“How Many? Now let’s address the next big question. Is 144,000 a literal number? Well, perhaps I should answer that question with another question. Are the other numbers in Revelation literal? Will there be 12 gates and 12 foundations in the holy city? Are there really 12 different kinds of fruit on the tree of life? Yes, of course. Our understanding of the dimensions of the New Jerusalem is likewise based upon the assumption that these numbers are real.
“Even the numbers used to describe prophetic time periods in the book of Revelation are precise measures. The numbers would be useless for reckoning if they were merely symbolic.
“Although the number of the 144,000 may be exact, it will be humanly impossible to identify the individuals who make up this special group. When Jesus walked the earth, it was easy to determine His 12 most devoted followers. But the 144,000 in the last days are spiritual Jews, scattered across the circle of the earth and leading out in a magnificent revival.
“Now some may be thinking, “How can you say that the names are symbolic but the number is literal?” It’s simple. Jesus did. He did not seem to care which tribes the 12 apostles came from, but He did purposely choose 12 of them. Also remember that all of the numbers in Revelation depict a specific value, while all the proper names in Revelation are symbols (the Lamb, the Dragon, the Lion, Balaam, Jezebel, etc.).
“For these reasons and others, I believe the number 144,000 is a precise figure. Just as there were actually 12 literal tribes in the Old Testament and exactly 12 apostles in the New Testament, there will be 12 times 12,000 spiritual apostles in the last days.
“Many have wondered, “If this number is not just a symbol, then will the 144,000 be the only ones saved in the last days?
“Let’s do some simple figuring. The ratio of 144,000 to six billion (the approximate world population at the present time) would mean that one person in 41,666 alive would be saved if Jesus were to come today. This statistic is much better than the odds offered by most state lotteries, but we would all agree that it’s pretty slim for the hope of salvation.
“The Bible does not teach that the 144,000 are to be the only ones saved in the last days. Immediately after listing the tribes of the 144,000, the prophet sees that “a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands.” Revelation 7:9.
“In verse 13, one of the 24 elders asks John who these people are that are clothed in white robes, and from where they came. Then in verse 14, he answers his own question: “These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”
“Now the Bible speaks of two great tribulations in prophecy. One was during the papal persecution of the Dark Ages, when millions of Christians were slain. But the primary “great tribulation” must refer to the time just before Christ’s second coming, as referred to in Daniel 12:1,2: “And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time: and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book. And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.
“In the last days, Jesus will use 144,000 (12 times 12,000) spiritual apostles, whose primary mission is to reach the world with the news of His second coming. The great multitude spoken of in Revelation chapter 7 is converted by the influence and preaching of the 144,000 following the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the latter rain.
“The prophet Joel referred to both of these events when he wrote: “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions: And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit.” Joel 2:28, 29.
“I believe it is also significant to note that Jesus chose the 12 apostles from the laity, not the priesthood. In the same way, the 144,000 will not likely be composed only of ordained ministers. Rather, I believe it will largely be made up of lay persons.” (Elder Doug Bachelor, “Inside Report” March 1996, pp. 6, 7).
If what has been said thus far did not impress you, we will view this Refiner’s Fire from yet another angle.