‘WHAT ABOUT THE 144,000?’

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(June 4, 2021) Brian Bell recalls an incident from long ago that led (and still leads) to a reminder that we must continue to serve Christ in whatever we’re called to…

When I was in my late teen years, I spent some weeks in the UK summer months serving with a beach mission team. I remember one year on the Isle of Wight. The outreach program for each day concluded with an evening event, very often an open-air witness on the promenade. Some team members would sing, some testify, and the team leader would usually bring a gospel message.

As the event was taking place, team members would form a rough semi-circle around the platform, not obstructing the passage of passers-by and we would look for folk who may stop and seem interested in the message so that we may approach them on conclusion.

On a particular evening I saw a couple stop to listen and at the conclusion of the message which had included a reference to heaven, I approached them to ask what they thought about what they’d heard… but I was not prepared for the gentleman’s response when he said to me, ‘What about the 144,000?’

Young and inexperienced as I was, I knew this was a reference to the book of Revelation and surmised these folks were Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Reflection leads to Revelation
I use that memory to take you to the apostle John’s book of Revelation.

  • Firstly, to Revelation chapter 7 where we are ‘introduced’ to the 144,000 of the people of Israel whom God ‘sealed’ – this testifies to the fact that they were owned and kept by God.
  • It is clear in verse 9 that heaven will be well populated with many saints as John says, ‘I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language…’
  • Secondly in Revelation chapter 14 where in verses 1-5 we read about the 144,000 entering into heaven.

Sight and the sounds
As is common in Revelation, John says ‘I saw…’

The Lord allowed John to see the 144,000 enter into heaven but he also heard a sound described as many harpists playing together and the singing of a wonderful choir described as a new song only these 144,000 could learn (Revelation 14:3).

Having spent more than 50 years involved in gospel music I love scriptural references to music and singing and in the context of these verses, it drew me to the words in Isaiah 51 verse 11 (quoted here in the form of the words of Ruth Lake’s song) ‘Therefore the redeemed of the Lord shall return and come with singing unto Zion and everlasting joy shall be upon their heads.’

We may not be numbered among those particular 144,000 (Revelation 7:4-8 says they are from the tribes of Israel).

But as those whom God has saved, redeemed by Christ’s precious blood, we are included in that vast number of saints from every tribe nation and tongue that John also saw (verse 7).

We are also sealed, owned, and kept as God’s children and one day will experience that joyful entry into the Lord’s presence. John saw us also worshipping the Lord (verse 8,13-17).

Messengers and the messages
Angels… malak in Old Testament Hebrew and aggelos in New Testament Greek indicates one of their main activities for God, that of being messengers.

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Revelation 14 tells of many angels in action. God has particularly used angels as heralds throughout scripture and in verses 6-11 we read about three angels bringing messages of —

1. Hope
The NLT tells us this message is about ‘the everlasting good news’and the MSG version uses the phrase ‘an eternal message to preach.’In the context of Revelation and the impending judgment coming we are reminded God’s word is still able to bring hope to those who will turn to him (v6-7).

2. Demise
The reference is specifically to the fall of ‘Babylon’ and not the ancient city with its hanging gardens, but in Revelation 17-18 where it is spoken of as a centre of world political power which will be brought to demise. All which opposes the Lord will come to demise for the Lord Jesus is above all principalities and powers (v8).

3. Contrast
We read the contrast between the nature of the judgment of those who receive the mark and worship the ‘Beast’ and God’s people. The MSG version states ‘… the saints stand passionately patient, keeping God’s commands, staying faithful to Jesus’ (v9-11).

Ministry is never wasted
When we come to verse 13, there is another voice. One from heaven (Can it be the Lord himself?  Verse 14 tells of John seeing one ‘like the son of man’) bringing a message backed by the Holy Spirit, one of commendation!

This is a commendation that honours those who serve the Lord!

  • NLT uses the phrase ‘their good deeds follow them.’
  • The Message version reads ‘none of what they’ve done is wasted.’
  • NRiV says ‘What they have done will not be forgotten.’
  • GNB reads ‘the results of their service go with them.’

I believe we are being told about a godly example and we can say it is consistent with scripture that faithful work for the Lord is never wasted – even if we may not seem to see much progress – and one day it will be rewarded, rest will be ours! (V13). Message Bible is very encouraging, especially for those who have been heavily involved in serving Jesus: ‘…blessed rest from their hard, hard work.’

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But… whatever our ‘labour’ for the Lord is, heavily involved or just giving a cup of cold water (Matthew 10:42), we need to be faithfully about fulfilling it, especially in these needy days when so many are looking for answers, genuine love and compassion and strength that only Jesus can offer.

Now I realise there are different views about whether or not believers will go through what we call the tribulation period. However, whatever view you may take, what I’d love to witness agreement on is this… that just as the believers in John’ day were being encouraged to stand firm on the truth of God’s word and faithfully continue serving our Lord, we are all likewise called to do the same in our day and generation!

Encouragement to soldier on
If you are a child of God, involved in or perhaps even leading some work for him, and wondering is it worth it all, let me encourage you from the book of Revelation.

Don’t be concerned about the nature of the work or the scope of the work; it may be obscure, no one else may know about it and even if they do, they may not see any value in it, but those things are not of primary importance (See Dr Robert and Maureen McQuillan’s April reflection Others Can But You Can’t Challenge).

If it is a work God has led you into then some words of Little is Much When God Is In It, the 1924 song by Kittie L. Suffield may refresh you

‘Does the place you’re called to labour seem so small and little known?
It is great if God is in it, and he’ll not forget his own
Little is much when God is in it, labour not for wealth or fame,
There’s a crown and you can win it if you’ll go in Jesus’ name.’

A phrase which has been spoken many times here in Northern Ireland (and by many kingdom servants around the world, perhaps in a slightly different form of words than I am using in this article) says ‘God doesn’t call us to be successful he calls us to be faithful.’

This is an encouragement that should cause us to revaluate what we as believers may call ‘success’ when we consider the master’s ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’ in Matthew 25: 21 and 23.

And while it may be that we may not find or measure ‘success’ as it is recognised in the general sense, another little phrase comes to mind ‘there is only one life it will soon be past and only what’s done for Christ will last.’

As we have been reminded from Revelation 14:12 speaks of those who saints who ‘stand passionately patient, keeping God’s commands, staying faithful to Jesus. Verse 13Mge confirms that whatever we’ve done for the Lord is never wasted.

In short, by his grace one day we will hear those words ‘well done good and faithful servant’ if we too will patiently soldier on for Jesus in whatever ministry, great or small, he has called us to.

So… faithful saint of God, arise and keep marching on!

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Brian Bell is a diaconate member, Christ Church (Congregational) Abbots Cross, Northern Ireland, and a volunteer with Disabled Christians Fellowship Ireland. He describes himself as ‘grateful for the privilege and opportunity given me to serve my Lord.’
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