In Revelation 7:48, a strange and limited number appears.
This number, John writes in his Revelation, is apparently the number of people from the twelve tribes of Israel who have been “sealed” with the name of God on their foreheads and will surely inhabit the New Jerusalem that will “descend from heaven” after the trials and tribulations of the “End of Days”. Their number, John says, is exactly 144 000, and it is apparently made up of 12000 male members from each of the twelve tribes of Israel; the tribes of Judah, Reuben, Gad, Asher, Naphtali, Manasseh, Simeon, Levi, Issachar, Zebulon, Joseph and Benjamin.
Few subjects in the Bible have caused more confusion and controversy. Firstly, laymen ask, why is the number limited to the tribes of Israel? Secondly, why is it exact and apportioned equally between them? Thirdly, why is it limited to men only since, in Revelation 14:4, they are described as “those who have not defiled themselves with women, and are chaste men”? Most worryingly, if “sealed” is interpreted to mean “saved” (i.e. those who will attain heaven and not be cast into the Lake of Fire), some suggest that only 12 000 out of each tribe can be sure of their heavenly place.
Actually, the principal challenge with John’s Revelation, his Apocalypse, is what to take as literal and what to treat as symbolic. Then there is the further challenge of properly interpreting the meaning of that symbol. In this two-part series, we will unravel what is literal and what is figurative. But as I have always shown in this column, certain key words in John’s book, written in Greek, cannot be completely understood without the help of Setswana. Let us first briefly recap on these.
Over time, the term “apocalypse” has acquired a frightening dimension, as if signifying a time of great suffering before the world as we know it comes to an end, whereas it is actually a gentle and positive term. “Apocalypse” comprises two terms: apo and kalypte. Apo, Setswana reveals, means “uncover, undress”, as in apola. Kalypte means “hidden, concealed”, which per Sotho-Tswana, transliterates to ga-lepato (meaning “that which is concealed”). Thus, apo + kalypte mean “to uncover that which was concealed”. So, all it means is that John reveals, uncovers, that which was concealed, which is why it is his Revelation!
“Tribulation”, dictionaries tell us, means “severe trial and suffering”, but the etymology is incorrect. The term is not premised on terere (to rub or crush). Instead, Setswana reveals that tribula is of the same root as tharabollo (resolution). Thus, a “tribune” was a court that resolved problems! Properly defined, a tribulation is a “revelation”, a resolving of problems; something to look forward to, not feared. It will, however, be frightening and traumatic to those who cannot face the truth, nor allow it to stand for itself; a time when Jesus (his Word) “…can speak plainly about the Father”. In that time, John says, the ground, the hills, and even islands will “flee [from people]” (Rev. 16:20). What does John mean?
Just as “sea” represented the ever-mingling races and tongues of people (Rev. 17:15), ground/ earth, I explained, referred to the culture, mores and ideals of peoples; the firm footing they rely on, which shapes them. In “tribulation” times, these “bedrocks” will flee them as truth, naked truth, is at last revealed without fear or favour. Indeed, the only constant is, was, and will be Jesus – but even his true story and teachings, I have revealed in this column, were concealed in a deliberate seven-stage plan that John hints at in his Revelation when he admonishes the Seven Spirits of the Churches in Rev. 1 and 2.
But where did the number of 144 000 emanate? What does it actually point to? Its true history will surprise many because it was a number well-used by the Egyptian wisdom-god Thoth, who, my column constantly reveals, is a real entity of history, not a mythical, imaginary figure. So, what is it doing in a Christian work like Revelation? The answer lies in a complex, pivotal but ill-articulated period of our religious history; a period few understand properly. Let me try once again to explain as briefly as I can.
Firstly, we must understand that our entire history, both secular and religious, was shaped by an ancient and protracted conflict between two mighty, elite, but rival clans of an advanced pale-skinned people we once called “gods”. We may call the clans the Enlilites and the Enkiites. Thoth was an Enkiite who was forced to flee Egypt because of conflict with his brother Marduk/Ra. In South America, where he chose to settle, he commissioned the famous Mayan calendar that began in 3113 BC. During that time, to spite Marduk, he dallied with the rival clan, the Enlilites, only to turn his back on them when they took their concept of “monotheism” too far – often subjecting the Children of Israel to utter cruelty because of it (see Exodus 32:19-28; Leviticus 26:27ff).
The Enlilites did not take his turnaround well. Around 710 BC, they abandoned the Assyrian empire they had given so much technical support to (see Isaiah 10:5-7), leaving it to crumble as they suddenly left Mesopotamia (the region now comprising Iraq). Actually, they went to South America. There, a famous War of the Gods took place and “flying jaguars roared in the air”. Thoth (Quetzalcoatl in South America) was defeated, and in 582 BC, as Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon died, he fled to the Himalayas and began a New Age of Enlightenment there, to counter the Enlilite system of worship. This was the pivotal times of Daniel when religion was at crossroads. Thoth then calculated his “return” (the rebirth of Enlightenment), from the Mayan date of 3113 BC with 13 Baktuns (lots of 144 000 days): 1 872 000 days. Those days, divided by 365.25 gave 5125 more years, leading to 2012 AD – the year when the first blasts of the trumpet of “tribulation” sounded; when, coincidentally, my column also began to take root! More next week.
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