Verses 4-8 comprise an extended greeting to the seven churches in Asia (later specifically named in verse 11, as well as in chapters 2 and 3). As the human author of the book, John includes himself as a sender of the greeting, but the bulk of it reemphasizes the real authors: God the Father, shown as eternal and sovereign, and Jesus Christ, extolled as "the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler over the kings of the earth" (verse 5).
John ensures that we understand that Jesus is the same One who exhibited His love for us by sacrificing Himself for the forgiveness of our sins and made possible our future glorification (verses 5-6). In verse 8, he carries the identification even farther by quoting Jesus' own words: "'I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End,' says the Lord, 'who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.'" Lest we misunderstand, John makes certain that there is no doubt that Jesus is the Lord of the Old Testament, the first and the last (Isaiah 44:6; 41:4), the Almighty God, who "declar[es] the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things that are not yet done, saying, 'My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure'" (Isaiah 46:10). This extensive greeting certifies, not only that the prophecy has its source in God, but also that it will come to pass.
The greeting also includes "from the seven Spirits who [or which] are before [the Father's] throne" (verse 4), a quite controversial phrase. Commentators are divided among four interpretations, which can be summarized as angelic, symbolic, mystical, and Trinitarian. Understandably, the Trinitarian view—that "the seven Spirits" identifies a so-called Third Person of the Trinity—has the support of most Catholics and Protestants. Their primary reason centers on the fact that this phrase appears between greetings from God the Father and the Son of God. They contend that this phrase refers to the sevenfold description of the Spirit of the Lord in Isaiah 11:2.
The book of Revelation itself identifies the seven Spirits as equivalent to the Lamb's "seven eyes, which are . . . sent out into all the earth" (Revelation 5:6). These "seven eyes" probably allude to Zechariah 3:9 and 4:10, where they are shown to be "upon the stone," a symbol of the Branch or Messiah, and directly described as "the eyes of the LORD which scan [or rove] to and fro throughout the whole earth." In addition, Revelation 3:1 states Christ "has [or possesses] the seven Spirits of God," and Revelation 4:5 calls them "seven lamps of fire . . . burning before the throne."
This may indeed be a description of the Holy Spirit, not as a "Person" somehow divided into seven parts, but as a seven-branched conduit of God's communication to the seven churches mentioned earlier in the verse. Thus, John includes "the seven Spirits" as a source of the prophecy to specify how it was imparted to the seven churches. The apostle Paul pens a similar greeting in II Corinthians 13:14, in which he writes of "the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit," meaning that God's Spirit is the means by which Christians can have a relationship with God.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
The All-Important Introduction to Revelation