New Testament Lesson 50 (Revelation 1-5)
The Prophet Joseph Smith said: “When John had the curtains of heaven withdrawn, and by vision looked through the dark vista of future ages, and contemplated events that should transpire throughout every subsequent period of time, until the final winding up scene—while he gazed upon the glories of the eternal world, saw an innumerable company of angels and heard the voice of God—it was in the Spirit, on the Lord’s day, unnoticed and unobserved by the world.”1
Who Wrote Revelation?
● The Book of Revelation was written by John, brother of James, son of Zebedee, and one of the original twelve called by Jesus. He came to be known as John the Beloved because of the special fondness Jesus felt for him.
Where Was Revelation Written?
● John was on the isle of Patmos (AD 95) when he received this revelation (Revelation 1:9–11). Patmos is a small, rocky island that lies a short distance off the coast of present-day Turkey, in the sparkling blue waters of the Aegean Sea. In Roman times, its barren isolation made it ideal as a site for the banishment of political prisoners.
To Whom Was Revelation Written?
● John gives us “the big picture”—a view of the ultimate triumph of good and the ultimate victory of God.
— It was written to describe “things which must shortly come to pass” (Revelation 1:1).
— It was also written to describe “things which must be hereafter” (Revelation 4:1).
● Thus the immediate recipients of the Revelation were seven churches in Asia for whom John had ecclesiastical authority as an Apostle.
● But the book of Revelation was also written for the Saints in our day—the dispensation of the fulness times.
What Are the Most Significant Contributions of John’s Revelation?
● The theme of the book is very simple and is stated the first verse: It is a revelation of Jesus Christ. It shows Christ’s dealings with men throughout the ages of earth’s history.
● Nowhere else in all of the existing standard works do we receive such a detailed and comprehensive picture of the whole scope of the Lord’s plan as we do in the book of Revelation.
UNDERSTANDING JOHN’S REVELATION
On practically every page of the Bible we find parables, allegories, similes, or metaphors. These are divine teaching aids used by the Lord and his prophets teach with power.
The Use of Symbolism in Revelation
● Symbolic Images: The book of Revelation is written primarily in symbolic language. Readers today (who come from primarily Western cultures) often have difficulty with the symbolism in John’s writings because they want to interpret the images literally. This makes the book seem strange and confusing. If we remember that many of the images are “simply figurative,” they become easier to understand.
● Apocalyptic: Another name for Revelation is “the Apocalypse,” from the Greek “uncovering or unveiling.” Its purpose, therefore, is to explain and reveal to the spiritually minded person, not to confuse. Of course, to the unspiritual mind, it remains a mystery.
● Revelation’s Theme: The primary message of Revelation is that “there will be an eventual triumph on this earth of God over the devil; a permanent victory of good over evil, of the Saints over their persecutors, of the kingdom of God over the kingdoms of men and of Satan. . . . The details about the beasts, the wars, the angels, the men, etc., contribute to the development of this theme.”2
A Book for the Saints
● It was not John’s intent to keep the message veiled from the Saints. Those who prayerfully receive and ponder the book can understand each symbol used and are able to comprehend the fulness of his message.
— Today, through modern revelation, the Lord has provided help in understanding it.
— We may not interpret the message any way we wish (2 Peter 1:20–21). We must seek, through the Spirit, to understand what John was seeing and saying.
— Elder Bruce R. McConkie said: “It is not a book for the theological novice, nor for the uninspired theological speculators of the world. It is written to the Saints who already have a knowledge of the plan of salvation, to say nothing of the interpreting power of the Holy Spirit in their hearts.”3
JOHN’S VISION OF JESUS CHRIST (Revelation 1)
John Describes the Vision
● It was a revelation of Jesus Christ, who appeared in glory to John (Revelation 1:1, 10–12). His description is very much like that given by other prophets in similar circumstances (Ezekiel 1:26–28; Daniel 12:5–8; D&C 110:2–3; Moses 1:9–10; JS-History 1:20).
— It began with the sound of a voice like the herald of a trumpet blast.
— The glorified Savior stood in the midst of seven golden candlesticks.
— Fifty years earlier John had seen the Lord crucified and then resurrected.
— Now he stood in blinding, blazing glory before John, saying, “I am he that liveth, and was dead, and, behold, I am alive for evermore.” (v. 18).
— John fell to the earth as though dead, but the glorious figure touched & comforted him.
— The Lord told him to write those things which he was about to see and hear.
— Divine declarations were given to the Saints of seven Asian cities.
— The Lord then showed John a symbolic vision of the future of God’s Kingdom on earth.
● This vision was not just a personal reaffirmation of Christ’s reality to the Apostle John.
— It was a revelation of the Lord to the Saints of God during one of the blackest moments of the Church’s history.
— The Saints lived in fear daily of Roman legionaries.
— Peter had been crucified, Paul beheaded, Bartholomew skinned alive, Thomas and Matthew run through with spears. John was the only surviving Apostle; all the others had died violently because of their faith.
— By the time of this vision on Patmos, the history of the Church included the lining of Nero’s colonnade with crucified Christians and the savagery of the mobs screaming for blood in the Coliseum and the Circus Maximus.
— In the midst of these terrifying persecutions, this vision revealed a Savior still living, still loving, still triumphing over the power of satanic forces.
● God makes men kings and priests in heaven (Revelation 1:1–6).
● Christ shall come again (Revelation 1:7–8).
● John testified of Christ as the one. . . .
— Who is, who was, and who is to come.
— Who sent his angel from before his throne.
— Who was the first begotten of the dead.
— Who is the Prince of the kings of the earth.
CHRIST APPEARS WITH SYMBOLS OF THE CHURCH
● Candlesticks represent the branches of the Church in Asia (Revelation 1:11–12; 3 Nephi 18:24). Elder Bruce R. McConkie said: “Candlesticks carry light; they do not create it. Their function is to make it available, not to bring it into being. So by using seven candlesticks to portray the seven churches to whom John is now to give counsel, the Lord is showing that his congregations on earth are to carry his light to the world.”4
● The Savior was in the midst of his Churches, as he is today (Revelation 1:13–20).
— Stars (v. 16): The Savior held seven stars in his right hand when he stood in the midst of the seven candlesticks.
— Angels (v. 20): In the Joseph Smith Translation of Revelation 1–3, the word “angels” is changed to “servants,” making it clear that the stars represent the leaders of the seven branches of the Church (see footnote 20L; 2:1, footnote 1a; 3:1, footnote 1a). Elder Bruce R. McConkie said: “[The seven stars are] the presiding officers of the seven congregations who, as with all his ministers, are in the hands of the Lord.”5
— Sword (v. 16): A sword came out of the Savior’s mouth in this vision. This sword represents the word of the Lord. (D&C 6:2; Hebrews 4:12; Helaman 3:29).
— Keys (v. 18): The Savior was also holding keys. With these keys he will deliver all people from physical death, and he will deliver the righteous from spiritual death. (2 Nephi 9:10–13).
— Keys of Hell and Death (v. 18): Hell is that portion of the spirit world where the wicked suffer torment until they have satisfied the strict demands of God’s justice. It is Christ alone who releases them from their awful state when their torments are over. (1 Peter 3:18–20; 4:6).
CHRIST’S MESSAGES TO THE SEVEN CHURCHES (Revelation 2–3)
● In Revelation 2–3 the Lord reviewed some of the strengths and weaknesses in each branch and warned the Saints to correct their weaknesses. To each of these branches (“Churches”) the Lord gave a commendation, a warning, and a promise.
From these messages to the churches, we can list the blessings promised to faithful Saints who overcome the world:
— Eat of the fruit of the tree of life.
— Be protected from the second death.
— Eat of the hidden manna.
— Receive a white stone with a new name on it.
— Be given power over the nations and rule them with a rod of iron.
— Receive the morning star (Christ).
— Be clothed in white raiment.
— Have their names left in the Book of Life.
— Have their names confessed by Jesus to the Father.
— Have the names of God, New Jerusalem, and Christ written on them.
— Sit down with Jesus and the Father on the throne of heaven.
(See Doctrinal Insights below for detail discussion of the seven churches, their struggles, and their promised blessings.)
“Behold, I Stand at the Door”
● “Behold, I stand at the door and knock” (Revelation 3:20–21). Christ is actively trying to come into our lives. It is up to us whether we will open the door and let him in.
JOHN’S VISION OF HEAVEN (Revelation 4)
● John sees God on his throne, and many other things (Revelation 4:1–8).
— The 24 elders were deceased members of the seven churches (v. 4; D&C 77:5).
— The sea of glass is the earth in its sanctified, immortal, eternal state (v. 6; D&C 77:1; 130:6–9).
— These are actual beasts, exalted and praising God on his throne (vv. 6–8). The eyes of the beasts represent their light and knowledge. The wings of the beasts represent their ability to move, act, etc. (D&C 77:4; 77:2).
THE BOOK WITH SEVEN SEALS (Revelation 5)
The Meaning of the “Seals”
● The Father had a book that only the Lamb of God was able to open (Revelation 5:1–5).
— The seals symbolize the seven “days” of the earth’s temporal existence (D&C 77:6–7).
— One day with the Lord is as a thousand years to us (2 Peter 3:8).
— Elder Orson F. Whitney said: “‘The book which John saw’ represented the real history of the world what the eye of God has seen, what the recording angel has written; and the seven thousand years, corresponding to the seven seals of the Apocalyptic volume, are as seven great days during which Mother Earth will fulfill her mortal mission, laboring six days and resting upon the seventh, her period of sanctification. These seven days do not include the period of our planet’s creation and preparation as a dwelling place for man. They are limited to Earth’s ‘temporal existence,’ that is, to Time, considered as distinct from Eternity. . . .”6
— These dates are only approximate. No one knows exactly how many years elapsed between the Fall of Adam and the birth of Christ. Through numerous changes from one calendar system to another through the centuries, many years have been either added or lost.
● John beheld “creatures” (as well as men) worshiping Christ (Revelation 5:11–14). The Prophet Joseph Smith said: “John saw curious looking beasts in heaven; he saw every creature that was in heaven,— all the beasts, fowls and fish in heaven,—actually there, giving glory to God. How do you prove it? (He then read Revelation 5:13). . . . I suppose John saw beings there of a thousand forms, that had been saved from ten thousand earths like this,—strange beasts of which we have no conception: all might be seen in heaven. The grand secret was to show John what there was in heaven. John learned that God glorified Himself by saving all that His hands had made, whether beasts, fowls, fishes or men; and He will glorify Himself with them.”7
The First Six Seals (Revelation 6)
● First seal: The time from Adam through Enoch (Revelation 6: 1–2).
● White horse: Symbolic of victory over evil.
● Second seal: Noah’s day, which was full of great wickedness (Revelation 6: 3–4).
● Red horse: Symbolic of bloodshed & the sword.
● Third seal: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and Moses (Revelation 6: 5–6).
● Black horse: Symbolic of famine and hunger.
—A measure (Greek choenix) was about 1 quart, a day’s allowance.
—The penny (denarius) was a small silver coin, a day’s pay.
—Thus, it cost 1 day’s wages to buy 1 day’s food for 1 person.
—Barley for 3 people was inferior, used only in times of great hunger.
—The balances in the rider’s hand means food had to be doled out.
— Elder Bruce R. McConkie said “hurt not the oil and the wine” meant that enough food should be preserved so that man would not utterly perish in the famine conditions of that time.”8
● Fourth seal: Wicked Israel is conquered, captured & killed (Revelation 6: 7–8).
● Pale horse: Symbolic of death and hell.
— Elder Bruce R. McConkie said: “During the fourth seal, from 1000 BC to the coming of our Lord, death rode roughshod through the nations of men, and hell was at his heels. Thus, the slain among the ungodly in this age of bloodshed whether by sword or by famine or by pestilence or by wild beasts—were, at their death, cast down to hell. This is the millennium of those great kingdoms and nations whose wars and treacheries tormented and overran, again and again, the people whom Jehovah had chosen to bear his name. This is also the general era in which the Lord’s own people warred among themselves and sent countless numbers of their own brethren to untimely graves.”9
● Fifth seal: The Lord’s earthly witnesses are martyred (Revelation 6: 9–11).
● They receive their exaltation and rest awhile.
● Sixth seal: Earth’s temporal existence ends with destruction (Revelation 6:12–17).
— Elder Bruce R. McConkie said: “We are now living during the final years of the sixth seal, that thousand year period which began in 1000 AD and will continue through the Saturday night of time and until just before the Sabbatical era when Christ shall reign person ally on earth, when all of the blessings of the Great Millennium shall be poured out upon this planet. This, accordingly, is the era when the signs of the times shall be shown forth, and they are in fact everywhere to be seen.”10
THE DESTRUCTION OF SATAN’S KINGDOM (Revelation 8–9)
● The destruction of the wicked begins (Revelation 8:1–6; see also D&C 43:17–20).
● Sounding of the trumpets of judgment before the coming of the Lord (Revelation 8:7–13).
— The 1st angel sounds the trumpet: Natural disasters and death (v. 7).
— The 2nd angel sounds the trumpet: A great volcano in the sea (v. 8–9).
— The 3rd angel sounds the trumpet: A comet slams into the earth (v. 10–11).
— The 4th angel sounds the trumpet: The atmosphere is darkened (v. 12–13).
● The Battle of Armageddon (Revelation 9:1–12). The 5th and 6th angels sound the trumpet again. Here we have a description of the armies gathered against Jerusalem’s people.
— Elder Bruce R. McConkie said: “During this particular period of the war and desolation the evil forces will be directed against all men, save those sealed up unto eternal life, for those in Zion shall be preserved. The plagues and torments of this era shall so afflict men that they shall desire to die rather than to suffer more. In prophetic imagery John here seeks to describe a war fought with weapons and under circumstances entirely foreign to any experience of his own or of the people of that day. Joel, subject to the same limitations of descriptive ability, attempted [with difficulty] to portray the same scenes. It is not improbable that these ancient prophets were seeing such things as men wearing or protected by strong armor; as troops of cavalry and companies of tanks and flame throwers; as airplanes and airborne missiles which explode, fire shells and drop bombs; and even other weapons yet to be devised in an age when warfare is the desire and love of wicked men.”11
— Their leader is Abaddon or Apollyon—”Destroyer” (names for Satan).
— A related name is Perdition—meaning “utter loss” or “destruction.”
— An army of two hundred thousand thousand (two hundred million) (Revelation 9:16–21).
— 1/3 will die (66 million), yet the wicked will still not repent.
— The wicked will mourn the loss of their worldly possessions and be amazed that their worldly kingdom could be destroyed so quickly (Revelation 18:8–18).
● All of this will take place before the Lord’s Second Coming (D&C 77:12–13).
● The Messages to the Seven Churches in Asia: (Revelation 2–3)
The Message to Ephesus
● What and where was Ephesus?
— Though not the capital of the Roman province of Asia, Ephesus was nevertheless one of the major cities of the Empire. It was fourth largest in population and the largest city in all of Asia Minor. Its strategic location made it not only an important harbor but also the junction for important highways and trade routes. It was famous throughout the world for its magnificent temple of Diana (Artemis, in Greek), one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.
● The message: “Overcome and gain eternal life” (Revelation 2:1–7).
● The promise: The Tree of life (v. 7): The Lord warned the Ephesians of their need to repent, but he also promised, “To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life” (v. 7).
The Message to Smyrna
● What and where was Smyrna?
— Called by many ancient writers, “The Jewel of Asia,” Smyrna disputed with Ephesus over the right to be called the most important city of Asia. Situated on an excellent harbor that is still one of the major ports of Turkey (present-day Izmir), Smyrna was an important trade center. In light of the special encouragement given to the Church at Smyrna, it is interesting to note that Polycarp, the bishop of Smyrna, was martyred in the city when he refused to deny Christ. He was burned at the stake and smitten with a sword as the flames were encircling him.
● The message: “Overcome and avoid the second death” (Revelation 2:8–11).
● The promise: Avoiding the Second Death (v. 11): The Lord warned the Saints in Smyrna that they would suffer tribulation, but he also promised, “He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death.”
The Message to Pergamos
● What and where was Pergamos?
— Also called Pergamum, this city was the provincial capital of Asia. Although eager to claim for itself the status of being the most important city in the province, it was clearly eclipsed by both Ephesus and Smyrna. Pergamos became a major center for emperor worship and was most famous for its library which housed over 200,000 scrolls. It was also the major center for the worship of the serpent god Aesculapius, whose temple stood in the city. The city was a place of much wickedness.
● The message: “Overcome and inherit the Celestial kingdom” (Revelation 2:12–17).
● The warning: The Doctrine of Balaam (v. 14): The Lord criticized some of the people in Pergamos for following the doctrine of Balaam, an Old Testament prophet who desired earthly honors and rewards more than he desired to follow the Lord’s will.
● The promise: The Hidden Manna (v. 17): To the Saints in Pergamos the Lord promised, “To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna.” The word hidden in this context means “sacred” or “not evident to everyone.” The manna represents Christ. (John 6:35, 49–51).
The Message to Thyatira
● What and where was Thyatira?
— In spite of the fact that Thyatira was the smallest of the seven cities, the Church there received the longest letter. The city was best known as a center for many craft guilds, including its dyeing of wool. (It will be remembered that Lydia, “a seller of purple” and a convert of Paul’s, was from Thyatira [Acts 16:17]). The city lay directly on the road from Smyrna and was a garrison city. The military spirit was stressed highly, and its chief deity, Tyrimnos, a sun-god, was typically portrayed in attitudes of military prowess.
● The message: “Overcome and rule many kingdoms” (Revelation 2:18–29).
● The promises:
— Searching Reins and Hearts (v. 23): The word reins literally means kidneys. To the Hebrews, the word signified strength and vigor. The phrase is an idiom, meaning that the Lord knows all things about the inner man, his strengths and weaknesses, his character and emotions. And he shall “give unto every one of you according to your works.”
— Power Over the Nations (v. 26): This promise refers to the blessings of exaltation and eternal life, when the righteous will rule over heavenly kingdoms.
— The Rod of Iron (v. 27): The rod of iron with which the righteous will rule over nations is “the word of God” meaning his gospel and priesthood. (1 Nephi 11:25; JST 2:27).
— The Morning Star (v. 28): The morning star is Christ (Revelation 22:16). To receive Christ is to receive him into our lives and to receive the blessings of his Atonement.
The Message to Sardis
● What and where was Sardis?
— Sardis was located at the crossroads of five major land routes and was an important inland trade center. It was renowned for its great wealth, as well as for its inner softness and corruption. Perhaps the Lord referred to this condition when he said they were “spiritually dead” (v. 1).
● The message: “Overcome and remain in the Book of Life” (Revelation 3:1–6).
● The promises:
— The Spiritually Dead (v. 1): The Lord says to these Saints, “I know thy works, that thou hast a name [a reputation] that thou livest, and art [spiritually] dead.”
— Clothed in White Raiment (v. 5): Participation in temple ordinances prepare us to understand what it means to be “clothed in white” eternally.
— The Book of Life (v. 5): The book of life is the one that contains the names of those who will inherit our Father’s glory and kingdoms through the Atonement of Jesus Christ.12 Those whose names are written in the book and then blotted out are those who lose their inheritance because of wickedness?13
The Message to Philadelphia
● What and where was Philadelphia?
— Located twenty-eight miles southeast of Sardis, Philadelphia was called “the Gateway to the East” because of its location. It was in the midst of an active volcanic region and had several hot springs in the area. Bacchus, the god of wine, was the primary deity worshiped there, since Philadelphia lay in a rich area of vineyards. It was probably second only to Thyatira in smallness and unimportance.
● The message: “Overcome and gain godhood” (Revelation 3:7–13).
● The promises:
— The Key of David (v. 7): Elder Bruce R. McConkie said: “From the day of Adam the term key has been used . . . as a symbol of power and authority. Keys are the right of presidency, and the one holding them holds the reigns of government within the field and sphere of his appointment. . . . Thus, the key of David is the absolute power resident in Christ whereby his will is expressed in all things both temporal and spiritual.”14
— Having God’s Name Written on Us (v. 12): Elder Bruce R. McConkie said: “God’s name is God. To have his name written on a person is to identify that person as a god. How can it be said more plainly? Those who gain eternal life become gods! Their inheritance is both a fulness of the glory of the Father and `a continuation of the seed forever and ever’ (D&C 132:19–20).”15
The Message to Laodicea
● What and where was Laodicea?
— Located at the junction of two important valleys and three major roads, Laodicea was one of the richest commercial centers in the ancient world. It was especially noted for its banking, its manufacture of a unique black wool, and for a medical school that was famous for an eye salve made from Phrygian stone (Rev. 3:18). Hot springs at Hierapolis, a short distance to the north, sent steaming waters into the streams that flowed southward. Those waters were still lukewarm when they reached Laodicea (3:15–16). Ironically, this city was often called “the City of Compromise,” the very problem that seemed to affect the Laodicean members of the Church.
● The message: “Overcome and sit on Christ’s throne” (Revelation 3:14–22).
● The promises:
— Christ as the “Amen” (v. 14): The English word “amen” is derived from the Hebrew verb meaning to “prop or make firm.” Anciently, it was a verbal acclamation of the truthfulness of a prayer, concept, or vow. When used at the beginning of a discourse, it signified truthfulness and surety. When used after a prayer or statement of doctrine, it signified that the speaker and listener accepted what had been said as binding and valid for him. . . . Thus the Savior is characterized as the Great Amen.
— Being Lukewarm (vv. 15–16): The Saints at Laodicea were lukewarm and lacked commitment. The region around Laodicea was an active earthquake zone. From some of the fissures in the earth came forth lukewarm water that had an emetic effect (made people vomit). This was a very unpleasant experience to any who drank of those waters. Not too far away from the city were springs of pure cold water that refreshed all who partook of it. Also nearby were hot water springs that provided some wonderful relaxation and respite to any who immersed themselves in them. The Lord is here using the local landscape to contrast the benefits of either hot or cold water with the lukewarm vomit-inducing waters of Laodicea.
— Sit With Me in My Throne (v. 21): Can there be any more direct promise of exaltation than this? The Lord promises the faithful that they will inherit the same blessings that he had obtained—even the throne of godhood (“set with my Father in his throne”). (Romans 8:16–17).
1. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Elder Joseph Fielding Smith , 247.
2. LDS Bible Dictionary, “Revelation of John,” 762.
3. Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3 vols. [1966–73], 3:432.
4. Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3:442.
5. Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3:444.
6. Saturday Night Thoughts, 12.
7. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 291–292.
8. Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3:480.
9. Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3:481.
10. Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3:485-486.
11. Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3:502-503.
12. D&C 128:7; Exodus 32:33; Alma 5:58; LDS Bible Dictionary, “Book of Life,” 626–27.
13. Revelation 21:10, 23–27; Alma 5:58; D&C 88:2.
14. Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed. , 409.
15. Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3:458.