AND I saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God; and he cried with a loud voice to the four angels, to whom it was given to hurt the earth, and the sea, saying, Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads. And I heard the number of them which were sealed; and there were sealed an hundred and forty and four thousand, of all the tribes of the children of Israel.We know very well that the number 144,000 is largely figurative incorporating the Twelve tribes of Israel with the Twelve Apostles and the many-ness of a thousand. I could go into the study of the number from a mathematical point of view, for example that it's a square by a cube, but the point of these 144,000 people is that they are Jewish Christians whose heritage has been completed by the teaching of the twelve apostles. These are joined by a numberless group of Christians in Eternity.
Of the tribe of Juda were sealed twelve thousand.
Of the tribe of Reuben were sealed twelve thousand.
Of the tribe of Gad were sealed twelve thousand.
Of the tribe of Aser were sealed twelve thousand.
Of the tribe of Nepthalim were sealed twelve thousand.
Of the tribe of Manasses were sealed twelve thousand.
Of the tribe of Simeon were sealed twelve thousand.
Of the tribe of Levi were sealed twelve thousand.
Of the tribe of Issachar were sealed twelve thousand.
Of the tribe of Zabulon were sealed twelve thousand.
Of the tribe of Joseph were sealed twelve thousand.
Of the tribe of Benjamin were sealed twelve thousand.
After this I beheld, and lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands; and cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb. And all the angels stood round about the throne, and about the elders, and the four beasts, and fell before the throne on their faces, and worshipped God, saying, Amen; Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honour, and power, and might, be unto our God for ever and ever. Amen.
Eternity is a funny thing. The Orthodox version of the Gloria Patri talks of the age of ages where the West says, "and ever shall be". That is not Eternity, for Eternity is beyond Time. God created Time, He begot His Son from beyond Time. This is so hard for us mere mortals to contemplate. All of our existence is enshrined in this thing called Time. Our mental processes follow the sequential nature of Time, yet some physicists say that it doesn't exist. This sounds like the old arguments by Zeno and Parmenides to say that change and motion are illusions. In some ways they are right.
From God's point of view Time is part of Creation, and so He must look at past, present and future as one glorious whole. The morning and the evening of the first day can only happen once God has pronounced, "Let there be light!" There is a beginning, a ne plus ultra, a North pole beyond which there is no North. To God, Time is as fleeting an aspect of His Creation as anything else. What has this to do with the saints?
The saints are holy, they are separated out of Creation to be with God. Their Theosis instils them with an aspect of God's Eternity. They view Creation just as the Holy Anchoress known as Julian of Norwich did in her vision:
"In this vision he showed me a little thing, the size of a hazelnut, and it was round as a ball. I looked at it with the eye of my understanding and thought "What may this be?" And it was generally answered thus: "It is all that is made." I marvelled how it might last, for it seemed it might suddenly have sunk into nothing because of its littleness. And I was answered in my understanding: "It lasts and ever shall, because God loves it."This is the joy of the saints, for their existence intersects with Creation and yet is extended from it in God. Their work, their merits make Creation ring like a bell as the good that God does through them ripples across all that is backwards and forwards in Time. We pray by the merits of the Saints, not because we are saved by good works, but that the good that the saints have done, do and always will do, make God's presence more real to us as their first cause. The merits of the saints are devices that God uses to bring us to Him. Some of us come to faith because of another's act of selfless love, or by a sermon, by the invitation to come to Church. All of these are vehicles that the Holy Ghost uses to bring us to Salvation through the Holy Incarnation of Our Lord Jesus Christ which itself straddles Time and Eternity. The merits of the saints are only means; the end, and the efficient cause, and the final cause is God.
And theirs is the joy to see Creation as a whole, perfected by God Himself. Thus they exist in the perpetual Now of Eternity seeing all of His intricate work falling into place. They stand with us, yet they stand beyond us, drawing our prayers from the confines of our prison out into the perfect freedom of Eternity. Yet we too, by cooperating with the Divine Will, shall find ourselves with them, through the same perfection.
We cannot say how temporal being can be made Eternal. We cannot understand how our languages with all their tenses, perfect, future, aorist, present, future-perfect, can make any sense when applied to the Great Being Himself. Any tense can only be use in analogy with Him, and our reading of Scripture must take this temporal inscrutability into account. We cannot imagine, at least not now, but we shall when now ceases to be now, but rather always now.
May all the Heavenly Host pray for us. The Angelic Choirs, all Prophets, Patriarchs, Apostles, Evangelists, Martyrs, Virgins, Doctors, Confessors, Monks, Nuns, Widows, Holy Husbands and Wives, may they all pray for us and, through the solidarity of Church in Union with her beloved Bridegroom, may we be pulled out from Time and into the Glorious Light of God's Eternity.