Greetings! This is the second post in a four-part series on things you need to know before you study the book of Revelation. Last post, we briefly went over the prophet Daniel’s 70-weeks prophecy and how the events in the book of Revelation are the fulfillment of Daniel’s 70th week. This post, we’re going to talk about the importance of numbers in Scripture. The importance of numbers is something you will frequently bump into while studying Revelation. It’s best to talk about numbers in scripture now, rather than later when we’re deep into the study of Revelation. It’s very interesting! Keep reading.
THINGS TO KNOW BEFORE YOU STUDY REVELATION
Second in a Four-Part Series
by Karen Thompson
Numbers in Scripture
Let’s talk about the importance of numbers in Scripture. You don’t have to be a Bible scholar to see that numbers in the Bible have significance and meaning. From the beginning of the book in Genesis to the end of the book in Revelation, it’s evident even to the amateur Bible study student that certain numbers have prominence.
When you bring up the subject of numbers in the Bible, there are some who become alarmed thinking you’re talking about numerology and the occult. There is absolutely no connection between the study of numbers in the Bible and the occult practice of numerology. They are two different subjects. Those who try to make this connection have never studied the significance of numbers in the Bible nor do they know anything about numerology.
E.W. Bullinger is one who has done extensive research into the significance of numbers in Scripture. In his book entitled, Numbers in Scripture, he reveals God’s use of numbers both in scripture as well as in creation. First, he gives example after example of how numbers are used in the design of creation. His examples demonstrate that numbers in creation are there by design and not by chance. You can see the hand of God at work in His creation through numbers.
He then shows you the same phenomena with numbers in Scripture from the beginning of the Book to the end. He shows you how certain numbers have specific significance attached to them because they are always associated with a particular activity or characteristic. Take, for instance, the number twelve. It’s a prominent number throughout the Bible, and it also has prominence in the book of Revelation as well. The number twelve is one of four “perfect” numbers: three, seven, ten, and twelve. According to Bullinger, the number three signifies divine perfection. The number seven signifies spiritual perfection. The number ten signifies ordinal perfection, and lastly, the number twelve signifies governmental perfection.
When you see the number 12 in scripture, it signifies perfection in government. You will see 12, or a multiple of 12, in things that have to do with rule and/or government. Here are examples of the number 12 connected with rule and government:
- There were 12 sons of Israel, through which came the 12 tribes and 12 tribal leaders.
- When Solomon’s temple was dedicated, there were 120 priests blowing 120 trumpets: 120 being a multiple of 12. (2 Chron. 5:12)
- There were 12 stones in the high priest’s breastplate.
- There were 12 apostles.
- There were 12 stars in the crown of the sun-clothed woman, which represented the 12 tribes of Israel (Rev. 12:1).
- There will be 12 thousand from each tribe of Israel that will be sealed by God, totaling 144,000 a multiple of 12 (Rev. 7:1–4).
- There are 24 elders with their 24 crowns sitting on their 24 thrones, multiples of 12 (Rev 4:4).
- The new Jerusalem, the capital of Israel, will have 12 foundations and 12 gates (Rev 21:12–21).
- New Jerusalem will be laid out foursquare where the length and breadth are the same: 12 thousand furlongs, a multiple of 12 (Rev. 21:16).
- The fruit of the tree of life in new Jerusalem will bare 12 kinds of fruits (Rev. 22:2).
It’s plain to see how the number 12 and its multiples are associated with rule and government.
The Number Four
The number four is another important number in Revelation. It signifies the works of God, meaning His creation. Mr. Bullinger shows you how the number four is imprinted on creation. There are four elements: earth, fire, air, water. There are four directions: east, west, north, south. There are four divisions of the day: morning, noon, evening, midnight. There are four seasons: spring, summer, autumn, winter.
And, interestingly enough, the kingdom of man is divided into four categories. In Genesis chapter 10, the families that descended from Noah and his sons were classified into four different categories: lands, tongue, family, nation. Genesis 10:5 says, “By these were the isles of the Gentiles divided in their lands; every one after his tongue, after their families, in their nations.” (See also Gen. 10:20, 31.)
This same four-fold division of the kingdom of man is noted in Revelation: kindred, tongue, people, nation. Revelation 5:9 says, “And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation.” (See also Rev. 7:9, 10:11, 11:9, 17:15.) This four-fold classification of the kingdom of men can only be found in the first book of the Bible and the last book of the Bible: Genesis and Revelation. There’s much more to say about the number four being connected with God’s creation, but that discussion is reserved for later in our study.
The Number Seven
The most conspicuous number in Revelation is the number seven. It’s repeated over and over and over. You could say Revelation was built around the number seven. When you understand the significance of the number seven, you understand why its presence is so prevalent. According to Bullinger, the number seven signifies something that is full and complete. The number seven is prominent throughout the Bible from beginning to end. In fact, the Bible begins with seven creation days and it ends with a book centered on the number seven.
The most significant thing about the number seven is its connection with time. In the creation story in Genesis chapter one, God tells us that He created time. God, who exists in timeless eternity, created the concept of time for mankind. His first element in marking time is the creation of day and night: “And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness. And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day” (Gen. 1:4–5). Then in verses 14–18, we see His purpose for creating time: “And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years: and let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth: and it was so. And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also. And God set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth, and to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness: and God saw that it was good.”
The lights in heaven are for the purpose of dividing the days and nights. Furthermore, they are for signs, for seasons, for days, and for years. The word “seasons” in verse 14 means something else other than the seasons of the year as we know them. It is the Hebrew word moed, and it means an appointed time. Time was an invention created solely for man’s sake, to give him signs and seasons, or appointed times. As you study the Bible, it becomes obvious why God created time and why it’s important for mankind. We see a purpose for the creation of time in the creation story. We see God worked for six days and rested on the seventh. Then He ordained this same seven-day week pattern in which the children of Israel were to live their lives. He said, “Six days may work be done; but in the seventh is the sabbath of rest, holy to the Lord…” (Exo. 31:15). The Lord gave His people the responsibility to keep track of time, to count the weeks. In addition to counting days in seven-day cycles, they also count the years in seven-year cycles, with the seventh year called the shemitah year.
The number seven is found in many significant time designations. For instance, in Leviticus chapter 23, the Lord instructed the Israelites about His seven appointed feasts, or moeds, that all take place in seven months. Within these seven appointed feasts, we see the number seven in several time designations. The Lord’s Passover occurs on the 14th day of the first month, a multiple of seven (v. 5); then the Feast of Unleavened Bread is observed for seven days. The Day of Pentecost is observed seven Sabbaths (or weeks) and one day. (v. 16). Then in the seventh month, the last three feasts are observed. The last feast, the Feast of Tabernacles, is observed for seven days.
Two more examples where the number seven is involved in important time designations have to do with judgments. When Babylon invaded Jerusalem and took captive thousands of the Jews and brought them back to Babylon, the prophet Jeremiah prophesied they would be released in 70 years. Then when those 70 years were up, Daniel began to seek God. While he was in prayer, an angel appeared and told Daniel about another judgment involving the number seven. As we discussed in the last chapter, the Lord said that after 70 weeks, all God’s plans for the Jewish people and for Jerusalem would be accomplished. But this judgment of 70 weeks was actually 70 weeks of years.
What’s more, the Jewish people live their lives in cycles of seven. For instance, weddings are celebrated for seven days. When someone dies, they mourn for seven days. The Levitical system is centered upon a series of sevens. And let’s not forget the battle for Jericho which was won when seven priests marched around the city for seven days and blew their seven trumpets seven times on the seventh day. Those are just a few examples of the number seven associated with the element of time.
In the next post, we’ll talk about the most important number in the book of Revelation!
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