Revelation 21:10-21

Before we begin, we need to begin at the beginning:

Revelation 1:1: The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John:

Some scholars think this was the title for the entire book. Regardless, it introduces the text. The most important word for us here is “signified,” which means to give a sign or symbol. In other words, we are told in the very first verse that what will be presented in the Book of Revelation will be presented symbolically. This is very, very important information as we get to chapter 21, because we need to read it with the idea in mind that we will be taught symbolically. It is not John’s intention that we read about the city as a literal city but rather as a symbolic representation of something else.

The passage we’ll look at is what is left after all that is evil is done away (see Rev 21:1, 5-10).

10 And he carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and shewed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God,

This is not the first mention of a city in Revelation; go back to chapter 18 to see the contrast between God’s city and the great city Babylon. A good exercise might be to make a chart comparing the two cities and see what you find. One thing you will notice is that they have some of the same adornments (i.e., pearls). The point here might be that (1) Babylon attempts to deceive by trying to look like The Real Thing and/or (2) you can’t tell just by looking which place is which.

The fact that this city descends from heaven suggests that we are about to see what it looks like when a city (i.e., a group of people living together) live according to God’s blueprint.

11 Having the glory of God: and her light was like unto a stone most precious, even like a jasper stone, clear as crystal;

Light is always an important idea. The helterskelter building practices and poverty of ancient cities meant that sections would be dim, dismal, and unsafe. This one is bright with God’s light.

12 And had a wall great and high, and had twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and names written thereon, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel:
13 On the east three gates; on the north three gates; on the south three gates; and on the west three gates.

Twelve is a symbolic number, indicating priesthood (think tribes, apostles, etc.). So having twelve gates suggests that one enters this city through the power of the priesthood.

14 And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and in them the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.

In fact, the very foundation of this city is the priesthood. Or, in other words, the power of God. This city is founded on the power of God.

15 And he that talked with me had a golden reed to measure the city, and the gates thereof, and the wall thereof.

The angel will measure the city or: explore it in more detail to teach John more about it.

16 And the city lieth foursquare, and the length is as large as the breadth: and he measured the city with the reed, twelve thousand furlongs. The length and the breadth and the height of it are equal.

In other words, the city is a cube. Note again that the size is a symbolic number (thousand has the sense of amplifying) based on the idea of priesthood, so the dimensions of the city suggest priesthood power as well. Note also that the size here is roughly equal to that of the entire known world at the time. (In other words, this is a big, big place.) Note also that the innermost part of the temple is a cube; the implication is that the entire city is the Holy of Holies.

17 And he measured the wall thereof, an hundred and forty and four cubits, according to the measure of a man, that is, of the angel.

The wall is woefully inadequate compared to the height of the city. This suggests that it isn’t a defensive wall, which is startling because the defensive wall was so important to ancient cities. But this city is not under threat. Note also that 144=12 * 12, so again we have the suggestion of priesthood undergirding this city. In fact, every single measure mentioned in this section is related to twelve, implying that priesthood is the key idea for understanding this city.

18 And the building of the wall of it was of jasper: and the city was pure gold, like unto clear glass.
19 And the foundations of the wall of the city were garnished with all manner of precious stones. The first foundation was jasper; the second, sapphire; the third, a chalcedony; the fourth, an emerald;
20 The fifth, sardonyx; the sixth, sardius; the seventh, chrysolite; the eighth, beryl; the ninth, a topaz; the tenth, a chrysoprasus; the eleventh, a jacinth; the twelfth, an amethyst.

What does it mean to be pure gold like clear glass? There are many possible answers here, but one I like is the idea of perfection.

The actual identities of some of these stones have been lost to the ages, but we do know that we are talking about the gems of the high priest’s breastplate here. Again, priesthood symbolism.

21 And the twelve gates were twelve pearls; every several gate was of one pearl: and the street of the city was pure gold, as it were transparent glass.

The famous pearly gates! Again, an image of perfection.

Some summary thoughts: I think it is a terrible waste of an opportunity to read this literally. First, it is contrary to the intentions of the author. Second, it leaves you with a juvenile understanding of a (really ugly cubic) city being plopped out of the sky. But, by looking for symbols, we see that the main message about this city–repeated over and over again in these verses–is that it is all about priesthood. When God organizes a city (=a group of humans together) it is done according to the order and precepts of the priesthood. What is the end result of all this?

Revelation 21:3-4 And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.

If there is a more beautiful or powerful passage of scripture, I do not know of it.

This post is a response to this post, but I feel the need to expand the pericope because the text isn’t done with the description of the city yet.

22 And I saw no temple therein: for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it.

The temple would have been one of the central features for most (all?) ancient cities, not just Jerusalem. So to say that there is no temple is pretty amazing. But the point of a temple was a special place where people would be symbolically in God’s presence. Here, it is unnecessary because the entire city is in God’s presence.

23 And the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof.

See above.

24 And the nations of them which are saved shall walk in the light of it: and the kings of the earth do bring their glory and honour into it.

This is a paradoxical image: people should be bringing gifts to kings; kings shouldn’t be bringing gifts! The point is that the greatness of God’s city is so great that the greatest mortals are brought low.

25 And the gates of it shall not be shut at all by day: for there shall be no night there.

Life in an ancient city–so dangerous!–must have been terrifying. The closing of the gates at night, to prevent thieves and bandits and warring armies from entering the city–provided a small measure of comfort. But imagine a city where the gates don’t even need to be shut!

The image continues in chapter 22; read it.

Why does Revelation use such wacky imagery? Why not just come out and call a spade a spade? Historically, apocalyptic usually becomes popular when people feel threatened by persecution. That may be the case here. Additionally, as one scholar said, “The visual power of the book effects a kind of purging of the Christian imagination, refurbishing it with alternative visions of how the world is and will be.”

I want to unpack that statement for a minute. Early Christians were surrounded by images of Roman power. When I have taught Revelation, I usually bring in a quick slide show of modern images of power: corporate logos, national flags and symbols of defense, political leaders, etc. I show those for a few minutes and ask the class to think about images of power. Then I pull out the church art–pictures of Christ and the prophet. And then I ask them to think about images of power. Well, you couldn’t order a Gospel Art Picture Kit in the first century. There were virtually no Christian images of power because no one could afford them (or feel safe owning them). But there were images of Roman power (statues, etc.) everywhere. How could Christians retain their commitment to ideas of God’s sovereignty in the face of this discrepancy? Well, the Book of Revelation is trying to give them new images of true power.

52 comments for “Revelation 21:10-21

  1. Frank McIntyre
    May 16, 2008 at 4:19 pm

    very interesting, Julie. Thanks.

  2. Edje
    May 16, 2008 at 4:30 pm


  3. Adam Greenwood
    May 16, 2008 at 4:40 pm

    Good stuff.

  4. May 16, 2008 at 4:45 pm

    Somehow I knew, the instant I called Revelation “gibberish,” that this post was in the offing.

    You extract coherent meaning from what seems to me to be bewildering nonsense. I can easily accept that I’m wrong — this is scripture, after all, and in my worldview that has to count for something. I can even accept that you have correctly interpreted it — but that acceptance is another way of saying I have faith in you, Julie, in your education, your reason, your testimony, your brilliance as a teacher. I’m not sure I could accept the same interpretation had it appeared on a Baptist website or been offered by a Sunday School teacher in my ward whom I didn’t know well, because I don’t have the same faith in those sources, and because the verses don’t, by themselves, say what you extract from them.

    We keep saying that the Book of Mormon was written and preserved for our day, and I have seen repeatedly that that is the case. So who was Revelation written for? Why do I feel so unutterably stupid every time I approach it? Why did our Sunday lessons in December extract isolated verses for discussion, with the teacher’s manual (apparently; I’m judging from the teacher’s presentation, not having seen the manual myself) merely stating, without explanation or evidence, that symbol X represented gospel principle Y, and why are we supposed to accept those meanings, or remember them?

    I apologize for calling it “gibberish,” but I am sincerely lost.

  5. Ray
    May 16, 2008 at 5:14 pm

    Fwiw, I love Isaiah – just about all of it. Most of Revelations does nothing for me. Maybe I just don’t feel the need for new images of power.

  6. Adam Greenwood
    May 16, 2008 at 5:52 pm

    Like Ardis Parshall, I know I’m wrong, since its scripture, but both Revelations and Isaiah both strike me a big heap of obscurity and confusion mixed with some strikingly beautiful passages. I am very grateful for people like Julie S. who help me make sense of things.

  7. Gary
    May 16, 2008 at 6:29 pm

    Could you explain in more detail why you believe that the number 12 connotes Priesthood? Is that a common interpretation? I am a little surprised since the 12 tribes did not hold the Priesthood–only one of them did. This is a very interesting interpretation, but I am too ignorant to know how well supported it is.

  8. Julie M. Smith
    May 16, 2008 at 7:29 pm

    Ardis, yes, this one was for you! (And you don’t need to apologize for calling it gibberish.)

    Your first paragraph about having faith in the interpreter is interesting. I guess the bottom line is the Sunday School answer about following the Spirit, because I would hope you wouldn’t just believe me on everything I say but rather do a gut check. And while perusing Baptist website might not be the best use of your time, I would hope that you would be open to the idea that they might get something right and that you would be open to the Spirit letting you know that.

    Ardis, I think Revelation was written for a scattered, persecuted, poor group (groups, actually) of newish converts, mostly in congregations teetering on the brink of apostasy. (I get this from the seven letters at the beginning as well as general knowledge about status of early Christians.) It is not surprising that it would be difficult for us to understand something that is more or less written in a code for them. I do think Revelation can be comprehensible, but only if we work really hard to find the Old Testament connections and symbols (or: read commentaries where others have done the same.)

    I don’t agree with an isolated “X means Y” approach to the symbolism of Revelation that you describe. The angst that I am hearing in your comment makes me want to start a series of posts on Revelation, because it hangs together as a whole and is, I think, beautiful and impressive and almost completely understandable if approached that way.

    Adam, perhaps this is a good time to confess that I have big problems with Isaiah. In the last several years, I’ve tackled the big tough books (Leviticus, Revelation, Isaiah) by reading 3-4 commentaries on each. End result: I love Leviticus and get a bit weepy even thinking about how beautiful it is; same with Revelation. But not Isaiah.

    Gary, I believe there is a general consensus among scholars that (1) numbers are used symbolically in the Bible and (2) uses of the number 12 are tied to the tribes and, later, the apostles. Now, a non-LDS scholar wouldn’t use the word “priesthood” to sum that link up, but I feel safe doing that for an LDS audience. The non-LDS scholar would probably talk in terms of leadership, governing bodies, God’s chosen messengers/covenant people, etc.

  9. Jack
    May 16, 2008 at 7:54 pm

    It’s my understanding that the act of measuring has to do with parsing what will be preserved and what will not–and as the outer court is not measured (for example) it will not be preserved in the end. (Though I’m not sure how the two words relate to each other in terms of their root meanings. Maybe there’s no relation between the two–and it really boils down to the idea of being sized up and found complete or whole or something–and that’s why it endures. Dunno.)

  10. Jack
    May 16, 2008 at 7:55 pm

    But, then again, there’s no effort put forth to measure the outer court. So maybe I’m wrong…

  11. Thomas Parkin
    May 16, 2008 at 9:22 pm

    “that symbol X represented gospel principle Y”

    My understanding is that isn’t the way symbols work, anyway. A symbol is like a passageway into understanfing that can’t easily be communicated in another way. Behind the symbol isn’t a strait one on one analogy to Y principle, or idea, as in an allegory. Rather, the symbol points to a limited constellation of interconnected realities and ideas behind it, and as well as those realities communicates a numinosity that augments our understanding.

    What is the meaning of the Cross? Well, it represents Christianity. But that don’t hardly say it. :)


  12. May 16, 2008 at 9:31 pm


    Please, oh please start that series of posts on Revelation. I mean it. Your brain is divine.

  13. Julie M. Smith
    May 16, 2008 at 10:18 pm

    Idaho, only if you update your blog. (You know I check it every single day?)

  14. May 16, 2008 at 10:51 pm

    I love your blog too!

  15. May 16, 2008 at 11:03 pm

    Your proposed series of Revelation posts might be the most welcome blogging you ever do, as far as I’m concerned. Reading and studying scripture is as important and satisfying to me as I suppose it is to most believers, and yet Revelation looms at the end of the Bible like a nightmare. It isn’t much of an exaggeration to say that whenever I tackle it, it’s like some angel with a flaming sword is standing there barring the way, saying that God isn’t talking to me and I have no business trespassing. The commentaries I’ve seen haven’t helped much; neither have the D&C verses that we talk about in Sunday School where everybody seems to nod wisely as if they understand, leaving me wondering what’s wrong with me that I don’t get it.

    So post away. Please!

  16. Jones
    May 17, 2008 at 12:52 am

    This is so great. Thank you for sharing this understanding.
    In your analysis of verse 16 you end with a comparison to the inner part of the temple being a cube. Are you simply making that connection back to information given in the Old Testament or is there something making that connection in Revelations?

  17. meems
    May 17, 2008 at 3:30 am

    Julie, I absolutely love your insights and always learn so much of them. I concur – please do a series of Revelation posts. It’s always been the book in the NT I’ve been most insterested in, even though I’ve never had the opportunity to study it properly. We’d love it!

  18. Jonathan Green
    May 17, 2008 at 3:35 am

    Well, so much for my idea that the New Jerusalem would be the Borg gone bling.

    Good stuff, Julie. Looking forward to more Revelation posts.

  19. Ronan
    May 17, 2008 at 7:19 am

    Well done, Julie. One *can* extract sense out of this stuff, and you have done so. Of course our job as Mormons is doubly difficult because we obscure the text behind the true “gibberish” that is the KJV.

  20. May 17, 2008 at 9:28 am

    Bzzzzzt, Ronan. Thank you for playing. Other than a few -eth endings, the verses here are about as plain and modern as English can get. Or have you gone so metric mad that you’ve forgotten what a furlong is?

    No, the KJV language is no barrier here. Or almost anywhere else, except to you and DKL.

  21. Jack
    May 17, 2008 at 9:53 am

    “Twelve” corresponds with the tribes of Israel. The gates signify the means (lineage) of entering the family of God, e.g. House of Israel–whether literal or adopted is irrelevant. The City (family) is adorned like a bride. Thus we have a very strong correlation with the bridegroom motif wherein Christ is the groom and his people (the church, Israel, etc.) are his bride.

    The cube (square) represents the lower world (whereas the circle represents the upper). Therefore, the beautified city (family, bride), as it possesses the dimensions of a cube, represents the body of Christ in it’s perfected state.

    Just some thoughts on how the symbols work for us–today as well.

  22. May 17, 2008 at 10:12 am

    The most important word for us here is “signified,” which means to give a sign or symbol.

    Julie (or anyone), what is the etymology of the original (Greek? Aramaic?) word which the KJV translates as “signified”? Moreover, what was the 17th-century English meaning of that word? (FWIW, I happen to agree with Ronan here; the KJV is a translation which these days too often obscures rather than clarifies.) Because today, to “signify” something doesn’t mean that something is a “sign” which is to be understood symbolically; it means to give a special emphasis to, or to represent something by, a particular message: to “signify” something is to highlight it, to put it a context of significance, to give it an additional meaning. The plain meaning of English as it is understood today thus would not read Revelation 1:1 as a explanation that what was revealed to John was revealed by way of pure symbols, but rather, as a statement that the meaning or importance of the revelation received by John was particularly attested to by Jesus Christ or His angel (or both?).

    Not to criticize your post, which presents as plausible a reading of these verses as I’ve ever encountered, and moreover I’m speaking without knowledge here, at least insofar as the translations from and meaning shifts within the original and subsequent languages are concerned. Still, I think this post starts out with a bit of a mistake.

    (By the way, I agree with your assessment of Isaiah, and have ever since I read it through–with Monte Nyman’s old book as my guide–while on my mission. Nephi was crazy about the man and his writings, clearly, and the Lord Himself obvious approves of what the Nephites possessed under his authorship, but that doesn’t mean his message or his means of communicating it work for everyone.)

  23. Ray
    May 17, 2008 at 10:36 am

    “The cube (square) represents the lower world (whereas the circle represents the upper). Therefore, the beautified city (family, bride), as it possesses the dimensions of a cube, represents the body of Christ in it’s perfected state.”

    Jack, I have read this multiple times, and each time I see a contradiction between the cube being “the lower world” and the cubed city being “the body of Christ in its **perfected** state”. If the body of Christ is in a “perfected state”, wouldn’t it be represented circularly – according to your interpretation?

    I’m not arguing against what you wrote; I’m just trying to understand it.

  24. May 17, 2008 at 10:39 am

    Well done, Julie. But how does one frame the following straightforward verse as symbolic? “And that it was the place of the New Jerusalem, which should come down out of heaven, and the holy sanctuary of the Lord” (Ether 13:3). Which complements Moses 7:19-23, where “the City of Holiness, even Zion” is built, then “in process of time, was taken up into heaven.” I don’t like the flying cities concept either, but I think that if one is to dismiss Ether 13:3 it isn’t because it is symbolic rather than literal.

    On the other hand, there is also an eminently practical LDS view of Zion, that we’ll just build it. “We believe … that Zion (the New Jerusalem) will be built upon the American continent” (AOF 10; see Ether 13:6 as well). No flying cities, just Civil Engineering 101.

  25. Ronan
    May 17, 2008 at 11:09 am

    Ardis, you are welcome to the KJV and I’m happy you enjoy its clarity.

  26. May 17, 2008 at 11:27 am

    Thank you for your permission. I do enjoy it.

  27. Ronan
    May 17, 2008 at 12:39 pm

    But clearly you do not understand it.

  28. Mark B.
    May 17, 2008 at 12:51 pm

    Three years of law school in the U.S. is enough to make the most difficult passages in the KJV as clear as a bell.

    It’s obvious where your problem lies, Ronan. :-)

  29. May 17, 2008 at 1:17 pm

    “It,” Ronan? I understand the language of the KJV; I have freely admitted to not understanding the symbolism of Revelation.

    Nor do I understand your hostility. I wouldn’t have twitted you about your petty anti-KJV campaign, except that you chose to quote/contradict/snark me in your #19. I didn’t realize that a candid admission of failure in such a significant part of a believer’s life deserved that. But do carry on, if your need for imagined superiority is that great.

  30. Ronan
    May 17, 2008 at 1:33 pm

    I do not consider my dislike of the KJV to be petty. I sincerely wish the Latter-day Saints were happier with the biblical text and I honestly feel that the KJV is a stumbling block to that. You obviously have a low regard of me if you think I am motivated by pettiness and egoism in this matter, although I’m glad you have recognised my superiority to be “imagined.”

    Yes, my tone was terse, as was yours. Leaving that to one side, let me suggest that you try reading Revelation in a modern translation such as the NRSV. It’s not just an -eth here or a furlong there, it’s the whole cadence and context of the text that comes alive in the NRSV.

  31. Ronan
    May 17, 2008 at 1:43 pm

    The voice in my head which composed that last comment was friendly and genuine, in case it isn’t apparent. I honestly see no reason why an intelligent person such as yourself would find Revelation to be “gibberish.” My suspicion is that it might be the language of the KJV (see RAF’s comment), but I won’t dogmatically stick to such a notion. It’s just an idea. Over and out.

  32. Keith
    May 17, 2008 at 3:10 pm

    Re #22. From Strong’s Concordance
    σημαίνω sēmainō [from sema (a mark, of uncertain derivation)]

    1) to give a sign, to signify, indicate

    2) to make known

  33. May 17, 2008 at 4:45 pm

    Thanks, Keith; that fits my suspicion. (I didn’t have my Stong’s here at home for me to check it myself.) So all the sentence is telling us that a revelation coming from the Lord, with all the significance that implies, was made known (perhaps by some sign?) to John. Is there any tertiary meaning attached to the idea of “marking” something in the original Greek which suggests that such marking necessarily involves a symbolic rendering of such? Or perhaps was it taken to mean that in 17th-century English? If not–and I don’t think there is in either case–then Julie is misreading Revelation 1:1. Doesn’t mean her subsequent symbolic reading is flawed; far from it–I think it’s pretty obvious that the content of the Revelation of John is communicated primarily through images and symbols, and Julie’s reading of such sounds very plausible. But I just don’t think the symbolic interpretive approach is actually mandated so plainly right from the beginning of the text.

  34. Brad Kramer
    May 17, 2008 at 6:08 pm

    Revelation 21: 10-21, NRSV:

    10 And in the spirit he carried me away to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God.

    11 It has the glory of God and a radiance like a very rare jewel, like jasper, clear as crystal.

    12 It has a great, high wall with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates are inscribed the names of the twelve tribes of the Israelites;

    13 on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates.

    14 And the wall of the city has twelve foundations, and on them are the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.

    15 The angel who talked to me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city and its gates and walls.

    16 The city lies foursquare, its length the same as its width; and he measured the city with his rod, fifteen hundred miles; its length and width and height are equal.

    17 He also measured its wall, one hundred and forty-four cubits by human measurement, which the angel was using.

    18 The wall is built of jasper, while the city is pure gold, clear as glass.

    19 The foundations of the wall of the city are adorned with every jewel; the first was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald,

    20 the fifth onyx, the sixth cornelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, the twelfth amethyst.

    21 And the twelve gates are twelve pearls, each of the gates is a single pearl, and the street of the city is pure gold, transparent as glass.

  35. Brad Kramer
    May 17, 2008 at 6:12 pm

    And let me just second, a thousand times over, the suggestion that you pursue your series of Revelation posts, Julie. This is great stuff.

  36. Julie M. Smith
    May 17, 2008 at 10:33 pm

    Thanks for the comments, all. I am going to try to do a series of posts on Revelation, perhaps one post per chapter.

    Jack (#9), it seems that I have read something somewhere (how’s that for a citation?) about measuring and excluding what isn’t measured, but I’m thinking that it applied to Ezekiel, not Revelation, since there is nothing mentioned that *isn’t* measured here, if that makes sense. If anyone has more to say on this, I’d like to hear it.

    Thomas Parkin (#11), I agree.

    Jones (#16), the information about the inner sanctum as cube comes from 1 Kings 6.

    Ardis and Ronan, I did a post on my thoughts on the KJV-as-obstacle here:

    I do think, though, that while a modern translation will get you from 0 to 60 on a book such as, say, Hosea, while the KJV will leave you sputtering at 20 mph, that that won’t happen for Revelation. A modern translation will help a little, but I think the key to Revelation is the symbolism from the Old Testament. And no translation helps with that. (Good footnotes do, though.)

    Jack, #21, I’m not sure where the shape symbolism is coming from, but if you can root it in an Old Testament text, I’d love to hear it.

    Russell (#22), Keith provided part of the answer (i.e, that a *sign* is given, not a *history book written in advance* is given). Another part is this: in the Gospel of John, a different word is used for the “miracles” of Jesus than in used in the Synoptics. In John, Jesus’ miracles aren’t just miracles; they are signs. In other words, it isn’t “Oh, cool, Jesus turned water into wine.” It is: there is deep symbolic significance in using the vessels that should have been used for purification to turn *water* into *wine*. Now, if you think John wrote Revelation, it is a slam-dunk when we see that same word (stem) show up in Revelation. But even if you don’t, I think the case can still be made that the verse is a heads-up to read symbolically. However, the warrant for a symbolic reading of Rev. doesn’t rise and fall on this one word (although I admit I kinda made it sound that way in my post and shouldn’t have). The text fits into the genre of apocalyptic and you shouldn’t read apocalyptic literally any more than you should scour my grocery list for deep symbolic meaning. I’ll make this case more in my post on Rev 1, which I hope to get up soon.

    Dave (#24), I don’t see anything in Moses to suggest that the buildings and aqueducts and pushcarts went up, just the people! I’d assume the same for Ether and Revelation.

  37. May 17, 2008 at 11:00 pm

    I’ll make this case more in my post on Rev. 1, which I hope to get up soon.

    I’ll be looking for it, Julie. It’s been too long since we’ve had some posts like Jim Faulconer’s studies on the Book of Mormon and other gospel readings, taking us carefully through the scriptures a little bit at a time.

  38. JWL
    May 18, 2008 at 12:55 am

    With regard to the number “12” symbolizing priesthood, note that the sizes of priesthood quorums are multiples of 12 — deacons 12, teachers 24, priests 48, elders 96 (D&C 107:85-89) in addition to there being 12 in the quorum of apostles.

  39. Jack
    May 18, 2008 at 11:54 am


    Re: The contradiction–The square represents the physical world. And as the body is an inheritance of the physical world it seems appropriate that it be represented by the square in it’s perfected state as well–that is if we want to draw a line between the body and the head; the bride and the groom; the church and the Savior; etc. I find the eternal distinction between the circle and the square comforting–an indication of the continuance and perfection of the physical estate. That said, the square is properly circumscribed by the circle in the eternal order of things.

    I would also point out that the cube is a symbol of perfection in the language of sacred geometry. It is built on the premise of 1:1 ratios throughout–a sign of wholeness.


    I don’t know if I can find a specific reference in the OT to support my claims. But there are wisps of the idea to be found–such as the “four corners of the earth” with respect to it’s length and breadth and the laying of it’s foundation and what-not. It’s no accident that the word “earth” may also be used to signify “dirt” in many languages, including Hebrew. Thus, preparing the foundation and edifice of all that is made of dirt, or dust, if you will, is premised upon the square.

  40. Jonovitch
    May 18, 2008 at 6:11 pm

    At the risk of sounding snotty, I think I understand Isaiah and Revelation. I hope you don’t take that as being snotty, I was just a bit surprised at how many here (i.e., at T&S) said they don’t understand them, something I would expect from a standard Sunday School population, but not from the likes of those who hang out here. Text is cold, and this sounds snarky, but it’s not — I’m curious.

    Maybe I don’t really get it, and you’re all scoring higher on the Humilitometer than I am (or would that be “lower”?), whereas I’m just fooling myself. But I don’t think that’s the case. (I tend to readily admit my mistakes anyway, which should boost my humility quotient. Or is that “deflate”?)

    As I read the text cited above, I understood that 12 symbolized priesthood and that 1000 was an amplifier (do the numbers in Numbers — something doesn’t add up). I’d also suggest that 4 or 40 seems to be a symbol for whole-ness or complete-ness: 40 days and 40 nights of rain for Noah, or fasting for Jesus; 40 years of wandering in the desert for the old house of Israel. Also, the 4 corners of the earth (the whole Earth). The earth-square thing and circle-heaven thing are new to me, but I can see how that works (e.g., we talk of a holy or heavenly “sphere” but I’ve never heard of an earthly sphere; only four corners).

    I think a few things have helped me along the way.

    I have cultivated a deep interest in the Old Testament; I see it as the foundation of all scripture, ancient and modern. I believe the key to understanding any other book of scripture is to understand the very first scriptures. BYU courses and CES manuals got me off to a good start. Teaching a small class on the subject (in German — yikes!) required me to really dig in and figure things out (and then figure out how to say it in German).

    I also have an instinctive desire to find out what the meanings of the original words are (e.g., the Hebrew/Aramaic/Greek), rather than just using what I think the English means today to prove a point that may or may not hold true. (Yes, that was a smiling nudge at Julie — but you have a good case for using “signify” as you did and I’m right with you on that!)

    Now what about Isaiah? That *is* the Old Testament! In order to understand Isaiah, I’m supposed to understand the Old Testament first? Aren’t I using circular logic?

    Well, kind of. But if we read sequentially (which I think everyone should, at least a couple times in their lives), we don’t get to Isaiah until about the thousandth page. By that time, if we’re reading regularly, and supplementing with the CES manual or another commentary, for example, we’re well versed in the language, symbols, and syntax (and even meanings) of the Old Testament.

    But Isaiah is still a completely different animal. And there is a specific BYU course and plenty of decent books to help dissect that animal, too. They introduce tips, tricks, and hints to help you make the language, symbols, and syntax that are unique to Isaiah (sort of a super-sized Old Testament) become more digestible. Simply understanding *how* Isaiah writes helps me get a better grip on *what* he writes. (Note: one of those tips is that he wrote/writes/will write using past, present, and future tenses interchangeably. Annoying, I know, but I read right past it and it doesn’t even phase me now that I know what I’m looking for.)

    And if you make it through to the end of the Old Testament (yes, all the way through it, not just tiptoeing across the surface) and continue on to the New Testament, then that book will light up as well. You’ll have a new perspective on the New because of your increased appreciation of the Old.

    Personal anecdote 1: I remember reading the Book of Mormon again soon after I finished a second Old Testament course at BYU, and it was like I was reading the Book of Momon for the first time. The “Hebrew-ness” of the people, for example, became apparent to my mind like never before. Their faithful commitment and strict adherence to the Law of Moses was opened to my eyes as if someone had written in a bunch of new verses between all the old verses I was used to seeing.

    Personal anecdote 2: A while ago, I read through the book of Revelation in one sitting and I was surprised how much I “got” it. (I was also surprised how little time it took — and I’m not a fast reader.) Chapters and verses and summary headings are artificial divisions that were not intended or included by the original author, and they sometimes serve to obstruct our understanding more than they help it. Try reading straight past the chapters/verses/summaries — don’t let our modern citation system keep you from immersing yourself for a while in the story. You might be surprised at what you get out of it once you get into it.

    Having said all this, I am *not* by any means an authority on Isaiah or Revelation, and I know I’ve got plenty left to get. (There goes that Humilitometer — see, it does work.) I think part of my understanding is due stubbornness. I refuse to let the conventional wisdom dictate to me what is to be understood and what is not. I want to know. And you can’t tell me that I can’t know. So I dig around a bunch in different places to help me know.

    I’ve had glints of what I consider truth gently placed in my mind as I read. Not all the time, but every now and then, when I’ve been stubborn enough and let myself sink into the story enough, I get a new bit of revelation.


  41. Jonovitch
    May 18, 2008 at 6:17 pm

    P.S. Sorry for the novel. A flood of thoughts came into my mind. I hope something above might help someone.

    P.P.S. I, too, am looking forward to the further light and knowledge that will come from Julie’s posts.


  42. Julie M. Smith
    May 18, 2008 at 7:03 pm

    Jonovitch, most scholars think 40 is a symbol of period of trial/testing/education and not what you describe.

    As for your larger issue, I have no idea if you really understand Isaiah and Revelation. I do think that understanding (and using) the OT is the key to understanding Revelation and I strongly agree with you about the chapter divisions and summaries as an impediment to reading.

  43. Jonovitch
    May 18, 2008 at 8:17 pm

    Julie, I wanted to be sure to thank you for posting this, since I didn’t in my comment above. I didn’t mean to detract from your many insights — only some of which I already understood from my Old Testament learnings (e.g., the twelve jewels on the high priest’s breastplate and the twelve foundations’ stones in the city wall).

    There’s plenty more there that you brought to light for me. I think I let myself get distracted by the subsequent comments. So thank you for sharing your insight.


  44. Julie M. Smith
    May 18, 2008 at 8:54 pm

    Jonovitch, no problem. And thanks for proving my point that a non-specialist can do well with Rev. if s/he thinks about the Old Testament.

  45. May 19, 2008 at 2:52 am

    Julie: Thanks for the interesting discussion. It always seemed to me that the city described didn’t make much sense. The top floors of a literal structure that size would effectively be in outer space. To sustain any kind of normal inhabitants it would have to be an airtight, pressurized structure, basically a spaceship. But then, what would be the point of placing it on the earth anyway? So there seem to be very practical reasons for deciding that it was not meant to be taken as a literal description.

    Since you mentioned the “seven letters” in Chapters 1 to 3, I offer you my personal take on it and look forward to your analysis.

    Several commenters note that Chapter 4 seems to begin in a heavenly version of the temple. In their commentary in one of the recent BYU Religious Studies Center compilations of articles related to temples, the Parrys identify symbols in Chapters 1 to 3 as related to the Garden of Eden and the expulsion of Adam and Eve, with reentry to the temple as a reversal of the Fall out of Eden.

    It seems to me that it makes sense to go a little further. The order of the seven cities in the region around Ephesus is the order they would appear during a circular journey along the road linking the cities. Thus the names denote successive stages in a journey. While there are clearly specific comments related to problems in each city, each of these is followed by a promise to “those who overcome”, which is to be understood through some kind of parable, using the familiar formula from Matthew 13 and the Savior’s explanation of the parable of the sower, namely “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.” It seems to me that the successive parable statements correlate to seven stages within the temple endowment. I would argue that, for those who were faithful and had received the endowment, they would recognize these references as authentic descriptions of the teachings and ordinances of the endowment, and these references would authenticate the message of Revelation as having actually come from John, the apostle, and not some pretender.

    Part of the difficulty of making this argument is that much of the material being referred to is from the temple ordinances themselves, which should not be discussed explicitly. To those not familiar with the LDS temple endowment, this entire argument would be meaningless. However, it seems to me that this argument holds together. It correlates with the belief (expressed a number of times by Hugh Nibley) that the endowment was known among First Century Christians, as in The Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri: An Egyptian Endowment.

  46. Julie M. Smith
    May 19, 2008 at 9:31 am

    Raymond, I don’t think that reading of the cities works, but I’ll save my thoughts on that for the appropriate post.

  47. Pesach Chummitz
    May 19, 2008 at 11:35 am

    The reading forwarded in the original post is highly speculative. The author submits “But there were images of Roman power (statues, etc.) everywhere. How could Christians retain their commitment to ideas of God’s sovereignty in the face of this discrepancy? Well, the Book of Revelation is trying to give them new images of true power.”

    I completely disagree. The symbolism of John’s Apocalypse is not novel at all, it is entirely derived from the Neviim, the Hebrew Prophets. All of it. John borrows and intertwines various prophetic images and symbols and explains them in the context of Jesus as the ultimate fulfilment of all of these ancient prophecies. The Jews of the time wanted Jesus to fulfill all of those prophecies and deliver them from the Romans by overthrowing them violently and re-establishing the kingdom of David in their day. When he failed to do that, they were disappointed. John’s Apocalypse is an explanation of how those prophecies are yet to be fulfilled so the covenant with Abraham will be kept and Israel will be redeemed.

    If you find John’s Apocalypse confusing and obscure, it is because you are not familiar with the Hebrew Major and Minor Prophets. If you know them, you will find John’s Apocalypse is the “plainest book God caused to be written.”

  48. Julie M. Smith
    May 19, 2008 at 3:09 pm

    Pesach, I think you are making a mountain out of a molehill. Obviously the imagery is grounded in the Old Testament (which I’ve mentioned many times in the comments) and that I didn’t mean “new” in the sense of completely novel. What is new is, as you say, how Jesus relates to all of this OT symbolism. I think we are in basic agreement here.

  49. Saint Holiday
    May 21, 2008 at 1:48 pm

    The angel \”signified it\” by giving a sign of the Holy Priesthood to confirm his bona fides as a true messenger and the truthfulness of his message from God. \”How shall we know that you are true messengers?\” \”By our giving unto you the sign…\”

  50. Julie M. Smith
    May 21, 2008 at 2:41 pm

    Saint, the purpose of these posts is exegesis, which means finding what is in the text. There is absolutely no indication *in the text* that that is what the author had in mind; if you compare other NT uses of the word signified (such as John 12:33, 18:32, Acts 25:27), you’ll see that it doesn’t necessarily point to what you have in mind here. I can see where what you are suggesting would be interesting to LDS of a certain mindset, but I think it shows an incorrect interpretation of your other source there (although of course this isn’t the place to go into that) and asks Rev. to carry a meaning that the author didn’t intend.

  51. Saint Holiday
    May 21, 2008 at 5:55 pm

    Julie, what I have offered is the purest form of exegetical expression, though only partially rooted in the denotation of the aorist active indicative employed by John. It would not be appropriate for me to elaborate. I apologize for my intrusion.

  52. Julie M. Smith
    May 21, 2008 at 8:06 pm

    Saint, you don’t have to apologize for an intrusion. You may have very good reasons for your reading that you can’t share here, but based on what you’ve said, I just don’t see it.

    One thing I have learned by sad experience in blogging is that we just can’t get into the topics you bring up since, as you note, it is not appropriate to elaborate. Everyone ends up frustrated.

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