“What are these which are arrayed in white robes?”
The question has sometimes been asked as to whether, prior to the Rapture, there would be a great revival with many turning to God and trusting in Christ. We know that with God all things are possible. He can do as He chooses at any time or under any circumstances. However, the Scripture says nothing about revival at the end of the Church age, but quite the opposite. The inspired apostle wrote that in the last days of this age of grace, perilous times would come, with men being lovers of their own selves and lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God. Instead of things getting better, evil men and seducers would wax worse and worse, deceiving others and themselves being deceived. It would be a time when men would no longer endure sound doctrine; they would turn away their ears from the truth and be turned to fables. Sadly, we see evidence of all this in the world around us today, and it is like a poison gas that has affected many true believers who are lukewarm and negligent in their service for Christ. It is not only the unsaved who have turned away their ears from the truth, but how few Christians there are who have an anointed ear, and a sincere desire for the things of God and for the Word of truth. A dear servant of the Lord wrote: “The number of those who give any place at all in their thoughts and lives to the Word of God is rapidly diminishing. The little circle of those who give any heed at all to God’s Word is steadily contracting. That is one side of the case, the dark side. But there is another side, namely that within that little circle the light is becoming clearer and fuller.
There will indeed be a great worldwide spiritual awakening, a great ingathering of souls, but that will take place after the Church has been raptured home to glory. The Great Tribulation will be a time when the judgments of God are poured out and also when Antichrist will be on the scene, but it will be the greatest soul-saving time ever witnessed by mankind. In the seventh chapter of Revelation we read of the tribulation saints, those saved during that time. There are two groups: 1) The 144,000 who are all Israelites, and 2) an innumerable multitude out of all nations, mainly Gentiles. God has always had a witness. In every age He has had those who have spoken for Him, and the Great Tribulation will be no exception. He will have 144,000 saved, sealed, separated, stalwart witnesses who will proclaim God’s Word and the result of their preaching will be a great multitude, which no man could number, brought to God and washed in the blood of the Lamb.
In Revelation chapter six, the judgment seals are being opened but now there is an interruption. We read: “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” (7:2-4). Who are these who are sealed? Some of the cults claim they or some of their number are the 144,000, but this is nonsense. Then there are those who say these are the Church and this is also nonsensical. God tells us clearly and plainly who they are. They are all Israelites, descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and they are twelve thousand from each one of the twelve tribes of Israel. For anyone to say otherwise is reason enough to reject and discredit their ministry. A little boy sat in a service and heard the preacher explaining that a Bible passage meant something altogether different from what was written. On the way home he said to his mother, “Mom, if God didn’t mean what He said, then why didn’t He say what He meant?” Beloved, God has said exactly what He meant. Seiss writes: “There is no vice or device of sacred hermeneutics, which so beclouds the Scriptures, and so unsettles the faith of man, as this attempt to read Church for Israel, and Christian people for Jewish tribes. As I read the Bible, when God says `children of Israel,’ I do not understand Him to mean any but people of Jewish blood.”
These Israelites, who will be the real Jehovah’s witnesses, were certainly saved before they were sealed. The disappearance of millions from the earth at the Rapture would occasion wonder on the part of many. The seal judgments would bring universal war, famine, disease and death, followed by great earthquakes and men praying for the rocks to fall on them and to hide them from the face of Him that sitteth on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb. These strange events would certainly speak to the hearts of these Israelites, reminding them of Jehovah-God and of His promises to their nation. No one is saved, of course, apart from faith and the hearing of the Word of God. One of the ways for them to hear the Word would be through the preaching of the two witnesses at Jerusalem. The testimony of these two witnesses would be heard, not simply in Jerusalem, but throughout the world by means of television and radio. They would also still have the written Word and the Holy Spirit would use it to bring them to the knowledge of salvation and their sealing for service.
Following the Rapture of the Church, the Lord resumes His dealings with Israel and He singles out and seals the 144,000. Back in the days of Ezekiel’s prophecy the nation Israel had turned away from Jehovah and gone into idolatry and abominable practices, and because of their wickedness God was forced to send judgment. But first certain were marked out to be spared. We read: “And the Lord said unto him, Go through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and set a mark upon the foreheads of the men that sigh and that cry for all the abominations that be done in the midst thereof. And to the others he said in mine hearing, Go ye after him through the city, and smite; let not your eye spare, neither have ye pity; slay utterly old and young, both maids, and little children, and women; but come not near any man upon whom is the mark” (Ezekiel 9:4-6). These chosen Israelites of the future will be like those sealed in Ezekiel’s day. As they see the abomination of desolation and the rising power of Antichrist, they will be sighing and crying out to the God of their fathers to intervene. They will be sealed with the seal of the living God. This seal will be visible and will not only denote their authority to act for God, but it will also render them deathless, at least until their ministry is completed. Elijah pictures these end-time believers. For three and a half years he was cared for by God and protected from the wrath of Ahab. For three and a half years the 144,000 will be cared for by God and protected from the wrath of Antichrist. And they will not only be sealed and protected, but also empowered by the Holy Spirit. On the Day of Pentecost there was a partial fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy (Joel 2:28-32) and God’s Spirit was poured out and twelve men preached and several thousand were saved. In that future time there will be the complete fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy and God’s Spirit will be poured out upon all flesh and the 144,000 will preach and innumerable thousands will be saved.
Where will God find these witnesses? Will they have to be recruited and spend many months learning the language of the nations to whom they will bear a testimony? No, the Jew is already in every country of the world. They know the language of the country in which they reside. Many of them occupy prominent positions in the business world, in education, music, finance, and politics, and they will also have the money to do the job. We talk about the ten lost tribes, but they are not lost as far as God is concerned. He knows where they all are, and in Jewry today there are no doubt members of all the twelve tribes. These Jews, twelve thousand from each tribe and confessing Jesus as Messiah and coming King, will go to the Gentiles with God’s salvation message. This is God’s prophesied program, which is blessing for Israel first and then the Gentiles blessed through Israel. Dr. Scofield writes: “How long would it take Israel to evangelize the earth? A sober and very conservative estimate which has been made shows that it would be possible for these Israelites to carry any particular message to every creature on this earth in three years if they wanted to. I have always loved God’s ancient people, and I rejoice to know from the prophets that this mission is a part of their glorious future.”
The 144,000 mentioned in the fourteenth chapter of Revelation are doubtless the same ones referred to in chapter seven. In 14:4 they are called virgins, mainly in a spiritual sense. In the Old Testament God charged His people with spiritual adultery, which was most heinous in His sight. God was a faithful husband to Israel but they were unfaithful and went whoring after the gods of the heathen round about. The 144,000 will be faithful followers of the Lamb and will not be sullied by the idolatrous and wicked practices connected with the worship of the Beast. In connection with that iniquitous worship, which will in effect be Satan worship, fornication will be a part of it, even as it formed a part of the pagan system of idolatry. In Revelation 9:21 God mentions this fornication as one of the sins which brought His judgment upon them. In that day man will use religion as an excuse in which to gratify the lusts of the flesh. The great prominence given to sex and perversion today is a harbinger of that which is to come. The 144,000 are referred to as virgins because they keep themselves unspotted from all this. James had this future time in mind when he wrote: “Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God” (4:4).
In the same verse (Revelation 14:4) the 144,000 are spoken of as “being the first fruits unto God and to the Lamb.” Quoting again from James, written to “the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad,” we read “Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures” (1:18). Passingly, we would say that just as Paul’s epistles have their primary application to God’s people today, so the circumcision epistles (Peter-James-John) will have their primary application in the end-time when God takes up again with Israel. One of Israel’s feasts was the feast of firstfruits when they would bring a sheaf of firstfruits and offer a lamb without blemish (Leviticus 23:10-12). Here in Revelation we have the firstfruits and the Lamb with them. As the firstfruits these Israelites are chosen ahead of the nation and they are a pledge or guarantee of the redemption of all Israel, “for if the firstfruit be holy, the lump is also holy” (Romans 11:16). These 144,000 Israelites, plus the thousands saved from among the nations by their witness, will have part in the first resurrection. The Apostle John wrote: “And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them; and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection” (Revelation 20:4-5).
The 144,000 are not the only ones to be saved and kept during the Great Tribulation. We are now introduced to a vast company of Gentiles out of all nations who are also saved during the Tribulation. In the seventh chapter of the Revelation, John says: “After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands. … These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (vs. 9,14). These are the sheep nations of Matthew 25. They received the witness of the 144,000 and believed to the saving of their souls. They also received the witnesses and fed them, clothed them, befriended them, and thus will inherit the kingdom. Since these were saved through the preaching of the 144,000 it would be well to consider the message preached by the latter. There is no need to speculate as their preaching was foretold by the Lord Jesus. In Matthew 24:14, He said: “And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.” What did they preach? The Lord said it would be “the gospel of the kingdom.” It will not be the gospel of the grace of God, which we preach today, but the gospel of the kingdom. When the Church has been removed from this scene by way of the rapture, God’s program will revert to that which was in effect before He brought in the dispensation of grace with the Apostle Paul. The 144,000 will again be preaching the gospel of the kingdom. They will be preaching Jesus as the Son of God and the true Messiah who will be coming soon as King to set up His prophesied kingdom and to reign in righteousness over all the earth.
Certainly the 144,000 will also be preaching Christ and His redemptive work as the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world. Their converts are seen as “they which have come out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” No one in any age has been saved apart from the precious shed blood of Calvary’s Lamb. However, those saved during the tribulation will not be saved to become members of the Body of Christ with a heavenly hope. Theirs will be an earthly kingdom hope. In fact, both here, in chapter seven of Revelation, and also in chapter fourteen is an earthly millennial scene. Revelation 7:15 reads: “Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple.” Dr. Ironside has written: “That is, I take it, the millennial temple, which is to be built in the land in that coming day. There will be no day and night in Heaven. The expression can only refer, in this connection, to the temple on earth.” In Revelation 14:1 the Lamb with the 144,000 is seen standing on Mount Sion, which is mentioned over a hundred times in the Old Testament. “Beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth, is mount Zion, on the sides of the north, the city of the great King” (Psalm 48:2). It is here the great King will be enthroned during the Millennium.
It is truly cause for praise that during the world’s darkest hour a great host will be brought to the Light and will shine for Christ in His kingdom. But a word of warning should be sounded lest any think they can turn a deaf ear to God’s offer of salvation today, be left behind at the Rapture, and then have another opportunity to be saved in the Great Tribulation. Dr. Lehman Strauss writes: “I do not believe that this throng has in it any who reject Christ in this present dispensation of grace. Those who deliberately reject the love of the truth in this age are without hope in the coming age.” It would appear that those saved during the tribulation will be those who had never truly had the opportunity to hear the gospel and to put their trust in the Lord Jesus Christ as Saviour.