Who Are the Seven Spirits in Revelation?

Brandon Smith writes: Who are the seven spirits in Revelation? This question arises in the opening lines of John’s vision in which he refers to “the seven spirits who are before [God’s] throne” (Rev. 1:4). The seven spirits are named again in Jesus’s message to Sardis (Rev. 3:1), as well as twice in the throne-room scenes (Rev. 4:5; 5:6).

Some scholars have argued that the seven spirits are borrowed from Jewish ideas about Yahweh’s seven chief angels, or perhaps the Greco-Roman idea of a plurality of spirits that bring wisdom and knowledge. However, I will argue that the seven spirits represent the Holy Spirit, for three main reasons.

1. John’s Use of the Number Seven

Revelation is an apocalyptic book, which means we should be careful of being too “literal,” especially when it comes to numbers and analogies. The number seven is well attested in the Bible, being used in some form more than 800 times. It’s often viewed as the number of completion or perfection, most notably when seven is associated with the completion of God’s “very good” creation (Gen. 1). Throughout Revelation, John uses the number often—seven spirits, seven churches, seven stars, seven lamps, seven angels, seven cycles of judgment, and so on.

Revelation’s vivid imagery, illustrations, analogies, and use of the Old Testament make interpreting it a tricky endeavor. We shouldn’t exaggerate this point and assume that Revelation is merely a riddle to decode, stripping it of its historical context and theological richness. And yet, taking into account John’s use of seven and its importance in Scripture, it’s safe to say “seven” likely refers to more than a mere number of spirits.

When is God ‘coming on the clouds’?

Quite early on in Revelation (1.7) we find the phrase ‘I am coming with the clouds’, and it is striking that the near universal view of commentators on this verse is that it is a reference to the return of Jesus to earth, as promised in Acts 1 and elsewhere. (Note that the New Testament never uses the now-popular phrase ‘second coming’ of Jesus, since this pairs the future with his ‘first coming’ in the incarnation, whereas the NT always pairs his return with his departure, as in ‘he will return in the same way you have seen him go’ in Acts 1.11).