Q - In the book of Revelation – why is the number 7 important?
And 1/3 (not the number 3, but specifically 1/3)?
A - Thanks for the questions!
In the time before Jesus there was a popular kind of Jewish writing called Apocalyptic writing (AW). This writing had several characteristics including:
- It dealt with the subject of the last age of the world when good triumphs over evil
- It made much use of symbolism taken from the animal kingdom, astrology, numbers, etc.
- AW doesn't use an author's name, but one of a celebrated persona
- AW conceives of this world as being of Satan and incapable of regeneration. Therefore the most that man can hope for is a new world that he can pray for.
- AW has determinism.That is, that there is very little room for personal freedom or conversion.What is, is.
Therefore, Revelation is NOT Apocalyptic writing, like some call it, but rather a work of prophecy. The only one in the NT. Prophecy is not always a telling the future, but rather giving a message of God to a people. This is the purpose of the Book of Revelation and it includes language that tells us about the future in part.
As for numbers in Revelation:
The number 7 - This number reflects perfection because God created the world in six days, then rested on the seventh. So, when used in Revelation it signifies such as this example (one of many):
Rev 1:12 Then I turned to see whose voice it was that spoke to me, and on turning I saw golden lampstands.
The lampstands represent seven Churches - thus the perfection of the Church is illuminated here.
The number 1/3 - represents God's mercy. Usually when used the fraction has to do with punishment that God is raining on the earth. For example:
a third of the creatures living in the sea died, and a third of the ships were wrecked. - rev 8:9
So, even when the punishment comes, there is still mercy - God doesn't destroy all.
There are many other symbols in the book of Revelation, which is why I recommend a good commentary, such as the Navarre Bible of the Ignatius Study Bible. We have both in St. Mary's library.
I hope this helps.