Summary: This article was written and published December, 2016. Many prophetic passages in Scripture use symbolic language and types. The proper understanding of these passages is dependent on having the proper definition of these prophetic symbols and then consistently apply this definition to these symbols every time they are found in Scripture. The numbers seven and twelve are found in many prophetic passages. These numbers in particular have a double meaning. One is the direct numbering of a group of objects or individuals, the counting from one to seven or twelve. But the use of these numbers in Scripture always caries with them a secondary and spiritual meaning.
In Scripture, we can’t help but noticing the repeated use of the numbers seven (7) and twelve (12). Often we will see multiples of the number twelve in use, while I am not aware of any use of multiples of seven. In prophetic passages these numbers will always give an added descriptive meaning to the object it is associated with, becoming an adjective specifically characterizing it. It becomes more than simply counting from one to seven, or one to twelve. In prophecy, these numbers have more than just a numeric meaning.
Seven is a prophetic number representing spiritual completeness, wholeness, or perfection. There are seven stars, seven candlesticks, seven churches and seven Spirits, all in the first chapter of Revelation (Rev. 1:4, 11, 12, 16). There are seven epistles written to the churches (Rev. 2 and Rev. 3). For that matter, there are seven seals on the scroll (Rev. 5:1), seven heads on the great, fiery red dragon (Rev. 12:3), seven trumpets, seven bowls, seven heads on the Roman beast (Rev. 13:1), and seven horns and eyes on the Lamb that had been slain (Rev. 5:6). The number seven is a prophetic number signifying completeness and perfection, regardless of whether it is a descriptive adjective of a good or evil object.
As we can see above, the number seven is often used in the book of Revelation. Thus, at the beginning, in Revelation 1:4, “…the seven Spirits who are before His throne…” is not teaching us that there are seven Holy Spirits. When we understand the general character of the book of Revelation, that it is a book of prophecy, and prophecy is about God’s government of the earth, then we better comprehend the Holy Spirit symbolized here by seven Spirits as the perfection and completeness of the providential wisdom and power of the Spirit of God in the earth as related to God’s throne of government in heaven – from the seven Spirits who are before His throne.
The seven churches represent the whole body of Christendom (Rev. 1:11). The seven candlesticks represent the complete responsibility of testimony of Christendom (Rev. 1:12). To literally view them as seven specific churches in Asia during the first century is to forget that the book of Revelation is a prophetic book. The seven epistles given in the second and third chapters of Revelation form a complete picture and history of Christendom on the earth from God’s perspective and judgment (Rev. 2 and Rev. 3). Matthew thirteen does a similar thing – the seven parables provide a complete prophetic picture of the progression of the Christian dispensation.
The number isn’t restricted to good, but also can be applied of evil. In Matthew 12 when the unclean spirit that came out of Israel returns and finds the house swept and clean, he goes and takes with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself to occupy the empty house. This is the perfection and completeness of evil and idolatry of Israel’s last state under the future Antichrist (Matt. 12:43-45). The revived Roman beast depicted in the Revelation has seven heads (Rev. 13:1, 17:3). I do not doubt that through the course of the history of the Roman empire, there were seven different forms of government, and the head that was mortally wounded and healed is its imperial form (Rev. 13:3), still the seven heads show the perfection of evil associated with Gentile world government. The dragon (Satan) is seen in the very same form in Rev. 12:3 – his perfection of evil in the form of the Roman empire.
There are other sevens found in the Revelation. In chapter five, the slain Lamb in the midst of the throne is seen as having seven horns and seven eyes – horns refer to power and eyes refer to intelligence (Rev. 5:6). All or complete authority and power were given to Jesus when He was raised from the dead (Matt. 28:18) – here is the explanation connecting “…a Lamb as though it had been slain…” with “…having seven horns…” It refers to the perfection of power He now possesses as the Man raised from the dead and glorified to the right hand of God. The seven eyes refer to the perfection of knowledge and intelligence He possesses – He sees everything, and nothing is hidden from Him. The “eyes” are the exercise of divine intelligence in the government of the earth (See 2 Chron. 16:9; Zech. 4:10). Notice this relates to His possession of the Spirit without measure, and the anticipation of the Spirit being His direct agent of judgment and government in the earth – “…which are the seven Spirits of God sent out into all the earth.” By these things, seven horns, seven eyes, and seven Spirits of God, Jesus is to soon exercise the divine perfection of government over the world.
A short but more in-depth explanation of Revelation five could be beneficial to our understanding of prophecy – the figure of a slain Lamb mostly references Jesus Christ as the glorified Son of Man. Certainly death, and resurrection from the dead, bring out the fact of His humanity, as it is seen in Philippians 2:5-11 and Hebrews 10:1-14. What may be harder to comprehend is what proper meaning should be given to the scroll with seven seals, in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne. This scroll represents the inheritance of all created things, which God will give to Jesus Christ. Certainly, Jesus has all rights to this as the One who created it and sustains it (Col. 1:16-17). He is the appointed heir as the Son of God (Heb. 1:2). But the important reality is that He only takes the inheritance as a Man, raised from the dead and glorified (Eph. 1:20-23) – so that, through His redemptive work, He may make His co-heirs fit to share with Him in the same inheritance (Col. 1:12-14, Eph. 1:11). These truths are part of this scene in heaven – all things created forming the inheritance (Rev. 4:11) and the co-heirs having been redeemed, who will inherit it (Rev. 5:9). These will reign with Him over the earth (Rev. 5:10). The truth remains, all creation is to be reconciled by the work of the Son of Man (Rev. 5:11-13, Col. 1:20). All authority to execute judgment has been given to the Son, because He is the Son of Man (John 5:27).
The numbers seven and twelve are unique. Seven is the largest indivisible number and it caries the thought of perfection in unity, wholeness, complete. Twelve is the smallest number that is divisible by four other numbers. It is that of human and finite perfection, referencing administrative order and authority (power) in man or creation. The number and its multiples are used in scripture beginning with the twelve sons of Jacob, heads of the twelve tribes of Israel. In the ministry of the temple there would be the 24 courses of priesthood. With Jesus, there would be the twelve main disciples becoming the twelve apostles, Matthias taking Judas’ place (Acts 1:26).
Matt. 19:28 (NKJV)
“So Jesus said to them, “Assuredly I say to you, that in the regeneration, when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”
This passage gives all the connections: Twelve endowed thrones of human administration and government over a nation (Israel) made up of twelve tribes. Many would say this is Messianic because it speaks of the ruling over the nation of Israel, and the King who eventually rules over Israel in the future millennium will be their Messiah. We all know this millennial King is Jesus Christ, the One who is speaking these words and making this promise. Jesus is the Messiah of Israel, King of the Jews. But Messiah isn’t the title He chooses to use for Himself in the above passage. Instead He uses the distinctive title of the Son of Man, and this Man sitting on a throne over Israel, with twelve other men sharing in this government of the nation. There is a deliberate reference here to what will be human perfection in administration.
In the Revelation, the woman seen in the vision of chapter twelve has on her head a garland of twelve stars – she is Israel in the counsels of God and the stars symbolic of the twelve tribes (Rev. 12:1). The first part of this vision is not historical, but simply descriptive. It is the mind of God showing His counsels concerning three great objects symbolically shown – the woman as Israel, the male Child as Jesus, and the dragon as Satan in the form of the evil of the Roman empire. The visions of chapters twelve and thirteen are remarkable in that they show, in a general yet comprehensive way, all Satan does in evil to oppose the glory of Christ (Rev. 12:4) – the dragon stood before the woman who was ready to give birth, to devour her Child as soon as it was born. One of the great objects of all scripture is the conflict between Christ and Satan.
We are given a descriptive vision of the holy city, the New Jerusalem, in the heavens over the millennial earth (Rev. 21:9-22:5). The number twelve and its multiples are extensively involved here – twelve gates, twelve angels at each gate, and the names of the twelve tribes of Israel written on them (Rev. 21:12). The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them the names of the twelve apostles (Rev. 21:14). The measurements of the length, breadth, and height of the city where equally twelve thousand furlongs each. The measurement of the wall was 144 (12×12) cubits. This all shows finite human administrative perfection. It is a vision of the bride, the Lamb’s wife (Rev. 21:9) – it is what the church will be in the heavens, over the millennial earth, pouring out blessing and grace, according to her perfected administrative nature in Christ.
A circle or sphere has neither beginning or end. But the city is a cube, based on the shape of a square (Rev. 21:16) – this has equal measurement in every direction. A cube has twelve edges which all come to an end. It is finite human perfection. As the heavenly city, the church is the bride and help-meet of the second Adam, and displays this governmental perfection over the millennial earth. There is no temple seen in the city (Rev. 21:22-23), because God displays His glory in it and through it (the church).
The city has a street of pure gold, like transparent glass (Rev. 21:21) – this is the fixed, unalterable purity of divine righteousness of the church in glory (the literal fulfillment of Eph. 3:21). God’s glory lights up the city, and this glory is centered on the Lamb. The nations on the millennial earth will walk in the blessing of its light (Rev. 21:24) – the heavenly glory of the church now enlightening the earth. This is the church in glory (Col. 3:4), and the earth will learn what place and privilege the faithful received, having previously suffered with Christ on the earth, so they would be glorified together with Him (Rom. 8:17-18, 29-30). The millennial world will know how the Father sent the Son, and that those who were rejected by the world were loved by the Father as He loved the Son (John 17:22-23).
Here is one of the more important recognitions needed to be made in the book of Revelation:
Rev. 4:4 (NKJV)
“Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and on the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white robes; and they had crowns of gold on their heads.”
Here the idea is definitely not counting to twelve or twenty-four and attempting to figure out who these men individually are by name. The twenty-four elders are symbolic of a large corporate body that is unnamed. As believers, we need the teaching and guidance of the Holy Spirit to properly identify this group. The same thoughts associated with the number twelve are involved – the perfection of human administration and government. These elders sit on endowed thrones associated with the throne of God in heaven. God’s throne in Revelation has a specific character – one of judgments and government (all the symbols in Rev. 4:5 directly point to this character). Chapter four depicts the elders as kings sitting on thrones; chapter five depicts them as priests offering up prayers of the saints; when the elders sing a new song, they sing of how their redemption by the shed blood of the slain Lamb has made them kings and priests to their God, and they will reign over the earth (Rev. 5:9-10). In chapter one it is the church that responds to the mention of the name of Jesus Christ by saying, (He) has made us kings and priests to His God and Father (Rev. 1:6). The twenty-four elders are symbolic of the true church, the body of Christ, in the heavens (although the Old Testament saints do not form any part of the church, they probably are included in what is represented here by the twenty-four elders – all the heavenly company of saints, Rev. 12:11-12, 13:6, 19:7-9). Everywhere the elders are mentioned in the book, it is a symbolic representation of the heavenly saints after the rapture of the true church from the earth (Rev. 4:4, 10, 5:5-8, 14, 7:11-13, 11:16, 14:3, 19:4).
(the following material is several paragraphs from the third book, THE CORRUPTION AND DEATH OF CHRISTENDOM. It has some similar thoughts about the number seven used prophetically in scripture, but also some additional thoughts)
Yet with some prophetic subjects the grouping of seven can be separated into divisions of three and four, or four and three. This is the case with the seven churches. The first three are looking back to Pentecost, the church’s first position, and the corporate entity of Christendom being acknowledged by God. The last four messages are looking forward to the return of Christ, and the corporate entity is not acknowledged by God, being viewed by Him as corrupt and dead. Also, the first three epics of Christendom’s history have come and ended, while the last four states of Christendom exist in their distinct characters until the end.
In Revelation, the seven seals are divided into four and three (Rev. 6). The first four seals are providential in character, while the remaining three are quite distinct. If we look closely the trumpet and bowl judgments have a similar division. The seven parables that tell the prophetic story of the Christian dispensation (the kingdom of heaven) in Matthew 13 are also divided into four and three. The first four were spoken to the multitudes with the disciples present. The last three were spoken in private to the disciples only. Those spoken to the multitudes have a worldlier perspective. Those spoken to the disciples in private carry more of a divine perspective.
The Prophetic Number Seven[88 The number seven is often used in the book of Revelation. It has a prophetic character for perfection and completeness. Thus in Revelation 1:4, “…the seven Spirits who are before His throne…” is not the Holy Spirit as the Comforter to the church, but the perfection of the providential wisdom and power of the Spirit of God in the earth as related to God’s throne of government in heaven. Also in Matthew 13 we are given seven parables that provide a ‘complete’ prophetic picture of the progression of the dispensation of the kingdom of heaven. In Matthew 12 when the unclean spirit that came out of Israel returns and finds the house swept and clean, he goes and takes with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself to occupy the empty house. This is the perfection and completeness of evil and idolatry of Israel’s last state under the future Antichrist (Matt. 12:43-45)]
For the seven churches the number refers to the whole of professing Christianity as a corporate body, the entire spoiled crop in the field. The seven candlesticks represent a picture of the singular responsibility of the crop during the complete time of Christendom on the earth. Seven often represents the forming of the ‘whole’ from differing parts or states. The number portrays the complete circle of God’s thoughts about Christendom.
This is where the issues are confounded for those struggling to understand the meaning of the vision and messages. It is confusion with the recognition of these three symbols: stars, candlesticks, and the number seven. The number seven is attached to both the stars and the candlesticks. If you are simply counting from one to seven when thinking of the stars and candlesticks, you are losing most of the intended meaning. If you do not realize that the stars and candlesticks stand in contrast to each other, both in principle and source, you are losing the rest of their true meaning. It is not just what the stars represent and what the candlesticks represent. It is also what the number seven represents when it is used as an adjective for those symbols? The number seven is itself an allegory.
We truly are not looking at individual churches in the seven messages (Rev. 1:11). We are not really looking just at the church located in Smyrna or Pergamos. We are looking at the complete corporate ‘whole’ of professing Christianity as it progresses through these seven specific conditions or states. Yes, we admit, individual Christians could benefit from the moral instruction found in each of the messages. And we admit there were these seven churches in Asia in these conditions at the time John was banished to Patmos. But this would not be their properly intended use as given by Christ and spoken by the Spirit. So, we have the seven stars representing the complete or entire body of Christ as she is seen in the eternal counsels and purpose of God, and kept in Christ’s sovereign grace and power (Rev. 1:16). We also have the seven candlesticks as actually one candlestick progressing through seven divisions or characters of the outward professing body in time on the earth (Rev. 1:12). Therefore, the vision concerns the entire church world during its time of existence, from the time after John to its end. And because it is the responsibility of man in Christendom, God must judge the works of man and how much light, if any, is being given by the candlestick.