“Then I looked, and there on Mount Zion stood the Lamb, and with Him were 144,000 who had His name and His Father’s name written on their foreheads.” –Revelation 14:1
When one approaches the book of Revelation, I would encourage you to view this book as an apocalyptic book. Apocalyptic is a type of Biblical writing. To approach this book with a very wooden literal approach, will land you in some hard to prove and to follow interpretations. For example, Revelation chapter 7 opens with four angels standing at the four corners of the earth. No one would argue that this means the earth is flat with four corners. In addition the Bible uses the four winds to describe the judgment of God. We must understand the language John uses is symbolic in nature when speaking of the 144,000.
Many think they are literally Jews, the sons of Israel. That makes good sense since John says they are sons of Israel, and then pauses to list 12,000 from 12 different tribes. However, I believe that it most logically refers to the whole people of God- Jews and Gentiles that are saved. In other words all of us as Christians are part of the 144,000. The reason I hold this views is for the following reasons:
1. Revelation points us to the reality that the church is God’s people instead of ethnic Jews. Revelation 2:9 says that unbeliever Jews are not true Jews but are a synagogue of Satan. Revelation 3:9 is a direct reverse of what we see in in Psalm 86 and Isaiah 49 which says that unbelieving Jews will bow down before Gentile Christians. And Revelation 5:10 calls the church a kingdom of priests, which is what Israel is called in Exodus 19, but this blessing now belongs to the Church. Please note that this does not favor anti-Jewish views, as John was a Jew. All people are made in the image of God and need Jesus Christ! It simply shows that God’s people are those who have trusted Christ as Lord and Savior.
2. Revelation 14:3 describes the 144,000 as those “who had been redeemed from the earth.” This simply means those who are saved, that is all Christians.
3. The listing of tribes in Revelation 7 does not fit with any other listing of the tribes in the Old Testament. They are never listed in this order elsewhere, signifying that it should be read symbolically.
4. 10 of the 12 tribes listed have been lost to history to intermarriage with Gentiles after the northern kingdom was exiled, which would have been true when this book was written.
5. The literary technique used by John as he writes signifies the he speaks symbolically. For example, the same technique is used in Revelation chapter five where John is TOLD that Jesus as lion would conquer, but when he looked he SAW a lamb. It is the same person! In a similar fashion in Revelation 7:4, John hears the number who are sealed, but then in Revelation 7:9, John looks, and sees a great multitude which no one could number! Same literary device/technique that he used in Chapter five. What John HEARD and what John SAW referred to the same reality, but two different perspectives. On the one had, the redeemed are God’s true people: the true Israel of God. On the other hand, they are an uncountable multitude.