“As Flaming Fire and a Ministering Angel,” Ensign, Oct. 1999, 54–60
The Apostle John produced the second greatest amount of New Testament scripture (after the Apostle Paul), and his writings in the Bible provide significant knowledge and inspiration. But for Latter-day Saints there is more, for the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants provide additional understanding about John the Beloved, including (1) a confirmation of the authenticity of John’s work and writings, (2) John’s status and mission as a translated being, (3) John’s role in the Restoration, (4) numerous doctrinal clarifications pertaining to John’s New Testament writings, and (5) his future contributions, including both writings and ministry.
It is significant that latter-day scriptures confirm the truth and value of the Apostle John’s New Testament writings because there are a number of Bible scholars outside the Church who doubt and devalue much of what he wrote, especially the Gospel of John and the book of Revelation. For example, the Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible says of the Gospel of John: “There has been much controversy about its authorship, place of origin, theological affiliations and background, and historical value. Already in the late second century certain conservative and otherwise orthodox Christians … denied its apostolic authorship.”1 Another commentary says of the book of Revelation, “Although chs. 1–3 are plainly Christian, … chs. 4–22 show little evidence of being a truly Christian work.”2 But the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants both confirm that John did indeed write the New Testament books attributed to him.3
In the Book of Mormon there are four general themes pertaining to John the Beloved: the apocalyptic revelation John would see, the scriptures he would write, what would happen to John after the Resurrection of Christ, and how we can qualify to receive more of John’s writings, which the Lord has thus far withheld.
1 Nephi 14 [1 Ne. 14]. In Nephi’s vision of the tree of life, the angel of the Lord said that the Apostle John was to write “the remainder of these things” (1 Ne. 14:21), meaning the remainder of Nephi’s vision. Nephi recorded approximately 40 “things” from his vision, beginning with the tree of life, Jerusalem, Nazareth, and the virgin Mary, and ending with wars and rumors of wars among all nations, the destruction of the great and abominable church, and the commencement of the fulfilling of the Father’s covenants with the house of Israel.
So what might constitute the “remainder” of the things the angel said the Apostle John would write? Nephi tells us in 1 Nephi 14:28 [1 Ne. 14:28] that he himself wrote “but a small part” of the things he saw, and the angel told Nephi that in addition to the remainder of Nephi’s vision, John would write “many things which have been” and things “concerning the end of the world” (1 Ne. 14:21–22). Although the book of Revelation certainly contains things which “have been” and things “concerning the end of the world,” we probably cannot expect the Bible to contain everything that John would write.
There is another reason the book of Revelation probably does not contain all of the things John would write. Nephi said John’s writings would be “sealed up to come forth in their purity, according to the truth which is in the Lamb, in the own due time of the Lord” (1 Ne. 14:26; emphasis added).
The angel also told Nephi, “The things which this apostle of the Lamb shall write are many things which thou hast seen” (1 Ne. 14:24). Therefore, we might expect some duplication in the writings we have from these two prophets. For example, the following 12 themes appear both in Nephi’s vision and in the book of Revelation: the tree of life, the rod of iron, the fountain of living waters, the persecution of the Apostles and the New Testament Church, the establishment of the great and abominable church, the corruption of nations, the latter-day restoration of the gospel, the worldwide dominion of the great and abominable church, the gathering of the wicked to fight against the Saints of God, wars and rumors of wars among all nations, the destruction of the great and abominable church, and the fulfilling of the Father’s covenants with the house of Israel. And there are other things in Nephi’s vision that John eyewitnessed and wrote about in his Gospel, including the ministry of John the Baptist, the life and mission of Jesus Christ, and the work of the Apostles. However, several major themes of the book of Revelation are not found in Nephi’s writings and therefore constitute at least a portion of the “remainder” of Nephi’s vision. These writings which were promised by the angel include John’s magnificent passages in Revelation regarding the premortal life, the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, the Millennium, and the celestial kingdom.
3 Nephi 28 [3 Ne. 28]. The book of 3 Nephi tells us what happened to John the Beloved after the deaths of the rest of the Apostles, clarifying the potentially confusing passages in John 21. After the Savior spoke of Peter’s death, Peter asked what would happen to John. Jesus responded, “If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?” (John 21:22). The following verse states, “Then went this saying abroad among the brethren, that that disciple should not die: yet Jesus said not unto him, He shall not die; but, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?” (John 21:23).
This text has provoked centuries of speculation. For example, The New Bible Commentary says Jesus’ statement was incorrectly interpreted to mean that John would never die, which “misunderstanding” the writer of the Gospel sought to correct.4 We can be patient with this sort of speculation, for such conclusions were reached without the benefit of modern revelation. Apparently the Prophet Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were uncertain about John’s fate. The answer is recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 7 [D&C 7].5 In April 1829 the Prophet and Oliver inquired through the Urim and Thummim about John’s mission. Then they learned more when translating 3 Nephi 28 [3 Ne. 28] a short time later.6
The Savior’s statement in 3 Nephi 28 [3 Ne. 28] ends all controversy. In response to the unspoken request of three of the Nephite disciples for the privilege of remaining on earth to minister until the Second Coming, Jesus said, “Ye have desired the thing which John, my beloved, who was with me in my ministry, before that I was lifted up by the Jews, desired of me” (3 Ne. 28:6). From what follows in 3 Nephi 28:7–10 [3 Ne. 28:7–10], we learn that John and the Three Nephites are (1) more “blessed” because of their desire, (2) “never to taste of death,” (3) to “live to behold all the doings of the Father” until the Second Coming, (4) to be changed at the Second Coming in the “twinkling of an eye from mortality to immortality,” (5) to have no pain or sorrow except for “the sins of the world,” (6) to help bring souls unto Christ, and (7) to “have fulness of joy” and sit down in the Father’s kingdom.
Ether 4. The next Book of Mormon reference to John is brief but full of promise. Moroni recorded the Lord’s teachings about people’s acceptance or rejection of the Book of Mormon. The Savior invites us all to come unto Him and to see “how great things the Father hath laid up for [us], from the foundation of the world” (Ether 4:14). We learn that we have not yet received these things because of unbelief, wickedness, hardness of heart, and blindness of mind, but that when we rend the veil of unbelief and call upon the Father with broken hearts and contrite spirits, we shall “know that the Father hath remembered the covenant which he made unto [our] fathers” (Ether 4:15). Jesus then followed with this great promise: “Then shall my revelations which I have caused to be written by my servant John be unfolded in the eyes of all the people” (Ether 4:16).
This is similar to the promise spoken by the angel to Nephi over 1,000 years earlier (see 1 Ne. 14:26). As great as our appreciation is of John’s biblical writings, the Book of Mormon gives an open invitation from the Lord to qualify ourselves to receive John’s other writings that have been sealed up.
Just as the Book of Mormon expands our understanding of John, the Doctrine and Covenants enlarges our view of his ministry and our comprehension of his writings. From various sections that draw upon the work and writings of John, we gain valuable insights regarding angelic ministrations, the keys and ordinances of the priesthood, the life and mission of the Savior, the role of the Comforter, and the events of the last days, the Second Coming, the Millennium, the Resurrection, and the Judgment.
D&C 7. The Prophet Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery learned through the Urim and Thummim that John the Beloved had made a record on parchment and hidden it. Although we do not know if Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery ever possessed or otherwise saw the parchment, we do know that section 7 is a translation of part or all of it. From the translation we learn at least five things:
After Jesus was resurrected, He asked John what he desired.
John requested and was granted power over death, so that he could tarry on earth until Christ’s Second Coming.
By being translated, John would be able to bring souls unto Christ; to prophesy before nations, kindreds, tongues, and people; to do an even greater work than he had previously done; and to minister for those who dwell on the earth. In these things John was to become “as flaming fire and a ministering angel” (D&C 7:6).
Jesus’ statement to His Apostles in Matthew 16:28 [Matt. 16:28] seems to foreshadow John’s postmeridian ministry: “Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom.” The Luke version of this statement has a helpful addition in the Joseph Smith Translation: “There are some standing here who shall not taste of death, until they see the kingdom of God coming in power” (JST, Luke 9:27, The Holy Scriptures: Inspired Version),7 an obvious reference to the Second Coming, which John would live in the flesh to see. Revelation 10:8–11 [Rev. 10:8–11] also speaks of John’s future ministry, as stated in the chapter heading, declaring that John was “commissioned to participate in the restoration of all things.”
One example of John’s participation was related by Elder Heber C. Kimball (1801–68), who said that after certain ordinances of anointing had been performed in the Kirtland Temple, those in attendance “responded to it with a loud shout of Hosanna! Hosanna! etc. While these things were being attended to, the beloved disciple John was seen in our midst by the Prophet Joseph, Oliver Cowdery and others.”8
4. Jesus had also asked Peter what he desired, and Peter asked to speedily come into the Lord’s kingdom after his death. This request was granted.
5. Peter, James, and John received the keys of the kingdom and the dispensation of the fulness of times. In Doctrine and Covenants 128:20 [D&C 128:20], the Prophet Joseph Smith testified of the appearance of Peter, James, and John to restore the Melchizedek Priesthood. This cross-dispensational role of the ancient First Presidency is confirmed by the Lord’s statement in Doctrine and Covenants 27:13 [D&C 27:13], verifying that the Lord had committed to Peter, James, and John “the keys of [his] kingdom, and a dispensation of the gospel for the last times; and for the fulness of times.”
D&C 20:35. After reciting an impressive list of doctrines pertaining to the gospel and the latter days, this revelation says, “And we know that these things are true and according to the revelations of John, neither adding to, nor diminishing from the prophecy of his book.” This is a reference to the warning at the end of Revelation regarding the curses that will come upon those who “add unto” or “take away from” the words of the book (see Rev. 22:18–19). Some have quoted these verses in an attempt to disprove the divinity of modern scripture. But we know John was speaking only of the book of Revelation itself, and it may be that the Lord was preliminarily brushing aside this misguided argument against modern revelation by announcing His intention to continue giving “revelations of God which shall come hereafter by the gift and power of the Holy Ghost, the voice of God, or the ministering of angels” (D&C 20:35).
D&C 27:12–13; D&C 128:20. Section 27 confirms the role of Peter, James, and John in restoring the Melchizedek Priesthood to the earth. Additionally, it names these three as participants in the future ordinance of the sacrament that will involve the Savior and prophets of all dispensations, another evidence of John’s future ministry (see D&C 27:5–14). In section 128 the Prophet Joseph Smith testifies of the appearance of Peter, James, and John, an apparent reference to the 1829 restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood.
D&C 61:14. Section 61 is another example of modern revelation confirming what John wrote. The Lord declared that in the last days He has “cursed the waters” by the mouth of John. Several passages in the book of Revelation tell us how and why the waters are cursed in our day. For example, speaking of the destruction preceding the Second Coming, John wrote concerning a great mountain burning with fire, which will be cast into the sea. As a result, a “third part of the sea [will become] blood,” and “the third part of the creatures … in the sea” will die, and “the third part of the ships” will be destroyed (Rev. 8:8–9).
Next, John saw a great burning star fall upon the third part of the rivers and fountains of waters. The waters will therefore be “made bitter,” which will cause the deaths of many men (see Rev. 8:10–11).
Later, John describes the sea becoming “as the blood of a dead man” (dark and clotted), this time causing the death of every living thing in the sea. The angel tells John that this curse will come because men have shed the blood of Saints and prophets (see Rev. 16:3–6).
In John’s vision of the two prophets who will minister and be slain in Jerusalem in the last days, he saw that they would have power to shut heaven so that it would not rain. In addition, John said the two prophets will have power to turn waters to blood and to smite the earth with plagues (see Rev. 11:6).
Finally, John saw a connection between the waters and the great and abominable church, saying: “I will shew unto thee the judgment of the great whore that sitteth upon many waters: … The waters which thou [seest], where the whore sitteth, are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues” (Rev. 17:1, 15). In this passage, the waters appear to be figurative, rather than literal, but the resulting spiritual plague upon the world is equally real.
D&C 76. While working on the revision of the Bible, the Prophet Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon came upon John 5:28–29, regarding the Resurrection. Their meditations on John’s teachings caused them to receive the remarkable vision that is recorded in section 76 (see D&C 76:15–19). The glorious doctrines in section 76 are among the most helpful amplifications of John’s writings anywhere.
D&C 77. Another of the helpful resources the Lord has given us for understanding John’s writings in Revelation is section 77. The 15 questions and answers in this section offer wonderful insights and can be considered a key to the book of Revelation. Some of the great truths we learn from section 77 include: animals will be saved in God’s kingdom; this earth will have a temporal existence of 7,000 years; the 144,000 men John saw are high priests who will minister salvation to all nations in the last days; the Second Coming will not occur until after the beginning of the seventh 1,000-year period and the completion of the events in Revelation 9 [Rev. 9]; the Apostle John will participate as an “Elias” in the gathering of the tribes of Israel;9 and before the Second Coming the Jews will gather in Jerusalem, rebuild the city, and be blessed by the ministry of two prophets.
D&C 88:3–5; D&C 130:3. In section 88 the Lord teaches us about the other Comforter that He promised His disciples: “I now send you another Comforter, … that it may abide in your hearts, even the Holy Spirit of Promise. … This Comforter is the promise which I give unto you of eternal life, even the glory of the celestial kingdom” (D&C 88:3–4). The Holy Spirit of Promise is the Holy Ghost’s “stamp of approval” upon our obedience and our ordinances. This witness may be accompanied by a personal visit by the Lord Jesus Christ.10
The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that the first Comforter is the gift of the Holy Ghost, and to a recipient of this gift who will “continue to humble himself before God, hungering and thirsting after righteousness, and living by every word of God, … the Lord will soon say … , Son, thou shalt be exalted.” The Prophet continued: “Then it will be his privilege to receive the other Comforter, which the Lord hath promised the Saints, as is recorded in the testimony of St. John, in the 14th chapter, from the 12th to the 27th verses. … It is no more nor less than the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.”11
In connection with these teachings is one of the “items of instruction” that the Prophet Joseph Smith gave in section 130. He referred to John 14:23, wherein John recorded one of the Savior’s statements at the Last Supper: “If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.” The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that the Lord was referring to a personal appearance, stating that the idea of the Father and the Son dwelling in a man’s heart is “an old sectarian notion, and is false” (D&C 130:3).
D&C 88:138–41. John the Beloved recorded the Lord’s actions and teachings regarding the washing of His disciples’ feet at the Last Supper (see John 13:4–15). At the end of section 88 we learn that on the occasion of the Last Supper the Savior was performing a priesthood ordinance which is to be administered by the presiding elder or President of the Church (or under his direction). Prophets have spoken and written on this topic,12 from which we learn that the washing of feet belongs to the higher ordinances of the priesthood and the temple. The Prophet Joseph Smith was particularly anxious to extend the administration of this ordinance to the Twelve and to others, which called for the building of the temple.13
D&C 93:6–18, 26. Section 93 contributes significantly to our understanding of the writings of John. When the Lord said in verse 6, “And John saw and bore record of the fulness of my glory, and the fulness of John’s record is hereafter to be revealed,” He left open the question of whether He spoke of John the Baptist or John the Beloved. The index of the LDS triple combination contains entries for John the Baptist and John the Beloved, both of which send the reader to section 93, which is probably best, for perhaps the most satisfying conclusion is that both Johns are involved. In other words, it is likely that the John who “saw and bore record” is John the Baptist. John the Beloved probably either copied from John the Baptist’s own written record or originally recorded it in his Gospel.14 The record which the Lord says “is hereafter to be revealed” may be that of either or both of these faithful servants. This pattern is similar to the first chapter of the Gospel of John, wherein the writer, John the Beloved, is quoting the speaker, John the Baptist, and both are testifying of Christ.
Among the great truths we learn from and have confirmed in section 93 are the following: Christ was in the beginning before the world was; the worlds and all things were made by Christ; He is the life and light of men; the Savior did not receive of a fulness of knowledge, power, and glory at the first, but progressively received grace for grace; Jesus eventually received all power, both in heaven and on earth; and if we are faithful we shall receive the fulness of the record of John.
D&C 128:6–7. In the epistle to Church members that became section 128, the Prophet Joseph Smith taught that when John the Revelator saw in vision the dead standing before God, John was contemplating the work of the salvation of the dead. Joseph Smith taught that Latter-day Saints are to take an active part in the work John was contemplating, which we do through family history and temple work. The “books” that John saw, from which the dead are to be judged, include the scriptures, the records of the Church, and “the record kept in heaven of the names and righteous deeds of the faithful.”15
D&C 135:7. Apostle John Taylor wrote the report of the martyrdom of the Prophet Joseph and Hyrum Smith, which became Doctrine and Covenants 135 [D&C 135]. In his conclusion, Elder Taylor wrote that the “innocent blood” of Joseph and Hyrum would join with the innocent blood of the early Christian martyrs to cry unto the Lord for vengeance, as seen by John the Beloved in Revelation 6:9 [Rev. 6:9], wherein John declares, “I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held” (see also Rev. 6:10–11).
Because of latter-day scripture, we know that John the Beloved did indeed compose the biblical writings credited to him and that they are true scripture. We have also received invaluable amplification of many of John’s New Testament writings. We know that we can one day receive more of his writings. And we know that John has been privileged to continue his sacred ministry as a translated being, including key roles in the Restoration and the ongoing work of the dispensation of the fulness of times. His work touched the meridian-day Saints just as they inspire latter-day Saints. He has taught and testified to the Jews and to the lost tribes,16 to Gentiles and to modern Israel. His desire was to bring souls unto Christ, and the Lord’s promise that he would become “as flaming fire and a ministering angel” (D&C 7:6) has been and continues to be fulfilled.