Section 77: Book of Revelation
Please recall that Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon began working on the revision of the King James Bible in June 1830 in Fayette, New York. This revision will continue until July 1833. By March 1832 they had lived in Hiram, Ohio, on the property of John Johnson for about five months, since September 12, 1831. During this period, the Lord had revealed to Joseph and Sidney much additional information concerning the New Testament. For example, the Prophet had received section 74 while they studied 1 Corinthians 7:14 and section 76 while they pondered John 5:28-29. On or about the first of March 1832, they received section 77 as they pondered some questions regarding the meaning of some of the figurative and symbolic writings of the apostle John in the book of Revelation. There were many things in the book they did not understand, hence the Prophet inquired of the Lord and received answers to his questions.
The exact date section 77 was received is somewhat problematic, but the History of the Church and the Kirtland Revelation Book each provide some information that help clarify matters. The Kirtland Revelation Book contains a notation from Joseph Smith in the handwriting of Frederick G. Williams dated March 8, 1832, stating that “from the 26th of February [when section 76 was received] up to this date have been at home except a journey to Kirtland on the 29th of February and returned home [to Hiram] on the 4th of March. We received a revelation in Kirtland and one since I returned home.” Since the Kirtland Revelation Book also records the dates of section 78 as March 1, and section 80 as March 7, it is likely that these are the two revelations referred to here (Kirtland Revelation Book, 11, 15, 18). Moreover, in the History of the Church the brief introduction to Doctrine and Covenants 78-81 chronologically follows the references to section 77. Here Joseph also noted that “previous to the 20th of March, I received the four following revelations.” The four revelations mentioned are section 78 received on March 1, section 79 on March 12, section 80 on March 7, and section 81 on March 15. All of this indicates that section 77 was likely received on or before March 1, when Doctrine and Covenants 78 was received (most likely February 27th, 28th, 29th or March 1st).
Since Joseph was not scheduled to be translating from the book of Revelation in his work on the Joseph Smith Translation at that time, it is possible that the questions found in section 77 were put to him by the brethren in Kirtland upon his arrival there late on February 29 or early the next day before section 78 was received. The informality of an impromptu question and answer session might explain why Joseph’s inspired responses were not included among his published revelations until later. Joseph’s brief note simply states, “About the first of March, in connection with the translation of the scriptures, I received the following explanation of the Revelation of St. John” (HC, 1:253).
Few details have been preserved concerning the reception of section 77. It did not appear in the 1833 Book of Commandments nor in the 1835 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants. Although it was included in the first edition of the Pearl of Great Price in 1851, section 77 did not appear in the Doctrine and Covenants until 1876, where it was included under the direction of President Brigham Young. The oldest manuscript of section 77, indeed, the earliest evidence of its existence, is a copy in the handwriting of Willard Richards that dates to 1840. Section 77 was, however, included as one of the Prophet’s revelations in the History of the Church, written sometime between August 27, 1841 and August 24, 1843, and it was printed in the Times and Seasons on August 1, 1844 (see Woodford, Historical Development, 2:975-76).
Section 77 is not a complete interpretation of the book, but rather gives only a few helps on the interpretation of some passages between chapters 4 and 11. There are twenty-two chapters, however, in the book. Wouldn’t it be marvelous if Joseph had given us even more revealed information regarding this difficult book?
The world’s biblical scholars have seemed to be frustrated and confused by the book of Revelation. This fact notwithstanding, the Prophet Joseph once said: “The book of Revelation is one of the plainest books God ever caused to be written” (TPJS, 290). Obviously, Joseph, through the Spirit, had caught the secret of the book, and he loved it!
While even today the book remains difficult to interpret, we in the Church do have a considerable advantage over the rest of the world. Modern revelation has given us considerable insight into the meaning of the book. This revealed material includes sections 77, 88, 130, and 131 of the Doctrine and Covenants, 1 Nephi 14:10-27, Ether 4:16 in the Book of Mormon, Joseph’s inspired revision of the King James Bible, and some sermons of the Prophet’s which are recorded in his History of the Church, volume 5, pages 298, 336-37, 339-45 and volume 6, pages 363-67.
D&C 77 The Book of Revelation
1 Q. What is the sea of glass spoken of by John, 4th chapter, and 6th verse of the Revelation? A. It is the earth, in its sanctified, immortal, and eternal state.
verse 1 “the sea of glass” When John the Revelator was taken up to the throne of God in heaven, he saw in front of the throne a sea or lake of glass like rock-crystal. The word sea (Hebrew ya’m) refers to both the fresh-water ocean, the source of all life and fertility according to tradition, and to a basin of holy water in the temple. Thus, the "sea of glass" becomes a perfect symbol for the future celestialized earth— the earth “in its sanctified, immortal, and eternal state” (D&C 77:1). In that state it will be one of the celestial orbs, a source of the power of life for worlds and a retainer of holiness. The earth is elsewhere described as God's "footstool" (Matthew 5:35) and therefore logically sits "before the throne."
The adjective glass-like (Greek hualinos) suggests the idea of clear, calm, shimmering. Crystal has a long association with glory and fire (see Exodus 24:9-10, 17; Ezekiel 1:22, 27). The earth thus becomes in effect a gigantic Urim and Thummim, “whereby all things pertaining to an inferior kingdom, or all kingdoms of a lower order, will be manifest to those who dwell on it” (D&C 130:8-9). D&C 130:6-9 adds further insight: “The angels do not reside on a planet like this earth; but they reside in the presence of God, on a globe like a sea of glass and fire, where all things for their glory are manifest, past, present, and future, and are continually before the Lord. The place where God resides is a great Urim and Thummim. This earth, in its sanctified and immortal state, will be made like unto crystal and will be a Urim and Thummim to the inhabitants who dwell thereon, whereby all things pertaining to an inferior kingdom, or all kingdoms of a lower order, will be manifest to those who dwell on it.” Regarding this great Urim and Thummim, Brigham Young explained, “When you wish to know anything, you can look in this earth, and see all the eternities of God” (JD, 8:200).
In a note concerning his activities on February 18, 1843, Joseph Smith further recorded: "While at dinner, I remarked to my family and friends present, that when the earth was sanctified and became like a sea of glass, it would be one great Urim and Thummim, and the saints could look in it and see as they are seen" (HC, 5:279).
The sea of glass is later described as “a sea of glass mingled with fire” (Revelation 15:2), where exalted beings stand with their harps and sing unto God the following words: “Great and marvelous are thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints. Who shall not fear thee, O Lord, and glorify thy name? for thou only art holy: for all nations shall come and worship before thee; for thy judgments are made manifest” (Revelation 15:3-4).
2 Q. What are we to understand by the four beasts, spoken of in the same verse?
A. They are figurative expressions, used by the Revelator, John, in describing heaven, the paradise of God, the happiness of man, and of beasts, and of creeping things, and of the fowls of the air; that is spiritual being in the likeness of that which is temporal; and that which is temporal in the likeness of that which is spiritual; the spirit of man in the likeness of his person, and every other creature which God has created.
verse 2 “the four beasts” It seems apparent that the four beasts are actual beasts who are now exalted but lived on other worlds. These actual beasts are also symbolic of—figurative expressions of—other things. In the book of Revelation, John generally speaks of two types of beasts:
- He envisions actual living creatures (Greek zoon) that exist in heaven (Revelation 4:6-9; 5:6-14; 6:1-7; 7:11; 14:3; 15:7; 19:4). In this passage, John saw actual beasts. The four beasts in this passage are actual beasts that exist in heaven. Some biblical commentators place one of the four beasts at each of the four sides of the throne, where they serve as guardians of the throne. This role is similar to that played by the biblical cherubim (see, for example, Genesis 3:24; Exodus 25:18-22). Expanding this idea, the Prophet Joseph stated “that John’s vision [of actual beasts existing in heaven] was very different from Daniel’s prophecy—one [Johns vision] referring to things actually existing in heaven; the other [Daniel's vision] being a figure of things which are on earth” (Ehat, Words, 189). The beasts are real but also stand as symbols: “They are figurative [i.e., symbolic] expressions, used by the Revelator, John, in describing  heaven,  the paradise of God,  the happiness of man,  the happiness of beasts, and [4 the happiness] of creeping things” (D&C 77:2).
- Elsewhere in the book of Revelation John speaks of other beasts (Greek therion), referring both to wild earthly beasts as well as to symbolic or fantastic beasts (Revelation 6:8; 11:7; 13:1-18; 14:9, 11; 15:2; 16:2, 10, 13; 17:1-18; 19:19-20; 20:4,10). John will later use this term to describe the associates of Satan.
The word beast used in this verse could more accurately be translated “living creature.” In fact, the choice of the King James Version translators to use the word beast is particularly unfortunate, since these creatures are living, dynamic beings filled with intelligence and glory.
Joseph Smith suggested that the four beasts “lived on another planet than ours.” (Ehat and Cook, Words of Joseph Smith, 171.) The “four beasts” are actually four animals each representing a particular class or order (see the commentary for verses 78). They represent all of God’s animate creations.
This revelation also taught John that animals are among those who enjoy exaltation—the fulness of God’s blessings intended for them in the world to come. The grand secret was to show John what there was in heaven. John learned that God glorified Himself by saving all that His hands had made, whether beasts, fowls, fishes or men; and He will glorify Himself with them.
John saw the actual beast in heaven, showing to John that beasts did actually exist there. . . .
John saw curious looking beasts in heaven; he saw every creature that was in heaven—all the beasts, fowls and fish in heaven—actually there, giving glory to God. . .
Says one, “I cannot believe in the salvation of beasts.” Any man who would tell you that this could not be, would tell you that the revelations are not true. John heard the words of the beasts giving glory to God, and understood them. God who made the beasts could understand every language spoken by them. The four beasts were four of the most noble animals that had filled the measure of their creation, and had been saved from other worlds, because they were perfect: they were like angels in their sphere. We are not told where they came from, and I do not know; but they were seen and heard by John praising and glorifying God (HC, 5:343-44).
John informs us that the four beasts are capable of worshipping God (Revelation 4:8; 5:8-10).
“the spirit of man in the likeness of his person” There is a similarity of form between the spirit of a living thing and the mortal body it inhabits. This similarity may not be exact, however, as in the case of birth defects and other mortal deformities, and the precise degree to which individual spirits correspond to the appearance of their mortal bodies has not been revealed. Certainly, spirits can look exactly like their deceased bodies when necessary, but whether they always do so is open to question. It is not necessary to insist that genetic and environmental influences on mortal, physical bodies are coincidentally shared by their inhabiting spirits.
3 Q. Are the four beasts limited to individual beasts, or do they represent classes or orders? A. They are limited to four individual beasts, which were shown to John, to represent the glory of the classes of beings in their destined order or sphere of creation, in the enjoyment of their eternal felicity.
verse 3 “in their destined order or sphere of creation” There is no revealed doctrine that explains this intriguing phrase. It raises the question: Are there well-defined orders of animals and other living “beings”? Just as man is of a higher order than the animals, and animals are a higher order than plants, are some orders of animals higher than others? And is there an order that applies to all of God’s intelligences in combination to their mortal bodies, even perhaps including plants, lower forms of life, and even inanimate objects? We simply do not know the answer to these intriguing question.
“the enjoyment of their eternal felicity” All forms of living things, and not just human beings, will, through the work of Christ, receive eternal joy—except those who inherit perdition. Does this apply to every living microscopic creature, plants, and even inanimate objects? Perhaps so, but we are not blessed with revelation on this issue presently.
4 Q. What are we to understand by the eyes and wings, which the beasts had? A. Their eyes are a representation of light and knowledge, that is, their wings are a representation of power, to move, to act, etc. 5 Q. What are we to understand by the four and twenty elders, spoken of by John? A. We are to understand that these elders whom John saw, were elders who had been faithful in the work of the ministry and were dead; who belonged to the seven churches, and were then in the paradise of God.
verse 5 “four and twenty elders” John saw in his vision twenty-four elders who, along with the four beasts, had harps and little bottles of perfume—symbolizing their singing and praying to God as acts of worship. We learn in this particular verse that John may have known some of these men personally, for they had lived in the seven churches of western Turkey addressed in the book of Revelation among which John had labored (see Revelation 1:11). Though John saw in his vision twenty-four specific individuals, these twenty-four symbolically represented all the faithful elders who will be exalted through Christ out of every nation of the earth.
“the paradise of God” This is the pleasant state of some of the spirits in the world of spirits who, between their mortal deaths and their resurrections, are sealed up to immortal life.
6 Q. What are we to understand by the book which John saw, which was sealed on the back with seven seals? A. We are to understand that it contains the revealed will, mysteries, and the works of God; the hidden things of his economy concerning this earth during the seven thousand years of its continuance, or its temporal existence.
verse 6 “the book which John saw” Revelation chapter 5 contains a description of a book sealed with seven seals. The book represents the history and destiny of the earth. Each seal represents a thousand years of its temporal existence. The book is sealed because no man is worthy to open and read it. The book is taken out of the Father’s hand by the Lion and the Lamb—who is Jesus Christ, who is worthy to open the book and who does know the destiny of this world, and in fact is God of this world.
In Revelation 5:1-5, John sees on the right hand of God a scroll of unparalleled significance, “written within and on the backside, sealed with seven seals.” John notes that the scroll is full, both on the front and the back, which parallels Ezekiel 2:10. Nothing had been left out, and no more could be added. It was the scroll of destiny. John’s imagery bears a mind-set frequently found in apocalyptic literature that from the beginning God has determined the end of history.
We need to clarify here the difference between the view point of Revelation—that God has ordained future events—and the false idea that individual salvation is predetermined and that therefore there is no individual agency. One of the powers ascribed to God is expressed by the Greek words prognsis, and proginsk. These words are respectively translated “foreknowledge” and “predestination” and catch the idea not only of knowing something beforehand, but of choosing someone beforehand. Paul understood that God, because of his foreknowledge, had marked or set the course of history through the use of individuals who would bring about his will (see Romans 8-9). That is, God ordered things through the means of sending down spirits when and where he chose. These spirits, without any other manipulation on the part of God, act in ways he knows. Thus, by selection of these souls, God can order the course of history while still maintaining agency.
A major thesis of Revelation is that God set the path of all things and nothing will stray from his design. This idea is symbolized in the scroll where the sovereign will of God has been recorded, where all history has been foretold. Though the idea that God has determined the course of world events may grate on some, it was a source of comfort and hope for those to whom John wrote.
“the revealed will, mysteries, and the works of God” The book symbolizes the comprehensive plan of God for this earth and its inhabitants from the beginning to the end.
“the seven thousand years of its continuance” These are the seven thousand years of this earth’s existence between the fall of Adam and the end of the Millennium. These seven periods of one thousand years are equated with the “seven seals.”
7 Q. What are we to understand by the seven seals with which it was sealed? A. We are to understand that 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.
verse 7 “the first seal contains the things of the first thousand years” Even though a seal is a bit of wax or clay, imprinted with an identifying mark, which keeps a scroll tightly rolled up, here Joseph equates the scroll with its seal and explains that “the first seal contains the things of the first thousand years . . .”
For ancient Jews the number seven symbolized perfection or completeness. Since the seven scrolls or seven seals represent the comprehensive plan of God (see verse 6), the sequential opening of the seven seals likely represents the full unfolding or implementation of the divine plan for this earth from beginning to end. With the opening of the seventh seal, God’s plan for the temporal earth will reach its final stage in a glorious Millennium.
8 Q. What are we to understand by the four angels, spoken of in the 7th chapter and 1st verse of Revelation? A. We are to understand that they are four angels sent forth from God, to whom is given power over the four parts of the earth, to save life and to destroy; these are they who have the everlasting gospel to commit to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people; having power to shut up the heavens, to seal up unto life, or to cast down to the regions of darkness.
verse 8 “four angels” John sees four angels standing on the figurative four corners of the earth. These angels hold in check the wind so that it “should not blow on the earth.” The Greek word anemos, translated “wind,” indicates a storm wind, sometimes almost hurricane-like. Such winds brought drought, heat, insect plagues, and desolation. Biblical people viewed such winds as displays of divine wrath (cf. Hosea 3:5; Revelation 16:9, “great heat” being from a scorching wind). In this light, the angels play the role of divine executioners with power to destroy the whole earth.
We learn from this verse that God commissioned these four angels and gave them power to both destroy life and to save it. They have power over the process of condemning judgment and the spreading of the gospel. They have, as it were, two faces. They are not only destroying angels, but saving angels as well. What makes the difference is how men respond to the message they dispense. These four angels may be the same angels referred to in the parable of the wheat and the tares (see D&C 86:57; Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43). In both cases, the angels with the power to save or to destroy were instructed by their leader to wait until the wheat has been gathered (see Matthew 13) or until the saints have been sealed (see Revelation 7). In the meantime their work is to prepare the nations of the world to receive the restored gospel and to bring the world to repentance, even by the use of natural disasters if need be.
The angels have long since left their home in heaven and are now on the earth. These angels are those who in 1831 were “waiting the great command to reap down the earth, to gather the tares that they may be burned” (D&C 38:12). President Wilford Woodruff stated that these angels have been loosed and are at work here (“Temple Worker’s Excursion,” 512). However, their job is not just to destroy but to commit the gospel as well (Joseph Fielding Smith, Church History and Modern Revelation, 1:30001). Their main period of operation is the sixth seal, or the period just preceding the Millennium. Thus, in this dispensation, angelic administration is combining with mortal efforts to assure the world-wide preaching of the gospel during that time (see D&C 77:10). Only after they fulfill that commission will they unleash the winds of destruction.
The signs associated with the sixth seal—the earthquake, the darkened sun, the blood-red moon, falling stars, the heavens opening as a scroll, the movement of mountains and islands, and fear coming upon humanity—play a major role in the objectives of the sixth seal. Their function is not primarily destruction—rather it is to warn. They represent additional effort on the part of God to bring all men to him. The four angels symbolize the spiritual forces that oversee and assist in fulfilling this objective. During the sixth seal, the fulness of his 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. Those who respond with fulness of heart will enter into the rest of the Lord and find peace and safety. Those who reject it will find vexation and misery.
The world has already rejected the gospel many times, but during the sixth seal conditions are such that one more rejection will assure its doom. This is because the gospel, preached with tremendous power, will not be easily ignored. Those who reject it will not do so out of ignorance. Therefore, events during 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 battle lines will fall between the church of the devil and the Church of Jesus Christ. The mortal perspective may not perceive and report it that way, but from a spiritual standpoint the issue is clear.
The armor of the saints—righteousness and tremendous power from God—will protect them from the world-embracing colossus of wickedness, pride, and spiritual apathy while the destroying angels prepare to move against it. As noted above, the primary preparation will be the preaching of the gospel. Pure testimony will flow through the nations during the sixth seal. Many will respond. Those who do not, who willfully rebel against the light and who seek to destroy God’s work, will face the wrath of the seventh seal.
9 Q. What are we to understand by the angel ascending from the east, Revelation 7th chapter and 2nd verse? A. We are to understand that the angel ascending from the east is he to whom is given the seal of the living God over the twelve tribes of Israel; wherefore, he crieth unto the four angels having the everlasting gospel, saying: Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads. And, if you will receive it, this is Elias which was to come to gather together the tribes of Israel and restore all things.
verse 9 “the angel ascending from the east” In concert with the four angels, John sees another angel ascending from the east. The imagery used here reminds one of the rising sun, which recalls the glory of God, spreading light and life. The idea is reminiscent of Ezekiel 43:4, where the glory of Jehovah comes out of the east. This angel “is he to whom is given the seal of the living God over the twelve tribes of Israel; . . . and, if you will receive it, this is Elias which was to come to gather together the tribes of Israel and restore all things” (D&C 77:9). “Elias” here is used as a title (meaning messenger), rather than referring to a specific individual.
Speaking of this Elias, Elder Bruce R. McConkie has said:
Correcting the Bible by the spirit of revelation, the Prophet restored a statement of John the Baptist which says that Christ is the Elias who was to restore all things (JST, John 1:21-28). By revelation we are also informed that the Elias who was to restore all things is the angel Gabriel who was known in mortality as Noah (D&C 27:6-7; Luke 1:525; TPJS, 157). From the same authentic source we also learn that the promised Elias is John the Revelator (D&C 77:9, 14). Thus there are three different revelations which name Elias as being three different persons. What are we to conclude?
By finding answer to the question, by whom has the restoration been effected, we shall find who Elias is and find there is no problem in harmonizing these apparently contradictory revelations. Who has restored all things? Was it one man? Certainly not. Many angelic ministrants have been sent from the courts of glory to confer keys and powers, to commit their dispensations and glories again to men on earth. At least the following have come: Moroni, John the Baptist, Peter, James and John, Moses, Elijah, Elias, Gabriel, Raphael, and Michael (D&C 13; 110; 128:19-21). Since it is apparent that no one messenger has carried the whole burden of the restoration, but rather that each has come with a specific endowment from on high, it becomes clear that Elias is a composite personage. The expression must be understood to be a name and a title for those whose mission it was to commit keys and powers to men in this final dispensation (McConkie, Commentary, 3:491-92. See also Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, 1:170174).
“sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads” This seal pertains to the Abrahamic covenant and making one’s calling and election sure, as Joseph Smith explained: “Four destroying angels holding power over the four quarters of the earth until the servants of God are sealed in their foreheads, which signifies sealing the blessing upon their heads, meaning the everlasting covenant, thereby making their calling and election sure. When a seal is put upon the father and mother, it secures their posterity, so that they cannot be lost, but will be saved by virtue of the covenant of their father and mother” (TPJS, 321).
In another setting, Ezekiel envisioned the sealing, or marking, on the foreheads of the righteous as a protection for those righteous. This protective sealing and the subsequent destruction of the wicked perhaps prefigures the events recorded Ezekiel 9:4-6: “And the Lord said unto him, Go through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and set a mark upon the foreheads of the man that sigh and that cry for all the abominations that be done in the midst thereof. And to the others he said in mine hearing, Go ye after him through the city, and smite: let not your eye spare, neither have ye pity: Slay utterly old and young, both maids, and little children, and women: but come not near any man upon whom is the mark.” This seal of the righteous recalls the mark of blood at Passover (Exodus 12:13). At that time those who possessed the mark of lamb’s blood—that is, those who desired to make Christ’s atonement effective in their lives—were spared the plague of God (Isaiah 44:5; Galatians 6:17).
In short, God marks and seals the righteous with his seal, making them his and placing them under his protection. In the last days, those who possess God’s seal on their foreheads will not be destroyed by the “four winds of the earth” (Revelation 7:1-3). Joseph Smith explained: “Then, having this promise [of one’s calling and election made sure] sealed unto them, it was an anchor to the soul, sure and steadfast. Though the thunders might roll and lightnings flash, and earthquakes bellow, and war gather thick around, yet this hope and knowledge would support the soul in every hour of trial, trouble and tribulation” (TPJS, 298).
As a counterfeit to the true and sacred things of God, Satan places a mark on the forehead or the right hand of his followers (Revelation 13:16; 14:9). These followers, however, will not be protected from God’s “four winds,” and they eventually will be destroyed by God.
“this is Elias” See the commentary for verse 9 above. There have been many Eliases or those called to do restorative work in this final dispensation, but in this particular verse Elias seems to be none other than Jesus Christ himself. In the context of the earth’s existence in the first six thousand years, restoring all things perhaps means restoring the fulness of the gospel and the keys of the priesthood to a telestial world, and the several Eliases listed in the commentary for Revelation 7:2 have done this. However, in the context of the seventh thousand years, restoring all things includes restoring the earth itself to a terrestrial state and bringing to pass the redemption and resurrection of the dead. This is the might work of only one Elias, Jesus Christ himself. He will, at his second coming, be the great and final Elias or restorer. It is Jesus Christ himself who ultimately will restore all things and who will finally gather all of Israel together “as a hen gatherereth her chickens” (3 Nephi 10:4-6).
10 Q. What time are the things spoken of in this chapter to be accomplished? A. They are to be accomplished in the sixth thousand years, or the opening of the sixth seal.
verse 10 “in the sixth thousand years” The work of spreading the gospel throughout the world to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people is the work of the latter-day Church. We now live in the sixth time period, or day, or thousand years—the period of time immediately before the glorious Millennium, which is the seven time period or the sabbath day of the earth’s temporal existence.
11 Q. What are we to understand by sealing the one hundred and forty-four thousand, out of all the tribes of Israel—twelve thousand out of every tribe? A. We are to understand that those who are sealed are high priests, ordained unto the holy order of God, to administer the everlasting gospel; for they are they who are ordained out of every nation, kindred, tongue, and people, by the angels to whom is given power over the nations of the earth, to bring as many as will come to the church of the Firstborn.
verse 11 “twelve thousand out of every tribe” John states that the number of those sealed is 144,000. The number need not be taken literally. This verse explains “that those who are sealed are high priests, ordained unto the holy order of God, to administer the everlasting gospel; for they are they who are ordained out of every nation, kindred, tongue, and people, by the angels to whom is given power over the nations of the earth, to bring as many as will come to the church of the Firstborn” (77:11). Note that the Lord’s answer to Joseph’s question does not specify a number. Instead it notes that the group is composed of high priests who have a special calling “to administer the everlasting gospel” and “to bring as many as will come to the church of the Firstborn.”
Joseph Smith associated these high priests with the temple (HC, 6:365). The symbolic meaning of the number supports this association. Twelve represents the priesthood. Biblical people squared a number to amplify its symbolic meaning. Thus, 144 suggests a fulness of priesthood authority. But John is not satisfied with that. He gives the image a superlative quality by multiplying 1,000, representing completeness. In this way he shows the strength and breadth of the priesthood in the latter days, in this dispensation that is, indeed, the dispensation of the fulness of times. During this period that complete priesthood authority will operate.
The attachment to the temple fits perfectly since only there can one receive the fulness of the priesthood (D&C 124:25-30). Elder McConkie states that the 144,000 are kings and priests “converted, baptized, endowed, married for eternity, and finally sealed up unto eternal life” (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3:491). Their mission is not merely to bring people into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It goes beyond that. They will have “general authority” status. Their special assignment centers in getting people sealed into the church of the Firstborn through the administration of the fulness of the endowment (on the “church of the Firstborn,” see D&C 76:50-70; 93:21-23).
John, in the book of Revelation, indicates that the 144,000 will be those sealed from all the tribes of Israel. Curiously, he leaves out Dan and adds Manasses (Manasseh, the son of Joseph) to get twelve tribes. John gives no hint why he left out Dan. Some early Christians believed that John dropped the tribal name because of a tradition that the Antichrist would arise from there. The disfavor into which Dan fell goes all the way back to 1 Chronicles 7, which also omits Dan from the list of tribes. It may be that Dan’s association with idolatry marked the tribe for omission since Jeroboam set up his idols in that tribal territory (see Judges 18:30; 1 Kings 12:29). Since John was writing in part against the influences of idolatry invading the church, he may have omitted Dan as a warning.
“the church of the Firstborn” Again, see the commentary for D&C 76:54.
12 Q. What are we to understand by the sounding of the trumpets, mentioned in the 8th chapter of Revelation? A. We are to understand that as God made the world in six days, and on the seventh day he finished his work, and sanctified it, and also formed man out of the dust of the earth, even so, in the beginning of the seventh thousand years will the Lord God sanctify the earth, and complete the salvation of man, and judge all things, and shall redeem all things, except that which he hath not put into his power, when he shall have sealed all things, unto the end of all things; and the sounding of the trumpets of the seven angels are the preparing and finishing of his work, in the beginning of the seventh thousand years—the preparing of the way before the time of his coming.
verse 12 “sounding of the trumpets” After the opening of the seventh seal in his Revelation, John saw a series of seven angels, who sounded their seven trumpets one after the other in a symbolic series. This verse informs us that the events symbolized by the seven trumpets are mighty works that Jesus Christ will perform after the beginning of the Millennium (after the opening of the seventh seal) but before his second coming—works of judgment, redemption, and resurrection. These works, on the seventh day of the earth’s temporal existence, will be part of sanctifying the earth and raising it to a paradisiacal glory, just as Christ sanctified the earth and gave it the glory of paradise, or Eden, once before—on the seventh day of it creation. This is the same series of trumpet blasts described in D&C 88:96-106. The seventh trumpet announces the completion of all preparations and the coming of the glorious Christ himself to the earth (see Exodus 19:16-20), where the descent of Jehovah, or Christ, to the earth was also marked by the sounding of a trumpet).
“on the seventh day he finished his work, and sanctified it, and also formed man out of the dust of the earth” This phrase can be confusing and should not be interpreted as meaning that the Lord created man on the seventh day. Man was created (the physical creation) on the sixth day of creation. The creation of Adam on the seventh day would require rejecting the specific testimony of Genesis 1:31; Moses 2:31; and Abraham 4:31 that Adam was created on the sixth day or time, and the latter two sources were translated by the prophet Joseph Smith.
13 Q. When are the things to be accomplished, which are written in the 9th chapter of Revelation? A. They are to be accomplished after the opening of the seventh seal, before the coming of Christ.
verse 13 “after the opening of the seven seal, before the coming of Christ” Note that the seventh period of the earth’s existence will start before the second coming of Christ and that there will be a space of time “after the opening of the seventh seal, before the coming of Christ.” The two events are not simultaneous, nor does the opening of the seventh seal initiate the Millennium. According to John’s Revelation, there was silence in heaven for the space of half an hour after the opening of the seventh seal before the events symbolized by the seven trumpets—the final preparations for the coming of Christ—began to take place. If we interpret literally the formula of one day with God being a thousand years with man, which is by no means certain that we must so interpret, a half hour would amount to a little less than twenty-one years separating the opening of the seventh seal and the beginning of the seven trumpets. No indication is given of how much additional time the events associated with the seven trumpets will take, although it seems that all will be completed in less than one generation (see JST Matthew 1:34).
14 Q. What are we to understand by the little book which was eaten by John, as mentioned in the 10th chapter of Revelation? A. We are to understand that it was a mission, and an ordinance, for him to gather the tribes of Israel; behold, this is Elias, who, as it is written, must come and restore all things.
verse 14 “the little book” In his vision John saw an angel holding a little book or scroll. John was instructed to take the book and eat it. When he did so, according to the book of Revelation, he found that it was delicious but that it upset his stomach. The experience of John in this regard is an almost exact repetition of the experience of Ezekiel (see Ezekiel 2:9 through 3:4).
“it was a mission” The interpretation offered here is supported by the similar experience of Ezekiel, who with the same visionary imagery was also called on a mission to preach and minister to the house of Israel. John the Beloved Apostle is here identified as one who will assist in the restoration and gathering of Israel in the latter days. Note that John did not die, but was translated (D&C 7)—making him available to minister to the earth directly in this final dispensation.
15 Q. What is to be understood by the two witnesses, in the eleventh chapter of Revelation? A. They are two prophets that are to be raised up to the Jewish nation in the last days, at the time of the restoration, and to prophesy to the Jews after they are gathered and have built the city of Jerusalem in the land of their fathers.
verse 15 “the two witnesses” In Greek the words for witness and martyr are the same. This is appropriate, since being one often leads to becoming the other. John saw in his vision two servants of the Lord who testify of the truth and who suffer martyrdom for it. These two witnesses have the power to shut the heavens and to smite the earth with plagues. These witnesses will not be casual elders who just happen to be in Jerusalem when was breaks out. They will likely be General Authorities of the Church—prophets specifically called on this mission to the Jewish nation (compare Zechariah 4:12-14; Revelation 11:1-4).
“to the Jewish nation in the last days” It is intriguing that at the time Joseph Smith wrote this revelation, there was no Jewish nation upon the face of the earth. The existence of the nation of Israel in the Holy Land since 1948 constitutes just one more prophecy of Joseph Smith that has come to pass since the Restoration.
Brief Historical Setting
By March of 1832, separate united orders were organized under the leadership of Bishops Edward Partridge in Missouri and Newell K. Whitney in Kirtland. The leading brethren of the Church were, by revelation, organized together into yet a third united order—indeed a mini-united order—called the United Firm [D&C 78, 82 and 92 -The United Firm], which was charged with the responsibility of caring for the poor. Initially the Firm owned property jointly, but later the properties were divided among its members [D&C 104 -Reorganization of the United Order and United Firm].
- Michael J. Preece