The question as to the exact identity of the 144,000 and the great multitude, as well as the woman and the dragon, has puzzled many over the decades and centuries.
1) The 144,000 and the Great Multitude in Revelation 7:
Revelation 7 describes an important event in the plan of God. Before God will pour out His wrath on unrepentant mankind during the coming Day of the Lord–a still future time beginning shortly before Christ’s return, when God commences to actively intervene in the affairs of humans–certain servants of God will be sealed to be protected (Revelation 7:1-3; compare Ezekiel 9:4; see also Revelation 9:4). First 144,000 will be sealed—12,000 out of each tribe of Israel (Revelation 7:4-8), excluding Dan (for a possible explanation as to why Dan might be excluded, compare Judges 18:30; Deuteronomy 29:17-20; and Genesis 49:16-18).
Lehmann Strauss, The Book of Revelation, copyright 1964, 1972, makes the following comments on pages 171-173 regarding the 144,000:
“Judgment is suspended till 144,000 Jews [better “Israelites”; Strauss makes the common mistake of equating the Israelites with the Jews] are sealed. If language means anything, these sealed ones are literal Israelites… not one Gentile is among them… Dan… is omitted because he was guilty of idolatry. God has warned His people that idolaters would be separated from the rest of the tribes…The 144,000 are sealed with ‘the seal of the living God.’ The seal is the mark of divine possession, protection, and preservation.”
After that event, John sees a great multitude which “no one could number,” from “all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues,” standing before the Lamb with white garments (Revelation 7:9). They “came out of the great tribulation…and washed their robes and made them white” (Revelation 7:14). If they came out of the Great Tribulation, then they must have been in it. While some Christians will be protected from the Great Tribulation (see the discussion in Section 5; compare also Revelation 3:10; 12:14; Luke 21:36; Proverbs 14:26), others will have to go through it, to be purified (Revelation 12:17; compare 1 Corinthians 11:32). But all true Christians who survive that time of trouble will be protected from God’s wrath to come.
Strauss comments on pages 175-178:
“The number … is beyond all counting, as far as man is concerned. The exact number is known to God (2 Timothy 2:19)… John saw ‘palms in their hands’ ([Revelation 7] verse 9)… the palms may be in celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles… palm branches express the joy of complete deliverance (John 12:12-13). They are celebrating the triumph of having been brought through the awful period of tribulation… ”
For an in-depth discussion of the 144,000 and the great multitude, please compare our Q&A in Update #123, titled, “Who Are the 144,000 Mentioned in Revelation 7?”
2) The 144,000 in Revelation 14:
144,000 servants of God are again mentioned in Revelation 14:1-5. They are depicted standing with Christ on Mount Zion, here on earth. The time setting is after Christ’s return. They sing a new song, which reaches God’s throne in heaven (verse 3), as our prayers do today (compare Revelation 5:8; 8:2-5). God has found no fault in them (Revelation 14:5). This description reminds us of Christ’s message to the angel of Philadelphia (compare Revelation 3:7-12). Both have the Father’s name written on their foreheads (Revelation 14:1; Revelation 3:12). Note, however, that Revelation 14 does not say that these 144,000 are the only ones who will be in the first resurrection. Revelation 14:4 points out that the 144,000 are “firstfruits,” but it does not say that they are “the” firstfruits or the “only” firstfruits.
The 144,000 in Revelation 14 might perhaps be the same group of 144,000 mentioned in Revelation 7. Most commentaries suggest this, and it appears that this has also been the understanding of the Church of God, under Herbert W. Armstrong. We should point out, however, that we cannot be totally certain.
Herbert Armstrong wrote the following in “The Key to the Book of Revelation,” seemingly equating the 144,000 in Revelation 7 with the group in Revelation 14:
“The 144,000 are 12,000 from each of the literal tribes of Israel. They are sealed by the Holy Spirit, IN their foreheads, and it is the FATHER’S NAME that is sealed there (Rev. 14:1). THE TIME OF THIS SEALING, THEN, IS YET FUTURE — AFTER THE TRIBULATION, AFTER THE HEAVENLY SIGNS… The innumerable multitude shall have COME OUT of THE Great Tribulation (Rev. 7:14… ) [emphasis in original and added].”
Note as well the following excerpts from other commentaries:
Strauss comments as follows on Revelation 14, on pages 260-263:
“The site of His appearing is ‘Mount Sion.’ This is an earthly scene, a picture of Christ’s return to reign, the selected place from which He shall rule gloriously… Mount Zion is Jerusalem, Israel’s earthly capital… the 144,000 in this chapter are the same group of 144,000 in chapter 7…”
Albert Barnes’ Notes on the Bible states about the 144,000 in Revelation 14: “These are evidently the same persons that were seen in the vision recorded in Rev. 7:3-8…”
Adam Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible adds: “‘And with him a hundred forty and four thousand’–Representing those who were converted to Christianity from among the Jews [better: Israelites]. See Rev. 7:4.”
John Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible points out: “and with him an hundred forty and four thousand; the same with those in Rev. 7:3…”
The New Bible Commentary: Revised, states: “The identity of the 144,000 seems determined by 7:1-8… John would hardly represent two different groups by such an extraordinary…. number, especially when he adds that both companies bear the mark of God in their foreheads…”
The Broadman Bible Commentary writes: “This group bears the mark as the 144,000 of 7:4-8 and is probably the same.”
Although it appears possible or even probable that the two groups of 144,000 in Revelation 7 and 14 are identical, we need to wait for God’s clear revelation to us as to who, exactly, the 144,000 in Revelation 14 will be.
3) The Dragon in Revelation 12:
Before Christ returns, other important events will have to take place, affecting the true Church of God. Revelation 12 begins by referring first to a very ancient event–the rebellion of Lucifer, the “dragon,” and his angels against God. This rebellion occurred prior to Genesis 1:2 and the creation of man, and it is stated that one-third of God’s holy angels followed Satan in this coup d’etat to dethrone God. Satan, who was originally called Lucifer, and his angels lost–they became known as demons (compare Isaiah 14; Ezekiel 28; Luke 10:18; Jude 6; 2 Peter 2:4). (For more information, please read our free booklets, “The Theory of Evolution–a Fairy Tale for Adults,” and “Angels, Demons and the Spirit World.”
Strauss comments on Satan’s rebellion, as follows, on page 230:
“There is a mass of evidence… which demonstrates beyond doubt that there was a long interval between the first creation, described in the first sublime sentence of the Bible and the chaos of the second verse. It was during this interval that the war in Heaven was begun by Lucifer’s rebellion. God’s next revealed move was the creation of man…”
4) The Woman in Revelation 12:
The account in Revelation 12 continues to describe the “woman” giving birth to a Child, and the dragon’s unsuccessful attempt to kill the Child.
The woman is pictured as being clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and with a garland of 12 stars on her head (Revelation 12:1). In Genesis 37:9-11, Jacob and his wife Rachel, Joseph’s mother, are symbolized as the sun and the moon, and Joseph’s brothers are symbolized as eleven stars, bowing down to Joseph. It appears therefore very plausible that the TWELVE stars in Revelation 12:1 refer to the TWELVE tribes of Israel (including Joseph).
Revelation 12: 2-5 refers to the fact that Mary gave birth to Jesus Christ and that Satan attempted unsuccessfully to kill Christ through King Herod (Revelation 12:4; Matthew 2:13, 16).
We understand that the woman is first symbolic for Eve (Genesis 3:15); then for the Old Testament Church which would develop from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and Jacob’s TWELVE sons, and which would become known as the church of Israel in the wilderness; then for Mary, the mother of Christ; and–subsequent to Christ’s ascension–for the New Testament Church of God (compare Matthew 25:1; Ephesians 5:22-32; 2 Corinthians 11:2; Galatians 4: 26).
Revelation 12:6 tells us that the woman–the New Testament Church–fled into the wilderness for 1,260 days. This has been understood as referring to prophetic days or YEARS. The Bible makes it clear that sometimes, a reference to days can refer to a corresponding number of years. The “day-for-a-year principle” is expressed, for example, in Numbers 14:34 and Ezekiel 4:6. The true Church of God continued to exist, but it was not greatly noticed by the world during that time of about 1,260 years.
5) The Dragon’s Future Fight Against the Woman
Commencing with Revelation 12:7, still future events at the time of the end are being described. A new war is depicted between Satan and God—another demonic attempt to dethrone God. But Satan will fail again, be cast back to the earth, and persecute the woman with “great wrath” (Revelation 12:7-13). While the woman has flown to her place of safety with two wings of a great eagle (compare Exodus 19:4; Deuteronomy 1:31; 32:11; Isaiah 63:9), to be nourished there for 3 ½ years (Revelation 12:14), Satan spews water out of his mouth like a flood after the woman. This might perhaps allude to an army or to a military force (compare Daniel 11:10; Jeremiah 47:2-3). The earth opens its mouth to help the woman (compare Numbers 16:31-32). As a consequence, Satan persecutes others within the Church who are not at the place of safety (those belonging to the prophetic “church of the Laodiceans,” compare Revelation 3:14-19, including 144,000 Israelites and the great multitude of Gentiles, mentioned earlier).
These terrible times, depicted in the book of Revelation, are drawing nearer and nearer. All of us will need God’s protection to survive. Let us strive to become worthy in the eyes of God to escape all these things which will surely come to pass, and to stand before Christ at the time of His Return.
Lead Writer: Norbert Link