New Testament Lesson 45 (Revelation 1-3; 12)
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 work is very simple and is stated the first verse: it is a revelation of Jesus Christ.
● The book of Revelation 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.”1
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.”2
JOHN’S VISION OF CHRIST
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.”3
● 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.”4
— 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.
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).
● A 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.5 Those whose names are written in the book and then blotted out are those who lose their inheritance because of wickedness?6
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.”7
— 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).”8
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 God’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).
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.
“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.
THE CHURCH IN THE LATTER DAYS (Revelation 12)
John later received a vision of the rise of the Church in the latter days, and of Satan’s opposition to it. He connected this opposition to the same bitter spirit in the war in heaven.
● The woman represents the Church of God (Revelation 12:1–2, 5).
● The child she brings forth represents the kingdom of God—the government that will exist on the earth during Jesus Christ’s millennial reign (Revelation 12:1, 4, 15).
● The dragon represents Satan (Revelation 12:9).
● The stars of heaven that were cast down to earth are spirits who rejected the plan of salvation and followed Lucifer in the premortal life (Revelation 12:3–4).
● There Was War in Heaven (Revelation 12:7–9). Lucifer and his followers waged a war in heaven against our Father in heaven and his faithful children.
— “Devil” means “slanderer” (he spoke evil of God and his plan) (v. 9).
— “Satan” is a Hebrew word that means “adversary.”
— “Lucifer” means “light-bearer.” He was once a righteous son of God.
— The Prophet Joseph Smith said: “The contention in heaven was—Jesus said there would be certain souls that would not be saved; and the devil said he could save them all, and laid his plans before the grand council, who gave their vote in favor of Jesus Christ. So the devil rose up in rebellion against God, and was cast down, with all who put up their heads for him.”9
— D&C 29:36–37 With their agency, 1/3 of Father’s children chose to follow Satan.
— Moses 4:1–3 Ironically, Satan’s plan would have denied them their agency.
— Abraham 3:27–28 Satan was angry that his plan was not adopted, and rebelled.
Continuation on Earth of the War in Heaven
● Satan is very angry at seeks our destruction continually (Revelation 12:12).
● A description of the apostasy (Revelation 12:5–6). According to JST Rev.12:5, these are 1260 years—the period of the Great Apostasy.
— The Kingdom is caught up unto God until its restoration in the latter-days.
— The Church flees into the wilderness (D&C 86:3).
● The woman going into the wilderness is symbolic of the Church of Jesus Christ, persecuted by Satan and driven into the wilderness of apostasy (Revelation 12:13–14).
● Satan continues to make war on the Saints today (Revelation 12:17). Gordon B. Hinckley said: “That war, so bitter, so intense, has gone on, and it has never ceased. It is the war between truth and error, between agency and. compulsion, between the followers of Christ and those who have denied Him. . . . It is waged across the world over the issues of agency and compulsion. It is waged by an army of missionaries over the issues of truth and error. It is waged in our own lives, day in and day out, in our homes, in our work, in our school associations; it is waged over questions of love and respect, of loyalty and fidelity, of obedience and integrity. We are all involved in it.”10
● The Church and kingdom of God will overcome Satan through the Atonement, through testimonies, and through their sacrifices (Revelation 12:11).
1. LDS Bible Dictionary, “Revelation of John,” 762.
2. Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3:432.
3. Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3:442.
4. Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3:444.
5. D&C 128:7; Exodus 32:33; Alma 5:58; LDS Bible Dictionary, “Book of Life,” 626–27.
6. Revelation 21:10, 23–27; Alma 5:58; D&C 88:2.
7. Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed. , 409.
8. Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3:458.
9. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 357.
10. In Conference Report, Oct. 1986, 55–58; or Ensign, Nov. 1986, 42, 44–45.