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.
Q: What are we to understand by sealing the one hundred and forty-four thousand, out of all the tribes of Israel—twelve thousand out of every tribe?
A: We are to understand that those who are sealed are high priests, ordained unto the holy order of God, to administer the everlasting gospel; for they are they who are ordained out of every nation, kindred, tongue, and people, by the angels to whom is given power over the nations of the earth, to bring as many as will come to the church of the Firstborn.
On the 13 August 1843 Joseph preached a sermon at the funeral of Judge Elias Higbee. The following are the journal accounts of Franklin D. Richards and William Clayton, two associates of Joseph Smith who recorded Joseph’s teaching:
Franklin D. Richards’ Account:
I will send Elijah the Prophet and he shall reveal the covenants of the Fathers to the children and of the Children to the Fathers that they may enter into Covenant with each other, lest I come & smite the whole Earth with a curse. What is the seal spoken of in Rev. 7:3? Find it out if you can. I will not reveal it now but will drop an idea that I have never revealed concerning Election connected with the sealing of the servants of God in the fore or top of the head.
Judge Higbee would say that covenants either there or here must be made in view of eternity, and the Covenant sealed on the foreheads of the Parents secured the children from falling that they shall all sit upon thrones as one with the God-head joint Heirs of God with Jesus Christ.
This principle is revealed also through the covenant of Abraham and his children. This is also the blessing and consolation of the Mourners.
William Clayton’s Account:
Went to meeting heard J[oseph] preach on 2 Peter 3:10-11, being a funeral sermon on the death of E. Higbee. When speaking of the passage, “I will send Elijah the prophet &c,” he said it should read “and he shall turn the hearts of the children to the covenant made with their fathers.” Also where it says “and they shall seal the servants of God in their foreheads &c,” it means to seal the blessing on their heads, meaning the everlasting covenant, thereby making their calling & election sure. When a seal is put upon the father and mother it secures their posterity so that they cannot be lost but will be saved by virtue of the covenant of their father.
* Footnote 19: When the Church historians amalgamated the entries from the Joseph Smith Diary and the William Clayton Diary to create the version of this discourse that was published, the passage that the blessings conferred by the ordinance of sealing parents and children was unconditional. The wording of the published version suggests that the children of parents who receive the fulness of the priesthood can never fall. This previously unpublished, more complete account of the Prophet’s idea does contain a conditional. Clearly this a more reasonable and consistent doctrine: if it were not for such a conditional, the concept would contradict significant doctrines taught by Joseph Smith, not the least of which would be a contradiction of his article of faith that “men will be punished for their own sins.” (The Words of Joseph Smith, p.241, 300; punctuation and italics added)
Bruce R. McConkie stated:
John here sees 144,000 of these kings and priests, 12,000 from each tribe, converted, baptized, endowed, married for eternity, and finally sealed up unto eternal life, having their calling and election made sure. (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3:492)
Richard Draper said:
The number of those sealed, states the Seer, is 144,000. The number need not be taken literally. The Doctrine and Covenants states “that those who are sealed are high priests, ordained unto the holy order of God, to administer the everlasting gospel; for they are they who are ordained out of every nation, kindred, tongue, and people, by the angels to whom is given power over the nations of the earth, to bring as many as will come to the church of the Firstborn” (77:11). Note that this scripture does not specify a number. Instead it notes that the group is composed of high priests who have a special calling “to administer the everlasting gospel” and “to bring as many as will come to the church of the Firstborn.”
Joseph Smith associated them with the temple. The symbolic meaning of the number supports this association. Twelve represents the priesthood. Biblical people squared a number to amplify its symbolic meaning. Thus, 144 suggests a fullness of priesthood authority. But John is not satisfied with that. He gives the image a superlative quality by multiplying 1,000, representing completeness. In this way he shows the strength and breadth of the priesthood in the latter days, in this dispensation that is, indeed, the dispensation of the fullness of times. During this period that complete priesthood authority will operate. It is little wonder that as the world spurns this authority, it will be condemned.
The attachment to the temple fits perfectly since only there can one receive the fullness of the priesthood (D&C 124:25-30). Elder McConkie states that the 144,000 are kings and priests “converted, baptized, endowed, married for eternity, and finally sealed up unto eternal life.” Their mission is not merely to bring people into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It goes beyond that. Their special assignment centers in getting people sealed into the church of the Firstborn through the administration of the fullness of the endowment. (Opening the Seven Seals: the Vision of John the Revelator, (1991), p. 83)