Question about Revelation 7:4

edited December 1969 in Coptic Orthodox Church
Revelations 7:4
And I heard the number of those who were sealed. One hundred and forty-four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel were sealed:
Who are these 144,000? What does it mean they were sealed? Does this mean 144,000 will be saved and the rest of the people won't? I'm confused here and would greatly appreciate an answer. Thanks.

Peace and Blessings,


  • Here is the response of Fr. Tadros Malaty in his Commentary on the Book of Revelations (which you could probably purchase at any local Coptic bookstore). I hope it helps:

    The readers may have some questions here: First: What does he mean by saying, “children of Israel?”

    The early Fathers clarified, that "the real Israel" is not the Jewish people as they are called, up to this day, but it is an adjective qualifying the Church alone. When the Jews were believers, and working in the vineyard, the Lord was calling them "Israel," but they removed themselves by themselves from the vineyard saying, "His blood be on us and on our children." For this reason, we say that after the Jews had their house destroyed, and carried the curse, it is of no significance to call themselves “Israel,” even if they were so, according to the flesh, as the children of the old people. However, the Church of the New Testament is an extension of the Church of the Old Testament, and has all the promises and the blessings.

    Indeed, St. Irenaeus saw that this is a sign, that some Jews will accept Jesus at the end of days. Yet as Pope Shenouda clarified, that by accepting faith, they should not remain in their fanaticism and agglomerations. They should put aside their old thinking, that they are a block of chosen and distinct people (as they pretend today). Then they will no more have an ndependentand distinct being. Their bitter fanaticism will end, and the materialistic zionism will vanish, as it is full of poison based on pride. Rather they should contrite and weep for refusing faith, and forget their intentions to have an independent state for worldly purposes.

    This way, the right spiritual Christian’s mind refuses the idea of the existence of "Israel," as a state, pretending to be the chosen people. We come back and confirm, that in this chapter the word "Israel," points not to a state, but to the spiritual Israel. In other words, to the Church, regardless of nationality or language, and this is what the apostolic Church and other churches called for.

    Second: What does he mean by tribes?

    There is no doubt, that he does not actually mean the tribes of Israel, but there is a spiritual indication, especially that we know that the Jewish people are refused as people. Even the Jews who are converted to Christianity, often marry from other races. They are confused and mixed descendants and tribes, and they no longer keep ties among the members of each tribe, separately, as they did before. This was the case until Jesus came, incarnated from the tribe of Judah, and proved that He was the coming Messiah. Then there was no need for the tribes to exist.

    The spiritual indication is as follows:

    1- The number of those who are sealed is 144, meaning that the people of the New Testament (12 disciples) multiplied by the people of the Old Testament (12 Tribes), then by one thousand, as all through Jesus became celestial or heavenly, for the number 1000 indicates heaven.

    2- The number “12000” is a symbolic number, that indicates the children of God who are censured and known by their names (John 10), especially that number “12” in the Holy Bible, points to God's ownership of the thing or person. For this reason, He chose 12 tribes in the Old Testament, and 12 apostles in theNew Testament.

    3- He started with the tribe of Judah, although he was not the oldest, but because the Lord Jesus came from this tribe. And he who has relationship with, and abides in the person of the Lord, comes first in the kingdom.

    4- He did not mention the tribe of Dan, because he sold himself to idols (Judges 18:1-31). God has warned any person, clan or tribe of worshipping them, or else the Lord will erase their names from under heaven (Deut. 29:18-25). Thus, those who erect in their hearts any kind of statue to worship, will be banned from the book of life.

    5- He mentioned the tribe of Joseph instead of Ephraim, because the tribe of Ephraim was known for his resistance to the honest Judah (Ps. 80:2, Isa. 7:17 , Jer. 7:15), and he was the first worshipper of idols (1 Kings 12:25-30).

    6- The tribes came in a special order, not according to their age or according to Ezekiel's prophecies (48:1-27, 31-34), but they came carrying a spiritual indication, which unveils the characteristics with which those who are bearing the Holy Spirit, need to be sealed with.

    • Judah or “confession.” Life is useless without faith and confessing that the Lord is God.

    • Reuben or “the son of vision.” His faith and his confession should be seen in his work and struggle.

    • Gad or “to be strong.” He who works needs to be strong, persevering to the end.

    • Asher or “Happy.” In our perseverance, we should not despair, but be happy and joyful in the Lord.

    • Naphtali or “wide.” The happy and joyful heart has room to love infinitely.

    • Manasseh or “forget.” He who loves, forgets himself and all that is worldly.

    • Simeon or “listener.” He who forgets himself, hears and understands the heavenly voice.

    • Levi or “borrowed.” He who listens to heaven will realize that he is borrowed, or a stranger here.

    • Issachar or “reward.” The stranger does not ask for his earthly reward, but for the heavenly one.

    • Zebulun or “dwelling.” He who asks for heaven, dwells in it, freeing his heart from everything.

    • Joseph or “increase.” He who frees his heart, living in heaven, grows in every good deed.

    • Benjamin or “son of the right.” He who grows, has his share at the right of God.
  • St Augustus once expressed that there were three types of language; univiscal language, equivocal language, and analogical language. Univiscal language is that which we use to define two terms as being absolutely identical. Thus, when an individual states God loves you and God loves me, you have every reason to believe that the term "love" is being used in precisely the same manner. Equivocal language is that used to define the same term in different ways depending on the context of the situation. Language is relativized in the sense that it's meaning conforms to shifts and changes at different scenarios. So when a person states that he loves you and simultaneously loves chocolate milk, you have good reason to believe that the term "love" does not mean the same thing in both contexts.
    Now beyond univiscal and equivocal language, St Augustus explicates that when speaking about God, univiscal language will not work since the glory of the Divine can not be expressed in any meaningful language that is currently employed. Augustus talked of how equivocal language would only serve to distort the image of God making discourse useless. Therefore, the saint talked of how it was necessary to use analogical language to describe God's ineffable glory. Analogies would be used to inculcate to others the omnipotence and holiness of the celestial realm as best as could possibly be described. When a passage such as Revelation 1 talks of the blazing fire of Christ’s eyes, or the radiant white hair that ornates his head, it is the uses of imagery that explains a situation to the best of the disciple John's ability; in language that we might be able to relate to.
    Now, the passage in Revelation 7:4 is in direct utilization of the analogical means of expression. We are told in Psalm 90:4 that thousand years are like a "watch in the night" for the cerebral mindset of the Almighty and in 2 Peter 3:8 "with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day". When John talks about the 144,000 and the sealing of their very persons, he is using analogical language. Far from Jehovah Witness theology, the 144,000 is an analogy to describe scores of people from every nation that will embrace God's love and obey His decrees. You and I are already sealed in the sense that we have committed our spirits to Christ.
    As the emblem of Christianity resonates through our persona, it is essential to establish that God has foreseen those who indeed will follow Him and thus, for Him, there is an absolute stamping of people who are referred to as the elect. It is not that God has pre-destined our fates, but holds absolute cognizance of the number who will follow and those who will fall away. The number is a symbolism used to caution the reader that God is an omniscient Being Who is coming soon. A need for repentance and righteousness emanates from the expressive tone of voice, John uses. The majority of language within Revelation is not univiscal, not equivocal, but analogical for the sake of the readers to identify as best as possible with the visionary revelation of divinity John that was imparted to John. The number sealed should not be taken in the literal sense.

    God Bless You.
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