The Exalted Lord

Richard D. Draper

Richard D. Draper, “The Exalted Lord,” Shedding Light on the New Testament: Acts–Revelation, ed. Ray L. Huntington, Frank F. Judd Jr., and David M. Whitchurch (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2009), 290–317.

Richard D. Draper is a professor of ancient scripture at Brigham Young University.

The book of Revelation is not, of course, easy reading. Anyone who has spent much time trying to decode John’s message will not underplay the difficulties. One major problem is that some passages can be understood on more than one level or in more than one way. Consider the first line of the first verse: “The Revelation of Jesus Christ.” What does that phrase mean? Is it the revelation that belongs to Jesus or the revelation that discloses Him? The context suggests it is the revelation that belongs to Him, for John expressly states that “God gave [it] unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass” (Revelation 1:1). Still, as we look at the book’s prophetic message, we cannot doubt that the great revelation emphasizes the work of the Savior on its cosmic scale. It really is the revelation of, meaning about, the Savior. In it we see aspects of the Savior found in none of the other standard works of the Church. This chapter examines the four visions in which the Savior directly appears in order to help the reader appreciate John’s contribution to our understanding of the nature and mission of the Lord.

The Revelation of the Savior in the First Vision

In the very first chapter, John records the Savior’s testimony of Himself: “I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty” (Revelation 1:8). That the Lord introduced Himself with these elements suggests that they form the backbone, as it were, of what He wants disclosed about Himself. The Lord begins that disclosure by identifying Himself with the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet. In doing so, He stresses His overarching role in the salvation process. The Lord acts as “the beginning,” or “Alpha,” by giving people the “light of Christ” (Moroni 7:19; D&C 88:7–13) by which they are able to discern and live the way of God. As they respond to their new understanding by entering into and keeping covenants with Him, He is able to finish their perfection, that is, act as “the ending,” or “Omega,” by bringing them to the Father (see Moroni 10:32–33; D&C 84:46–47.) Thus, salvation begins and ends in Him and in Him alone.

Jesus describes Himself further as He “who is, and who was, and who is to come” (Joseph Smith Translation, Revelation 1:8). The descriptive title strongly echoes the name of God given to Moses in Exodus 3:14–15 as translated in the Septuagint (the Hebrew Bible translated into Greek sometime between 300 and 100 BC).[1] The Greek phrase, as written by John, begins with apo, “from,” which takes the genitive case but here is followed by three nominative phrases linked by the connective kai, “and.” By keeping the form in the nominative, John emphasizes the idea that the Savior is always the subject.[2] He holds the initiative. Even from the beginning, “He ordered all things according to the council of His own will.”[3] Men do not force His hand but work, even in their rebellion, according to it (see Romans 9:15–18; John 10:18; Ezekiel 38:1, 14–22). We can take the phrase as an indeclinable noun, a rephrase, as it were, of the tetragrammaton YHWH, “He Who is.”[4] John’s rephrase of Jehovah’s name reminds the reader that Jehovah is eternally existent. As He said to Moses, “Endless is my name; for I am without beginning of days or end of years; and is not this endless?” (Moses 1:3).[5]

The title does more. It brings the Endless One onto the stage of history. He alone stands as the Lord of the past, the present, and the future. He “contemplated the whole of the events connected with the earth, pertaining to the plan of salvation, before it rolled into existence, or ever ‘the morning stars sang together’ for joy; the past, the present, and the future were and are, with Him, one eternal ‘now.’”[6] Jesus, by virtue of His eternal existence, exercises power and fulfills His purposes through the course of history.

The last title the Lord ascribed to Himself was “the Almighty” (Revelation 1:8). The appellation emphasizes His power over and through history. The Greek word used, pantokrator, means “omnipotent” but not in sense that some theologians give it as the ability to do anything. Here it is best understood as the power of one who has all embracing authority to hold together and regulate.[7] In this title we see the central message of Revelation and a message reiterated in modern scripture: He “ascended up on high, as also he descended below all things, in that he comprehended all things, that he might be in all and through all things, the light of truth” (D&C 88:6). It is this “light which is in all things, which giveth life to all things, which is the law by which all things are governed” (v. 13). Thus, the Savior overmasters the sun, the moon, and even the stars with all their world systems. He rules world history and sets humankind’s destiny. Nothing can disrupt His designs (see D&C 3:1–2). As will be shown below, nothing goes beyond the limits He sets. He is indeed God, the Almighty.

This auditory witness was but the beginning of John’s understanding of the nature of the Lord. Within moments the Savior parted the veil and appeared to His beloved disciple. With powerful imagery, John records his encounter with the Second Comforter. As the vision opened, the prophet saw standing in the midst of seven lamps “one like unto the Son of man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the paps with a golden girdle” (Revelation 1:13).[8] The phrase “son of man” is found in all the standard works usually referring to the Savior, though in the Old Testament it is used to distinguish mortals from God especially in a judgment context (see Numbers 23:19; Psalm 8:4; Isaiah 51:12. Ezekiel especially uses the term this way. See for example: 2:1, 3, 6, 8). The book of Moses gives another dimension to the title; there the name is capitalized, “Son of Man,” making it a proper name or title (Moses 6:52). According to that same verse, “in the language of Adam, Man of Holiness” is the name of God, “and the name of his Only Begotten is the Son of Man, even Jesus Christ, a righteous Judge.” In this context, the name designates He who is the Son of the Man of Holiness.

John’s culture gives us a further dimension. The term can be found in a number of writings during the first century.[9] Though scholars are still unsure as to the full meaning of this title, the term designated a supernatural figure who was to act as the viceregent of God at the close of the age (compare Daniel 7:13).[10] It is of note that Jesus first applied the term “Son of man” to Himself when His dual power to heal physical and spiritual illness proved His divinity (see Luke 5:18–26). The then-current definition of supernatural being and God’s viceregent seems to fit much of the profile of the Savior.[11] The title’s implications would not have been wasted on John’s readers.

The imagery John uses in Revelation to describe the Lord reveals much. It, along with the lamp stands, ties the vision to the temple. The words John used to describe the Lord’s robes are the same as those used in the Septuagint for the vestments of the high priest (see Exodus 28:4; 29:5; see also Daniel 10:5). The golden girdle or clasp, worn at breast level, marked royalty.[12] Thus, the Lord seems to present Himself as both king and priest, offices associated with the temple and the fulness of the priesthood. The revelation shadows His standing at the head of the patriarchal order, presiding as father, king, and priest.

John goes on to describe the Lord’s countenance like that of the sun shining in its strength, His hair “white like wool, as white as snow; and his eyes . . . as a flame of fire” (Revelation 1:14). Fire also surrounded His feet and legs, “as if they burned in a furnace” (v. 16). John’s vision mirrors that of Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery. When they saw the Lord, “His eyes were as a flame of fire; the hair of his head was white like the pure snow; his countenance shone above the brightness of the sun; and his voice was as the sound of the rushing of great waters, even the voice of Jehovah” (D&C 110:3). Both visions emphasize the celestial, overwhelming glory and power associated with the Lord.

There is a dramatic difference between the two visions, however. In John’s, “a sharp twoedged sword” issued from the Lord’s mouth (Revelation 1:16). The imagery is a bit startling, but like much in John’s visions, the symbolism is not meant for the paintbrush but for the mind. In other words, the image begs for interpretation not artistic rendering. The KJV translates two Greek words as “sword”: machaira and rhomphaia. Both terms refer to swords in general, but a machaira also described a butcher’s knife and a surgeon’s scalpel. That is not the case for rhomphaia, the word John used. It particularly designated a Thracian broadsword, but was sometimes used to designate a lance or spear with a broad, double-edged head.[13]

The symbolism echoes Isaiah, who said Christ “shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth” (11:4; the Septuagint replaces “rod” with “word”), and “he hath made my mouth like a sharp sword” (49:2). The sword stands as an excellent symbol for the executive and judicial powers of the Lord, which sever, cut, open, and reveal. It stands as a perfect symbol of the word of the Lord, which is “quick and powerful, . . . to the diving asunder of the joints and marrow, soul and spirit; and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (D&C 33:1).

Before giving John his commission, the Lord revealed one more fact about Himself: “[I] have the keys of hell and of death” (Revelation 1:18). Many find that phrase surprising, supposing that Satan possesses those keys. The book of Revelation, however, has it right. Keys give access or control; they symbolize authority. The Greek word translated “hell,” hadēs, denoted, in its Christian context, the world of spirits where the rebellious await the day of judgment in torment.[14] The Lord holds power over spirit prison as well as paradise. The wicked, consigned to hell, feel “a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the [Lord’s] adversaries” (Hebrews 10:27). Alma testified that “this is the state of the souls of the wicked, yea, in darkness, and a state of awful, fearful looking for the fiery indignation of the wrath of God upon them” (Alma 40:14). The Lord’s judgment places the wicked in torment that they might repent and be purged and prepared though the fire for a kingdom of glory and happiness.

The Lord’s power over death and hell came through the Atonement and the Resurrection. Peter testified of the Lord’s descent into spirit prison, which made it possible for the souls there to be taught the gospel that they might be judged with the same judgment as men in the flesh (see 1 Peter 3:18–20; 4:6). The Savior’s descent should be seen as that of a conquering hero come to liberate the prisoners. His ministers declared “liberty to the captives who were bound, even unto all who would repent of their sins and receive the gospel” (D&C 138:31). It was, however, through the power of the Resurrection that the Lord fully demonstrated His complete authority. Indeed, one day, through the twin keys that belong to Him alone, all of hell and every tomb will stand empty. We will come back to this more fully below.

The Message of the First Vision

From the very first vision, Revelation shows Jesus not only as king and priest, but also as caretaker and director—a God immediate, intimate, and cognizant. “I know thy works,” He assured the servants of the seven churches (Revelation 2:2). John’s Lord stood not outside history, but at its very core. “I can stretch forth mine hands and hold all the creations which I have made; and mine eye can pierce them also,” He assured Enoch (Moses 7:36). He warned the seven churches to mend their ways or He would take away their candlesticks. The Lord reveals Himself as caring and compassionate, yet exacting and unyielding.

The Revelation of the Savior in the Second Vision

As a prelude to the second appearance of the Lord in Revelation, John was invited to see the celestial kingdom with God sitting upon His throne surrounded by cherubim and elders. In His hand was a scroll. It was the book of destiny, for in it was recorded “the revealed will, mysteries, and the works of God; the hidden things of his economy concerning this earth during the seven thousand years of its continuance, or its temporal existence” (D&C 77:6). John understood that somebody had to execute God’s will. John saw a problem: the heavens could find no one worthy to do the job. Indeed, no one “was able to open the book, neither to look thereon” (Revelation 5:3). The earth stood in danger of not having the will of God executed because no one “was able.” The Greek word dynamai suggests that no one had the power or ability in or of himself to do the task, not even the angels of heaven.

John’s reaction was instant and heartfelt: “I wept much” (Revelation 5:4). His pathos, however, was short-lived, for one of the elders assured him that “the Lion of the tribe of Juda, the Root of David, hath prevailed” and could, therefore, open the scroll (v. 5). Both titles come from Jewish messianism. The first echoes Genesis 49:9–10, in which Judah is called a “lion’s whelp” and promised that the scepter would not depart from him “until Shiloh [the Messiah] come.” The second title suggests Isaiah 11:1, which refers to the Root of Jesse, the future ideal King of David’s line, who was to usher in the period of peace. Both combine to reveal the Savior as the true King of Israel, the Sovereign of heaven and earth ready to bring in His millennial reign.

John turned to look, but he did not see the majestic figure of a regal lion. Instead he saw a lamb “in the midst of the throne” (Revelation 5:6). The phrase gives the lamb a position nearest the throne, sharing, as it were, the central place. In this way, the Seer symbolized a principal reality. The Lamb is the center of all things, preeminent over all God’s creations.

The Lamb, though living, bore the marks of a violent death. The Greek verb used to describe the wound, sphazō, “slaughter,” refers to the act of sacrificing.[15] John could have had the Paschal lamb in mind. If so, his imagery echoed the celebration of the Passover with its ritual slaughtering of the lamb. The whole would have reminded his Jewish readers of the ultimate victory and freedom they gained through Jehovah, the Lamb of God. This powerful symbol emphasizes a central biblical theme: victory through sacrifice.[16] The Lamb prevails not by sovereign might but by sacrifice grounded in love (see John 16:33).[17] He derives His worthiness by purchasing God’s people with His own blood. The Seer’s metaphor emphasizes both the high value of those He purchased, costing Him His blood and life, and the universality of His action in redeeming all the faithful from death and hell.[18]

John described the Lamb as having seven eyes and seven horns. Again, the image created suggests symbolic interpretation rather than visual reconstruction. The eyes depict knowledge, the horns represent power, and the number seven suggests fullness or completeness.[19] Christ possesses with His Father the powers of omnipotence and omniscience; He is “the power of God, and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:24). To these the Seer adds, through the symbolism of the “seven Spirits of God,” the fullness of administrative authority (Revelation 5:6). Each image shows the Lord’s connection to earthly government which He is about to assume in His redemptive role as “slain” (v. 9). Through “the seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth,” John represents the omnipresence of the Lamb (v. 6).

The Joseph Smith Translation (JST) provides an additional insight. There the Lamb has twelve horns and twelve eyes “which are the twelve servants of God, sent forth into all the earth” (v. 6). The text defines the nature of the power of the Lamb. Twelve symbolizes the priesthood, and the JST seems to teach that all priesthood centers in and flows from the Lamb. The Doctrine and Covenants notes that at one time “it was called the Holy Priesthood, after the Order of the Son of God. But out of respect or reverence to the name of the Supreme Being, to avoid the too frequent repetition of his name, they, the church, in ancient days, called that priesthood after Melchizedek, or the Melchizedek Priesthood” (D&C 107:3–4; italics in original). Further, “The Melchizedek Priesthood holds the right of presidency, and has power and authority over all the offices in the church in all ages of the world, to administer in spiritual things” (D&C 107:8). All this power centers in the Lamb and flows from Him to His leaders, especially His Spostles. By its authority, the Savior acted to bring about the Atonement and continues to minister its saving power in the world. This is the central deed in the scroll of destiny, for all history pivots on this one act. It alone allowed for the complete fulfillment of the Father’s will.

The Message of the Second Vision

The imagery in which God chose to clothe the revelation of His Son manifests the Redeemer’s role as the slain or sacrificed Lamb. But, though the wound is horrible, it does not dominate the metaphor. The Lamb’s horns and eyes stand out. The image draws the reader’s mind to those elements that explain why the Lamb prevailed to open the scroll, why He could act when no one else “was found worthy to open and to read the book, neither to look thereon” (Revelation 5:4). Of note is that John could clearly see the scroll from where he was standing, but he could not look on it. The Greek word John chose (blepō) suggests not just viewing but reading, understanding, or comprehending.[20] This he could not do. It took more power and knowledge than he had to comprehend the will, economy, and mystery of God as it played out in the world’s history. The Lamb possessed those powers. But He received them, we must remember, because of the wound. It was the sacrifice that made the Lamb “worthy to open the book, and to loose the seals thereof” (Revelation 5:2). But God’s imagery brings the reader’s mind an even higher understanding. The horns and eyes do indeed invest the Savior with the attributes of deity. More important, the whole image—the Lamb, the eyes, the horns, and especially the wound—force a new definition of omnipotence. Often felt to describe God’s power of unlimited coercion, the Seer reveals its true nature as the power of infinite persuasion, the invincible strength of self-sacrificing love.[21]

The Revelation of the Savior in the Third Vision

As the next vision opened, John saw the Savior standing with 144,000 of the Saints of God. These represent those whom the Savior has sealed into eternal life. The number need not be taken literally. The Doctrine and Covenants states that “those who are sealed are high priests, ordained unto the holy order of God, to administer the everlasting gospel; for they are they who are ordained out of every nation, kindred, tongue, and people, by the angels to whom is given power over the nations of the earth, to bring as many as will come to the church of the Firstborn” (77:11). Note that this scripture does not specify a number. Instead, it notes that they are high priests who have a special calling “to administer the everlasting gospel” and “to bring as many as will come to the church of the Firstborn.”

Joseph Smith associated them with the temple.[22] The symbolic meaning of the number supports this association. Twelve represents the priesthood. Certain people living in the ancient world would square a number to amplify its symbolic meaning. Thus, 144 suggests a fullness of priesthood authority. But the Lord was not satisfied with that. He gives the image a superlative quality by multiplying it by 1,000, representing completeness. In this way He shows the strength and breadth of the priesthood in the latter days, in this dispensation which is, indeed, the dispensation of the fullness of times. During this period complete priesthood authority will operate. It is little wonder that the world will be condemned as it spurns this authority.

It is the 144,000 who will build the New Jerusalem and establish the foundation of Zion. It is here, John understands, that the Lord will be dwelling before the great and dreadful day overtakes the rest of the earth. The presence of the Lord prepares the Saints against the judgments He is about to unleash against the rest of the world.

The momentum of John’s vision up to this point has prepared the reader for the onset of a great battle, but, as usual, God throws in a twist. He does not disclose the figure standing on Mount Zion as a terrible warrior-king garbed in battle array, but instead, as a lamb, the symbol of meekness and peace. Further, harmony and joy reign over the entire scene. These people do not know worry or distress; they seem unconcerned about the war clouds gathering over the whole earth. The harmony of sweet music fills the region and reaches from earth to heaven. The whole rhapsody comes to a climax as heaven responds, exalting in a new song—new not only because it has never been sung before but because it could never have been sung before. It signals a total victory which only now becomes possible. For this reason, only the 144,000—representing the sealed who have won the battle—are able to sing it. The Doctrine and Covenants provides the setting for and content of such a song. In it the Lord states:

For I, the Almighty, have laid my hands upon the nations, to scourge them for their wickedness.

And plagues shall go forth, and they shall not be taken from the earth until I have completed my work, which shall be cut short in righteousness—

Until all shall know me, who remain, even from the least unto the greatest, and shall be filled with the knowledge of the Lord, and shall see eye to eye, and shall lift up their voice, and with the voice together sing this new song, saying:

The Lord hath brought again Zion;

The Lord hath redeemed his people, Israel,

According to the election of grace,

Which was brought to pass by the faith

And covenant of their fathers.

The Lord hath redeemed his people;

And Satan is bound and time is no longer.

The Lord hath gathered all things in one.

The Lord hath brought down Zion from above.

The Lord hath brought up Zion from beneath.

The earth hath travailed and brought forth her strength;

And truth is established in her bowels;

And the heavens have smiled upon her;

And she is clothed with the glory of her God;

For he stands in the midst of his people.

Glory, and honor, and power, and might,

Be ascribed to our God; for he is full of mercy,

Justice, grace and truth, and peace,

Forever and ever, Amen. (D&C 84:96–102)

In these verses, the Lord reveals the triumphant nature of the song. It celebrates the time when the plagues of judgment will cleanse the earth. Only the redeemed will remain. God and His Saints will win the day, and Zion will stand supreme.

Revelation 14 explains the underpinnings of the song, allowing us to understand why it can be sung. In the dramatic closing scene, John beholds “a white cloud, and upon the cloud one sat like unto the Son of man” (Revelation 14:14). The imagery is taken from Daniel 7:13–14, and appears to be a reference to the resurrected Lord coming in the fulness of His power. On His head sits a golden wreath. The KJV describes it as a “crown,” but the Greek word (stephanos) does not refer to a diadem, the mark of civil rule, but rather to a wreath, a sign of the highest athletic achievement or of a great military victory.[23] In His hand, He readies the sickle of judgment and begins to harvest the wheat fields. The day of judgment has fully come “for the harvest of the earth is ripe” (Revelation 14:15). It is the ripeness that determines the timing of the reaping. The Lord expresses this idea in a parable of harvest:

But behold, in the last days, even now while the Lord is beginning to bring forth the word, and the blade is springing up and is yet tender—

Behold, verily I say unto you, the angels are crying unto the Lord day and night, who are ready and waiting to be sent forth to reap down the fields;

But the Lord saith unto them, pluck not up the tares while the blade is yet tender (for verily your faith is weak), lest you destroy the wheat also.

Therefore, let the wheat and the tares grow together until the harvest is fully ripe; then ye shall first gather out the wheat from among the tares, and after the gathering of the wheat, behold and lo, the tares are bound in bundles, and the field remaineth to be burned. (D&C 86:4–7)

The first harvest, the harvest of the Lord, is the ingathering of the wheat. That time is now and the time is urgent. To his Saints the Lord declared, “For verily, verily, I say unto you that ye are called to lift up your voices as with the sound of a trump, to declare my gospel unto a crooked and perverse generation. For behold, the field is white already to harvest; and it is the eleventh hour, and the last time that I shall call laborers into my vineyard” (D&C 33:2–3). It is in this light that the Lord commands, “Whoso desireth to reap let him thrust in his sickle with his might, and reap while the day lasts, that he may treasure up for his soul everlasting salvation in the kingdom of God” (D&C 11:3). Now is the time when the wheat must be gathered in. Those who participate are the Lord’s sickle. The Lord will reward the effort of His laborers with the security and peace of Zion.

Through the efforts of the laborers, the world will hear the gospel. But when the world openly rejects goodness and turns against God’s people, then another sickle will begin to do its terrible work.[24] That will be the day when the voice of God will utter from heaven:

Hearken, O ye nations of the earth, and hear the words of that God who made you.

O, ye nations of the earth, how often would I have gathered you together as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, but ye would not!

How oft have I called upon you by the mouth of my servants, and by the ministering of angels, and by mine own voice, and by the voice of thunderings, and by the voice of lightnings, and by the voice of tempests, and by the voice of earthquakes, and great hailstorms, and by the voice of famines and pestilences of every kind, and by the great sound of a trump, and by the voice of judgment, and by the voice of mercy all the day long, and by the voice of glory and honor and the riches of eternal life, and would have saved you with an everlasting salvation, but ye would not!

Behold, the day has come, when the cup of the wrath of mine indignation is full. (D&C 43:23–26)

The period of the second sickle begins when all peaceful attempts to redeem the world have failed. At that point the Book of Mormon’s warning may again find fulfillment: “For behold, there is a curse upon all this land, that destruction shall come upon all those workers of darkness, according to the power of God, when they are fully ripe” (Alma 37:28). The warning applies not only to the Americas but also to the world at large.

The harvest of ruin will be carried out not by the Lord but by an angel of destruction. His target is not the fields but the vineyards.[25] He is to “gather the clusters of the vine of the earth; for her grapes are fully ripe” (Revelation 14:18). Further, he is to cast the fruit “into the great winepress of the wrath of God” (v. 19). The destruction will be tremendous and bitter.

The Message of the Third Vision

In the third vision, the Father reveals His Son as the Victor, the great General who has met His foe and won. It is out of this victory that the 144,000 sing their victory song and celebrate both security and peace. But the celebration, in the context of Revelation, seems premature. The actual battle has never commenced and the enemy still stands strong, arrogant, and undefeated. How then can the Saints celebrate with such a surety? There are two reasons. The first is grounded in their absolute faith in the ability of the Lord to overcome. Part of this is based on the redemption He had already won for them. Their absolute confidence echos the same faith they exhibited during the great war in heaven when “they overcame him [Satan] by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony” (Revelation 12:11). The second stems from the fact that the Lord is personally with them, directing affairs and attending to the Saints’ needs and assuring their safety. The Lord had promised the Saints of America that here “shall be a New Jerusalem. And the powers of heaven shall be in the midst of this people; yea, even I will be in the midst of you” (3 Nephi 20:22). He assured them further that it shall be “a land of peace, a city of refuge, a place of safety for the saints of the Most High God; And the glory of the Lord shall be there, and the terror of the Lord also shall be there, insomuch that the wicked will not come unto it, and it shall be called Zion” (D&C 45:66–67). It is not the Saints who need to fear, but the enemy.

The Lord directs the work of the harvest from Zion. The 144,000 act as the sickle of the Lord moving among the nations to gather out all who will come to Zion. John emphasizes the Lord’s saving ministry. Neither He nor any of His people work to destroy the world or its enemies. It was another angel whom John saw that “came out of the temple which is in heaven, he also having a sharp sickle” (Revelation 14:17). It is this one whom the angel of the altar commands, “Thrust in thy sharp sickle, and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth; for her grapes are fully ripe” (v. 18). John’s point seems to be that, at least at this point, the Lord does not come to destroy the earth nor its people. He comes to save it. Revelation gives credit for destruction to the five angels of the Lord (the four in chapter 7 and the one in chapter 14) on the one side and to Satan on the other. The engine that does the actual work is the army described as horsemen with “breastplates of fire, and of jacinth, and brimstone” (Revelation 9:17), and lead by one “whose name in the Hebrew tongue is Abaddon, but in the Greek tongue hath his name Apollyon,” and in English, the Destroyer or “Perdition” (Revelation 9:11; D&C 76:26).[26] Out of the horsemen’s mouths come fire and smoke and brimstone, and “by these three was the third part of men killed” (Revelation 9:18). So what does the Lord do at His coming? John understood perfectly. The Lord comes to “destroy them which destroy the earth” (Revelation 11:18).

The point is that the Savior does just what His name says—He saves. The paradox is that the Lord’s destruction becomes His tool of salvation. He uses that tool, however, only when all others have failed. Still, it is a tool of salvation, and for that reason the angels can say, “Lord God Almighty, true and righteous are thy judgments” (Revelation 16:7). The Lord is perfectly prepared to allow His destroying angels and the beasts of Satan a certain destructive power over millions. Some may have trouble with this idea, but Revelation forces upon us a very realistic understanding about death. From the Lord’s perspective, all must die. The question is when and how. Ultimate destiny is not determined by the moment or manner of death; it is by the manner of life. Keep in mind that those who are destroyed are not annihilated. They have further existence. But for the present they refuse to play the game by God’s rules. They have become mean and violent, and so they are thrown into the penalty box, so to speak, for unnecessary roughness while the game goes on. We must fight against the current idea that mortality is so infallibly precious that, as one scholar put it, “the death which robs us of it must be the ultimate tragedy.” Such an idea, he says,

is precisely the idolatry that John is trying here to combat. We have already seen . . . that John calls the enemies of the church “the inhabitants of earth”, because they have made themselves utterly at home in this transient world order. If all men must die, and if at the end heaven and earth must vanish, along with those whose life is irremediably bounded by worldly horizons, then it is surely in accord with the mercy of God that he should send men from time to time forceful reminders of the insecurity of their tenure.[27]

Besides, John shows us clearly that the purpose of the plagues is to drive those who would not do so otherwise to repentance and, thus, into the protective arms of God. Those who will not repent must be accountable to the fire. What happens to those who refuse to repent leads us to God’s next revelation of His Son.

The Revelation of the Savior in the Fourth Vision

At the beginning of his heavenly revelations, John saw “a door was opened in heaven” through which he was able to see the throne of God (Revelation 4:1); later “the temple of God was opened in heaven” such that the Seer could behold the ark of the testimony (11:19); afterward, the whole temple opened so that the seven angels with the seven bowls could come out (15:5). Now John sees the entire expanse of heaven unfold to make way for the Warrior-king and His army prepared to battle the hosts of darkness.[28] The Rider, terrible in majesty upon His white horse, is the Savior, “called Faithful and True” (Revelation 19:11; compare D&C 45:74–75). These names of Christ, as Elder Bruce R. McConkie points out, “signify that he is the embodiment and personification of these godly attributes. Above all his fellows, he was obedient to the will of the Father and true to every trust imposed upon him.”[29] John clearly states the Rider’s purpose: “In righteousness he doth judge and make war” (Revelation 19:11). War results from His just judgment. Evil must be put down even by force when necessary.

John sees the Lord coming with crowns upon His head. Unlike the others which the Lord has worn, this one is not a wreath but a diadem, the symbol of political rule. The King comes to take back His domain. John deliberately contrasts the King with the dragon and the sea beast met in chapter 12. While the former two possess seven and ten diadems respectively, the Warrior has “many crowns [diadems]” (Revelation 19:12). The King’s true royalty far surpasses the false sovereignty of Satan and his minion. He now rides as “KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS” (v. 16)—and He has acquired His crowns since John last saw Him. Although John had seen Him in regal authority early in the revelation (see Revelation 3:21, see also 1:5), John mentions no diadem. Here they are prominently displayed. They signify that the “kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever” (11:15).[30]

The Rider bore a name “that no man knew, but he himself” (Revelation 19:12). Again Elder McConkie gives insight: “As with all glorified beings, our Lord has a new name in celestial exaltation, a name known to and comprehended by those only who know God in the sense that they have become as he is and have eternal life. See Rev. 2:12–17. Thus, Christ’s ‘new name’ shall be written upon all those who are joint-heirs with him (Rev. 3:12), and shall signify that they have become even as he is.”[31] But the Warrior does have a known name: “The Word of God” (Revelation 19:13). John calls Him by this same title at the beginning of his Gospel (John 1:1–3). In Revelation the name emphasizes the authoritative declaration which judges the kings of the world.[32] Among many ancient people, a word was not simply a lifeless sound but an active agent bringing into being the intent of the one who spoke.[33] The Savior is the active agent who executes the word (the will) of God. That word is now judgment. Thus, the Rider’s vestments are bloodred, for the judgment is one of death (see also Isaiah 63:1–6). According to the Doctrine and Covenants, His appearance will cause consternation among the nations. Many will ask:

Who is this that cometh down from God in heaven with dyed garments; yea, from the regions which are not known, clothed in his glorious apparel, traveling in the greatness of his strength?

And he shall say: I am he who spake in righteousness, mighty to save.

And the Lord shall be red in his apparel, and his garments like him that treadeth in the wine-vat.

And so great shall be the glory of his presence that the sun shall hide his face in shame, and the moon shall withhold its light, and the stars shall be hurled from their places.

And his voice shall be heard: I have trodden the wine-press alone, and have brought judgment upon all people; and none were with me;

And I have trampled them in my fury, and I did tread upon them in mine anger, and their blood have I sprinkled upon my garments, and stained all my raiment; for this was the day of vengeance which was in my heart. (D&C133:46–51)

Clearly John depicts the moment of vengeance when the Lord will destroy all wickedness by the brightness of His coming (see D&C 5:19). But He does not come alone. With Him comes His army “upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean” (Revelation 19:14). Against these “the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war” (v. 19), but they will be “slain with the sword of him that sat upon the horse, which sword proceeded out of his mouth: and all the fowls were filled with their flesh” (v. 21). At this moment all nations will come under His authority “and he shall rule them with a rod of iron” (v. 15).

The Message of the Fourth Vision

Chapter 19 gives us a clear view of the nature and purpose of the Second Coming. Unlike other accounts where the glory and burning power of the Redeemer dominates, Revelation stresses the regal and martial authority of the Lord. He appears as the Warrior-king at the head of His angelic host coming to take back His land from the dark lord and his legions. Actually, He does not need to take it back, for He has never lost it. His is executing more of a mopping-up exercise against those who have tried to take His world and failed.

Some may be concerned because the day of the Lord is filled with destruction, but it has its purpose. Nothing unclean or unjustified can enter into the Lord’s presence and survive see John 6:46; Hebrew 12:14; Moses 6:35, 57). Christ is about to sweep the earth with His glory that the millennial era may be established. Therefore, evil must come to an end. It is of note that, by the time the Lord comes, there will be very little evil left to stop. Throughout Revelation we have seen the self-destructive nature of wickedness. But God cannot allow such self-destruction to act as an impersonal nemesis, an independent, self-operating moral law sweeping away all in its path. To do so would allow the powers of evil to carry all the inhabitants of the earth down with them to utter ruin. God would be left with a hollow, Pyrrhic victory, resembling defeat far more than triumph. Since God’s victory must also be the Saints’ victory, it must be won through righteous human agents exercising faith in God. Evil must be allowed to combine its forces against the Savior’s people and then fall back in utter defeat through the Saints’ faith, trust, and loyalty.[34]

Because His victory is theirs, they reign with Him. As John declared, “I saw thrones, and they [who] sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them” (Revelation 20:4). These “lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years” (v. 4). His coming, then, results in a world over which He will preside, along with the faithful, without opposition from the dragon. The result will be that His people “shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years” (v. 6).

What Revelation Reveals about the Lord

Revelation teaches that the ultimate power working within the cosmos is God, not something independent of Him, and is therefore morally based. Further, that power is described in terms of almightiness. One way the Savior, as God, used this power was to make those who followed Him kings and priests, and by extension, queens and priestesses (see Revelation 1:6; 5:10). Indeed, the song of the Saints declares that Christ “hast made us unto our God kings and priests” (Revelation 5:10). The tense of the verb shows that the Lord had already made some of those to whom John was writing kings and priests. Thus, they had attained a royal and priestly status (see also Revelation 20:4). In order to do so, they would have had to have received the fullness of the priesthood. Joseph Smith taught, “Those holding the fulness of the Melchizedek Priesthood are kings and priests of the Most High God, holding the keys of power and blessings.”[35] Women would have been included. As Joseph Fielding Smith taught, both genders “have been promised that they shall become sons and daughters of God, joint heirs with Jesus Christ, and if they have been true to the commandments and covenants the Lord has given us, to be kings and priests and queens and priestesses, possessing the fulness of the blessings of the celestial kingdom.”[36] These offices are bestowed only on those individuals who have participated in all the ordinances of the house of the Lord, and, thereby, have been “sealed up unto eternal life” (D&C 131:5–6).[37] John’s wording suggests that there were those in John’s audience who had achieved this status.

The Lord’s use of His power in behalf of His Saints showed how immediate and intimate He was to these people. Their reward did not have to wait for the far future. They received the assurance of salvation right then and there because His power was operating then and there.

So far as the ultimate message in Revelation is concerned, the importance of the Lord’s almightiness is this: the Son is not simply active in history—He is the driving force behind it. Admittedly, human agency also shapes history. But because the Savior is almighty and, therefore, created the stage, sets in order the cast of characters, orchestrates the events, and determines all limits, neither human agency nor satanic will can overrule His predesigned plans (see D&C 3:1–3). He really is the Almighty. Therefore, the Saints can put their full faith in Him, a message that the Saints in John’s day desperately needed to hear.

The book as a whole also celebrates another aspect of the almightiness of the exalted Christ, that is, His victory over death and hell. More importantly, it showcases His power, especially that expressed in His fully won victory over all His enemies. It emphasizes His closeness to His Church and its leaders. God gave this revelation during the darkest period of His Church’s history. The members desperately needed to know that their Lord had indeed overcome the world and that through Him, as hard as the current conditions seemed, they would overcome as well.

The same message stands behind the book to this day. The Lord is He who was and is and is to come. His involvement in human affairs and with His Church have not slackened. As the Saints move further into the tribulation of the last days, John’s testimony rings clear: the Lord is in “the midst of the seven candlesticks” and He has “in his right hand seven stars” who are the servants of God (Revelation 1:13, 16). Indeed, the time is near when the wicked will know that God’s “wrath is come, and the time of the dead, that they should be judged [is at hand], and that thou shouldest give reward unto thy servants the prophets, and to the saints, and them that fear thy name, small and great; and shouldest destroy them which destroy the earth” (Revelation 11:18).


[1] Compare Jeremiah 1:6; 14:13; and 39:17 in the Septuagint.

[2] See Davie E. Aune, Revelation 1–5, Word Biblical Commentary 52a (Dallas: Word Books, 1977), 30–32.

[3] Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, comp. Joseph Fielding Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1978), 220.

[4] J. Massyngberde Ford, Revelation, vol. 38, Anchor Bible, ed. William F. Albright and David Noel Freedman (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1975), 376. The Song of the Doves at Dodona speaks of “Zeus who was, Zeus who is, Zeus who will be” (Paus. Asin. 10.12.10). At Sais the shrine of Minerva boasted, “I am that hath been and is and shall be” (Plut. Mor., De Is. Et Os 9. See Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1977], 68.)

[5] Jesus may well have been speaking by divine investiture of authority as He uttered these words. In that case, it is Elohim who is “Endless and Eternal” (Moses 7:35). However, the perspective of the Father is shared by the Son through the power of the Holy Spirit. According to Joseph Smith, the Son possesses the same fulness with the Father and “having overcome, received a fulness of the glory of the Father, possessing the same mind with the Father” (Joseph Smith, comp. Lectures on Faith [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1985], 60). By sharing the same mind, the Savior can speak from the perspective of the “Endless and Eternal.”

[6] Smith, Teachings, 220.

[7] See Gerhard Kittel and Gerhard Freidrich, eds., Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, trans. and ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1967), 3:914–15, s.v. “παντοκράτορ”; Bruce R. McConkie, Doctrinal New Testament Commentary (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1973), 3:436.

[8] The phrase “like unto” seems to suggests that John did not actually see the Savior. Such is not the case. There are a number of scriptures where the phrase “like unto the Son of Man” refers to none other than the Savior (see Abraham 3:27; Revelation 14:14).

[9] James H. Charlesworth, ed., The Messiah: Developments in Earliest Christianity and Judaism (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992). For the concept of Messianism in earliest Judaism, see 79–115; on the term “son of man,” see 130–44.

[10] For discussion, see M. D. Hooker, The Son of Man in Mark (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1967), 81–93.

[11] Luke spoke previously of the Lord’s power (dynamis) to heal. Here Luke focuses on His authority (exousia) to do so.

[12] See Exodus 28:4; 29:5 in the Septuagint where the girdle is connected with the attire of the high priest. His girdle was made of fine-twined linen and embroidered with needlework (see Exodus 28:6, in the Septuagint), while the clasp or girdle that gathered together the long robe of the Lord was of gold. Josephus, however, notes that during his time the high priest’s girdle was interwoven with gold (The Jewish Antiquities 3.7.2). The golden clasp or propē was worn by the king and his associates (1 Maccabees 10:89; 11:58) and served as a mark of office. For further discussion, see Mounce, Revelation, 77–78.

[13] See Kittel and Friedrich, Theological Dictionary, s.v. “μαχαίρα” and “ρομφαία.”

[14] See G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation, The New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1999), 215. He notes that through the Resurrection, Jesus won His victory over the realm of the dead and now determines over whom it has control and for how long.

[15] Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, rev. ed. Frederick William Danker, 3rd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), s.v. “σφάζω.”

[16] Mounce, Revelation, 144.

[17] Homer Hailey, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary (Canterbury, New Zealand: Baker Publishing Group, 1979), 176–77.

[18] Elizabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, Revelation: Vision of a Just World, ed. Gerhard Krodel (Kitchner, ON: Fortress Press, 1992), 73.

[19] The possession of seven eyes echoes Zechariah 4:10, where they are symbols of God’s omniscience. The horn is the Old Testament symbol for power. See Numbers 23:22; Deuteronomy 33:17; 1 Samuel 2:1; 1 Kings 22:11; Psalm 75:4; 89:17. Thus, it was the mark of kingly dignity. See Psalm 112:9; 148:14; Zechariah 1:18; Daniel 7:7, 20; 8:3. In 1 Enoch 90:9, the Maccabees are said to have “horns [grow] upon those lambs” (R. H. Charles, trans., The Book of Enoch [London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1917], 126). For a discussion on the qualitative meaning of the number 7, see Aune, Revelation 1–5, 114–17.

[20] Bauer, Greek-English Lexicon, s.v. “βλέπω.”

[21] G. B. Caird, The Revelation of St. John the Divine (San Francisco: Harper, 1966), 75.

[22] Joseph Smith, History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, ed. B. H. Roberts, 2nd ed. rev. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1971), 6:365; Joseph Smith, The Words of Joseph Smith, ed. Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon W. Cook (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1980), 368.

[23] Aune, Revelation 1–5, 172–75.

[24] Compare 2 Nephi 28:15–20 with Alma 37:30–31, which teaches that the world is fully ripe when it both rejects and fights against goodness.

[25] The drepanon was an all-purpose blade used for pruning, cutting clusters of grapes, and harvesting grains. Its roughly footlong, curved blade made it easy to handle with clean cutting power (Bauer, Greek-English Lexicon, s.v. “δρέπανον”).

[26] The Greek word apoleia is a feminine noun and carries the meaning of something that destroys or brings to utter ruin (Bauer, Greek-English Lexicon, s.v. “απολεία”).

[27] G. B. Caird, A Commentary on the Revelation of St. John the Divine (Peabody, MA: Henderson Publishers, 1966), 113.

[28] Exodus 15:3 depicts Jehovah as “a man of war.” The idea persists in 2 Maccabees 3:22–30 and in the Qumran scrolls 1QM 12.10–11; 19.2–4.

[29] McConkie, Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3:566.

[30] Aune, Revelation 1–5, 842; Caird, Revelation, 241.

[31] McConkie, Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3:567.

[32] Mounce, Revelation, 345–46; Beale, Revelation, 957–58.

[33] Beale, Revelation, 953–56; Mounce, Revelation, 345–46; see, for example, Genesis 1:3, 6, 9; Hebrews 4:12.

[34] Caird, Revelation, 145.

[35] Smith, Teachings, 322.

[36] Joseph Fielding Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1966), 4:61.

[37] For further discussion, see Smith, Words of Joseph Smith, 302–6; McConkie, Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3:436. That the same program is still going on is evident from the Lord’s admonition in D&C 78:15, where He admonishes the Saints to be obedient, “that you may come up unto the crown prepared for you, and be made rulers over many kingdoms.”