As we begin our study into this awesome book of Revelation, let us never forget that the book is written in code. Think back to the parables of our Lord, which He described as having a two-fold purpose:
1) Reveal to some (Matthew 13:12-15)
2) Conceal from others (Matthew 15:12-15)
Likewise, the book of Revelation used "codes" that would serve the same purpose. People who had a strong knowledge of the Scriptures would quickly identify with many of the images, while others would be completely left in the dark. It is my opinion that most of the misunderstanding of the book today is caused by a lack of knowledge on the part of the audience. Many simply do not recognize the Old Testament allusions and references.
Revelation employs the use of several types of symbols for this purpose, from animals to colors to my personal favorite, numbers. From the number 7 to the infamous 666, numbers hold an important place in the book. As the study continues, we will dive more into their supposed meaning.
However, the purpose of today's writing is to simply establish a base rule: numbers can be used symbolically and are not necessarily literal. I am a math teacher by trade, so I understand the concept of "counting numbers". We like to think of numbers as representing the quantity of items in a set - that is, when we see the number "9", we want to look out onto the baseball field and find 9 players that we can count. In this way, 9 means 9! If only Revelation was so simple.
Many are convinced that the numbers in the book are literal, or at least one number in particular is literal: 1,000. We will have much more to say about this in the future.
Surprisingly, some people are very quick to criticize the ancient people for their use of numbers as code, forgetting that we do it all the time today! I give you the example of "6304", which happened to be the number of the hospital room where my son Jake entered the world. By counting number standards, one would expect there to be at least 6,304 room in the hospital. Not even close! The number has meaning that only those associated with Shannon Hospital would understand. Why? It is written in symbolic code!
6 : Women and Children's Wing
3: Third Flood
04: Room Number
Numbers can represent more than their quantity. This is very important to remember going forward. This is true for all symbols (animals, colors, etc...). We must learn to think beyond their literal meanings! We should not think less of the first century Christians in Asia Minor who employed this tactic since we do the same today in 2015.
- Bryan Morrison
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Bryan Morrison is a congregational teacher at the 19th Street Church of Christ.