Book Of Revelation In Jewish Context (rev 1:4-7) – Dr. Eli Lizorkin-eyzenberg And Peter Shirokov

"BambergApocalypseFolio003rAngelWith7Candlesticks" by Auftraggeber: Otto III. oder Heinrich II

“BambergApocalypse” by Auftraggeber

1:4 John to the seven churches that are in the province of Asia:

While the book of Revelation is an apocalypse when it comes to its genre, it is not a pure apocalypse (1) in that it is set in the context of a letter. We can see this clearly in the following verses. The Book of Revelation is not really a book; it is in fact a letter addressed to churches in the province of Asia. By its own witness, this apocalyptic letter also contains prophecy (Rev. 1:3, 22:7).

It is common to think of prophecy as predictions, but to an Israelite mind prophecy is primarily a proclamation of previously known truth, a call to return and not to forget the important matters. Thus, the Book of Revelation can be called an apocalyptic letter containing prophecy, combining at least three genres in one document (apocalyptic, epistolary and prophetic).

While it is not possible to say with full confidence who exactly was this John who wrote Revelation, it is clear that his identity was known to the seven historic churches mentioned in the letter. The author must have been authoritative enough to be accepted since the Revelation of John was not the only apocalypse at that time. However, the authorship of John the Apostle is early and strongly attested. Several 2nd century congregational leaders (such as Melito, bishop of Sardis (c. 165CE) (2) and Irenaeus of Smyrna (c. 180 CE), (3) whose churches were among the original recipients of the letter of Revelation (4)) explicitly mention that the letter was believed to be from John the Apostle.

The case for Johaninne authorship of Revelation ironically is stronger than that of the Gospel of John. The most significant argument in favor of another author (meaning that the author of the fourth gospel and Revelation is not the same person) is that the Greek of Revelation is significantly lower in quality than the Greek of the Gospel of John. This, however, could be easily resolved by positing that John used a scribe for the composition of the Gospel (as did Paul (5) among many others in Roman antiquity), but that no scribe was available to him as he composed the book of Revelation since it was written when he was under house arrest on the Island of Patmos. In other words, he was left with his own limited Greek language skills.

All seven churches mentioned in the letter are located within the system of Ancient Roman roads. It was therefore actually possible for the letter to make a full circle of all the locations after it was originally delivered and be read in the individual congregations.

Not all known congregations in Asia were addressed (for example, the congregation at Colossae). The letter is tied to the importance of the number seven, pointing to the symbolic nature of the churches. It is likely that the seven actual historic congregations symbolize all the churches existent at the time of John and even beyond that historical setting.

Grace and peace to you from “he who is,” and who was, and who is still to come, …

The passage is an allusion to Ex. 3:14 according to the Greek language Septuagint version where God refers to himself as “he who is” (ὁ ὤν). The Greek is translated from the divine self-description in Hebrew אֶֽהְיֶ֖ה אֲשֶׁ֣ר אֶֽהְיֶ֑ה (I am who I am). John uses the same wording only in this place in Greek (6). God’s unpronounceable name YHWH is believed to be connected to the verb “to be” in Hebrew. It is a composite of past, present and future aspects all present in one word, “who is and the one who was, and who will be.” The hint is deliberate.

This passage is one of many places where it could be said that the Greek used by John is poor. Note the comment above about the authorship of Revelation and possible absence of an assisting scribe on Patmos). Since not all portions of Revelation could be characterized this way, it is not possible to explain the Greek grammatical irregularities only by the Hebraic background of John’s original thought language. Whatever the explanation may be behind the awkward grammatical irregularities, they are probably intentional in nature. For the reader familiar with the nuances of both Hebrew and Greek grammar, they act as clues that something else is going on.

…and from the seven spirits who are before his throne,

The number seven in a wide variety of Jewish scriptural traditions is the number of fullness, totality and completeness. As was already mentioned, Revelation is full of sets of the number seven, but just as in the case of the churches, this fact calls attention not to the number itself, but instead to the totality of that which is discussed – in this case the Spirit (seven spirits) who is/are before the throne of God. There are at least two interpretive options here. One has to do with the Holy Spirit and the other has to do with key angelic beings.

First, conventional interpretation connects the seven spirits in Revelation with the seven “aspects” of the Spirit in Isaiah 11:2: “The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and strength, the spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord” (NASB). In reality there are six aspects, not seven, because the Spirit of the Lord is not one of the aspects. A better translation (NetBible), however, is provided by the Net Bible translators, rightly showing that each pair is really one concept, reducing 6 to 3: “The Lord’s spirit will rest on him – a spirit that gives extraordinary wisdom, a spirit that provides the ability to execute plans, a spirit that produces absolute loyalty to the Lord.” No matter which translation we use for Isaiah 11:2, the connection between those verses and the seven spirits in Revelation does not seem likely to us.

Second, in the non-canonical Jewish books such as 1 Enoch that has many references to the Jewish Son of Man traditions, we repeatedly encounter an unfamiliar phrase “the Lord of the Spirits.”

For example, we read in 1 Enoch 46:1-2:

“There I beheld the Ancient of Days, whose head was like white wool, and with him another, whose countenance resembled that of man… Then I inquired of one of the angels, who went with me, and who showed me every secret thing, concerning this Son of man; who he was; whence he was and why he accompanied the Ancient of days. He answered and said to me, This is the Son of man, to whom righteousness belongs; with whom righteousness has dwelt; and who will reveal all the treasures of that which is concealed: for the Lord of Spirits has chosen him; and his portion has surpassed all before the Lord of spirits in everlasting uprightness.”

We have here a wonderful passage establishing Jewish traditions (contemporary to the book of Revelation) about the Daniel (7) Son of Man figure. We must note that this common Enochean phrase – “the Lord of the Spirits” may be connected with the “…the seven spirits who are before his throne” in Revelation. (Rev. 1:4b)

While the parallel between “Lord of Spirits” and “seven spirits that are before his (God’s) throne” is intriguing, we may be dealing here with an early Jewish equivalent of pre-systematized, later Christian Trinity (albeit in different order) – Father, Holy Spirit and the Son.

Another interpretive possibility, however, that presents itself to us when we compare the book of the Revelation to 1 Enoch. The seven spirits before the throne of God may be seen as seven key angelic figures who (are imagined in some Jewish apocalyptic traditions) to serve before the throne of God.

Angels are after all spirits that serve God and these seven angelic spirits, according to this Jewish apocalyptic tradition, serve before God. It is significant that the seven do not only appear in Enoch, but also in other Jewish books both Biblical and para-biblical.

While believers can be tempted to make too much out of this connection, we must keep things in perspective. Whether or not the names of the seven key angels are Gabriel, Michael, Raphael, Uriel, Raquel, Remiel and Saraquel as is stated in the book of Enoch, we may never know, but it is at least conceivable that other contemporary Jews (including the Jew who authored the book of Revelation) had a similar concept in mind to that of the author of the Book of Enoch (1 Enoch 20:1-8).

So, other than the Holy Spirit, another potential explanation for seven spirits could in fact be the seven angelic figures.

In this case, God, the seven key angels, and as we will shortly see, Jesus Christ, are the ultimate authors on behalf of whom John is writing/delivering this letter to be sent to the Christ-following congregations of Asia Minor.

1:5 and from Jesus Christ—the faithful witness, the firstborn from among the dead, the ruler over the kings of the earth. To the one who loves us and has set us free7 from our sins at the cost of his own blood 1:6 and has appointed us as a kingdom, as priests serving his God and Father—to him be the glory and the power for ever and ever! Amen.

Jesus Christ’s five-fold title is clear – 1) faithful witness, 2) firstborn (8) from the dead, 3) ruler of the earthly kings (1:5a), 4) the one who loves us and 5) the one who set us free (1:5b).

Such a full (especially in comparison to the other authors or those who commissioned the letter) title description deserves a doxological exclamation – “to him be the glory and the power for ever and ever!” (1:6b). This is especially so because Jesus Christ appointed “us” (presumably John, his community and the believers to whom he addressed his letter) to be the priestly kingdom, serving Jesus’ God (“his God”) and Father (1:6a).

The idea presented in Rev. 1:6-7 is that the multifaceted greatness of Jesus Christ eventually results in the glory and power of his God and Father. Interestingly enough, this too may have a conceptual parallel in 1 Enoch 48. We read in 1 Enoch 48:2-6:

And at that hour that Son of Man was named In the presence of the Lord of Spirits, And his name before the Head of Days…
He shall be a staff to the righteous whereon to stay themselves and not fall, And he shall be the light of the Gentiles,
And the hope of those who are troubled of heart. All who dwell on earth shall fall down and worship before him,
And will praise and bless and celebrate with song the Lord of Spirits. And for this reason hath he been chosen and hidden before Him, Before the creation of the world and for evermore.

What we see in the 1 Enoch text is that the praise and worship the Son of Man receives from all those who dwell in the earth results ultimately in praise and worship of the Lord of Spirits (God Himself).

This is indeed a very similar concept to the one described in Revelation 1:5-6 “…Jesus Christ – the faithful witness, the firstborn from among the dead, the ruler over the kings of the earth. To the one who loves us and has set us free from our sins at the cost of his own blood and has appointed us as a kingdom, as priests serving his God and Father – to him be the glory and the power for ever and ever! Amen.” (9)

1:7 Look! He is returning with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all the tribes on the earth will mourn because of him. This will certainly come to pass! Amen.

What is very important to keep in mind as we slowly read the Book/Letter of Revelation is that we have a variety of voices being heard in this letter (God, John, Spirit, Jesus Christ, Bride, etc). As in any complex composition, such a rich polyphony of heavenly sound will demand careful and attentive listening in order clearly distinguish between the varieties of these voices, appreciate both their choir-like message and the voice of the individual performer.

It is not clear whose voice we are hearing in Rev. 1:7, but whoever this voice belongs to would like us to be aware that the crucified Christ will return in power (with clouds) and no one (including his killers) will be able to deny his resurrection (every eye will see him, even those who pierced him).

This will bring fulfillment to the visions of Daniel 7:14: “All peoples, nations, and language groups were serving him. His authority is eternal and will not pass away. His kingdom will not be destroyed” as well as Zachariah 12:10: “I will pour out on the kingship/house of David and the population of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication so that they will look to me, the one they have pierced. They will lament for him as one laments for an only son, and there will be a bitter cry for him like the bitter cry for a firstborn.”


(1) The apocalypse is always revelatory; it informs as it unveils otherworldly experiences and visualized cosmic reality. There is a story, a narrative that can be followed. These big picture descriptions of the events of the heavenly realm act as a backdrop to the events experienced by the audience of the apocalyptic writer. This is a parallel and analogical thinking, typical of the Middle East. The earthly events are presented in light of heavenly, unveiling the greater reality.(2) C. 165 CE; Eusebius, H.E. 4.26.2.(3) C. 180 CE; Adv.Haer. 3.11.1, 4.20.11, 4.35.2)(4) Rev. 1:11; 3:1-6; 2:8-11.(5) Romans 16:22: “I, Tertius, the one writing down this letter, greet you in the Lord.”(6) Notes to Rev. 1:4 in the NetBible ( Available at (Last accessed 13.6.14). (7) Most Bibles have “washed” (λούσαντι, lousanti) instead of freed (λύσαντι, lusanti), but most reliable manuscripts have set free. There is a one-letter difference between the two, but the “set free” is likely to be the original variant.(8) Firstborn (bikkurim) from the dead is a uniquely Jewish title, tied to the concepts of the first fruits of the barley harvest offered on the third day of Passover. The motif of resurrection is implicit in this feast and this title is used by Paul in 1 Cor. 15:20 and Col. 1:18.(9) John, to the seven churches which are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from Him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven Spirits who are before His throne. Revelation 1:4And to the angel of the church in Sardis write, “These things says He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars: ‘I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead.’” Revelation 3:1
And from the throne proceeded lightnings, thunderings, and voices. And there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God. Revelation 4:5
And I looked, and behold, in the midst of the throne and of the four living creatures, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as though it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent out into all the earth. Revelation 5:6
And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and to them were given seven trumpets. Revelation 8:2

About the author

Dr. Eli Lizorkin-EyzenbergTo secure your spot in our new course “The Jewish Background of New Testament” - CLICK HERE NOW

You might also be interested in:

Israel, Isaac, And The Lamb

By Julia Blum

Join the conversation (50 comments)

Leave a Reply

  1. RamonAntonio

    I really like this discussion, specially Charles Van dear berg insightful comments on his take on the spirits. The observation of the nuances in usage convince me a lot on his reflection.

    On the issue of offending God by the use of His name, which I find a very serious issue and not a shallow comment, I would contribute by saying that it is a crow cultural belief that by knowing the name of someone, specially a spirit or demon, the one who knows the name acquires some kind of control over the named. Thus, by prohibiting the knowing of the name of God in a written document it follows that the original users of those early scripts were in fact making a direct statement that no one can have any kind of power over God, thus not knowing the correct name and also any form of rendition of His name in any form or document would not “be” an actual possession of God in any way. This may be some kind of “magical thinking” but I think one clearly tied to the concept of dominion over the named.

  2. John Landt

    Hi Dr. Eli,

    Thank you for helping me understand the reason of the voices is in heaven.

    ~ John

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      You are most helpful

  3. John Landt

    Hi Dr. Eli,

    Your comment has made me think about how important voices are >>> “What is very important to keep in mind as we slowly read the Book/Letter of Revelation is that we have a variety of voices being heard in this letter (God, John, Spirit, Jesus Christ, Bride, etc).”

    I have a question… I am trying to understand if there is a reason why the book of revelation uses so many different voices.

    Thank You,
    John Landt

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      The main reason is that John is assured into heaven where he sees what he sees and in heaven God is not the only present :-). Hence many voices.

  4. Charles van den Berg

    Interpreted in the context of the Scriptures , the seven spirits could not be angelic beings, in my opinion. Only the angelic beings according to Eziel 1 , described as “four living creatures for the trone” (4: 6; 4: 8; have eyes (4:6;4:8). But in 5:6 “the seven spirits of God described as the seven horns and seven eyes of the Lamb and are distinguished from the four living creatures. The seven spirits of God, the eyes of the lamb in 5: 6 “have been send into all the earth “.It is clear we found here merging of Zecheriah 3:9;4:10 where “the seven eyes of The Lord “run to and fro throughout whole the world.” They indicated so on the fullness of Gods Spirit who oversees the world.

    1. Prof. Peter Shirokov

      This is interesting. The Zech citation is nice, thanks. So you feel that the seven Spirits is the fulness of God’s spirit (seven being the operative term for fulness)? I see the logic. I have considered this too but fail to understand why the spirits are separate from God himself. The are besides the throne, they are described as stars, seven lights before the throne, they are the eyes of the lamb, which is also besides the throne… My intuition wants to connect them to the seven messengers of Rev 8:2. But I am willing to be dissuaded from my intuition.

      1. Charles van den Berg

        The concept “spirit “ in Sriptures. So, the seven Spritis in Rev. 3:1 4:5 5:6 could not be angelic beings.
        It is in the Scripture not usual to use the word “spirit” (Hebr. ruach, Gr. pneuma) for angels of God.
        The word is only used for God, for the human spirit or for demons.
        Ruach is used 377 x/ 12 x it has been used for demons .
        Pneuma is used 384 x/ 34 x it has been used for demons.
        The only exceptions are Ps. 104:4; Hebr. 1:7.13.14 “ Who maketh his angels spirits “ and “the angels …arere they not all ministering spirits?” But here the word spirit is in combination with the word angel.

        1. Charles van den Berg

          An evel spirit : Jdg 9:23; 1Sam. 16:15.16.23; 18:10; 19:9 ; 1Kon 22:21.22.23; 2Kron 18:20.21.22 Job 4:15 ; Mt 8:16; 12:45; Lc. 7:21; 8:2 ; Act. 19:
          An unclean spirit: Mt . 10:1; 12:43 ; Mc 1:23.26.27; 3:30; 5:2.; 8.13; 6:7; 7:25 ; 9:20.25; Lc 4:33.36; 6:18 ; 8:29 ;9:39.42; 11:24.26; Rev. 16:13;18:2
          A fool spirit : Mc 7:19
          A spirit of devination:Lc 10:20; Acts 16:16.18
          Spirits of devils; Rev.16:14; 18:2

          1. Charles van den Berg

            The seven Spirits of God and the Menorah in The Book of Revelation

            1) In Rev. 1:20 en 2:1 we find the combination of “the seven stars and the seven golden candlesticks (menorah) In Rev. 3:1 we find the combination of “the seven Spririts of God”, and “the seven stars “Conclusion: there is a parallel between the seven golden candsticks (menorah) and the seven Spirits of God.

            2) In Rev. 4:5 we find there were “seven lamps of fire burning. which are the seven Spirits of God. In Rev. 5:6 we find “the seven horns ans seven eyes of the Lamb, which are the seven Spirits of God. Conclusion: The seven lamps, the seven horns and the seven eyes are symbol for the seven Spirits of God.

          2. Charles van den Berg

            4) For the seven lamps we found the Greek word “lampas”= a lamp, the flame of which is fed with oil.
            5) Mt 25:1-15 The parable of the 10 virgins. They have lamps (lampas) with oil.
            6) Now it is not difficult to recognize the golden altar and the golden menorah that was “before” the ark of testimony (Ex. 40:5).
            7) The menorah had “seven lamps” (Ex. 25:37; Num. 8:2) .To burn and shine they need “oil” (Ex. 35:14; 39:37). 8) Anointing with oil brings the Spirit of God upon somebody (1Sam 16:13 etc.)
            8) The lamps of the menorah had to lighted “before the Lord” (Ex. 40:25; Lev. 24:4).
            9) Rev. 2:5 When the believers does not repent there candlestick (menorah) will remove out of his place.

          3. Charles van den Berg

            10) We found the Menorah tot in Zechariah 4:2 with the burning seven lamps and the oil. It was in this context that we found the merging of “ the seven eyes of the Lord “ (Zechariah 3:9; 4:10)
            11) CONCLUSION: The seven Spirits are fullness of the Holy Spirit living in the church, the Bride of the Lamb. They have to be “before the Lord”. That’s why we read at the end of Revelation (22:17.20) “And the Spirit and the bride say, Come ..Even so, come, Lord Jesus.”

          4. Charles van den Berg

            I am really sorry, here is point 3 :

            3) Rev 1:4 : the seven Spirits are ” before “the throne
            Rev. 4:5 the seven lamps burning of fire are “before” the throne.
            Rev. 9:13 the golden altar is “before” the throne.

  5. Prof. Peter Shirokov

    I am glad to hear so many people enjoy these posts. Please be patient with us as we write them in the midst of many other teaching/administrative/curriculum duties. Sometimes it takes time for thoughts to mature and be ready to share with others. Thanks for reading.

  6. Prof. Peter Shirokov

    Good question Sheila, we will try to address the historical background of this apocalypse and dating along with that in a substantive way. Probably in the actual context of the particular verses. Please stay tuned!

  7. Sheila

    Hi Dr. Eli and Prof. Shirokov,

    So refreshing to hear an explanation, although quite brief, of Revelation that makes good sense and without any hype or sensationalism!

    My question, though, is what makes scholars think that it was written around 90AD as opposed to earlier? It seems the letter contains a warning to the churches that the destruction of Jerusalem is drawing near. While they’re addressed to the seven in Asia, I would think the letter would have certainly made it’s way to the church in Jerusalem as well. They would have made sense of it right quickly, is what I think. Time to get out of Dodge!! 🙂

    What proof is there of it’s late date?


  8. Fred Aguelo

    Dear Dr Eli & Dr Peter,

    Do you consider the Book of Enoch as part of Scripture? Why or why not?
    Since it is also quoted by Jude, do you think that it is part of Scripture?


    1. Prof. Peter Shirokov

      What is Scripture? Different people mean different things by thus term. It does not matter what one considers as scripture or does not. Your question is whether the book is inspired, i believe… For the official church, as an institution it is not inspired on the same level as Daniel or Ezekiel. This was their decision. Neither Jude, not Paul, nor Jesus knew that they were supposed to quote only “inspired books” 🙂 And if they quoted something from the front page of the “Local Newspaper of their day” that certainly would not make that source inspired. What is inspired is important for the rule of faith and doctrines. Scholars deal with questions of meaning, questions of context, language and setting, matters that lay far beyond that of the the church life. Thus the idea of inspiration is secondary to scholars, but authenticity and historicity is more of a concern. Since I am not a bishop, overseer or a pastor what I say or think has no bearing on church life and faith practice. It is not my place… I fully recognize the universally accepted canonical scriptures as they stand, but find value in other books as well.

      1. Fred Aguelo

        Dear Dr. Eli & Dr. Peter,

        Who authored the Book of Enoch & approximately when was it written?

        Thank you.

        Fred Aguelo

        1. Prof. Peter Shirokov

          Well, we are pretty sure it was not Enoch himself who wrote it 🙂

  9. Premkumar Samuel

    Dear Dr.
    Thanks for the interesting study.It illuminates and helps in many ways to understand the only letter of our LORD JESUS CHRIST in its original setting.I agree that to a Hebrew mind Prophecy is forth telling and not fore telling as it is widely understood ,however this letter is also apocalyptic in that it unveils the future events .You have encapsulated it by saying “Thus, the Book of Revelation can be called an apocalyptic letter containing prophecy, combining at least three genres in one document (apocalyptic, epistolary and prophetic)”.What a wonderful teacher you are.
    many thanks
    Premkumar Samuel

  10. Jackson Ambe Ndecheck

    Very kind of you Dr Eli,
    I’m on a life journey and desire to grow in my understanding through Scholarly insights such as your thorough article.
    Still look forward to the rest including Mark Gospel.
    Blessings to all.