Are Only 144,000 Saved?

Are Only 144,000 Saved?

This piece was originally featured in the Southern Nebraska Register’s “Ask the Register” column on March 24, 2023, which can be found here.

Q. Is it true in Revelation 14:1-3 that only 144,000 people will be saved?

A. If you find yourself asking this question, you’re certainly not alone, as many throughout Christian history have wrestled with it, and tried to answer it from all sorts of risky angles. 

Before addressing the specific issue of whether this 144,000 is a literal or symbolic number, let’s step back and ask a bigger question about how the book of Revelation uses numbers as a whole, alongside other images, in order to convey its message. 

Revelation is a book laden with symbolic imagery. It is perhaps its strongest feature. It leans on a thoroughly developed symbolism in order to convey both a timely message to early Christians, as well as a timeless, inspired message to Christians of every age. It’s a work of mastery when you consider how intentionally the author of the book used numbers, colors, and other images to give meaning to certain elements. Regarding numbers in particular, Revelation uses them qualitatively as much as it uses them quantitatively.

For example, seven and 10 are numbers that represent completeness (the seven days of creation or the 10 commandments). On the other hand, three and a half (half of seven) represents partiality and incompleteness. Four represents the world—the four winds or the four points of a compass—and, therefore, what is universal. Twelve is the number of the people of God—12 tribes of Israel and 12 apostles of the Lamb; 24 (12 twice) represents God’s people under both covenants. A thousand, and multiples of a thousand, indicate a very large number rather than a precise quantity.

So we see then that numbers may be used to teach us something about what they are describing. Looking closely, we’ll notice that numbers related to Jesus are all wholesome and holy numbers. For instance, just to name a few, “Christ” is mentioned seven times; “Jesus” 14 times (seven twice); “Lamb” 28 times (four times seven). By contrast, John carefully avoids multiples of seven when using words that refer to Satan (eight times), the dragon (13 times), the beast (38 times), and Babylon (six times). 

Let’s return now to the example of the 144,000 that appears twice in the book of Revelation. In chapter seven, these 144,000 are described as those who are sealed and marked as the servants of God. Later in chapter 14, they are given a fuller description as those who had the name of God written on their foreheads, who sang a new song before the Lord, who were redeemed, lived in chastity, and spotless, because they are the ones who followed the Lamb. Naturally, this represents those who are saved, that is, those who enjoy their eternal reward with God in heaven—who wouldn’t want to be part of this number?

The question, then, of course, is whether this is a literal number or a symbolic number. Given what we’ve already developed, it’s easy to conclude not only that this is John using symbolic language—given how symbols are used elsewhere in the book—but what this symbolic number means. We arrive at the number 144,000 by multiplying 12x12 (144), then multiplying that number by 1,000. 

What’s significant about these numbers? Twelve, as we’ve already mentioned, is the number of the people of God—12 tribes of Israel, 12 apostles, and so on. The number 1,000 signifies completeness or a great number. This number, then—144,000—is the great and complete multitude of God’s people! This is a much more fitting way of reading Revelation and the message it conveys. Let’s not constrain God only to saving 144,000 with him in heaven.

In fact, after John sees the 144,000 in Rev 7:4-8, he observes “a great multitude that no one could number, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb” (7:9). These are described also as being included among those who sing the praises of God—that is, those who, like the 144,000, have been saved and live with God in heaven.

Therefore, with John and the Book of Revelation, we too trust in the great mercy of God to save as many souls as possible, a number that we can only hope is far greater than we could ever count!