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Revelation: Symbols and Numbers

The Book of Revelation is written in a style very rich in symbols and images. Numbers are used frequently throughout the book. This is not going to be an exhaustive breakdown of all of the symbols and numbers but, rather, a demonstration of some tendencies that exist in scripture, and some things that can be discerned about the book.

The book is generaly centered around events happening around the time of the begginning of the church. Sorry to disappoint those of you who wish to transpose the entire book to current times. People who do that are always wrong because the entire premise of their interpretation is skewed.

Prophecy fulfilled

Most prominent Catholic theologians agree that the first twenty chapters of the book have long been fulfilled. Most of the prophecies that people take as end-times were destined to be fulfilled very soon after Christ’s death. One example is the coming of His Kingdom. Catholics believe that the coming of the Kingdom (the New Jerusalem), actualy refers to the founding of the church.

  • Revelation 3:12: “He who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God; never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name.”
  • Revelation 21:2: “And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband; We believe we are, now, the Israel of God. while the old Israel is a spiritual sodom.”
  • Revelation 11:8: “…and their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city which is allegorically called Sodom and Egypt, where their Lord was crucified.”

Many people will quickly protest, stating that the coming of the kingdom refers to a far, future event. However, the evidence is squarely on the Catholic side:

  • Matthew 16:28: “Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom.”
  • Mark 9:1: “And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.”
  • Luke 9:27: “But I tell you truly, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.

This is where the symbolism comes into play. John was given a myriad of visions that mixed elements of past, present and near future. Some of the symbols are to be taken as just that – symbols. Some people waste so much time looking for the specific meaning of symbols that they miss the overreaching themes presented by those symbols. Here are some themes presented by symbols and numbers:

The Book does point to the future, but in the general sense, more than the specific. Though the book ends with a beckoning of the 2nd coming, very little else is specificaly laid out concerning end time events. Most of the symbols and numbers concern the Church, God and Heaven, and the interchange between the two. The fall of Jerusalem (the whore) and the downfall of rome (the beast) are shown as demonstration of God’s victory over evil.

  • The Church
    The book goes to great pains to depict a sacramental, liturgical, Church. It is hard not to see the Catholic Church in it’s pages. We have robes (7:9, 13, 14, 22:14), lampstands (1:12, 13, 20, 2:1, 11:4), priests (1:6, 5:10, 20:6) songs and prayers of the saints in heaven (5).
  • God and Heaven
    God is depicted many ways. Jesus, Himself, is depicted many ways. He is depicted as King, Prophet, Judge, Priest and sacrifice. He is depicted as Lion and Lamb. Since Father, Son and Spirit are all shown, this is not a good book for those who deny the Trinity.
  • The Interchange
    We see, in the book, a ratification of the church in heaven.  
    1. Men
    2. virgins
    3. wearing white robes
    4. palm branches
    5. follow the lamb wherever He goes
  • …sounds like Catholic priests to me!

Rev 14:2-5
“And I heard a voice from heaven like the sound of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder; the voice I heard was like the sound of harpers playing on their harps, and they sing a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and before the elders. No one could learn that song except the hundred and forty-four thousand who had been redeemed from the earth. It is these who have not defiled themselves with women, for they are chaste; it is these who follow the Lamb wherever he goes; these have been redeemed from mankind as first fruits for God and the Lamb, and in their mouth no lie was found, for they are spotless.”

This seems like celibacy among the clergy is a good idea and has reason afterall!

Expanding further on the idea of the interchange between heaven and the church, let’s examine further this idea of the saints:

Rev. 5:8-10
“When he took it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each of the elders held a harp and gold bowls filled with incense, which are the prayers of the holy ones. They sang a new hymn: ‘Worthy are you to receive the scroll and to break open its seals, for you were slain and with your blood you purchased for God those from every tribe and tongue, people and nation. You made them a kingdom and priests for our God, and they will reign on earth.'”

This is a quote so rich in it’s emphasis, that I must take it in parts.

  1. “And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp,…”
    The 4 living creatures can be found in 4:6-8:

“In front of the throne was something that resembled a sea of glass like crystal. 6 In the center and around the throne, there were four living creatures covered with eyes in front and in back. The first creature resembled a lion, the second was like a calf, the third had a face like that of a human being, and the fourth looked like an eagle 7 in flight. The four living creatures, each of them with six wings, 8were covered with eyes inside and out. Day and night they do not stop exclaiming: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God almighty, who was, and who is, and who is to come.”

They can also be found in Ezekial 1:5-12:

“Within it were figures resembling four living creatures that looked like this: their form was human, but each had four faces and four wings, and their legs went straight down; the soles of their feet were round. They sparkled with a gleam like burnished bronze. Their faces were like this: each of the four had the face of a man, but on the right side was the face of a lion, and on the left side the face of an ox, and finally each had the face of an eagle. Their faces (and their wings) looked out on all their four sides; they did not turn when they moved, but each went straight forward. (Each went straight forward; wherever the spirit wished to go, there they went; they did not turn when they moved.) Human hands were under their wings, and the wings of one touched those of another. Each had two wings spread out above so that they touched one another’s, while the other two wings of each covered his body.”

Of course, the many eyes and wings and the animal forms, themselves are symbolic. In Ezekial 10:20, they are identified as cherubim. The lion represents nobility, the calf- strength, The man- wisdom and the eagle- swiftness. The symbolism of the four creatures has been used, since the 2nd century, to depict the Gospel writers.

The 24 elders have been interpreted as a collective of the 12 apostles and the 12 tribes of Israel. It certainly shows the active role God has given the saints in heaven.

  1. “and gold bowls filled with incense, which are the prayers of the holy ones. They sang a new hymn: ‘Worthy are you to receive the scroll and to break open its seals, for you were slain and with your blood you purchased for God those from every tribe and tongue, people and nation…'”This verse proves that the Saints, in heaven, hear our prayers and pass them to God. This is an extremley important thing because it helps prove the validity of prayers to the saints which can be found in more detail in other articles.
  2. “‘…You made them a kingdom and priests for our God, and they will reign on earth.'”Frankly, this verse is as Catholic as they come. It shows, first that the Christian faith is a priesthood, and that the priests REIGN ON EARTH. That is- this verse demonstrates the authority of the Priests on earth. I am not saying that it is limited to Catholic priests alone since there is a priesthood of all believers, but it relates especially to them since they are a special kind of priest in the priesthood of all believers.


There are many numbers in revelation. Most are symbolic. 144,000 is seen as kind of a symbolic expansion of the 12 tribes (literally 12 X 12 X 1000). Notice that the Bible does differentiate between the 12 tribes of the old Israel and the 12 tribes of the new Israel.

OLD (Genesis 35:22-26)

  1. Reuben
  2. Simeon
  3. Levi
  4. Judah
  5. Is’sachar
  6. Zeb’ulun
  7. Joseph
  8. Benjamin
  9. Dan
  10. Naph’tali
  11. Gad
  12. Asher

NEW (Revelation 7:5-8)

  1. Judah
  2. Reuben
  3. Gad
  4. Asher
  5. Naph’tali
  6. Manas’seh
  7. Simeon
  8. Levi
  9. Is’sachar
  10. Zeb’ulun
  11. Joseph
  12. Benjamin

That the lists are different is for a reason. God doesn’t do anything without a reason. First, the order is changed. In the New Israel, Judah is preeminent among the tribes. This is for obvious reasons-the Messiah is of Judah. Other than that, the lists are the same, just reordered, right? Wrong!

Notice that “Dan” is removed and replaced with “Manas’seh”. If nothing else, this shows that the Israel of God is no longer the Israelites. There is also another suggested meaning. It was speculated that the anti-Christ would come (as a false messiah) from the tribe of Dan.

The numbers 3, 7, and 10 appear often in scripture and in this book. 7 is considered a number of perfection-God’s number. 10 is, for example, the number of Commandments.

666 is gematria. It plays on the fact that Hebrew and Greek letters have numerical values. 666 is the numerical equivalent of two Roman caesers: Nero and Caligilia. Both were monsters. Most scholars, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, agree that the beast was Nero and is not the pope.

2 thoughts on “Revelation: Symbols and Numbers”

  1. The revelation is somewhat frightening to me as a catholic.Could i ever be perfect in gods eyes i wish i could but my many failings and temptations take over. Please lord help me to become one of your children again please give me the holy spirit in my me rise above these worldly temptations of death and give me new life.

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