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The Sevens in Revelation

We are currently studying the book of Revelation on Sunday nights and are currently in chapter 12.

One of the fascinating aspects of the book of Revelation is its obsession with the number seven.  Here is what GK Beale says about the symbolic significance of the number seven not only in the book of Revelation but throughout the Bible:

Past commentators have usually agreed that at least four numbers – three, four, seven and twelve – and their multiples have symbolic meanings in Revelation…OT examples of the number seven as figurative include passages in which priestly figures sprinkle the altar seven times with sacrificial blood, a literal action that also includes the symbolic notion of completeness (e.g., Lev. 8:11; cf. Leviticus 13-16, 23-26)…Seven as a number of completeness is also apparent from the seven days of creation in Genesis 1, which is the complete period of God’s work of creating; likewise, the Hebrew notion of a full week being seven days enhanced the association of seven with completeness.  The OT uses seven repeatedly for the figurative notion of completeness. Similarly, sevenfold wrath in Gen. 4:15, 24 and Ps. 79:12 is best understood as a figurative indication of full or complete wrath to satisfy justice.  The Roman rulers Hadrian (AD 117-138) and Commodus (180-192) minted coins associating their images with seven stars, probably symbolizing their dominion over the whole world…The observation that there were seven colors in a full rainbow further associated seven with completeness  (GK Beale, The Book of Revelation, pp. 58-59 in The New International Greek Testament Commentary).

Beale is not alone in his identifying the meaning of the number seven with completeness.  Apart from the many usages of seven in Revelation there are also broader structural sevens in the book.  It opens with letters to the seven churches, speaks about 7 seals, trumpets and bowls.  So the structure of the book has relationship to sevens:

  • The Seven Churches 1-3
  • The Seven Seals 5-8
  • The Seven Trumpets 8-11
  • The Seven Bowls 16

There appear to be a division into seven in the section of Revelation spanning chapters 12-15 as well.  If you use the words “and I saw” plus “and behold” as divisions you have a series of seven visions as follows:

  1. 12:1-18 The Woman, her Child, and the Dragon
  2. 13::1-10 The Beast from the Sea
  3. 13:11-18 The Beast from the Earth
  4. 14:1-5 The Lamb on Mt. Zion and 144,000
  5. 14:6-13 Three Angels
  6. 14:14-20 Reaping the Harvest
  7. 15:1-4 A Scene in Heaven

This grouping of seven visions ends just as the seals, trumpets and bowls end:  with a scene of heaven that appears to finalize or consummate the series of visions.  A resolution that emphasizes the complete victory, vindication or glory of Christ.

It is interesting to me that if this is an appropriate division of this section that we have 5 consecutive divisions of 7 in the book of Revelation.  I would not want to force anything, but could chapters 17-22 be divided into two final sections of seven that would make the whole book a series of seven sevens?  I didn’t see any of the commentators on my shelf take this tack in dividing the last six chapters…any ideas?

No study on the book of Revelation would be complete without charts…

PDF: Chart of the Letters to the Seven Churches
PDF: Chart of the Seven’s in Revelation an overview of the Structure

 

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