By Richard D. Draper
Editor’s Note: Richard Draper is the co-author of the New Testament Commentary book The Revelation of John the Apostle. He shares his lifelong intrigue and interest in John’s masterwork and how the new volume came about.
Why would anyone in their right mind try the intimidating and perhaps even overly bold task of writing a commentary on the Book of Revelation? The audacity becomes all the more striking considering that Joseph Smith instructed, “Never Meddle with the visions of beasts and subjects you do not understand” and a world class scholar, after spending decades trying to decipher John’s visions, concluded that the work either drives a man mad or finds him that way. I must confess to a certain amount of madness, but there were other considerations.
High School and College Years
I was intrigued from my very first exposure to the work during my high school years. With many LDS students, I attended a seminary class along with my regular high school courses. Though I found the book’s images both intriguing and mystifying, I sensed there was something behind them that I needed to know and could find out. I was caught up with the idea that God had foreordained the Apostle John to write a history to the end of the world. But what really drew me was that the future was not a mystery known to God alone but something he revealed to humankind through his prophets, John being an excellent example.
During college, I pursued the study. In 1968, I became employed by the Church’s Seminaries and Institutes Department and was assigned to teach high school level New Testament classes in Scottsdale, Arizona. I made sure we spent a bit of time on Revelation.
Elder McConkie’s View
Then in 1973, Elder Bruce R. McConkie produced his Doctrinal New Testament Commentary. In it, he treated John’s master work to a greater extent than any other General Authority since Orson Pratt. In it, he addressed the question of whether Latter-day Saints should study the book.
His answer was:
“Certainly. Why else did the Lord reveal it? The common notion that it deals with beasts and plagues and mysterious symbolisms that cannot be understood is just not true…. The Lord expects us to seek wisdom, to ponder his revealed truths, and to gain a knowledge of them by the power of his Spirit. (DNTC, 3: 431).
These words encouraged me and therefore, I did not lose hope.
An Unexpected Opportunity
My chance to do some serious study on the book came in an unexpected way. It was during a summer while doing work for a Ph. D. I was enrolled with another student in an advanced Biblical Greek class. On the first day we met, the instructor, Richard Lloyd Anderson, asked us if we had a text we wanted to take a careful look at. I was quick to suggest Revelation so he directed us in the translation of that work. That summer, as we buried ourselves in John’s visions gathering material and reading widely, proved simulating and delightful. I came away with an appreciation of how much of the book could be understood.
My desire to share what I had learned with others led to the publication of a popular version in 1990 entitled Opening the Seven Seals: The Visions of John the Revelator. A chance, however, to redo the work came in 1998 when I, along with a group of other BYU professors, determined that it was possible to actually produce a New Testament Commentary Series.
After we received the University’s approval to produce the commentary series, I went to work. As good fortune would have it, I was able to team up with Michael D. Rhodes whose translation skills are excellent, and together we produced the volume The Revelation of John the Apostle. Though we spent a good deal of time and effort over a twelve year period on this wondrous book, we found our love and appreciation of the Apostle’s witness of the Savior’s involvement in earthly history continually grew. He revealed not only the course that history would take but also explained why. Further, as time went by and events unfolded, we found John’s message ever more compelling. With each passing year, it seemed the message—both its warnings and instructions—were becoming more and more relevant and that increased our motivation to finish the work. John’s message had to get out. We were delighted when the work was finally published in hard copy.
Having produced the work, we do have a rather unique concern. That concern has been with us since the inception of the project and has highly contributed to our care in trying to get both the Greek rendition and explanation of the passages as correct as our abilities allowed. And what is that concern? That the original author is yet among us.