There are many questions concerning the 144,000. Some can be answered; others cannot. For instance, is the 144,000 a literal or a symbolic number? Are the 144,000 sealed before or after the latter rain? Will the 144,000 convert a great multitude to God’s truth? Why will the 144,000 be translated without dying? What are the character developments that are necessary to become a part of the 144,000?
In this article, we will not dabble into speculation nor will we claim any new light, but we will search for what has been revealed in the Bible and in the Spirit of Prophecy.
From Scripture, we may read of the 144,000 in Revelation 7:2–4, 13, 14 and Revelation 14:1–5: “And I saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God: and he cried with a loud voice to the four angels, to whom it was given to hurt the earth and the sea, Saying, Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads. And I heard the number of them which were sealed: [and there were] sealed an hundred [and] forty [and] four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel.” “And one of the elders answered, saying unto me, What are these which are arrayed in white robes? and whence came they? And I said unto him, Sir, thou knowest. And he said to me, These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”
“And I looked, and, lo, a Lamb stood on the mount Sion, and with him an hundred forty [and] four thousand, having his Father’s name written in their foreheads. And I heard a voice from heaven, as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of a great thunder: and I heard the voice of harpers harping with their harps: And they sung as it were a new song before the throne, and before the four beasts, and the elders: and no man could learn that song but the hundred [and] forty [and] four thousand, which were redeemed from the earth. These are they which were not defiled with women; for they are virgins. These are they which follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth. These were redeemed from among men, [being] the firstfruits unto God and to the Lamb. And in their mouth was found no guile: for they are without fault before the throne of God.”
There are various members of our faith who are heard declaring that the 144,000 are no different from any other generation of God’s people. They say that God does not have two different standards, one for the 144,000 and one for all other generations. They insist that this is absurd. The 144,000 will be different only in that they will be alive when Jesus comes. Is this really true, or will the 144,000 be in some respect different? If so, what will make them different?
We first need to establish a very important truth. It is true that God does not have a different standard of salvation for the translated living and another for the resurrected, dead saints. Those who die must, at death, be right with God. They must be both justified and sanctified. As individuals, they must stop committing known sin, and invite Christ to dwell in their hearts by faith, and to give them the needed power to willingly obey their Lord. They will have been washing their robes of character and making them white in the blood of the Lamb.
Although the standard of salvation for both the living last generation and the dead saints is the same, there is a difference. Why? Because the severe end-time trials and great tribulations that the last generation will pass through, such as experienced by no other generation, will develop, in the 144,000 living saints, characters that will become more like Christ’s character than that of any prior generation of saints. They will reach a character maturity that will reveal that they have won the battle over evil.
“The true people of God, who have the spirit of the work of the Lord and the salvation of souls at heart, will ever view sin in its real, sinful character. They will always be on the side of faithful and plain dealing with sins which easily beset the people of God. Especially in the closing work for the church, in the sealing time of the one hundred and forty-four thousand who are to stand without fault before the throne of God, will they feel most deeply the wrongs of God’s professed people.” Testimonies, vol. 3, 266.
So intense will become their hatred of sin that they would rather die than sin. The difference will not be in the standard of salvation but in the degree of character development to which they will attain.
God has given us some Bible examples for this very purpose, so that we can clarify and better understand this difference. Let us begin with the example of Moses.
Ellen White wrote: “Moses, wearied with forty years of wandering and unbelief, lost for a moment his hold on Infinite Power. He failed just on the borders of the Promised Land.” Prophets and Kings, 174.
Consider the personal lesson we should learn from the experience of Moses, when he sinned by taking the glory from Christ in producing water from the rock. Christ uses the life of Moses as an object lesson to help us understand that there will be a difference in the experience between those who die and are resurrected, and those who are translated. Just one sin, which was immediately repented of, kept Moses from being translated, but it did not keep him from being resurrected.
“Satan had been trying to find something wherewith to accuse Moses before the angels. He exulted at his success in leading him to displease God, and he told the angels that he could overcome the Saviour of the world when He should come to redeem man. For his transgression, Moses came under the power of Satan—the dominion of death. Had he remained steadfast, the Lord would have brought him to the Promised Land, and would then have translated him to heaven without his seeing death.” Early Writings, 164.
“Had not the life of Moses been marred with that one sin, in failing to give God the glory of bringing water from the rock at Kadesh, he would have entered the Promised Land, and would have been translated to heaven without seeing death.” Patriarchs and Prophets, 478.
We know that, in the lifetime of Moses, he committed more than one sin. In fact, he even murdered a man; he killed an Egyptian. Though he had confessed and forsaken his sins, God used this one sin, which Moses knowingly committed on the banks of the Jordan River just before crossing into the Promised Land, to impress us with the fact that the living saints must make an end of sin in their lives before they enter the heavenly Canaan. Nothing could be more plainly stated!
Though God had planned on translating Moses to heaven without seeing death, he was not then ready to be a type of those who would be ready to be translated. He must die. Soon after this, Moses did die, but within a few days, God resurrected him. He was taken to heaven to become a type of the resurrected saints of God; a type of those repentant ones who will not be required to go through the special end-time circumstances and great tribulations.
On the other hand, Enoch was a type of the living saints. Consider his record. The Bible says that he walked with God for 300 years before he was translated: “And Enoch lived sixty and five years, and begat Methuselah: And Enoch walked with God after he begat Methuselah three hundred years, and begat sons and daughters.” Genesis 5:21, 22.
In the book, Reflecting Christ, 307, we read, “Enoch was a marked character, and many look upon his life as something far above what the generality of mortals can ever reach. But Enoch’s life and character, which were so holy that he was translated to heaven without seeing death, represent the lives and characters of all who will be translated when Christ comes.”
Then, in Gospel Workers, 54, we read, “ ‘By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; . . . for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God.’ [Hebrews 11:5.]
“To such communion God is calling us. As was Enoch’s, so must be their holiness of character who shall be redeemed from among men at the Lord’s second coming.”
This is such an important, provoking statement that the last sentence must be repeated: “As was Enoch’s, so must be their holiness of character who shall be redeemed from among men at the Lord’s second coming.”
Elijah was a type of the 144,000. He was a man of strong faith. He demonstrated this in the happenings of Mount Carmel, which are recorded in 1 Kings 18. However, after his lofty experience, “Depression seized him. . . . While under the inspiration of the Almighty, he had stood the severest trial of faith; but in this trial of discouragement, with Jezebel’s threat sounding in his ears, . . . he lost his hold on God.” Prophets and Kings, 161.
“Despondency is sinful and unreasonable.” Ibid., 164. So Elijah sinned, for “in a moment of weariness [he] allowed the fear of death to overcome his faith in God.” Ibid., 174.
Let us think this through for a moment. What was the difference between the sin of Moses and that of Elijah? While Moses committed sin just before he was to pass over into the Promised Land, not so in the experience of Elijah. As did Moses, he repented immediately, but he did not die soon thereafter. He lived on and demonstrated his strong faith in the Lord, which he quickly regained and maintained. God sent him back to Israel to finish bringing about a religious revival and a transformation in the land. When God finally asked him to call Elisha, a farm laborer, to replace himself, he spent some time teaching Elisha. He went from place to place with him, and from school to school, teaching him how to give the help that each needed.
Therefore, Elijah spent a number of years before he was translated demonstrating that he was a loyal, holy servant of the Lord. This is why God could declare, “Elijah was a type of the saints who will be living on the earth at the time of the second advent of Christ and who will be ‘changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump,’ without tasting of death. 1 Corinthians 15:51, 52.” Prophets and Kings, 227.
Why is it necessary for the living saints who will be translated to be different in respect to the development of their characters? to have characters so mature that they will never again sin? What will make this maturity an absolute necessity?
First, they will be forced to meet the supreme test—that of a papal image of the beast. Second, after probation closes, they must be prepared to live sinlessly without a mediator in the sanctuary in heaven.
Let us consider the first test, the image of the beast. Some church members may have wondered, why is the Sunday sabbath, brought about by the image of the beast, to be the great test for the people of God by which their eternal destiny will be decided? Would we not naturally assume that this crisis would be a test for the world, for the unbelievers and the undecided?
The truth is that when God’s people are faced with this great test, they will be forced to make an immediate choice between life and death, as it were, between obedience and disobedience. If their characters were not already developed to the point to where they would rather die than sin, they would undoubtedly choose to sin, and thus come under Satan’s black banner. When brought to the test, God’s people will either receive the seal of God or the mark of the papal beast. Thus their eternal destiny will be forever decided.
In 1890, Ellen White wrote: “The Lord has shown me clearly that the image of the beast will be formed before probation closes; for it is to be the great test for the people of God, by which their eternal destiny will be decided. . . . [Revelation 13:11–17 quoted.] . . .
“This is the test that the people of God must have before they are sealed. All who proved their loyalty to God by observing His law, and refusing to accept a spurious sabbath, will rank under the banner of the Lord God Jehovah, and will receive the seal of the living God. Those who yield the truth of heavenly origin and accept the Sunday sabbath, will receive the mark of the beast.” “Ellen G. White Comments,” Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, vol. 7, 976.
What about the second reason, the close of probation? The saints who are to be translated must live through the final time of trouble, referred to as the time of Jacob’s trouble, without a mediator in the heavenly sanctuary. Probation will have closed for this wicked, old world.
Without an Intercessor
Are we aware of just what this means? It means that if a saint were to sin after probation closes, there would be no forgiveness available. I do not believe any of us now living fully realize what it will mean to live on this earth in such a chaotic condition and under such pressure of a death sentence without an intercessor.
“Those who are living upon the earth when the intercession of Christ shall cease in the sanctuary above are to stand in the sight of a holy God without a mediator. Their robes must be spotless, their characters must be purified from sin by the blood of sprinkling. Through the grace of God and their own diligent effort they must be conquerors in the battle with evil.” The Great Controversy, 425.
Christ is our only example of a man who lived on earth without an intercessor. What was the experience of Christ while He was on this earth? “Christ declared of Himself: ‘The prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in Me.’ John 14:30. Satan could find nothing in the Son of God that would enable him to gain the victory. He had kept His Father’s commandments, and there was no sin in Him that Satan could use to his advantage. This is the condition in which those must be found who shall stand in the time of trouble.” Ibid., 623.
I trust that this is causing you and me to do some very serious thinking. In order for anyone to live on this earth without a mediator, such a one must attain to the same sinless condition lived by Christ while He was on this earth.
Let us consider for a moment Christ in Gethsemane. In The Desire of Ages, 686, 687, Ellen White wrote: “Christ was now standing in a different attitude from that in which he had ever stood before. . . . Hitherto He had been an intercessor for others; now He longed to have an intercessor for Himself.
“As Christ felt His unity with the Father broken up, He feared that in His human nature He would be unable to endure the coming conflict with the power of darkness. . . . With the issues of the conflict before Him, Christ’s soul was filled with dread of separation from God. Satan told Him that if He became the surety for a sinful world, the separation would be eternal. He would be identified with Satan’s kingdom, and would nevermore be one with God.”
So, likewise, when probation closes, the saints will find themselves in a different position than they have ever been before.
How will the saints be enabled? Actually, it will be by following Christ’s earthly example. “Christ left his heavenly home, and came to this world, to show that only by being connected with divinity can man keep the law of God. In itself humanity is tainted and corrupted; but Christ brought moral power to man, and those who live in communion with him overcome as he overcame. We are not left in this world as orphans.” The Signs of the Times, December 10, 1896.
Unless the saints follow the example of Christ in joining their humanity with divinity, they will be among the lost who will be consumed at Christ’s coming. It is absolutely imperative that they have this special preparation, for God’s glory destroys all sin and sinners. Sin cannot exist in the visible presence of God, for God’s glory is a consuming fire.
The Bible is very clear in stating that the very presence of God will consume all who are found clinging to sin. 11 Thessalonians 2:8 tells us, “And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming.” As Christ nears this earth, his very presence will consume the sinner while consuming their sins.
Therefore, it is evident that all sin must be removed from the 144,000 in the days of preparation before they are sealed. That is the time in which we are living, for we are living in the preparation time. Times are tense. There is still opportunity for us to prepare.
Avoid Attractive Errors
Would to God that the ministers in God’s pulpits today would preach soul-stirring messages filled with divine conviction that would move the listener to sense the enormity of the sin problem, causing them to fall on their knees pleading with God for victory. Believe me, friend, this is no time for Celebration, with tame messages to satisfy the sinful nature, such as teaching congregations that they can continue sinning until Jesus comes.
Rather than representing so-called “attractive errors,” ministers should heed the counsel of Joel: “Blow ye the trumpet in Zion, and sound an alarm in my holy mountain: let all the inhabitants of the land tremble: for the day of the Lord cometh, for [it is] nigh at hand.” “Gather the people, sanctify the congregation, assemble the elders, gather the children, and those that suck the breasts: let the bridegroom go forth of his chamber, and the bride out of her closet. Let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep between the porch and the altar, and let them say, Spare thy people, O Lord, and give not thine heritage to reproach, that the heathen should rule over them: wherefore should they say among the people, Where [is] their God?” Joel 2:1, 16, 17.
This is the weeping time; a time for ministers to weep between the porch and the altar for all the sins that are being committed in the church. Certainly this is not a time for Celebration, for entertainment, or for preaching frivolous or smooth sermons to tickle the ear of the flocks. Rather, we ministers should sound such an alarming message that it will awaken the members of our churches from their Laodicean slumber to their need to sigh and cry for their own sins, as well as those of their fellow church members.
Ellen White informs us, “The abominations for which the faithful ones were sighing and crying were all that could be discerned by finite eyes, but by far the worst sins, those which provoked the jealousy of the pure and holy God, were unrevealed. The great Searcher of the hearts knoweth every sin committed in secret by the workers of iniquities.” Testimonies, vol. 5, 211.
So, God admonishes us to, “Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and show my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins.” Isaiah 58:1. Ellen White asks, “What are you doing, brethren, in the great work of preparation? Those who are uniting with the world are receiving the worldly mold and preparing for the mark of the beast. Those who are distrustful of self, who are humbling themselves before God and purifying their souls by obeying the truth—these are receiving the heavenly mold and preparing for the seal of God in their foreheads. When the decree goes forth and the stamp is impressed, their character will remain pure and spotless for eternity.” Ibid., 216. This is God’s last-day, preparation message. It is urgent, for time is short.
A True Story
A Seventh-day Adventist lady, whom I will call Rachel, lived in Oregon. She was studying God’s Word with a very godly woman. Now, Rachel had a certain problem insofar as the health reform message was concerned. Her teacher pointed out to her that the Spirit of Prophecy clearly reveals that no one will be among the living translated saints who was indulging in this certain vice. This shook Rachel up, and for two weeks she abstained. But then, forgetting her reform, she went back to the old practice with this comment, “I decided that I would go ahead and indulge myself and prepare to be among the resurrected dead rather than striving to be among the living who will be translated.”
What a dangerous reasoning! We are living in the end time, and God calls us to make preparation appropriate for the time in which we live. Surely we do not have the option of making such a choice as did Rachel. Rachel failed to realize that the standard of salvation is exactly the same for the dead as for the living. All known sins must be repented of and put away before death or before translation. If a certain practice is a sin for a living saint, one that would keep him or her from being translated, after one recognizes its sinfulness, if he or she should continue in this practice would he or she be eligible to be among the resurrected saints? This would be very questionable.
In this end time, we are admonished,
“Let us 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.
In closing, I will reaffirm the words of Ezekiel the prophet, as he appeals to ministers and laymen alike. To everyone, both the saints who will be among the living and those who will die in the Lord, Ezekiel’s message from the Lord has the same urgency as do the messages of Joel and Isaiah. Ezekiel 18:30–32 says, “Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, saith the Lord God. Repent, and turn [yourselves] from all your transgressions; so iniquity shall not be your ruin. Cast away from you all your transgressions, whereby ye have transgressed; and make you a new heart and a new spirit: for why will ye die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord God: wherefore turn [yourselves], and live ye.”
To be continued . . .
For over 60 years Pastor Lawrence Nelson served as an evangelist and minister for the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Of that time, he served 13 years as the director of evangelism for youth at the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. Upon retirement from the General Conference, he continued to pastor, but when, as a result of his stand for truth, he was denied the opportunity to continue his pastorate, he started Keep the Faith Audio Tape Ministry, recording his sermons and making them available to individuals. Before his retirement from this ministry in 2004, over 18,000 audio tapes were being sent around the world each month.