The Number Seven
Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory
Lots of numbers appear in Revelation (12, 24, 144,000, 10, 666…), but sevens just keep popping up. In fact, John mentions sevens over fifty times (source, p. 1187). Here are just seven of the big sevens in this book:
1. John writes to seven churches (1:4).
2. Jesus stands among seven candlesticks (1:12).
3. Seven spirits hang around God's throne (1:4).
4. The Lamb has seven horns and seven eyes (5:6).
5. He opens seven seals (5:1).
6. Seven angels sound seven trumpets (8:2).
7. Seven angels pour out seven bowls of wrath (15:7).
Guess we know what God's favorite number is. Did he hit 7-7-7 on a slot machine in Reno? What's the deal with all the sevens?
The Complete Works
The number seven usually represents completion (source, p. 1298). After all, it took seven days for God to create the whole world. Six would have been lazy. Eight would have been overkill. Clearly, seven is the perfect number to indicate that something is done and done right.
Once God did it, seven was all the rage. Want some more examples?
• Pharaoh dreams of seven years of plenty and seven years of famine (Genesis 41).
• Passover is celebrated for seven days (Exodus 3:10).
• After seven priests with seven trumpets march around the city of Jericho seven times, its walls come tumbling down (Joshua 6:8).
Still not convinced? Oh, all right. There are seven deadly sins, seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, seven sacraments, seven virtues… The list of spiritually significant sevens just goes on and on.
Seventh Heaven and Seventh Hell
This totally makes sense in the context of Revelation. John writes to seven churches and, in doing so, reaches all the churches. The Lamb also has seven eyes to represent his perfect sight. Each cycle of destruction comes to rest only when the seventh item has been used (of course, this just signals a new cycle of seven terrible things to start, but hey). Seven is all about things being complete.
Even the bad guys get sevens. The Dragon has seven heads with seven crowns on them (12:3), although this is meant ironically. After all, Rome has some famous sevens going for it too—its seven emperors and its magnificent seven hills. Of course, Revelation sees those sevens as the end of the line—no more emperors (or hills for that matter) once God gets done with them.
Seven isn't only a popular number in the Bible. Everyone seems to love sevens. Here are some other famous septets:
• The Magnificent Seven: We're assuming this isn't about seven magnificent plagues.
• Seven Brides for Seven Brothers: That's a whole lot of ladies for a whole lot of gents.
• Snow White and the Seven Dwarves: Each dwarf is a symbol of something, too. Sleepy, Dopey, Grumpy, Pestilence…
• Se7en: Features a killer who murders people based on the seven deadly sins.
• In Seinfeld, George Constanza wants to name his future child Seven in honor of Mickey Mantle's number.
• There are seven habits of highly effective people. Highly ineffective people have none, sadly.
• Harry Potter has a ton of them: Students at Hogwarts attend seven years of wizarding School. Harry is born in the seventh month. Quidditch has seven players. Voldemort even makes seven horcruxes because seven is such a powerfully magic number. Of course, if Harry doesn't stop Voldemort, it is the end of the world as we know it.