Thursday, December 24, 2015

Why Does The Number Seven Appear So Much In Revelation?

Question: Why does the number seven appear so much in Revelation?

AP: The number seven was the number of perfection in both Babylonian and Semitic culture. What follows is something I wrote about the question at hand in my book Guía para entender el Nuevo Testamento, 4th ed. (Madrid: Trotta, 2011), available here.

Revelation is a very well-thought out and structured work. It is governed by certain literary standards, although these are not hard and fast rules that cannot be broken. The dominant pattern in the book is the repetition of numerical units, which play an important role. The main number is seven. In Rev. 1:4ff, we find seven communities to which are addressed seven letters. In Rev. 1:4, 11, and 15, we find a reference to seven spirits or angels. In Rev. 2:1, there are seven golden lamp stands and seven stars. In Rev. 4:1–8:1, seven seals. In 5:6, seven horns and seven eyes. In Rev. 8:12-12, 9:1-21, 11:15-19, seven trumpets. In Rev. 10:3, seven thunders. In Rev. 11:13, the death of seven thousand people. And there is more. In Rev. 12:3, seven heads; 14:1–15:5, seven visions about the coming of the Son of Man; 15:5–16:21, seven bowls of misfortunes. The meaning of the seven is perfection.

Another number that contrasts with the seven is the number six, which signifies the the inability to achieve perfection. The most typical example of this is the number (or, code name) of the Beast–666 (Rev. 13:18). Another issue, though less important, is the the number four. In Rev. 4:6, we see four creatures before the throne of God; in 7:1, four angels at the four corners of the earth; in 9:13, four horns of the gold altar in heaven and four angels bound in the Euphrates rivers, waiting their opportunity to ravage the earth; in 20:8, the enemy nations are gathered at the four corners of the earth.

The next number that is repeated throughout Revelation is the number three. From Rev. 4:1–8:1, 8:7-12, and 15:5, we see three cycles of seals, trumpets, and bowls. In 8:13, there are three woes. In 12:7, 19:11, and 20:7, there are three eschatological battles. In 8:6–9:13, we learn that only a third of the land is destroyed. In 16:13, we are introduced to the Satanic trinity (dragon, beast, and false prophet) who emitted three unclean spirits. The number three, or a threefold repetition, also means complete.

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