Chapter 13: The Holy Spirit in Revelation
by James R. Baker, Scotland
The importance of the Person and Deity of the Holy Spirit is seen in the fact that His first appearance in Scripture is in the second verse of Genesis chapter 1 and the last is found in the early verses of the closing paragraph of the book of Revelation chapter 22. In between these two points of Holy Scripture His Divine Person is referred to many times. This has been stressed throughout the present volume as each of the chapters has explored the remarkable variety of settings and circumstances in which He has been presented in the Word of God. In this closing book of the Bible, there are various fascinating aspects of His work still to be considered regarding the importance of the Person, presence and power of the Holy Spirit in the future.
A matter of great dispensational importance in the book of Revelation is to be found in noting the actual passages where the Holy Spirit’s Person or ministry are mentioned. A careful reading will reveal there are long sections within the book where the Holy Spirit’s Person or His activity are not described nor even referred to. This feature is distinctive amongst all the other books of the New Testament and is in contrast to other sections of the book where there are defined contexts where His name and function are clearly found. A familiar example of the latter will be noted by contrasting the first two main sections of the book with the third. The sections referred to are set out in Rev.1.19, where the writer is instructed to divide his writings into three parts, these are; chapter 1, which describes "the things which thou hast seen" and includes the well-known vision of Christ within that chapter. The second part is from the beginning of chapter 2 until the conclusion of chapter 3; it describes "the things which are". This covers the description and detail of the messages to the seven churches. The third part commences at 4.1 which opens with the heavenly invitation to John, "Come up hither, and I will shew thee things which must be hereafter".
A further introductory factor to be considered lies in the fact that the ministry of the Holy Spirit is a unique feature of the present day in which those who are saved form part of the Church which is the body of Christ. This great truth was not revealed in Old Testament days. This is made clear in the words of the apostle Paul, "which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto His holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit" Eph 3.5. The Body itself was formed on the Day of Pentecost, "For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free, and have been all made to drink into one Spirit" 1 Cor.12.13. A twin feature to this is the fact that the Holy Spirit personally indwells each believer in the present day. This did not take place in the Old Testament era, and such indwelling will continue until the Rapture of the Church. It is not only the saints of the present Church-age that enjoy this great prospect but also the Holy Spirit Himself, "And the Spirit and the bride say, Come" Rev.22.17.
A simple but clear reason for these facts will readily be seen by recognising that the main reason for the book of Revelation is implicit in its title. The Greek word for "Revelation" is "apokalupsis" which literally means, ‘unveiling’. During the days of the earthly life and ministry of the Lord Jesus there was a clear revelation of His moral glory, but, whilst the official aspects of His glory were referred to, they were largely hidden from open display. Thus, the whole reason and import of the book of Revelation is to unveil the Person and glory of our Lord Jesus Christ, as He will be seen in the future days of His manifestation. It has already been taught elsewhere within the present volume that a particular ministry of the Holy Spirit is to glorify and bring honour to the Person of Christ. It is therefore understandable that in this closing book of the Bible there will be particular sections where that ministry will take place. The third and largest section of this book is devoted to the descriptions of final judgments that will be poured out from heaven during the seven-year period commonly described as ‘Daniel’s seventieth week’. The closing chapters present scenes of the vindication of God and of Christ and Divine purpose being realised in heaven and earth.
The mentions of the Holy Spirit in these first three chapters of the Book of Revelation are most significant in their terminology. The first term by which this Divine Person is introduced is "the seven Spirits which are before His throne" 1. 4. A careful consideration of the context where this expression appears reveals that it should be noted first as an evidence of the deity of the Holy Spirit. Although in many references of Scripture the order of the Divine Trinity is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the importance of the change in these verses should not be overlooked. The insertion of the Holy Spirit before that of Jesus Christ gives clear evidence of His equality and deity. If it had been placed third in order, its position in the sentence would be used, by some, as support for rejecting the truth of His deity. Clearly, the introduction and greeting from John to the seven churches invokes blessing from each Divine Person within the Trinity and the Holy Spirit is referred to as being at the centre of this Divine circle. Appreciation of this is shows that the use of terms such as first second and third Persons of the Godhead is a contradiction of harmony, unity and equality within the Godhead. Each Divine Person is equally eternal and possesses every Divine attribute. There is no hint in Scripture of any aspect of inferiority or superiority of the Divine Persons within it.
The unique expression, used here of the seven Spirits, is not to be merely linked with the general use of sevens in the book of Revelation. It carries the thought of the complete fullness and fruitfulness of the Spirit of God. This can be traced back to the Old Testament where there is clear mention of the sevenfold character of this Divine Person. Perhaps the strongest Old Testament proof is in the book of Zechariah when the prophet had seen the golden candlestick with the seven lamps and seven pipes and the two adjacent olive trees, and had asked the question, "What are these, my lord?" The language of the explanation given by the angel as he conversed with the prophet was clear, "Knowest thou not what these be? ... This is the word of the LORD unto Zerubbabel, saying, Not by might, nor by power, but by My spirit, saith the LORD of hosts" Zech.4.5-6. The passage in Zechariah is also the main basis for seeing ‘oil’ as a figure of the Holy Spirit in various parts of the Scriptures of truth. Another allusion to the sevenfold character of this Divine Person is found in the prophecy of Isa.11.2 where prophetic reference is made to the future coming of the Messiah of Israel. There the Holy Spirit’s anointing presence and power are promised to anoint the coming Christ and are delineated in a sevenfold way, and of this J. Riddle has observed, "The verse also explains the expression "the seven spirits of God" Rev.4.5. Seven is the number of fullness and perfection".1
The next mention of the Holy Spirit is found in 1.10 where a more familiar term is used, "I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day". This expression has been variously interpreted but the most commonly held view is to see it as a description of the actual day of the week when John received the great vision of chapter 1. It is well known that the Apostle John was on the lonely island of Patmos at this time and it is quite acceptable to appreciate that in spite of the lack of human company, John was living in the good of continual communion with God. No doubt he would remember the One on Whose bosom he had so often leaned and would also remember His words, "I will not leave you comfortless (lit. ‘as orphans’) I will come to you" Jn.14.18; and, "I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, that He may abide with you forever" Jn.14.16. It was John who had recorded and written the many promises that had been given concerning the Holy Spirit. Thus John was "in the Spirit" on this day. The New Testament teaching concerning the believer and the Holy Spirit reveals the nearness and intimacy of such a relationship. These aspects have been dealt with elsewhere in detail in the present book and it remains here just to emphasise the fact that it is expected of every believer of the present day to live and walk in the Spirit and to be led of the Spirit, Gal.5.16,25. Of this J. Allen has said, "The normal condition of all believers is expected to be ‘in the Spirit’ (Rom.8.9), but when God uses men as channels of communication there is a specially given enablement envisaged in Eph.3.5 ‘It is now revealed unto His holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit’ (literally "in Spirit"). The expression ‘in Spirit’ describes that exaltation and detachment of spirit brought about by the Holy Spirit that enables John to become a channel of divine communication."2
Another matter to be considered is in regard to which actual "day" is in view. The two main alternatives are that it describes the "first day of the week" or that it is describing John as having been taken forward, in the vision, into the "Day of the Lord". The former suggestion is preferred for the following reasons:
Within chapters 2 and 3, there is a series of seven particular messages to seven New Testament assemblies situated in Asia Minor. They are usually referred to as the letters to the seven churches. Each and every one of the complete messages to the seven churches has within it a unique application to the circumstance and condition of that particular assembly. At the commencement of the book of Revelation it is made clear that the whole book is a revelation of the Lord Jesus Christ Who had received it from God, and then had sent it by an angel to the apostle John, accompanied by signs. The present consideration is not to expound the whole of each letter but rather to note that within the two chapters are eight specific references to the Holy Spirit. Seven are in exactly the same format and consist of an identical message to each church. This particular message is given once to each of the seven assemblies addressed. The extra reference is uniquely addressed to the assembly at Sardis and will be considered separately.
The message to each assembly is short but most important, "He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches" 2.7,11,17,29; 3.6,13,22. This sevenfold exhortation emphasises two particular matters; first, that although the letter has been addressed to the whole assembly, it is incumbent upon each believer in the local assembly to give heed to the searching ministry, and second, that the message is the voice of the Spirit of God to all the assemblies. These two matters must carry great weight to any exercised believer, it is ever important in all public reading and ministry of the Word of God that each individual should pay heed to it. The phrase is emphasising that the human ear is but the instrument through which the message is received, but the exhortation is toward the active exercise of truly hearing and responding to what is being said by the Spirit of God. This exhortation given so early in the day of grace is still vital to those who are now living near to its end.
The second part of this exhortation is also vital. Here is taught the important fact that all Scriptural ministry is the voice of the Spirit of God, therefore no aspect of it is to be neglected. The child of God is not allowed to select the truth he will believe and act on, since, "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works" 2 Tim.3.16,17. But further, the phrase under consideration closes with another important matter regarding listening to the voice of the Holy Spirit in the Scripture. It is that, although each separate assembly had received a particular message to itself, yet each assembly is instructed here to listen to all seven messages. This makes each letter important to all. It also brings to light the importance of all inspired Scripture. Each part of the complete Bible is to be read and appreciated as the Word of God.
The extra reference referred to earlier is addressed uniquely to the Church at Sardis, "And unto the angel of the church in Sardis write; These things saith He that hath the seven Spirits of God, I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead" Rev.3.1. It is well known that the Lord Jesus is seen to present Himself in a different form and title to each of the seven local assemblies. In each case the form of address is fitting to the condition of the Church being addressed. At the very commencement of the message to the assembly at Sardis there is particular emphasis given to the ministry and presence of the Holy Spirit. This is seen in the presentation to the assembly of the Lord Jesus as, "He that hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars". The condition of the church at Sardis is stated as being "ready to die". There was little life or power in this New Testament assembly and He Who was reviewing it, was doing it in the power and wisdom of the Spirit of God. It is only to this assembly that such a reminder was given.
Such powerful ministry to a local assembly is revealed and expounded in the closing chapters of the first epistle to the Corinthians. There it is taught that the assembly is the sphere of the Spirit’s activity and ministry. This has already been expounded earlier in the present book and its importance should always be appreciated by every believer who is gathered to the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is a wonder that cannot be explained that in the assembly gatherings we can observe one of the forums of the Holy Spirit’s ministry on earth. It should be added that another important sphere of His ministry is the physical body of each believer.
It has already been noted that the book of Revelation is divided into three sections by the words of the Son of Man in 1.19. The first section is fulfilled when John saw the important vision of the Son of Man walking in the midst of the golden candlesticks. The second section covers the period of church testimony described in chapters 2 and 3; and however the seven churches are viewed, it is clear that both of the chapters describe testimony on earth in local New Testament assemblies of the present day. The third section from chapter 4 commences after the rapture of the saints and is co-incident with, and descriptive of, the Day of the Lord. This term describes the programme of events of judgment that will take place on earth affecting Israel and the nations. It is predicted in the Old Testament and is also referred to in the New Testament. In the considered judgment of the present writer a heavenly programme also commences at precisely the same time. It is the Day of Christ which is a period marked by events which will take place in the heavens. Such events will include the "judgment seat of Christ" followed by the Marriage of the Lamb.
It will be seen readily that immediately after the Church of the present period has been "caught up" into heaven, God will resume His dealings with the nation of Israel and the nations generally. The book of Revelation in chapters 4 and 5 gives glimpses into heaven of the glorified Lamb, as well as the saints of the present period as they will be with the Lord once the Rapture has taken place. There are just three mentions of the Holy Spirit in this portion of Scripture. The first in 4.2 is simply emphasising the fact that the spiritual experience in which John was engaged was made good to him in the power of the Holy Spirit of God. The second and third mentions are in 4.5 and 5.6. Both of these references underline the previously mentioned fact that after the Rapture has taken place the location of the Holy Spirit will be heaven instead of earth as in the present period.
The phrase "in the Spirit" is used four times in the book of Revelation and each reference reveals a particularly important spiritual experience and revelation given to John. The first is in 1.10 where John is given the great vision of the Son of Man in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks. The second is in 4.2 where John views the vision of chapters 4 and 5 where he sees the Lamb in the midst of the throne and of the four beasts and four and twenty elders. The third mention is in 17.3 where he sees the woman sitting upon the scarlet coloured beast depicting Babylon the mother of harlots. The final mention in 21.10 is when John is allowed in prospect to see the Bride, the Lamb’s wife. Each of these mentions of being "in the Spirit" refers to John in his experience of Divine revelation.
After the reference in chapter 5 there is no direct mention of the Holy Spirit apart from an allusion in 11.3,4 where mention is made of the two witnesses who will appear somewhere near the mid-point of the seventieth week spoken of in Daniel’s prophecy, chapter nine. The witnesses are referred to as "the two olive trees, and the two candlesticks standing before the God of the earth" Rev.11.4. The great significance in this passage relates to the fact that during a period of forty two months when Gentile feet will tread over hallowed ground in Israel’s temple, God will have two men who will manifest priestly features in their life and testimony, and no earthly or satanic power will be able to withstand them. The indirect allusion to the Holy Spirit in this passage lies in the reference to the olive trees and the candlesticks. The direct and obvious parallel is in the Old Testament, Zech.4.1-14, where there is the only other Scriptural reference to two olive trees. There in Israel’s dark days God had raised up two anointed ones (Joshua & Zerubbabel), Zech.4.14, and the power was not their own, it was that of the Holy Spirit. Thus in a day when the Holy Spirit’s residence will be heaven, there will be two men on earth whose ministry will be empowered by that same Divine Person. In that day they will live their lives before the God of the earth and in the power and fullness of the Holy Spirit. The same chapter goes on to describe many details that will characterise these men and their unique ministry in that coming day and later describes in v.11, "the Spirit [breath, R.V.] of life from God" entering into the two witnesses after they had been dead in the street for "three days and a half". Some have felt that this is another mention of the Holy Spirit but it is very doubtful if He is in view. It is more likely that this was a direct miracle from God in giving back to these men their human life again.
The next reference to the Holy Spirit is when John hears His voice speaking from heaven, "And I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them" Rev.14.13. It is of interest to observe seven beatitudes within the book of Revelation, the first of which is in 1.3 and the last in 22.14. Each is of great interest being interspersed between the various prophetic passages. It is good to know that throughout the dark days of Israel’s bitter experience there are promised blessings for those who have overcome. The beatitude within the present chapter is the second of the complete series and although these words are often applied at the time of the death of the people of God in the present day, their beauty and power really belong to those of a future period. Many will have been martyred during the reign of the Beast. This is implied in the words: "Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit." The very distinction of not being in Christ distinguishes these future individuals from the saints of the present day. The Holy Spirit is here speaking from heaven these words of comfort and encouragement to those who will suffer and serve and die and their works will surely follow them.
The final reference to the Holy Spirit in the book of Revelation is found in 22.17. The general narrative of the main part of the book has ended at v.5, and to the end of the chapter is a most blessed section where the voice of the coming Lord is clearly heard as three times there is the glorious promise "I come quickly" vv.7,12,20. V.17 refers to the great anticipation of the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ to the air at the Rapture. It describes a remarkable twofold desire for Him to come, firstly by the Holy Spirit and then by the bride of the Lamb. Clearly the latter refers to the saints of the present day of grace waiting in prospect for the coming of Christ to the air. The former part of the verse just as clearly teaches that the desire is voiced by the Holy Spirit Himself. He Who has worked on earth in the Church is also longing for that day when He Himself will be "caught up". This will be the day of glorious accomplishment for Him to deliver up the bride to the Bridegroom. The figure of Genesis chapter 24 will then be complete, and just as the servant brought Rebekah safely to Isaac so will the Divine Servant of the present day finish His work in fulfilment of the Divine purpose. Thus the saints of the present day can sing in prospect:
- He and I in that bright glory
- One deep joy shall share:
- Mine, to be for ever with Him –
- His, that I am there.
(E. F. Bevan)