The Keys to Prophecy I: An Introduction

834 words
© Anthony E. Larson, 2004


The Keys to Prophecy I:

An Introduction


Thanks to modern revelation, Mormons understand quite well what the prophets taught. The gospel has been made very plain due to the restoration and the ministering of modern prophets.

But there is one exception to that rule: prophecy.

It seems that the imagery of prophecy is still, to a great extent, an enigma to us. Visions such as those of John in Revelation, Daniel, Ezekiel and Isaiah—just to name a few—are loaded with symbolism that mystifies us. Even some of Joseph Smith’s prophecies have these same, symbolic features. Sections 88 and 133 of Doctrine and Covenants are a case in point. 

The fact that Joseph Smith used imagery consistent with that of the ancient prophets is a powerful verification of his calling as a prophet, but it still does little to help us interpret the mystifying symbolism of prophecy—either ancient or modern. 

There has been no shortage of those who claim to have the answers to prophecy. A whole host of books attest to the sad fact that anyone’s guess is as good as another’s. 

A survey of the multitude of present offerings suggests that very nearly all of it is guesswork and hunches, since none of it actually gives the reader the tools to interpret prophecy. Each interpretation depends on its founder’s own approach. 

Anyone can open the scriptures, turn to a prophetic passage and hazard a guess at the meaning of the inspired imagery found there. Warning of this very practice, Peter wrote, “No prophecy of the scripture is of private interpretation.”

In fact, such guessing is at the heart of the confusion that reigns in Christendom where prophecy is concerned. The would-be interpreters either avoid the most mysterious imagery, or they try to interpret it by turning to speculation.

The basic, underlying supposition of most analysts is that the Old Testament prophets, upon seeing our technologically advanced world in vision, were at a loss for words. Hence, they turned to familiar imagery to describe what they saw in revelations. For example, an atomic bomb became “a pillar of fire and smoke,” or an attack helicopter firing missiles became “locusts” with “stings in their tails.”

Most damaging is that these expositors’ interpretations take to be literal what was meant to be imagery and metaphor. Contrarily, they also resort to the opposite device, making symbolic what was meant to be literal. Thus, they almost entirely sabotage the original meaning of the prophets’ words.
What analysts universally fail to see is that there are numerous hints—‘keys’ if you will—found in the scriptures, modern revelation and ancient history that all move us closer to understanding prophecy. By letting the prophets speak for themselves, rather than ‘interpreting’ their words, we discover those keys—both ancient and modern.

There are hints everywhere in ancient cultures that the images of prophecy were customary, traditional images, common to all early peoples. Thus, the study of ancient iconography or symbolism becomes an invaluable interpretive tool in our quest to discern the meaning of prophetic imagery.

This article is the introduction to a series that identifies and explains the various keys to prophecy. Some are found in scripture, some in the words of modern prophets, some in science and some in comparative mythology.

Singly, they are curiously insightful; jointly, they make a powerful case for a truly novel method of interpreting prophecy.

Like fitting the pieces into a puzzle, each key adds a little to our understanding of prophecy, making the picture more complete. When all the pieces are in place, they produce a comprehensive explanation of prophetic symbolism. They make prophecy plain and understandable for anyone.

Hence, Joseph Smith’s statement, “Revelation is one of the plainest books God ever cause to be written.”

In subsequent installments in this series we will carefully search out and examine each of these clues as we unravel the mysteries of prophecy.

But what may be even more exciting and enlightening is that this quest will also allow us to better understand all the ancient imagery found in the Bible and even in modern revelation.

It will explain otherwise enigmatic statements by Joseph Smith and other modern prophets since his time—statements that have been neglected or dismissed by many LDS scholars because of their seeming irrelevance or lack of substantiation.

Still more remarkable is the discovery that this analysis will reveal uncommon knowledge about temples ancient and modern—from the icons that adorn their exteriors and interiors to their very purpose and meaning.

It will also explain Joseph Smith’s interest in things Egyptian and the revelations, such as the book of Abraham, which came from that study.

So, as it turns out, this effort is fundamentally about understanding the gospel itself rather than just the narrow confines of prophecy. Indeed, this study will lead us to understand more clearly even the first principles and ordinances of the gospel, the very foundations of our faith.

Only a study of correct principles could have such sweeping and profound implications and ramifications.




  1. The key to prophecy is a testimony of Jesus Christ.

    I realize this is an “Introduction”, but it read much like your website, which seems repetitiously introductive and void of meaningful content (but it’s hard to sell books when you explain everything online for free).

    I look forward to the future article(s) which actually explain what these esoteric keys are to prophecy. We should use a little less milk (introductory blah blah) and little more meat around here. 😉

  2. Where does all this bitter rancor come from, Derek? DId somebody rain on your parade or demolish your intelectual sand castles?
    If a testimony of Jesus Christ were the only prerequisite for understanding prophecy, as you state, then we would all have the answers to our questions and there would be no disagreement. Yet, curiously, we Latter-day Saints remain in the dark where prophetic imagery is concerned.
    Are you implying that I have no such testimony? Or, are you the only one around here that’s enlightened with the light of Christ?
    I don’t see you putting yourself out there, posting monographs to explain prophetic imagery … tedious or not.
    If you and some other Latter-day Saints showed a little more true intellectual curiosity and relied less on formulaic, pat answers, my “repetitiously introductive” material would not be necessary. I notice that each of your replys to my previous monographs were “void of meaningful content” and repetitiously inane.
    You want more meat? I’ll give you more meat. The problem is, you can’t handle the truth. As Joseph Smith said, some people fly apart like glass when confronted with the truth.
    Please stop with the criticism. You do yourself no favors. If you have something constructive to say, we’d be happy to hear it. But, please cease the vindictive vituperation. You don’t flatter yourself thereby.

  3. Hey, I’m glad you’re finally posting stuff that is copyright 2002-2004… I have enjoyed your discourses for the most part. Two of my responses to your articles have been purposefully terse (not purposefully harsh, mind you), and I have already apologized once. My wink didn’t give away that the nudge was no insult?

    You asked for criticism to make your writings more appeasable to mainstream LDS, and so my criticism thus far is now: get to the point already. I saw this article as something of a tease, so I am teased.

    You see, the problem is that I am very curious what it is that you are taking a very long time to say. I am very interested in hearing from you what these “keys” are. I have watched your obscure videos on YouTube of planetary rotations that I cannot make head nor tails of out of context. I have read the introductory materials on your website, and I enjoyed your well-produced “Long Day of Joshua” videos.

    We need go agree on everything, but I understand that I have much to learn from what you say, and I hope you’ve been able to garner useful information from my more meaningful and lengthy replies. I am no fan of Immanuel Velikovsky, but that doesn’t discount your writings nor does it retract from my ability to appreciate them.

    Sand castles? Bah, I live in an Ivory Tower of Logic! 😉

    I am not questioning your testimony of Jesus Christ. Your testimony of Jesus Christ seems rather obvious to me. I meant to highlight that it is the most important “key” to prophecy, because what you are saying isn’t much different from what some New Agers say in their religious/mythical speculations, except that you testify of Christ. I meant to echo Joseph Smith, Jr., in repeating it myself, as it seems to me to have been one of his favorite phrases (as it was the only way he could prove that he was a prophet and that any other Christians who denied their own prophecy were proving themselves to be false teachers):

    Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith
    Section Six 1843-44, p.300

    And as Paul said, “the world by wisdom know not God,” so the world by speculation are destitute of revelation; and as God in his superior wisdom, has always given his Saints, wherever he had any on the earth, the same spirit, and that spirit, as John says, is the true spirit of prophecy, which is the testimony of Jesus.

  4. Oops, typo:

    We need not agree on everything

    (for we agree on salvation and the gospel, even if one or the other may have more insight)

  5. PS: This was the video I didn’t understand and couldn’t find materials on your website to explain:

    “The Ancient Heavens”

    PPS: When I called your website “repetitiously introductive and void of meaningful content”, I left it unstated that I thought these two things were purposeful and by design. I had assumed your more meaningful content (such as would explain the video above) was limited to book form, and I saw your website as a marketing material. I realize you are not here to market your books; in fact, you almost seem eager to “give away” much of your ideas.

    PPPS: I hope to prove that I have a tinsel strength beyond that of glass. But please reply to my solitary (and quite lonely) replies showing where I may be “inane”.

  6. PPPPS: Also, I must state that I did not read any of your articles in PDF form (I usually find Acrobat to be annoying). This is likely why your website seemed “introductory” to me, because I only read the few articles available in HTML format.

  7. Sorry, I forgot to say: Ivory Tower of Logic(tm) is trademarked. Watch yo’self!

  8. In order to learn what the video “Ancient Heavens” is all about, you’d have to order and read the back issues of my publication, “Eschatus.” You can get those by going to my
    Yes. The meat of my message can be found in the books, Eschatus and in my daylong symposium/slideshow. Until you’ve experienced all three, your picture of the past, the prophets, the temples and the restored gospel will be incomplete.

  9. The meat of my message can be found in the books, Eschatus and in my daylong symposium/slideshow. Until you’ve experienced all three, your picture of the past, the prophets, the temples and the restored gospel will be incomplete.

    You are very confident not only of my ignorance but of your own superiority.

    Did you know that you woke up under the Egyptian presence because you were naked under a sheet?

    I think I will prefer the Holy Ghost to a know-it-all that covers with a covering, even if I am left “incomplete”.

    Criticism #2: Consecrate your knowledge and the Lord’s GPL shall set you free. Or chase after mammon and remain obscure. The choice is yours.

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