The 144,000 in Rev. 7: Literal or Figurative?

Dear reader,

One of the common problems in apocalyptic groups is that the leader becomes the final authority, not God's Word.  The leader is viewed as Jesus' mouthpiece on earth and his words/interpretations of the Bible are treated as God's Word (inspired commentaries/explanations).  But, in Christian thinking, only the written word (2 Tim. 3:16) is the purest standard and it should be used to correct leaders, not the other way around (i.e. allow leaders to correct or modify meanings in the Bible).

In Shinchonji, Manhee Lee's explanations often go beyond the written word itself.  Although Mr. Lee and other apocalyptic leaders may have the highest sincerity, it's important to notice how they become the authority over God's Word.  An example of this is the 144,000 in Rev. 7.  In Manhee Lee's book, Creation of Heaven and Earth, he teaches that the 144,000 constitute a prophecy for those who unite to Shinchonji.

To understand this, Manhee Lee believes that God originally chose a church in South Korea, called the Church of the Seven Lampstands, and gave them his words.  Because they betrayed Jesus' words (and refused to repent) in Rev. 2, 3, the destroyers (the beast/Nicolaitans) invaded their congregation/temple.  The one who overcomes the invaders was Mr. Lee with his message (revealed word).  He creates a new people, Shinchonji, and the new Spiritual Israel.  Those who learn the revealed word about the events in Revelation (and their physical fulfillment) become the sealed 144,000 (and later the great multitude in white).

¨After judging his chosen people and bringing them to an end, God creates a new chosen people.  He establishes New Spiritual Israel with the 144,000 who are sealed and with the great multitude dressed in white robes¨ (Creation of Heaven and Earth, p. 195).

What is the problem with Manhee Lee's explanation?

First, as we have mentioned before, there is a problem with Mr. Lee's perception of the Church of the Seven Lampstands in South Korea.  It was an apocalyptic group started by Jae Yul Yoo, who had been in previous end-time movements.  See article on Mr. Lee's history before Shinchonji.

Second, Manhee Lee's explanation goes beyond the written text.  In God's written word, the 144,000 members are Jews (from the tribes of Israel).  ¨Then I heard the number of those who were sealed: 144,00 from all the tribes of Israel¨ (Rev. 7:4).  The written word speaks of the real tribes of Israel, which is in harmony with many of the prophecies outside of Revelation regarding Israel's final restoration.  See other articles on this point.

Manhee Lee explains the tribes in a spiritual, figurative sense, but the written text does not give this explanation. It is based on Mr. Lee's authority, which goes beyond what the written word in Rev. 7 says on its own.

Third, Manhee Lee's explanation of the 144,000 falls prey to the Watchtower Society error.  The Watchtower Society interprets the 144,000 literally and the reference to the tribes figuratively.  It is inconsistent.  If the 144,000 is literal, the Jews/tribes should be literal.  If the Jews/tribes are figurative, the 144,00 should be figurative.  It is based on what the leader decides, but not the text.

Fourth, if the numbers are literal in Revelation, it should be consistent.  However, the number of seven churches in Rev. 1:20 and in chapters 2,3 is not literal.  Manhee Lee teaches that the seven churches in Rev. 1:20 refer figuratively to Jae Yul Yoo's church of the Seven Lampstands.  One Shinchonji instructor wrote and claimed that Mr. Yoo's church fulfilled Rev. 1:20.  

In the written word, we read of seven distinct churches. ¨...The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches¨ (Rev. 1:20).  The seven churches in Rev. 2,3 are different; each one is praised and rebuked for distinct reasons.  But, based on Manhee Lee's perceived authority, the seven churches figuratively refer to one church movement.  So, the number seven (7) is not seen as literal.

Manhee Lee writes, ¨The events of Revelation take place in the seven churches of Asia Minor, which represent the church of the seven golden lampstands.  This is the first mystery of Revelation (Rev. 1:20)¨ (The Truth Regarding Revelation's Fulfillment, pp. 4,5).

Manhee Lee also believes that the reference to the ¨east¨ in Rev. 7 refers to South Korea.  In his explanation, he says this is so because he is the new Apostle John and this is what he saw.  Again, this comes from his own authority.  Notice his explanation:  ¨The east in Rv 7 is the east from the viewpoint of heaven (Rv 4), and it is where the events of Revelation are fulfilled.  This is Mt. Zion where the 144,00 are sealed with God's seal (Rv 14:1-3).  There is no rule excluding Korea from being the place where the sun rises.  Apostle John (Mr. Lee), who was called up to the spiritual heaven, knows where the east is since he saw it from heaven¨ (Creation of Heaven and Earth, p. 194).
Lastly, in the written word, when God seals the 144,000 in Rev. 7, it is because they were already ¨servants of God.¨  God knows who his servants are (1 Tim. 2:19) and does not need to make servants by teaching them a revealed word.  Mr. Lee interprets the sealing as learning the revealed word in Shinchonji.  But, if God wants to seal 144,000 servants, he has the power to do so in a moment.  

Manhee Lee's explanation of the 144,000, although we believe he is sincere, is seen to be based on circular authority.  He is the one who interprets himself as the Apostle John who then gives the figurative meanings based on his authority (not consistently in the written word) and makes connections in God's Word in the same way.