Thoughts on Gospel Doctrine Lesson 45

by | Dec. 04, 2003

Sunday School

Richard D. Draper on the Dragon, the Woman, and the Child in Revelation 12:
John introduces this section, according to the KJV, with the words: "And there appeared a great wonder in heaven." Here "wonder" would be better translated as "sign" (Greeksmeion). A wonder is a surprise of great magnitude, but a sign is replete with meaning and points to a definite subject or object. The word denotes an optical impression through which one gains confirmations. John's use of the word is consistent. It foreshadows a coming event and thus serves as a prophetic or anticipatory omen. The JST notes that the sign in heaven was "in the likeness of things on the earth," (v. 1), making it clear that the heavenly vision symbolized earthly conditions.
The adjective "great" is used six times in this chapter, suggesting the importance of the themes covered. The first of the great signs, in order but not in eminence, is the woman. John describes her as being "clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars" (KJV). The woman, according to the JST, represents the Church (see v. 7). On her head are the victor's laurels (stephanos) garnished with twelve stars. These symbolize the twelve apostles, or priesthood authority, who stand at the Church's head.
Celestial glory surrounds her as a garment, showing that the power of God is upon her. The Greek word used here, peribebmen, "having been clothed," suggests that thewoman wears the glory as a garment but that it does not belong to her. It is reflected by her. Thus, she manifests the light of Christ but is not the source of that light. There is also a secondary meaning of the Greek verb periball, translated "clothed," that isvery likely at play here. The word means "to throw up a rampart around" (cf. Luke 19:43). John's imagery could, therefore, represent the glory of God acting as a bulwark to protect the Church.
The woman is in travail. Her pangs suggest creative suffering, a suffering that ends in joy as she brings forth a son. The Old Testament often associates such suffering with the suffering that precedes the establishment of Zion (cf. Isa. 13:8; 26:17; 66:7-8; Jer. 4:31; 13:21; Micah 4:10). These references suggest that the imagery represents the coming forth of the New Israel or the New Jerusalem. J. Massyngberde Ford notes that the woman is the antithesis of the harlot exposed in chapter eighteen and thus is the symbol of the New Jerusalem. She is not far from the mark. As will be shown below, the child represents the political kingdom of God whose laws will come forth from Zion. John's vision suggests that this nearly became a reality during the apostolic ministry. The book of Acts shows that the earliest Saints practiced, albeit briefly, a kind of law of consecration and enjoyed immense spiritual power and unity (see 2:41-47; 4:31-37).
However, the child, according to the JST, does not represent Zion per se but a particular aspect of God's work in establishing Zion. The child, "who was to rule all nations with the rod of iron" (v. 3), is "the kingdom of our God and his Christ" (v. 7). Insights from modern prophets make it clear that John's "man child" represented a real political kingdom that was to be established by God to govern the whole earth. fn Brigham Young taught that this political power actually grows out of the Church. fn Speaking of the latter-day event, he explained, "The Church of Jesus Christ will produce this government, and cause it to grow and spread, and it will shield round about the church. And under the influence and power of the Kingdom of God, the church will rest secure and dwell in safety, without taking the trouble of governing and controlling the whole earth." fn Elder Joseph Fielding Smith stated:
After Christ comes, all the peoples of the earth will be subject to him, but there will be multitudes of people on the face of the earth who will not be members of the Church; yet all will have to be obedient to the laws of the kingdom of God, for it will have dominion upon the whole face of the earth. These people will be subject to the political government, even though they are not members of the ecclesiastical kingdom which is the Church.
This government which embraces all peoples of the earth, both in and out of the Church, is also sometimes spoken of as the kingdom of God, because the people are subject to the kingdom of God which Christ will set up.
John's account suggests that the early Church endeavored to establish the political kingdom in the meridian of time. The attempt proved unsuccessful. Such an institution would have shaken the very powers of hell as it overmastered the world and protected the Church. Little wonder that the manifestation of the woman and the child is followed by another portent showing Satan's opposition to the kingdom.
The second sign John sees is that of a great red dragon—not the winged and fire-breathing creature of fairy tales, though just as ferocious and evil. The Greek word (drakn) signifies a serpent or sea monster, but it is best understood as the personification of seething chaos, often represented as the dark primeval waters, which oppose not only God but all that is holy. fn It is no minor power. Indeed, in the Old Testament it represents that force which only God can subdue. fn The distinguishing feature of the beast is its insatiable cruelty. fn It is demonic in its genesis and intent and, as such, is the perfect type of Satan at his worst.
John sets this symbol against that of the woman, who represents poise, harmony, beauty, and life-giving creation. In this context the significance of the dragon's color is heightened. It is fiery red, the color of what engulfs and consumes. fn The color seems to suggest the despiteful, violent, and murderous means by which Satan, the dragon, brings about his ends. Jesus said of his adversaries, "Ye are of your father the devil. . . . He was a murderer from the beginning" (John 8:44).
The dragon has seven crown-wearing heads and ten horns. Note the inconsistency. There are either too many or too few horns for the heads. But God is not creating an image to be pictured but is rather communicating through symbols the nature of the thing he describes. Both numbers are significant. The seven crowns are not the laurels of victory (stephanos),which the woman wears, but diadems (diadma), symbols of political domination. The scriptures never depict Satan wearing laurels because he wins no permanent victories. The seven crowned heads suggest the universality of his rule as the king of chaos. They represent Satan's pseudoclaim to royalty set against that of the King of kings and the Lord of lords, whom John describes as wearing "many diadems" (Rev. 19:12—"crowns" in KJV).
The horns seem to denote the dragon's all-pervasive false sovereignty. Horns symbolize power. As discussed previously, ten represents the whole of a part but not the whole itself. Thus, the dragon has great power, but John shows that he does not have all power; some portion is lacking. This is not true of the Lamb whom John depicts with seven horns, the symbol of fullness (see 5:6). Thus, John's metaphors subtly show that the Lamb has all power and can overmaster the dragon.
In this episode, John depicts Satan as a tremendous and frightening spiritual force working against the Church of God. But he does not work alone. John states that his mighty tail "draws a third part of the stars of heaven" (AT), symbolic of his fallen minions. The tense John chooses, contrary to that shown in the KJV, is present. By this means John shows that the dragon draws his lackeys with him by clutching them in the coils of his tail. John has the dragon rise against God's earthly authority by attempting to destroy God's agent the moment he is born into the world. This hostile act symbolizes Satan's attempt to become king of the earth. Once again, the Seer emphasizes the issue of sovereignty and authority. The Church during the meridian of time briefly challenged Lucifer's domain by bringing forth the kingdom of God. The old dragon had to act with all his fury, bringing the entire legion of demons with him, to stop this threat to his kingdom.
Though Satan failed in his attempt to destroy the man child, he was partially successful. He did prevent the kingdom of God from being permanently established. According to the JST, "the dragon stood before the woman which was delivered, ready to devour her child after it was born" (v. 4), but the "child was caught up unto God and his throne" (v. 3). Thus it appears that God took the fledgling kingdom—that is, the political keys and authority given to the apostles and other leaders—to heaven, where it was safe from the dragon, until the restoration in the in the latter days. Frustrated because he could not destroy the child, the dragon turns on the woman herself, but she escapes by fleeing into the wilderness (see v. 6).
As the woman flees to her place of refuge, the dragon makes a last desperate attempt to destroy her. Casting out water, his primary weapon, from his mouth he endeavors to sweep her away in a flood of destruction. But the earth assists the woman by swallowing the vast tide. Just what John intended is difficult to assess. Satan is the father of lies, that much is known for sure. In one way or another, everything that issues from his mouth conveys deception. Perhaps with a deluge of lies, not unlike those that the modern Church faces from its detractors, he tried to destroy the early Church.
But John could have had other ideas in mind. Flood waters are a common metaphor in the Old Testament for tribulation as well as overwhelming evil (see Ps. 18:4; Isa. 43:2). The term is used to denote oppressive nations such as Assyria (see Isa. 17:12-14, cf. 8:5-8), Egypt (see Jer. 46:7-8), and Babylon (see Jer. 51:55), as well as hostile nations generally (see Ps. 18:14- 15; 46:1-3). Oppression may be what John alludes to, especially in light of the heightened persecution of Rome against the Christian people at the time of the Seer's writings. Further, the waters represent chaos, the result of unchecked iniquity. Satan, once the kingdom of God was gone, secured his place as prince of the world. Unchecked iniquity characterizes his reign.
Perhaps Satan tried through tribulation and unbridled wickedness to destroy the Church. Conceivably, he attempted to seduce and threaten, or wear out, the true saints. Just how the earth assisted in saving the woman is unknown. The metaphor echoes Numbers 16:32 where Korah's rebellion against Moses ended when "the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed them up, and their houses, and all the men that appertained unto Korah, and all their goods" (KJV). Somehow the earth absorbed Satan's lies and malice long enough to allow the Church time to secure what was most precious before fleeing to the safety that awaits the righteous in God.
The wilderness, as the Revelator makes clear, was a place of protection where the woman would be nurtured. The period of her rest would be one thousand two hundred and sixty days, or three-and-one-half years. (Verse five of the JST changes "days" to "years," probably to suggest that the stay in the wilderness would be of long duration.) This number, as has been shown earlier, represents a period of tremendous trial. The trial comes because it is the period of Satanic rule. Since three and one-half, half of seven, which is the symbol for perfection, represents the fullness of imperfection, it describes the period of Satan's rule. However, in each case where the number is used, the period ends in total victory for God. Thus the woman, though forced to flee from the earth to heaven where men would have no access to her, would triumph in the end.
For a time the Church's progress ceased. But it may be fair to ask, what church? Since the temporal church fell into apostasy, what church did God preserve and place in safe-keeping? Likely John refers to the Church of the Firstborn spoken of in the Doctrine and Covenants. There the Savior states, "I was in the beginning with the Father, and am the Firstborn; and all those who are begotten through me are partakers of the glory of the same, and are the church of the Firstborn" (93:21-22). How one is begotten is clearly spelled out in Doctrine and Covenants 76:50-70: faith, baptism, and reception of the Holy Ghost are prerequisite. Then one must be sealed through continuous good works by the Holy Spirit of Promise. Those who do so become the Church of the Firstborn, being "priests and kings, who have received of his [God's] fulness, and of his glory" (D&C 76:56).
In John's day, this group constituted those who had ears to hear what the Spirit was saying to the churches. Upon their death, they carried the keys back to heaven where they could be restored to the earth in the latter-days. Thus, God frustrated Satan in his attempt to destroy this church. Having failed to rid the earth of the Church, the dragon turned upon the few remaining faithful—those who continued to resist the forces of apostasy in their own lives—and made war on them.
(Richard D. Draper, Opening the Seven Seals: The Visions of John the Revelator [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1991], 131-139.)
Donald W. and Jay A. Parry on the Promises Made to the Seven Churches:
The letters to the seven churches have a threefold application. First, the letters were likely sent to the seven churches of Asia, which may have been under the jurisdiction of the apostle John himself; hence, each letter contains information that fits a local and historical context.
Second, the number seven symbolically indicates completion or wholeness and thus has meaning for the entire church of Christ. Thus the contents of all seven letters apply to all Saints of all ages subsequent to the time of John's book of Revelation. Certainly the problems and challenges set forth in the letters are experienced by God's people in all ages, and the promises and rewards in the letters are directed to all Church members.
Third, the seven letters are personalized and directed to each member of the Church, regardless of geographical locale or dispensation. Note the many second-person personal pronouns—"thou," "thee," and "thy"—in the seven letters and the individual expressions "he that hath an ear" or "to him that overcometh." (A chart outlining the letters to the seven churches and their contents is contained in Appendix 4.)
The Lord, through John, is the author of the letter to the servant of the Church of Ephesus. Presumably the servant, a presiding authority, received the letter and read it to members of his congregation. The Lord commends the community of Saints for their faithful labor, patience during persecution and tribulation, and for hating the evil works of the Nicolaitans. He is also aware that the Saints cannot tolerate evil and that they successfully tested and then revealed false apostles who were among them. But the Church members need to repent for leaving their "first love."
Jesus Christ promises those who are spiritually alert ("he that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith") and who overcome the world that they will be permitted to partake of the fruit of the tree of life and become exalted souls.
The Lord, described as "the first and the last, which was dead, and is alive," is the author of the letter to the servant of the Church in Smyrna. The letter features many contrasting elements: "the first" and "the last," "dead" and "alive," "poverty" and "rich," they which "say they are Jews" but "are not," and "death" and "crown of life." These contrasts emphasize that Church members will suffer and receive tribulations during mortality but will ultimately, if they are faithful, be crowned with eternal life.
This is the shortest of the seven letters and, like the letter to the Saints in Philadelphia, it contains no condemnation of the Saints.
Church members in Pergamos were persecuted by those who were not Christians, especially members of the pagan community, who accused the Christians of "hatred against the human race," "atheism," and advocating a "mischievous superstition." It was the custom of the persecutors to cry out to the Christians, "Away with the atheists."8 Further, the Saints were evidently persecuted for refusing to worship pagan idols and were ostracized from social and political functions.
Jesus, the author of this letter, commends the Saints for holding fast to his name and refusing to deny the faith, but he criticizes a few for holding to the doctrines of Balaam and the Nicolaitans, which doctrines teach idolatry and sexual sin. He commands such to repent.
To those who overcome the world, Jesus promises "hidden manna," a "white stone," and a "new name."
will I give to eat of the hidden manna. Manna is the food that Israel received from heaven for forty years while they wandered in the wilderness (Ex. 16:15, 35). The hidden manna refers to Jesus, who is the "true bread from heaven" (John 6:32). Jesus said: "I am [the] bread of life. Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever" (John 6:48-51). Jesus is "hidden," or unseen and unknown by the wicked, but is revealed to him or her who overcomes.
The phrase "hidden manna" may also refer to eternal truths from and about Christ that are revealed only in the temple, "mysteries" given only to those who seek diligently for them (see Matt. 13:11-12; 1 Tim. 3:16; 1 Ne. 2:16; 10:19; Alma 12:9; D&C 76:5-7).
give him a white stone. The white stone is a urim and thummim for each individual who enters the celestial kingdom; written upon this white stone will be a new name. D&C 130:8-11 explains: "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; and this earth will be Christ's. Then the white stone mentioned in Rev. 2:17, will become a Urim and Thummim to each individual who receives one, whereby things pertaining to a higher order of kingdoms, will be made known; and a white stone is given to each of those who come into the celestial kingdom, whereon is a new name written, which no man knoweth save he that receiveth it. The new name is the key word."
new name. In a different context, Abraham (Gen. 17:5), Sarah (Gen. 17:15), and Jacob (Gen. 32:28) were given new names by the Lord. Isaiah prophesied that Israel would "be called by a new name, which the mouth of the Lord shall name" (Isa. 62:2; 65:15). God revealed to John that "him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God . . .: and I will write upon him the name of my God . . .: and I will write upon him my new name" (3:12).
The new name is written on the white stone that is "given to each of those who come into the celestial kingdom. . . . The new name is the key word." The new name, similar to the white robe of Rev. 3:5, 6:11, and 7:9, symbolizes a new existence, or a new life.
Jesus Christ addresses the Church members in Thyatira, declaring that he knows their works (the word works is repeated three times), charity, service, faith, and patience. Notwithstanding their positive behavior, Jesus condemns some of the members for permitting the evil Jezebel to teach fornication and idolatry among them. Jezebel and her followers, if they fail to repent, will die a spiritual death and will be cast into hell. Church members who refuse to follow Jezebel's teachings are commanded to endure to the end. If such overcome the world, they are promised they will be given "power over many kingdoms," which they will rule with justice and equity. They are also promised the "morning star."
2:28 I will give him the morning star. This expression may have at least two meanings. First, Jesus Christ is "the bright and morning star" (22:16). The promise of "the morning star" may be the promise of the Second Comforter, which is that "when any man obtains this [Second] Comforter, he will have the personage of Jesus Christ to attend him, or appear unto him from time to time, and even He will manifest the Father unto him, and they will take up their abode with him, and the visions of the heavens will be opened unto him, and the Lord will teach him face to face."22 Second, God gives eternal life to those who overcome; they will become like Christ, who is the "bright and morning star."
In Rev. 3:2-3, Jesus Christ directs five imperatives to the Saints in Sardis: "be watchful," "strengthen," "remember," "hold fast," and "repent." These five imperatives indicate the needs of the Church members in Sardis and were to assist them in their quest for righteousness. This passage also likens Jesus to a thief who will quickly come in judgment upon the wicked, who were not looking for his coming.
The next three verses contain marvelous promises directed to those who overcome the world, for such will be "clothed in white raiment," symbolizing eternal life because of personal purity and Christ's atoning sacrifice. Those who overcome will also have their names written in the book of life, meaning they will possess eternal life and will inhabit God's heavenly kingdom.
Jesus identifies himself to Church members in Philadelphia as the one who is holy, true, and possesses "the key of David" (3:7). He commends the Saints there for keeping his commandments and for refusing to deny his name; he offers them no criticism. Because the Saints have kept Christ's words, he will keep them "from the hour of temptation," and he promises to "come quickly," a promise that was also made to the Church members in Ephesus and Pergamos. He also commands them to "hold . . . fast," a commandment also made to Church members in Thyatira and Sardis. Verses 11 through 12 contain terms that recall the ancient temple, including "crown," "pillar in the temple," "and "new name"; these same terms pertain to the righteous, who will wear the crown of victory, become permanently connected to the heavenly temple, and receive a new name.
Most of these words of admonishment, commendation, and promise apply to us, who live in the closing years of the dispensation of the fulness of times.
In this letter to Church members in Laodicea, Jesus identifies himself with three expressions: "the Amen," "the faithful and true witness," and "the beginning of the creation of God" (3:14). He repeats what he has told the other six churches, saying, "I know thy works" (3:15) and then follows that with the well-known phrase "Thou art lukewarm, . . . I will spue thee out of my mouth" (3:16). Jesus describes the lukewarm Saints with five terms: "wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked" (3:17), terms that apply to their spiritual state rather than their physical condition.
Christ counsels the Saints; he commands them to "be zealous" and to "repent" and invites them to open the door and receive great spiritual blessings, including the presence of the Lord. Those who overcome the world will receive a throne in Heavenly Father's kingdom.
(Donald W. Parry and Jay A. Parry, Understanding the Book of Revelation [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1998], 42-54.)
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