Of all the books in the Bible, the book of Revelation is one of the most difficult to understand. Consequently, there are a wide variety of interpretations about the meaning of the book, particularly in the traditional Christian world.
Yet the book of Revelation need not remain closed, at least for Latter-day Saints who accept modern revelation. Joseph Smith said, “The book of Revelation is one of the plainest books God ever caused to be written.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1938, p. 290.) Of course, Joseph Smith had a background of angelic tutoring that none of us share. Thus, the central question is, Is it possible for the book to be made easier for Latter-day Saints to understand?
Thankfully, the Lord through the Prophet Joseph Smith gave us some vital keys in D&C 77, an entire section of the Doctrine and Covenants devoted to the Revelation of John. There we find the approach John’s book takes and the general time period into which each element of the vision fits. Section 77 doesn’t answer all our questions, but the Prophet Joseph Smith gives us hope:
“Whenever God gives a vision of an image, or beast, or figure of any kind, He always holds Himself responsible to give a revelation or interpretation of the meaning thereof, otherwise we are not responsible or accountable for our belief in it.” (Teachings, p. 291.)
With that as our basis, then, let’s take a look at Revelation as seen in the light of D&C 77. The first four chapters of Revelation are introductory, containing counsel to the ancient branches of the Church and setting the stage for the vision John is to be given. There is much to learn from these chapters, but because they do not focus on the vision of the Seven Seals, we will not discuss them here. In Revelation chapter 5 a book is introduced, and that book is the basis of the remaining seventeen chapters of Revelation.
Why is the book important? D&C 77:6 tells us it contains, in essence, God’s record “concerning this earth during the seven thousand years of its continuance, or its temporal existence.”
Even so, the book is never opened or read in Revelation, but it has seven seals that are removed one by one. And what do the seals represent? Again the Prophet Joseph Smith tells us: “The first seal contains the things of the first thousand years, and the second also of the second thousand years, and so on until the seventh.” (D&C 77:7.)
When the first seal is opened in the beginning verses of Revelation 6, there is shown to John an important occurrence from the first thousand years after the Fall. The Bible dictionary of the LDS edition of the King James Bible places the Fall near 4000 B.C. (See Bible Dictionary, p. 635.) When the second seal is opened in the subsequent verses, John is shown something about the second thousand years. And so on through the first four seals. The fifth seal information presented to John represents both a time period and some events of which John knew a great deal. The Apostle is shown a representation of those who “were slain for the word of God” after the opening of the fifth seal. (Rev. 6:9.)
For us, however, it is not until the sixth seal is opened (beginning at Rev. 6:12) that we begin to deal with events yet to occur. The sixth seal covers the sixth thousand year period, which generally would be about 1000 A.D. to 2000 A.D.
When we come to Revelation 8, we begin to read of the seventh seal, or the seventh thousand years of the earth’s temporal existence. During the early part of this period is when judgments come upon the earth in a final attempt to turn mankind’s heart to God; it will be sometime early in this period—how early is unspecified—when at last the earth will be cleansed, Christ will return, and the Millennium will begin. (D&C 77:12–13; note the clear reference to both a time period and events to occur after the opening of the seventh seal but before the time of the Second Coming.) The description of those seventh seal events fills most of the remainder of the book.
Following is a discussion of the main events of John’s revelation, in the order in which John describes them. We should note that we do not know if John saw certain of the events in the exact order in which they will occur, or if some events will overlap or occur simultaneously. We purposely give very little interpretation of John’s metaphors, except as is made available in the Book of Revelation. But the presentation, added to the explanations from D&C 77, should help clarify the central scope and message of the book of Revelation.
The information is based upon a Church Education System chart and was adapted for Ensign use by Jay A. Parry.
John’s seven seals give an overview of the seven thousand years of earth’s “temporal existence,” as follows:
John sees a warrior, conquering.
John sees a representation of human contention and death.
John sees images of famine.
John sees death by war, famine, beasts.
John sees the martyrs for Christ of the early Christian era.
A scene shows that angels are held back from sending further judgment until 144,000 high priests can be “sealed” and called to “administer the everlasting gospel.” (See D&C 77:9–11.)
A heavenly scene, “before the throne”; John sees that a “great multitude, which no man could number” will obtain the rewards of the faithful through righteously enduring “tribulation.”
Six of seven trumps now sound, signaling six coming judgments on the earth: (1) hail and fire mingled with blood are cast upon the earth (cf. Ex. 9:22–26; Ezek. 38:22); (2) a great burning mountain is cast into the sea (cf. Ex. 7:19–25); (3) a great star falls, affecting 1/3 of fresh water; (4) 1/3 of heavenly bodies turn dark (cf. Ex. 10:21–23); (5) sun is darkened by smoke; 5-month battle plagues mankind, of such extent it is called a “woe”; (6) a 13-month war plagues mankind, but men still don’t repent, suggesting clearly the purposes for the “judgments of God.”
At this point, an angel informs John of a “sweet” but “bitter” assignment for him to gather Israel “before the time of [Christ’s] coming .” (See D&C 77:12, 14.)
John sees the gentiles “tread” Jerusalem “under foot” for 42 months. During that same period two witnesses of the Lord testify with great power. The period ends with an earthquake. Conditions now are such that the period is called a second “woe.” (See D&C 77:15.)
The seventh angel trumps, and voices in heaven proclaim the coming earthly reign of Christ; lightnings, thunderings, an earthquake, and great hail follow—a “third woe” of mankind.
To prepare John to understand the final events that are to occur, he is given an overview of the opposition between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Satan. The voices in heaven announce the coming triumph of the kingdom of God. This kingdom and its great Satanic counterpart are shown to John in some detail. (Rev. 12, Rev. 13, Rev. 14)
1. John sees a woman, the church (the ecclesiastical aspect of the kingdom), bring forth the kingdom over which Christ reigns as king (the political aspect of the kingdom). (See JST, Rev. 12:1–3, 7.)
2. John sees that the church and kingdom of God are opposed by the great dragon (Satan) and are taken away for many years. (JST, Rev. 12:4–5.)
3. John sees that this opposition actually began in the premortal existence and caused war in heaven. (JST, Rev. 12:6–12.)
4. John sees that the church of his time would not bring forth the kingdom but would be driven into the wilderness (apostasy) by the dragon. (JST, Rev. 12:13–17; see also D&C 5:14; D&C 33:5; D&C 86:1–3.)
1. John sees a beast “in the likeness of the kingdoms of the earth” (JST, Rev. 13:1) come from the sea. He is shown that Satan has power over earthly kingdoms (the political aspects of his kingdom) and that this beast made war with the Saints and overcame them, referring to the events of the Great Apostasy. (Rev. 13:1–10.)
2. John sees another beast, one that exercises great evil through religious power (the ecclesiastical aspects of his kingdom). The followers of this beast are sealed in their foreheads to mark their allegiance. Satan works many miracles and deceives much of mankind. (Rev. 13:11–18.)
1. Having been shown Satan’s power on earth, John is now shown the power that will overthrow it. He sees the Lamb on Mount Zion with 144,000 special ministers of the gospel. (Rev. 14:1–5.)
2. John sees the angelic ministration of the gospel, which has the power to end Satan’s dominion. (Rev. 14:6–7.)
3. John sees the Son of Man in heaven with the sickle and winepress. The great harvest (judgment) of the wicked is soon to begin. (Rev. 14:8–20.)
Before the final judgments—designed to produce repentance among mankind—John is again shown the state of the righteous who are victorious over the powers of Satan.
Seven angels pour forth judgments, as follows:
(1) A sore on the wicked (cf. Zech. 14:12; D&C 29:19); (2) sea becomes as blood; (3) fresh waters become as blood; (4) sun scorches men with great heat; (5) the Beast’s kingdom fills with darkness, and men gnaw tongues for pain and blaspheme God because of sores; (6) three great evil spirits influence men to battle at Armageddon (see also Ezek. 38–39; Joel 3:12–14; Zech. 12–14); (7) a voice from heaven says “It is done.” There are voices, thunders, lightnings, and the greatest earthquake in earth’s history; cities of nations fall; islands flee, and mountains are leveled; a great plague of hail.
At this point, John is once again given additional background on Satan’s kingdom which puts into perspective the next events he will be shown. An angel describes a great whore, with whom people of the earth have committed spiritual fornication. This whore is the Satanic counterpart of the woman in chapter 12, which is the church of Christ. John learns that this great whore sits on many waters, which represent the peoples of the earth (see Rev. 17:1, 15); sits on the head of a beast, or earthly kingdom which is full of “names of blasphemy” (see Rev. 17:3); and is “drunken with the blood of the saints” (see Rev. 17:6). Many earthly kingdoms are associated with her and will give their power to the beast and “make war with the Lamb.” (See Rev. 17:7–18.) NOTE: Nephi had a similar vision. See 1 Ne. 13:4–9, 24–29, 34; 1 Ne. 14:9–17.
An angel proclaims the fall of Babylon (which symbolizes the sin and wickedness of the world, as well as those who partake of it). Babylon is to be destroyed by plagues, famine, and fire; her wicked supporters will mourn her loss. The Saints are called “out” of Babylon, that they might “receive not of her plagues.”
Christ returns in power and glory, and the angels of heaven come with him. The “kings of the earth, and their armies” gather to make war with him, but they are overcome.
Satan is loosed afterward and deceives many. He gathers them to battle against the Saints, but the Saints prevail and Satan is forever “cast into the lake of fire and brimstone.” (See D&C 88:110–16.)
All who have come to earth stand before God, the righteous to be confirmed in judgment previously given, and the wicked to be judged by the Lord and given their “place.” (See D&C 29:26–28; D&C 128:7–8.)
The earth passes away, and there is a new heaven and a new earth. A celestial city descends from heaven to be on earth. The righteous dwell forever in peace and joy.
After reading “Book of Revelation Overview,” you may wish to consider some of the following questions:
1. The Lord has given many of his prophets great views of things to come—including Enoch, Isaiah, Nephi, John the Revelator, and Joseph Smith. What might be some of the reasons the Lord tells us of the future events? How does that information help us in our lives?
2. In chapters 12 through 14, John gives an overview of the great opposition between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Satan. What evidences of that opposition can we see in the world today? What role must each Latter-day Saint play in building the kingdom of God?
3. The chapters of Revelation record a number of judgments that will come upon the inhabitants of earth. What are the purposes of these judgments? How will judgments help the people of the earth make a stronger commitment to God, if they choose to repent?
4. With the knowledge the Lord has given us about the difficult events to come, how can we prepare ourselves temporally and spiritually? What guidance have latter-day prophets given us about preparedness?