The significance of 3 comes from the fact that it is the first of four perfect numbers:
Three denotes divine perfection;
Seven denotes spiritual perfection;
Ten denotes ordinal perfection; and
Twelve denotes governmental perfection.
Hence the number points us to what is real, essential, perfect, substantial, complete, and Divine. There is nothing real in man or of man. Everything "under the sun" and apart from God is "vanity." "Every man at his best estate is altogether vanity" (Psalm 139:5,11, 62:9, 144:4; Ecclesiastes 1:2,4, 2:11,17,26, 3:19, 4:4, 11:8, 12:8; Romans 8:20).
Three times is the blessing given in Numbers 6:23, 24:--
- "The LORD bless thee and keep thee (the Father);
- The LORD make His face shine upon thee; and be gracious unto thee (the Son);
- The LORD lift up His countenance upon thee, and give thee peace"
Each of these 3 blessings is two-fold, so that there are two members in each, while the name Jehovah occurs three times. This marks the blessing as Divine in its source. No merit drew it forth; grace was its origin and peace was its result. This word "fullness" is remarkable, occurring only three times, and in connection with the Godhead:
- Ephesians 3:19, "The fullness of God. "
- Ephesians 4:13, "The fullness of Christ."
- Colossians 2:9, "The fullness of the Godhead."
The "fullness" was manifested visibly in Christ, and is communicated by the Holy Spirit, for it is a fullness of which we receive by His mighty power (John 1:16). This is why Abraham brought "3 measures of meal" for his heavenly guest. This is why "three measures of meal" formed the great meal offering; because it set forth the perfection of Christ's perfect and Divine nature. In Leviticus no particular quantity of meal was prescribed, but in Numbers 15:9, we read,
"Then shall he bring with the bullock a meal offering of THREE tenth deals of flour."
This was the measure for the whole burnt offering, and also for great special occasions such as the New Moon and the New Year, etc. It was also the special measure for the cleansing of the leper (Leviticus 14:10). The poor leper had several gracious blessings beyond others. He alone was favored with the anointing which was given only to the Prophet, Priest, and King! He alone had the priestly consecration. It is sinners who are now singled out from the mass of those who are lost, and dead in trespasses and sins, to be anointed with the Spirit, and made, in Christ, kings and priests unto God.
But there is more in these "three measures of meal." We have them in the parable (Matthew 13:33), pointing to Christ in all the perfection of His person and His work, when He said, "Lo, I come to do Thy will, O God." There are different opinions about the "leaven," but what is the "meal." This is the point on which the interpretation turns. According to the popular interpretation, this pure "meal" is the corrupt mass of mankind, and the defiling "leaven" is the pure Gospel of Christ! Was there ever such an exhibition of man's perversity in calling sweet bitter, and bitter sweet? Was there ever such a proof that man's thoughts are contrary to God's? No! the "three measures of meal" point us to the perfections of Christ and the purity of His Gospel. And the hidden "leaven" points us to man's corruption of the Truth. A corruption for which we have to look, not after the third century, but in the first!
No leaven could be put into any sacrifice or offering made by fire to the LORD, because in Christ was no sin; therefore, there was to be no leaven. He was, in Himself, "a sweet savor to Jehovah." True, in one offering there was leaven. But mark the difference and the lesson. In Leviticus 23 we have a list of the Feasts:
1st. The Passover (verse 5), on the 14th day.
2nd. The wave-sheaf of firstfruits on the morrow after the Sabbath (verse 11), which might be burnt on the altar as a sweet savor (Leviticus 2:14-16), because unleavened.
3rd. Then (50 days after) the oblation of the first-fruits at Pentecost (vv 15-17). This might not be burnt on the altar (Leviticus 2:12), because it was mixed with leaven!
In the antitype of this we see Christ:
1st. Christ our Passover sacrificed for us.
2nd. As the wavesheaf of firstfruits, He was raised from the dead and became the first-fruits of them that slept (1Corinthians 15:20), for in Him there was no sin (and hence no leaven).
3rd. Then, after fifty days, on the Feast of Pentecost came the oblation of the first-fruits in the descent of the Holy Ghost; for "we are a kind of first-fruits of His creatures" (James 1:18). But His people are not without sin, therefore this oblation had leaven mixed with it. It could not be offered to the LORD as a "sweet savor" (Leviticus 2:12). It was accepted only because a sin-offering was offered with it (Leviticus 23:18,19), and the Priest waved all together for a wave-offering before the LORD.
This proves that the "leaven" is a type of error, evil, and sin. While the "three measures of meal" with which it was mixed and hidden typified the truth and purity of Christ and His Truth, and not the corrupt mass of mankind amongst whom it was introduced. The popular interpretation reverses the types of the meal and the leaven, and makes the leaven that which is good, and the meal that which is evil. But the great Teacher made no such mistake. "Church doctrine" is not "Bible truth," but it is leavened meal.
The number three, therefore, must be taken as the number of Divine fullness It signifies and represents the Holy Spirit as taking of the things of Christ and making them real and solid in our experience. It is only by the Spirit that we realize spiritual things. Without Him and His gracious operation, all is surface work: all is what a plane figure is to a solid (John 3:6). He it is who has wrought all our works in us, and by whom alone we can serve or worship (John 4:24).
Hence it is that the Holy of Holies, which was the central and highest place of worship, was a cube.
Where is the First Occurrence of the Number 3?
The first occurrence of the number is in Genesis 1:13. "The third day" was the day on which the earth was caused to rise up out of the water, symbolical of that resurrection life which we have in Christ, and in which alone we can worship, or serve, or do any "good works."
Hence three is a number of RESURRECTION, for it was on the third day that Jesus rose again from the dead. This was Divine in operation, and Divine in its prophetic foreshadowing in the person of Jonah (Matthew 12:39,40; Luke 11:29; Jonah 1:17). It was the third day on which Jesus was "perfected" (Luke 13:32). It was at the third hour He was crucified; and it was for three hours (from the 6th to the 9th) that darkness shrouded the Divine Sufferer and Redeemer. The "loud voice" at the end of those hours, when, "about the ninth hour," He cried, "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me" (Matthew 27:46), shows completely that nothing of nature, nothing of the light or intelligence of this world, could give help in that hour of darkness. Does not this show us our impotence in the matter? Does it not prove our incapacity to aid in delivering ourselves from our natural condition?
While we are speaking of the Divine perfections of Christ, let us note the many marks and seals of this completeness. He raised 3 persons from the dead. The inscriptions on the Cross in three languages show the completeness of His rejection by Man. The perfection of His offices are shown in His being Prophet, Priest, and King, raised up from among His brethren (Deuteronomy 177:15, 18:3-5, and 18:15). The Divine completeness of the Shepherd's care (John 6:39), is seen in His revelations as--
The "Good Shepherd" in death, John 10:14.
The "Great Shepherd" in resurrection, Hebrews 13:20.
The "Chief Shepherd" in glory, 1Peter 4:5.
His three appearances in Hebrews 9 show that His work will not be divinely perfect and complete until He appears again.
He "hath appeared" in the end of the age to "put away sin," and to "bear the sins of many" (Hebrews 9:26,28).
"Now to appear in the presence of God for us," He has ascended into Heaven (verse 24).
He "shall appear" again part from all question of sin for those who look for Him (verse 28).
The Spies brought three things which testified to the divinely perfect goodness of the land; and the substantial realities proved the truth of God's word: "Grapes, figs, and pomegranates" (Numbers 13:23).
Israel agrees to obey God
At the giving of the law three times Israel said, "All that the LORD hath spoken we will do" (Exodus 19:8, 24:3,7), marking the completeness of the Covenant-making on the part of Israel; but from that very reason foreshadowing its perfect breach, for man has never yet kept any Covenant which he made with God.
GIANTS: Ahiman, Sheshai, and Talmai
Ahiman, Sheshai and Talmai were the three children of Anak, marking the completeness of the giant power of the enemy (Numbers 13:22).
How is God's temple marked by the number 3?
The Temple is marked by three, as the Tabernacle is by five. The Holy of Holies in each was a cube; in the Tabernacle a cube of ten cubits; in the Temple a cube of twenty cubits. Each consisted of three parts:--The Court, the Holy Place, and the Sanctuary. The Temple had three chambers round about. The Brazen Sea or Laver held three thousand baths; and was compassed by a line of thirty cubits on which were 300 knops (1Kings 7:24). It was supported by twelve oxen (3 x 4); three each looking north, west, south, and east. This order in naming the points of the compass occurs nowhere else. It is the same in both accounts of Kings and Chronicles (see 1Kings 7:25; 2Chronicles 4:4,5). Why is this? Is it because this was the order in which the Gospel was to be afterwards preached throughout the world? Whether this was the reason or not, the fact remains that the Gospel was preached first in the north (Samaria, Damascus, Antioch); then in the west (Caesarea, Joppa, Cyprus, Corinth, Rome); then in the south (Alexandria and Egypt); then in the east (Mesopotamia, Babylon, Persia, India).
The Great Feasts
The great feasts were three; Unleavened Bread, Weeks, Tabernacles (Deuteronomy 16:16).
The Great Sheet
The sheet let down three times to Peter was the fullness of the testimony as to the admission of the Gentiles into the Church (Acts 10:16).
The Old Testament is divided into 3
The Old Testament Testimony was complete and perfect in its three-fold division--Law, Prophets, and Psalms (Luke 24:44). The same three divisions mark its character to the present day.
As three marks completeness and perfection of testimony, so it marks the number of spiritual worshippers; and intimates that true spiritual worshippers would always be few.
3 completes Divine Judgment (Daniel 6:25-28).
MENE. God hath NUMBERED thy kingdom and finished it.
TEKEL. Thou art WEIGHED in the balances and found wanting.
PERES. Thy kingdom is DIVIDED and given to the Medes and Persians.
The 3 Gifts of Grace
The Three-fold gifts of grace are Faith, Hope, and Love, five times repeated.
The 3 Temptations (1 John 2:16)
- "The lust of the flesh."
- "The lust of the eyes."
- "The pride of life."
These seen in our first parents when Eve saw (Genesis 3:6) that the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil was--
- "Good for food,"
- "Pleasant to the eyes,"
- "To be desired to make one wise."
The Three-fold corruption of God's Word occurs by taking from, adding to, and altering it.
This led up to the first sin.
God had said, "of every tree in the garden thou mayest FREELY eat" (Genesis 2:16). In repeating this, Eve omitted the word "freely" (3:2), making God less bountiful than He was.
God had said, "But of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, thou shalt not eat of it" (Genesis 2:17). In repeating this Eve added the words, "NEITHER SHALL YE TOUCH IT" (3:3), making God more severe than He was.
God had said, "Thou shalt SURELY die" (Genesis 3:17). In repeating this Eve altered it to@e "LEST ye die" , thus weakening the certainty of the Divine threat into a contingency.
No wonder that dealing thus with the Word of God she listened to the words of the Devil, and became an easy prey to his guile with which he deceived her.
No wonder also that "the second man," "the last Adam," when He was tempted by the same tempter, three times repeated the words "It is written"! as though to call attention to the occasion of the Fall in the three-fold perversions of God's words. "It is written," and I will not omit anything from it; "It is written," and I will not add anything to it; "It is written," and I will not alter it. It is worthy of note that both the temptations began in precisely the same way, by the Tempter questioning the truth of God's Word. In the former saying, "Hath God said?" In the latter saying "If Thou be the Son of God" (Matthew 4:3), when the voice from Heaven had only just declared, "This IS My beloved Son" (Matthew 3:17).
What are man's great ENEMIES?
Man's three great enemies are "the World, the Flesh, and the Devil":
The World is set over against the Father (1 John 2:15,16).
The Flesh is set over against the Spirit (Galatians 5:17).
The Devil is set over against the son (the Living Word, Matthew 4:1, etc, and 1 John 3:8; and the Written Word, John 8:44).
Which people could ask of God ANYTHING?
To three people did God give this command:
- To Solomon (1Kings 3:5).
- To Ahaz (Isaiah 7:11).
- And to the Messiah (Psalm 2:9).
What 3 things does John assert about God?
In John's Gospel and Epistles:
"God is love" (1 John 4:8,16). We are therefore to "Walk in love" (Ephesians 5:2).
"God is spirit" (John 4:24, Revised Version , margin). We are exhorted to "Walk in the spirit" (Galatians 5:16).
"God is light" * (1 John 1:5). We are to "Walk in the light" (Ephesians 5:8).
* Light, like God, is three-fold. It has three great rays: -
The Heat ray (red), which is felt, not seen, witnesses of the Father, "whom no man hath seen at any time" (John 1:18; 1 John 4:12).
The Light ray (yellow), which is seen, not felt, witnesses of Jesus, who hath "declared the Father" (John 1:18, 12:45, 14:9; Colossians 1:15; Hebrews 1:3).
The Actinic or chemical ray (blue), which is neither seen nor felt, but whose presence is revealed by its effects in a chemical action, which produces changes, as in Photography.
There are a multitude of Triads, and they all bespeak the same Divine perfection and completeness wherever they are found.
What does the number 3 symbolize in the first chapter of Revelation?
The first or introductory section of the Revelation of Jesus Christ is specially marked by this great Divine seal stamped upon it in chapter 1.
verse 1. This Revelation is--
verse 2. John bare record of--
The Divine "Word of God."
The Divine witness ("the Testimony of Jesus Christ").
The Divine vision ("all things that he saw").
verse 3. The Divine blessing on--
The hearer, and
The keeper of this record.
- verses 4 and 8. The Divine Being--
And which is,
And which is to come.
verse 5. The Coming Lord is presented as--
The Divine Prophet ("the faithful witness").
The Divine Priest ("the first-begotten from the dead").
The Divine King ("the Prince of the kings of the earth").
- verses 5, 6. His people are Divinely--
verses 17, 18. Christ is presented as--
"The first and the last" (Divinely eternal).
The dead and living One (Divinely living).
The omnipotent One (Divinely powerful).
verse 19. The Divine Revelation--
The things which thou hast seen,
Which are, and
Which shall be after these things.
The Three-fold Combinations of a Number
The combinations of a number denotes the essence of its meaning, the concentration of the significance is thus expressed:
444 is the Gematria (substituting numbers for letters) of the word "DAMASCUS," which is the oldest city in the world; four being the world number.
666 is the number of man, and it symbolizes fitly, therefore, the essence of human wisdom, and also of imperfection.
888 is the Gematria (substituting numbers for letters) of the name "JESUS."
999 is connected with judgment, hence the numerical value of the phrase tee orgee mou, my wrath, is 999. The same number is very prominent in the judgment on Sodom. (See further under Nine.)
What things did Moses ask of God?
The Rabbis say that there were three things Moses asked of God:
That the Schechinah might rest on Israel.
That it might rest on none but Israel.
That God's ways might be known to him. (Beracheth, fol. 7, col. 1).
What were the 3 gifts given to Israel?
Three precious gifts were given to Israel:
The World to come (i.e., the Heavenly Calling).
Whatever may be thought of these, there can be no doubt that in the invariable employment of the number three in the Word of God, we have that which signifies Divine perfection.
Additional commentary on the Biblical Meaning of 3 *
The number 3 is used 467 times in the Bible. It pictures completeness, though to a lesser degree than 7. There were 3 righteous patriarchs before the flood:
There were 3 righteous patriarchs after the flood:
There were only 3 key apostles who witnessed Jesus’ transfiguration:
Jesus prayed three times in the Garden of Gethsemane before His arrest. Jesus was crucified at the 3rd hour and died at the 9th hour. There were 3 hours of darkness that covered the land while Jesus was dying, from the 6th hour to the 9th hour. There are 27 books in the New Testament, which is 3 cubed - or completeness to the third power (33).