Will Only 144,000 Be Taken Into Heaven?
Admittedly, there are many things I do not know about the book of Revelation, and there are many things I am still studying. However, the unbiblical nature of the doctrine that only 144,000 will be taken into heaven and the natural consequence of this doctrine (the creation of a new, pure world for those who are not a part of this 144,000) can be noted in its first proof text (Revelation 7).
This doctrine is taken from Revelation 7:1-8 ( “After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth, that no wind might blow on earth or sea or against any tree. (2) Then I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun, with the seal of the living God, and he called with a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm earth and sea, (3) saying, "Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads." (4) And I heard the number of the sealed, 144,000, sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel: (5) 12,000 from the tribe of Judah were sealed, 12,000 from the tribe of Reuben, 12,000 from the tribe of Gad, (6) 12,000 from the tribe of Asher, 12,000 from the tribe of Naphtali, 12,000 from the tribe of Manasseh, (7) 12,000 from the tribe of Simeon, 12,000 from the tribe of Levi, 12,000 from the tribe of Issachar, (8) 12,000 from the tribe of Zebulun, 12,000 from the tribe of Joseph, 12,000 from the tribe of Benjamin were sealed.”) and Revelation 14:1-3 (“Then I looked, and behold, on Mount Zion stood the Lamb, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father's name written on their foreheads. (2) And I heard a voice from heaven like the roar of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder. The voice I heard was like the sound of harpists playing on their harps, (3) and they were singing a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and before the elders. No one could learn that song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth.”).
First, let us point out that, if this doctrine is true, there are literally only 144,000 being taken into heaven. The problem with this teaching is that Revelation is very symbolic in nature, as is revealed throughout the book: the word “like” or “as” (a simile) used to compare objects to what something looks like (Revelation 1:14-15; 4:3, 7; 9:7; 13:11; 14:14; 16:13; 21:11, 18), stars that represent angels (1:20), candlesticks that represent churches (Revelation 1:20), a lion and a lamb representing Christ (Revelation 5:5-6), a woman representing a city (Revelation 17:18), a stone being thrown into the sea representing the destruction of “Babylon” (Revelation 18:21), etc. If this 144,000 is meant to be taken literally, then the accompanying details are meant to, also. Literally, this 144,000 is taken from the tribes of Israel (Revelation 7:4-9). If this doctrine is true, God did not intend for any Gentiles to be marked or taken into heaven. This is in distinct contradiction to Scripture that explicitly notes “nations” (or Gentiles) flowing to mount Zion (see Isaiah 2:1-4 and Hebrews 12:22-24).
Second, let’s continue reading Revelation 7:9-17 (“After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, (10) and crying out with a loud voice, "Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!" (11) And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, (12) saying, ‘Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.’ (13) Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, ‘Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?’ (14) I said to him, ‘Sir, you know.’ And he said to me, ‘These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. (15) Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. (16) They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. (17) For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’”).
As we begin to break these things down, we notice that this innumerable multitude was clothed in white because they had been washed in the blood of the Lamb. When we compare this to other (less symbolic) Scripture, it becomes very clear who this multitude is. Paul tells the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:28 that Christ had obtained the church of God with his own blood (the “blood of the Lamb,” see John 1:29). Later, when Paul writes to the Ephesians, he says that this church is the body of Christ (Ephesians 1:22-23) and those that are in this body (“in him,” i.e. in the body of Christ) have “redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our sins.” (Ephesians 1:7). This redemption, though offered to the Jews first (“we who were the first to hope,” Ephesians 1:12), has been offered to the Gentiles (“In him you also…were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance,” Ephesians 1:13-14) Therefore, this innumerable multitude are all those who are in Christ (see Galatians 3:26-27 and Romans 6:3-4) because he has washed and purchased those who are in him with his blood. To further note this, see how the saints at Corinth (a Gentile city, by the way) were “washed, sanctified, and justified in our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 6:11).
This innumerable, washed crowd is located before the throne of God and with the Lamb, where there is no hunger, thirst, nor scorching heat, and “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” If we compare this language to Revelation 21:1-7, 9-10 (“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. (2) And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. (3) And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. (4) He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away." (5) And he who was seated on the throne said, "Behold, I am making all things new." Also he said, "Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true." (6) And he said to me, "It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. (7) The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son” […] (9) Then came one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues and spoke to me, saying, "Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb." (10 And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God,) we see that this crowd (“the Bride”) is located on “a great, high mountain.” This bride (which is the church, 2 Corinthians 11:2) is located in the same place as the 144,000: In the presence of God and on a mountain (Revelation 14:1).
Furthermore, in this location (where the Bride is), God’s servants will worship him (Revelation 22:3, compared to 7:10) and “they [those who are in this location worshipping God, including those of “nations” (Revelation 21:26)] will see his face and his name will be on their foreheads,” just as the 144,000 will be marked (Revelation 7:3). To sum these points up:
Bride (context Rev. 21:9)
On a mountain
in the presence of God
7:9; 21:22-23; 22:3
with marked foreheads
Both groups are located in the same place, doing the same thing, with the same markings. They are not separated from one another.
Third, and finally, let us address the creation of a new, pure earth for those that are not a part of the 144,000. This doctrine holds that, since only 144,000 will enter into heaven, God will create a new earth that is heaven-like, pure and clean, for those who are saved to go to.
We have already noted that the Bride and the 144,000 are in the same place. If the 144,000 are in heaven, then the Bride is also in heaven. Apart from this evidence, Scripture shows us that the “new earth” is heaven. In Revelation 21:1-2, John sees “a new heaven and a new earth” with “new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God.”; this new Jerusalem comes down “as a bride adorned for her husband,” showing us that the new Jerusalem is the church (2 Corinthians 11:2). If we approach this city, we also approach Zion (Hebrews 12:22) because, as Zion was Jerusalem (Isaiah 4:3; 30:19), it is now the heavenly Jerusalem. Through approaching this mountain and city, we approach God and Christ (Hebrews 12:23-24). How is this?
To again note 2 Corinthians 11:2 (“For I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ”), the church has been “betrothed” to Christ. “Betrothal” is not a “full blown marriage.” My understanding of marriages in biblical times is as follows: (1) A contract is made to marry, which equals a betrothal. (2) After the husband raises the bride price, he retrieves his wife from her father and the marriage is consummated. (3) A wedding feast/celebration is then had (note Matthew 1:18-19, 24-25; 25:1-13). It is the bride’s responsibility to remain pure until the groom comes to get her. The church (which is the body [Ephesians 1:22-23] and the bride [betrothed, yet to be consummated, 2 Corinthians 11:2]) must remain pure until the groom comes to take her to his home in a consummated marriage.
Revelation 21 is the consummation of marriage, the full realization of approaching the holy city and Zion, the dwelling place of the Lord. It is here that the dwelling place of God is wholly with man (Revelation 21:3) and there is no death, mourning, crying, or pain (Revelation 21:4). It is here that the Bride (now consummated and fully realized, Revelation 19:7-8) is on the great high mountain (Revelation 21:10) where the throne of God and the Lamb is (Revelation 22:3). It is here, in the presence of the throne, that heaven is (Revelation 4:2, 8-11). By approaching the heavenly city and Zion (becoming the betrothed of Christ), he will come and take his bride (his body or church) to where he and the Father are (see John 14:1-3).
To conclude, it is not only the 144,000 (whatever that number may be symbolic of) that will be in heaven. God has provided a cleansing for all who would follow him and become the bride of Christ. Those who have been cleansed by the blood of the Lamb will be in the same place as the 144,000, doing the same thing, and will have the same mark on their foreheads. The “new heaven and new earth” is the full realization of being the bride of Christ; it is the consummation of the marriage, in which the full benefits of marriage are known, where all who are God’s will dwell with him.