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The Book of Revelation made easy




For an even easier version, click here.

Revelation can seem confusing, even scary, at first. But it is fairly simple when you take it slow and isolate the different parts.

Introduction


Joseph Smith called Revelation the plainest book of the whole Bible. This is true, because:

See also: non-Mormon views on the Millennium
Gog, Magog, and Armageddon


The first step in simplifying Revelation

I call this "divide and conquer"

Revelation may seem to be 22 chapters of complex symbolism, but it is not. Chapters 1-5 are effectively an introduction, and chapters 19-22 are a narrative of what happens after Christ returns. These are important chapters, but should not cause many problems. That leaves the middle 14 chapters for all the controversial symbolism. Even these are conveniently split into two parts by chapter 10.

The first five chapters:

Chapter 1 is the introduction - John sees a vision of Jesus, and is commanded to write what he sees. Nothing complicated here. Chapters 2-3 are letters to the seven churches in Asia. No predictive prophecy here. Chapter 4 is where John is introduced to the heavenly throne of God, and chapter 5 introduces the book with seven seals, which only the Lion of Judah is worthy to open.

There is some wonderful symbolism here. It does not take a great Bible scholar to see that The lion of Judah is Jesus Christ (if we have not already seen this name elsewhere, we might recognise "lamb of God", "Root of David", etc.). As for the beasts in heaven, most modern translations make clear that the creatures in heaven are not from the same Greek word as the satanic beasts that are described elsewhere. We should not be too worried that 24 thrones are mentioned instead of a more familiar number like 12 or 3. Since heaven is much bigger than earth, there is bound to be all kinds of things that we do not know about. Much could be written about what we learn of heaven from the first five chapters of Revelation, but as far as predictive prophecy is concerned, there is nothing to report.

The last four chapters:

After the bulk of the prophecy is completed, chapter 19 describes the second coming of the Lord, chapter 20 shows the millenium and judgement, and chapters 21 and 22 show the final state, the "new heavens and new earth", together with a final few verses to wind it all up.

All these events take place at or after the Second Coming of Christ. There is no reason to suppose that they are not chronological, and it seems fairly clear what they are saying. Since there are no major disagreements and no no reason to take it at anything other than face value, there is no need to discuss these chapters any further here.

There are of course some who would make these chapters more complicated than they seem. For example, although these chapters say that Jesus returns then Satan is bound for 1000 years, some people (including some Christian churches) say that actually there will not be a millenium after Jesus returns. Their ideas can be safely ignored. If they don't want to believe what the Bible says, that is their problem.


The main four chapters

Chapter 6: the seven seals.

In chapter 5, it seems that the seven seals are the main feature of the Book of Revelation. The simplest explanation of the seven seals is that they represent the seven thousand years of earth's sacred history.

Chapter 7: the sealing of the twelve tribes

Throughout the Old Testament, God promised that he would not forget his covenant people, Israel. Here is the fulfillment of that. Interestingly from an LDS viewpoint, the ones who are known by their tribe are not some special group of Jews, but are simply described as the faithful believers (v.13-14) - presumably Christians.

Chapters 8-9: the seven trumpets.

Before going further it is worth noting that the seven trumpets are almost identical to the seven bowls (or vials) that are discussed later. (Only the first one is described differently - and there could be many reasons for this). Therefore the simplest explanation is that the trumpets and the bowls describe the same events. This really helps to simplify Revelation.

The trumpets (various plagues) take place at the opening of the seventh seal -e.g. the start of the seventh thousand years, some time after 2000. Presumably the "silence in heaven" between the opening of the seal and the plagues is a delay of some years, to lull us into false complacency about the imminent fulfillment of prophecy. (A similar thing happened at the first coming of Jesus.) For more detail on the future, click here.

The plagues climax in a great battle. Many people think that 9:17-19 is John's efforts to describe modern war machinery.

That's about it. Simple, eh?

In these four chapters (Revelation 6 through 9) we have pretty much the entire history of the world, from the point of view of mankind's trials. The rest of Revelation simply returns to key issues, shows the history of the church over the same period, and shows what will happen when Jesus returns and after. It really isn't very complicated, as you can see.

 


The next few chapters

Chapter 10: an interlude.

Verses 6-7 make clear that we have about come to an end of human history - the "mystery", the secret things that God is revealing, are finished. The eating of the book is just like in Ezekiel (2:6 to 3:3). After seeing the future, John is given the message he is to prophesy to the world. His topic is given in 11:1. So now we move on the remainder of the Book of Revelation: all about the church.

Chapter 11: the church at the very end.

Now John carries on with the last trumpet - the very end. He dwells on this because it is important to missionary work. He uses the familiar literary device of parallelism - just as he Beast had unopposed power for 1260 years, even so the two witnesses will finally testify for 260 days just before the Second Coming. We have already seen that the history of the world is about over, so these "days" must be actual 24 hour periods.

The literal fulfillment of the first two verses - about the Gentiles and the Holy City - is discussed elsewhere.

The two witnesses

The simplest explanation is that these are two apostles, or two missionaries, just before the Second Coming. The only other reference to them in the Bible is in Zechariah chapter 4.

Revelation 11:1-4
"And there was given me a reed like unto a rod: and the angel stood, saying, Rise, and measure the temple of God, and the altar, and them that worship therein. ... And I will give power unto my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and threescore days, clothed in sackcloth. These are the two olive trees, and the two candlesticks standing before the God of the earth."

Zechariah 4:8-14
"Moreover the word of the LORD came unto me, saying, The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house; his hands shall also finish it; and thou shalt know that the LORD of hosts hath sent me unto you. ... Then answered I, and said unto him, What are these two olive trees upon the right side of the candlestick and upon the left side thereof? ... Then said he, These are the two anointed ones, that stand by the Lord of the whole earth."

The exact identity of these two is not really central to the meaning of the chapter, so I will pass over it very quickly.


Note: Some feel that the two witnesses are descendants of Ephraim and Manasseh - e.g. they represent the house of Israel. A correspondent wrote the following (I have edited it slightly):

"Compare 3Nephi22v4 with Jer31v18-20 they are talking about Ephraim, that is why the Lord put Isa54 in the Bof M after Ch21 which is about Manasseh. These two chapters are talking about the Lords two witnesses Eph and Man the two olive branches. Look at Isa50v3,7,11,Ch51v1,6,7 and2Nephi5v21 and Rev11v3. Now look at Isa28v2 notice verses1and2 go to D&C85v7,8 and D&C84v101. By the way the book of Rev is revealed to Eph see Ether4v15,16 see Jer 31v18-20  . It has been revealed see 3Nephi21v7,4,2. Look at Isa43v9,10. These are the Lords two Witnesses in Rev Ch11

"See D&C133v34 One of the witnesses is the Head of Ephraim his fellows are fellow Ephraimites who have the Priesthood. Isa28v2 is talking about Ephraim it corresponds to D&C85v7 What is Ephraim doing here? He is choosing who will be going to Jackson County, see D&C101v18 and D&C103v14-20. One of the groups that are going are chosen by there genealogy related to the first saints who had inheritances in Zion. Heaven is a witness look Isa50v3,7,Rev11v3  Look at Lam3v30-31 then the introduction to the Book of Mormon in the second paragraph starting with the word Which and ending with not cast off forever - the footnote refers to the Lamanites. Joseph Smith in his version of the olive trees like Jacob5 plants 12 trees D&C101v44 each tree represents a house of Israel, Ephraim and Manasseh are two of those houses thus the two olive trees. Candlesticks are referring to Gods immediate family his seven children Jer31v20 Isa45v11-13 and Zch6v12,13. The Branch is the one talked about in 2Nephi3v5 hay this sounds like D&C103v17 again.

"Isa 49 is about Ephraim, but it is also about the Head of Ephraim one of the two witnesses, look at verse8 what is the new covenant? see Jer31v33 then look at Isa51v7. Israel is basically Ephraim and Manasseh until the ten tribes return Isa49v5,6. Look at Isa51v19,20 these are the two witnesses (see footnotes) in BofM two things is changed to sons. The two witnesses are going to build the temple in Jackson county and they will go to Jerusalem in the last days to testify of Christ Moses7v62, Isa43v9,10 and Rev12v14."

My correspondent went on to make some bold claims concerning nuclear war and President Clinton. He also suggested that Bruce R. McConkie and President Kimball got some details wrong. Now it is possible that they simply referred to other layers of meaning, but quite frankly this makes me a little uncomfortable. However, at least some of the points seem to be valid. If you are interested, you'll have to study this one for yourself.

The two witnesses' mission ends in Jerusalem with resurrection and rising to heaven, then a great earthquake, the time for judging the dead, heaven opened, etc. - in other words, the Second Coming of Christ.

How to tell when Revelation jumps back in time again

It appears that the earthquake, heaven opening, etc. always mean the Second Coming. Therefore, whenever we read this in Revelation, we can sit back and take a breather. At this point John is either going to go back t explain something from much earlier, or (the final time) go on to explain what the Second Coming will be like.

Chapter 12: the church at an earlier time.

We are still on the subject of the church (see 11:1), but we have already seen the very end (see 11:19), so this, since it deals with the fight of the church against Satan, must be jumping back in time, or perhaps giving a general overview of the most important points. The "woman" is a well established symbol for the church - a virtuous (or not) woman, with the Lord as the bridegroom. The dragon is identified elsewhere as Satan. The rest of this chapter has the dragon trying to destroy the woman and her child.

The "man child"

This symbolism should be familiar to anyone who has read the last chapter of Isaiah. The woman is the church, the man child is the kingdom - the righteous church leaders. For more on this, see the quotations from modern prophets about 1260. Some people say "the man child" is Christ, but this is foolish. In the symbolism of the church being a woman, Christ is always the bridegroom, never the child. If anything, the church is the children of Christ, and not the other way around!

We have confirmation that "the man child" is the righteous church leaders in verse 17. Although them man child has gone to heaven, the woman still has other seed. The seed of the woman must be the saints, the members of the church. So male children are the male seed.

For the fulfillment of this prophecy, see the page on what happened in 570.

For more about the iron rod and the woman in the wilderness, see the page on the Iron Rod and the Holy Grail

The woman in the wilderness

Sometimes confusion arises because the woman is not killed - she is nourished by God for 1260 years. Does this mean that the church was preserved in righteousness? Sadly, no. It is important to distinguish between the church and the kingdom.

The word "church" is usually a translation of "ecclesia", and simply means a group of people. The people nearly always form themselves into groups. "Church" in the New Testament is roughly equivalent to "the nation of Israel" in the Old Testament. Sometimes it is righteous Sometimes it is not. Often it is preserved by the mercy of God even when it does not deserve to be preserved. The Old Testament prophets frequently lament about the people going astray.

As long as some kind of Christian church existed - no matter how apostate and false, it is true to say that the woman was still there. And as long as she had the Bible, she was nourished by God.

The man child, the kingdom of God, the true priesthood body that God intended, that is quite a different matter.

Two states of the church

Thomas Hobbes identified two states of the church, which may make things clearer. The kingdom of god is a literal kingdom, ruled by a prophet-priest. That is how it will be when Jesus returns. But until then we live in a state of hope, or grace.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announces that the true kingdom is now here, in a state of preparation. For more details, see the leviathan page.

the Church in the wilderness the Church with the man child
"thy kingdom come" the kingdom is here
nourished by hope nourished by revelation
no prophets or authorized priesthood prophets and authorized priesthood

A note on chronology, and the war in heaven

The idea of angels "falling" from heaven is mentioned enough in the Bible (Isaiah 12, Jude, etc.) to suggest that it may refer to an actual event. People are sometimes confused by the chronology - did the war in heaven happen after the events with the church on earth? There is no reason to imagine so. It is all a question of two parallel stories: one on earth, and one on heaven.

Verse 1 starts in heaven, and moves to the earth (the place of the birth of the woman's child - verses 5 and 13). Verse 3 is back to heaven again, describing the first appearance of Satan. But surely Satan existed before the events described on earth, so verse 3 must have jumped back in time to continue where it left off in heaven. Then verses 4-6 return us to the earth where we left the story before. Verse 6 shows how the dragon affects the woman on earth, but without explaining how he suddenly moved from heaven to earth. At the next lull in the story, this is explained. So when verse 7 returns to heaven again, we can assume that it was at a point following the previous events in heaven. The war in heaven, therefore, probably took place before human history.

The flood of water (12:15 and on)

As for the flood of water, waters are defined (17:15) as peoples and multitudes. The precise meanings of the flood and the earth won't be discussed here, as the overall meaning is clear. The dragon could not kill the woman, even though he killed her man child and other offspring. For more on Revelation chapter 12, see the section on 1260 years.

Chapters 13 to 16: the beast, etc.

This beast has already been mentioned as the one who kills the two prophets in chapter 11. Add the fact that 13:1 seems to flow straight from 12:17 ("the sea"), and the fact that these chapters end with the bowls of God's wrath (e.g. the trumpets), and it seems that with we are probably dealing with the same chronological sequence of events that we already covered in chapters 6-9. But now (from 11:1 onwards) we see it from the point of view of the church.

Chapter 13: the beast.

This is discussed in detail elsewhere. Briefly, the beast is probably Rome and its successors. The second beast is probably the modern world economy, based on the Greek/Roman ideas of democracy for the elite, pride, and the pursuit of wealth and power.

Chapter 14: angels harvest the earth.

After the power of the beast, we have the return of the church. Many interpreters say that the "harvest" refers to the final judgement. They are wrong of course, because Jesus' parable of the wheat and chaff shows that the sifting happens after the good and bad are harvested together. In the book of Revelation, the judgement does not happen until a few chapters later.

The destruction of the vine after the harvest is presumably another reference to Armageddon, which helps to date this chapter - after the fall of the beast, but before the final war.

Once again we have a chapter here that is fulfilled by the LDS church, as discussed in one of the 101 prophecies" . The angels are bringing the gospel to preach to the earth. How many Christian churches claim that the gospel was restored by literal angels? Only one. How many churches have the largest missionary force in the world? Only one.

Chapter 15: the end again, from heaven's point of view.

A short chapter showing what is happening in heaven at this point.

Chapter 16: the trumpets again, and what comes next.

Continuing the account of what we already saw in chapters 6-9, but from the church's point of view, we have the seven plagues again. This time they are described as coming from bowls, and since we have now seen something of the beast, the first plague is seen in terms of its effect on the beast. These plagues are apparently yet future, so I feel no obligation to interpret them - that is the prophet's job, should the Lord inspire him to do so. However, for what it's worth, click here for a possible interpretation of the seven plagues.

Chapter 17-18: flashback: details about Babylon.

The previous chapter ended with the end ("It is done" - 16:17). So now we have a flash-back - one of the angels (presumably the fifth - 16:10) shows more detail about the fate of the beast. The story of the beast and the medieval church is reviewed, together with their final end. For more detail, see the discussions of the beast and the whore, and the 1260 prophecy.

And that is about it.

Chapters 19-22 were briefly covered earlier.

the valley of Jezreel Left: the valley
of Jezreel, site
of Armageddon.

Miscellaneous notes

:

The seven seals

What do we know about the book with the seals?

As the Book of Revelation is about events up to the end of the world, and the book is dominated by the seven seals, the simplest explanation is that the seven seals represent the history of the world, or at least the part from the time of this vision onwards.

It is interesting to note that the Bible gives the fall of Adam as around 4000 BC, and since Christ we have had another 2000 years, and another 1000 is promised as a millennium in which Satan is bound. In total, then, the history of the world is seven thousand years. Is it coincidence then that the seals representing world history number seven? Perhaps it is - but let's examine the possibility:

Additional supporting evidence is the fact that another famous apocalypse in the first century is the Book of Enoch (quoted in the New Testament book of Jude and elsewhere). The Book of Enoch teaches that world history spans 7000 years.

If each seal is the beginning of a thousand years of the world's history, this would explain why John rushes past the first five so quickly. The first four thousand had passed, and the fifth had already begun. The really interesting future events wee in the last two seals. But the most important test of this theory is what the seals contained:

So the simplest explanation of the seven seals is that they represent the seven thousand years of earth's sacred history.




Revelation 12:10-13

The reference to the casting of the dragon from heaven, in the context of the woman and the blood of Jesus, causes no problems. The woman has existed for as long as the dragon has (12:1-3), and Christ was "slain from the foundation of the world" (13:8).



the bottom line

Revelation really is a revelation. It reveals things.

 

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