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If Zion is “the highest order of priesthood society,”[i] we can be assured that priesthood authority and power will bring Zion about. Every priesthood holder, therefore, would do well to learn his priesthood duty, as it pertains to the establishment of Zion, and do his best to advance this magnificent cause.
As a rule, we men, who strive to live celestial laws and are thus judged worthy to be ordained to the Melchizedek Priesthood, qualified to hold that authority in the premortal life, which Alma calls the “first place.”[ii] Quoting Alma and Joseph Smith, Elder McConkie taught that worthy priesthood holders were
“on the same standing with their brethren,” meaning that initially all had equal opportunity to progress through righteousness. But while yet in the eternal worlds, certain of the offspring of God, “having chosen good, and exercising exceeding great faith,” were as a consequence “called and prepared from the foundation of the world according to the foreknowledge of God” to enjoy the blessings and powers of the priesthood. These priesthood calls were made “from the foundation of the world,” or in other words faithful men held priesthood power and authority first in pre-existence and then again on earth. “Every man who has a calling to minister to the inhabitants of the world was ordained to that very purpose in the Grand Council of heaven before this world was.”[iii]
Our premortal calling to the priesthood, Alma says, was “on account of [our] exceeding faith and good works.” Having chosen independently to embrace the good and eschew the evil, and having exercised “exceedingly great faith,” we received the authority of God, which qualified us for a “preparatory redemption.”[iv]
In other words, in the “first place,” or premortality, we earned the blessings of a preparatory redemption, which guaranteed that we would be offered those blessings again in the flesh. These blessings included ordination to the priesthood then and the invitation to receive it now. Unless we chose otherwise in this life, the blessings of redemption and the priesthood would be ours forever.
The Eternal Obligation of Priesthood Holders
“Priesthood is the great governing authority in the universe,” writes M. Catherine Thomas, assistant professor emeritus of Ancient Scripture at Brigham Young University. “It unlocks spiritual blessings of the eternal world for the heirs of salvation.”[v]
The priesthood then and now is always conferred upon us with the understanding that we will minister to God’s children, offer them the blessings of the plan of redemption, and strive to bring them to Christ for the purpose of redemption and establishing the principles of Zion in their lives.[vi]
This is modeled in the scriptures by Enoch, who left his home in the land of Cainan to preach the gospel to the people, offer them the ordinances of salvation, and bring them to Zion.[vii] Likewise, Melchizedek preached the gospel, administered the ordinances, and achieved Zion: “And his people wrought righteousness, and obtained heaven, and sought for the city of Enoch which God had before taken, separating it from the earth, having reserved it unto the latter days, or the end of the world.”[viii]
The Book of Mormon offers other examples of priesthood holders administering redemptive and Zionlike principles. For example,
And it came to pass that the thirty and fourth year passed away, and also the thirty and fifth, and behold the disciples of Jesus had formed a church of Christ in all the lands round about. And as many as did come unto them, and did truly repent of their sins, were baptized in the name of Jesus; and they did also receive the Holy Ghost. And it came to pass in the thirty and sixth year, the people were all converted unto the Lord, upon all the face of the land, both Nephites and Lamanites, and there were no contentions and disputations among them, and every man did deal justly one with another.[ix]
Catherine Thomas explains,
The power to play a saving role is the most sought-after power among righteous priesthood holders in time or in eternity. The greater the soul, it seems, the deeper the desire to labor to brings souls to Christ. . . . A brief look at the history of the priesthood on the earth reveals that men like [King] Benjamin have stood in this priesthood channel unlocking the blessings of salvation for their people since the days of Adam. Adam, in fact, was the great prototype of priesthood holders who strove to bring their communities and their posterity into at-one-ment with the Lord Jesus Christ. Adam blessed his posterity because, the Prophet Joseph taught, he wanted to bring them into the presence of God. They looked for a city . . . whose builder and maker is God’ (Hebrews 11:10).
A priesthood holder is under obligation to sanctify himself so that he can advocate for his people, as did Adam, Enoch, Melchizedek, Moses, King Benjamin, and Joseph Smith. His people would include his wife and family, the people to whom he is called to serve, and anyone else whom the Lord places in his way. Catherine Thomas explains the duties of a priesthood holder:
A priesthood holder’s office is to sanctify himself and stand as an advocate before God seeking blessings for his community in the manner of Jesus Christ (see John 17:19), whether the community be as small as a family or as large as Benjamin’s kingdom. A righteous priesthood holder can work by faith to provide great benefits to his fellow beings (see Mosiah 8:18). He can, in fact, exercise great faith in behalf of others of lesser faith, filling in’ with faith for them. . . . The Lord seems interested not only in individual but in groups of people who wish to establish holy cities and unite with heavenly communities. Like the ancients, one who holds the holy priesthood is always trying to establish a holy community, is always look[ing] for a city’ (Hebrews 11:10, 16).[x]
The Eternal Nature of Priesthood Work
Our works on earth are an extension of the works we did in the premortal world.
These works are redemption and advancing the cause of Zion.Alma explained that our premortal calling to the priesthood set us apart from others in that realm, those who hardened their hearts against the gospel and thus forfeited their privileges:
And thus they [priesthood holders] have been called to this holy calling on account of their faith, while others would reject the Spirit of God on account of the hardness of their hearts and blindness of their minds, while, if it had not been for this they might have had as great privilege as their brethren.
We distinguished ourselves in premortality by embracing the principles of redemption and Zion, and therefore we were rewarded in that “first place” with the priesthood: “Thus this holy calling [was] prepared from the foundation of the world for such as would not harden their hearts, being in and through the Atonement of the Only Begotten Son.”
Having received the priesthood, we became part of the same order as the Son of God and went about doing his work, the work of Zion:
And thus being called by this holy calling, and ordained unto the high priesthood of the holy order of God, to teach his commandments unto the children of men, that they also might enter into his rest-this high priesthood being after the order of his Son, which order was from the foundation of the world; or in other words, being without beginning of days or end of years, being prepared from eternity to all eternity, according to his foreknowledge of all things-Now they were ordained after this manner-being called with a holy calling, and ordained with a holy ordinance, and taking upon them the high priesthood of the holy order, which calling, and ordinance, and high priesthood, is without beginning or end-thus they become high priests forever, after the order of the Son, the Only Begotten of the Father, who is without beginning of days or end of years, who is full of grace, equity, and truth. And thus it is. Amen.[xi]
Clearly, our past experience with the priesthood will be exceeded only by our glorious future experience. Moreover, our priesthood work now is an extension of our work then; and our work in the priesthood will continue into the eternities: “The faithful elders of this dispensation, when they depart from mortal life, continue their labors in the preaching of the gospel of repentance and redemption, through the sacrifice of the Only Begotten Son of God.”[xii]
The work that we assumed so long ago-the work of redemption-is the work that helps to establish Zion in the lives of people now. This work is as eternal as is the priesthood. The priesthood vitalizes the plan of redemption and makes possible the establishment of Zion. The priesthood of God is the power by which the foundation of Zion (the Atonement) and the three pillars of Zion (the new and everlasting covenant, the oath and covenant of the priesthood, and the law of consecration[xiii]) function together.
Built upon this sure foundation, Zion rises to form “the highest order of priesthood society.”[xiv]
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[iii] McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 475-83; Alma 13:3, 5; Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 365.