The future of the Apostle John, sometimes called “the Beloved” or “the Revelator,” is a mystery to the world. Confusion comes because of the statement in John 21:20–23. Referring to John and speaking to Peter, the Savior said: “If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? follow thou me. Then went this saying abroad among the brethren, that that disciple [John] should not die: yet Jesus said not unto him, He shall not die; but, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?”
From this statement questions naturally arise: Did John die? If not, what is his status? If he did, why did Jesus make the statement? The issue has been debated for centuries among the various Christian denominations, with some scholars saying that he indeed died and was buried at Ephesus, while others believe he still walks the earth. A third school of thought states that even though he was buried at Ephesus, he is not really dead but simply sleeps in the grave until the Second Coming of the Savior. (See Sperry, Compendium, pp. 66–67.)
Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery finally solved the issue through an appeal to the Lord. The Prophet Joseph Smith recorded: “During the month of April [1829, at Harmony, Pennsylvania,] I continued to translate, and he [Oliver Cowdery] to write, with little cessation, during which time we received several revelations. A difference of opinion arising between us about the account of John the Apostle, mentioned in the New Testament, as to whether he died or continued to live, we mutually agreed to settle it by the Urim and Thummim.” (History of the Church, 1:35–36.)
The result of their inquiry is given in the heading of section 7. It is not known whether Joseph saw the parchment referred to and was given power to translate it, or if its contents were revealed to Joseph without his seeing the original source. It makes no difference, since the material was given by revelation to the Prophet.
Notes and Commentary
See 3 Nephi 28:1–7 for a similar account of the Nephite disciples’ receiving the same gift because they had the same desires as John.
D&C 7:2. What Does It Mean to Have “Power over Death”?
This passage does not refer to the fact that a person would never die, for all must die (see 1 Corinthians 15:22). Even Christ died, though he had power over death (see John 10:17–18). To one who has power over death, death is held in abeyance according to the will of God (see Matthew 16:28; Mark 9:1; Luke 9:27; 3 Nephi 28:7–8). Such persons are called translated beings (see 3 Nephi 28:1–40; McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, pp. 804–8).
The Prophet Joseph Smith said that “translated bodies cannot enter into rest until they have undergone a change equivalent to death. Translated bodies are designed for future missions.” (History of the Church, 4:425; for further discussion of translated beings see Smith, Teachings, pp. 170–71; Taylor, Mediation and Atonement, pp. 74–78.)
D&C 7:3–6. How Has John Prophesied before Nations and Ministered to Heirs of Salvation?
Five of the books of the Bible were written by John: the Gospel of John, three epistles, and the book of Revelation. The world’s most widely distributed book is the Bible, portions of which have been translated into 2,233 languages as of 2000. It has been estimated that between 1815 and 1999 some 3.88 billion Bibles were printed (see Guinness World Records 2002, p. 138). Certainly John’s written prophecy has gone forth among the nations.
The Apostle John ministered to the Prophet Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery in 1829 when he assisted Peter and James in the restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood (see D&C 27:12).
In a conference of the Church on 3 June 1831, the Prophet Joseph Smith taught concerning John’s ministry: “John the Revelator was then among the Ten Tribes of Israel who had been led away by Shalmaneser, king of Assyria, to prepare them for their return from their long dispersion” (History of the Church, 1:176).
Elder Heber C. Kimball recorded an appearance of John in the Kirtland Temple:
“When the Prophet Joseph had finished the endowments of the First Presidency, the Twelve and the Presiding Bishops, the First Presidency proceeded to lay hands upon each one of them to seal and confirm the anointing; and at the close of each blessing the whole of the quorums responded to it with a loud shout of Hosanna! Hosanna! etc.
“While these things were being attended to the beloved disciple John was seen in our midst by the Prophet Joseph, Oliver Cowdery and others.” (In Whitney, Life of Heber C. Kimball, pp. 91–92.)
D&C 7:7. What Are the Keys Held by Peter, James, and John?
“The keys of the ministry which John says (Sec. 7:7) were given to Peter, James and himself, constituted the authority of Presidency of the Church in their dispensation. (See D.H.C., Vol. 3:387; Matt. 17:1–9; D. & C. 81:1–2.) These keys were given at the transfiguration to these three Apostles, and they in turn gave them to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery in this dispensation. (D. & C. 27:12–13; 128:20.)” (Smith, Church History and Modern Revelation, 1:49.)