The Seven Spirits of God are referred to several times in Revelation. The fact that every time John sees them, they are before throne of God seems to underline their importance. Furthermore, the context suggests they are deeply involved in the activities for the salvation of the world. However, no other book in the Bible uses that expression. Who are these spirits who run throughout the world? Are they different to the Holy Spirit? Is it important that we know who they are and what they do?
Before attempting to answer these questions, I would like to make a couple of points about the importance of symbolism in this book and its relevance to identifying who the seven spirits are.
- Revelation itself is a symbolic book. Almost all of the references to various entities utilize some symbolism with the use of animals, things from nature, numbers, precious stones, composite beasts, furniture etc. No other book of the Bible contains as much symbolism as Revelation. Practically all of its messages are conveyed through the use of symbols. It would be out of harmony with the pattern of the book for this title to be taken literally.
- If the title seven spirits of God is symbolic, then the question becomes symbol of what? What or whom do the symbols represent? The expression, the Seven Spirits of God is unique to Revelation. Surely if there are seven literal spirits there would be some other reference to them in the scripture.
- What is the significance of the number 7 in this context? Why say the seven spirits? The number seven is easily the most prominent number in all of scripture and refers to the fulness or completeness of the thing referred to. Seven is omnipresent in Revelation and, in practically every case, it carries the same idea. So here, John is referring the Spirit in all its potency and completeness. Consistent with his approach to prophetic writing, John is referring to God’s Spirit acting in His place as a member of the Godhead, Omnipresent, Omnipotent, and one with the Father and the Son in the salvation of the world. Let’s look at the specific references to the seven spirits.
There are 4 references to the seven spirits.
- In the first, (1:4,5) they are mentioned as one of the three authorities John identifies in his greeting to the churches. Is this a reference to the trinity/Godhead? The Father, the Spirit, and the Son. The Father is represented as He who is, who was, and who is to come. The Son as the Faithful and True Witness, the Firstborn from the dead and Ruler of the Kings of the Earth. The Spirit as the Seven Spirits of God.
- The second reference is to Jesus who holds the Seven Spirits of God. Here Jesus is the one sending the messages, but the Spirit is the one who speaks the message. In one hand are the angels of the seven churches represented by the seven stars, in the other hand are the seven spirits. Note that when you read the messages to the churches, they begin as Jesus speaking but they conclude with the words, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” Thus there appears to be some basis for concluding (a) Jesus and the Spirit are equally responsible for the messages and (b) the seven spirits in the hand of Jesus may be the same Spirit of God who is speaking to the seven churches represented by the seven stars in the Jesus’ other hand.
- The third and fourth references take place in the throne room of God. (Revelation 4:15) First, there is a view of the throne room of heaven with someone sitting on the throne who John does not describe, except to say he had the appearance of Jasper and Carnelian. What a scene that must have been! Then, seen around this throne are 24 thrones with 24 elders. In the center of the 24 are 4 living creatures with eyes around their whole bodies. Both the elders and the creatures combine in giving praise to God, day and night. John not only sees lightening flashing and thunder pealing from the throne itself, but in front of the throne there are seven lamps representing the seven spirits.
- In the next scene John sees a scroll in the hand of one seated on the throne (Revelation 5:1-9). The scroll is sealed with seven seals. A mighty angel asks, who is worthy to open the scroll? It appears that is a particularly important question as John bursts into tears when no-one appears worthy. At length, one of the 24 elders reassure him, there is one worthy, He who is the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, he has triumphed, and he is worthy. However, as John looks, he sees not a lion as one would expect, but a lamb as if it had been killed, but yet is now alive. This, no doubt, is the lamb of God slain from the foundation of world, Jesus himself. He who is both root and offspring of David, his physical ancestor. It is through his eternal sacrifice, on behalf of the human race, that he has triumphed over Satan and the kingdom of darkness. He is the one who declared of himself, I am he that lives, I was dead, but behold I am alive forevermore and have the keys of death and hell (Revelation 1:18). Of greatest significance for us in this study is that (a) he stood in the center of the throne and (b) he has seven eyes which are “the Seven Spirits of God, sent out into all the earth.” In one scene, there is one seated on the throne who we may admit to be God the Father, and there are seven lamps before the throne who are the seven spirits. In the other scene the lamb is on the throne and the seven spirits are a part of his body. In the first scene, the spirits are symbolized by seven lamps, in the second they are seven eyes. Thus, the spirits are associated with the Father and the Son who both occupy the throne of God. This is the one common denominator in all of the passages, the seven spirits are acting in tandem with the other members of the Godhead.
It is noteworthy that in this passage the symbolism of numbers is particularly evident. Besides the seven spirits, the lamb has seven horns which is the representation of power. Thus, the seven horns represent the omnipotent power and rulership of God. In fact, it could be said that here the horns on the lamb represent the father, the eyes, the spirit and there is the lamb himself, the Son, he is upon the throne and shows himself to be God. The scriptures teach, in him dwells the fulness of God and that through him God would reconcile the world to himself by the shedding of his blood on the cross (Col 1:17-20). When Christ came as the Lamb, God was in him: The Father, The Son and The Spirit together, reconciling the world to God. John depicts all of this using the symbols of a lamb as if it slain, the seven horns and the seven eyes of the spirit.