Pandemics and The 144,000
(The present coronavirus pandemic affirms the 2018 analysis of world conditions during the Tribulation Period presented in the following article. With a mortality rate of approximately 2%, COVID-19 has severely impacted the world’s economy. The pestilence unleashed at the breaking of the fourth seal in Revelation chapter 4 will probably have a significantly higher mortality rate, as one quarter of the world’s population will die during the breaking of the seals. Pandemic, war, and famine will bring the world’s economy to a complete halt.
The following is abstracted from Second Thessalonians 2:1–12 Unlocked: The Key to the Timing of the Rapture. The fact that the Holy Spirit’s church-age ministry ends at the rapture is developed in this book.)
Christian Witnessing During the Tribulation Period
When the Holy Spirit completely ends his church-age ministry at the rapture, all Christian witnessing will end. This affects pretribulationalism, midtribulationalism, and prewrathism. These systems create varying periods of time (seven, three and one-half, and unspecified years respectively) following the rapture when there will be no one to witness to the gospel on earth. To overcome this vacuum, these positions conscript the 144,000 Jews sealed in Revelation 7:1–8 and assign them to be Christian witnesses. This doctrine is both impractical and contrary to Scripture.
The position is impractical both in terms of numbers and world conditions. For the sake of argument, suppose that 10 percent of the 7.2 billion people presently in the world are true, born-again believers. (A higher percentage makes the impracticality even greater.) This means approximately 720 million people should be witnesses to the gospel. If that number is reduced to 144,000, then there will be 2/100 of 1 percent (0.0002) of the current potential witnesses. The current believers are not getting the job of witnessing done. How is a tiny fraction of their number supposed to get it done?
Some will argue they will be empowered for the work. Setting aside the fact that there is no scriptural support for this position, let us consider world conditions at the time. When the seven seals are broken, there will be war, famine, and pestilence upon the earth. One quarter of the world’s population will die as a result. When the seven trumpets sound, a series of physical calamities sweep across the earth destroying one-third of it by fire, poisoned seas, and poisoned sources of water. One-third of the remaining people on earth are killed by four angles who are released at the sound of the sixth trumpet.
It will not be business as usual during or after these calamities. There will not be a recession or depression as the result of them; there will be an absolute collapse of the world economic system. This in turn will result in the collapse of the economies in almost all the countries of the world.
Airlines, shipping companies, railroads, and bus lines will all fail, leaving no way for the 144,000 to travel in order to share the gospel. Communication companies will fail, so there will be no way to broadcast the gospel. Even if the 144,000 could travel or broadcast, we are told in Revelation chapter 13 that the first beast (Antichrist) makes war with the saints and overcomes them (v. 7). Certainly, he would stop the 144,000 from witnessing.
During the Tribulation Period the only way the gospel will be shared will be one-on-one. That will be the responsibility of the church, which will still be on earth waiting for “the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and our gathering together to Him” (2 Th 2:1).
Contrary to Scripture
The Scriptures do not support the “144,000 witnesses” doctrine. Revelation 7:3–8 does not contain one word that indicates or even intimates that the “bond-servants of our God” (v. 3) “from every tribe of the sons of Israel” (v. 4) are to be witnesses to the gospel of Jesus Christ. As Gundry rightly observes, “Since John does not reveal the function of the 144,000, the usual view among pretribulationists [and midtribulationists and prewrathists] remains conjectural.” 1
The conjecture is refuted by Revelation 14:1–5, where the 144,000 are with the Lamb (met’ aùotû) on Mount Zion. Meta is used with the genitive here as a marker of placement, and it means in company with whom something takes place. 2 The 144,000, thus, are physically in the company of Christ on Mount Zion. They are not on earth witnessing.
The only other occurrence of “Mount Zion” in the New Testament is in Hebrews 12:22. There the writer says, “But you have come to Mount Zion and [that is] to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels.” “The city of the living God” and “the heavenly Jerusalem” are in apposition to Mount Zion, and they explain what the writer means by that term. He is contrasting the earthly Mount Zion which the Jews came to, with the heavenly one which Christians have come to, as he points out that Christians live under grace, not under law. So, in Hebrews Mount Zion is a heavenly place.
The fact that the 144,000 are in heaven in Revelation 14:1–5 is clear from their surroundings. John hears a voice from heaven (v. 2) and a new song that is sung before the throne and the four living creatures and the elders—all of which are in heaven. Only the 144,000 can learn the song (vv. 3–4).
Verses 4–5 tell of the virtuous character of these 144,000: “These are the ones who have not been defiled with women, for they have kept themselves chaste . . . . And no lie was found in their mouth; they are blameless.” Not defiling oneself with women is an Old Testament way of saying they remained true to God – they did not engage in pagan religions or practices. They have done their best to follow the Law, and thus are blameless. In a sense, they are Old Testament saints. They are not part of the church.
Chapter 14 tells us why the 144,000 were sealed in Revelation chapter 7. “These have been purchased from among men as first fruits to God and to the Lamb” (v. 5). They are the first fruits of the millennium, and God sealed and set them apart for himself. Now, they “follow the Lamb wherever He goes.” The Lamb is in heaven, and that is where the 144,000 are at this point. They are not fanned out across the earth witnessing to the church-age gospel of Jesus Christ. Rather, they are waiting for the Millennium where they will be with Christ to serve him as King in Jerusalem.
Once the Holy Spirit and the church are removed from the earth at the rapture, there will be no witness to the good news of Jesus Christ. Paul’s question to the Romans, therefore, becomes pertinent: “How then shall they call upon Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?” (Rom 10:14).
During the Tribulation Period, they will hear from the church which will be on earth performing its primary mission of witnessing (Acts 1:8). It will do so until the time comes for the Holy Spirit to remove himself from the midst of mankind, late in the Tribulation Period at the sound of the seventh trumpet (Rev 11:3-19).
1. Robert H. Gundry, The Church and the Tribulation (Grand Rapids, Mich. : Zondervan, 1973), 82.
2. Frederick William Danker, ed., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, third edition (BDAG) (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000) s.v.
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Copyright 2020 by Dean F. Paul