Q. I have a question regarding some numbers in the book of Revelation. Firstly, in Chapter 4, where the 24 elders are believed to represent the raptured church, what’s the significance of the number 24? Why wouldn’t we be inclined to take this number literally, as you previously suggested for the two groups of 144,000 which appear in chapters 7 & 14?
Which brings me to my next question: if one of the groups are Jews, and the other represents the raptured Church, does that mean that 144,000 is the pre-determined number of Christians who will be saved & raptured before the Great Tribulation? In which case, aren’t there a lot more Christians in the world than that today? Does this mean that only a select portion of the Church will be taken in the rapture? I have read in a study Bible, that this 144,000 probably represents a group of believers who have remained in a ‘purposeful celibate state of separation unto God’, (hence the mention that they ‘have not defiled themselves with women’)…what does this mean? Is the 144,000 even referring to the Church at all or am I missing something? Please help! I believe in the rapture of the Church but this is really confusing to me…
A. As far as the 24 Elders is concerned, I believe it is a literal number. They appear 7 times in the Revelation, and there are always 24. Some say this number symbolizes the 12 tribes and the 12 disciples combined to suggest the union of Old Testament and New, but I think it’s exclusive to the church. 12 is the number of government and being a multiple of twelve, 24 expresses the same thing in a higher form. It is the number associated with the heavenly government and worship, two duties to which the Church is called. While the 24 represent the entire Church, their presence around the throne isn’t meant to symbolize millions of elders sitting on thrones there. It may be that just as King David divided the 20,000 priests of his day into 24 groups with one priest at the head of each to more effectively govern Temple activities(1 Chron. 24), so will the Church be divided to more effectively govern in Heaven.
As for the 144,000 of Revelation 7 and 14 I wrote that both are literal numbers as well, though they represent different groups. In Rev. 7 we have 12,000 from each of 12 tribes of Israel living on Earth. In Rev. 14 we have 144,000 who have been redeemed from the earth. This 144,000 is a sampling of the redeemed, brought to heaven in the rapture of Rev 4, and presented as the first fruits of the harvest of souls, just as the wave offering was the first fruits of the harvest of grain (Lev. 23:9-14). All the grain was harvested, but only a sample was presented. So it is with the Church. The 144,000 is not meant to be the full number raptured, just a sample.
As far as the phrase “defiled themselves with women” is concerned, it’s used to symbolize the worship of idols. Since pagan worship was sexual in nature, the Lord sometimes described idol worship in sexual terms. These 144,000 had not done that. In fact they were found to be totally blameless, further evidence that they’re the redeemed in Heaven. No human on Earth is blameless. There’s no Biblical evidence that men who remain celibate will receive special rewards.