What does the number seven mean? Is there a purpose behind the times when it is used?
The Frequency of Seven
I was amazed at how many times the number seven came up in the Bible. I counted 735 occurrences where the number seven was used but if you add the words “sevenfold” or the “seventh,” which is also the number seven, then the frequency of the number seven jumps to 860 times. The point is, the number seven must have special significance to God. There must be a deeper meaning to this number because of how often it’s mentioned and indeed, there is.
Seven’s First Appearance
We don’t have to wait long for the occurrence of the number seven to appear as it does in Genesis 2 where it says “on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made” (Gen 2:2-3). The seventh day is special to begin with; God blesses the day and sanctified it which means “to set apart for holy use.” It is special to God. Why? It was “because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.” If you take a day of rest, you are not only physically, mentally, and spiritual refreshed, God blesses that day for you. For Israel, it was “set apart” for them to rest from their everyday activities and to rest and refresh and worship God (Duet 5:12). Put within the context of the creation account, the number seven represents completion or to be finished.
Seven in Relation to Six
The number six seems to be the number of man in the Bible. Mankind was created on the sixth day and the number of man is listed in the Book of Revelation as 666 where it says you can “calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man: His number is 666” (Rev 13:18). Six (man) falls short of completion (God). Even today our society and the world use the seven-day week. It was divinely ordered by God and by Him it was decreed and so it still exists today.
Seven in the New Testament
When we see the number seven used in the New Testament, it’s used within the context of a complete work of God in something and which He always finishes. For example, there are seven “I AM’s” stated by Jesus indicating He is the completion or fulfillment of the great “I AM” in the Old Testament. There are seven parables given in the Book of Matthew, showing the completeness of them as explaining the kingdom of heaven using earthy examples. There are seven letters to seven churches in the Book of Revelation proving the completeness of Jesus message to each one, seven miracles or signs listed in the Gospel of John , giving the perfect number necessary for Christ’s ministry, and there are seven woes or judgments Jesus mentions in Matthew 23.
Seven in the Old Testament
As for the Old Testament, there are seven things God hates (Prov 6:16); no animal was acceptable as a sacrifice until it was seven days old (Ex 22:30); there were seven major attributes mentioned about the Messiah (Isaiah 11:2), signaling the complete fulfillment in Christ; Joshua and Israel marched around Jericho seven days when it was finished for good (Joshua 6:3-4); Naaman the military commander was told to bathe in the Jordan River seven times and his leprosy would be gone, and it was (2nd Kings 5:10); the tabernacle had seven stems on the lampstand (Ex 25:37); and there were seven Holy Days that God had ordained for Israel, beginning with Passover and ending with the Last Great Day, the next day after the Feast of Tabernacles.
One thing that is important is that there are seven trumpets announcing seven judgments in the Book of Revelation on all who’ve refused to repent and believe (Rev 8). That might be the most important message about the meaning of the number seven that there is. How often has God warned you to repent and believe in Jesus (Mark 1:15) through written media or someone else’s witness and yet you refused to act? The day will come when you die unexpectedly and then comes the judgment (Heb 9:27), and it will be too late (Rev 20:12-15). If you are saved, you are resting, like on the seventh day, from all your works and trusting in Christ for eternal life. For us, the perfect completion and finish comes when the Lord returns or we pass into glory after death.