In February and March 1832, Joseph Smith continued his inspired revision of the New Testament. As he began working on the book of Revelation, he wondered about the meaning of some of the verses. He asked the Lord to interpret some of the symbols and events John the Revelator described. In response to Joseph Smith’s questions about chapters 1–11 of the book of Revelation, the Lord gave the revelation recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 77.
Note: While this lesson addresses content in the book of Revelation, it is not a lesson about the book of Revelation. Spend most of the lesson time discussing the doctrines and principles illustrated in Doctrine and Covenants 77, not the book of Revelation.
Suggestions for Teaching
The Lord answers Joseph Smith’s questions about the book of Revelation
Ask students to silently consider what they have learned in their personal scripture study during the past few days. Invite a few of them to share an insight they have gained. Then ask a few to share questions they have had during or after their personal study. These might include questions about the meaning of a word or phrase, the historical background of what they have read, or the importance of a particular verse. (The purpose of this exercise is not to answer students’ questions about the scriptures but to emphasize the importance of asking questions as we study.) After a few students have shared, ask the following question:
What has helped you find answers to your questions and understand the scriptures better?
To help students understand the context of Doctrine and Covenants 77, invite them to read the section introduction and look for what the Prophet Joseph Smith was doing when he received this revelation. After students report what they have found, you may want to point out that the phrase “in connection with the translation of the Scriptures” refers to the Lord’s command that Joseph Smith make inspired revisions to the King James Version of the Bible. These revisions are now known as the Joseph Smith Translation. Explain that while Joseph Smith was working on the book of Revelation, he asked the Lord about the meaning of some of the verses. The questions he asked and the answers the Lord revealed are recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 77. Encourage students to look for insights in Doctrine and Covenants 77 that can help them deepen their understanding of the scriptures.
Invite students to turn to Doctrine and Covenants 77, and ask them to explain how the format of this section is different from that of other sections in the Doctrine and Covenants. They should notice the letters Q and A next to each verse or paragraph throughout the section. Explain that each Q precedes a question from Joseph Smith, and each A precedes the Lord’s response.
Ask students if any of them have read some or all of the book of Revelation.
What can be challenging about reading the book of Revelation? (If students do not mention it, you may want to explain that the book of Revelation can be difficult to understand because of the symbolism it contains.)
To provide an example of symbolic imagery in the book of Revelation, invite a few students to take turns reading aloud from Revelation 4:2–8. Ask the class to follow along, looking for symbols in these verses. Invite the class to name these symbols, and ask a student to write them on the board. (Answers could include a rainbow around a throne, four and twenty seats, crowns of gold, seven lamps of fire, a sea of glass, and four beasts.)
Invite a student to read aloud Joseph Smith’s question in Doctrine and Covenants 77:1. Ask a student to circle on the board the symbol that Joseph Smith asked the Lord to help him understand (the sea of glass). Then ask another student to read the Lord’s explanation in Doctrine and Covenants 77:1.
How does this answer help us better understand Revelation 4:6?
Divide students into pairs. Ask each pair to read Doctrine and Covenants 77:2–5 together, looking for additional questions Joseph Smith asked about the symbols in Revelation 4 and the answers the Lord gave to those questions. After sufficient time, invite a few students to share how the Lord’s answers to Joseph Smith’s questions help them understand some of the symbolic imagery in Revelation 4:2–8.
Invite students to ponder how they would use what they have learned from Doctrine and Covenants 77 to summarize what John described in Revelation 4:2–8. Invite a few students to share their summaries. Then ask the following question:
What can we learn from Doctrine and Covenants 77 about a prophet’s role in helping us understand the meaning of scripture? (Although students may use other words, they should express the following doctrine: The Lord reveals the correct interpretation of scripture through His prophets. You may want to suggest that students write this doctrine in their scriptures.)
To help students understand this doctrine, ask the following question:
Why do you think it is important to learn what prophets have taught concerning what we study in the scriptures?
To help students gain further insight into this question, ask a student to read aloud the following statement by Elder Bruce R. McConkie of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles:
“Prophets gave the scripture, and prophets must interpret it. Holy men of old received revelation from the Holy Ghost, which they recorded as scripture; now men must have the same Holy Spirit to reveal what is meant by the scripture—otherwise there will be a host of private interpretations and consequently many different and disagreeing churches, which is precisely the condition in the religious world today” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1964, 38).
According to Elder McConkie, why do we need a prophet to interpret the correct meaning of scripture?
Where can we find prophets’ teachings about the meaning of what we read in the scriptures? (Answers may include that we find such teachings in general conference addresses and in the Church magazines and other Church publications.)
As students respond to this question, point out that Doctrine and Covenants 77 demonstrates that the words of the prophets recorded in the scriptures can help explain other scriptures. Many times, the words of a prophet recorded in one passage of scripture will explain or interpret what has been revealed in another passage. Explain that the footnotes contained in the scriptures often provide references to these helpful passages.
To illustrate this point, invite students to read Revelation 5:1 silently, looking for what John saw in the hand of the person who was sitting on the throne. Ask students to report what they have found. If students are using the Latter-day Saint edition of the King James Version of the Bible, invite them to turn to the scripture referenced in footnote b in Revelation 5:1 (D&C 77:6). If students do not have access to the LDS edition of the King James Bible, invite them to turn directly to Doctrine and Covenants 77:6 after they describe what they found in Revelation 5:1.
Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 77:6–7 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for Joseph Smith’s questions about Revelation 5:1, as well as the Lord’s responses. (It may be helpful to explain that the 7,000 years refers to the time since the Fall of Adam and Eve. It is not referring to the actual age of the earth including the periods of creation.)
Ask students to use their own words to summarize the questions and the answers. After completing this activity, point out how using the footnotes as we study the scriptures can help us discover what prophets have said about the scriptures we are reading.
Point out that although only prophets have the authority to interpret the scriptures for the world, each of us should be searching for understanding and personal application as we study the scriptures individually.
How can we liken what Joseph Smith did as he studied and pondered the book of Revelation to our personal scripture study? (Students may identify a principle such as the following: If we inquire of the Lord, He can help us understand the scriptures.)
Why is it important to search for correct meaning of the scriptures and then seek for personal application?
Ask students to ponder a time when they have asked the Lord to help them understand the scriptures and how to apply teachings in the scriptures to their own circumstances. Invite a few students to share their experiences.
Explain that the remainder of Doctrine and Covenants 77 contains more questions Joseph Smith asked about the book of Revelation and the Lord’s answers to these questions. Summarize Doctrine and Covenants 77:8–15 by telling students that this revelation allowed Joseph Smith to learn about some of the events that will take place before the Savior’s Second Coming.
Inform students that when they study the book of Revelation in the future, the Lord’s answers in Doctrine and Covenants 77 can help them understand the meaning of the symbolic imagery in the book.
Conclude this lesson by sharing your testimony of the doctrines and principles discussed in this lesson or by sharing an experience you have had as a result of turning to the Lord for help in understanding the scriptures.
Commentary and Background Information
Doctrine and Covenants 77. The book of Revelation
John, who was also known as John the Beloved and John the Revelator, received a revelation while imprisoned on the island of Patmos for testifying of Jesus Christ and His gospel (see Revelation 1:9–10). This revelation is recorded in the book of Revelation.
The following description from the Bible Dictionary helps explain the book of Revelation:
“Also known as the Apocalypse, a Greek word meaning revealed or uncovered. The message of Revelation is the same as that of all scripture: 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. This is the subject on which Amos, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Paul, Peter, and all the prophets have written. They spoke of a day of victory that would come, and that the end would be better (more glorious) than the beginning. The victory would be achieved through Jesus Christ.
“Such is the theme of the Revelation. The details about the beasts, the wars, the angels, the men, etc., contribute to the development of this theme. By a little study, the theme can be perceived even if the details are not completely identified. It may be in this sense that the Prophet Joseph Smith said that Revelation was ‘one of the plainest books God ever caused to be written’ (HC 5:342). However, the more fully the details are understood, the greater will be the appreciation of the theme. If we fail to catch a glimpse of the theme, we fail in our comprehension, no matter how many details we are able to understand” (Bible Dictionary, “Revelation of John”).
Doctrine and Covenants 77. Studying and teaching from the book of Revelation
Joseph Smith declared that the book of Revelation was “one of the plainest books God ever caused to be written” (in History of the Church, 5:342). When he made this statement, he was speaking at a general conference of the Church. He directed some of his comments to Elder Pelatiah Brown, who had been accused of preaching false doctrine about the book of Revelation. He cautioned Elder Brown and other missionaries not to teach about the specific symbols and details in the book and to instead preach the basic principles of the gospel. The Prophet’s counsel is also relevant to us as we study and teach from the scriptures:
“It is not very essential for the elders to have knowledge in relation to the meaning of beasts, and heads and horns, and other figures made use of in the revelations [by John the Revelator]. …
“… Declare the first principles, and let mysteries alone, lest ye be overthrown. Never meddle with the visions of beasts and subjects you do not understand. Elder Brown, when you go to Palmyra, say nothing about the four beasts, but preach those things the Lord has told you to preach about—repentance and baptism for the remission of sins” (in History of the Church, 5:340, 344).