What do all the numbers in Revelation mean?

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.

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How do I know if God is speaking?

Many people experience the sensation of a spiritual force speaking to them outside the normal senses of man. Many religious people have had the experience of being in communication with God. The challenge facing those who think they may have heard God speaking is the uncertainty of rightly interpreting the source of those influences. The ability to distinguish between the voice of God and one’s own sinful longings. How does one separate the voice of God from the urgings of one’s own flesh and from evil temptations?

I am a strict cessationist, stricter even than many of my fellow cessationists. A cessationist is one that believes, among other things, God is no longer giving new revelation to man. God stopped talking directly to men when the Bible was completed and now speaks exclusively through His Word. He does not guide men through dreams, visions or voices. He guides men through the Bible. This does not deny the work of the Holy Spirit to give a person understanding of the meaning of the Bible nor the work of the Spirit to convict of sin and apply the Bible to the individual’s life. The Holy Spirit’s work takes place through a renovation of the heart and mind not through promptings or inner impressions.

God is speaking when you read and rightly understand His Word. His voice is clear and unmistakable. All other voices are ambiguous and leave the individual attempting to navigate a maze of pitfalls in the attempt to determine whether or not a voice is of God. Our own senses are very easily deceived. Mr. Scrooge was right on target when he argued with Marley’s ghost about the gullibility of the senses. “A little thing affects them. A slight disorder of the stomach makes them cheats. You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato. There’s more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!” The unreliability of our senses, especially the internal impressions, makes it paramount that Christian’s have an accurate scale by which to measure out the true value of our sensations.

When reading the Bible there is no doubt about its source. The will of God is clear in the Bible. You know God is speaking when you read His Word. When you obey what He says in His Word you will know His power, His care and His guidance over your life. This will never fail. Though there may be times when you do not perceive the Lord to be as close as at other times, He will remain true to His promises. He will never leave you nor forsake you.

Let me offer some closing thoughts for those who are now mad because I have seemingly denied the working of the Holy Spirit and the miraculous guidance of the Father in your life. Though you may believe God speaks in ways outside His Word, never imagine that He speaks without His Word. One cannot neglect the Word for a sensation of a conversation. One cannot let inner promptings guide him down a path that contradicts the plain commands of the Bible. God never speaks without His Word. Do not allow an experience or the desire for an experience to be more important than God’s Word. Remember the words of Peter, “We have a more sure word of prophecy, whereunto ye do well that ye take heed; as unto a light that shineth in a dark place.” (2 Peter 1:19)