Bible Truth Versus SDA Truth: The 144,000

SDA "Truth" about the 144,000

For Seventh-day Adventists, the Book of Revelation is all about them, their Sabbath doctrine, and their battle with Sunday-keeping churches. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that Seventh-day Adventists identify themselves as those special people of Revelation called the 144,000. The following points are from their Revelation Seminars:

1. The 144,000 are Spiritual Israel.

Seventh-day Adventists teach that the 144,000 are not literal Jews but spiritual Israel:

"...they are obviously spiritual Israelites."1

2. The 144,000 are Seventh-day Adventists.

Seventh-day Adventists do not explictly state they are the 144,000, but this is only a thinly veiled ruse. Revelation Seminars, in describing the "characteristics" of the 144,000, makes it apparent that one must adhere to the teachings of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in order to be a member of this elite group:2

  1. They avoid dancing
  2. They do not wear jewelry
  3. They will not use tobacco
  4. They will not use alcohol
  5. They do not eat "unclean" meat; rather, Daniel's diet ("fruits, nuts, grains and vegetables") is "the best diet to have under test"
  6. They will not use "caffeinated beverages"
  7. Must keep the "24-hour period known as the Sabbath"

This tailor-made list is unique to Seventh-day Adventists. Very few, if any, denominations force these legalistic requirements upon their members. There is little doubt that Adventists view themselves as the 144,000.

3. The 144,000 is an end-time group arising after 1844.

Seventh-day Adventists believe the 144,000 are a group of people that arises with the proclamation of the Three Angels' messages. As such, they believe the 144,000 to be an end-time group of people.

"Because the prophecy refers to the end time... Only since 1844, when God's judgment began in heaven, could this special message of restoration, restoring men physically, mentally, and spiritually to the image of God, be proclaimed."3

Problems with SDA "Truth" about the 144,000

1. Are the 144,000 gentile Christians?

One problem with the SDA teaching is that Revelation explicitly says the 144,000 are from "the tribes of the children of Israel" (Rev. 7:4). Furthermore, John spends the next four verses of Revelation telling us exactly which Israelite tribes make up the 144,000. Why would John spend 116 words describing in detail the tribal make-up of Israel if it had no relevance? If these were gentiles living after 1844, what possible purpose could there be in spending so much effort describing the distinctive tribes that make up the 144,000?

Bible facts about the "tribes":

  • The word "tribe" is never used in the Bible to refer gentiles.

  • "Tribe" is found 297 times in the Bible, and every time it refers to the Israelites.

  • John uses the word "tribe" two other times in Revelation, and both instances refer to literal tribes of Israel (Rev. 5:5--Jesus is from the literal tribe of "Judah"; Rev. 21:12--see below)

In Revelation 21, a description is given of the New Jerusalem. On its twelve gates are written "the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel." And on its foundation are written "the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb." These names indicate that the New Jerusualem is inclusive of those of the Old Covenant, represented by the twelve tribes of Israel, and the New Covenant, represented by the Lord's twelve apostles. Now, Seventh-day Adventists teach that these "twelve apostles" were literal men, who had literal names, as explained in their Bible Commentary: "The NT church is built upon the foundation of the apostles."4 Is it consistent to claim the apostles were literal men, but the tribes, such as Judah and Benjamin, were not?

Revelation 21:12 Names of the 12 Tribes of Israel Names of the 12 Apostles
SDA Teaching Refers to "spiritual" Israel (unkown names) Refers to 12 literal apostles (Peter, James, John, etc.)
Bible Teaching Refers to 12 tribes (Reuben, Gad, etc.) Refers to 12 literal apostles (Peter, James, John, etc.)

As you can see, in order to be consistent, and interpret the 12 tribes the same way each time they appear in Revelation, Adventists are forced into the most awkward and non-sensical position, in which the names of the 12 tribes inscribed on the gates of the New Jerusalem are some unknown names of spiritual Israel! If Adventists were to admit the names on the gates are the literal names of the tribes, as the Bible so declares, then it would lead people to question if the 144,000 might also be literal Israelites.

2. Are the 144,000 Seventh-day Adventists?

The list of characteristics presented by Revelation Seminars is a man-made list whose sole purpose and intent is to steer people towards identifying these man-made attributes with the 144,000, thus leading one to the logical conclusion that one must join the Seventh-day Adventist Church in order to be amongst the 144,000.

It is not our point to debate the validity of the attributes mentioned by Revelation Seminars (jewelry, tobacco, alcohol, vegetarianism, caffeine, Sabbath-keeping). Some may have Biblical merit, whereas others are questionable. Regardless, this is not the list of Biblical qualifications, which is found below:

Verse Characteristic Meaning
7:14 "Washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb" Christians with the robe of Christ's righteousness
14:3 "were redeemed from the earth" Were saved and redeemed by Jesus Christ
14:4 "they which were not defiled with women; for they are virgins" While it could refer to the literal celibacy of those who committed their whole life to Christ (such as Paul, for example), in the context of Revelation, this is most likely a reference to not committing fornication by worshipping the beast or the harlot
14:4 "they which follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth" They are disciples or followers of Jesus
14:5 "in their mouth was found no guile" They are transparent and truthful, with no hint of deceit
14:5 "they are without fault before the throne of God." Because they have put on the robe of Christ's Righteousness
14:12 "they that keep the commandments of God" "And this is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another" (1 John 3:23)
14:12 They keep "the faith of Jesus" "the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 3)

No Guile

One characteristic in particular would seem to exclude the Seventh-day Adventist corporate structure from identifying itself as the 144,000. The 144,000 are said to have "no guile" or deceit in their mouths.

When Adventists hold a crusade or evangelistic campaign, they generally attempt to hide who they are from the general public. Often they hold the meetings in a neutral public venue, such as a meeting hall, and they do not mention who they are or what church they are representing. Often, the evangelist will bill himself as an "interdenominational" figure--an "historian" or "prophecy expert" or "Bible history expert." What other religion does this?

When the author of this study was a young man I was actively involved in the evangelistic crusades of Adventist minister John Carter. Elder Carter loved to hold crusades, and he would rent out public halls and advertise himself as an expert lecturer on archeology. He would never mention anything about the prophetess Ellen White in his crusades, even though she was mentioned regularly in Sabbath School and church services at his church. He would never mention the Seventh-day Adventist Church until near the end of the crusade. He even instructed us to give intentionally vague and non-committal answers to attendees who asked us what church we represented. (For more recent examples of evangelistic deception, click here)

Likewise, a similar deception is practiced with books, to hide the fact they are written and published by Seventh-day Adventists. One example is a book the author received in the mail entitled, "The Path to Peace." It has no identification as to which religious organization publishes it. Inside there are advertisements for "Discovery Bible Studies" and "Keys to Happiness Studies" but the words "Adventist," "SDA," or "Seventh-day" do not appear anywhere in the book. On a tiny footnote at the bottom of the first page, in text so small it is barely legible, are the words "Text by E.G. White." Even if someone had powerful enough glasses to read that fine print, it is still obscure--one cannot tell if it is Edward White, or Earl White, or Ellen White! Why not just put on the cover of the book "Written by Ellen G. White, Prophetess of the Seventh-day Adventist Church?" There is only one reason: they know that some people have a negative awareness of the SDA Church. So, the makers of the book attempt to cleverly disguise it in order to deceive and perhaps ensnare those who might otherwise reject the book without reading it.

This is not a recent development. In 1932, the complaint appeared in an SDA book, Answers to Objections:

"When Seventh-day Adventist ministers go into a community to hold a series of lectures, they conceal, at first, their denominational connection. They thus hope to draw into the audience people who would never have come if they knew that Seventh-day Adventists were conducting the meetings. This is a form of deception. There is something the matter with a religious body that is afraid to identify itself as soon as it begins to carry on any activity in a community."

It seems Adventists have adopted the philosophy of the "ends justifies the means" when it comes to using deception. The reasoning is this:

"If we tell them up front we are Adventists, then they will not come to our meetings or read our books or watch our TV shows. Therefore, we will use deception to trick them into thinking we are generic Christians."

Was this tactic ever used by Jesus or the Apostles? Did they ever pretend like they were not Christians so that they could get more people to come to their meetings? On Pentecost did Peter and John stand up and pretend like they were non-Christians in order to gain the people's confidence? Notice how this philosophy of secretiveness and disguise is contrary to the openness and transparency of the Apostles:

But we have turned away from secret and shameful ways.

We use no trickery, and we do not change the teaching of God.

We teach the truth plainly showing everyone who we are. ...
(2 Cor. 4:2 NLT)

The Seventh-day Adventist hierarchy has a long history of practicing deception. In the early 1850s, church co-founder James White removed portions of Ellen White's visions and then republished them with 19% of the original writings missing. The portions removed contained teachings that Adventist leaders decided were no longer "truth." People who read the "revised" versions of the "visions" had no idea that what they were reading had been altered, and key embarrassing passages had been removed.

Behind closed doors, such as at the 1919 Bible Conference, church leaders expressed personal doubts about Ellen White, but publicly the sect continues to make positive statements regarding her inspiration. There are SDA evangelists and professors who privately express grave doubts about Ellen White, but publicly quote her and act as though they actually believe her to be the "spirit of prophecy." College president W.W. Prescott complained in a letter:

"...we let them go on year after year asserting things which we know to be untrue. I cannot feel that this is right. It seems to me that we are betraying our trust and deceiving the ministers and people. It appears to me that there is much more anxiety to prevent a possible shock to some trustful people than to correct error. ... The way your mother's [Ellen White's] writings have been handled and the false impressions concerning them, which is still fostered among the people, have brought great perplexity and trial to me. It seems to me that what amounts to deception, though probably not intentional, has been practiced in making some of her books, and that no serious effort has been made to disabuse the minds of the people of what was known to be their wrong view concerning her writings."5

Not only did the SDA Church hide the errors in Ellen White's writings, Mrs. White herself hid the fact that she copied much of her writings from others and then denied doing so. When SDA Pastor Walter Rea discovered the extent of Mrs. White's plagiarism and brought it to the attention of church leaders, instead of facing up to the problem and working with him to expose it, they turned against Elder Rea, fired him, and tried to counteract his findings (Click to read "Who Lied - Them or Me?").

Considering all the "guile" practiced even to this day in the SDA Church, one might honestly question if this church rightly represents the 144,000.

3. Is the 144,000 an end-time group arising after 1844?

Seventh-day Adventists say Revelation 14 describes a judgment scene, which they interpret as the Investigative Judgment, which supposedly began in 1844. Because the 144,000 appear in the same passage, Adventists insist the 144,000 could not arise prior to 1844. But is that what the Bible teaches?

First, the date of 1844 is based upon an erroneous calculation of the 2300 "evenings-mornings" of Daniel 8:14. That subject is too vast to present here, but click here to examine that evidence.

Second, Revelation 14 says nothing about a court-room-like setting of an investigative judgement of the righteous. On the contrary, it is about the execution of judgment (or justice) upon those who follow the beast (pagan Roman) power.

Third, according to Peter, the time of judgment was commencing when he wrote his first epistle. Peter died in 64 AD, so this letter had to be written prior to then:

For the time [is come] that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if [it] first [begin] at us, what shall the end [be] of them that obey not the gospel of God? (1 Pet. 4:17)

Peter said the judgment would begin first with Christians, who would "suffer" fiery trials. This occurred shortly after Peter wrote his letter, during the horrific persecution of Christians unleashed by Nero. After that tribulation ended, judgment came upon Jerusalm in 70 AD. Those who rejected Jesus and proclaimed "we have no king but Caesar" (John 19:15) saw the one "which they pierced" coming in judgment to finally and irrevocably punish Israel, destroy their city and their temple as He had so warned he would, and finally severed their covenant relationship with God forever.

Fourth, Revelation says, the 144,000 are "they which came out of great tribulation" (Rev. 7:14). This is the same "great tribulation" that Jesus discussed with John and the other apostles in His discourse on the Mount of Olives:

But woe to those who are with child and to those who nurse babes in those days! But pray that your flight may not be in the winter, or on a Sabbath; for then there will be a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever shall (Matthew 24:19-21).

Jesus is here warning His disciples that they are to flee from Jerusalem. At this very time, "then where will be a great tribulation." Jesus went on to say

Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place (Matthew 24:34).

One of those "events" that Jesus promised would be witnessed by the disciple's generation was the "geat tribulation." Luke's parallel account furnishes more details:

Woe to those who are with child and to those who nurse babes in those days; for there will be great distress upon the land, and wrath to this people, and they will fall by the edge of the sword, and will be led captive into all the nations; and Jerusalem will be trampled under foot by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled (Luke 21:23-24).

David Chilton explains:

As Christ pointed out in Matthew, the Great Tribulation was to take place, not at the end of history, but in the middle, for nothing similar had occurred "from the beginning of the world until now, nor ever shall." Thus the prophecy of the Tribulation refers to the destruction of the Temple in that generation (A.D. 70) alone. It cannot be made to fit into some "double-fulfillment" scheme of interpretation; the Great Tribulation of A.D. 70 was an absolutely unique event, never to be repeated.

Josephus has left us an eyewitness record of much of the horror of those years, and especially of the final days in Jerusalem. It was a time when "the daytime was spent in the shedding of blood, and the night in fear"; when it was "common to see cities filled with dead bodies"; when Jews panicked and began indiscriminately killing each other; when fathers tearfully slaughtered their entire families, in order to prevent them from receiving worse treatment from the Romans; when, in the midst of terrible famine, mothers killed, roasted, and ate their own children (cf. Deuteronomy 28:53); when the whole land "was all over filled with fire and blood"; when the lakes and seas turned red, dead bodies floating everywhere, littering the shores, bloating in the sun, rotting and splitting apart; when the Roman soldiers captured people attempting to escape and then crucified them, at the rate of 500 per day.

"Let Him be crucified! Let Him be crucified! His blood be on us, and on our children!" the apostates had cried forty years earlier (Matthew 27:22-25); and when it was all over, more than a million Jews had been killed in the siege of Jerusalem; close to a million more were sold into slavery throughout the empire, and the whole of Judea lay smoldering in ruins, virtually depopulated. The Days of Vengeance had come with horrifying, unpitying intensity. In breaking her covenant, the holy city had become the Babylonish whore; and now she was a desert, "the habitation of devils, and the hold of every foul spirit, and a cage of every unclean and hateful bird" (Revelation 18:2).6

Fifth, Revelation says of the 144,000, "They [are] before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple" (Rev. 7:15). This could not possibly refer to any group of people living after 70 AD, because the temple was destroyed in 70 AD. The early Jewish Christians were frequently seen at the temple:

And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple... (Acts 2:46)

And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ. (Acts 5:42)

Now Peter and John went up together into the temple at the hour of prayer... (Acts 3:1)

Then Paul took the men, and the next day purifying himself with them entered into the temple... (Act 21:26)

The Apostles followed in the footsteps of the Lamb by testifying in the temple. They "served" Him by following His command to preach in the temple of Jerusalem:

"Go, stand and speak in the temple to the people all the words of this life." And when they heard [that], they entered into the temple early in the morning, and taught. (Acts 5:20-21)

Sixth, John says of the 144,000:

"These were redeemed from among men, [being] the firstfruits unto God and to the Lamb." (Rev. 14:4)

The "firstfruits" represent the very beginning of the harvest. The "harvest" began at the time of Christ:

"Open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest." (John 4:35 NIV)

It is absurd to think that a harvest of souls after 1844 could be identified as the "firstfruits!" The firstfruits of the harvest of Christianity were gathered in the first generation. Therefore, the 144,000 must be identified as those who were harvested at the initiation of the kingdom of Christ upon this earth, in the generation living between 30 AD and 70 AD.

Bible Truth about the 144,000

Who are the 144,000?

To summarize what has been presented so far, here is what is known of the identity of the 144,000:

  • The 144,000 are Jews. They are from the twelve "tribes" of Israel. The word "tribe" is never used in the Bible to describe anyone but Jews.

  • The 144,000 are Christians. They are Jewish converts to Christianity who "follow the lamb" and are "redeemed".

Location in time:

  • The 144,000 go through the "great tribulation." Christ told his disciples that they and their "generation" would experience the great tribulation.

  • The 144,000 are the "firstfruits." They are the first harvest of the "redeemed" from the first generation of Christianity.

  • The 144,000 witness the judgment. The fearful judgment Jesus pronounced upon the Jewish nation was witnessed firsthand by the 144,000.

Location on earth:

  • The 144,000 worshipped at the temple. The 144,000 lived in or near enough to Jerusalem to worship regularly at the temple.

It is, of course, flattering to identify one's self or one's church as part of the elite group of 144,000. Unfortunately, that viewpoint does not correlate with Biblical facts. The Bible truth about the 144,000 is quite simple:

This is a group of first-generation Jewish Christians who lived in Judea. Some of them were no doubt converted by Christ Himself, while others were led to Christ by the apostles. These were the "firstfruits" of the Christian harvest. Like Peter and John, they regularly went to the temple to pray and serve God. These endured suffering under the persecutions launched by the Jews and later by Nero, for judgment begins at the household of the Lord. These persecutions helped to purify them as they washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb. They renounced all ties with false religion and idolatry and were pure in their faith. They kept the commandments of God. When Jerusalem was encompassed about by Roman armies, they recognized the fulfillment of Jesus' words. When the armies withdrew temporarily, they abandoned their homes and left with whatever they could carry in their arms. They fled to the hills and hid. During the ensuing destruction of Jerusalem and Judea, many of them lost friends and relatives. It was a time of horrific tribulation, such as the world has never seen before, nor will ever see again. The sheer horror and magnitude of the torture, slaughter, destruction, and slavery of an entire nation is unparalleled in the history of God's people. Because they went through such a terrible tribulation, losing their temple, their homes, their lands, their possessions, their loved ones, and yet remained faithful to God, these "firstfruits" of Christ's labor will be especially honored for ever and ever. They are the 144,000 and they are worthy of honor and emulation by all succeeding generations of Christians.

Your Questions Answered

[no questions]

Links for Deeper Study

The Great Tribulation by David Chilton (PDF)



1. Revelation Seminar Studies, Lesson 26, "The 144,000."

2. Ibid., Lesson 26. Also Lesson 27, "Give Glory to God."

3. Ibid., lesson 26.

4. Commentary on the Book of Revelation, volume 7 of the SDA Bible Commentary, p. 892 (1957).

5. W.W. Prescott letter to W.C. White, April 6, 1915.

6. David Chilton, The Great Tribulation, chapter 1 (1987).

Category: Amazing Fiction - Revelation
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