It took a whole post to even briefly explore the significance of the number seven to John’s original audience. You and I need that understanding today so that we can also be blessed in “keeping the things having been written” in John’s and Jesus’s letter. We understand that everything John is about to disclose to us will be less about knowing the future and much more about keeping faith in the present.
Significance of Seven
John: to the seven assemblies that are in Asia, grace to you and peace from the one who is and the one who was and the one who is coming, and from the seven spirits that are before His throne,Revelation 1:4
Knowing the future and understanding the past will ground us in our present vision of God and God’s guidance.
This is what John wants us to have in mind.
Now, John is signaling to us, with the number seven, that what is about to be revealed is the totality of reality—it is everything that is true and real in the physical cosmos as well as in the spiritual realms.
This is not for everyone!
Full disclosure is only being given to those faithful who read, listen to, and keep what John has written. We understand this because John sent his letter to the seven assemblies.
And what John has written is coming directly from the throne of God. Not only will this be a full disclosure of physical and spiritual reality, but the fullness of God is about to be revealed. We understand this from the depiction of all three Persons of the Godhead Who are present in this revelation and are communicating in a way we physical beings may experience and know, as John wrote, grace to you and peace from
- The One Who is and the One Who was and the One Who is coming
- And from the seven spirits that are before His throne
- And from Jesus Christ, the faithful and trustworthy witness, the First-Born out of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of earth.
The Seven Spirits has been understood for millennia to be the Holy Spirit, the seven-fold Spirit, in other words, the fullness of God the Holy Spirit.
The Eternal One
God the Father is introduced as the One Who is, was, and is now coming. God is the infinite and eternal One, the First Cause, the source of all that is.
The Spirit and the Branch
And now we begin to see how John would weave much of the Hebrew Scripture into his letter. The image of the seven spirits would bring to the minds of his original readers a passage from the prophet Isaiah, the most oft-quoted book in the Greek Scripture.
A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,Isaiah 11:1-2 (NRSV)
and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might,
the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
Imagine, if you will, a branch growing up from the stump of Jesse. There is a middle trunk, and springing from the trunk are several smaller shoots. And resting upon those shoots is the Spirit of God, with the attributes of wisdom, understanding, counsel, might, knowledge, and reverence for God. Isaiah was a priest who had often seen the beautiful golden candelabra in the Holy Place, artfully wrought to appear as an actual almond tree.
“You shall make a lampstand of pure gold.
The base and the shaft of the lampstand shall be made of hammered work; its cups, its calyxes, and its petals shall be of one piece with it;
– and there shall be six branches going out of its sides: three branches of the lampstand out of one side of it and three branches of the lampstand out of the other side of it;
– three cups shaped like almond blossoms, each with calyx and petals, on one branch, and three cups shaped like almond blossoms, each with calyx and petals, on the other branch—so for the six branches going out of the lampstand.
– On the lampstand itself there shall be four cups shaped like almond blossoms, each with its calyxes and petals. There shall be a calyx of one piece with it under the first pair of branches, a calyx of one piece with it under the next pair of branches, and a calyx of one piece with it under the last pair of branches—so for the six branches that go out of the lampstand.
– Their calyxes and their branches shall be of one piece with it, the whole of it one hammered piece of pure gold.
– You shall make seven lamps for it, and the lamps shall be set up so as to give light on the space in front of it.Exodus 25:31-40 (NRSV)
The Branch is all one piece and yet it is also six-branched and seven-cupped. Did you notice the interplay of three and four, which together will form seven? This is God’s real presence on earth by God’ Spirit.
The fullness of the Spirit is complete in this imagery, with a flame lit above each of the seven almond-blossom cups of the menorah, yet fed from the same stream of oil in the one the candlestick.
and from Jesus Christ, the faithful and trustworthy witness, the First-Born out of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of earth.Revelation 1:5-6
Faithful witness—as Paul also had described Jesus standing before Pontius Pilate, Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession.
First-Born from the dead—This referred to Jesus’s resurrection as just the beginning of the resurrection in store for all believers. Jesus’s faithful witness was vindicated and affirmed in His resurrection, just as every believer’s will also be.
The Apostle Paul spoke of this often, based upon the Psalmist’s prophetic statement.
I will tell of the decree of the Lord:Psalm 2:7 (NRSV)
He said to me, “You are my son;
today I have begotten you.
he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising Jesus; as also it is written in the second psalm,
‘You are my Son;Acts 13:33 (NRSV)
today I have begotten you.’
Later, Paul would encapsulate this truth in the phrase first-born from the dead.
He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything.Colossians 1:18 (NRSV)
But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died.1 Corinthians 15:20 (NRSV)
Foremost over kings—of particular comfort and encouragement to the first-century church was Jesus’ authority above all earthly and heavenly potentates. Whatever may happen in the near-term, ultimately Jesus will be victor, Jesus’s will be done.
Freed us—this was at the heart of John’s Gospel, God’s love for us being expressed in Jesus giving His life for us that we may live. That we are freed by His blood connects back to all the Levitical sacrifices pointing to the Messiah who would fulfill the purpose of those sacrifices. He would not be merely a symbol, but the reality that would literally free all those who put their faith in Him. Sin, corruption, and death would have no more hold on believers.
And by freeing us, Jesus brings about a new kingdom filled with transformed people who no longer identify according to earthly categories, but are now born anew, from above, in an entirely new category of people.
Every believer becomes a priest, specially set aside to have God as our inheritance, privileged to enter the Holy Place, and even the Most Holy Place.
Forever glorious—all the apostles stood together in their worship of Jesus as the Lord, as one deserving adulation, for Jesus’s divinity, eternality, glory, and dominion.