After 666, perhaps 144,000 is the most intriguing number in Scripture. The number is mentioned twice in Revelation: 7:1-8 and 14:1-5. The very unusualness of the number causes one to conclude that both texts are speaking of the same group of people. Thus, for better understanding, we combine the two texts.
There are strong reasons for believing that the prophecy of the 144,000 contains many figurative or spiritual concepts. First of all, in this Insight, consider Rev. 14:4: “These are they which were not defiled with women; for they are virgins.” If this is understood in its literal/physical sense, then the 144,000 are all males who have never had sexual relations. Could it be that God would have a special place for virgin men, excluding all virgin women and all faithfully married Christians?
It is true that Jesus spoke of those who are celibate (“eunuchs”) “for the kingdom of heaven’s sake” (Matt. 19:11-12). Paul spoke in 1 Cor. 7 about advantages for the kingdom of being celibate. Nevertheless, both texts put limitations on this teaching, and no text outside of Revelation gives any hint of special rewards for celibates or of their being a special class of God’s people.
The general teaching of the entire Bible is that marriage is both desirable and honorable (Heb. 13:4). It is God who decided that man is better off with a woman than by himself (Gen. 2:18). It is God who declared, “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife” (Gen. 2:24). Marriage is so important in the Lord’s church that bishops and deacons must be married men (1 Tim. 3:2, 12). God says that forbidding marriage, as some churches do, is demonic (1Tim. 4:1-3).
With such verses in mind, it seems more in harmony with Scripture to view the celibacy of the 144,000 as spiritual in nature. Notice 2 Cor. 11:2: “For I am jealous for you with godly jealousy. For I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.” Combine that with Revelation itself: “The marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready” (19:7). Christ is the groom. Christians are the bride. We must be a chaste virgin, spiritually, to marry Him. In the Old Testament, unfaithfulness to God was often spoken of as fornication and harlotry. Rev. 7 and 14 appear to be the other side of the coin, depicting spiritual faithfulness to God and Christ using the figure of “virgins.” (More next time.)