The main content of present apocalyptic epoch is the creating of twelve tribes of “the first-born”, “the ransomed from Earth”. Who will be these 144 thousand? What Scripture does tell about that?
The “angel rising out of the east” (7:2) musters the twelve tribes of “the ransomed”, who form a new people, as it were, whom interpreters commonly call the “New Israel”.
What is this people?
And what relation do they have with the historical Israel?
After all, when the Revelation of St. John was written nothing was left of the old Israel, except the tribe of Judas, as the remnants of other tribes were scattered.
The “New Israel” is often identified with the Christian Church generally that replaced “The Old Testament Israel”, thus having seemingly exhausted the purport of its existence.
However, the Revelation depicts the Church as a far broader community than the “Hundred forty-four thousand” with the seal on their foreheads:
“After this I looked and saw a vast throng, which no one could count, from every nation, of all tribes, peoples, and languages standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb. They were robed in white and had palms in their hands.” Rev. 7:9.
In this context the New Israel stands forth as an allotted part, as the vanguard of the Church Militant and Triumphant.
What then of the real Israel?
What, generally, the lot of the earth’s peoples from the angle of the Revelation?
On the one hand the Apostle Paul would have us believe that:
“There is neither Jew nor Greek …; for you are all one in Christ Jesus”. Gal.3:28.
On the other hand, the Revelation notes that “peoples” will continue in the future life. Having rendered a description of the New Jerusalem “coming down out of heaven from God” (21:9-23), St. John prophesies:
“And the nations shall walk by its light, and the kings of the earth shall bring their glory into it. Rev. 21:24-25.
The New Testament teaching as to human nature will help to cope with this contradiction.
Every Christian is simultaneously of two human races, one of Adam by birth, the other of Jesus, by baptism. Having founded this new human race, Jesus Christ does not cast out, but, on the contrary, saves the race of Adam from death, which thus signifies that He is saving too the peoples comprising the natural multiplicity of the human race.
Insofar as Jesus Himself is of the race of Adam through Him Mother, He is henceforth a Jew from the “tribe of Judas” (5:5), the “scion of David” (22:16). However being the New Man through His Father, without any forefathers, He Himself became the founder of the new mankind.
On becoming a Christian the individual remains a member of the nation to whom he belonged prior to baptism.
But being baptized and thus becoming part of the two human natures of Jesus, he, one the one hand, become Jew with Jesus together , like “a wild olive be grafted into their native stock” (Rom. 11:16-24).
“But if you thus belong to Christ, you are the offspring of Abraham” (Gal. 3:29)
and in that respect the interpretation placed upon the Christian Church as Israel embracing all of Christian mankind, is justified. On the other hand, having been baptized, “born from water and spirit” (John: 3:5) the person becomes in Jesus a new man unassociated with any of the existing peoples. That is what the Apostle Paul means when he says that in Jesus there is no such thing as Jew or pagan.
Similarly as the historical Israel represents a people of Adam’s race allotted for a special service, the New Israel comprises a people in the new race of Jesus, that has been also designated for particular ministering.
Although the church at Philadelphia is promised that many Jews will inclined to it in their hearts, those, “who claim to be Jews but are lying frauds” (3:9), nonetheless, Christians of any of the earth’s tribes and peoples may enter the New Israel.
The rise of the New Israel does not cast out the real Israel. Insofar as Adam’s race continues in the new life, it incorporates likewise the people of Israel, whose repentance most signally contributes to the apocalyptic battle between the good and the evil. Thus Daniel prophesies:
“Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression and to make an and of sins and to make reconciliation for iniquity.” Dan. 9:24.
The Apostle Paul also speaks of the real Israel:
“For their rejection has meant the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean? Nothing less than life from the dead!” Rom. 11:15.
However not one of the previous peoples of the earth will be able to vanquish evil. Only the new human race will, that is the Church of Jesus Christ at the head of the New Israel, which will “follow the Lamb wherever he goes” (14:4).
Then the members of the New Israel, those who had been beheaded and had come to life again, will be the priests and shall reign on earth (20:4-6), and will subsequently lay the foundation for the new temple in the new Jerusalem, “as he who is victorious I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God” (3:12).
Meanwhile the twelve tribes named after the sons of Jacob imply a typological division thus far unknown; the pattern of the new mankind is symbolically represented likewise in the description of the new Jerusalem (21:10-27).
Further the seal set by the Angel (7:23) evidently means the same as is “written” on the sons of the church at Philadelphia:
“And I will write the name of My God upon him and the name of the city of My God …and My Own new name.” 3:12.
Associated with this revelation of the Divine mysteries is the revelation of the personal name defining the place of everyone in free hierarchy of the new mankind.
Knowledge of one’s new name symbolizes the final ransom, prior to which no one must not know this name. The setting of the seal is Divine confirmation that the free choice by person of his destiny, and first of all the choice of his place in the pattern or structure of brotherly relationships is right and true.
It means that the sin which formerly produced perverting the divine idea (or intention) about this person will now never be a temptation for him.
He is forever saved, and will not “come up for judgment” (John 5:24) and “upon such the second death has no claim” (Rev.20:6).
Being of the race of Adam and being too of the race of Jesus, he will now with his brethren advance and go forwards following Jesus the Man and the ransomed Adam, and henceforth sin will never halt or pervert that advance. For those of the New Israel, all this will be fulfilled already in the apocalyptic epoch, in the times of the decisive battle between the good and the evil.
They will be the “first-borns”, whereas the others will be ransomed at the succeeding stages of the holy history of mankind.