Cover image: Restoration, by Liz Lemon Swindle.
The restoration of priesthood power in 1829 had greatly blessed the Latter-day Saints in the early days of the Church. They could rest assured that the priesthood holders who baptized and confirmed them had the same authority that Christ gave to his apostles when he walked the earth during his ministry. But having access to the priesthood power is not the same thing as completely understanding it, and God had more he wanted His Saints to understand—particularly with the coming restoration of temple ordinances. The 1832 revelation on the priesthood, now Doctrine and Covenants 84, expanded the Saints’ vision of what the priesthood really is.
A Grand Overview
If we could ask the Lord o tell us in one sentence what the priesthood is, and what he wants us to do with it, he might say, I can do that.” How about three sentences… (verses 19–22).
19 And this greater priesthood administereth the gospel and holdeth the key of the mysteries of the kingdom, even the key of the knowledge of God.
20 Therefore, in the ordinances thereof, the power of godliness is manifest.
21 And without the ordinances thereof, and the authority of the priesthood, the power of godliness is not manifest unto men in the flesh;
22 For without this no man can see the face of God, even the Father, and live.
Much can be learned about the divine power that holds “the key of the knowledge of God,” that makes manifest “the power of godliness,” and that prepares us to “see the face of God, even the Father, and live,” that is, “in his presence.”
Speaking of the Melchizedek Priesthood, Joseph Smith said, “Its institution was prior to ‘the foundation of this earth, or the morning stars sang together, or the Sons of God shouted for joy,’ and is the highest and holiest Priesthood, and is after the order of the Son of God, and all other Priesthoods are only parts, ramifications, powers and blessings belonging to the same, and are held, controlled, and directed by it. It is the channel through which the Almighty commenced revealing His glory at the beginning of the creation of this earth, and through which He has continued to reveal Himself to the children of men to the present time, and through which He will make known His purposes to the end of time.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 166-167, emphasis added)
Whatever knowledge comes, it comes thru the Melchizedek Priesthood.
If we still insist on a one sentence answer to our question, the Lord might say, “Here’s your sentence. Your calling is to seek diligently to sanctify the people so they can behold my face, enter into my rest, and enjoy a fulness of my glory.” (compare to Doctrine and Covenants 84:23)
If I’m a minister, what should I do? “You calling is to seek diligently to sanctify the people so they can behold my face, enter into my rest, and enjoy a fulness of my glory.”
If I am a parent — “Your calling is to seek diligently to sanctify the people so they can behold my face, enter into my rest, and enjoy a fulness of my glory.”
If I am a missionary — “You calling is to seek diligently to sanctify the people so they can behold my face, enter into my rest, and enjoy a fulness of my glory.”
Hearing this, I might ask, “Oh Lord, how do I do that?”
The Lord might explain, “You can’t do that without a temple.” You’ve got to have a temple. Let’s get things going because it’s in the temple that the people are sanctified.”
This hypothetical conversation might continue in this manner:
“How do I build a temple?”
“Well, you’ve got to gather the people.”
“How do I do that?”
“Proclaim the gospel. My sheep will hear my voice.”
Then I say, “I’ve proclaimed the gospel, and gathered them, and I’ve built the temple. Now what do I do?”
“Get them into the temple and get them sanctified.”
“Okay. Now what?”
“Now, I want you to get them to offer an offering that is acceptable to me.”
“What is that?”
“The record of your dead. Then I want you to covenant and BIND YOURSELF that you will do it. By the way, There will be some opposition.”
Then the Lord adds, “While you are gathering, building, and sanctifying, teach them to sing me a love song. Then I’ll know you’ve done all the rest, if they can sing me a love song.
Where do we get all that? It’s all in a few key sections of the Doctrine and Covenants. Let’s explore them.
Doctrine and Covenants 84:3: The whole context of priesthood and what Moses was trying to do is sandwiched between temple language. We’re going to build Zion, right? Zion is described as being what kind of a people? One heart and one mind. Where do you learn to be one heart one mind? In the temple. What people are sealed together in the temple? Husband to wife. Children to parents. Brother to sister. Man to God. Living to dead. You’re going to build Zion, but where do you begin? You begin at the temple lot.
Doctrine and Covenants 84:4: If we’re not careful, we might think that the place that the Lord talking about is in Jackson County, but if you read a little more carefully, he will tell you what place you begin to build Zion from. What is the place? And it is Jackson County right now. You can’t sanctify the people without a temple, and if you can’t sanctify the people, you can’t magnify the priesthood. Without a temple, what is the purpose of God restoring the priesthood? As you start to notice that at the temple you start to build Zion, you notice that in other sections, it is the same.
Every time the Saints move into a new place, God tells them to build a temple. Where does Zion begin in Kirtland? At the temple. (See Doctrine and Covenants 94:1) When they go to Far West, what happens? God commands them to build a temple. (See Doctrine and Covenants 115:8) That’s where Zion begins.
In Doctrine and Covenants 124:11, the Lord invites kings of the earth bring their riches and come to Nauvoo. Why? Doctrine and Covenants 124:26-27 goes on to say that “swift messengers” will be sent to invite all those with “gold and silver,” “precious stones,” and the “precious things of the earth,” to “build me a house to my name, for the Most High to dwell therein.”
Brigham Young comes to Salt Lake, and what happens? He plants his walking stick after four days and says, “Here we’ll build a temple.” (As an aside here, as renovations to the Salt Lake temple have taken place, one soils engineer I know said, “Of all the places that the temple could have been built in the valley, that place was the best spot.”)
The Lord tells his priesthood holders, to sanctify the people. That’s how you honor the priesthood. That’s your job. It’s not just to pass the sacrament, baptize, etc. All those things help to sanctify. The major job of the priesthood is to bring people to the altars of the temple. And then who takes over? The Lord. He then says, “OK, you’ve brought them here, I’ll take over.” So, if you are a minister, what’s your job? To make sure your people go to the temple. If you are a bishop, what’s your job. To make sure all the unendowed people in your ward get endowed. There is at least one time a year when the bishop meets with every member of the ward. Help them understand the temple. “Teach ye diligently” is always given in a temple context. Share insights with each other in the temple.
Doctrine and Covenants 84:5 – Which temple fulfilled the prophecy of a “cloud of glory resting upon it, which cloud shall even be the glory of the Lord, which shall fill the house?” The Kirtland temple.
In the next verses Doctrine and Covenants 84:6-31, we are given a big parenthesis which gives Moses’s background, beginning with his ordination to the priesthood by his father-in-law Jethro. Who was Jethro? He was a high priest of the house of Midian. The Midianites are descendants of Abraham through his wife Keturah. (See Genesis 25:1-4) Abraham was ordained by the great high priest, Melchizedek, who received the priesthood “through the lineage of his fathers, even to Noah” (Doctrine and Covenants 84:14).
Doctrine and Covenants 84:21: The ordinances of the priesthood SYMBOLIZE the powers that God has in the eternities. Baptism is an ordinance that symbolizes the power of God to forgive sin. Sealing is an ordinance that symbolizes God’s power to seal families together for eternity.
(See Michael Wilcox, House of Glory, 113-116)
In Doctrine and Covenants 13, John the Baptist conferred the Aaronic Priesthood upon Joseph Smith Oliver Cowdrey promising that it would never be taken again from the earth, “until the sons of Levi do offer again an offering unto the Lord in righteousness.” Malachi 3:3 adds that when the Lord’s messenger appears to prepare the way for his coming, he will “purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness.”
As the Restoration proceeded, more information was revealed and more keys were restored concerning the offering spoken of by John the Baptist. On September 22 and 23, 1832, the anniversary of Moroni’s visit, a great revelation was given on the priesthood. In this revelation the words of Malachi’s and John the Baptist’s prophecies were repeated, but with different and added words that amplified and gave further clarification about the necessary offering: “The sons of Moses and also the sons of Aaron shall offer an acceptable offering and sacrifice in the house of the Lord.” (Doctrine and Covenants 84:31; emphasis added.)
Here we learn that the sons of Moses will be added to those that make the offering. Who are the sons of Moses and the sons of Aaron? What offering will they make? Why is that offering so critical that the priesthood will not be taken from the earth? Why is it so important that the priesthood itself was restored to allow the offering to be accomplished? What do purging and purifying have to do with the offering? Let us try to answer these questions by an appeal to the scriptures.
In biblical times the sons of Levi kept “the charge of the tabernacle of the congregation, and the charge of the holy place.” (1 Chronicles 23:32) In other words, the sons of Levi were essentially the ancient temple ordinance workers.
The sons of Moses hold the Melchizedek priesthood—the sons of Aaron hold the Aaronic priesthood. Moses and Aaron were both from the tribe of Levi. John the Baptist’s promise refers to both priesthoods. We further learn that the offering will be made in “the house of the Lord.” That helps explain why the sons of Levi must be purged and purified. One must be clean and worthy both to enter the temple and also to exercise priesthood authority.
It is not surprising that an “offering and sacrifice” should be accomplished in the temple. Offerings and sacrifices were done anciently at altars, and the altars of the temple stand at the center of all we do in the house of the Lord. The Lord adds the word acceptable to the offering. When it is made, it will be made in such a manner that the Lord can receive it. The word becomes critically important later in understanding the exact nature of the offering.
The progress of the Restoration continued. The Kirtland Temple was built, and important keys were there restored. The major themes of the priesthood were there emphasized by angelic messengers. “Moses appeared . . . and committed . . . the keys of the gathering of Israel from the four parts of the earth.” The promise of Abraham was reiterated as “Elias appeared, and committed the dispensation of the gospel of Abraham, saying that in us and our seed all generations after us should be blessed.” Elijah then returned to complete the necessary authority to “turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the children to the fathers.” (Doctrine and Covenants 110:11, 12,15; emphasis added.) The gathering, the Abrahamic covenant, and the turning of hearts are all inseparably connected with temples. The proper authority was now in place, and the offering could now be made.
The Saints moved on to Nauvoo and once again were given the command to build a temple. They had learned in Missouri the importance of responding to that command. Their failure to do so was a major factor in their expulsion from Jackson County. (See Doctrine and Covenants 97; 101:43-54.) They had learned in Kirtland that when the Lord gave a command to build a temple, and the Saints did not immediately respond, they had “sinned a very grievous sin,” which the Lord compared to “walking in darkness at noon-day.” (Doctrine and Covenants 95:6.)
Now in Nauvoo, the Lord revealed the redeeming work for the dead and pressed upon the Saints the necessity of completing a temple in order to begin this great work in a place sacred enough for its importance. With the command to build his house, the Lord added a sobering warning: “I command you, all ye my saints, to build a house unto me; and I grant unto you a sufficient time to build a house unto me; . . . and if you do not these things at the end of the appointment ye shall be rejected as a church, with your dead, saith the Lord your God.” (Doctrine and Covenants 124:31-32.)
Notwithstanding all the other works of the Church and the priesthood, the failure to construct a temple (where the Lord could “restore again . . . the fulness of the priesthood” [Doctrine and Covenants 124:28] and where the offering could be made) would result in the rejection of the Church. In the minutes of the October 1841 conference, the Lord also instructed the Saints not to hold another conference until it could be held in the temple. Apparently, the Lord felt there was no need for further instructions until the most critical one of all was commenced. (History of the Church 4:426.)
The groundwork was now laid for the critical offering to be made, and it was looked forward to by all angelic messengers who had returned to earth to restore priesthood keys and authorities. However, Satan was not idle. Joseph Smith was in hiding. Knowing the Lord’s concern that the work not be stopped for any reason, Joseph gave instructions to the Saints through letters.
An Offering Worthy of All Acceptation
In a letter written September 1, 1842, Joseph gave the Saints the Lord’s encouragement: “Thus saith the Lord: Let the work of my temple and all the works which I have appointed unto you, be continued on and not cease; and let your diligence, and your perseverance, and patience, and your works be redoubled.” (Doctrine and Covenants 127:4.) Five days later, on September 6, 1842, in a letter to the Church, Joseph Smith described the “acceptable offering.” Quoting Malachi’s prophecy once again concerning the “sons of Levi,” Joseph then added this instruction: “Let us, therefore, as a church and a people and as Latter-day Saints, offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness; and let us present in his holy temple, when it is finished, a book containing the records of our dead, which shall be worthy of all acceptation.” (Doctrine and Covenants 128:24; emphasis added.) At least part of the offering Malachi, John the Baptist, and other prophets had in view was a book containing the completed ordinance work for all the dead. It will take the Millennium to achieve that culmination and make it “worthy of all acceptation,” for how can the Lord accept it until all of his children who will receive salvation and eternal life have been provided with the opportunity?
As with many prophecies, the offering spoken of has other fulfillments, but it is significant that the one that Lord chose to emphasize in the revelations of the Doctrine and Covenants is that of the work for the dead. Without that offering, the whole earth would be wasted at the Lord’s coming. How appropriate that the offering we are to place on the altars of the temple is a book. It is a fair exchange for the wonderful book our Father in Heaven has placed on those same altars as his offering and gift to us.
In summary, Moroni first quoted the Malachi prophecy and promised that the priesthood would be revealed. John the Baptist next came to begin its revelation and added that the priesthood would remain on the earth until the sons of Levi made an offering in righteousness to the Lord. (See Doctrine and Covenants 13) In section 84, the sons of Levi were identified as all priesthood holders, and it was revealed that the offering would be made in the temple. Finally in Nauvoo, Joseph Smith’s letter now recorded as Doctrine and Covenants 128 invited all the Saints to participate in the offering, and the offering was identified. It would be a book containing all the records of ordinance work for the dead. Since that time, tremendous effort and resources have been expended to make the offering “acceptable” to the Lord by completing it.
In effect, God is saying, “The more people you have working on the offering, the faster we can make it. The more we preach the gospel, the more people we can gather, and the more temples we can build, and the faster we can make the offering.”
In Doctrine and Covenants 84:32 the Lord says, “I want you to BIND YOURSELF by covenant to do this.” I want you to say, “Yes, I will obtain the priesthood, and magnify the calling by sanctifying the people. I’m going to minister to get them there, and teach gospel doctrine to get them there.” Then Lord communicates this idea: “If you’ll do that, you really are the sons of Moses, and all that I have is yours.”
Doctrine and Covenants 84:34 Worthy priesthood holders are not “adopted” in a legalistic sense into the families of Moses and Aaron. Rather, it is as though they are worthy of being counted as followers—persons who live after the same fashion—of Moses and Aaron.
Doctrine and Covenants 84:39 Oath — The Oath which accompanies the reception of the priesthood is an oath that God swears to man. God swears with an oath that every priesthood holder who abides by his part of the two-way promise (the covenant) shall receive incomprehensible blessings. There are two sides of the covenant — our side, and God’s side.
In Jacob 1:19, Jacob uses the word “diligence” to describe his responsibility to teach the word of God to the people and sanctify them. Otherwise, “their blood and sins would come upon our garments, and we would not be found spotless at the last day.” In section 84, both the words “blood” and “sins” are used. How do we get rid of the blood and sins of this generation and become clean? We can’t do that without a temple. Jacob sought to magnify his office, which he interpreted as a responsibility to TEACH his people. All the scriptures to do with the Priesthood have TEACHING mentioned.
The oppositions has a plan: Let’s not talk about God’s word — something they can hang onto when they can’t see God’s love. This section has a strong LIGHT vs. DARKNESS motif — similar to Lehi’s dream. The Lord in essence is saying, “Make sure you get the light because the whole world lies in darkness.” What is the darkness for? To blind us to the light. Satan and his followers don’t want people to see God’s love (the tree), God’s word (the rod of iron), or the consequences of their actions (the filthy river) which are obscured by the mists of darkness. Satan just wants them to see the great ad spacious building. That’s the world with its derision and pointing fingers. Satan and his followers don’t want us to know of God’s love, let’s make sure people can’t see that. Let’s keep the wars coming, one after another. (We’ll be introduced to this idea in sections 86 and 87.) And definitely don’t let them know where they’re going, don’t let them know the hell and misery they’re headed towards. Let them think that the generation in the building pointing fingers is the only reality. That’s the darkness the Lord is talking about. Priesthood is God’s front line to get people through that. So get that book in their hands, get them gathered, sanctified, and to the temple. That’s priesthood.
We spoke at the beginning of this article about learning to sing a love song to the Lord. Here the Lord elaborates on it. Revelation 5:9, 14:3 refers to those who sang a new song before the throne of God. Nobody could sing that song but the 144,000 who lived a morally clean life. The Lord says, “Sing me a love song. And I’ll help you with half of it. I’ll give you the words, but I won’t reveal the tune. Joseph Smith is given the words for the new song in Doctrine and Covenants 84:99-102.
The Lord hath brought again Zion;
The Lord hath redeemed his people, Israel,
According to the election of graceWhich was brought to pass by the faith
And covenant of their fathers.
The Lord hath redeemed his people;
And Satan is bound and time is no longer.
The Lord hath gathered all things in one.
The Lord hath brought down Zion from above.
The Lord hath brought up Zion from beneath.
The earth hath travailed and brought forth her strength;
And truth is established in her bowels;
And the heavens have smiled upon her;
And she is clothed with the glory of her God;
For he stands in the midst of his people.
Glory, and honor, and power, and might,
Be ascribed to our God; for he is full of mercy,
Justice, grace and truth, and peace,
Forever and ever, Amen.
So how do I learn how to sing it? How do I learn how to sing a song that no man can learn? If we receive all those gifts that God has given, nobody is going to have to tell you how to sing the love song. What are the gifts that God has given me? The scriptures, for one thing. The priesthood is a great gift. To be able to give school blessings. To see your 16-year old baptize your eight-year old. The temple. The commandments. Your heart will write the tune. And with all your soul you’ll sing it. Your love for the Lord will write the tune.
Let me give you an example of somebody in the Doctrine and Covenants who sings this song. In which section does Joseph Smith wax eloquent about how he feels about the restoration? Doctrine and Covenants 128. It’s his version of the love song. What’s he thinking about when he writes it? The temple. The culmination of the whole Restoration and the great work for the dead.
Doctrine and Covenants 128:18: Sometimes we think that the oneness by which the hearts of the children are bound to their fathers refers to our ancestors whose temple work we’ve completed, and that “they without us cannot be made perfect,” refers to those whose work was NOT done and now we have done. But notice how he words it in Doctrine and Covenants 128:18. “They nor we can be made perfect without those who have died IN the gospel.” We don’t have to do their work. But we get all three groups: those whose work was not done but now is done, the ones now IN the gospel, and those who have died in the gospel.
Doctrine and Covenants 128:19: Have you ever heard a symphony start off with one voice and very little music behind it? That’s what is going on in the last part of Doctrine and Covenants 128. First Michael, followed by the voice of the Lord, and then the dead all join in. In section 138, we hear that muffled, reverent sound as every knee bows to him. And then what do they do? They sing to him. What do they sing? Redeemer of Israel?
Doctrine and Covenants 128:23 What else sings? The mountains, then the valleys, the seas, and the dry lands. Rocks, the stars, and then all creation. Then the singing stops. We hear a voice from heaven proclaiming glory, honor, immortality, eternal life, kingdoms, principalities, powers. Now you recognize those words spoken at a very sacred moment of your life. The Lord will give back to us what he promised us in his house. Revelation 5:9: You can judge because you have descended below all. A hundred million voices are joined by the creatures. So, while you’re doing all this as the priesthood, we see “eye to eye,” which means they are all right there with you.
Doctrine and Covenants 84:98 When do I stop exercising priesthood? The answer is, when everybody knows. Then you can be released. From the highest king to the most poverty stricken peasant on the streets of Calcutta. When they all can sing that love song, then you may say, “My priesthood responsibility is over.” It’s that same feeling that we’ve sensed all through the Doctrine and Covenants—that this work is MARVELOUS — a privilege.