The number 144,000 appears three times in the Book of Revelation, in the Bible:
- Revelation 7:3–8:
“Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have sealed the servants of God on their foreheads.”
And I heard the number of the sealed, 144,000, sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel:
- Revelation 14:1:
Then I looked, and behold, on Mount Zion stood the Lamb, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads.
- Revelation 14:3–5:
and they were singing a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and before the elders. No one could learn that song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth. It is these who have not defiled themselves with women, for they are virgins. It is these who follow the Lamb wherever he goes. These have been redeemed from mankind as firstfruits for God and the Lamb, and in their mouth no lie was found, for they are blameless.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses, according to Wikipedia,
believe that exactly 144,000 faithful Christians from Pentecost of 33 AD until the present day will be resurrected to heaven as immortal spirit beings to spend eternity with God and Christ. They believe that these people are “anointed” by God to become part of the spiritual “Israel of God”.They believe the 144,000 (which they consider to be synonymous with the “little flock” of Luke 12:32) will serve with Christ as king-priests for a thousand years, while all other people accepted by God (the “other sheep” of John 10:16, composed of “the great crowd” of Revelation 7:9,14 and the resurrected “righteous and the unrighteous” ones of Acts 24:15), will be given an opportunity to live forever in a restored paradise on earth.
Individual Witnesses indicate their claim of being “anointed” by partaking of the bread and wine at the annual Memorial of Christ’s death. More than 19,500 Witnesses worldwide—an increase of about 11,000 since 1995—claim to be of the anointed “remnant” of the 144,000. The members of the Governing Body who exercise teaching authority over Jehovah’s Witnesses worldwide claim to be among the anointed 144,000,
Jehovah’s Witnesses are unique in their belief, most other religious denominations interpret the number 144,000 to be symbolic, but they still differ in their explanations.
According to Catholic.com, for example,
Witnesses … insist that there are exactly 144,000 of these people, no more and no less, making it a literal number, but they interpret every other detail about this group in a symbolic manner.
If they were consistent, they would have to conclude that the 144,000 are Jews, drawn equally from the twelve tribes of Israel …, that they are all male virgins who do not lie and who have two names literally written on their foreheads. The problem is that almost none of the 9,000 Witnesses supposed to be members of this group fit this description. Many of them are married Gentile women with children, and they presumably have bent the truth more than a few times in their lives.
The only detail from the text that the Witnesses take literally is the number. Every other detail of the text is taken non-literally. They should either take all of the details literally or see the 144,000 as a symbol of the Church as a whole (as does virtually everyone else).
In “The Lost Language of Symbolism” by Alonzo Gaskill, a Latter-day Saint scholar, a very different interpretation is offered, one that focuses on the symbolic nature of the number 144,000, which is a combination of the number 12, its square, 144, and the number 1,000.
“The number twelve is a symbol for priesthood, including its power and right to govern. Examples of this in scripture and the temple are legion.
“In Matthew 10:1-4 we are told that Jesus called twelve Apostles and gave them the priesthood. When he appeared to the Nephites, Jesus again called twelve men as ministers to the people and gave them ‘power and authority to baptize’ (3 Nephi 12:1). In the dispensation of the fulness of times, the Lord has again called and commissioned twelve Apostles to further his work (see D&C 18:27). The number twelve in relation to the Apostles suggests that they are the epitome of priesthood authority and governance.
“The number twelve appears over and over again in relation to priesthood holders, the temple, the covenant people who have received the necessary priesthood ordinances, and the celestial kingdom. Hence there are twelve tribes, twelve stones on the breastplate of the high priest, twelve foundations and gates into the heavenly city, twelve priesthood-holding patriarchs from Seth to Noah, and another twelve from Shem to Jacob. . . .
” . . .Because the number twelve symbolizes priesthood, multiples of twelve are traditionally understood to be a symbol for the fulness of the priesthood, or making one’s calling and election sure. Thus one commentary notes, ‘Anytime the number twelve is multiplied by another number, it symbolizes an increase in power and covenant responsibility.’
“So in Revelation 7 we read, ‘And I hear the number of them which were sealed an hundred and forty and four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel’ (v.4). Of these 144,000 individuals, ‘we are to understand that those who are sealed are high priests, ordained unto the holy order of God, to administer the everlasting gospel; for they are they who are ordained out of every nation, kindred, tongue, and people, by the angels to whom is given power over the nations of the earth to bring as many as will come to the church of the Firstborn’ (D&C 77:11). Contrary to the teachings of some churches, this number is not intended to be taken literally. Rather it serves to highlight the necessity of priesthood and priesthood ordinances (e.g., “twelve thousand” of each tribe).
It emphasizes the fact that those who partake of the ordinances required by the Lord, and then keep the covenants associated therewith, shall become members of the Church of the Firstborn and have their calling and election made sure. This is available to all of God’s children, not a predetermined, limited number. Of this verse one commentator wrote:
“Twelve represents the priesthood. Biblical people squared a number to amplify its symbolic meaning. Thus, 144 suggests a fulness of priesthood authority. But John is not satisfied with that. He gives the image a superlative quality by multiplying 1,000, representing completeness. In this way he shows the strength and breadth of the priesthood in the latter days, in this dispensation that is, indeed, the dispensation of the fulness of times. During this period that complete priesthood authority will operate.”
The Latter-day Saint Prophet Joseph Smith asked to the Lord this same question – who are these one hundred and forty four thousand? The Lord gave him an answer in Doctrine & Covenants 77:12. In response to the question “What are we to understand by sealing the one hundred and forty-four thousand, out of all the tribes of Israel – twelve thousand out of every tribe?”, the revelation of Joseph Smith states that
“We are to understand that those who are sealed are high priests, ordained unto the holy order of God, to administer the everlasting gospel; for they are they who are ordained out of every nation, kindred, tongue, and people, by the angels to whom is given power over the nations of the earth, to bring as many as will come to the church of the Firstborn.”
Church educational manuals have also elaborate on the subject:
“‘the number 144,000 mentioned in Revelation 7:4-8 is the number of ordained high priests out of the twelve tribes of Israel who will assist others in their quest for exaltation. it is not, as some people believe, the total number of people who will be exalted