The book of Revelation refers to 144,000 servants of God who will be sealed in two different places. I have heard that the Jehovah's Witnesses often refer to this number.

Who, exactly, do the Jehovah's Witnesses believe these people to be? Are they members of the Jehovah's Witnesses who lived in the past, who are living in the present, or who will live in the future? Or are they male Jewish virgins, as the text suggests, who will live at some point in the future? (male virgins - "who have not defiled themselves with women"; Jewish - "from every tribe of the sons of Israel")

After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth, that no wind might blow on earth or sea or against any tree. Then I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun, with the seal of the living God, and he called with a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm earth and sea, saying, “Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads.”

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 7:1-8 ESV

Then I looked, and behold, on Mount Zion stood the Lamb, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father's name written on their foreheads. And I heard a voice from heaven like the roar of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder. The voice I heard was like the sound of harpists playing on their harps, and they were singing a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and before the elders. No one could learn that song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth. It is these who have not defiled themselves with women, for they are virgins. It is these who follow the Lamb wherever he goes. These have been redeemed from mankind as firstfruits for God and the Lamb, and in their mouth no lie was found, for they are blameless. Revelation 14:1-5 ESV


2 Answers 2


Witness doctrine:

God's original plan was for humans to live forever in paradise conditions on Earth.


Then Adam and Eve rebelled and threw a spanner in the works.

God's purpose (ultimate goal) didn't change, but his plan (the way to get there) did. Now there had to be all that complicated business with sending his son down to Earth to die as a redeemer and suchlike. Still the end result will be the same: humans living forever in paradise conditions on Earth. Some will live through the Great Tribulation at the end of this system, others will be resurrected from the sleep of death after that Tribulation. They will live on Earth and be ruled from Heaven.

The government in Heaven will have Jesus as its head, but there are 144,000 "co-heirs with Christ", the "Kingdom of priests and a holy nation" who will rule alongside him. These are the few, the minority of humans who go to heaven to be rulers. (Obviously the majority of humans stay on the Earth, or there would be no one for them to rule over.)

The "anointed class", those selected to go to heaven when they die, are not particularly special. In fact, in the first century, all Christians were in that class. They died, and were "asleep in death" (unconscious, dead, door-nail) till 1914, when they were resurrected to heaven. But the number of 144,000 is not quite made up. There's still a few left here on Earth. (It is expected that now the numbers are mostly made up, only particularly experienced Witnesses will be picked to make up the remainder.)

How do you know whether you're one of them? The spirit will move you. So as you read the Bible and read the descriptions in Revelation of a cleaned up paradise Earth, does that move you? Or when you read the descriptions of being "caught away in the air" into the heavenly city, does that move you? Generally speaking, any Witness who claims to be of the anointed class is accepted as being so. And it makes no difference to your status in the congregation. The only noticeable difference is that (a) when the bread and wine are passed at the annual Memorial, you will "participate" by eating and drinking some, and (b) if for some unavoidable reason you miss the Memorial, provision will be made for you to celebrate it a month later, in accordance with Jewish practise of the Passover; such provision is not made for non-anointed Witnesses.

In actual practise, most anointed Witnesses are (a) elderly long-serving members, or (b) recent converts from other branches of Christianity which talk a lot about Heaven. Draw your own conclusions.

Memorial participants are counted and reported in the annual statistics. Non-Witnesses who attend the Memorial and participate of the emblems are not counted. (The bread and wine are called emblems because the Witnesses believe they are symbols only.)

The status of being "anointed" is not thought of as a fixed thing. An anointed person can lose that status, and even be expelled from the congregation (disfellowshipped). This does not necessarily mean that they were lying and never had that status to begin with. (It may mean that, but not necessarily.)

Both brothers and sisters may be of the anointed class.


In addition to TRiG's and Terri's answer, I feel some clarification might still be helpful.

Jehovah's Witnesses feel it is quite clear that a part of the description of the identity of the 144,000 must be symbolic.

First, the christian Greek Scriptures, and especially the book of Revelation, make clear that jewish aspects were being used in a symbolic way or were given a new meaning (see e.g. 'heavenly Jerusalem' in Hebr. 12: 22 and 'new Jerusalem' in Rev. 3:12 and Rev. 21:2) and christianity was - slowly but surely - distantiating itself from Judaism. Essentially they were no longer teaching that salvation only belonged to the Jews. So it would be rather surprising if the author was implying that the 144,000 would be exclusively Jewish.

Second, the Jewish tribes mentioned in Rev. 7:7-8 do not (all) correspond with the ancient tribes of the sons of Israel, because there never existed (territorial) tribes 'Levi' (priesthood) or 'Joseph'. Besides, the tribes 'Ephraïm' and 'Dan' are not mentioned. These changes seem intentional and so it is quite possible that the author was making a point not to take the 'Jewish' aspect literal. So it doesn't seem unreasonably that the 144,000 are not exclusivily Jews (in flesh).

Jehovah's Witnesses feel there is also no good reason to take the 'male' (see Gal. 3:28) and 'virgin' (pure state) parts literal in the hihgly symbolic book of Revelation.

Jehovah's Witnesses believe however the number 144,000 to be literal, because they are specifically enumerated and directly contrasted with 'a great crowd, which no man was able to number, out of all nations and tribes and peopels and tongues' (Rev. 7:9). If the number 144,000 were to be symbolic for a 'great crowd which no one could number' than there is no point in attaching a specific number to it and/or 'contrasting' it with another such great crowd directly afterwards.

So in short, JW's believe that 144,000 are people who will not live forever on paradise earth, but in heaven. They are selected since Jesus' death throughout the entire christian history (so most persons among the 144,000 predate by far the modern history of Jehovah's Witness, 19th century). God's spirit itself bears witness with their spirit that they are God's children, heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ of the heavenly kingdom (Rom 8:16-17).

  • 2
    It seems quite a jump to claim things are "clearly" intended to be symbolic. That may be one possibility, but to say that is the only possibility is unsubstantiated. Thanks for your answer, though, and welcome to the forum.
    – Narnian
    Commented Aug 3, 2012 at 15:32
  • 1
    @Narnian: I fear you might be right. I downplayed the text a bit. Although I still think it would be highly unlikely if the author of Revelation messed up the tribes of Israel by mistake.
    – rvbel
    Commented Aug 3, 2012 at 16:49

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