“Messages of the Book of Revelation for Latter-day Saints,” Ensign, December 2019
It is no exaggeration to describe the book of Revelation as a story of horrors and destructions. The book’s imagery neither soft-pedals nor downplays the trouble the world is now moving into. Indeed, the work holds nothing back. One after another, in breathtaking sequence, the images flow with graphic, vast, and terrifying effect. Earthquakes rattle the very foundations of the world; the sun becomes darkened and the moon hangs blood red; stars fall to the earth, destroying vast amounts of life on land and in the sea; and armies of millions, “having breastplates of fire, and of jacinth, and brimstone,” march relentlessly, killing “the third part of men” (Revelation 9:17–18).
And yet, through the whole dark and fearful tapestry that the Apostle John weaves, there is a gleaming golden strand. It seems that the Lord inspired John to add this beautiful filament to provide hope, comfort, and direction for the Saints living in the last days. Indeed, though one of the book’s significant messages is a strong warning to the wicked, it also includes a divine promise to the righteous.
To better understand the book of Revelation, it’s important to note that it was written in a unique style of scriptural literature called apocalyptic. Apocalyptic scripture is related to prophetic writing in that both types of literature predict the future. But there are some key differences. Prophecy concentrates on future developments that do not necessarily disrupt the overall flow of history. For example, Nephi prophesied that Christ would show Himself to the Nephites following His Resurrection (see 2 Nephi 26:1). This prophesied event, while monumentally significant, did not forever alter the state of the world as we know it.
Apocalyptic literature, on the other hand, primarily concentrates on the end of times and explores the arresting moment when God discontinues telestial history and initiates a new terrestrial and paradisiacal one. An important lesson that this type of literature teaches is that humankind will not be able to bring about a peaceful future by prevailing over wickedness themselves. Universal peace, unity, and righteousness must come from outside the normal flow of events. They can come only as God disrupts history and brings about a new beginning.
To convey its message, apocalyptic literature uses both vivid images and highly symbolic language to describe events. The images are often incongruous, perplexing, and, in some instances, composed of impossible combinations. These often leave the reader baffled about their meaning and, therefore, uncertain about the book’s message and worth. For those who desire to understand, it is important to remember that the images are not intended to be drawn or even imagined literally; they are, rather, to be interpreted.
While the images do need to be interpreted, the reality of the events is not up for interpretation—they will happen. There will be unusually strong storms and earthquakes, ever-spreading wars and rumors of wars, and growing persecution of the righteous both within and without the Church. During this period, Satan’s kingdom, designated as “Babylon,” will spread seemingly without resistance. The book of Revelation is clear that, for a time, the Latter-day Saints will have to face these conditions with courage and faith. Indeed, the Lord warns that during this period some of the righteous will go into captivity and some will die (see Revelation 13:10). John’s admonition is for the Saints not to lose hope but to trust that God knows what He is doing (see Revelation 14:12).
Latter-day Saints are fortunate that the Restoration has provided many keys to interpret this book. For a review of some of these, see “Understanding the Book of Revelation,” by Elder Bruce R. McConkie (1915–85) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles,1 and “Seeing the Book of Revelation as a Book of Revelation,” by Gerald N. Lund.2
One of the most important scriptural helps is Doctrine and Covenants 77. This section deals specifically with some of the more important images in the first 11 chapters of Revelation. The section helps us understand that the images are “subjective, figurative, and symbolic rather than strictly objective, literal, and historical.”3
The Saints are not the main focus of John’s work, but they do appear along the way. Though the former-day Saints come into view as early as chapter 2, it is not until chapter 7 that the Latter-day Saints become the main focus.
Chapter 7 breaks into two discrete units, a “before” scene comprising verses 1–8 and an “after” scene comprising verses 9–17. The first scene deals with our present and shows that as national and international conditions worsen, God will act through angelic administration to protect his Saints by sealing them away from destruction (see Doctrine and Covenants 77:9; compare 1 Nephi 14:12–14). The latter portion looks at the future and shows that millions, through faith and steadfastness, will get through the latter-day tribulations.
The Saints are seen again in chapter 11. In this chapter, an angel instructs the Apostle John to “measure the temple of God, and the altar, and them that worship therein,” along with the inner court, in preparation for an onslaught against the holy city (see verses 1–2). Two latter-day prophets will assist the Jews in fending off their enemies for a time, but eventually part of the city will fall. The period of their ministry is described as lasting 1,260 days. (See verses 3–13.) The number need not be taken literally, since it is symbolic of a period of trial and serves as a warning that the Saints living in and around the Holy Land are going to be in for a rough time (see verse 13).
Subsequent chapters show that trials will come because the Saints in general will refuse to give in to the overall wickedness and unrighteous demands of the time. Instead, they will hold fast and act according to their testimonies. As a result, the world will strike back. (See Revelation 12:17; 13:7–10; 14:12–13; 17:14.) Nevertheless, the instructions to John show that God knows how far He will allow the destruction to go. Though severe for a time, God will limit it in both duration and scope. (See Revelation 17:14; see also Matthew 24:22.) Further, He has promised that temple areas will be the places of refuge (see Ezekiel 37:28; Doctrine and Covenants 115:6; 124:36; 133:13).
Another chapter where we see the Latter-day Saints is Revelation 14. This chapter looks at a time not long before the Second Coming. The period before this scene will not be easy for every congregation. Indeed, this is a time that calls for patient endurance on the part of the Saints, for there will be martyrs among them (see Revelation 13:10). John, however, is clear that these faithful brothers and sisters who are called upon to lay down their lives will rest in paradise from their labors (see Revelation 14:13).
This chapter also looks at the time when God establishes Zion and the Savior is with His people. It testifies that as the world crashes into anarchy and war, the Saints will be at peace (compare Doctrine and Covenants 45:66–71). It describes those who dwell in safety as being moral, honest, and blameless. They are also those who keep the commandments, remain faithful to Christ, and are the redeemed of the earth. (See Revelation 14:3–5, 12.)
Though Revelation 20:11 through 22:5 deals with the Final Judgment and the blessed state of the righteous, the focus is not only on the Latter-day Saints but also on all the righteous throughout earth’s history. As with others, the Latter-day Saints will come under the personal care of the Father and the Son. In that realm, there will be neither crying nor pain, for God himself will wipe away every tear from the eyes of the once suffering and make all things right. (Revelation 21:3–4.)
These chapters combine to give witness to God’s promise to His people. They show that He is not only aware of the Saints but also actively moving to keep them as safe as possible during the coming period of trial.
That is not to say that these times will be easy. In fact, there will be times when the Saints will feel the brunt of the world’s hatred of righteousness. The Lord, however, will move to keep both the length and the depth of these periods as short as possible. His promise is that His kingdom will endure and the faithful will be exalted.