Thursday, January 3, 2013

Number Symbolism in Revelation

“Numbers are the universal language offered by the Deity to humans as confirmation of the truth.”--St. Augustine (A.D. 354-430)

Alice C. Linsley

The Apocalypse of Saint John is rich in number symbolism. The symbolism is rooted in ancient cosmological perceptions of seven stars/planets as celestial messengers or angels. One of these is the "morning star" or Venus (Rev. 2:28). The other "stars" of the ancient world were Jupiter, Mercury, Mars, Saturn, and the Sun and the Moon. All can be seen by the naked eye near the ecliptic.

In the ancient world these seven celestial bodies were referred to as bowls. They were perceived to hold both blessings and curses. In Revelation 16:1-21 the bowls pour out curses that resemble the plagues of Egypt.

5000 year Egyptian cursing bowl

The Sun was recognized to be at the sacred center of the cosmos, just as the Tree of Life was at the sacred center of the Garden in Genesis, and Christ is at the sacred center of the churches (Rev. 1:12), represented by the seven lampstands (Rev. 1: 20). The Tree of Life motif is taken up again in conjunction with the number 12 in Revelation 22:2: “In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bear twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.”

Besides the symbolism of numbers there are other signs and symbols that spoke to the people to whom the oracles were directed. These include sacred mountains, the two-edged sword, the open door, the dragon-like beast, blood, fire and sacred scrolls. The scroll with the seven seals that none can open expresses the ancient three-tier cosmology. "But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside it." (Rev. 5:3)

The purpose of this apocalyptic work is to encourage followers of Jesus Christ at a time of great trial and persecution. The oracles to the churches center on the ultimate victory of Christ and the eternal nature of his Kingdom.

In the opening of the Apocalypse, Christ stands at the sacred center of seven golden lampstands holding seven stars in his right hand. He explains, “The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands which you saw are the seven churches” (Rev.1:20).

The seven churches are Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. All were located on a commercial highway and Hebrews (ha-biru) had lived in these towns for many generations.

There are seven stars (celestial messengers), seven churches (lampstands), seven oracles and seven bowls. The number seven speaks of perfection in the sense of cosmic wholeness and parallels the seven days of creation in Genesis. Here the number symbolizes a new creation.

The churches of Smyrna and Philadelphia most reflect the Divine image, as did the first Man and Woman. These are declared good while the other churches are declared lacking or deficient.

The blessed Polycarp, the bishop of Smyrna, testified, “He will raise us from the dead … we shall … reign with Him.” When brought before the Roman governor and commanded to curse Christ's name, he replied: “Eighty and six years have I served him, and he has done me nothing but good; and how could I curse him, my Lord and Savior?” He was burned alive in 155 A.D.

The Lord says of Smyrna: “I know your affliction and your poverty, even though you are rich. I know the slander on the part of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Beware, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison so that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have affliction. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Rev.2:9-10).

Notice that it is Jews who persecuted the faithful Hebrews in Smyrna. They apparently used the same strategy against Messianic Jews that the Sanhedrin had used against Jesus in Jerusalem. They turned them over to the Roman authorities on false charges.

To the church at Philadelphia the Lord says: “Because you have kept my word of patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth. I am coming soon; hold fast to what you have, so that no one may seize your crown. If you conquer, I will make you a pillar in the temple of my God; you will never go out of it. I will write on you the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem that comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name” (Rev.3:10-13).

This church is to the Kingdom of God what Heliopolis was to the ancient Horites. It is the place of true worship, characterized by many pillars (iunu) in the temple. Iunu refers to the pillared temple of Heliopolis (Biblical On). The pillars represented the righteous ones in the temple of God. Exodus 24:4 explains that the twelve pillars in God's house represent the twelve tribes upon which God has inscribed the holy Name.

Philadelphia is the site of the modern city of Amman in Jordan. It was originally built on seven hills. It received its named from Ptolemy II Philadelphus, the Macedonian ruler of Egypt. The city was culturally Nabataean until 106 AD when it came under Roman control and joined the Decapolis. Petra was the principal city of Edom and it rivaled Jerusalem in grandeur. Petra reflects Horite beliefs.

The Nilotic Context of the Number Symbolism

The Nilotic context of Revelation is evident in the use of the papyrus reed to measure (Rev. 21:15). These reeds grew with great uniformity, the segments being the exact distance apart. The golden reed was a symbol of the ruler's authority. The crook and flail of the Kushite and Egyptian rulers were segmented like Nile reeds and represented their authority to determine weights and measurements. They alone had the authority of Horus to determine boundaries of time, measurements and direction (horologion/horimos/horizon).

The 24 Elders (Rev. 19:4) represent the whole community of the redeemed, both those who lived in expectation of the Incarnation and those who believe in the Son of God after his appearing in the flesh. This is suggested by the number 24 or 2 groups of 12. The number 12 can be traced to the oldest counting devices and corresponds to the 12 lunar cycles.

John's number departs from Jewish and Quranic tradition in which there are 70 or 72 elders who rule as judges. In the Quran they are called "Houris" and the Arabic word means "beings of distinction" or deified rulers. Horite ruler-priests were regarded as deified “sons” of God. They are often called “gods” (elohiym), as in Exodus 22:28: “Thou shalt not revile the gods (elohiym), nor curse the ruler of thy people.”

The 12 foundations of the New Jerusalem represent the 12 elders who are like the precious gems in the breastplate of Harun (Aaron). "And the foundations of the wall of the city [were] garnished with all manner of precious stones. The first foundation [was] jasper; the second, sapphire; the third, a chalcedony; the fourth, an emerald; the fifth, sardonyx; the sixth, sardius; the seventh, chrysolite; the eighth, beryl; the ninth, a topaz; the tenth, a chrysoprasus; the eleventh, a jacinth; the twelfth, an amethyst." (Rev. 21:19-20)

The Egyptians marked time by 36 ten-day increments (half of 72) and each increment was ruled by a different righteous ruler or rising star. This is based on the number of "decan" stars which were seen to rise during summer nights in Ancient Egypt. A "decan" star was a star that rose just before sunrise at the beginning of a 10-day "decade" in Ancient Egypt. The Egyptian year was marked by 36 decan stars or 36 ten-day periods. During summer nights, 12 decan stars rose; one for each hour. This is the apparent basis for the appointment of the 12 Apostles as rulers. Jesus said to them, "I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel." (Matt.19:28)

The numbers 12 and 72 both represents councils to whom authority has been given by God. The number 72 is 3 sets of 12. Luke 10:1-20 which speaks of 72 appointed to proclaim the Kingdom.

Those to whom Christ gives authority in the Kingdom are our spiritual Horim (Fathers). The English equivalent of the word Horim is Horites. St. Paul explains that those who are not of Abraham's blood have been grafted into Abraham's Horite Hebrew line through Jesus Christ. Jesus is a blood descendant of the Horite ruler-priest lines through Mary, Joseph's cousin bride. Mary is the "Woman" of Genesis 3:15. The Son of God came into the world to save sinners, to crush the head of the serpent, and to restore Paradise, according to this Edenic Promise.

The righteous who have died can expect to escape the second death (Rev.2:11). The ancient Egyptian priests taught that the dead person continues as a shadow and they considered the blessed dead “the living ones.” The word Sheol is derived from the Egyptian word Sheut (šwt), meaning shadow. Statues or ancestor figurines of deified rulers were painted black to convey their continued existence as shadows. On the final day, some in shadow land will be granted eternal life and others will die the second death.

The Apostle Paul explains that those who die with Christ in baptism will rise in Him on the Last Day. These will not die the "second death" of which John speaks in Revelation 2:11 - "The one who is victorious will not be hurt at all by the second death."

The Apocalypse of St. John recapitulates the ancient expectation of the Kingdom being delivered to the Son by the Father and reassures those who suffer that their righteous suffering will be rewarded. The work is as timely today as when it was first written.

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