As we get back to the things of theology, we're going to pick up near the tail end of Revelation where we left off in our journey through the Bible. We're almost to the end, but there are some important ideas from these last few chapters that are still worth looking at. So let's start looking.
Much has been made of the 144,000 in Revelation - the number that we're told will be saved, 12,000 from each of the 12 tribes. (And if you want to have a little fun, look at the 12 sons of Israel that are included in this list. There are actually several different lists of the 12 if you read through the Scriptures, and it's important to consider why these 12 in any given place. In this case, it's Dan who is excluded, in order to include Manasseh as an independent tribe. It's really fascinating to dig into. But I digress.)
The question has been asked whether this 144,000 is a firm number. It certainly looks like one when we read about it in Revelation 7. For those denominations that believe in predestination, it is of dire importance to be included in this number. You've heard "When the Saints Go Marching In?" Oh Lord, I want to be in that number.... It's all about the numbers.
One of those groups of Christians who loves so much to knock on our doors believes this to be a hard and fast number, as well, which raises the question - if you believe that only 144,000 human beings are going to be saved, then why do you spend your life going out trying to recruit more? That person you bring into the fold could take your spot. I mean, if God's just looking for 144,000. (Another potential rabbit trail that we won't run down today. Maybe some other time.)
But it all comes down to this: what is really up with the 144,000? Is that really it? Is it a literal number or a secret code for something else? Is it a representation of another number? What's the deal?
The deal is that, well, you have to keep reading. Because this exact number referencing this exact group of persons comes up again just a short while later in Revelation 14, and here's the deal:
The 144,000 are the firstfruits of the Lord's harvest, not the entirety of it.
The firstfruits have always had a special place in the worship and honor of the Lord. There were festivals devoted to bringing in the firstfruits of any harvest. The firstborn male of every family and every flock were dedicated to the Lord. You always brought the first of everything to Him in recognition of His incredible glory and mercy. But you never brought God just the firstfruits.
There were also burnt offerings, sin offerings, guilt offerings, fellowship offerings, thank offerings, vow offerings. There were all kinds of things that you would bring to the Lord besides the firstfruits of the harvest, and that's where the hope for the rest of us comes in. Because at the Lord's harvest, the doors are going to be thrown wide open for every offering, and if you look at just the pure numbers of it, most of us are not going to be in the firstfruits. But that doesn't mean we can't come. That doesn't mean there's not room for us, not a place for us. That doesn't mean we can't be an offering to God nonetheless. That doesn't mean we're not in the harvest.
So wait...who are the 144,000? Who are the firstfruits of God's harvest? Don't know. Don't care. That sort of thing is not for me to decide, and I don't want to spend my whole life trying to impress God with my faithfulness in the hopes of receiving such a reward. That sounds strange, maybe, but the truth makes it clear: I want to spend my whole life loving God faithfully in the hope that He's already given me. And if I find one day that I'm the firstfruits, that's okay. And if I find that I'm more of a fellowship offering, that's okay, too. I want just to be the fullness of who God has created me to be, resting in the fullness of who He is. It's that simple.
So relax. Yes, there are 144,000, but there are millions, billions more. There is room in God's redemption for every life poured out on His altar.
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