In this post I offer an amillennial perspective on the meaning of key numbers and images found in the Revelation.

As you will see, I rarely, if ever, understand them literally. Rather, I understand them typologically and figuratively. I view them as symbols—drawn by the Holy Spirit from both the Old and New Testaments—designed to speak to the Church about her life under the New Covenant, her relationship with the High King of heaven, and her long, difficult, but also fruitful and ultimately triumphant journey through the wilderness of this world and into the Promised Land.

This post will appear in an appendix of a book I am currently writing, giving readers a short, amillennial overview of the Revelation. For that reason, the list below does not contain many proof texts. I will supply those more fully in the body of the book, along with further comments on the topics in view.

The numbers in parentheses beside each entry indicate the chapter(s) in which the symbol is found.

I sincerely hope that this little glossary of key symbols—like the little book that the angel gave to the apostle John to eat—will be sweet in your mouth and nourishing to your soul, as you make your pilgrim way in the company of the High King.

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1. The Seven Golden Lampstands (1): The seven churches in Asia, symbolizing, through the use of the number seven, the universal Church of all times and places.

 

2. The Seven Stars (1): The seven messengers (or angels) of the churches, likely sent to John to receive the Revelation and take it home to their respective cities; a symbol of all church leaders, and their privilege and duty to share the contents of this message with God’s people.

 

3. The Sword, Great and Sharp (1): The Word of God, emanating from the mouth of the Son of God, the High King of heaven; a powerful two-edged sword that, like a surgeon’s scalpel, has power both to heal and to harm.

 

4. The Throne of God (4): A symbol of the sovereignty of God the Father: the Creator, Ruler, Judge, and Redeemer of the universe.

 

5. The Four Living Creatures (4): Symbolizing the seraphim, who manifest the attributes of God and Christ, and who are caught up in the contemplation and worship of the glory of God (Is. 6:2). However, the fact that they are four in number signifies that these too, like all the other angels, have a ministry to the four corners of the earth below; that is, to all the heirs of salvation (Heb. 1:4).

 

6. The 24 Elders, Seated on 24 Thrones (4): The universal Church, comprised both of OT saints (symbolized by the number 12, for the patriarchs), and NT saints (symbolized by the number 12, for the apostles). Here the Church is styled as a company of elders, perhaps because, by God’s eternal decree, she has a share in the eternity of the Ancient of Days (Dan. 7:9, 13, 22); but certainly because, being seen on 24 thrones surrounding the one throne of God, she has a share in his authority and power; and because, through Christ, she is destined to reign in life with him (Rom. 5:17).

 

7. The Seven Lamps Before the Throne (4): Explicitly identified as the seven spirits of God, which is yet another symbol pointing to the complete (7), many-faceted work of the one Holy Spirit in the earth below. Revelation 3:1 pictures the seven spirits of God in the hand of Christ, who, through the Spirit, is now at work, both in the Church and in the (history of the) world (John 15:26-25; Acts 2:33).

 

8. The Sea of Glass (4, 15): The infinite holiness of God, which, like a vast ocean, separates sinners from eternal life before his throne; but, as chapter 5 reveals, a sea that is now bridgeable, and a throne that is now accessible, thanks to the redemptive work of Christ.

 

9. The Scroll in the Father’s Right Hand (5): A last will and testament, containing the fullness of the inheritance of the saints, decreed in eternity by God the Father. Its contents will later be revealed in chapters 21-22, which describe the glory of the Bride of Christ and the Family of God in the World to Come.

 

10. The Seven Seals (5, 6, 8): The events of the Era of Gospel Proclamation, predestined to occur prior to the opening of the scroll and the saints’ reception of their full inheritance. According to the symbolism of chapter 5, the Lord Jesus Christ, the High King of heaven, alone has the qualifications, authority, and power to break the seals; that is, to bring these events to pass.

 

11. The Lamb with Seven Horns and Seven Eyes (5): The Redeemer, the exalted Lord Jesus Christ. In the days of his humiliation he served his people both as High Priest and Sacrifice: as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Now, through his exaltation, the Lamb has perfect power (symbolized by seven horns) and perfect knowledge (symbolized by seven eyes), especially of the happenings on the earth below (5:6).

 

12. The Rider on the White Horse (6, 19): The exalted Lord Jesus Christ, riding out into the earth, by the Spirit, through the evangelizing Church, conquering for the cause of the Gospel, and bent on final conquest: the perfect fulfillment of God’s redemptive and judicial purposes for the world (Psalm 45; Rev. 19:11-18).

 

13. The Three Horsemen that Follow (6): War, economic disruption, and death (both physical and spiritual). These symbolize the judicial consequences of the going forth of the Gospel, and of its being spurned, whether temporarily or finally, by the unbelieving inhabitants of the earth.

 

14. The Souls Beneath the Altar (6): The souls of the (ever-increasing) company of martyrs, of those who sacrificed their (physical) lives for the person and cause of Christ. This is the Revelation’s first glimpse of the Intermediate State of the souls of believers who die in Christ. Here, the martyrs are portrayed as being aware of God’s purposes for the earth, and eager for the manifestation of his perfect justice.

 

15. The 144,000 Sealed Israelites (7, 14): The universal Church of all times and places, comprised of all the OT saints (12, for the patriarchs) and all the NT saints (12, for the apostles). 12  x  12  x 1000 = 144,000, a number symbolizing both the fullness and the largeness of the universal Church. As John’s next vision reveals, she is comprised of a great multitude of Jewish and Gentile believers, predestined to worship God forever before his throne, and upon the eschatological Mountain of God: the new heavens and the new earth.

 

16. The Seal of the Living God (7): The Holy Spirit, who, at the moment of saving faith in Christ, takes up eternal residence in the spirit, soul, and body of the believer. Mystically, the seal (or sealing mark) upon the forehead speaks of ownership, identity, and eternal security. The saint so marked now belongs to God, the family of God, and the Bride and Body of Christ; he now thinks of himself as such, and so has a new identity in Christ; and he now rejoices to know that he has been spared from judgment, and is eternally safe and secure in the Person, and through the Work, of his exalted Lord (Ezek. 9:4; John 14:16; 2 Cor. 1:22; Eph. 1:13; 4:30).

 

17. The Great Multitude Before the Throne (7, 14): The 144,000, but now represented as a great throng that no one could number, as many as the stars of the sky and the sands of the seashore. Here they are seen in glory, eternally worshiping upon the eschatological Mountain of God (i.e., the new heavens and the new earth), and forever assembled with all the saints and angels before his throne.

 

18. The Seven Trumpets (8-11): Seven partial and preliminary judgments of God, falling upon the inhabitants of the earth throughout the Era of Gospel Proclamation. These judgments are designed to warn sinners of the final judgment to come, and to drive them Christ for salvation.

 

19. The Three Woes (9-11): Identical with the final three trumpets, these are especially severe judgments, possibly symbolizing unique events predestined to occur just prior to the end of the age. The first and second woes depict increased demonic activity in the earth, leading both to torment and death. The martial symbolism predominating in chapter 9 suggests that these woes are inflicted, in large part, by demonically inspired war.

 

20. The Little Book (10): A symbol of the message that John will soon convey to the Church in chapter 11. The little book is sweet to his taste because it is the Word of God, and because it speaks of the good success of the evangelistic witness of the Church in the Era of Gospel Proclamation; but it is also bitter in his stomach, because it speaks of the Last Battle, and of the extraordinary persecution that will befall the true spiritual Church in the last of the last days.

 

21. The Sanctuary, the Altar, and the Outer Court (11): Using OT imagery derived from Jewish temple worship, the Spirit here speaks of the historical experience of the Church throughout the Era of Gospel Proclamation. The Sanctuary of God is Christ, the only place where God and man can safely meet; the altar is the merit of Christ’s atoning sacrifice, which makes the meeting possible; those who worship in the sanctuary are the saints, all who worship God through Christ in spirit and truth. The Outer Court symbolizes the visible, institutional Church, which, by God’s wise decree, will be subject to trampling (persecution) by the inhabitants of the earth throughout the Era of Proclamation.

 

22 The Two Witnesses (11): The evangelizing Church, which—like Jesus’ disciples sent out two by two—bears witness to the Person, Work, and Kingdom of Christ throughout the entire Era of Gospel Proclamation.

 

23. The War (11, 13, 16, 17, 19): Heralded many times in the Revelation, this is the Last Battle, the final conflict between God and Satan, Christ and the Antichrist, the Church and the World. Here and elsewhere in the NT, it is consistently depicted as a brief, intense, global persecution of the true spiritual Church, swiftly brought to an end by the appearing of Christ in power and glory to rescue his beloved Bride and judge his (and her) enemies.

 

24. The 42 Months / 1260 Days/ a Time, Times, and Half a Time  (11, 12, 13): These numeric symbols stand for the Era of Gospel Proclamation. Their meaning is illuminated in Revelation 12, a chapter that combines allusions to Israel’s exodus from Egypt with allusions to Elijah’s 3 1/2 year sojourn in the wilderness of Judea. Thus, the numbers characterize the Era of Gospel Proclamation as a temporary season of eschatological journey, persecution, and exile (from the world’s favor), but also as a season of divine provision and protection, supplied from heaven above (1 Kings 17:2-6; James 5:17).

 

25. The Woman in the Sky (12): The universal Church, adorned with the heavenly bodies in order to symbolize her heavenly nature. At the outset of the chapter we see her as the Mother of Christ, and therefore as picturing the OT saints; later we see her as the Bride of Christ (and the Mother of the living), making her way through the wilderness of the world, and picturing the NT saints.

 

26. The Dragon in the Sky (12): Satan, not dwelling in the third heaven with God (as the Woman does), but in the air (Eph. 2:2), in the heavenly (spiritual) realms just above the earth (Eph. 6:12). In this chapter he is depicted as the cunning, unseen ruler of the world-system, but also as a frustrated and angry tyrant, whose evil kingdom is now in slow-motion collapse, thanks to the Person and Work of Christ and the ongoing evangelistic ministry of his Bride (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11).

 

27. The Son Caught up to God and His Throne (12): The Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God and the Last Adam, who, because of his earthly obedience and humiliation, is now seated in heaven at the right hand of God, with authority to rule both the Church and the world, and to administer last judgment at the end of the age. Between the lines, Revelation 12 shows him progressively overthrowing the kingdom of Satan, even as his Bride, through the proclamation of the Gospel, begets more and more children for the family of God.

 

28. The Woman in the Wilderness (12): The true spiritual Church in her NT embodiment, journeying through the wilderness of this world, making her way to the Promised Land, inviting the inhabitants of the earth to join her, persecuted by many among them, but also protected and provided for by her spiritual husband, the High King of heaven.

 

29. The Two Wings of the Great Eagle (12): Word and Spirit, Law and Grace, continually supplied to the Woman so that She, using her wings, can fly to the place that God (the Great Eagle) has prepared for her (Deut. 32:11).

 

30. The Place of Nourishing, Prepared for the Woman (12): Ultimately, Christ; but in particular, Christ mediated to the Woman by the Holy Spirit, through the various means of grace: word, prayer, fellowship, and sacrament.

 

31. The Beast from the Sea (13, 11, 14, 15, 16, 17, 19, 20): The first of the three main helpers of the Dragon; the political or governmental face (embodiment) of the fallen world-system; world rulers, governments, and empires, to the extent that they operate contrary to the will of God and are active in the persecution of God’s people. The sea represents fallen humanity, from which Satan, in an effort to establish a permanent global kingdom, repeatedly summons empire after empire, and government after government, onto the stage of history (Gen. 10; Dan. 7). However, God, the ultimate sovereign over world history, repeatedly frustrates his efforts, since they are permeated with evil, and since God alone has the power and prerogative of creating, through his Son, an eternal universal Kingdom based on love, rather than on the lust for power.

 

32. The Beast from the Earth / the False Prophet (13, 16, 19, 20): The second instrument of the Dragon; the religious and ideological face of the world-system, especially insofar as it consorts with the Beast in order to promote the Beast’s blasphemous self-exaltation as the proper object of human worship.

 

33. The Mark of the Beast (13, 14, 16, 19, 20): Darkly analogous to the seal of the living God, this too is a symbol of ownership and identity, fatefully taken when any inhabitant of the earth yields his supreme allegiance to anti-Christian rulers and their governments. Henceforth, such a person belongs to the Beast (and the Dragon), self-identifies as his committed subject, and, unless he repents and turns to Christ, will share in his eternal punishment (John 19:15; Rev. 14:11; 19:20).

 

34. The Number of the Name of the Beast (13): The number of the Beast is 666. Here the Spirit exhorts the saints to work out (the meaning of) the number, explaining that it is the number of man (13:18). According to biblical numerology, six is the number of man (Gen. 1:24-31) and three is the number of the Trinity (Matt. 3:16-17). Therefore, 666 is the number of fallen man aspiring to, and usurping the place of, the triune God. Throughout the Era of Gospel Proclamation, the Beast continually does this very thing. All who surrender to him have taken his mark and his number upon their foreheads or their hands: In thought, word, and deed they belong to him. They have become worshipers of man, and not of the one true living God.

 

35. The Song of Moses (15): The song of the resurrected and transformed saints, all of whom have just passed through the eschatological Red Sea (the Judgment), and now are standing on its far shore in the Promised land (the new heavens and the new earth), where they celebrate the righteous judgments of God. Those judgments include, preeminently, the judgment that Christ bore on the Cross in the place of his people, but also the subsequent judgment of God, who declared them to be holy and righteous when they placed their faith in Christ. And here, on the other side of the Red Sea, they now have become holy and righteous—in body, soul, and spirit—, and therefore rejoice with exceedingly great joy (Jude 24-25).

 

36. The Seven Bowls of God’s Completed Wrath (15-16): All the final judgments of God poured out onto the earth and its sinful inhabitants during the Era of Gospel Proclamation.

 

37. The Battle of Armageddon (16): Another symbol of the Last Battle, again employing OT history and imagery to speak symbolically about the final conflict between God and Satan, Christ and the Antichrist, the Church and the World.

 

38. The Harlot (17): The third instrument of the Dragon, symbolizing the commercial and cultural face of the fallen world-system, and depicting it as a temptress of the world and a persecutor of the Church. Both of the women in the Revelation beckon to the inhabitants of the earth: the Bride, that they would join her in her journey to eternal life, and the Harlot, that they would join her in drinking from her golden cup full of abominations. Unavoidably, each inhabitant of the earth must decide which woman he will embrace.

 

39. Babylon the Great (18): The City of Man, lusting for greatness (14, 16, 17), as opposed to the City of God, longing for holiness (11, 21, 22). In essence, Great Babylon is identical with the Harlot, and is slated for destruction at the Judgment. Accordingly, both the Spirit and the Church plead with God’s people (his elect) to come out of her, so that they will neither partake of her sins nor receive of her plagues on the last day.

 

40. The 1000 Years (20): In the Bible, ten is the number of completeness, three is the number of the Trinity, and one thousand is the number of magnitude. Therefore, the number 1000 tells the Church two things about the Era of Gospel Proclamation. First, it will be long, longer than most of the saints expect. But secondly, it also will be fruitful. 10  x  10  x  10 = 1000. So this number tells the Church that during the Era of Gospel Proclamation the Trinity (3) will complete (10) the application of the redemption that her Lord purchased for her during his days upon the earth; it is a divine promise of the spiritual fruitfulness of the evangelizing Bride of Christ. Though the Millennium has now lasted over 2000 literal years, the saints understand that this redemptive fruitfulness makes the wait well worthwhile.

 

41. The Binding of Satan (20): The spiritual restraint of Satan throughout the Era of Gospel Proclamation, so that he cannot deceive God’s elect in such a way as to prevent them from coming to Christ; nor can he deceive the nations in such a way as to bring them against the Church for the Last Battle. Not, that is, until the end.

 

42. The First Resurrection (20): At the moment of physical death, the raising of the spirits of the saints to spiritual perfection in heaven above, where they will reign with Christ—in life, over all their previous spiritual enemies—throughout (the remainder of) the Era of Gospel Proclamation.

 

43. The Judgment Given to the Saints (20): The privilege of participating, with Christ, in the final judgment of the saints and angels (Dan. 7:9, 26-27; 1 Cor. 6:2-14; Rev. 2:16-27).

 

44. The Great White Throne (20): An emblem of the holiness and sovereignty of the One seated upon it, and also of the perfect justice of the judgments he is about to render.

 

45. The One Seated Upon It (20): God the Father, but here in the Person of his glorified Son: the High King of heaven and the God-appointed judge of all humanity, which now, in their resurrected or transformed bodies, stands before him.

 

46. The Scrolls (20): The record—lodged both in the mind of God and the minds of men—of a person’s deeds done in the body during his days upon earth. The opening of the scrolls is for the purpose of determining the reward or retribution merited by a person’s deeds.

 

47. The Scroll of Life (20): The register, lodged in the mind of the triune God, of the names of all who, during their days on earth, trusted in the Person and Work of Christ for the forgiveness of their sins and the reception of the free gift of eternal life.

 

48. The Holy City, New Jerusalem (21): The Church, the Bride of Christ, the Bridal City of God, recently descended from the sky, now inhabiting the eschatological Paradise of God: the new heavens and the new earth. Resting upon on the foundation of the divine truth witnessed by God’s holy apostles and prophets (symbolized by the twelve foundation stones), she has the glory of God (symbolized by precious gems, pearls, and gold), eternal security (symbolized by high walls of salvation, all erected by Christ), and eternal access, both to God and to God in one another (symbolized by her eternally open gates).

 

49. The River of the Water of Life (22): The life of God and the Lamb, flowing to and through holy City by the Holy Spirit.

 

50. The Tree of Life (22): The glorified Lord Jesus Christ, whose Spirit, like the leaves of a medicinal tree, maintains to all eternity the health and well-being of the nations of saints who trusted in him.