In Revelation, we see God along with the "Seven Spirits before his throne".

Revelation 1:4 (NIV)

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,

We see it again later in Revelation:

Revelation 5:6 (NIV)

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.

Who/what are these seven spirits? How are they "before the throne" and also "part of the lamb"? (Or are these seven different spirits?)

I'm seeking the answers from the view that Revelation should not be taken literally--that it is somewhat metaphorical. I presume these seven spirits to be a metaphor, but for what?


5 Answers 5


The seven spirits referenced in Revelation may refer to the spirits mentioned in Isaiah 11.

  1. Spirit of the Lord
  2. Spirit of wisdom
  3. Spirit of understanding
  4. Spirit of counsel
  5. Spirit of might
  6. Spirit of knowledge
  7. Spirit of fear of the LORD

1 A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
   from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
2 The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him—
   the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
   the Spirit of counsel and of might,
   the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the LORD

It may also refer to the seven qualities mentioned in 2 Peter 1:5-7.

  1. goodness
  2. knowledge
  3. self-control
  4. perseverence
  5. godliness
  6. mutual affection
  7. love

5 For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; 6 and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; 7 and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love.

As is the case with a lot of Revelation, I take the different references to the seven spirits of God as figurative representations of the spirits. I do not believe there are physical manifestations of His spirit.

I believe the 7 spirits represent communicable attributes of God. When they are sent out over the earth, we will receive these attributes fully.

  • While I don't agree with the interpretation, my own research is showing that these are the main two beliefs regarding these spirits. As such, I'll mark this correct since my own beliefs are a bit of a stretch. ;)
    – Richard
    Oct 3, 2011 at 21:33
  • 1
    @Richard could you post an answer with your beliefs? I'm always interested in learning how others interpret scripture.
    – a_hardin
    Oct 3, 2011 at 21:51
  • Unfortunately, I'm not sure what it means. Usually when I ask a question, I already have an answer in mind. This is an exception to that. I do believe that it is symbolic (being like the "seven horns" in V. 5:6) rather than a literal number. However, that's about all I can say I definitely believe.
    – Richard
    Oct 6, 2011 at 13:38

Christians of a Christian group that is known as "Local churches" or "Recovery" hold the view interpreting these seven spirits as nothing less than the Spirit of God Himself.

They make this case by putting together the following four verses:

Rev 1:4 + Rev. 4:5 + Rev. 5:6 + Zech. 4:2

In Rev. 1:4 and 5 the seven spirits that are in front of the throne of God are ranked among the Triune God – the grace is equally coming “from Him which is, and which was, and which is to come” (which is interpreted as God the Father), from “the seven spirits” (which is interpreted as the Holy Spirit), and “from Jesus Christ” (the Son):

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; and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. (Rev. 1:4-5 KJV)

In Revelation 4:5 there is another mention of the Seven Spirits of God that are identified with seven lamps likewise located in front of the throne:

And out of the throne preceded lightnings and thunders and voices: and there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God. (Rev. 4:5 KJV)

It is believed that the seven Spirits of God here are the ones mentioned in Rev. 1:4.

In Rev. 5:6 there is another mention of the seven Spirits of God, which are now identified with seven eyes of the Lamb:

And I beheld, and, lo, in the midst of the throne and of the four beasts, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth. (Rev. 5:6 KJV)

It is believed that these seven Spirits of God are the ones mentioned in Rev. 1:4 and Rev 4:5.

The fact that the seven Spirits of God are identified with Lamb’s eyes, which may be distinct from the Lamb, but are hardly separable from Him, is taken as another indication that the seven Spirits of God are nothing less than the Third Person of the Trinity, i.e. the Holy Spirit – He is also distinct from the Son, however, He is not separated from the Son.

Thus, the seven Spirits of God are interpreted as the Spirit of God.

The fact that the Spirit of God is represented here as seven spirits and as seven lamps is explained as the Spirit of God being shown here more in His functioning/work/operation, rather than in His essence. The similarity with a lampstand which is mentioned in the book of Zechariah is brought up as a supporting point:

And said unto me, What do you see? And I said, I have looked, and behold a lampstand, all of gold, with a bowl upon the top of it, and its seven lamps thereon (Zech. 4:2 KJV)

Though there are seven lamps on the lampstand, there is still only one golden lampstand (which is understood as a prototype of the Holy Spirit), which functions by means of seven lamps on it burning at the same time.

The fact that the seven Spirits of God are spoken of in Revelation 5:6 as the ones sent forth into all the earth is taken as another point supporting the idea of the Holy Spirit being shown here with a primary emphasis on His functioning/work/operation, rather than on His essence or nature.

The functioning of the Spirit as seven Spirits of God or as seven shining lamps is believed to be especially needed for the Church since it had entered into the dark age of degradation of the Church, which is believed to have started around the time when all the Christians of Asia turned away from apostle Paul (2 Tim. 1:15)


You asked for an exegesis, which I don't feel anyone has provided here. I've completed an exegesis on this question and written a little over 3,000 words on the results. I will summarize those results here and provide a link to my Bible study article: "The seven spirits of God ARE the seven lamps of fire (people filled with the Holy Spirit), the seven horns (kings that have yet to receive the kingdom) and the seven eyes (those who see) on the Cornerstone (Christ). The seven angels oversee and are the celestial messengers to the seven earthly churches. The seven churches (lampstands) make up the perfected One Church (the glorified Menorah before the Throne), who is the Wife, the Bride of Christ. This glorified Menorah may very well represent the saints who’ve gone before us. We, as lamps of the seven earthly lampstands, are filled with His oil and burn with the Fire of His Spirit, commissioned to go out into all the earth to spread the gospel! Jesus keeps our wicks trimmed, lamps filled and fire continually burning."

Here is the link for those who would like to see what the Bible shows us on this subject: http://judahsdaughter.hubpages.com/_ui1xcnn62gpk/hub/The-Seven-Spirits-of-God

May our LORD, Jesus Christ, be praised.

  • Welcome to Christianity.Se! I really appreciate the thoughtful summary, the detailed work on the exegesis, and the good sense to link! Bravo! I look forward to seeing more. Mar 25, 2012 at 2:50

Revelation 1.4

Grace and peace to you from him who is and who was and who is coming, and from the seven spirits that are before his throne, and from Jesus the Christ...

Basic points

When John refers to 'him who is and who was and who is coming' throughout the Revelation, it is an epithet he reserves for God, 'the Father'. And of course, 'Jesus the Christ' refers to Jesus.

Since we have the Father and the son, readers coming from a trinitarian position expect any third persons to be identified with the holy spirit. For the third person, John does use the word 'spirit', but it is puzzling he actually refers to seven spirits, ἑπτὰ πνεύματων.

A few early interpreters pointed to Isaiah 11.2. Some English translators follow this interpretation, and so render the Greek as 'the sevenfold Spirit' (e.g. Amplified, Complete Jewish Bible, Living Bible, New Living Translation). However, this is an interpretive gloss done to satisfy theological concerns.

The Greek means 'seven spirits'.

Four layers of symbolism

If we track references to these 'seven spirits' in the Revelation, we only find them mentioned three more times: in Jesus' possession alongside the 'seven stars' (3.4), symbolized as 'seven lamps of fire' (4.5), and again symbolized as the 'seven eyes' of the Lamb (5.6).

It should be evident that these 'seven spirits' have multiple layers of symbolism attached to them. Each layer needs to be investigated to really get a hold on John's intended meaning when he writes about the 'seven spirits'.

1. Seven stars

Revelation 3.4 mentions the seven spirits alongside the 'seven stars' as things Jesus possesses. The 'seven stars' were explained to be symbols for seven angels that stand on behalf of the seven churches in Asia (Revelation 1.20).

Following this introductory passage, the 'seven angels' are next seen receiving trumpets, while another angel brings an incense offering to God, which includes the saints' prayers (Revelation 8.1-5).

2. Seven lamps of fire

The Revelation as a whole incorporates a great deal of temple imagery, e.g. the Lamb (twenty-eight times), the altar (6.9; 8.3; etc.), the priesthood (1.6; 5.10; 20.6), the temple (3.12; 7.15; etc.), the ark (11.19), and incense (5.8; 8.3).

Nearly all of this temple imagery is centered around God's throne, which where we find the seven spirits symbolized as 'seven lamps of fire'. Where we saw the seven angels symbolized as 'seven stars', we then found that 'seven lamps' were used to symbolize the seven churches of Asia (Revelation 1.20).

Putting these two symbols together -- seven lamps and seven lampstands -- within the context of the Jewish temple, the emergent image is that of the menorah. The seven spirits function as a 'light' within the seven churches.

3. Seven eyes

As John symbolizes Jesus as 'the Lamb', he includes a few additional symbols as well: the Lamb has seven horns ('horns' may represent anointing and power) as well as 'seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth' (Revelation 5.6)

Here we have a deliberate reference to a passage in Zechariah concerned with the anointing of Joshua (chapter 3) and Zerubbabel (chapter 4) for restoring Jerusalem and the temple. In this prophetic vision, Zechariah sees a seven-branched menorah flanked by two olive trees. The seven lamps of the lampstand are further symbolized as 'the seven eyes of Yahweh' (4.10b; cf. 3.9) 'which range through the whole earth', nearly identical to what we have in Revelation 4-5.

The description that the seven eyes 'range through the whole earth' is similar to an earlier vision in Zechariah 1, where the prophet sees a vision of angels sent by God 'to patrol the earth'. As God commands, so the angels act on the earth.

4. Seven angels

Angelology was a common feature of Second Temple Judaism, from the Persian period onward.

Versions of 1 Enoch 17.8 and 90.20 mention 'the seven archangels' and 'those first seven white ones'. Tobit 12.15 refers to 'the seven angels who stand ready and enter before the glory of the Lord' (i.e. before God's throne); one of them even offers saintly prayers to God in the form of incense, similar to what we see in Revelation 8. The book of Jubilees has 'the angels of the presence' as a unique group of angels. The Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs 3.8 has the 'seven men in white raiment'. Lists of these 'seven angels' or 'seven men' frequently included Michael and Gabriel.

The idea continued into early Christianity: Luke 1.19 has Gabriel identify himself as 'stand[ing] in the presence of God'. Clement of Alexandria mentions 'the first-born princes of the angels ... are seven'.

An early portrayal of seven angels might be found in Ezekiel 9.2, but the idea certainly began to solidify in Jewish thought during the Persian and Hellenistic periods, as seen in the books above. This portrayal of a specific class of 'seven angels' acting as God's personal administrators may have been influenced by the court of Persian politics (e.g. Ezra 7.4).


When we consider all of the ideas described above (angels offering prayer as incense; angels patrolling the earth as extensions of God's will; a class of angels standing before God's throne; seven chief angels), we see each of them in the Revelation to one degree or another.

I suggest that the 'seven spirits which are before God's throne' should be interpreted as, essentially, 'the seven angels of God's presence' common to the time period.

In Revelation 1.4, then, John is not blessing his readers with a trinitarian formula (i.e. 'Grace and peace to you from the Father, and form the Holy Spirit, and from the Son'). Instead, John is sending blessing from heaven's royal court, from the king (him who is), the king's seven administrators (the seven spirits), and from the co-regent (Jesus).

This would be roughly equivalent to 1 Timothy 5.21, where the epistle's author issues a command on behalf 'of God and of Christ Jesus and of the elect angels'.


I'm seeking the answers from the doctrine that Revelations should not be taken literally--that it is somewhat metaphorical. I presume these seven spirits to be a metaphor, but for what?

Based on this request, I'll offer an interpretation based on that of Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772), who wrote not one, but two major exegeses of the book of Revelation, interpreting it as symbolic of spiritual realities and events throughout.

His two exegeses, in their common English titles, are:

  1. Apocalypse Explained, a huge unpublished (by Swedenborg) and unfinished work taking up six volumes in English, and
  2. Apocalypse Revealed, a more compact but still massive work originally published in Amsterdam in 1766 and taking up two volumes in English.

Both are currently in print in English, though unfortunately most of the available translations use a rather archaic and stilted English style.

"Seven spirits" occurs in four verses in the book of Revelation: Revelation 1:4, 3:1, 4:5, and 5:6. Swedenborg considers all four occurrences to be referring to the same thing, but with different emphases depending on the context. Though his explanations of their meaning is in places lengthy, here is a short version.

Swedenborg sees the "seven spirits" as having two basic meanings, one as it relates to humans and angels, and the other as it relates to God. These two meanings are closely connected to one another. These two meanings are:

  1. All angels and people who are governed by divine truth
  2. Divine truth itself

Though they are listed in this order, the primary meaning, of course, is divine truth. This is the truth of God that flows out into heaven and earth, giving the light of understanding and wisdom to all who are willing to receive it. (For a biblical parallel, see John 1:1-12.)

The secondary meaning, then, is all those who accept that divine truth. This includes all the angels, and also people on earth who believe in God and live according to God's will.

Swedenborg does not interpret "seven" as being some specific number of spirits, or virtues, as many Bible interpreters do. Instead, he interprets "seven" as a number symbolizing "all," or "completeness." This is in line with seven as a holy or sacred number throughout the Bible, starting with the seven days of Creation, in which "seven" stands for the fullness or completion of God's work in creating the heavens and the earth.

So "the seven spirits of God," in Swedenborg's interpretation, symbolizes all of the angels of heaven, or in other words all of heaven, through which God's truth and wisdom flow out to all people who are willing to receive the light of God's truth. And by extension it also means all people on earth who accept that divine truth.

And "the seven spirits of God" also symbolizes the divine truth itself flowing out into the universe from God both through angels and directly from God into every human being, and into everything in the universe, giving everything its existence and life.

If you wish to read Swedenborg's original exegeses of the four verses in Revelation where "the seven spirits" are mentioned, here are references to the sections in each of his two works on Revelation where he explains them:

  1. Revelation 1:4

    Apocalypse Revealed #14

    Apocalypse Explained #24

  2. Revelation 3:1

    Apocalypse Revealed #155

    Apocalypse Explained #183

  3. Revelation 4:5

    Apocalypse Revealed #237

    Apocalypse Explained #274

  4. Revelation 5:6

    Apocalypse Revealed #272

    Apocalypse Explained #318

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