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Israel, the saints, and the number a thousand

April 30, 2012

The use of the number a thousand, and multiples of a thousand, is characteristic in descriptions of the saints throughout the Bible. The number is applied to Israel in the Old Testament, and to the church in the New Testament, which supports the idea of continuity between the two.

When Rebekah agreed to return with Abraham’s servant to become the bride of Isaac, her family said to her, “be thou the mother of thousands of millions.” [Genesis 24:58-60] This seems to be the first time that “thousands” was used in reference to the descendants of Abraham.

Several scriptures say that God shows mercy to thousands. [Exodus 20:4-6; 34:6-7; Jeremiah 32:18-19]

In various incidents, thousands of Israelites were victims of plagues; in one case twenty four thousand, [Numbers 25:9] twenty three thousand of them dying in one day according to Paul. [1 Corinthians 10:8] In the time of David a pestilence killed seventy thousand. [2 Samuel 24:15]

In the exodus the number of men was “about six hundred thousand.” [Exodus 12:37]

The saints number tens of thousands in Deuteronomy 33:2; “God came from Sinai, with ten thousands of saints.” The book of Jude quotes Enoch as saying that Christ will come with ten thousands of his saints, to execute judgment upon all. [Jude 14-15]

In the time of Elijah, seven thousand had not bowed down to Baal. [1 Kings 19:18] This number also appears in Revelation 11:13, where it is the number of those slain in an earthquake, when the two witnesses are revived, and ascend to heaven. In Revelation, “slain” may be understood as having a spiritual meaning. This may be the case in Revelation 20:4, where those who were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, “lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.”

David wrote that God possesses all the beasts of the field, and the cattle upon a thousand hills. [Psalm 50:10] The number of his chariots is twenty thousand, even thousands of angels. [Psalm 68:1] He remembers his covenant for a thousand generations. [Psalm 105:8]

Thousands are mentioned in the dimensions of Ezekiel’s visionary temple, [Ezekiel 45:1-6] and in his account of the distribution of the land among the tribes, and the dimensions of the oblation. [Ezekiel 48:9-21] And four times in his description of the river that flows from the temple, Ezekiel mentions a thousand. [Ezekiel 47:3-5]

In Daniel’s description of the Ancient of Days, who is Christ, thousand thousands ministered to him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stand before him. [Daniel 7:9-10]

In the New Testament, James refers to the thousands of Jews in Jerusalem who believe. [Acts 21:20]

In Revelation 5:11-12, the number of angels round about God’s throne is ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands.

Twelve thousand are sealed of each of the twelve tribes, for a total of an hundred and forty and four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel. [Revelation 7:2-8] The number is mentioned again in Revelation 14:1, where they stand with the Lamb on mount Sion. They are those who were redeemed from among men, the firstfruits unto God and to the Lamb.

The number of the army of horsemen in Revelation 9:16 is two hundred thousand thousand.

Those who have part in the first resurrection, who are priests of God and of Christ, reign with Christ a thousand years [Revelation 20:6]

In the description of the heavenly Jerusalem, the length and the breadth and the height are each twelve thousand furlongs. [Revelation 21:16]