I remember years ago having a couple evangelists drop by to talk with me. I was so excited to talk with them! At one point they were telling me how they believe in the literal number 144,000 (from Revelation) as the number of people who would be saved to the new heaven. So I asked – “Why are you trying to convert me? If I get in, doesn’t that lower your odds?” They weren’t sure how to answer that.
So what about 144,000?
We’ve looked at a couple numbers in the Bible, from the common 5,000 to the cryptic 153. Let’s take a peek at what may be one of the most famous numbers of all. Twelve.
The number twelve appears all through the Bible. Twelve tribes of Israel. Twelve disciples, or apostles, in the New Testament. Why twelve?
There are multiple possible reasons. There are twelve divisions of the lunar year, twelve signs of the zodiac (from the Zoro-Astrian religion that was around Israel during a time of captivity and release). Twelve is the sum of 7 and 5 (symbolic numbers of good) and the product of 3 and 4 (also significant numbers). Twelve is a practical number to work with; it can be divided by the most numbers – 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, and 12. It’s the base of a duodecimal (base 12) numeric system used by ancient Sumerians.
Twelve was a popular and practical number independent of religion. But when Jacob (renamed Israel) had twelve sons, that number became an important religious number.
Just as God names the twelve tribes in the Hebrew Scriptures to represent and contain all of Israel, so Jesus chooses twelve apostles of the New Testament to represent (and later lead) the church. When a tribe – the Levites – is removed from the Old Testament count, the number 12 is restored by splitting Joseph’s share into two tribes, named for his two sons. When an apostle – Judas – is removed from the New Testament count, the number is restored by choosing a replacement. [See Acts 1:21-26 for the choosing of Matthias.]
With that number being so popular, and so important religiously to represent the people of God, it is no wonder it shows up all over the place. There are 24 classes of priests and Levites in the Old Testament, and 24 elders around the throne in the New Testament (Revelation). Speaking of the book of Revelation, in that book’s vision, the twelve gates of heaven are inscribed with the tribes of Israel, and the twelve foundations of the city wall with the names of the twelve apostles.
We also see groups of 12,000 or 24,000. 12 multiplied by 1,000, a common multiplier. All related.
Oh…and that number 144,000 that I started with? That could be 12 groups of 12,000. Or it could be 12x12x1,000.
In the book of Revelation, if 12 is symbolic not only of the Old Testament people of God (Tribes) but also the New Testament people of God (Apostles), then 12 (Tribes) times 12 (Apostles) times 1,000 (which is a common multiplier) might represent the whole people of God across both testaments. 12x12x1,000 = 144,000. Not a literal quota but a symbolic representation of the whole. You and me included. And adding more people doesn’t reduce our odds of getting in. That’s up to God’s grace. And there’s enough of that to go around.