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TitleRevelation 6–14
Publication TypeBook Chapter
Year of Publication2023
AuthorsDraper, Richard D., and Michael D. Rhodes
EditorHalverson, Taylor
Book TitleNew Testament Minute: Revelation
Volume27
Number of Volumes27
Chapter6
PublisherScripture Central
CitySpringville, UT
KeywordsBible; New Testament; Revelation

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Revelation 6: The Six Seals

As the songs of adoration cease, the Lamb begins the task only He can do. One by one He breaks the seven seals attached to the scroll of destiny. As He does so, John beholds in vision a series of dramatic events. They derive from the content of the seals themselves. Each seal symbolizes a set portion of earth’s history: “the first seal contains the things of the first thousand years, and the second also of the second thousand years, and so on until the seventh” (Doctrine and Covenants 77:7). Of course, the history of the earth does not divide easily into exact thousand-year increments. These eras are in fact what we in Latter-day Saint parlance call “dispensations.”

The breaking of the seals does not open any portion of the document. The scroll will not open until the seventh seal breaks. All must wait until then for the will of God to be fully executed. The throne vision (Revelation 4:1–6:17; 8:1–9:21; 11:1–19) forms a single unit that acts as the first of two preludes to the Second Coming, which does not occur until chapter 19. Temporal history begins in this chapter with the opening of the seals and concludes with the opening of the seventh in Revelation 8:1.

The opening of the last seal, which is seemingly anticlimactic since it is followed by a mere silence in heaven, actually serves to introduce the seven trumpet plagues wherein God’s wrath is finally unleashed in preparation for the Lord’s Second Coming. There are two interludes that break up the unit. The first, Revelation 7:1–17, shows God’s preparation of the righteous for the final events, and the second, Revelation 10:1–11, reveals the role John is to play in the whole.

The Lord uses horses and their riders to symbolize specific events of the first four thousand years. Horse symbolism is found in the Old Testament, but in Revelation, God modifies it for His own purposes. Even so, it still echoes the two visions of Zechariah, one of four horsemen, the other of four chariots (1:8–11; 6:1–8). In Zechariah’s vision, however, both sets were but patrol squads whose purpose was to report on the peaceful condition upon the earth. Like John’s, his horses were of different colors but they corresponded to the different points of the compass.

In Revelation, the horses also take on their usual symbolic nature as steeds of war, but their four colors indicate a significant aspect of each millennium: conquest (white), bloodshed and war (red), plague and famine (black), and death (pale). Though each seal represents a span of about a thousand years, the vision with its equine imagery focuses on but one aspect of that era. Taken together, they show the major developments in each millennium that contributed to and shaped earth’s history and help explain why the world will end as it does.

Revelation 6:1–8. The four horsemen

6:1–2. The first seal. As the Lamb breaks the first seal, one of the animals barks its command, “Come!” In response, a white horse and its rider charge into view. The color suggests two things: purity and victory. He is one of God’s own—a prophet of power and light. He carries the bow, a symbol of war, suggesting a period in which righteousness was on the offensive. The rider receives “a crown,” not the sign of political rule but of victory, the laurel or oak crown won through athletic achievement or military conquest. Thus, victory went to the one sitting on the white horse who conquered. The use of the passive voice, “a crown was given unto him,” is instructive. John uses the passive continually throughout Revelation to indicate that an unseen power is operating behind history, shaping it, molding it, making it conform to a specific will. That power is God, as John has already revealed, working through the Lamb.

The first dispensation of earth’s history saw the beginning of wickedness, apostasy, and war. Conversely, it also saw what could be considered the greatest triumph for righteousness the world had ever achieved. During this period Enoch and his people laid the foundations of Zion, and righteousness was truly on the offensive. They waged battles in ways never seen before or after. The primary weapons of the righteous were faith and the word of God. Indeed, “so great was the faith of Enoch that he led the people of God, and their enemies came to battle against them; and he spake the word of the Lord, and the earth trembled, and the mountains fled, even according to has command; and the rivers of water were turned out of their course” (Moses 7:13). Having warded off earthly enemies, the people of Zion subdued earthly appetites, passions, sickness, pain, social injustice, and, eventually, death. Truly, righteous conquest was the highlight of the era.

6:3–4. The second seal. Though Enoch established Zion, righteousness did not prevail into the next millennium. The holy city and its people fled, and corruption and violence gained the day. John saw the Lamb break the second seal and heard the command, “Come!” As he came, he saw a horse with its rider lunge into view. The Seer described the horse as “fiery.” The word means literally “fiery red” (the dragon in chapter 12 has the same color), and the color suggests death by violent means. But it also represents sin. It was of those living early in the second millennium that the Lord said, “And for these many generations, ever since the day that I created them, have they gone astray, and have denied me, and have sought their own counsels in the dark; and in their own abominations have they devised murder, and have not kept the commandments, which I gave unto their father, Adam. Wherefore, they have foresworn themselves, and, by their oaths, they have brought upon themselves death; and a hell I have prepared for them, if they repent not.” (Moses 6:28–29)

The Lord showed Enoch what would happen because the people refused to repent. “He said, Look, and I will show unto thee the world for the space of many generations. And it came to pass that I beheld in the valley of Shum, and lo, a great people which dwelt in tents, which were the people of Shum. And again the Lord said unto me: Look; and I looked toward the north, and I beheld the people of Canaan, which dwelt in tents. And the Lord said unto me: Prophesy; and I prophesied, saying: Behold the people of Canaan, which are numerous, shall go forth in battle array against the people of Shum, and shall slay them that they shall utterly be destroyed.” (Moses 7:4–7)

The second dispensational period saw the advent of organized warfare with the objective of genocide. Clearly, the red horse galloped supreme. The horse’s rider received the curved bladed saber, the favorite weapon of the cavalry. Like the color red, it symbolized violent death coupled with all the fury of war and carried a sense of judgment. As Mormon said, “But, behold, the judgments of God will overtake the wicked; and it is by the wicked that the wicked are punished; for it is the wicked that stir up the hearts of the children of men unto bloodshed” (Mormon 5:4).

John states that the horseman was given power “to take peace from the earth, and that they should kill one another” (Revelation 6:4). So great were the abominations that evil men moved against righteousness even seeking “Noah to take away his life; but the Lord was with Noah, and the power of the Lord was upon him” (Moses 8:18). In response to the wickedness, “it repented Noah, and his heart was pained that the Lord had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at the heart. And the Lord said: I will destroy man whom I have created, from the face of the earth, both man and beast, and the creeping things, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth Noah that I have created them, and that I have made them; and he hath called upon me; for they have sought his life” (Moses 8:25–26). As a result the flood came and, for a season, unrighteousness died. Note how John again uses the passive voice. The rider possessed neither sword nor its power before they were given to him. War, strife, and bloodshed must come, but God overrules even here, setting bounds on who carries the sword, how hard it is swung, and how long.

6:5–6. The third seal. At the command of the animal, “Come!” the third horse thunders forth, its blackness symbolic of death, especially by plague, famine, and pestilence. Black is the fitting symbol of this era, for want drove the third historical period. Even the Lord’s people knew the gnawing of hunger. Abraham’s brother, Haran, died of starvation, and the famine forced the prophet himself to move into Canaan and eventually into Egypt (Abraham 1:29–30; 2:2–15). The same held true for Jacob and his sons (Genesis 41–44). Vast movements of people marked the whole era from 2000 to 1200 BC. Strife and war resulted, and tumult ruled the day.

The rider holds a scale on which to make weight and a voice hawks his wares: “A measure of wheat flour for a denarius, and three measures of barley meal for a denarius” (Revelation 6:6). A measure was equal to about a US quart, and the silver denarius was the daily wage for a common laborer (Matthew 20:2). Ordinarily, a denarius would buy between ten to sixteen quarts of wheat flour, and about three times that of barley meal. Here, under famine conditions, a day’s work supplied only enough flour to keep a person alive for one day, or enough barley meal for three. The warning against hurting the oil and the wine may have been a prohibition against hoarding these items in the hopes of driving up their value. It is more likely, however, that the text is following a principal theme in Revelation—that God is in charge. In that case, the words show that limits have been set on how far the famine could go. God controlled the breadth of the famine. Though much could be taken, the world would not succumb to the dearth. Further, the Lord had prepared a way of escape for his faithful people.

6:7–8. The fourth seal. With the command “Come!” the last of the horses comes into view. Its color is a sickly pale green. Not inappropriately, the rider is Death himself riding roughshod between 1000 BC and the period of the Lord’s birth. And he rides not alone; Hell follows him. Surely no period before this saw so many vicious generals and large armies. It was the time when some of the world’s greatest empires rose and fell: Babylon, Assyria, Persia, and Macedonia among them. But these were not the only clashes of arms: Sparta, Athens, Carthage, and China also sent forth armies at this time. Caught up in all this strife were the people of Jehovah. Palestine was often a hotly contested area, and the great prophets Hosea, Amos, Isaiah, and later Jeremiah and Lehi, tried to warn the leaders there of their folly. They would not heed. As a consequence, they left Jehovah and life eternal.

The power of the Death and Hell, symbolized in the great barbarian broad sword, exacted its due. The actual means of destruction was fourfold: war, famine, pestilence, and wild beasts. So many people were destroyed that whole areas became depopulated to the point that wild beasts ran free. With these two horsemen, Revelation continues an underlying theme, that of limitation. Note that Death and Hell possessed no power of their own. It was given to them, and their fearsome weapon. Their area of operation was also limited. Only a fourth part of the earth, a determined amount, was subject to them.

Most of the earth lay outside their domain and came under the protection of another, the One who governs all things. That is not to say that the righteous are totally spared from these plagues. Indeed, in those areas that feel the brunt of these forces, all suffer. Nevertheless, the Lord is using these destructions to His own opposite ends. For the wicked they act to punish; to the righteous they act to refine. This pattern of ever greater circles of destruction continues through the rest of the vision: trumpets bring destruction upon one third of the earth (see chapters 8, 9, and 11), and the vials bring total annihilation to all wickedness (16:1–17).

Revelation 6:9–11. The fifth seal

At the breaking of the fifth seal, no horse thunders forth. Instead, the Revelator sees the fulfillment of a prophecy given for his own day. This is the era in which the Son of God was born, ministered, and atoned and in which the new covenant was established and the keys of resurrection were first made manifest. Interestingly, the vision depicts none of these but focuses on the deliberate destruction of those who stood as witness for the Word of life. John already knew the way his dispensation would end. The Lord had made this abundantly clear. After He departed, He told his disciples, “Then shall they [the false prophets] deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake. And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another” (Matthew 24:9–11).

John viewed the terrible fulfillment of that dire prophecy. Those men and women he saw in vision who had died for the Word’s sake were in that very era giving up their lives. John saw these righteous souls under the altar of heaven. Their position under the altar suggests that they were martyrs, their souls resting there only because their lives had been offered, as it were, upon it. What made their lives a sacrifice for righteousness was not in dying for the faith but also in living for it. The martyrs cry to God asking how long “dost thou not judge the nations and avenge our blood” (verse 9). Behind their appeal lies the suggestion that they have already waited long enough. Their appeal is for judgment through which vindication of their testimonies would come.

However, the Seer learned that the time for judgment was not to be during the fifth millennium; during that period the martyred Saints would be comforted and enter into the rest of the Lord, but not vindicated. For the present, God gave them white robes, symbolic of the purity of their lives and of their ultimate victory in the resurrection, and asked for patience yet a while longer. As long as the death of the martyrs remained unpunished, the evil which stood behind it was vindicated. Under that condition, killing God’s own carried no consequence. Jesus assured his people, “Shall God not avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him though he bear long with men?” (Joseph Smith Translation, Luke 18:7). The martyrs will not refrain from crying, “till he avenges that blood on the earth” (Doctrine and Covenants 135:7). The rest and peace into which the Saints entered was not their final reward. For the time being, they were to be patient; the register of martyrs was not yet full. Others must die as well. These, however, would not be from the fifth seal, but from the upcoming sixth and seventh.

Revelation 6:12–17. The sixth seal

The sixth seal introduces the reader to the modern era. As the Lamb breaks the seal, a terrible scene of cosmic proportions meets the reader’s eye. A tremendous earthquake rocks the planet, affecting every mountain and island. The sun ceases to shine, the moon hangs blood red, and some “stars” fall from heaven and blast the earth. In ancient Jewish thought, cosmic order depended upon mortal obedience to God. The Rabbis taught that when humankind becomes so wicked as to attempt to set up their own system against God’s, the constellations would abandon their harmony and the universe would begin to disintegrate. The cosmos will echo back their unholy deeds.

Biblical literature regularly associated the earthquake with divine judgment. When God revealed his presence on Mount Sinai, “the whole mount quaked greatly” (Exodus 19:18). Isaiah stated that men would hide in caves from the terror of the Lord “when he ariseth to shake terribly the earth” (Isaiah 2:19). “For thus saith the Lord of hosts” warned Haggai, “Yet once, it is a little while, and I will shake the heavens, and the earth, and the sea, and the dry land; And I will shake all nations” (Hag. 2:6–7). Thus by using the earthquake, the Lord shows His incredible power as He continues to warn the nations. Such power will be sufficiently terrifying to drive men to hide rather than face vengeance.

John’s forceful words dramatically convey the great natural disasters which bring the sixth millennium to a close and act as forerunners to the final catastrophes. The revelation lists seven parts of the cosmos which are affected: the whole earth, the sun, the moon, the stars, the heavens, every mountain, and every island. Likewise, a threat hits seven classes of men: kings, magnates, generals, the rich, the powerful, every slave, and every freeman. Such numbering seems deliberate on John’s part. It emphasizes the idea of completeness; no enemy of God, no matter how high or low born, whether in heaven or on earth, will escape the wrath of the Lamb. He will move in His fury when patience ceases to be a virtue: “And it shall come to pass, because of the wickedness of the world, that I will take vengeance upon the wicked, for they will not repent; for the cup of mine indignation is full; for behold, my blood shall not cleanse them if they hear me not” (Doctrine and Covenants 29:17).

Though much of Revelation is symbolic, behind that symbolism there are actual events. The Lord revealed to Joseph Smith the events which were destined to occur as the sixth seal closed. He said, “before that great day shall come, the sun shall be darkened, and the moon be turned into blood; and the stars shall refuse their shining, and some shall fall, and great destructions await the wicked” (Doctrine and Covenants 34:9). The threat of the awesome desolation of the world will bring all to their knees.

Another event will transpire of such consequence that only symbolic language can describe it: The heavens splitting (verse 14). John gives the sky the attributes of a flexible material expanse which can be withdrawn by being rolled up like an ancient scroll. According to the Doctrine and Covenants, after the folding up of the heavens there shall be an unfolding in which “the face of the Lord shall be unveiled” (Doctrine and Covenants 88:95). Many will interpret the signs falsely, believing that the Second Coming has arrived. The end, however, is not yet (Matthew 24:6, see Luke 21:9; JS–M 1:23). Joel notes these events happen not at but before the coming of the Lord (Joel 2:31).

With the breaking of each seal, Revelation portrays a major event which characterizes an important aspect of each dispensational period through the fifth. When John arrives at the sixth, his pace slows, and he gives more detail. He notes not just one event, but seven. It seems fitting that his rapid narrative should slow at this point. This is the preparation period just before the millennium begins. It is the time when the Lord will reach out in terrible majesty and shake the very foundations of the earth in an attempt to break hard-heartedness. The Lord explained His purpose in these words:

And again, the Lord shall utter his voice out of heaven, saying: 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. (Doctrine and Covenants 43:23–26)

God is giving these signs as a warning to the modern inhabitants that the end is near. They are designed to encourage repentance, and the Lord will try everything from promises to punishments to bring people to Him. But once all is tried, the retribution will follow: He “would have saved” them, but now they are left to be damned. It is little wonder that the wicked will cry “to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb” (Revelation 6:16).

Looking at this same time period, an angel prophesied to Nephi saying, “Wo be unto the Gentiles if it so be that they harden their hearts against the Lamb of God. For the time cometh, saith the Lamb of God, that I will work a great and marvelous work among the children of men; a work which shall be everlasting, either on the one hand or on the other—either to the convincing of them unto peace and life eternal, or unto the deliverance of them to the hardness of their hearts and the blindness of their minds unto their being brought down into captivity, and also into destruction, both temporally and spiritually, according to the captivity of the devil, of which I have spoken” (1 Nephi 14:6–7).

These verses, however, show clearly that these plagues are only preliminary in nature. They announce the coming eschaton or final events, but are not a part of it. Their severity, as bad as it is, is but a gentle prelude to what is coming when the inhabitants of the earth face the full wrath of God. The fullness of that wrath is revealed in chapters 8 and 9. But what of the righteous? What happens to them as the world is gripped in the mailed fist of divine justice? The question with which John closes this section of the vision has real weight—who will be able to stand? The answer is next.

Revelation 7: The Seal of the Living God

The Seer concluded chapter 6 with “the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every free man, [hiding] themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains,” crying in terror against the face of God and the Lamb “For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?” (Revelation 6:15–17). In this way John has prepared his reader for the crashing of God’s judgment upon the world as the Lamb breaks the last seal. That wrath, however, does not explode from chapter 7. Just at this moment of crisis, an interruption occurs; the vision changes into an interlude that brings a moment of quiet and explanation to the reader.

Such a break in flow characterizes the Seer’s pattern. At each turning point, as events are about to get ugly, he pauses to give encouragement and hope through explanation. This is exactly the case here. Chapter 7 answers the question posed in 6:17: “who shall be able to stand?” The chapter breaks down into two discrete units, a “before” scene, comprising verses 1–8, and an “after” scene, comprising verses 9–17. The first scene is temporal and terrestrial, showing heaven’s preparation of the Saints before God’s final onslaught against the world and its wickedness. Here angels prepare to set a protective seal upon the 144,000. The second unit is eternal and celestial, showing the vast congregation who victoriously came through the great affliction and now await their final reward. Here they stand in adoration of their God praising His fame and assistance. The chapter is marked by a break in narrative logic in that the 144,000 are never shown as actually sealed, and the great tribulation out of which the heavenly host have come is never explained.

Revelation 7:1. The four angels

Modern revelation confirms the view that angels will be a vehicle for the latter-day destruction. God commissioned the four angels and gave them power over the earth to save life and to destroy. They also hold sealing powers both for hell and heaven. What makes the difference is how people respond to the message they dispense. Their main period of earthly operation is the sixth seal, but their ministry reaches into the seventh. Thus, angelic administration combines with mortal to assure the worldwide preaching of the gospel during this time. Only after they fulfill that commission will they unleash the winds of destruction. The signs associated with the sixth seal—the earthquake, the plagues on the sun and moon, the stars falling—play a major role in the objectives of that seal. They represent not just destruction, but additional effort on the part of God to bring all men to Him. The four angels symbolize all the spiritual forces which oversee and assist in fulfilling this objective.

During the sixth seal, the fullness of Christ’s gospel will be restored to the earth and both natural and supernatural forces will combine to see that it spreads to all lands and cultures. The world has already rejected the gospel many times, but during the sixth seal it will be in a position where one more rejection will assure its doom. This is because the gospel, preached with tremendous power, will not be easily ignored. Therefore, the sixth seal will heighten the ideological conflict between the forces of good and evil. The conflict will not be resolved during the sixth seal but the battle lines will be clearly drawn. The Book of Mormon provides insight on how this will be done. In a vision, Nephi saw conditions not long before the Second Coming. He also saw the root cause of the opposition to the Saints. He stated that,

I looked and beheld many nations and kingdoms. And the angel said unto me: What beholdest thou? And I said: I behold many nations and kingdoms. And he said unto me: These are the nations and kingdoms of the Gentiles. And it came to pass that I saw among the nations of the Gentiles the formation of a great church. And the angel said unto me: Behold the formation of a church which is most abominable above all other churches, which slayeth the Saints of God, yea, and tortureth them and bindeth them down, and yoketh them with a yoke of iron, and bringeth them down into captivity. And it came to pass that I beheld this great and abominable church; and I saw the devil that he was the founder of it. And I also saw gold, and silver, and silks, and scarlets, and fine-twined linen, and all manner of precious clothing; and I saw many harlots. And the angel spake unto me, saying: Behold the gold, and the silver, and the silks, and the scarlets, and the fine-twined linen, and the precious clothing, and the harlots, are the desires of this great and abominable church. And also for the praise of the world do they destroy the Saints of God, and bring them down into captivity. (1 Nephi 13:1–9)

These verses define the antagonist to righteousness, along with its objective and battle plan. The great and abominable church stands opposite God’s kingdom, and grows only as it shuts out the light of the gospel and the refining power of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, for self-preservation, it must destroy the Saints of God. In cosmic terms, the battle lines will fall between the church of the devil and the church of God.

Returning to Nephi’s vision, an angel said to him, “Look, and behold that great and abominable church, which is the mother of abominations, whose founder is the devil. And he said unto me: Behold there are save two churches only; the one is the church of the Lamb of God, and the other is the church of the devil; wherefore, whoso belongeth not to the church of the Lamb of God belongeth to that great church, which is the mother of abominations; and she is the whore of all the earth. And it came to pass that I looked and beheld the whore of all the earth, and she sat upon many waters; and she had dominion over all the earth, among all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people. And it came to pass that I beheld the church of the Lamb of God, and its numbers were few, because of the wickedness and abominations of the whore who sat upon many waters; nevertheless, I beheld that the church of the Lamb, who were the Saints of God, were also upon all the face of the earth; and their dominions upon the face of the earth were small, because of the wickedness of the great whore whom I saw. And it came to pass that I beheld that the great mother of abominations did gather together multitudes upon the face of all the earth, among all the nations of the Gentiles, to fight against the Lamb of God. And it came to pass that I, Nephi, beheld the power of the Lamb of God, that it descended upon the Saints of the church of the Lamb, and upon the covenant people of the Lord, who were scattered upon all the face of the earth; and they were armed with righteousness and with the power of God in great glory. “(1 Nephi 14:9–14)

It is the armor of the Saints—righteousness and tremendous power from God—that will protect them. The global missionary work is necessary to set the world up for judgment. As Jesus stated: “this Gospel of the Kingdom shall be preached in all the world, for a witness unto all nations, and then shall the end come, or the destruction of the wicked” (Joseph Smith—Matthew 1:31). Many will respond. Those who do not will face the wrath of the seventh seal.

Revelation 7:2–3. The angel of the east

The angels have to place God’s seal upon the servants of God before the terrors of the seventh seal begin, before the destroying angels vent their fury. The seal, as mentioned in chapter 5, is both a guard against defilement and a means of security. Both ideas apply here: the seal identifies the Saints as God’s own, and, as its major purpose, it insures their protection against the coming judgments. The angel, however, does not clearly show the breadth of protection that comes with the sign. Certainly, it protects the Saints from the wrath of God, but does it protect them from the wrath of the godless? It may be that for a time, even after their sealing, they are yet vulnerable to the latter.

Joseph Smith taught that the four angels assisted in “sealing the blessing upon their [the Saints’] heads, meaning the everlasting covenant, thereby making their calling and election sure.” Paul referred to this doctrine on a number of occasions while Peter expounded it. The basic idea is that through faith, repentance, and baptism, a person can receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. Then, as Nephi said, “ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life” (2 Nephi 31:20).

A person has made his calling and election sure when the Father’s promise of eternal life is sealed upon him. Peter admonished the Saints of his day to “give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall” (2 Pet. 1:10). The “these things” he referred to included growing in virtue, testimony, patience, brotherly love, and the pure love of Christ. The Holy Spirit of Promise seals those who acquire these divine attributes into eternal life. Though the text gives the power exclusively to the five angels, the reality is that it will function via those mortal men to whom God has given sealing authority. Revelation shows that this power will function widely before the end of the sixth seal.

Revelation 7:4–8. The 144,000

Joseph Smith associated the symbolic number 144,000 with those who were sealed with the temple. Twelve represents the priesthood. Biblical people squared a number to amplify its symbolic meaning. Thus, 144 suggests a fullness of priesthood authority. But John is not satisfied with that. He gives the image a superlative quality by multiplying a thousand, representing perfection. In this way he shows the strength and breadth of the priesthood in the latter days, in this dispensation which is the dispensation of the fullness of times.

Romans used mille (1,000) to represent a very large number of objects. In that case, John’s figure could also point to the vast number whom God will call to His service at this time. One thing is sure, during the period dominated by the 144,000, the fullness of the priesthood will operate (see Doctrine and Covenants 124:28). The attachment of these high priests, and very likely their spouses, to the temple fits perfectly since only there can one receive the fullness of the priesthood (Doctrine and Covenants 124:25–30, 131:1–4). Their mission is not merely to bring people into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Their special assignment centers on getting other people sealed and into the church of the Firstborn through the administration of the fullness of the endowment of which they themselves have partaken.

Revelation 7:9–17. The countless multitude of the saved

Chapter 6, anticipating the outpouring of the wrath of God, asked the question: “who shall be able to stand?” John answers that question in chapter 7: those who have been sealed against destruction and have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb. These are they who have served the true God and not been guilty of idolatry. As early as the first millennium of earth’s history, prophets understood the importance of the latter-day Zion as the means of preserving the Lord’s people. To Enoch the Lord declared,

As I live, even so will I come in the last days, in the days of wickedness and vengeance, to fulfil the oath which I have made unto you concerning the children of Noah; And the day shall come that the earth shall rest, but before that day the heavens shall be darkened, and a veil of darkness shall cover the earth; and the heavens shall shake, and also the earth; and great tribulations shall be among the children of men, but my people will I preserve; And righteousness will I send down out of heaven; and truth will I send forth out of the earth, to bear testimony of mine Only Begotten; his resurrection from the dead; yea, and also the resurrection of all men; and righteousness and truth will I cause to sweep the earth as with a flood, to gather out mine elect from the four quarters of the earth, unto a place which I shall prepare, an Holy City, that my people may gird up their loins, and be looking forth for the time of my coming; for there shall be my tabernacle, and it shall be called Zion, a New Jerusalem. (Moses 7:60–62)

With righteousness and truth sweeping “the earth as with a flood,” the judgment of God pours out against those who reject it. As for those who respond, they shall be gathered to places of safety. As the Lord declared, the righteous shall be gathered “upon the land of Zion, and upon her stakes . . . for a defense, and for a refuge from the storm, and from wrath when it shall be poured out without mixture upon the whole earth” (Doctrine and Covenants 115:6). The Lord has specified that “those places which I have appointed for refuge, shall be the places for your baptisms for your dead” (Doctrine and Covenants 124:36); the Lord shall gather his people to temple areas.

This brings us back to the 144,000, those special ministers sealed by the four destroying angels against the day of indignation. Those under their care will find

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. And it shall come to pass among the wicked, that every man that will not take his sword against his neighbor must needs flee unto Zion for safety. And there shall be gathered unto it out of every nation under heaven; and it shall be the only people that shall not be at war one with another. And it shall be said among the wicked: Let us not go up to battle against Zion, for the inhabitants of Zion are terrible; wherefore we cannot stand. And it shall come to pass that the righteous shall be gathered out from among all nations, and shall come to Zion, singing with songs of everlasting joy. (Doctrine and Covenants 45:66–71)

In this light, the most important work for the Saints of the sixth seal is the establishment of Zion by becoming faithful and pure. Missionary work must spread, temple work increase, and righteousness flow out of the homes and into the communities of the Saints. In this way God will have a people “prepared to receive the glory that I [God] have for them, even the glory of Zion” (Doctrine and Covenants 136:31). In preparing and sealing people against the day soon to come, the temples play a paramount role.

Revelation 8: The Seventh Seal

The interlude over, the story picks up where it left off in chapter 6. The Lamb breaks the seventh seal; the scroll of destiny lies open. God’s will for the nations stands ready to be executed. Judgment day has arrived. Millennia of indifference, of rejection and slaughter of his prophets, of conscious rebellion and evil—all these will now receive their just compensation. But, surprisingly, as chapter 7 opens, there is no outpouring of divine wrath. Instead, all heaven is filled with a hushed, even painful silence. Even nature seems to wait while an angel performs an indispensable ordinance, a harbinger of coming destruction, in power and breadth unlike anything the earth has ever been through. The only event comparable is its opposite: the earth’s creation.

In the beginning, God expressed his creative power organizing the heavens and the earth. In John’s work, we see the opposite happening. The land masses, the waters, the firmament, and even the heavens move toward chaos. In short, de-­creation blasts the cosmos. For millennia, the martyrs have been asking God, “How long, O Master, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?” To their plea the Saints of the last days add their own. Nature responds with rumblings, thunders, lightnings, and the earthquake. With that, the de-creation of the earth begins.

Revelation 8:1–5. Opening the seventh seal

Revelation chapter 8 picks up the account from where it left off in Revelation 6:17 and pushes the story forward. The interlude in chapter 7 answers the question asked at the end of chapter 6, “who will be able to stand?” That question being answered, the vision returns again to look at what will happen to those who are not able to stand. The focus is on the angels who will execute God’s judgment. They wait, however, until the priestly angel makes the appropriate offering. This angel’s act, however, is not the beginning of judgments against the earth, but their overture. The same is true of the first four trumpet blasts which follow. They are but precursors, serving as a united voice calling, for the last time, an intractable world to repentance. The volume is necessary so that the world cannot miss it. Even so, the message is indirect so that the inhabitants of the world must use the ear of faith to understand it. Most will not. For example, many blame the rash of weather-related catastrophes on global warming. Those with faith understand the real cause is global sin. They also understand that once the four angels silence their trumpets, then judgment begins in earnest. And once it starts, there is no turning back, no time for repentance, only time for justice.

That John places the commencement of destruction only after revealing the Saints have been sealed up is no accident. The act explains why the Saints are able to endure the pressures of the day and stay firm in their testimonies in spite of tremendous opposition and nature gone mad. It is because the sealing opens up divine powers that flow down and through them. Thus, the seal provides the ultimate protection against the day of wrath and the final assurance of an eternal place with God. As the destruction chapters open, the role the Saints play must be kept firmly in mind. That which moves the Lord to unleash the devastating powers is largely generated by the plea of the Saints. Moved by His desire to avenge His people, the Lord allows the first four angels to send their blast against the earth. In doing so, He shows His respect for the holy ones and their petition. His response occurs simultaneously with the prayers and as a response to them. This fact tells us something of the content of those prayers. They are a call not only for vengeance but also for grace.

The first four plagues are not really the beginning of retribution; they are the last call for repentance, one last outreach with mercy before God turns the world over to destruction. The righteous are pained due to the sins of the wicked, but they also cry out for the innocent who are victims of the wickedness. Thus, they are driven to beg God that in mercy He will take immediate action that the unjust suffering may come to an end. One idea stands out: this is the period in which the heavenly and earthly churches will be linked as never before, a period in which the Saints will make their final preparation for that which is to come. For the innocent, they pray that “thou shall meet him who rejoiceth and worketh righteousness, who remembereth thee in thy ways.” At that time, it will become apparent to all the “great things thou hast prepared for him that waiteth for thee” (Doctrine and Covenants 133:38–45). Thus, the righteous will not be caught off guard. They will have followed the Lord’s admonition to “gird up your loins, that you may be the children of light” and received the promise that “that day shall not overtake you as a thief” (Doctrine and Covenants 106:4–5).

Once the righteous are prepared, the final plagues commence. The angel, performing his priestly service, moves to the altar. He is not one of the seven, but a minister of authority. His will be the first action, a wakeup call to the wicked. He takes the censer, fills it with the fiery coals of the heavenly altar, and casts them upon the earth. Pandemonium, thunder, lightning, and earthquake follow. In an instant the silence is shattered. The seventh seal now picks up the destruction scenario of the sixth and multiplies it. Of this moment the Lord has said:

For not many days hence and the earth shall tremble and reel to and fro as a drunken man; and the sun shall hide his face, and shall refuse to give light; and the moon shall be bathed in blood; and the stars shall become exceedingly angry, and shall cast themselves down as a fig that falleth from off a fig-tree. And after your testimony cometh wrath and indignation upon the people. For after your testimony cometh the testimony of earthquakes, that shall cause groanings in the midst of her, and men shall fall upon the ground and shall not be able to stand. And also cometh the testimony of the voice of thunderings, and the voice of lightnings, and the voice of tempests, and the voice of the waves of the sea heaving themselves beyond their bounds. And all things shall be in commotion; and surely, men’s hearts shall fail them; for fear shall come upon all people. And angels shall fly through the midst of heaven, crying with a loud voice, sounding the trump of God, saying: Prepare ye, prepare ye, O inhabitants of the earth; for the judgment of our God is come. Behold, and lo, the Bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him. (Doctrine and Covenants 88:87–92)

Due to continued insistence on sinning, humankind’s time repentance is rapidly coming to a close. Here we see God trying his last means of reclaiming them. If they refuse to hear, then will come the response to the cry of the earth itself: “Wo, wo is me, the mother of men; I am pained, I am weary, because of the wickedness of my children. When shall I rest, and be cleansed from the filthiness which is gone forth out of me? When will my Creator sanctify me, that I may rest, and righteousness for a season abide upon my face?” (Moses 7:48). The answer is “now.” Longsuffering has ceased to be a virtue and judgment must commence.

Revelation 8:6–12. The first four trumpet blasts

Picking up where the seal series ends, John pushes forward God’s work through the image of the sounding of the seven trumpets. Here we begin a unit that runs through the end of chapter 11. Though the work of the seven angels pushes us toward the final judgment, they bring us only to its edge; final judgment does not take place until chapter 19. This arrangement is part of the inspired literary artistry of the author who is not trying to put events into their exact historical order.

Instead, he shares with the reader various aspects of those forces that will be at play in conjunction with the Second Coming. In the section, he looks only at the beginning of the end. Doctrine and Covenants 77:12 explains that “the trumpets of the seven angels are the preparing and finishing of his [God’s] work, in the beginning of the seventh thousand years—the preparing of the way before the time of his coming.” The blast of each trumpet announces certain events that will befall the earth. The first four sets of events prepare the way of the Lord while the last three finish it. The content of chapter 8 is, therefore, preparatory, while that in chapter 9 is conclusionary. De-creation moves through the whole, with total chaos beckoning.

The parallels that the trumpet plagues echo those that Moses brought against Egypt provides a key to understanding the message of this pericope. Their intent was twofold: to push Israel into escaping from Egypt and to harden Pharaoh’s heart so that the works of God could be manifest. In Revelation, however, that beginning is not pleasant. It is marked by the terrible events recorded above and by the vicious ones studied below. Thus, the Second Coming of the Savior does not usher in the millennium; the plagues of the seven angels do. Nonetheless, these events are part of an indispensable work that must be done before the Lord appears in glory.

The plagues have a triple purpose. First, they begin the cleansing process of the earth. Second, they act to reclaim any who will repent under the hardships the plagues bring. Their combined effect should cause those blinded by materialism and immorality to seek healing. Third, as each angel sounds, we hear echoes from Exodus 8–12. God revealed to Moses, “See thou do all those wonders before Pharaoh, which I have put in thine hand and I will prosper thee: but Pharaoh will harden his heart, and he will not let the people go” (Joseph Smith Translation, Exodus 4:21).

Thus, the plagues were judgments which God, through Moses, executed against Egypt due to their stubbornness against God, idolatry which led to persecution of the Hebrews. This idea is clearly borne out in the fact that Jehovah tailored each plague to challenge the power of a specific Egyptian god and thus expose its nothingness. Taken as a whole, they formed a polemic against idolatry in all its aspects. Thus, they provide a lens by which we see what the judgments in Revelation 8 and 9 are all about: first, the Lord directs the trumpet blasts against a world adamant in its hostility toward the Lamb. Though the plagues are a call for repentance, an important byproduct will be exposing the hard-heartedness of the latter-day wicked and, thus, fully vindicate God in His judgments against them.

Like with the Egyptian plagues, as the intensity of the judgments increases, so also will the vehemence of those whom John calls “the inhabiters of the earth” (Revelation 8:13; 12:12). Thus, what will drive some to the Lord will drive others away. Second, like the Egyptian plagues, they allow God to show forth His might and omnipotence. All worldly forces, as with the Egyptian gods, will be found to be nothing.

It is important to remember that John has assured his reader that the righteous have already been taken care of. They stand safely behind the strength of their God. Thus, these trumpets do not sound the battle against the wicked until after the righteous have been sealed. The focus, then, of chapters 8 and 9 is on what happens to those who refuse the sealing power. The act of the angel at the altar transitions the reader from the events associated with the seven seals to the destructions of the trumpets. There is, however, an important tie between the two chapters that becomes clear as we focus on the altar. We have seen it before, in chapter 6, where it was associated with incense and the prayers of the Saints. In the former chapter, the Saints cry for vindication against their tormentors but cannot yet receive it, for the roster of martyrs is not yet full. In chapter 8, vindications come because it is.

Even though the wicked will destroy some of the righteous, the trumpet blasts are not designed to destroy the earth. They affect a significant proportion, but not all. Some twelve times the Seer limits the destruction to one-third, symbolically showing that its bounds have been set. It can go only so far. This suggests that its purpose is not so much retribution as a last attempt to turn man to God. Even so, the plagues do attack and undo, in a very systematic way, the created order: Genesis in reverse. Light, air, water, vegetation, and firmament are all hit and disorganized. Thus, in chapter 8 we meet a widespread, if partial, de-creation of the corrupted, and unrepentant temporal order. The destruction of this order is necessary because it cannot give birth to paradise. Thus, there must be a new heaven and a new earth, not just the rejuvenation of the old ones (Revelation 21:1).

Though mirroring natural events, the plagues do not arise out of natural phenomenon such as hailstorm or volcanic action. John’s use of the word like emphasizes the symbolic nature of the images he describes.1 The plagues represent severe eschatological judgments of which there is no equivalent in Jewish apocalyptic. The picture John paints, though echoing Exodus, is unique and meant to graphically show the tremendous power that will rampage upon the earth. In this way God symbolized the cosmic destructions that he shall unleash.

These attacks are directed primarily toward nature. Nonetheless, mortals are seriously affected. When the grass and trees are hurt, it is wheat and fruit trees that wither and die. When the fresh waters are affected they become as wormwood, a very bitter herb which makes the water impossible to drink. The catastrophes apparently cause the atmosphere to become so polluted that sunlight and moonlight are significantly dimmed. Thus, de-creation has directly struck all but humankind. That comes next.

Revelation 8:13. The three woes

As the echoes of the trumpet blasts fade, John hears a new sound, an eagle’s cry. In it he hears a lament; three horrible woes are coming which the eagle can see from its height. The transition works to highlight the sever intensity of the forces about to be unleashed against that segment John calls “the inhabiters of the earth,” those who … fight for the permanence of this transitory order. The irony is that their fight acts only to hasten its sudden end. Thus, the woes are actually more intense but also more narrowly focused. Now the hammer’s blow strikes only the wicked. The Lord has stated, “Mine indignation is soon to be poured out without measure upon all nations; and this will I do when the cup of their iniquity is full” (Doctrine and Covenants 101:11). The world has become deafened and blinded by its idolatry. In so doing, it is now past feeling. Therefore, it is unaware of the portentous silence of the heavens and misses its chance to repent without compulsion. Even though the 144,000 sound the warning voice, the inhabitants of the earth will spurn it. Thus, sin will be added to sin until they are fully ripe in inequity. When they are, the moment of grace will have passed and then the seven angels will sound their trumpets and the earth will fall under the power of their plagues. In chapter 8, de-creation began. In chapter 9, it will escalate.

Revelation 9: The Great War

This chapter continues the Lord’s revelation showing those destructive forces which will ravage the earth in the last days. In the previous chapter, de-creation began. In this one, it accelerates. Here John focuses on the forces, execution, and the result of that de-creation. Where in the last chapter these struck the earth, here they strike humankind. The chapter ends with a chilling result and lays the ground for the Lord’s wrathful return.

Revelation 9:1–2. The fifth trumpet blast and first woe

As the fifth trumpet blasts, the first of the eagle’s woes strikes the earth. A star, symbolic of a once-divine being, a premortal power of such magnitude that his name was Lucifer (“light bearer”), unlocks a terror so great that few nightmares can match it. The star became evil, yielding to the powers of pride, which snuffed out all light; he ceased to be a “son of the morning” and became the devil himself. John will have more to say of the fall of this great and terrible being in chapter 12. Here the imagery catches the Lord’s words: “I beheld Satan fallen as lightning from heaven” (Luke 10:18). Isaiah’s potent description follows:

How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground which didst weaken the nations! For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into the heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north: I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High. Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit. (Isaiah 14:12–15)

John witnesses Satan turn the key to unleash the very powers of Hell upon an unsuspecting earth. From the onset of this millennial battle, John shows that it is Satan who unleashes the hosts upon the earth. Before this, it was divine, not Satanic, power that directed the plagues via the destroying angels. From this point on, Satan personally directs operations bringing the misery that fuels hell to the surface of the earth. John sees the evil boil out of the shaft of the abyss. The key, the instrument Satan uses to open the pit, symbolizes authority and ownership. But note that Satan does not own the key. He receives it.

Once again, John reveals that someone acts behind the scenes, directing even the machinations of the evil one. It is ironic that this impotent one, for all his flaunted authority, cannot free the might of hell until God allows it. In this way John shows that perdition’s dominion starts and ends where the Lord dictates. Satan’s limits are firm, and he cannot go beyond them. But in the last days the devil will have great power because of the wickedness of men: “For I [God] am no respecter of persons, and will that all men shall know that the day speedily cometh; the hour is not yet, but is nigh at hand, when peace shall be taken from the earth, and the devil shall have power over his own dominion” (Doctrine and Covenants 1:35). One of the major contributors to the devil’s success will be people falling for the deceptions he will put forth.

Revelation 9:3–11. The locusts

As the pit is opened, smoke billows forth and obscures the light of the sun. Darkness reigns. It is spiritual darkness caused by ascribing to false theology that first obscures the truth. The destroyer sends forth deceptions after the pattern he has successfully used before. He must mitigate the positive effects of the sixth seal and the first four trumpets. He knows how. At an earlier time, when none could ignore divine signs and many people began to believe, Satan’s smoke billowed forth: “Satan did stir them up to do iniquity continually; yea, he did go about spreading rumors and contentions upon all the face of the land, that he might harden the hearts of the people against that which was good and against that which should come” (Helaman 16:22). His plan worked well. Under his influence men began to rationalize against the continuing fulfillment of the words of the prophets saying: “Some things they may have guessed right, among so many; but behold, we know that all these great and marvelous works cannot come to pass, of which has been spoken” (Helaman 16:16).

History is about to repeat. Out of this smoke comes an appalling nightmare: a double monstrosity, the locusts and scorpions. The locusts ravage vegetation to such an extent that famine invariably follows. The Bible used this plague in a symbolic sense which John follows: judgment against the rebellious. These insect demons were often associated with darkness because their presence blocks sunlight. However, John’s monsters do not cause the darkness; they result from it. The symbolism here parallels that in Joel 1–2, which describes a plague of natural locusts but with elements drawn from mythology. For example, they come, like John’s locusts, from the north instead of the south or southeast as real locusts do (Joel 2:20). Joel and John are both picking up the Gog-Magog motif from Ezekiel 38–39 and Amos 7:1, in which locust plagues are specifically associated with the armies of Gog, that great leader of the anti-God hosts who fight against the Lord in the last days. John makes it clear that he is not describing real locust when he states, “And they were told not to harm the grass of the earth, nor any green plant or tree, but only the people who did not have the seal of God on their foreheads” (verse 4). Their target, unlike real locusts’, is men who do not wear the seal of the living God upon their foreheads. This verse glances back at chapter 7 and the sealing of God’s servants. Further, God forbids the locusts to kill, “but to [only] torture them [the unsealed men] five months” (verse 5).

The worst outcome of a severe locust attack was famine. Here, however, the famine is not physical because the locusts may not attack “any green thing” (Revelation 9:4). Rather the effect is spiritual, revealing a famine of the soul. God’s spirit is gone, leaving torment behind. Note that the nature, the length of operation, and the target of the beasts are all specific. The locusts must not kill. God permits them only to cause spiritual and mental anguish. Their time limit is five months, the normal life expectancy of a locust. However, the time reference is likely symbolic; the Seer appears to be using it to show that the period in which these tormentors operate is both limited and short. Their target is confined to those men who do not bear the seal of the living God. The righteous have nothing to fear from these demonic hordes, for as John’s words show, there is a power moving behind the scenes, setting the limits, determining how far, how long, and at whom the torment will move. The plague, though driven by the minions of hell, is under sovereign control. Just how the locusts are able to torment the wicked is not known. But John insists that the anguish is real, for “in those days people will seek for death and will not find it. They will yearn for death but death will flee from them” (verse 6).

Once again, the Egyptian plagues give insight. Each plague challenged a specific Egyptian God and, in the end, proved them all false. As the plagues served to harden the Egyptians hearts, so, too, does the plague brought by the fifth trumpet. Even though grievously affected, these sin-hardened souls will not turn to God even in their despair and hopeless plight even though God is now a reality they can no longer deny. The scene is not pretty, but the price of relief is righteousness, and that price is too high. Death appears easier and they cling to it as their only hope of escape.

An insightful parallel comes from the Book of Mormon. During the final battles which destroyed the Nephite nation, as blood and carnage swept through the land, “no man could keep that which was his own, for the thieves, and the robbers, and the murderers, and the magic art, and the witchcraft which was in the land” (Mormon 2:10). Everyone was out for everyone else’s wealth. As a result of the butchery and thievery, there were many who mourned, but “their sorrowing was not unto repentance, because of the goodness of God; but it was rather the sorrowing of the damned, because the Lord would not always suffer them to take happiness in sin” (Mormon 2:13). As a result, “they did curse God, and wish to die. Nevertheless, they would struggle with the sword for their lives” (verse 14). Note that in both Revelation and the Book of Mormon “it is by the wicked that the wicked are punished; for it is the wicked that stir up the hearts of the children of men unto bloodshed” (Mormon 4:5). The locusts breed their sadistic torment and pour it out upon the corrupt. God’s judgment comes fully without him having to do anything directly. In fact, his judgment is to do nothing.

John describes the locusts as wearing gold-like crowns. This is the only place where the word is associated with any other than the Lord and the Saints. However, these are not crowns of permanent victory. Victory of the wicked is at best only an imitation of the genuine; it is neither lasting nor true. The locusts, though terrifying in their appearance and crushing in their initial onslaught, cannot conquer. Their human faces, women’s hair, and lion’s teeth heighten their demonical and terrifying appearance. God continues to build the fearful portrait of the monsters. Breastplates of iron make them nearly impregnable, wings give them great mobility, but the scorpions’ tail holds the greatest fear. The Seer uses the threat of the poisonous sting as the symbol of that which causes men to be in torment.

A note of caution seems to be in order here. An attempt to match modern war machines to John’s image instead of Old Testament parallels falls flat. The images were meant for his people as well as those in the last days and, therefore, reference the Old Testament. The images expose the overall horror of the beasts and their powerfully destructive force. To limit them to helicopters or tanks weakens the warning. Their description serves to emphasize the demonic nature that drives them and their broad power to torment. The human aspect comes with the next woe in which modern engines of war likely play a part. So, what do these beasts represent? The combined image of locusts and scorpions depict the forces, both physical and psychological, operating in the last days that will alarm and at times terrorize the “inhabiters of the earth” (Revelation 8:13; 12:12).

Indeed, these worldly souls shall hear “of wars and rumors of wars, and the whole earth shall be in commotion, and men’s hearts shall fail them” (Doctrine and Covenants 45:26). And why? The Lord has declared that after the rejection of the testimony of the righteous “cometh wrath and indignation upon the people. For after your testimony cometh the testimony of earthquakes, that shall cause groanings in the midst of her, and men shall fall upon the ground and shall not be able to stand. And also cometh the testimony of the voice of thunderings, and the voice of lightnings, and the voice of tempests, and the voice of the waves of the sea heaving themselves beyond their bounds” (Doctrine and Covenants 88:88–90).

Indeed, at this time, “there shall be weeping and wailing among the hosts of men; And there shall be a great hailstorm sent forth to destroy the crops of the earth” (Doctrine and Covenants 29:15–16). At that time, “the Lord God will send forth flies upon the face of the earth, which shall take hold of the inhabitants thereof, and shall eat their flesh, and shall cause maggots to come in upon them; And their tongues shall be stayed that they shall not utter against me; and their flesh shall fall from off their bones, and their eyes from their sockets; And it shall come to pass that the beasts of the forest and the fowls of the air shall devour them up” (Doctrine and Covenants 29:18–20). It is a period when “all things shall be in commotion; and surely, men’s hearts shall fail them; for fear shall come upon all people” (Doctrine and Covenants 88:91).

Thus, the locusts represent worldwide hailstorms and severe weather, strong earthquakes and geographical displacements, tsunamis and oceanic disturbances, insect infestations with resulting famine and hunger, pandemics and death, and, above all, human-caused wars and rumors of wars. The fallen star, Satan, is the angel of the abyss driving this destruction. John gives him both a Hebrew and Greek epithet: Abaddon, from a Hebrew root meaning “he who causes to perish,” or “the destroyer,” and the Greek Apollyon, which means “destroyer” as well. From the beginning, he has made known his plans. Only in the last days do we see them fully realized. Certainly the names John gives him, Abaddon and Apollyon, emphasize one message: Satan pushes the events of the last days. And the environment will respond to the overspreading evil. The collective whole constitutes the fifth trumpet blast and the first period of woe. As unimaginably bad as conditions are, they will get worse, for there are still two more woes to come. In these, Satan will indeed unloose his military might.

Revelation 9:12–19. The sixth trumpet blast and second woe

As the sixth trumpet sounds or the second woe begins, John hears a voice coming from the horns of the altar in heaven. The horns symbolize an aspect of God’s power that people obtain through faithful worship, especially through sacrifice. The horns on the temple altars had special significance in two ways. First, on the Day of Atonement, the high priest sprinkled them with the blood of the offering to bring reconciliation between God and Israel. Second, they served as an asylum for malefactors. Therefore, one might expect the voice from the horns to offer reconciliation and asylum to the world.

Instead, the voice commands the sixth angel to “Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates” (Revelation 9:14). That the voice comes from the horns suggests that, in some way, the second woe is connected with or a result of the prayers of the Saints, for the voice comes from the altar on which their prayers were offered (7:3–4). These angels, kept in check up to this point, now unleash their destructive fury, “to slay the third part of men” (9:15). Though the King James Version has them coming from the Euphrates (the northern most part of Israel), the Joseph Smith Translation has them coming from the pit of the abyss (Joseph Smith Translation, verse 14). Thus, their genesis is the same as that of the locusts that Satan frees and, therefore, they, too, follow his will. With these angels now fully in charge, the plagues are no longer directed at the earth. Instead, humankind becomes the sole target. These angels have been prepared specifically for this moment for, to translate the Greek, “they had been kept ready” (verse 15). In short, at this exact moment, they will be released. But John once again uses the symbolic number one-third to show that there is a limit to what they can do. God continues to hold sway.

Abruptly the Seer shifts his gaze to the engines of destruction: an unbelievably large cavalry force depicted as horses and riders. Their number is twice ten thousand times ten thousand, or two hundred million mounted troops. As usual, this number should not be taken literally. John has given us a multiplied myriad: an expression of incalculable immensity. Another terrifying aspect of the vision is the horse, his mouth filled with lion’s teeth, symbolic of cruelty and destruction, out of which issue fire, smoke, and brimstone, underscoring the demonic nature of the horde and their unleashed hatred.

Cavalry were the shock troops of the ancient world, horse and rider working together produced an awesome military force. That the power of the horses is in their mouths and tails echoes that of the locusts, whose evil mission was to torment people. Unlike the locusts, however, the horses not only torment but also kill. The torment (as will be seen in chapter 16) drives people away from God and salvation. How so? Because “that same spirit which doth possess your bodies at the time of that ye go out of this life, that same spirit will have power to possess your body in that eternal world” (Alma 34:34). Indeed, these souls “have become subject to the spirit of the devil, and he doeth seal [them] his” through death (Alma 34:35). The fire-breathing monsters succeed in their mission of destruction, killing a staggering number of people. Fire, smoke, and brimstone execute the judgment and inflict the judicial power of Satan. They do not represent the quick death of the sword, but the agonizing misery upon which hell feeds. John sees more than mere human slaughter by modern scientific methods. Combined with these methods are the destructive forces of the pit let loose upon a “third part of men.” The slaughter, however, appears to be selective, for there is a remnant which remains. Likely it is only the more wicked part that fully succumb to the three agents of death.

Revelation 9:20–21. The rest repented not

The chapter ends focusing on those who escaped the most brutal pounding the earth and its people have taken. It is absolutely amazing that those who are not killed continue to worship the very malignant forces which worked to their destruction. Though their world is collapsing because of it, these wicked souls sell themselves as the lackeys of the Never-living and the Ever-impotent. Thievery, murder, and fornication all continue apace, and to the list John adds sorcery. The Greek word he uses (also the root for “pharmacy”), indicates drugs and potions associated with the occult. These narcotics addict and desensitize the nations. The King James Version uses the terms “curious arts” and “sorcery” to designate the work of magicians. Numerous amulets, magic gems, and occult books dating from the period have been found. From these we learn that the art of magic worked within the religious system, adding force to sacrifices. Magic’s main purpose was to convince the gods to do one’s bidding, to help a person win love or financial gain.

But magic also had a sinister side, to hinder or hurt another in order to advance one’s own position or wealth. Magic appealed to those with more spiritual aspirations: some sought immortality and believed that magic would allow them to escape the confines of fate or necessity. Magic practitioners and their patrons hoped to profit and even enjoy the gods’ close protection.

Another damning sin that John mentions is that of porneia, derived from a word that meant “to sell,” especially slaves. Porneia is translated as “fornication,” but by John’s day, it described all types of sexual immorality. John focuses on the hardened soul’s reaction to the events that brought death to so many others. In doing so, the Seer exposes, for the first time, why the slaughter must continue beyond what the demonic horde has brought, due to the refusal of less wicked people to repent.

Only rarely in the book do we see the motif of repentance emphasized. The exception is with the seven churches, whom the Lord repeatedly commands to repent. Insight into why John may have waited until this moment to even mention repentance comes from the Egyptian plague story. According to Exodus, there was never a real chance the plagues would soften Pharaoh’s heart into letting the Hebrews go. Though he kept promising to repent, it was beyond him. With the last plague, that of the death of the firstborn, he finally gives up even the pretense and turns his thoroughly hardened heart to destruction. So it is with the wicked in the last days. The brutal warfare, with its major destructions, does not serve to soften the wicked but instead to harden them. Thus, repentance, though theoretically possible, is quite beyond these people. How can that be? Because Satan’s strong deceptions have so successfully worked, have so thoroughly blinded the people that, in spite of all evidence to the contrary, they continue to trust in their false ideals, material goods, and in “the works of their hands.” Given the hardness of these impenitent souls, God is fully justified in destroying them. That will be the task of the seventh trumpet and the last woe.

The great issue of the last days, when all is said and done, is that of worship: the devotion and service that one gives to that which is most important in one’s life, that for which one is willing to sacrifice all else. The worship of self that is generated by narcissism and acute selfishness stands higher than God and, thus, makes the self god. So addicting will this hell-induced elixir be that even the most brutal torment will not free its captives. The only thing that finally will is the purifying fires of hell. Thus, God must open wide the doors of death to get His resistant people there. The horses and their riders provide the means. The real horror of the last days is not the locusts with their vicious scorpion tails or the horseman and their deadly mounts. It is that there will be men and women who will live through the evil day and not be humbled, who will continue to cling to their gold and silver. Thus, these people practice the most blatant form of idolatry—knowing the impotence of the works of their hands coupled with a refusal to admit their error and turn to the truth.

And all this will “be accomplished after the opening of the seventh seal, before the coming of Christ” (Doctrine and Covenants 77:13). The Second Coming does not usher in the millennial era. The woes pronounced by the trumpets do. Christ will not appear in glory as the millennial day dawns. Instead, Satan’s sadistic hoards and their murderous horses will (verse 18). How long after the millennium begins will it take for the Lord to come? At the present time, “the hour and the day no man knoweth, neither the angels in heaven, nor shall they know until he comes” (Doctrine and Covenants 49:7), but it will likely be some time after the seventh seal is opened. For the present we, the faithful of God, are to watch and wait, taking the time to fully prepare for what is to come.

Spiritual preparation is the most important, for only in that can we receive the seal of God and its protective power. However, temporal preparedness must not be far behind. The Lord Himself stressed to us through the parables He told the New Testament Saints of the need to be continually prepared for all eventualities. As He closed His prophecy dealing with the last days, He told them and us, “if the goodman of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up. Therefore, be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh” (Matthew 24:44). Notice, the man was good; his loss was not the result of sinfulness, but from a lack of preparation. The ever-popular parable of the ten virgins emphasizes: once the cry is made, “the bridegroom cometh,” there will be no time, even for the more righteous, to prepare and the Lord will respond to them as to the wicked, “I know you not” (Matthew 25:1–12).

The three weapons of destruction are fire, smoke, and sulfur. These, however, are not associated with Lord’s coming during when “the elements should melt with fervent heat, and the earth should be wrapt together as a scroll, and the heavens and the earth should pass away” (3 Nephi. 26:3). They precede it. This era is associated with the last great war before the Second Coming—a war of a special nature. It is not described in the usual term of bloodshed and the work of the sword. It is a holocaust, a war of burning in which “the people shall be as the fuel of the fire” (2 Nephi 19:19). It would take a miracle for anyone to survive, yet the destruction is limited. God sets the boundary. Further, the fire acts as his agent. Its purpose is to protect his people.

For the time soon cometh that the fulness of the wrath of God shall be poured out upon all the children of men; for he will not suffer that the wicked shall destroy the righteous. Wherefore, he will preserve the righteous by his power, even if it so be that the fulness of his wrath must come, and the righteous be preserved, even unto the destruction of their enemies by fire. Wherefore, the righteous need not fear; for thus saith the prophet, they shall be saved, even if it so be as by fire. Behold, my brethren, I say unto you, that these things must shortly come; yea, even blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke must come; and it must needs be upon the face of this earth; and it cometh unto men according to the flesh if it so be that they will harden their hearts against the Holy One of Israel. (1 Nephi 22:16–18)

The Lord is perfectly prepared to allow thousands to die in order to protect His people. Some may have trouble with this idea, but the Seer has a very realistic understanding about death. From John’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. Those who are destroyed have further existence; the purpose of the plagues is to open wide the doors of death into the cleansing fires of hell and from there into kingdoms of glory. Before that time comes, however, these wayward souls have contributed to the continual unleashing of the powers of de-creation of which the demonic cavalry are the final agents.

In chapter 8, we saw the sun, moon, sea, and land all struck. In chapter 9, humankind, the last of God’s creation, come under the same force. The chapter ends leaving no hope that the trend can be reversed. Indeed, the very acts which unleashed the powers have now gotten so strong a hold on the wicked that repentance is no longer possible. De-creation has reached its nadir. The plagues are sure proofs of humankind’s stupidity in placing a religious trust in fragile, uncaring worldly objects; things that can neither hear nor see nor speak and, therefore, cannot protect. Isaiah foresaw the day and prophesied:

The loftiness of man shall be bowed down, and the haughtiness of men shall be made low: And the Lord alone shall be exalted in that day. And the idols he shall utterly abolish. And they shall go into the holes of the rocks, and into the caves of the earth, for fear of the Lord, and for the glory of his majesty, when he ariseth to shake terribly the earth. In that day a man shall cast his idols of silver, and his idols of gold, which they made each one for himself to worship, to the moles and to the bats; To go into the clefts of the rocks, and into the tops of the ragged rocks, for fear of the Lord, and for the glory of his majesty, when he ariseth to shake terribly the earth. (Isaiah 2:17–21)

The attraction? Such gods cannot say “no.” The result of this misplaced faith is hardness of heart that causes love to wax cold and compassion to freeze. The arctic atmosphere generated by evil humans allows them to move against righteousness. What is more, they are blind. Their blindness expresses itself in three ways. First, they cannot see the impotence of the gods their own hands have created. Second, they cannot see their own contribution to the problems and so the need to repent. Finally, they cannot see the signs of the times. In doing so, they fulfill a prophecy of the Lord: “as the days of No[ah] were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day No[ah] entered into the ark, and knew not until the flood came and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be” (Matthew 24:37–39).

In spite of all the signs and warnings, these people continued to perpetuate the very society that was bringing destruction. The end time will see no improvement. Therefore, it is little wonder these wicked and blind souls will “feel the wrath and indignation, and chastening hand of an Almighty God, until the consumption decreed hath made a full end of all nations” (Doctrine and Covenants 87:6). It is also little wonder that the righteous, living during such a time, will pray and the heavens respond.

Revelation 10: The Little Scroll

John has prepared his readers to expect, as they move into chapter 10, the final trumpet blast to fill the air, the final woe to strike the wicked. But that does not happen. The seventh angel does not appear; his trumpet remains mute. Instead, the picture shifts, and a new vision opens which takes up most of the next two chapters from 10:1 through 11:13. The vision moves readers back to John’s time period and, thus, inserts an interlude between the sixth and seventh trumpets. The break is dramatic and, as such, helps underscore the vision’s importance—a moment of instruction and insight before the resolution of the crisis.

The vision is, thus, an interpretive parenthesis and serves a similar function to that found with chapter 7. The two parentheses are parallel. Where chapter 7 looked at how the Lord would protect His Saints from the latter-day onslaught, chapters 10 and 11 focus on the Saints’ work, most especially that of John. Indeed, the purpose of chapter 10 is to reveal John’s personal ministry in all that is going to befall the world. It emphasizes his recommissioning and more fully clarifies his mission.

It also explains, indirectly, three aspects of the indispensable role the Saints will play in the latter-day events and provides the theological basis on which the coming punishments lie. First, the Saints set up the conditions by which the world can be judged. They do this through their unyieldingly righteous lives and the fearless witness they bear of the Lord and that which will befall an evil world. Second, they give God reason to respond. Their pleas to avenge their testimony against a world that not only refuses to repent but also continually increases its opposition against them causes him to act. And third, they act as warning voices to a wicked and untoward generation.

Indeed, the Lord has declared, “And the voice of warning shall be to all people, by the mouth of my disciples, whom I have chosen in these last days. And they shall go forth and none shall stay them, for I the Lord have commanded them” (Doctrine and Covenants 1:4–5). Therefore, the focus in chapters 10 and 11 is on God’s response to those prayers and work of His people by sending apostolic witness to the world—first John to those in his day and second the two witnesses in the last days.

Revelation 10: 1–7. Another mighty angel

With the opening of this vision, John is transported, as it were, back to his own time and place where he sees, once again, a mighty angel similar to the one he saw in chapter 5. Indeed, the two may be the same. To this one, however, the text adds attributes associated with the divine in both the Old and New Testaments. He comes in the clouds as does the Son of Man in Daniel 7:13 and carries a radiance similar to that revealed by Christ in Matthew 17:2.

Given the Greek behind the word “seal” here, in this case it does not refer to closing and then sealing a partially filled scroll. Instead, it refers to concealing or keeping secret the divine mystery. Since so much of Revelation is disclosure, to have a prohibition against such is a bit jarring, but that may highlight the importance of the point the Lord wants made here. One speculation is that they reveal God’s omniscience, which He chooses to keep hidden, thus assuring the Saints continued dependence on Him. Another is that the words were beyond the ability of humans to express. At any rate, the point is clear that even though Revelation is about disclosure, the Saints will have to wait until the end time to fully understand all that God has done to fulfill His purposes in history. Thus, the phrase could be translated, “Do not even think about writing those things.” The message was given to him and to him alone, at least at that time.

As a new vision opens, John sees another angel, mighty and radiant, descending from heaven holding a little scroll in his hand. This angel stands in sharp contrast to the star which introduced chapter 9. The star had fallen to the earth. The angel descends of his own accord. The star had to receive the key to the pit. The angel possesses the book. Thick black smoke boiled from the star’s abyss while brilliant spectral light emanates from the angel’s face. The star drove the demonic horde; the angel governs cosmic phenomena—cloud, rainbow, and sun. One stands a prince of darkness, the other a prince of light. One is Satan, the father of lies, the other, an angel and the revealer of truth. Thus, John demonstrates the vast difference between the two beings.

Once again, the image of the rainbow is present, the sign of God’s covenant not only with humankind but also with all living creatures. It surrounds the angel’s head like a many-colored diadem beaming around a face full of celestial glory prepared to bestow favor and blessings. This vision stands in sharp contrast to the one which just closed. There God turned His face (that is, His favor) away from the world and its abominations. In consequence, evil smote the immoral and perverse souls. The angel reflects not only the glory but also the magnanimity of God, whose face is ever toward John. Therefore, with the rest of the faithful, John is beneficiary of the promise that “the Lord God is a sun and shield: the Lord will give grace and glory: no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly” (Psalm 84:11).

The angel places his feet on the land and the sea. The “foot” symbolizes the power of possession; whatever he places it upon he subordinates. The angel’s stance indicates that all the earth is subject to him, “sea and land” being the Hebrew formula for total mastery of the terrestrial order. From this position, the angel gives a mighty shout to which the “voices” of seven thunders responded. However, John gives neither the content of the angel’s cry nor the message of the thunders. In fact, God specifically commands him not to even think about disclosing the message. Indeed, in these last days, days of further disclosure of the divine will, the Doctrine and Covenants may give us brief insight into what John learned in depth from the thunders. There we read that as the telestial period ends,

then shall the first angel again sound his trump in the ears of all living, and reveal the secret acts of men, and the mighty works of God in the first thousand years. And then shall the second angel sound his trump, and reveal the secret acts of men, and the thoughts and intents of their hearts, and the mighty works of God in the second thousand years—And so on, until the seventh angel shall sound his trump; and he shall stand forth upon the land and upon the sea, and swear in the name of him who sitteth upon the throne, that there shall be time no longer; and Satan shall be bound, that old serpent, who is called the devil, and shall not be loosed for the space of a thousand years. (Doctrine and Covenants 88:108–10; see also Daniel 12:1–7)

Like the seven seals before, each divine disclosure captured the mysterious and wondrous acts of God in each of the seven thousand-year periods marked out by John. In the New Testament, God’s dealings in history are a mystery because one can only recognize and understand them through revelation to the prophets. Before then they are hidden. The sounding of the seventh trumpet makes fully known God’s designs from the beginning. These include the overthrow of the kingdom of darkness and the full establishment of the kingdom of God on the earth. In Revelation 11:15, following the sounding of the seventh trumpet, a heavenly chorus proclaims, “The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever.”

Lifting his hand to the sky, the omnipotent angel then swears a solemn oath, “that there should be no further delay” (verse 6). The Father’s purposes will now be executed and nothing can stop it. The phrase “that there should be time no longer” does not mean that time will stop. It instead is a warning that time has run out, there will be no further delay; a more colloquial translation might be “time’s up,” meaning that the period has now come fully to a close. The angel swears that postponement from this point on is impossible. Telestial time has run out and no further delay is permitted. As a result, history will instantly move into its next phase, the terrestrial or millennial period. The new phase will begin only after “The Lord hath redeemed his people; and Satan is bound,” when “The Lord hath gathered all things in one” and “brought down Zion from above” and” brought up Zion from beneath” (Doctrine and Covenants 84:100).

When that is done, according to the Doctrine and Covenants, “The seventh angel shall sound his trump; and he shall stand forth upon the land and upon the sea, and swear in the name of him who sitteth upon the throne, that there shall be time no longer; and Satan shall be bound, that old serpent, who is called the devil, and shall not be loosed for the space of a thousand years” (Doctrine and Covenants 88:110). In Revelation 6:10, the martyrs asked the Lord, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?” The answer is a resounding, “Judgment is coming right now!” Indeed, at that time the day of repentance is past. It is in this context that John’s recommissioning is set and which gives him his direction, mission, and force.

Revelation 10:8–11. The little scroll

As the vision continued, an unidentified heavenly voice commanded John to take the scroll, but it did not tell him what to do with it. That was left up to the mighty angel. Echoing Ezekiel 3:1–3, the angel instructs the prophet to eat the scroll with the understanding that, though it would be sweet to the taste, it would really upset his stomach. The angel makes the reason clear: the scroll symbolized John’s mission to “prophesy again against many peoples, and nations, and tongues, and kings” (Revelation 10:11).

The little scroll serves a similar function to the one we have seen in chapter 5. In both cases, they contain God’s will that is to be executed in the last days. In chapter 5, it was the Lamb who took the scroll and executed its commands. Here it is John. Knowing this helps us understand why this interlude was inserted between the trumpet blasts of the sixth and seventh angel for it explains the role John, specifically, and the Saints, generally, are to play during the period of the voice of the seventh trumpet.

The recommissioning dealt with John’s work that would extend over centuries, not just with his labors in the ancient period. Joseph Smith and his scribe, Oliver Cowdery, were somewhat acquainted with John’s mission. While translating the Book of Mormon, they learned that God had commissioned John to “write concerning the end of the world” (1 Nephi 14:20–22). A little later, they received a revelation making it clear that John had been translated for the purpose of prophesying “before nations, kindreds, tongues and people” until the Lord should come in His glory (Doctrine and Covenants 7:3). Further, the Apostle would be a minister “for those who shall be heirs of salvation” (Doctrine and Covenants 7:6).

In March 1832, Joseph Smith learned even more. The Lord revealed that the scroll “was a mission, and an ordinance, for [John] to gather the tribes of Israel” (Doctrine and Covenants 77:14). This revelation breaks John’s commission into two roles: the first is to assist in the gathering of the twelve tribes of Israel. The second is to assist in the restoration of all things as one of the Eliases who would bring keys and authorities in the last days. In June conference, 1831, Joseph Smith stated “that John the Revelator was then among the Ten Tribes of Israel who had been led away by Shalmaneser, king of Assyria, to prepare them for their return from their long dispersion.”

Given what modern revelation teaches, it is curious that John’s mission would turn bitter. John’s commission includes testifying not just about or against peoples but also about or against heads of state and, in doing so, giving them a clear warning. The term “many” suggests the vastness of the field; not just to one empire but to a multitude. By witnessing the gospel, John participates directly in damning rebellious nations and their leaders. Therefore, their rejection of his message, in part, brings upon them the horrible judgments he saw while on the Isle of Patmos. The result will be bitter judgment, and John’s loving heart will feel it.

Nonetheless, the bitterness will not overpower the ultimate sweetness of God’s gracious acts that are designed to avenge the righteous lives and witness of the faithful (see Revelation 6:9–11; 18:4–7). Thus, though the bitterness is hard to take for all sensitive souls, in the end, the resurrected and victorious Saints will exult in the sweetness of God’s judgment, shouting “hallelujah” when it has been fully and finally executed (Revelation 19:1–4).

John’s commandment to prophesy, that is, to declare what God has foreshown, includes a heavy emphasis on understanding the importance of the present in light of that future reality. In short, God has revealed for John’s readers, both then and now, His interpretation of their and our situation. It is in light of what the future holds that the present must be properly understood and used. Thus, Revelation follows the Old Testament prophetic tradition that demands an immediate ethical response on the part of the faithful to the revealed word of God. The message is clear: Now is the time to prepare.

With these words the angel shows John that his mission is not so much changed as extended. Though he has fulfilled his calling thus far, it is not over. We see the nature of his prophesying in chapters 6 through 9, where he reveals what is going to happen to the various nations. Though that work is now done, he must see to it that the word not only gets out, but is also spread among many people.

This interlude helps explain why John received the Patmos vision. He was to play an active role in the events he recorded. Thus, God commanded him to devour the scroll, symbolic of mental digestion, and thereby internalize its contents. The Seer did so and by this means made a complete appropriation of his mission and the message he was to bear. This done, he was ready to act. The degree to which he internalized the message is illustrated by the revelation itself. The vision rings with clarity and purpose. It had become a part of John. It is at this point that John takes an active role in the vision. He is no longer just an observer, but an essential participant. His first official act opens chapter 11.

Revelation 11. The Seventh Trumpet

The setting of chapter 11 is the same as chapter 10. As it opens, the seventh trumpet remains mute; tension continues. Before it can break, John must perform a task growing out of the recommissioning he received through angelic authority in the previous chapter. The task is one that looks to the far future, the period just before the Second Coming when the enemies of Israel will march against her with power. They have but one intent: Israel’s total destruction. God shows John how his faithful followers will be saved, how many of the Jews will be spared, and what will become of the holy city.

In chapter 10, we saw John’s recommissioning to preach against the world. Here we see what he was commissioned to preach. The message is, therefore, one of judgment—a judgment commencing when forbearance and long-suffering finally cease to be virtues, a judgment that finally yields to the plea of the fifth seal martyrs, “when will you vindicate our testimonies against the wicked?” (Revelation 6:9–11; 8:3–5; 9:13). The answer is, “Now!”

That answer constitutes the second woe. During the second woe (or sixth trump) evil has its day. A great and wicked army marches, and myriads upon myriads of humans die. Even under such severe brutalization, the inhabitants of the world refuse to repent. Thus, the devastation does not act to bring them to sorrow unto repentance. As a result, the world persists in its bloodlust and warfare. Jerusalem becomes ever more the object of hatred, whose enemies want nothing less than her total destruction.

At that point, God’s two prophets appear on the scene to both assist and teach the Jews. Their ministry occurs during the second woe or time of the sixth trumpet. Chapter 11 examines the fragment of that woe that looks specifically at Israel.

Revelation 11:1–2. Measuring the temple

This section reveals how the Saints in the last day, and more particularly those in the Holy City, are going to survive, as will be seen, a horrific onslaught. They will come under God’s measure (that is, His protecting power). The emphasis of the text is that ultimate protection exists only at the center of divine activity— within the Church and temple. Covenant making and keeping are the keys to survival. Though the temple in Revelation is likely symbolic of the faithful community of the Saints everywhere, that does not preclude a real Jerusalem temple being in place.

Indeed, a scripture clearly states that “it is ordained that in Zion, and in her stakes, and in Jerusalem, those places which I have appointed for refuge, shall be the places for your baptisms for your dead” (Doctrine and Covenants 124:36). This verse suggests that there will be an active Latter-day Saint temple in Jerusalem before the Lord comes, and that it will act as a place of safety for the Saints there during the troubled times of the last days. As such, the measuring of the temple parallels that of the sealing of the Saints in Revelation 7:3–8, each denoting the same act but from a different aspect.

For those outside the bounds of the covenant, those who have never entered into or have not been faithful, there is no celestial shelter. Proximity will not be good enough. The outer court will be in no better position than the city itself. There is a message here. Certainly, the sanctuary is itself a symbol of the Lord’s people, those who are the living temple of God where in his Spirit dwells. If that is the case, then the outer court represents those who are just outside the reach of the Spirit. They are not antagonistic to God but are not fully committed to Him either. They are the lukewarm, and, as God said, “I will spue thee out” (Revelation 3:15–16).

Revelation 11:3–10. The ministry and death of the two witnesses

It is of note that though the temple will not fall, much of the city does, but with tremendous cost in time, energy, and resources, especially manpower. Why does it take the enemy years, and how is it that the Saints survive the horrendous onslaught? John provides the answer: the ministry of the two prophets.

This section of Revelation is particularly difficult to interpret. According to Doctrine and Covenants 77:15, the mission of the two prophets that stand at the center of chapter 11 is to prophesy to the Jews. Modern revelation gives us nothing more. Distinguishing, therefore, between what is symbolic and what is not has proven to be most challenging. Below we give our best analyses of what the text is communicating. We realize, of course, that time will reveal what actually happens.

The Revelation makes clear the means by which the righteous in the Holy Land will be preserved. The Saints having been sealed, human agents with divine power will act for God as protectors (see Doctrine and Covenants 77:15). The prophet Isaiah was aware of two prophets who would assist Israel in the last days. According to him, of all of Israel’s sons, “there is none to guide her” in the precarious situation she will face in the last days. Indeed, her “sons have fainted, they lie at the head of all the streets [helpless] as a wild bull in a net.”

Therefore, help must come from outside. “These two sons,” notes Isaiah, “are come unto thee” (Joseph Smith Translation, Isaiah 51:17–20). Their designation as “sons” suggests they have some connection to Israel, but in this case, it is indirect. According to scripture, “they are two prophets who are raised up to the Jewish nation.” (Doctrine and Covenants 77:15). Note that these prophets do not come from the Jews but are raised up to them. Nonetheless, they have at least a spiritual kinship with Judah and, as will be shown below, they will provide the means for the temporal salvation for the Jews.

John symbolically reveals the two witnesses’ high position with God. They stand before Him as two olive trees and two lampstands. In the earlier use in Revelation 1, the lampstands represented the various branches of the Church, whose purpose was to hold up the light of Christ. The same is true of the work of the two prophets; they are to hold up the light of the Lamb and show forth in word and deed His power. God used the same imagery in Zechariah 4:1–14 to assure His people that His temple would be built in spite of all appearances to the contrary.

In Revelation, the imagery’s use is much the same. It testifies that in spite of all appearances to the contrary, the Lord’s Spirit will operate and thus provide the way against overwhelming odds for His people to win the day. These two prophets have tremendous power over sky, water, and fire. Until their ministry is completed, they will be absolutely unstoppable and indestructible. It would appear that their ministry marks the moment when God openly moves onto the stage of history, exposing for more and more to see His saving power toward those who are His and His destroying power toward those who are willfully not.

The place of their death, as John notes, is called metaphorically Sodom and Egypt. That John identifies Jerusalem with such epithets goes a long way in explaining why the outer court of the temple, that is the city as a whole, is given over to the Gentiles. In spite of all that has gone on, the vast majority of its people will not be converted. Even under the severe conditions brought on by Armageddon, they will not accept the witness. Indeed, they will reject even these prophets and oppose those who follow them. Perhaps it is some of these, working with the beast, who engineer the witnesses’ death. Overall, due to their refusal to repent and accept the Savior, the Jews will feel the full weight of the beast and its wicked minions.

The Lord has already revealed the full scope of the two prophets’ power and the world’s reaction in chapters 8 and 9. Though the text does not specify who unleashes the trumpet plagues described in those chapters, it appears to be these two prophets. Consider the following conceptual and lexical parallels. First, the action in both sections is described as plagues (8:12; 9:20; 11:6); second, both are directed against “the inhabitants of the earth” (8:13; 11:10); third, both are carried out under God’s authority (9:3, 10, 19; 11:6); fourth, famine results (8:7; 11:6); fifth, people are hurt (9:10, 19; 11:5); sixth, people are killed (9:15, 18, 20; 11:5); seventh, the executioners use fire (9:17–18; 11:5); eighth, water is turned to blood (8:8; 11:6); and ninth, the agents torment the unbelievers (9:5–6; 11:10). In all, the parallels suggest that the latter-day plagues, so vividly described in chapter 8, are initiated and directed by the two witnesses and the woes in chapter 9 are the world’s reaction thereto.

John gives the active ministry of these prophets as forty-two months. This corresponds to 1,260 days, “time, and times, and half a time,” and three and a half years, if each month is computed as thirty days based on a lunar calendar (11:3; 12:6, 14). However, it may be best not to take John too literally here, for the real message lies behind the symbol. The number three and a half (that is, half of seven) denotes that which is arrested midway in its normal course (Rev 11:9, 11). The apocalyptic usage of this number goes back to Daniel 7:25.

The number six also connotes a deficit, a failure to attain the completeness of seven, while eight designates a superabundance. Symbolically, forty-two is pejorative since it is six times seven, or just short of the mark of perfection. In apocalyptic material, it designates a limited period in which evil is allowed free reign. The Seer’s use of it emphasizes that the forces he describes—a period when divine protection upon the Saints is balanced against the vehement antagonism of their enemies—are both concurrent. During His mortal ministry the Lord had stated, “Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled” (Luke 21:24). When that time is fulfilled, then wickedness will end. The ministry of the two prophets marks the transition.

The text of Revelation gives the prophets a twofold ministry. First, they are to hold off the enemy at least for a time, thus helping to preserve the Jews temporally. Due to their powers, over the course of months, the enemy will pay dearly for each section of the city it is able to capture and hold. Second, and more importantly, they are to bear witness to the Jewish people of the reality of Jesus the Messiah (Revelation 1:3; 19:10; Doctrine and Covenants 77:15). Until they have done this, they are invulnerable. To seal their sure witness these two great prophets will be martyred.

Thus, their testimony will join with those of the fifth seal crying against the world of wickedness. Just how these two will die is unknown. John notes that it will come only when they have finished their ministry and that the beast that ascends from the pit in the abyss will attack and overpower them. Though not previously mentioned, in chapter 13 the beast will come more fully into view. There John reveals the beast is the minion of Satan and has worked for centuries to promote his ways. In the last days he will inspire his own minions to direct their full fury against the prophets.

The text suggests that it takes the beast some time to realize exactly who he is up against, but when he does, he will then direct his forces to move specifically against the two prophets. And he will win, perhaps with help from certain rebellious Jews. The death of the two prophets will cause ecstasy among the wicked. The Revelator pictures the whole world involved in a frenzy of joy, people sending presents to one another and generally making merry “because these two prophets had been a torment to those who dwell on the earth” (verse 10) The nature of that torment, of course, will be the inability of evil to rationalize away or explain the power of the witnesses. The brilliant light of truth will burn the eyes and scorch the hearts of these people who had grown to love the dark. The invincibility of these prophets stood as witness to the truth, truth that tortured because it threatened the very foundation upon which the philosophy of the wicked sat, namely that materialism was the reason for existence and that one could take happiness in wickedness.

With the prophets’ death, there appears to be nothing to stop the victory of evil. The beast from the pit has overcome. He has proved himself mightier than God. No wonder his lackeys rejoice. This is the moment of triumph; the beast and his army are victorious. But are they?

Revelation 11:11–14. The resurrection and ascension of the two witnesses

For three and a half days, the bodies, serving as war trophies, remain unburied. Among ancient people, such treatment was a means of mocking and generating great shame toward the unburied, their families, and all they stood for. The time reference, three and one-half days, seems symbolically fitting, for this is the period when evil rules unchecked. However, revelries will be suddenly cut short; celebrations turn to shock. In an instant, before the carousing multitudes, the spirit of life will flow into the bodies of the witnesses, and they will rise into heaven.

The result will be consternation such as has seldom been seen on this planet. What appeared to be total triumph suddenly becomes complete defeat. Some Protestant groups teach that the rapture will take place at the beginning of the period of sorrows so vividly depicted in chapters 8, 9, and 16 of Revelation. From the scriptures of the Restoration, it is clear that the event takes place at the end of that period and just before the Second Coming (see Doctrine and Covenants 88:88–110). It is uncertain, however, if the rising of the two witnesses is simultaneous with the resurrection of the just or immediately before it.

With the resurrection of the two prophets, God gives His enemies a full moment of mortal consternation before He sweeps them into hell. That event marks the moment when God begins to move from the wings to the center stage of history. With each event that follows, He more and more discloses Himself to the world. The image of a cloud is important here, for it represents the divine presence. In the scriptures, the rising into a cloud is the sign of divine validation.

Murder is the greatest and last resort of the wicked and the base of their power. But what happens when the murdered do not stay dead? The ultimate power of the unrighteous fails and with it all other forms of coercion and intimidation. The resurrection of the two witnesses, then, signals the end of satanic people’s hold on the world. Their reign of blood and horror is now finished.

Now that He is no longer working behind the scenes, God’s first act is to prove that He has final authority over life and death. In doing so, he takes away all fear engendered by gangsters, bullies, thugs, and strong men—those who have intimidated and abused the weak for millennia. As the wicked watch the ascent of the two prophets, a great earthquake rocks the area “and a tenth of the city collapsed; seven thousand people were killed” (Revelation 11:13).

For the third time, the Seer evokes the picture of an earthquake. Here it reveals the direct and open intervention by God. The damage is selective. A tenth of the city falls. This is the Lord’s portion—His tithe that He will demand of the wicked. The number ten indicates, among other things, the whole of a part. Thus, it may be that the fraction indicates that judgment begins at the moment of ascension upon all the wicked who fought against the witnesses. That John uses the figure seven thousand as the number devoted to death lends support to this idea. Taking the number in its qualitative dimension, it signifies, as in other places, fullness and completeness. Thus, those slated to die are killed during this judgment.

But many are spared. These are very likely the Jews who the prophets have been sent to protect. The effect of the appalling judgment on the city, then the resurrection of the witnesses coupled with the heavenly voice that calls them to heaven seem to act as the catalyst that finally leads these Jews to repentance and faith. Even so, that faith does not develop full-blown. In fright they give “glory to the God of the Heaven” (verse 13). But note, they do not immediately invite Him among them. They reverence Him as the God of heaven because that keeps Him at a distance. But John has already noted that the two prophets bore witness of “the God of the earth” (verse 4; emphasis added). It is God who has right and title to the earth. That is the issue in dispute in the whole of Revelation, but with the ascension of the prophets, the issue is settled once and for all.

At this moment, these once-hardened people will finally be softened and with tears accept their Messiah. They will see that He keeps covenant, for He will come to them fulfilling prophecy. “Behold,” He had promised, “I will make Jerusalem a cup of trembling unto all the people round about, when they shall be in the siege both against Judah and Jerusalem, and in that day will I make Jerusalem a burdensome stone for all people: all that burden themselves with it shall be cut to pieces; though all the people of the earth be gathered together against it” (Zechariah 12:2–3).

The Lord further promised that “in that day, that I will seek to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem. And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn. In that day shall there be a great mourning in Jerusalem, as the mourning of Hadadrimmon in the valley of Megiddon” (Zech 12:9–11).

And why such bitterness? Because “then shall the Jews look upon me and say: what are these wounds in thine hands and in thy feet? Then shall they know that I am the Lord: for I will say unto them: these wounds are the wounds with which I was wounded in the house of my friends. I am he who was lifted up. I am Jesus that was crucified. I am the Son of God. And then shall they weep because of their iniquities; then shall they lament because they persecuted their king” (Doctrine and Covenants 45:51–53). It will be at this moment that Isaiah’s prophecy shall be fulfilled for then “shall a nation be born at once” (Isaiah 66:8).

The issue of who governs the earth, however, must be settled not just for the Jews but for all, especially the beast and those who follow him. John insists that God has the unqualified and peremptory title and will not debate or forego the issue. Hence God settles the question permanently with the coming of the third woe and the last blast of the trumpet. Not only does the final battle take place at Jerusalem but also the final judgment of those who opposed God. The irony is of note: the first time the Lord came to that city, the wicked judged Him and silenced Him; this time He will judge and silence them.

Revelation 11:15–19. The seventh trumpet and the last woe

The final section of chapter 11 focuses on the ecstatic joy of heaven as God and Jesus finally overcome their enemies and take up the reins of government. Their act invokes a three-part responsory hymn song by the twenty-four Elders which celebrates the reign of God, the judgment of the wicked, and the reward of the righteous.

With the ascension of the two prophets, the second woe is fulfilled and, at last, the seventh trumpet sounds. Instantly angelic voices proclaim, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign forever and ever” (verse 15). The issue of ownership is settled. At this point a prophecy of Joseph Smith will also find fulfillment. He stated: “the Standard of Truth has been erected; no unhallowed hand can stop the work from progressing; persecutions may rage, mobs may combine, armies may assemble, calumny may defame, but the truth of God will go forth boldly, nobly, and independent, till it has penetrated every continent, visited every clime, swept every country, and sounded in every ear, till the purposes of God shall be accomplished, and the Great Jehovah shall say the work is done.”2

At this point, in John’s work, the twenty-four elders exclaim, “We give thanks to you Lord God Almighty, who is and who was, because you have taken your great power and have begun to reign” (verse 17). Now that he finally reigns, all is set for “destroying the destroyers of the earth” (verse 18). The phrase is revealing because it explicitly reveals the objectives of the Lord’s enemies, that is, to utterly destroy the earth. In their wrath and satanically driven insanity (this idea will be explored fully in chapter 16), they will decide if they can’t have it, neither can God. Their attempted destruction of the world is the second woe. Their utter destruction is the last. All heaven prepares for this last assault, which Christ Himself will lead.

In preparation, the temple of heaven opens and displays the ark of the covenant. No other objects could better symbolize the covenant between Jehovah and Israel. At this moment, when all that was promised is about to be realized, angelic voices praise the name of God and the Lamb. But not all is done. The world’s wicked must still stand judgment. So, from the temple issue flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake, and a great hailstorm, all symbols of those supernatural forces that will bring to an end the telestial era in which the wicked have played such a large and destructive part (compare Revelation 16:18–21). In this way, the gate opens into the paradise of God.

The point of this section is this: at the moment when God’s punishment fully comes upon His temporal enemies, He rewards his Saints, both the well known and lesser known. The irony of the moment is that at the very moment when God displays the fullness of His wrath, He also displays his greatness of his mercy.

Chapter 11 moves through the second woe and introduces the third. But it only introduces the third. There is no description of the final onslaught (only a statement that God wrests control of the world), and no judgment. All that must wait for chapter 16 and 19. Instead, this chapter ends by focusing on the praise and glory given to God as He begins to publicly reign and personally destroy the remaining wicked. A crescendo of disaster, greater than that yet shown, is about to usher in the great and terrible day of the Lord. But that must wait while John rounds out the picture with additional information. So, John breaks the narrative just at the point where Christ moves to center stage.

Revelation 12: The Dragon, the Woman, and the Child

Chapter 12 serves as the pivotal crux of the whole book, the key to understanding all that went before and that comes after. Here, the enemy is introduced, his background given, and his purposes and methodology revealed. Here the details of the spiritual conflict between good and evil, God and Satan, Saint and persecutor are brought into light. This chapter serves as the conclusion for the first half of the book and the introduction for the last half.

Revelation 12:1–6. The woman and the man child and the great red dragon

The cosmic combat myth, in which both mortal and divine elements fight each other for dominance over the earth, has formed a part of the human mythos from time immemorial. Often the antagonist has been depicted as a monster, serpent, or dragon representing chaos and sterility, while the protagonist has been depicted as a divine being representing order and fertility. Many people living in the ancient Near East had their versions of the story, but the motifs of the legends remained remarkably the same. Many of these elements show up in chapters 12 and 13; John’s early readers would have been very comfortable with this part of the vision.

John introduces this section of his vision with the words: “And there appeared a great wonder [sign] in heaven.” John’s use of the word is consistent throughout Revelation. It foreshadows a coming event and thus serves as a prophetic or anticipatory omen. The Joseph Smith Translation of Revelation 12:1 notes that the sign in heaven was “in likeness of things on the earth,” making it clear that the heavenly vision symbolized earthly conditions.

The first of the great signs, in order but not in eminence, is the woman. John describes her as being “clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars.” The woman represents the Church (see Joseph Smith Translation, Revelation 12:7). On her head are the victor’s laurels garnished with twelve stars. These symbolize the twelve apostles or the priesthood authority which stands at the Church’s head. Celestial glory surrounds her as a garment, showing that the power of God is upon her. But there is a secondary meaning of the Greek verb translated “clothed,” which means “to encompass, to put something around (such as the walls of a city).” John’s imagery could, therefore, represent the glory of God acting as a bulwark to protect the Church.

Among Near Eastern societies, the wilderness represented a place that offered safety when danger threatened. In Latter-day Saint parlance, that event is actually marked by the Church coming out of, not going into, the wilderness. Even so, before it can come out, the Church must hide for a time in the wilderness, for only there does safety lie. John’s account suggests that though the early Church endeavored to establish the political kingdom in the meridian of time, it was unsuccessful. We should note that Satan’s attempt to destroy the child was, at the same time, his attempt to become king of the earth.

Once again, the Seer emphasizes that the issue is sovereignty and authority. Though Satan failed in his attempt to destroy the babe, he was partially successful in that he did prevent the kingdom of God from being established. According to the Joseph Smith Translation, “the dragon stood before the woman which was delivered, ready to devour her child after it was born,” but the “child was caught up unto God and his throne” (verses 3–4) before the dragon could do so. Thus, it appears that God took the fledgling kingdom, the political keys and authority given to the Apostles and other leaders, to heaven where they have remained safe from the dragon. Now, in these last days, they have been restored.

Frustrated because he could not destroy the child, the dragon turned on the woman herself, but she escaped by fleeing into the wilderness. Modern revelation explains the reality behind the symbol. After the death of the Apostles, Babylon—here the symbol of devil-inspired persecution of the true Church—sowed tares over the garden of the earth. “The tares are the children of the wicked one” (see Matthew 13:38), who spread false doctrine and persecute the righteous. These “choke out the wheat [or the righteous] and drive the Church into the wilderness” (Doctrine and Covenants 86:3).

History shows that Satan was quite successful, for after the death of the Apostles, forces hostile to the true Church compelled its retreat from the public sphere. Nonetheless, the Church remained on the earth, but in an unorganized and, therefore, hidden state. The wilderness Church represents the righteous descendants of the ancient Saints who were “lawful heirs according to the flesh” but were “hidden from the world with Christ in God” who would set the stage for the Church to be restored in the last days and act as “a savior unto [God’s] people, Israel” (Doctrine and Covenants 86:9–11).

These are the literal descendants of Abraham through Isaac and Israel, and they were hidden from the world and the dragon by God. Thus certain bloodlines were preserved. Modern scripture suggests, however, that God was doing more than protecting bloodlines while the Church was in the wilderness. Though the organized priesthood was taken off the earth, some priesthood remained. John would continue to minister and, as the chief Apostle, would have presided over the works of the wilderness Church. Three of the Lord’s Nephite disciples also remained on the earth. The Savior told them they would “minister unto all the scattered tribes of Israel, and unto all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people, and . . . bring out of them unto Jesus many souls” (3 Nephi 28:4–7, 29).

Therefore, the wilderness Church was not inactive. Its activities, however, were hidden. Concerning the three Nephites, and likely John as well, Mormon states that “they will be among the Gentiles, and the Gentiles shall know them not. They will also be among the Jews, and the Jews shall know them not” (3 Nephi 28:27–28). Nonetheless, they will do the necessary work of the wilderness Church during its sojourn there.

As part of the millennial preparation, the man child will return: God will return the keys of His political government. Speaking of this latter-day event, Brigham Young explained, “The Church of Jesus Christ will produce this government, and cause it to grow and spread, and it will be a shield round about the Church. And under the influence and power of the Kingdom of God, the Church will rest secure and dwell in safety, without taking the trouble of governing and controlling the whole earth.”3 This government that embraces all peoples of the earth, both in and out of the Church, is also sometimes spoken of as the kingdom of God.

Revelation 12:7–12. The War in Heaven

Of the many angels who play a part in Revelation, the only one John mentions by name is Michael. The Archangel is mentioned only three times in the Old Testament and twice in the New.4 He is mentioned six times in the Doctrine and Covenants, where his identity and role are clarified. There we find that he is Adam, the “Ancient of Days” righteous children knew him as Michael, the Archangel and prince of God.5 He plays a very significant role in the salvation process, being given “the keys of salvation under the counsel and direction of the Holy One” (Doctrine and Covenants 78:16).

Joseph Smith explained, “The keys were first given to him [Adam], and by him to others. He will have to give an account of his stewardship, and they to him.”6 He has been active in the Restoration, at one time revealing the truth when Satan appeared as an angel of light (Doctrine and Covenants 128:20). He will play a significant role in the future, signaling the beginning of the resurrection of the righteous that will take place at the Second Coming and, at the end of the Millennium, leading the hosts of heaven against Lucifer and his minions at the battle of Gog and Magog.7

At this point, John gives a flashback to the War in Heaven, showing that the conflict between the Church and the devil had its genesis in the premortal world. John reveals that the central figure in the battle was Michael, who led the angels of God against Satan and his minions. Michael’s victory resulted in the banishment of the devil from heaven to the earth. The old dragon “was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him” (Revelation 12:9). On the earth the battle was renewed, and the Church in John’s day felt the brunt of it. John saw the power of the dragon as its tail wrapped itself around many of the stars of heaven and pulled them down.

Modern scripture clearly reveals Lucifer’s premortal objective: “The devil . . . rebelled against God and sought to take the kingdom of God and his Christ” (Doctrine and Covenants 76:28). The Seer’s account gives insight into the nature of the heavenly war. He states that Lucifer “accused [the brethren] before God day and night” (Revelation 12:10). One wonders what the nature of those accusations was. Perhaps that the gospel would fail, that the Savior would back away from the pain of the Atonement, that the priesthood would crumble under the pressure of mortality. The vision emphasizes the power that overcame Satan. It was faith and testimony: faith that the Redeemer would make the Atonement, and a willingness to proclaim it to all who would hear. Courageously, these Saints of the spirit world put their eternal lives on the line. Their witness won many souls, and assisted in overthrowing the great enemy.

With the defeat of the dragon, John hears a voice proclaim, “Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ” (verse 10). The Greek verb tense here suggests that the outcome of the battle was not secure until the moment Satan and his host were forcefully evicted. Of course, Satan could not prevail against God’s omnipotence. God’s purposes could not be thwarted. However, because agency is an essential element in the progression of all of His children, God allowed Satan to try and persuade as many as he could to follow him rather than God. But heaven’s win was earth’s loss.

Thus, the angel lamented, “Woe to the inhabiters of the earth and of the sea! for the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time” (verse 12). Satan had lost. However, God granted him a little season in which to operate before God froze him into eternal impotence, but this fact only serves to anger him. He plants that rage in the hearts of evil men. Thus, they, too, feel rage when God begins to move directly onto the stage of history. Lucifer’s fury is at the seat of his directing his human minions to war, and eventually an attempt to destroy the whole of earth’s people. As a result, the time is soon coming when no man will have any peace but in Zion and her stakes.

Revelation 12:13–18. The dragon and the woman

The war in heaven serves as the background for understanding the Dragon’s attack on the man child and the woman. He knew who and what his enemies were. Satan exercised his energy first on thwarting the organization of the political kingdom of God on the earth. Once he had chased off that threat to his earthly sovereignty, he turned on the woman. However, she received divine assistance and escaped into the wilderness. The two great wings of an eagle symbolize rapid motion and divine deliverance. With these wings the woman fled into the wilderness.

Both the Old and the New Testaments represent the desert as a place of provisional safety, of discipline, of waiting for the promises of God to be fulfilled. In this context, the desert illustrates that the Church has become inaccessible to humans. As the woman fled to her place of refuge, the dragon made one last desperate attempt to destroy her. Vomiting up water, he endeavored to sweep her away in a flood. The earth, however, assisted the woman by swallowing the vast tide. Once the kingdom of God was gone, Satan secured his place as prince of the world. Iniquity would characterize his reign.

The wilderness, as the Revelator makes clear, was a place of protection where the woman was nurtured. The period of her rest would be one thousand, two hundred sixty days, or three and one-half years (the Joseph Smith Translation of verse 5 changes “days” to “years,” probably to suggest that the stay in the wilderness would be of long duration). This number represents a period of tremendous trial because it is the period of Satanic rule (half of seven, the symbol for perfection, equals three and one half, imperfection). However, in each case where the number is used, the period ends in total victory for God. Thus, the woman, though forced to flee from the main stage of earth’s history, would return and triumph. That time was 1830, the beginning of the “rising up and the coming forth of my church out of the wilderness—clear as the moon, and fair as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners” (Doctrine and Covenants 5:14). But before that time, the Church’s progress ceased.

It is fair to ask, however, what church? Since the temporal Church fell into apostasy, what church did God preserve and place in safekeeping? Likely John refers to the Church of the Firstborn spoken of in the Doctrine and Covenants. There the Savior states, “I was in the beginning with the Father, and am the Firstborn; And all those who are begotten through me are partakers of the glory of the same, and are the church of the Firstborn” (93:21–22). How one is begotten is clearly spelled out: faith, repentance, baptism, and reception of the Holy Ghost are prerequisite. Then one must be sealed through continual good works by the Holy Spirit of Promise. Those who do so become the Church of the Firstborn, being “priests and kings [and for women, priestesses and queens], who have received of [God’s] fullness, and of his glory” (Doctrine and Covenants 76:50–70).

In John’s day, this group constituted those who had ears to hear what the Spirit was saying to the churches. Heading the exiled or wilderness Church would have been John, assisted, very likely, by the three Nephite disciples, kept the keys alive and the work moving. Thus, God frustrated Satan in his attempt to destroy this Church. Behind the scene stands God’s omniscience. He knew what was going to happen. Thus, Paul tells the Saints that the Apostasy was coming and that they must prepare. He confirmed his testimony some years later, saying: “After my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. Therefore, watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears” (Acts 20:30–32). Armed with such foreknowledge the early leaders were successful in getting the Church into the wilderness and away from the destroying powers of the adversary. Having failed to rid the earth of the Church, the dragon turned upon the few remaining faithful—those who “keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus”—and made war on them.

John seems to have written the book of Revelation during the period portrayed in chapter twelve. The external church was on the defensive. John warned her of what would happen if she failed to resist the floods of evil which Satan was loosing upon her. But to those who were true and faithful, the Lord held out eventual hope. In the meantime, the children of the faithful mother were in for a hard time. John showed in chapters 12 and 13 that the old dragon will call for others to assist him—the beast from the sea and the beast from the land—to harass the faithful.

John reveals to his faithful readers that a strong, intelligent, willful, malevolent, and scheming spiritual force stands behind many of the earthly woes the Saints have and will face. Lucifer is ever active. His wrath and destructive intent have been initiated because of his loss of station in the celestial realm and heightened by his failure to destroy both the kingdom of God and the true Church. His efforts have been heightened because he knows he has but a short time to work. Even so, he will not be able to prevail over God’s people in any meaningful way. God’s ever-present power shields His institutions and prepares them for their final victory. For John’s readers, both ancient and modern, the message is clear: any compromise with the world is actually a concession to Satan. As the Lord said to each of the seven churches addressed in chapters 2 and 3, “he who has ears to hear, let him hear what the Spirit says.” The admonition still stands.

Revelation 13. The Beasts of Revelation

Foiled in his attempt to destroy the church of God, the dragon moves to the seashore and there summons assistance. “And I saw another sign,” states the Joseph Smith Translation, “in the likeness of the kingdoms of the earth; a beast rise up out of the sea, and he stood upon the sand of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his horns ten crowns” (13:1). In this way John introduces the first of two agents through which the dragon will carry out his seduction of the earth over the next two millennia. This appears to have been the moment when Nephi saw “among the nations of the Gentiles the formation of a great church.” This church, or, better, institution, was, according to an angel, “most abominable above all other churches, which slayeth the Saints of God, yea, and tortureth them and bindeth them down, and yoketh them with a yoke of iron, and bringeth them down into captivity.” Further, Nephi notes, “I saw the devil that he was the founder of it” (1 Nephi 13:4–6). John’s vision reveals that the main assistant of the dragon comes from the same hellish waters, the abyss or “bottomless pit,” from which he himself came. Thus, both have the same roots.

In chapter 12, as we have seen, John described the work of the dragon. In chapter 13, he reveals how the dragon actually works. He does not do so directly, but rather, uses two assistants, the beast and the false lamb, to get his objectives accomplished. Satan, though the very personification of evil, must, as with God, carry out his work through human beings and human institutions. In this case, they compose the “great and abominable church,” also known as “kingdoms of the earth.” But this church or these kingdoms do not work alone. Indeed, undergirding, supporting, and even driving them is a system of philosophy or, in this context, a false religious ideology. In chapter 13, John reveals the genesis, objectives, and deeds of the great “church,” symbolized by the beast, and explains how it is able to get its deadly grip on the world through the machinations of the false lamb.

This chapter breaks down into two main units. The first covers chapter 12:18 through 13:10 and focuses on the beast from the sea. The second covers 13:11–18 and focuses on the beast from the land.

The imagery God used echoes passages in the book of Job. The first is in Job 40:15–24, which describes the clout of Behemoth, the land monster; the second is in Job 41:1–34, which describes the muscle of Leviathan, the sea monster. John reveals the work of both, showing how, between the two of them, they gain, for the dragon, world-embracing power. At the same time, John lays the background so that the reader can understand why the world will end in blood, smoke, and fire so graphically depicted in chapter 9.

Revelation 13:1–10. The beast from the sea

In chapter 11, John introduced “the beast.” In chapter 13, he reveals its nature and goals. It is the minion of the dragon and came out of the sea to do his will. Foiled in his attempt to destroy the church of God, the dragon moves to the seashore and there summons assistance. “And I saw another sign,” states the Joseph Smith Translation, “in the likeness of the kingdoms of the earth; a beast rise up out of the sea, and he stood upon the sand of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his horns ten crowns” (13:1).

In this way John introduces the first of two agents through which the dragon will carry out his seduction of the earth over the next two millennia. This appears to have been the moment when Nephi saw “among the nations of the Gentiles the formation of a great church.” This institution was “most abominable above all other churches, which slayeth the Saints of God, yea, and tortureth them and bindeth them down, and yoketh them with a yoke of iron, and bringeth them down into captivity.” Further, Nephi notes, “I saw the devil that he was the founder of it” (1 Nephi 13:4–6).

John’s vision reveals that the beast and dragon both originate from the same abyss or “bottomless pit.” Through the power of symbols, God very clearly describes the nature of this archenemy. Its home is the sea, representing chaos and malevolence. Often in the Old Testament it portrays unsettled political and social conditions, the kind of stormy circumstances out of which revolution and tyranny arise.

The Revelator understands that the oceans symbolize that which feeds these forces, namely, the inhabitants of the world who initially spawn the beast and continue to give it whole-hearted support. The beast stands as an imitation of the Savior, the Lamb of God. The imitation is very apparent. As the Lamb receives power from God, symbolized by receiving the scroll, so, too, does the beast receive power from the dragon (Revelation 5:7, 9; 13:2). As the Lamb rules over tribes and nations, so, too, does the beast (Revelation 5:9; 13:7). As the cherubim give honor to the Lamb, so too do the inhabitants of the earth to the beast (Revelation 5:12; 13:4). Finally, as the Lamb bears the marks of slaughter, so, too, does the beast (Revelation 5:5; 13:3).

To identify the beast (or any of the figures called heads, crowns, or in later chapters, kings) with specific entities or persons does injustice to the symbol since it portrays all the transhistorical entities that oppose the Lord and His people across time and culture.

The number seven represents completeness; the seven heads of the beast, then, represent the entirety of those people and institutions that made up the great and abominable church of the devil. The adversary’s kingdom includes all those immoral efforts across time and space right up to the Second Coming that oppose God, the Saints, and righteousness. Satan must, as with God, carry out his work through human beings and human institutions. In this case, they compose the “great and abominable church,” also known as “kingdoms of the earth.”

In Revelation 13, John reveals the objectives and deeds of the great church symbolized by the beast and explains how it is able to get its deadly grip on the world through the machinations of the false lamb. At times these institutions have been more influential than at others. Certainly, the Roman Empire with its emperor cult and persecution of the Saints during the first few centuries of the modern era marks a high point in the power of the beast. Over the centuries, other nations, institutions, governments have taken its place in promoting the agenda of the dragon and making life difficult for God’s people, ironically, some of these even bearing the standard of Christ.

Since the symbol, however, connotes those forces opposed to God and righteousness, it is possible that an institution could actually move in and out of the realm of the great and abominable church of the devil. Certainly, there have been religious systems that have, in the past, lost their spiritual moorings. Some of these, however, have since been forced back to their ecclesiastical roots and reclaimed their souls. Yet all the forces that make up the beast have a commonality. These organizations were and are grounded on a common ideology, seek specific objectives, and use a similar methodology: anchored in pride, ambition, and the acquisition of wealth and power.

This beast has seven heads and ten horns each crowned with a diadem. At first glance the image is that of the dragon, but there is an important difference. The old serpent had but seven diadems that he wore upon his heads. The beast, on the other hand, has ten crowns each placed upon a horn, suggesting that the entities the crowns represent rest their power on brute force. The beast, however, does not overshadow the dragon in either power or rule. The number of crowns reveals that the beast has less power than the dragon, seven representing a whole and ten representing only a portion. Thus, the beast comes under the authority of the dragon, drawing its power from him. Even so, the likenesses cannot be overlooked.

This beast of prey is thoroughly diabolic: he possesses the power, authority, and very image of the devil and his objective is to devour humans spiritually. A curious aspect of the beast is that one of its heads was mortally wounded yet the beast survived (verse 3). This wound unto death mirrors that of the Lamb in chapter 5. Comparing the beast and the Lamb gives insight into what God meant to convey by use of the image. There are striking parallels between the two: (1) both have swords; (2) both have horns, (3) their followers carry their name on their foreheads; (4) they have authority given over nations, kindreds, tongues, and peoples, and (5) both are universally worshipped. In sum, as the dragon is the antithesis of God, the beast is the converse image Christ. Satan bestows on the beast his throne, power, and great authority. The Savior shares these same privileges with the Father. The beast receives authority over every nation, tongue, tribe, and people (verse 7); the Lamb holds this same domain.

In 17:11, John states that the beast “was and is not and is to come.” This mimics the description of the Savior in 1:4 as He “which is, and which was, and which is to come.” The Lamb is Lord of lords and King of kings, and the beast seeks the same positions. Thus, the beast not only wears the name of blasphemy upon its heads, it embodies the name by counterfeiting the attributes of deity. It is clear that Revelation identifies the beast as the chief opponent and counterfeit savior operating across time against the Lord. Therefore, it is unwise to identify the beast with one individual or one institution. Just as the Lamb’s work spans the ages, so, too, does that of the dragon. Just as the Lord sets up his institutions to carry out his work, so does Satan. Thus, it would appear best to link the beast’s resuscitation to the continual rising of oppressive institutions used by the devil in spite of the fact he knows full well he has already been defeated by the Lord’s resurrection.

The greatest of all Satan’s systems was paganism itself. Though long the bastion of false worship, the gospel message, over time, undercut its roots and caused it to tumble. Unfortunately, as Revelation shows, even though the death blow was delivered and some institutions fell, the beast would yet live for a time. Indeed, various aspects of this monster would fight the Saints of God, those that belonged to the wilderness Church, through the ages. Now in the last days, it is once again gaining power. Its emanations include drug cartels and secret combinations, but its greatest manifestation is the secular state in all its various forms. Here in the last days, its power has become so great that the entire world, except for the righteous, has begun to revere it and, though perhaps blind to the fact, its initiator. The motive for worship is not reverent awe generated by moral greatness, but rather amazement due to its seeming impregnability, fear of its brute force, and self-serving discipleship based on the promise of material reward.

The beast speaks great blasphemies. One target is God and His name, another is His people, and the last is His tabernacle. Why would the beast be concerned with the latter? God’s tabernacling presence upon the earth would overshadow and protect the Saints. The engine of that protection is covenant making and keeping which brings us to the temple. It could be against these—God’s temple or heavenly home on earth and the Saints who are worthy to enter therein—that the beast rails. The beast’s authority and power lasts for a restricted period, namely forty-two months. Once again John uses the symbol denoting the period of temporary victory for Satan, the time when he and his minions prevail and the righteous suffer. That victory, however, is an illusion.

Because the beast had to receive authority and power to blaspheme, it is, in all its ferocity, a dependent being. Though Satan gives the beast his throne, Satan himself is restricted and can move only when allowed. The beast exists only by divine permission and speaks and acts within the bounds set by the Lord. Bounded by God, the beast is destined to assist, against its own desires, God’s grand strategy. Even so, the period of its rule has and will cause great distress among the righteous as it sweeps from John’s time to the latter days. The initial work was done during the mortal ministry of the Seer, the first period of the tribulation of the Saints. In verse 10, John warns: “If anyone is allotted for captivity, then into captivity he goes. If anyone is to be killed by the sword, he is to be killed by the sword.” These two statements focus on the trials and tribulations that the Saints will endure before the Second Coming. Even living righteously, they may suffer persecution and even death, because the Lord’s plan allows Satan temporary power over the earth to test and try the righteous to prepare them for the reward of eternal life.

Excursus on the antichrist

Many scholarly works on Revelation incorrectly use the term antichrist as a synonym for the beast. Admittedly, from the early Christian period on, some Christians felt that an evil individual would arise in the last days who would oppose God. The idea is based on the logical assumption that the antichrist is the exact counterpoint to the Lord Himself. The problem is that Revelation makes no mention of an antichrist. In Revelation, as has been shown, the beast is not a person but rather transhistorical entities that oppress the righteous. The menacing nature of the term, however, has made it catch on.

Today, many believe in the antichrist, the definite article pointing to a definite person, but these people have taken the idea out of context and imposed it on the last days. It is not scriptural. There is another view that fits better with Revelation and which has been promulgated from the earliest times. This is that antichrist (note the absence of the definite article) is an evil power or influence that permeates the last days, inspiring those who succumb to its spell to preach false doctrines and do the work of devils. John warned the Saints that “every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that of antichrist” (1 John 4:3).

Thus, the spirit of antichrist is that which teaches false doctrines about Christ. John goes on to warn, “wherefore ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world” (1 John 4:3). Thus, John reveals that its work had already begun, and in Revelation, he shows it would continue. Still, it never manifests itself as the hypothesized antichrist, the eschatological figure with near superhuman powers that plays such a big part in evangelical expectations. It is best to understand the antichrist, then, as the malevolent evil spirit that permeates the last days and is promulgated by the dragon and his minions.

Revelation 13:11–17. The beast from the land

The first beast does not work alone. John sees a second beast “coming up out of the earth; and he had two horns like a lamb, and he spake as a dragon.” The second monster is unlike the first, and perhaps even more dangerous because of its deceptively harmless appearance. It stands, however, as a deliberate counterfeit of the Lord. The two mirror the land beast (Behemoth) and sea beast (Leviathan) that according to the Jews, Jehovah separated on the fifth day of Creation lest their combined powers overwhelm creation and bring His work into chaos.

In Revelation, the dragon, their master, is able to unite them into an unholy trinity. The lamb is an active agent working miracles, teaching false doctrines as a means of seduction, and giving witness to the powers of the beast. Later in Revelation, this lamb is called the false prophet and continues to use counterfeit prophetic knowledge as a means of deception.8 The two little horns represent feigned benevolent authority coupled with the task of witnessing.

Note John’s words carefully: he says that this beast had horns “like a lamb,” not like the Lamb, the latter having seven horns. Even so, the second beast imitates the Lord, but his appearance exposes him as a fraudulent Christ. The false lamb combines culture with institution and ideology with application. Thus, the symbol includes both false doctrine and they who promote it. As such it influences governments, institutions, and peoples across time and geography. Like the witnesses, the second beast uses miracles, especially control over fire, to validate its authority. In fact, this becomes the primary means by which it is able to deceive the nations into worshipping the first beast. With the coming of this false prophet, a wolf in lamb’s clothing, the evil triumvirate stands complete. Now they can imitate by deception the true Godhead.

As God has His two witnesses, so too the dragon has his two monsters; as the Son draws His power from the Father, so too the first beast draws authority from the dragon; as the Holy Ghost glorifies the Son, so too the evil lamb glorifies the first beast. There is little doubt that John exposes them in symbolic terms as the counterfeit godhead, the false lawgivers whose powers will rule through the last days. Symbolically, the Seer apparently sees Satan, the dragon, bring together the forces of Behemoth and Leviathan to use as his agents. The imagery God chose tacitly reveals that these powers are so great that human will, wisdom, and work will not be able to overcome them. Only with help from Him will they be destroyed.

The land beast never comes fully into view. It remains ever in the background, the deceptive distance catching those who might not otherwise be attracted to the sea beast, and in this way betrays people into the worship of the latter. Its whole function is to seduce humankind into this false worship. And what is the objective of this worship? What reward comes from yielding to the beast? Materialism: the ability to buy, sell, and get gain. Satan, who stands as initiator of this system, first revealed its great secret to Cain who, in turn, revealed it to his followers (Moses 5:29–31). “And he [Satan] did plot with Cain and his followers from that time forth” (Helaman 6:27). Cain learned the secret of turning human life into property. Evil and conspiring men formed the first secret combination. Its offspring then swept across oceans and survived through the centuries, and Satan “doth hand down their plots, and their oaths, and their covenants, and their plans of awful wickedness, from generation to generation according as he can get hold upon the hearts of the children of men” (Helaman 6:30).

The Seer shows that this ideology will stoke the destructive forces of the latter days. Nephi understood the same thing. He notes that in the last days the Gentiles will be “lifted up in the pride of their eyes, . . . and preach up unto themselves their own wisdom and learning that they may get gain and grind upon the face of the poor” (2 Nephi 26:20). He goes further, noting that the devil will be actively pushing his secret combinations “for he is the founder of all these things; yea, the founder of murder, and works of darkness; yea, and he leadeth them by the neck with a flaxen cord, until he bindeth them with his strong cords forever” (2 Nephi 26:22). Mormon understood that these combinations would be “had among all people” (Ether 8:20) and warns the Gentiles, “suffer not that these murderous combinations shall get above you, which are built up to get power and gain” (Ether 8:23) for “whatsoever nation shall uphold such secret combinations, to get power and gain, until they shall spread over the nation, behold, they shall be destroyed” (Ether 8:22).

The false lamb is able to seduce the inhabitants of the earth to create an image in behalf of the beast, one that will promote the beast’s ways. As a result, during this modern era, people “seek not the Lord to establish his righteousness, but every man walketh in his own way and after the image of his own god, whose image is in the likeness of the world and whose substance is that of an idol, which waxeth old and shall perish in Babylon, even Babylon the Great, which shall fall” (Doctrine and Covenants 1:15–16).

But the only reason that the beasts have gained ascendancy is because of the spiritually degenerate state of modern society. This condition has been carefully orchestrated by these three over the ages. As a result, their love has waxed cold, and along with it their ability to feel, to sympathize, and to empathize. Being touched by nothing, they can be reached by nothing, and, therefore, saved by nothing, not even the terrible beating of “the army of horsemen, . . . having breastplates of fire, and of jacinth, and brimstone,” who killed “the third part of men” (Revelation 9:16–18). The real issue is one of worship; the battle is for the hearts of humankind. The objective of the false lamb is to get men to worship the beast.

A false religion drives the people, blinded by selfishness and lust, into the worship of the secular. It is entire sections of the media, the beast’s image, that promote the devil’s agenda and move people to condemn, even persecute, those who will not yield to its seductions. The result is the universal victory of secular humanism in which God is denied and humankind is exalted. Coming out of the lamb’s philosophy and its worldliness are the “miracles” of the age. Such miracles have deceived many into false faith and blinded many into false security. Willingly, the deluded follow the ways of the first beast.

The work of the land beast is deception. He actually never performs any real miracles himself but is the consummate con artist. Unknown to him, however, he is actually assisting God in His cause. The land monster is generating the “out gathering,” the separation of the wicked from the righteous and thus making it easier for God to destroy the former. Thus, we should not be surprised if John tacitly shows God working to assist the lamb “through the signs he was permitted to do [by God].” The Book of Mormon prophets give insight into how God works and help explain what is happening during the reign of Leviathan and Behemoth and why. Alma taught that “they that will harden their hearts, to them is given the lesser portion of the word until they know nothing concerning his mysteries; and then they are taken captive by the devil, and led by his will down to destruction. Now this is what is meant by the chains of hell” (Alma 12:11).

The same scene is being replayed in these last days, but it is the rebellious Gentiles who are the ones who stumble. Because they are stiffnecked and refuse the words of plainness but look beyond the mark (which is the Lamb), God is sending them, as Paul notes, “strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: That they all might be damned who believe not the truth, but [have] pleasure in unrighteousness” (2 Thessalonians 2:11–12). God’s agent will be the false lamb, the devil’s propaganda minister, and the doctrine it spins. John does not see the wicked people’s fall into deception as a natural outgrowth of the work of the beasts. God has a direct hand in it. That idea may troublesome, but Revelation is clear that when a society reaches a point of determined impiety expressing itself in an ever-growing callousness toward others, especially when it suppresses righteousness to sustain wickedness, God becomes a player in its destruction. Thus, He gives additional power to the land beast and the willfully myopic move into spiritual blindness.

Revelation 13:18. The number of the beast

Those who worship the beast receive the right to wear its mark. Verses 15–18 underscore the idea that only through the act of worship can one receive it. Since refusal to wear the mark could result in death, the only way to surely escape such a dire end is to venerate the beast. But such homage does not bring peace or happiness. John states that those who worship the beast “have no rest day nor night” (Revelation 14:11). Though looking to a future state, John well describes the nearly exhausted existence of individuals who have sold themselves to the beast, who then drives them ever deeper into materialism with its covetousness, lust, and unhappiness.

John challenges, in verse 18, “Let him who hath understanding count the number of the beast,” and then gives the number as 666. This has caused no end of speculation. Most scholars see John inviting his readers into a game of coded wordplay called gematria, a system of assigning a numerical value to a word or phrase so that the mark of the beast is the letters of its name written in its numerical equivalent. (Most ancient people did not have a separate numbering system and alphabet, so letters also served as numbers. Generally the first nine letters of the alphabet stood for numbers one through nine, the next nine for numbers ten through ninety, and so on. As a result, any given name could be translated into a number.)

The game falls into two types. The first uses the system to draw out hidden meanings in religious and secular texts; Jewish rabbis were drawn to this system, believing it was a way of discovering God’s secrets hidden in the biblical text. For example, the chief servant of Abraham was Eliezer (Genesis 18:18). The sum of the servant’s name in Hebrew is 318. Since this is also the number of men Abraham took to avenge the kidnapping of Lot and his family (Genesis 14:13–16), some taught that the hidden truth within the text was that it only took Abraham and Eliezer (with God’s help, of course) to retrieve Lot and the goods of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Christians also played the game to show the hidden witness of Christ in the stories of the Old Testament. For example, since Abraham circumcised the 318 men born in his house and the first two letters of the name of Jesus (IH) plus the cross in the shape of the Greek letter tau equal 318 (I = 10, H = 8, and T = 300), this proved that it was meant to point people to Christ (Genesis 17:23). The problem with this system is that it plays on the mystical and lacks a confirmation for the accuracy of these conclusions.

The second type of game is played by taking a name or word and converting it into a riddle by changing it into its numerical equivalent. The challenge with this method is that any number of words or names can have the same numerical value, thus leaving uncertain any suggested solution. Attempts to solve the riddle based on this assumption began in the second half of the second century and have continued into the present; some theories persist, including identifications with Nero, Domitian, and the Catholic Church. Historically, one man known as the arch persecutor of the Christians is Nero. However, the Greek to Hebrew calculation of his name used for this connection is based on a defective spelling. Also, Nero had been dead for nearly a quarter century before John wrote.

Domitian has also been nominated since he was the emperor contemporary with John whose cult impacted the Christians in Asia Minor the most. The problem is that no one coin with his name has all the titles to match these gematria numbers. Therefore, John’s readers, as much as they disliked the man, would have been hard pressed to see the number 666 pointing to him. During the Middle Ages, one popular target for the beast was the Catholic Church; a rumor stated that an inscription on the pope’s miter was 666. This idea, however, is false. Given that none of the proposals allow for any degree of verification and that each has legitimate objections, insisting that the calculation was meant to point to a particular person or institution simply does not work well. Finally, John is not calling for his readers to engage in a mathematical exercise as much as he is asking for moral discernment in order to avoid being entrapped by the beast.

The best solution seems to be to understand this number, as with all other numbers in John’s work, as symbolic. The mark as a number stands for the beast. In such a case, the number six would stand in contrast to the number seven, God’s number. Six comes the closest to perfection but misses the mark and falls short of its potential. The triple repetition of the number intensifies the idea of incompleteness and failure. Thus, it is a fit number to represent the trinity of imperfection: the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet. The idea is strengthened by the use of six in its association with the sixth seal, the sixth trumpet, and the sixth bowl. In each case, the period depicts God’s judgment against the wicked followers of the beast. At that time He brings to an end their pernicious rule during much of earth’s temporal history.

The seventh seal, trumpet, and bowl all point to the consummation of the kingdom of Christ on earth. Further, in Revelation 15:2, we view those who have gained victory “over the beast, and over his image, and over his mark, and over the number of his name.” There is a direct correlation in 13:17, which speaks of “the one having the mark, [which is] the name of the beast.” Joseph Smith’s statement that “when God made use of the figure of a beast in visions to the prophets, He did it to represent those kingdoms which had degenerated and become corrupt— savage and beast like in their dispositions, even the degenerate kingdoms of the wicked world” provides insight into the whole problem.9 The sea monster with its number represents the wicked segment of humanity in beastly form and imperfection. It seems very appropriate, then, that the numerical value of the Greek word for “beast,” transliterated into Hebrew, is 666.

Taking on the mark signifies spiritual devotion to the beast. It designates those who, throughout time, have been bitten by the serpent from the sea and, therefore, carry its venom in their veins. That this may be the case is strengthened by the layout of the text wherein the very next vision John sees is that of the 144,000, who carry the seal of Christ on their foreheads (Revelation 14:1). The arrangement certainly highlights the contrast between the mark and the seal. Therefore, 666 looks to a condition of deep spiritual wickedness in the souls of those who have been bitten by the beast and whose thoughts and deeds are dictated by its deadly venom. It is because of the inability of the inhabitants of the earth to see past the deception of the false lamb that allows this lamb to seduce them into fully worshipping the beast. The end result will be an outflow of blood that only the Lord can staunch and the burning fire of war that only the Second Coming can extinguish.

Revelation 14: The Winepress of the Wrath of God

This chapter acts as a counterpoint to the terrifying developments John described in chapter 13. It further presents a message of hope and encouragement just before the next cycle of destructive visions begin. Here John reveals what will happen to those who torment and persecute the Saints of God. A central, though less obvious, message in this section is the plea for the Saints to follow the Lord even during periods of distress. That message is relevant because this chapter brings the reader into the present age.

Chapter 14 divides into three sections, each starting with the phrase “I looked,” or “I saw” (verses 1, 6, 14). The first scene is that of the Lamb and the Saints in Zion, the second of the three angels who both warn and comfort, and the last of the harvest of the earth.

This chapter echoes the interlude between the sixth and seventh seals where John saw 144,000 Saints sealed against destruction’s power (see chapter 7). In that chapter, the large number represented a select group within the Church. That is not the case in this chapter. Here the symbolic meaning of the number expands to include all the faithful and show their earthly condition at the time judgment commences in earnest.

Revelation 14:1–5. The virgins

With its description of Satan’s beasts at work against God’s people in chapters 12 and 13, the vision has prepared the reader for the onset of a great battle, but, as usual, Revelation takes a break from the narrative to make a point before moving into brief but graphic horror. A figure stands on Mount Zion. It is not a terrible warrior-king garbed in battle array, but instead, a lamb, the symbol of meekness and peace. Unexpectedly, harmony and joy reign over all those in John’s view.

These people do not know worry or distress. They are unconcerned about the dragon and his minions. The heavens explode into the rhapsody of 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, those who have won the battle—are able to sing it. Doctrine and Covenants 84 provides the setting for and content of such a song, where we understand its triumphant nature. The plagues of judgment have cleansed the earth. Only the redeemed remain. God and His Saints have won the day and Zion stands supreme.

The focus is on the 144,000 servants of God, the figure most likely symbolizing the redeemed over the millennia but more specifically those who are the latter-day elect of God, those men and women who “hear my voice and harden not their hearts” (Doctrine and Covenants 29:7). They are also the firstfruits, the guileless and the faultless. The term virgin as used by John to describes them emphasizes not just their moral quality but their spiritual quality as well. For this reason there should be neither concern for the epithet virgins pertaining to males nor the belief that John is espousing celibacy. The scriptures use the image of the virgin to represent the Church and frequently portray her as the bride of the Lord.

In reality, the term reflects the state of individual members of the Lord’s earthly kingdom who have kept themselves from defilement by the world. Thus, John states they “follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth” (verse 4). The image of “virgin” as applied to males was probably related to Israelite military practices. Soldiers were required to maintain ritual purity, including sexual abstinence, before going into battle. This state of ceremonial cleanliness for those engaged in war seems to be an excellent symbol for the moral purity which the Saints must maintain during the spiritual war against the beasts. The Seer’s context suggests that the men and women represented by the 144,000 are the true Saints of God and members of the Church of the Firstborn. The whole picture captures the fidelity to Jehovah that the true Saints of God have.

Revelation 14:6–11. The message of the three angels

Having first assured the readers of the safety that the Saints will enjoy, the vision dramatically switches scenes. John sees an angel in the midst of heaven “having an everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth” (verse 6). Modern revelation helps us more fully understand this verse. To the world, the Lord has declared:

I have sent forth mine angel flying through the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel, who hath appeared unto some and hath committed it unto man, who shall appear unto many that dwell on the earth. And this gospel shall be preached unto every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people. And the servants of God shall go forth, saying with a loud voice: Fear God and give glory to him, for the hour of his judgment is come; And worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters. (Doctrine and Covenants 133:36–39).

In this revelation, the “angel flying through the midst of heaven” symbolizes Moroni. The Lord gave him the mission “to reveal the Book of Mormon, containing the fullness of my everlasting gospel. But the revelation above broadens the interpretation to include not only Moroni but also all Church members serving in their callings as missionaries who are taking the teachings of that book and a warning message to all the nations of the earth. Of these people and this period, the Lord has said,

And through their administration, the word may go forth unto the ends of the earth, unto the Gentiles first, and then, behold, and lo, they shall turn unto the Jews. And then cometh the day when the arm of the Lord shall be revealed in power in convincing the nations, the heathen nations, the house of Joseph, of the gospel of their salvation. For it shall come to pass in that day, that every man shall hear the fulness of the gospel in his own tongue, and in his own language, through those who are ordained unto this power, by the administration of the Comforter, shed forth upon them for the revelation of Jesus Christ. (Doctrine and Covenants 90:9–11)

We are living in the day when more missionaries are preaching the Savior’s word to greater and greater portions of the earth and in more and more tongues. There is along with the message of comfort, a message of warning: “The hour of his judgment is come” (Revelation 14:7). The Greek word John uses, translated “judgment,” was originally a legal term often meaning “condemnation,” including the punishment associated with it. But there was also a medical application that applies here. In that context, the term denoted the point at which it became certain whether or not a patient would recover.

Thus, the cry of the angel tells the world it is nearing death. The moment of crisis has truly arrived. The rejection of the gospel will immediately bring condemnation, even spiritual death, upon all the unrepentant. The message is clear—repent or be destroyed. Accordingly, the voice of the first angel is followed by that of the second proclaiming, “Babylon is fallen, is fallen” (verse 8). The advent of the gospel sounds the death knell of the first beast, the representation of the kingdom of Satan.

The Savior told His Apostles, “This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness to the nations; and then shall the end come, or the destruction of the wicked” (Joseph Smith—Matthew 1:31). Commenting on this verse, Joseph Smith explained, “All the testimony is, that the Lord in the last days would commit the keys of the priesthood to a witness over all people. Has the gospel of the kingdom commenced in the last days? and will God take it from the man until he takes him himself? I have read it [the promise that the gospel would be taken to all the world] precisely as the words flowed from the lips of Jesus Christ.”10

The Prophet then elaborated, stating that “John saw the angel having the holy priesthood who should preach the everlasting gospel to all nations [Revelation 14:6]. God had an angel, a special messenger, ordained and prepared for that purpose in the last days. Woe! Woe! be to that man or set of men, who lift up their hands against God and his witness in these last days. For they shall deceive almost the very chosen ones.” Finally, Joseph Smith assured the Saints, “Every man who has a calling to minister to the inhabitants of the world, was ordained to that very purpose in the grand council of Heaven before this world was. I suppose that I was ordained to this very office in that grand council.”11

Note especially that the first angel invites all to worship God, the Creator of heaven, earth, and sea. His words teach us that our Lord is not the destroyer of the world; wicked people are. God merely allows mortals their agency to vent their hatred, which results in lawlessness and, finally, chaos. The book of Revelation shows the consequences: the four horsemen, the burning mountain, the star Wormwood, the angel Apollyon with its locust hordes, and, finally, the work of the beasts. These are the destroyers of the earth.12 Judgment against these grows out of the clear pronouncement of the gospel and their rejection of it. The judgment removes these destroyers so that the God of life may reign.

For this reason, the second angel proclaiming the fall of Babylon follows the first. The reason Babylon must fall is clearly given: “because she made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication” (verse 8). Revelation shows, tragically, that the nations freely and eagerly go after Babylon’s wine. As a result, they are fully culpable. She personally supplies the nations with the drug of their destruction and will not quit. The idea is reflected in Jeremiah 51:7–8: “Babylon hath been a golden cup in the Lord’s hand, and made all the earth drunken: the nations have drunken of her wine; therefore the nations are mad. Babylon is suddenly fallen.” Those who partake of the wine walk “in the vanity of their mind, having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart: who being past feeling have given themselves over unto lasciviousness” (Ephesians 4:17–19).

Paul’s words nicely summarize why the inhabitants of the earth will not heed the angels’ warning: their understanding is darkened, their hearts are blind, and they are past feeling. It must be emphasized that the nations are not victims here. They chose to be deceived. The truth, a sharp but refreshing antidote to Babylon’s sweet wine, was available and they refused it. It is in this light that the prophetic warning of the third angel takes on meaning. Anyone who partakes of Babylon’s favors by worshipping “the beast and his image, and [who receives] his mark in his forehead, or in his hand” comes fully under the condemnation of God. Those who drink the wine of whoredom must yet drink from another cup. This too will be a cup of unbridled passion, but this time they are of anger—a just God’s anger meted out in its full strength, entirely undiluted by either mercy or grace.

The Seer paints a graphic picture of the hellfire suffered by those who worship the beast and carry his mark; day and night they writhe in agony (verses 10–11). By this symbolic means, John conveys the state of the burning conscience where the soul is racked “with eternal torment,” “tormented with the pains of hell,” where the “very thought of coming into the presence of . . . God” wracks the “soul with inexpressible horror” (Alma 36:12–16). The “torment” the wicked feel begins at the exact moment when godly power sobers them from their deep and self-induced drunkenness. Their memory of past deeds will have all rationalizations and justifications stripped away.

At the same time, they will realize their hopeless spiritual plight, that they cannot escape the justice of God. As a result, they will be “brought before the tribunal of God with [their] souls filled with guilt and remorse, having a remembrance of all their sins, yea, a perfect remembrance of all [their] wickedness” (Alma 5:18). In that condition, they “must stand before the throne of God, and be judged according to their works, from whence they must go into the place prepared for them, even a lake of fire and brimstone, which is endless torment” (2 Nephi 28:23).

Revelation 14:12–13. A message and promise to the Saints

Verses 12 and 13 contain the heart of this chapter. It is an interlude within the interlude, and allows John to petition the Saints to “endure” and “keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus.” This applies to Saints living in any era but more especially those living during the time when the beasts will make a living hell on earth—the period before divine judgment frees the Saints from the tyranny of Babylon, and Zion protects them from the wrath in store for their persecutors. For those who continue faithful, their state will be blessed, for they will “rest from their labours; and their works do follow them” (verse 13). Note the shift in tense, which accurately follows the Greek original. The future state of the Saints will be glorious because their good deeds follow them. Therefore, as Paul testified, the Saints must be “steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 15:58).

Revelation 14:14–20. The harvest of the world

Thus far, John’s vision has announced coming judgments. Verses 14–20 now show the actual judgments, identify those who will carry them out, and reveal the results. The first part of the vision echoes the one found in Daniel 7:12–14 and looks to the fulfillment of Lord’s prophecy recorded in Matthew 24:30. These scriptures speak of the “sign of the Son of Man” as the immediate precursor to the Lord coming in glory. His coming harbingers a judgment that vindicates some and damns others.

As the last vision in the interlude opens, John beholds a white cloud upon which is seated “one like unto the Son of man.” The imagery reflects that in Daniel 7:13–14 and appears to be a reference to the resurrected Lord coming in the fullness of his power. On his head sits the golden wreath of victory and in his hand the sickle of judgment readied for the harvest. 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. Two angels signal when the two harvests are to take place. Both come out of the sanctuary and thus from the presence of God. Following the model of all the other angels seen in Revelation, these do not speak by their own authority, but act as God’s messengers and relay His will.

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 has 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.” (Doctrine and Covenants 33:2–3) It is in this light that the Lord admonishes: “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” (Doctrine and Covenants 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 their efforts with the comfort and peace of Zion. Through the efforts of the laborers, the world will hear the gospel.

But as the world openly rejects goodness and turns against God’s people, then another sickle will begin to do its terrible work. This scripture speaks to the period of the second sickle, the period when the gospel is spreading to all the world but is being largely ignored. That period is now. The grapes are nearly all ripe and only a little time remains before the last angel will begin his dreadful harvest of the earth-vineyard. Though there are areas into which the gospel must yet go, there are whole areas where people have had access to the warning voice for decades. Here the attempts to redeem a significant portion of the population have largely failed, showing the grapes to be nearly ripe for judgment and destruction.

The harvest of ruin will be carried out not by the Lord but by a destroying angel. His target is not the fields but the vineyards. 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 wine press of the wrath of God” (verse 19). His authority comes from the angel of the altar, probably the one already met in 8:3–5, who cast fire upon the earth. The association of the angel of the altar with the temple suggests that he is God’s agent, the one given full authority to directs the destroying angels to fulfill their awesome task. Since the altar is connected with the prayers of the Saints, that the angel first came from the altar may suggest that the prayers of the faithful play a significant role in bringing about the harvesting of the wicked.

These verses in Revelation parallel the time predicted by the Lord the wheat would be separated from the tares or from the chaff.13 In each case, what follows is unmitigated judgment. According to the Joseph Smith Translation account of Matthew 13, “the harvest is the end of the world, or the destruction of the wicked. The reapers are the angel, or the messenger sent from heaven. As, therefore, the tares are gathered and burned in the fire, so shall it be in the end of the world, or the destruction of the wicked. For in that day, before the Son of Man shall come, he shall send forth his angels and messengers of heaven. And they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity, and shall cast them out among the wicked; and there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth. For the world shall be burned with fire” (Joseph Smith Translation, Matthew 13:39–44). The Lord’s statement here is important because it shows the Lord fully intends to clear His own house as part of the general cleaning of the world.

This part of the vision depicts not the final judgment that belongs to God alone but the time of the return of the victorious Son who has overcome all things and has taken his place as Lord of the earth (20:11–15). Thus, He wears the golden wreath of victory on His head. Upon His return, He will tread “the wine press of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God” (19:15). John probably has Jerusalem in mind following the imagery of Joel 3:12–14 (which also uses the dual symbols of vintage and harvest). Joel shows that the judgment upon the nations takes place in the valley of Jehoshaphat, a name meaning “Jehovah is judge” (see Joel 3:2, 12). According to tradition, this is synonymous with the Kidron valley between Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives, which is but a short distance from the place where the Son of Man suffered so that all who would come to Him would not need to suffer. Those who refuse this vicarious suffering will feel the full effect of the second.

In graphic terms John symbolizes the slaughter: blood flowing for 1,600 stadia (about 184 miles). Geographically, this is about the maximum length of Palestine. Symbolically, the number is the square of four, denoting geographical completeness, multiplied by the square of ten, the number denoting all of a part. Taken together, the number suggests that God’s judgment actually involves all the world, not just those who are around Israel, and that all those who belong to that portion outside the protecting power of God (by being in his Zion) will be directly affected.

This section follows John’s usual pattern of first showing the protected state of the righteous and last, the indefensible position of the wicked. In this chapter, he symbolically shows that the gospel will be preached to the entire world before the end comes; furthermore, he indicates that this preaching dooms Babylon. That time is at hand. Now is the time when the Church is moving “out of the wilderness of darkness” to “shine forth fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners” (Doctrine and Covenants 109:73). The onslaught of this mighty kingdom of righteousness is invincible. Even so, for a time, conditions will be rough and opposition heavy.

Refuting the belief of some of his contemporaries that Revelation with its judgments should be viewed figuratively and, therefore, not taken seriously, Joseph Smith stressed that the revelations God had given to him verified the same kind of future as depicted by John.

Before that happens, the Son of Man will gather the righteous out from among the wicked. As He does so, the force of the second sickle will strengthen, and the angel of destruction will cast those ripe in iniquity into the “great winepress of the wrath of God” (Revelation 14:19). As is true throughout Revelation, John gives hope to the faithful. As God’s judgments move against an unrepentant world, the Lord secures the safety of His people. The Old Testament looks to old Jerusalem as the seat of the last battle and the place of protection.

In Revelation 20:8–9, 21:27, and 22:15, however, the unbelievers are judged outside of God’s eternal city, likely the New Jerusalem. The Lord promised Enoch that the latter-day place of safety “shall be called Zion, a New Jerusalem” and that “thou and all thy city shall meet them there . . . and there shall be mine abode and it shall be Zion, which shall come forth out of all the creations which I have made; and for the space of a thousand years the earth shall rest” (Moses 7:63–64). Thus, Revelation 14:1 easily points to this city with her stakes, where God will protect all those who will fear Him and come out of the world.

Scripture Reference

Revelation 6:1