Sermon #2026 — Miscellaneous Sermons
Title: What about the 144,000?
Text: Revelation 7:4
Subject: The Sure Salvation of God’s Elect
Date: Tuesday Evening ― November 20, 2003
Tape # AA-89
Readings: Rex Bartley and Mark Henson
I was well on my way preparing my message for you tonight from 1st John 3 when I got a call from my friend, Bro. Sonny Dutra, out on the West Coast. He asked if I had ever preached a sermon on the 144,000 in the Book of Revelation. He had been talking to someone, a business acquaintance, who had told him something very strange. This man told Bro. Dutra, “There are only 144,000 who are going to heaven.” Sonny thought that sounded strange, so he called me. He knows that the Scriptures teach that “few are chosen,” but he thought surely not that few.
Of course the man he had been talking to is a Russellite, a follower of the 19th century heretic Charles Taze Russell who started the Jehovah’s Witness sect. Those poor souls have over 7.5 million members; but they still teach that only 144,000 will go to heaven. That, like all other heresies, is a doctrine that arose from a distorted interpretation of a single verse of Scripture — Revelation 7:4.
“And I heard the number of them which were sealed: [and there were] sealed an hundred [and] forty [and] four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel.” (Revelation 7:4)
I told Sonny that I had preached from that passage, but it had been a long, long time ago. After we chatted a few minutes, I hung up the telephone and tried to forget the matter; but the wheels were turning. Soon I abandoned what I had been working on and started reading the Book of Revelation again. And I believe the Lord has given me something for you, something that will help you through these dark and difficult days, when the judgment of God upon our nation and our generation is so heavy.
What does the Bible say about these things? What hope do we have in these dark and difficult days? If you will open your Bibles to Revelation 7, I’ve got some answers for you, answers found right here in the Book of God.
What about the 144,000? That is my subject. What about the 144,000? — Revelation chapter 7. When we read the Book of Revelation, we need to always remember that this is “the revelation of Jesus Christ” (Revelation 1:1). It is not the book of revelations. It is the Book of Revelation. It is not many revelations; but one. It is “the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
Christ Present with His Church
In chapter 1, we see Christ in his majestic power and glory as our exalted God and Savior. There we are assured of his constant presence with his church. The Son of God constantly walks in the midst of his churches. He cares for, protects, and provides for his own. He holds his messengers, his preachers, his ordained pastors in his own right hand. Who, or what, shall we fear? Christ Jesus, the Son of God, is with us! He holds us in his omnipotent hand!
Letters to the Churches
In chapters 2 and 3, we read the letters of Christ to the seven churches which reveal the various stages of spiritual declension and revival to which the church of Christ and individual believers are subjected in this world. So long as we are in this body of flesh we must struggle against sin, even the terribly evil sins of apathy and indifference. That which is true of individual believers is true of the church collectively. — Constant Warfare!
The Throne of God
In chapter 4, we are allowed to ascend with John into heaven itself. There we are shown the throne, the symbol of God’s sovereign power and dominion; the twenty-four elders, the representatives of the church, the whole body of God’s elect; and the four beasts who represent God’s faithful gospel preachers in all ages. In that chapter we are allowed to see the representations of God’s wisdom, power, glory, and greatness. We are plainly taught that God’s ultimate purpose in all things is the glory of his own great Being. When you read chapter 4, you can almost hear the Lord saying to John and to us by him, — “No matter what you read, see, hear, or experience, you have no cause to fear. My throne is secure. My people are safe. My purpose is unalterable. There is never any cause for alarm or fear.” — Read Isaiah 46:9-10.
“9 Remember the former things of old: for I [am] God, and [there is] none else; [I am] God, and [there is] none like me, 10 Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times [the things] that are not [yet] done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure:” (Isaiah 46:9-10)
The Throne, the Book, the Lamb
In chapter 5, we are given a vision of the throne, the book and the Lamb. The throne, as stated, symbolizes God’s total sovereignty over all things. The book, “Written within and on the backside, and sealed with seven seals,” represents the plan of God for the ages, his eternal purpose and decrees of predestination. But God is unknown, his purpose is secret, a mystery, until the Lamb of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, appears in the midst of the throne. By virtue of his effectual, sin-atoning sacrifice, he is able and worthy to open the book of God. He both reveals and fulfills all that is written in the book of Divine predestination. The entire universe is ruled by the sovereign throne of God through the mediation of the Lamb, our Redeemer, according to the book of God’s eternal, unalterable purpose. Ultimately, in the end, all of God’s elect will be saved. There will be no vacant seats around the throne. And all things shall render praise to our God.
Essentially, the vision of chapter 5 teaches us one thing: — The Lord our God is carrying out his will and purpose for the good of his people and the glory of his own great name. That is to say, — “The Lord God omnipotent reigneth” (Revelation 19:6). Therefore, we who believe have no reason to fear in times of trial, trouble, affliction, sorrow, and persecution. God our Savior will protect us, sustain us, and make us triumphant!
As we come to chapter 6, we see Christ, the Lamb of God, opening the seals of the book, unfolding to us the mysteries of God’s purpose and fulfilling his decrees. In this chapter, he opens six of the seven seals. The seventh seal is opened in chapter 8. The seals and horsemen in this chapter refer to the many trials and difficulties through which God’s people must pass as they make their pilgrimage through this world to their glorious inheritance in heaven. They have reference to the condition and experience of God’s church and kingdom in this world in all ages, and once more give assurance of the fact that ultimately the church of Christ shall be triumphant. The purpose of this sixth chapter of Revelation is to assure us that though we must suffer trials, afflictions, and persecutions, Christ our Savior is always in control. He is a mighty Conqueror and we are more than conquerors in him.
The Lord Jesus Christ is a mighty, triumphant conqueror (vv. 1-2). — With the opening of the first seal, we see him riding upon a white horse, conquering and to conquer. This is Christ, our triumphant King, our victorious Captain, our conquering Man of War (Revelation 19:11-16). The first thing revealed here is Christ’s glorious sovereignty, his constant triumph over all things, and his sure and certain conquest over all his enemies and ours. We can safely trust the sovereign Christ.
Yet we must through much tribulation enter into the Kingdom of God (vv. 3-8). — Sorrow is the common lot of God’s people in this world (John 16:33). Not only must we suffer all the sorrows common to others, we also must endure those which are heaped upon us by wicked, persecuting men. These are the things represented by the red, the black, and the pale horse.
· The red horse is a symbol of war and slaughter.
· The black horse is the symbol of economic hardship, poverty, and injustice.
· The pale horse is the symbol of death and the grave. These, too, are the common woes of humanity. Death comes by many means: the sword, famine, pestilence, war, wild beasts, etc. But death is sure to come. Our bodies must return to the earth. But the pale horse rider will be to the children of God a welcome visitor (Psalm 23; 2 Corinthians 5:1-9).
All these things we experience in this sin-cursed world of woe; but we are assured of this blessed fact: — God will not destroy this world until all his elect are saved. — With the opening of the fifth seal, John sees the souls of Christ’s martyrs, men and women who offered their lives as sacrifices upon the altar to Christ. They believed him, confessed him, and followed him, even unto death, sealing their faith with their blood (vv. 9-11).
These martyrs cry for God’s just retribution upon their enemies — Not for their sake, but for Christ’s sake. These are people who have been slain, slaughtered as wild beasts and common criminals, because of their faith in Christ.
In Revelation 6:11 we see all God’s saints in heaven robed in the perfect white righteousness of Christ and resting. Their trials are over. Their sorrows are ended. Their temptations have ceased. They have finished their work. Now they keep an eternal Sabbath in glory! It is a Sabbath rest that was typified in the law, begun when they trusted Christ (Matthew 11:28-30), and now consummated in his presence (Hebrews 4:10-11).
The number of the martyrs is not yet complete. All God’s elect are here referred to as martyrs, those who have been or shall be killed. A martyr is one who voluntarily lays down his life in the cause of Christ. In that sense, every believer is a martyr (Mark 8:35; Luke 14:26-27). God knows the number of his elect. Christ knows the number of his sheep. It has been fixed from eternity by divine decree. Until that number is reached, until all the elect are saved, judgment will not come. Christ will uphold and sustain this sin-cursed earth until he has gathered out of it all his sheep (2 Peter 3:9). But let no one foolishly imagine that judgment will not come.
God will avenge himself and his own elect at last (vv. 12-17). The sixth seal is opened to introduce the great and terrible Day of Judgment.
· In that day, there will be a total dissolution of the physical universe (vv. 12-15).
· It will be a climatic, not a gradual thing (2 Peter 3:10-12).
· The entire world of reprobate rebels will be seized with sudden terror (vv. 15-17).
“In that great and terrible day, there will be a strange prayer meeting. Men will pray, but the men praying will not be saved men, but unsaved men. They will pray not to God, but to the mountains and rocks. They will pray not for life, but for death. And they will pray not that they may see Christ, but that they may be hidden from him!’ (Ronnie Lewis).”
When that day comes, the door of grace will be shut forever! Christ will conquer all his enemies, either by the power of his grace or by the power of his wrath; but conquer he will (Isaiah 45:20-25).
Now, Let’s look at chapter 7.
1 ¶ And after these things (after 6 seals were opened, but before the 7th seal was opened) I saw four angels standing on the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth, that the wind should not blow on the earth, nor on the sea, nor on any tree.
2 And I saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God: (This Angel is Christ. — The Seal of God is God the Holy Spirit.) and he cried with a loud voice to the four angels, to whom it was given to hurt the earth and the sea,
3 Saying, Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads.
4 And I heard the number of them which were sealed: [and there were] sealed an hundred [and] forty [and] four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel.
5 Of the tribe of Juda [were] sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Reuben [were] sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Gad [were] sealed twelve thousand.
6 Of the tribe of Aser [were] sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Nepthalim [were] sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Manasses [were] sealed twelve thousand.
7 Of the tribe of Simeon [were] sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Levi [were] sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Issachar [were] sealed twelve thousand.
8 Of the tribe of Zabulon [were] sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Joseph [were] sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Benjamin [were] sealed twelve thousand.
9 After this (after all the elect have been saved) I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands;
10 And cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb.
11 And all the angels stood round about the throne, and [about] the elders and the four beasts, and fell before the throne on their faces, and worshipped God,
12 Saying, Amen: Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honour, and power, and might, [be] unto our God for ever and ever. Amen.
13 ¶ And one of the elders answered, saying unto me, What are these which are arrayed in white robes? and whence came they?
14 And I said unto him, Sir, thou knowest. And he said to me, These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
15 Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple: and he that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them.
16 They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat.
17 For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.” (Revelation 7:1-17)
Four Facts About Salvation
The subject of this chapter is the salvation of God’s elect, the sure and certain salvation of every chosen sinner. Long ago, the prophet Jonah declared, — “Salvation is of the Lord” (Jonah 2:9). All God’s saints upon the earth learn the sweet words of David’s song and rejoice to sing, — “The salvation of the righteous is of the Lord” (Psalm 37:39). “Salvation is of the Lord!”
· In its planning!
· In its purchase!
· In its performance!
· In its preservation!
· And in its perfection!
From beginning to end, salvation is God’s work and God’s gift; and he gives it to whom he will (Romans 9:16). When at last all the elect are gathered together around the throne of God, perfectly glorified in Christ, they shall proclaim, — “Salvation to our God, which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb” (v. 10).
In these seventeen verses John teaches us four facts about the salvation of God’s elect, four facts about the 144,000.
First, the Holy Spirit tells us that God preserves this world in order to save his elect in the world (vv. 1-3).
“1 ¶ And after these things I saw four angels standing on the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth, that the wind should not blow on the earth, nor on the sea, nor on any tree. 2 And I saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God: and he cried with a loud voice to the four angels, to whom it was given to hurt the earth and the sea, 3 Saying, Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads.” (Revelation 7:1-3)
No one should mistake God’s longsuffering for lack of will or ability in the Almighty to punish his enemies. The entire sixth chapter of Revelation is a warning to men of the certainty and finality of God’s judgment. The Lord’s patience and longsuffering with men and women in this world is an unquestionable fact. He causes the sunshine and the rain to fall upon both the righteous and the wicked (Matthew 5:45). — “The Lord is good to all; and his tender mercies are over all his works” (Psalm 145:9). But temporal mercies are not an indication of God’s favor (Psalm 92:5-7). Far from it! God has set the wicked in slippery places. Their feet shall slide down to hell in due season (Psalm 73:18-20; Deuteronomy 32:35).
God has already prepared the instruments by which he will ease himself of his adversaries and destroy all his enemies (vv. 1-2). The angels of destruction are armed with the winds of woe and are ready to execute judgment. These four angels control the instruments of destruction throughout the whole earth: north, south, east, and west. They are prepared for their work of hurting (destroying) the earth. But, suddenly, John sees another Angel ascending from the east. He cries with a loud voice to the four angels in verse 1 and commands them to withhold their judgment (v. 2).
This angel ascending up out of the east is our all-glorious, ever-gracious Lord Jesus Christ, the Angel of the covenant. Who but the Angel of the covenant (The Messenger of the covenant — Malachi 3:1), could have the seal of the covenant? Who but Christ, who holds his people in his hands and keeps them by the power of his grace, could seal his servants? He is the Day Star and the Sun of Righteousness who arose in the east, from Judah, out of Zion. When he arose to seal his people, he brought light, life, salvation, and joy to us. There is healing beneath his wings (2 Peter 1:19; Malachi 4:2; Psalm 14:7). Christ has the seal of the covenant, which is the Spirit of God. As circumcision was the physical sign and seal of God’s covenant with Abraham, the Holy Spirit, given to God’s elect in regeneration, is the identifying, sanctifying, preserving seal of the covenant of grace (Ephesians 1:13-14; 4:30).
It is Christ, our Mediator, the Angel of the covenant, who preserves this world from destruction in order to accomplish the salvation of God’s elect, whom he has redeemed by his own precious blood (v. 3). The only thing holding back the judgment of God from this world is the mediatoral work of Christ. God’s patience, longsuffering, and forbearance with this world is “to usward,” and is for the salvation of his elect (2 Peter 3:9, 15).
· As God set his seal upon the houses of Israel when the destroying angel passed through Egypt (Exodus 12:23), so Christ has set his seal upon all the elect.
· As Aaron wore a signet upon his forehead which read, “Holiness to the Lord” (Exodus 28:38), so Christ has set his sanctifying seal upon his people.
If you are a believer, the seal of God is upon you. Judgment will surely come, but you have nothing to fear! The woes of this Book are against the wicked, persecuting world. No punishment from God will fall upon his chosen (1 Thessalonians 5:9). God punished the sins of his people in Christ, our Substitute, to the full satisfaction of his justice. Since Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, we cannot be condemned (Galatians 3:13; Romans 8:1, 33-34).
This sealing is one of the most precious things under heaven. The seal of God protects, preserves, and keeps us. It is the mark of God’s ownership upon us. It cannot be broken. Well might we pray, — “Set me as a seal upon thine heart” (Song of Solomon 8:6).
· God the Father sealed us with his decree of election (Jude 1).
· God the Son sealed us with his atoning blood (Hebrews 10:10-14).
· God the Holy Spirit sealed us with his regenerating grace (Ephesians 1:13-14).
Second, we are here told that all God’s elect will be saved to the praise of the glory of his grace (vv. 4-12).
“4 And I heard the number of them which were sealed: [and there were] sealed an hundred [and] forty [and] four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel. 5 Of the tribe of Juda [were] sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Reuben [were] sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Gad [were] sealed twelve thousand. 6 Of the tribe of Aser [were] sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Nepthalim [were] sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Manasses [were] sealed twelve thousand. 7 Of the tribe of Simeon [were] sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Levi [were] sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Issachar [were] sealed twelve thousand. 8 Of the tribe of Zabulon [were] sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Joseph [were] sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Benjamin [were] sealed twelve thousand. 9 After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands; 10 And cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb. 11 And all the angels stood round about the throne, and [about] the elders and the four beasts, and fell before the throne on their faces, and worshipped God, 12 Saying, Amen: Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honour, and power, and might, [be] unto our God for ever and ever. Amen.” (Revelation 7:4-12)
The opinions and speculations of men about these 144,000 are many, imaginary, and ridiculous. This number, like all the rest of the vision, is symbolical. It is a definite number used to describe an indefinite number. How are we to discover who they are? Simply look to the context.
· The 144,000 represent all of God’s sealed ones throughout the whole earth (vv. 3-4),
· the whole “Israel of God,”
· a great multitude of elect Jews and Gentiles, which no man can number, which shall be saved (v. 9).
The twelve tribes of Israel which are named and the twelve thousand out of each tribe represent spiritual Israel, the church, the whole body of God’s elect (Romans 11:26). To suggest, as many do, that Jews, because they are Jews, physical descendants of Abraham, shall obtain God’s mercy and grace, is to fly in the face of Holy Scripture. Grace does not come to men as a matter of physical heritage, but by spiritual heritage (John 1:12-13; Romans 9:8).
John tells us five things about this 144,000, five things about God’s elect.
1. They are a great multitude (vv. 4, 9).
2. God’s elect, and only God’s elect, were redeemed by the blood of Christ. — “And they sung as it were a new song before the throne, and before the four beasts, and the elders: and no man could learn that song but the hundred [and] forty [and] four thousand, which were redeemed from the earth” (14:3).
3. The elect are known in time by their conversion to Christ (14:4; John 10:3-4, 27-28; 1 Thessalonians 1:4-10).
4. All the elect are sealed in grace, preserved and kept by God the Holy Spirit (vv. 3-4). “They shall never perish!” And…
5. All God’s elect, the entire 144,000, shall be saved (vv. 9-12). John saw them all, the whole, great, innumerable multitude, standing before the throne of God and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, holding palm branches in their hands, giving praise to God. What God has purposed, he will bring to pass!
Third, we see that not only will all God’s elect be saved, they will all be saved by faith in Christ (vv. 13-14).
“13 ¶ And one of the elders answered, saying unto me, What are these which are arrayed in white robes? and whence came they? 14 And I said unto him, Sir, thou knowest. And he said to me, These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:13-14)
Election alone is not salvation. It is unto salvation (2 Thessalonians 2:13). Redemption guarantees salvation. But redemption is not salvation. Salvation comes to sinners only through faith in Christ. This faith is as much a work of grace and gift of God as election and redemption (Colossians 2:12; Ephesians 2:8). And it is just as necessary. No one can be saved without personal faith in Christ. We are here told two things about all who enter into heaven.
1. They all come out of great tribulation. That refers to the temptations, trials, and persecutions of God’s elect in this world (John 16:33; Acts 14:22). And…
2. They all have “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” They have placed their trust in the blood of Christ and have by faith obtained perfect righteousness in him (1 John 1:7, 9).
Perfect, Complete Salvation
Fourth, the salvation of God’s elect shall be a perfect, complete, eternal salvation. This is seen in verses 15, 16, and 17. “Therefore,” because they have been redeemed and justified through the blood of Christ, the Lamb of God sacrificed in their place, “are they before the throne.” There they worship and serve him in spontaneous, glad, unceasing devotion of heart, and these redeemed ones in glory enjoy sweet, full, intimate communion and fellowship with God through Christ. That is the essence of heaven’s glory and bliss. All of these things apply to all of God’s elect.
In heaven, we shall be in the immediate, eternal presence of our God and Savior (v. 15). — “Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple: and he that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them.”
Everything we want, need, and desire shall be supplied with unlimited fulness (v. 16). — “They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat.”
We shall be completely delivered from all sin, sorrow, hardship, and care (v. 17). — “For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.”
Who could desire more? (Psalm 27:4; 17:15).
“One [thing] have I desired of the LORD, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to enquire in his temple.” (Psalms 27:4)
“As for me, I will behold thy face in righteousness: I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with thy likeness.” (Psalms 17:15)
Illustration: Keep Your Fork
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