churches (Rev 22:16). These seven churches, therefore, represent the Church. Revelation uses one of the elements of the Jewish temple—the seven-fold lampstands, to symbolize the seven churches (Rev 1:20). Furthermore, 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),
      • Book of Life (Rev 3:5),
      • Temple (Rev 3:11) and
      • Jerusalem (Rev 3:12).


Secondly, as discussed in the articles on Revelation 12, the woman in that chapter represents Israel when she expects the Christ, but after Christ ascended to heaven, she remains on earth and represents the Church (cf. Rev 12:5, 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, this represents the 12 tribes. After Christ, the 12 stars represent the 12 apostles. As discussed below, Jesus declared the 12 apostles to be the new leaders of the 12 tribes (Matt 19:28).


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 main characters in the Old and New Testaments into a single song.


The bride, the wife of the Lamb” is associated with “the holy city, Jerusalem” (Rev 21:9-10), also called “the New Jerusalem” (Rev 3:12). Just as the first Israel had its capital in ancient Jerusalem, so God’s people in Revelation have the New Jerusalem as their capital (Rev 21:12-14).

As already stated, on the foundations of the New Jerusalem are written the names of the 12 apostles (Rev 21:14). This implies that it is built on the gospel as preached by the 12 apostles.

But, on its gates are written: “the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel” (Rev 21:12). In other words, only Israelites are allowed into the New Jerusalem. This, by itself, is sufficient proof that Revelation regards Israel and the Church to be a single entity.

He measured its wall, an hundred forty-four cubits” (Rev 21:17; Young’s Literal Translation). So the imagery of 12 x 12 is solidly established in the book of Revelation.


While the 144000 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 opposite but it does NOT mean that they are 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:

    • 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 for Jesus—representing two different aspects of His work.  He was a lamb when He was slaughtered, but 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).
    • 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 organized into the kingdoms of the world (Rev 17:9-12 – see the article on The Seven-Headed Beasts of Revelation).
    • Later, 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 enemy of God’s people.

Similarly, in Revelation 7, John does not see the 144000—he only hears their number, but when he looks, he sees the innumerable multitude from every nation (Rev 7:9-12). Literally read, the two groups are opposites, but the hear/see combination implies that the 144000 and the multitude are two perspectives on God’s people. The 144000 represents God’s people on earth living during the end-time conflict.  The next article will identify the innumerable multitude.


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 in 70 AD, 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.

In 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 God’s end-time followers of Jesus.


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


One passage that immediately comes to mind to Romans 11, where Israel is described as an “olive tree” from which branches were broken off (the unbelieving Jews). Gentiles are “a wild olive.” Branches from the wild olive were grafted in Israel’s olive tree. Paul warns the Gentiles not to be arrogant: “Remember that it is not you who supports the root, but the root supports you” (Rom 11:16-24). The root refers to the covenants, the Law, the temple service, the promises, and the fathers (Rom 9:4-5).


The article – Israel in Prophecy – is a study of Romans 9 and 11, but 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 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 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.


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: Greetings” (James 1:1, NIV).


Just as Israel (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:

I tell you the truth, 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” (Matthew 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.


The previous article concluded that the seal in Revelation 7 is something special that only end-time believers will receive to safeguard them during the final catastrophic events before Christ returns. The seal is not a mere identification of the servants of God. Rather, it symbolizes that God will make more of His grace and power available to the last-day church because she must accomplish more than the church of any age has yet accomplished.

Consequently, the number 144000 is a symbolic way of saying that these people will be mature Christians who will not withdraw under persecution. This number 144000 should be understood qualitatively; rather than quantitatively. This is supported by the following:


The previous article concluded that the sealing of “the bond-servants of our God” (Rev 7:3) is equivalent to the ‘completion’ of their “fellow servants” in the fifth seal. That ‘completion’ has been interpreted as qualitative completion, rather than quantitative (See Fifth Seal). This implies that the sealing of the 144000 must also be interpreted qualitatively and not as a specific number.


Revelation 14 describes the 144000. They have “His name and the name of His Father written on their foreheads” (Rev 14:1). This indicates how they think. They “have not been defiled with women” (Rev 14:4). That means their religion is pure (Rev 17:5). “No lie was found in their mouth; they are blameless” (Rev 14:5). We know that all people are sinners. This should, rather, be understood as a description of the nature of the seal: It refers to purity of mind and willingness to follow Jesus wherever He leads (Rev 14:4-5).

To be sealed, therefore, means to be spiritually mature—to love God with your whole heart, your neighbor like yourself, and even to love your enemies.  The extraordinary description of the sealed saints set them apart from their brethren in all earlier ages.


So, the text of Revelation 7:4-8 should not be taken literally. The twelve tribes and their twelve subdivisions are grounded in literal realities of Old Testament Israel, but the number itself, the twelve specific tribes, and their subdivisions are not to be taken literally. The 144000 is a figurative description of the totality of God’s army—the people of God—preparing for war in the very final period of earth’s history.

In Old Testament times, God made a covenant with Israel as the literal descendants of the twelve sons of Jacob, located in a strip of land at the southeast corner of the Mediterranean Sea. Israel was understood in both ethnic and geographic terms.

In the New Testament, the meaning of Israel shifted. The covenant was no longer with a literal people located in a specific place; it is between God and Israel’s Messiah (Gal 3:16). So, in the New Testament, the meaning of Israel was expanded from literal Jews to everyone who is in a relationship with Jesus (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), they and the entire world are under the special protection of God (the four angels hold back the four winds), so that the final work of the gospel can go forth.

At the same time, a counterfeit gospel also goes forth to the world (Rev 16:13-14).

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), the four winds (the seven last plagues) are released on the whole world. God permits ‘all hell to break loose’. 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.


In Revelation, numbers are symbolic:

    • Four signifies “the whole earth” or ‘worldwide’.
    • Seven should be understood as completion or perfection of time.
    • Twelve – the basis of the number 144000 – appears more than a hundred times in Scripture and consistently represents the people of God.
    • The number 144000 is a symbolic way of saying that these people will be mature Christians who will maintain their witness until death.

Revelation and the entire New Testament merges the church into Israel.






    • Seal 1: The white horse is the gospel.
    • Seals 2 to 4: Bloodshed, famine and death
    • Seal 5: Who are the souls under the altar?
    • Seal 6 includes the plagues and concludes with Christ’s return.