For many, John’s writings known as the book of Revelations are a mystery. However, in 1843, Joseph Smith taught, “the book of Revelation is one of the plainest books God ever caused to be written”.[i] This is an interesting commentary on a book that is filled with such unusual symbolism. Furthermore, when Joseph Smith performed his translation of the Bible, he did not significantly alter it from its current form. Perhaps Joseph Smith’s perception of the clarity of the book came with his familiarity with its author. Joseph Smith met with John on multiple occasions. If knowing the book’s author led Joseph to be able to understand the book of Revelations, perhaps if we endeavor to better understand John the same will hold true for us.
Each of the four previous sections that I have written all refer the apostle John[ii] to one degree or another. Given that each reference was taken from the Book of Mormon, this fact becomes particularly interesting. Moroni wrote the following:
…Then shall ye know that the Father hath remembered the covenant which he made unto your fathers, Oh house of Israel. And then shall my revelations which I have caused to be written by my servant John be unfolded in the eyes of all the people. Remember, when ye see these things, ye shall know that the time is at hand that they shall be made manifest in very deed.[iii]
The time for the manifestations of John to unfold in the eyes of all people is now. As previously mentioned, to facilitate this study we should begin with a very important question. Why John? Why was he the one to expound upon these things beyond the scope of all others? It is easier to understand why the others we have reviewed have written about these things. Isaiah wrote these things because the Northern Kingdom of Israel was scattered in his day. Nephi wrote these things because his life was directly impacted by the destruction and scattering of Jerusalem. Christ taught about these things because He is the God of Israel. Moroni wrote and delivered his message regarding these things because he was a first-hand witness to the demise of the remnant of Joseph, and would be instrumental in the events of the restoration. But why John?
The answer to this question is found in the life and mission of this peculiar apostle. To accomplish this, I will briefly review three aspects of John’s life. First I will review John’s relationship with the Savior during Christ’s ministry and their time together. Secondly, I will review John’s authority and keys. Lastly, I will review John’s mission. After we have considered these three aspects, the reasoning behind why John will be clear, as will the basis for understanding and interpreting many of his writings and prophecies.
Christ and John – a special relationship
The principle of foreordination teaches that certain people were called from before the foundations of the world for specific callings. For example, we know that the prophet Jeremiah was foreordained to his calling as a prophet to the nations.
The word of the Lord came unto me, saying, before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.[iv]
If Jeremiah was foreordained, it was surly not happenstance that Peter, James, and John were born when and where they were. They were foreordained to be in Christ’s inner-circle during His mortal ministry. They were “prepared from the foundation of the world according to the foreknowledge of God, on account of their exceeding faith and good works.”[v] Their relationship with the Lord was cultivated over eons of time, their mortal ministry being a continuation of their pre-mortal relationship.
John, in particular, was spiritually in tune. He recognized the voice of God in the words of the Elias that was sent to prepare and make straight the way of the Lord – John the Baptist. He devoted himself as one of the Baptist’s disciples early on.[vi] Once the Baptist showed him the Christ, he followed after the Savior from that time forward. Not only that, Christ and John shared a bond that was very unique. From the New Testament, it is clear that the other apostles loved and reverenced the Lord, but with John there was something more, something deeper. The Savior referred to John as, “My Beloved”, and others referred to him as “the disciple that Jesus loved”.[vii] The term beloved is not casual in any respect. The Father’s deep and abiding love for His Only Begotten Son was made manifest to the world repeatedly by the term “My Beloved Son”. Consider the following examples:
But, behold, my Beloved Son, which was my Beloved and Chosen from the beginning, said unto me—Father, thy will be done, and the glory be thine forever.[viii]
And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him: And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.[ix]
And behold, the third time they did understand the voice which they heard; and it said unto them: Behold my Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased, in whom I have glorified my name—hear ye him.[x]
Above all other titles, the Father chose “Beloved” to describe His Son. Ponder, then, the significance in the following passage in which the Savior refers to John in this same manner.
And he said unto them: Behold, I know your thoughts, and 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.[xi]
In this verse, Christ is addressing the three Nephites. John is not present, but still the Savior refers to him as His beloved. This attests to the love Christ feels for this special apostle. Above all the titles one could receive from the Lord, is there any greater than this – a title denoting His great and abiding love?
Christ and Johns’ interactions together plainly demonstrated this unique relationship. During the last supper John rested his head upon the Savior’s chest.[xii] Such an act shows a great degree of closeness and comfort with the Great God of Israel. While others could not so much as hold the Savior’s gaze, John was perfectly comfortable resting his head upon Him. Furthermore, despite the fact that the Savior had multiple siblings that could have taken care of His mother after His death,[xiii] it was to His beloved friend John, that Christ would entrust His mother.[xiv] If we knew nothing else of their relationship, this one act alone would speak volumes regarding the Lord’s affection for this man.
John remained as close as He could to the Savior during the darkest hours of His ministry. He was present during the atonement in Gethsemane. He was at the trial. He would have witnessed His horrific scourging at the hands of the Romans. He very likely would have walked beside Him, or as close as was possible, during the arduous cross-laden journey to Calvary. He was present at His feet during the crucifixion. Through out His horrible end John, alone, of His apostles and friends was continually at His side. Upon news of His resurrection, it was John who would be the first of the apostles to arrive at the empty tomb. As such, John’s account of the Savior’s final hours is far more detailed than the accounts of the other apostles. All the other gospels are winding up by the time they reach the account of the Last Supper, but not John’s. His account is barely half completed when he describes the events surrounding the Last Supper.
After the apostles had seen the resurrected Lord, Christ asked them if they loved Him – Peter specifically, but who can doubt that the question also applied to both James and John? Jesus told Peter that if he loved Him, he would feed His sheep. He made this point very clear by stating it three consecutive times.[xv] After the Savior had thus emphasized the point, He asked Peter and James what they would have Him do for them. They both eagerly asked the Lord to hasten the time when they would be able to join Him in His kingdom. Christ granted unto them their desires. John’s reply to the Savior’s offer was quite different. It seems that the Savior’s message of feeding His sheep resonated on a deeper level within John’s heart. From John’s reply we gain a beautiful glimpse into this wonderful apostle’s soul.
And the Lord said unto me: John, my beloved, what desirest thou? For if you shall ask what you will, it shall be granted unto you. And I said unto him: Lord, give unto me power over death, that I may live and bring souls unto thee.[xvi]
In other words, John asked that his life be extended that he might spend the rest of his days feeding the Savior’s sheep. Given that John’s request came on the heels of the Savior’s admonition to Peter to demonstrate his love to Him by feeding His sheep, can there be any doubt that John loved the Lord? Everything he was, and is, and has since become is a testament to this love. He consecrated all that he possessed, or ever would have, to the service of the Lord. And he did it not just for a lifetime, but for the equivalent of many lives. I doubt that John understood the full magnitude of what he was asking the Lord to do, but the Lord did. The Lord responded to his request as follows:
Verily, verily, I say unto thee, because thou desirest this thou shalt tarry until I come in my glory, and shalt prophesy before nations, kindreds, tongues and people.[xvii]
Upon realizing that John had asked for some better than he had, the remarkable, albeit it impetuous Peter cried out to the Lord in objection. To which the Lord responded.
Peter: If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? For he desired of me that he might bring souls unto me, but thou desiredst that thou mightest speedily come unto me in my kingdom. I say unto thee, Peter, this was a good desire; but my beloved has desired that he might do more, or a greater work yet among men than what he has before done.
Yea, he has undertaken a greater work; therefore I will make him as flaming fire and a ministering angel; he shall minister for those who shall be heirs of salvation who dwell on the earth. And I will make thee [Peter] to minister for him and for thy brother James; and unto you three I will give this power and the keys of this ministry until I come.[xviii]
From this passage we learn that while the mortal ministry of both Peter and James would, and has, come to an end, the work and ministry of John the Beloved continues, and will continue with him holding the keys until the Savior comes again. Given what we understand regarding priesthood keys and stewardships, this statement is profound. It also sheds light on the following statement of the angel to Nephi during his vision, which we discussed in the first section of this book:
Thou rememberest the twelve apostles of the Lamb? Behold they are they who shall judge the twelve tribes of Israel; wherefore, the twelve ministers of thy seed shall be judged of them; for ye are of the house of Israel.
John’s Authority and Keys
From one of the passages above we learned that Peter, James, and John received the keys of the ministry until the Lord returns to earth for His second coming. Of the three, John alone remains. He is the only mortal living today that received the priesthood and the keys of the kingdom directly from the hand of the Lord Jesus Christ. Together with the three Nephites, this is a unique characteristic setting John the Beloved from all other priesthood holders. All who hold the priesthood in these latter-days have received it through John. As such, it stands to reason, that upon John’s return, all existing priesthood keys will be subject to him. Even John the Baptist gave the Aaronic Priesthood to Joseph and Oliver under his direction.[xix] Consider this verse from latter-day revelation:
And also with Peter, and James, and John, whom I have sent unto you, by whom I have ordained you and confirmed you to be apostles, and especial witnesses of my name, and bear the keys of your ministry and of the same things which I revealed unto them;
Unto whom [Peter, James, and John] I have committed the keys of my kingdom, and a dispensation of the gospel for the last times; and for the fullness of times, in the which I will gather together in one all things, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth.[xx]
In these verses Christ states that while the newly called latter-day apostles bear the keys of their ministry, the keys for the fullness of times, and of gathering all things “in heaven” and “on earth” remain with John and his associates. When did John and his brethren receive these keys? Joseph Smith taught the following:
The Savior, Moses, and [Elijah], gave the keys to Peter, James, and John, on the mount, when they were transfigured.[xxi]
We do not have a full account of what happened on the Mount of Transfiguration. However we do know that John received the priesthood and all the corresponding keys that he would need for his mission. We also know that they were given instructions upon the Mount regarding the ushering in of the millennial reign of the Lord, when the earth would, itself, be transfigured. The Savior instructed Joseph Smith:
He that endureth in faith and doeth my will, the same shall overcome, and shall receive an inheritance upon the earth when the day of transfiguration shall come; when the earth shall be transfigured, even according to the pattern which was shown unto mine apostles upon the mount; of which account the fulness ye have not yet received.[xxii]
The individuals present on the Mount of Transfiguration would also visit Joseph Smith approximately 1,800 years later to confer upon him similar priesthood keys. Once Joseph had received these keys he was told:
Therefore, the keys of this dispensation are committed into your hands; and by this ye may know that the great and dreadful day of the Lord is near, even at the doors.[xxiii]
John held all these keys prior to Joseph Smith, and still holds them to this day. From Joseph, and through the administration of John, Moses, and Elijah, our modern day prophets, seers and revelators continue to hold all the keys of this dispensation. Our leaders need these keys to oversee and give guidance to all aspects of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This includes the great work of standing as an ensign of truth and light to an increasingly hostile world, as well as the great missionary work – the fishing of men. John needs these keys so that he can fulfill his mission as entrusted to him by the Savior. Of all mortal men now living, John holds the greatest authority, and from the teachings of the temple, it would appear that such has been the case for a very long time. We will discuss his mission in detail next.
From what we have already reviewed, we know that John’s mission was to span the period of time between the Lord’s earthly ministry and His Second Coming. We know that he has all the requisite authority and keys to carry out this mission, and that he received his authority from the Savior himself. Lets explore now in greater detail the revealed information we have received regarding John’s latter-day role. Some vital information regarding John’s great work comes to us from the revelations within his own writing. Consider the following portion from the Book of Revelations – John’s record:
And the voice which I heard from heaven spake unto me again, and said, Go and take the little book which is open in the hand of the angel…And I went unto the angel, and said unto him, Give me the little book. And he said unto me, Take it, and eat it up; and it shall make thy belly bitter, but it shall be in thy mouth sweet as honey.
And I took the little book out of the angel’s hand, and ate it up; and it was in my mouth sweet as honey: and as soon as I had eaten it, my belly was bitter. And he said unto me, Thou must prophesy again before many peoples, and nations, and tongues, and kings.[xxiv]
It is clear from these verses that this book was meant especially for John, as he alone was to eat it, and is almost a word for word quote of what the Savior told to John. Therefore, whatever was in this book, we can assume was to become part of what John would become. The Doctrine and Covenants provides some valuable insight into the meaning of this symbolic book.
Question: What are we to understand by the little book which was eaten by John, as mentioned in the 10th chapter of Revelation?
Answer: 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.[xxv]
From this additional revelation, we learn unequivocally that the book represented a particular mission for John. He is the latter-day Elias. He “must come and gather Israel and restore all things”. We have seen that part of his latter-day mission was to restore the priesthood. This has been completed. The prophet Isaiah spoke of the second part of John’s mission, that of gathering Israel:
And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse, which shall stand for an ensign of the people; to it shall the Gentiles seek: and his rest shall be glorious [The rest found in the New Jerusalem compared to the chaos of war elsewhere in the world.].
And it shall come to pass in that day, that the Lord shall set his hand again the second time to recover the remnant of his people, which shall be left, from Assyria [the Lost Ten Tribes], and from Egypt, and from Pathros, and from Cush, and from Elam, and from Shinar, and from Hamath, and from the islands of the sea [scattered Israel]. And he shall set up an ensign for the nations, and shall assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth.[xxvi]
The tenth article of faith explicitly calls the returning of the Remnant of Jacob a restorative event: “We believe in the literal gathering of Israel and in the restoration of the Ten Tribes.”[xxvii] It will be part of John’s mission to restore these Lost Tribes – which shall have left Assyria long ago. After the Remnant of Jacob has been restored, as an Elias, John will serve as the latter-day forerunner of his dearest friend, Jesus Christ, to prepare the world for His Second Coming. This will be done in large part by purifying America, and destroying large numbers of the wicked worldwide. After America is purged John will restore Zion upon its shores. Zion has not been present in America in its fullness since the days of Enoch, more than 6,000 years ago. The restoration of Zion upon the earth will stand as a second latter-day ensign, and all the remaining scattered individuals of Israel who will come will be gathered to it. Consider the following verse:
And [the House of Joseph] shall assist my people, the remnant of Jacob, and also as many of the house of Israel as shall come, that they may build a city, which shall be called the New Jerusalem. And then shall they assist my people that they may be gathered in, who are scattered upon all the face of the land, in unto the New Jerusalem.[xxviii]
Once the New Jerusalem is built, and Zion is restored to the earth again, John and his one hundred and forty-four thousand missionaries, consisting of twelve thousand men of every tribes of Israel, will go out into the earth as the hunters of Israel, hunting out any remaining Israelites that might be left scattered among the Gentile nations. The Jews, however, will be the last to be restored to the gospel, which restoration will not happen until after the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. Thus fulfilling the oft stated prophesy – the first shall be last, and the last shall be first. All of these things comprise John’s mission to “restore all things”. And, as we have seen, is literally a page out of John’s book. [xxix]
In a church conference held on June 3, 1831, Joseph Smith taught the Saints that John the Revelator was then among the Lost Ten Tribes of Israel, to prepare them for their return from their long dispersion.[xxx] John is still alive. He is anxiously engaged in the work the Lord has entrusted to him. Based on the words of the Lord, John must prophesy again before many peoples, and nations, and tongues, and kings.[xxxi] We will see John again, soon!
This concludes my review of John the man. With this information, we can now better answer interpret the symbolism put forth in his record, as well as answer the the question put forth at the beginning of this chapter: Why John? John wrote of these things because they are part of his personal ministry. He was called from the foundations of the earth to fulfill them. Who, therefore, is better qualified than John to write them? This is the requisite perspective from which we must view the writings of this great man. Now let us begin our review.
[i] Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, comp. Joseph Fielding Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1938), 290.
[ii] 1 Nephi 14:27, Isaiah 11:10-12, 3 Nephi 28:6, Ether 4:16
[iii] Ether 4:15-16
[iv] Jeremiah 1:4-5
[v] Alma 13:3
[vi] Bible Dictionary: John
[vii] John 21:7
[viii] Moses 4:2
[ix] Mathew 3:16-17
[x] 3 Nephi 11:7
[xi] 3 Nephi 28:6
[xii] John 13:23-26
[xiii] Mark 6:3
[xiv] John 19:26
[xv] John 21:15-17
[xvi] D&C 7:1-2
[xvii] D&C 7:3
[xviii] D&C 7:4-7
[xix] D&C 13 – Section heading
[xx] D&C 27:12-13
[xxi] HC 3:387
[xxii] D&C 63:20-21
[xxiii] D&C 110:16
[xxiv] Revelations 10:8-11
[xxv] D&C 77:14
[xxvi] Isaiah 11:10-12
[xxvii] Articles of Faith 1:10
[xxviii] 3 Nephi 21:23-24
[xxix] D&C 77:14
[xxx] HC 1:176
[xxxi] Revelations 10:8-11