Chapter 54: “The Revelation of Jesus Christ … unto His Servant John”

The Life and Teachings of Jesus and His Apostles, (1979), 448–55

Map Chp. 54

The Book of Revelation (the Revelation of John) to Seven Branches of the Church in Asia

Written by the Apostle John, Exiled on the Island of Patmos, ca. A.D. 95



God Makes Men Kings and Priests


Christ the Almighty Shall Come Again

1:7, 8

John’s Vision of the Risen Lord



Overcome, Gain Eternal Life



Overcome, Avoid the Second Death



Overcome, Inherit Celestial Kingdom



Overcome, Rule Many Kingdoms



Overcome, Remain in the Book of Life



Overcome and Gain Godhood



Overcome and Sit on God’s Throne


Interpretive Commentary

(54-1) What Is the Theme of Revelation?

The Theme of the work is very simple and is stated by John in the first verse: it is a revelation of Jesus Christ. The book of Revelation presents a picture of Christ’s dealings with men throughout the ages of earth’s history. In particular, for modern man it mirrors the second coming of Jesus, the judgment of mankind, the destruction of the wicked, the Millennium, and the ultimate celestialization of the world.

(54-2) To Whom Was It Written?

The immediate recipients of the writing known as Revelation were seven churches in Asia designated by the Lord himself (1:4, 11). The reason why these particular churches were singled out is not made clear. It was not because there were no other branches of the church in Asia, for we know from the New Testament that there were saints in Troas (Acts 20:6–12), Colossae (Colossians 1:12), and Hierapolis (Colossians 4:13). Nor could it be that these seven were the more important cities in Asia, for while Ephesus, Smyrna, and Pergamos were cities of some size and note, Thyatira and Philadelphia were small and quite insignificant.

If John spent the last years of the first century as a resident of Ephesus, as many have supposed, he would have been familiar with the seven churches. Moreover, his ecclesiastical position as an apostle would have given him the authority to address these churches in the manner in which he did. Sir William Ramsay, a renowned scholar of New Testament geography, once noted that all seven of the cities to whom John addressed the revelation lay on a great circular road that anciently ran through Asia. If one were to start at Ephesus and travel to the others in the order in which they were named, he would travel along this circular route.

While we know that there were other branches of the church in Asia, it may be that by the time of John’s revelation on Patmos, the apostasy had eliminated all but these seven as faithful branches. Writing just before his death (A.D. 68), Paul told Timothy that “all they which are in Asia [are] turned away from me” (2 Timothy 1:15). Even the seven branches (A.D. 95), it would seem, had things of which they needed to repent. Ephesus, in particular, is told by the Lord, “I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent. (Revelation 2:5.)

Another important item of background is that the early saints were not the only intended recipients of John’s writing. We know from latter-day revelation that an important part of the Lord’s purpose in directing John to write what he saw was to give the saints of the last dispensation an understanding of the events of the last days, the period of time in which much that John saw would be fulfilled. The prophet Nephi, also privileged to behold the things that John saw, was told that the honor of recording the vision was reserved for John (1 Nephi 14:19–25). Nephi was also informed that the things which John would see and record would be brought forth in their purity in the Lord’s due time (1 Nephi 14:26; see also Ether 4:15, 16). In other words, the book of Revelation is not solely for the saints of the seven churches in Asia, but also for the saints of the dispensation of the fulness of times as well.

(54-3) What Is Significant about the Book of Revelation?

Nowhere 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. The book contains an inspired overview of the history of the world, concentrating on that period of time when the Lord shall usher in the great era of millennial peace.

(54-4) Revelation 1:1. “Things Which Must Shortly Come to Pass”

“This is one of the great keys which opens the door to an understanding of the book of Revelation. What is recorded therein is to transpire in the future, mainly in a day subsequent to New Testament times. The revelations promised are to come to the saints of latter-days, not to those in the meridian of time. All the promised events shall transpire ‘shortly’; they are soon to be in the perspective of Him with whom one day is ‘as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.’ (2 Pet. 3:8.)

Joseph Smith said: ‘The things which John saw had no allusion to the scenes of the days of Adam, Enoch, Abraham or Jesus, only so far as is plainly represented by John, and clearly set forth by him. John saw that only which was lying in futurity and which was shortly to come to pass.’ (Teachings, p. 289.) Also: ‘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.’ (Teachings, p. 247.)” (McConkie, DNTC, 3:435.)

(54-5) Revelation 1:6. What Does It Mean to Be “Kings and Priests”?

“Those holding the fullness of the Melchizedek Priesthood are kings and priests of the Most High God, holding the keys of power and blessings. In fact, that priesthood is a perfect law of theocracy, and stands as God to give laws to the people, administering endless lives to the sons and daughters of Adam.” (Smith, HC, 5:555.)

The Sacred Seven-branched Candlestick

The Sacred Seven-branched Candlestick

(54-6) Revelation 1:12. What Is the Symbolism of the Seven Candlesticks?

“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. Christ is the Light of the world. (John 8:12.) ‘Hold up your light that it may shine unto the world. Behold I am the light which ye shall hold up—that which ye have seen me do.’ (3 Ne. 18:24; Matt. 5:14–16.)” (McConkie, DNTC, 3:442.)

(54-7) Revelation 1:13–16. A Word about the Symbolic Language of John

Sometimes the reader of Revelation is startled by some of the imagery and symbolism used by John. They seem almost bizarre at times in their unusual nature. This is due, however, to a basic difference in cultural background and the use of language. Most members of the Church today are products of Western (Occidental) civilization. The occidental peoples tend to use language like a contractor uses building materials: he builds structures which are concrete in detail and form. But the oriental world, of which the Holy Land was a part, is more artistic in its use of language. Words are but colors with which the artist paints verbal pictures. Thus, the Oriental is usually more concerned with effect than with form and detail. Westerners say the sun is rising, while an Arab may say that it leaps from its bed of sleeping.

John, of course, being Jewish, was a product of Oriental, not Occidental, culture. So his depiction of the Savior as having a sharp, two-edged sword protruding from his mouth is perfectly acceptable, even though the Western mind trying to picture that image concretely may find it somewhat jarring to the sensitivities. To the Eastern mind the symbolism is most appropriate, for such a person is more concerned with the effect of the symbol than with its detail. Pushing the images and symbols of John’s writings for literal interpretation will lead to baffling and sometimes grotesque pictures. But if one remembers the Oriental’s love of imagery, such things as beasts with seven heads and ten horns, armiess compared to locusts, and prophets with fire coming from their mouths (11:5; 19:15) will become beautiful and profound symbols of eternal truth.

(54-8) Revelation 1:18. Why Should Christ Have the Key of Hell?

Obviously Christ has power over death, for his resurrection unlocks the doors of death for all men. But wherein does he also have the key of hell? 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. This accords perfectly with the teachings of Peter about Christ’s visit to the spirits in prison between the Savior’s death and resurrection. (See 1 Peter 3:18–20; 4:6; see also Hymns, 218.)

(54-9) Revelation 1:20. Who or What Were the Seven Angels of the Seven Churches?

Joseph Smith changed the word angels to servants in the Inspired Version, both in this verse and in the opening verse of each of the seven letters to the churches in Asia. Elder McConkie states that the seven stars are “the presiding officers of the seven congregations who, as with all his ministers, are in the hands of the Lord. They do not speak or act of themselves; they represent their Master, whose words they speak, whose acts they perform, and in fact whose they are.” (DNTC, 3:444.)

(54-10) Revelation 2:1. “Unto … the Church in Ephesus Write”

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 temple was the center of the riot in Ephesus involving the apostle Paul. His preaching threatened to destroy the business of the local artisans who made silver models of the temple to sell to tourists and worshipers (Acts 19:23 ff). At the time of Paul, the port was filling with silt from the river Cayster, and, while still a major city, Ephesus was in a state of gradual decline. After the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, the city became the center of the Christian church for many years until the center gradually shifted to Rome.

(54-11) Revelation 2:8. “Unto … the Church in Smyrna Write”

Called by many ancient writers, “The Jewel of Asia,” Smyrna disputed with Ephesus over the right to be called the first 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. Destroyed by earthquake in 627 B.C., it was completely rebuilt by Lysimachus, one of the successors of Alexander the Great, about 290 B.C. Thus it was one of the few “planned” cities of the ancient world. As early as 195 B.C., Smyrna built a temple to the goddess of Rome and thereafter was one of the first and foremost cities to heartily embrace the Imperial Cult (emperor worship). In light of the special encouragement given to the angel (servant in the Inspired Version) of 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.

(54-12) Revelation 2:12. “And to … the Church in Pergamos Write”

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. Peramos 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.

(54-13) Revelation 2:14. What Was the Doctrine of Balaam?

“To divine for hire; to give counsel contrary to the divine will; to pervert the right way of the Lord—all with a view to gaining wealth and the honors of men. In effect, to preach for money, or to gain personal power and influence. In the very nature of things such a course is a perversion of the right way of the Lord. See 2 Pet. 2:10–22.” (McConkie, DNTC, 3:450.)

(54-14) Revelation 2:18. “And unto … the Church in Thyatira Write”

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.

(54-15) Revelation 2:23. What Does It Mean to Search “the Reins and Hearts”?

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 then be able to “give unto every one of you according to your works.”

(54-16) Revelation 3:1. “And unto … the Church in Sardis Write”

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, “I know thy works, that thou hast a name [a reputation] that thou livest, and art [spiritually] dead.” (Revelation 3:1.)

(54-17) Revelation 3:1. The Spiritually Dead

“There are many people in this Church today who think they live, but they are dead to the spiritual things. And I believe even many who are making pretenses of being active are also spiritually dead. Their service is much of the letter and less of the spirit.” (Spencer W. Kimball in CR, Apr. 1951, pp. 104–5.)

(54-18) Revelation 3:7. “And to … the Church in Philadelphia Write”

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 worshipped there, since Philadelphia lay in a rich area of vineyards. It was probably second only to Thyatira in smallness and unimportance.

(54-19) Revelation 3:7. What Is the Key of David?

“From the day of Adam the term key has been used by inspired writers 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. In ancient Israel, David was a man of blood and battle whose word was law and whose very name was also a symbol of power and authority. Accordingly, when Isaiah sought to convey a realization of the supreme, directive control and power resident in our Lord, the Son of David, he spoke these words in the Lord’s name: ‘and the key of the house of David will I lay upon his shoulder; so he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open.’ (Isa. 22:22.) … Thus, the key of David is the absolute power resident in Christ whereby his will is expressed in all things both temporal and spiritual.” (McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, p. 409.)

(54-20) Revelation 3:12. “And I Will Write upon Him the Name of My God”

“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. Then shall they be gods, because they have no end; therefore shall they be from everlasting to everlasting, because they continue; then shall they be above all, because all things are subject unto them. Then shall they be gods, because they have all power, and the angels are subject unto them.’ (D. & C. 132:19–20.)” (McConkie, DNTC, 3:458.)

(54-21) Revelation 3:14. “And unto … the Church of the Laodiceans Write”

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 (Revelation 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 enough, this city was often called “the City of Compromise,” the very problem that seemed to affect the Laodicean members of the church.

(54-22) Revelation 3:14. Why Does Christ Title Himself as the “Amen”?

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. That is how it is commonly used today.

Through Christ all acts, doctrines, and ordinances are given the stamp of truth and validity; thus the Savior is characterized as the Great Amen. The title takes on additional meaning when it is remembered that the saints at Laodicea were troubled with lukewarmness, lack of commitment—the very opposite of the affirmation “Amen.”

Points to Ponder

The Letters to the Seven Churches Contain Instructions and Counsel of Great Worth to Saints of the Latter Days

Each of the seven letters written by John was a personal revelation on conditions in the last days.

To help you better understand how you personally can benefit from the letters to the seven churches, sit in now on a group discussion of these very chapters.

Brother Jacobson

Now that you have had a chance to study carefully each of the seven letters, let’s see what you have learned. Rick, your group was to examine the praise Christ gave to each group. Would you report on that?


Well, it was kind of surprising to us. Even though each letter seems so individual and personal, when we started listing the things Jesus praised we found many of them to be similar. In fact, we combined them into four major items: (1) Good works, (2) faithfulness in the face of opposition, (3) rejection of false teachings, and (4) keeping their garments clean, which we called worthiness.


That’s strange, for we found the same thing as we examined the things which Christ condemned in the seven churches. We classified them into five categories.

Brother Jacobson

And what were they?


First, imperfect works; second, insufficient love for Christ; third, toleration of teachers who pretended to be of God but were really of Satan; fourth, lack of commitment or faithfulness; and fifth, defilement of their garments.

Brother Jacobson

Good. Before we hear from Bob’s committee let’s talk about these things you’ve learned. Did you find any indications that what the Lord said to those early saints was meant for saints of our day too?


Well, obviously these points have great value for us too.

Brother Jacobson

Do you mean the things which he condemned, George?


Yes, and the things that he praised, too. They would provide an excellent standard for evaluating our own spiritual standing with the Master.


Not only that, and I agree with George, but we know these instructions were meant for more than just those people, because again and again, he says, “He that hath ears to hear let him hear what the Spirit is saying.” I think almost every letter had that admonition after it.

Brother Jacobson

That’s right, Mary. Every letter does. But do we really need the same praise and criticisms today? Do we in the Church today have Balaams and Jezebels, for example?


I suppose we have them in the Church, too—people who teach false doctrines or who are trying to deceive others—but when Sally said that about teachers pretending to be of God, I had another thought. I thought of the doctrines and teachings of the world which are made to appear morally right but are really satanic.

Brother Jacobson

Can you think of an example, Karl?


Yes. I’ve often thought how clever Satan is about birth control. The population explosion people have made it look as if those who limit their children are the ones who are doing the good and moral thing, and those who have more children are evil, selfish, and terrible.

Brother Jacobson

That’s an excellent example. Are there any others?


Well, this isn’t exactly the same thing as Karl was talking about, but I know Mormons today who sound like the Laodiceans. I’m the Junior Sunday School coordinator in our branch, and while most of our teachers are good, we have some that are pretty luke-warm, too.


And I can think of times when I’ve been an Ephesian, too.

Brother Jacobson

In what way do you mean that?


Like the saints at Ephesus, I do lots of good things but more out of habit or obligation than love. During high school I felt so close to the Savior and loved him so much. Now I’m struggling to regain those feelings.

Brother Jacobson

I think many of us could identify with that particular weakness. So we see that the Lord has really provided us with a very effective measuring stick of our own relationship with him. Now, does he tell us in these letters what to do about it?


Yes, he says to repent.

Brother Jacobson

Okay, but of what?


Well, I don’t know. I guess those things that he had condemned in each church.

Brother Jacobson

Exactly! And what is the other half of the formula?


Several times he tells them to hold fast to that which they had.

Brother Jacobson

Right! What a simple rule for drawing close to Christ. Repent of those things which are not acceptable to him, and continue doing those things that please him. Okay, Bob, let’s hear now what things are promised to those who obey this simple formula.


We didn’t classify them the way the other committees did. We listed them all.

Brother Jacobson

That’s fine. I’ll write them on the board as you read them.


In each case these are the rewards promised to those who overcome, which we felt includes enduring to the end. So he that overcomes will (1) eat of the fruit of the tree of life; (2) be protected from the second death; (3) eat of the hidden manna; (4) receive a white stone with a new name on it; (5) be given power over the nations and rule them with a rod of iron; (6) receive the morning star; (7) be clothed in white raiment; (8) have his name left in the Book of Life; (9) have his name confessed by Jesus to the Father; (10) have the names of God, New Jerusalem, and Christ written on him; and (11) sit down with Jesus and the Father on the throne of heaven.

Brother Jacobson

Good, Bob. Now, class, as you look at all of those, what do they have in common?


I’m not even sure what some of them mean. What is the hidden manna, for example?


Yes, and the morning star? What does that mean?

Brother Jacobson

Obviously there is much symbolism here. So we must look to other sources for help. Later, for example, Christ calls himself the “bright and morning star.” That’s in Revelation 22:16.


So if the faithful are given the morning star, then they receive Christ?

Brother Jacobson

Yes. And related to that is the hidden manna. Let me read you something from the great “Bread of Life” sermon in John’s gospel. After speaking of the manna that fed the Israelites in the wilderness, Jesus said, “l am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live forever.” (John 6:51.) So Christ is the morning star and the hidden manna. We get two other important clues from the vision of Lehi. We’ve already talked about the fruit of the tree of life being symbolic of the love of God. Do you remember what the rod of iron symbolized?


The word of God.

Brother Jacobson

Right. What is the application here, then?


That those who overcome shall rule in the celestial kingdom through the word of God.

Brother Jacobson

Yes. Ruling with a rod of iron sounds harsh, but not when you understand its true meaning. Now one more, and then we’ll ask our original question. Do you remember from your reading of the Interpretive Commentary what Elder McConkie taught about what it means to have God’s name written on an individual? (See item 54-19.)


He said it was a title. If you have God written on you, it means you are a God.

Brother Jacobson

Exactly! And so as you look at all eleven promises, what do you see that each has in common with the others?


Well, they are promises to the faithful, to those who endure to the end.

Brother Jacobson

Yes, but there’s more. What level of promises are they? Or to put it another way, if a person receives each of these blessings, at what level will he be?


The celestial level. These are all celestial promises.

Brother Jacobson

Very good! Right here in these seven ancient letters we have one of the great gospel summaries. Nowhere else except in the 76th section of the Doctrine and Covenants can you find such a complete description of the promises awaiting those who go to the celestial kingdom. In these brief chapters, the Lord lays out a summary that is as beautifully applicable to you and me today as it was to the saints in Asia. He gives the rule: Hold fast to the good things you are doing; repent of the bad. Then he lists, briefly but comprehensively, examples of both the good and the bad. Then he describes the conditions awaiting those who are obedient to that rule. Now you can see why Jesus said, “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.” (Revelation 3:6.)