The “Apocalypse of John”, or “Book of the Revelation of Jesus Christ” is believed to have been written approximately 93 AD on the Isle of Patmos, small island in the Aegean Sea. While scholars agree that John wrote the book, they disagree on which John wrote it. Many scholars today believe that there were three Johns, one who wrote the Gospel, one the Epistles, and John of Patmos writing the Revelation.
Many early scholars believed the apostle John wrote the Apocalypse, but by the time of St Jerome (ca 400 AD) he relegated the book to “second class”. He doubted the apostle had written it, and almost rejected it when putting together the books we now know as the Bible. He was concerned with its apocalyptic nature, as being outside what he considered to be the norm for authoritative books. Only its popularity among the members of the western Church caused him to add it to the Bible, in order to have his list become the authoritative list of scripture.
The term “Apocalypse” had a different meaning than most understand it now. While modern readers often think of great destruction and the end of the world when they read the word, “apocalypse” actually means an unveiling or revealing of God and his secrets. John’s Revelation is the only major apocalypse in the New Testament, however it fits in well with many others found among the Jews and Christians of the time period. Jude does quote from the apocalyptic 1st Enoch (see below) as a shorter example of apocalypse in the New Testament.
John’s Apocalypse - a Temple Endowment
Many Christians focus on the the Revelation’s teachings on the end times, the destruction of the world, and attempt to determine just when Armageddon will occur. In doing so, they miss the more important concept taught in the Revelation: it is an ancient endowment.
The ancient endowment, as well as the modern LDS endowment, is a symbolic revelation of man’s return into the presence of God. For Latter-day Saints, the endowment consists of instruction regarding the Creation, the Fall of Adam (and mankind), our struggle with mortality outside of God’s presence, and our final return to God’s presence through the atonement of Christ.
Other ancient texts, such as Enoch, the Ascension of Isaiah, the Apocalypse of Paul, and Lehi’s Apocalypse in the Book of Mormon also bring out the theme of returning to the presence of God from a fallen world. We can see that there are similarities in these Ascension texts.
Kings and Priests
John is told that the revelation is directed primarily to the seven churches in Asia: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardos, Philadelphia and Laodicea. The Lord tells the saints in those cities,
“Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood,
And hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen” (Rev 1:5-6, KJV).
Other Bible translations differ on the reading here in verse 6, often stating that Christ made us “a kingdom of priests unto God, his Father”. Both translations are found in ancient manuscripts.
Interestingly, the KJV translation suggests interesting relationships between man and God. Through his atoning blood, Jesus has made us “kings and priests” to God and God’s father. Whether this should be interpreted as Jesus and his Father, or God the Father and a father of God himself, I’ll leave up to the reader. Potentially, any such reading is valid and perhaps should be considered in light of the early Christian view that Jesus and God were separate beings, and that there were other divine beings as well.
That mankind may become “kings and priests” and not just a “kingdom of priests” as other translations state, is inherent in the book’s concept that others will receive thrones and reign with God.
To Him that Overcometh...
The Lord gives to John a series of promises and warnings to the seven churches. The warnings range from wealth, to sexual sin, to apostates, to being lukewarm in testimony.
The promises are very familiar to temple-going Latter-day Saints, and were understood by ancient Christians seeking to return to the presence of God.
“He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God” (Rev 2:7).
The Tree of Life is a powerful symbol of the ancient and modern temple. Prior to the destruction of Solomon’s Temple, it had a Tree growing within it, symbolizing Life, fertility, and Wisdom. According to Nephi in his Vision, the Tree of Life symbolized the Mother of God, who bore the precious fruit of Jesus Christ (1 Nephi 11:9-25). OT scholar and Methodist minister, Margaret Barker, noted that such a vision of the Mother of God being represented by the Tree of Life fits perfectly in with the motif in Solomon’s Temple.
Adam was forbidden to partake of the fruit of the Tree of Life, because his transgression caused a separation between him and God. For him to eat its fruit while under condemnation would have brought about an instant judgment, and he would have stayed forever out of God’s presence. With the atonement of Christ, we now are invited to partake of the fruit, once we show faith and repent of our sins. Christ’s blood justifies us, so we are guiltless and ready to partake of the fruit of the Tree of Life both symbolically today and someday in a literal sense.
“...be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.
He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death” (Rev 2:10-11).
As mentioned before, if we are faithful, Christ will make us “kings and priests”, where we will receive a crown. Crown signifies a coronation and enthronement as a king or prince. Those that overcome in this instance are those unharmed by the second death. When we exercise faith and repent, again Christ makes us guiltless of any sins. We are no longer under the condemnation. We are no longer under Satan’s grasp and power. We shall be found in the Book of Life, even though we may still be judged for our works from the other books presented (Rev 20:12-15). These other books will determine the reward we gain in heaven.
“He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it” (Rev 2:17).
For most Christians, this passage means little or nothing. Through Joseph Smith, however, much has been revealed regarding the white stone and its significance. In Doctrine and Covenants 130, we first read about the Urim and Thummim (Hebrew: Lights and Perfections). It was an ancient device of divination used the the chief priest of the temple. Through it, the priest received revelation from God. In LDS history, various forms of Urim and Thummim have been described, including God’s heaven and a stone.
“The place where God resides is a great Urim and Thummim.
This earth, in its sanctified and immortal state, will be made like unto crystal and will be a Urim and Thummim to the inhabitants who dwell thereon, whereby all things pertaining to an inferior kingdom, or all kingdoms of a lower order, will be manifest to those who dwell on it; and this earth will be Christ’s.
Then the white stone mentioned in Revelation 2:17, will become a Urim and Thummim to each individual who receives one, whereby things pertaining to a higher order of kingdoms will be made known;
And a white stone is given to each of those who come into the celestial kingdom, whereon is a new name written, which no man knoweth save he that receiveth it. The new name is the key word” (D&C 130:8-11).
This earth, once it is changed for the Lord’s coming in glory, will be like a Urim and Thummim that teaches us about the lower things in the universe. Each holy person will receive a personal Urim and Thummim, a white stone, through which all things may be revealed. The new name is a “key word” for accessing the information in the white stone. The Book of Mormon also tells us that whoever looks into the Urim and Thummim must be careful on what he looks for, so he does not look for things he shouldn’t and perish (Mosiah 8:13-20). Also known as “Interpreters” for their ability to translate ancient documents, we are told that the Urim and Thummim can also reveal the darkest secrets of evil men and bring them to light (Alma 37:23-25).
Given all this detailed description, it seems that in the 1830s, Joseph Smith described and used in his receiving many revelations, the first Celestial-Internet-connected miniature computer. The new or key word is what we today would call a password. Just as with the Internet today, we need to be cautious of what we look for, so we do not see evil things that can destroy us, or cause us to perish spiritually.
“And he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations:
And he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers: even as I received of my Father.
And I will give him the morning star.
He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches” (Rev 2:26-29).
Such individuals, again, will be rulers and kings. They will have power over the nations, even as Enoch of old had power over the enemies of Zion (Moses 7). In the ascension story in 3 Enoch, the prophet is given the title of Metatron the archangel. He is clothed in white, and placed upon the throne of God, where the angels and other divine beings worship him! While he is still subservient to God, God shares his throne with him. Jesus shall also share his power with each of us. The “morning star” (Venus) is a symbol for both Messiah and Satan in ancient Jewish writing. We shall have power over Satan, and power given us by Christ, even as Christ “received of my Father.”
“Thou hast a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white: for they are worthy.
He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels.
He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches” (Rev 3:4-6).
Here we see that the righteous will be dressed in white clothing. In the Ascension of isaiah, the book of Enoch, and in the LDS endowment, we also see that the righteous are clothed in white. In the ascension texts (which Revelation is one), the initiate goes through the levels of heaven to the highest, wherein he receives a new garment, clothing of white. For John, one way to view the openings of the seals is to see different views of not only the future, but of entering new realms of heaven and earth, ending in the final triumph of the righteous and their return to the presence of God in white raiment (see Rev 4:4).
“Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon him my new name.
He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches” (Rev 3:12-13).
Here we see a direct connection to the temple of the Lord. Solomon’s temple had two 27 foot tall bronze pillars at its entrance, named Boaz and Jachin (2 Chron 3:17). Boaz means “might” or “splendor” and Jachin means “established”. So together, they represent the concept that in God’s might, he will establish himself. Here we are given the name of God and his holy city as our own. We become family members, or fellow citizens with the saints of God (Ephesians 2:19).
The pillars also symbolize the point wherein man must prepare to enter into God’s presence. John will see such an entrance in his vision, as a “door was opened in heaven” (Rev 4:1), where he hears the voice from inside, calling for him to enter. In the Apocalypse of Paul, as he travels upward through the levels of heaven, he is stopped by a sentinel or gatekeeper (where the entrance pillars would be), who demands answers from him. Paul’s guide, the Holy Ghost as a child, tells him to share the token he has, on which the sentinel then allows him to pass. It may be that some portions of the ancient temple were guarded by tokens, including a new name or password that allowed entrance.
God also has a new name. One can say that God’s old name was Jehovah, and is now Jesus Christ. In covenants, many Christians (including LDS) take upon ourselves the name of Christ through baptism and the holy supper.
“To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne.
He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches” (Rev 3:21-22).
Here we find the final promise of the temple and of the ascension texts. The initiate receives a fullness of God’s blessings through Christ. The individual who has overcome all things through Christ, will now sit down with Christ on a throne. Paul explains this in many ways:
“Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:
Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God” (Phil 2:5-6, note the KJV is different than other Bible versions, but also seems clearer in its meaning)
“The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God:
And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together” (Romans 8:16-17).
John’s Vision of the Throne, the book, etc.
In Revelation 4, as mentioned previously, “a door was opened in heaven” and John is called (probably by the sentinel) to enter in. Once inside, he stood before the throne of God. He has returned into the presence of the Lord.
Surrounding the Lord’s throne are 24 other thrones, where other divine beings sit in judgment. Here we find that John recognizes that God is not the only divine being, but is the only one we worship. He’ll will learn this again later in his book, as an angel representing Christ shows him marvelous things. John prostrates himself before the angel to worship him, but is rebuked.
“And I fell at his feet to worship him. And he said unto me, See thou do it not: I am thy fellow servant, and of thy brethren that have the testimony of Jesus: worship God: for the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy” (Rev 19:10).
Here we find that John thought the divine being was worthy of worship. The angel, however, noted that we only worship God in Christ, as he is a fellow servant. This also suggests to us that angels and men are related.
These 24 divine beings wear the white raiment spoken of, sit on thrones, yet still prostrate themselves to the one God. Having such an experience of seeing God on his throne is called a theophany.
John’s experience is similar to those of Isaiah (Ascension of isaiah) and of Lehi (Book of Mormon). All three see God on his throne. Each will be given a book. John will swallow his book and learn of his future mission, while the others will read the books given them, and will prophesy. John will see many things regarding Christ, both his mortal and future roles. Isaiah and Lehi, who preceded Jesus, would see the Lord descend from heaven. In the Vision of the Tree of Life, both Lehi and his son, Nephi, would see the life of the mortal Christ. Isaiah would also foresaw Christ’s birth:
“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace” (Isa 9:6).
John would foresee the Second Coming of Christ in glory, wherein the righteous on earth will be brought back into the presence of God. More on this in the next and final New Testament lesson.
Herein is the true power and importance of John’s revelation. While the views of the end of times may be interesting to speculate about, the key is John reveals to us about the ascension to God’s presence.
Some Other Apocalypses among the Jews and early Christians
Ascension of Isaiah: http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/ascension.html
Apocalypse of Paul: http://www.gnosis.org/naghamm/ascp.html
Apocalypse of Peter: http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/apocalypsepeter-mrjames.html
1st Book of Enoch: http://www.sacred-texts.com/bib/boe/
2nd or Secret Book of Enoch: http://www.sacred-texts.com/bib/fbe/index.htm#section_002
3d Book of Enoch: http://www.scribd.com/doc/2024701/Hebrew-book-of-3-Enoch
Lehi’s Apocalypse in the Book of Mormon: 1 Nephi 1:4-15 (compare with Ascension of Isaiah)
Michael Heiser (Academic Editor, Logos Bible Software) interview, regarding the name Elohim and many Gods: http://www.dburnett.com/?p=1322
Margaret Barker, 2005 Joseph Smith Symposium at Library of Congress (session 2): http://lds.org/library/display/0,4945,510-1-3067-1,00.html