And out of the throne proceeded lightnings and thunderings and voices: and there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God. (Revelation 4:5)
Recently, I started reading my Bible through again beginning with the New Testament, but this time in Spanish. I arrived at Apocalipsis (Revelation) Chapter 4, and Verse 5 gave me pause. I am reading in the Reina-Valera Revisión 1960, which translates επτα πνευματα του θεου (the seven spirits of God) as “los siete espíritus de Dios.” What caught my attention is that “espíritus” was in lower case suggesting this is NOT the Holy Spirit.
I cross-referenced my KJV (1873), and it too had “spirits” in lower case. However, my e-Sword electronic Bible that resides on my computer, uses the 1769 KJV and it capitalizes “Spirits.” Seeing the difference between the 1769 and 1873 made me look to the original 1611; it capitalized “Spirits” – “the seuen Spirits of God.” Looking further back to the 1599 Geneva Bible (the one used by the Pilgrims), I found “spirits” in lower case. Finally, I looked at the Reina-Valera Revisión 1909 and found “Espíritus” capitalized.
Obviously, the translators cannot agree if the Greek πνευματα refers to the Holy Spirit or spirits in general. Spanish is notorious for putting in lower case most words that we in English normally capitalize, like days of the weeks, names of months, and reserving capitals mostly for proper names only. It could be argued that the problem with English was the lack of orthographical standardization prior to the 18th and 19th centuries so that the translators could not agree to capitalize or not.
The question remains, are “the seven spirits of God” the Holy Spirit or is this referring to something else? Throughout the NT, the Holy Spirit is always spoken of in the singular, never in the plural. The only possible exceptions are here in Revelation 4:5, and in Revelation 1:4; 3:1; 5:6. That the “spirits” belong to God is perfectly clear, but to conclude that they refer to the Holy Spirit is rather nebulous.
I looked to some reputable prophecy teachers for insight. Clarence Larkin, whose commentary on Revelation is the foundation upon which others build, completely overlooked Revelation 4:5. He commented extensively on Verse 4 and skipped right over to Verse 6. Apparently, he was unconvinced one way or the other. Ed Hindson, Professor of Religion and Dean of the Institute of Biblical Studies at Liberty University commented, “The seven lamps of fire depict the seven Spirits of God (cf. 1:4)” without any further explanation. Note too that he capitalizes “Spirits” indicating that he believes these to be the One referring only to Revelation 1:4 for support.
Let us examine that verse. “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” (Revelation 1:4, KJV 1769, emphasis mine). This is the first appearance of this phrase in the NT. Note the capitalization of “Spirits” for no apparent reason. Nothing in the text itself warrants the capitalization. For comparison, the 1873 KJV does not capitalize “spirits” nor does the 1611. The 1599 Geneva Bible does capitalize “Spirits” but adds a note which I will address later. So, we remain in a biblical fog on the meaning of “the seven spirits.”
Tim LaHaye, another well-respected prophecy teacher who is now in the presence of our Lord and knows all things perfectly now, suggested that “the seven Spirits of God” represent seven characteristics of the Holy Spirit as described in Isaiah 11:2: (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 might, (6) the spirit of knowledge, and (7) the spirit of the fear of the Lord. LaHaye draws a convincing parallel of the seven attributes of the Holy Spirit, but why would John make such an ambiguous connection when elsewhere in the Revelation he refers to “the Spirit” in the singular?
In all the 50 years that I have studied end-times prophecy, I have been taught and have come to believe that “the seven spirits of God” referred to the Holy Spirit. I am unconvinced now. Looking at this from a different perspective, I have arrived at the conclusion that “the seven spirits of God” represent the raptured churches that are before the throne of God. Here is how I arrive at this conclusion.
As I stated earlier, throughout the NT the Holy Spirit is always referred to in the singular, never in the plural. The Godhead a unified plurality composed of three single entities working separately and together simultaneously. (I know that is a difficult concept to grasp, but that is what the Bible teaches, and we must accept that by faith.) So, the Holy Spirit is always the Holy Spirit, not Holy Spirits. Therefore, in this verse (and also 1:4, 3:1 and 5:6), “the seven spirits of God” must refer to something else which helps explain the confusion about capitalization. Here’s what I think.
Revelation 4:5 says, “And out of the throne proceeded lightnings and thunderings and voices: and there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven spirits of God” (KJV 1873, emphasis mine). Have we been introduced to seven lamps before this point? Yes, indeed we have; the first time John sees Jesus. “And I turned to see the voice that spake with me. And being turned, I saw seven golden candlesticks … The mystery of the seven stars which thou sawest in my right hand, and the seven golden candlesticks. The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches: and the seven candlesticks which thou sawest are the seven churches” (Revelation 1:12, 20, emphasis mine).
Someone might well say, “There is a big difference between a “lamp” and a “candlestick” (some modern translations say lampstand). Amen (‘tis true)! John saw Jesus standing in the midst of seven candlesticks (lampstands) representing the seven churches Jesus would address. The word in the Greek is luchnia, which is a lampstand or candelabrum designed for supporting a lamp (or torch). In 4:5, John sees seven lamps before the throne. The Greek word there is lampas, which is a torch or lamp. Thayer’s Greek Definitions adds further, “a lamp, the flame of which is fed with oil.” Isn’t that interesting? Oil is also symbolic of the Holy Spirit.
So, on earth, John sees Jesus in the midst of seven lampstands designed to support lamps, i.e., flaming torches. The Holy Spirit is often depicted as a flame of fire. That could be a study on its own, but by way of example, the flaming bush that Moses confronted in the wilderness was the Spirit of God. The Spirit of God was seen as a pillar of fire by night as the children of Israel wandered in the desert. Later, when the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples at Pentecost, He appeared as “tongues of fire” over their heads.
We know that the Holy Spirit indwells every true believer and by extension, He indwells every true church of Christ. So, as John sees Jesus in the midst of the seven churches (which represent all of His churches throughout the ages), he sees the lampstands, the churches, shining forth the lamps (torches) which are, in fact, One Spirit. Jesus said, “Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house” (Matthew 5:14-15, emphasis mine). Now, John does not describe the candlesticks as having torches. However, it seems silly to think that Jesus would be in the midst of lampstands with no lamps burning. That, in fact, would be rather sad because it would mean that the Holy Spirit was not in the Churches. Why then would Jesus be in their midst?
Jesus then addresses the seven churches, which represent the churches of all the ages, in chapters two and three. Now we come to Chapter 4. John says, “After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me; which said, Come up hither, and I will shew thee things which must be hereafter. And immediately I was in the spirit: and, behold, a throne was set in heaven, and one sat on the throne” (Revelation 4:1-2). Every good prophecy teacher I know suggests that this represents the Rapture of the Church. The first three chapters dealt with the Church on earth at this present time. Now, John is called up to heaven and from this point on, the Church is no longer seen until the Wedding Supper of the Lamb and she returns to earth with Christ.
This is John’s first vision of heaven and the first thing he sees is God on His throne surrounded by (among other things) “seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God” (4:5). These seven lamps, I say, represent the seven churches that John saw on earth, which were raptured up with John when he heard the command, “Come up hither!” They are now just lamps. There is no further need for the lampstand, because they have done their job.
I found a note from the 1599 Geneva Bible on Revelation 1:4 very interesting. It says, “That is, from the Holy Spirit who proceeds from the Father and the Son. This Spirit is one in person according to his subsistence: but in communication of his power, and in demonstration of his divine works in those seven churches, perfectly manifests himself as if there were many spirits, every one perfectly working in his own church” (emphasis mine). That goes along with what I have concluded.
Without completely rejecting the notion that “the seven spirits of God” refers to the Holy Spirit, I suggest that the “seven lamps of fire burning before the throne” are the seven churches that are “the seven spirits of God” through the work of the Holy Spirit.
 Clarence Larkin, The Book of Revelation Illustrated, (The Rev. Clarence Larkin Estate, Philadelphia, 1919), pp. 38-41.
 Edward Hindson, The Book of Revelation: Unlocking the Future, (AMG Publishers, Chattanooga, 2002), p. 59.