Rev 3:1 speaks of the seven spirits of God. What does this mean in reference to the Spirit of God?
It is important to remember that Revelation is a highly symbolic book. We must keep this in mind when seeking the meaning of any term or phrase. Not all terms and phrases are symbolic, but a great many are. So, we must look for the most reasonable interpretation realizing that the rest of Scripture will help us find the best interpretation.
Scripture elsewhere, particularly in John’s gospel, speaks plainly of the Spirit of God as a Person of the Godhead. The familiar words of comfort given to the disciples before the Lord Jesus went to the cross should be sufficient. In this discourse, the Lord Jesus said, “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.” (Jn. 14:16–17)
Many references could be added, but a particularly interesting one is John 3:34, “For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure.” The description of Spirit given to Jesus in Isaiah 11:12 adds an additional insight: “And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.” Isaiah shows the seven attributes or offices that the Spirit of God fulfills.1
Thus, the Spirit is given to the Lord Jesus, as Man, for the work He was to do. So, we read that it was by the Spirit that He offered Himself: “how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.” (Heb. 9:14) The Father, the Son, and the Spirit all work in complete harmony. (Jn. 10:30) So much so, that we have in Colossians a most remarkable verse: “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily.” (Col. 2:9)
So, we have seen one example of the Spirit being represented by seven attributes. This goes a long way to explain the “seven spirits of God”. However, another aspect must be noticed. The number seven itself speaks of completeness. So, we could say the “seven spirits of God” in Revelation is intended to convey both the various offices of the Spirit of God and His complete sufficiency to bring about all the counsel of God. See also Rev 1:4,5; 3:1; 4:5; 5:6. So, I think we can say that the phrase in Revelation is intended to indicate the complete competence of the Spirit to fulfill God’s purposes.
Finally, I find it very interesting that the apostle John is the author of both the gospel that bears his name and the book that raised the question we are looking at. In the gospel, the Spirit, the Father, and the Lord Jesus are all spoken of in a very direct way. The gospel of John, in this way, has a very Christian tone. Revelation, in contrast, is filled with difficulties. It has, what might be called, a very “distant” tone. Only in the first and last chapter is the Lord Jesus referred to by His ordinary name. Four times we find “the testimony of Jesus,” and once each “the faith of Jesus,” and “the martyrs of Jesus.” The Lord Jesus is usually “the Lamb” and there are many references to angels. All of this seems to derive from the fact that Revelation is a book of judgment. God is at a distance. This is captured in the phrase in Isaiah 28:21 (Darby) that judgment is God’s “strange work.” Consequently, we would not expect the Spirit to be spoken of directly as in the gospel. Rather we see Him spoken of indirectly according to his work and with evident reference to the fullness of His power by which all the judgments of the book are accomplished.
1. For an interesting commentary on these attributes see “A Rod out of Jesse,” An Outline of Sound Words, Volumes 81 – 90 (unknown date). https://www.stempublishing.com/magazines/OSW/81-90/osw81f.html.