Understanding Biblical Symbolism
The Book of Revelation
As we seek to understand the possible symbolism of the 144,000, we need to first review the principles of biblical symbolism so that we do not drift into “free association”—the claim that something is representative without fully establishing the biblical connections that lead to this belief. Without doing this, almost anyone can claim that just about anything means just about anything. This is a recipe for delusion.
Let us also consider that biblical symbolism is rarely so ironclad that it leaves us able to be dogmatic about our conclusions. Rather, it opens us to further understanding. By its nature, biblical symbolism helps us understand more than just what God is doing—it helps us understand why. This is important to Him who is seeking His followers to be friends, and even family.
So we will briefly consider a couple of the basics of biblical symbolism with the intent of seeing how it can help us identify the 144,000.
In I Corinthians 10, after reciting the events of Israel’s deliverance from Egypt and their journey through the wilderness, the Apostle Paul asserts in verse 11: “Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.” Understanding this is crucial to understanding some of the most important events unfolding in these times.
The Apostle Paul was asserting that everything Israel went through was a prophetic metaphor, a map for those who live at the end of the age.
He was not saying that these events did not literally happen. The two trees in the garden were prophetic metaphors, but that does not mean that the account in Genesis was not literal. They were prophetic events that foreshadowed a coming event or reality. Galatians 4:22-26 gives us great example of this principle:
For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the bondwoman and one by the free woman.
But the son by the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and the son by the free woman through the promise.
This is allegorically speaking, for these women are two covenants: one proceeding from Mount Sinai bearing children who are to be slaves; she is Hagar.
Now this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children.
But the Jerusalem above is free; she is our mother.
That this account of Sarah and Hagar represent something as major as the two covenants reveals how expansive prophetic metaphors can be. Unfortunately, as Peter wrote, the “unstable and untaught” (see II Peter 3:16) will distort even the Scriptures. Some will always carry such teachings to extremes, using them randomly and with “free association,” or not connecting them properly to the biblical narrative.
However, the wrong use of them does not negate their proper use, which is essential to understanding the Books of Daniel, Revelation, and other biblical prophecies.
The subject of prophetic metaphors is worthy of a book, and some have been written, but we do not have the time to cover this subject as it deserves in this study. Even so, it is necessary to understand that many of the prophecies of Scripture, especially in Revelation, are metaphors. The twelve tribes of Israel are such a prophetic metaphor.
In the patriarchs birth sequence, the meaning of their names, how they were named, who their mother was, the prophecies spoken over them, and their histories, all make them a remarkable parallel to the unfolding of church history. For this reason, these 144,000 could be from the twelve spiritual tribes of Israel that unfolded through the church age. The more you dig down into the details, the more sense this makes.
As Paul wrote in Romans 2:28-29, “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 which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God.”
The Apostle Paul boldly wrote that the Lord will not forget or cancel His promises to the Jewish people, which he elaborates on in great depth in chapters 9-11. He also reiterated that the Jew is not just according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit, as he explains in Romans 9:6-8:
But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel;
nor are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants, but: “THROUGH ISAAC YOUR DESCENDANTS WILL BE NAMED.”
That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants.
In Christ there is neither Jew nor Gentile (see Galatians 3:28; Colossians 3:11).
There are other factors that point to the 144,000 being the “true Jews.” These are those who are Jews according to the Spirit, and this company is composed of both Jews in the natural and Gentiles, who are one in Christ.
It is understandable if you can’t quite grasp this yet, but I think you will as the other pieces to this picture come together as we will continue with next week.