And I heard the number of those who were being sealed, 144,000, sealed from all the tribes of the sons of Israel. From the tribe of Judah 12,000 were sealed, from the tribe of Reuben 12,000, from the tribe of Gad 12,000, from the tribe of Asher 12,000, from the tribe of Naphtali 12,000, from the tribe of Manasseh 12,000, from the tribe of Simeon 12,000, from the tribe of Levi 12,000, from the tribe of Issachar 12,000, from the tribe of Zebulon 12,000, from the tribe of Joseph 12,000, from the tribe of Benjamin 12,000. Rev 7:4-8.
Richard Bauckham, a British New Testament scholar, has argued convincingly that this passage echoes the Old Testament idea of a military census. The tribes of Israel were numbered to determine the potential military strength of the nation. The count was limited to males of military age (Num 1:3, 19-46; 26:1-51; 2 Sam 24:1-9, etc.). The 144,000 in Revelation are also males from the twelve tribes of Israel (Rev 14:4).
The repeated formula "from the tribe of. . ." particularly echoes the census of Numbers 1. Israel was organized for the conquest of the promised land. That census provided the model for the eschatological war in the Dead Sea Scrolls (1QM) as well as the Book of Revelation. The number of the Israelite army in Revelation 7 is clearly symbolic, a perfect square, like the dimensions of the New Jerusalem. The 144,000 represent the totality of Israel arrayed in opposition to the forces of evil (Rev 9:16; 17:14; 19:11-21). In other words, the spiritual issues of the end-time are described in military terms.1
The 2003 invasion of Iraq was the most technologically advanced engagement in history. With the wonder of stealth technology, cruise missiles, and GPS guided munitions, it almost seemed as if the battle could be waged with the push of a button. But ground is not considered taken until it is occupied with the very low tech presence of infantry. They sleep on the ground, carry their own food, and are brought closest to the fighting. Without their presence territory would not change hands, there would just be the destruction of distant targets.
A similar principle is seen in the spreading of the gospel today. While mass media and the internet can play a role in reaching people, it is still the infantry, God's faithful people, making disciples one by one that proves to be the decisive difference. Just as no amount of bombardment can replace the soldier, no amount of media can take the place of the faithful witness. If you have enlisted in God's infantry, you are irreplaceable. You have been commissioned to go and make disciples of the nations. Television and radio can't do that for you.