In Revelation 1:4-5a we read:
“John, to the seven assemblies that are located 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.”
Are these seven spirits before the throne of God really one Holy Spirit?
First, the 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 is provided by the NET Bible translators, rightly showing that each pair is really one concept. This reduces the “six” aspects to a total of three: 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.
Second, in non-canonical Jewish books such as 1 Enoch (which has many references to the Jewish Son of Man traditions), we repeatedly encounter an 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 Enochian phrase, “the Lord of the Spirits,” may be connected with, “…the seven spirits who are before his throne,” in Revelation 1:4.
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. The Dead Sea Scrolls predate the New Testament, where the term Holy Spirit is used both freely and generously, showing its presumed full acceptance by the first-century Jewish and Christian communities. Israel’s God and His Messiah are described in the New Testament as those who direct the Holy Spirit to do variety of things.
A third 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. This is a concept found in some such Jewish extra-canonical texts. It is significant that these seven figures appear not only in 1 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) it is at least conceivable that first-century 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 (compare Revelation 1:4-5 with 1 Enoch 20:1-8). In so doing, John may have been describing the Heavenly Court assembled and ready to act:
Israel’s God, His Anointed Messiah, and these seven powerful angelic beings were sending both a message of hope and a challenge to endure to the first century followers of Jewish Christ who were struggling under extreme pressure to find their social identity in the unapologetically and forcefully polytheistic Roman society (Rev. 1:4-5). There are even more hidden treasures just waiting for you to unearth when you begin to read the scriptures from a Jewish perspective.