DC 7 Historical Background
Oliver Cowdery and Joseph Smith began translating the Book of Mormon on April 7, 1829. They began where the 116 pages left off-with the Book of Mosiah. Although 3 Nephi 28 speaks of the Three Nephites and the doctrine of translated beings, it is not likely that they had progressed that far in the translation. More likely, their question regarding the status of John the Beloved came from their own reading of the Bible (see John 21:22).
During the month of April I continued to translate, and he to write, with little cessation, during which time we received several revelations. A difference of opinion arising between us about the account of John the Apostle in the New Testament, as to whether he died or continued to live, we mutually agreed to settle it by the Urim and Thummim and the following is the word which we received: (reveals D&C 7). (History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1: 35 - 36.)
DC 7 Introduction
Almost imperceptibly, something remarkable happened. It started inauspiciously-as a mere "difference of opinion" between two individuals-but what transpired next was ground breaking. For the first time in many, many centuries, a doctrinal conflict could be resolved, not by an appeal to the Bible, but by a direct appeal to God. We take it for granted that all the Prophet had to do was inquire through the Urim and Thummim in order to resolve the conflict. But do we stop to think how marvelous is the moment? Do we realize how incredible it is that Joseph could restore that which had been lost for almost two millennia? Finally, the hosts of heaven could rejoice again saying, "there is a prophet in Israel" (2 Kgs 5:8).
George Q. Cannon
...we have the voice of God in our midst, so that we need not walk in darkness and doubt... It need not be said of us as it was of Israel, 'There is no Urim and Thummim; there is no dream or vision, and no prophet in the land.' We have the prophet of God; we have the visions of the Almighty; we have the Spirit of God descending upon us like sweet dew; we have the gifts of the Spirit of God; we have the Gospel in the fulness and plenitude of its power. (Journal of Discourses, 26 vols. [London: Latter-day Saints' Book Depot, 1854-1886], 13: 376.)
DC 7:1 what desirest thou? For if you shall ask what you will, it shall be granted unto you
Imagine that the Lord appears to you in your bedroom. Imagine that he says these same words to you, "what desirest thou"? He has power to give you whatever you want. What would you ask for?
DC 7:2 Lord, give me power over death
Bruce R. McConkie
In John's reply we see the measure of the man; the apostolic witness he desired to bear; the works he desired to do; the souls he desired to save: "Lord, give unto me power over death," he asked, "that I may live and bring souls unto thee." Such a request, aside from the perfect faith that knows that such a plea can be granted, is a manifestation of missionary zeal scarce known among men. To preach the gospel and save souls until the Son of Man comes in his glory-what a wondrous work! (The Mortal Messiah: From Bethlehem to Calvary, 4 vols. [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1979-1981], 4: 291)
DC 7:3 thou shalt tarry until I come in my glory
The following is a brief doctrinal summary of translated beings. To be translated does not mean to go immediately into the presence of God. Rather, it means that one's body is transformed from a telestial state to a terrestrial state. Just as the earth during the terrestrial Millenium, a translated being is free from the power of Satan. Except for the sins of the world, a translated individual cannot suffer sickness or pain. Accordingly, John was cast into a cauldron of boiling oil and received no harm. On three occasions, the Three Nephites were cast into a furnace of fire without being singed.
John and the Three Nephites were to be ministering angels, meaning they were given an assignment to bring souls unto Christ. John was to minister to many nations but had a particular assignment to the House of Israel. The Three Nephites were to preach to the Jews and Gentiles. Unlike those resurrected with a celestial body, a translated being can baptize (3 Ne. 28:18).
When Christ said to John, "thou shalt tarry until I come," He is saying that John will remain in this state until the Second Coming. Some have concluded that translated beings never die, "Then went this saying abroad among the brethren, that that disciple should not die: yet Jesus said not unto him, He shall not die; but, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?" (John 21:23) Technically, John and the Three Nephites will die-they will undergo a death and resurrection in the "twinkling of an eye" (3 Ne. 28:7). That twinkling will be a transformation from a terrestrial order to a celestial one and constitutes the "greater change" spoken of by Mormon (3 Ne. 28:40). The scriptures don't say that they will never die, but that they will not "taste of death" (3 Ne. 28:7). (See 3 Nephi 28, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 170-171, David O. McKay, Ancient Apostles [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1964], 135, and Bruce R. McConkie, The Mortal Messiah, 4: 389)
DC 7:3 thou...shalt prophesy before nations, kindreds, tongues and people
Joseph Fielding Smith
A great mission was given unto John because of his desire, and he is even now laboring as "a flaming fire and a ministering angel, for those who are heirs of salvation." In the tenth chapter of Revelation we read that John was given a little book by the angel and commanded to eat it up, which he did and he said, "it was in my mouth sweet as honey; and as soon as I had eaten it, my belly was bitter." And the angel said by way of interpretation of this act: "Thou must prophesy again before many peoples, and nations, and tongues, and kings." When this mission was given, John was an old man far beyond the allotted years of three score and ten. In answer to a question as to the meaning of this vision of the book, the Prophet Joseph Smith said: it was a mission and an ordinance for John to gather the tribes of Israel. (D. & C. 77:14.) At a conference of the Church, held June, 1831, Joseph Smith said: "that John the Revelator was then among the ten tribes of Israel who had been led away by Shalmaneser, king of Assyria, to prepare them for their return from their long dispersion." (Doc. Hist. of the Church, Vol. 1:176. Essentials in Church History, p. 126.) (Church History and Modern Revelation, 4 vols. [Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1946-1949], 1: 44-45.)
Joseph Fielding Smith
It is reasonable to believe that they (John and the Three Nephites) were engaged in this work as far as the Lord permitted them to go during these years of spiritual darkness (the Great Apostasy). There are legends and stories which seem to be authentic, showing that these holy messengers were busy among the nations of the earth, and men have been entertained by them unawares. We may also well believe that these translated prophets have always been busy keeping constraint upon the acts of men and nations unbeknown to mortal man.
Translated beings have not passed through death; that is, they have not had the separation of the spirit and the body. This must wait until the coming of the Savior. In the meantime they are busy fulfilling their glorious mission in preparing the way for the elders of Israel to go forth with the message of salvation in all parts of the world. (Answers to Gospel Questions, 2: 46)
DC 7:4 If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?
Peter had desired a good thing. The Savior was not disappointed with his request. Yet, Peter seems concerned that John has requested something greater. Don't we all do this? Even if the Lord is happy with our service, we make the mortal mistake of comparing ourselves to others.
"No two of us are alike. We have not had identical backgrounds, our current experiences vary enormously, our timetables are not the same. It is important that we not compare ourselves with others, which often causes us to see ourselves in a negative light. Also, we must constantly guard against the temptation to assume that where there is a difference, there must also automatically be a defect." (Ida Smith, As Women of Faith: Talks Selected from the BYU Women's Conferences [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1989], 214.)
Neal A. Maxwell
While striving to walk the same straight and narrow path as other disciples, it is unwise for us to make comparisons. Peter questioned what John was to do. Jesus' rejoinder was, "What is that to thee? Follow thou me." (John 21:22.) We mortals do not have all the data even on ourselves, let alone on others. But God does. Having faith in Him includes faith in His purposes not only for ourselves but also for others. Only He who carried the great cross can fully compare crosses. (Not My Will, But Thine [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1998], 96.)
DC 7:6 he has undertaken a greater work
Joseph Fielding Smith
This desire made by John was a noble one, for he desired to live, not that he might lengthen out his life in mortality, for that of itself would not have been a blessing, but that he might bring souls unto Christ. Peter's desire was a very natural one-to come to the Lord as soon as his mission was finished on the earth. John desired, because of his love of mankind, that he might do a greater work by laboring in this mortal world until Christ should come the second time, in the clouds of glory. (Church History and Modern Revelation, 4 vols. [Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1946-1949], 1: 44-45.)
DC 7:6 I will make him as a flaming fire
One might wonder about the relationship between a flaming fire and a flaming sword. The early brethren considered the flaming sword to be a figure for an angel of God who wields a flaming sword in the defense of truth (Journal of Discourses 4:43; 13:180). During the early Kirtland period, spiritual manifestations were frequent. One experience confirms this concept, "Elder Roger Orton saw a mighty angel riding upon a horse of fire, with a flaming sword in his hand, followed by five others, encircle the house, and protect the Saints." (History of the Church, 2:386) Finally, Elder John W. Taylor, while paraphrasing DC 7:6, made an interesting change in the text, "More blessed is my servant John, because he desires to tarry upon the earth to bring souls unto me, and to do a greater work than he has yet done, and verily, I say unto you, I will make him a flaming sword of fire and a ministering angel unto all those who shall be heirs of salvation to them that dwell upon the earth." (Conference Report, Oct. 1900, p. 56, italics added) We don't know whether John the Beloved is necessarily the angel who kept the way of the tree of life, but we understand that the term flaming sword refers to an angel who is given a special assignment of protection.
DC 7:6 I will make him as...a ministering angel
"The Apostle John ministered to the Prophet Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery in 1829 when he assisted Peter and James in the restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood (see D&C 27:12).
"In a conference of the Church on 3 June 1831, the Prophet Joseph Smith taught concerning John's ministry: 'John the Revelator was then among the Ten Tribes of Israel who had been led away by Shalmaneser, king of Assyria, to prepare them for their return from their long dispersion' (History of the Church, 1:176)
"Elder Heber C. Kimball recorded an appearance of John the Revelator in the Kirtland Temple, as follows:
'When the Prophet Joseph had finished the endowments of the First Presidency, the Twelve and the Presiding Bishops, the First Presidency proceeded to lay hands upon each one of them to seal and confirm the anointing; and at the close of each blessing the whole of the quorums responded to it with a loud shout of Hosanna! etc.
'While these things were being attended to the beloved disciple John was seen in our midst by the Prophet Joseph, Oliver Cowdery and others.' (In Whitney, Life of Heber C. Kimball, pp. 91-92)" (Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual, 1981, pp. 17-18)
DC 7:7 unto you three I will give this power and the keys of this ministry until I come
Peter, James, and John gave the Melchizedek Priesthood to the prophet Joseph Smith in 1829, but the Lord is speaking of power and keys which these three are to hold until the Second Coming. Therefore, they must still hold them. The "keys of this ministry" refers to the privilege of ministering for those who are "heirs of salvation" (v. 6). Therefore, we conclude that these keys refer to ministering of sacred temple ordinances. Peter, James, and John were given specific assignments to prepare the saints to receive salvation. It is their task to teach "the heirs of salvation" those things they need to know to enter into the presence of the Lord. Perhaps this is why John was present when this dispensation's first endowments and sealings were performed (see above). This must be why Peter, James, and John play a prominent role as instructors in the endowment. They are ministering to the "heirs of salvation." This is the reason that Peter is the one to teach us things we need to know to enter the Lord's presence.
DC 7:1-8 the record of John is restored
So many times the meaning of scriptures is obscure because we have only a partial record. Many of the difficult stories in the Old Testament would be much easier to understand if they were not so abbreviated. The interaction between John and the Lord is difficult to understand without the additional revelation given through Joseph Smith. The text should read as follows:
This spake he, signifying by what death he should glorify God. And when he had spoken this, he saith unto him, Follow me. (John 21:19)
And the Lord said unto me: John, my beloved, what desirest thou? For if you shall ask what you will, it shall be granted unto you.
And I said unto him: Lord, give unto me power over death, that I may live and bring souls unto thee.
And the Lord said unto me: Verily, verily, I say unto thee, because thou desirest this thou shalt tarry until I come in my glory, and shalt prophesy before nations, kindreds, tongues and people. (DC 7:1-3)
Then Peter, turning about, seeth the disciple whom Jesus loved following; which also leaned on his breast at supper, and said, Lord, which is he that betrayeth thee?
Peter seeing him saith to Jesus, Lord, and what shall this man do?
Jesus saith unto him, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? follow thou me. (John 21:20-22)
And for this cause the Lord said unto Peter: If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? For he desired of me that he might bring souls unto me, but thou desiredst that thou mightest speedily come unto me in my kingdom.
I say unto thee, Peter, this was a good desire; but my beloved has desired that he might do more, or a greater work yet among men than what he has before done.
Yea, he has undertaken a greater work; therefore I will make him as flaming fire and a ministering angel; he shall minister for those who shall be heirs of salvation who dwell on the earth.
And I will make thee to minister for him and for thy brother James; and unto you three I will give this power and the keys of this ministry until I come.
Verily I say unto you, ye shall both have according to your desires, for ye both joy in that which ye have desired. (DC 7:4-8)
Then went this saying abroad among the brethren, that that disciple should not die: yet Jesus said not unto him, He shall not die; but, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?
This is the disciple which testifieth of these things, and wrote these things: and we know that his testimony is true. (John 21:23-24)