Volume 47 - Issue 3

Numerical Symbolism in the Book of Revelation: A Weakness of Modern Bible Versions

By Michael Kuykendall


Several modern Bible versions do a disservice to John’s use of numbers in the book of Revelation. This article first offers a short primer on symbolism in Revelation, then overviews the book’s symbolic use of numbers. John utilizes “good” numbers and “bad” numbers to express theological truths. The bulk of the study examines how several modern versions unwittingly thwart John’s theological intentions by masking his numerical symbolism. This is evidenced in two ways––changing (updating) the actual symbolic number when measurements and distances are mentioned; and rendering key terms in Revelation found exactly seven times with different English words, which obscures significant numerical interconnections. The conclusion asserts that future modern versions and revisions of existing translations must treat Revelation differently on this issue.

Several modern Bible versions do a disservice to John’s use of numbers in the book of Revelation. Three topics are addressed in this article. First, a short primer on symbolism in the book of Revelation is offered. Second, the symbolism of numbers in Revelation is likewise briefly overviewed. Third, the bulk of this study is a survey of how several modern versions unwittingly thwart John’s theological intentions by masking his numerical symbolism.

1. Symbolism in the Book of Revelation

The book of Revelation is saturated with symbols and images. Although the genres of prophecy and epistle are present in Revelation, the genre of apocalypse is found the most. Apocalyptic literature such as Revelation was popular in John’s era, and its guidelines for interpretation must be followed by modern readers. Apocalypses included several characteristics such as multiple visions, dualistic outlook, recapitulated structure, deterministic outlook, tribulation, and especially symbolism. In order to describe the indescribable scenes revealed, John opted to use apocalyptic imagery. Such language is filled with bizarre images and symbols.1 Furthermore, John’s symbols can be placed into identifiable categories––heavenly beings, demonic beings, people, names, objects, places, animals, time elements, institutions, colors, and numbers.2

2. Numerical Symbolism in the Book of Revelation

Utilizing a dualistic cosmology, John presents good supernatural beings and bad supernatural beings, good people and bad people, good places and bad places, good things and bad things, and so forth. Numerical symbolism, therefore, is one symbolic element within John’s cosmological repertoire. Like other symbols, there are “good” numbers and “bad” numbers.3

2.1. Good Numbers

The following numbers are “good” because they are most often connected with God and his people: two, four, seven, ten, and twelve.

2.1.1. Two

The number “two” (δύο) symbolizes completeness and is often connected to a valid testimony and effectual witness (Num 35:30; Deut 17:6; 19:15; Matt 18:16; John 8:17; Heb 10:28). Thus, the two witnesses of Revelation represent the church, particularly its distinguishing characteristic as witnesses for Christ despite persecution and death (11:3–13).4

2.1.2. Four

“Four” (τέσσαρες) signifies full and total coverage, most often in view of God’s creation, the surface of the earth, and universality (Exod 25–39; Isa 58; Amos 1–2). Thus, the “four corners of the earth” (7:1; 20:8) refers to the whole earth. The fourfold phrase “every tribe and language and people and nation” (in differing order) symbolizes everyone on earth without exception, and is further accentuated by being listed seven times.5

2.1.3. Seven

This number connotes completeness, fullness, totality, and perfection. “Seven” (ἑπτά), with its multiples, is found throughout the ancient Near East as a sacred number. Its symbolism is traceable throughout Scripture, from the seven days of creation (Gen 4:15) to the sevenfold voice of God (Ps 29) to the sevenfold wrath of God (Ps 79:12) to the seven eyes of God (Zech 4:10). The number appears 739 times in the OT, sixty-six times in the Apocrypha, and 108 times in the NT. Eugene Boring cautions, “Not all these have a particularly sacred or symbolic meaning, of course, though the majority have at least this tone.”6 John’s encompassing use of this number (63% of all NT uses are in Revelation) emphasizes theological truths and underscores the intricate structuring of his Apocalypse––seven churches, seven seals, seven trumpets, seven bowls, and so forth.

2.1.4. Ten

This number (and its multiples) emphasizes indefiniteness, magnitude, and completeness, often from the point of view of time and humanity, especially with satanic influence and activity in mind. Long ago, Isbon Beckwith related that “ten” (δέκα) is a number signifying fullness and completeness in the Bible and with apocalyptic writers.7 When connected to its multiples such as a thousand, it is more suggestive of indefiniteness and of magnitude.8 Thus, the number “thousand” (χιλιάς, χίλιοι) is a large, round number that represents multiplicity, vastness, entirety, and fullness. The Bible reveals that “thousand” was used as hyperbole for quantity, immeasurability, or completeness (Deut 1:10; 1 Sam 18:7; Job 9:3; Ps 50:10; Dan 7:10; 2 Pet 3:8). Since various Bible genres understand “thousand” symbolically instead of literally, it should also be understood this way in apocalyptic literature, which is grounded in symbolism.9

2.1.5. Twelve

“Twelve” (δώδεκα) symbolizes fullness and completeness, often with humanity in mind, and with special reference to the saints. Twelve is a significant number throughout the Bible. The twelve sons of Israel (Gen 35:22–29) became the twelve tribes of Israel (Gen 49:28), and biblical writers soon employed the number to symbolize the tribes as the people of God (Exod 24:4; Num 1:44; Deut 1:23; Josh 4:1–7). Unlike seven, which can be used for both divine and demonic symbolism, the number twelve is reserved exclusively for the saints. Jean-Pierre Prévost relates, “So the number twelve has become a consecrated number: it is the number of the people of God.”10 Thus, John’s readers are treated with the twelve tribes representing the complete number of saints (7:4–8).11 The woman with twelve stars on her head symbolizes the people of God (12:1). Twelve is especially highlighted in the vision of the new Jerusalem (21:9–22:9). There are twelve gates, twelve angels, twelve tribes of Israel, twelve foundations, and twelve names of the apostles (21:12–14) to signify completeness. The multiples attached to twelve such as twenty-four elders, 144 cubits, 12,000 stadia, and 144,000 servants would also indicate symbolism.

2.2. Bad Numbers

“Bad” numbers are attached to the demonic realm, to unbelievers, or to the suffering and persecution endured by believers.

2.2.1. Fractions

Fractions such as one-third, one-fourth, and one-half mean something is not complete. Thus, they may be viewed as “bad” because they represent something partial, imperfect, and unaccomplished.12

2.2.2. Three and a Half

The number “three and a half” (τρεῖς καί ἥμισυ; 11:9, 11) is half of the perfect number of seven. It is a “bad” number because alongside its other matches (“forty-two months,” “thousand two hundred sixty days,” and “time, times, and half a time”), it emphasizes the time period of persecution for the saints. Moreover, the three and a half “days” of the humiliation of the two witnesses symbolizes the suffering to the point of martyrdom the church endures during the interadvental age. Most scholars maintain a distinction between the “days” and “years” attached to these numbers. Thus, three and a half “years” and three and a half “days” signify two distinct short periods of time under God’s control. The three and a half days of humiliation endured by the two witnesses corresponds to the three and a half years of ministry of Jesus analogously.13 It also serves as a reminder to the length of time from Jesus’s own death to his resurrection “on the third day.”14 John’s audience would have picked up on the symbolic number three and a half from Elijah’s drought (1 Kgs 18:1) to which both Jesus (Luke 4:25) and James (Jas 5:17) utilize. Yet 1 Kings 18:1 states “in the third year,” not three and a half. Thus, “John has converted the ‘third day’ of Gospel tradition into ‘three and a half days,’ just as the tradition he followed with regard to Elijah’s drought converted the ‘third year’ of 1 Kings 18:1 into ‘three and a half years.’”15

The point is that John is emphasizing the theological import of the number three and a half, not the “days” or “years.” Therefore, the number “three and a half” is much more significant than the added time elements of “days” or “years.” Edmondo Lupieri stresses that symbolism is not as significant in the measurement (days, weeks, months, years) as in the numerical value attached to the measurement (one-half, three and a half, seven, ten, twelve).16 Similarly, James Resseguie states that “A broken seven appears once again, but now in terms of days, not years. The numerical portion (three and a half) is more important than the time span (days). The church’s life and work is symbolized by the number three and a half, whether three and a half days or three and a half years.”17 John Sweet adds, “In other words, John is urging the church to see its whole life and work under the sign of three and a half.18 John is not referring to two separate time periods (days and years) but presenting two angles on the same time period—the Christian era.19 In sum, “three and a half” emphasizes the time period of the witness of the church. It symbolizes the entire interadvental age from the resurrection to the return of Christ. The significance of the number is that the church (two witnesses) testifies and suffers even to the point of martyrdom. When the two witnesses arise after three and a half days, it reflects the second coming and the end of the age. Since three and a half is matched with forty-two (months), thousand two hundred sixty (days), and “time, times, and half a time” (12:14), they would all signify the same interadvental time period.20

2.2.3. Forty-Two

“Forty-two months” (μῆνας τεσσεράκοντα [καὶ] δύο) is a numerical symbol for a short yet intense period of persecution for the saints, covering the entire church age. This time designation occurs twice. First, John is instructed not to measure the outer court of the temple “because it has been given to the Gentiles. They will trample on the holy city for 42 months” (11:2).21 Second, it is the time period for the beast “to exercise its authority for forty-two months” (13:5).22 Forty-two recalls the time period of Israel’s wilderness wanderings, which included forty-two encampments (Num 33:5–49).23 The number is also associated with violence (2 Kgs 2:23–24).24 For certain, forty-two months is equivalent to three and a half years mentioned above, a common figure signifying a short intense period of suffering for the people of God. By John’s time, “three and a half” had become a symbol, a metaphor, a standardized expression of persecution of the faithful.25

2.2.4. Thousand Two Hundred Sixty

This time designation emphasizes the church’s role in witnessing the gospel in spite of persecution. The saints are promised spiritual protection and provision to enable them to be witnesses throughout the church era. The two occurrences of a “thousand two hundred and sixty days” (ἡμέρας χιλίας διακοσίας ἑξήκοντα) are found in the second (10:1–11:14) and third interludes (12:1–15:4). In the first instance it relates the time period of witnessing for the church (two witnesses). “And I will appoint my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth’” (11:3). The second mention relates the protective care the people of God (symbolized by the woman) receive during this period. “The woman fled into the wilderness to a place prepared for her by God, where she might be taken care of for 1,260 days” (12:6).26 “Wilderness” alludes to the forty years that the Israelites were cared for by God (Exod 16:32; Deut 1:31; Ps 78:52). Thus, a thousand two hundred sixty days “symbolizes not just testing and trial but also divine comfort and protection.”27 Whereas forty-two months stresses the persecution of the saints (11:2; 13:5), a thousand two hundred and sixty days stresses perseverance, protection, and provision for the saints.

Another link to spiritual provision is that the woman is taken care of for “time, times, and half a time” (καιρὸν καὶ καιροὺς καὶ ἥμισυ καιροῦ; 12:14). This direct allusion to Daniel 7:25 confirms that all these time elements correspond to three and a half years, a common expression for persecution of the people of God. What John has added is the promise of spiritual protection and nourishment during this time that enables believers to witness. The beast and his forces are allowed to “kill the body” but they “cannot kill the soul” (Matt 10:28).

In sum, the temporal markers above are used synonymously and interchangeably. They all reflect persecution, protection, testing, and witness for the saints. On closer inspection, however, it appears they stress different aspects of the same thing. “Time, times, and half a time” and forty–two months accent persecution; a thousand two hundred sixty days emphasizes perseverance, protection, and provision; and three and a half highlights witness.28 As Frederick Murphy concludes, “All of these are the same thing seen from different angles.”29

2.2.5. Six Hundred Sixty-Six

There is one more “bad” number to consider. “Six hundred sixty-six” (ἑξακόσιοι ἑξήκοντα ἕξ) is the numerical symbol for the beast (Rev 13:18). It stands for incompleteness and imperfection. The threefold six is a demonic parody of the Trinity. This number is the most obvious “bad” number in Revelation. Countless studies have attempted to interpret the number and identify possible human referents.30 Fortunately, six hundred sixty-six causes no translation problems among modern Bible versions. The previous numbers, however, do cause problems.

This study supports the approach that numbers are important in John’s symbolic universe. If so, then altering his numbers for modern audiences could damage his symbolic purposes.

3. The Weakness of Modern Bible Versions on the Numerical Symbols of Revelation

Several modern Bible translations do poorly in bringing out the numerical symbolism presented in Revelation. Their poor performance is evidenced in two ways. First, many modern versions change (update) the actual symbolic number when measurements and distances are mentioned. Second, many Bible versions are inconsistent in rendering key terms in Revelation with the same English equivalent, with the result of hiding significant numerical interconnections.

3.1. Masking John’s Symbolism by Updating Measurements and Distances

The unfortunate choices made by several modern versions is found in the following four numbers: “twice ten thousand times ten thousand,” “hundred forty-four,” “thousand six hundred,” and “twelve thousand.” The first number is a standalone number. The second is applied to a measurement, and the last two numbers deal with distances.

3.1.1. Twice Ten Thousand Times Ten Thousand (9:16)

This is the number of demonic mounted troops mentioned in the sixth trumpet. It is not a literal number, but rather symbolic hyperbole for an incalculable number. “Thousand” in Revelation is translated from two words—χιλιάς (19 of 23 NT uses) and χίλιοι (9 of 11 NT uses).31 An additional word (μυριάς) is often translated as “thousands” and occurs in two passages. First, an innumerable number of angels is mentioned in the throne room vision (4:1–5:14). John hears “the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders” (5:11). Listed twice, μυριάδες μυριάδων is translated as “ten thousand times ten thousand.” Some translations update the number to “thousands and millions” (CEB, CEV, GNT, NLT). A few versions transliterate it as “myriads on myriads” (ESV, NASB, NRSV, REB).32 The phrase derives from Daniel 7:10 where the idea of countless is apparent. Thus, almost all English versions do well at 5:11 in recognizing the incalculable nature of the number. The phrase is not meant to limit the number of angels there are. CSB’s “Their number was countless thousands, plus thousands of thousands” translates the phrase well.

The same cannot be said, however, for the similar number listed at 9:16. Once again, μυριάς is used twice–δισμυριάδες μυριάδων (“two myriads of myriads”), literally “twice ten thousand of ten thousand” or “twenty thousand of ten thousands.” John likely alludes to previous hyperbolic numbers (Deut 33:2; Ps 68:17; Dan 7:10). The prefix (δισ) is frequently translated as “twice.” But the Hebrew understanding of qualitative aspect reveals this means “times” rather than a doubling of the number.33 This is carried forward in Greek and “is an indefinite number of incalculable immensity.”34

Many contemporary versions regrettably modernize the number. This inadvertently limits and literalizes the Greek phrase to “200/two hundred million” (CEB, CEV, CJB, CSB, EHV, GNT, HCSB, ISV, MEV, NABR, NASB, NCV, NET, NKJV, NLT, VOICE). Updating this number began early. Scarlett’s New Testament (1798) used “200 million.” Likewise, early twentieth–century versions such as Weymouth (1902), Goodspeed (1923), and Moffatt (1924) followed suit. Yet the number is intended to signify an incalculable figure similar to 5:11. Only a few modern efforts attempt to show possible symbolism by using the odd phraseology of “twice ten thousand times ten thousand” (ESV, Message, NIV, NJB, REB).35 Attempts to reduce this expression to an exact arithmetic calculation misses the point. It is an immense, innumerable, and uncountable number. An international student showed me his Russian translation of 9:16. He translated it into English as “uncountable times two.” That is the idea. Thus, as Stephen Smalley observes, “the translation ‘two hundred million’ is mathematically inaccurate.”36 Nevertheless, many contemporaries assume or lobby for a literal two hundred million troops.37 Modern versions are not helping to combat this misconception.

3.1.2. Hundred Forty-Four Cubits (21:17)

This number refers to the measurement of the great wall of the heavenly city. It symbolizes eternal protection and complete security for those inside. The cubit was the principal unit for linear measurement in the OT, based on the length of the forearm to the tip of the middle finger (about 17.5 inches).38 “Cubit” (πῆχυς) is found four times in the NT with an array of renderings. It is translated in Matt 6:27 and Luke 12:25 as “moment,” “hour,” and “a bit longer” (HCSB chooses the more literal “cubit to his height” but CSB revises it to “moment”). The word is usually translated as “yards” in John 21:8. The final mention is found in Revelation 21:17: “The angel measured the wall using human measurement, and it was 144 cubits thick.” Many English translations retain the archaic reading of “cubits,” most likely for the sake of numerical symbolism. These versions include CSB, EHV, ESV, GW, HCSB, ISV, Message, NABR, NET, NIV, NJB, NKJV, NRSV, REB.

Regrettably, several modern versions update “cubits” into “feet” or “yards.” Thus, “two hundred feet” (MEV), “216/two hundred sixteen feet” (CEB, CEV, CJB, GNT, NCV, NLT), and “72 yards” (NASB, VOICE) have been proffered. This modernizing of measurements and distances is not new. The TCNT (1904) had “288 feet.” Weymouth and Moffatt produced “72 yards.” Montgomery’s Centenary Version (1924) went with “216 feet.” Yet these updated measurements undercut the numerical symbolism that John employs.

Scholars and Bible versions divide over whether height39 or thickness40 is intended by John. Several versions add either “thick” or “high” even though those words are not present in the Greek text. Either way, a literal view should not be in mind. Updating cubits into literal measurements is nonsensical when considering the spaciousness of the rest of the heavenly city. Thus, the translation of a hundred and forty-four cubits “high” makes little sense. Likewise, those who choose to add the word “thick” to the heavenly city’s wall, picturing a 216-foot-thick structure, are similarly hampered. It must be asked, for what purpose are the walls so thick if the twelve gates are left perpetually open? G. K. Beale, therefore, reminds us that the wall is measured in the same way as the city was measured in the previous verse—by its height, width, and length. The angel who measures the temple in Ezekiel (40:5) measures the height and width, and they are equal. If one aspect is in mind it is height, not thickness, since in the OT a city’s walls emphasize security by their height (Deut 3:5).41

Nevertheless, the point is not width or height or length, but the number—a hundred and forty-four, the square of twelve, which is the number of completion for the people of God. It multiplies the twelve tribes and the twelve apostles on the foundation of the city.42 It also brings to mind a hundred and forty-four thousand (12 x 12,000), which is the number of the saints (7:4–8; 14:1–5), the witnessing church throughout the centuries between Christ’s ascension and return. Resseguie states that “the wall, like the city itself, is complete—an eternally secure place for all its inhabitants. The perfect cubic city is the ideal dwelling place for God and his people.”43 This measurement for the heavenly city suggests that the church—the bride of the Lamb—is the holy city.

Therefore, attempts to update cubits into contemporary measurements of feet or yards or height or thickness obscure the figurative nature of the number, reducing the symbol to a bizarre and minimalist meaning. The point of the number is that the wall represents total and complete security and safety for the people of God forever.

3.1.3. Thousand Six Hundred Stadia (14:20)

This numerical symbol indicates coverage of the whole earth, and its context confirms the universal judgment of the wicked at the return of Christ. The phrase “thousand six hundred stadia” (σταδίων χιλίων ἑξακοσίων) occurs once near the conclusion of the third interlude (12:1–15:4). The angel swings his sickle and gathers the grapes. “They were trampled in the winepress outside the city, and blood flowed out of the press, rising as high as the horses’ bridles for a distance of 1,600 stadia” (14:20).

Temporally, this reflects Armageddon, the second coming, and the ushering in of divine judgment. Even extreme futurists recognize the connection to Armageddon at 14:20, using phraseology such as “a reference to Armageddon,”44 “preview of final events,”45 “a prophetic fore-glimpse of what is to come,”46 an “overview” and “proleptic summary”47 of what follows in greater detail, and “obviously a picture of ultimate judgment of the wickedness of men at the time of the second coming of Christ.”48 For interpreters who follow a recapitulation approach to Revelation’s structure, this verse simply relates one of several retellings of the Armageddon event, often signaled at the conclusion of an individual vision.49

Unfortunately, only EHV, ESV, GW, ISV, and NIV translate the number exactly as “1,600 stadia” (NKJV and NJB select “furlongs”). Most translations have updated the distance to “about 180 miles” (CSB, HCSB, NLT, NCV), “185 miles” (VOICE), “one hundred eighty-six miles” (MEV) or “(almost) 200 miles” (CEB, CEV, CJB, GNT, Message, NABR, NASB, NET, NRSV, REB). Weymouth, Moffatt, Goodspeed, and Montgomery also had “200 miles.”

Many interpreters argue that this distance reflects a literal measurement, and pictures the length of Palestine. Consequently, the last battle becomes limited to a geographical locale. The literal bloodbath is to be 200 miles wide and five feet deep.50 A few literalists, however, waver on limiting it this way. For example, John Walvoord asserts “There is no reason, however, for limiting the battle to the precise boundary of the holy land, and there is really no serious problem here in taking the distance literally.”51 Thus, Palestine may be emphasized, but even a few literal proponents suggest an earth-wide catastrophe. Buist Fanning exemplifies this with “the cataclysmic defeat, submission, and destruction of all enemies arrayed against him in that day will be unimaginably vast.”52

The majority of scholars, however, recognize that John’s symbolism is at work again. The number is not a simple measurement of geographical distance. It is a numerical symbol. Theological significance is found in a variety of ways (4 x 4 x 10 x 10; 40 x 40; 4 x 4 x 100). Beale asserts “the number also could well have been thought of as the square of forty, a traditional number of punishment.”53

This is hyperbolic imagery at work. The number refers to a slaughter of exceptional proportions, and thus complete, consummative, end-time judgment. A few scholars among the majority opinion deliver even stronger cases for numeric symbolism. Resseguie affirms, “Four is the number of the earth or creation and ten represents totality. Thus, the blood covers the earth completely.”54 Paul Rainbow appends that numbers that are squared or cubed intensify their significance. Thus, the square of four multiplied by the square of ten “together represent God’s judgment as comprehensive.”55 The beast’s kingdom is worldwide and not limited by geography. Therefore, several scholars stress the symbolism not merely as hyperbolic emphasis of Palestine, but in light of numerical symbolism, a figure of complete, worldwide judgment at the end of history.56

3.1.4. Twelve Thousand Stadia (21:16)

The measurement of the holy city pictures perfection, vastness, magnificence, and immeasurability. “Twelve thousand stadia” (σταδίων δώδεκα χιλιάδων) combines the symbolism of twelve with a thousand to signify completeness with reference to the people of God. The OT relates ten appearances of twelve thousand that support symbolic usage (Num 31:5; Josh 8:25; Judg 21:10; 2 Sam 10:6; 17:1; 1 Kgs 4:26; 10:26; 2 Chr 1:14; 9:25; Ps 60).57 John utilizes twelve thousand at two locations—twelve thousand from each of the twelve tribes (7:4–8) and twelve thousand stadia (21:16).

The decision by several modern versions to retain “stadia” is helpful in recognizing John’s numerical symbolism.58 The modern updating found in numerous Bible versions, however, obscures John’s intentions. For example, “1,400/one thousand four hundred miles” (MEV, NLT, NET), “1,444 miles” (VOICE), and “1,500/fifteen hundred miles” (CEB, CEV, CJB, GNT, NABR, NASB, NCV, NRSV) are unfortunate choices. Once again, the practice of updating measurements started a long time ago. TCNT had “1,200 miles,” and Weymouth, Moffatt, and Montgomery translated “1,500 miles.”59

John states that the angel “measured the city with the rod and found it to be 12,000 stadia in length, and as wide and high as it is long” (21:16). Thus, its length and breadth and height were equal, giving the new Jerusalem a picture of a four-squared, perfectly cubed city. Rainbow explains that “the use of cubic numbers in the Revelation signifies that which is consecrated to God.”60 This image is immediately recognizable as the holy of holies, the most holy place within the temple. “The inner sanctuary was twenty cubits long, twenty wide and twenty high” (1 Kgs 6:20). The heavenly city itself is a temple—the utter holy of holies.

The holy city should not be limited to fifteen hundred square miles.61 That may seem like a lot of space, but it stands far away from the point John is making. Sigve Tonstad rightly counters, “Who will contest that theology trumps architecture and geometry in these representations?”62 John is not interested in delivering human dimensions. These numbers—like all numbers in Revelation—serve a figurative purpose. The number represents universal totality. Mathematicians have long noted the perfection of the number twelve thousand. It is twelve times ten cubed. Kendell Easley explains, “Not coincidentally, a cube has twelve edges. Since each edge measured 12,000 stadia, the total length of the edges is 144,000, exactly the same as the number of the followers of the Lamb (14:1).63

Therefore, the updates found in modern Bibles lead to problems when these ancient measurements and distance markers are found in symbolic literature where fondness for numerical symbolism plays a significant role in interpretation. Bible versions that modernize Revelation’s measurements and distances miss the intended meaning of the number. They also inspire literalistic interpretations for the number. Simply stated, such updating in Revelation obscures John’s symbolic purposes.

3.2. Masking Numerical Symbolism through Inconsistent Translation of Key Terms

The second area in which many modern Bible translations do a disservice to John’s Revelation is their inconsistent renderings of the same Greek word. Under the guise of readability and variety, several modern Bibles miss key numerical connections from John. John utilizes number symbolism not only with actual numbers, but by the number of times certain key words are found. The number seven is a prime example. As mentioned above, seven connotes completeness, fullness, totality, and perfection. John’s encompassing use of this number emphasizes theological truths and underscores the intricate structuring of his Apocalypse. It is a keystone symbol and John makes extensive use of it in an artistic way to emphasize theological truths.64 Even more striking and missing in most scholarly treatments are the quantity of embedded uses in Revelation.

  • Two hymns have seven attributes (5:12; 7:12).
  • There are seven beatitudes (1:3; 14:13; 16:15; 19:9; 20:6; 22:7, 14).
  • Seven people groups are listed (6:15; 19:18).
  • Locusts have seven features (9:7–10).
  • The Lamb has “seven horns” and “seven eyes” which are the “seven spirits” (5:6).
  • Each of the seven letters contains seven elements.65
  • The three merisms (“Alpha and Omega,” “first and last,” “beginning and end”) appear a total of seven times (1:8, 17; 21:6; 22:13).
  • The phrase “these are the words” (Τάδε λέγει) is mentioned seven times (2:1, 9, 12, 18; 3:1, 7, 14).66
  • The fourfold phrase “peoples and languages and tongues and nations” is mentioned seven times (5:9; 7:9; 10:11; 11:9; 13:7; 14:6; 17:15).
  • The significant title “Lord God Almighty” has seven references (1:8; 4:8; 11:17; 15:3; 16:7; 19:6; 21:22).
  • There are seven occurrences of the “one who sits on the throne” (4:9; 5:1, 7, 13; 6:16; 7:15; 21:5).67
  • The elders and living creatures are mentioned together seven times (5:6, 8, 11, 14; 7:11; 14:3; 19:4).
  • There are seven promises of the second coming (2:5, 16; 3:11; 16:15; 22:7, 12, 20).68
  • The hundred and forty-four thousand have seven characteristics (14:4–5).69
  • The returning Christ is described with seven images (19:11–13)70
  • The vision of the new Jerusalem falls into seven parts (21:9–27).71
  • The thrice-mentioned formula (42 months, 1260 days, and time, times, and half a time) add up to seven (11:2, 3, 9, 11; 12:6, 14; 13:5).72

Thirty words appear exactly seven times in Revelation. Significant nouns and adjectives include “Abyss,” “Christ,” “cloud,” “earthquake,” “lampstand,” “perseverance,” “mark,” “prophecy,” “sharp,” “sickle,” “sign/signs,” “time” (καιρός), and “worthy.” Key verbs include “call,” “prepare,” “be full,” and “rule/reign.”

Moreover, several words appear as multiples of seven. Words found fourteen times (7 x 2) include “Jesus” (seven of the fourteen occurrences are connected with “witness/testimony” [1:2, 9; 12:17; 17:6; 19:10 (twice); 20:4]), “Spirit,” “saints” (accepting 22:21 as original),73 “servant,” “star,” and “woe.”74 Twenty-eight is another key multiple for John (7 x 4). It is used for the “Lamb” which among its twenty-eight usages include seven instances coupled with God (5:13; 6:16; 7:10; 14:4; 21:22; 22:1, 3).75 The list of cargoes which Babylon imports (18:12–13) equals twenty-eight. Thus, they “are listed as representative of all the products of the whole world.”76 If the “seven thunders” (10:3–4) are counted as a potential fourth set of plagues, then a total of twenty-eight plagues are mentioned. It is also intriguing that the three words translated as “scroll” (βιβλαρίδιον, βιβλίον, βίβλος), and the two words for “thousand” (χιλιάς, χίλιοι) each add up to twenty-eight.

In sum, there are far too many numerical patterns to be coincidental. John is purposeful in utilizing the number seven. He does it for theological reasons. The sevens denote that God controls all the world and practices his sovereignty over it. God guides every event.77 Therefore, to underscore the patterns of seven, modern Bible versions should translate words that are found in Revelation seven times consistently.78 Only a few modern versions do this or are even aware of the interconnections. I will address four examples––“perseverance,” “prepare,” “Christ,” and “earthquake.” Again, take note that John’s numerical symbolism is concealed when words found exactly seven times are not translated with the same equivalent word.

3.2.1. Perseverance

Enduring resistance, active perseverance, and constant persistence are highlighted in Revelation as the expected character of faithful believers toward the powers of evil, especially in light of the near end. The perseverance of the saints is a chief characteristic of apocalyptic literature. The people of God are exhorted to remain faithful no matter what befalls them. Grant Osborne affirms, “Every passage dealing with the return of Christ ends with a call to conduct one’s life with both vigilance and diligence.”79 Thus, “perseverance” (ὑπομονή) is a key ethical term in Revelation. The word is found seven times and underscores numerical symbolism on John’s part (1:9; 2:2, 3, 19; 3:10; 13:10; 14:12). Most Bible translations use a variety of words and expressions at these seven locations, including “patience,” “endurance,” “patient endurance,” “steadfast endurance,” “perseverance,” “persevering,” “patience to continue,” “strength to endure,” “endure patiently,” and “never give up.” The noun is often turned into a verb for variety and English sentence structure. Only a few versions retain translational consistency at all seven locations, thereby aiding the intratextual connection. Those versions are CEB and GW (“endurance”), EHV (“patient endurance”), and NASB and NJB (“perseverance”). All other modern translations use a variety of words.

3.2.2. Prepare

This word emphasizes divine sovereignty and guidance in the unfolding events of history. The fact that John mentions “prepare” (ἑτοιμάζω) seven times should alert readers to numerical symbolism (8:6; 9:7, 15; 12:6; 16:12; 19:7; 21:2). In all seven instances, the word indicates that God’s will is perfectly planned out. If John intended to use the word exactly seven times, then extra stress is added to this concept of divine action at work. “Prepare” is found in key verses in the NT (Matt 25:34; John 14:2–3), leading Osborne to call the word “a major term for God’s predestined will.”80 Beale summarizes this word well. Throughout Revelation ἑτοιμάζω “is used of events that occur ultimately as a result of God’s decrees and not human actions.”81 All translations settled on “prepared” for 12:6. But all translations reverted to synonyms everywhere else. The renderings include “(got/made/kept/held) ready,” “provide,” “became,” “equipped,” and “armored.” Only CSB consistently renders the word the same way all seven times (“prepared”).82

3.2.3. Christ

This title is applied to Jesus and emphasizes his authority as the Messiah, God’s anointed one, who is victorious over Satan through the means of his shed blood, and who will reign forever. The fact that “Christ” (Χριστός) is found exactly seven times (1:1, 2, 5; 11:15; 12:10; 20:4, 6) highlights fulfillment, perfection, and completeness. That John uses numerical symbolism is corroborated by his fourteen (7 x 2) uses of “Jesus,” the seven uses of “coming” (ἔρχομαι) in combination with Χριστός to stress the threat or promise of his parousia, and the twenty-eight (7 x 4) uses of the Christological title “Lamb.” These are strong arguments in favor of numerical symbolism for Χριστός.

Many Bible versions do well in preserving “Christ” (or “Messiah”; CJB, ISV) at all seven locations. The VOICE opts for “Anointed” or “Anointed One” each time. Some modern versions, however, regrettably interchange words for Χριστός. The Message has “Messiah” four times and “Christ” three times. Several translations select “Messiah” (GW, GNT, HCSB, NIV), “Anointed” (NABR), or “Chosen One” (CEV) at 11:15 and 12:10. Although the words clearly refer to Christ, this still masks the intratextual connections and the numerical symbolism.83 John enhances the symbolism by limiting this title to only seven times. This is aided by giving the full title of “Jesus Christ” three times at the beginning (1:1, 2, 5). The final four references include the article, “the Christ.” They are used in conjunction with the noun βασιλεία (“kingdom” or “rule”) or the verb βασιλεύω (“to reign” or “to rule”). Thus, the placement of this title stresses to John’s original audience that this revelation comes from the authority of the risen Christ himself (1:1–5). He is the one who is victorious over Satan, and his followers overcome and enjoy spiritual victory through his shed blood (12:7–10). Jesus is the Lord over the millennial reign and his followers already reign spiritually with him (20:4–6). Ultimately, when Christ returns, he will reign over the universe for ever and ever (11:15–19).84

3.2.4. Earthquake

“The earthquake” is part of the final conclusion to earth history. It is a feature of cosmic imagery that refers to the dissolution of the world, ushering in end-time judgment and the new heaven and new earth. In the OT, God shook the earth when he judged nations or wicked people, ushering in the day of the Lord (Isa 13:10–13; 24:18–23; Jer 10:10; Ezek 38:18–23; Joel 2:1–11; 3:16; Mic 1:3–4; Nah 1:3–6; Hag 2:5–7; Zech 4:3–5). This final shaking carries over to apocalyptic literature (1 Enoch 1:3–9; 102:1–2; Testament of Moses 10:1–7; 2 Baruch 32:1; Sibylline Oracles 8:232–238) and the NT (Heb 12:26–27). Thus, the earthquake becomes a cosmic, universal quake that shakes the heavens and the earth at the day of the Lord.85 The Gospels mention earthquakes as a part of general prophecies being fulfilled in the present age (Matt 24:7; Mark 13:8; Luke 21:11), but the OT day of the Lord passages concerning the shaking of the earth are ultimately tied to the return of Christ (Matt 24:29–30; Mark 13:24–27; Luke 17:24).86

The apostle John adapts, synthesizes, and universalizes these aspects of earthquakes. He adapts Exodus 19 and universalizes the prophets’ judgment passages that once referred to Israel or a wicked nation to the whole world at the end of history. Allusions by John to Sinai or to the day of the Lord are keys for his universalizing the eschaton. Thus, the imagery of the earthquake emphasizes the last, great, one-time shaking and dissolution of the world at the return of Christ. Significantly, “earthquake” (σεισμός) is found exactly seven times in Revelation (6:12; 8:5; 11:13 [twice]; 11:19; 16:18 [twice]). In addition, the adjective “great” (μέγας) is attached to four of those seven references to emphasize full earth coverage.

Instead of understanding seven separate sequentially-spaced earthquakes, it is better to view all seven references as repeating the one final great earthquake at the end of earth history (Heb 12:26–27). Each mention is located at the conclusion of an individual vision.87 This supports the view that John reserves this usage of cosmic imagery not only as a structural clue, but as a picture of the end of history.

Once again, modern Bible translations reveal inconsistency and the subsequent loss of potential cross reference connections. Most versions do well in translating σεισμός as “earthquake” at all seven locations. But several Bibles interchange “earthquake” with “shook” (CEV, NJB), “earth trembled” (VOICE), or simply “quake” (CSB) at least once. However, it is the adjective μέγας that modern Bibles fumble the most. Many versions utilize several different adjectives to describe the earthquake. The synonyms start flying––“big,” “mighty,” “powerful,” “huge,” “major,” “tremendous,” “violent,” “severe,” “massive,” “terrible,” and “worst” are renderings of μέγας. The Message reveals four separate English renderings: “bone-charring,” “gigantic,” “colossal,” and “huge and devastating.”

Furthermore, a handful of translations delete one mention of “earthquake.” In 16:18, σεισμός and μέγας are listed twice as well as τηλικοῦτος (“so great”). But the repetition of the words and the quest for style and readability led some versions (CEV, EHV, NJB, NLT, REB) to delete one of the references to “earthquake.” Conversely, GNT and the Message actually add another “earthquake,” giving them three mentions in 16:18 and eight overall. All this variety lends itself to suggesting that more than one earthquake is taking place. It masks the symbolic teaching of the number seven. If indeed John is speaking of the final end-time great earthquake, then σεισμός μέγας should be considered a technical term. Whichever noun and adjective are selected, they should remain consistently translated at all locations.

Readers may properly ask whether the exact number of times that certain words are found is that important. It comes into play when word studies on Revelation are done. An in-depth Bible study on any of these four words would produce another layer of theological understanding if numerical symbolism were included.

4. Conclusion

Modern Bible translations naturally seek vocabulary that updates the English language while at the same time distinguishes their renderings from competing versions. The book of Revelation, however, must be treated with particular care when it comes to updating distances and measurements and the number of uses of key words. Modern Bibles unwittingly entrench literalism by updating measurements and distances. Their updating practice actually limits the numbers and masks the numerical symbolism. Furthermore, they diminish the theological cross reference system that John employs.

Therefore, for the book of Revelation, modern versions should retain ancient measurements and distances. They can supply a footnote updating these features and add a statement that the number is most likely symbolically significant for John. Moreover, for the sake of and opportunity for deeper Bible study, modern Bibles should remain consistent in their renderings of words that are found exactly seven times.88 Future English Bible versions and future revisions of existing Bible versions should take note of this issue in Revelation.

[1] Numerous resources are available that describe the apocalyptic genre found in Revelation, including Richard Bauckham, The Theology of the Book of Revelation, NTT (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 1–22; Mitchell G. Reddish, “The Genre of the Book of Revelation,” in The Oxford Handbook of the Book of Revelation, ed. Craig R. Koester (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2020), 21–36; Thomas R. Schreiner, The Joy of Hearing: A Theology of the Book of Revelation (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2021), 17–29.

[2] A study of 300 symbolic images in the book of Revelation is found in Michael Kuykendall, Lions, Locusts, and the Lamb: Interpreting Key Images in the Book of Revelation (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2019).

[3] A fuller discussion of Revelation’s use of numbers is found in Kuykendall, Lions, Locusts, and the Lamb, 273–99; James L. Resseguie, The Revelation of John: A Narrative Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2009), 28–32; Henry Barclay Swete, The Apocalypse of St. John, 3rd ed. (New York: Macmillan, 1922), cxxxv–cxxix.

[4] James L. Resseguie, Revelation Unsealed: A Narrative Critical Approach to John’s Apocalypse, BibInt 32 (Leiden: Brill, 1998), 48–49; Brian J. Tabb, All Things New: Revelation as Canonical Capstone, NSBT 48 (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2019), 97–101.

[5] Leland Ryken, James C. Wilhoit, and Tremper Longman III, eds., Dictionary of Biblical Imagery (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1998), 307–8. For intertestamental examples see G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, NIGTC (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), 59.

[6] M. Eugene Boring, “Seven, Seventh, Seventy,” NIDB 5:197. See Jean-Pierre Prévost, How to Read the Apocalypse (New York: Crossroad, 1993), 31–32; Ryken, Wilhoit, and Longman, Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, 774–75; Moisés Silva, “ἑπτά,” NIDNTTE 1:260–63.

[7] Isbon T. Beckwith, The Apocalypse of John (New York: Macmillan, 1919), 254.

[8] Swete, Apocalypse of St. John, cxxxvii; Boring, “Numbers, Numbering,” NIDB 4:299.

[9] M. Eugene Boring, “Numbers, Numbering,” NIDB 4:299; Ryken, Wilhoit, and Longman, Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, 865–66; Moisés Silva, “χίλιοι,” NIDNTTE 4:671–75.

[10] Prévost, How to Read the Apocalypse, 32. See Richard Bauckham, The Climax of Prophecy: Studies on the Book of Revelation (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1993), 36; Resseguie, Revelation Unsealed, 64.

[11] The number twelve is found twelve times in 7:4–8.

[12] For example, see Resseguie (Revelation, 142) for a description of “one-half.”

[13] So Beale, Revelation, 595; George R. Beasley-Murray, The Book of Revelation, NCB (Greenwood, SC: Attic Press, 1974), 186; Craig S. Keener, Revelation, NIVAC (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 296; Simon J. Kistemaker, Exposition of the Book of Revelation, NTC (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2001), 334; Craig R. Koester, Revelation, AYBC 38A (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2014), 502; Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, 2nd ed., NICNT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), 221; Frederick J. Murphy, Fallen Is Babylon: The Revelation to John (London: T&T Clark, 1998), 267; Grant R. Osborne, Revelation, BECNT (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2002), 428; Stephen S. Smalley, The Revelation to John: A Commentary on the Greek Text of the Apocalypse (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005), 282. On the other hand, Robert L. Thomas (Revelation, WEC [Chicago: Moody, 1995], 2:95) finds no connection between three and a half days and three and a half years: “the correspondence to the three and a half years of prophetic ministry being only coincidental.”

[14] Ian Boxall, The Revelation of St. John, BNTC (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2006), 165; Koester, Revelation, 502; Osborne, Revelation, 429; John Christopher Thomas, The Apocalypse: A Literary and Theological Commentary (Cleveland, TN: CPT Press, 2012), 337.

[15] Bauckham, The Climax of Prophecy, 280. See David E. Aune, Revelation, WBC (Dallas: Word Books, 1997), 2:621; Beale, Revelation, 594; Murphy, Fallen Is Babylon, 263–64.

[16] Edmondo F. Lupieri, A Commentary on the Apocalypse of John, trans. Maria Poggi Johnson (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006), 154, 174–75.

[17] Resseguie, Revelation of John, 165.

[18] John P. M. Sweet, Revelation, TPINTC (Philadelphia: Trinity Press International, 1979), 183. David E. Aune, Revelation, 2:621; Louis A. Brighton, Revelation, ConcC (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999), 299–300; Felise Tavo, Woman, Mother, Bride, Woman, Mother and Bride: An Exegetical Investigation into the “Ecclesial” Notions of the Apocalypse, BTS 3 (Leuven: Peeters, 2007), 212–13.

[19] David Chilton (The Days of Vengeance: An Exposition of Revelation [Fort Worth: Dominion Press, 1987], 274) provides a chiastic arrangement of “forty-two months,” “thousand two hundred sixty days,” and “three and a half days,” with the last item serving as the peak of the chiasm. This lends support for its inclusion with the other designations.

[20] The phrase “time, times, and half a time” comes directly from Dan 7:25 and 12:7. The context of Dan 7–12 includes a future tribulation centered on the temple, one who comes and speaks words against God, the “abomination of desolation,” and the coming of God’s kingdom of saints, including “one like a son of man.” Daniel asks how much longer until the end (Dan 12:6). The answer is “time, times, and half a time.” The historical backdrop is the persecution of Antiochus Epiphanes IV (167–164 BC). Beale (Revelation, 566) adds this is specified as “three years and six months” in 1 Maccabees 1–4, 2 Maccabees 5, and Josephus, Jewish War 1.19; 5.394.

[21] This study will follow NIV’s renderings for quotes from Revelation.

[22] NIV and NLT are inconsistent with renderings of “42 months” and “forty-two months.”

[23] Beale, Revelation, 565; Leon Morris, The Book of Revelation, 2nd ed., TNTC 20 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987), 143; Osborne, Revelation, 414.

[24] Carol Rotz, Revelation: A Commentary in the Wesleyan Tradition, NBBC (Kansas City: Beacon Hill, 2012), 163. J. Massyngberde Ford (Revelation: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, AB 38 [Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1975], 170) and Resseguie (Revelation Unsealed, 52) note that forty-two is both a messianic number (3 x 14; Jesus as the new David; Matt 1:1–17) and a demonic number (6 x 7; “perfection missing the mark”). Bauckham (The Climax of Prophecy, 400–402) intriguingly explains that John used square numbers to represent the saints (12; 144), triangular numbers to represent the beast (666), and rectangular numbers to depict the apocalyptic period of the reign of the beast. Thus, forty-two is the sixth rectangular number (6 x 7). A thousand two hundred sixty is the thirty-fifth rectangular number (35 x 36).

[25] Kendell Easley (Revelation, Holman New Testament Commentary [Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1998], 189) compares it to the typical American expression of a “forty-hour week” for “fully employed” without necessarily meaning an exact length of time.

[26] English translations use a variety of expressions for this number: “1,260 days” (CSB, ESV, GW, GNT, NET, NIV, NLT); “one thousand two hundred and sixty days” (CEB, CEV, NASB [12:6 only], NCV, NKJV, NRSV); and “twelve hundred and sixty days” (NABR, NASB [11:3 only], NJB, REB). The normally consistent NASB is inconsistent at 11:3 and 12:6. KJV has “a thousand two hundred and threescore days.”

[27] Osborne, Revelation, 464.

[28] Beale, Revelation, 566; Osborne, Revelation, 464.

[29] Murphy, Fallen Is Babylon, 262.

[30] Factors that complicate the interpretation include a notable textual variant that reads 616 instead of 666. See James Jeffrey Cate, “The Text of Revelation: Why neither Armageddon nor 666 May Be Exactly What You Think,” in Essays on Revelation: Appropriating Yesterday’s Apocalypse in Today’s World, ed. Gerald L. Stevens (Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2010), 116–29; and David C. Parker, “A New Oxyrhynchus Papyrus of Revelation: P115 (P. Oxy. 4499),” NTS 46 (2000): 159–74. The majority of scholars maintain an original reference to Nero. See Craig R. Koester, “The Number of the Beast in Revelation 13 in Light of Papyri, Graffiti, and Inscriptions,” JECH 6.3 (2016): 1–21. Recently, a reference to Solomon (1 Kings 10:14) was proffered by Keith Bodner and Brent A. Strawn, “Solomon and 666 (Revelation 13.18),” NTS 66 (2020): 299–312.

[31] Intriguingly, the two Greek words total twenty-eight. Thus, like the Lamb’s twenty-eight occurrences, “thousand” signifies completeness of seven multiplied by the full coverage of four (7 x 4).

[32] NCV reduces the incalculable number down to “thousands and thousands.” Modern versions that update to “millions” offer readers a sense of the quantity. The rendering of “myriads” on the other hand may confuse readers who do not have a dictionary close at hand. The middle of the road attempts at literally producing “tens of thousands times ten thousand” may actually be best for giving a sense of the numeric symbolism. The point is overwhelming innumerability.

[33] Aune, Revelation, 2:539; Beale, Revelation, 509.

[34] BDAG 252.

[35] In addition, KJV reads “two hundred thousand thousand.” The awkward English phrasing lends a hand in identifying numerical symbolism.

[36] Smalley, Revelation, 239. Another insight is mentioned by Sigve K. Tonstad, Revelation, Paideia (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2019), 155: “By responsible estimates, the population of the whole earth was about two hundred million at the time Revelation was written. A demonic reality needs a number to match its subject.” Nevertheless, this still places limitations on an uncountable number.

[37] Primarily, it is dispensationalist scholars who appeal for a literal number, including Easley, Revelation, 160; Edward Hindson, The Book of Revelation, 21st Century Biblical Commentary 16 (Chattanooga: AMG Publishers, 2002), 110; Tim LaHaye, Revelation Unveiled (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999), 174; Hal Lindsey, There’s a New World Coming (Santa Ana, CA: Vision House, 1973), 140; Paige Patterson, Revelation, NAC 39 (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2012), 224; Charles C. Ryrie, Revelation (Chicago: Moody, 1996), 75; Robert L. Thomas, Revelation, 2:46. John F. Walvoord (The Revelation of Jesus Christ [Chicago: Moody, 1989], 166) wavers but reasons that a literal number is not impossible. On the other hand, Buist M. Fanning (Revelation, ZECNT [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2020], 303) states that “a literal count (whether exact or rounded) is not intended but rather the sense that such an army would wreak unspeakable levels of destruction.”

[38] See F. B. Huey Jr., “Weights and Measures,” ZEB 5:1061–73.

[39] Beale, Revelation, 1076–77; Beasley-Murray, Revelation, 323; Brian K. Blount, Revelation: A Commentary, NTL (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2009), 390; Morris, Revelation, 244; Murphy, Fallen Is Babylon, 420; Mitchell G. Reddish, Revelation, SHBC (Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2001), 407; Smalley, Revelation, 552; CEV, GNT, NCV, NJB, REB, VOICE.

[40] Aune, Revelation, 2:1162; Fanning, Revelation, 542; Keener, Revelation, 494; George Eldon Ladd, A Commentary on the Revelation of John (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972), 282; Osborne, Revelation, 753; Patterson, Revelation, 371; Robert Thomas, Revelation, 2:468; CEB, NIV, NLT.

[41] Beale, Revelation, 1076–77.

[42] Brighton, Revelation, 616; Kistemaker, Revelation, 569; Mounce, Revelation, 392.

[43] Resseguie, Revelation, 254.

[44] Patterson, Revelation, 297.

[45] Lindsey, New World Coming, 204.

[46] LaHaye, Revelation Unveiled, 241.

[47] Hindson, Revelation, 158.

[48] Walvoord, Revelation, 223. See also Fanning (Revelation, 397–400) and Easley (Revelation, 257–58) for similar phraseology.

[49] For example, the sixth seal (6:15); sixth trumpet (9:14–19); here at the third interlude (14:20); sixth bowl (16:12–16); fall of Babylon (17:12–14); rider on the white horse (19: 17–21); and the millennial vision (20: 7–10).

[50] Lindsey, New World Coming, 206; Ryrie, Revelation, 106.

[51] Walvoord, Revelation, 223. See also Hindson, Revelation, 159; Patterson, Revelation, 297; Robert Thomas, Revelation, 2:224. Chilton (Days of Vengeance, 376) interprets this as fulfilled in AD 70.

[52] Fanning, Revelation, 400.

[53] G. K. Beale and David H. Campbell, Revelation: A Shorter Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2015), 313.

[54] Resseguie, Revelation, 202.

[55] Paul Rainbow, The Pith of the Apocalypse: Essential Message and Principles for Interpretation (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2008), 56.

[56] So Boxall, Revelation, 215; Brighton, Revelation, 394; Duvall, Revelation, 204; William Hendriksen, More than Conquerors (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1962), 156; Kistemaker, Revelation, 421; J. Ramsey Michaels, Revelation, IVPNTC 20 (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1997), 159; Morris, Revelation, 181; Murphy, Fallen Is Babylon, 328; John Christopher Thomas and Frank D. Macchia, Revelation, THNTC (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2016), 266.

[57] Brighton, Revelation, 373 n. 1.

[58] NJB and REB utilize “furlongs” for their European readership. NKJV’s choice to retain “furlongs” from KJV for primarily American audiences is an odd decision.

[59] Formally equivalent translations are just as guilty as functional translations on rendering Revelation’s distances. One example of inconsistency is found in Eugene Peterson’s The Message. He produced 12,000 stadia, as well as “twice ten thousand times ten thousand,” and 144 cubits, yet reverted to “two hundred miles” for 14:20.

[60] Rainbow, Pith of the Apocalypse, 56.

[61] LaHaye (Revelation Unveiled, 363–64) exemplifies literalism by calculating that each of the estimated twenty billion saints will have a cubic mile for themselves.

[62] Tonstad, Revelation, 313.

[63] Easley, Revelation, 399.

[64] Not everyone finds theology behind John’s numbers. For example, John J. Davis (Biblical Numerology: A Basic Study of the Use of Numbers in the Bible [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1968], 104–24) does not find much symbolism beyond the general usage of “seven.” Similarly, Steve Moyise (“Word Frequencies in the Book of Revelation,” AUSS 43 (2005): 285–99), reacting to Bauckham (Climax of Prophecy, 29–37), does not dispute John’s meticulous use of numbers, but he does minimize that they are used by John to convey theological truths.

[65] Numerous commentators note a sevenfold structure of the charge to write, characteristic of Christ, strengths, weaknesses, solution, call to listen, and eschatological promise. See Aune, Revelation, 1:119–24; Beale, Revelation, 225; Brighton, Revelation, 58–59; J. Scott Duvall, Revelation, TTCS (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2014), 36–39; Hendriksen, More than Conquerors, 59; Kistemaker, Revelation, 108; Morris, Revelation, 58; Osborne, Revelation, 105–6; Ian Paul, Revelation, TNTC 20 (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2018), 76; Reddish, Revelation, 51; Robert Thomas, Revelation, 1:125–26.

[66] The phrase is found 250 times in the LXX to introduce prophetic oracles from God spoken through the prophets. Thus, the formula now refers to Jesus who is treated on the same level as God. See David L. Mathewson, Revelation: A Handbook on the Greek Text, (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2016), 18.

[67] Variations of the formula can also be found (4:2, 3; 7:10; 19:4; 20:11), but Bauckham (The Climax of Prophecy, 34) suggests that the variations are deliberately used in order to keep the number of occurrences to seven.

[68] So Bauckham, The Climax of Prophecy, 34; Bruce W. Longenecker, “‘Linked Like a Chain’: Rev 22.6–9 in Light of an Ancient Transition Technique,” NTS 47 (2001): 107–8. Others, of course, could add 1:7 and thereby dismiss this particular element.

[69] Paul, Revelation, 35. Paul follows others who note seven unnumbered visions from 19:11–21:1.

[70] See the discussion by Osborne (Revelation, 678–83). Mathias Rissi (The Future of the World: An Exegetical Study of Revelation 19:11–22:15 [London: SCM, 1972], 19–28) relates that John purposefully listed seven to accent numerical symbolism (fullness of the Spirit), especially in connection to the four actions of earthly, end-time judgment byx the Warrior Messiah found in the subsequent verses (19:14–16).

[71] Rissi, Future of the World, 60.

[72] In addition, many scholars adopt a sevenfold outline for Revelation. Ernst R. Wendland (“The Hermeneutical Significance of Literary Structure in Revelation,” Neot 48 [2014]: 447–76) proposes seven sections with seven subsections beneath each one. Others note seven heavenly throne-room scenes (with different iterations); seven symbolic beings in chapters 12–14 (the woman, the dragon, the child, Michael, the first beast, the second beast, and the Lamb); and seven defeated enemies in chapters 17–20 (Babylon the Great, beast, false prophet, Satan, Gog and Magog, Death, and Hades).

[73] See Kuykendall (Lions, Locusts, and the Lamb, 162 n. 37) for reasons to retain ἅγιοι at 22:21.

[74] Bauckham, The Climax of Prophecy, 34–35.

[75] Bauckham, The Climax of Prophecy, 34.

[76] Bauckham, The Climax of Prophecy, 31, 350–71.

[77] Beale, Revelation, 59.

[78] Although not specific to Revelation, Robert Alter stresses the need for correct word choices within genres in The Art of Bible Translation (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2019), 45–64. Leland Ryken makes a case for formal equivalent fidelity in The Word of God in English: Criteria for Excellence in Bible Translation (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2002), 217–28. Form equivalent translations do somewhat better on this issue of consistency but all modern versions can do better.

[79] Osborne, Revelation, 42.

[80] Osborne, Revelation, 380.

[81] Beale, Revelation, 940.

[82] ESV, HCSB, MEV, and NKJV come close with six out of seven.

[83] HCSB also singularly chose “Messiah” for 20:4, 6. Fortunately, CSB revised all seven instances to “Christ.”

[84] Resseguie (Revelation Unsealed, 206–7) stresses the same idea through the three tenses––past, present, future. The slaughtered Lamb reflects Christ’s past work on the cross. The Son of Man is the image of Christ’s present work in his church. The faithful and true warrior is the image of Christ’s future work at his second coming.

[85] Osborne, Revelation, 291. Moisés Silva (“σείω,” NIDNTTE 4: 279) adds, “all mentions of earthquakes in the New Testament refer to divine intervention.”

[86] J. Daniel Hays, J. Scott Duvall, and C. Marvin Pate, Dictionary of Biblical Prophecy and End Times (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007), 126–27. See Beale, Revelation, 413.

[87] The earthquake is found in the sixth and seventh seals, the end of the second interlude, the seventh trumpet, and the seventh bowl.

[88] A case can be made for the numbers four and twelve as well.

Michael Kuykendall

Michael Kuykendall is professor of New Testament studies at Gateway Seminary in Ontario, California.

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