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The Sevenfold Spirit

Written by David Steltz

Posted on September 1st, 2021

Last Edited on December 9th, 2021

A compilation of scholarly commentary on Revelation 1:4 and correlating passages.

seven spirits. Note the origin of grace and peace from the Trinity: God the Father (“him who is”), the Son (1:5), and the Spirit (cf. 2 Cor. 13:14; 1 Pet. 1:1, 2). The prophetic message is not only from God and Christ, but also from the “seven spirits” before the throne. The reference here is to the Holy Spirit, the number “seven” again representing fullness. The Holy Spirit is needed to bring to believers the grace and peace John greets them with here, and His work will be needed if believers are to respond obediently to the prophetic words shortly to come. The Christian readers need grace to persevere in their faith in the midst of tribulation, esp. the pressure to compromise (cf. chs. 2; 3). And, in the midst of such external turmoil they need the inner peace that only the eternal God, who is sovereign over and above the trials and struggles of the day-to-day realities believers face, can give. John is alluding here to Zech. 4:2–9, where seven lamps represent one Spirit who brings grace for the building of the temple. Note again how 4:5, 6 identifies the seven lamps before the throne with the seven spirits. The Holy Spirit fully empowers us to become the temple in which God dwells.

Sproul, R. C. (Ed.). (2015). The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (2015 Edition) (p. 2306). Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust.

seven spirits Possibly alludes to the sevenfold spirit of God in Isa 11:2. The number seven indicates the fullness of the Holy Spirit’s work (compare Rev 3:1; 4:5; 5:6).

Barry, J. D., Mangum, D., Brown, D. R., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Ritzema, E., … Bomar, D. (2012, 2016). Faithlife Study Bible (Re 1:4). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

the sevenfold Spirit (literally the seven spirits): Some argue that the “seven spirits” are seven angels, but the phrase fits between references to God the Father (1:4) and to God the Son (1:5), making this passage a description of the Trinity (see Matt 28:19; John 14:26; 15:26; 2 Cor 13:14; 1 Pet 1:2). The number seven acknowledges the Holy Spirit’s perfection (cp. Zech 4:2, 6, 10).

New Living Translation Study Bible. (2008). (Re 1:4). Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

The seven spirits before his throne may refer to: (1) “the angels of the seven churches” (v. 20; chaps. 2–3), (2) other angels seen in the book (e.g., 8:2), or (3) the fullness of the Holy Spirit described in Is 11:2.

Luter, A. B. (2017). Revelation. In E. A. Blum & T. Wax (Eds.), CSB Study Bible: Notes (p. 2018). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.

God the Father is described as the Eternal One (see Rev. 1:8; 4:8). All history is part of His eternal plan, including the world’s persecution of the church. Next, the Holy Spirit is seen in His fullness, for there are not seven spirits, but one. The reference here is probably to Isaiah 11:2.

Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, p. 568). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

From the seven Spirits.—See Is. 11:2; Rev. 3:1; 4:5; 5:6. The seven Spirits burn like lamps [Germ. Fackeln, torches] before the throne, as Spirits of God, and are at the same time seven eyes of the Lamb. By this we understand seven ground-forms of the revelation of the Logos or heavenly Christ in the world (hence ideals of Christ; lamps of God; eyes of Christ); neither, therefore, seven properties of the Holy Ghost, though, the Spirit of God is their unitous life; nor properties of God (Eichhorn); nor the symbolical totality of the angels (Lyra); nor the seven archangels, in accordance with the traditional view (of these archangels six only are grouped together on canonical and apocryphal ground); as in Is. 11:2, the six spirits are merged in the unity of the septenary [Siebenzahl]; nor seven of the ten Sephiroth (Herder). We must likewise distinguish from these seven Spirits the Spirit who speaks to the churches (ch. 2:7, 11:29); with reference to Zech. 3:9, 4:6, 10.*

Lange, J. P., Schaff, P., Moore, E., Craven, E. R., & Woods, J. H. (2008). A commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Revelation (p. 91). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

*That created beings cannot he intended by the Seven Spirits is evident from their being mentioned between the Father and Jesus Christ, and also from their being regarded as sources of blessing. The view as to their nature advocated by Lange is inconsistent with their being associated with Persons, and their being named with and still more before Christ. Trench judiciously remarks: “There is no doubt that by ‘the seven spirits’ we are to understand not indeed the sevenfold operations of the Holy Ghost, but the Holy Ghost sevenfold in His operations. Neither need there be any difficulty in reconciling this interpretation, as Mede urges, with the doctrine of His personality. It is only that He is regarded here not so much in His personal unity, as in His manifold energies; for ‘there are diversities of gifts but the same Spirit,’ 1 Cor. 12:4.—The manifold gifts, operations, energies of the Holy Ghost are here represented under the number seven, being as it is the number of completeness in the Church. We have anticipations of this in the Old Testament. When the Prophet Isaiah would describe how the Spirit should be given not by measure to Him whose name is the Branch, the enumeration of the gifts is sevenfold (11:2); and the seven eyes which rest upon the stone which the Lord had laid can mean nothing but this (Zech. 3:9, cf. 4:10; Rev. 5:6).”—E. R. C.

Lange, J. P., Schaff, P., Moore, E., Craven, E. R., & Woods, J. H. (2008). A commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Revelation. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

This unique phrase—the seven spirits before his throne—occurs only in Revelation and probably refers to the Holy Spirit, though others would see seven major angels meant here and thus deny the Trinitarian nature of this passage. Although the adjective holy is not used with Spirit in Revelation, the singular form that we are more familiar with (the Spirit) appears often (for example, 2:7).

Easley, K. H. (1998). Revelation (Vol. 12, p. 14). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

The Sevenfold Spirit—ANYONE who reads this passage must be astonished at the form of the Trinity which we meet here. We speak of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Here, we have God the Father and Jesus Christ the Son—but, instead of the Holy Spirit, we have the seven Spirits who are before his throne. These seven Spirits are mentioned more than once in Revelation (3:1, 4:5, 5:6). Three main explanations have been offered of them.

(1) The Jews talked of the seven angels of the presence, whom they beautifully called ‘the seven first white ones’ (1 Enoch 90:21). They were what we call the archangels who ‘stand ready and enter before the glory of the Lord’ (Tobit 12:15). Their names are not always the same, but they are often called Uriel, Raphael, Raguel, Michael, Gabriel, Saiquael and Jeremiel. They had the care of the elements of the world—fire, air and water—and were the guardian angels of the nations. They were the most illustrious and the most intimate servants of God. Some think that they are the seven Spirits mentioned here. But that cannot be; great as the angels were, they were still created beings.

(2) The second explanation connects them with the famous passage in Isaiah 11:2. As the Septuagint, the Greek edition of the Hebrew Scriptures that was most widely used in the synagogues in New Testament times, has it: ‘The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and piety; by this spirit he shall be filled with the fear of God.’ This passage is the basis of the great concept of the sevenfold gifts of the Spirit. As the ninth-century hymn has it:

Come, Holy Ghost, our souls inspire
And lighten with celestial fire;
Thou the anointing Spirit art,
Who dost thy sevenfold gifts impart.

The Spirit, as the eighth-century Spanish Benedictine, Beatus, said, is one in name but sevenfold in virtues. If we think of the sevenfold gift of the Spirit, it is not difficult to think of the Spirit as seven Spirits, each giving great gifts to men and women. So it is suggested that the idea of the sevenfold gifts of the Spirit gave rise to the image of the seven Spirits before the throne of God.

(3) The third explanation connects the idea of the seven Spirits with the fact of the seven churches. In Hebrews 2:4, we read of God giving ‘gifts of the Holy Spirit’. The word translated as gifts is merismos, and it really means shares, as if the idea was that God gives a share of his Spirit to every individual. So, the idea here would be that the seven Spirits stand for the share of the Spirit which God gave to each of the seven churches. It would mean that no Christian fellowship is left without the presence and the power and the illumination of the Spirit.

Barclay, W. (2004). The Revelation of John (3rd ed. fully rev. and updated, Vol. 1, pp. 36–37). Louisville, KY; London: Westminster John Knox Press.

The seven spirits might conceivably refer to a group of angelic beings. But coming between references to the Father and the Son it is more probable that this is an unusual way of designating the Holy Spirit (‘the sevenfold Spirit’, mg.). John never uses the expression ‘the Holy Spirit’ in this book, but he uses the word ‘Spirit’ in a variety of ways; ‘the Spirit’ is found in 2:7, 17, etc., so he clearly knows of the Holy Spirit. Seven spirits recurs in 3:1; 4:5; 5:6. On the whole it seems most probable that we should see seven as signifying perfection or the like, and the whole expression as pointing to the Holy Spirit. The number may derive from Isaiah 11:2–3, and be meant to remind us of the seven modes of operation of the Spirit.

Morris, L. (1987). Revelation: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 20, p. 54). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

The insertion of the seven spirits between the references to God and Jesus makes it impossible to understand it as anything other than a symbolic description of the Spirit as the third person of the Trinity. In this phrase, which comes four times in total (3:1; 4:5; 5:6), John combines the description of the anointing of the Davidic Messiah in Isaiah 11:2 (the six qualities in the Hebrew text become a description of the sevenfold Spirit of God in the Greek Septuagint which John and his readers knew) with the seven lamps on the golden lampstand in Zechariah 4:2 which are associated with the seven ‘eyes of Yahweh’ (Zech. 4:10).

Paul, I. (2018). Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary. (E. J. Schnabel, Ed.) (Vol. 20, p. 62). London: Inter-Varsity Press.

From the seven spirits (ἀπο των ἑπτα πνευματων [apo tōn hepta pneumatōn]). A difficult symbolic representation of the Holy Spirit here on a par with God and Christ, a conclusion borne out by the symbolic use of the seven spirits in 3:1; 4:5; 5:6 (from Zech. 4:2–10). There is the one Holy Spirit with seven manifestations here to the seven churches (Swete, The Holy Spirit in the N. T., p. 374), unity in diversity (1 Cor. 12:4). Which are (των [tōn] article Aleph A, ἁ [ha] relative P). Before his throne (ἐνωπιον του θρονου αὐτου [enōpion tou thronou autou]). As in 4:5f.

Robertson, A. T. (1933). Word Pictures in the New Testament (Re 1:4). Nashville, TN: Broadman Press.

The seven Spirits (τῶν ἑμτὰ πνευμάτων). Paul nowhere joins the Spirit with the Father and the Son in his opening salutations. The nearest approach is 2 Cor. 13:13. The reference is not to the seven principal angels (ch. 8:2). These could not be properly spoken of as the source of grace and peace; nor be associated with the Father and the Son; nor take precedence of the Son, as is the case here. Besides, angels are never called spirits in this book. With the expression compare ch. 4:5, the seven lamps of fire, “which are the seven Spirits of God:” ch. 3:1, where Jesus is said to have “the seven Spirits of God.” Thus the seven Spirits belong to the Son as well as to the Father (see John 15:26). The prototype of John’s expression is found in the vision of Zechariah, where the Messiah is prefigured as a stone with seven eyes, “the eyes of the Lord, which run to and fro through the whole earth” (Zech. 3:9; 4:10). Compare also the same prophet’s vision of the seven-branched candlestick (4:2).

Hence the Holy Spirit is called the Seven Spirits; the perfect, mystical number seven indicating unity through diversity (1 Cor. 12:4). Not the sevenfold gifts of the Spirit are meant, but the divine Personality who imparts them; the one Spirit under the diverse manifestations. Richard of St. Victor (cited by Trench, “Seven Churches”) says: “And from the seven Spirits, that is, from the sevenfold Spirit, which indeed is simple in nature, sevenfold in grace.”

Vincent, M. R. (1887). Word studies in the New Testament (Vol. 2, pp. 413–414). New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.

One quick additional note on the significance of seven and numbers in general:

Seven. Among every ancient people, especially in the East, a religious significance attaches to numbers. This grows out of the instinctive appreciation that number and proportion are necessary attributes of the created universe. This sentiment passes over from heathenism into the Old Testament. The number seven was regarded by the Hebrews as a sacred number, and it is throughout Scripture the covenant number, the sign of God’s covenant relation to mankind, and especially to the Church. The evidences of this are met in the hallowing of the seventh day; in the accomplishment of circumcision, which is the sign of a covenant, after seven days; in the part played by the number in marriage covenants and treaties of peace. It is the number of purification and consecration (Lev. 4:6, 17; 8:11, 33; Num. 19:12). “Seven is the number of every grace and benefit bestowed upon Israel; which is thus marked as flowing out of the covenant, and a consequence of it. The priests compass Jericho seven days, and on the seventh day seven times, that all Israel may know that the city is given into their hands by God, and that its conquest is a direct and immediate result of their covenant relation to Him. Haaman is to dip in Jordan seven times, that he may acknowledge the God of Israel as the author of his cure. It is the number of reward to those who are faithful in the covenant (Deut. 28:7; 1 Sam. 2:5); of punishment to those who are froward in the covenant (Lev. 26:21, 24, 28; Deut. 28:25), or to those who injure the people in it (Gen. 4:15, 24; Exod. 7:25; Ps. 79:12). All the feasts are ordered by seven, or else by seven multiplied into seven, and thus made intenser still. Thus it is with the Sabbath, the Passover, the Feast of Weeks, of Tabernacles, the Sabbath-year, and the Jubilee.”

Similarly the number appears in God’s dealing with nations outside the covenant, showing that He is working for Israel’s sake and with respect to His covenant. It is the number of the years of plenty and of famine, in sign that these are for Israel’s sake rather than for Egypt’s. Seven times pass over Nebuchadnezzar, that he may learn that the God of his Jewish captives is king over all the earth (partly quoted and partly condensed from Trench’s “Epistles to the Seven Churches”).

Seven also occurs as a sacred number in the New Testament. There are seven beatitudes, seven petitions in the Lord’s Prayer; seven parables in Matt. 13; seven loaves, seven words from the cross, seven deacons, seven graces (Rom. 12:6–8), seven characteristics of wisdom (Jas. 3:17). In the Apocalypse the prominence of the number is marked. To a remarkable extent the structure of that book is moulded by the use of numbers, especially of the numbers seven, four, and three. There are seven spirits before the throne; seven churches; seven golden candlesticks; seven stars in the right hand of Him who is like unto a son of man; seven lamps of fire burning before the throne; seven horns and seven eyes of the Lamb; seven seals of the book; and the thunders, the heads of the great dragon and of the beast from the sea, the angels with the trumpets, the plagues, and the mountains which are the seat of the mystic Babylon,—are all seven in number.

So there are four living creatures round about the throne, four angels at the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds; the New Jerusalem is foursquare. Authority is given to Death to kill over the fourth part of the earth, and he employs four agents.

Again the use of the number three is, as Professor Milligan remarks, “so remarkable and continuous that it would require an analysis of the whole book for its perfect illustration.” There are three woes, three unclean spirits like frogs, three divisions of Babylon, and three gates on each side of the heavenly city. The Trisagion, or “thrice holy,” is sung to God the Almighty, to whom are ascribed three attributes of glory.

Vincent, M. R. (1887). Word studies in the New Testament (Vol. 2, pp. 410–411). New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.

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