144,000 Priests?

144,000 Priests? November 1, 2012

As I mentioned previously, in my Sunday school class we have been in chapter 14 of the Book of Revelation for the past two weeks. One of the members of my class, who in fact teaches Sunday school herself, made the interesting suggestion that the celibacy of the 144,000 (Revelation 14:4) might have to do with their priestly status – not in the sense of being Catholic priests and thus celibate, but in the sense of being set apart for priestly service in the Levitical sense. Priests had to abstain from sex prior to their priestly service.

At first glance, the language of “defiling themselves with women” sounds incredibly sexist – and even if it turns out to be less so than first seems to be the case, we will still want to challenge the assumptions about sex embedded in this text, as well as the patriarchal assumptions about priesthood. But it is worth noting that the point may not be a negative one about women, but a way of indicating, through mention of their abstinence from sex, the priestly status of the 144,000 – making them the “firstfruits” to enter the ever-expanding priestly status that will eventually encompass the great multitude.

What do others think? Is Revelation 14:4 a reflection of the negative view of women and sex that would dominate much of later Christianity? Or does it stand closer to roots in Jewish, and more specifically Levitical, views of priesthood? Or is it both?

This also makes an important point about the chronology (or lack thereof) of the Book of Revelation. Presumably the priestly status of the 144,000 in ch.14 is logically prior to the great multitude taking that status in ch.5. But as Christian Shephard said on LOST, it seems that also in heaven as envisaged by the author of Revelation, “there is no ‘now’ here.”

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