Politics & Prophecy: A Lawyer’s View of the End Times
Part 3 – The Restoration of Israel
by Gerald R. Thompson
Rev. 7:1-8 (summary) – Four angels are standing at the four corners of the earth (presumably representing north, south, east and west) holding back the four winds of the earth that are about to blow. Another angel comes from the rising of the sun, having the seal of God, and calls to the first angel, “Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads.” Then John heard the number of those to be sealed – 144,000 “from every tribe of the sons of Israel.” Then, each tribe is listed, with 12,000 coming from each tribe.
Rev. 14:1-5 (summary) – Jesus is standing on Mount Zion, and with him are the 144,000 “who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads.” John hears a voice from heaven, sounding like the roar of waters, loud thunder, and harpists playing harps singing a new song before God, the four living creatures and the elders. “No one could learn that song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth.” The 144,000 are described as virgins (“not defiled with women”), they follow the Lamb wherever he goes, they have been redeemed from mankind as first fruits for God, and no lie was found in their mouth “for they are blameless.”
We have seen in this Part 3 how God will restore Israel, regather the Jews, usher in a Golden Age and provide for the rebuilding of the Jewish temple. Now we will get a glimpse of how God is going to begin the process of turning the hearts of the Jews towards Him during the Tribulation. In fact, the 144,000 will be sealed and turn to Christ in all likelihood at the very beginning of the Tribulation, because we are told they will be sealed before the earth or the sea or the trees are harmed by the judgments of the 7 seals, 7 trumpets, or 7 bowls.
We have in Rev. 7 and 14 the account of 144,000 bond-servants of God who will follow the Lamb wherever He goes, selected evenly from the twelve tribes of the nation of Israel. These two texts refer to the same group of people: in each instance, there are 144,000 people sealed by God on their foreheads and acting as His bond-servants. These cannot be different groups of people.
The difference between the two texts, and the reason they are separated by several chapters, is that we have a before and after picture of the 144,000. In Rev. 7, we see the 144,000 when they are called by God and first set apart near the beginning of the Tribulation. In Rev. 14, we see the 144,000 triumphantly standing with Jesus after the Tribulation – because only after the Second Coming will Jesus stand on Mt. Zion. What happens in between is more implied than overtly stated, but they are all probably going to die.
Why Are They Sealed?
The scripture doesn’t say what the 144,000 will do, or what their function is, except to say that they are firstfruits to God and the Lamb. Rev. 14:4. Since all of the 144,000 are Jewish, this strongly suggests that the 144,000 will be the first among the Jews to turn their hearts to Christ, and this will happen during the Tribulation itself. This is what I view as the first phase of the spiritual restoration of Israel.
Logically, it implies that the rest of Israel will not turn their hearts to God at this time, but will follow after the Tribulation. I mean, the firstfruits have to be first. This correlates with what we have already indicated about the spiritual renewal of the Jews during the Messianic Era (a/k/a the Golden Age, i.e., the Millennium). Namely, that only a third of the Jews will survive the time of Jacob’s Trouble and enter the Millennium. Those that do will be spiritually reborn in a single day at the Second Coming. This will be the second phase of the spiritual restoration of Israel.
The concept of firstfruits is a common one in scripture. The concept applies to the first reaping of the harvest, the first produce collected each season (oil, wine, honey, etc.), and the first born son of every family. In each case, God regards the firstfruits as the strongest and the best, and He regards it as due to Himself (as an offering).
Two quick examples: 1) Cain and Abel – Abel brought the first born of his flock and the fat portions; Cain only brought “fruit of the ground” – no firstfruits, no choice portions. God accepted Abel’s offering, but not Cain’s. Gen. 4:3-5. 2) The tenth plague – when God struck down the first born of Egypt, He took away their firstfruits. Ps. 78:51; 105:36.
There are also spiritual firstfruits. Paul referred to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit as the firstfruits of the Spirit. Rom. 8:23. Jesus is referred to as the firstfruits of those who will rise from the dead (because He was the first to do so). 1Co. 15:20, 23. For this reason Jesus is also called the firstborn of the dead. Col. 1:18; Rev. 1:5. The early Christians were called the firstfruits of those who believe (because they were first). 2Th. 2:13; Jam. 1:18. And so we have here the firstfruits of Israel – the first to turn their hearts to Christ.
This does not mean there will not have been individual Jews who turned to Christ before this. As I will elaborate on later, in prophecy God always deals with Israel as a nation, in a corporate capacity. Israel’s future restoration, its future new divine covenant (Jer. 31:31-34), its future salvation, all pertain to Israel as a nation. It’s not about individual Jews. The 144,000 serve a national purpose.
Popular culture and some commentators assume the 144,000 are evangelists whose mission is to gain converts during the Tribulation. However, this is not stated anywhere in the text, nor is it to be implied. There are a couple of factors mitigating against it. I have already mentioned that scripture elsewhere indicates the Jews in general will not turn their hearts to Christ until the Messianic Era. In addition, it would be strange for God to pick 144,000 Jews to evangelize the Gentiles – it doesn’t make any sense – unless you discard the idea that the 144,000 are actually Jewish (see below).
True, there are numerous scriptures in which it is promised that Israel will be a light to the Gentiles (i.e., the nations). Lk. 2:32; Acts 13:47; and Isa. 42:6, 49:6, 60:3. But Israel as a nation won’t be a light to the nations until after the Second Coming. Ah, but some will say, the 144,000 are that light. Except the Bible never says this. I have heard some argue the Tribulation Saints will likely be converted as a result of the activity of the 144,00. This argument is largely based on textual proximity. That is, the Tribulation Saints are mentioned in Rev. 7:9-17, verses which immediately follow the first mention of the 144,000 in Rev. 7:1-8.
First off, we have to acknowledge there is no express textual connection between these two things. Does this textual proximity imply a logical connection? Remember, in the original Greek, there are no chapter divisions, nor even any verse designations. All those little markers we take for granted have been inserted artificially, and only since 1300 A.D. or so. So the whole book of Revelation just runs on, jumping from topic to topic without any breaks. I’ve already shown that the events described in Revelation are not necessarily in chronological order. Sometimes they overlap, sometimes not. Whether they do or not is not always easy to tell.
So if the 144,000 aren’t going to evangelize the Gentiles and the Jews aren’t going to convert, as it were, they probably won’t evangelize anyone. Although, it is possible they could share the gospel with the Jews and no one will believe as a result. It wouldn’t be the first time in history such a thing has happened. And I’m not saying it’s impossible for the 144,000 to evangelize the Gentiles – they might. It’s just the evidence for that is really thin, and solely a matter of inference.
What I expect will happen is that the 144,000 – whether they openly evangelize or not – will be well known in the world. They will be visibly marked by God, their presence will be public and most likely spread around the world, and will probably cause a stir in Jewish circles as a result. So even if no one converts at the time, there will be a strong collective memory of the 144,000 when the survivors of the Tribulation enter the Millennium.
When Jesus returns, the Jews will draw upon this collective memory, and put it together with a recognition that Messiah has come. This will cause the Jews to then turn their hearts to Christ en masse shortly thereafter. See Rom. 11:25-29; Isa. 66:7-9.
The fact that God seals the 144,000 with His name on their foreheads suggests a protective measure. Protection against what? Certainly, the judgments God inflicts on the earth during the Tribulation. In other words, God will not harm these people while He is punishing others around them. Rev. 7 clearly indicates the 144,000 are sealed in order to be protected from the four winds of the earth that are about to blow destruction. The four winds that are under the control of God and sent by Him.
Apparently this includes protection from the torture of the locusts of the 5th trumpet, which are only allowed to torture those people who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads. Rev. 9:4. Since scripture makes no reference to any group other than the 144,000 of Israel as having the seal of God on their foreheads, Rev. 9:4 probably refers to them. We can also infer that if the locusts can torture anyone other than the 144,000, there may not be any other Christians alive at this time.
We don’t know how long the 144,000 will remain on the earth, but we can fairly imply God is not going to immediately take them up into heaven. They would not need to be protected from God’s judgments if they are going to immediately leave. No, they are sealed because they are going to stick around at least for a short while and need protection during that time. It is simply their job to pave the way for the regathering of the Jews.
But the implication seems to be that the 144,000 will nevertheless not live securely or in safety. Notice the text never says how long the 144,000 will be on the earth. Their time may be very brief.
The question is whether the 144,000 will also be protected from being killed or tormented by the Antichrist and forces aligned with him. Some commentators take the fact that the 144,000 will stand with Christ on Mount Zion as evidence they will survive the Tribulation unharmed. Since the sealing of God is a protective device – designed, apparently, to be an obvious counter-sign to the mark of the beast – this is a possibility.
But the immediate impact of having the seal of God on their foreheads – a very visible sign they won’t be able to hide – will be to mark them as anti-Antichrist. It will be equivalent to having a target painted on their backs. The followers of the Antichrist will know exactly who these 144,000 are, and target them for elimination.
By referring to the 144,000 as being purchased or redeemed from the earth, Rev. 14:3-4 confirms this possibility. That is, they will pay a blood sacrifice by their own deaths at the hands of others in the same sense that Jesus purchased our salvation, i.e., via martyrdom.
If this is true, then when the 144,000 stand on Mount Zion with Christ, it most likely refers to a post-first resurrection event. But the text is simply not clear on this point. The one thing we do know is that the 144,000 signify God isn’t done with Israel as a nation yet, even in the Tribulation. That’s why the 144,000 are not part of the Church or any Protestant sect – these are truly Jews for Jesus.
Who Are They Really?
Most of the conflict in interpretation of these texts centers on who these people really are. Are they Jehovah’s Witnesses? Are the 12,000 from each tribe of Israel literal or figurative? I see no reason to avoid the obvious – I go with literal. This is not an instance of the use of symbolic language. Language does not have to be symbolic in order to be prophetic.
This is what we are told about the 144,000: 1) they are each among the sons of Israel; 2) each of the twelve tribes of Israel will be equally represented in the group; 3) each of them is a virgin (“who have not defiled themselves with women”); and 4) no lie was found in their mouths “for they are blameless.”
From this we can safely conclude each of the 144,000 will be: 1) a biological Jew (not necessarily a religious Jew, an Israeli citizen, or someone who thinks of himself as Jewish); 2) male; 3) probably, but not necessarily, of legal age (at least 20 years old); and 4) unusually virtuous.
Given the current cultural decline of the world, the fact that God will be able to find 144,000 celibate men who do not lie, who will all turn their hearts towards Christ in very adverse times of severe persecution, is nothing less than remarkable. This is not going to be achieved by any human effort. This can only be the miraculous work of God.
We already know that because the 144,000 are firstfruits among the Jews, they will be chosen for a special purpose. The fact that they are blameless and referred to as virgins further suggests they will be consecrated for a holy purpose unto God, and probable martyrdom, for they are unusually pure. I don’t know why God should be concerned with whether these men are virgins or not, but it calls to mind the ceremonial uncleanness observed under the Mosaic law when a man had sexual relations. Lev. 15:16-18; Deu. 23:10.
Now let’s consider the possibility that each of the 144,000 will be a biological Jew. Some think it is humanly impossible to trace the tribal lineage of all physical (genealogical) Jews, therefore, the scripture cannot be taken literally. But human possibilities do not limit God. We have to remember that God doesn’t keep records like we do. He knows the biological ancestry of every person ever born even when we do not.
Others think the 144,000 refers to “spiritual Jews,” i.e., the Church. This view is promoted by postmillennialists, amillennialists, and Jehovah’s Witnesses – many of whom take not only Israel figuratively, but also take the number 144,000 figuratively (non-literally) as well. We have already discussed whether the Church will become the new Israel, and rejected the idea based on the scripture.
As for those who take the 144,000 number figuratively (such people always assume the real number will be greater, not less), they commonly assume these people have a significance other than the limited one indicated in the text. The 144,000 are not spared from the Tribulation, they are not caught up to heaven, and they won’t have any special place in eternity. They don’t necessarily do anything. They are firstfruits for the nation of Israel – that’s all. Which requires that they all be Jewish.
And then there is the matter of determining Jewishness. There is a longstanding tradition (via the Halakha) that Jewishness is determined not by one’s father, but by one’s mother. Although, there is a minority report, as it were, which is even older, that Jewishness is determined by one’s father. Both sides have citations from the O.T. scriptures and rabbinic writings to back up their claims.
What people fail to take into account is that God has His own way of doing things. He has His own rules for determining Jewishness and He keeps His own records. All throughout the O.T., God defined the nation of Israel as the sons of Israel, and every major counting (census) event only included the males. See Num 1:2-3, Ex 19:3-6, ad infinitum. All of the genealogies of the Bible trace the male line alone. Even the genealogies of Jesus are this way, although I know that won’t factor in as to how Jews identify themselves. But these texts in Revelation are not about Jewish self-identity – we want to know how God operates.
Biology follows the law of genetics (a child inherits equally from both parents). Whereas, for legal purposes – meaning inheritance and ethnic identity – under the Mosaic law (and the law of nature) a child takes solely from the father, and nothing from the mother. As proof I offer the five daughters of Zelophehad (Num. 27:1-10). The sisters had no brother, so no one could inherit their father’s estate, and they came to Moses for a legal ruling (not wanting to be disinherited). The matter was solved by requiring each daughter to marry a man from their father’s tribe so the inheritance would effectively go to their husbands.
What else does this text stand for, if not that the sons inherit everything, and the daughters nothing? Zelophehad’s estate did not go to the daughters, but to their husbands. Therefore all women under Mosaic law have nothing to pass on to their children. And what is ethnicity, if not an inherited nationality? Thus, ethnicity is determined by the male line alone. I examine this idea in much more detail in the essay, Biblical Genealogies and the Law of Inheritance. And you would think that if anyone would determine their ethnicity according to the Mosaic law, it would be the Jews.
Utilizing this biblical law of inheritance, Christians are adopted as sons of God, not sons and daughters. It may not be politically correct in our culture, but the fact that God will choose only males and no females to make up the 144,000 is perfectly consistent with His program. This is the way God operates. Plus, the Bible says, right there in Rev. 7:4, that the 144,000 will all be from among the sons of Israel. All of the 144,000 of Israel will be male, and their Jewishness determined by the male line.
I say the 144,000 will probably all be at least 20 years old because all of the censuses taken in ancient Israel (except for one) only numbered males of that age. See Num. 1:2-4 and Exo. 30:14. The reason given is that these are the men who comprised the national army – all those “who are able to go to war.” Num. 26:2.
The one exception was in Num. 3:39-43, when the Levites (who were excluded from the general census) numbered all males from one month old and upward in exchange for the first born of Israel at that time (who were also numbered from one month old and upward). This census was not a counting of the army, but the firstfruits of the nation who had been redeemed from the tenth plague of Egypt.
Because of the close connection of the 144,000 and the firstfruits of Israel, it is entirely possible the 20 year age threshold will not apply. However, it’s hard to see how the sealing of an infant or a child will accomplish the purposes for setting apart the 144,000 (as those who have turned their hearts to Christ), especially since it will immediately put them all at great personal risk. Plus, the celibacy of the 144,000 will hardly be a virtue if they are merely too young “to be defiled by women.”
The only other thing I will mention here is that the names of the twelve tribes of Israel in Rev. 7:5-8 are not all the same as the sons born to Jacob (Israel) in the book of Genesis. Eleven of the names are the same, but in the place of Dan, Joseph’s son Manasseh is named instead. I don’t know why, and I’m not sure anyone does. There are speculations, of course, that the tribe of Dan committed an offense against God He will not forget. But this is mere speculation. The text simply does not explain why.
What we can conclude is that God knows who these true descendants of Israel really are. And even if I am wrong in my assessment of the rules of ethnicity, given the current competing strategies for determining Jewishness among the Jews themselves, it is safe to say that a lot of people who think they are Jewish (genealogically) really aren’t because they have mis-traced their lineages. And, correspondingly, a lot of people who don’t think of themselves as Jewish really are.
Both systems for determining Jewishness cannot be equally right in the sight of God. So when the 144,000 of Israel are selected and sealed, a lot of people are going to be surprised, regardless.
Anglo-Israelism and the True Jew
In Rom. 2:12-29, Paul argues that although the Jewish people are a holy nation, who received God’s holy laws, and observed circumcision as a sign of the promises of God, none of these things by themselves are enough to redeem the soul of any individual Jew. He makes the case that redemption is a matter of the heart, not genealogy, or training, or cutting of the flesh, and he closes with this:
For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. Rom. 2:28-29.
By which words Paul merely meant to convey that in order to be redeemed, all people (Jew and Gentile alike) need to seek to have the heart of a Jew (i.e., to have faith after the manner of Abraham), and not merely follow the Mosaic law, but to do what was right in God’s eyes.
But oh, how this statement has been twisted and perverted through the years. Some see in these verses: 1) the total obsolescence of biological and genealogical Jewishness; and/or 2) an opportunity via a profession faith to step into the shoes of the biological Jews and obtain for themselves the benefits of the promises God made to Abraham, Israel and David.
As a result, there is a fairly common mythology concerning the prophecy of the 144,000 (and the future regathering of Israel in general). This myth revolves around the idea that what is really involved is the special sealing of Christian saints, since (according to this myth) they are the true Jews.
If one accepts this premise, it is a small step to draw into the discussion the historical fact that western civilization is largely the outgrowth of the progress or spread of Christianity (as if that has anything to do with prophecy). It is but another small step to associate the spread of Christianity with the Anglo-Saxon people (because we’re so special, don’t you know). The next thing you know, you have taken a leap off the cliff of rationality thinking that the Anglo-Saxon people are ethnically the lost ten tribes of Israel. Consequently the scriptures pertaining to the regathering of Israel primarily concern Britain and America.
According to this mythology, when the ten tribes of Israel other than Judah and Benjamin (along with fragments of Simeon and Levi) were deported by Assyria in 722 B.C., they became what was later known as the Scythians and/or Cimmerians who are ancestors of the Celts and Anglo-Saxons. Thus, the British and American people are the true biological descendants of Israel.
This view was popularized by Herbert W. Armstrong of the Worldwide Church of God and is currently championed by the Philadelphia Church of God. Armstrongism, as it is also known, teaches that although the throne of Israel passed to Judah and the line of David, the birthright (or blessing) of God passed to Joseph. From him the blessing passed to Ephraim, with the promise that he should become a multitude of nations, i.e., the Anglo-Saxon peoples.
Similarly, the Church of Latter Day Saints (Mormons) teaches that its members are either by genealogy or by adoption all made members of the tribe of Ephraim. In addition, it is not uncommon, but usually only on an unofficial basis, to see this teaching crop up in either Presbyterian or Baptist churches which hold to a Reformed tradition.
It is true (the evidence for which I will not go into here) that if you study the speeches, sermons and writings of the American founders, you will indeed find a conspicuous thread concerning Israel. Namely, that the founders in the Colonial period saw the settlement of America as establishing a new Israel, that North America was the new Canaan, or that particular towns were like a New Jerusalem.
Much of this talk was metaphorical, coming as it did from a variety of sermons using O.T. texts to motivate the settlement of America and to seek divine blessing for the settlers’ endeavors. Some of it was based on postmillennial theology, coming as it did from various sermons, to the effect that by their efforts the colonists would help establish the kingdom of God in a new land. However, precious few, if any, of the colonists thought they were actually physical descendants of Israel.
The concept of physical descendancy has an entirely different basis. You have to ask yourself – what advantage is there in being a descendant of the lost tribes of Israel? I suggest that receiving favor in settling a new land has nothing to do with genealogy, so the motivation must be something else entirely. In my view, the purported advantage has to do with claiming God’s special favor among all the nations and playing the host for the future seat of world power. In other words, future bragging rights and political superiority.
Under the Abrahamic covenant, the physical descendants of Abraham (through Israel) are entitled to the Promised land – generally understood to be the current land of Israel and Palestine. Under the Davidic covenant, the physical descendants of David are entitled to sit on the throne of Israel. If the British and Americans are really the descendants of Abraham and Jacob, then they will share in the eventual allocation of the most choice land in the world during the Millennial kingdom. They will be closest to the throne from which Jesus will rule the world, and share in the prominence of Israel as the most favored nation in the world.
Which beliefs make people say the most absurd things, such as: America has replaced Israel as the Promised land of God and/or that the New Jerusalem will be built in America. (Again, we’re talking about real estate, here.) That England or America will be the seat of the Millennial kingdom of Christ. That the throne of England is actually the throne of David (even though the throne is not part of the birthright). Or that when people join a particular sect they become Israelites and can demonstrate a genealogy tracing back to ancient Israel.
I regard such sentiments in the same way as I do folklore about the Holy Grail (the cup used by Christ at the Last Supper). According to the folklore (but not the scriptures), the Holy Grail will give a person physical immortality in this present life. If you know anything about the teachings of Jesus regarding eternal life, you know that such ideas are a complete perversion of the concept of eternal life that He taught. Well, that’s the way I view Anglo-Israelism – a complete perversion of the benefits and reckoning of the physical descendants of Israel.
Never mind that there is no support in the Bible whatsoever for the idea that the location of Jerusalem or the Promised land have been, can or will be moved to North America. Never mind that David and his descendants, being of the tribe of Judah, are not even part of the supposedly lost ten tribes. Never mind that the Davidic covenant only applies to the male line (which rules out the Queen of England) and was terminated in Jesus Christ. Never mind that the claims of Jewish descent by Anglo-Saxons cannot be demonstrated by any scientific method ever attempted.
But the whole idea that the ten tribes were ever lost in the first place is a myth. Yes, the ten tribes were scattered in the diaspora – no more or less than all of the tribes of Israel. Yes, the original descendants of Israel were undoubtedly partially intermingled with people of other nations through intermarriage over the centuries. We have already discussed the difficulties in tracing Jewish ancestry for genealogical purposes. But if you really want to know what happened to the northern ten tribes of Israel after being invaded by the Assyrians, this is what happened: they moved south to Judah and joined their fellow Jews there.
As soon as Asa heard these words, the prophecy of Azariah the son of Oded, he took courage and put away the detestable idols from all the land of Judah and Benjamin and from the cities that he had taken in the hill country of Ephraim, and he repaired the altar of the Lord that was in front of the vestibule of the house of the Lord. And he gathered all Judah and Benjamin, and those from Ephraim, Manasseh, and Simeon who were residing with them, for great numbers had deserted to him from Israel when they saw that the Lord his God was with him. 2 Ch 15:8-9.
And the priests and the Levites who were in all Israel presented themselves to [Rehoboam] from all places where they lived. For the Levites left their common lands and their holdings and came to Judah and Jerusalem, because Jeroboam and his sons cast them out from serving as priests of the Lord. … And those who had set their hearts to seek the Lord God of Israel came after them from all the tribes of Israel. 2 Ch 11:13-16.
But to claim that an entire population group, derived principally from the descendants of Japheth, not Shem (two of the sons of Noah), has somehow been converted not just to Semites, but to Jews in particular (2,500 years after the Assyrian deportation) is just preposterous. It strains all credulity. Don’t get caught up in this snare.
So no, the 144,000 of Israel are not going to be gathered solely or principally from the Anglo-Saxon (British and American) people. No, the prophecy of the 144,000 does not portend the complete conversion of the British or American people. No, the British and American people have not been specially selected by God to usher in the Millennial kingdom. No, America has not replaced Israel geographically for prophetic purposes.
The prophecy of the 144,000 of Israel has not been placed in the Bible so that any existing group of people who call themselves Christians can feel good about themselves as the ancestral chosen people of God in their conception of the Millennial kingdom of Christ. If God wants to select the physical descendants of Israel for some special purpose, His plans are not going to be influenced by any pretended claims of ancestry. God will not be fooled. Gal. 6:3, 7.
* Ver. 8.0. Copyright © 2013-2020 Gerald R. Thompson. All rights reserved. Used by permission. All Bible quotations are from the English Standard Version.