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Don’t fall asleep—this isn’t math class. In his spiritual journeys, Emanuel Swedenborg learned that numbers are much more than they appear. They can hold spiritual meanings so deep that when angels talk to each other, they use numbers as language.
In this episode, host Curtis Childs and featured guests explore Swedenborg’s discoveries about numbers, the spiritual world, and the very nature of meaning. We’ll look at every number from 1 to 12 and dig deep into how they can relate to biblical truths—and the sequence of our lives.
The Inner Life of Numbers
Swedenborg is neither the first nor the last thinker to study the hidden meanings of numbers—there’s an entire field known as numerology. There are so many specific numbers used within the Bible—dimensions, directions, specific lengths of time—that there must be something else going on, Swedenborg reasoned. Why include seemingly irrelevant details? These numbers must represent something deeper.
It has been often shown me that the spiritual things of heaven, such as those which the angels think and speak, also fall into numbers. When they were conversing, their discourse fell into pure numbers, and these were seen upon paper; they afterwards said that it was their discourse which had fallen into numbers, and that those numbers in a series contained everything they uttered. (Apocalypse Explained §429)
Ancient people were quite familiar with this angelic language, Swedenborg says, and understood the symbolism of even large or complex numbers. Numerology tends to be considered a fringe interest in our time, but the ancients used numbers to preserve spiritual concepts that they could not communicate in words.
In the afterlife, these numbers are used to communicate ideas and mysteries that cannot be contained in words. Numeric writing is able to include more spiritual information, serving as a sort of bridge between higher and lower mindsets.
Mathematician Caira Bongers theorizes that the higher heavens may use numbers to communicate in this way because a number can only ever mean one thing. It allows for more clarity when discussing complex ideas, while a word can mean different things to each listener. So how do we begin to translate these meanings?
They who are of that [i.e. celestial] kingdom, understand immediately; and this without instruction, as if of themselves. Every single idea has its own number. In general, even numbers correspond to good, as 2, 4, 8, and odd numbers—as 3, 9—to truth. (Spiritual Experiences §5571)
Though numbers can bring more spiritual clarity, Caira explains that modern mathematics are discovering an ambiguity in numbers. In algebra, x either does or does not equal 3; but in modern statistics, the goal is simply to find a ballpark of meaning. That’s how we’ll explore the meaning of numbers.
1, 2, 3
The number one symbolizes the universal one God and therefore also symbolizes goodness and love. Love brings many things together to create one thing. It brings people together to become as one with God.
Two means union and goodness—love and wisdom working in tandem. But if you look at it in a different context (three minus one), it can also be seen as the toil and conflict that is necessary to become complete.
That’s where three comes in. According to Swedenborg, three means being complete and perfect, or containing all aspects at once. This number appears many times within the Bible, but perhaps the most recognizable instance is when Jesus rose on the third day after his death. This completeness can be expressed worldwide or on a personal scale.
Three and a half often crops up in the Bible as well, and that’s because it’s the next step toward a new stage. With three, one thing has been fully completed, and the half is the start of a new journey.
4, 5, 6
And Moses was on the mountain forty days and forty nights symbolizes full instruction and full influence. This can be seen from the symbolism of forty as fullness. Forty symbolizes fullness because four means what is full or complete. (Secrets of Heaven §9437)
The fullness of four seems similar to the completeness of three, but there are subtle distinctions. If you look at the biblical references to the numbers four and particularly forty, they often contain an element of struggle—for example, the flood that Noah escaped by building an ark lasted forty days and forty nights.
Since even numbers have to do with love and odd numbers communicate truth, four can also symbolize complete love and goodness rather than complete truth.
Like two, four can have an alternate meaning, depending on the context. Since it’s made up of two times two, it can represent a conjunction of goodness and truth.
We have five fingers on each hand, but that’s not all we are. For this reason, the number five symbolizes a small portion. David used five stones to down Goliath, because we only need some truth—not all of it—to fight evil.
Six symbolizes hard work or combat—for example, God’s six days of labor before his seventh day of rest, which for Swedenborg is reflected in the metaphorical six days of struggling to achieve spiritual growth before we find peace. Working through this toil also requires faith, which six represents through its connection to twelve and to the completeness of three. The interpretation depends on the context and which numbers are used with it.
One of the best known uses of six is its place in the number of the beast: 666. Because six appears three times, this number represents all falsities and all evils—it has the completeness of three, but it also has negative connotations from the negative meaning of six.
7, 8, 9
Seven is a very important number, spiritually. It symbolizes holiness, forgiveness, and the sacred.
When anything extremely holy or positively sacrosanct was expressed, the words seventy times seven times were used. The Lord, for instance, said that we should not forgive our brother or sister up to seven times but up to seventy times seven (Matthew 18:21, 22). This means that we should forgive as often as our brother or sister sins, without limit, or to eternity, which is holy. (Secrets of Heaven §433)
The number eight represents fullness and totality. Like three and four before it, eight symbolizes completeness, but this is the completeness of moving above and beyond—almost more than a person can do.
Swedenborg saw nine as truth joined to goodness. The whole purpose of the progression is to lead to this joining. There’s also an element of waiting, since it’s the last number before ten—which has heavy spiritual significance.
10, 11, 12
Ten can symbolize “the remnant,” which is our personal reservoir of all that is good and holy. This is the good in us that God draws on to keep us strong. And remember how five symbolizes some of something? Well, ten signifies all persons and all things. Since heaven takes the shape of a human, our ten fingers and ten toes take on extra spiritual meaning.
And it’s no coincidence that there are ten commandments. Dr. Jonathan Rose explains that while the Ten Commandments actually contain fourteen specific instructions, they are called the Ten Commandments because they encompass all the principles you need to live.
Eleven is much simpler: it symbolizes transition. In context, it can mean more—keep reading for the big picture on how ten, eleven, and twelve come together.
Twelve encompasses everything belonging to faith. It’s the most complete completeness of all the numbers explored in this episode.
How is the fullness of twelve different from the fullness of ten? Swedenborg and Life writer Karin Childs explores the distinction between these three numbers that have similar meanings. Ten seems to indicate individual actions and choices, especially when it relates to the Ten Commandments. Twelve takes a wider view on everything having to do with faith, creating a big-picture spiritual mindset—all of those individual actions and efforts coming together to create a greater whole. Eleven serves as the bridge between individual actions and church-wide faith—the spiritual movement from individual focus to group focus. In modern times, this number (especially when doubled, as when you see 11:11 on a digital clock) could be thought of as representing our growing awareness that we’re all united in one human race.
Curtis explains a bonus number: 144,000. The Book of Revelation provides this number as the population of the New Jerusalem, and Swedenborg focuses on it as the completeness of twelve squared.
All this enables us to conclude that the hundred and forty-four thousand who were sealed, twelve thousand from each tribe, does not mean that number of Jews and Israelites but all the people of the new Christian heaven and the new church who will be devoted to theological truths because of the good effects of the love they accept from the Lord through the Word. (Revelation Unveiled §348)
These huge multiples of twelve represent the state of being in heaven because of their devotion to truth and goodness. We can all become part of that number by allowing the Lord to lead us.
In the last segment, Curtis answers these questions from our viewers:
- What about the number 0? Is it a number or is it nothing?
- How do different numerical systems fit into this? It’s cool that you’re going up to twelve. I’ve read a base twelve system would be better than ten, but we use ten because we have ten fingers.
- What about 3.14 (pi)?
- What is the significance of giants in the Bible with six fingers and six toes (2 Samuel 21:10 as well as other places)?
- Is there a meaning in that there exist two genders?
- A box has four corners. Is this like heaven?
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About Swedenborg and Life
In a lighthearted and interactive live webcast format, host Curtis Childs from the Swedenborg Foundation and featured guests explore topics from Swedenborg’s eighteenth-century writings about his spiritual experiences and afterlife explorations and discuss how they relate to modern-day life and death.
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