Seven is a number that seems to pop up a lot in the Bible. And according to George Costanza, it’s also a great name for a baby…
SUSAN: It’s not a name. It’s a number.
GEORGE: I know. It’s Mickey Mantle‘s number. So not only is it an all around beautiful name, it is also a living tribute.
SUSAN: It’s awful. I hate it!
GEORGE: (angry) Well, that’s the name!
SUSAN: (also angry) Oh no it is not! No child of mine is ever going to be named Seven!
GEORGE: (yelling) Awright, let’s just stay calm here! Don’t get all crazy on me!
Yes, George. Susan is the one who’s getting all crazy in that exchange, which is from the 1996 Seinfeld episode entitled The Seven.
George has clearly gotten a little carried away in his zeal for The Mick, he’s not wrong about the awesomeness of the number seven. Mantle is one of several notable jocks to don this digit – others included John Elway, Phil Esposito and Ted Lindsay. And when people talk about lucky numbers, seven is usually near the top of the list.
Even more important than the number’s notability in sports and gambling is its significance in the Bible. It occurs in the Good Book 860 times, according to this commentary – sometimes in utilitarian references, to be sure – but often its uses are packed with meaning.
Seven is described as the number of completeness and perfection, both physical and spiritual, thanks in part to its prominence in the creation story: God created the universe and fit in the perfect amount of rest in a seven-day period, so seven’s connection with perfection is not subject to objection.
In light of that, it’s not surprising how many times this number is used in the Bible. Here are but a few:
Seven clean animals in Noah’s Ark. Seven years of plenty and seven years of famine in Pharaoh’s dreams. Seven brothers for King David. Seven sneezes after Elisha raised a boy from the dead. Seven loaves to feed a multitude. Seven demons expelled from Mary Magdalene. Seven spirits for seven churches. Seven seals.
Our faith might even have more sevens than it has threes.
But today, I want to focus on two specific sets of sevens – inspired to be sure by two of my favorite podcast preachers: A.J. Sherrill of Mars Hill Bible Church in Michigan, who recently covered the Seven ‘I am’ Statements in the Gospel of John during the Season of Epiphany, and Steven Furtick of Elevation Church in North Carolina, who’s currently working through the Seven Last Sayings of Jesus on the cross, as a build-up to Easter.
The ‘I am’ statements provide real insight into Jesus’ life and ministry, and the sayings on the cross provide significant insight into his death and mission. And as we stand on the precipice of Holy Week, it feels like a fitting moment to pause and look back on the one, and look ahead to the other. (I’m not going to try to unpack any of these iconic passages; my purpose here is to post them all in one place for you, and leave the analysis to you and God.)
So here goes:
- Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” – John 6:35
- When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world.” Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” – John 8:12
- Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture.” – John 10:7,9
- “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. … I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me” – John 10:11, 14
- Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die…” – John 11:25
- Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” – John 14:6
- “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. … I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” – John 15:1,5
These statements are startling, amazing and profound – but my favorite ‘I am’ statement in John isn’t even on this list:
“Very truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” – John 8:58
In these few words – spoken calmly, quietly and humbly when I imagine the scene – Jesus is using this form of the verb to be to declare Himself to be God. The same God who created the universe, covenanted with Abraham and spoke to Moses in the Burning Bush.
It’s an outlandish, scandalous claim, and the Jewish leaders’ response to it accelerates His journey to the cross.
And yet, as Han Solo (Harrison Ford) says in Star Wars, Episode VIII: The Force Awakens, “Crazy thing is… it’s true. The Force. The Jedi… All of it… It’s all true.”
And the truth of Jesus’ words in John 8:58 is precisely what makes His crucifixion so important. It’s not one of thousands of unjust executions of so-called ‘criminals’ in the distant past, it’s the single most important event in human history.
What a gift and a blessing that we have, in the Gospels, a record of what was said in these final hours of our Saviour’s life:
- Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots. – Luke 23:34
- Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” – Luke 23:43
- When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home. – John 19:26-27
- And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”). – Mark 15:34
- Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” – John 19:28
- When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. – John 19:30
- Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last. – Luke 23:46
Peace be with you.