These commentaries offer a non-literal or figurative interpretation of the identity of the 144,000. I had planned as before to include commentary offering the literal approach – Bible.org – but decided to limit this post to the figurative view.
Quote addressing figurative and literal views
“Each passage of Scripture must be interpreted according to its literary genre. We cannot arbitrarily interpret figurative passages literally. Genre analysis must be practiced.”
Dr. Sam Waldron, “Eschatology: The Doctrine of Last Things“, Lecture 9: The Eschatological Kingdom (Continued), Covenant Baptist Theological Seminary free to audit online course.
1 After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth, so that no wind would blow on the earth or on the sea or on any tree. 2 And I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun, having the seal of the living God; and he cried out with a loud voice to the four angels to whom it was granted to harm the earth and the sea, 3 saying, “Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees until we have sealed the bond-servants of our God on their foreheads.”
4 And I heard the number of those who were sealed, one hundred and forty-four thousand sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel:
5 from the tribe of Judah, twelve thousand were sealed, from the tribe of Reuben twelve thousand, from the tribe of Gad twelve thousand, 6 from the tribe of Asher twelve thousand, from the tribe of Naphtali twelve thousand, from the tribe of Manasseh twelve thousand, 7 from the tribe of Simeon twelve thousand, from the tribe of Levi twelve thousand, from the tribe of Issachar twelve thousand, 8 from the tribe of Zebulun twelve thousand, from the tribe of Joseph twelve thousand, from the tribe of Benjamin, twelve thousand were sealed.
3 Then the glory of the God of Israel went up from the cherub on which it had been, to the threshold of the [c]temple. And He called to the man clothed in linen at whose loins was the writing case. 4 The Lord said to him, “Go through the midst of the city, even through the midst of Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the abominations which are being committed in its midst.” 5 But to the others He said in my hearing, “Go through the city after him and strike; do not let your eye have pity and do not spare. 6 [d]Utterly slay old men, young men, maidens, little children, and women, but do not touch any man on whom is the mark; and you shall start from My sanctuary.”
1 Then I looked, and behold, the Lamb was standing on Mount Zion, and with Him one hundred and forty-four thousand, having His name and the name of His Father written on their foreheads. 2 And I heard a voice from heaven, like the sound of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder, and the voice which I heard was like the sound of harpists playing on their harps. 3 And they *[a]sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders; and no one could learn the song except the one hundred and forty-four thousand who had been purchased from the earth.
This passage from Ezekiel is both frightening and wonderful. The protective mark seems to be visible only to angels and the Lord. What might this mean in reference to the mark of the Beast? Invisible to humans perhaps?
Early Commentators cited by E. B. Elliott
“Edward Bishop Elliott (24 July 1793, Paddington – 30 June 1875) was an English clergyman and premillennarian writer. . . Unknown to many Baptists today, Elliott, a most eminent Baptist preacher, held to the historicist view of eschatology that the book of Revelation covers history from the time of the apostle John up to the second advent of Christ.” ~ Wikipedia
“5. Jerome. 
“The Apocalyptic 144,000 seen by St. John with Christ on Mount Zion, or sealed ones out of each and all of the tribes of the Apocalyptic Israel, are sometimes expounded by Jerome of the Christian apostles, martyrs, and saints generally, sometimes of Christian virgins or celibates more especially;  never of an election distinctively out of the Jews, or natural Israel. . .”
“2. That the 144,000 of the sealing vision (as also of Apoc. xiv.) depicted distinctively (not the earthly professing visible Church, but) the Church of the saints, or elect, the constituency of what he calls the City of God, ultimately united into the heavenly Jerusalem:  while the appended palm-bearing vision figured the blessed and heavenly issue assured to them of their earthly trials and pilgrimage. “. . .
“7. To which expositor, Tichonius, last of this æra, now proceed we.
“So arrived at the sealing and palm-bearing visions he expounds the one of the Church’s ingathering of its mystical number, the 144,000;  the other of Church privileges enjoyed by them under the present dispensation:  for he regarded the 144,000, and palm-bearing company, as one and the same body,  constituted of the elect out of both Jews and Gentiles.”
It’s wonderful to have a view back in time to what earlier Christians believed and taught. I’m fairly certain that they believed they were being Biblical and faithful to the testimony of the Apostles. Probably, all true Christians believe this.
A Post-Reformation Commentator
A Key to the Apocalypse, Discovered and Demonstrated from the Internal and Inserted Characters of the Visions.
Joseph Mede (1586-1638)
Christian Classics Ethereal Library, Grand Rapids
Mede’s Clavis Apocalyptica (1627 in Latin, English translation 1643, Key of the Revelation Searched and Demonstrated) was a widely influential work on the interpretation of the Book of Revelation. It projected the end of the world by 1716: possibly in 1654. The book also posited that the Jews would be miraculously converted to Christianity before the second coming. ~ Wikipedia
“For as in the beginning, we saw the theatre of the visions, or the Apocalyptical Assembly, described according to the image and state of the ancient synagogue, and great part of this book of types has a reference to the same; so that, as false Christians in the epistles to the churches may on that account be spoken of as false Jews, so likewise here, the universal church of the Gentiles, secured by the seal of God, is figured under the type of Israel, the twelve apostles of the former aptly corresponding with the same number of the patriarchs in the latter.”
Joseph Mede, a student of God’s Word, stumbled by setting dates for the Lord’s Return, a fault among some teachers of prophecy in our day as well.
Halley’s Bible Handbook, Zondervan, 1965, p. 714
“144,000 is the square of 12, multiplied a thousandfold, and is thought to be understood, not numerically, but symbolically, representing the Sum Total of the Elect of Israel, the Firstfruits of the Gospel, or the Sum Total of Christians. . .
“‘The Sealing of God’s Servants’ (7:3), seems to refer to the process of Evangelization going on, in the Roman Empire, before it fell, or, in the Whole World, throughout the Whole Course of History, before the Final Day of the Lamb’s Wrath.”
More than Conquerors, William Hendriksen, Baker Book House, 1962, pp. 110-111
“John hears the number of the sealed. He does not see their exact number for these sealed ones are still on earth. Only God knows how many truly sealed people there are on earth. The number is 144,000. This, of course, is symbolical. First, the number three, indicating the Trinity, is multiplied by four, indicating the entire creation, for the sealed ones shall come from the east and the west, the north and the south. Three times four makes twelve. This number there indicates: the Trinity (3) operating in the universe (4). When the Father through the Son in the Spirit performs His saving work on earth—the divine (3) operating in the universe (4)—we see in the old dispensation the twelve (3 x 4) patriarchs and in the new the twelve apostles. In order to arrive at the conceptions of the Church of the old and of the new dispensation we shall have to multiply this twelve by twelve. This gives us 144.
“Entirely in harmony with this representation we read in Revelation that the holy city Jerusalem has twelve gates and twelve foundations. On these twelve gates were written the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel. On the twelve foundations were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb (21:9-14). We also read that the wall is 144 cubits in height (2:17).
“It is very clear, therefore, that the seal multitude of Revelation 7 symbolizes the entire Church militant of the old and new dispensations. In order to emphasize the fact that not a small portion of the Church is meant but the entire Church militant, this number 144 is multiplied by one thousand. One thousand is 10 x 10 x 10, which indicates a perfect cube, reduplicated completeness. (See Rev. 21:16). The 144,000 sealed individuals out of the twelve tribes of literal Israel symbolize spiritual Israel, the church of God [of both dispensations] on earth. . .
“. . . in chapter 14 we again see this same multitude, the 144,000. Here we are plainly told that they are those who have been purchased out of the earth. They represent those who follow the Lamb wherever He goes, and entire Church militant, therefore, as is also clearly taught in Revelation 22:4. Christ, having purchased them by His own precious blood, owns them, and the Faith (through Christ, in the Spirit) protects them. Let the winds blow; they will not harm God’s people. Let the judgments come; they will not hurt His elect!”
Revelation 22:4 – “They will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads.”
Biblical numbers are significant. In Revelation, numbers are especially significant. Everything in God’s Word is significant – everything!
The Final Prophecy of Jesus, Oral Edmond Collins, Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2007, pp. 165-166
“The number of those who were sealed: 144,000, is as nearly all commentators recognize, a symbolic number, the square of the 12, times 1000. It is also the number by which the tribes of Israel were conventionally counted—that is, by ‘thousands’. . . The number of the sons of Jacob, the number 12, became in Israel a sacred number, reiterated by our Lord in the naming of twelve apostles. In the New Jerusalem, the names of the patriarchs were written on the twelve gates (21:12), and the names of the apostles were written on the twelve foundations (21:14). . . All the tribes of Israel in the list of verses 5-8 do not include Dan (as does Ezekiel 48) and Joseph is named in place of Ephraim. The omission of Dan whereas it is included in the prophecy of Ezekiel argues for the symbolic nature of this list in Revelation.”
Oral Collins isn’t the first to notice that the tribe of Dan is missing from the listing of “all the tribes of Israel” (verse 4). Its absence must have meaning we should explore.
May God be praised!