My Come, Follow Me studies this week took me to Doctrine and Covenants 77-80. The Prophet Joseph Smith continued his translation of the New Testament in March 1832. As he studied the book of Revelation, he took some questions to the Lord, and the Lord revealed the meaning of some of the symbols and events described by the Apostle John. This revelation is contained in Doctrine and Covenants 77. The Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual for Religion 324-325  provided additional information about how this revelation came to be.
The Prophet Joseph Smith began his inspired translation of the New Testament on March 8, 1831, and completed his initial work on it in July 1832. He then reviewed and continued to revise the translation until February 2, 1833. During his initial work on the translation, the Prophet received an “explanation of the Revelations of Saint John” (in Manuscript History of the Church, vol. A-1, page 192, josephsmithpapers.org), or inspired answers to a series of questions bout the book of Revelation. These answers were likely received sometime between March 4 and 20, 1832, and are recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 77.
The Apostle John, who is also known as John the Beloved and John the Revelator, was exiled to the island of Patmos for testifying of Jesus Christ and His gospel, and while there he received the revelation recorded in the book of Revelation (see Revelation 1:9-10). The Prophet Joseph Smith (1805-1844) explained, “John had the curtains of heaven withdrawn, and by vision looked through the dark vista of future ages, and contemplated events that should transpire throughout every subsequent period of time until the final winding up scene – [and] while he gazed upon the glories of the eternal world, saw an innumerable company of angels and heard the voice of God” (in Manuscript History, vol. C-1, Addenda, page 69, josephsmithpapers.org).
The Prophet Joseph Smith taught, “The book of Revelations is one of the plainest books God ever caused to be written” (in Manuscript History, vol. D-1, page 1523, josephsmithpapers.org). But the book’s rich imagery and symbolism can be difficult for modern readers to understand. The Prophet cautioned missionaries not to teach about the specific symbols and details in the book and to instead preach the basic principles of the gospel (see Manuscript History, vol. D-1, page 1523, josephsmithpapers.org). The questions and answers recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 77 provide an inspired interpretation of some of the symbols and events described by the Apostle John in the first 11 chapters of Revelation.
The Prophet Joseph Smith sought greater understanding from God as he translated the book of Revelation, and he received information that gave him better understanding of the scriptures. The Prophet’s questions and answers are contained in Doctrine and Covenants 77. His experience shows us that God will answer our questions as we seek to better understand the scriptures. Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained that we should carefully study the scriptures as well as the teachings of modern prophets because doing so will bring us greater understanding through personal revelation.
What makes us different from most other Christians in the way we read and use the Bible and other scriptures is our belief in continuing revelation. For us, the scriptures are not the ultimate source of knowledge, but what precedes the ultimate source. The ultimate knowledge comes by revelation….
The word of the Lord in the scriptures is like a lamp to guide our feet (see Ps. 119:105), and revelation is like a mighty force that increases the lamp’s illumination manyfold. We encourage everyone to make careful study of the scriptures and of the prophetic teachings concerning them and to prayerfully seek personal revelation to know their meaning for themselves (“Scriptures Reading and Revelation,” Ensign, Jan. 1995, 7).
I know that listening to the scriptures, reading the scriptures, and studying the scriptures are all good. However, we must spend time pondering the scriptures if we want to know the mysteries of heaven. President Henry B. Eyring of the First Presidency taught about the difference between studying and pondering and the relationship between pondering and receiving revelation:
Reading, studying, and pondering are not the same. We read words and we may get ideas. We study and we may discover patterns and connections in scripture. But when we ponder, we invite revelation by the Spirit. Pondering, to me, is the thinking the praying I do after reading and studying in the scriptures carefully” (“Serve with the Spirit,” Ensign, Nov. 2010, 60).
President David O. McKay (1873-1970) used a different word with a similar meaning – meditation, but he agreed with President Eyring: “Meditation is one of the most secret, most sacred doors through which we pass into the presence of the Lord” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: David O. McKay , 32).
The Prophet Joseph Smith and other prophets received revelation because they studied and pondered the scriptures. However, this experience is not reserved only for prophets and apostles. God will reveal His mysteries to anyone who is willing to study and ponder what He has already revealed.