by Ron Halbrook
Synopsis: Acknowledging that apocalyptic literature contains signs and symbols, Ron helps us understand the imagery of the heavenly host that surrounds the throne of God.
The book of Revelation is composed of visions that were given to John from Christ showing the fiery trials which would fall upon the church of Christ in the early centuries because the Roman Empire tried to enforce worship of the emperor. This book is filled with signs and symbols which help to teach the lesson, but these symbolic things must not be misinterpreted as literal things.
For instance, let us consider the 144,000 in Revelation 7. This chapter shows that God knows His faithful followers in the Gospel Age just as He knew the twelve tribes of Israel in the Mosaic Age. As the twelve tribes were numbered and were sealed as God's special people, Christians facing the wrath of Rome were numbered and sealed as belonging to God. He would not forsake them in their trials. They are pictured first as they serve God "on earth" (see v. 3, including vv. 3-8). The number 144,000 is not a literal number. It is figurative because twelve is considered a complete number. There are twelve tribes and 12,000 servants of God in each of the twelve tribes. This twelve times 12,000 produces the figurative number 144,000 to emphasize that the complete number of faithful saints is known to God—He will not forget anyone of them.
In Revelation 7:9-17, the same people are pictured "before the throne" (v. 9), meaning they were faithful to the end, and they are saved in heaven with God: "These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb" (v. 14). Even though they were executed, they were known to God as His faithful servants, and the wrath of Rome could not destroy their salvation in heaven!
Revelation 13 gives a symbolic picture of the full force and power of the Roman Empire with its emperor trying to destroy everyone who refused to worship the emperor. In verse 18, we learn why the emperor must not be worshipped: His number is not the divine number of seven, but only six, and again six, and again six—he can never attain to the divine number because he is purely human, only a man.
The faithful saints, again pictured as 144,000 numbered and known to God, are portrayed in chapter 14:1-5 singing the victory song even though they had been executed by the wrath of Rome. By their execution, they were not defeated but only "redeemed from the earth" (v. 3). To worship the emperor would be spiritual harlotry or prostitution, but "these are they which were not defiled with women; for they are virgins. These are they which follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth. These were redeemed from among men, being the firstfruits unto God and to the Lamb" (v. 4). Under the law of Moses, the firstfruits were separated and dedicated as belonging only to God.
Rome failed to eradicate the church of Christ from the earth. In chapter 19, John is shown a vision meaning that the saints will be in heaven with Christ, but the Roman Empire will be eradicated from the earth. Rome fell in AD 476, never to rise again!
What can we learn from the 144,000 in Revelation? When the saints of God are faithful to Him, Satan cannot defeat them in spite of all his wrath and fury, all of his lies and seductions, all of his power and threats. He will fail and will be cast into hell forever with all who follow him, but the saints of God will sing the victory song in heaven forever and ever!
Author Bio: Ron Halbrook and David Dann serve together as evangelists for the Hebron Lane Church of Christ in Shepherdsville, Kentucky. Ron began his work with the church in 1997. In addition to the local work, Ron makes four trips to the Philippines each year and does meeting work here in the U.S. The church website is hebronlane.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.