Saturday, August 10, 2013

Differences Between the Great Crowd and the 144,000

Firstly, the 144,000 are said to hail from the 12 tribes of Israel, and they have a definite number; conversely, the "great multitude" comes from all nations, tribes, peoples and tongues and they cannot be numbered. Granted, the kings and priests of Revelation 5:9-10 are said to come from diverse backgrounds too. But it seems odd for John to describe the 144,000 as Israelites in Revelation 7:1-8, then do a literary flip, as it were, and talk about the 144,000 as an indefinite and uncountable group from all tribes, etc.

While there are certainly differing scholarly views of Revelation 7:9, Robert L. Thomas thinks that META TAUTA EIDON "indicates a vision that is distinct from the preceding one" of Revelation 7:1-8. Furthermore, he reasons that the 144,000 and the great multitude cannot be the same group since "The earlier one was numbered, but this one is innumerable. One is exclusively Jews, the other is not. One is facing a period of wrath, the other has been delivered from it (Beckwith; Scott). This multitude includes far more than the 144,000" (Thomas, Revelation 1-7, page 484).

It has been suggested that the great multitude could be a heavenly group. Regardless of that debate, I just find it hard to believe that the multitude is numerically identical with the 144,000. Numerical identity is a concept that tries to explain what it means for two objects (A and B) to be the same. For instance, if the apostle named Paul who lived during the first century is numerically identical with the apostle of the same name resurrected to heaven by God, then the two "Pauls" are the same person. The above mentioned principle would similarly apply to the 144,000 and the great multitude, if they are numerically identical. But it's highly doubtful that they constitute the same (numerically identical) group.


Ivan said...


Your contention is the number 144,000 is literal. Could you explain how you disagree that the 12,000 from each tribe is literal, and that the Jewish tribe in itself is not literal, and yet come up with a literal sum? Are there any other examples of this phenomenon?

The Apologetic Front said...

Hi Edgar-

Is it possible that the 144K is describing what John heard and then the GC describing what he saw? In addition, where does the text require that either of these groups be located in heaven?

Edgar Foster said...


What about the four living creatures in Revelation or the 24 elders? Would they not be similar to 144,000 symbolic Israelites from 12 figurative tribes? Does not the Bible allow for an understanding of that which is Israel in a non-fleshly way?

Hi Apologetic Front:

Granted, he heard the number of 144,000 sealed and only 144,000, and he saw the great crowd. But did you actually read Thomas' remarks in the original post? I think he sets forth good reasons for distinguishing the 2 groups. See his remarks that are quoted in the blog entry.

And I wouldn't say that Rev 7 says anything which would lead us to believe that heavenly life is required, although some have concluded that very thing about the GC.

The Apologetic Front said...

Hi Edgar-

I certainly read them but found it to be quite unconvincing. And I'm surprised too since his view appears to be contrary to the JW position that the 144K is "spiritual Israel" and therefore not literal Jews.

Edgar Foster said...

Hi Apologetic Front,

This subject has been discussed ad nauseam elsewhere, but allow me to approach it from this angle. Even if the number 144,000 is symbolic, we still make nonsense of Rev 7:1-8; 14:1-5 if we try to say that the GC and 144,000 constitute the same group from different perspectives. To say that 144,000 symbolizes an innumerable multitude makes little sense. Additionally, Rev 14:3 says that no one was able to master the new song but the 144,000. Only those elect people who form this spiritual chorus were ablt to master the new song. Rev 6:9-11 also indicates that a limited number of human beings will adorn the white robes given by Jehovah to his faithful sons. It seems to contradict any suggestion that those who are given this figurative garb will be an innumerable multitude.