SDARM & the 144,000

Justifying 100 Years of Evangelistic Failure: The SDARM Literalist View of the 144,000
The Reformists of the SDARM generally BELIEVE and TEACH:
- The 144,000 mentioned in Rev 7 and 14 is a literal number.
- It is not merely 144,000 at the Second Coming, being those still alive and lived through the Time of Trouble (as opposed to those who have long since died), but rather only this small literal number since 1844.
The Reformists are WRONG because:
- The SDARM Reformists themselves admit aspects of the 144,000 are not literal – when it suits them that is.  For example, Reformists admit the number might only represent adult males, not women and children.  Similarly, the admit the description of these 144,000 in Rev 14:4 as virgin men from the 12 tribes of Israel does not literally mean celibate-Jewish males – but rather has a symbolic and spiritual meaning of undefiled Christians.
- Ellen White explicitly said we are not to preoccupy ourselves with the question of whether the 144,000 is a literal number of not.  It is not to be an essential doctrine or test of fellowship.
- The real underlying reason for the SDARM position is to justify their extremely poor take-up of Jesus’ Great Commission to spread the Gospel.  For example, in 150 years the mainstream SDA Church has grown to 22 million; in 100 years, the SDARM has only grown to some 30,000. Growth does matter as a test of fruits, as acknowledged in Acts 5:38-39. 

Introduction: The book of Revelation and the 144,000

The book of Revelation mentions a group of 144,000 in two places. The first place is Rev 7:1-4:
‘After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth to prevent any wind from blowing on the land or on the sea or on any tree.
[2] Then I saw another angel coming up from the east, having the seal of the living God. He called out in a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm the land and the sea:
[3] “Do not harm the land or the sea or the trees until we put a seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God.”
[4] Then I heard the number of those who were sealed: 144,000 from all the tribes of Israel.’
The second place is Rev 14:1-5:  
‘Then I looked, and there before me was the Lamb, standing on Mount Zion, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads.
[2] And I heard a sound from heaven like the roar of rushing waters and like a loud peal of thunder. The sound I heard was like that of harpists playing their harps.
[3] And they sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders. No one could learn the song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth.
[4] These are those who did not defile themselves with women, for they remained virgins. They follow the Lamb wherever he goes. They were purchased from among mankind and offered as firstfruits to God and the Lamb.
[5] No lie was found in their mouths; they are blameless.’
In the history of Christianity, there has been much speculation as to who or what this 144,000 really.  Common theories include Preturists views that they are the Christian Jews of the Early Church who escaped the destruction of Jerusalem.  Futurist-Dispensationalist views hold they represent Jewish converts at the End of Time.
Adventist eschatology, which adopts a Historicist position, has traditionally taught that they represent God’s last people (spiritual as opposed to literal Jews) who are alive at the End of Time, live through the Great Tribulation, and thus are still living when Jesus returns.  Thus, when the Apostle Paul talks in 2 Thes 4:17 about those still alive at the Second Coming, it is to this same group of people that John in Revelation is addressing:
‘After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.’
The question that has remained in Adventism has been whether this is a literal or figurative number.  The mainstream SDA Church has largely remained out of the debate, with both views being held by mainstream Adventists.  Most importantly, mainstream Adventism does not see the question as an ‘essential’ or ‘salvation issue’.
The SDARM Church on the other hand, which has been a total failure in its evangelistic endeavours, has committed to a literal view.  Most importantly, where traditionally the identity of the 144,000 has been a non-issue, the Reformists turn it into one of their core beliefs.

The SDARM position on the 144,000
In short, the SDARM view the 144,000 as a literal number, whilst the question is in debate within mainstream Adventism.  As described by A. C. Sas in the SDARM publication, The Sealing of God’s People (Reformation Herald Pub: Roanoke, Virginia) at page 96:
‘The number, 144,000, must mean a definite number, composed of just so many individuals.’
As observed by Helmut Kramer in SDA Reform Movement at page 50, this literalist view is very important to Reformists:
‘Another area where Reformers take a divergent doctrinal view is the subject of the 144,000. Whereas in the Adventist Church this matter has become almost a non-issue, to Reformers the topic is very important. They hold to the view (expressed by Elder J. N. Loughborough) that the number 144,000 is a literal rather than a symbolic number, and that it includes all those who have died under the three angels' messages.’
Similarly, as noted by Vance Ferrel in The Truth About the Adventist Reform Church at page 17:
‘In regard to their teaching on the 144,000, it is this: Their position is that the entire number of people that will be saved after 1844 will be 144,000 literal people, no more and no less. And they preach that when this number is reached, Christ will return the second time. All that matters is achieving that number. Yet such a teaching is foreign both to the Bible and the Spirit of
Prophecy. It cannot be found in either.
Living to themselves, warning no one out in the world, waiting for the coming of Christ while doing little or nothing. —This is not what I want for myself, my wife, or my children.’

The scriptural basis for the SDARM justification for a literal 144,000
The SDARM position
The scriptural basis for the SDARM justification for teaching the 144,000 is a literal number is explained by A. C. Sas in the SDARM publication, The Sealing of God’s People at pages 96-97:
The 144,000 is not a literal number. It is a symbolic number.
In the seventh chapter of Revelation two companies are brought to view: One is a great multitude which no man can number (verse 9), and the other is the 144,000 sealed.
This company is numbered, because John declares this:
“And I heard the number of them which were sealed: and there were sealed an hundred and forty and four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel.” Rev. 7:4.
The following commentary of Elder Uriah Smith will clarify this point:
“The number, 144,000, must mean a definite number, composed of just so many individuals. It cannot stand for a larger but indefinite number; for in verse 9 another company is introduced which is indefinite in its proportions, and hence is spoken of as ‘a great multitude,’ ‘which no man could number.’ If the 144,000 were designed to represent such an indefinite number, then John would have said, in verse 4, ‘And there were sealed a great multitude, which no man could number, out of all the tribes of the children of Israel.’ But instead of this, he says, 144,000, twelve thousand from each tribe, a number which can easily be enumerated.
The reason for this distinction is apparent if we take the innumerable multitude of verse 9 to be the whole host of the redeemed, who will have part in the first resurrection, and the 144,000 to be Christians who will be alive on the earth when Christ appears. And that the 144,000 are the ones who will be thus alive, and meet Christ at His second coming, appears from the prophecy here they are next mentioned; that is, Rev. 14:1-5. Here they are represented as coming triumphant out of the last religious conflict in this world (Rev. 13:12-18), and as being ‘redeemed from the earth,’ and ‘redeemed from among men’. Rev. 14:3, 4.
“Will there, then, be only 144,000 saved from among the living when the Lord appears? May not this number be so far representative as to include many others? There seems to be quite a plausible supposition that this latter may be the case; that is, that the 144,000 may include only the adult males connected with the great Advent movement, while the women and children associated in the same movement would be so many additional ones to be saved from among the living in that day. The plausibility of this idea lies in the fact that the Hebrews were so numbered when delivered from Egyptian bondage, which was a figure of the deliverance of the remnant of the true Israel from the Egypt of this world at the coming of the Lord.
Some three million, in all, came out of Egypt, yet there were numbered only those who were able to go forth to war, from twenty years old and upward, amounting in all to 603,550. Num. 1:2, 3, 46. This would be about one to five of the whole multitude, as is computed by Dr. Clarke, on Ex. 12:37, where the number of fighting men is given as only about 600,000. If the enumeration of Rev. 7:4 is founded on the same basis (of which, of course, there is no positive proof), it would give the number to be translated probably over seven hundred thousand instead of only one hundred and forty-four thousand. It would indeed be most gratifying to think that so many would be ready for the Lord’s appearing; but looking over the condition of the world, and marking the rapid religious decline of these days, the wonder is where so many as 144,000 will be found who will ever be ready for the Lord when He shall appear.” RH August 10, 1897.’
In effect, the Reformists argue:
  • Various Adventist pioneers, such as Uriah Smith, believed it was a literal number.
  •  The 144,000 must be a definite number, otherwise it makes no sense that the Bible refers elsewhere in Rev 7:9-17 to a ‘great multitude’ that could not be counted.
Problems with the SDARM position
First of all, arguments from Adventist pioneers are interesting but hardly persuasive.  By Protestant standards, it is a far cry from sola scriptura (the Bible and the Bible alone).  Moreover, the SDA pioneers were hardly infallible, and themselves had to undergo a theological evolution, over a whole range of beliefs and practices: shut door theory; midnight Sabbath; Arianism; Pantheism; pork-eating; legalism etc. In effect, this argument is nothing more than tradition, more akin to the Roman Catholic practice of quoting the early Church Fathers – it seems Uriah Smith is like the Saint Augustine to the SDARM.
Secondly, the SDARM itself admit there are several aspects of the 144,000 that are not literal.  For example, as admitted by A. C. Sas in The Sealing of God’s People at pages 96-97, the number might only represent adult males, given in ancient times women and children were not counted in censuses:
‘May not this number be so far representative as to include many others? There seems to be quite a plausible supposition that this latter may be the case; that is, that the 144,000 may include only the adult males connected with the great Advent movement, while the women and children associated in the same movement would be so many additional ones to be saved from among the living in that day. The plausibility of this idea lies in the fact that the Hebrews were so numbered when delivered from Egyptian bondage, which was a figure of the deliverance of the remnant of the true Israel from the Egypt of this world at the coming of the Lord.’
Thirdly, the SDARM itself admits that the description of this 144,000 is not literal.  For example, Rev 7:4 says these people are from the tribes of Israel.  Moreover, Rev 14: 4 says they are virgins.  However, the SDARM acknowledges that these are mere spiritual descriptions, and not to be taken literally as meaning 144,000 literal virgin-celibate Jews, as A. C. Sas in The Sealing of God’s People at pages 86-88:
The 144,000 are virgins, not defiled with women. (Rev. 14:4). Therefore they are single men, who have never been married.
In the Bible a woman symbolizes a church. A pure woman represents the church of God, and a corrupt woman represents an apostate church. See 2 Cor. 11:2; Eph. 5:25-27; Rev. 12:1; 17:3-6; Is. 4:1.
The 144,000 are not defiled with the false doctrines of other churches. They are not partakers in their communion and have no fellowship with them. They might have once been their members, but having accepted the truth and obeyed the Sabbath, keeping it according to the commandment, they are sealed. They are free from the errors and defilement of other churches that make up Babylon.
But especially they believe and teach pure doctrine. In this sense they are virgins.
“So of the 144,000; though some of them may have once had a connection with corrupt churches, they sever that connection when it would become sin to retain it longer.” DR 584.
In the parable the word “virgins” is used to represent those who profess a pure doctrine: “They are called virgins because they profess a pure faith.” COL 406.’
The 144,000 are made up of the Jewish people, because the Bible says that they are from the twelve tribes of the children of Israel (Rev. 7:4-8).
Because the prophecy says that the 144,000 are made up of all the tribes of the children of Israel, we should not understand that they are the literal tribes. Notice the following reasons:
a) In the list of the twelve tribes of Israel in Revelation 7, the tribe of Dan is left out.
b) Of the tribe of Joseph two are included: Joseph and his son Manasseh.
c) The clear distinctions between the original twelve tribes have ceased long ago.
When the apostle James wrote his epistle to the Christians he addressed it to the twelve tribes: “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greeting.” James 1:1.’
Finally, the whole notion that there are exactly 144,000, not one more or less, and that they contain exactly 12,000 in 12 groups, not more or less, seems somewhat arbitrary.  It falls it the first hurdle of form criticism, such as thinking Jesus fed exactly 500 people – not one more or less.  By contrast, today we would realise that a description on the news of 80,000 at a baseball game means around that number, not that exactly number. The Bible is not false – it is just the false way people read it.
Thus, the SDARM takes the curious stance of recognise the spiritual and non-literal characteristics of the 144,000 when it suits, but then goes on to insist the numbering is literal. That appears to be a wholly inconsistent and somewhat illogical approach.
Mainstream SDA position
As further explained by the mainstream SDA scholar Ekkehardt Muller, in The 144,000 and the Great Multitude (Biblical Research Institute), there is now a tendency in mainstream Adventism to see the number as figuratively:
‘VI. A Symbolic Number?
It is now quite clear that the 144,000 must be understood in a symbolic way rather than in a literal way. The immediate context is clearly symbolic (7:1-3) mentioning the four corners of the world, the four winds of the earth, sea, earth, trees, and the seal of God.
But also the extended context, namely Rev 6 is largely symbolic, for instance, the apocalyptic riders and the martyrs under the altar. The parallel passage in 14:1-5 must be understood symbolically. It tells us that the 144,000 "have not defiled themselves with women."
They are "virgins" and follow the "Lamb." The group does not consist of unmarried men only. The term "woman" is a symbol in Rev as is the term "Lamb." Therefore, symbolic language is also to be expected for 7:4-8. The number is symbolic—12 times 12 times 1,000—and points to the fullness of the people of God. The enumeration of tribes is very unusual.
The tribe Dan is missing, whereas Manasses should already be contained in Joseph. Ephraim is not mentioned, however, Levi is counted. Judah is found in the first place and Benjamin in the last, forming a parenthesis which encompasses the tribes of the Northern Kingdom. Such a list is not found elsewhere in Scripture. Most of the twelve tribes no longer exist today. Therefore, it is hardly possible to find 144,000 literal Israelites according to their tribes as listed in Rev 7 forming God's end time people.
However, the NT knows descendants of Abraham that are not literal descendants (Rom 4:11-12) as well as a spiritual Israel (Rom 2:28-29; Gal 6:16).’
The mainstream SDA position effectively says that because most aspects of the description about the 144,000 is symbolic, there is no certainly one can say the number is therefore not symbolic but literal.  Perhaps it could be literal, but the Bible itself provides no definitive evidence of that.

Arguments from SOP for the SDARM justification for a literal 144,000
The SDARM position
The support from SOP for its literal view is helpfully referred to by A. C. Sas in the SDARM publication, The Sealing of God’s People at page 97:
‘The Spirit of Prophecy makes it clear that the 144,000 is a literal number.
The living saints, 144,000 in number.” EW 15.
‘An angel with a writer’s inkhorn by his side returned from the earth and reported to Jesus that his work was done, and the saints were numbered and sealed.’ EW 279.
‘The names of those who are steadfastly looking and waiting and watching for the appearing of their Savior—more earnestly and wishfully than they who wait for the morning— will be numbered with those who are sealed.’ TM 445.
‘Christ has made the atonement for His people and blotted out their sins. The number of His subjects is made up.’ GC 613, 614. (SDARM emphasis)
Another instance where the same expression “in number” appears indicates that it cannot be symbolic but literal:
‘Jezebel’s prophets, eight hundred and fifty in number, like a regiment of soldiers prepared for battle, march out in a body with instrumental music and imposing display.’ 3T 279, 280.
And another common argument used in support of a literal understanding of the 144,000 includes:
‘I saw that she [referring to Mrs. Hastings, a wife and mother, who had passed away] was sealed and would come up at the voice of God and stand upon the earth, and would be with the 144,000.’ 2SM 263
Problems with the SDARM position
First, none of the above SOP quotations directly and unambiguously say the 144,000 is a literal number – it merely says they are people who will be numbered.
Second, the statement about Mrs Hastings does not say she belongs to the 144,000 but rather merely says that at the resurrection she will be raised and then come together with the 144,000.  That is little different from Paul’s account, where he said the dead shall be raised and then come to be with the changed living.
Thirdly, Mrs White herself makes clear in the Great Controversy that the 144,000 are those who lived through the Great Tribulation; thus, the notion of special resurrections for persons like Mrs Hastings are not in conformity with either the Bible or SOP:
'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.’ GC 648-649
In summary of Ellen White’s various statements, Ekkehardt Muller, in The 144,000 and the Great Multitude (Biblical Research Institute) observes:
‘Ellen White affirms that the 144,000 are those that are alive at Jesus' Second Coming. They have been sealed and went through the great tribulation. Thus, Ellen White seems to confirm that the 144,000 and the great multitude are the same group. She also calls them "saints" which remind us of Rev 13 and 14. According to her the song of Moses and the song of the Lamb mentioned in Rev 15:3-4 are the song of the 144,000. This is the new song of Rev 14:3, which, however, is not recorded in that chapter. The characteristics of the 144,000 found in Rev are also attributed to them by Ellen White.’

Essential or non-essential: Does it actually matter?
No, it should not be an essential question, as the SDARM make it.  Ellen White made very clear herself:
‘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 and that 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.’ (Selected Messages, book 1, p.174). (emphasis added)
And further:
"When There Was No Light: I have no light on the subject [as to just who would constitute the 144,000]. . . ." 3SM 51 (emphasis added)
Thus, the concern is not so much whether the 144,000 is a literal number or not, but that the SDARM spend so much time and energy over an issue that is essentially a non-essential one. 

Conclusion: Some underlying rational for the SDARM position
The larger question to all this is – why do the SDARM care so much about a non-essential issue?  Much of it has to do with the simple fact that the SDARM have failed the biblical fruits-test as observed by Gamaliel in Acts 5:38-39:
‘Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail.  But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.’
In 150 years, the mainstream SDA Church has grown from a small handful to 22 million, but the SDARM is still under 30,000 – in two separate schisms.  How can the SDARM explain its massive evangelistic failure?  The answer is to turn the matter on its head, in claiming some sort of elite status, too good for the rest of the world.  Belief in a literal 144,000 is integral to maintaining that self-lie.
As observed by Kramer in SDA Reform Movement at page 51:
‘The larger question is, How does this teaching affect the spiritual growth of the Reform Movement? The answer quickly becomes evident. If one believes the above, there will be little zeal for active evangelism. Members can sit back in complacency and say, Soon the Lord will pour out His spirit upon us, and the work will be finished quickly.
This doctrine excuses the small numbers and explains away the many defects in the Movement. Reformers reason, After all, very few will be saved; so if you only stay with the Reform ship, all will turn out right. In the main Reformers lack an understanding of the gospel commission and the place of the church of God in this work.’
So, in many ways, the SDARM’s literalist view of the 144,000 is really its core argument to justify 100 years of evangelistic failure.


  1. This is a interesting verse in the Bible showing that those in Philadelphia are part of the 144,000 and are raised in the special resurrection for this special occasion, the wicked worshipping at their feet. Note it is well before Laodecia is announced.

    Revelaton 3:7-13. "And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: These things saith he that is holy, he that is true, he that hath the key of David, he that openeth and no man shutteth, and shutteth and no man openeth, I know thy works; behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it; for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name. Behold, I will make them of the synagogue of Satan, which say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie; behold, I will make them to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee. Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world to try them that dwell upon the earth. Behold, I come quickly; hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown. Him that overcometh, will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out; and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is New Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God; and I will write upon him my new name. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches." {June 17, 1862 JWe, ARSH 20.17}

  2. Philadelphia signifies, brotherly love, and expresses the position and spirit of those who received the advent message up to the autumn of 1844. As they came out of the sectarian churches, they left party names and party feelings behind, and every heart beat in union as they gave the alarm to the nominal churches and to the world, and pointed to the coming of the Son of man as the consummation of the true believer's hope. Selfishness and covetousness were laid aside, and a spirit of consecration and sacrifice was cherished. The Spirit of God was with every true believer, and his praise on every tongue. Those who were not in that movement know nothing of the deep searching of heart, consecration of all to God, peace, joy in the Holy Spirit, and pure, fervent love for each other, which true believers then enjoyed. Those who were in that movement are aware that language would fail to describe that united, happy state. {June 17, 1862 JWe, ARSH 20.18}

    The Son of God is the rightful heir to the throne of David, and is about to take to himself his great power and reign, hence is here represented as having the key of David - key, a figure of power. The throne of David, or of Christ, on which he is to reign, is the capital of his kingdom, the New Jerusalem now above. The opening and shutting can refer only to the change of ministration from the holy to the most holy of the heavenly sanctuary, at the end of the 2300 days, in 1844. It was then that the ministration in the holy place closed, and the ministration in the most holy for the forgiveness of sins, and to cleanse the sanctuary, was opened by him that hath the key of David. For a full exposition of this point, see work entitled, The Four Universal Kingdoms, the Sanctuary, and Twenty-three Hundred Days. {June 17, 1862 JWe, ARSH 20.19}

    hen it was that the synagogue of Satan knew that God had loved us who could wash one another's feet, and salute the holy brethren with a holy kiss, and they worshipped at our feet. Soon our eyes were drawn to the East, for a small black cloud had appeared about half as large as a man's hand, which we all knew was the Sign of the Son of Man. We all in solemn silence gazed on the cloud as it drew nearer, lighter, and brighter, glorious, and still more glorious, till it was a great white cloud. The bottom appeared like fire, a rainbow was over it, around the cloud were ten thousand angels singing a most lovely song. And on it sat the Son of Man, on his head were crowns, his hair was white and curly and lay on his shoulders. His feet had the appearance of fire, in his right hand was a sharp sickle, in his left a silver trumpet. His eyes were as a flame of fire, which searched his children through and through. Then all faces gathered paleness, and those that God had rejected gathered blackness. Early Writings - EGW.

    This is plainly the true church, which will be alive at Christ's appearing, and will be changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, and united with those raised at the first resurrection, will enter through the open door set before them. {July 3, 1844 JVHe, HST 174.19}


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