It doesn’t take long in the Book of Revelation to figure out what John’s favorite number is. The first time he uses the number 7 is in Revelation 1:4 and he will go on to mention it over 50 more times before the book ends. One cannot read his book without noticing this and many are left confused by his fascination with this number. But the reason he uses it so much is because it points to the Sabbath day at the end of the week, where God rested with humanity in the Garden of Eden after completing the creation of the world. And in that light, it becomes a number for completeness. It’s the sacred number of a sacred day that had sacred meaning.
But it doesn’t just have a past meaning—for John it also has a crucial future meaning. The Book of Revelation is ultimately about the fullness of Sabbath coming to fruition. It’s about the day when the ultimate rest of God will come upon the planet and all things will be made right. It’s about the new heavens and new earth where all that is wrong with our current heaven and earth is wiped away and thrown into the lake of fire to be no more. It’s about the curse of the ground (Gen 3:17-19) being broken so that we no longer need to do our work with incredible sweat, blood and toil.
It’s about the entirety of planet Earth being transformed into Eden, which was always the plan from the beginning. If we had never sinned and continued to be fruitful and multiply, giving birth to imagers of God who made more imagers of God who made more imagers of God, eventually we would have left the physical location of Eden and cultivated the whole planet to also look like Eden. Unfortunately, sin has really thrown off this progression, but it has not stopped the mission. Indeed, Jesus’s favorite theme was the Kingdom of Heaven, and He didn’t speak of that Kingdom as though it were a place we simply went to when we died. Rather, He spoke of Heaven as though it had already been loaded onto a moving truck that would be driven down to Earth and unloaded whenever Christians live out the ways of Kingdom of Heaven in the here and now.
And so if God’s presence rested with humanity in Eden on the seventh day of the creation poem, so His presence will rest upon the whole earth when the ultimate sabbath day comes to fruition at the end of this age. Therefore, the number seven is more fully about that Edenic Kingdom of Heaven coming to the earth in fullness via God’s rest with us, as Jesus is given full reign over the earth and rules it completely.
This is actually communicated in the fuller idea of God resting on the seventh day; for when God rested in Eden, He wasn’t just taking a break from creating—rather, He was placing His manifest presence in the physical locale of Eden. This throws many off as we often refer to God as omnipresent (that is, God is everywhere). While this is true, God sometimes dwells in physical locations on the earth in special manifest ways. In Adam and Eve’s time, God’s presence was found in Eden where He rested and walked in the cool of the day (Gen 3:8). In Abraham’s time, His presence was often found by sacred trees (Gen 12:6–7, 18:1 21:33, 35:4). In Moses’s time, His presence was found in the mobile sacred space of the tabernacle tent. In Solomon’s time, His presence was located in the temple, which was the tabernacle tent made permanent and more spectacular. In the gospels, His presence was found in Jesus, Himself (Jn 2:19-21). And after Jesus ascended into Heaven, He sent His Holy Spirit to His followers so that God’s presence could be found in Christians (1 Cor 6:19).
So theologically speaking, God’s rest upon Eden was way more monumental than the idea that, “God was super tired and needed a break.” Rather, God’s rest upon Eden was about His manifest presence with humanity and his rule over the earth. When comparing Genesis to other ancient literature of the time, Bible scholar John H. Walton points out that,
It would not have been difficult for a reader from anywhere in the ancient Near East to take one quick look at the seven-day account and draw the conclusion that it was a temple story. That is because they knew something about the temples in the ancient world that is foreign to us. Divine rest in ancient temples was not a matter of simply residence…. the temple was the center of God’s rule. In the ancient world, the temple was the command center of the cosmos—it was the control room from where the god maintained order, made decrees and exercised sovereignty. Temple-building accounts often accompanied cosmologies because after the god had established order (the focus of cosmologies in the ancient world), he took control of that ordered system. This is the element that we are sadly missing when we read the Genesis account. God has ordered the cosmos with the purpose of taking up his residence in it and ruling over it. Day seven is the reason for days one through six. It is the fulfillment of God’s purpose.John H. Walton (The Lost World of Adam and Eve: Genesis 2-3 and the Human Origins Debate, page 49)
In this statement we find the ultimate reason for John’s use of the number seven all throughout Revelation, for we can wrap all of the other reasons up in this one mega-reason. We don’t just take a break on the seventh day because God rested from creating on the seventh day—rather, we rest on the Sabbath so that we can spend time in God’s presence via the Holy Spirit as He rests in the room with us. Every week we reorient our lives to point Edenward/Heavenward, where we remember the sacred rest of the past and turn our hope forward to the sacred rest of the future. On the seventh day we find ourselves complete in God and yearn for the even fuller completeness that is to come. On the Sabbath we take a break from the hard work we’ve done to bring about the Kingdom of Heaven in the past week and are refreshed by the divine rest of God as we get ready to go back outside and do it again the following week, slowly but surely planting the seeds of Eden/Heaven through our good works and love. On the Sabbath, we recognize that Jesus is King and give Him our allegiance.
Every week we pause on day seven, and wonder if day one might come again in the morning. Or might this be the week where Jesus finally breaks the cycle of our spiritual Groundhog Day, waking us up to day eight where God brings about a new creation?
Sabbath reminds us of the rest we had in the past and then points us toward the rest we will inherit in the future, all the while reorienting our lives to the mission of Heaven in the present. And for this reason, if our personal Sabbath is nothing more than taking a break from our job and watching TV for extended amounts of time, we are really just practicing human rest, not divine rest. Yes, taking a break from work is a part of Sabbath, but it is not the full point of Sabbath. In our worst interpretations of Sabbath we are really just practicing apathy. In our best interpretations, we are spending time resting in God’s loving presence and are rejuvenated in heart, soul, mind and strength to continue the mission of our King.