Keys to Understanding the Book of Revelation
The Book of Revelation: A Testament to the Lamb of God
By Nicholas J. Frederick
The key to understanding the book of Revelation is to simply remember why it exists: to testify of the mission, mercy, and majesty of Christ.
When we read about the dragon, the beast, the vials, the trumpets, and so forth, we need to do so within the context of the work and mission of our Savior, Jesus Christ.
The book of Revelation is certainly one of the more daunting books of scripture in our canon. Before they have even finished the opening chapter, readers encounter a blur of cities with strange names, stars and candlesticks, and a mysterious figure variously identified as “the Son of man” (verse 13), “the first and the last” (verse 11), and “Alpha and Omega” (verse 8), out of whose mouth appears “a sharp two-edged sword” (verse 16).
By the time readers cross the finish line of John’s vision 21 chapters later, they will have encountered—among other things—colored horses, a terrifying dragon, beasts from both the land and the sea, and scores of angels blowing trumpets and emptying vials upon the people of the earth.
Readers of the book of Revelation can come away anxious and fearful as they discern between both the literal and figurative depictions of what awaits those who live in the final days prior to the Lord’s Second Coming.
The Key to John’s Revelation: Jesus Christ
It is understandably easy to get caught up in the supernatural frenzy that runs through so much of John’s vision. After all, all of these symbols (wings, horns, eyes) and numbers (3½, 6, 7, 12, 144,000) beckon the reader to “crack the code” and decipher mysterious secrets hidden within John’s lengthy vision. However, to read the text of the book of Revelation as a sort of intricate puzzle that must be solved risks going beyond the mark and missing the vision’s central message. After all, Joseph Smith once said that “the book of Revelation is one of the plainest books God ever caused to be written.”1
A simple “key” that readers can use to understand the book of Revelation comes in the first five words of John’s record: “The Revelation of Jesus Christ” (1:1). When we read about the dragon, the beast, the vials, the trumpets, and so forth, we need to do so within the context of the work and mission of our Savior, Jesus Christ. All that comes after verse 1 needs to be read through the lens of “What does this tell me about Jesus?” This mind-set actually goes to the heart of what the term revelation in the title means. In the original Greek, the word for “revelation” is apocalypsis, from which we get our word apocalypse. But unlike the modern use of apocalypse to refer to the end of the world, apocalypsis means “to unveil something that is hidden.” What John’s vision serves to do, then, is to “unveil” Jesus Christ—to reveal his true nature, character, and mission.
Thus the book of Revelation is a vision that gradually “unveils” elements of the Savior and His atoning mission through the use of various images and symbols. One of the most important of these is the image of Jesus as a “Lamb,” a symbol that appears near the beginning of John’s vision and is a continual presence (although not always in the foreground) throughout. By the time John reaches the climactic end of his vision, the true nature and character of the Lamb will be revealed.