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Revelation 12-22: Imminent Destruction, Immanent Grace

Posted by joespencer on December 13, 2007

It is this eleven-chapter stretch of Revelation that most closely mirrors Nephi’s grand vision in 1 Nephi 11-14. The parallels are perhaps relatively obvious: Revelation 12 begins with a vision of mother-and-child, as does Nephi’s vision; the beasts that subsequently arise are closely parallel to the nations and churches Nephi observes; the same play between the angel’s perspective and the happenings on the earth obtains in both records; the vision of Babylon/Rome that John see is strikingly like Nephi’s own vision of the great and abominable church; both see and record (Nephi records only the first hint of it) the sudden pouring out of wars and destructions; etc. John, of course, as Nephi himself is told by the angel, records more or goes further. But now let me make a few “speculative” leaps in terms of all of this.

It seems to me that the close ties between just this part of Revelation and the entirety of Nephi’s vision is of some importance, and perhaps gives us another way of approaching the authorship questions I have allowed to plague us all along this broad overview of Revelation: when Nephi is shown the Beloved at the end of 1 Nephi 14 and told that this apostle would write the vision Nephi had seen, could it not suggest that the Beloved is the author “only” of Revelation 12-22? Now, I don’t want to make that sound nearly so hard and fast as it might appear (the question mark is a real question mark), but there seems to me to be freed up here an interesting interpretive possibility: the Jesus/John/John knot remains, despite the Book of Mormon’s take on Revelation in 1 Nephi 14 (this seems especially important given that the beginning of Nephi’s vision–the mother-and-child thing–is parallel precisely with chapter 12 of Revelation).

I want to suggest, merely as a possibility, then, that the Apocalypse is the result of an interesting intertwining of Jesus, the Baptist, and the Beloved; that it interweaves the double experience of Jesus’ baptism (the experience of Jesus on the one hand, and the experience of the Baptist on the other hand), and that this is then taken up into the apocalyptic work of the Beloved. But then, why bother so much about authorship? Well, several answers occur to me: first, it seems important to me not to lose the connection between the Book of Revelation and the baptismal experience of Jesus/John, which is missed if the whole thing is attributed to the Beloved alone and at such a late date; second, such an approach to the authorship of the Apocalypse frees up the possibility of seeing it as a self-interpretive work, as a doubling of an earlier vision (much like Nephi’s doubling of Lehi’s vision, and precisely as the first verses of Revelation make it sound: this is the Revelation of Jesus Christ which was given to Him to show to His servants, which then becomes the Revelation of them as well… two visions); third, references to the Apocalypse in the Book of Mormon might well, in light of these possibilities, have reference only to chapters 12-22, and this may be something absolutely vital for any responsible interpretation of Ether 4; fourth, this allows us to make a sharp distinction between the “historical modes” employed in chapters 1-11 on the one hand and 12-22 on the other, since the former seems to be a vision of the beginning/end of things of heavenly (or earthly made heavenly) happenings, while the latter seems to be a vision of the remainder of earthly history (albeit taken up, constantly, into typological imagery). These interpretive consequences seem to me to make it worth making a wager or two about authorship.

What I see happening in these eleven chapters (12-22), then, is the most “historical” part of the Apocalypse: John seems to me here to be raptured by a vision of history that was about to unfold. It moves inexorably, as chapters 4-11 lay out quite clearly, towards the Adam-ondi-Ahman event of chapter 20 and the celestialization of the earth thereafter. That is, chapters 12-22 are a kind of typological reading of the history from the time of John to the “end.” That it is typological (all a question of figures, etc.) is vital: it is not a chronicling of events between Domitian’s reign and the actual event of Adam-ondi-Ahman, but an ordering of the meanings that inhabit that history, that give that history meaning. Another way to put this same point, and hopefully much more clearly: the Apocalypse is a kind of template that gives orientation to any reading of history between the beginning of the “Great Apostasy” and the event of Adam-ondi-Ahman, and it is a mistake to take the history of that time period as providing a key, somehow, to reading the images and figures of Revelation. In a word, the Apocalypse was given as a way to make sense of history, but not as a laying out of history, and it therefore calls its readers to a rethinking of history and the nature of history, not to the task of doing history in the same old way (no “traditional” historical approach to the “Great Apostasy” is appropriate in light of the Apocalypse).

All these figures, of course, deserve careful interpretation, which I hope I’ll have enough time to do in subsequent posts over the next few days. For now, though, I hope something like an overall picture of the flow and meaning of Revelation has begun to emerge. Let me sum up these first four posts on Revelation with a final paragraph or two before turning, tomorrow, to the details:

Revelation would seem to be able, in some sense at least, to trace its origin back to the baptismal experience of Jesus, during which Christ had an exalting, endowing revelation, and during which the Baptist had some kind of marvelous vision as well. The dialectic, if you will, between those two experiences seems to be primarily what is behind the general shape (but perhaps not the text itself) of Revelation 4-11. Those chapters, and this point seems quite clear, lay out the meaning of the double event (at the beginning and at the end) of Adam-ondi-Ahman. John the Beloved, a disciple of the Baptist and then an apostle of Christ, seems eventually to have had a vision that presented a typology of the history from the death of Christ to His return at Adam-ondi-Ahman, which makes up Revelation 12-22, a typological history to which was added (apparently during the vision itself) not only the contextualizing vision of Revelation 4-11 “shared” by Jesus and the Baptist so many years earlier, but also the initial vision in the Holy Place of Revelation 1-3 and the profoundly typological letters thus written to the seven churches of Asia.

Hence, what we have in the Apocalypse is something like the following. The Beloved had a kind of Eucharistic vision while at Patmos, one that drew heavily on what John already understood to be the vision of the Christ/Baptist at the baptism of Jesus in order to contextualize a typological history of the time between the then contemporary situation and the eventual experience of Adam-ondi-Ahman. This typological history (12-22), with its revelatory key (4-11), was delivered to the seven churches of Asia (1-3) to be used liturgically in the Eucharist so as to call the saints to the task of giving themselves in typological fidelity to the event of Adam-ondi-Ahman. That is, the Apocalypse remains, in the end, an epistle with a strictly liturgical function: it summoned the saints to the work of typological faith, a faith that allows an event that is not yet to come to be through one’s militant fidelity.

Maybe. :)

24 Responses to “Revelation 12-22: Imminent Destruction, Immanent Grace”

  1. BiV said

    Oh! I just posted on your Wiki about this, and here it is again.
    I really want to believe this postulation about the revelatory experience of Christ at his baptism, and it’s just so cool that I know it would be hard to give up. Consider what we have to work with:

    1. Nephi clearly states that John the Apostle wrote the Book of Revelation.
    2. The JST removes the ambiguity in Rev 1:1 about whether the vision was given to Christ.
    3. Section 93 can be read as John the Apostle speaking as a witness of Christ’s baptism or at least having a strong testimony of the event. Or it can be read as John the Baptist speaking whose words are informed by the same knowledge that the author of the Book of John had when writing his Gospel. Either way, there seems to be a strong connection between the two Johns, and a possibility that John the Revelator was present at the baptism of Christ and a witness of an alleged vision experienced by the Savior.
    4. The Bible Dictionary states that we can assume that John the Apostle was the unnamed disciple of John the Baptist in John 1:40. Perhaps this is an attempt to make sense of D&C 93? I cannot find another reason for making this assumption.

    Do we have any other reasons for the postulation that a revelation Jesus may have had at his baptism was repeated to the author of the Apocalyse? If not, the scriptural evidence rests upon the conflation of the two Johns in D&C 93. It seems a very slim possibility.

  2. Clark said

    Nephi states John wrote an Apocalypse. That doesn’t mean the version we have is identical to what John (or John’s scribe) recorded. When you consider Nephi’s statements about lost texts that’s something to keep in mind.

  3. robf said

    It seems from 1 Nephi 14 that Nephi and others saw what you are referring to as the John the Beloved portion (Rev 12-22) of the Apocalypse. So while Rev 12-22 is most clearly written by John the Beloved, all of the Apocalypse was apparently seen by many others–apparently including Jesus, John the Baptist, Nephi, Moses, etc. So instead of worrying who wrote what–which we can probably never know–I’m more interested in this Vision, which seems to form a core of our spiritual tradition–this Spirit of Revelation which is the “testimony of Jesus” (Rev 19:10) and which is clearly tied to the temple and interwoven throughout the scriptural record.

    I think its what makes the Restored Gospel so unique–it is not primarily a religion “of the book” but of the Vision-Temple-Book of which our scriptures are just a taste.

  4. BiV said

    but…..
    do we really have a sound reason to link the Apocalypse of John and a supposed revelation given to Christ?

  5. robf said

    I like that Christ and Nephi are both “carried away in the spirit”–Christ after his baptism and Nephi when he sees his vision–perhaps when they see this same Vision.

    I like that Christ is in the wilderness for 40 days and 40 nights–the same amount of time that he tarries with his apostles (and presumably teaches them much of this stuff–the forty day teachings). Yeah, I know 40 days can’t necessarily be taken literally, but the same language is used. Makes you wonder about other uses of this phrase–Noah in his ark/temple. Moses on the Mount. Elijah on Mount Horeb (1 Kings 19). Ammon in the wilderness (Mosiah 7)?

    How much of D&C 76–The Vision–is from this vision?

  6. Clark said

    Rob, I think asking who saw what is interesting since biases will factor in. For instance consider the differences (beyond length) between Lehi’s and Nephi’s visions.

  7. robf said

    BiV, the way I read it, the JST of Rev 1:1 doesn’t preclude Christ also having received this Revelation or Barker’s reading as perhaps indicated in the KJV and ambiguous “original” Greek. They could both be “factually” true.

  8. robf said

    Clark, if The Vision included “all things” there will probably be a wide range of ways to describe/edit/record it. Fair enough. Though in the case of Revelations I’m not sure how far we can move beyond the speculative authorial ascriptions Joe’s sketched out here.

  9. Clark said

    I think “all things” was a thematic all things rather than being literally all things. (What, John saw me making chocolate today?)

  10. robf said

    Hey, send me chocolate!

  11. Joe Spencer said

    Rats. I thought I was clearer on this than I guess I really was.

    Authorship (likely every “merely” textual fixation) is important so far as it bears on theological interpretation. And it seems to me—as I hope I argued clearly in the post—that theological interpretation can be radically recast here in light of the question of authorship. I can, of course, get to the same interpretive alternatives through other ways, but since I found my way there through the question of authorship, I’ve stated it that way… but don’t misunderstand me for that reason.

    That said, I don’t think my ruminations about authorship can rightly be called speculative without a bit of clarification of what is meant by that term. The belief that Moses and John saw the same vision—and especially that that somehow extends to, say, Nephi and Joseph and so on—is far more speculative than anything I’ve advanced here! While there is textual warrant for the reflections I’ve indulged in (far more textual warrant than I’ve taken the time in my brief bouts of writing to lay out in detail!), I’m not familiar with any tetual warrant to equate every vision had by a prophet.

    Another way to put all of this: I am wholeheartedly of the opinion that we are, in the end, a religion of the book, that we are only ever anything more than a religion of the book by giving ourselves first and foremost to the book. The very vision on which these posts comment is filled with books: even if we are a religion of visions, what we encounter, so soon as we are caught up in those visions, is the work of reading, writing, and sealing up.

    Interpretation—a militantly faithful hermeneutic—is really what our entire religion comes down to, I would argue. But I digress….

  12. robf said

    Joe, I don’t think I agree with you in your unabashed love of the book. I think books are important, but that there is something much more important here tied with visions and temples. Books didn’t bring Joseph to God. They might have led him to ask questions. But the visions were more important than the books. And as you’ve said, those visions in the Kirtland Temple rocked his world so much that everything changed after that. I think the temple and our books are both pathways towards something that transcends both–Apocalypse. Vision. Communing with God.

    As for other prophets seeing the same Vision–isn’t that the Secret that Amos talks about? Didn’t the angel tell Nephi that others saw the same? Joe, I think if you keep working it you’ll have to come to that conclusion.

  13. robf said

    And Joe, I’m not saying that every vision that every prophet had was the same. Just that many of them (perhaps all of the true prophets?) did see this same vision, were similarly caught up into the heavenly courts and shown The Big Picture so to speak.

  14. Clark said

    Rob, there definitely is a view within the Church that there is a single vision and that the accounts we read of John, Nephi, Lehi, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Moses and Joseph having are all this vision with each just writing about different aspects. (There’s a tradition within Judism which can be seen as embracing this – often there is strong meditation on Is 6 and Ez 1)

    For the record I’m not entirely sure I buy it. Further I personally think there is a strong subjective element to the visions. But one can’t help but note some strong parallels. However I think that the scholars who point out the meaning of apocalypses in terms of a historic situation make good points. Thus Daniel in terms of 2cd century BCE or John’s apocalypse in terms of 1st century Rome.

  15. robf said

    Joe, here’s perhaps how I see this–I think we need to pay the scriptures perhaps a couple orders of magnitude more attention than we traditionally have as individuals and as a Church. That said, I think we should pay the priesthood ordinances (including especially the temple ordinances) at least an order of magnitude more attention. And then, after all that, what will still be even more important will be communing with the general assembly and Church of the Firstborn, entering the Divine Council, experiencing the Apocalyptic Vision ourselves, and walking and talking with God.

    I think the scriptures and temple ordinances lead us to those latter experiences and blessings. They are invaluable tools. But it isn’t just about experiencing God through those tools.

    Don’t take that as a dismissal of the tools. As I said, and as you’ve displayed, they are sacred and holy things with a power beyond what we have normally comprehended. But scriptures without temples and visions are never enough. That’s why we’ve got so many religions, with so many claiming to have their own faithful hermeneutic.

    I like what Wilford Woodruff taught:

    There is one truth that becomes still more evident to my mind, and I think to the minds of this people generally, and that is the importance and necessity of our being governed and controlled day by day by the revelations of God. Now, we may take the Bible, the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants, and we may read them through, and every other revelation that has been given to us, and they would scarcely be sufficient to guide us twenty-four hours. We have only an outline of our duties written; we are to be guided by the living oracles. The ten commandments are very good, and the great and glorious principles pertaining to the redemption of man, the revelations pertaining to events that are past and to the things of the mysterious and unborn future, and there are also many choice and precious things relating to the redemption of man, to the present and future greatness of the Saints; but where can we find one revelation that tells us that we should raise three hundred teams, or twelve hundred yoke of cattle, to bring up the poor from the Missouri river. We have been informed by the revelations of the Lord Jesus Christ that there should be a Temple built in Jackson county; but has there been a revelation to tell us how long or how high it should be? No, we have got to be governed by the mind and will of God, and this must be apparent to this people; it shows itself more and more.

    We need revelation to guide us daily, but we also need revelation to correctly understand the scriptures and ordinances, and to know God. So while with Brigham Young we can claim that we believe the Bible more than other Christians, I think we can also say that we know more than they that the scriptures are not enough.

  16. robf said

    Clark, I think I’m OK with everything you just said. I agree there is a lot of subjectivity involved in visions. And historical attention to how they are variously recorded is interesting and probably valuable. And I think I agree with Joe that they aren’t so much to give a prediction of the future, but a way to understand events as they occur. Though Nephi’s vision of his posterity seems pretty clearly to paint a future picture of history. Or at least our account of it does!

  17. s james said

    #4 BiV, Yes, why would Christ be caught up to witness the specifics of the Apocalypse that relate to the seven Churches, at his baptism?

    And yet, one would consider that all that had been and would be revealed to the prophets would have been also revealed to the Son.
    Thank you for awakening me to the JST, I overlooked this.

    #11 Joe, What is a text? And what is a ‘textual warrant’? Whose text be it?

  18. s james said

    robf, a consideration: what of the ‘agency’ of the ‘letter’, the actualisation of language.
    If it not be the text, then is it not the symptoms of the text we live by.

  19. Joe Spencer said

    Rob, I entirely agree that there is more to this work than the text. My point is simply that everything that is more is rooted in and returns to the text. Visions, the temple, etc., in the end, drive us back to the texts. They are, if you will, the hermeneutical keys (isn’t this the thrust of the last verses of the Joseph Smith History?).

    What I’m not suggesting, then, is that we are only text, nothing but text, but that everything else is gathered back into the text, and that everything points from text to text, towards more text. And I’m explicitly rejecting the view that the texts are mediators of something beyond them, that they are “tools” in any sense. In the end, I think President Woodruff’s comment precisely confirms this: we need ongoing revelation, etc., not because that takes us beyond the text, but because that gives us a way of enacting the text truthfully.

    And there is so much we’ve not even begun to consider that convinces me on this point most strongly, things like the description of the priesthood as the power to record, the place of written genealogies in the order of heaven, stones with names written into them, texts speaking from the dust, etc., etc., etc. Though Joseph experienced a vision of the Father and the Son in 1820, he seems to have taken it to mean little more than “personal forgiveness” until an angel appeared with a book. And when he forgot that again, Elijah came to restore the priesthood of recording on earth and in heaven, of writing. In the end, what shocked Joseph in the Kirtland House of the Lord was not that there was something more, but that there was this something more, that there was something else about writing to sort out.

    In a word, I’m not making some kind of apology for poststructuralism, some kind of appeal to the saints to get interested in studies of textuality. Rather, my interest in precisely those fields has been planted, nourished, and watched over by the scriptural emphasis on these themes. The most attentive reading of the uniquely LDS scriptures (including and perhaps especially the JST) will have to be given most constantly to the meaning of the written word. And this is something that we, as a people, have not as yet even begun to consider.

    Hence, it might be more appropriate to say: we are not yet a religion of the book, but everything in our ignored scriptures says that we had better become one. In the meanwhile, as D&C 84 puts it quite clearly, a condemnation resteth upon the children of Zion, yea, even upon all…

  20. cadams said

    robf,

    What a fascinating insight!

  21. robf said

    I’m explicitly rejecting the view that the texts are mediators of something beyond them, that they are “tools” in any sense.

    Joe, I think maybe you’ve grabbed on to one end of the stick and I may be holding the other end, so I’m not sure its necessary to argue this much further. While you see ordinances and visions leading back to texts, I’m emphasizing the texts leading us towards ordinances and visions as experiences of heavenly realities. In my mind it seems a dialectical process with movements in both directions. I’m not sure how much of our (slight) difference here is based on semantics or positionality vs. real difference, but I’m not too worried about it!

  22. Joe Spencer said

    Nor am I ever too worried about differences between us, Rob (to be honest, I’m always surprised when they come up because we seem to see eye to eye on so much in the scriptures). On with the work…

  23. Robert C. said

    Since I don’t have much to add substantively, let me just express my enthusiasm for this project of studying more about writing/recording that Joe is calling us to. Just this morning I was listening to his seminary podcast on Isaiah 4, and his discussion of Isa 4:3 was yet another passage where it seems a lot is going in in terms of “the book of life.”

    Since the link I provided lists several translations, but not the JPS translation, let me quote it here (available online here):

    And it shall come to pass, that he that is left in Zion, and he that remaineth in Jerusalem, shall be called holy, even every one that is written unto life in Jerusalem;

    It is this curious phrase “written unto life” that Joe picks up on and ties into this larger vision of a “theology of writing” that I think is so fascinating and that seems indeed to be such a central theme of the restoration.

  24. robf said

    …and the Word was God.

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