Friday, November 06, 2009

Who Are the 144,000 in Revelation 14?

Well, I'm off to the 5th annual Letter & Spirit conference at St. John's Seminary. This year's theme is "Priesthood and Blessing," and I'll be doing a presentation on "The Priestly Identity of the 144,000 in Revelation 14." The conference is a response to Pope Benedict's designation of this year as the "Year for Priests." It's also a lead up for Volume 5 of the Journal Letter & Spirit, which is coming out this week!

If you want the full paper, you'll have to come to the conference. But if you want a taste, I'll be looking at the Old Testament and ancient Jewish background of each the images used to describe the 144,00 in Revelation 14:

Then I looked, and behold, on Mount Zion stood the Lamb, and with him a hundred and forty-four thousand who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads. And I heard a voice from heaven like the sound of loud thunder; the voice I heard was like the sound of kitharists playing on their kitharas, and they sing a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and before the elders. No one could learn that song except the one-hundred and forty-four thousand who had been ransomed from the earth. It is these who have not defiled themselves with women, for they are virgins; it is these who follow the Lamb wherever he goes; these have been redeemed from mankind as first fruits for God and the Lamb, and in their mouth no lie was found, for they are blameless. (Revelation 14:1-4)

In the paper, I argue that each of the key images used to describe the 144,000 are priestly images:
1. They wear the "name" of God on their foreheads (cf. Exodus 28; Sirach 45);
2. They have the exclusive right to sing the "new song" of the heavenly liturgy with "kitharas" (2 Chronicles 9; 1 Maccabees 4; Antiquities 20)
3. They abstain from sexual relations with women (Exodus 19; Leviticus 15; 1 Samuel 21);
4. They are sacrificial "first-fruits" who have been "ransomed" (Numbers 3)
5. No lie was found in their mouths (Malachi 2, the ideal priest).

It should go without saying that such a paper raises all kinds of questions about the biblical origins of priestly celibacy. But more on that anon; I've got to go catch a plane.


Sister Mary Agnes said...

I can't come to the conference, but I will definitely get the book!

Anonymous said...

We are a priestly people, a royal nation. The vision speaks of the catholic priesthood and the ordained priesthood.

Brant Pitre said...

Dear Anonymous,

Yes, we are all a kingdom of "priests" (Rev 1:6), but
are we all celibate men, "who have not defiled themselves with women"? (Rev 14:4).

Anonymous said...

The first part about the name of God on their foreheads -- would apply to all Christians (not just ordained)...

The + or T or X was signed on the foreheads of Christains in the early church (as is now on the head) at Baptism. This according to Danielou represented the name of God ...then later (if not also) the cross. The X also was used for Christ and the cross.

But yes I could see that these are particular Christians.