The book of Revelation is filled with numbers—both large and small. Many who read the book get caught up in attempting to decipher what each one means and how they all fit together as if the book were an equation to be solved. What’s the deal with 1,260 days? Will only 144,000 people be saved? What makes 666 an “evil” number? Can we calculate when Christ will return?
The most important thing to keep in mind while reading Revelation is that these numbers are symbols—not statistics. They are also allusions to the ways and places the Old Testament authors used numbers in their writing. The Gospels and Acts are filled with them. John is trying to convey an incredible reality that he has almost no words for. Where language fails, images take over. John reaches for symbolic numbers to capture the vision of Revelation.
Here’s a quick look at the symbolism these numbers convey throughout the Bible and in Revelation:
2 – witness
3 – completeness
4 – natural completeness, universality (4 winds, 4 corners of the earth)
6 – man/humanity
7 – divine completeness, perfection, holiness (7 colors of the rainbow, 7 days of creation)
10 – completeness as fullness (10 fingers, 10 toes, 10 Commandments)
12 – double measure of human witness (12 tribes, 12 apostles)
24 – the Church (12 tribes + 12 apostles)
666 – less than perfection (three times less), merely human (versus divine)
1,000 – largeness, hugeness (10 x 10 x 10)
1,260 – an apocalyptic “year” (360 days in a Jewish year x 3.5 [Rev. 12:14])
144,000 – countlessness (12 x 12 x 10 x 10 x 10)