Like much of Revelation, mystery surrounds the 144,000 Tribulation witnesses. Who are they? What will be their objective? Will they be protected? Will they have any effect on the lost people of the Last Days? Although we do not know everything about the events that will take place and those involved, the Bible describes the 144,000 in some detail.
Identity: Jews who are dedicated to serving God–Revelation 7:3; 14:4-5
Protection: God’s seal will spare them from judgment and death – Revelation 7:2-3; 14:1
Mission: They will preach the Gospel and lead many to Christ – Revelation 7:9-10
What will happen before the 144,000 begin their ministry?
How can we maintain a strong witness in the Last Days?
Identity: Jews Who Are Dedicated to Serving God
The witnesses will be Jews who receive a special calling from the Lord. Revelation 7 indicates there will be twelve thousand witnesses from each of the twelve tribes of Israel: Judah, Reuben, Gad, Asher, Naphtali, Manasseh, Simeon, Levi, Issachar, Zebulun, Joseph, and Benjamin. It is worth noting that Joseph’s name stands in the place of the tribe of Dan. Dan is strongly associated with idolatry, and some scholars have even speculated that the Antichrist would come from this tribe. We cannot be sure. It’s possible that Joseph’s name is mentioned here to show that all the tribes will be reunited. What we do know is that, in the Millennial Kingdom, all thirteen tribes will receive a distribution of land (Ezekiel 48:1-29).
In Revelation 14:4, we find a remarkably personal fact about the 144,000: “These are the ones who were not defiled with women, for they are virgins.” Many people have tried to spiritualize that verse. They suggest that it means the witnesses will not have committed spiritual adultery, but I think that’s reading too much into the text. The following sentence in Revelation 14 says, “These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes.”
Whatever their marital status may be, the 144,000 will devote their hearts and souls to preaching the Gospel. They’ll be on a mission, and it will be a full-time task. In a world characterized by spiritual unfaithfulness, the witnesses will maintain absolute purity of heart and devotion to the Lamb of God.
Protection: God’s Seal Will Spare Them From Judgment and Death
As God’s judgment reigns down, He will grant special protection to the witnesses. In Revelation 7:3, one of His angels gives this instruction to four others: “Do not harm the earth, the sea, or the trees till we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads.” Although the witnesses’ preaching will rouse the anger of many, the Bible says no one will be able to touch the 144,000 because Almighty God will grant them supernatural protection. They will neither endure God’s judgment nor suffer harm from the powers of evil.
There is a lesson for us in God’s protection of the witnesses: If His power is sufficient to preserve them during the worst days this world has ever known, we can be confident in His ability to protect us today! When I first started to travel in my early days as a pastor, my kids were young. Each time I flew out of Fort Wayne, Indiana, I would feel a slight pang of fear in my heart. Although I wasn’t anxious to die, I wasn’t afraid of it either. Even so, I had a great fear for my kids and my wife and what would become of them if something happened to me. And one day, an older pastor came to me and gave me a little saying that I wrote in my Bible. It goes like this: “God’s man, in the center of God’s will, is immortal until God is done with Him.” When we place our life in God’s hands, nothing can keep us from accomplishing His purposes.
Mission: They Will Preach the Gospel
As devastating as the Tribulation will be, God will never leave the world without a witness. Sometimes people ask me, “Do you think God has given up on America?” I don’t think that’s the right question. It would be better to ask, “Has America given up on God?” That’s the problem we need to solve. I can address the first question with assurance—Almighty God has not given up on our nation. And it’s entirely possible that, before the Lord returns to take those who have put their trust in Him to heaven, He will pour out His Spirit once again.
Maybe we will have a fourth great awakening in America. I would love to see God move powerfully in that way, and it could happen. But according to Scripture, there isn’t a single thing that needs to happen before Christ returns for His Church. He could come back tomorrow! Until then, we live with the knowledge that a day is coming when God will lift His hand of protection from everything in the world except for a handful of His chosen servants. Seven years later, the world as we know it will come to an end. But even amid the evils of the Tribulation, God will continue inviting people to come to Him and receive His grace.
The Spiritual Revival of the 144,000
The Old Testament prophet Joel foresaw powerful ministries that will take place in the End Times. He said, “It shall come to pass afterward that I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions. And also on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days” (Joel 2:28-29). By the power of the Holy Spirit, the 144,000 witnesses will spark a miraculous revival during the Tribulation.
John corroborated this prophecy in Revelation 7: “After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands” (Revelation 7:9). What a wonderful picture that is! So many people will come to Christ during that time that they will be uncountable. And they will come from every nation, tribe, people, and tongue on earth.
The harvest from the great revival led by the 144,000 witnesses will be staggering. I believe this revival is the fulfillment of the promise Jesus gave in His Olivet Discourse: “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14).
What Will Happen Before the 144,000 Begin Their Ministry?
Perhaps you have heard a pastor or teacher say that there will be a great revival before Jesus Christ comes back to this earth, and people are going to come back to the Lord. We all wish that would happen, and perhaps it will occur in some small way. But Scripture does not indicate that we should expect such an awakening. In fact, it teaches us the exact opposite. It says that before the Lord returns to take us to heaven, there will be a falling away from the faith.
If you look at the statistics for mainline churches today, it seems like we may be in the early stages of that prophecy. According to a Gallup poll, 73% of American adults were church members in 1937. Since then, that number has steadily declined. Gallup reports that church membership plummeted to 50% in 2020 and now is even less.1 This falling away from the faith is a significant but often-overlooked piece to the end-times puzzle.
How Can We Maintain a Strong Witness in the Last Days?
Until Jesus raptures His Church, He has called every believer to serve as a witness and testify to the Gospel. Does that sound intimidating? It’s more straightforward than you might imagine.
At just 25 verses in length, the book of Jude speaks volumes about fighting for the Gospel in an age of compromise. It tells us, in part, “But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life” (Jude 20-21). Jude reminds us that no one can resist false teaching in their own strength; we need God’s power. As the Lord’s return draws nearer, it will be more vital than ever for believers to seek God’s wisdom and stand up for the Good News while projecting God’s love and mercy to a troubled world.
If the disciples—just twelve Spirit-filled men—turned their world upside down, imagine the magnitude of the revival that will take place during the Tribulation! Imagine the impact we can have today as members of Jesus Christ’s global Church!
1Jeffrey M. Jones, “U.S. Church Membership Down Sharply in Past Two Decades,” Gallup, April 18, 2019, https://news.gallup.com/poll/248837/church-membership-down-sharply-past-two-decades.aspx; Jeffrey M. Jones, “U.S. Church Membership Falls Below Majority for First Time,” Gallup, March 29, 2021, https://news.gallup.com/poll/341963/church-membership-falls-below-majority-first-time.aspx.