Is the number 144,000 in chapter 7 literally the number of the people of Israel who would be saved, or is it just a symbolic figure?
The number 144,000 that appears in chapter 7 tells us literally how many Israelites would be saved in the end times, 12,000 from each of the twelve tribes of Israel for a total of 144,000. This is fulfilled by the special providence of God through which some of the descendents of Abraham, whom God loved, would be saved. God remembers the promise that He made to Abraham, and so to fulfill this promise, He would now allow the gospel of the water and the Spirit to be spread not only to the Gentiles, but also to the people of Israel, the descendants of the flesh of Abraham.
As such, God has determined that through the tribulations of the end times and the two witnesses whom God would specially raise for the Israelites, they would come to believe that Jesus Christ, whom they had persecuted and crucified, is in fact their true Savior. Through God and the faith of Abraham, the Israelites have become the recipients of God's special love.
God has decided that He would especially deliver 12,000 from each of the twelve tribes of Israel from their sins and destruction, and has sealed them with the seal of God through His angel. Among the people of Israel, therefore, 144,000 have received the mark that shows that they have become the people of God. This number is divided equally among the twelve tribes, for God's love for them is not based on favoritism for any particular tribe, but He clothes them all in the same grace of becoming His people. Though people at times let their own emotion cloud their judgement, God works in all things with absolute justice and fairness.
After sealing 144,000 of the Israelites with the seal of salvation, God would then bring down the great plagues on this earth. God has made a total of 144,000 Israelites His people, 12,000 from each of its twelve tribes-from the tribes of Judah, Reuben, Gad, Asher, Naphtali, Manasseh, Simeon, Levi, Issachar, Zebulun, Joseph, and Benjamin. This to keep the promise that God made to Abraham and His descendents that He would become their God.
God has thus decided to save 144,000 of the Israelites. The number 14 here, as it appears in Matthew 1:17, has a special meaning for us, telling us that God would begin His new work among the Israelites. This number contains the will of God that He would now conclude the history of the first world on this earth and allow those Israelites that are saved to live in the New Heaven and Earth.
When we look at the genealogical line from Abraham down to Jesus Christ, we can find out that from Abraham to David span 14 generations, from David to the captivity in Babylon span another 14 generations, and from the captivity in Babylon to Christ span yet another 14 generations. In other words, we can find out that God begins His new work in every 14 generations. God has sealed 144,000 Israelites with the will that He would make them live a new life, not in this present world, but in the Kingdom of God. As can be seen, God is the faithful One who surely fulfills what He once promised and set for the mankind.