Motivation: We know that a way to express fullness or completion in Hebrew is to double the word, e.g. Isaiah 26:3 speaks of perfect peace as shalom shalom. And there are clear cases in Revelation where the author uses doubles; in fact, at 5:11 he doubles the double! (Myriad myriad, and thousand thousand angels).

My speculation: When we read of the 144,000 (at 12:4) perhaps this could mean something like a perfect completion of multitudes (?) fitting in with verse 9. Of course, an obvious counter would be "But he specifies 12,000 coming from each of the tribes of Israel." Got it.

Yet I wonder if there is still a symbolism going on here. The 12 tribes have corresponding gemstones, as on the high priest's garments -- see Ex 28:21; the gemstones in turn correspond to zodiacal constellations (see, for example, this link http://www.johnpratt.com/items/docs/lds/meridian/2005/12stones.html). And it does not seem like too big a stretch to also see those constellations as representative of all nations and tribes and so on, since they circle the earth.

My question: Does anyone know of a denomination, school of thought, or theologian holding this symbolic view, or a compatible view?

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    I have heard that the Jehovah's Witnesses believe that the 144,000 are those that possess more then that rest and that they are selected by God to dwell with him in Heaven and that the rest will inherit the earth (those that are saved I mean). but have nothing to back this up with, as of yet.
    – Malachi
    Mar 26, 2015 at 18:24
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    I think most groups think it is symbolic!
    – curiousdannii
    Mar 27, 2015 at 0:30
  • @Malachi, that is correct, you can read their reasoning for why they take the 144,000 literally on the jw.org website here.
    – ShemSeger
    Mar 27, 2015 at 4:07
  • "But he specifies 12,000 coming from each of the tribes of Israel." Actually he doesn't! The tribe of Dan isn't mentioned, but the tribe of Joseph is (Rev 7:8) Mar 27, 2015 at 8:30
  • @ShemSegar how is that a 'literal' interpretation? If we are going to take the total literally we must also (to be consistent) take the constituent parts literally as well, do they Jehovah witnesses do that? Do they believe this number is made up purely of Jews as say Thomas (whom they cite) would? Mar 27, 2015 at 8:35

2 Answers 2


The Christian theologian Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772) holds a compatible view. Here is his interpretation of the 144,000, from his book Apocalypse Revealed #348:

And I heard the number of those who were sealed, one hundred and forty-four thousand. (Revelation 7:4) This symbolizes all people who acknowledge the Lord [Jesus Christ] as God of heaven and earth and are governed by truths of doctrine springing from the goodness of love, received from Him through the Word [the Bible].

These are symbolized by the number 144,000 from the twelve tribes of Israel because the twelve tribes of Israel symbolize a church that consists of people who possess goodness and truth from the Lord and acknowledge Him as God of heaven and earth. The number 144,000 means all such. For that number has the same symbolism as the number twelve, since it is the product of twelve times twelve, which is then multiplied by 1000; and any number multiplied by itself and then by 10, 100, or 1000, has the same symbolism as the original number. Thus the number 144,000 has the same symbolism as 144, and this the same symbolism as twelve, as 144 is the product of twelve times twelve. Similarly, the product of the 12,000 sealed from each tribe times twelve is 144,000.

The number twelve means, symbolically, all, and is predicated of truths springing from goodness, because twelve is the product of three times four, and the number three symbolizes everything connected with truth, and the number four, everything connected with good. Thus the number twelve here symbolizes everything connected with truth that springs from the goodness of love.

You can read the full interpretation in Apocalypse Revealed #348 here.

Swedenborg's interpretation provides the basis for the understanding of the 144,000 among the various denominations of Swedenborgians.

Most Swedenborgians do not interpret Swedenborg's use of "church" here to refer to any specific denomination, including their own. Rather, they follow Swedenborg's cue and think of "the church" as "all people who acknowledge the Lord as God of heaven and earth and are governed by truths of doctrine springing from the goodness of love, received from Him through the Word." In other words, being part of "the church" is based not on denominational affiliation, but on belief in Jesus as God and on living according to divine truth and love as taught in the Bible.

So Swedenborgians—especially the more liberal ones—commonly accept all heartfelt and Bible-believing Christians everywhere as included symbolically in the 144,000.


I'm not entirely sure I understand exactly what it is you're asking, but the LDS teach that in the last days, angels are held back from sending further judgment until 144,000 high priests can be “sealed” and called to “administer the everlasting gospel” to all nations and tribes and so on.

Q. What are we to understand by sealing the one hundred and forty-four thousand, out of all the tribes of Israel—twelve thousand out of every tribe?

A. We are to understand that those who are sealed are high priests, ordained unto the holy order of God, to administer the everlasting gospel; for they are they who are ordained out of every nation, kindred, tongue, and people, by the angels to whom is given power over the nations of the earth, to bring as many as will come to the church of the Firstborn. (D&C 77:11)

Who Are the 144,000?

“Before the Lord shall come … there is to be a great work among the nations. … The ten tribes will have to come forth and come to this land, to be crowned with glory in the midst of Zion by the hands of the servants of God, even the Children of Ephraim; and twelve thousand High Priests will be elected from each of these ten tribes, as well as from the scattered tribes, and sealed in their foreheads, and will be ordained and receive power to gather out of all nations, kindreds, tongues and people as many as will come unto the general assemblage of the Church of the first-born.” (Orson Pratt, in Journal of Discourses, 16:325.)

What will the 144,000 do?

These parties who are sealed in their foreheads will go forth among all people, nations and tongues, and gather up and hunt out the house of Israel, wherever they are scattered, and bring as many as they possibly can into the Church of the first-born, preparatory to the great day of the coming of the Lord. One hundred and forty-four thousand missionaries! Quite a host. (Orson Pratt, in Journal of Discourses 18:25)

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