What do the numbers in the Book of Revelation mean?

Purpose

There are some strange numbers in Revelation. For example:

    • God has seven Spirits (Rev 4:5).
    • Exactly 12,000 people from each of the 12 tribes of Israel are sealed by God (Rev 7:3-4).
    • When Christ returns, the blood will flow for a distance of 1,600 furlongs (Rev 14:20 – YLT).
    • The wall of the New Jerusalem is 144 cubits high (Rev 21:17 – NIV).
    • The New Jerusalem itself is a square – 12,000 furlongs (1500 miles) in length and in width (Rev 21:16 YLT).

The purpose of this article is to explain the meanings of these numbers. It shows that all numbers in Revelation are symbols. In other words, for example, God does not literally have seven Spirits. Rather, the number seven says something qualitatively about God’s Spirit. In the same way, God’s people are not literally 144,000 in number. That number says something qualitatively about the end-time remnant.

The Number 4

John “saw FOUR angels standing
at the FOUR corners of the earth,
holding back the FOUR winds
of the earth
” (Rev 7:1).

During the Millennium,
Satan will be released from his prison,
and will come out to deceive the nations
which are in the FOUR corners of the earth

(Rev 20:7-8).

The earth does not literally have 4 corners and there are not literally 4 winds. The number 4 signifies THE WHOLE WORLD. This may be confirmed as follows:

Four words to describe All People

The number 4 is often hidden in phrases that use four related words to describe ALL the people of the world. For example, Revelation 5:9 could have read:

You have … purchased for God with Your blood men
from every
NATION.”

But it is expanded to read:

You have … purchased for God with Your blood men
from
every TRIBE and TONGUE and PEOPLE and NATION.

The following are further instances where four words are used while one word might have been sufficient:

    • Every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues” (Rev 7:9);
    • Many peoples and nations and tongues and kings” (Rev 10:11);
    • The peoples and tribes and tongues and nations” (Rev 11:9);
    • Every tribe and people and tongue and nation” (Rev 13:7);
    • Every nation and tribe and tongue and people” (Rev 14:6);
    • Peoples and nations and tongues and kings” (Rev 17:15);

These seven instances use only the following five concepts but in different permutations:

        • Nations
        • Tribes
        • Peoples
        • Tongues
        • Kings

The fact that all seven of these instances use exactly four words while one word might have been sufficient confirms the significance of the number four. And since all seven instances describe ALL the people of the world indicates that the number four signifies THE WHOLE WORLD.

All Creation

The meaning of the number four can also be seen in that creation is sometimes described as consisting of four parts:

1) “Worship Him who made the HEAVEN and the EARTH and SEA and springs of WATERS” (Rev 14:7).

2) “Every created thing which is in HEAVEN and on the EARTH and UNDER THE EARTH and on the SEA” (Rev 5:13)

Conclusions

1) Since the number four symbolizes the whole earth, and since the “four living creatures (are) full of eyes in front and behind” (Rev 4:6), they symbolize awareness of EVERYTHING that happens on earth.

2) 1600 is equal to 4x4x100. In other words, it is the superlative form of 4, just like 144,000 (12x12x1000) is the superlative form of 12. Therefore, since the number 4 symbolizes the whole earth, the blood that will flow out of the wine press for a distance of 1,600 furlongs (Rev 14:20 YLT) means that people will die all over the world.

3) The first four trumpets attack the four elements of creation as described in Revelation 14:7; the earth, the sea, the waters, and the heavenly bodies (Rev 8:7-12). In other words, they attack the whole world.

4) The same applies to the first four plagues. They also attack the earth, the sea, the waters, and the heavenly bodies (Rev 16:2-8).

The Number 12

The number 12 appears more than a hundred times in the Scriptures and consistently represents the people of God. For example:

12 in the Old Testament

Since Jacob became the father of the twelve patriarchs (Acts 7:8), Israel consisted of twelve tribes (Gen 35:22; 49:28). The lists of the tribes in the Old Testament differ, but there are always 12 in the list. Since the number 12 was regarded as important, there were:

      • Twelve spies of Israel (Deut 1:23),
      • Twelve stones of the Jordan River (Josh 4:2-9),
      • Twelve cities of the Levites (Josh 21:40),
      • Twelve governors for Solomon (1 Kings 4:7),
      • Twelve bronze oxen that held up the bronze sea in Solomon’s temple (1 Kings 7:44; 2 Chr 4:2-4; Jer 52:20),
      • Twelve lions in front of Solomon’s throne (1 Kings 10:18-20; 2 Chr 9:17-19),
      • Elijah’s twelve stones (1 Kings 18:31), and
      • Twenty-four courses of priests, each with twelve trained musicians (1 Chr 25:1-31).

12 in the New Testament

Similarly, Jesus chose exactly 12 disciples; not 11 or 13.

Judas fell away, leaving only 11 disciples, but Revelation still refers to “the twelve apostles of the Lamb” (Rev 21:14).

12 in Revelation

The number 12 also symbolizes God’s people also in Revelation. For example:

1) The pure woman has a crown of “twelve stars” (Rev 12:1). She first gave birth to Christ (Rev 12:5) but, after Christ had ascended to heaven (Rev 12:5), she also had other “children” (Rev 12:17). She, therefore, represents God’s people both before and after Christ. For a further discussion, see – Who are the woman, the dragon, and the child?

2) “The New Jerusalem,” which is another symbol for “the bride, the wife of the Lamb” (Rev 21:9-10), has 12 gates with the names of the 12 tribes of Israel written on them (Rev 21:12), meaning that only Israelites may enter. But it also has 12 foundations with the names of the 12 apostles written on them (Rev 21:14), meaning that this city is built on the foundation of the message of the New Testament. This also means that Revelation merges the church into Israel.

3) In the original language, the height (or width) of the wall of the city is 144 = 12 x 12 cubits (Rev 21:17 YLT).

In conclusion, in both the Old and New Testaments, the number 12 symbolizes God’s people.

The 144,000 Israelites

Since the number 144,000 equals 12x12x1000, it is derived from the number 12. Since 12 symbolizes God’s people, the number 144,000 symbolizes something more specific about God’s people.

Another article (See – Who are the 144000?) shows that the 12,000 from each of the 12 tribes of Israel (144,000 in total) are using Old Testament military language as a symbol. In other words, the doubling of 12 (12×12) in the number 144,000 symbolizes the perfection of the end-time remnant of God’s people; prepared for spiritual battle.

No lie was found in their mouth; they are blameless” (Rev 14:1, 5).

They “have not been defiled with women, for they have kept themselves chaste” (Rev 14:4), meaning that they were not defiled by Babylon, the mother of harlots, or by her harlot daughters (Rev 17:5). They will be pure in their worship of God.

Jerusalem’s Wall

The other symbol in Revelation that employs the number 144 is the wall of the New Jerusalem, which “was 144 cubits thick” (Rev 21:17; NIV or YLT). In ancient times, the wall of a city was the most important defense for the people of that city. Both this huge wall and the 144,000 sons of Israel in Revelation 7:4 use military strength to symbolize something about God’s people:

The 144,000 Israelites symbolize that God’s end-time army will not surrender. They will be willing to die for their testimony (Rev 12:11).

The huge wall of the New Jerusalem symbolizes the spiritual strength of God’s eternal people: Never again will anybody be able to tempt them to sin.

The 24 Elders

In Revelation, there are 24 elders in God’s throne room (e.g., Rev 4:4); comparable to the 24 names written on the New Jerusalem.

Since the number 24 is equal to 12 + 12, the root number for the 24 elders is 12. And since the number 12 symbolizes the PEOPLE OF GOD, the number 24 symbolizes some aspect of God’s people.

The number 24 could be drawn from the fact that the Old Testament priests were organized into 24 divisions, each of which served consecutively in the temple for a week at a time (1 Chr 24:1-19). In Revelation 5:8, “the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each one holding … golden bowls full of incense.” The incense seems to imply that they function as priests. So, associating the elders with the 24 divisions of the Israelite priesthood is certainly possible.

Specifically, another article has concluded that the 24 elders are human representatives of God’s people in God’s throne room. They sit on thrones, meaning that they rule the world under “Him who sits on the throne” (Rev 4:9).

The Number 7

Seven is the most prominent number in Revelation (e.g., seven churches, seven seals, seven trumpets, seven bowls, seven heads of the beast, etc.). This number is mentioned 56 times in Revelation.

The number seven is derived from the seven days of the week. Similar to the days of the week, many of the sevens in Revelation imply a sequence of events, namely, the second follows after the first—the third after the second, and so forth, with the seventh being the last or the end (e.g., the seven seals). In that respect, the number seven in Revelation is different from the other numbers in Revelation.

The number seven, therefore, has to do with time and should be understood as the completion or perfection of time. Just like the number 4 means EVERYWHERE, the number 7 means ALWAYS.

Seven Spirits

One of the sevens in Revelation is God’s seven Spirits (Rev 3:1; 4:5; 5:6). This number must be interpreted symbolically. God does not literally have seven Spirits.

Since the number seven symbolizes ALWAYS, and due to the connection between the Spirits and the seven lamps in the temple (Rev 4:5) that were ALWAYS burning, the seven Spirits of God can be understood to mean that God’s Spirit is ALWAYS with us.

The Seven Heads

There are three beasts in Revelation that have seven heads and ten horns each (Rev 12:3; 13:1; 17:3). Although these beasts represent different things, they all have the same seven heads and ten horns. The seven heads of the beast are the seven phases of the beast, covering all time.

The Number 2

Similar to the number 4, the number 2 is often hidden in phrases that mention two related things, for example:

John, who testified to the WORD OF GOD and to the TESTIMONY OF JESUS CHRIST, even to all that he saw” (Rev 1:1).

The WORD OF GOD and … the TESTIMONY OF JESUS” (Rev 1:2);

I, John … was on the island called Patmos because of the WORD OF GOD and the TESTIMONY OF JESUS” (Rev 1:9).

Those who had been slain because of the WORD OF GOD,
and because of the TESTIMONY which they had maintained
” (Rev 6:9).

Her children, who keep the COMMANDMENTS OF GOD and … the TESTIMONY OF JESUS CHRIST” (Rev 12:17);

The saints who keep the COMMANDMENTS OF GOD and their FAITH IN JESUS” (Rev 14:12);

Those who had been beheaded because of their TESTIMONY OF JESUS CHRIST and … the WORD OF GOD” (Rev 20:4).

These seven verses, therefore, refer to only four related concepts:

    • The word of God,
    • The testimony of Jesus,
    • The commandments of God, and
    • Faith in Jesus.

These seven instances combine these four concepts differently but always list only two of the four concepts, indicating the significance of the number two. Since these seven verses always describe God’s people, the number 2 symbolizes God’s people. This symbolism is probably based on the Old Testament principle that at least two witnesses are required to confirm evidence (e.g., 2 Cor 13:1; 1 Tim 5:19).

The following are further examples of the number 2:

1) The two witnesses (Rev 11:3);

2) The strong angel’s two “feet like pillars of fire,” which He placed on the sea and on the land; The sea and the land symbolize the people of the world (cf. Rev 13:1, 11). The angel’s fiery feet are another symbol of the fire that flows out of the mouth of the two witnesses (Rev 11:5).

3) Revelation 13 mentions the dragon, the beast, and the beast from the earth (Rev 13:1-2, 11) but later Revelation identifies the beast from the earth as the “the false prophet” (Rev 16:13; 19:20; 20:10). The beast from the earth has “two horns like a lamb” (Rev 13:11). In name, it is a Christian organization. But “he spoke as a dragon” (Rev 13:11). For that reason, it is “the false prophet” (Rev 16:13).


Summary

This article analyses the meanings of the numbers 2, 4, 7, and 12 in the book of Revelation.

The Number 4

The number 4 signifies THE WHOLE WORLD. For example:

1) John “saw FOUR angels standing
at the FOUR corners of the earth,
holding back the FOUR winds
of the earth
” (Rev 7:1; cf. Rev 20:7-8).

2) The number 4 is often hidden in phrases that use four related words to describe ALL the people of the world, for example, “men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Rev 5:9; cf. Rev 7:9; 10:11; 11:9; 13:7; 14:6; 17:15). Since all seven these instances describe ALL the people of the world, this confirms that the number four signifies THE WHOLE WORLD.

3) Creation is also sometimes described as consisting of four parts (Rev 5:13; 14:7).

In conclusion, since 1,600 is equal to 4x4x100, it is the superlative form of 4, just like 144,000 (12x12x1000) is the superlative form of 12. Therefore, since the number 4 symbolizes the whole earth, the blood that will flow out of the wine press for a distance of 1,600 furlongs (Rev 14:20 YLT) means that people will die all over the world.

The Number 12

The number 12 appears more than a hundred times in the Scriptures and consistently represents the people of God. For example, the lists of the tribes in the Old Testament differ, but there are always 12 in the list. In the New Testament, Jesus chose exactly 12 disciples; not 11 or 13. The number 12 also symbolizes God’s people also in Revelation. For example:

1) The pure woman, representing God’s people both before and after Christ, has a crown of “twelve stars” (Rev 12:1).

2) “The New Jerusalem,” which is another symbol for “the bride, the wife of the Lamb,” has 12 gates, the names of the 12 tribes of Israel, 12 foundations, and the names of the 12 apostles (Rev 21:9-10, 12, 14). And its wall is 12 x 12 cubits high (Rev 21:17 YLT).

The number 144,000, therefore, which is equal to 12x12x1000, is derived from the number 12 and symbolizes the perfection of the end-time remnant of God’s people; prepared for spiritual battle.

The Number 7

The number seven is different from the other numbers in Revelation because it implies a sequence of events. The number seven, therefore, has to do with time and should be understood as the completion or perfection of time. While the number 4 means EVERYWHERE, the number 7 means ALWAYS. Consequently, God’s seven Spirits (Rev 3:1; 4:5; 5:6) symbolize that God’s Spirit is ALWAYS with us. And the seven heads of the beast (Rev 12:3; 13:1; 17:3) are the seven phases of the beast, covering all time.

The Number 2

Similar to the number 4, the number 2 is often hidden in phrases that mention two related things, such as “the WORD OF GOD and to the TESTIMONY OF JESUS CHRIST” (Rev 1:1; cf. Rev 1:2, 9; 6:9; 12:17; 14:12; 20:4). All seven these instances describe God’s people. The number 2, therefore, symbolizes God’s people. We see this number also in the two witnesses (Rev 11:3). Similarly, the two horns of the lamblike beast indicate that this beast symbolizes an organization that is Christian in name. But “he spoke as a dragon” (Rev 13:11), which is Satan (Rev 12:9). For that reason, it is “the false prophet” (Rev 16:13).

Even some of the most learned people do not understand the symbolic nature of numbers. For example, the NASB converts the 12,000 furlongs (Rev 21:16) into 1,500 miles. This destroys the symbolism, which is dangerous, for John has warned, “if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life” (Rev 22:19).

– End of Summary – 


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