Seven Spirits of God
Revelation 1:4–5, “John, To the seven churches in the province of Asia: Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne, and from Jesus Christ . . .”
Revelation 3:1, “To the angel of the church in Sardis write: These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God . . .”
Revelation 4:5, “From the throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder. In front of the throne, seven lamps were blazing. These are the seven spirits of God.”
Revelation 5:6, “Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. The Lamb had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth.”
The identity of “the seven spirits” is not explicit in these passages, but arriving at the proper interpretation is fairly straightforward. The “seven spirits” cannot be seven angelic beings such as seraphim or cherubim because of the context of Revelation 1:4. John says that “grace and peace” are coming to the churches from three sources: “him who is, and who was, and who is to come” (verse 4), “the seven spirits before the throne” (verse 4), and “Jesus Christ” (verse 5). This is a depiction of the Trinity: grace and peace are given by the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, the three co-equal Persons of the Godhead.
In Revelation 3:1 Jesus “holds” the seven spirits of God. In John 15:26, Jesus “sends” the Holy Spirit from the Father. Both passages suggest the superordinate role of the Son and the subordinate role of the Spirit.
In Revelation 4:5 the seven spirits of God are symbolized as seven burning lamps that are before God’s throne. This picture agrees with Zechariah’s vision in which he sees the Holy Spirit symbolized as “a solid gold lampstand . . . with a bowl at the top and seven lamps on it” (Zechariah 4:2).
In Revelation 5:6 the seven spirits are the “seven eyes” of the Lamb, and they are “sent out into all the earth.” The seven eyes speak of the Spirit’s (and the Lamb’s) omniscience, and the fact that He is sent into all the earth speaks of His omnipresence.
Once we identify the “seven spirits” as the Holy Spirit, the question remains, why are there “seven” of Him? The Bible, and especially the book of Revelation, uses the number seven to refer to perfection and completion. John’s vision includes a picture of the perfect and complete Holy Spirit.
Isaiah 11:2 also references the Holy Spirit using a seven-fold description: “The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him—the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD.” The prophecy is that the Messiah would be empowered not by seven individual spirits but by the One Spirit, described seven ways:
1) The Spirit of the LORD
2) The Spirit of wisdom
3) The Spirit of understanding
4) The Spirit of counsel
5) The Spirit of power
6) The Spirit of knowledge
7) The Spirit of the fear of the Lord
The “seven spirits of God” in the book of Revelation are thus a reference to the Holy Spirit in the perfection of His manifold ministry.
Fifth Vision: The Lampstand and Olive Trees
4 The angel who talked with me came again, and wakened me, as one is wakened from sleep. 2 He said to me, “What do you see?” And I said, “I see a lampstand all of gold, with a bowl on the top of it; there are seven lamps on it, with seven lips on each of the lamps that are on the top of it. 3 And by it there are two olive trees, one on the right of the bowl and the other on its left.” 4 I said to the angel who talked with me, “What are these, my lord?” 5 Then the angel who talked with me answered me, “Do you not know what these are?” I said, “No, my lord.” 6 He said to me, “This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, says the LORD of hosts. 7 What are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you shall become a plain; and he shall bring out the top stone amid shouts of ‘Grace, grace to it!’ ”
8 Moreover the word of the LORD came to me, saying, 9 “The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house; his hands shall also complete it. Then you will know that the LORD of hosts has sent me to you. 10 For whoever has despised the day of small things shall rejoice, and shall see the plummet in the hand of Zerubbabel.
“These seven are the eyes of the LORD, which range through the whole earth.” 11 Then I said to him, “What are these two olive trees on the right and the left of the lampstand?” 12 And a second time I said to him, “What are these two branches of the olive trees, which pour out the oil through the two golden pipes?” 13 He said to me, “Do you not know what these are?” I said, “No, my lord.” 14 Then he said, “These are the two anointed ones who stand by the Lord of the whole earth.”
The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1989), Zec 4:1–14.
He drove out the man; and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim, and a sword flaming and turning to guard the way to the tree of life.
Then you shall make a mercy seat of pure gold; two cubits and a half shall be its length, and a cubit and a half its width. You shall make two cherubim of gold; you shall make them of hammered work, at the two ends of the mercy seat. Make one cherub at the one end, and one cherub at
In the inner sanctuary he made two cherubim of olivewood, each ten cubits high. Five cubits was the length of one wing of the cherub, and five cubits the length of the other wing of the cherub; it was ten cubits from the tip of one wing…
In the middle of it was something like four living creatures. This was their appearance: they were of human form. Each had four faces, and each of them had four wings. Their legs were straight, and the soles of their feet were like the sole of a calf’s foot; and they sparkled like burnished…
and in front of the throne there is something like a sea of glass, like crystal. Around the throne, and on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind: the first living creature like a lion, the second living creature like an ox, the third living creature…
angel — noun. a supernatural being created by God to serve Him; often functions as a messenger.
cherub shape — noun. the shape of a cherub as it may be represented in paintings, sculptures, molds, and other artistic representations.
cherub — noun. a winged supernatural (angelic) being that serves God in a number of ways.
holy one angel — noun. a supernatural or angelic being, conceived of according to the attribute of holiness.
angel-like — adjective. similar to the supernatural beings called angels.
angelic being ⇔ mighty one — noun. a term referring to angelic beings with emphasis on their strength.
Cherub, Cherubim. Winged creatures mentioned occasionally in Scripture (“cherubim” is the plural form of the Hebrew “cherub”). They belong to a supernatural created order along with the seraphim and angels. Some scholars have argued that the term “cherub” had its origin in the karibu (“intercessor”) of Akkadian mythological texts, commonly represented in Mesopotamian art as a griffin (a creature half lion and half eagle) or as a winged human. The sphinx also appears to go back to this concept. The biblical evidence, however, does not seem to support that identification.
The prophet Ezekiel described four “living creatures,” each with four faces and four wings (Ez 1:5–24); those creatures corresponded to cherubim (Ez 10:2–22). The splendor of Ezekiel’s vision was recaptured more modestly in his description of the king of Tyre, who in the midst of his own prosperity seemed to be playing the part of a towering or guardian cherub before being dispossessed (Ez 28:13–16). That passage has been interpreted by some as a description of Satan’s “fall from grace” after he had once been in the service of God as a ranking member of a high celestial order.
Despite Ezekiel’s elaborate visionary descriptions, it is difficult to be certain about the form in which cherubim appeared. Thus in Ezekiel 41:18 the cherubim that were to decorate Ezekiel’s ideal temple had only two faces, a man’s and a young lion’s, in contrast to the four-faced creatures of the earlier visions. The four faces of Ezekiel 1:10 were those of a man, a lion, an ox, and an eagle, whereas in Ezekiel 10:14 the cherub had its own face (“the face of the cherub”), along with the faces of a man, a lion, and an eagle. If the cherub’s face corresponded to that of an ox, that might account for the fact that cherubim in Near Eastern art were represented as four-footed creatures, though frequently different otherwise from biblical cherubim. In addition to their wings, the cherubim of Ezekiel’s vision had stiff, unbending legs and feet with soles like those of a calf (Ez 1:7).
That complex description has led scholars to try to identify cherubim in the statues and carvings of non-Israelite peoples. The throne of Ahiram, king of Byblos, was flanked by sphinxes, which some have judged to be cherubim. The sphinx, however, seems to have been a popular decorative motif, as evidenced by an ivory box from Megiddo and ivories from Samaria, Nimrud, and elsewhere. Other decorative creatures have various combinations of human and animal bodies, with wings generally prominent. None of them adequately represents the OT descriptions of cherubim.
The four living creatures of the Book of Revelation were similar to the cherubim of Ezekiel but lacked their whirling wheels (Rv 4:6–9). Subsequent references to the creatures in Revelation (5:6–14; 6:1–8; 7:1–11; 14:3; 15:7; 19:4) add nothing to the initial description.
The cherubim of Genesis 3:24 acted as guardians or custodians. Supernatural guardians seem to have been common in Near Eastern thought. In Ezekiel 10 the cherubim were also executors of divine judgment, spreading burning coals over a city (Ez 10:2, 7).
In early Israelite thought the cherubim stretched out their wings and provided God with a throne (1 Sm 4:4; 2 Sm 6:2; etc.). God spoke to Moses from such a throne on the cover of the ark of the covenant (Ex 25:22). In Ezekiel’s vision (Ez 1:26; 10:1) God was seated in a four-wheeled chariot moved by the cherubim and borne aloft by their wings. In Hebrew poetry God was portrayed as employing clouds for his chariot (Ps 104:3; cf. Is 19:1) or riding on a cherub in flight (2 Sm 22:11; Ps 18:10). The idea of cherubim furnishing a seat or platform for the invisible deity found expression in Near Eastern art, where the pagan gods stood on the backs of animals.
In Israel cherubim were carved on the covenantal ark (Ex 25:18–20; 37:7–9), and representations of them were also embroidered on the curtains of the tabernacle and the veil that screened the innermost sanctuary in which the ark rested.
The Most Holy Place of Solomon’s temple was adorned by two large representations of cherubim, made of olive wood and covered with gold leaf. When placed side by side with outstretched wings they spanned the entire width of the inner sanctuary. Smaller cherubim and palms were carved on the temple’s wooden panels and some of the doors, and were also represented on the sides of the laver stands (1 Kgs 7:29, 36). Cherubim alternating with palm trees formed part of the decor of Ezekiel’s visionary temple (Ez 41:17–20).
R. K. Harrison, “Cherub, Cherubim,” Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988), 428.
Seraph, Seraphim. Angelic beings mentioned only twice in the Bible, both occurrences in the same chapter of Isaiah (6:2, 6). The word seraphim is plural in number, but it is impossible to say from Isaiah’s vision just how many he saw. The prophet spoke of them as though they were quite familiar spiritual beings, which seems a little curious since they are not mentioned elsewhere.
Isaiah's description: each seraph has six wings: two shielded the face, two covered the feet, and the remaining pair enabled the seraph to fly.
In the vision the seraphim expressed their thoughts in words which Isaiah understood and reported, but this fact need not be taken to imply that the beings were partly human in form. They were exalted spiritual entities who were occupied constantly in the praise and worship of God, and seem to have had delegated to them certain powers by which forgiveness and divine grace could be mediated. This was appropriate for beings who attended the throne of God, the seat of supreme power.
The meaning of seraph is uncertain. Some scholars think that it came from the root “to burn,” while others argue for some such meaning as “aristocrat” or “nobleman.” One theory associated the seraphim with the fiery serpents (seraphim) which afflicted the Israelites in the wilderness, and the bronze serpent set up on a pole (Nm 21:6–9).
One proposed identification is with a six-winged creature holding a snake in each hand, carved on a relief from Tell Halaf in Mesopotamia. This figure may have been a representation of the mythological scorpion-men mentioned in the Gilgamesh Epic as guardians of certain sacred mountains.
Some scholars have regarded the seraphim as equivalent to the griffins that were thought to function as guardians by the ancient Babylonians, but there is little evidence to support this view. Equally improbable is the suggestion that there was a connection between certain snake cults in the ancient Near East and the seraphim, if only because the serpent was an accursed species to the Hebrews.
Most probably the seraphim were an order of celestial beings comparable in nature to the cherubim, and engaged in a somewhat similar form of service around the divine throne.
Walter A. Elwell and Barry J. Beitzel, “Seraph, Seraphim,” Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988), 1926–1927.