The 144,000 – Part 2
By Elder Lawrence Nelson
For over 6000 years man has succumbed to Satan’s temptations to break God’s eternal law, thus becoming subject to death as we read in Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death.” Satan hates God’s law. He has made the claimed that only a very few are obeying God’s law in keeping the Sabbath but even they will give up the Sabbath, when faced by the coming crisis. This is why he will enforce Sunday worship which God’s Word teaches us is the mark of the beast.
Sunday worship will be enforced by a world-wide law with a death penalty to those who do not obey. Thus Satan claims that no man will keep God’s law. But beloved, God has a plan for this last generation which will be living on this earth. Those whose names are left in the Lamb’s book of life after the Investigative Judgment, these are to be taken to heaven without experiencing death. The 144,000 will prove to the universe that God’s law can be kept no matter what terrible persecutions Satan, through his agents, can inflict upon these saints during what God calls a time of trouble such as never was.
God proclaims of these 144,000, “Here is the patience of the saints, here are they that keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus.” Revelation 14:12.
Let us pray, Dear loving Father, this may be the most important sermon that I shall ever give. This message must reveal the goal to be reached by each of us if we are to see Thy face and live when the Second Coming of Christ takes place. Please, Father, open our spiritual senses to this final event just before us, that we may fully become like Thee in character so we may be worthy to be numbered with the 144,000. For we ask this in the name of our dear Savior, Jesus, Amen.
Now to refresh our memories. In our last sermon we noted that out of the tense end-time trials, and tribulations there will be developed 144,000 living saints whose character will have become more Christ-like than that of any other generation of saints throughout the history of the world. Their characters will reveal that they have “gained the victory over evil so that they would rather die than sin.” Great Controversy p. 425.
What will make this possible? Praise God, He has a great blessing reserved to pour out upon His last-generation church – a blessing that had not been previously manifested because it was not needed. In the end time, however, it becomes a necessity. It is called the Latter Rain. God knew that the last generation would need an extra supply of the grace of the Holy Spirit to prepare them to pass through the time of Jacob’s trouble and to meet Christ at His coming.
We read about this blessing in Joel 2: 23,24, “Be glad then, ye children of Zion, and rejoice in the Lord your God: for he hath given you the former rain moderately, and he will cause to come down for you the rain, the former rain, and the latter rain in the first month. And the floors shall be full of wheat, and the vats shall overflow with wine and oil.”
Besides empowering this last generation to proclaim the Loud Cry to every nation, kindred, tongue and people, which will be a last-day accomplishment, the Latter Rain accomplishes something for the saints themselves. This work of grace for the saints is likened in Inspiration to the ripening of the grain for the harvest; and believe me, this will be harvest time for God’s church. In the scripture that we have just read in Joel 2:24 it explains that when the Latter Rain falls the threshing floor shall be full of wheat. Praise the Lord!
But let us keep in mind that it is absolutely necessary that these saints, these living saints, received both the early and the latter rain. I am reading from Testimonies to Ministers p. 508, “If we do not progress, if we do not place ourselves in an attitude to receive both the former and the latter rain, we shall lose our souls and the responsibility will lie at our own door.”
This is further explained on p. 506, “The ripening of the grain represents the completion of the work of God’s grace in the soul. By the power of the Holy Spirit the moral image of God is to be perfected in the character. We are to be wholly transformed into the likeness of Christ. The latter rain, ripening earth’s harvest, represents the spiritual grace that prepares the church for the coming of the Son of man. But unless the former rain has fallen, there will be no life; the green blade will not spring up. Unless the early showers have done their work, the latter rain can bring no seed to perfection.”
The Latter Rain will accomplish in the saints an even further work of character refinement or perfection. Not only will this prepare the church for the coming of Christ, as stated in the previous quotation, but also in Testimonies for the Church, Volume 1, p. 353 we read, “It is the latter rain which revives and strengthens them to pass through the time of trouble.” So, it is no wonder that God, through His prophet Zechariah in chapter 10:1 stated, “Ask ye of the Lord rain in the time of the latter rain; so the Lord shall make bright clouds, and bring them showers of rain, to every one grass in the field.”
What a beautiful promise! But many of our people seem to be waiting for the Latter Rain to accomplish their victory over sin. We are forewarned that they are making a terrible mistake. This is not the purpose of the Latter Rain. Prior preparation must be made before the Latter Rain can fall upon any one of us. Listen carefully, “Many have in a great measure failed to receive the former rain. They have not obtained all the benefits that God has thus provided for them. They expect that the lack will be supplied by the latter rain. When the richest abundance of grace shall be bestowed, they intend to open their hearts to receive it. They are making a terrible mistake….The heart must be emptied of every defilement and cleansed for the indwelling of the Spirit. It was by the confession and forsaking of sin, by earnest prayer and consecration of themselves to God, that the early disciples prepared for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. The same work, only in a greater degree, must be done now.” Testimonies to Ministers p. 507.
Ellen White makes this very important statement, “Today you are to have your vessel purified that it may be ready for the heavenly dew, ready for the showers of the latter rain; for the latter rain will come, and the blessing of God will fill every soul that is purified from every defilement. It is our work today to yield our souls to Christ, that we may be fitted for the time of refreshing from the presence of the Lord; fitted for the baptism of the Holy Spirit.” Selected Messages, Book 1, p. 191.
Perhaps the first work of the Latter Rain will be to seal the saints of God in their foreheads. However notice this quote, “Not one of us will receive the seal of God while our characters have one spot or stain upon them. It is left with us to remedy the defects of our characters, to cleanse the soul temple of every defilement. Then the latter rain will fall upon us as the early rain fell upon the disciples on the day of Pentecost.” Testimonies for the Church, Volume 5, p. 214.
Please note again these words that every defilement must be washed away in the blood of the Lamb. It is then, and not until then, that the Latter Rain will fall upon God’s people. It is then, and not until then, that God’s people will receive the seal of the living God. Listen to this, “Will this seal be put upon the impure mind, the fornicator, the adulterer, the man who covets his neighbor’s wife? Let your soul answer the question, Does my character correspond to the qualifications essential, that I may receive a passport to the mansions that Christ has prepared for those who are fitted for them? Holiness must be inwrought in our characters.” Testimonies to Ministers p. 446.
Again, this cutting truth comes loud and clear. Early Writings p. 71 tells us, “Those who receive the seal of the living God must reflect the image of Jesus fully.” I trust this alarming truth is awakening your heart as it has mine. For before the seal is placed upon the living saints all must appear before the judgement seat of God to receive their award according to their works.
Just when does the judgment convene? The following two passages answer this question. “The time of the judgment is a most solemn period, when the Lord gathers His own from among the tares.” Testimonies to Ministers p. 238. We are also told, “The time is not far distant when the test will come to every soul. The mark of the beast will be urged upon us….In this time the gold [that is His own] will be separated from the dross [that’s the tares] in the church.” Testimonies for the Church, Volume 5, p. 81.
When God’s people are faced with the papal Sunday test, the Sunday sabbath test, the judgment hour will have arrived. Those who pass this test will be sealed with the seal of the living God, and all who fail will receive the mark of the beast. It is by their own choice that their eternal destiny will be decided.
This is why it is said of those who decide to be faithful commandment keepers, “Their names are retained in the Lamb’s book of life, enrolled among the faithful of all ages. They have resisted the wiles of the deceiver; they have not been turned from their loyalty by the dragon’s roar. Now they are eternally secure from the tempter’s devices.” Can you just picture this precious experience, as “holy angels, unseen, were passing to and fro placing upon them the seal of the living God”? Testimonies for the Church, Volume 5, p. 475.
Now let us inquire as to what the seal of God is and how are the saints blessed by receiving it? After the saints are sealed their characters will “remain” as sinless as they were at the time of their sealing. Ibid. p. 216 tells us, “When the decree goes forth [that’s the Sunday law] and the stamp is impressed [that’s the seal] their character will remain pure and spotless for eternity.” Isn’t that amazing! God does have a plan.
The seal of God is an indelible mark which the angels can read but man cannot. It is a permanent mark, never to be removed. “And even after the saints are sealed with the seal of the living God, His elect will have trials individually. Personal afflictions will come; but the furnace is closely watched by an eye that will not suffer the gold to be consumed. The indelible mark of God is upon them. God can plead that His own name is written there. The Lord has shut them in. Their destination is inscribed—‘God, New Jerusalem.’ They are God’s property, His possession.” Testimonies to Ministers p. 446.
You know, when you read and hear things like this don’t you feel like saying, Amen? I continue to read from Manuscript Releases, Volume 15, p. 225, “The sealing is a pledge from God of perfect security to His chosen ones (Ex. 31:13-17). Sealing indicates you are God’s chosen. He has appropriated you to Himself. As the sealed of God we are Christ’s purchased possession, and no one shall pluck us out of His hands.” Oh how marvelous!
So it is self-evident that when God’s people are faced with the seal of the mark of the beast that the reception of either the seal of God or the mark of the beast indicates that their names have come up in the Investigative Judgment; that their destiny has been decided. Their individual probations have been closed. Note also, that they must make the same preparation for the close of their probation as do those who die in the Lord. That is, in regard to sinning and defilement in their lives.
The Latter Rain does not fall upon them until after they have made this preparation. So, other than the tense end-time persecutions that favor character maturity, in which they live, the last generation of God’s people will have no more advantage before their probation closes than do those who die in the Lord. All mankind must make their preparation under the former rain. I must repeat that. All mankind must make their preparation under the former rain, and that is now.
As we ponder these observations that I have made of the experiences, the achievements and blessings of the 144,000 let us answer a couple of questions so often asked:
1. “Is the term the 144,000 a symbolic or a literal number?” The answer – No one knows. We do not know whether the twelve tribes of old Israel are sealed as listed in Revelation 7. This is symbolic of God’s modern Israel, and that is all we know and we cannot speculate.
Here is some council from the Lord’s messenger on this subject. I am reading from Selected Messages, Book 3, p. 315 “Another question upon which we had some conversation was in regard to the elect of God – that the Lord would have a certain number, and when that number was made up then probation would cease.” Then these words, “These are questions you or I have no right to talk about. The Lord Jesus will receive all who come unto Him. He died for the ungodly and every man who will come, may come.” Praise the Lord.
“Certain conditions are to be complied with on the part of man, and if he refuses to comply with the conditions, he cannot become the elect of God. If he will comply he is a child of God, and Christ says if he will continue in faithfulness, steadfast and immovable in his obedience, He will not blot out his name out of the book of life but will confess his name before His Father and before His angels. God would have us think and talk and present to others those truths which are plainly revealed, and all have naught to do with these subjects of speculation, for they have no special reference to the salvation of our souls.” Manuscript Releases, Volume 2, p. 149.
We must ever keep in mind that that which has been revealed is all that we need to be concerned about. In Selected Messages, Book 1, p. 174 are these words, “It is not His will that they should get into controversy over questions which will not help them spiritually, such as, Who is to compose the hundred and forty-four thousand.” And then these words – take note: “Those who are the elect of God will in a short time know without question.” Isn’t that amazing? And so with this let us rest satisfied.
2. “Who will comprise the great multitude of Revelation 7:9?” In endeavoring to answer this question there is much speculation, and all to often people come up with the same answer – a false one. This does not need to be for in Prophets and Kings p. 720, 721 the correct answer to this question is clearly revealed to us so there can be no need to doubt. Ellen White applies this verse to that time after the earth has been made new and the ransomed are seen after they are restored to their original homeland, the earth. Now listen carefully as I read this. I quote: “The seer of Patmos, looking down through the ages to the time of this restoration when the earth was made new, testified:‘I beheld, and, lo, 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; and cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb.’” So it is plain to see that the Spirit of Prophecy applies the great multitude of Revelation 7:9 to the redeemed of all ages.
Again I quote: “Nearest the throne are those who were once zealous in the cause of Satan….Next are those who perfected Christian characters in the midst of falsehood and infidelity, those who honor the law of God when the Christian world declared it void, and the millions of all ages, who were martyred for their faith. And beyond is the ‘great multitude, which no man could number of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues,…before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands.’ Revelation 7:9.” Great Controversy p. 665.
We are counseled that in this end time “many will be martyrs for Christ’s sake in standing in defense of the truth.” Selected Messages, Book 3, p. 397. These martyrs will have risen to the same character maturity as the 144,000 for they would rather die then sin. This they demonstrated in their becoming martyrs for Christ. Note that nearest to the throne will stand those who were once zealous to the cause of Satan and next to them will stand the 144,000 and the martyrs and beyond these are the great multitude of Revelation 7:9.
“Suffering has been the portion of the people of God from the days of the martyr Able….None will be there who have not, like Moses, chosen to suffer affliction with the people of God. The prophet John saw the multitude of the redeemed, and inquired who they were. The prompt answer came, ‘These are they who came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.’” Testimonies for the Church, Volume 1, p. 78.
Please note that the great multitude, as well as the 144,000, had washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. The 144,000 are a numbered group. The large multitude in which no man can number are the resurrected dead from all the ages which will include the martyrs.
So much for these questions. We now return to the theme of the sealed saints, the 144,000. Immediately after the sealing the saints will give the Loud Cry of the Three Angels’ Messages to the world. Inspiration tells us that as a result of the Loud Cry large numbers will be converted. Let me quote just a few passages. Great Controversy p. 612 tells us, “The message will be carried not so much by argument as by the deep conviction of the Spirit of God….Notwithstanding the agencies combined against the truth, a large number take their stand upon the Lord’s side.”
We read in Ibid. p. 606, 607, “Men of faith and prayer will be constrained to go forth with holy zeal, declaring the words which God gives them….By these solemn warnings the people will be stirred. Thousands upon thousands will listen who have never heard words like these….Thus light will be brought before thousands who otherwise would know nothing of these truths.”
“The Spirit is poured out upon all who will yield to His prompting….Multitudes will receive the faith and join the armies of the Lord.” Evangelism p. 700. Oh, what a day that will be!
But what about these new converts? Will they have time to perfect the character developments necessary to meet Jesus and live? The Spirit of Prophecy answers this question. “But now time is almost finished, and what we have been years learning, they will have to learn in a few months.” Early Writings p. 67. Remember the divine council, “With God all things are possible.” Under the persecutions and tribulations of the last day the eleventh hour converts will accomplish in their character building in a few months that which it has taken us years to develop. Surely some of these converts will be numbered among the 144,000 and live to see Jesus come in the clouds of heaven.
What is this message the saints will give to the world during the Loud Cry? It will be a message that will so startle the inhabitants that they will listen. God’s servants will present the Three Angels’ Messages as it is recorded in Revelation 14 which Inspiration calls, “The most fearful threatenings ever addressed to mortals.” Great Controversy p. 449.
This will be done, however, in the light of the saving righteousness and love of Christ. Testimonies for the Church, Volume 6, p. 19 says, “The message of Christ’s righteousness is to sound from one end of the earth to the other to prepare the way of the Lord. This is the glory of God which closes the work of the third angel.”
In Ibid., Volume 7, p. 17 it says, “As the third angel’s message swells into a loud cry, great power and glory will attend its proclamation. The faces of God’s people will shine with the light of heaven.” Maranatha 20 tells us, “Servants of God, with their faces lighted up and shining with holy consecration, will hasten from place to place to proclaim the message from heaven. By thousands of voices, all over the earth, the warning will be given. Miracles will be wrought, the sick will be healed, and signs and wonders will follow the believers. Satan also works with lying wonders, even bringing down fire from heaven in the sight of men. Revelation 13:13.” Thus the inhabitants of the earth will be brought to take their stand.
The 144,000 living saints will have yet another function – they will give a crowning demonstration to the entire universe as their lives demonstrate God’s love and righteousness imparted to them. In the end time God refers to the righteousness of Christ in their characters as, “The righteousness of saints.” For the scripture says, Revelation 19:8, “And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints.”
However the saints will ever be aware that they have no intrinsic righteousness of their own, that their own righteousness was as filthy rags. They know the beautiful wedding garments they are wearing were furnished by the King of kings. They will declare of themselves, “I have no righteousness of my own, but Christ is my righteousness.” Review and Herald, August 5, 1890.
“One interest will prevail, one subject will swallow up every other,— Christ our righteousness.” Review and Herald, December 23, 1890. Thus through the characters of the saints God will demonstrate His own righteousness to the universe. In Isaiah 4:2,3 I quote, “In that day shall the branch of the Lord be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the earth shall be excellent and comely for them that are escaped of Israel. And it shall come to pass, that he that is left in Zion, and he that remaineth in Jerusalem, shall be called holy, even every one that is written among the living in Jerusalem.”
At this point in this sermon we have finally come to the time when the end draws near. After the last saint is sealed, but not until then, probation will close for the inhabitants of the wicked world. The seven last plagues will fall after which Jesus will come. Then the great multitude is resurrected. Can you imagine the excitement? For when Jesus comes the 144,000 will watch the graves of the righteous open and they will recognize loved ones who are resurrected.
Early Writings p. 16 gives us this picture, “Then Jesus’ silver trumpet sounded, as He descended on the cloud, wrapped in flames of fire. He gazes on the graves of the sleeping saints, then raising His eyes and hands to heaven, and cries, ‘Awake! Awake! Awake! ye that sleep in the dust, and arise.’ Then there was a mighty earthquake. The graves opened and the dead come up clothed in immortality. The 144,000 shouted ‘Allelluia!’ as they recognized their friends who had been torn from them by death, and in the same moment we are changed and caught up together with them to meet the Lord in the air.”
Then it is that the 144,000 and the great multitude of the resurrected dead ascend to heaven together. Reading from Patriarchs and Prophets p. 89 we are told, “As Enoch was translated to heaven before the destruction of the world by water, so the living righteous will be translated from the earth before its destruction by fire. Says the apostle: ‘We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump. For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the Archangel, and with the trump of God; the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible and we shall be changed.’ ‘The dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words.’ 1 Corinthians 15:51,52. 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18.” Finally all will be over and the saints can enjoy and explore their new world.
This brings us to a most beautiful setting as described by Ellen White in her visit to the New Earth in vision where she saw the 144,000 and the martyrs for their faith. Early Writings p. 19 says, “Mount Zion was just before us, and on the mount was a glorious temple, and about it were seven other mountains, on which grew roses and lilies. And I saw the little ones climb, or, if they chose, use their little wings and fly, to the top of the mountains and pluck the never-fading flowers. There were all kinds of trees around the temple to beautify the place: the box, the pine, the fir, the oil, the myrtle, the pomegranate, and the fig tree bowed down with the weight of its timely figs – these made the place all over glorious. And as we were about to enter the holy temple, Jesus raised His lovely voice and said, ‘Only the 144,000 enter this place.’ And we shouted, ‘Alleluia.’
“This temple was supported by seven pillars, all of transparent gold, set with pearls most glorious. The wonderful things I saw there I cannot describe. Oh, that I could talk in the language of Canaan, then could I tell a little of the glory of the better world. I saw there tables of stone in which the names of the 144,000 were engraved in letters of gold. After we beheld the glory of the temple, we went out, and Jesus left us and went to the city. Soon we heard His lovely voice saying, ‘Come, My people, you have come out of great tribulation, and have done My will; suffered for Me; come, into the supper, for I will gird Myself, and serve you.’ We shouted, ‘Alleluia! glory!’ and entered the city.”
Now from this we learn that the 144,000 are to receive special honor throughout eternity. This is because of the maturity of their characters that were developed here on earth. They are to follow the Lamb wherever He goes. What honor could be greater? I continue reading, “As we were traveling along we met a company who also were gazing at the glories of the place. I noticed red as a border on their garments. Their crowns were brilliant. Their robes were pure white. As we greeted them I asked Jesus who they were. He said they were martyrs that had been slain for Him. With them was also an innumerable company of little ones. They also had a hem of red on their garments.”
So from this we learn that the martyrs will also receive special honor. Praise God! Last but not least, one of the most important accomplishments of the 144,000 is that they will vindicate God. “Satan has declared to his synagogue that man cannot keep the commandments of God. One soul saved would prove that statement false.” Manuscript Releases, Volume 18, p. 94.
Here they are, wonder of wonders, not just one but an entire group of men and women who have proved Satan to be a liar before all of the universe. They will prove that man can, through divine grace and power, keep God’s commandments even through the most perplexing and trying of circumstances. This last generation, the weakest of weak as it were, will give the strongest, most convincing demonstration ever made to the universe. These saints are described by John in Revelation 14:12, “Here is the patience of the saints: here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus.”
Because of this, Jesus declares that Satan is a liar for there are 144,000 living saints to prove it. They have kept God’s law, “and in their mouth was found no guile: for they are without fault before the throne of God.” Revelation 14:5. The 144,000 will be a special group of saints, a special church. The 144,000 will sing a new song, a song that no one can sing save the 144,000 – no, not even the angels in heaven; for it is a song of their singular experience, an experience such as no other being in earth or heaven will have passed through.
Surely we can understand why this class is so special and why they need the perfecting power of the Latter Rain not previously available to past generations. Now we can understand why they and the martyrs will receive special honor in heaven and in the earth made new.
Although we will be perfectly satisfied, everyone with his position and sanction in heaven, still Ellen White admonishes, “Strive to be among the 144,000.” And how do we strive? – Of first importance we must strive to put an end to sin in our lives; to cleanse our souls of every defilement so that we can be prepared to receive the Latter Rain and the seal of the living God.
Ellen White sums it all up in these words, “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.
Let us pray. Dear Father, may we be so prepared now, day by day, to be worthy to be part of that great multitude who will praise thy name forever. And Father, may we become like Thy dear Son in obedience and character so that if we remain alive, by Thy grace, until the Second Coming we may be numbered with the 144,000. This we pray in the name of Jesus, Amen.
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