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REVELATION 1:4 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
4 John to the seven congregations that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from the One who is and who was and who is coming, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne,
REVELATION 3:1 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
3 “To the angel of the congregation in Sardis write: ‘These are the things that he says who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars: ‘I know your works, that you have the name that you are alive, but you are dead.
REVELATION 4:5 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
5 Out of the throne came flashes of lightning, and sounds and thunders, and there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven spirits of God,
REVELATION 5:6 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
6 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 slaughtered, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent into all the earth.
Edward D. Andrews,
The number seven is often used in the Scriptures, which signifies perfection or completeness. So, the message to “the seven congregations” eventually would apply to all of God’s people gathered in churches throughout the entire inhabited earth. (Rev. 1:11, 20) The Holy Spirit was given by Christ and God to carry out this work, so the expression “the seven spirits” means the completion of this task of bringing enlightenment and understanding to God’s Word and blessing the efforts of his true followers. They are heeding the words of this prophecy. The Revelation of John seems to move along based on several sevens throughout the book. The use of seven here stands for completeness. Indeed, the book deals with the fact that “the mystery of God would be finished.” (Rev. 10:7) There is little doubt that the angelic spirit creatures are also being used in this work. Below are the top conservative evangelical Bible scholars on the book of Revelation, from an introductory level to an intermediate and closing with an advanced level.
Kendell H. Easley writes,
1:4. This verse reminds us of Paul’s and Peter’s epistles by following the ancient letter-writing customs. First the authors name themselves; then they mention the addressees; then they give a greeting. This is more efficient than modern conventions that require writers to wait until the end of the letter to name themselves. Because the seven churches in the province of Asia are individually mentioned in chapters 2 and 3, we will the discuss the individual cities there.
Grace and peace to you had become a standard Christian greeting by the time John wrote. Grace (“unconditional and undeserved kindness”) is the great privilege of the Christian age. The Book of Revelation begins and ends with grace (see 22:21), as do all thirteen letters of Paul, but the word grace occurs nowhere else in Revelation. Peace (wholeness and well-being) was the great privilege of the Old Testament age (Num. 6:26), in Hebrew, shalom. Christians share in all the blessings God has to offer.
The source of these blessings is the Father, the Spirit, and the Son. Here is striking early evidence for Christian belief in the Trinity—one God existing eternally in three Persons. These Persons, however, are listed in a different order than normally given elsewhere in the New Testament. God the Father is described as him who is, and who was, and who is to come, found in the Bible only here and in 1:8 and 4:8. He is the God of the present, the past, and the future. Although the Greek grammar is awkward here, this is a development of God’s Old Testament name, “I AM WHO I AM” (Exod. 3:14). In changing, perilous times, Christians take heart that the God they serve transcends time.
The Holy Spirit is also the source of grace and peace. This unique phrase—the seven spirits before his throne—occurs only in Revelation and probably refers to the Holy Spirit, though others would see seven major angels meant here and thus deny the Trinitarian nature of this passage. Although the adjective holy is not used with Spirit in Revelation, the singular form that we are more familiar with (the Spirit) appears often (for example, 2:7).
Leon Morris writes,
4. The address is To the seven churches in the province of Asia, the western part of what we call Asia Minor. We do not know on what principle the seven were selected. There were certainly more than seven churches in the region by the time this book was written (Acts 20:5ff.; Col. 1:2; 4:13). John may have had a special relationship with these seven. Again, if the seven named in verse 11 were visited in order, one would traverse a rough circle. This is a figure of completeness, and seven (a number of which John is fond) is the number of perfection. For one so fond of symbolism this can scarcely be without significance.
In the greeting, grace and peace (see the note on 1 Thess. 1:1) are said to be from him who is, and who was, and who is to come (cf. 1:8; 4:8; 11:17; 16:5). This most unusual expression clearly refers to God the Father. The Greek is not grammatical (apo is followed by nominatives, and ēn is preceded by an article), but it is an arresting way of stressing the changelessness and the eternity of God. The whole expression seems intended as a title. It is a name which expresses something of the character of God. Barclay comments: ‘In the terrible days in which he was writing John stayed his heart on the changelessness of God, and used the defiance of grammar to underline his faith.’
The seven spirits might conceivably refer to a group of angelic beings. But coming between references to the Father and the Son it is more probable that this is an unusual way of designating the Holy Spirit (‘the sevenfold Spirit,’ mg.). John never uses the expression ‘the Holy Spirit’ in this book, but he uses the word ‘Spirit’ in a variety of ways; ‘the Spirit’ is found in 2:7, 17, etc., so he clearly knows of the Holy Spirit. Seven spirits recurs in 3:1; 4:5; 5:6. On the whole it seems most probable that we should see seven as signifying perfection or the like and the whole expression as pointing to the Holy Spirit. The number may derive from Isaiah 11:2–3, and be meant to remind us of the seven modes of operation of the Spirit.
John F. Walvoord writes,
1:4 John to the seven churches which are in Asia: Grace be unto you, and peace, from him which is, and which was, and which is to come; and from the seven Spirits which are before his throne.
Having introduced the content and general character of the book which follows, John addresses what he writes to the seven churches which are in Asia, that is, the province of Asia in Asia Minor described as Proconsular Asia, including at this time Phrygia, Mysia, Caria, and Lydia. All the seven churches were located in the western half of Asia Minor.
The customary invocation of grace and peace common to Paul’s letters is used by John here and in his second epistle. These two words capture the richness of the Christian faith, grace embodying God’s attitude toward the believer coupled with His loving gifts, and peace speaking of relationship, here especially the peace of God. Grace represents standing; peace represents experience.
The eternal God, the source of all grace and peace, is introduced as the One “which is, and which was, and which is to come.” Because of subsequent references to Christ and the Holy Spirit, this is considered as relating to God the Father. The truth is presented in an unusual grammatical construction which occurs with variations four other times (1:8; 4:8; 11:17; 16:5). The concept of past, present, and future corresponds to the threefold chronological division of the book itself (1:19). Joining the Father in salutation are “the seven Spirits which are before his throne.” Some have considered the term an allusion to the Holy Spirit (cf. Isa. 11:2–3). Others believe these were seven angels in places of high privilege before the throne of God (cf. 3:1; 4:5; 5:6). The word spirit (Gr., pneuma) is commonly used of evil spirits, that is, demons or fallen angels; of the human spirit (cf. Mark 8:12); and occasionally of holy angels (cf. Heb. 1:7, 14). Angels are contrasted to spirits in Acts 23:8–9. Those who favor the seven spirits as referring to the Holy Spirit find justification in Isaiah 11. The message originates in God the Father and the Spirit. 
Robert L. Thomas writes,
1:4 The address. Tais hepta ekklēsiais tais en tę̄ Asią are the recipients of this “epistle.” A good bit of discussion has centered on why John chose seven churches and not more. There were certainly churches in more than seven cities in the first-century Roman province of Asia. Though he may have chosen only seven because seven is the number that denotes completeness (Swete), the likelihood is greater that he chose them because they were typical assemblies with regard to their histories and spiritual states.33 These adequately represented the various spiritual situations of the surrounding churches at the time. Then too they were probably the ones with which John enjoyed the closest relationship. The possibility of their being representative of consecutive future periods of church history is discussed in Excursus 1 at the end of this volume.
It is well attested by writings from the early centuries of the Christian church that John the apostle spent the last years of his life in this province of Asia, which was in the western part of modern-day Turkey. He apparently left Jerusalem in the late sixties of the first century a.d. while the Jewish people were in rebellion against Rome and went to Asia where he became the recognized leader of the Asian churches.34
Charis hymin kai eirēnē is an epistolary greeting that came into general use among Christians. It is used by Paul in all his epistles except the pastorals (1 and 2 Timothy replace hymin kai with ἔλεος [eleos, “mercy”] and Titus uses charis kai eirēnē, omitting hymin). The identical expression is also used in 1 and 2 Peter.
Charis is a “Christianized” form of the more secular χαίρειν (chairein, “greeting”) that was used widely in earlier Christian writings and in Greek letters of a non-Christian type (cf. Acts 15:23; 23:26; James 1:1). It was transformed from the infinitive chairein into the noun charis, perhaps by Paul, to reflect the distinctive spiritual benefit that belongs to Christians. The favor of God has been freely bestowed on them, though they deserve the opposite. The grace of God is a highly developed theme in NT epistolary literature.
Eirēnē was a commonly used greeting among the Jews. Its Hebrew counterpart שָׁלוֹם (šālōm, “peace”) is a familiar greeting in the OT (e.g., Judg. 6:23; 19:20; Isa. 57:19). It is a wish of well-being to the other party, including all aspects of his person. The NT eirēnē goes even deeper, however, because of Christ’s death and the fulfillment of the OT anticipations accomplished thereby. A person can experience and know he has peace with God through Jesus Christ (cf. Rom. 5:1), a peace resulting from the grace of God and the ultimate peace that a person can enjoy. Such a completed meaning lies behind the Christian use of the word.
The source of the greeting. At the end of v. 4 and the beginning of v. 5 three prepositional phrases using ἀπό (apo, “from”) give the threefold source of the greeting “grace to you and peace.” In Pauline practice it was common to name Deity as the origin of the theological concepts denoted by the terms charis and eirēnē (cf. Rom. 1:5; 1 Cor. 1:3; 2 Cor. 1:2; Gal. 1:3; Eph. 1:2; Phil. 1:2; Col. 1:2; 2 Thess. 1:2; 1 Tim. 1:2; 2 Tim. 1:2; Tit. 1:4; Philem. 3). The assumption must be that such is the source designated here also.
The first part of the threefold source is named by ἀπὸ ὁ ὢν καὶ ὁ ἦν καὶ ὁ ἐρχόμενος (apo ho ōn kai ho ēn kai ho erchomenos, “from the one who is and who was and who is coming”). Though one might at first see a reference to Jesus Christ here, such a possibility is excluded by His being named as the third part of the source in 1:5 (Swete). Instead, this refers to God the Father.
This title for the Father is unusual in a number of respects. The nominative case of the article ho in the three members of the expression is surprising because the preposition apo is usually followed by a genitive inflectional ending. In fact, this has been cited as one of the many examples of alleged grammatical errors in Revelation (Moffatt). As is the case with all such allegations, a satisfactory explanation exists without the need for concluding that the text has errors. Ho ōn kai ho ēn kai ho erchomenos is to be regarded as an undeclinable proper name. Proper names were frequently not declined as other nouns were, and so their inflectional endings remained unchanged regardless of their functions in the sentence structure (Swete).
Another rare grammatical phenomenon of this title is the finite verb ēn doing duty for a participle (Simcox). It is modified by a definite article and is parallel with participles in the first and third members of the expression. The reason for this peculiarity lies in a limitation of the verb εἰμί (eimi, “I am”), which has no participial form to express continuing action in past time. The writer wanted to describe the Father’s being by including His eternal and continuing existence prior to the present moment. The imperfect indicative was the only linguistic device for doing so.
With the first member ho ōn speaking of the Father’s continuing existence in the present and the second ho ēn of His continuing existence in the past, ὁ ἐσόμενος (ho esomenos, “who will be”) could have been expected as the third member of this title. For his own reasons, however, the writer varied from the expected and chose the present participle ho erchomenos. Several reasons for this variation may be suggested. For one thing, it corresponds with the keynote of the book in 1:7 (ἔρχεται [erchetai, “he is coming”]), the second advent of Christ (Moffatt). Also, the present tense of the participle acquires a future significance through the meaning of the word, i.e., that which is coming is not yet here.35 Such a means of referring to the future also heightens the focus upon the imminence of His coming: He who is already on His way may arrive at any moment.
This is a title that is used several times in Revelation (cf. 1:8; 4:8; 11:17; 16:5). A notable feature about the last two uses (11:17; 16:5) is the absence of the third member kai ho erchomenos. A reasonable explanation for this omission is that by the time these points in the book are reached, the prophetic perspective has reached the time of the second advent and the coming thus can no longer be spoken of as future. A legitimate question is, then, Why is this title not referred to the Son rather than the Father, since it is the Son’s advent that is in view in ho erchomenos? The answer to the question lies in the close identity of the Son with the Father. Though two separate Persons, they along with the Holy Spirit are nevertheless one God. The Son possesses equal dignity with the Father, and when the Son returns, He will come as the representative of the Father (Lee). So there is a legitimate sense in which it will be the advent of the Father also.
The second part of the threefold source of the greeting “grace to you and peace” is given by the words ἀπὸ τῶν ἑπτὰ πνευμάτων ἃ ἐνώπιον τοῦ θρόνου αὐτοῦ (apo tōn hepta pneumatōn ha enōpion tou thronou autou, “from the seven spirits who are before His throne”). The identification of the seven spirits is problematic. The name occurs again in 3:1; 4:5; 5:6, and these other mentions must figure into efforts to identify the meaning. Two main proposals for identification are that they are angels (i.e., supernatural created beings) or the Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Holy Trinity.
To support the identification of the seven spirits as angels, it is sometimes noted that πνεῦμα (pneuma, “spirit”) is frequently used for angels, both fallen and unfallen, in the NT (Walvoord). It is also observed that the location of the seven spirits before God’s throne shows that they are created beings. This, a position of subordination, is quite inappropriate for a divine being, but angels are regularly positioned in this manner.36 Furthermore, the similarity of the language here to that of Luke 9:26 and 1 Tim. 5:21 (Moffatt) and the prominence of angels in connection with the Tribulation period (cf. Matt. 13:41), which is presumably the period covered by Revelation 6–18 (Smith), are further factors that favor the angelic identification.
Arguing against angels, some have noted that though seven angels are mentioned in 8:2, these angels are never referred to as pneumata, and that angels in this book are distinctly called angels and are seen in distinct angelic form whereas the seven spirits are always represented in symbolic form (Alford; Beckwith). Both the singular and plural of pneuma in this book refer only to the Spirit of God or to demons, with the exception of Rev. 11:11 and 13:5, and neither of these exceptions refers to angels (Lee; Johnson).
The most decisive consideration against a reference to angels is the impossibility that created beings could be seen as a source of an invocation of grace and peace in 1:4–5. This would place them alongside the Father and the Son as equals, and the strict prohibitions against angel worship elsewhere in the book (19:10; 22:9) make it inconceivable that angels would be placed side-by-side with the Father and the Son in such a role (Charles; Beckwith).
It is more satisfying to identify “the seven spirits” as a reference to the Holy Spirit, and thus as an additional divine source for the greeting of v. 4. It is improper to associate anyone less than Deity with the Father (1:4) and the Son (1:5) (Swete; Morris; Mounce). Further confirmation is noted in Christ’s hold upon the seven spirits (3:1) and in the relationship of the seven spirits to both God and Christ (4:5; 5:6). This is in keeping with NT usage where the procession of the Holy Spirit from both the Father and the Son is taught (e.g., John 15:26). He is both the Spirit of God and the Spirit of Christ (cf. Rom. 8:9) (Beckwith).
Against the Holy Spirit identification it has been contended that this passage does not purpose to portray the Trinity, but to designate the high court of heaven as having jurisdiction on earth, with angels as those who assess the situation (Bullinger). It is further argued that nowhere else is the Holy Spirit associated with the Father and the Son in an epistolary salutation (Bullinger). These objections, however, do not appear to be sufficient to counteract the stronger consideration that a reference to angels would indeed be an intrusion of created beings into the Holy Trinity.
It is better, then, to see in “the seven spirits” of 1:4 a reference to the Holy Spirit. But this raises a further question: Why is He referred to in this way? In thirteen or fourteen places in this book He is referred to in a more conventional fashion as “the Spirit” or something comparable (e.g., 19:10). Suggestions have varied. Is it because the churches in which He operates are seven in number?37 This proposal is inadequate because the descriptions of 4:5 and 5:6 relate to what is fundamental and universal, not just to the seven churches (Beckwith).
Another idea is to trace the title to Isa. 11:2 where a supposedly sevenfold designation of the Spirit is found (Lenski; Walvoord; Morris; Caird). This notion is inadequate, however, because Isa. 11:2 points out only six, not seven, energies of the Spirit (Alford; Beckwith). The fact that the LXX breaks the poetic parallelism of the three couplets by inserting εὐσέβειας (eusebeias, “godliness”) to increase the number to seven (Mounce) is not sufficient to carry this view because in the Apocalypse little weight is assigned to the LXX.38
Another approach is to see “seven spirits” as a means for expressing the Spirit’s perfection and His sevenfold energies.39 Rationale for this derives from the symbolic use of the number seven to denote completeness (Alford) and from the manifold working of the Spirit indicated in such passages as 1 Cor. 12:10; 14:32; Heb. 2:4; Rev. 22:6.40 Though it is true that the Spirit operates in a variety of ways (Rom. 12:6; 1 Cor. 12:4) and that seven can express the fullness and perfection of those operations, an emphasis on such fullness is absent in all four contexts where this title is used for the Holy Spirit (Charles; Beckwith). The uses of the title require a reference to a concrete being, not to abstract energies.
The most satisfactory explanation for the title “the seven spirits” traces its origin to Zech. 4:1–10.41 Zechariah 4:2, 10 speaks of the seven lamps (cf. Rev. 4:5) that are “the eyes of the Lord, which range throughout the whole earth.” This has a close similarity to John’s “sent out into all the earth” in Rev. 5:6 (Mounce). Because Revelation 4 and 5 carry the same symbolism as Zechariah 4 and the title used in the opening of this book must relate to themes occurring later on, the tracing of the title to this OT passage is an obvious solution (Beckwith). The prominence of the Holy Spirit’s activity in the world in Zech. 4:2–10 is established by the words “not by might or power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts” (Zech. 4:6). John’s use of Zechariah 4 furnishes an example of his kaleidoscopic variations on OT imagery (Caird). In deriving the title, John identifies the seven eyes of Zechariah with the seven spirits that belong to the Lord (Zech. 4:10; cf. Rev. 5:6).42 The seven lamps of Zechariah (Zech. 4:2) are also synonymous with the seven spirits (Rev. 4:5).
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 Kendell H. Easley, Revelation, vol. 12, Holman New Testament Commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1998), 13–14.
Barclay William Barclay, The Revelation of John, 2 vols. (Saint Andrew Press, 1960; Daily Study Bible).
 Leon Morris, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 20, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 53–54.
 John F. Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ (Galaxie Software, 2008), 37–38.
33 William R. Newell, The Book of Revelation (Chicago: Moody, 1935), p. 8.
34 That John would use his own name rather than ascribe his work to a figurehead of antiquity, as was the practice in extrabiblical apocalypses, indicates that he was known to the addressees as a reliable and authoritative figure. In other words, the ēthos he had with them even before writing was quite positive (John T. Kirby, “The Rhetorical Situations of Revelation 1–3,” NTS 34, no. 2 [April 1988]: 199).
35 F. J. A. Hort, The Apocalypse of St. John (London: Macmillan, 1908), p. 11.
36 Bullinger, Apocalypse, p. 140; J. B. Smith, A Revelation of Jesus Christ (Scottdale, Pa.: Herald, 1961), pp. 38, 82.
37 Swete, Apocalypse, p. 6; H. B. Swete, The Holy Spirit in the New Testament (London: Macmillan, 1919), p. 274.
38 Swete, The Apocalypse, p. 6.
39 Seiss, Apocalypse, 1:45; John F. Walvoord, The Holy Spirit (Wheaton, Ill.: Van Kampen, 1954), p. 10; Morris, Revelation, p. 48.
40 Swete, The Apocalypse, p. 6; Charles, Revelation, 1:11.
41 Beckwith, Apocalypse, pp. 426–27; F. F. Bruce, “The Spirit in the Apocalypse,” in Christ and Spirit in the New Testament, ed. B. Lindars and S. S. Smalley (Cambridge: U. Press, 1974), p. 336; Caird, p. 15.
42 Charles, Revelation, 1:141; cf. also Kenneth L. Barker, “Zechariah,” in EBC, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1985), 7:626, 630.
 Robert L. Thomas, Revelation 1-7: An Exegetical Commentary (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 1992), 63–68.
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