The 144,000 : symbolic of completion and fullness in God’s kingdom
And I heard the number of the sealed, 144,000, sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel: 12,000 from the tribe of Judah were sealed, 12,000 from the tribe of Reuben, 12,000 from the tribe of Gad, 12,000 from the tribe of Asher, 12,000 from the tribe of Naphtali, 12,000 from the tribe of Manasseh, 12,000 from the tribe of Simeon, 12,000 from the tribe of Levi, 12,000 from the tribe of Issachar, 12,000 from the tribe of Zebulun, 12,000 from the tribe of Joseph, 12,000 from the tribe of Benjamin were sealed.(Revelation 7:4-8 ESV).
The visions in Revelation are filled with symbolism, so we should not read the number 144,000 literally.
If that were the total of all whom “God so loved …that he gave his one and only Son” (John 3:16), it would be too few. John also soon sees “a great multitude that no one could count” (Revelation 7:9)—and that, of course, is far more than 144,000 people. There is poetic beauty in the numbering of 144,000 servants of God here.
The use of 12’s and 1,000’s is symbolic of completion and fullness in God’s kingdom. Scholars differ on identifying the 144,000. Some say the number is literal and records Jews from each tribe who become believers in Jesus Christ.
Dispensational interpreters think the number refers to Jews who are saved during the final seven-year tribulation period.
It is more convincing to say the 144,000 symbolically represent all Christians throughout history, both Jews and Gentiles. They are God’s army who wage war by being faithful to the Lamb and enduring persecution.
The reasons for thinking John refers to all Christians are numerous, and some stem from Revelation 14, where the 144,000 appear again.
First, numbers in apocalyptic literature are regularly symbolic.
Here we have the number twelve representing the people of God from the twelve tribes in the OT, and the number is squared and then multiplied by 1,000. Hence the number should be understood as a symbolic way of designating the entire people of God.
The greater truth is not found in the number, but in the security of those saved and sealed by God.
The cataclysmic judgment of God does not fall on these people. From the “four corners of the world” they are all saved.
It is a glorious example of God’s perfect grace.