There are many thoughts, understandings and interpretations on the book of Revelation, and within it, that of the new city Jerusalem, and the 144,000 of chapters 7 and 14. In this article, I will present one possibility of the meaning of John’s vision regarding these two topics, and how they may flow together as one. I am not dogmatic about this; this is only one view of it that I’ve considered and realize that most readers will not have been down this path before. My only desire is for you to read and consider it in light of what the Holy Scriptures teach us, without predetermined conclusions or excessive influence from traditional teachers.
The New City Jerusalem
The new city Jerusalem is described in Revelation chapter 21. In verse two, John sees the city coming down out of heaven, prepared as a bride for her husband. The following is the bulk of the rest of the chapter that describes the city:
The Bible establishes that this city is in fact the bride of Christ (Revelation 21:2, 9-10), being described throughout the chapter in the metaphor as a city. We know that Jesus is the Lamb, but He is also the Bridegroom (John 3:29 and elsewhere in the New Testament). The discourse below discusses the bride.
The city, or bride, is described as having a wall with twelve gates, and the gates have the names of the twelve tribes of Israel on them (Revelation 21:12). The wall has twelve foundations, and on them are the names of the twelve apostles (Revelation 21:14). If the city is actually the bride of the Lamb, then the description of the city must translate into something of meaning in reference to and description of the bride.
First, let’s examine the foundation. The foundation is the apostles, or perhaps better described as the work of the apostles. Foundation here means what you’d normally think of when considering a foundation… something which holds something else up. This word in the Greek, themelios (Strong’s number 2310), means beginnings, first principals, or a new establishment. It is used very similarly in Ephesians 2:20, where the text says, “having been built on the foundation of the apostles….” Hebrews 11:10 speaks of Abraham, “looking for the city which has foundations whose architect and builder is God.” The foundations “were adorned with every kind of precious stone” (Revelation 21:19). The apostles were, and are, very special and precious in the Lord’s eyes. God designed the city, Jesus is the cornerstone, and the apostles laid the foundation based on the cornerstone that would hold up a wall.
An impressive wall is being held up by the foundation in Revelation 21:12… one wall, in the singular throughout Revelation. While the wall apparently has four sides (Revelation 21:13 says there were three gates on each side), it is described as being one wall, one unit. The wall isn’t intuitively described like the foundation, so let’s examine this for an explanation. Here’s what we know about the wall:
- it was great and high
- it had twelve gates
- it was measured
- it was jasper
1. Great, meaning splendid or stately. High, meaning eminent or exalted. See Strong’s numbers 3173 and 5308, respectively.
2. The gates were attended by twelve angels, one per gate. These angels are guarding the entrance to the city, preventing anyone or anything “unclean, or practitioners of abomination or lying from ever coming into it…” (Revelation 21:27), much like in Genesis 3:24, where cherubim guarded the tree of life in the Garden of Eden from sinful Adam and Eve.
Names were written on the gates, which are the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. In Revelation 21:21, it states that each gate is a pearl. It is quite fitting that God would have each gate presented as a giant pearl, representing Jacob’s twelve boys. A pearl is formed in an oyster when an irritant (a piece of sand, for example) finds its way into the oyster… the oyster responds by coating the sand particle repeatedly to sooth itself. Eventually something that is brash and irritating becomes a thing of beauty. With few exceptions, I can imagine that Jacob’s boys were quite irritating to God, but eventually became the means by which God fulfilled the promise of descendants to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
Why would God use the twelve tribes as access points into the city, where “those who wash their robes … enter by the gates into the city” (Revelation 22:14)? An examination of the meaning of the names of the twelve tribes is in order here (as described in biblical context)… this may provide the clue we are looking for. Let’s examine a few:
Of Reuben, it is stated “the Lord has seen my affliction, my husband will love me.”
Of Levi, “my husband will become attached to me.”
Of Judah, “I will praise the Lord.”
Of Dan, “God has vindicated me and heard me.”
Of Asher, “Happy am I,” or “blessed.”
Of Joseph, “God has taken away my reproach.”
Are we seeing a pattern here? I’ve heard it preached that even back thousands of years before the Messiah came, there were hints of redemption to God, or salvation, in the twelve tribes (Genesis 12:3 says that through Abram “all the families of the earth will be blessed.” While I and most others believe the meaning of this is that the Messiah would come from Abraham’s linage, it seems that this verse could also apply of the twelve to access this city). This seems to be the case, when comparing the meaning of these names to the process of righteousness to God (known as being saved today). God sees our affliction, but still loves us as we are. With our belief in God and/or new birth in Christ, we become attached to God through Jesus, our husband/bridegroom (notice the husband references and compare below). Then we praise the Lord. Then we’ve been vindicated by God. Then we are happy and blessed. Then we have no more reproach against God. It seems even as if the order of the twelve are sequential in salvation! The beauty of this is that it applies to either side of the cross, as does our means to God… faith and belief in Him through His Word. (This concept is not a stretch. Similarly, the meaning of the names from Adam to Noah very much describes the gospel, not unlike that of John 3:16.)
In like form, Romans 11:12 says, “now if their (the Jews) transgression is riches for the world and their failure is riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their fulfillment be.” A few verses later in Romans 11:15, Paul continues with, “for if their (Jews) rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be….” These verses point toward a relationship between the Jews and the salvation of the world.
Another relationship between the twelve tribes and salvation is tucked away in Leviticus. In chapter 24, Moses gives instruction on the generation and placement of the showbread in the holy place. Twelve cakes are to be made, and placed in two rows on the golden table, “in order before the LORD continually; it is an everlasting covenant for the children of Israel” (Leviticus 24:8). The showbread, described here and elsewhere in the Law, prefigures the regular partaking of Christ Jesus for our spiritual well-being. We “feed” on Him regularly for our daily sustenance, and as He said in John 6:51, “I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever….” (J. Vernon McGee describes the correlation between the Old Testament bread conventions and Christ very well in his Thru the Bible Commentary.) What makes this interesting for this study is the co-joining of the twelve tribes and the bread; twelve tribes and bread = salvation foreshadowing.
3. A golden measuring reed (or rod) was used by an angel to measure the wall. The wall “measured 144 cubits, according to human measurements, which are also angelic measurements.” Golden, here and elsewhere in the Bible, represents Godly purity, or of God. The verb to measure is the Greek word metreō, which can mean to judge according to a rule or standard of judgment. The reed was the device used by the angel for the measurement, and in Revelation 11:1, a reed for a similar measurement was described as being like a rod. The word rod can have the meaning of rigorous rule, or a royal scepter, and this thought would seem to apply here.
In essence, we are seeing an examination of the wall… how the wall stands up against a holy measurement of God.
The wall is 144 cubits, the measure of man and that of angels. Why was it important for God to mention, “which are also angelic measurements?” If the city is the bride and the wall is part of the city, then the 144 cubits are not simply a measurement of distance that can be converted to feet, miles, etc. There is different meaning here, but what is it?
4. Jasper is a precious stone of various colors. Note in Revelation 4:3, God is described “like a jasper stone….” Even Lucifer was described similarly in Ezekiel 28:13, being covered with “every precious stone … and the jasper….” Here it is no different. So it is thus that every righteous, pure and holy being, be it the Creator or the created, is pure and clear in heaven, with jasper as one vehicle of description.
It seems that the wall represents believers from every age, from Old Testament patriarchs and prophets to the New Testament church.
Does this wall bear a load as most walls common to us do? The word wall comes from the base Greek word tiktō (Strong’s number 5088), meaning to bring forth, bear, produce. The wall, being believers, bears the witness and testimony of God and Jesus.
What’s inside the wall? The same thing that is inside of believers today is inside the wall, and that is God. We know that, as believers, our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19), where God dwells. Likewise, in the new city, within the walls, “I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple” (Revelation 21:22). God literally lives within the walls of new city Jerusalem. Remember what it says in Hebrews 8:5, that Moses would erect a copy and shadow of the heavenly tabernacle. The dwelling place of God in Revelation 21 is that heavenly tabernacle! Other similarities to the Old Testament include the three gates (gate=tribe of Israel) on each side of the wall. The Old Testament teaches us that while traveling through the desert for 40 years, God arranged for there to be three tribes on each side of the tabernacle (interestingly, the cumulative number of people per the four sets of tribes with the tabernacle in the middle makes the shape of the cross when seen from overhead… see Numbers 2). This is another hint that inside the wall of the city is God’s dwelling place; we are the temple of God as New Testament believers, so tabernacle=wall=believers in this setting.
The city consists of the foundation, wall and gates together as one. As described in Revelation 21:16, its length and width and height are equal. This matches the description of the inner sanctuary (holy of holies) in Solomon’s temple as described in 1 Kings 6:20. The city was measured at 12,000 stadia (singular is stadion). Notice that it is not the length, width or height that is measured, but simply the city itself (unlike the inner sanctuary, where each dimension measured twenty cubits). You may see furlong for the word stadion, or some other common length of measure. This is dubious at best; the original language must be retained here for proper meaning. Stadion comes from the base Greek word, histēmi, which means to make firm, fix or establish. (The English word stadium is derived from the Greek word stadion, and histamine comes from the word histēmi.) So we can say that the city is “firmly established”. Interestingly, this same meaning applies when we see pillar in Revelation 3:12, “I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God … I will write on him the name of My God … the city of My God … and My new name.” Pillar in the Greek is stylos, which also comes from the base word histēmi, same as stadion. This is notable in that it gives credence to the idea that stadion has meaning other than that of distance as related to the heavenly scene in Revelation. (In like thought, Isaiah sees posts in his heavenly vision in Isaiah 6:4, and here, the word posts is from the Greek word, cubit. Keep this in mind as you read about cubit below.)
Why twelve thousand stadia? Twelve represents God’s perfect completion. We see this, for example, in His twelve apostles, the twelve patriarchs, and numerous times throughout the Law. Jesus was about His Father’s business (Luke 2:49) when He was twelve years old, astonishing teachers with His wisdom and understanding. We will examine the word thousand later in this article.
The city was like jasper (Revelation 21:11), was pure gold (Revelation 21:18), and has streets of pure gold (Revelation 21:21). Again we can compare the new city to the inner sanctuary, where Solomon overlaid it with gold (1 Kings 6:21). The descriptors here are brilliant and crystal clear, like clear glass, and like transparent glass, respectively. There are no impurities in the city, only the clarity and purity of God.
In Lamentations 4:2, God says through Jeremiah that, “the precious sons of Zion are comparable to fine gold.” God is telling us in this verse that His dear ones are equal to fine or pure gold. Remember, the new city is pure gold. This reaffirms that we can consider the bride/believers/new city and pure gold as one.
Once more, the city in its entirety is the bride of Christ… the apostles, the righteous believers before and after the cross, and even the twelve tribes of Israel. The bride of Christ is not just the church as many believe today. It is only the church in the context of where we are in the created timeline. The description of the city testifies to this. Otherwise, why would the city, the bride, be described in part by the twelve tribes? Remember, Jesus died for all of mankind throughout time, from Adam and Eve to you and me. Hebrews 10:12 says, “He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God….” Remember, too, in John 5:46, Jesus said, “For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me, for he wrote about Me.” What did Moses write? The Law, via the Torah. What did Jesus fulfill? The Law. Who was it that abided in God, following the precepts in the Torah and of the Law? Old Testament believers.
The New Testament plainly shows that the church is the bride of Christ, but believers in the Old Testament seem to be included, as terms such as beloved, and husband are used describing God as related to His people. Many Christians, me included, believe the Song of Solomon is a love story about Jesus (the Beloved) and His believers (the Shulamite). Isaiah 54:5 says, “For your Maker is your husband, the LORD of hosts….” Jeremiah 31:32 says it similarly, “I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the LORD.” God is saying here that even before the Law He was a husband to the Israelites. Ezekiel goes into what some consider a graphic description of God’s love for His people using an allegory of a husband and his cheating wife in chapter 16.
Thus, the biblical evidence seems to indicate that all believers throughout time are the bride of Christ.
The 144,000 are only mentioned in the book of Revelation, in chapters 7 and 14. Here are the verses:
We will examine these verses more closely in a moment. But first I will note that most people believe that the 144,000 are thought to be 144,000 Jewish people that are sealed unto God in the end times. This makes sense. It states plainly in Revelation 7:4-8 that 144,000 were sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel. It’s hard to argue against what the text presents at face value. But as we’ve noted earlier, and it is obvious when reading John’s Apocalypse, much of his presentation is not literal, but figurative. Let’s see if we can gain further understanding into this part of Revelation as we consider the symbolic text.
There is not a lot of information given about the 144,000, but enough to give us clues about how they fit into John’s vision. Here’s what we know about the 144,000:
- they are sealed on their foreheads
- they are called bond-servants
- they are 12,000 in number from each of the twelve tribes of Israel
- they are chaste and blameless
- they follow the Lamb wherever He goes, and have been purchased as first fruits to God and the Lamb
1. Revelation 7:3 says, “until we have sealed … our God on their foreheads.” Sealed here means to prove one’s testimony that he is what he professes to be. Paul uses the same word with the same meaning in 2 Corinthians 1:22, where he says, “(God) who also sealed us and gave us the Spirit…,” and again he writes in Ephesians 1:13, “you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise”. Believers today, like the 144,000, are sealed in similar fashion.
By the same token, Revelation 14:1 states they have, “His name and the name of His Father written on their foreheads.” This sounds very much like Revelation 3:12, “I will write on him the name of My God … and My new name,” Jesus says through John to the church of Philadelphia. Interestingly, there’s another verse where bond-servants have, “His name … on their foreheads.” It is in Revelation 22:4, and appears to be talking about all believers in Heaven, and they have the very same marker as do the 144,000. (Another marking takes place in the Bible, this time in the Old Testament. In Ezekiel 9:4, the LORD tells a man clothed in linen [a Christophany, I believe] to, “put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the abominations which are being committed…,” then everyone else is destroyed, beginning in the sanctuary. Peter in 1 Peter 4:17 says similarly, “judgment begins at the house of God”.)
The word forehead provides much meaning here, so let’s examine that for a moment. This is Strong’s number 3359, and is the compound Greek word metōpon. In the New Testament, this word is only used in the book of Revelation, and there, only used as a place where one is either marked for the beast or for God. In the Old Testament, the word forehead is used many times to describe someone that we would term hard-headed. See Isaiah 48:4, Jeremiah 3:3 and Ezekiel 3:9 for examples. Was their head literally “hard as bronze” as Isaiah says, or “hard as flint” as Ezekiel states? Of course not. This is a reference to their state of mind; how or what they think. With this observance, consider the fact that the compound word metōpon, broken down, can mean behind face. So it is entirely possible that these seals/marks/names on the forehead are placed there by God, as a designation as to what we believe. I find it interesting that while believers in God have His mark or name on their foreheads, followers of the beast have their marks either on their forehead or right hand. Following this line of thinking, we can understand why they’re marked on the forehead, but why the hand? It’s a work, that’s why. A person only needs to believe (forehead) in the Lord Jesus for their salvation, without works. But a person can miss out on this salvation by either not believing in Him (forehead), or can try to work for their own salvation (hand). Jesus said in Matthew 7:20, “you will know them by their fruits,” and in Matthew 7:22 said, “many will say to Me on that day, Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?” He finishes in Matthew 7:23 with, “I never knew you, depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.” Why didn’t He know them, when they did seemingly great things for the Lord? Because they first didn’t believe (forehead) in Him.
2. The term bond-servant is used throughout the New Testament to describe followers of Christ and God. More specifically, a bond-servant is defined as, “one who gives himself up to another’s will.” In Revelation 15:3, Moses is called a bond-servant. While the 144,000 are called bond-servants, so are the rest of us believers. And in Revelation 22:3, in the heavenly scene, John says, “His bond-servants will serve Him.” So this term is hardly exclusive to the 144,000. (As a side note, it is referenced in the last chapters of Isaiah that both Israelites and Gentiles are servants of God, as they call upon the name of the Lord.)
3. The twelve thousand from each of the twelve tribes brings us to the 144,000 (see Revelation 7:4). As mentioned above, the number twelve represents God’s perfect completion. It not only represents the number of tribes of Israel in the heavenly representation, but also the number of apostles, gates, and months of new fruit in the new city.
4. These folks are chaste, as it says in Revelation 14:4, as in, “not defiled with women.” Some translations say “virgins.” The obvious meaning of this is not to have had intercourse. What’s the problem with intercourse? Doesn’t God say in Hebrews 13:4 that the “marriage bed is undefiled?” This would seem to be a contradiction, but it’s not. The Revelation 14:4 reference harkens back to the Old Testament Law, where it says that a person that has intercourse is unclean until sundown that day (Leviticus 15:18). Another meaning for virgin is someone who has abstained from all uncleanness. Paul touches on this in his second letter to the Corinthians where he writes, “For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ,” (2 Corinthians 11:2).
Further descriptors are “blameless”, with “no lie in their mouth…” (Revelation 14:5). Who is blameless? In Philippians 2:15, it says, “prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent children of God….” And Peter says to be found by Him “spotless and blameless” (2 Peter 3:14). Believers in Jesus are blameless, and God sees us through the lens of Jesus, without spot or wrinkle. In Him, we are perfect, co-heirs with Christ unto the kingdom of God. So we can say, like the 144,000, that we are blameless and virgins, since Jesus lived perfectly and fulfilled the Law on our behalf.
5. The 144,000 follow the Lamb wherever He goes. We first find them with the Lamb “standing on Mount Zion” (Revelation 14:1). They apparently follow Him to the throne, because this group of believers “sang a new song before the throne” (Revelation 14:3). John also hears, “the sound of harpists playing on their harps” in Revelation 14:2.
In Revelation 7:9, immediately after the 144,000 are sealed to God, John sees a great multitude standing before the throne and before the Lamb, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues. They cry out in Revelation 7:10, “Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”
Then in Revelation 15:2, we see another group of people in a heavenly scene, “standing on a sea of glass, holding harps of God.” They are singing the song of Moses and the song of the Lamb.
There would seem to be lots of groups of people singing before God and the Lamb, at the throne. Are these groups different from one another, or the same?
Revelation 14:4 says the 144,000 are, “redeemed from among men, being firstfruits to God and to the Lamb.” “Being firstfruits” implies that the 144,000 are the first to be gathered from men to God in heaven. But this isn’t the case. Look again at Revelation 7:9. In this earlier scene in Revelation, John sees a great multitude before the throne and before the Lamb. How then can the 144,000 of chapter 14 be the first to be redeemed to God from men?
With His death, resurrection and ascension into heaven, Jesus was the firstfruit from man to God. After this, righteous man would be the firstfruit to God and the Lamb, as the text indicates in Revelation. The remaining fruit, as referenced from the Law, is for man, and in this case, is rotten fruit that has prepared itself for the great winepress of God as outlined in Revelation 14:19 and 19:15 (note that the winepress mentioned in Revelation 14:20 is trampled outside the city, bringing to mind that God kept uncleanness outside the city in Leviticus and when Christ bore our sins on the cross, and does so again with the angelic gate attendants in Revelation 21:27). God will harvest both sets of fruit, good and bad, but the firstfruit is His own to keep forever, while the remainder is properly disposed of in the lake of fire. Daniel touches on this in Daniel 12:2, when he states, “those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting contempt.” Jesus mentions the same thing in Matthew 25:46, “these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
Compare this thought to Exodus 34:22, where God says through Moses, “and you shall observe the Feast of Weeks of the firstfruits of the wheat harvest, and the Feast of Ingathering at the year’s end.” Here, God calls the wheat harvest the firstfruits, but the Feast of Ingathering, which is the grape harvest, isn’t. In fact, a grape harvest heading for the winery is termed vintage, and the word vintage comes from the Hebrew root word batsar, which can mean “to cut off.” So as related to Revelation, the 144,000 are the believing firstfruits or wheat harvest, and the unbelievers are the latter, grape vintage, cut off from the heavenly city and headed for the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God.
In examining the biblical evidence, it does seem possible that the 144,000 represents something other than 12,000 people from the twelve tribes of Israel, but may represent what would be a larger, God-believing group of people. The same thought of the meaning of the names of the twelve tribes that I mentioned above, regarding salvation, applies here.
Bringing It All Together
We’ve made a fair case in establishing that the new city Jerusalem is the bride of Christ, and that His bride consists of believers throughout time. We’ve also presented biblical evidence that supports the concept that the 144,000 may not be limited to end times Messianic Jews. Let’s see if we can bring the two together into one thought. Let’s first examine the meaning twelve, thousand and cubit.
Remember, the number twelve in the Bible represents God’s perfect completion. So in Revelation, we see God’s perfect completion in the twelve gates with twelve pearls guarded by twelve angels, twelve foundations, even in twelve stars and the twelve tribes of Israel. We see 12,000 twice, with the numbering of each of the twelve tribes of Israel, and the measurement of the new city being 12,000 stadia. If twelve is a number of God’s perfect completion, what is 144?
As you know, 12 times 12 is 144. 144, as a whole, seems to represent an overabundance of Godly perfection in completion. Twice we see 144; we see 144,000 in the total number from the twelve tribes, and the heaven city’s wall measures 144 cubits. Do these 144s relate? Let’s examine the word thousand for meaning, then the word cubit.
The word thousand in the Bible is used in a couple of different ways. First, it is obviously used to indicate a specific number of something… there are many examples of this. But it is also used to describe a vast, non-specific number of something. An example of this is in Psalm 50:10, where God says, “for every beast of the forest is Mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills.” That’s all? God only owns the cattle on a mere 1000 hills? Obviously this isn’t meant to be taken literal.
Another example is in Revelation 5:11, where John sees the host of heaven around the throne, “the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands.” That’s a little better… taken literally, that would be, at a minimum, 100,004,000. So God does have quite a host around the throne. Again, this is not literal, and when you look at the original language, it becomes more apparent. The word for ten thousand here is myrias, the word we get myriad from, which means an innumerable multitude. This is followed by thousands of thousands, and this word in the original simply means the number one thousand, but doesn’t hold that meaning in context. In Daniel 7:10 it says that, “thousand thousands ministered to Him,” and this word plainly means thousand in the original Aramaic, but obviously doesn’t hold that meaning in context. Think of it this way… when Jesus said to forgive someone 70 times 7 times, He didn’t mean to quit forgiving someone after the 490th time. He meant to always forgive, without ending, to always turn the other cheek. In this sense regarding the 144,000, I’m not sure God meant a specific number as much as He meant a large quantity in perfection in His completion.
We’ve sited some examples of the word thousand, meaning a large multitude, and considering that Revelation is symbolic in many ways, we have reason to believe it isn’t literal in every usage. I think it is possible that the measurement of the city at 12,000 stadia in Revelation 21:16 has a meaning of innumerable (thousand), established (stadion), completed perfection (twelve), by God. I think it is possible that the twelve tribes of Israel totaling 144,000 in Revelation chapters 7 and 14 has a meaning of an innumerable (thousand), overabundance of God’s perfect completion (144), through salvation (meaning of the names of the twelve tribes).
It’s very interesting to examine Revelation 21:16-17. These verses say, “The city is laid out as a square; its length is as great as its breadth. And he measured the city with the reed: twelve thousand furlongs (stadia). Its length, breadth, and height are equal. Then he measured its wall: one hundred and forty-four cubits, according to human measurements, which are also angelic measurements.” Why, why, why, did John change his unit of measurement from stadion to cubit on the fly? There must be a reason. He would not have done this if these measurements were literal. So we must look at this from a different point of view.
The word cubit is typically used to describe a unit of length, this usually being the distance from a man’s elbow to his fingertips. We see literal cubit measurements throughout the Bible. In Deuteronomy 3:11, Moses writes something peculiar about the size of a bed, “nine cubits its length, and four cubits its breadth, by the cubit of a man.” Why did Moses write, “by the cubit of a man?” This delineation must have meaning, and that meaning is corroborated in Revelation 21:17, where John writes, “according to human measurements, which are also angelic measurements.” It would seem that man used cubits as a specific length of measure, but angels use it to measure something else, but what?
Remember, the angel that showed John the heavenly city measured the wall at 144 cubits, and we determined that the wall is believers. So the angel measured believers (the wall), at an overabundant number in God’s completed perfection (144). But is there more to the meaning of cubit?
The word cubit comes from the Hebrew word ‘ammah, meaning beginning, head or foundation of a thing. It is the “mother of the arm,” says Gesenius’s Lexicon, or the forearm. Did you know that our elbow is called a cubitus joint? Cubit translated into German is ell, and that is where we get the term elbow. Cubit translated into Latin is the word ulna, which is the name of the longest and largest bone in our forearm.
The word ‘ammah comes from the root word ‘em, which means mother. In Genesis 3:20, it says, “and Adam called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother (‘em) of all living.” Why is this important? Keep following along…
In Genesis 2:21-22, many translations say that God took a rib from Adam’s side to make Eve (my paraphrase). In reality, in the original Hebrew, it actually says God “took part of the man’s side.” The word side was mistranslated as rib, dating back to the Septuagint, the translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek a few centuries BC, and this translation was adopted by nearly all of the current popular Bible translations. This word in the original Hebrew is tsela’. Tsela’ essentially means side… as in the side of a hill, side of an ark or altar, or side of a room. Think of it as a wing, as in, West Wing of the White House. It can be defined as branch extending from the central part of a body. In like thought, Jesus said in John 15:5, “I am the vine and you are the branches”… consider this relevant to the description of God/Jesus as the center of the heavenly city, and believers as the tsela’. So basically we are talking about something like an extension from the central part of something. Adam’s tsela’, used in this context, could refer to a limb.
Referring back to our forearm… when a person is in the anatomical position (arms downs and palms forward), his ulna bone (cubit) is close to his body, right by his side, his tsela’…
Could it be possible that God took part of Adam’s forearm (cubit) to make Eve, the mother (‘em, base word to ‘ammah, word for cubit) of all living? I think it is very possible. Remember, forearm as described above holds the meaning of “mother of the arm,” perhaps gained from and reference to Eve coming from Adam’s forearm, and being that all who are eternally alive are measured (or counted) in cubits in the heavenly city. In Galatians 4:26, Paul says that the Jerusalem above (the heavenly Jerusalem) is, “the mother of us all.” This alone doesn’t provide much information or understanding, but when it is considered in conjunction with meaning provided here, it makes perfect sense.
Who among us hasn’t raised his or her arm to be counted in school? We all have. Many believers today raise their arms to God in adoration and praise, crying out to Him… in essence, giving themselves to Him, surrendering to Him, wanting to be counted as worthy to be in His presence. The Bible notes “God’s holy arm” in Psalm 98:1, and His “own arm brought salvation” in Isaiah 59:16. Non-believers do not raise their arms before the Lord, unless they want their arm broken. It’s true! When speaking to Job about the wicked, God says, “the upraised arm is broken” (Job 38:15). Later in Jeremiah 48:25, speaking of Godless Moab, the LORD says “his arm is broken”. And finally in Ezekiel 30:21, God tells Ezekiel He has “broken the arm of Pharaoh.” It seems possible that, in spiritual context, believers are counted eternally worthy to God by their arms, their cubits, and the unbelievers are condemned in their broken arms.
In answering the question, “does the 144,000 relate to the 144 cubits,” I think the answer is yes, based upon the evidence provided in this article. When you follow the line of thinking presented here, that the identity, or likeness, between the two seem to end at the same point, that they are one group of believers throughout time, gathered around the Lord at the end of Revelation as one, this must be considered as a viable option in interpreting this part of Revelation.
While I am not at all into numerology as related to interpreting the Bible, it is apparent that certain numbers hold certain meaning to God, and this is presented to us in His Word over and over again. I sited a few examples of this; here is another. In Revelation 14:20, the unbelieving are cast into the winepress of the wrath of God, and they are trampled, and out comes blood to the height of a horse’s bridle, for 1600 furlongs, or stadia. Why 1600? Remember, 40 squared is 1600, and 40 represents trial or testing in the Bible, so as a multiple of itself, 1600 represents an overabundance of testing. Basically, these folks fail a well-founded and profuse test. (Why is the height noted as being that of a horse’s bridle? This is the height of a man.)
The thoughts represented in this article are not isolated. While they may not have been integrated into one another before now, there are well known Bible scholars that have thoughts and ideas that feed into this line of reasoning. Matthew Henry says in his Commentary on the Holy Bible, of the 144,000, “it may be understood of the remnant of people which God had reserved, according to the election of grace, only a definite number is given for an indefinite.” As a sub-note in the same (hardcover) commentary, John Guyse considers the 144,000 to be both Jews and Gentiles. F.F. Bruce says in his Bible Commentary of the 144,000, “the followers of Christ are here viewed as the true Israel of God,” and later says, “the Israel of God knows no national frontiers.” Bruce also notes that the 144,000 of chapter 14 are “linked” to the white robed multitude of chapter 7, based on the similarities of the two.
Chuck Missler, in his compilation Learn The Bible in 24 Hours, believes that the 24 elders in Revelation are an idiom for the “redeemed.” This makes sense as you examine the text. Look at Revelation 5:9, of the 24 elders, it says, “…(You, the Lamb) have redeemed us to God by your blood, out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation….” Obviously the 12 apostles and 12 patriarchs (who are together thought to be the 24 elders by some) were not from every tongue, people or nation. This is followed by Revelation 5:10, “…You have made us kings and priests to our God.” The elders are kings and priests, but so are believers as written in Revelation 1:6, “…(He) has made us kings and priests to His God….” Furthermore, Chuck uses Levitical priesthood assignments set by David in 1 Chronicles 24 to affirm his point.
Now let me combine Chuck’s thought with mine. Again, in Revelation 5:9, the elders call themselves the redeemed from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. But in Revelation 7, after the 144,000 are sealed, John sees them around the throne and describes them as a great multitude from “all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues” (Revelation 7:9). Similarly, in Revelation 14, the 144,000 were “redeemed from the earth” in verse 3, and were “redeemed from among men” in verse 4 (Revelation 14:3-4). The elders and 144,000 are alike in many ways. They both even sing a new song before the throne, the elders in Revelation 5:8-9 and the 144,000 in Revelation 14:3. Chuck’s thought on the elders are in line with the concepts of this study, and point to yet another rendering of John’s vision where different descriptions (idioms) are made of the same subject.
Regarding the term “Israel of God,” it is taken directly from Scripture, with specific meaning relevant to this article. It can be found in Galatians 6:16, as Paul is closing his letter to the believers in Galatia. Begin reading at chapter four as Paul speaks of the difference between the Jerusalem of his day and the heavenly Jerusalem, and continue with that thought through chapter six and the Israel of God. It becomes clear here that God is conveying the thought that the true, heavenly Israel consists of believers, and F.F. Bruce taps into this in his commentary as he uses this phrase.
Even the apostle Paul writes in Romans 9:6, “for they are not all Israel who are of Israel.” Earlier in Romans 2:28-29, at the end of chapter two, Paul explains that, “for he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh, but he is a Jew who is one inwardly, and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, not in the letter.” (More than once, Moses mentions circumcision of the heart to the children of Israel in Deuteronomy.) Again in Galatians, Paul in chapter three says that “those who are of faith are sons of Abraham,” and continues in saying that the gospel was preached to Abraham 430 years before the law (Galatians 3:7-8). If the gospel was preached to Abraham as a precursor to the law, doesn’t this same precedent apply to Jacob/Israel and the twelve tribes? Remember, the promise was first made to Abraham, not Jacob or his sons. So in that we are sons of Abraham, all believers throughout time qualify to be of the 144,000. As I referenced before, “all nations shall be blessed through Abraham.”
If this article holds validity, how does that affect other, preconceived or traditional ideas about John’s Revelation? How does this affect the Millennium view? What about the Mark of the Beast? Does this take away from the special relationship God has with Israel, or add to it? Obviously, more studying has to be done to substantiate this article, and to see what collateral damage has been done to traditional thought. Further study into the original language is in order to do this, along with in-depth examination of additional Bible commentaries.
Do not take my word or work at face value… or anyone else’s for that matter. While I’ve spent considerable time and energy comparing the new city Jerusalem and the 144,000 and have come to the conclusion that they are one in the same, you may not. But we must all pursue truth, with God’s Word as our basis, then seek understanding through the leading of the Holy Spirit. Too many of us have blindly accepted interpretation and understanding from others without doing our own homework. If we do the research through prayer and fasting and come to the same conclusion, that is fine. But I would think God would reveal to us greater understanding of Him and His Word if we take the time to consult with Him as we study the Holy Scriptures.