Greetings are sent to the seven churches of Asia from God, Jesus, and the seven spirits of God that are before the throne.
The opening salutation to the “seven churches” is from God, Jesus Christ, and the “seven spirits of God.” The latter phrase is unique to the Book of Revelation, and the idea of God having “seven spirits” creates difficulties since elsewhere Scripture stresses His oneness. Moreover, in Revelation, the “Spirit” always speaks in the singular.
For example, each of the letters to the “seven churches” concludes with the exhortation to “hear what THE Spirit is saying to the churches,” singular. To the saints who “die in the Lord,” the “Spirit says, that they may rest from their labors.” And to Jesus, both the Spirit and “Bride say, Come!” Nowhere do the “seven spirits” speak, and nowhere does the book apply plural pronouns to the Spirit of God when he speaks – (Revelation 14:13, 22:17).
The difficulties develop when we assume the description refers to the Spirit of God, but in Revelation, “spirit” does not always refer to the Holy Spirit. For example, the book refers to the “spirit of prophecy,” and to the “unclean spirits” that inhabit “Babylon.”
Moreover, we should exercise caution before reading doctrinal developments about the nature of the Holy Spirit into Revelation that were not developed until two to three centuries after John recorded his visions. It is far better to seek insight from the book itself.
- (Revelation 1:4-5) – “John, to the seven churches in Asia: Grace and peace to you from Him who is, and who was, and who is coming, and from the Seven Spirits which are before his throne.”
The “seven spirits” are “before His throne.” However close they are to it, they are distinct from the one “who is and who was and who is coming, the Almighty,” they are not identical with Him. Moreover, while John deliberately violates Greek syntax when he uses nominative and masculine pronouns for God (e.g., “from He who is,” not “from him who is”), the clause “from the seven spirits” is grammatically correct and each word is in the genitive case, plural number, and neuter case.
If John believed the “seven spirits” refers to the Spirit of God, why would he not also force the clause to conform grammatically to the nominative case in his description of God? These factors create difficulties if we assume the reference is to the Spirit of God, and that the “seven spirits” are identical with Him. Moreover, the “spirits” are “before the throne,” indicating their subservience to the “one who sits on the throne.” And while Jesus now “sits on his Father’s throne,” the same is never said of the “seven spirits.” In short, however close they are to God, they are distinct also from Him.
Other than in Revelation, there are no explicit references to the “seven spirits of God” elsewhere in Scripture. Isaiah did prophesy that the “Spirit of Yahweh” would rest upon the Messiah – “And the Spirit of Yahweh shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of Yahweh.” But Isaiah’s references to the Spirit are all in the singular number – “the Spirit of Yahweh” – and he lists SIX attributes organized in three pairs (e.g., the “spirit,” singular, “of wisdom and understanding”), and NOT seven spirits or attributes. Moreover, Revelation makes no use of these items, except, perhaps, for the mention of “wisdom.” There are no indications that the passage from Isaiah lies behind John’s reference to the “seven spirits of God” – (Isaiah 11:1-2).
The “seven spirits” are referred to again in the letter to the “messenger” of the church at Sardis, and Jesus now possesses them: “These things saith he that has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars.” Here, they are associated with the “seven stars” that were identified earlier as the “seven messengers” or “angels” of the “churches.” And the “churches of Asia” were represented by the “seven lampstands” among which Jesus was standing – (Revelation 1:20, 3:1).
The “seven spirits” are found also in the vision of the “throne” at the center of the universe – “And out of the throne proceed flashes of lightning and voices and claps of thunder, and seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God” – (Revelation 4:4-5).
What John saw were seven “lamps” or “torches” (Greek – lampas), and they were interpreted as the “seven spirits of God.” The term lampas refers to the actual lights or flames that were placed on lampstands. Most likely here, the “seven lamps” refer to the lights that sat on each of the “seven lampstands” from the book’s opening vision. In the ancient Tabernacle of Israel, the gold-plated seven-branched lampstand stood lit before the “holy of holies” where the “mercy-seat” was housed, the “throne” of Yahweh – (Exodus 25:31-37, 26:35, 27:20, Revelation 1:12-20).
The “seven spirits” are described one more time in the description of the “slain Lamb” who was found “worthy” to open the “sealed scroll”:
- “And I saw in the midst of the throne and of the four living creatures, and in the midst of the elders, a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, having seven horns, and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God, sent forth into all the earth” – (Revelation 5:6).
This explains how and when Jesus came into possession of the “seven spirits” as described in his letter to Sardis. And his use of them explains his full knowledge of the “works” of that church. As the “Lamb” who “overcame” by his sacrificial death, he now has all authority and “power” over the Cosmos, and the “seven spirits” are his “seven eyes sent out into the earth.”
The last clause alludes to the passage from Zechariah when the prophet saw the seven-branched golden lampstand with “seven lamps” that were fed oil continuously by two “olive trees,” which represented the “two anointed ones that stand before the Lord of the whole earth.” And in that vision, the “seven lamps” represented the “seven eyes of Yahweh that run to and fro through all the earth” – (Zechariah 4:1-10).
The reference to the “two olive trees” is alluded to again in the vision of the “two witnesses” who are identified as the “two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth.” The “two witnesses” were sent to “prophesy over many peoples and nations and tongues and kings” for the “twelve hundred and sixty days.” And since elsewhere in the book, consistently, “lampstands” represent churches, the “two witnesses” must in some capacity symbolize churches – (Revelation 10:31, 11:3-4).
In the book’s visions, the “seven spirits” are possessed by and serve the “Lamb,” and pictorially and verbally, they are associated with the “seven churches” and their “seven messengers.” The churches are represented by “lampstands,” and the “messengers” by “stars” and “lamps,” that is, by fiery “torches.” The function of the “seven spirits” is to “run to and fro through the earth,” to keep watch over things for the “Lamb,” and that would certainly include the “seven churches.”
The “seven spirits” are not identical with the “seven churches” since they send “greetings” to assemblies. And while Revelation never makes the identification explicit, most probably, the “seven spirits” are the “seven messengers” or “angels” of the “churches of Asia,” several of whom receive correction from Jesus for the conditions of their respective churches. They send “greetings” to the churches along with God and Jesus since they are called to watch over them. Whether they are “angels” or human beings assigned to each church is a separate question.