Moroni, writing his own observations in the Book of Ether, had this to say to us, the members of the modern church:
Come unto me, O ye house of Israel, and it shall be made manifest unto you how great things the Father hath laid up for you, from the foundation of the world; and it hath not come unto you, because of unbelief.
Behold, when ye shall rend that veil of unbelief which doth cause you to remain in your awful state of wickedness, and hardness of heart, and blindness of mind, then shall the great and marvelous things which have been hid up from the foundation of the world from you—yea, when ye shall call upon the Father in my name, with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, then shall ye know that the Father hath remembered the covenant which he made unto your fathers, O house of Israel.
And then shall my revelations which I have caused to be written by my servant John be unfolded in the eyes of all the people. Remember, when ye see these things, ye shall know that the time is at hand that they shall be made manifest in very deed. (Ether 4:14–16, italics added for emphasis.)
In these verses, Moroni seems to be saying that the day will come when John’s enigmatic Revelation in the New Testament, also known as the Apocalypse of John, will be fully understood.
Is that possible? Well, if Moroni is to be believed, it must be.
That begs the question, is it understood now? Some Mormons might be tempted to say yes, that Christian ministers and teachers, including some LDS scholars who say essentially the same things, have managed to wrest the intended meaning from John’s peculiar imagery.
Certainly, numerous efforts have been made down through the years to decipher the message John penned two millennia ago. And despite the seeming unanimity Christian scholars appear to have developed regarding its interpretation—including concepts such as the Rapture, the Battle of Armageddon and the Antichrist—the fact remains that the Savior told Joseph Smith in his First Vision that none of their teachings were correct. If that was so then, it is equally true now. Furthermore, consensus should never be mistaken for correctness.
Still, far too many church members have failed to perceive that the Lord’s condemnation of Christian doctrine in that First Vision also includes their popular interpretation of John’s prophecy. Again, if they were wrong about prophecy in Joseph Smith’s day, they must still be wrong today because their interpretations of it have changed little. In this author’s opinion, most of them have been misguided.
I have elsewhere noted that many church members and scholars have imprudently adopted the mainstream Christian or Millennialist view of Revelation. This has taken LDS thinking on the subject down a dead end path. Revelation is therefore as much a “sealed book” for us as it is for any Christian scholar.
That leaves thoughtful Latter-day Saints to wonder when and how Moroni’s prophecy will be fulfilled. Will the time come when we can read and fully understand the meaning behind John’s curious and seemingly unfathomable imagery?
Until recently, no methodology has been proposed that would allow anyone to truly “unfold” John’s enigmatic writings. But a way to do so may now be at hand. Clearly, Joseph Smith understood the book. He called it “the plainest book.”
Let me make this bold assertion: One need not be a prophet to read and understand the revelations of the prophets—both ancient and modern, John’s included—with all their arcane and bizarre imagery. Anyone can read those revelations as easily as they read a newspaper or magazine, given the proper training.
How is that possible, you say? Let’s look at this together.
Curiously, the only way to properly and understandingly read John’s writing is, in this author’s opinion, with a thoroughgoing comprehension of the cosmological metaphors he employs. The very element we see as a stumbling block is the key to deciphering the text. This is my assertion: All the enigmatic imagery John used in his great Apocalypse (Revelation) in the New Testament is based in cosmic imagery, the common denominator in all ancient cultures and religions.
We see this cosmic symbolism everywhere in ancient cultures, from their myths and legends to their sacred traditions and religious iconography. Certainly, it is on display for all to see in their monuments, temples and texts. To our eyes, it looks like paganism, the worship of cosmic gods and goddesses, chaos monsters and world threatening dragons. But a careful parsing of those riotous images and conflicting imagery, looking back into the past at the original archetypes and motifs instead of the later variations and elaborations, we discover a commonality that is otherwise hidden. That commonality became the common denominator for prophetic imagery.
As it turns out, John’s seemingly indecipherable book is a missionary tract, intended for investigators and new converts. John rehearsed all the primary themes of ancient religious lore from his day to illustrate how it fit into the new religion of Christ and to lay claim to ancient roots for the new Christian religion. It was a conversion tool, used to persuade pagans who held these cosmic traditions as sacred that Christianity honored, respected and incorporated their former beliefs and traditions, that they were all intended to point to and culminate in Christ.
Revelation, then, is more of a rehearsal of past catastrophic events and the cosmic images that went with them than it is a prediction of the future. There’s where mainstream Christianity went wrong. We believe John was looking primarily to the future in his tome, when he was, instead, looking to the sacred, cosmic traditions of the past.
So, Nibley was right. “Cosmisim,” as he dubbed it, is a key component of the Restored Gospel, just as it is in John’s Revelation. Upon serious consideration, how could it be anything less? We encounter cosmic imagery at every turn in Mormonism: in Doctrine and Covenants, in The Pearl of Great Price (especially there), in the Book of Mormon, in the teaching of Joseph Smith and on the exterior walls of our modern temples and in our sacred endowment. It is the cosmological side of the Restored Gospel.
Yet today’s Mormons eye the concept of sacred symbolism with suspicion and misgivings. Like their Christian cousins, today’s church members, for the most part, see sacred, cosmological symbolism as either inconsequential, having no real merit, or a satanic effort to distract us from the teachings of Christ, a perversion of truth, foreign to the gospel of Jesus Christ and the antithesis of Christianity.
So in that context, would it be heretical to suggest that the revised view of prophetic pronouncements espoused by this author, using cosmological imagery from hoary antiquity, is the very mechanism by which, as Moroni declared, John’s Revelation will be “unfolded in the eyes of all the people”? There is only one way to know for sure: Put it to the test. Study these concepts and then apply them.
“And then shall my revelations which I have caused to be written by my servant John be unfolded in the eyes of all the people.”
Isn’t it a bit curious, in light of Moroni’s words, that most Mormons still do not understand John’s Revelation? Yet, with the cosmological key, the book becomes “the plainest book,” as Joseph Smith declared it to be. It can then be read like any other document, word by word, verse by verse, with nearly complete comprehension.
I know this much: One need not be a prophet to read and understand the revelations of the prophets, with all their arcane and bizarre imagery. Anyone can read Revelation as easily as they read a newspaper or magazine, as long as they employ a knowledge of the archetypes and motifs of ancient cosmological imagery.
There are hundreds of Latter-day Saints who can now do so because they have taken the time and made the effort to master the imagery and symbolism of the ancients and the prophets.
Would you care to be one of them?