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Revelation and the 144,000

In Revelation, numbers have symbolic significance, but for years I have been unsure about the significance and meaning of the 144,000 from the tribes of Israel that were sealed in Revelation 7.  The book on Revelation by Richard Bauckham and a commentary by NT Wright draw a useful distinction between hearing and seeing:

Chapter Hear See
The lion of the tribe of Judah
The Root of David who has
 triumphed (v5)
The lamb looking as if it had been
slain standing in the centre
 of the throne (v6)


The number sealed - 144,000
12,000 from each of the 12 tribes
of Israel (v4-8)

A great multitude that couldn't be
counted from every nation, tribe,
people and language (v9)


In each case what was heard was what people typically expected but what was seen was God's surprising outworking.

The Messiah of Chapter 5 didn't win through a bigger army but through dying and rising and he wasn't just a descendant of David he was God (in the centre of the throne).

The complete people of God (1000, 12 and 12 are numbers of completeness) isn't just ethnic Israel, but is now surprisingly expanded to include people from every nation, tribe, people and language.

What can seem like confusing pictures in Chapters 5 and 7 actually communicate in vivid ways key elements of the Good News of Jesus Christ!!

David Wanstall, 27/03/2012