This article was adapted from my new book, The Three Pillars of Zion. Click here to receive a free sample.)
The essential step to regain the presence of the Lord is taking upon us fully the name of Jesus Christ. By fully taking upon us the Lord’s name we approach the ideal of Zion.
The Book of Mormon contains several Zion accounts. The most obvious is found in Third Nephi. There we are introduced to people who initially were unprepared for the Lord’s presence and his Zion. Nevertheless, after a period of diligent preparation, these people managed to change their lives so that the Lord could come and establish Zion among them.
But there is another account that begs our attention: the account of the people of King Benjamin. These people were prepared for the establishment of Zion; they had been diligently keeping the commandments of the Lord,[i] and they were ready to ascend to a higher level of spirituality. King Benjamin employed his priesthood to facilitate a spiritual experience that took his people to that higher level. This level is where the ideal of Zion becomes possible in a person’s life; it is this level where preparations are finally complete so that we can come into the presence of the Lord. This level is marked by fully taking upon us the name of Jesus Christ.
To fully take upon us the name of Christ requires at least three things: (1) intervention by the priesthood, (2) receiving all of the saving covenants and ordinances, including those administered in the temple, and (3) living worthily of all that we have received.
Intervention by the Priesthood
Elder David B. Haight taught us of the responsibility and the opportunity of a priesthood holder to bring those of his stewardship to a point where they can fully take upon them the name of Jesus Christ. Referring to “a sacred experience in which he viewed the Savior’s ministry and came to a greater understanding of the power of the priesthood,”[ii] he said, “During those days of unconsciousness [brought on by illness] I was given, by the gift of the Holy Ghost, a more perfect knowledge of His mission. I was also given a more complete understanding of what it means to exercise, in His name, the authority to unlock the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven for the salvation of all who are faithful.”[iii]
King Benjamin understood his priesthood role to act as an advocate for the people and “to unlock the mysteries of the kingdom for [their] salvation.” By the authority of the priesthood, he facilitated a spiritual experience whereby his people received a greater endowment of the Spirit in a temple setting. We must remember that the responsibility of the priesthood is to bring people to the Holy Ghost, whose responsibility is to bring people to Jesus Christ—whose responsibility is to bring people to the Father.
King Benjamin sanctified himself, thus changing his purpose from being king and protector to becoming a savior to his people. The priesthood is the power to facilitate a conversion opportunity for those of one’s stewardship, to bring people to Christ so that they might more fully take upon themselves his name, and to unlock the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven that can be learned only by revelation. This astounding idea links priesthood authority, the name of Christ, and unlocking blessings for those whom we serve.
Receiving the Saving Covenants and Ordinances
The process of taking upon ourselves the name of Christ begins at baptism,[iv] and it continues by our subsequently partaking of the sacrament, in which we indicate our willingness to take upon ourselves the name of Jesus Christ.[v] In both cases, however, our ability to fully take upon ourselves the name of Christ, which is sometimes termed as being born again or being born of God, is usually something that happens later. Elder Bruce R. McConkie explained:
Mere compliance with the formality of the ordinance of baptism does not mean that a person has been born again. No one can be born again without baptism, but the immersion in water and the laying on of hands to confer the Holy Ghost do not of themselves guarantee that a person has been or will be born again. The new birth takes place only for those who actually enjoy the gift or companionship of the Holy Ghost, only for those who are fully converted, who have given themselves without restraint to the Lord. Thus Alma addressed himself to his “brethren of the church,” and pointedly asked them if they had “spiritually been born of God,” received the Lord’s image in their countenances, and had the “mighty change” in their hearts which always attends the birth of the Spirit. (Alma 5:14, 31.)[vi]
Baptism and the sacrament point us toward making other covenants and receiving their associated ordinances. To the degree that we make and receive these covenants and ordinances, and live worthily of them, we take upon us the name of Jesus Christ.
Common Ways of Taking upon Ourselves the Name of Christ
There are several ways we commonly take upon ourselves the name of Christ. One way that we take upon ourselves his name is to accept him as the father or head of the earthly church to which we belong, the Church that bears his name: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.[vii] Our acceptance of him in this role transcends this world, for it is in the next world that we, having taken upon ourselves his name, will more fully see and accept him as the “Mighty God, the Everlasting Father,”[viii] the eternal head of the heavenly church to which we will belong: The Church of the Firstborn.[ix]
Another way that we take upon ourselves his name is by taking upon ourselves his priesthood. The Lord said to Abraham, “Behold, I will lead thee by my hand, and I will take thee, to put upon thee my name, even the Priesthood of thy father, and my power shall be over thee.”[x]
Moreover, we take upon ourselves the name of Jesus Christ when we bear testimony of him. Testimony bearing and taking upon ourselves Christ’s name are linked in the latter-day commandment: “Take upon you the name of Christ, and speak the truth in soberness.”[xi] Peter said, “Sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you.”[xii] Bearing witness of the Lord is to commend him to others and to testify of his reality, his ability, and his works.[xiii] This recommendation and witness qualify as a form of taking upon us the name of Christ.
We also take upon ourselves the name of Jesus Christ by assuming his work. Significantly, the Twelve Apostles are “special witnesses of the name of Christ in all the world.”[xiv] By delegation, we take our part in the work of the Twelve, and thus we take upon us the work and name of Christ.
Born of God—the Mystery of Spiritual Rebirth
But there is another way of taking upon ourselves the name of Jesus Christ. This way speaks of a future event that is foreshadowed each time we partake of the sacrament and witness our willingness to take upon ourselves his name in this ultimate way. M. Catherine Thomas refers to this future event as “the mystery of spiritual rebirth.”[xv]
The idea of spiritual rebirth was introduced to Nicodemus by Jesus: “Ye must be born again”.
[xvi] The concept of birth invokes the image of parents or progenitors. When we are born again by baptism, we agree to accept Jesus as our spiritual father and give ourselves to being adopted into his family, which is his Church. Hence, forevermore, we are called by the name of our adopted father—Jesus Christ—which is also the name of our new family. We accept Jesus as our adopted father in the sense that he becomes the father or the progenitor of our salvation; that is, our salvation is born of him. King Benjamin said, “Because of the covenant ye have made ye shall be called the children of Christ, his sons and daughters; for behold, this day he hath spiritually begotten you.”[xvii] Elder McConkie wrote:
Those who are born again not only live a new life, but they also have a new father. Their new life is one of righteousness, and their new father is God. They become the sons of God; or, more particularly, they become the sons and daughters of Jesus Christ. They bear, ever thereafter, the name of their new parent; that is, they take upon themselves the name of Christ and become Christians, not only in word but in very deed. They become by adoption the seed or offspring of Christ, the children in his family, the members of his household which is the perfect household of perfect faith.[xviii]
That is not to say that we abandon our Heavenly Father, who is the Progenitor of our spirit bodies, in favor of Jesus Christ, who is our elder brother. Conversely, Heavenly Father initiates the mandate that we take upon us the name of his son, Jesus Christ, by our entering in the waters of baptism. Moreover, as we have said, each time we partake of the sacrament, we witness unto the Father our willingness to take upon ourselves the name of Jesus Christ, that is, to prepare ourselves and look forward to the day when we fully take upon ourselves the name of Jesus Christ.
It should be clear by now that taking upon ourselves the name of Jesus Christ is the central issue and objective of the gospel. Possibly nothing is more important to our salvation and eventual exaltation than taking upon ourselves this holy name.
Fully Taking upon Us the Name of Jesus Christ
This brings us to the account of King Benjamin and how he used his priesthood to facilitate a spiritual experience by which his people could fully take upon themselves the name of Jesus Christ—“the mystery of spiritual rebirth.
We recall that the prophet-king sanctified himself and thus fully took upon himself the name of Christ. Now he was in a position to help others. Jesus set the example for this process. In his great intercessory prayer, he said to the Father, “And for their sakes [the apostles] I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified.”[xix] That is to say, he was about to magnify or increase his purpose through his atoning sacrifice so that he could fully become the Savior. He said that he was going to do this so that he could facilitate a sanctifying opportunity for his apostles, “that they also might be sanctified.” Likewise, King Benjamin sanctified himself, fully took upon himself the name of Christ, and then prayed earnestly for priesthood power to bring his people into the presence of the Lord. The process moved him from being a great king and protector to being a great prophet and priest, or more specifically, a savior to his people.
In response to King Benjamin’s prayer, an angel appeared, granting him permission to gather the people for the purpose of giving them an endowment that would cause them to “rejoice with exceedingly great joy”[xx] and be “filled with joy.”[xxi] These terms are connected with being born again.[xxii] The central message of the angel involved King Benjamin’s giving the people “a name, that thereby they may be distinguished above all the people which the Lord God hath brought out of the land of Jerusalem.” Without a doubt, these people were righteous and highly favored. But what had they done to deserve the honor of being granted this “name”? King Benjamin explained that it was because “they have been a diligent people in keeping the commandments of the Lord.” For that reason, they would be blessed with “a name that never shall be blotted out, except it be through transgression.”[xxiii]
From that point forward, the king’s entire effort—gathering them to the temple, administering to them a sermon that was structured like the temple endowment,[xxiv] making references to their being “sealed” to Christ in order to receive eternal life[xxv]—focused on helping his people fully take upon themselves the name of Jesus Christ.
It is worth emphasizing that these people were righteous people who had been diligent in keeping the commandments, which we may assume would mean that they had received baptism and so had already taken upon themselves the name of Christ. Now King Benjamin, through his priesthood, served as an advocate with God to provide these good people a new and fuller experience with the name of Christ. Obviously, they had never before taken upon themselves the name of Christ to this degree. What happened when they did so? Catherine Thomas said they attained to “a higher spiritual plain in their quest to return to God. . . . The people tasted of the glory of God and came to a personal knowledge of him; through the power of the Holy Spirit they experienced the mighty change of heart and the mystery of spiritual rebirth.”[xxvi]
This astonishing experience resulted in a “profound transformation from basic goodness to something that exceeded their ability to even describe. This much did they say, ‘The Spirit of the Lord Omnipotent . . . has wrought a mighty change in us, or in our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually’ (Mosiah 5:2).”[xxvii]
President Joseph F. Smith explained the result of taking upon ourselves the name of Jesus Christ and experiencing the mighty change of heart:
If our hearts are fixed with proper intent upon serving God and keeping His commandments, what will be the fruits of it? What will be the result? . . . Men will be full of the spirit of forgiveness, of charity, of mercy, of love unfeigned. They will not seek occasion against each other; nor will they take advantage of the weak, the unwary, or the ignorant; but they will regard the rights of the ignorant, of the weak, of those who are dependent and at their mercy, as they do their very own; they will hold the liberties of their fellow-men as sacred as their own liberties; they will prize the virtue, honor and integrity of their neighbors and brothers just as they would appreciate and prize and hold sacred their own.[xxviii]
The Temple and the Name of Christ
The key to understanding “the mystery of spiritual rebirth” lies in the fact that King Benjamin’s people fully took upon themselves the name of Christ in a temple setting. We cannot overstate the significance of this fact. The temple is a house dedicated to “the name” of the Lord.[xxix] The Lord’s “name shall be put upon this house.”[xxx] When we partake of the sacrament, we implicitly indicate our willingness to go to the temple to fully take upon ourselves the name of Christ and receive the blessings of exaltation.
[xxxi] Expounding on our receiving the fulness of the name of Christ, Elder Bruce R. McConkie wrote, “God’s name is God. To have his name written on a person is to identify that person as a god. How can it be said more plainly? Those who gain eternal life become gods!”[xxxii] Thus, it is in the temple that we fully receive the name of Jesus Christ through the covenants and ordinances of salvation.
In the temple we are purified, sanctified, and anointed to become kings and priests, queens and priestesses, in the similitude of Jesus Christ.[xxxiii] It is in the temple that we receive the keys of his knowledge and power. It is in the temple that we make successive covenants that define a Christlike lifestyle.[xxxiv] It is in the temple that we are transformed into saviors on Mount Zion, with his “name written always in [our] hearts,”[xxxv] and it is there that the price he paid for each of us becomes very real.
We recall that the Nephites had something like a temple experience when the Savior invited them, one by one, to step forward and touch his wounds and thus come in contact with the reality of the Atonement on an individual basis.[xxxvi] As they effectively received the marks of the Atonement, they were transformed into saviors in the similitude of the Savior; that is, their ability to perform a saving service in behalf of others greatly increased, as evidenced in the beginning verses of Fourth Nephi. In that encounter with the resurrected Savior, in a very literal way, they took upon themselves the name of Christ, whereas previously they had received his name symbolically.
It is in the temple that we are bound to Jesus with a seal that cannot be broken—except by our own sin. There we symbolically ascend to where he is, to become what he is, and to achieve oneness with him as he is one with the Father. It is in the temple that we receive by marriage a kingdom within his Kingdom. Everything about the temple experience points to fully taking upon ourselves the name of Jesus Christ.
The Name of Christ and Coronation
Moreover, everything about the temple experience points to our coronation in God’s kingdom.[xxxvii] What we do in the temple symbolically, we will one day do literally.[xxxviii] We recall that the kings of the Nephites typically received a new name when they ascended to the throne. At first, that name was Nephi.[xxxix] Just so, when we ascend to our throne we are given a new name—a coronation name. That royal name is Jesus Christ; we become joint heirs with him. Thus, to fully take upon us the name of Jesus Christ opens the door to be nominated a candidate for a throne and exaltation.
The prophet Jeremiah rejoiced when he read, understood, and internalized the import of the word of the Lord as it applied to taking upon himself the name of Jesus Christ: “Thy words were found, and I did eat them; and thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart: for I am called by thy name, O Lord God of hosts.”[xl] Elder McConkie taught,
We have the ability and the capacity and the power to attain unto that status [sons and daughters of God] after we accept the Lord with all our hearts (see D&C 39:1–6). Now the ordinances that are performed in the temples are the ordinances of exaltation; they open the door to us to an inheritance of sonship; they open the door to us so that we may become sons and daughters, members of the household of God in eternity . . . if we thereafter continue faithful, to receive eventually the fullness of the Father. The temple ordinances open the door to gaining all power and all wisdom and all knowledge. Temple ordinances open up the way to membership in the Church of the Firstborn. They open the door to becoming kings and priests and inheriting all things.[xli]
Catherine Thomas concluded, “King Benjamin’s people received an endowment of spiritual knowledge and power which took them from being good people to Christlike people—all in a temple setting. What they experienced through the power of the priesthood was a revelation of Christ’s nature and the power to be assimilated to his image.”[xlii] Plainly, those who fully take upon themselves the name of Jesus Christ qualify to come into his presence, receive their exaltation, and become gods. This is “the mystery of spiritual rebirth.”[xliii]
And this, we would conclude, is the essence of Zion, which is made possible by fully taking upon us the name of Jesus Christ.
This article was adapted from my new book, The Three Pillars of Zion. Click here to receive a free sample.
[i] Mosiah 1:11.
[ii] Thomas, “Benjamin and the Mysteries of God,” 281.
[iii] Haight, “The Sacrament—and the Sacrifice,” 59; emphasis added.
[iv] 2 Nephi 31:13.
[v] Moroni 4:3; D&C 20:37.
[vi] McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 101.
[vii] D&C 115:4; 3 Nephi 27:7–8.
[viii] Isaiah 9:6; 2 Nephi 19:6.
[ix] D&C 76:54, 71, 76, 94; 93:22; 107:19.
[x] Abraham 1:18.
[xi] Oaks, “Taking Upon Us the Name of Jesus Christ,” 80; quoting D&C 18:21.
[xii] 1 Peter 3:15.
[xiii] Ether 12:41.
[xiv] D&C 107:23.
[xv] Thomas, “Benjamin and the Mysteries of God,” 277.
[xvi] John 3:7.
[xvii] Mosiah 5:7; see also Alma 5:14; 36:23–26.
[xviii] McConkie, A New Witness for the Articles of Faith, 284.
[xix] John 17:19.
[xx] Mosiah 3:13.
[xxi] Mosiah 4:3.
[xxii] Thomas, “Benjamin and the Mysteries of God,” 285–86.
[xxiii] Mosiah 1:11–12.
[xxiv] Thomas, “Benjamin and the Mysteries of God,” 292.
[xxv] Mosiah 5:15.
[xxvi] Thomas, “Benjamin and the Mysteries of God,” 293.
[xxvii] Thomas, “Benjamin and the Mysteries of God,” 290.
[xxviii] Smith, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith, 425.
[xxix] 1 Kings 3:2; 5:5; 8:16–20, 29, 44, 48; 1 Chronicles 22:8–10, 19; 29:16; 2 Chronicles 2:4; 6:5–10, 20, 34, 38.
[xxx] D&C 109:26.
[xxxi] Oaks, “Taking Upon Us the Name of Jesus Christ,” 80.
[xxxii] McConkie, Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3:459.
[xxxiii] Smith, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, 22.
[xxxiv] Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 454–56.
[xxxv] Mosiah 5:12.
[xxxvi] 3 Nephi 11:14–17.
[xxxvii] Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 1464; McConkie, Conference Report, Oct. 1955, 13.
[xxxviii] D&C 76:55–58.
[xxxix] Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 191.
[xl] Jeremiah 15:16.
[xli] McConkie, Conference Report, Oct. 1955, 13.
[xlii] Thomas, “Benjamin and the Mysteries of God,” 292.
[xliii] Thomas, “Benjamin and the Mysteries of God,” 277.