PMW 2019-061 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.
A significant issue debated by Revelation scholars revolves around the “seven spirits” first mentioned in Rev. 1:4 (see also Rev. 3:1; 4:5; and 5:6). That initial text (with a portion of its context) reads:
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, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. (Rev. 1:4–5)
Despite the debate, the evidence strongly suggests that John is speaking of the Holy Spirit when he mentions the seven spirits. Here is some of the evidence.
(1) This identity fits with the context that is presenting the Father (1:4c) and the Son (1:5).
(2) It would be strange to put angels here before Christ himself since he is the dominant character in the drama and the angels are his subordinates.
(3) It would be odd for John to omit the Holy Spirit here when he speaks of him frequently elsewhere in Rev (1:10; 2:7, 11, 29; 3:1, 6, 13, 22; 4:2; 14:13; 17:3; 21:10; 22:17). The fact that he does not directly call him “the Spirit” or that he actually pluralizes his singular person (“seven spirits”) does not counter this observation. After all, John uses a variety of images for both God and Christ; and his apocalyptic imagery can allow for a symbolic, pluralized image-form.
(4) The benediction of grace and peace flows equally “from” each of these three persons: apo / apo / apo (1:4–5). This expects a divine source rather than a mixed source such as from God, the divine Christ, and created angelic beings.
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(5) The context employs a pattern of threes which would most naturally expect the paralleling of the divine Spirit with the divine Father and Christ. The benediction comes from three (apo / apo / apo, 1:4–5); the Father has a three-fold title (is / was / coming, 1:4); Christ’s identity is presented in a three-fold manner (witness, first-born, ruler, 1:5); and John gives a three-fold benediction rooted in Christ’s work (to him who loves / released / made us, 1:5–6).
(6) Rev expressly rejects any adoration of angels (19:10; 22:8). To elevate angels as a source of grace and peace clashes with this tendency.
(7) In the NT the source of grace and peace — the source of benedictory blessings — is always divine. By way of example, see the Pauline and Petrine benedictions listed above.
(8) The Holy Spirit is the characteristic identification of pneuma in the NT when found in conjunction with or as part of an apparent formula with God and Christ.
(9) Rev’s three parallel appearances of this designation all point to the Holy Spirit. In 3:1 an image of Christ drawn from the vision at 1:16 appears where he “has [exōn] the seven Spirits of God” (also in 5:6 the Lamb’s “seven eyes . . . are the seven Spirits of God”). John’s Gospel emphasizes Christ’s receiving the Spirit (Jn 1:33), giving the Spirit (Jn 3:34; 20:22), and baptizing with the Spirit (Jn 1:32). Christ is the one who asks the Father to give the Spirit (Jn 16:5–7) so that “when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of truth” (Jn 15:26; cp. Jn 7:39). He graciously imparts the Spirit to his apostles to lead them into all the truth (Jn 16:13; 20:22; cp. Rev. 1:10; 4:2; 17:3; 21:10). The indwelling of the Spirit is the coming of Christ within (Jn 14:17–18; cp. Ro 8:9; Gal 4:6). In 4:5 and 5:6 the seven spirits echo Zec 4.
In Rev 4:5 the seven spirits of God are called “seven lamps” which reflect Zechariah’s seven lamps (Zec 4:2). In 5:6 the “seven Spirits of God, sent out into all the earth” are associated with the “seven eyes” of the Lamb which allude to Zec 4:10 where “the eyes of the Lord . . . range to and fro throughout the earth.” And in Zec 4 all of this speaks of the work of “My spirit” (Zec 4:6). Zechariah 4 also impacts a later vision in Rev 11:4. Thus, John appears to be associating the seven spirits with Zechariah’s imagery and the work of the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, also back of John’s image appears to be the seven-fold spirit of Christ from Isa 11:2 (LXX) which mentions the “stem of Jesse” (Isa 11:1) which parallels John’s “the Root of David” (5:5).
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(10) The following context comports well with the seven-fold spirit. That is, the first vision of Christ (1:12–20) presents him walking among the seven lampstands, which represents the seven churches of Asia (1:20). The seven-fold Spirit would provide the oil in the seven lamps thereby showing the Spirit works through their witness to the world.