In this article, I want to look at how we can be among the 144,000. This is a very important topic for us to study because inspiration has told us that we should “strive with all the power that God has given us to be among the hundred and forty-four thousand.” Review and Herald, March 9, 1905. Learning how we can be among this special group requires more than simply learning facts, we must ask for the Holy Spirit’s blessing on us if we are to truly grasp these vital truths.
I first want to consider these questions: Is there anything that we can do to be among the 144,000? What makes the 144,000 ready so that they can be translated when Jesus comes? (Only two people in all of earth’s six-thousand-year history have ever been translated. Our God in His wonderful mercy offers us a gift that even Jesus did not have, because He loved us so much that He died in our place. What a privilege to be living in this day and age.)
We will next search for answers to these questions: Are the characters of the 144,000 a gift from God or must their characters be developed? Does it come at a certain time, called the Sealing? Could this type of character development have happened before 1844, or is it reserved for a special group right at the end?
I would like to propose the idea (and we will study what the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy have to say about it) that the 144,000 go through a unique experience that no one else has gone through except Jesus. The character that they develop, however, is the character that God has wanted every Christian to develop throughout all of earth’s history. It is a character that all should have developed and that many did develop. The character of the 144,000 is not supposed to be unique.
In Hebrews 7, Paul wrote about Christ our High Priest. He said: “Therefore, He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him since He ever lives to make intercession for them.” Hebrews 7:25. It has always been Christ’s ministry to save to the uttermost (there is nothing beyond the uttermost) all who come to God through Him. God has ever wanted His people to develop a pure character. John wrote: “And every one who has this hope in him purifies himself just as He [Jesus] is pure.” 1 John 3:3.
It is impossible to be more pure than Jesus, and God wants everyone to have a purity that is like the purity of Jesus. That is good news! We can develop pure characters through Jesus Christ.
Why is it so important for us to understand this? Sister White gives us the answer: “Those who would be saints in heaven must first be saints upon the earth; for when we leave this earth, we shall take our character with us, and this will be simply taking with us some of the elements of heaven imparted to us through the righteousness of Christ.” The Review and Herald, August 19, 1890.
Is it only the 144,000 who take their characters with them to heaven? No, all “who would be saints in heaven must first be saints on earth.” The process of developing a pure character is not something that we are to wait to do for some time in the future. It is something that we are to engage in today, by the power that God has given us.
Power to Develop Christ-like Characters
What is this power? Can it help us to develop perfect characters like Christ’s? Or did Jesus have some special powers above and beyond what is available to us? The Desire of Ages, 664 says: “Jesus revealed no qualities and exercised no powers that man may not have through faith in Him. His perfect humanity is that which all His followers may possess.”
All the power that was available to Christ is available to each and every one of us, in order that we might develop pure characters like His. Every one since Adam, who has grown to maturity, could have developed that character. God has given us the privilege and ability today to develop that character, just as He did the people in all ages.
I believe there is a special work that is to be done after 1844. I believe with all my heart in the sealing. But there is a danger in any theology that teaches that there are some special powers for the development of character to be given in the future. This type of theology is a temptation to many to wait until “that time” for the character to be developed.
We have the only power today that will ever be given to us for character development. And this short life is the only day we will ever have for this work. Character cannot be given to someone—it must be developed. Character comes because of the free gift of God’s power that is given to us day by day, but it is something that must be developed. It is the work of a lifetime.
The 144,000 will go through a unique experience similar to what Christ endured in the Garden of Gethsemane. But Jesus’ character was developed before He came to the Garden of Gethesemane or He would never have been able to go through that experience.
Anyone who is waiting for some time in the future for their character to be developed, so that they can go through the time of trouble, will be sadly disappointed. It will never happen. They will be unprepared and they will not receive the latter rain, for it only falls on those who have purified their souls “from every defilement.” (Evangelism, 702.)
Three Theological Views
There are three views of theology that affect how we prepare for Jesus’ Second Coming. All three of these views are found in Christendom as well as in the Adventist Church.
The first major theological belief is that Jesus came in Adam’s unfallen nature. Those who believe this generally tend to say that Jesus was born with a different nature than we have, so therefore, we cannot overcome. And, since we cannot overcome, we do not have to overcome. We can just go on enjoying our life of sin, and as long as we believe in Jesus, we will be saved. But the Bible refutes these falsehoods. It says that only those who overcome as Jesus overcame will sit with Him on His throne. (See Revelation 3:21.)
There are many sincere people who believe each of these theologies. But sincerity does not change the effects of one’s belief. For many years people sincerely smoked cigarettes thinking that it was going to clear up their bronchitis. (It was prescribed for them by the doctors back at the turn of the century.) But their belief did not change the fact that many of them developed lung cancer. They may not have been held accountable, but it affected their life on earth. What we believe affects our salvation, and that is the reason why God would have us study and learn what is truth.
There is another group of people who also believe that Jesus came down in a human nature far different than we have. But they believe that although Jesus’ nature was different than ours, we must still live a life like He lived. They do not wish to throw out the verses in the Bible or the statements in the Spirit of Prophecy that say we must overcome, so they teach that we must live a life like Jesus, but that we have to be given the same unfallen nature that Jesus had in order to do this. This is called the Holy Flesh doctrine. It comes in many forms and species, but the essence of this doctrine is that God must come down and do the overcoming for us, because we cannot overcome anything in our fallen nature. It goes like this: as long as we “get out of the driver’s seat” and allow God to be the driver, and we do not get back in, God will drive us all the way through the pearly gates. As long as we spend some time with God every day, He will take care of the rest and He will overcome the sins in us, just the same as He did for Jesus who never really had any temptations!
I have talked to many Adventist preachers and others who believe this and they say, “Jesus was tempted in all points like we are, but He was never tempted to sin.” Now that sounds strange to some of us, but they say: “You see, we will never be tempted to sin once we have the true conversion experience. Jesus’ only temptation was to try to get back into the driver’s seat and drive the vehicle Himself instead of letting His Father drive it for Him. He was never tempted to be proud or selfish.”
This theology, like the first, makes salvation a very easy path. In fact, some would say that it is easy to be saved and difficult to be lost. This is nothing but a lie of the devil. There is nothing in the Bible or the Spirit of Prophecy to support such a false teaching. Every one can be saved, just like Jesus was saved, but it is not an easy path. Inspiration tells us: “The gaining of eternal life is no easy thing. By living faith we are to keep on reaching forward, ascending the ladder round by round, seeing and taking the necessary steps; and yet we must understand that not one holy thought, not one unselfish act, can be originated in self . . . All warfare is useless unless Christ’s power is combined with human effort.” The Review and Herald, November 11, 1890.
God’s inspired word is clear that it is a combination of Christ’s power and human effort that is the secret of successful Christian living. Either without the other is useless. Any theology that teaches human works without the power of God is an incomplete theology. It cannot save. And any theology that teaches the power of God to save souls without the cooperative effort of the individual, is also an incomplete theology. Jesus came down to unite humanity with divinity. With this combination of divine power and human effort, all victory is possible. (See Counsels on Diets and Foods, 153.)
We have looked at two theologies; both are “easy” theologies. One teaches that we do not have to overcome because we can continue to sin. The other asserts that we do not have to overcome because Jesus will do it all for us.
There is a third theology and it is not as popular because it is not so easy. This theology teaches that Jesus came down in our sinful, fallen nature. In that nature, He had to crucify the lusts of the flesh day by day. With that nature, He developed a character without a taint of sin. While Christ was not “a man with the propensities of sin” He did feel “all the strength of unholy passions and perverted appetites within His nature.” SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 5, 112; Confrontation, 36. Yet, as He combined His human effort with the power of the Father, He gained the victory so that not even by a thought did He yield to the power of sin. He developed a perfect character within a fallen nature. That is the gospel. And it is the example that can be followed by everyone who is willing to be in subjection to God, as He was, and to follow the bloodstained path that He trod. We had no choice but to be born with a fallen nature, but by following His example we can overcome just as He overcame.
We can develop the same perfect character that Jesus had, but we will never look at ourselves as perfect because as we look at ourselves, we will see only that sinful fallen nature that has to be crucified day by day. The closer we come to the Lord, the worse we will appear in our own sight. And if anybody asks us about our righteousness, we will say, “I do not have any. I have to crucify my will every day. The only righteousness I have is Christ living within me.”