Our study of the prophesied Reform Movement would not be complete without touching upon a rather controversial point of specific Adventist doctrine–the one hundred forty-four thousand. In dealing with this subject, we are well aware of the inspired counsel which is preserved for us in Manuscript 26, written in 1901, which now appears in book 1 of Selected Messages, p. 174:
“Christ says that there will be those in the church who will present fables and suppositions, when God has given grand, elevating, ennobling truths which should ever be kept in the treasure house of the mind. When men pick up this theory, when they are curious to know something it is not necessary for them to know, God is not leading them. It is not His plan that His people shall present something which they have to suppose, which is not taught in the Word. It is not His will that they shall get into controversy over questions which will not help them spiritually, such as, Who is to compose the hundred and forty-four thousand? This those who are the elect of God will in a short time know without question.”
In the above statement, we are told not to engage in controversy over questions which do not help us spiritually, such as the question of the 144,000. It goes on to say that those who are the elect of God will in a short time know without question.
This statement is often used as a most effective damper to stifle any discussion of or opinion on this question; yet when we go back to the time of Sister White and her contemporaries, we find that they by no means kept silent on the point. In this lesson, we wish to present some of their well-researched conclusions on this question, because we believe that its study will clear up some misconceptions that have become common among Seventh-day Adventists.
THE REASON FOR THIS STUDY
Today, when we ask Seventh-day Adventists about the 144,000, we receive the most fanciful, far-fetched replies. Seldom do these answers agree with one another. There is great darkness on this point among Adventists. Yet the pioneers of our message were not at all in the dark concerning it, even if we readily concede that they in their time and we today probably do not yet know all about it.
The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary mentions several ideas about this special class but leaves any conclusion to the reader’s preference, since the editors of the book do not take a stand themselves.
We believe the reason for the ambivalence on both this point and other related truths that were once crystal clear to our spiritual forebears is that agreeing with any one idea would condemn the present state of affairs. Today the denominational membership hovers around the 2 million mark [1972 statistics]. How could the leadership still profess to believe that the total result of the third angel’s message will be only 144,000?
Other explanations have to be found, and other interpretations are introduced to becloud the issue. None of these ideas can satisfy the searching mind.
THE YEAR 1844
1844 was a milestone in our history for several reasons. We understand that this date denotes the end of the longest prophetic time period in the Bible. At the conclusion of this period, there would be no more prophetic time. The prophecy of Daniel 8:14, as explained by William Miller and his associates, still stands as an unassailable fortress, supported by proofs from the Scriptures and history. There is no question as to the accuracy of its culmination in 1844. William Miller was mistaken as to the meaning of the event that was to take place at that time, for he shared the common view that the sanctuary was this earth and hence concluded that the prophecy could only refer to the second coming of Christ. This he boldly preached, and his message was widely accepted. Then came the terrible disappointment, an experience which the believers later discovered was prophesied in Revelation 10. They banked upon the last verse of this chapter to reestablish their faith in the prophecy.
In 1844, something occurred in heaven, and something happened on the earth. This was the ushering in of the last phase of the plan of salvation, the day of atonement. Type and antitype met in a marvelous way, the study of the sanctuary became of the utmost importance, and great truths were revealed to the early Advent believers. These truths have been lost or are completely unknown to many new Adventists.
The event in heaven was Christ’s beginning His high priestly service by entering into the Most Holy Place of the heavenly sanctuary to atone for all the sins that were sent there previously in the prayers of the saints.
The event on earth was the birth of the great Second Advent Movement, which was to carry the last message of the everlasting gospel to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people. The outstanding feature of this message was the proclamation of the seventh-day Sabbath. This day was declared to be the seal of the living God. Only in the fourth commandment is found the authority of the Lawgiver, stating His name, His title, and His territory (God, the Lawgiver’s name; Creator, His title; and heaven and earth, His jurisdiction).
“The Lord has been pleased to give His people the third angel’s message as a testing message to bear to the world. John beholds a people distinct and separate from the world, who refuse to worship the beast or his image, who bear God’s sign, keeping holy His Sabbath–the seventh day to be kept holy as a memorial of the living God, the Creator of heaven and earth. Of them the apostle writes, `Here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus.'” -Letter 98, 1900 (Evangelism, p. 233).
THE SEALING TIME
As is apparent in the above statement of the Spirit of prophecy, there is a direct correlation between the sealing message and the third angel. We shall pursue this a little further.
From the wonderful book of Sister White, Early Writings, we can cull many statements concerning the work of the sealing; they cast light upon the question of when the sealing began and when it was to end. We quote the statement found on p. 89: “Said the angel, `This third angel is binding, or sealing, them in bundles for the heavenly garner.'”
The two concepts of the third angel and the sealing are here combined in one sentence. For further mention of the seal of God and the sealing time, please see Early Writings, pp. 38, 43, 44, 48, 50, 58, 67, 279, and The Great Controversy, p. 640.
A careful study of these statements will establish the following:
1. The sealing time is synonymous with the proclamation of the third angel’s message.
2. Both the third angel’s message and the sealing began in 1844 and have been going on ever since that time. (To be exact, the sealing time started in 1848, the year the Sabbath truth was accepted by the early Adventists. However, for simplicity’s sake, we shall use 1844 as a more readily recognizable point of time for the average reader.)
3. There are two phases to the sealing: (a) Sealing by the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13; 2 Corinthians 1:22; Ephesians 4:30); (b) The pressing on of the seal in the time of the Sunday law (see Testimonies for the Church, vol. 5, pp. 216, 475, 476).
In the Scriptures, we turn to Revelation 7, where the 144,000 are mentioned as the ones who are being sealed with the seal of God. In Revelation 14, the 144,000 are presented as the ones who have the Father’s name written in their foreheads (an obvious reference to the seal of God). They are called the saints who keep the commandments of God and have the faith of Jesus (Revelation 14:14).
Elder J.N. Loughborough, a contemporary of Sister White, wrote in his concise and interesting booklet, Questions on the Sealing Message, p. 14: “It was because of these plain statements (referring to the testimonies in Early Writings quoted above), that our people and ministers, down to 1894, believed and taught that the sealing work had been going on since 1848, and that the 144,000 were being sealed. I do not see how we could draw any other idea, from the testimonies we have quoted, than that the sealing work had begun in 1848-1850.” (Emphases his.)
Now we must turn our attention to a question that has puzzled many sincere Seventh-day Adventists.
ARE THOSE WHO HAVE DIED IN THE FAITH OF THE THIRD ANGEL’S MESSAGE SINCE 1844 PART OF THE 144,000?
In answer to this question, we quote from the well-known book by Uriah Smith, Daniel and the Revelation, his treatise of Revelation 14:13–”Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them.”
He wrote: “There must be some special reason for pronouncing this benediction upon them. Is it not because they escape the time of fearful peril which the saints are to encounter as they close their pilgrimage? And while they are thus blessed in common with all the righteous dead, they have an advantage over them in being, doubtless, that company spoken of in Daniel 12:2, who are raised to everlasting life at the standing up of Michael. Thus, escaping the perils through which the rest of the 144,000 pass, they rise, and share with them in their final triumph here, and occupy with them their preeminent place in the kingdom. In this way, we understand, their works do follow them: these works are held in remembrance, to be rewarded at the judgment; and the persons receive the same recompense that they would have had, had they lived and faithfully endured all the perils of the time of trouble.” –Daniel and the Revelation, pp. 677, 678 (emphases ours).
At the bottom of these pages in the old edition of this book, as late as 1912 the editor placed a note clarifying the above statement: “Those who die after having become identified with the third angel’s message, are evidently numbered as a part of the 144,000; for this message is the same as the sealing message of Revelation 7, and by that message only 144,000 were sealed. But there are many who have had their entire religious experience under this message, but have fallen in death. They die in the Lord, and hence are counted as sealed; for they will be saved. But the message results in the sealing of only 144,000; therefore these must be included in that number. Being raised in the special resurrection (Daniel 12:2; Revelation 1:7) which occurs when the voice of God is uttered from the temple, at the beginning of the seventh and last plague (Revelation 16:17; Joel 3:16; Hebrews 12:26), they pass through the period of that plague, and hence may be said to come `out of great tribulation’ (Revelation 7:14), and being raised from the grave only to mortal life, they take their stand with believers who have not died, and with them receive immortality at the last trump (1 Corinthians 15:52), being then, with the others, changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye. Thus, though they have passed through the grave, it can be said of them at last, that they are ‘redeemed from among men’ (Revelation 14:4), that is, from among the living; for the coming of Christ finds them among the living, waiting for the change to immortality, like those who have not died, and as if they themselves had never died.” This note is omitted in later editions of Daniel and the Revelation.
To clarify this point further, please study the diagram and explanation on the last page of this lesson.
A LITERAL NUMBER
In the very first vision which Sister White received from the Lord, she saw the 144,000 and said in Early Writings, p. 15:”The living saints, 144,000 in number, knew and understood the voice,…”
She stresses the fact that this is no symbolic figure but a literal number, an exact 144,000. Because of the growth of the Seventh-day Adventist denomination–especially right after the apostasy of World Wars I and II–now reaching the 2 million mark [in 1972], the concept of the 144,000 as a iteral number forming the total result of the third angel’s message is an anathema to Adventists today. Yet the old truth has not changed.
The change in ideas took place as early as 1894, when some arose and proclaimed the so-called new light that the 144,000 should be only “living ones.” Consulting the graph in Lesson 15 showing the growth of the S.D.A. Church, you will see that this was in view of the rapid increase in membership which would soon reach the 144,000 mark. It was to combat this “new light” that Elder Loughborough wrote his booklet.
Since that time of departure from the inspired testimonies, many theories have cropped up, until in our day Elder Robert Pierson, President of the General Conference, echoes the sentiment of his forerunner, Elder A.G. Daniells, saying: “If you want to read the inspired account of the triumph of the Advent Movement, turn with me to the words of the disciple out there on the Isle of Patmos, recorded in Revelation 7:9: ‘After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands.'” –Review and Herald, June 26, 1966.
Elder Pierson thus believes that the great multitude which is spoken of in the Bible is the result of the Advent Movement. The Spirit of prophecy states very clearly that not the great multitude but only the 144,000 are the spiritual “product” of the third angel’s message.
To clarify in your own mind who are sealed and the only conditions under which this work can be done, please study the following testimonies:
Testimonies for the Church, vol. 5, pp. 213, 214, 216, 136 (1881).
Testimonies for the Church, vol. 3, p. 266.
Early Writings, pp. 14-17.
The Desire of Ages, p. 834.
WITHOUT SEEING DEATH
This term, used by Sister White in reference to the 144,000 in Spiritual Gifts, p. 143 (Questions on the Sealing Message, by J.N. Loughborough, p. 17), has often proved very perplexing to students of prophecy. Here is her statement:”I saw a writing, copies of which were scattered in different parts of the land, giving orders that unless the saints should yield their peculiar faith, give up the Sabbath, and observe the first day of the week, the people were at liberty, after a certain time, to put them to death…. Satan wished to have the privilege of destroying the saints of the Most High; but Jesus bade His angels watch over them. God would be honored by making a covenant with those who had kept His law, in the sight of the heathen round about them; and Jesus would be honored by translating, without their seeing death, the faithful, waiting ones who had so long expected Him. ” (Emphases his.) It is from this phrase, “translating, without their seeing
death,” that the claim has been made that none will be among the 144,000 unles they live until the time of Christ’s second coming.
The reply which Elder Loughborough gave to this objection is that the death they are saved from is the death permitted by the “papers circulated,” meaning the Sunday decree, and not the natural death every man is subject to. Bear in mind that the resurrected Sabbath keepers are included among the”covenantees,” so they are to be translated at Christ’s coming without suffering the threatened death. By being alive in the time of this decree, they are brought into “the time of Jacob’s trouble.”
We quote another statement from The Great Controversy, p. 649, that is used by those who claim that none who have died will be among the 144,000:”These, having been translated from the earth, from among the living, are counted as ‘the first fruits unto God and to the Lamb.’ Revelation 15:2, 3; 14:1-5. `These are they which came out of great tribulation;’ they have passed through the time of trouble such as never was since there was a nation; they have endured the anguish of the time of Jacob’s trouble; they have stood without an intercessor through the final outpouring of God’s judgments. But they have been delivered, for they have `washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. ‘… They have seen the earth wasted with famine and pestilence, the sun having power to scorch men with heat, and they themselves have endured suffering, hunger, and thirst.”
This statement refers to the 144,000. Although this group is described as going through all the plagues, evidently this will be only partly true of those who have died in the faith of the third angel’s message, for they will be raised only at the end of the seven plagues. They are resurrected during the time of Jacob’s trouble, see the final outpouring of God’s judgments under the seventh plague, and are among those who are delivered from the death decree.
Elder Loughborough concludes his argument with the following statement: “If there is still a doubt of the resurrected Sabbath keepers’ being numbered with the 144,000, consider the following from Sister White’s words in 1909. At the General Conference in 1909, Elder Irwin had a stenographer accompany him in a call upon Sister White. He wished to ask her some questions, and have an exact copy of the words of the replies.
“Among other questions was this one: ‘Will those who have died in the message be among the 144,000?’ In reply, Sister White said: ‘Oh, yes, those who have died in the faith will be among the 144,000. I am clear on that matter.’ These were the exact words of question and answer, as Brother Irwin permitted me to copy from his stenographer’s report.”
In conclusion, dear student, please study carefully and with earnest prayer the diagram at the end of this lesson. It presents very important concepts for these last days of mercy.