Who are the “the seven Spirits which [are] before his throne” (Rev. 1: 4)?
Many think that they represent the Spirit of God, ‘not as in the unity of His Being, but in the plenitude of His power and diversified activities’. While this view purports to acknowledge the truth of “one Spirit” (Eph. 4: 4), it really contradicts it. The supposedly sevenfold mention of the Spirit in Is. 11: 2 is called into service to support this view. However, what is presented there are three pairs of attributes belonging to the one Spirit of Jehovah. Furthermore, attributes, such as wisdom and understanding, while they can be personalised, do not send greetings—and Rev. 1: 4 is a greeting from heaven. Again, greetings in the epistles never involve the Holy Spirit. They are from God our Father and the Lord Jesus in heaven but not from the Holy Spirit—for He is here on earth at the present time.
Now these seven spirits are spoken of directly again in Rev. 3: 1; 4: 5; 5: 6 and once indirectly in Rev. 8: 2. Before turning to these Scriptures, however, we must remember that initial capitalisation of the word spirit(s) has no authority in the Greek text. We must also take account of where these seven spirits are said to be. They are “before his throne” (Rev. 1: 4). In the OT, the Queen of Sheba exclaimed “Happy are thy men! happy are these thy servants, who stand continually before thee, who hear thy wisdom! Blessed be Jehovah thy God, who delighted in thee, to set thee on the throne of Israel!” (1 Kings 10: 8, 9). Those that stand before a royal throne are servants, not deity. The book of Revelation itself testifies to this fact for we read “Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple, and he that sits upon the throne shall spread his tabernacle over them” (Rev. 7: 15, my emphasis). The position of the seven spirits is repeated in the symbolic presentation in Rev. 4: 5: “And out of the throne go forth lightnings, and voices, and thunders; and seven lamps of fire, burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God”. In Rev. 5: 6 a different symbol for the seven Spirits is employed but the same interpretation given: “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 slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, [which are] the seven Spirits of God [which are] sent into all the earth”. The seven eyes symbolise the complete awareness that the Lord has of earthly events (see Heb. 4: 13), but the words “which are sent into all the earth”, while implying agency, can hardly be applied to the attributes of Is. 11: 2! Again, “sent into all the earth” is not consistent with the departure of the Holy Spirit from this scene (see 2 Thess. 2: 7). In addressing the assembly in Sardis, the Lord is presented thus: “These things saith he that has the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars” (Rev. 3: 1). Notice that the seven spirits of God are coupled with the seven stars—which are the angels of the seven assemblies (see Rev. 1: 20). The Lord is said to have both companies, indicating that both are under His hand. The seven Spirits are thus within the power of the Lord—and this can hardly be said of the Holy Spirit. But the book of Revelation leaves us in doubt as to who these seven spirits are.
In Rev. 15: 6 we read that “the seven angels who had the seven plagues came out of the temple, clothed in pure bright linen, and girded about the breasts with golden girdles”. Now the use of the definite article the in the phrase “the seven angels” tells us that this is a specific company already known to the reader. Where do we read of these angels previously? Turning back in the book we find it is in v1 where we read “And I saw another sign in the heaven, great and wonderful: seven angels having seven plagues, the last; for in them the fury of God is completed”. Notice that there is no definite article here since they are identified as those “having seven plagues” and are being mentioned for the first time. Now let’s go back to another company of seven angels: “And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them” (Rev. 8: 2). The language is the same as that of Rev. 15: 6—it is the seven angels—a similarly specific but different company—and it follows that the writer has previously spoken of them in the book. Yet there is no previous mention of a company of seven angels! The seven spirits of God, however, have been spoken of several times. This alone is sufficient to establish that the seven spirits of God are a company of seven angels—for, as is said of angels elsewhere, “Are they not all ministering spirits, sent out for service …?” (Heb. 1: 14). Finally, the Revelation is replete with angelic activity and angels, unlike the Holy Spirit, do give greetings (see Luke 1: 28)—which is in accord with what is said of the seven spirits in Rev. 1: 4.