In the Kirtland Temple, visions of Deity and unparalleled spiritual manifestations flowed down upon the Saints. Most visions came during meetings as Joseph Smith conducted recently revealed sacred temple ordinances. When the Saints erected the first house of the Lord in this last dispensation, with humble faith and under direction of their prophet, they fully expected to see or feel the presence of Deity and experience heavenly manifestations. Joseph taught the new Twelve Apostles, “All who are prepared and are sufficiently pure to abide the presence of the Saviour will see him…”[1] Orson Pratt stated, “God was there, his angels were there, the Holy Ghost was in the midst of the people, the visions of the Almighty were opened to the minds of the servants of the living God; the vail was taken off from the minds of many; they saw the heavens opened.”[2]

God, the Father and His Son Jesus Christ opened the heavens wide and together revealed Themselves to their servants four times in glorious meetings in late January 1836.  After their first manifestation, Joseph Smith declared, “The heavens were opened upon us, and I beheld…. the blazing throne of God, whereon was seated the Father and the Son.”[3] With these words, Joseph Smith introduced one of his most far-reaching visions. As church members study Doctrine and Covenants section 137, it will become obvious that this vision represents only a portion of what Joseph and possibly others “beheld.” This celestial vision began a week of intense revelation and the opening of the heavens upon Joseph and “many” others.  It also ushered in at least three additional divine visions. Following are accounts of visions of God, the Father & Jesus Christ in the Kirtland Temple during this eight-day period.

January 21, 1836

The first recorded visions of Deity in the Kirtland Temple occurred January 21, 1836, in Joseph Smith’s office on the temple’s highest level. Joseph gave detailed descriptions of at least two extended visions experienced on that remarkable day. Each vision consisted of distinct parts. The occasion for each vision was the Temple ordinance of anointing the head with oil of the First Presidency, bishoprics, and high councilors.

Vision of the Father and the Son in the Celestial Kingdom

The promised visions began as Joseph Smith was meeting with fifteen other Church leaders.[4] As the visions occurred, the Prophet introduced, for the first time in this dispensation, the ordinance of anointing with oil in a temple of the Lord. He described the start of the first vision of the day: “The heavens were opened upon us, and I beheld the celestial kingdom of God, and the glory thereof, whether in the body or out I cannot tell.

I saw the transcendent beauty of the gate through which the heirs of that kingdom  will enter, which was like unto circling flames of fire;

Also the blazing throne of God, whereon was seated the Father and the Son.

I saw the beautiful streets of that kingdom, which had the appearance of being paved with gold.

I saw Father Adam and Abraham; and my father and my mother; my brother Alvin, that has long since slept.[5]

Vision of Christ and the Latter-day Twelve Apostles

In the next part of his visions of this day, Joseph saw the Savior weep over His discouraged band of Apostles. He recorded:

I saw the 12, apostles of the Lamb, who are now upon the earth who hold the keys of this last ministry, in foreign lands, standing together in a circle much fatiegued, with their clothes tattered and feet swolen, with their eyes cast downward, and Jesus <standing> in their midst, and they did not behold him, . . . the Saviour looked upon them and wept.[6]

Twelve Apostles in the Celestial Kingdom

In the concluding scene of these visions, Joseph apparently watched until the Twelve arrived at the gate to the celestial kingdom and found Father Adam acting as gatekeeper and escort of the faithful to the throne. In recording this part of the vision, Joseph stated simply, “I finally saw the 12, in the celestial Kingdom of God.”[7] Nonetheless, Heber C. Kimball remembered further details of Joseph’s vision, undoubtedly told him by the Prophet:

He (Joseph) saw until they [the Twelve] had accomplished their work, and arrived at the gate of the celestial city; there Father Adam stood and opened the gate to them, and as they entered he embraced them one by one and kissed them. He then led them to the throne of God, and then the Savior embraced each one of them and kissed them, and crowned each one of them in the presence of God. He saw that they all had beautiful heads of hair and all looked alike. The impression this vision left on Brother Joseph’s mind was of so acute a nature, that he never could refrain from weeping while rehearsing it.[8]

Vision of Christ with the High Councils of Kirtland and Zion

Later, on January 21, the high councilors of Kirtland and Zion joined the ones already in the meeting, which increased attendance to forty brethren. These brethren also participated in visions of Deity that day. Joseph recorded:

The vision of heaven . . . <was> opened to these also, some of them saw the face of the Saviour, and others were ministered unto by holy angels, and the spirit of propesey and revelation was poured out in mighty power, and loud hosanahs and glory to God in the highest, saluted the heavens for we all communed with the h[e]avenly hosts.[9]

According to Joseph, “Some of them saw the face of the Savior.” This certifies that other Church leaders besides Joseph became eyewitnesses to Christ’s existence and leadership of the Church.

Vision of the Presidency in the Celestial Kingdom

During this final meeting of leaders that now included the high councilors of Kirtland and Zion, Joseph Smith beheld his third vision of the celestial kingdom that day. This time he saw many of those forty brethren, including the presidency, in that celestial setting. He stated: “I saw in my vision all of the presidency in the Celistial Kingdom of God, and, many others who were present.”[10] In each of his two other visions of the celestial kingdom that day, the Prophet had seen the Father and the Son and also men who were assisting Joseph in leading the Church, many of whom were present in the meetings. In the first of those visions, Joseph saw God’s throne, the Father and the Son, and others, including his father, who had just anointed him. In the next vision, he saw the Twelve being embraced by the Savior in the presence of the Father. In the third vision, he sees the presidency there with other leaders who are with him in the meeting. Although he didn’t state it directly, it is assumed that this final vision also included the Father and Son, because that was the pattern set in the two other visions.

Apparently because of the sacred nature of the visions, Oliver Cowdery, who was present at the meeting, did not record many details. He leaves us wishing for more details, however, with what he did write: “The glorious scene is too great to be described in this book, therefore, I only say, that the heavens were opened to many, and great and marvelous things were shown.”[11]

God the Father and Christ Seen in Meeting of Quorums, January 28, 1836

Seven days following the incredible visions of January 21, Joseph Smith and his counselors instructed high priests, seventies, and elders assembled in the Kirtland Temple. The leaders introduced to this group the ancient ordinance of anointing with oil. In addition, Joseph Smith conducted the procedure of sealing blessings given them in the anointing. During the proceedings, marvelous visions were distilled upon the priesthood quorums. In this meeting, Zebedee Coltrin saw the Savior. The Prophet recorded this and other visions: “Elder Roger Orton saw a mighty angel riding upon a horse of fire, with a flaming sword in his hand, followed by five others, encircle the house, and protect the Saints, even the Lord’s anointed, from the power of Satan and a host of evil spirits, which were striving to disturb the Saints.

“President William Smith, one of the Twelve, saw the heavens opened, and the Lord’s host protecting the Lord’s anointed.

“President Zebedee Coltrin, one of the seven presidents of the Seventy, saw the Savior extended before him, as upon the cross, and a little after, crowned with glory upon his head above the b[r]ightness of the sun.”[12] Harrison Burgess added that Joseph Smith also saw the Savior. In his autobiography, Harrison vividly recalled that in the middle of the meeting, “Joseph exclaimed aloud, ‘I behold the Saviour, the Son of God.’”[13] He recorded the following:

The Lord blessed His people abundantly in that Temple with the Spirit of prophecy, the ministering of angels, visions, etc. I will here relate a vision which was shown to me. It was near the close of the endowments. I was in a meeting for instruction in the upper part of the Temple, with about a hundred of the High Priests, Seventies and Elders. The Saints felt to shout “Hosannah!” and the Spirit of God rested upon me in mighty power and I beheld the room lighted up with a peculiar light such as I had never seen before. It was soft and clear and the room looked to me as though it had neither roof nor floor to the building and I beheld the Prophet Joseph and Hyrum Smith and Roger Orton enveloped in the light: Joseph exclaimed aloud, “I behold the Savior, the Son of God.” Hyrum said, “I behold the angels of heaven.” Brother Orton exclaimed, “I behold the chariots of Israel.”[14]

Two journal accounts lead to a conclusion that both the Father and the Son appeared in vision in this meeting. In an 1879 Sunday meeting, Harrison supplemented his journal account by adding that Joseph Smith also saw God the Father at that time. Charles Lowell Walker, one of the Church’s foremost diary keepers, heard Harrison say that Joseph saw both the Father and the Son. Charles then carefully recorded Harrison’s words in his journal entry:

Br Harrison Burgess spoke of the first Endowments given in the Kirtland Temple and that all the quorums met at one time in the Attic; Joseph and Hyrum met with them. He said that all at once there was a Heavenly and Divine Atmosphere surrounded them, and it seemed as if the rafters and Beams were all gone and Joseph gazing up said, I See the Son of God sitting at the right hand of the Father. Hyrum at the same instant said, I behold the Angels of Heaven, and Roger Orton said, I see the Horses and Chariots of Heaven.[15]

Although Joseph omitted in his journal account that he saw a vision of Deity, he did record that he saw “a glorious vision.”[16] In his journal Harrison concluded that all present experienced the power of God. He wrote, “All who were in the room felt the power of God to that degree that many prophesied, and the power of God was made manifest, . . . the remembrance of which I shall never forget while I live upon the earth.”[17]

Another account attests to both the Father and the Son appearing, probably on this day. David Patten, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, also attended. David visited Abraham Smoot, a recent convert, in Kentucky within weeks of the temple dedication and told him about seeing God the Father and Jesus Christ in vision. Wilford Woodruff recorded his account:

He [Abraham Smoot] had Been with Elder Patten & his wife for several days. Br Smoot related the news to me from Br Patten which was glorious in the first degree. He gave me an account of the endowment at Kirtland Ohio. The heavens Was opened unto them. Angels & Jesus Christ was seen of them sitting at the right hand of the father.[18]

Joseph Smith described how the impact of the vision stayed with him during the night: “After these quorums were dismissed, I retired to my home, filled with the Spirit, and my soul cried hosanna to God and the Lamb, through the silent watches of the night; and while my eyes were closed in sleep, the visions of the Lord were sweet unto me, and His glory was round about me. Praise the Lord.”[19]

According to these accounts, it is apparent that in the Kirtland Temple “many” received a witness that God, the Father and Jesus Christ directed the important work in which they were involved. Other Church leaders besides Joseph became eyewitnesses to God, the Father and Jesus Christ’s existence and leadership of the Church. Through witnesses of divine manifestations, the faith of the Kirtland Saints intensified. Through creditable witnesses whom they knew and trusted, the faithful were reassured that God, the Father & Jesus Christ still guided the Church. This interaction and communication empowered them with faith to withstand the horrible onslaught of poverty, abuse, malicious plots, and persecutions that followed. God, the Father and Jesus Christ were truly not strangers in Kirtland.

[1]. Dean C. Jessee, Mark Ashurst-McGee, and Richard L. Jensen, eds.,Journals, 1832–1839, vol. 1 of the Journals series of The Joseph Smith Papers, edited by Dean C. Jessee, Ronald K. Esplin, and Richard Lyman Bushman (Salt Lake City: Church Historian’s Press, 2008), 99.

[2]. Journal of Discourses, 18:132 (October 9, 1875).  

[3]. Doctrine and Covenants 137:1

[4]. These men were his five counselors and the presidents of the Church in Missouri, his scribe, and the bishoprics of the Church in Ohio and Missouri.

[5]. Doctrine & Covenants 137:1–5.

[6]. Jessee, Ashurst-McGee, and Jensen, Journals, 1:168.

[7]. Jessee, Ashurst-McGee, and Jensen, Journals, 1:168.

[8]. Heber C. Kimball, in Orson F. Whitney, Life of Heber C. Kimball (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1945), 93–94. It is assumed that this account relates to the January 21 visions for the following reasons: (1) Accounts of both Joseph and Heber refer to the gate through which the faithful enter the celestial kingdom. (2) This vision is the final scene of Joseph’s extended vision. In Heber’s account he said this scene was preceded by Joseph seeing the Twelve “in a far distant land . . . their clothes all ragged, and their knees and feet sore. They formed into a circle, and all stood with their eyes fixed upon the ground. The Savior appeared and stood in their midst and wept over them” (Heber C. Kimball, in Whitney, Life of Heber C. Kimball, 93). (3) Joseph sees the throne of God. (4) Christ is present at the throne. (5) Adam is part of the vision. In recording this vision in his journal, Joseph Smith also recorded seeing Michael (Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, comp. Dean C. Jessee, rev. ed. [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2002], 175). Doctrine & Covenants 137 follows the current edition of the History of the Church (2:380), which simplifies Joseph Smith’s journal by eliminating “and Michael” after Abraham. Perhaps this was done because the editors knew that Michael was another name for Adam. Heber C. Kimball’s account gives Adam, or Michael, the double roles of gatekeeper and the one who escorts the faithful to the throne. This double role may account for his double mention in the Prophet’s report of the vision.

[9]. Jessee, Ashurst-McGee, and Jensen, Journals, 1:170; Doctrine & Covenants 137.

[10]. Jessee, Ashurst-McGee, and Jensen, Journals, 1:170. In recording these visions, Joseph was characteristically succinct, leaving others to fill in details such as Heber C. Kimball provided for the second vision of the day. For this third vision no additional details have surfaced.

[11]. Leonard J. Arrington,“Oliver Cowdery’s Kirtland, Ohio, ‘Sketch Book,’” BYU Studies 12, no. 4 (1972): 419.

[12]. History of the Church, 2:386–87; Ashurst-McGee, and Jensen, Journals, 1:174–75.

[13]. Harrison Burgess, Autobiography, in Windows: A Mormon Family, comp. and ed. Kenneth Glyn Hales (Tucson, Ariz.: Skyline Printing, 1985), 102–3. The account Harrison recorded does not specify a date for the meeting he described; however, a careful comparison of the events correlates with the January 28 meeting. No other meeting during this period comes close. Both Joseph Smith (History of the Church, 2:386) and Harrison identify the meeting location as the attic of the temple. Both indicate that Roger Orton saw a vision of heavenly horses in the meeting. Both say Hyrum Smith was present. Both indicate that the Melchizedek Priesthood quorums were present. Both refer to endowments or anointings given in the meeting. Both describe a heavenly atmosphere that surrounded them. Both specifically mention that instruction was received in the meeting.

[14]. Harrison Burgess, “Sketch of a Well-Spent Life,” in Labors in the Vineyard in Classic Experiences and Adventures (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1969), 67; History of the Church, 2:387.

[15]. Diary of Charles Lowell Walker, ed. A. Karl Larson and Katharine Miles Larson, 2 vols. (Logan: Utah State University Press, 1980), 2:483. Harrison Burgess does not give the date of this meeting, but because its details correlate with Joseph Smith’s account of the January 28meeting, we can conclude that Harrison’s recollection was from the same meeting (see 234n22).

[16]. History of the Church, 2:387; Jessee, Ashurst-McGee, and Jensen, Journals, 1:175.

[17]. Burgess, Windows, 102–3.

[18]. Wilford Woodruff, Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 1833–1898, ed. Scott G. Kenney, typescript, 9 vols. (Midvale, Utah: Signature Books, 1983–85), 1:67. David Patten does not specify the date of the vision; however, the account seems to correlate more closely with January 28 than with any other meeting because David and the others of the Twelve were not present on January 21, when Joseph saw both the Father and the Son, but David and other members of the Twelve were present on January 28. Therefore, if we assume that the word “them” includes David Patten, this vision probably occurred January 28. The word also implies that more witnesses saw the Father and the Son in the vision.

[19]. History of the Church, 2:387; Jessee, Ashurst-McGee, and Jensen, Journals, 1:175.