The last book of the Bible is filled with numbers. Numeric references begin in the very first chapter with the seven spirits of God and increase from there. The next two chapters are addressed seven churches in Asia Minor. The judgments described come in groups of seven: seven seals, seven trumpets, seven thunders and seven bowls. The judgments afflict people and creation in thirds and quarters. The beast of Revelation has ten horns. The book of Revelation includes measures of months- 42- and days- 1,260 and 3 1/2. One hundred forty-four thousand Jewish men are set aside for God and two witnesses preach in Jerusalem. The list could continue, but no consideration of the numbers in Revelation would be complete without the mark of the beast- 666. Why does Revelation have so many numbers, some of which are frequently repeated? What is the significance of all these numbers.
The book of Revelation abounds with images that are difficult for its readers to fully understand. Certain sections are clearly symbolic representations that use fantastic imagery to depict historic and future events. Other sections are not as certainly symbolic. This author believes the majority of Revelation to be a literal depiction of future events. The amount of symbolism in Revelation makes the question of the importance of the numbers a difficult one to answer.
Most of the numbers have no discernible importance outside of identifying quantities or periods of time. The number of Jewish men set apart for God cannot be said to have any particular significance. The repetition of thirds in describing destruction is intriguing, but the Bible gives no hint that the fraction should be understood as anything other than a specific measurement. The reader of Revelation must take care to not assign any importance to a number without Scriptural direction. While there may be some significance to some of the numbers, the Bible does not tell what the significance may be. Without a Biblical statement it is impossible to determine any symbolic meaning of a number.
Revelation contains two notable numbers that are given some symbolical meaning. The number seven is used over 30 times in the book of Revelation. As used in the Bible, and in Jewish thought, the number seven seems to indicate, at times, completion, fulfillment or perfection. Consequently, the description of the “seven spirits of God” in Revelation 1 appears to be a description of the perfect Holy Spirit. Seven may also have significance in its usage in other places in Revelation, but determining the places where seven has a more symbolic import is difficult. No certain doctrines of future events can be developed based upon a speculative application of a symbolic seven. Any other symbolism attached to the number seven does eliminate literal meaning. The book of Revelation was first written to seven real churches. Whatever symbolic meaning may be found in the groups of seven judgments, the judgments are real and seven in number.
The number 666 has gained a lot of attention over the years as the mark of the beast. Described in Revelation 13:16-18 the mark of the beast is a mark placed on the hand or head which is required to sell or purchase any goods. This mark is described as “the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man.” The mark of the beast is a particular number which is uniquely indicative of man. Some have speculated that six is the number of man because man was created on the sixth day of creation. Whether this is true or not, Revelation 13 directly connects six hundred sixty six with the Antichrist. The number 666 seems to uniquely identify the Antichrist and those who worship him.
Most of the numbers of Revelation should be viewed as nothing more than counters of time or amount. Some may have some symbolic significance, but that symbolic meaning is left unclear in the Bible. What matters is the clear message of Revelation: Jesus is returning. He will return in conquest executing judgment on all who have not believed Him.