The One Hundred Forty-Four Thousand
May 27th, 1962 @ 8:15 AM
THE ONE HUNDRED FORTY-FOUR THOUSAND
Dr. W. A. Criswell
5-27-62 8:15 a.m.
These are the early morning services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled The One Hundred Forty-four Thousand. In our preaching through the Bible, we have come to the last and the climactic book, the Book of the Apocalypse, the Book of the Revelation, the Unveiling of Jesus our Lord. And in that Revelation, preaching through these chapters, we have come to chapter 7. And this is the reading of the text:
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.
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,
Saying, Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads.
And I heard the number of them which were sealed: and there were sealed an hundred and forty and four thousand of all of the tribes of the children of Israel.
Of the tribe of Judah were sealed twelve thousand, of the tribe of Reuben were sealed twelve thousand, of the tribe of Gad were sealed twelve thousand,
Of the tribe of Asher were sealed twelve thousand, of the tribe of Naphtali were sealed twelve thousand, of the tribe of Manasseh were sealed twelve thousand,
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,
Of the tribe of Zebulun were sealed twelve thousand, of the tribe of Joseph were sealed twelve thousand, of the tribe of Benjamin were sealed twelve thousand.
And the title of the sermon: The One Hundred Forty-four Thousand.
This seventh chapter of the Book of the Revelation has in it two very separate and distinct visions. The first vision is the one I have just read, comprising the first eight verses of the chapter [Revelation 7:1-8]. And the second vision begins at verse 9, and continues to the end of the chapter [Revelation 7:9-17]. They both are introduced with the same words; they’re not translated here quite alike: 7:1, "And after these things I saw…" [Revelation 7:1], and verse 9, "After this I beheld . . ." [Revelation 7:9], but the Greek is the same in both verses, "Meta tauta eidon, after these things I saw," and the same thing in verse 9, "Meta tauta eidon, after these things I saw." The first vision is a vision of Israel, one hundred forty-four thousand out of the children of Israel. And that vision is a vision that came to pass before this time of Jacob’s trouble. And then this second meta tauta eidon is a vision of the Gentiles, which took place as they were coming out of that great tribulation – one vision of Israel and the other a vision of the Gentiles.
"After these things I saw four angels standing on the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth,And I saw another angel ascending out of the sun rising, the anatolēs ēliou, the rising, the dawning of the sun," translated here, "the east," which is all right, the sun always rises in the east; if it ever rose in the west it’d be a very unusual phenomenon, but I don’t see why they don’t translate it like it says in the book, "rising out of the dawning of the sun, ascending from the dawning of the sun, 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" [Revelation 7:1-2]. Now that word "four" refers to the world; it is the world number, it is the creation number. And it is used here four times: three times in verse 1, and one time in verse 2. And he cries to the four angels, this great spiritual leader in the presence of God, for them to hold back this terrible destructive blast that will destroy so much of this earth; to hold it back and that it should not blow on the earth or on the sea or on any tree [Revelation 7:1].
In the seventh chapter of the Book of Daniel, the prophet there saw the four winds that strove mightily on the sea; and out of the turbulence of that restless sea, there arose four beasts that represented the four empires of the world [Daniel 7:2-7]. So these four angels – and that number "four" – and those four winds [Revelation 7:1], all of that is a picture of God’s intended purpose for this world, this creation. And they were held back from blowing "on the earth": that would be God’s destructive judgment for settled governments; and from blowing "upon the sea": the sea is a picture of the restless convulsive nations; "nor on any tree": the tree would be a picture of the might, and the glory, and the power, and the culture, and the civilization of man [Revelation 7:1]. You see these things in Daniel 7 [Daniel 7:2], and Isaiah  [Isaiah 57:20], and Daniel 4 [Daniel 4:20], and in Ezekiel  [Ezekiel 17:3-24]. And you have it translated here, "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" [Revelation 7:1]. That word translated "holding," krateō, in Revelation 2:25 it is translated "holding fast."
The picture is these winds are restive, and they are violent, and they are striving, and it is a matter of kratos, krateō the verbal form, kratos the substantive, the word kratos means "power and might." These winds were striving; they were restless. And these four angels were holding them fast; they were powerful, and they were strong. In the Book of the Revelation, here in 1:8 and 4:8, you have God called by that word pantŏkratōr. Pantos is the word for "everything, all," and krator, that word for "power." So pant pantŏkratōr, translated here in the Bible "the Almighty," refers to the all sovereignty, the all-mightiness, the all power of God. So you have here the Lord God holding the judgment in His sovereign and mighty hands [Revelation 7:1], which would be a revelation to us, a confirmation to us, that all of these things that come to pass, even evil things, things that are terrible, things of the judgment of God, they lie in His hands. And the course of evil in this world, and the ultimate of it, and the encompassing of it, and how far it goes, belongs to the sovereign and elective purpose of God.
Now, this chapter and what happens here is plainly a parenthesis. At the end of chapter 6, we have the opening of the first six seals [Revelation 6:12-17]. And at chapter 8, we have the opening of the seventh and final seal [Revelation 8:1]. And between these two, you have this interim, this parenthesis. These four destructive angels are held back in abeyance in chapter 7 [Revelation 7:1-4]. In chapter 8, they sound the first four trumpets; and those withering blasts, those great destructive judgments of God, fall upon this earth [Revelation 8:6-13]. And in between, you have this drawing aside of the veil of the mercy and grace of God [Revelation 7:1-17]. You have a revelation of the heart of our Lord. Before any judgment, before that final judgment falls, and before those trumpets sound and those vials of wrath are poured out, and before God deals with this earth in judgment, the Lord says, "First, first, we must be careful to mark the elect. We must be very careful for their preservation" [Revelation 7:3]. And before that awful day comes – the first six seals is the beginning of sorrow [Revelation 6:1-17], the opening of the seventh seal is the great final day of the tribulation [Revelation 8:1-13]; the last half of that Daniel’s seventieth week [Daniel 9:27], the three and a half years, the 1,260 days, the forty-two months that are so often referred to in the Revelation [Revelation 12:6, 14; 13:5] – before that great tribulation comes, God says, "We must stay these judgments until these are sealed" [Revelation 7:1-4].
And isn’t that always so? God holds back the judgment on account of His elect. The reason governments stand, and the reason this world exists, and the reason it isn’t destroyed under the mighty and vengeful and judging hand of God is because of you; it’s because of God’s people in the earth. Ten men would have saved Sodom, ten [Genesis 18:23, 32]. And God’s righteous ten in this earth keeps the awful judgments of God from falling upon this wicked world. It’s for your sake; it’s for the elect’s sake. It’s for these who love and worship God; it’s for their sakes that this world stands.
Then God commands this angel rising, ascending from the dawning, some great spiritual character and personality in heaven, He says to him, "Before these four winds are turned loose," these great destructive judgments of God, "seal these one hundred forty-four thousand" [Revelation 7:2-8]. Now who are they, these one hundred forty-four thousand of God’s especial election? Well, there are more identifications of those one hundred forty-four thousand than any other identification in all the Word of God. Every fantastic thing that mind can imagine is proffered as an identification of this elect group.
There are those who say it is impossible to identify them, so they don’t try. It is beyond the mind and wisdom and knowledge of man. Then there are many, many who claim to be of that one hundred forty-four thousand. For example, the Seventh Day Adventists say that the one hundred forty-four thousand are of their communion, who are observing the Sabbath day at the return of the Lord and will be raptured up to heaven. The Jehovah’s Witnesses say that the one hundred forty-four thousand are the overcomers of their group, and they are the ones who are going to be finally saved. That’s why you’ll find a Jehovah’s Witness down here on the street corner, that’s why you’ll find a Jehovah’s Witness knocking at your door: he or she is striving to be one of those one hundred forty-four thousand in order that they might be saved. Then there is a sect called "The Flying Roll," and they believe that the one hundred forty-four thousand pertains to them, and that their blood is going to be cleansed especially, and that they are going to have immortality here in the earth.
Then there are those who identify the one hundred forty-four thousand as being the church. This represents the spiritual saved, the redeemed of God, made up into the complete number of one hundred forty-four thousand; and that it represents the church, the people of grace. Now, to me that cannot be for several reasons; one is, we have already seen, in chapter 4, the elders who are the redeemed of the church, the elders who are crowned and enthroned and there in the presence of God [Revelation 4:4, 10-11]. In the fourteenth chapter of the Revelation that I had you read, John sees both the one hundred forty-four thousand and the elders at the same time; the one hundred forty-four thousand are in the presence of the elders. And each one has his place of blessedness, and each one is present there, as John beholds them, one in the presence of the other [Revelation 14:1-5].
Well, then what does the one hundred forty-four thousand represent? Well, to me they represent themselves. And to me they are what God calls them: "And I heard the number of them which were sealed, an hundred and forty and four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel" [Revelation 7:4]. Now isn’t that very simple? Isn’t that very simple? The one hundred forty-four thousand are an election out of all the tribes of the children of Israel. If somebody were to ask you, who belonged to the Christian church, "What tribe do you belong to," you’d stutter and stammer around, wouldn’t you? You never heard that expression applied to the church. It just isn’t. There is no such thing in the Word of God, nor is it reasonable to any reasonable man. Well then, these tribes of Israel, where are they? To us they are lost, and we refer to them as lost tribes; but they’re not lost to God. God knows every one of them, and He knows where they are, and He knows to what tribe they belong. In the thirteenth chapter of the Book of Matthew and the forty-fourth verse, there we are told, the forty-fourth verse, there we are told the parable of the treasure hid in a field [Matthew 13:44]. And in Psalm 135:4, Israel is called "God’s peculiar treasure." And in the heart of this earth and buried in the nations of this world, God has his peculiar treasure: Israel, the chosen family and people of God.
Now, these numbers; twelve always referred to Israel, twelve. There are twelve tribes. There are twelve apostles that are going to sit on twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes, according to the nineteenth chapter of the Book of Matthew and the twenty-eighth verse [Matthew 19:28]. There were twelve precious stones on the breastplate of the high priest, representing the twelve tribes of Israel [Exodus 28:15-21]. There were twelve loaves of showbread on the holy table, representing the twelve tribes of Israel [Leviticus 24:5-7].
In the great and new city of Jerusalem, there are twelve gates; and on each one of those gates is written the names of one of the twelve tribes of Israel [Revelation 21:12]. So here there are one hundred forty-four thousand sealed out of all of the tribes of Israel: twelve thousand from Judah, twelve thousand from Reuben, twelve thousand from Gad, twelve thousand from Asher, twelve thousand from each one [Revelation 7:2-8]. Dan, in this list, is omitted, and Ephraim is called "Joseph" [Revelation 7:8]; but out of those twelve elect, there are twelve thousand that are chosen. Therefore, God is not done with Israel. God is not done with this chosen family. And every newspaper that’s published today in any language and every page of history confirms that prophecy of our Lord that that Jew, that Israelite, would be here until the Lord comes again. "This genus, this kind, this species, this generation, this family, shall not pass away until all of these things be fulfilled" [Matthew 24:34]. And you’ll find that, a presentiment of that, in the national Jewish heart: with all of the ravages of all of the centuries, no one, no government, no persecution has ever been able to destroy that persuasion that there is some great final thing God hath prepared for those Jewish people.
Now, when we mention those things, there immediately is found great prejudice against anything Jewish. Now it is correct that there are Jews outwardly, as Paul says in the second chapter of the Book of Romans, there are Jews that are outward Jews, then there are Jews that attain to the spiritual purposes of God [Romans 2:28-29]. But such a passage does not do away with the fact of there being a Jew.
You could say the same thing about being a Christian: there are Christians who are outwardly Christian; then there are Christians who are spiritual Christian. You can say that same thing about anything and anybody. Now, when we are prejudice against anything Jewish, you must not forget that Jesus was a Jew. The prophets were Jews. The twelve apostles were Jews. Paul himself said, "Brethren, I could wish myself accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh" [Romans 9:3]. And in the next chapter of the Book of Romans, chapter 10, he said, "Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved" [Romans 10:1]. And in the next chapter, the eleventh chapter, he said, that "blindness in part has happened unto Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in" [Revelation 11:25]. That is it has happened to Israel in part and then only until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in. The whole Bible, from beginning to end, presents a great destiny and a great program and a great election for God’s people – elect, peculiar, chosen, the sons, the seeds, and the descendents of Abraham, the Israelites, and after the captivity called the Jews, and been called the Jews ever since.
Now, this sealing of God, this is not an unusual thing: "I saw an angel arising from the east, having the seal of the living God" [Revelation 7:2]. In the fourteenth chapter of the Book of this Revelation, in the first verse, that seal says it is the name of God written in their foreheads [Revelation 14:1]. Now that’s not a peculiar thing because from the beginning God has always had some kind of a mark by which He distinguishes His people. He gave to Abraham a mark cut in the flesh: the mark of circumcision [Genesis 17:9-14, 24]; in the days of the Passover that mark was on the outside of the house, publicly and visibly displayed [Exodus 12:7, 13, 22-23]. This is a family that belongs to God. The blood was sprinkled on the lintels and on the doorposts, at the top and on either side, in the form of a cross [Exodus 12:7]. In the days of Rahab, she was to put a scarlet line in the window that marked her for salvation in that day of destruction [Joshua 2:18-21]. In the ninth chapter of the Book of Ezekiel, he saw a vision of a man dressed in linen, and an inkhorn by his side, and he was commanded to go through Jerusalem and mark with ink on the forehead all of those who sighed and who cried because of the abominations of Jerusalem [Ezekiel 9:3-4]. In the thirteenth chapter of the Revelation, this Antichrist, who mimics our Lord, has a mark in the right hand and in the forehead of those that belong to him, without which mark you cannot buy, you cannot trade, and you cannot sell [Revelation 13:16-17]. So this thing of a mark, a setting aside for God, is something you’ll find often in the Bible.
Now on what basis is this mark made? Now, first, and this is very important for you to remember, lest you fall into a whole lot of grievous error; first, this is an election from among the Jewish people. It is not all the Jewish people; it is an election, a special election. Over here in the fourteenth chapter they are called "virgins" [Revelation 14:4]. They have no predecessors; no virgin could ever give birth to a child, so they have no predecessors. They have no successors; virgins don’t give birth to children. They don’t multiply themselves. So they are an election out of the descendents and the family of Abraham, among all of the tribes of the children of Israel, these are chosen [Revelation 7:2-8]. Now the basis of that choice is moral: it is not peremptorily, it’s not summarily done, it’s not adventitious, it’s not arbitrary; that choice is made because of great, fundamental, profound, moral reasons, this election.
Well, what are some of those reasons? Well, they’re plainly written here in the Bible. For example, it starts off with saying, "These who are to be sealed are the servants of our God." Now chapter 7, verse 3, "They are servants of our God" [Revelation 7:3]. That is out of all the tribes and families of Israel, these are those who humble themselves before God. The rest of the groups are not confessing, they’re not believing, but these are. These are they who have chosen to follow God and to be servants of Christ. Another thing about them: they are called over here "the firstfruits"; "These were redeemed from among men, being the firstfruits unto God and to the Lamb" [Revelation 14:4].
Now that’s an amazing and an astonishing thing because this one hundred forty-four thousand rests, stands, prays, serve God in the presence of the elders [Revelation 14:3]. How could they be the firstfruits unto God when these elders representing God’s redeemed, His church, have already been glorified, they have been raptured, and this one hundred forty-four thousand in Revelation 14 stand in their presence? [Revelation 14:3]. Well, how could they be the firstfruits then? [Revelation 14:4]. Well, evidently they are the firstfruits of a new order: they are the firstfruits of another beginning; they are the firstfruits of another great pronouncement and evangelization and baptism of the Holy Spirit of God. Now I see that same thing in the apostle Paul. He referred to himself as being "one born out of due time" [1 Corinthians 15:8]. The harvest is when the Lord comes again, when He appears unto His brethren, to His fellow Israelites, to His fellow Jews [Revelation 1:7]. And the nation is born in a day [Isaiah 66:8], and they are saved in that hour; that will be the great harvest [Romans 11:26]. But this is like the apostle Paul: an election of God, the firstfruits unto the Lord; the beginning of this new preaching of the gospel message of the Son of God [Acts 9:15].
All right, another thing about that sealing: what is the sealing of God? You have it very plainly written here in the Book. The seal of God is the Holy Spirit Himself; the unction, the baptizing, the presence of the Holy Spirit of God. In Ephesians 1:13, "Ye were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise." And Ephesians 4:30, "Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption." Same thing in 2 Corinthians 1:22, "We are sealed by the Holy Spirit of God." The sixth chapter and the twenty-seventh verse of the Gospel of John says that "Christ was sealed by the Father" [John 6:27]; that is, the Holy Spirit of God descended upon Him in great unction and in great power and endued Him for His ministry [Matthew 3:16-17]. Then what does this mean, God sealing this one hundred forty-four thousand? [Revelation 7:2-8]. It means simply this: that upon that elect number, the Holy Spirit of God is poured out in a new way, in a new baptism, in a new Pentecost; and they in the power of the Lord, fearless and brave before an evil and gainsaying world, they preach the Gospel of the Son of God. And the outward appearance of that sealing of God is found in their eloquence, and in their power, and in their fearlessness as they proclaim the message of the Son of God.
I say if you were to see one of them, I would say that he looked like Moses: his face shone from being in the presence of the Almighty [Exodus 34:29-30]. I would say it’d be the same thing as Stephen: Stephen, who as he stood in the ring of his murderers, Stephen’s face shone, and he looked like an angel as he testified in power and in wisdom to the grace of the gospel of the Son of God [Acts 6:15]; and they were not able to withstand the might and the wisdom and the power by which Stephen preached the Gospel of Jesus [Acts 6:10]. That’s going to be the same thing here; that’s the seal of the living God [Revelation 7:2-8]; the Holy Spirit falling upon these elect witnesses, they speak and they preach and they testify to the grace of Jesus in a power like they did at Pentecost [Acts 2:1-13], and as Stephen did before the Sanhedrin [Acts 6:15-7:53].
And the gospel they preach is that same twofold gospel that has been named ever since the great good news was announced. In the one hundred forty-four thousand, this angel flying in the midst of heaven is declaring the message that they preach [Revelation 14:6-7]: "the everlasting gospel" and "the judgment that is to come," verse 6 and verse 7. In verse 6, "the everlasting gospel preached" [Revelation 14:6]; and verse 7, "For the hour of His judgment is come" [Revelation 14:7], and that twofold side of the message of Christ is always delivered when a man faithfully presents the message of Jesus. "It is a gospel of the savor of life unto life to them who believe, and of death unto death to them who reject" [2 Corinthians 2:15-16].
This is the one hundred forty-four thousand. This is a time of a revival like the world has never known. And this is going to result in the second great vision in chapter 7: "I beheld, and, lo, a multitude no man could number" [Revelation 7:9]. These elect preachers with the baptism of the Holy Spirit of God are a definite number [Revelation 7:4]; but the Gentiles are unnumbered, "out of all kindred, and nations, and peoples, and tongues" [Revelation 7:9], John sees them as they come out of the great tribulation [Revelation 7:14]. Whenever things are dark, look for a revival; whenever things are heavy, look for a revival; whenever things are discouraging, look for a revival. When things are black, look for a sun rising. I think our earth is turning toward that great and final day. And we’re going to have in it, we’re going to have in it, earth’s greatest revival. God’s mercy is never forgot, in wrath, in wrath He blesses His people [Habakkuk 3:2].
Now while we sing our song and while we give this invitation, somebody you, giving your heart to Jesus; somebody you, putting your life in the fellowship of the church; somebody you, taking Jesus as our Lord; would you come and stand by me? Is there a family to put their life in the fellowship of the church? While we make this appeal, while we sing this song, would you come, while we stand and while we sing?