THE 144,000 – Part 1
by Elder Lawrence Nelson
This sermon is part of a series entitled Christ our Righteousness
There are many questions concerning the 144,000. Some can be answered others cannot. For instance, is the 144,000 a literal or a symbolic number? Are the 144,000 sealed before or after the latter rain. Will the 144,00 convert a great multitude to God's truth? Why will the 144,000 be translated without dying? What are the character developments that are necessary to become a part of the 144,000?
In this presentation we will not dabble into speculation nor will we claim any new light. But we will search for what has been revealed in the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy. First let us seek for divine guidance. Oh loving Father, we believe the end to be very near. Through Thy Holy Spirit Thou hast revealed knowledge of a very special group of saints, described as the 144,000, who are to reveal to the universe that Thy eternal law can be kept, when a person joins his humanity with the power of divinity. Therefore, these 144,000 individuals have fully experienced justification and sanctification in Christ our Righteousness. So please, dear Father, help us to understand what the necessary character developments are for an individual to become worthy to be counted as a part of the 144,000. This we ask in the name of Thy dear Son, Amen.
Now, first of all, let us turn to scripture. We read of the 144,000 in Revelation 7:2-4,13,14 and Revelation 14:1-5. "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 the tribes of the children of Israel.
"And one of the elders answered, saying unto me, What are these which are arrayed in white robes? And whence came they? And I said unto him, Sir, thou knowest. And he said unto me, These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb."
"And I looked, and, lo, a Lamb stood on the mount Sion, and with him an hundred forty and four thousand, having his Father's name written in their foreheads. And I heard a voice from heaven, as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of a great thunder: and I heard the voice of harpers harping with their harps: And they sung as it were a new song before the throne, and before the four beasts, and the elders: and no man could learn that song but the hundred and forty and four thousand, which were redeemed from the earth. 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 first-fruits unto God and to the Lamb. And in their mouth was found no guile: for they are without fault before the throne of God."
Now I must be very frank with you, for there are various members of our faith who are heard declaring that the 144,000 are no different from any other generation of God's people. They say God does not have two different standards, one for the 144,000 and one for all other generations. This is absurd they insist. The 144,000 will be different only in that they will be alive when Jesus comes.
Now is this really true, or will the 144,000 be in some respect different; and if so, what will make them different? First of all we want to establish a very important truth. It is true that God does not have a different standard of salvation for the translated living and another for the resurrected, dead saints. Those who die must, at death, be right with God. They must be both justified and sanctified. As individuals they must stop committing known sin, and invite Christ to dwell in their heart by faith, and to give them the needed power to willingly obey their Lord. They will have been washing their robes of character and making them white in the blood of the Lamb.
Although the standard of salvation for both the living last generation, and the dead saints is the same, yet there is a difference. Why? - Because the severe end-time trials and great tribulations that they will pass through, such as experienced by no other generation, will develop in the 144,000 living saints characters that will become more like Christ's character than that of any prior generation of saints. They will reach a character maturity that will reveal that they have won the battle over evil. See Great Controversy p.415 for further detail.
So intense will become their hatred of sin that they would rather die than sin. The difference will not be in the standard of salvation but in the degree of character development to which they will attain. God has given us some Bible examples for this very purpose so that we can clarify and better understand this difference.
Let us begin with the example of Moses. I am going to read from Prophets and Kings p. 174, "Moses, wearied with forty years of wandering and unbelief, lost for a moment his hold on Infinite Power. He failed just on the borders of the Promised Land."
Now, I like the way Leola Rosenvold expresses the personal lesson we should learn from the experience of Moses, when he sinned by taking the glory from Christ in producing water from the rock. I am quoting from her book, The Remedy p. 98: "Christ uses the life of Moses as an object lesson to help us understand that there will be a difference in the experience between those who die and are resurrected, and those who are translated. Just one sin, which was immediately repented of, kept Moses from being translated, but it did not keep him from being resurrected.
"'Satan had been trying to find something wherewith to accuse Moses before the angels. He exulted at his success in leading him to displease God, and he told the angels that he could overcome the Saviour of the world when He should come to redeem man. For his transgression, Moses came under the power of Satan - the dominion of death. Had he remained steadfast, the Lord would have brought him to the Promised Land, and would then have translated him to heaven without his seeing death.' Early Writings p. 164.
"'Had not the life of Moses been marred with that one sin, in failing to give God the glory of bringing water from the rock at Kadesh, he would have entered the Promised Land, and would have been translated to heaven without seeing death.' Patriarchs and Prophets p. 478."
Now we know that in the lifetime of Moses he committed more than one sin. In fact, he even murdered a man; he killed an Egyptian. Though he had confessed and forsaken his sins, God uses this one sin which he knowingly committed on the banks of the Jordan River just before crossing into the Promised Land, to teach or impress us with the fact that the living saints must make an end of sin in their lives before they enter heavenly Canaan.
Now nothing could be more plainly stated. Though God had planned on translating Moses to heaven without seeing death, he was not then ready to be a type of those who would be ready to be translated. He must die. Soon after this Moses did die, but after a few days God resurrected him. He was taken to heaven to become a type of the resurrected saints of God; a type of those repentant ones who will not be required to go through the special end-time circumstances and great tribulations.
Now on the other hand, Enoch was a type of the living saints. Of the 144,000 listen to his record: The Bible says that he walked with God for 300 years before he was translated. Genesis 5:21,22. In the book, Reflecting Christ p. 307 we read, "Enoch was a marked character, and many look upon his life as something far above what the generality of mortals can ever reach. But Enoch's life and character, which were so holy that he was translated to heaven without seeing death, represent the lives and characters of all who will be translated when Christ comes."
In Gospel Workers p. 54 we read, "'By faith, Enoch was translated that he should not see death;...for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God.' To such communion God is calling us. As was Enoch's so must be their holiness of character who shall be redeemed from among men at the Lord's second coming." This is such an important, provoking statement I must repeat that last sentence again. "As was Enoch's, so must be their holiness of character who shall be redeemed from among men at the Lord's second coming."
Elijah was also a type of the 144,000. He was a man of strong faith. He demonstrated this in the happenings of Mount Carmel that are recorded in 1 Kings 18. However, after his lofty experience I read in Prophets and Kings p. 161, "Depression seized him.... While under the inspiration of the Almighty, he had stood the severest trial of faith; but in this trial of discouragement, with Jezebel's threat sounding in his ears,...he lost his hold on God."
"Elijah should not have fled from his post of duty." Prophets and Kings p. 160. The inspired Word says, "Despondency is sinful and unreasonable." Ibid. p.164. So Elijah sinned for "in a moment of weariness [he] allowed the fear of death to overcome his faith in God." Ibid. p. 174.
Let's think this through. What was the difference between the sin of Moses and that of Elijah? While Moses committed sin just before he was to pass over into the Promised Land, not so in the experience of Elijah. As did Moses, he repented immediately but he did not die soon thereafter. He lived on and demonstrated his strong faith in the Lord, which he quickly regained and maintained. God sent him back to Israel to finish bringing about a religious revival and a transformation in the land. When God finally asked him to call Elisha, a farm laborer to replace himself, he spent some time teaching Elisha. He went from place to place with him, and from school to school teaching him how to give the help that each needed.
Therefore Elijah spent a number of years demonstrating that he was a loyal, holy servant of the Lord before he was translated. This is why God could declare, "Elijah was a type of the saints who will be living on the earth at the time of the second advent of Christ and who will be 'changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump,' without tasting of death. 1 Corinthians 15:51, 52." Prophets and Kings p. 227.
Why is it necessary for the living saints who will be translated to be different in respect to their character developments? To have characters so mature that they will never again sin? What will make this maturity an absolute necessity? - First, they will be forced to meet the supreme test – that of a papal image of the beast. Secondly, after probation closes, they must be prepared to live sinlessly without a mediator in the sanctuary in heaven.
Now let us consider the first test – the image of the beast. Some church members may have wondered, why is the Sunday sabbath, brought about by the image of the beast, to be the great test for the people of God by which their eternal destiny will be decided? Wouldn't we naturally assume that this crisis would be a test for the world, for the unbelievers and the undecided?
The truth is that when God's people are faced with this great test they will be forced to make an immediate choice between life or death, as it were. Between obedience or disobedience. If their characters were not already developed to the point to where they would rather die than sin, they would undoubtedly choose to sin and thus come under Satan's black banner. When brought to the test, God's people will either receive the seal of God or the mark of the papal beast. Thus their eternal destiny will be forever decided.
I want to read to you from Bible Commentaries, Volume 7, p. 976: "The Lord has shown me clearly that the image of the beast will be formed before probation closes; for it is to be the great test for the people of God, by which their eternal destiny will be decided. . . . [Rev. 13:11-17 quoted.] . . . This is the test that the people of God must have before they are sealed. All who proved their loyalty to God by observing His law, and refusing to accept a spurious sabbath, will rank under the banner of the Lord God Jehovah, and will receive the seal of the living God. Those who yield the truth of heavenly origin and accept the Sunday sabbath, will receive the mark of the beast." Letter 11, 1890.
Now, concerning the second reason, the close of probation. The saints who are to be translated must live through the final time of trouble, referred to as the time of Jacob's trouble, without a mediator in the heavenly sanctuary. Probation will have closed for this wicked, old world. Are we aware of just what this means? It means that if a saint were to sin after probation closes there would be no forgiveness available. I don't believe any of us now living fully realize what it will mean to live on this earth in such a chaotic condition and under such pressure of a death sentence without an intercessor.
In Great Controversy p. 425 are these words, "Those who are living upon the earth when the intercession of Christ shall cease in the sanctuary above are to stand in the sight of a holy God without a mediator. Their robes must be spotless, their character must be purified from sin by the blood of sprinkling. Through the grace of God and their own diligent effort they must conquer in the battle with evil."
Christ is our only example of a man who lived on earth without an intercessor; and what was the experience of Christ while he was on this earth? – Great Controversy p. 623 says, "Christ declared of Himself, 'The prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in me.' John 14:30. Satan could find nothing in the Son of God that would enable him to gain the victory. He had kept His Father's commandments, and there was no sin in Him that Satan could use to his advantage. This is the condition in which those must be found who shall stand in the time of trouble."
Now I trust that this is causing you and me to do some very serious thinking. In order for anyone to live on this earth without a mediator, such a one must attain to the same sinless condition lived my Christ while He was on this earth.
Let's consider for a moment Christ in Gethsemane. In Desire of Ages p. 686,687 we are told, "Christ was now standing in a different attitude from that in which he had ever stood before....Hitherto He had been an intercessor for others; now He longed to have an intercessor for Himself. As Christ felt His unity with the Father broken up, He feared that in His human nature He would be unable to endure the coming conflict with the power of darkness....With the issues of the conflict before Him Christ's soul was filled with dread of separation from God. Satan told Him that if He became the surety for a sinful world, that the separation would be eternal. He would be identified with Satan's kingdom, and would nevermore be one with God." So likewise, when probation closes, the saints will find themselves in a different position than they have ever been before.
How will they be enabled? - Actually it will be by following Christ's earthly example. "Christ left his heavenly home, and came to this world, to show that only by being connected with divinity can man keep the law of God. In itself humanity is tainted and corrupted; but Christ brought moral power to man, and those who live in communion with him overcome as he overcame. We are not left in this world as orphans." Signs of the Times, December 3, 1896. Praise God! I like that!
Unless the saints follow the example of Christ in joining their humanity with divinity they would be among the lost who will be consumed at Christ's coming. It is absolutely imperative that they have this special preparation for God's glory destroys all sin and sinners. Sin cannot exist in the visible presence of God for God's glory is a consuming fire.
The Bible is very clear in stating that the very presence of God will consume all who are found clinging to sin. 2 Thessalonians 2:8 tells us, "And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming." As Christ nears this earth, his very presence will consume the sinner while consuming their sins.
Therefore it is evident that all sin must be removed from the 144,000 in the days of preparation before they are sealed. That is this time in which we are living. For we are living in the preparation time. Times are tense. There is still opportunity, praise God, for us to prepare. Would to God that the ministers in God's pulpits today would preach soul-stirring messages filled with divine conviction that would move the listener to sense the enormity of the sin problem, causing them to fall on their knees pleading with God for victory. Believe me, friend, this is no time for "Celebration" with tame messages to satisfy the sinful nature, such as teaching congregations that they can continue sinning until Jesus comes.
Rather than representing so-called "attractive errors" ministers should listen to and heed the council of Joel found in Joel 2:1,16,17, "Blow ye the trumpet in Zion, and sound an alarm in my holy mountain: let all the inhabitants of the land tremble: for the day of the Lord cometh, for it is nigh at hand; Gather the people, sanctify the congregation, assemble the elders, gather the children, and those that suck the breasts: let the bridegroom go forth of his chamber, and the bride out of her closet. Let the priests and the ministers of the Lord, weep between the porch and the altar, and let them say, Spare thy people, O Lord."
My beloved fellow ministers, this is the weeping time; a time for us to weep between the porch and the altar for all the sins that are being committed in the church. Certainly this is not a time for Celebration, and for entertainment, or for preaching frivolous or smooth sermons to tickle the ear of the flocks. Rather, we ministers should sound such an alarming message that will awaken the members of our churches from their Laodicean slumber to their need to sigh and cry for their own sins, as well as those of their fellow church members.
Ellen White informs us, "The abominations for which the faithful ones were sighing and crying were all that could be discerned by finite eyes, but by far the worst sins, those which provoked the jealousy of the pure and holy God, were unrevealed. The great Searcher of the hearts knoweth every sin committed in secret by the workers of iniquities." Testimonies for the Church, Volume 5, p. 211.
So God admonishes us to, "Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and show my people their transgressions, and the house of Jacob their sins." Isaiah 58:1. Ellen White asks, "What are you doing, brethren, in the great work of preparation? Those who are uniting with the world are receiving the worldly mold and preparing for the mark of the beast. Those who are distrustful of self, who are humbling themselves before God and purifying their souls by obeying the truth - these are receiving the heavenly mold and preparing for the seal of God in their foreheads. When the decree goes forth and the stamp is impressed, their character will remain pure and spotless for eternity." Testimonies for the Church, Volume 5, p. 216. This, dear friends, is God's last-day preparation message. It is urgent, for time is short.
Before I close I will relate a true story. An Adventist lady, whom I will call Rachel, lived in Oregon. She was studying God's Word with a very godly woman. Now Rachel had a certain problem, in so far as our health reform message is concerned. Her teacher pointed out to her that the Spirit of Prophecy clearly reveals that no one will be among the living translated saints who was indulging in this certain vice. Now this shook Rachel up and for two weeks she abstained. But then, forgetting her reform, she went back to the old practice with this comment, "I decided that I would go ahead and indulge myself and prepare to be among the resurrected dead rather than striving to be among the living who will be translated."
What a dangerous reasoning! We are living in the end time, and God calls us to make preparation appropriate for the time in which we live. Surely we do not have the option of making such a choice as did Rachel. Rachel failed to realize that the standard of salvation is exactly the same for the dead as for the living. All known sins must be repented of and put away before death or before translation. If a certain practice is a sin for a living saint, one that would keep him from being translated, after one recognizes its sinfulness if he should continue in this practice would he be eligible to be among the resurrected saints? This would be very questionable.
In this end time we are admonished, "Let us strive with all the power that God has given us to be among the hundred and forty-four thousand." Review and Herald, March 9, 1905.
In closing I will reaffirm the words of Ezekiel the prophet as he appeals to ministers and laymen alike. To everyone, both the saints who will be among the living, and those who will die in the Lord Ezekiel's message from the Lord has the same urgency, as do the messages of Joel and Isaiah. Ezekiel 18:30-32 says, "Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, saith the Lord God. Repent, and turn yourselves from all your transgressions; so iniquity shall not be your ruin. Cast away from you all your transgressions, whereby ye have transgressed; and make you a new heart and a new spirit: for why will ye die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord God: wherefore turn yourselves, and live ye."
Let us pray. Oh God, our Father, we tremble as we sense the coming battle just before us. We see ourselves as hopeless without Thy divine help. So Father, awaken us to fully comprehend how we can daily join our humanity with Thine divinity so that we may experience complete victory over sin through Christ our Righteousness. We must have the assurance, as Enoch, that he pleased God. And we ask this in the name of Jesus, Thy dear Son, Amen.