One of the greatest pleasures in my recent study of the Revelation has been to discover some of the lesser known, yet Biblically rich ideas out there. These are the conclusions of commentators I had not seen in popular treatments of eschatology. One of these is Richard Bauckham’s identification of the 144, 000 as an army, which Greg Beale sees waging “ironic holy war.” The Book of Revelation pp 422 – 426 Does that sound a little dramatic; perhaps a little weird? If so, perhaps it seems strange only because of our predisposition to popular treatments of the end times, rather than thorough study of the Scriptures. Beale explains the concept of ironic holy war:
In the context of Revelation, this military force in 7:4 – 8 conquers its enemy ironically in the same way in which the Lamb has ironically conquered at the cross: by maintaining their faith through suffering, the soldiers overcome the devil. Consequently, they are those who “follow the Lamb wherever He goes (14:4).” In particular, 7:4 – 8 portrays an army ready to fight, and 7:14 interprets the manner of their fighting; they conquer in no other way than that of the Lamb, by persevering in the midst of suffering. The Book of Revelation pp 422 – 426
So, what are reasons some conclude the 144, 000 are an army?
- The portrayal of God’s people as an army fits nicely with the theme of Revelation, in which the overcomers are those who win military victory in the war between the Lamb and satan.
- The reason for a census in the Old Testament was to determine fighting strength (Numbers 1:3, 18, 20; 26: 2, 4; 1 Chronicles 27:23; 2 Samuel 24:1 – 9)
- The males of military age were counted
- The phrase “from the tribe of” echoes Numbers 1:21 & 23
- The 144, 000 are male virgins (Revelation 14:1 – 4)
- The use of thousands may also have a military connotation (David Chilton, “Israel as it was meant to be, in all its perfection, symmetry, and completeness; the holy Army of God, mustered for battle according to her thousands. 1 Chronicles 4 –7; Numbers 10:2 – 4, 35 – 36; 31:1 – 5 Days of Vengeance pp 203 – 212)
- The washing of their robes is reminiscent of the ritual of purification after warfare (Numbers 31:21 –24)
Convinced? I’m not completely, but it seems to be grounded more solidly than some of the other ideas out there and it actually enhances or gives a richer understanding to the view I hold; “John is using symbolic language to communicate the complete number of God’s people… In the end, God resolves everything completely and brings the complete number of His people (the New Jerusalem, the Bride) to complete glory.”