4 John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace, from Him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven Spirits who are before His throne,
5 and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To Him who loves us and released us from our sins by His blood--
6 and He has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father-- to Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.
7 BEHOLD, HE IS COMING WITH THE CLOUDS, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him. So it is to be. Amen. NAU
John introduces his book in Revelation 1:1-3. Then, he writes a covering letter to the seven churches in Asia (1:4-20). Although he will write to each church, he intends that they all read all of the letters. He begins his covering letter with a salutation (1:4-8).
In the salutation, John mentions the "seven Spirits." This same expression is used in 3:1, 4:5, and 5:6. Because we are studying the Holy Spirit, we will focus our attention here on this expression.
The Triune Source
John bestows upon the seven churches "grace and peace" from the Triune source. The grace and peace is (1) from Him who is and who was and who is to come, (2) from the seven Spirits who are before His throne, and (3) from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.
Very clearly, the first phrase refers to God the Father. He is the One who is and who was and who is to come. The last phrase, of course, specifically names Jesus Christ, the faithful witness. However, the second phrase is the subject of considerable discussion. The question is, "To whom does the expression "seven Spirits" refer?
Many different explanations of the "seven spirits" are given. However, these views stand out: (1) the expression refers to angels; (2) John is referring to the Holy Spirit; and (3) he is identifying seven manifestations of the Spirit. The last view is really an extension of the second. As examples of how scholars treat this expression, we cite the following:
Newport (p. 129) says, "The seven spirits which are before God's throne symbolize the Holy Spirit, seven again symbolizing completion or perfection." The number seven in the Scriptures often is used this way. Thus, this view is entirely possible.
Horton (Revelation, p. 26) acknowledges that some hold the view that seven Spirits refers to angels, but his own view is that John means the Holy Spirit and his sevenfold manifestation. He writes:
The source of grace and peace is the entire Trinity. Grace and peace come from the seven Spirits, that is, from the sevenfold manifestation of the Holy Spirit, probably a reference to the sevenfold Spirit on the Messiah prophesied in Isaiah 11:2 as well as to the sevenfold lamp in Zechariah 4:2, 6, 10. (The mention of the seven Spirits here anticipates the further revelation of the Spirit in Revelation 4:5 and 5:6.) Others take this to be a reference to seven angels (Revelation 8:2).
Similarly, Ladd (Revelation, p. 24) states:
From the seven spirits means from the Holy Spirit in his sevenfold fullness (cf. 3:1; 4:5; 5:6). Some have seen here a reference to angelic beings, but since the preceding phrase refers to God the Father and the following phrase to God the Son, it is certain that John included a reference to God the Holy Spirit, thus including all persons of the Godhead.
Swete believes the expression refers to the Holy Spirit but gives a different explanation. He comments (pp. 274-275) as follows:
The spirits are seven because of the churches are seven. Why seven churches are addressed, neither more nor less, we need not here enquire; but their number being seven, the spirits also are seven; i.e. the Spirit is regarded in its relations to each of them. The Spirit is one (to pneuma), yet in the reference to the seven churches there are seven spirits, for there is one manifestation, one aspect of the Spirit's manifold life for each, according to the needs of each. (Transliteration Mine)
Mounce examines these views, but does not draw a firm conclusion. Although uncommitted, his view seems to be closer to the idea that seven spirits refers to angels. He (p. 70) states:
Thus a survey of the four places in Revelation where the seven spirits of God are mentioned fails to provide sufficient information to arrive at a certain understanding of this enigmatic phrase. Although only a conjecture, it would seem that they are perhaps part of a heavenly entourage that has a special ministry in connection with the Lamb.
The language of the Spirit, throughout the New Testament, is fascinating. Sometimes, the Spirit is clearly identified as a person. At other times, one might think of a force or power. No doubt this explains why scholars go to such lengths to defend the position that the Spirit is a person.
In my view, the expression "seven Spirits" refers to the Holy Spirit and, especially, to seven aspects of the Spirit's presence and work. In no way, as some think, does this divide the Spirit into parts. The Spirit is one person in various manifestations.
Isaiah 11:2 provides an excellent illustration of this truth. There, concerning the Spirit upon Christ, Isaiah declares: "The Spirit of the LORD will rest on Him, The spirit of wisdom and understanding, The spirit of counsel and strength, The spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD." NAU
George M. Flattery
For Further Study
Horton, Stanley M. The Ultimate Victory. Springfield: Gospel Publishing House, 1991.
Ladd, George Eldon. A Commentary on the Revelation of John. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publislhilng Company, 1972.
Lenski, R. C. H. The Epistles of St. Peter, St. John, and St. Jude. Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1966.
Mounce, Robert H. The Book of Revelation. Grand Rapids: Willlima B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1977.
Newport, John P. The Lion and the Lamb. Nashville: Broadman Press, 1986.
Robertson, A. T. Word Pictures in the New Testament, Vols. 1-6. Nashville: Broadman Press, 1930.
Swete, Henry Barclay. The Holy Spirit in the New Testament. London: Macmillan and Company, 1910.
© Copyright 2005. GMF.