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What does 3 mean in the Bible?
One of the key ways that we understand the word of God is through numbers. The study of the significance of numbers in the Bible is called Biblical numerology. The meaning of numbers can be very useful for deeper Bible study and leads to spiritual growth.
It is easy to overlook the significance of numbers in the Bible today as we’re not fully aware of number symbolism. The original Jewish tradition and culture knew about the law, body, and spiritual significance of numbers, and they worked tirelessly to understand the accurate meanings of specific numbers in the Bible.
When one number seems to be repeated symbolically, that is no coincidence. God used the power of numbers to reveal spiritual truths to us as his children. As we read the Holy Book with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, let us desire to know more about numbers and patterns in the Word.
“Three” is thematically significant, one of Scripture’s most important numbers. Just like a name, a number can have meaning too. God is perfect and His intentionality behind using the number three can be seen throughout the Scriptures. Many significant events are connected to the number 3 in the Bible.
So, What does 3 mean in the Bible?
Numbers are meaningful in the Bible. The number three is a holy number that appears 467 times in God’s word. The Hebrew word for 3 is shelosh or sheloshah which means harmony, new life, and completeness.
The symbolism of biblical numbers has been there since creation in Genesis. For example when God created the world and on the seventh day completed his work, seven as a number means spiritual perfection (Genesis 2:2) and it’s used similarly to 3.
The spiritual meaning of the number 3 in the Bible is shown in the Holy Trinity itself. This relationship of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is important to our Christian faith and shows the self-sufficiency of God, divine fullness, and divine perfection.
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The use of the number is often used to describe the intensity of something. For example, in Revelation 4:8, four creatures “never cease to say ‘Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!’” The Apostle John sees a vision of the end of the corrupt world as we know it, to be replaced by one in which the Lord is praised ceaselessly.
An angel has been tasked to cry three woes to earthlings to alert them of the impending trials and tribulations. The repetition of the word woe three times means complete and utter woe is coming to the earth.
The number 3 means restoration or resurrection as we see in Hosea 6:2 and with Jesus’ resurrection after 3 days. The number three resonates with completing a task.
There are 27 books in the New Testament, which is 3 cubed. The number 3 in the Bible plays a vital role in the stories and meaning of the Holy Book.
Examples of the Number 3 in the Bible
There are various examples of the word 3 being used in God’s word both in the Old Testament and New Testament. God’s divine intervention often came with the number 3. For example after three days of fasting, of a journey or consecration. This is further evidence of the Biblical meaning of the number 3. With the symbolic meaning of the number in mind, let’s go through the Biblical references.
Old Testament references of the Number 3
- 3 Righteous Patriarchs: God’s people had 3 founding fathers namely Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Israel). They were the founding fathers of faith and God had a covenant with them. This is mentioned in various scriptures such as Exodus 3:6 and Deuteronomy 1:8.
- Abraham takes a three-day journey: When God asked Abraham to sacrifice his one and only son Isaac, he had to take a three-day journey to the place God commanded (Genesis 22:4). The good thing is once he got there and was about to make this unthinkable sacrifice, God stopped him and showed him a ram to sacrifice instead. This whole process showed Abraham’s obedience to the Lord.
- 3 Day spiritual journey: Moses and Aaron petitioned Pharaoh to give the children of Israel three full days for a spiritual journey to sacrifice to the Lord. The Lord had instructed them to ask Pharaoh for this three-day journey into the desert to offer sacrifices to him. (Exodus 3:18; Exodus 5:3, Exodus 8:27)
- 3 Days of Consecration: In the third month after God’s people- the Israelites had come out from Egypt and were on their way to the promised land, God’s presence appeared to them on Mount Sinai. He had told Moses beforehand that the people were to consecrate themselves and on the third day he descended. Moses then went up the mountain and received the 10 commandments from the Lord (Exodus 19:18-20).
- Israelite men were required to appear before the Lord three times a year.
- Jonah in the belly of the big fish: When Johah refused to go to Nineveh to preach repentance as God instructed him, he was swallowed by a big fish. He was in the belly of the great fish for 3 days before God instructed the fish to vomit him out on dry land and went ahead to preach in Nineveh. In those 3 days, he cried out and repented to God for his sins.
- God called Samuel 3 times: Young Samuel, the son born when Hannah cried and pleaded to God to give her a child was dedicated and served in the house of God all his life. When he was a boy, God called him 3 times before Eli who was the priest at the time realized God wanted to speak to Samuel (1 Samuel 3:8).
- Queen Esther fasted for 3 days: Queen Esther is one of the most profound women in the Bible. She was courageous and loved God. When the king (her husband) declared that her people the Israelites were to be killed, she was hesitant to go before the king because at that time you would be killed for going to the king without being called.
But with the encouragement of Mordecai, she knew she had to do something. She fasted for 3 days and 3 nights along with the people of Israel and went before the king where she received a breakthrough for her people.
- Daniel prayed 3 times to the Lord. Daniel prayed 3 times in his house as mentioned in Daniel 6:10. Daniel and his three friends, Meshach, Shadrach, and Abednego refused to worship the image of gold built by King Nebuchadnezzar and were thrown into the burning fiery furnace but God saved them. This led King Nebuchadnezzar to praise God and he ordered that everyone in his kingdom should worship God as well (Daniel 3).
New Testament References of the Number three
- The Holy Trinity: The most powerful symbolism of the Number 3 is that of the Holy Trinity. This makes 3 a holy number. God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit is a powerful mystery and the foundation of our Christian faith.
- Three gifts: An interesting fact when Jesus of Nazareth was born is that the Magi bought him 3 gifts namely gold, frankincense, and myrrh in Matthew 2:11.
- Jesus was tempted 3 times: In Matthew 4:1-11 Jesus Christ was tempted 3 times by the devil. In all of the times Jesus was tempted, he defeated the devil because he knew the word of God. Jesus’ statements during the interaction with the enemy always started with “It is written” which is an example for us that the truth of God’s word will help us overcome temptation.
- Jesus had 3 disciples in his inner circle: Peter, James, and John were mentioned in intimate moments of his life. They witnessed the transfiguration in Matthew 17:1-9. It was here that they saw a vision of 3 men glorified (Jesus, Elijah, and Moses). These 3 disciples were with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane in Matthew 26:36-38. While in that Garden Jesus, expressed how sorrowful he was as this was moments before his arrest and crucifixion. Jesus prayed 3 times in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:37-47)
- Peter denied Jesus 3 times: Jesus told Peter that the rooster would crow after he had denied Jesus three times (Luke 22:34). And later, Jesus supplied Peter with the redemptive opportunity to cover each denial with a promise, also made three times and recorded in John: “Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ and he said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep’” (John 21:17).
- The 3 crosses: When Jesus was crucified there were 3 crosses and he was in the middle (John 19:17-18). The 2 thieves represent 2 kinds of people that exist. There is the one with pride, who doubts the Lord and doesn’t believe in the power of God then there is the one who acknowledges his sin, repents, and asks God to show him mercy. And Jesus is there for them both and gives them the choice between life and death just like he does for us today.
- Jesus’ death: He was placed on the cross at the third hour of the day and his time of death was recorded at the ninth hour. Three hours of darkness covered the land while Jesus was suffering on the cross from the sixth hour to the ninth hour. In Matthew 27:54, the Bible says the Roman soldiers who saw this then believed that he was the Son of God.
- 3 angels in Revelation: In the book of Revelation, 3 angels of the Lord are mentioned in Revelation 14:6-13. The first, tells all the earth to worship God. The second declares the fall of Babylon and the third declares that anyone who receives the Mark of the Beast will receive God’s wrath.
- 3 main angels: There are 3 main angels mentioned in the Bible. There’s the archangel Michael who is a warrior and commands the angelic army (Jude 1:9, Revelation 12:7-8). The second angel is Gabriel who was sent to bring important messages about the Kingdom of God (Luke 1:19, Daniel 8:16-26), and Lucifer (Day Star) (2 Corinthians 11:14, Isaiah 14:12-15).
- Jesus’ resurrection after 3 days: The significance of the number three is shown powerfully during Jesus’ resurrection. Jesus died and was raised again after 3 days. In Jewish culture and tradition, a person is declared truly dead on the third day.
Jesus could have raised himself from death immediately after his death but he waited 3 full days for his death to be officially and publicly recognized and acknowledged. The Son of God has already spoken about his death to his disciples, scribes, and Pharisees.
- Jesus’ ministry is recorded to have been for 3 years to bring his ministry to completion.
- We have a mind, body, and soul: The Bible says we are spirit beings, with a soul and living in body. The most important of those parts is our eternal spirit which receives Christ, is renewed by his power, and will go on to heaven one day. There are also three parts of the consciousness of the mind: conscious, superconscious, and subconscious.”
- God’s throne is in the third heaven: Apostle Paul had a supernatural experience which he describes as happening to “a man” to remain humble and not give himself any glory. He didn’t know if what happened to him was physical or in some kind of out-of-body experience but he knew it happened. He was taken to the third heaven where God dwells and was told things he could not utter.
- The Ark of the Covenant had 3 objects. The Ark of the Covenant contained three sacred objects ‘The gold jar of manna, Aaron’s staff that had budded, and the stone tablets of the covenant” (Hebrews 9:4).
Special mentions of the number 3 in the Book of Revelation
Next to seven, 3 is the most commonly referenced number in Revelation. God’s power is described, in the very beginning of the book of Revelation, as a Being with the three-fold characteristic, “which is, and which was, and which is to come” (Revelation 1:4). And he dwells in the third heaven.
A triple threat of unclean spirits or evil spirits will be allowed to deceive the whole world to fight the returning Jesus Christ in what is called the battle of Armageddon (Revelation 16:13 – 16).
The New Jerusalem, created by God for placement on a new earth, will be shaped like a square with 3 gates on each side (Revelation 21:13).
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A bad example of the number 3
Since Satan always disguises himself as the angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14) he has his own evil trinity. There’s “The Dragon”-the Anti-God. “The Beast”-the “Anti-Christ and “The False Prophet”-the “Anti-Spirit” (Revelation 13, Revelation 16:13-14, Revelation 19:19-20, Revelation 20:1-2).
If you keep seeing the number 3, it means that your guardian angel or the spiritual realm could be trying to communicate to you, asking you to be patient because there’s a good season awaiting you. Seeing this number could also be angels reminding you to have faith and to believe in your abilities and your skills.
It could be a sign that things could be happening in your favor, so you should set aside fear. Could mean new beginnings and new life is on the way for you.
The study of numbers is quite important for our spiritual development. Number symbolism usually indicates something of importance or significance in God’s word. In this case, the number 3 is significant as it is referenced several times in the Holy Book with the most important symbol being that it’s god’s number for the Holy Trinity- God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
The Biblical meaning of the number 3 is completeness, harmony, and new life which we find in the Trinity and other Biblical references.
The deeper meaning and secret meanings of numbers are an essential key to understanding the patterns and designs in the Bible. There is evidence that symbolic numbers were used by the early Christians to dive deep into the word.
You may enjoy this video on What Does 3 Mean in the Bible?
Or one of these recommended resources:
What Does the Bible Say About . . .: The Ultimate Bible Answer Book by Brian Ridolfi
Numbers in the Bible: God’s Unique Design in Biblical Numbers by Robert D. Johnston
ESV – “Scripture quotations are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”
NKJV – Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.