Feast upon the Word Blog

A blog focused on LDS scriptures and teaching

Sunday School Lesson #45

Posted by Jim F. on December 5, 2007

Lesson 45: Revelation


The article on Revelation in the LDS Bible Dictionary is excellent. You should read it before you read the lesson material. In addition, here are some things that may be helpful:

So far in our New Testament study this year we have seen three kinds of writings in the New Testament: the gospels, which bear testimony of Christ and his life; letters to congregations of early Saints preaching the Gospel in the context of dealing with problems in those congregations; and doctrinal expositions (Romans and Hebrews). Revelation is unlike any of those. Apocalyptic revelations like the book of Revelation were not uncommon in the early Church. Several others are still extant. But Revelation was the only one of them canonized.

We know that we do not have a record of everything taught either in Jesus’ Palestinian or in his American ministry. For example, we don’t have a record of his teachings during the forty days after his resurrection, and the Book of Mormon tells us explicitly that it doesn’t include everything he said (3 Nephi 19:32; 26:6, 16; 28:13-14). In the New Testament, Jesus says that he holds some teachings back from those outside his inner circle (Mark 4:10-11), and the early Christian Church knows of this practice. In addition to the documents that were simply lost because of the problems of preserving writing before the invention of the printing press, early Christians believed that some things were held back, kept secret and not committed to writing. For example, Clement of Alexandria (late 2nd century A.D.) says that he knows teachings that Jesus revealed to his disciples but that were handed down orally rather than in writing (Miscellanies 5.10; 6.7). In the early third century, Origen, also of Alexandria (early 3rd century), argues that the prophets and apostles knew more than could be written down (Against Celsus 6.6). He says that Jesus knew divine secrets “and made them known to a few” (Against Celsus 3.37). Origen seems at least to have in mind Paul’s claim in 1 Corinthians 2:7: “We speak the wisdom of God in a secret, even the hidden wisdom that God decreed for our glory before the world” (translation revised). This reservation of some things from wide distribution was not unique to the Savior’s time or to his disciples immediately after him. 1 Nephi 14:25 shows us one example of the Lord forbidding that the prophet write some things, and Ezekiel 3:1-3, where the prophet is given a roll (scroll) to eat and then told to speak may be meant to indicate that some things can be taught orally but not written down.

Ignatius of Antioch (also of the 2nd century) wrote that the Father had entrusted only Jesus with the Holy of Holies and with the secrets of God (To the Philadelphians 9). By writing of the secrets of God at the same time he writes of the Holy of Holies, Ignatius suggests that the secret teachings had to do with the temple, which seems also to have been the tradition among early Christians. For example, the early church historian, Eusebius (2nd half of the 3rd century, first half of the 4th), says that both James the brother of Christ and John the apostle were high priests (History 2.23, 3.31). This is probably the origin of what you’ve heard, Nannette. I have to say, however, that I am quite skeptical, given what we know about how the high priest was chosen. Nevertheless, in spite of my skepticism, Eusebius clearly understands the high priest as a person officiating in the temple.

However, whether or not James or John was the high priest at some time, it isn’t unreasonable to assume that Revelation may be, like Ezekiel, a revelation that uses the temple as its primary metaphor. Thus, as you read it, you may wish to look for temple symbolism. Keep in mind, however, that the temple used for the symbols was the temple in Jerusalem rather than a modern temple.

Perhaps the most important symbol of that early temple was the entry of the high priest into the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement. The Holy of Holies represented the divine world, and the court outside the Holy of Holies represented this world. Part of the difficulty we have reading Revelation may be twofold: (1) It assumes that its readers are part of an audience which knows that there are secret—“private” might be better—teachings and that this book is like many other books that deal with those teachings. (2) It makes its points using symbolism from the Jerusalem Temple, and we are not familiar with that symbolism, partly because a lot of the knowledge about it has been lost, partly because we don’t use it as a symbol and, so, don’t recognize the symbolism that is still accessible to us.

Revelation was written at a time when the Church was suffering persecution and when it expected the Second Coming soon. In fact, early Christians often spoke of the Second Coming as “The Revelation,” using the same Greek word used as the name of this book: apokalypsis, from which we get our word “apocalypse,” meaning “the revelation of something hidden or secret.” Though we associate the word “apocalypse” with destruction, that is a mistake. It means “revelation”: Christ’s Second Coming would reveal something that the world did not know, a secret, namely that Jesus, whom the world crucified, is Creator, King, and Judge. The book of Revelation tells us that in it we can find “hidden secrets,” things not known by those outside the Church and, perhaps, not by all of those within the Church.

However, the “secrets” of Revelation are not matters of arcane symbolism or things that require special knowledge or education, any more than the “secret” of the Second Coming is. An angel told Nephi that the things John wrote are “plain and pure, and most precious and easy to the understanding of all men” (1 Nephi 14:23)—though it may be important to remember that the angel was speaking to someone who said something similar of Isaiah (2 Nephi 25:4).

Speaking of the symbols in Revelation, Joseph Smith said:

Whenever God gives a vision of an image, or beast, or figure of any kind, He always holds Himself responsible to give a revelation or interpretation of the meaning thereof [e.g. D&C 77 and D&C 130], otherwise we are not responsible or accountable for our belief in it (Teachings 291).

It is not very essential for the elders to have knowledge in relation to the meaning of beasts, and heads and horns, and other figures made use of in the revelations; still, it may be necessary, to prevent contention and division and do away with suspense. If we get puffed up by thinking that we have much knowledge, we are apt to get a contentious spirit, and correct knowledge is necessary to cast out that spirit.
The evil of being puffed up with correct (though useless) knowledge is not so great as the evil of contention. (Teachings 287).

Even though we know by revelation what some of the figures or symbols in the book of Revelation mean, that knowledge is useless, explicitly given to us so that we won’t contend over them. The better approach to Revelation would be not to worry about those symbols, to learn what it teaches without concern for them.

It may help you keep track of what you are reading if you notice that Revelation is arranged in seven groups of seven, with an introduction and a conclusion. (I have used the arrangement of by J. M. Ford, The Anchor Bible Commentary on Revelation (1975), though the idea that Revelation is arranged in seven groups of seven is not original with her and though I have felt free to change her outline somewhat. )

1. Introduction to the book as a whole (1:1-8)

2. Seven prophecies to the seven churches

Introduction (1:9-20)
Ephesus (2:1-7)
Smyrna (2:8-11)
Pergamum (2:12-17)
Thyatira (2:18-29)
Sardis (3:1-6)
Philadelphia (3:7-13)
Laodocia (3:14-22)

3. The seven seals

Introduction: The Heavenly Court (4:1-11); The book with seven seals and the Lamb (5:1-14)
The white horse (6:1-2)
The red horse (6:3-4)
The black horse (6:5-6)
The yellow-green horse (6:7-8)
The souls under the altar (6:9-11)
The earthquake (6:12-17)
The seventh, encompassing seal: The Church on earth preserved by God (7:1-8); The Church in heaven glorifies God (7:9-17); The seventh seal (8:1)

4. The seven trumpets

Introduction (8:2-6)
The earth is set on fire (8:7)
The sea turns to blood (8:8-9)
The rivers and springs become bitter (8:10-12)
The heavenly bodies are darkened (8:13)
The locusts (9:1-12)
The horsemen (9:13-11:14)
The seventh, encompassing trumpet: The angel with a small open scroll (14:1-5); The measuring of the Temple and the two witnesses (11:1-14)

5. The Dragon and the Lamb

The woman with child (12:1-2)
The dragon (12:3-6)
The beast rising out of the sea (13:1-10)
The second beast: the false prophet rising out of the earth (13:11-18)
The Lamb and the virgins (14:1-5)
The seven angels, one of them the Son of Man (14:6-16)
The seventh, encompassing sign (14:17)

6. The seven bowls of wrath are poured out

Introduction: Those who have conquered the Anti-Christ sing the Song of Moses and the Lamb (15:1-16:1)
On the earth (16:2)
On the sea (16:3)
On the waters (16:4-7)
On the sun (16:8-9)
On the throne of the beast (16:10-11)
On the Euphrates (16:12-16)
The seventh, encompassing bowl (16:17)

7. Babylon

Introduction (16:18-21)
The description of Babylon (17:1-6)
The explanation of Babylon (17:7-18)
The fall of Babylon (18:1-8)
The mourning for Babylon (18:9-20)
The final ruin of Babylon (18:21-24)
The song of praise at her fall (19:1-5)
The seventh, encompassing stage (19:6)

8. The Second Coming and the end of history

Introduction (19:6-10)
The rider on the white horse (19:11-16)
The supper of God (19:17-18)
The angel of the abyss (20:1-3)
The millenial first resurrection and victory over Satan (20:4-10)
The judgment (20:11-15)
The New Jerusalem (21:1-22:5)

9. Recapitulation (22:6-21)

The witness of the angel (22:6-9)
The time of retribution is at hand (22:10-15)
The witness of Jesus (22:16-20)
Closing (22:21)

This framework may help you read Revelation, but it is only a framework. Additional elements are placed on it, for example, 1:9-3:22, where we have a vision of the resurrected Christ. And almost anyone trying to outline the book is likely to outline it at least somewhat differently. Notice also that this outline doesn’t take account of Joseph Smith’s inspired rewriting of parts, especially of chapter 12. Those inspired changes make quite a difference in places. Thus, this outline has its limitations, but it may be helpful in spite of them.

John wrote Revelation in 95-96 while on the isle of Patmos, a very small island off of what is now the Turkish coast. Tradition says that he was banished there by the Roman governor. If so, he may have been the only prisoner on the island because, though we have records of banishments to other islands in the area, there are no records of banishments to Patmos. It is possible that he went to Patmos for refuge rather than because he was banished.

Study Questions

Note: I have used study notes produced by Arthur Bassett as the foundation for my questions. He can’t be held responsible for them since I’ve changed them and added to them, but I can’t take credit for his work either.

Chapter 1:1-8 (Use the JST in the Appendix of your LDS Bible)

Verses 1-2: Why was the revelation given? Why is it important for us to know that? The word “of” in the phrase “of Jesus Christ” can be read in several ways: “about,” “from,” and “belonging to.” Which do you think most likely? Can it mean all three? (Someone once suggested to me—though I don’t remember who—that the substance of this revelation was first given to Christ in the wilderness and then subsequently repeated, with changes, to John.) What do “things which must shortly come to pass” (verse 1) and “the time of the coming of the Lord draweth nigh” (verse 3) tell us about when the early Christians expected the Second Coming?

Verse 3: Why is Revelation as important in our day as it was in John’s? Why is it fitting that it ended up as the last book in the Bible, although it probably was written before the Gospel of John?

Verses 4-5: What addition does Joseph Smith make to in verse 4? What does he change in identifying the faithful witness? Why is that important?

Verse 6: In what sense can we become kings and priests to God through his atonement? Why is it important for us to realize this?

Verses 7-8: What does the prophet add about the Savior’s entourage at his Second Coming? In what way is Jesus the beginning and the end in the history of this world? (Alpha and Omega are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, in which the New Testament was originally written.)

Revelation 1:9-20

Verses 9-10: What does John tell us concerning the occasion for the Revelation? Why is it instructive that the revelation came on Sunday? Does this have any meaning for our own Sabbath worship?

Verses 11: All of these churches (except Thyatira) are located on a map in the LDS edition of the scriptures. Ephesus is the only city we have discussed earlier (although Laodicea is mentioned in Paul’s letter to the Colossians).

Verses 2-16: It is interesting to compare John’s description of the Savior with Joseph Smith’s description in D&C 110:1-4. How are they alike? How different? What do the the seven golden candlesticks and the seven stars signify? (See verse 20, and footnote 20b.) Why might the Lord appear in this manner? What is added to the account by the use of symbolism? Where is Christ in relationship to the seven candlesticks? What does this tell us? In what way is he still in the midst of his church today?

Verses 17: Considering John’s previous acquaintance with the Lord, both during Jesus’ life time and after his resurrection, what is interesting about John’s reaction to his appearance? How do you explain his reaction?

Revelation 2-3

As you read through these condemnations and promises held out for their future, ask yourself how each of these relate to us today.

2:1-7 (to Ephesus): What does the Lord praise in Ephesus (verses 2, 3, and 6)? The Nicolaitans may have been a group of Gnostics. They seem to have approved of eating meat offered to idols—in direct contradiction to the decree of the Jerusalem Council—and to have believed that immorality was not sinful because what one does with one’s body doesn’t matter. What might they appeal to in Christian belief or practice to try to justify these beliefs and practices? For what does Christ chastize the Ephesians? (“First love” may refer to their feelings for each other, or for the Savior.) What is interesting about the reference to the tree of life? Is this the same tree of life mentioned in Genesis 2-3? Does this add more light to the Lord’s instructions in Genesis 3:22-24? What insight does the Book of Mormon (1 Nephi 11:21-22) add to our understanding of the term?

2:8-11 (to Smyrna): What does the Lord foretell for the saints in this city? The Jews in Smyrna are reputed to have been aggressive in their persecution of the Christians. Why would the Lord say they were not Jews? (How does Paul define a Jew–Romans 2:28-29)? The crown is one made from laurel leaves for the winners of athletic contests. How is this an appropriate symbol? In what way were these saints poverty-stricken? In what way were they rich? What promise is given to them for their own futures? What is meant by the second death? Is this what Alma 12:16, 32; and Helaman 14:18 are talking about? Who participates in the second death?

2:12-17 (to Pergamos): Pergamos or Pergamum was the ancient capital of Asia, built on a cone-shaped hill rising 1,000 feet above the surrounding valley. Its name in Greek means “citadel.” The Lord speaks of Satan ruling from there probably because it was the center of emperor worship in Asia. One of the most outstanding constructions of the ancient world, the altar of Zeus, was there (it is now in a museum in Berlin), and may be what verse 13 calls “Satan’s seat” because of its shape. What heresy had arisen in this city? What was the original purpose of manna in the Old Testament? What is probably meant, then, by hidden (sacred) manna? What is meant by the white stone and the new name (D&C 130:4-11)?

2:18: (to Thyatira): Founded initially as a military outpost, Thyatira was noted for its many trade guilds. This was the original home of Lydia, the woman who traded in purple cloth, who joined the church in Philippi, and housed Paul and his companions in her home. What problem had crept into the church in Thyatira? (“Jezebel” is probably a name referring to a prominent woman in the congregation, who was leading them astray, as Queen Jezebel did Israel during the days of Elijah. Note the JST in ftn. 22a.) What is the promise given to those who overcome (JST Rev. 2:26-27). The reference to the “morning star” is a reference to Christ (2 Peter 1:19; Revelation 22:16.) Why would he be called the “morning star”—a term used today for the planet Venus that appears in the east, early in the morning?

3:1-6 (to Sardis): Sardis was a city of great wealth and fame, the capital of ancient Lydia. Twice before in its history it had been conquered because it wasn’t watchful. How does John use their past history to warn them of their future? What does it mean to think one lives, and yet is dead? Are we guilty of this? What promise is given to those in Sardis? Why should we care what promise they receive?

3:7-13 (to Philadelphia): What does Jesus mean by the “key of David?” What does he open that no man can shut, or shut that no man can open? (This appears to be a reference to Isaiah 22:21-15.) What is signified by the name written upon the Christians? How do we take upon ourselves the name of Christ? This is the first reference in Revelation to the “new Jerusalem.” What is meant by this term? What does it mean to be a pillar in the temple?

3:14-22 (to the Laodiceans): Laodicea was one of the wealthiest cities in the Roman empire, known for its banking establishments, medical school, and textile industry. All of these are reflected in Christ’s rebuke (verses 17-18). Why would Christ be called the great Amen? The lukewarm water may refer to a water system that originated in hot springs in Hierapolis, a distance from the city, which, by the time it arrived in Laodicea was tepid, and of little use for medicinal purposes. Why is it so difficult to work with one who is lukewarm (apathetic)? How do we often manifest apathy our religious life? How is rebuking and chastening a sign of love?

JST Revelation 12

The Prophet Joseph revamped the entire twelveth chapter of Revelation, even changing the sequence of verses. Use his translation in the appendix. Some of the symbolism in this chapter is not clear at present, but enough of the symbols are known and time-honored to help us sort through the rest.

Verses 1-5: Who is the woman depicted in verse 1? (See verse 7.) What does the number 12 refer to in the Old Testament? In the New? What is the child that the woman brings into existence with great travail (verse 7)? Who is the man child? What is the travail involved in bringing forth the man child? What is the rod of iron (1 Nephi 15:23-24)? When was the man child caught up unto God and his throne? How does this give us a time frame for what follows? Who is represented by the red dragon?

Verses 6-11: This introduces a reference to the pre-mortal existence and the defeat of Lucifer in the war in heaven. Who is Michael? The word “Satan” in Hebrew means “the accuser.” We usually think of Satan as our tempter. How is he our accuser? How does understanding him as our accuser change the way we see our relation to God? How is Satan to be overcome eventually (verse 11)? Why are both aspects–the atonement and our testimony of the atonement–needed for his defeat?

Verses 12-17: Look at these verses in general terms rather than at their specifics. What does the future hold for God’s people? at John’s time? in our own?

27 Responses to “Sunday School Lesson #45”

  1. brianj said

    Jim F: Thanks so much for this introduction! Your notes are always helpful, but these exceed expectations.

  2. Michele Mitchell said

    Amen to brianj. Thank you; thank you.

  3. Rebecca L said

    Thanks so much for bringing some order and clarity to my mulling over Revelation.

    Have you read Barker’s book on this? What do you think about her depiction of Wisdom and the importance of the Goddess both in the 1st Temple Worship and in the Book of Revelation? Do you agree with her that Josiah’s reforms were directed against the ancient practices of the 1st Temple? Jeremiah and Lehi

    My father had suggested to me a long time ago that this might be a vision to Christ. Barker also seems to follow this line with her argument that Christ had a merkavah experience at his baptism (which is also an anti-type to the birth of the dragon).

    Another part of her interpretation that fascinates me is her belief that the early christians recognized the fulfillment of these prophecies in their lifetime. If that is true, what does the book mean for us today? Does this revelation have archetypal significance for us in every age? as a church? as individuals?

  4. Robert C. said

    Rebecca, you might be interested in this post that Joe wrote a while back on Revelation where he discusses Barker’s view a fair bit.

  5. Jim F. said

    Rebecca L, I’ve read Barker and found her very interesting, but I don’t have enough education to decide what to make of her position or the arguments that support it.

    Your last question, however, is something I, too, have wondered about. Surely the book had significance for the people of the time. Imagine what a book would be that did not. Why would anyone copy it and hand it around, much less read it, if it did not. So I assume that the early Christians either assumed that they saw the fulfilment of Revelation in their own day or that they saw it as predicting that fulfilment in their own day. Nevertheless, I think that it, like other scripture, can be read as something that demands our attention, thought, and response.

  6. Rebecca L said

    I would have to say amen to both your points! Thanks again for the excellent notes!

    Thanks! I’ll check that out.

  7. Joe Spencer said

    Fantastic work here, Jim. I do want to offer one point of clarification. While it is true that the Revelation is unlike any other book in the New Testament in many ways, it seems quite important to note at the same time that it is, like so many other books, an epistle (though it departs from the standard epistolary structure in a number of ways). I think the dialectical relation of sorts between the epistolary nature of the book and its apocalyptic purposes sets up the tension in which its relevance today must be interpreted.

    Rebecca et al., as Robert notes (and links), I’ve done some work with Barker’s commentary as well. Realistically, I think (as she points out in her introduction) that her work on Revelation is best served if it is read along with Ford’s commentary (which Jim cites in his notes here) from the Anchor Bible series. (Another commentary I can highly recommend—one that is very, very readable and which addresses the question of subsequent relevance quite fruitfully—is the commentary by Eugene Boring (don’t let his last name misguide you!), published in the Interpretation series. I think I can recommend every volume of that series, by the way!) I think Margaret Barker’s work is always something to be taken quite seriously, but I think it is best appropriated if it is read along with other good commentaries.

    I’d love to do a series of posts on Revelation if anyone is interested, since I’ve done quite a bit of work on it over the past few years. (I have a sort of magnum opus planned for when I’m seventy and finally feel I can embarrass myself without any concern by writing a pretentious commentary on Revelation. :) ) Any takers?

  8. Rebecca L said

    I would love to read what you’ve been doing on Revelation, Joe. I always come away from your posts with new insights!

  9. Robert C. said

    Joe #7, I think your note about Revelation as an epistle and thus like other NT scriptures is important. Also, from what I know of your work on typology, and from your seminary discussion of Isaiah, I would add to Rebecca and Jim’s (on the other thread) encouragement that you do a post or series of posts on Revelation, esp. as a sort of key for thinking about how we read any book of scripture. What I mean is that it seems your thinking about typology would have us consider the kind of symbolism in Revelation and poetry in Isaiah as examples of scripture par excellence—that is, since Revelation and Isaiah sort of force us to read typologically, or at least in a non-historiographical register of some kind, in order to make any sense of them, then I think they make perhaps the best jumping off point for thinking about how to read any book of scripture. Anyway, partly b/c I’ve been obsessing about hermeneutics lately, that’s my reason for strongly encouraging you in this project. I think it would also make for a good transition for thinking about how we should approach the Book of Mormon (esp. your thesis about the small plates following an apocalyptic or temple pattern, and containing a sort of hidden message).

  10. s james said

    #9 Joe – if you do, is it worth considering links to the Book of Daniel as there seem to be parallels with certain typologies used in Revelation.

    #9 Robert – something for your interpretive, allegorical interest from the 14th century:

    ‘…meaning acquired by (interpretive) toil should be more pleasing and for that reason be better retained.
    … theology is simply the poetry of God. What is it but poetic fiction to say in one place of Scripture that Christ is a lion and in another a lamb, now that he is a serpent and now a dragon, and in still another place that he is a rock?’ (Giovanni Boccaccio, 1313-1375).

  11. Joe Spencer said

    s james, I’m way ahead of you on Daniel. :)

  12. Jim, I appreciate your post here. You’ve clearly gone to a lot of work in MY behalf–taking full credit for the direction of your effort is in jest, but I want you to know how much I personally benefit from your effort. Perhaps you could consider your work a GIFT at this time of year. :)

    Question, with the number 7 playing such a significant role in Revelations, even in your outline, I’m wondering what we can learn from this. I know it represents completion, but with this in mind, I think it’s relevant to Rebecca’s question #3: “early christians recognized the fulfillment of these prophecies in their lifetime. If that is true, what does the book mean for us today? Does this revelation have archetypal significance for us in every age? as a church? as individuals?” This completion cycle must somehow be paramount in John’s message (or Jesus’). Does it warrant more discussion?–Nanette

  13. Joe Spencer said

    Nanette, I think the number seven deserves a great deal of attention, and I’d like to root it in my thinking about the Genesis 1-3 story. But I’ll be covering this in my Revelation posts… so you can read my thoughts about it there.

  14. Jim F. said

    Nanette, I look forward to what Joe has to say. I agree that it warrants more discussion, but I don’t have anything to add to what you’ve just said.

  15. Joe, I’ll go look there. Thanks.

    Jim & All, Rev. 1-3 has 7 promises to those who “overcome.” It appears to me that these culminate or evolve in a temple experience. RE: #6, being made a pillar in the temple, Solomon’s temple had 2 pillars, one named “Boaz” meaning “In His Strength, and the other “Jochin” meaning “He will establish (plant).” These pillars were engraved with leaves & pomegranates, typifying a tree, reminding us of roots, branches, fruit and numberless seed. [Ah…I digress on the topic of pomegranates as I’m presently harvesting mine & making jellies, pies, preserves, etc. from them. The pomegranate is definitely a godly symbol of the Abrahamic Covenant in so many ways!!!] Back to my point/question…DOES ANYONE HAVE THE SOURCE ON THESE ASPECTS OF SOLOMON’S TEMPLE?! I seem to be replete with sourceless information, a regular Trivial Pursuit!–Nanette

  16. Sorry to be so lazy & solicit your help when I should have just looked it up in the SCRIPTURES myself. Here’s where Solomon’s temple is described: 1 Kings 7:13-22,41-42. You might be interested in D&C 124:37-41, also. What is YOUR interpretation of being made a pillar in the temple? I see it as being someone who can bear weight, who’s steady & constant. What else?–nanette

  17. And, lest you are really sick of reading me, I found this from the strange source of Manly P. Hall’s “Secret Teachings of all Ages” p.307-8, but it seems to fit: “When interpreted Qabbalistically, the names of the two pillars mean ‘In strength shall My House be established.” Qabbalistically, in case you wonder, means ‘tradition, or that which is handed down.’ It also implies something that is secret/sacred.–nanette

  18. Robert C. said

    In one of Joe’s podcasts, he talked about the number 7 in terms of the Holy of Holies, where basically the four corners of the Ark of the Covenant represent the four corners of the earth, and on top of that are two Cherubim to the left and right of the mercy seat where the Lord would sit. This suggests that four is the number of the world and three is the number of heaven (not surprisingly). I’m not sure how much of a strain this is, but it seems that thinking about this pattern offers an interesting way of reading Rev 2-3. For example, it seems that the instructions to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, and Thyatira discuss wordly things (e.g., politics) whereas the instructions to Sardis, Philadelphia and Loadicea seem to discuss heavenly things more (e.g, the Sardis instructions talk about the book of life, where things are sealed up, following the role of the Holy Ghost; the Philadelphia instruction seems to talk a lot about the name of God, which seems to be the role of the Son since that’s whose name we take on; the Laodicea instructions talks about the throne of God, which seems to be tantamount to the presence of the Father). I’m very new to thinking about the structure and symbolism in Revelation, so maybe I’m headed out toward far left field, but for what it’s worth….

  19. Robert C. said

    I came across this interesting note in Aune’s commentary which I thought offered an interesting way for thinking about the structure of Revelation, viz., in terms of throne room scenes:

    Revelation often punctuates the visionary narrative with scenes set in the heavenly court. The first and longest such scene is found in Rev 4:1–5:14, and six similar scenes follow in 7:9–17; 8:1–4; 11:15–18; 14:1–5; 15:2–8; 19:1–10. Most of the hymns and hymnic fragments in Revelation are placed in these literary settings (4:8c, 11; 5:9b–10, 12b, 13b; 7:10b, 12; 11:15b, 17–18; 15:3b–4; 19:1b–2, 3, 5b, 6b–8). While all of the heavenly throne scenes contain hymnic elements, only two hymns (12:10b–12; 16:5b–7b) are not set in the context of heavenly throne-room scenes. Since these hymnic sections usually provide commentary on the narrative vision contexts in which they are embedded, the primary reason the author introduced throne scenes was to serve as literary contexts for hymnic commentary; thus they are extremely important in any structural analysis of Revelation. (pp. xcvii-xcviii)

  20. Jim F said

    Robert, thanks for this. Part of the marvel of Revelation is that it is so very densely textured.

  21. nhilton said

    Robert 19, this is very interesting. Does this mean that Revelation is a “musical” with a refrain in the thrown room? It certainly makes sense as a memory & poetical device. Such a structure would help John, & all with whom he shared his experience, to remember the vision. Additionally, as Neal Maxwell recommended re: Seminary teaching, it would provide a framework for the doctrine. It leads me to wonder why music isn’t incorporated into modern temple worship.

    Jim, I love your wording, “densely textured.” Revelation in quickly becoming my “new favorite book” precisely for the reason you cite.

  22. cherylem said

    Thanks very much for this post. Very very very helpful to get me started on Sunday’s lesson.


  23. Clark said

    BTW – when one speaks of “When interpreted Qabbalistically” one’s speaking of the Kabbalah. (Qabbala is one old transliteration of the word) There are tons of Kabbalistic readings of all this stuff. However one has to be careful. Most of the Kabbalistic traditions are late. From at least the 6th and 7th century with many being the 12th century or later. There is still debate over exactly what is influencing what: merkabah texts, gnosticism, some proto-kabbalah, or something else. (Idel, perhaps somewhat biased, thinks a proto-kabbalah helps gnosticism develop, Scholem, although dated, adopts the gnostic influence on Judaism to affect merkabah traditions and then later the development of Kabbalism)

    Anyway, point being, that while I think merkabah mysticism, apocalypsism and certainly texts like 1 Enoch, Testament of the Patriarchs, Daniel and Genesis all affect Revelation, one has to be pretty careful not to read too much in light of later traditions. (I mentioned in the other thread Masonry, but Masonry is itself largely a 17th century development with most of the interesting speculative stuff added late in the 17th century – and largely influenced by gnosticism, the rediscovery of paganism in the Renaissance, the Art of Memory from the renaissance, European Christian Kabbalism, Jewish Kabbalism, the discovery of gnostic texts and traditions, the discovery of the Hermetic corpus-dated to 3rd century but thought at the time to be much, much older – and so forth)

    The point being that there was a lot of religious development in Europe over the centuries. While interesting and typically influenced by the writings of late antiquity, one has to be very, very careful.

  24. Clark said

    One last thing. We’ve discussed seven heavens, levels, and so forth. Most probably this notion of seven entered into Judaism around the time of the Babylonian exile. At the same time though Nephi’s and Lehi’s visions (which Lehi links to John’s) have a lot of similarity to some aspects of Babylonian traditions (and some texts in the ancient Jewish tradition scholars typically see as due to Babylonian influence) One example are the rivers splitting up the land one sees in the vision.

    Of course in Nephi’s vision we see (to my mind) a lot of allusions to Babylonian beliefs. We’re all familiar with Tiamat the sea beast of Babylonian myth, which John makes use of in Revelation. For the Babylonians there were myths about the river which was a river of death (Arad-Ea) Compare with 1 Ne 12:16; 15:29) Of course Nephi’s great and spacious building is almost certainly a Babylonian temple. My personal opinion is that Nephi is using both Jewish “appropriations” of Babylonian myth and then ridicule of Babylonian myth. (i.e. making Ea – the sea god / river god – the devil) This is quite in keeping with his Isaiah influence.

    I bring all this up so as to suggest some of this is going on with John as well. I think reading Nephi’s account and John’s account together is very, very helpful. Even if Nephi is forbidden to write too much. (Saying John with write it)

  25. Clark said

    One last comment and then I promise to shut up for a while. I mentioned the river of filthiness in Nephi/Lehi’s vision. The river of 1 Ne 8:13 is often taken to be the river of filthiness but might be the river of life, often discussed in Judaism. That often flows out of the tree of life and would fit the description Nephi gives in 1 Ne 11:25. This would indicate two rivers, one flithy, the other pure.

    However note how this corresponds to Babylonian geography. What do the rivers do though? They split the land up into three regions.

    Is this reading too much into it? Perhaps. I wouldn’t push it too far.

  26. Jim, who is the “him” in Rev. 1:1? –Nanette

  27. Jim F. said

    Grammatically I think it can only refer to “Jesus Christ.” God gave him the revelation; he gave it to his douloi, “slaves,” i.e., those whom he has purchased. Perhaps someone with better Greek will correct me (that wouldn’t come as a shock), but as I see it, there’s no other reasonable reading.

    In turn, Christ delegated his messenger to show (“signified” in the KJV) the revelation to John, one of those he purchased. (We see this delegation procedure elsewhere.)

    By writing this book, John is testifying of “the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ, what he saw.” “What he saw” is in apposition to the compound “the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.” I think that the KJV translation of the end of verse 2 is particularly misleading because it makes it appear that the object of “bare record” is triple rather than double.

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