Revelation 4:5 Commentary


Out from the throne come flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder. And there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God; NAU

Introduction

John is describing his vision of the throne of God in heaven. Out of the throne come flashes of lightening and sounds and peals of thunder. John saw seven lamps of fire burning before the throne. These seven lamps represent the seven spirits of God.

The phrase "seven Spirits of God" occurs four times in the Book of Revelation: 1:4, 3:1, 4:5, and 5:6. I have commented on this phrase in connection with these all these references. We will add a few comments here.

Lightening and Thunder

This must have been an awesome display of sight and sound! The lightening and thunder proceed from the throne of God. Ladd (p. 76) states: "These are common manifestations of the divine presence in the Old Testament (Exod. 19:16; Ezek. 1:13; symbolizing the divine power and glory (Ps. 18:13-15; Job 37:2-5)."

God shows His power in various places and with different purposes. Many writers are reminded of how God manifested Himself at Sinai in thunder and lightening (Exodus 19:16 and 20:18). There, it was at the time of the giving of the Law. In Ps. 77:18 God manifests Himself in the dramatic activity of nature. As far as the Book of Revelation is concerned, Mounce (p. 136) writes:

In Revelation the symbols of thunder and lightning are always connected with a temple scene and mark an event of unusual import. In 8:5 they follow the breaking of the seventh seal, in 11:19, the blowing of the seventh trumpet, and in 16:18, the pouring out of the seventh bowl of wrath.

Seven Spirits of God

John sees seven lamps of fire, which he says are the "seven Spirits of God." Elsewhere (see Revelation 1:4 and 3:1), I have presented several views about the seven Spirits. Along with others, my position is this expression refers to the Holy Spirit. Some authors go further and emphasize various aspects of the presence and work of the Spirit.

According to Lenski (p. 126), for example, the seven Spirits of God represent the Holy Spirit in His divine mission. Horton (p. 26) says that this phrase is ''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." As another example, Ladd (p. 76) thinks of the fullness of the Spirit. He writes:

We have already met the symbolism of seven to denote the fullness of God's Spirit (1:4). Here, the Holy Spirit is mentioned probably not so much with reference to his regenerative and sanctifying work as to his work in the creation and preservation of the natural world (Gen. 1:2; 2:7; Ps. 104:29f.).

Swete believes the expression refers to the Holy Spirit but gives a different explanation. Concerning 1:10, 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)

Conclusion

In my view, the phrase "seven Spirits of God" refers to the Holy Spirit and, especially, to seven aspects of the Spirit's presence and work. We need not limit the variety and manner of the Spirit's manifestations. The Spirit manifests Himself in fullness for many purposes and in many ways.

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 Publishing 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: Willliam B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1977.
Newport, John P. The Lion and the Lamb. Nashville: Broadman Press, 1986.
Ramsay, W. M. The Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia. 1904.
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.
Tenney, Merrill C. Interpreting Revelation. Grand Rapids: Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1978.
Walvoord, John F. The Revelation of Jesus Christ. Chicago: Moody Press, 1966.

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