If you think Paul and Isaiah are hard to understand, then what about the book of Revelation? The beasts, visionary imagery, and endless symbolism make this one of the most difficult books of scripture to understand. Well, not for Joseph Smith. He said, "The book of Revelation is one of the plainest books God ever caused to be written." (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 290)
With all due respect to the Prophet, he had an advantage over the rest of us. Sure it's easy to understand if you have seen the same things that John did! Sure it's easy to sort out the beasts and plagues if you have had the mysteries of heaven opened to your view on a regular basis. For the rest of us, the book may not be "one of the plainest books" of scripture, but the Prophet kindly explained many, many passages of John's vision so that we cannot miss the big picture. Without such prophetic insight, the rest of the world has been at a loss to correctly interpret this profound and important book. With the Prophet's help and a fair portion of the spirit of prophecy and revelation, the book of Revelation can become plain to the understanding of any who studies it.
"In response to the question, 'Are we expected to understand the book of Revelation?' Elder Bruce R. McConkie stated:
'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 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. Certain parts are not clear and are not understood by us-which, however, does not mean that we could not understand them if we would grow in faith as we should. The Lord expects us to seek wisdom, to ponder his revealed truths, and to gain a knowledge of them by the power of his Spirit.' ("Understanding the Book of Revelation," Ensign, September 1975, 87)" (Richard D. Draper, Opening the Seven Seals: The Visions of John the Revelator [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1991], 11.)
Gerald N. Lund
"When the Holy Spirit becomes our confirming guide, we can come to better understand the revelation John received...John did not write Revelation for the nonmember or even the investigator. He wrote for the Saints and assumed that his readers would have a good knowledge of gospel principles, the plan of salvation, the scriptures, and scriptural symbols. (See Rev. 1:1, 4, 11; Rev. 3:22.) He often mentions things in passing, and it is clear he assumes his readers will know them...The broader our knowledge of the gospel and the scriptures, the plainer the Book of Revelation becomes." ("Seeing the Book of Revelation As a Book of Revelation," Ensign, Dec. 1987, 47, 49)
Rev. 1:1 to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass
"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. See Rev. 1:1-3, which is a key to the whole subject." (Discourses of the Prophet Joseph Smith, compiled by Alma P. Burton [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1977], 247 - 248.)
Rev. 1:5 Jesus Christ...washed us from our sins in his own blood
Bruce R. McConkie
"From John's writings we learn that the only way the saints can overcome the world and escape the wiles of Satan is 'by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony.' (Rev. 12:11.) It was John also who saw the angelic hosts around the throne of God, worshiping him and the Lamb, and heard the angelic elder ask: 'What are these which are arrayed in white robes? and whence come they?' He it was who then heard the heavenly pronouncement: 'These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.' (Rev. 7:9-14.) And it was John who saw our Lord coming in power and great glory in the last days, and, lo, 'he was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood.' (Rev. 19:13.)
"But certainly one of the greatest of all proclamations on the atoning blood of Christ the Lord is his own words, given to the Nephites as he ministered among them in resurrected glory. Speaking of the law which the Father of us all has given to mankind, the Risen Lord said: 'And no unclean thing can enter into his kingdom; therefore nothing entereth into his rest save it be those who have washed their garments in my blood, because of their faith, and the repentance of all their sins, and their faithfulness unto the end. Now this is the commandment: Repent, all ye ends of the earth, and come unto me and be baptized in my name, that ye may be sanctified by the reception of the Holy Ghost, that ye may stand spotless before me at the last day.' (3 Ne. 27:19-20.)" (The Promised Messiah: The First Coming of Christ [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1978], 254.)
Rev. 1:5-6 Jesus Christ...hath made us kings and priests unto God
"The temple ceremony pertains to exaltation and eternal life, and references in the New Testament show that the members of the Church at that time knew that. For example, Peter reminded the Saints that they had been given 'all things that pertain unto life and godliness, ... Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature. ...' (2 Pet. 1:3-4.) Paul spoke of obtaining a 'crown of righteousness' (2 Tim. 4:8), and of the saints becoming 'heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ.' (Rom. 8:17.) And John wrote of the faithful becoming 'kings and priests unto God' to 'reign on the earth.' (Rev. 1:6; Rev. 5:10.) In the Church we recognize these as matters pertaining to the higher ordinances of the gospel that are administered in the temple.
"That such things are mentioned repeatedly in the New Testament epistles is significant, because these epistles were not written for nonmembers but were of a regulatory nature directed to the branches of the Church. The manner in which these items are presented in the epistles, without explanation, is indicative that the persons to whom the epistles were written were already familiar with the doctrines. Consequently, those in the Church today who are familiar with temple ordinances can understand from these epistles that the saints in the New Testament times had the same temple blessings and ordinances." (Robert J. Matthews, "I Have a Question," Ensign, Sept. 1974, 50)
Joseph Fielding Smith
"We are informed that if we are worthy of exaltation we are to become like our Father in heaven and our Elder Brother, Jesus Christ. We are to become priests and kings (Rev. 1:6 and 5:10), and are to have dominion and be given rule. This means responsibility. Now, it is a self-evident truth, that if we do not use the talents given us now and do not exercise the responsibility we have received in this life, that we will not be prepared or worthy to exercise authority and have responsibility there." (The Way to Perfection [Salt Lake City: Genealogical Society of Utah, 1949], 224.)
Rev. 1:7 every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him
A careful student might ask a good question like, "How could those who had pierced Christ (i.e. those responsible for the judgment and crucifixion of Jesus) see Christ at his Second Coming? Certainly, those souls will not be resurrected until after the Millenium as is taught in the scriptures. How then could they see Christ come to earth if they are in Spirit Prison? Perhaps John is referring to the Jews as a people and not to those who were responsible for his death 2000 years earlier."
The wicked who were responsible for Christ's death will see Christ at his Second Coming, either because they are brought forth according to the scripture (DC 88:100-101), or because they witness it from spirit prison.
"Jesus will come in a cloud, or as is expressed here in the 40th chapter of Isaiah-'The glory of the Lord will be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.' It is also expressed in the revelations of St. John, that when he comes in a cloud every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him."#Rev. 1:7 It seems then that the second advent of the Son of God is to be something . . . accompanied with great power and glory, something that will not be done in a small portion of the earth like Palestine, and seen only by a few; but it will be an event that will be seen by all-all flesh shall see the glory of the Lord; when he reveals himself the second time, every eye, not only those living at that time in the flesh, in mortality on the earth, but also the very dead themselves, they also who pierced him, those who lived eighteen hundred years ago, who were engaged in the cruel act of piercing his hands and his feet and his side, will also see him at that time. (JD, March 26, 1876, 18:170.)" (Roy W. Doxey, comp., Latter-day Prophets and the Doctrine and Covenants [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1978], 3: 374.)
Rev. 1:8 I am Alpha and Omega
Jeffrey R. Holland
"These [first and last] letters from the Greek [alphabet] suggest the universal role of Jesus from the beginning of the world to its end. But he ought to be Alpha and Omega in the particular as well-our personal beginning and our individual end-that model by which we shape our journey of three score years and ten, and the standard by which we measure it at its conclusion.
"In every choice we make, he ought to be our point of reckoning, our charted course, our only harbor ahead. He should be for us individually what he is for all men collectively-the very brackets of existence, the compass of our privilege. We should not stray outside him. We should not want to try. I am Alpha and Omega." ("Whom Say Ye That I Am?" Ensign, Sept. 1974, 7)
Rev. 1:8 the beginning and the ending
"Jesus said, 'I am ... the beginning and the ending.' (Rev. 1:8.) He is the end of sorrow and the end of guilt. He is the end of pain, death, suffering, sin, and tears. He is the beginning of joy, life, and peace. He is the beginning of healing, truth, and fulfillment. He is the end of mourning, the beginning of comfort." (S. Michael Wilcox, "The Beatitiudes-Pathway to the Savior," Ensign, Jan. 1991, 20)
Rev. 1:9 I John...am your brother, and companion in tribulation
"The book of Revelation, written by John, was...written in sorrow-from the lonely circumstance of exile: 'I John, who also am your brother, and companion in tribulation ... was in the isle that is called Patmos.' (Rev. 1:9.) But perhaps even more powerful than the physical separation and loneliness John felt as he wrote was the spiritual isolation he suffered. We can sense it as we read his words, for John did not write in a time of success, but of gloom. The young, struggling gospel kingdom was beset upon from all sides. The Saints were hunted, persecuted, slain. But more distressingly, the Church was being ravished from within by false teachings. Undoubtedly the loneliness and sorrows John felt as he beheld the struggles of the beleaguered Church contributed strongly to the passion in his words as he wrote what he saw. Then, trying to communicate the scenes viewed in revelation, John wrote of the trials and glories of the earth's future in powerful and starkly beautiful terms." (Lenet H. Read, "How the Bible Came to Be: Part 3, A New Word Is Added to the Old," Ensign, Mar. 1982, 18)
Rev. 1:9 the isle that is called Patmos
"Patmos is a small, roughly butterfly-shaped volcanic island southwest of the Turkish city of Ephesus. It measures about ten by five miles...The writings of Pliny note that under Rome a number of islands were used as penal settlements...Today, though no longer fertile, the island boasts a population of about 2,400 fishing families.
"The revelation came while John was serving time in that penal colony. He notes that his crime was declaring 'the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ' (Rev. 1:9, KJV). The exact nature of his punishment is unknown, but it consisted at least in part of banishment." (Richard D. Draper, Opening the Seven Seals: The Visions of John the Revelator [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1991], 3.)
David O. McKay
"When John had spent several years at Ephesus, a cruel Roman emperor, during his persecution of the Church, arrested him, had him carried to Rome, condemned him to death, and had him plunged into boiling oil. John's life being preserved through the power of God, he was then banished to Patmos. All that John says about it is that he was ' ... in the isle that is called Patmos, for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ.' (Rev. 1:9.) It is quite evident from this that he had been persecuted for his belief in the gospel and for his unwavering testimony of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He was probably the last living witness of the Savior's miracles and teachings. Perhaps that is why he was banished. But wicked men could not banish the testimony he had borne. That was planted in the hearts of thousands of sincere believers and, like seeds sown in fertile soil, would grow and bear rich harvests for ages to come.
"...Upon the death of Domitian, the cruel emperor who had banished him, the Apostle was permitted to return to Ephesus, where he continued his preaching, writing, and testimony." (Gospel Ideals: Selections from the Discourses of David O. McKay [Salt Lake City: Improvement Era, 1953], 243-244)
Rev. 1:10 in the Spirit on the Lord's day
You know you're having a good Sabbath when you are "in the Spirit on the Lord's day." That sounds like a good goal for every Sabbath.
James E. Talmage
"The Savior rose from the tomb on the first day of the week; and that particular Sunday, as also the next, was rendered forever memorable by the bodily visitation of the resurrected Lord to the assembled Apostles and others. To the believers in the crucified and risen Savior Sunday became the Lord's Day (Rev. 1:10), and in time took the place of Saturday as the weekly Sabbath in the Christian churches.
"The Church of Jesus Christ teaches that Sunday is the acceptable day for Sabbath observance, on the authority of direct revelation specifying the Lord's Day as such. In this, a new dispensation, and verily the last-the Dispensation of the Fulness of Times-the law of the Sabbath has been reaffirmed unto the Church. It is to be noted that the revelation, part of which follows, was given to the Church on a Sunday (August 7th, 1831.)" (The Vitality of Mormonism [Boston: Gorham Press, 1919], 331 - 332.)
Rev. 1:11 send it unto the seven churches which are in Asia
"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)" (Institute Manual, The Life and Teachings of Jesus & his Apostles, 2nd ed., p. 450)
Rev. 1:13-16 one like unto the Son of man
Bruce R. McConkie
"Appearances of Jehovah to prophets and righteous men have been many. Three of them deserve special note because they contain descriptive detail of his person, and they tie together the fact that the spirit Jehovah who is Christ, and the resurrected Jehovah who is Christ, are one and the same person.
"One account says: 'Moses, and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel' went up into the mount. 'And they saw the God of Israel: and there was under his feet as it were a paved work of a sapphire stone, and as it were the body of heaven in his clearness.' (Ex. 24:9-10.)
"The next account tells us what happened on Patmos, a bare island in the Aegean Sea, where the Beloved Revelator had been banished 'for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ.' Being 'in the Spirit on the Lord's day,' John saw 'one like unto the Son of man. . . . His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were as a flame of fire; And his feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace; and his voice as the sound of many waters. . . . His countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength.' Of this vision John says: 'When I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead. And he laid his right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not; I am the first and the last: I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore.' (Rev. 1:9-18.)
"And the final account, for us the most glorious of all, was vouchsafed to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery in the Kirtland Temple on April 3, 1836. 'The veil was taken from our minds, and the eyes of our understanding were opened,' the scriptural record recites. 'We saw the Lord standing upon the breastwork of the pulpit, before us; and under his feet was a paved work of pure gold, in color like amber. 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, saying: I am the first and the last; I am he who liveth, I am he who was slain; I am your advocate with the Father.' (D&C 110:1-4.)" (The Promised Messiah: The First Coming of Christ [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1978], 104-105.)
Rev. 1:17 when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead
John is completely overcome at the sight of the glorified Christ. This reaction teaches us some important lessons. For years, John had lived with Jesus of Nazareth, seeing him on a daily basis, yet he never collapsed at his sight. Even after Christ's resurrection, it would seem that the fullness of his exalted glory was withheld, for he appeared to the disciples as any other man (see Luke 24:13-35, John 21:3-14). Why then would John be so overcome to see the Master again?
The cause must have been the sheer impact, the raw power, and the awesome brilliance of the glorified Master. The grandeur of this scene must have been indescribable. Our language-no matter how eloquent-falls pitifully short. Our superlatives are not superlative enough. Any descriptive term is not descriptive enough. No earthly glory is glorious enough. Hence, Joseph Smith said that the Lord's 'brightness and glory defy all description' (JS-Hist. 1:17). The effect was overwhelming, even for someone who was very familiar with the resurrected Christ.
Rev. 1:18 I...have the keys of hell and of death
We commonly say that the President of the Church holds all priesthood keys, but this is an overstatement. There are actually priesthood keys which even the Prophet does not hold; they are held by the Lord himself. The keys of hell and of death are priesthood keys held by the Savior himself. He is the one who broke the bands of death by the Resurrection; he is the one who crushed the shackles of spiritual death by the Redemption. All other priesthood keys are subordinate to these held by the Master.
Boyd K. Packer
"I heard President Kimball say on one occasion, as other Presidents of the Church have said, that, while he holds all of the keys that are held upon the earth, there are keys that he does not hold. There are keys that have not been given to him as President of the Church, because they are reserved to higher power and authority. For instance, he said that he does not hold the keys of the resurrection. The Lord holds them, but He has not delegated them-neither anciently, nor to modern prophets." (The Holy Temple [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1980], 151.)