Its Supernatural Design and Spiritual Significance
by E.W. Bullinger
Back | Contents | Next
ITS SPIRITUAL SIGNIFICANCE
In this number we have quite a new set of phenomena. We come to the first geometrical figure. Two straight lines cannot possibly enclose any space, or form a plane figure; neither can two plan surfaces form a solid. Three lines are necessary to form a plan figure; and three dimensions of length, breadth, and height, are necessary to form a solid. Hence three is the symbol of the cube--the simplest form of solid figure. As two is the symbol of the square, or plane contents (x2), so three is the symbol of the cube, or solid contents (x3).
Three, therefore, stands for that which is solid, real, substantial, complete, and entire.
All things that are specially complete are stamped with this number three.
God's attributes are three: omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence.
There are three great divisions completing time--past, present, and future.
Three persons, in grammar, express and include all the relationships of mankind.
Thought, word, and deed, complete the sum of human capability.
Three degrees of comparison complete our knowledge of qualities.
The simplest proposition requires three things to complete it; viz., the subject, the predicate, and the copula.
Three propositions are necessary to complete the simplest form of argument--the major premiss, the minor, and the conclusion.
Three kingdoms embrace our ideas of matter--mineral, vegetable, and animal.
When we turn to the Scriptures, this completion becomes Divine, and marks Divine completeness or perfection.
Three is the first of four perfect numbers.
Hence the number three 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" (Psa 139:5,11, 62:9, 144:4; Eccl 1:2,4, 2:11,17,26, 3:19, 4:4, 11:8, 12:8; Rom 8:20).
Three is the number associated with the Godhead, for there are "three persons in one God." Three times the Seraphim cry, "Holy, Holy, Holy"--one for each of the three persons in the Trinity (Isa 6:3). The living creatures also in Revelation 4:8.
Three times is the blessing given in Numbers 6:23, 24:--
Each of these three 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.
In Genesis 18:2, the same three persons appear to Abraham. Abraham "looked, and, lo, THREE men stood by him." But verse 1 declares that it was "Jehovah appeared unto him." It is remarkable that Abraham addresses them both as one and as three. We read first that "they said," then "he said," and finally, in verses 13 and 17, 20, etc., "And the LORD said." The whole narrative, which begins with the appearance of the LORD, ends (v 33), "And the LORD went His way."
As we have in the number one the sovereignty of the one God; and in two the second person, the Son, the great Deliverer; so in "three" we have the third person, the Holy Spirit, marking and completing "the fulness of the Godhead." This word "fulness" is remarkable, occurring only three times, and in connection with the Three Persons of the Trinity:
The "fulness" was manifested visibly in Christ, and is communicated by the Holy Spirit, for it is a fulness of which we receive by His mighty power (John 1:16).
This is why Abraham brought "three 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 (Lev 14:10). The poor leper had several gracious blessings beyond others. He alone was favoured 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 (Matt 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 savour 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:--
In the antitype of this we see Christ:--
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 fulness. 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 realise 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.
Hence it is that the third Book in the Bible is Leviticus, the book in which we learn what true worship is. Here we see Jehovah calling His people near unto Himself, prescribing every detail of their worship, leaving nothing to their imagination or their taste, crowning all with the "MUST" of the great rubric of John 4:24. In true worship we see the FATHER seeking these true worshippers (John 4:23); the SON, the one object of all worship; and the Spirit qualifying and enduing the worshippers with the only power in which they can worship. Thus in Genesis we have sovereignty in giving life--the Father, the beginning of all things; in Exodus we have the oppressor and the Deliverer--the Son redeeming His people; while in Leviticus we have the Spirit prescribing, and ordering, and empowering them for Divine worship.
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 foreshowing in the person of Jonah (Matt 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 twice three hours, when, "about the ninth hour," He cried, "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me" (Matt 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?
With the light at the ninth hour came the Divine declaration, "It is finished." So divinely finished, completed, and perfected, that now there is no such darkness for those who have died with Christ. Light, uninterrupted light, shines upon all who are risen with Him; uninterrupted sunshine--even "the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." That three hours' darkness, therefore, testifies to our complete ruin, and our complete salvation, and shows that His people are "complete in Him."
While we are speaking of the Divine perfections of Christ, let us note the many marks and seals of this completeness.
"The Spirit, the water, and the blood," are the divinely perfect witness to the grace of God on earth (1 John 5:7).
The three years of His seeking fruit testifies to the completeness of Israel's failure (Luke 13:7).
His three-fold "it is written" shows that the Word of God is the perfection of all ministry (Matt 4).
The Divine testimony concerning Him was complete in the threefold voice from Heaven (Matt 3:17, 17:5; John 12:28).
He raised three 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 (Deut 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--
His three appearings in Hebrews 9 show that His work will not be divinely perfect and complete until He appears again.
To go back to the Old Testament history we have God's Covenant with Abraham stamped with this number of Divine perfection (Gen 15). It was (like David's, 2 Samuel 7) Divinely "ordered in all things, and sure." God was ONE, i.e., the one party to it; for Abraham, who would willingly have been the other party, was put to sleep, that the Covenant might be unconditional, and "sure to all his seed." The Divine seal is seen in the choice of three animals, each of three years old (the heifer, the she-goat, and the ram). These, together with the two birds (the dove and the pigeon), made five in all, marking it all as a perfect act of free-grace on the part of a sovereign God.
is shown in "the three days' journey into the wilderness" (Exo 5:3), marking the complete separation with which God would separate His people from Egypt then, and from the world now. We can understand Pharaoh's objection in first wishing them to hold their feast "in the land" (Exo 8:25), and when that could not be, at last consenting to their going, but adding, "only ye shall not go very far away." So Satan now, is well content that we should worship "in the land"; and if we must go into the wilderness, that we should be within easy reach of the world and its influences. Not so Jehovah. He will have no such borderland service; He will have a "scientific frontier," a divinely perfect "three days' journey into the wilderness," completely separating them from all their old associations. The difficulty of "drawing the line," which so many Christians experience, arises from the fact that it is a crooked line, and that it is an attempt to include that which cannot be included. Drawn at a proper distance it can be ruled straight, and be divinely perfect and effectual.
brought three things which testified to the divinely perfect goodness of the land; and the substantial realities proved the truth of Jehovah's word: "Grapes, figs, and pomegranates" (Num 13:23).
three times Israel said, "All that the LORD hath spoken we will do" (Exo 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.
were the three children of Anak, marking the completeness of the giant power of the enemy (Num 13:22).
was three times divided, the perfection of the Divine miracle (Josh 4; 2 Kings 2:8,14).
for Elijah was conclusive testimony that he could not be found (2 Kings 2:17).
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 (1 Kings 7:24). It was supported by twelve oxen (3x4); three looking north, three looking west, three looking south, and three looking 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 1 Kings 7:25; 2 Chron 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).
were three; Unleavened Bread, Weeks, Tabernacles (Deut 16:16).
let down three times to Peter was the fulness of the testimony as to the admission of the Gentiles into the Church (Acts 10:16).
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.
Faith, Hope, and Love, five times repeated.
Spirit, and Soul, and Body, the man consisting of neither separately, but of the whole three together.
These seen in our first parents when Eve saw (Gen 3:6) that the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil was--
By taking from, adding to, and altering.
This led up to the first sin.
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 Jehovah's Word. In the former saying, "Hath God said?" In the latter saying "If Thou be the Son of God" (Matt 4:3), when the voice from Heaven had only just declared, "This IS My beloved Son" (Matt 3:17).
are "the World, the Flesh, and the Devil":
To three people did God give this command:
form a divinely perfect lesson as to prayer and its answer.
From this we learn the perfect lesson with regard to prayer, that "No" is an answer as well as "Yes"; and "No" is answered always with the same omnipotent grace, infinite wisdom, and perfect love as "Yes." We hear much about "definiteness in prayer." Surely the knowledge of one's intense ignorance as to what is best and wise for us, will make us say more definitely than ever, in the words of Him through whose merits alone prayer is heard at all, "Thy will be done."
* Light, like God, is three-fold. It has three great rays:There are a multitude of Threes or Triads, and they all bespeak the same Divine perfection and completeness wherever they are found.
- 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; Col 1:15; Heb 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. This witnesses of the Holy Spirit, who is known by His wondrous operations (John 3:8).
The first or introductory section of the Apocalypse of Jesus Christ is specially marked by this great Divine seal stamped upon it in chapter 1.
refer also in various ways to some Divinely perfect matter. We append a few examples, which may be studied in order to search out the lessons:--
are also similarly significant.
The phrase occurs three times, because it is the act of Deity, and flows from uninfluenced grace.
"Before the foundation of the world" (pro katabolhV kosmou).
- John 17:24. "Thou lovedst Me before," etc.
- Ephesians 1:4. "Chosen us in Him before," etc.
- 1 Peter 1:20. "The blood of Christ foreordained before," etc. (when it speaks of this blood as "shed" it is apo from the foundation, etc.).
When, however, such acts relate to His work in us rather than for us, the words, even in a similar connection, occur seven times, because seven is the number of spiritual perfection. Hence the phrase, "From [apo] the foundation of the world" occurs seven times. See under "seven."
This occurs three times, as the Divine and perfect claim on our walk.
- Of our vocation (Eph 4:1),
- Of the Lord (Col 1:10),
- Of God (1 Thess 2:12).
denotes the essence of such number, the concentration of the significance of the number thus expressed.
has many references, among other numbers, to the number three. The Rabbis say that there were
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.
Three multitudes miraculously fed:(1) 2 Kings 4:42, 43; (2) Matt 15:34, 38; (3) Mark 6:38, 44.
Three times Abraham called the "Friend of God":(1) 2 Chron 20:7; (2) Isa 41:8; (3) James 2:23.
Three times the word "Christian" is found in the New Testament:(1) Acts 11:26; (2) Acts 25:28; (3) 1 Peter 4:6.
Back | Contents | Next