God reveals his power in many ways, but one of those ways is by prophesying what’s going to happen and using specific numbers repeatedly, such as the number three.
Biblical Numerology is the study of numbers in the Bible. Many times when we start studying numbers in the Bible, we get off track because it often times requires us to make inferences at the meaning of these numbers. Most times the Bible does not explain why certain numbers are used in certain situations.
So when studying the numbers mentioned in the Bible, like the number three, we must be careful to only draw conclusions that are obvious and supported by other parts of Scripture.
The Regular Occurrence of the Number Three in the Bible Points to God’s Sovereignty
Having said that, what does the number three mean in biblical terms? While it would be easy to get off track when studying numbers in the Bible, we would be doing ourselves a disservice if we were to simply over look the regular occurrence of the number three in the life of Jesus, especially in relation to the gospel events:
• Jesus was 30 years old when he started his public ministry.
• Jesus was 33 years old when he died on the cross.
• Jesus was tempted 3 times in the desert by Satan.
• Peter, James, and John were the three disciples with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane who were in his inner circle.
• The disciples failed to stay awake three times in the Garden of Gethsemane.
• Peter denied Jesus three times.
• In John 21 when Jesus reinstates Peter, he asks him 3 times if Peter loves him.
• It says in Mark 15:25 that it was the third hour of the day when Jesus was crucified.
• The Holy Spirit’s anointing at Pentecost according to Acts 2:15 happened at the third hour of the day.
• Jesus rose from dead on the third day.
• God is one, but he is also three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Trinity).
While we must be careful when interpreting numbers in the Bible, the most basic and safe claim to make about the number three in the Bible is that its regular appearance, especially in relation to the cross and resurrection, cannot be chance.
So what does the number three mean in the Bible? The number three in relation to the gospel of Jesus Christ at minimum proves that God is in control of all these events that took place which resulted in our salvation.
The Use of the Number Three in the Bible Shows God Is Sovereign Over Sin
Perhaps God works in threes so many times in the Bible so we could see the fingerprint of the Triune God and believe he is sovereign, thus trusting him more.
God’s not ever responsible for sin, but Peter’s three failures is an example of how God is sovereign even over our sin. He’s not causing your sin, but he is in control, even over sin, therefore should we not trust him and seek his help in everything?
Peter could have denied Jesus 2, 4, or 8 times, but God allowed 3 so when Peter looked back he might know that although God did not cause him to sin, God was in control even when he did sin. Judas could have betrayed Jesus for 20, 40, or 31 pieces of silver, but it was 30 pieces of silver, prophesied before hand in the Old Testament books of Jeremiah and Zechariah (Matthew 27:9-10).
God was in control of all that was happening, and God made sure to put in writing through prophesy what was going to happen beforehand so we would all know he was and is in control when it did happen. Jesus made sure to tell the disciples the exact thing that was going to happen to him, that he was going to be crucified, but be raised on the third day. In John 14:29-30 Jesus says, “I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe. I will not say much more to you, for the prince of this world is coming. He has no hold over me.”
Just before Judas leads the soldiers to Jesus and betrays him with a kiss, Mark 14:41-42, says, “Returning the third time, he said to them, ‘Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough! The hour has come. Look, the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners. Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!”
Jesus came a “third time.” He was telling his disciples before his season of suffering started that “the hour has come” and that Judas’ was going to betray before it happened so that they would see God’s sovereignty over this whole situation. All of this should strengthen our resolve to seek the solution to our problems in Jesus Christ who is in complete control of everything, even when it doesn’t look like it.
What Does the Number Three Mean in the Bible? It Means God Can Be Trusted
Because God is completely in control, even over sin, this means we should trust him all the time.
So much more has been said by others about what the number three means in the Bible, and more could be said here. But while much of this would be interesting and might help us dive deeper into our theological understanding, sticking to the plain and obvious facts about the number three, I believe, bears the most fruit.
So what does the number three mean in the Bible? At minimum, it means God is sovereign (over sin, salvation, and everything else) and therefore can be trusted with our whole heart, all the time, and forever.