There are three factors that we must understand about numbers and their use in apocalyptic literature.
Think with me for a minute. Go back to those first “ABC” books in your childhood. “A (1) is for Apple, B (2) is for ball, C (3) is for cat, D (4) is for dog, E (5) is for elephant. In this simple illustration an apple could represent the number one. The number one could represent an apple. The apple (or number one) could represent the letter A. There is a three-way connection.
In early language development and alphabet development letters were used for numbers. Here was the usual process. The first nine letters are single digit numbers (1-9). Then you begin 10, 20, 30, 40, etc. up to 90. Then you have 100, 200, 300, etc. Here is our alphabet and the numerical equivalents.
A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 20 30 40 50 60 70 80 90 100 200 300 400 500 600 700 800
The next step in the process was to find the sum of the letter values. Using the chart above notice that “CAT” would be the numbers, 3, 1, 200. Add those three numbers and cat = 204. “Manly” has a numerical equivalence of 821. Superstitious people would determine destiny, tell fortunes, and encrypt signatures on a document using these numbers. Jesus would be J=10, E=5, S=100, U=300, S=100 – Thus, Jesus = 515. By the use of such “code” numbers they could discuss Jesus without using his name. They could say, “We met at 515 and had a good discussion.” Translated, this meant that the church met and learned more about Jesus.
Numbers came to represent concepts and ideas. I will give you just a brief introduction to this concept.
1 = Unity, independence, alone
2 = Courage, strength, energy
3 = God (trinity), triangle, divine power
4 = World (4 directions, 4 corners), human world, work, live and die in this world
5 = Completeness, full, well-rounded man, all members intact (5 fingers, 5 toes)
7 = Combine 4 (man) and 3 (God) and you get 7, a perfect number.
6 = Imperfect, just short of perfection, defeat, failure
10, 70 = multiples of numbers were used to emphasize the single digit.
Jesus was asked about forgiving 7 times. He responded until 70 times 7. He was saying perfection multiplied by perfection times perfection.
4 X 3 = 12
7 divided by 2 = 3 ½ - 3 ½ years, 42 months, 1260 days are the same length of time
|1||Unity of the ability to stand alone. God is one Lord.|
|2||Strength or courage. 2 are stronger than 1. The disciples of Jesus went out by 2’s.|
|3||Deity. The divine or spiritual number. The Godhead is a 3-fold in nature, God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit.|
|4||The physical world in which we live. The 4 winds and 4 corners of earth are frequently used. There are also 4 directions of the earth: north, south, east, and west.|
|7||Perfection. A sacred number, the perfect divine number, “3”, plus the perfect number of this physical world, “4”, equals “7” or total perfection.|
|10||Completeness. If a person has all 10 fingers and toes, he is humanly complete. The number “5” is used in connection with this to mean half complete or more specifically, incomplete or short of persecution.|
|1000; 10 X 10 X 10||Ultimate completeness|
|12||Organized religion. There were 12 tribes of Israel and 12 apostles. They represent the two laws which God gave man to follow.|
|6||Evil. This number falls short of the perfect number “7”. It carries with it the idea of impending doom or destruction.|
|3 ½||A time of despair or confusion. This number is expressed several ways such as time, times, and half a time, 1260 days, and 42 months.|
|144,000||The entire redeemed from the earth; all God’s people of all ages.|
Not every number in the Bible has a symbolic meaning. Here is a caution that must be remembered. Not every number in the Bible has some special symbolic meaning. There are many numbers – size, distance, age, cost, or other numbers that are just that – numbers. DO NOT TRY TO READ SOME HIDDEN MEANING INTO EVERY NUMBER IN THE BIBLE.
Do not play “spiritual calculator” with numbers. Double this, divide by this, it is a multiple of – these are the games played by those trying to predict the end of the world or the coming of Christ. The most famous use of the spiritual calculator is in the number of the beast – 666. There are all kinds of ways to “play” with this number and try to make it identify some nation, kingdom, man, or position. I have seen, literally, dozens of different ways this number has been interpreted, calculated, twisted and played with.