Who are the seven spirits before God?

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Pantheon in Rome (Wikimedia Commons)

In Revelation 1:4-5a we read:

John to the seven assemblies located 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 the Messiah, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.

First, traditional interpretation connects the seven spirits in Revelation with the seven “aspects” of the Spirit in Isaiah 11:2:

The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and strength, the spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord (NASB).

In reality there are six aspects, not seven, because the Spirit of the Lord is not one of the aspects. A better translation (Net Bible), however, is provided by the Net Bible translators, rightly showing that each pair is really one concept, reducing 6 to 3: The Lord’s spirit will rest on him – a spirit that gives extraordinary wisdom, a spirit that provides the ability to execute plans, a spirit that produces absolute loyalty to the Lord. (You can see that the count here does not get to seven at all).

Second, in non-canonical Jewish books, such as 1 Enoch that has many references to the Jewish Son of Man traditions, we repeatedly encounter otherwise unfamiliar phrase “the Lord of the Spirits.” For example, we read in 1 Enoch 46:1-2:

There I beheld the Ancient of Days, whose head was like white wool, and with him another, whose countenance resembled that of man… Then I inquired of one of the angels, who went with me, and who showed me every secret thing, concerning this Son of man; who he was; whence he was and why he accompanied the Ancient of days. He answered and said to me, This is the Son of man, to whom righteousness belongs; with whom righteousness has dwelt; and who will reveal all the treasures of that which is concealed:for the Lord of Spirits has chosen him; and his portion has surpassed all before the Lord of spirits in everlasting uprightness.

This common Enochean phrase – “the Lord of the Spirits” just may be connected with the “…the seven spirits who are before his throne” in Revelation (Rev. 1:4b).

As a side note, it is interesting that the technical term Holy Spirit seems to be a phrase that characterizes many (sectarian) writings found in the Dead Sea Scroll collection. Dead Sea Scrolls predate New Testament, where the term Holy Spirit is used both freely and generously, showing its presumed full acceptance among its audiences. Israel’s God and His Messiah are described in New Testament as those who direct the Holy Spirit (otherwise impossible to control powerful and personal cosmic force) to do variety of things.

Third, another interpretive possibility, however, presents itself when we once again compare the book of Revelation to 1 Enoch. The seven spirits may also be seen as seven angelic figures who serve before the throne of God, according to some such Jewish extra-canonical texts. It is significant that the seven do not only appear in Enoch, but also in other Jewish books both Biblical and para-biblical.

While we may be tempted to make too much of this connection, we must keep things in perspective. Whether or not the names of the seven key angels are Gabriel, Michael, Raphael, Uriel, Raquel, Remiel and Saraquel as is stated in the book of Enoch, we do know, but it is at least conceivable that other contemporary Jews (including John, the Jew, who authored the book of Revelation) had a similar concept in mind when he spoke of the Seven Spirits that are before the throne of God (1 Enoch 20:1-8). In so doing, John, may have described the Heavenly Court assembled and ready to act:

Israel’s God, His Anointed Messiah and the seven powerful angelic beings sending a message of both hope and challenge to the first century followers of Jewish Christ who struggled under much pressure to find their social identity in the unapologetic and forceful polytheistic Roman society (Rev. 1:4-5).

This article originally appeared on Israel Study Center and is reposted with permission.