Insights from the JST into the Book of Revelation

Gerald N. Lund

Gerald N. Lund, “Insights from the JST into the Book of Revelation,” in The Joseph Smith Translation: The Restoration of Plain and Precious Truths, ed. Monte S. Nyman and Robert L. Millet (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1985), 251–70.

Gerald N. Lund was director of the Curriculum and Instruction Division in the LDS Church Educational System when this was published.

The book of Revelation is one of the most intriguing and controversial books in the biblical library. Most scholars agree that it is one of the most difficult books in either the Old or new Testaments. [1] Typically, modern readers, including Latter-day Saints, find its imagery strange, its prophecies filled with the bizarre and baffling imagery, its message unclear. Not surprisingly, therefore, it is largely left alone and unread.

The title of the book in Greek is Apocalypsis, from which we get its other common name, the Apocalypse. Apocalypsis is formed from two Greek words—apo, a preposition meaning separated or removed from, and kalypto, a verb meaning to cover, hide or conceal. [2] Apocalypsis literally means to remove or to take away the covering or veil. [3] Hence its title in English, the book of Revelation (or the uncovering or unveiling).

Some would say that without question that title is one of the mot ironic or misleading titles in the whole of scripture. There is no book, they say, that is more veiled or unrevealing than this one.

One of the Plainest Books

Even some latter-day Saints find it difficult to believe that the book reveals or uncovers much truth. One teacher explained the difficulty of the book by noting nephi’s prophecy that when first written, the Bible would include many “plain and precious” truths. However, evil men would remove many of those truths. (See 1 Nephi 13:28, 14:23) The teacher’s conclusion? All the plain and precious things in the book of Revelation were removed! That is why we cannot understand it today.

While this sounds plausible and has some attractive elements, it is not justified by other evidence. The Prophet Joseph Smith, in a sermon delivered in 1843, stated that “the book of Revelation is one of the plainest books God ever caused to be written.” [4] And his work on the new translation of the Bible bears that out. If the book is obscure and mystifying because of a great loss of original material, the Prophet did not see fit to restore the lost material. While admittedly this is an argument from silence, it is interesting to compare his work on Revelation with this work on some other books thought to be more plain and clearly understood.

For example, the Gospel of Matthew is not generally considered to be a mysterious or difficult book. Yet in his work on the book, the Prophet made changes in 618 of the 1071 verses in Matthew, or 58 percent of the total. In addition to the changes, he added the equivalent of 51 verses of totally new material, which is an expansion of another 5 percent of the total text. [5] Compare these changes with the book of Revelation, where he added only three new verses (JST Revelation 1:7; 2:27; 12:7) and made changes in only 90 of the 394 verses, or 23 percent of the total. [6] In the book of Genesis, as another comparison, the Prophet changed about half the verses and added the equivalent of about 250 new verses, [7] literally pages and pages of new material. Yet the book of Revelation gets only three new verses and relatively few other changes.

Some might think those figures could be the result of the fact that the Prophet worked through the Bible sequentially. Since the book of Revelation is last, it received the least amount of work and therefore reflects the smallest number of changes. Again the evidence does not substantiate this.

As Robert J. Matthews notes, while the Prophet did not generally indicate which portion of the scriptures he was working on at various times, nor how long he spent on any one book, we do have some solid evidence that “in the work of revision the Prophet was moving back and forth in the New Testament rather than working continuously through the Bible in a consecutive order.” [8] We find this entry in the Prophet’s history: “Upon my return from Amherst conference, I resumed the translation of the Scriptures. . . . Accordingly, on the 16th of February, 1832, while translating St. John’s Gospel, myself and Elder Rigdon saw the following vision.” [9] Then followed section 76. On 1 March 1832 we find this entry: “About the first of March, in connection with the translation of the Scriptures, I received the following explanation of the Revelation of St. John.” [10] Section 77 follows. As Matthews concludes,

It is unlikely that the work would have progressed consecutively in the short of two weeks from Chapter 5 of John to the Book of Revelation. A more plausible conclusion suggests that the brethren were not following the New Testament consecutively. [11]

The Book of Revelation: Meant to Be Understood

We are left with the clear conclusion that John’s Revelation was meant to be understood when it was first written, and was meant to be understood today. The Prophet said it was one of the plainest of books, and so it should be. Elder Bruce R. McConkie in response to the question, “Are we expected to understand the book of Revelation?” answered:

Certainly. Why else did the Lord reveal it? The common notion that it deals with beasts and plagues and mysterious symbolisms that cannot be understood by us is just not true. It is so far overstated that it gives an entirely erroneous feeling about this portion of revealed truth. Most of the book—and it is no problem to count the verses so included—is clear and plain and should be understood by the Lord’s people. . . . He [the Lord] has withheld the sealed portion of the Book of Mormon from us because it is beyond our present ability to comprehend. We have not made that spiritual progression which qualifies us to understand its doctrines. But he has not withheld the book of Revelation, because it is not beyond our capacity to comprehend; if we apply ourselves with full purpose of heart, we can catch the vision of what the ancient Revelator recorded. [12]

The World’s Confusion

All of this is not meant to imply that the book of Revelation is simple or easily understood. In the quote above, where he talked about it being understandable, Elder McConkie added the qualifying phrase, “if we apply ourselves with full purpose of heart.” He went on in the same article to say: “The language and imagery [of the book of Revelation] is so chosen as to appeal to the maturing gospel scholar, to those who already love the Lord and have some knowledge of his goodness and grace.” [13]

An understanding of the book comes only when a price is paid in study, pondering and general gospel knowledge. But that alone is not enough. Bible scholars pay the price in terms of time and effort. They study the culture and background. They pore over the original Greek, looking for every nuance and clue. They know the emperors and the historical milieu in which John wrote. They know all of that, and yet there is still no consensus as to what is truly revealed by John.

To illustrate the confusion and babble of interpretive voices, let us just take one example of the world’s attempt to explain a highly symbolical passage found in chapter 9 of Revelation. Under the sounding of the fifth trumpet, John saw a “star fall from heaven” and open the “bottomless pit” (Revelation 9:1–2). Out of the pit came a vast cloud of locusts which John says were commanded “that they should not hurt the grass of the earth, neither any green thing, neither any tree; but only those men which have not the seal of God in their foreheads. And to them it was given that they should not kill them, but that they should be tormented five months,” (Revelation 9:3–5.)

Note just a sampling of the scholars’ attempts to explain what John saw. Adam Clarke, in the first half of the nineteenth century, wrote:

Locusts] Vast hordes of military troops: the description which follows certainly agrees better with the Saracens than with any other people or nation, but may also apply to the Romans. As the scorpions of the earth have power] Namely, to hurt men by stinging them. Scorpions may signify archers; and hence the description has been applied to Cestius Gallus, the Roman general who had many archers in his army. . That they should be tormented five months] Some take the months literally, and apply the to the conduct of the Zealots. . . Others consider the months as being prophetical months, each day being reckoned for a year; therefore this period must amount to one hundred and fifty years. [14]

Dummelow, another nineteenth-century scholar, did not believe they were men at all. He says, “from the smoke issue evil spirits with the appearance of locusts. They are not to hurt green things for they are not really locusts. [15] Tenney cites Mauro who concludes that since trees are used elsewhere as symbols for human greatness or people of eminence (e.g., see Jeremiah 7:20; Ezekiel 31:3), the “grass of the earth” (Revelation 9:4) would be the masses of common people. [16] Clearly nervous about that interpretation, Tenney finally only ventures that the locusts “are really an invasion from another world of malicious embodied spirits whose mission is destruction.” [17]

One of the more creative attempts to explain the symbolism is by H.M.S. Richards Jr., who equates Mohammed, founder of the Islamic faith, to the star that fell from heaven, and the bottomless pit to “the waste of the Arabian desert,” [18] He then goes on to explain the symbolism of the locusts:

I have a copy here of the military command given to this great cavalry army by Abu-bekr, their commander, in A.D. 632, when they were on the verge of entering upon their invasions of Syria. He dispatched a circular letter to the Arabian tribes which reads as follows: “When you fight the battles of the Lord . . . destroy no palm-trees, nor burn any fields of corn. Cut down no fruit-trees.” [19]

These are the acknowledged experts in the New Testament and yet still cannot come to a consensus of opinion. But, one asks, doesn’t this very confusion disprove your statement that the book of Revelation was meant to be understood? No. What we are saying is that to the world it is a confusing book and that study alone is not enough to open its mysteries to our view.

The Instrumentality of Joseph Smith

It was Peter who said that “no prophecy of the scriptures is given of nay private will of man. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man. But holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” (JST 2 Peter 1:20–21; emphasis added.)

It is through the instrumentality of a prophet, the Prophet Joseph Smith, that the corrected interpretation of John’s vision is to be had. Without it, it is indeed a book covered by a veil, hidden from our view. But with what the Prophet has revealed it becomes understandable. It fulfills and justifies its title as a book of Revelation.

The Prophet gave us access to the mysteries of Revelation through four major means:

1. Latter-day scripture.

2. Nonscriptural sermons and writings.

3. Doctrine and Covenants 77.

4. Joseph Smith Translation revisions of the text of Revelation

Since the focus of this paper is the contributions of the JST to our understanding of the book of Revelation, we shall skip over the first two quickly, giving only an example or two of each.

One example of a contribution from latter-day scripture is found in Doctrine and covenants 130:7–11. There the Prophet explained the meaning of two important symbols used by John, namely the sea of glass before the throne of God (see Revelation 4:6), and the white stone given to the faithful (see Revelation 2:17). Another is found in Moses 4:1–4 and Doctrine and Covenants 76:25–30, which give more information about the war in heaven, which John barely mentions (see Revelation 12:7).

One example of the Prophet’s contribution through his non-scripture sermons or writings is where he said that John “saw the same things concerning the last days, which Enoch saw.” [20] That is a significant clue to help us as we interpret the Revelation. Another example is a lengthy sermon given in Nauvoo on 8 April 1843. [21] The whole sermon is an exposition of John’s revelation. In a few instances, the Prophet verbally corrected passages in the New Testament, but for one reason or another those changes never made it into the Joseph Smith Translation. [22] Two such changes involved verses in the book of Revelation. [23]

Section 77: The Key to Understanding Revelation

The third area of contribution in which the Prophet Joseph added to our understanding of the book of Revelation is section 77 of the Doctrine and Covenants. In his journal, the Prophet noted, “About the first of March, in connection with the translation of the Scriptures, I received the following on the Revelation of St. John.” [24] Section 77 was then given.

Though not actually part of the JST text, section 77 was given as part of the translation process and therefore must be considered as part of the Joseph Smith Translation contributions. And though not part of the actual text, section 77 certainly ranks as one of the most important, if not the most important, contributions of the Prophet in aiding our interpretation of the book of Revelation.

Section 77 contains fifteen questions and answers about the text of the book of Revelation, though the Prophet gives no indication whether the question were his or were part of the revelation. Fifteen questions seems at first to be a woefully inadequate amount when one considers the number of questions raised as the text is read. Nevertheless, a careful study of section 77 shows that these fifteen questions do indeed provide the key so we can enter into the “house” of Revelation and begin to explore. Smith and Sjodahl, expanding upon the analogy of the key, say:

But this Revelation [section 77] is not a complete interpretation of the book. It is a key. A key is a very small part of the house. It unlocks the door through which an entrance may be gained, but after the key has been turned, the searcher for treasure must find it for himself. . . . From the key thus given, from the Old Testament prophecies, and from history, ecclesiastical and political, it should be possible to interpret the rest. As Champollion, by the key furnished in the brief text on the Rosetta stone, was able to open the secrets of Egyptian hieroglyphics, so the Bible student should be able to read the Apocalypse with a better understanding of it, by the aid of this key. [25]

The key lies in the fifteen questions asked and answered in the section.

The Textual Changes

The final contribution of the Prophet to our understanding of the Apocalypse is in the actual work he did on the text of Revelation as part of his inspired translation of the Bible. As was noted above, he deleted from, added to or changed a total of ninety verses. Obviously, not every one of those changes are of equal significance. The committee that worked on the LDS edition of the King James Version included changes for only forty-seven of the ninety verses, or just slightly better than half of the total changes. Taking that as some indication of the number of significant changes, we could say that the prophet significantly altered only 12 percent of the total verses. Twelve percent is not a staggering proportion, but the percentage does not convey the importance of the contribution made by the Prophet’s work on the text of the apocalypse. Much in the same way as section 77, the verses so changed often become a key to opening our understanding to a passage or even sometimes to a whole concept taught by John.

Now that we have briefly discussed the four areas of contribution made by the Prophet, we shall begin an analysis of the Revelation of John to see how the Prophet has opened this book to our understanding. Since our focus in this paper is primarily on the contribution of the JST to our understanding of Relation, we shall focus on the contributions of section 77 and the actual textual changes of the JST, though where appropriate we may note contributions from Latter-day scripture or the Prophet’s other writings. Space allows discussion of only the most significant of the contributions from all four areas.

The Vision Opens: Chapter 1

John says it was on Patmos, on a Sunday, that he received the grand and glorious visions recorded in Revelation (vv. 9–10). Chapter 1 provides the prologue to all that follows, and interestingly enough the Prophet made more changes in this opening chapter than in any other chapter except chapter 12. From those changes we learn the following:

1. The Revelation is of John. It is his testimony and witness that is being recorded (see JST Revelation 1:1, 2, 4, 5). This in no way lessens the fact that the source of the vision and inspiration is divine, but the KJV suggests that the revelation is from God to Jesus Christ (see v. 1). The JST clearly identifies is as being given to John, a servant of God, from Jesus Christ. Why is this significant? It is another example of how the Savior views his prophets and apostles. They are his servants and he honors them for their faithfulness.

2. The KJV indicates that the revelation was given because “the time is at hand” (v.3). The JST clarifies what time is meant when it says “for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh” (JST v. 3).

3. In several places in the opening chapters, reference is made to “seven Spirits” (1:4; 3:1, 4:5) and “seven angels” (1:20; 2:1, 8, 12, 18; 3:1). As is, this makes it sound as though the seven spirits and the seven angles are different things. But the Prophet changed or explained all references to the seven Spirits and the seven angels to show that the seven Spirits and the seven angels both refer to the leaders of the seven churches (see JST for all of the above verses). John, who at this time is the leader of the Church, is writing to seven branches of the Church in Asia. The JST makes it clear that he specifically addresses the leaders (the bishops or branch presidents, as it were) of each of these branches.

4. Also the JST makes it clear that the seven Spirits (now servants) are the receivers, not the source, of the vision (see JST v. 4).

5. Finally, the Prophet added to the concept of Christ’s second coming that he would come clothed in “the glory of his Father” and be accompanied by “ten thousand of his saints” (JST 1:7). Perhaps here is a good time to note that in Greek the largest named number was ten thousand, which is the world “myriad.” [26] Often it is used symbolically to express uncountable numbers.

The Seven Letters: Chapters 2 and 3

Immediately following the opening vision, the Savior, through the angel representing him, dictated seven letters to the seven churches of Asia. Though often neglected in favor of the prophetic visions, these seven letters are choice, individualized pieces of personal revelation. The Prophet made very few changes, the most significant of which include:

1. As noted above, throughout these letters the Prophet changed the wording to make it clear that each letter was addressed to the presiding authority of each church.

2. The bed into which the false prophetess and those who followed after her was to be cast is actually “hell” (see JST 2:22).

3. Those who are faithful in Thyatira are promised that they will be given power over nations and will rule them with a rod of iron, smashing them to pieces like clay pots (2:26–27). This seems contradictory in the KJV. Faithful saints are promised the power to smash the nations to pieces. This symbolism is strongly suggestive of tyranny. The imagery of Nephi’s vision shows that the iron rod is a symbol of the word of God (see 1 Nephi 15:23–24) which helps somewhat, but in the JST, the Prophet dropped the imagery of smashed pottery and turned it instead into the idea of potter shaping and molding vessels. He said that those who were faithful in keeping the commandments would rule the nations “with the word of God; and they shall be in his hands as the vessels of clay in the hands of a potter; and he shall govern them by faith, with equity and justice (JST 2:26–27). This is a very different imagery from that of the KJV.

The Vision of Heaven: Chapter 4

Once the seven letters are finished, John is invited to come into the heavens so that he can see things which will be “hereafter” (4:1). Thus opens the great prophetic vision for which the Apocalypse is famous. John first describes, or rather attempts to describe the majesty and magnitude of the celestial kingdom where God dwells. In a way it is an impossible task—trying to use the finite to describe the infinite. Almost instantly the reader is confronted with a baffling array of symbols, figures and images, some of which, on the surface at least, border on the bizarre.

And here it is that Joseph Smith’s work becomes significant, becoming the key to our understanding. While the Prophet made a few textual changes in these chapters, which we will note, the major contribution comes from section 77 of the Doctrine and Covenants. As was mentioned, fifteen questions are asked in that section about the book of Revelation. Seven of the fifteen are questions relating to chapters 4 and 5. From the Prophet’s work we learn the following:

1. The earth in its celestialized future state will become like a massive Urim and Thummim to its inhabitants (see D&C 77:1; 130:7–9).

2. Animals from our own world and from other worlds are celestialized and dwell in the presence of God. (See D&C 77:2–3; see also the Prophet’s discourse on the meaning of the beasts. [27])

3. The rather bizarre imagery of beasts covered with eyes and wings is actually symbolical of their celestial nature (see D&C 77:4).

4. The seven leaders of the churches as well as twenty-four elders from the seven churches were going to dwell in the presence of God (see JST Revelation 4:5; D&C 77:5). In times of intense persecution and martyrdom, this would have served as a great encouragement to the faithful to stay true to their commitments.

The Sealed Book and the Seven Seals: Chapter 5

It doesn’t take a lot of study of the book of Revelation to come to the conclusion that the imagery of chapter 5 is pivotal to the whole structure of the book. John saw in the right had of the father a book (most likely a scroll) which was sealed with seven seals (see 5:1). He also saw that no one in heaven or earth was able or worthy to open the book, except for the Savior (vv. 2–14). Since the rest of the vision describes what John sees as each of the seven seals is opened by the Lamb, an understanding of the sealed book is critical to our whole understanding of the book of Revelation.

And here it is that the Prophet Joseph Smith made his greatest contribution to our ability to unveil the veiled, to reveal the revelation. He answered two significant questions: What is the meaning of the book and what is the meaning of the seals? Certainly more than any other single thing, his answers to those questions (see D&C 77:6–7) become the key to gaining access to the “house” of Revelation. From what as revealed in those two verses we then can derive the following:

1. The book in the right hand of the Father represents the history and destiny of the world. It is in his right hand to suggest he controls everything in and about our world. No one except the Savior was worthy to open the book because the atoning sacrifice was what made the whole of world history possible and meaningful.

2. The seven seals represent the seven thousand-year periods which the earth will have during its temporal existence. This not only provides us one of the most specific clues we have as to the closeness of the Second Coming, but it also shows that the book of Revelation is basically structured chronologically, unfolding the earth’s history from the time of Adam until the earth is celestialized.

3. Studying that chronological structure carefully, we can see that John’s Revelation focuses most heavily on that short period of time between when the last period of a thousand years begins and when Christ comes. Note the amount of time spent on earth of the seven seals. The first five (6:1–11) are covered briefly, merely highlighting the thing of greatest import to the covenant people that happened in that time frame. The sixth seal, the one in which we currently live, is expanded considerably (6:12–7:17) but still takes only a few verses of the total. Knowing that the Millennium is the major event of the seventh seal, we might expect John to dwell at great length on that. But the opening of the seventh seal begins in the first verse of chapter 8. The Second Coming and the Millennium are not seen until chapters 19 and 20. Thus, clearly, the majority of the revelation focuses on that period “after the opening of the seventh seal, before the coming of Christ” (D&C 77:13).

4. This understanding of the time frame aids us greatly in interpreting the symbols used by John. For example, a man on a white horse is seen in 6:2. That same imagery is used of the Savior in 19:11. Therefore, one might think both places refer to the Mater, and this is indeed a common interpretation of the scholars. [28] But knowing that the first seal represents the first thousand years of the earth’s history (approximately 4000 to 3000 B.C.) makes that interpretation no longer tenable. That single piece of information helps us look for someone or something in that period of time that meets all of the symbolic conditions. With that we conclude it is not Christ but Enoch that is represented. [29] And there are other examples of how this key to the chronology becomes a key to the correct interpretation of the symbolism.

Similarly, the rather ingenious interpretation mentioned above—the locusts not hurting grass and trees being interpreted as the Arab general’s order to his troops to leave vegetation alone—can now be rejected, since the events described occurred midway in the fifth seal, and John sees the locusts appear after the opening of the seventh seal.

The Opening of the Seals: Chapters 6 to 11

Again, more through what we learn from section 77 than through actual textual changes, the Prophet greatly adds to our understanding of what John saw as the various seals were opened. Nothing is said about the first five seals, either through section 77 or through JST changes. But when we get to the opening of the sixth and seventh seals—those of our own time, as it were—we are helped immensely and learn the following:

1. The “angel from the east” is Elias (D&C 77:9). This at first may not seem helpful, but we know that the concept of Elias is as a forerunner and that here it refers to the restoration of the gospel in the last days. [30] Applying that interpretation to John’s vision makes perfect sense. Before the angels of destruction are loosed, the servants of God will be sealed and thus saved from destruction, through the restoration of the gospel, with its priesthood and ordinances. Commenting on these very verses, the Prophet later explained that the sealing “signifies sealing the blessing upon their heads, meaning the everlasting covenant, thereby making their calling and election sure. When a seal is put upon the father and mother, it secures their posterity, so that they cannot be lost, but will be saved by virtue of the covenant of their father and mother.” [31]

2. The Prophet clearly indicates that the twelve thousand sealed from each of the twelve tribes is not just a symbolic representation of the forces of righteousness, as some scholars maintain. They are a great missionary force of the sixth seal (see D&C 77:10). Joseph Smith shows us that they are ordained high priests chosen from among every nation to carry forth the gospel and bring as many as will come to the true Church (see D&C 77:11). (In another revelation the Prophet indicated that these 144,000 would also stand on Mt. Zion with the Savior. See D&C 133:18 and compare with Revelation 14:1–5.)

The Prophet also said, shortly before his death, “I attended prayer-meeting with the quorum in the assembly room, and made some remarks respecting the hundred and forty-four thousand mentioned by John the Revelator, showing that the selection of persons to form that number had already commenced.” [32] This statement would seem to indicate that this great body of missionaries may be composed of mortals and immortals together.

3. Though the Prophet did not give us specific help in interpreting the various images mentioned under the sounding of the seven trumpets that begin in chapter 8, two things he revealed are of great help as we study this section of Revelation. First, he revealed that the trumpets represent the judgments of God which will prepare the world and cleanse it for the millennial reign of Christ (see D&C 77:12). Second, he clearly specifies that these trumpets (or judgments) happen in the seventh seal (see D&C 77:12–13). Since the evidence suggests we have not yet entered that last period of a thousand years, this prophecy is yet future to us. In fact, once the judgments happen it may be that the imagery used by John in this section will become much more clear. It also tells us that any attempt to tie these judgments with past historical event is not justified.

4. In chapter 10, there is a brief pause in the description of the judgments in which John is given a little book to eat. This seems puzzling at first, but again the information revealed through the Prophet Joseph Smith helps us with the interpretation. He explains that the book is symbolic of the mission of John himself during these great events, which mission is to help gather the tribes of Israel (see D&C 77:14). We know from scripture that John is privileged to continue his ministry on the earth until the Savior returns (see John 21:22–23; D&C 7). It is almost as though the Lord says to John in chapter 10, “since you will still be living at the time all these things I have shown you are transpiring, would you like to see what you will be doing?” At a conference of the Church in June 1831, the Prophet confirmed that the “little book mission” was being fulfilled when he said that “John the Revelator was then among the ten tribes of Israel who had been lead away by Shalmaneser, king of Assyria, to prepare them for their return from their long dispersion.” [33]

5. Finally, we learn from the Prophet’s revelations that the “two witnesses” seen by John as playing a pivotal role in the great battle of Armageddon were two prophets raised up to the Jewish nation (not necessarily Jewish themselves, as some have maintained) in the last days, who would work among the Jewish people in their homeland (see D&C 77:15). Elder Bruce R. McConkie said that these two prophets would be “followers of that humble man, Joseph Smith. . . . No doubt they will be members of the Council of the Twelve or of the First Presidency of the Church.” [34]

The Church and Kingdom of God

After the sounding of the seven trumpets of judgment, John heard “great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdom of our Lord, and of his Christ” (JST Revelation 11:15). Then, much as a teacher pauses in the course of his lecture to explain an important point, the Lord pauses in his vision of the judgments to explain some significant things about these kingdoms he has just mentioned.

Chapter 12, where this explanation begins, was altered more by the Prophet in his revision of the book of Revelation than any other chapter. He changed most of the verses, rearranged the order of them, and added one new verse—the only place where a significant amount of new material is added in all of Revelation (see JST Revelation 12:7).

While there is much we could study in these changes, space permits us to focus only on the most important insight derived from those changes. Chapter 12 contains three great figures or signs “in the likeness of things on the earth” (JST v. 1)—a woman who is pregnant, a man child to whom she gives birth, and a great red dragon. The dragon is clearly identified as Satan (see JST v. 8) Most commentators agree that the woman represents the Church of Jesus Christ, a fact which Joseph Smith definitely confirmed (see JST v. 7). But it is the man child that has caused commentators the most difficulty. We are told in both the KJV and the JST that the man child is to rule all nations with the rod of iron and that he will be caught up to the throne of God (see v. 5; JST v. 3). Nearly identical imagery is used in 19:15, and so most scholars assume of the man child is none other than the Savior.

But in chapter 12, if that is the correct interpretation, there is a problem with the imagery. The woman is pregnant with, or in other words gives birth to, the man child. But if the woman is the Church and the man child the Savior, this is contrary to what we know to be true. The Church does not bring forth Christ. Just the opposite is true.

Others have suggested, since it is specified the child is male, that the baby represents the priesthood. But again we have the same problem. The Church does not give birth to the priesthood, but just the opposite.

One simple phrase added by the Prophet in this chapter brings the whole matter into perfect clearness. In fact, it becomes a key to our understanding of this whole section on the kingdoms of the world and of Christ. He changed verse 8 in the KJV to read, “And the dragon prevailed not against Michael, neither the child, nor the woman which was the Church of God, who had been delivered of her pains, and brought forth the kingdom of our God and his Christ” (JST v. 7; emphasis added).

Sometimes in the Church we use the phrase “the kingdom of God” to refer to the Church itself, but technically it has a more specific meaning. Elder Joseph Fielding Smith said:

After Christ comes, all the peoples of the earth will be subject to him, but there will be multitudes of people on the face of the earth who will not be members of the Church; yet all will have to be obedient to the laws of the kingdom of God, for it will have dominion upon the whole face of the earth. These people will be subject to the political government, even though they are not members of the ecclesiastical kingdom which is the Church.

This government which embraces all the peoples of the earth, both in and out of the Church, is also sometimes spoken of as the kingdom of God, because the people are subject to the kingdom of God which Christ will set up. [35]

Now the imagery is consistent and logical. Eventually there will be a political kingdom led by Jesus Christ which will rule all nations with the word of God. That political kingdom will grow out of, and is made possible by (that is, is given birth by) the Church of Jesus Christ. And since the creation of the political kingdom of Christ signals the end to the kingdoms of the world, it is little wonder that Satan seeks to destroy the man child. During the meridian of time, the Church was not able to bring forth that political kingdom, but itself was taken into the wilderness, or went into apostasy (see JST Revelation 12:14; D&C 86:3). The man child, or the political kingdom was thus taken to heaven to await the day of Restoration.

Such a clear and reasonable explanation of this chapter is made possible only through the JST and the instrumentality of the Prophet Joseph Smith.

Conclusion and Summary

In Nephi’s grand and glorious vision, he was privileged to see from his own time down through the stream of history to the end of the world. He was allowed to write most of the things he saw, including some things fulfilled in our own generation (e.g., see 1 Nephi 14:12). But at the point where he began to see things still future to us, he was told that he could write no more of them, even though he would be allowed to see them. He was told that he could not write them because it was a stewardship that belonged to another (see 1 Nephi 14:20–21, 25). It belonged to one of the apostles of the Lamb, and, said Nephi, “I . . . heard and bear record that the name of the apostle of the Lamb was John” (1 Nephi 14:27).

The fulfillment of that stewardship is found in what we call the Apocalypse, or the book of Revelation. It was written for our time and primarily about our time. It is a book of eminent importance to Latter-day Saints.

And it is through the instrumentality of the Prophet Joseph Smith, and especially his work on the new translation of the scriptures, that the book of Revelation has become just that for us. It is a book that stands revealed, as the Prophet said, as “one of the plainest books God ever caused to be written.” [36]


[1] Canon Leon Morris, The Revelation of St. John (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1969), 15.

[2] Joseph Henry Thayer, Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament, s.v., apo and kalypto.

[3] Ibid., s.v., apokalypsis.

[4] Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, comp. Joseph Fielding Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1938), 290; hereafter cited as Teachings.

[5] Joseph Smith, Joseph Smith’s “New Translation” of the Bible (Indepenence, MO: Herald Publishing House, 1970), 236–317.

[6] Ibid., 513–23.

[7] Ibid., 27–116.

[8] Robert J. Matthews, Joseph Smith’s Revision of the Bible (Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Press, 1969), 10.

[9] Joseph Smith, History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 vols. (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1946), 1:245; hereafter cited as History of the Church.)

[10] Ibid., 1:253.

[11] Matthews, Joseph Smiths Revision, 10. For additional evidence see his whole discussion, 8–13.

[12] Bruce R. McConkie, “Understanding the Book of Revelation,” Ensign, September 1975, p. 87; emphasis added).

[13] Ibid., p. 89 (emphasis added).

[14] Adam Clarke, Bible Commentary (Nashville, Tenn.: Abingdon Press, n.d.), 3:1001 (emphasis added).

[15] J. R. Dummelow, A Commentary on the Holy Bible (New York: Macmillan, 1936), 1080; emphasis added.

[16] Merrill C. Tenney, Interpreting Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1957), 75.

[17] Ibid.

[18] H. M. S. Richards Jr., What Is in Your Future? (Los Angeles: Voice of Prophecy, 1972), 23.

[19] Ibid., pp. 23–24; emphasis added.

[20] Smith, Teachings, 84.

[21] Ibid., 287–94.

[22] Robert J Matthews, “A Plainer Translation”: Joseph Smith’s Translation of the Bible: A History and Commentary (Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Press, 1975), 210–12.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Smith, History of the Church, 1:253.

[25] Hyrum M. Smith and Janne M. Sjodahl, Doctrine and Covenants Commentary, rev. ed. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1951), 478.

[26] Thayer, s.v., myrious.

[27] Smith, Teachings, 287–94.

[28] See for example, Dummelow, Commentary, 2078; R.C.H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. John’s Revelation (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1963), 221–22.

[29] Bruce R. McConkie, Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3 vols. (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966–73), 3:476–77; hereafter cited as DNTC.

[30] Ibid., 3:491–92.

[31] Smith, Teachings, 321.

[32] Smith, History of the Church, 6:196.

[33] Ibid., 1:176 note.

[34] McConkie, DNTC, 3:509.

[35] Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, 3 vols. (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954–56), 1:229.

[36] Smith, Teachings, 290.