Looking at Scripture Mastery - Revelation 14:6-7

Looking at Scripture Mastery - Revelation 14:6-7

Greek: 6 Καὶ εἶδον ἄλλον ἄγγελον πετόμενον ἐν μεσουρανήματι, ἔχοντα εὐαγγέλιον αἰώνιον εὐαγγελίσαι ἐπὶ τοὺς καθημένους ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς καὶ ἐπὶ πᾶν ἔθνος καὶ φυλὴν καὶ γλῶσσαν καὶ λαόν, 7 λέγων ἐν φωνῇ μεγάλῃ· φοβήθητε τὸν θεὸν καὶ δότε αὐτῷ δόξαν, ὅτι ἦλθεν ἡ ὥρα τῆς κρίσεως αὐτοῦ, καὶ προσκυνήσατε τῷ ποιήσαντι τὸν οὐρανὸν καὶ τὴν γῆν καὶ τὴν θάλασσαν καὶ πηγὰς ὑδάτων.

My Translation: 6 And I perceived another messenger flying in the height of the sky, having good tidings eternal to announce upon the sitters on the ground and upon every nation and tribe and tongue and people, 7 saying in a great noise, Be afraid of God, and grant to him honor, because the hour of his selection has come, and y'all worship him that caused sky and land and sea and springs of waters.

KJV: 6 And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people, 7 Saying with a loud voice, Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come: and worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters.

My translations are purposefully stretched and should not be viewed as more accurate than the KJV translation unless I say so in the post. I'm trying to show the range lying between the original Greek text and the English.

Update May 2013
This scripture has been removed by the Church Educational System from the Scripture Mastery list. However, it had remained within this list for over two decades and as such is still familiar to many graduates of the LDS Church's Seminary program. So I'm keeping this exploration of it online, but it is no longer applicable to CES.

I'll be honest, I can't think of a good introduction. Let's just agree to pretend that I wrote something really kick-ass about John's Revelation.

This book (though it's composed as a letter) was written by a man named John on the island of Patmos. While tradition says that this is the same John as the Apostle John (of Peter, James, and John fame), no further information is given about the author beyond his name. The style of the Greek is very different from the Gospel of John and the Letters of John, all of which have enough similarity between them that many scholars feel there was a common community, possibly even a common author (though this is nowhere near established), for them. The Revelation of John does not seem to be related to this community. Mormons believe that the author is the Apostle John because he is identified as the author in 1 Nephi 14:27 in the Book of Mormon.

Dating the letter can be difficult because often the dating of New Testament writings is done through contextual clues within the text. The text of Revelation is so obscure and vague at times that discerning any historical clues is difficult.

The book contains a highly symbolic vision of the battle between good and evil at the coming of the kingdom of God. Beginning with specific warnings to seven churches in what is today Turkey, the vision continues using the narrative structure of a scroll that has been tied with seven seals. As each seal of the scroll is opened, the vision continues to unfold of the battle between good and evil, until after the final seal is opened then the kingdom of God arrives on the earth complete with the glorification of Jerusalem and the world.

It would be impossible to summarize the many approaches that can be taken to reading the Revelation in just a blog post. For simplicity's sake, I'll try to summarize only two points of view: the traditional LDS view, and the majority scholastic view.

Joseph Smith's Conflicting Views

The traditional LDS viewpoint is mostly contained in D&C 77, where God explains some of the symbolism in John's Revelation. According to this section, each of the seals of the scroll represent a thousand years of human history, beginning roughly at 4000 BCE and continuing to the opening of the seventh scroll roughly around the 21st Century. In this way, the Revelation is an overview of the entire history of the world from beginning to end. However, in a sermon delivered April 8, 1843, Joseph Smith said, "The things John saw had no allusion to the day of Adam Enoch Abraham or Jesus... " (Willard Richard's Journal) and "None of the things John saw had any allusion in the days of Adam, Enoch Ab[raham] or Jesus... [John] saw that which was lying in futurity." (William Clayton Journal). So frankly, I'm not actually sure which point of view is the correct one. The current CES manuals acknowledge the quotes from the April 8th sermon (which are actually more extensive on this point than what I've quoted), but they teach according to the idea that the Revelation relates to the distant past as well as the future. However, it seems that near the end of his life Joseph was thinking that the Revelation only dealt with world history after the 1st Century CE. Frankly, I've become quite accustomed to self-contradictory statements by Joseph Smith, so to me this is just par for the course.

General Scholastic View

Scholars usually feel that the Revelation is describing the world current to the author in the 1st Century CE and while it may be expecting some items to occur in the future, that future is expected to be shortly occurring. But the majority of the symbolic events are felt to be concurrent with the author and some of the troubles occurring to Christians in the Roman Empire. Usually, it is felt that the book was written in response to a sense of general persecution of Christians, such as those who lived in the city of Rome after a fire burned a large swath of the city in 63 CE. The Emperor Nero blamed the fire on Roman Christians and had many of the Christians of Rome burned as punishment (later pagan historians would blame Nero himself for setting the fire as an excuse to begin a large building project in the ruined city). While this persecution was only localized to the city of Rome itself, the fate of the Christians there appalled Christians throughout the Empire. Many scholars feel that the book is detailing Rome, both the Emperor and Empire, as representatives of the evil world that will fight and lose against the rapidly coming kingdom of God. John's point of view is that there isn't much time left (Rev 1:3, 22:6-7, 22:10, 22:12, 22:20).

Early tradition stated that the reason John was on Patmos when he wrote the Book of Revelation was that he had been banished there (though there is no evidence for this in the book itself; John merely says that he was on Patmos "because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus"). I feel the need to point out that it took centuries for being Christian to ever become a crime. Most Christians during the first two Christian centuries were arrested and executed for the crime of atheism, because they would not sacrifice to the gods and did not claim to be Jews, who were the only group legally protected from being forced to sacrifice. When your entire civilization is founded on the belief that prosperity and destruction are brought about through the good favor and anger of the gods then it becomes your civic responsibility to ensure that those deities are appeased; refusal to honor them could have devastating consequences. Most Roman officials begged and pleaded with charged Christians to simply do a sacrifice and leave prison; they didn't want to be killing normal residents of the Empire, to be killing mother and fathers. They were utterly bewildered by this group of religious individuals who refused, upon pain of death, to offer sacrifices, sometimes even approaching their executions with gleeful anticipation. The early persecutions of Christians by Roman authorities were usually motivated by a fear of the gods and not by a hatred or misunderstanding of Christianity.

However, related to this issue, later Christian historians claimed that there was a severe persecution of Christians by the Emperor Domitian. Domitian had apparently ordered that sacrifices be made to him throughout the Empire, and Christians refused. Sacrifices to the Emperor weren't uncommon as the office of the Emperor was felt to bestow a divine quality upon the Emperor and that he was therefore a god (though that's not quite as hubristic as it may sound to us: Mediterranean religions had gods for everything, and the Emperor, while still divine and important, was nowhere near on an equal level with Zeus, Jupiter, or Ra). Christian historians say that Domitian enacted horrible persecutions against Christians for this refusal, but unfortunately we have no other evidence of this persecution period from earlier sources, neither Christian nor Roman. Also, later Roman authorities seem surprised and curious at discovering the existence of various Christian groups, implying that Christians were still relatively unknown through the middle of the 2nd Century CE. If these persecutions indeed took place, they would have occurred in the mid 90s CE, and this, too, may have been part of the reason for the writing of the book.

Another event that occurred in the ancient world that may have been the impetus for creating this work was the destruction of the Jewish Temple by Roman forces in 70 CE. This was an awful blow for Jews (and Jewish Christians) throughout the Empire. It appears that the historical Jesus had possibly prophesied that it would be destroyed some forty-odd years earlier. If so, then many Christians would feel that the Temple's destruction was a sign that the end of the world was indeed near. Notably, when John describes the "New Jerusalem" that arrives with the kingdom of God, he describes a city without a Temple: God is its Temple. Even if the Book of Revelation was written decades later at the end of the 1st Century CE, the destruction of the Jewish Temple still seems to lie behind some of the work.

The Context of the Scripture Mastery

The scripture mastery verse in question is part of a character motif John uses as he symbolically explores the effects of opening the various seals of the scroll. Various angels have various duties through the vision: seven angels blow trumpets to announce terrible calamities upon the earth, four angels are tasked with killing a third of humanity, one angel is flying in the midst of heaven with the "everlasting gospel", another angel gives John a scroll to eat, another has a rainbow above his head and shouts with seven thunders. Angels are the main method that God uses to advance the plot of the opening of the sealed scroll.

In the vision, John has just finished describing 144,000 virgins singing a new song to God. After this, he sees, as the above scripture describes, an angel literally flying in the midst of heaven. This angel has the "everlasting gospel" and is to proclaim it to everyone on the earth. This angel is then followed by a second angel who announces that Babylon has fallen (a major theme of Isaiah that is used by John), and yet another angel who declares that anyone who has been marked by the evil side will be tortured with fire and sulfur. The vision then continues on to the seven angels with plagues coming out of the heavenly temple to afflict the earth.

Yeah, it's pretty weird stuff. So in context, what is going on, and then what is the general Mormon interpretation?

First, it's extremely difficult to tell what is going on. The book is written to be carefully analyzed and studied. For instance, in the famous declaration that the number of the "beast" is 666, John tells the reader to "calculate the number" because it is a "human number" (Rev 13:18). John is expecting some very close reading and seems to expect that his readers will already understand much of what is being said. Secondly, the book is very Jewish in nature, echoing (and in many cases quoting and paraphrasing) prophetic books from the Hebrew Bible such as Daniel and Isaiah.

What most seem to agree upon is that John is not using the word "gospel" or "good news" here in reference to what Paul and others termed the "good news" that Jesus rose from the dead. Instead, the good news that the angel is sent to preach is actually quoted in the second verse: "Worship God who made everything." That's it, followed by another angel declaring Babylon's fall, and another declaring the punishment of the wicked.

The general Mormon understanding is that the angel flying through heaven with the everlasting gospel is Moroni (and, by extension, all of the other angels involved with Joseph Smith and the Restoration). And since it is said that he is to preach this good news to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people, so Mormons believe that before the end of the world the message that began with Moroni (the message of the LDS Church) must first go to every country in the world. For this reason, Mormons are confidently expectant that they'll eventually have missions in such countries as China, North Korea, and the Middle East.

Is this correct? Who knows. Do I think it is? No, not at all. John expected the end of the world to arrive "soon". Last I checked, "soon" was not over two thousand years long. Some Christians use other books from the New Testament to explain how "soon" can indeed be viewed as any length of time, but Revelation is a self-contained work that is not aware of the other books it shares the New Testament with. I don't think John is talking about a future restoration of the truth, and even if he is it's oddly surrounded and mixed in among references to monsters breathing out evil spirits, locusts, plagues, talking animals, trumpets, and disembodied voices. When Joseph Smith once claimed that "Rev[elation] is one of the plainest books god ever caused to be written" (William Clayton Journal, 8 April 1843) I think it was just empty bravado. It wouldn't be out of character for Joseph to make such claims.

Why Do I Think This Is Part of Scripture Mastery?

I think this was chosen because it's been viewed by many LDS leaders as a prophecy of Moroni's appearance to Joseph Smith to lead him to a book. Since "Gospels" are now viewed as books, and since the Book of Mormon is viewed as another book about the Gospel of Jesus, then it makes sense to view this character in John's Revelation as Moroni. And frankly, if they want to view it that way, then more power to them. Revelation is a highly symbolic work that even Joseph Smith himself said many contradictory and speculative things about. Is their interpretation correct? Probably not. Does it matter? Probably not.

See other posts in my Scripture Mastery New Testament Series

Tom Doggett

Tom Doggett

I'm a programmer, Ancient Greek reader, feminist, spouse and partner, and a dad.

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