5 Keys to Understanding the Book of Revelation

5 Keys to Understanding the Book of Revelation

For most, John’s Revelation is like a sealed treasure chest. It is detailed and intricate, colorful and ornate one feels that there must be a valuable treasure inside, but opening its secrets can be a daunting task.  Like any treasure, maps and keys are needed to find and unlock its contents. What may surprise most searchers is that they already have most of what they need to comprehend the messages in the book of Revelation. Here are five keys that have helped me understand the important truths and messages contained inside. 

1. Read the revelation with the same spirit that you would any Gospel subject. 

When studying the Revelation it’s very easy to feel lost. Martin Luther, a very accomplished biblical scholar, exclaimed, “my spirit cannot accommodate itself to this book.” With its heavy symbolic imagery and Old Testament style language, it can feel like a tough slog, but don’t give up. The first step is to put on your everyday gospel glasses and you’ll be surprised what you can understand.  

Here are some examples: 

Chapter 5 provides insight in the pre-mortal selection of the Jehovah as the Savior. The revelation asks: “Who is worthy to open the book?” This question is referring to the Plan of Salvation. From the Book of Abraham, we know that Jehovah was chosen and we understand the context and background about this subject. 

Chapter 12 gives us insight into the pre-mortal war between Michael (or Adam) and Lucifer and his followers. 

Chapter 14 talks of missionary work and harvests—the “angel flying in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel.” 

There are literally hundreds of passages like these, which we already know something about, because of our gospel understanding. With an eye to pick out key principles and passages, and with a little thought we really can say, again and again, “I understand this!” 

2. Use scriptures and prophetic revelations that are more easily understood. 

The Lord has revealed many things about the Second Coming, which is the major theme in Revelation. Therefore, reading other scriptural materials will increase your understanding of subjects found in John’s Apocalypse. 

Here are a few of my favorites: 

Doctrine and Covenants 77 is a question and answer session between the Joseph Smith and the Lord on the book. Studying this discussion along with Revelation can lead to great insights.

The Lord’s discourse on the Mount of Olives (Joseph Smith – Matthew, Matthew 24) provides a different point of view on the Second Coming. The same is true of Doctrine and Covenants sections 45 and 133. The Topical Guide reference Jesus Christ-the Second Coming is also very helpful. 

Modern prophets have also spoken extensively on the Second Coming and on many topics found in Revelation. In a real sense general conference represents the Lord’s most current instructions for preparing for His return. There is so much material, pick a few verses and dive in!

It is also important to note that while the Second Coming is a major theme, it is not the only subject covered. The book of Revelation reveals much on our relationship with the Lord, pre-mortal life, missionary work, the millennium, and judgment day as well as a vision of the Celestial Kingdom. These are all valuable insights, worthy of your attention.

3. Consider the structure of the book. 

Elder McConkie once said, ”If you have already fallen in love with John’s presentation of the plan of salvation as it is set out in the Apocalypse, you are one of the favored few in the Church.” (McConkie, Understanding the Book of Revelation, Ensign September 1975). 

What!? The Book of Revelation is laid out according to the Plan of Salvation? Well, yes. The following outline is a good map to the treasure: 

Chapter 1 – Introduction

Chapter 2 and 3 – Instructions and Counsel to the Church 

Chapter 4 – Creation and Kingdom of the Father

Chapter 5 – Jehovah as the Savior, Pre-mortal Council

Chapter 6 – Review of mortal history of the world for first six thousand years 

Chapter 7 – Addendum: The power of ordinances, covenants and temples. The Seal of God.


o Chapter 8 and 9 – Warning Trumpets 

o Chapter 10 – Adam Announces the end of the wicked, Mission of John

o Chapter 11 – Battle of Armageddon

o Chapter 12 – Addendum: Pre-mortal battle of Church vs. Satan

o Chapter 13 – Addendum: Political and Religious Kingdoms of the Devil

o Chapter 14 – Addendum: Harvests, First of Righteous and then of the Wicked

o Chapter 15 – Post-Armageddon plagues prepared 

o Chapter 16 – Plagues sweep wicked from the earth 

o Chapter 17 – The Kingdom and Fall of Babylon 

o Chapter 18 – Fall of Babylon and the world’s response

o Chapter 19 – Coming of the Lord 

Chapter 20 – Millennium, the end of mortal world and Judgment

Chapter 21 – Resurrection, Celestial Earth

Chapter 22 – Celestial Earth and Epilogue

While the plan is not presented exactly as we might teach it in family home evening, the components of pre-mortal, mortal, and post-mortal events are all there.  It makes sense that, within the context of the Lord’s plan, there are specific revelations relating to the Second Coming and the eternal destinies of the righteous and the wicked.

4. Look for principles and lessons instead of trying to decipher the imagery. 

As mentioned, many themes exist in Revelation and are presented in symbolic and colorful language. For instance, John is shown examples of anti-Christ, or “the beast,” as they are called. These mortal beasts were present in his day; they permeated the Apostasy and also exist in our day. 

We can find similar characters clearly identified in the Book of Mormon. Rather than spend too much time trying to identify specific characters in the world, it is wiser to try to understand those characteristics that describe these people and organizations, then they will more easily be discerned and shunned. The book of Revelation also provides warnings and speaks of things that can be done to defend against them in the Latter-day. 

Other patterns presented include characteristics of God’s warning trumpets to the world, the preparation of the righteous, the great harvest of missionary work, the character and downfall of Babylon, the consequences of sin, and the blessings reserved for the righteous. There are many principles that can be discerned and lessons drawn and applied. 

5. Finally, keep in mind that understanding Revelation will take work. 

There are few things worthwhile in the gospel that don’t require focus and diligence. Understanding what was given to John will be no different, but it can be very rewarding, even essential. As we observe and participate in the work of the Lord throughout the world, we should know that the Lord has prepared a safe path through these events.  We can and should be prepared. We can be at peace and have hope. 

A note of caution

As you read make sure that you do as Elder McConkie and the other brethren counsel: “Keep yourselves in the mainstream of the Church.” There is no need for special revelations or secret interpretations as are sometimes claimed. Remember Paul’s counsel: “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). All means ALL, including the Revelation of John, so stay on safe ground! 

Now go to work! And remember what Joseph Smith said, “ the book of Revelation is one of the plainest books God ever caused to be written” (Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 290). I know, I know, that’s easy for a Prophet and Seer to say, but it can be done and it’s important to try. Nephi was shown the end of the world and in the course of the vision the angel said: “Behold one of the twelve apostles of the Lamb… he (John) shall see and write the remainder of these things; yea, and also many things which have been. And he shall also write concerning the end of the world. Wherefore, the things which he shall write are just and true…” (1 Nephi 14:20-23, emphasis added) That which is truth is discernable. 

Good luck and may the Lord bless you in your quest to unlock the invaluable treasures found in the Revelation of John. 

The Book of Revelation: Things Which Must Shortly Come to PassUp your study of the Book of Revelation with The Book of Revelation: Things Which Must Shortly Come to Pass, now available for download as an eBook. 

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About the author:

Erik Brandt is a native of Utah, born in the northern community of Brigham City. He is the second of eight children, to Edward J. and Carol Brandt, who, from the beginning, instilled a great love for the gospel and scripture study. 

Over the years, he has spent many spare moments during travel and at other times in personal study to gain a greater knowledge and understanding of the scriptures. His efforts have resulted in a number of projects, one of which is this book. Years of labor have been dedicated to create this commentary. It is hoped that you will find the results as insightful as you journey in your quest to uncover the principles of the gospel and the profound teachings and messages found in the Book of Revelation.

Comments and feedback can be sent to feedback@ldsliving.com