Do you recall that part of Revelation where St. John describes the seals that are placed on the foreheads of the faithful? The seal is a mark of protection, as paralleled in Ezekiel when the righteous are sealed and therefore saved from the wrath of God. In Revelation chapter 7, John gives a specific number of those that will be marked with the seal.
“I heard the number of those who had been marked with the seal, one hundred and forty-four thousand marked from every tribe of the Israelites: twelve thousand were marked from the tribe of Judah, … Reuben, … Gad, … Asher, … Naphtali, … Manasseh, … Simeon, … Levi, … Issachar, … Zebulun, … Joseph, and twelve thousand were marked from the tribe of Benjamin.” – Revelation 7:4-8
What does that number really mean? Some take this literally, such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who believe that truly, literally, only 144,000 will make it to heaven. They believe that the “great multitude” will live in a terrestrial kingdom on earth while the select few get to heaven. So what do Catholics believe about this?
Cale Clarke, host of The Cale Clarke Show on Relevant Radio®, explained that this number is not to be taken literally. “It’s a symbolic number and it represents the full number of Israelites who will eventually be saved. And where do we get this symbolic number: 144,000? Twelve times twelve times one thousand. Twelve Tribes of Israel times the Twelve Apostles,” he said.
As Jesus called his Twelve Apostles to follow him, he is “remaking a new Israel.” So we multiply the old Israel and the new Israel, but where does 1,000 come from? One thousand is a number that symbolizes totality or completeness, explains Cale.
“What he’s basically saying is that the Twelve Tribes restored in the Church under the Twelve Apostles will lead to a complete number of Israelites being saved,” he said.
Lest you still worry that you’ll have to compete with billions of souls throughout human history to be in the top 144,000, Revelation 7:9 says: “After this I had a vision of a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue. They stood before the throne and before the Lamb, wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands.”
Well, that’s a relief!
For more on this topic, including a look at the lost tribes of Israel, listen to the full segment:
Tune in to The Cale Clarke Show weekdays at 5-6pm CT only on Relevant Radio®.