Section 110: Restoration of Keys of the Priesthood
Both the ground floor and the upper floor of the Kirtland Temple could be divided into halves or into quarters by lowering heavy curtains hung from the ceilings. This allowed the temple to be divided into separate meeting rooms or classrooms as needed. In addition, the pulpits at the ends of each hall were also surrounded by their own curtains, or veils, which could be raised or lowered to create a space separated from the rest of the temple and from the congregation. In was in this smaller space of the veiled pulpits at the west end of the ground floor that Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery received the series of visions recorded as section 110.
By early April 1836, many priesthood bearers had received the partial endowment which the Lord had revealed prior to that date. This partial endowment included the ordinances of washings, anointings, and the washing of feet. The full temple endowment was not to be revealed to the Prophet Joseph until 1842 in Nauvoo. The complete temple endowment was therefore received incrementally over a period of a few years.
A major event in the restoration of the temple ordinances and, indeed, one of the most significant visions of the ages took place in the Kirtland Temple, seven days after its dedication, on Easter Sunday, April 3, 1836. In the morning, a congregation of more than eight hundred heard sermons delivered by Thomas B. Marsh (then President of the Twelve) and David W. Patten (also an apostle). In the afternoon, the Presidency and the apostles participated in administering and passing the sacrament. Then Joseph Smith, the President of the High Priesthood, and Oliver Cowdery, who had been ordained Assistant President of the Church in December 1834, retired behind the curtains, which had been lowered near the pulpits, and knelt in prayer. As they did so, the heavens were opened to them, and they participated in the glorious series of revelations recorded in section 110.
Joseph’s own account of the events of this important day is as follows: “Attended meeting in the Lord’s House, and assisted the other Presidents of the Church in seating the congregation, and then became an attentive listener to the preaching from the stand. Thomas B. Marsh and David W. Patten spoke in the forenoon to an attentive audience of about one thousand persons. In the afternoon, I assisted the other Presidents in distributing the Lord’s Supper to the Church, receiving it from the Twelve, whose privilege it was to officiate at the sacred desk this day. After having performed this service to my brethren, I retired to the pulpit, the veils being dropped, and bowed myself with Oliver Cowdery, in solemn and silent prayer. After rising from prayer, the following vision was opened to both of us” (HC, 2:434-35).
In New Testament times during the Savior’s ministry on earth, Peter, James, and John had an experience strikingly analogous to this experience had by Joseph and Oliver. The experience of Peter, James, and John is recorded in Matthew 16 and 17. Approximately six months before the death of the Savior, he spoke with his disciples at Caesarea Philippi. The Lord asked his disciples, “Whom say ye that I am?” Peter answered, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Peter was commended for his testimony and told that his witness had come by revelation. Peter was then told that he was to receive the “keys of the kingdom of heaven.” Within one week, the Lord’s promise was fulfilled. Jesus took his chief apostles, Peter, James, and John, to a high mountain to pray. On that mountain (probably Mount Hermon located near Caesarea Philippi) Jesus was “transfigured,” that is, he showed himself to his three apostles in his glory. He granted this great blessing and privilege to them as an additional witness to them of his true identity. Moses and Elijah appeared and bestowed upon the three apostles the keys of the priesthood.
What are these keys? And why is it necessary that they be restored? Keys are the right of presidency, the directing power to carry out specific priesthood functions here on earth. Peter, James, and John and also Joseph and Oliver already had the Melchizedek Priesthood and apostolic authority. What additional authority or power did they need? Section 110 contains the answers! Read on!
The oldest manuscript of section 110, in the handwriting of Warren Cowdery, appears in Joseph Smith’s journal and was written sometime in 1836. The revelation was first published in the Deseret News (November 6, 1852) and was first included in the Doctrine and Covenants in 1876 at the direction of Brigham Young.
D&C 110 Restoration of the Keys of the Priesthood
D&C 110:1-4 We saw the Lord standing upon the breastwork of the pulpit, and under his feet was a paved work of pure gold, in color like amber. His eyes were as a flame of fire; the hair of his head was white like the pure snow.
Vision of the Lord Jesus Christ (verses 1-10)
1 The veil was taken from our minds, and the eyes of our understanding were opened.
verse 1 “The veil was taken from our minds” This veil separates the realm of the divine from the realm of the human and the temporal. To create the conditions for mortal probation, or testing, this veil was drawn across our minds at birth, and it will not be entirely removed until the resurrection. Until then, the veil is a barrier to the flow of information from God’s side to our own. Through obedience and righteousness, the veil can become thinner for an individual, thus allowing a greater flow of light and knowledge from God. In some cases, the veil can be temporarily removed altogether. The Lord has promised that “the veil of darkness shall soon be rent” (D&C 38:8), and the Prophet Joseph counseled that “could we all come together with one heart and one mind in perfect faith the veil might as well be rent today as next week or any other time” (Cannon and Cook, Far West Record, 20).
2 We saw the Lord standing upon the breastwork of the pulpit, before us; and under his feet was a paved work of pure gold, in color like amber.
verse 2 “the breastwork of the pulpit” The word breastwork usually refers to a low wall built for defensive purposes. It is the same as a parapet. Here, it seems likely it refers to a raised border or wall around the edge of a pulpit.
“under his feet was a paved work of pure gold” In a vision of the celestial kingdom received ten weeks earlier, on January 21, 1836, Joseph described the streets of that kingdom as having “the appearance of being paved with gold” (D&C 137:4). Likewise, John described the street of the heavenly city as being “pure gold” in his vision (Revelation 21:21). What a change from usual human values is shown in a city where gold is used for paving the streets!
3 His eyes were as a flame of fire; the hair of his head was white like the pure snow; his countenance shone above the brightness of the sun; and his voice was as the sound of the rushing of great waters, even the voice of Jehovah, saying:
verse 3 “His eyes were as a flame of fire” The description of the Lord in his glory given here is similar to that given in the book of Revelation (1:14-16). John’s revelation was also received “on the Lord’s day” (Revelation 1:10). There are other similarities between the description of Jesus’s appearance to Joseph and Oliver in section 110 and his appearance to John in Revelation (for example, “the first and the last”—D&C 110:4 and Revelation 1:11). It may be that the use of simile here (his eyes were as a flame, etc.) is influenced by the language of John in Revelation 1:11, 14-16.
4 I am the first and the last; I am he who liveth, I am he who was slain; I am your advocate with the Father.
verse 4 “I am the first and the last” The language of this verse is reminiscent of the Gospel of John. In that Gospel, Jesus uses the statement “I am” over and over as a play upon the name of God as revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai (Exodus 3:14, compare John 8:58; 18:4-6). In this verse, the three additional “I am” statements might be understood to refer to Jesus’s roles as Creator (Revelation 1:8, 11), as the Lamb of God (Revelation 5:6, 12), and as Redeemer (1 John 2:1; D&C 45:3), respectively.
5 Behold, your sins are forgiven you; you are clean before me; therefore, lift up your heads and rejoice.
verse 5 “Behold, your sins are forgiven you” Each time a mortal person stands in the presence of Deity, that Deity pronounces that his sins are forgiven. A cleansing is necessary for a mortal to be able to abide the presence of God. The forgiveness of sins (justification) is also intimately related to the process of spiritual growth (sanctification) and occurs repeatedly throughout our lives as we strive to obey. The Lord does not reveal to an individual an increment of an attribute of God (gift of the Spirit) without first justifying or forgiving that individual.
6 Let the hearts of your brethren rejoice, and let the hearts of all my people rejoice, who have, with their might, built this house to my name.
verse 6 “who have, with their might, built this house” The blessing pronounced here by the Savior is for all who sacrificed their means to build the Kirtland Temple. It was possible to donate toward the building of the temple but to do it perfunctorily or not “with one’s might,” that is, without a real, material sacrifice and therefore to miss out on the blessing pronounced here.
7 For behold, I have accepted this house, and my name shall be here; and I will manifest myself to my people in mercy in this house.
verse 7 “I have accepted this house, and my name shall be here” In the dedicatory prayer of the Kirtland Temple, the prophet Joseph asked, among other things, that the Lord would “accept the dedication of this house” (D&C 109:78). The Lord answers that prayer in this verse. What comfort this verse must have been for those saints who sacrificed to build the temple.
“and my name shall be here” Although it is true that members take the name of Christ upon them at the time of their baptism and subsequently each time they partake of the sacrament, this verse clarified that there is a further sense of receiving “the name” specifically linked to the temple (compare D&C 110:7). Those who take upon themselves God’s name are empowered to act “in the name” of God.
8 Yea, I will appear unto my servants, and speak unto them with mine own voice, if my people will keep my commandments, and do not pollute this holy house.
verse 8 “I will appear unto my servants, and speak unto them” For a convenient summary of some of the known divine appearances and other spiritual manifestations to the saints in the Kirtland Temple, see the introductory commentary to section 109.
9 Yea the hearts of thousands and tens of thousands shall greatly rejoice in consequence of the blessings which shall be poured out, and the endowment with which my servants have been endowed in this house.
verse 9 “the hearts of thousands and tens of thousands shall greatly rejoice” All of those belonging to this great final dispensation of the gospel who hope to be exalted in the celestial kingdom of God rely, among other things, upon the keys of the priesthood delivered to Joseph and Oliver in the Kirtland Temple on April 3, 1836.
10 And the fame of this house shall spread to foreign lands; and this is the beginning of the blessing which shall be poured out upon the heads of my people. Even so. Amen.
verse 10 “this is the beginning of the blessing” The dedication and acceptance of the Kirtland Temple marked the beginning of the reception by the saints of the blessings of the temple in the latter days. Indeed, more blessings would be received by Joseph and Oliver that very day with the visits of Moses, Elias, and Elijah. However, the endowment at Kirtland consisted of preparatory or initiatory temple ordinances only, including the washing of feet and other washings and anointings. The full endowment ceremony as known today was not received until 1842 in Nauvoo, Illinois.
Vision of Moses (verse 11)
11 After this vision closed, the heavens were again opened unto us; and Moses appeared before us, and committed unto us the keys of the gathering of Israel from the four parts of the earth, and the leading of the ten tribes from the land of the north.
verse 11 “After this vision closed” Joseph and Oliver did not have one single vision but rather a series of visions in the Kirtland Temple, in which prophets holding priesthood keys from prior dispensations appeared one after another to bestow those keys upon their modern counterparts. It should be noted that section 110 was a joint vision witnessed by Joseph and Oliver simultaneously and therefore uses the first-person plural we and us throughout. Oliver Cowdery was at this time the assistant president of the Church (1834-37) and therefore received the visions and keys together with Joseph. He was not, however, equal in authority to Joseph (D&C 43:2-4; 107:9192).
“Moses . . . committed unto us the keys of the gathering of Israel” Moses restored the “keys of the gathering of Israel.” He was the prophet entrusted with the task of gathering ancient Israel out of their bondage in the world (Egypt) and establishing them in a promised land of their inheritance. Moses holds the keys, or the right to preside, over that particular work, and if ever that work is to be accomplished, it must be through Moses—with his approval and with his keys and authority—or it cannot be done. Moses had once before committed these keys to Peter, James, and John for use in their dispensation of the meridian of time, but they were not able to gather Israel (Matthew 17:1-13). It was for this reason—the physical transmission of priesthood keys to Peter, James, and John—that Moses did not die at the end of his mortal ministry but was translated, or taken up bodily from the earth without experiencing death. Both Moses and Elijah were changed from translated beings to resurrected beings after the resurrection of Christ, and thus they appeared in the Kirtland Temple as resurrected rather than translated beings (D&C 133:55; 138:41, 45, 51).
During his mortal ministry, the prophet Moses promised Israel that in the day of their repentance “the Lord thy God will turn thy captivity, and have compassion upon thee, and will return and gather thee from all the nations, whither the Lord thy God hath scattered thee. If any of thine be driven out unto the outmost parts of heaven, from thence will the Lord thy God gather thee, and from thence will he fetch thee” (Deuteronomy 30:3-4). The fulfillment of that ancient promise is one of the greatest works of the latter days, and only Moses could give the keys to Joseph and Oliver for the work to begin.
Consequently each president of the Church holds the keys or power to gather modern Israel. Even as Moses held the keys to lead ancient Israel out of bondage in Egypt, so the President of the Church received the keys to call and lead modern Israel out of the bondage of today’s world. He has the keys not only to gather Israel from the “four parts of the earth,” but also he has the keys for “leading of the ten tribes from the land of the north” (see also D&C 133:26-34 and Jeremiah 16:14-16). The earliest recorded commandment of the Lord in this dispensation to begin the gathering was given in September of 1830 (D&C 29:7).
It must be noted that the terms “Israel,” “Ephraim,” and the “ten tribes” are often used synonymously in scripture (see, for example, 1 Nephi 17 and Isaiah 7). This ambiguity can lead to difficulty if one is not sure in which context “Israel” is being used. After the reign of Solomon (about 975 BC), “Israel” usually means just the ten tribes in the north of Palestine (as in Hosea 1:11). This usage leads to further ambiguity, for in some passages of scripture, “the gathering of Israel” refers to the eventual gathering of all twelve tribes, whereas in other passages it may refer only to the restoration of the ten tribes.
“and the leading of the ten tribes from the land of the north” There have been at least two main theories regarding the “lost” ten tribes in this dispensation. Each has had its advocates among the brethren. First, some have suggested that the ten tribes are not really lost but rather are scattered or dispersed among the nations of the earth. They are “lost” in identity but not in person. We know where they are but we don’t know who they are. Also they no longer know who they are. Second, they are thought by some to still be living together as a group in some obscure location. A subterranean location “in the north”—near the north pole has even been suggested. It has even been theorized that they may be living together on some extra-terrestrial sphere, such as another planet. It would seem that the former theory is the more likely and that the “land of the north” is only a figurative allusion.
If the ten tribes are scattered throughout the earth, then why is their location so often referred to as “the north” (Jeremiah 3:12), “the land of the north” (Zechariah 2:6), or “the north countries” (Ether 13:11)? There are several possible reasons. One may simply be that the tribes are scattered predominantly, though not exclusively, throughout the northern hemisphere. Another reason is the geography of Israel itself. Even though Assyria, Babylon, Greece, and Rome (the powers most responsible for scattering Israel) were actually located to the east and the west of Palestine, because of the topography of the land, historically their armies approached Palestine from the north to the south and departed from the south to the north. This meant that their captives were always carried away “into the north.”
Another reason “the north” had evil connotations in Jewish symbolism was that the northernmost city of Israel, Dan, later became particularly associated with idolatry and apostasy (1 Kings 12:28-30). This may be the reason why Dan, the tribe of the north, was later omitted from John’s list of the twelve tribes in his Revelation (7:4-8). Another reason why the “north” symbolized evil for the ancients was that they oriented themselves on maps and so forth, not to the north, as we do, but to the east toward the rising sun. This put their right hand, which was associated with good things and clean uses, on their south, while the left hand, associated with unclean uses, was to the north. Benjamin, which means “son of the right hand,” was a favorite of Jacob and settled, of course, in the south (or right-hand side) of the promised land. Good things, like the gold of Ophir or the Queen of Sheba, came from the right, or south, while bad things, like the armies of Assyria and Babylon, came from the left, or north. Even today, as every “lefty” knows, the right hand still gets preferential treatment. Anciently, the two hands, and the two directions they represented, were not “right and left” but “right and wrong.” This concept is reflected in the Latin word for “left,” which is sinister. So, anciently, the north was associated symbolically with idolatry, apostasy, and political defeat, and, as the direction of the left hand, with uncleanness. The gathering of Israel will bring the ten tribes back from this figurative north land—even though they are actually scattered in all four directions (3 Nephi 20:13; Psalm 107:3; Isaiah 42:5-6).
And yet, part of the gathering of Israel in the latter days will include a literal return of all the twelve tribes of Israel to their ancient inheritances in the Old World. Just as the ten tribes were literally taken out of the Holy Land to the north and thence to all nations, so shall their return, at some future time, be literally from among all nations to re-enter the Holy Land from the north. The children of Ephraim, one of the ten tribes, who have been “wanderers among the nations” (Hosea 9:17), have already begun to be gathered and have begun “to push the people together” (Deuteronomy 33:17). Eventually, that gathering will bring about the restoration of all the tribes of Israel. Besides the establishment of an American Zion, this will include a formal return of representatives from each of the ten northern tribes to their former inheritances in Palestine and also a return of Judah and Benjamin to Jerusalem and their inheritance in the south. The breach between the two kingdoms (Judah and Israel) will be healed, and Israel will be restored—all its twelve tribes—to all of its biblical inheritance in fulfillment of the promises made to their fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
However, it must be added that not all the descendants of Israel who will be gathered in the latter days could possibly fit into Palestine in the Old World or into Jackson County in the New. These two locations will likely be administrative centers with other stakes or gathering places located throughout the world.
People are “gathered” in two separate ways—spiritually and temporally. They are gathered spiritually as they are led out of the captivity of apostasy and accept the Savior and his gospel and are “restored to the true Church and fold of God” (2 Nephi 9:2). They are gathered temporally as they go where the saints of God are congregated.
In the early days of the Church, a convert evidenced his devotion to the faith, after baptism, by relocating to where the “body of Christ” was found—in those days Ohio, Missouri, Illinois, or the Great Basin. It is clear, however, that as early as 1833 the Prophet Joseph understood that the time would come when the concept of gathering would change. In D&C 101:21 we read that a day would eventually come “when there is found no more room for them [the gathering saints]; and then I have other places which I will appoint unto them, and they shall be called stakes, for the curtains or the strength of Zion.” By the end of the 19th century, saints were told to remain in their native lands and thus to build up the stakes of Zion in all the earth. In August of 1972, Elder Bruce R. McConkie, in speaking to some saints in Mexico and Central America, said: “The place of gathering for the Mexican Saints is Mexico; the place of gathering for the Brazilian, Brazil; and so it goes throughout the length and breadth of the whole earth. Japan is for the Japanese; Korea is for the Koreans; Australia is for the Australians; every nation is the gathering place for its own people” (Ensign, July 1973, 5).
Thus, through Moses’s visit, the keys of gathering Israel are restored. The Church could now begin to gather Israel. But, wait a moment! Hadn’t they already been doing missionary work and thus “gathering Israel?” How did we have the authority to do missionary work before Moses’s visit? The answer is that the process of gathering Israel and thus the keys of this process include more than just missionary work. The world must be prepared for the gathering by establishing Zion, so that Israel might have a place to gather. The Jews also must gather to the area of Israel, and we have dedicated that land for their return on more than one occasion. Certainly missionary work is an important part of the gathering, but there are other things which we, as a Church, must do to prepare.
To how many places will the tribes of Israel be gathered? And who will be gathered to each place? Contemporary saints often think of “the gathering of [all] Israel” as having two component parts: the establishment of Zion (the New Jerusalem) on the American continent and the return of the Jews to the Jerusalem of old. This much is true. The New Jerusalem, the American Zion, will be primarily inhabited by the posterity of Joseph—Ephraim and Manasseh. Judea, together with Old Jerusalem, will be returned to the tribe of Judah—the Jews. There is yet another aspect of the gathering. It is the “leading the ten tribes from the land of the north” to their ancestral inheritances in the Holy Land. It is true that the Jews will gather to the land of Palestine, but the rest of the Holy Land will be settled by the other tribes of Israel according to their ancient inheritances (Ether 13:6; Hosea 1:11).
Vision of Elias (verse 12)
12 After this, 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.
verse 12 “After this, Elias appeared” There’s that confusing name again— Elias! Who is this Elias who appeared to Joseph and Oliver? Before considering Elias’s identity, review the three possible definitions of Elias in the commentary for D&C 27:6. Because of this verse of scripture, Elder Bruce R. McConkie postulated yet a fourth possible explanation for the name “Elias” in his book Mormon Doctrine. He suggested that there might have been a prophet in the days of Abraham whose name was “Elias.” Elder McConkie admitted that we know nothing else about such a prophet, and he even suggests that this Elias may have been Melchizedek or even Abraham himself—after all, we will learn that this Elias did restore to the earth the “dispensation of the gospel of Abraham” (see below). To summarize, we don’t know for sure who this Elias was. He might have been Noah, a prophet named Elias from the days of Abraham, or another “Elias” or messenger such as Melchizedek or Abraham. We do know that this Elias was not Elijah, because Elijah will appear to Joseph and Oliver in the next verse.
“committed the dispensation of the gospel of Abraham” So Elias came and gave to Joseph and Oliver something called “the dispensation of the gospel of Abraham.” What is that? When Abraham was on the earth, he was blessed that his posterity or seed would become as numerous as “the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore” (Genesis 22:15-18). Thus, the “dispensation of the gospel of Abraham” is the divine promise that in this world, and continuing into the next phase of man’s existence, his posterity will continue to increase until they become as innumerable as the stars or the sands upon the sea shore. Thus, because of these keys restored by Elias, all who receive celestial marriage in the temple become heirs of the blessings and “promises of the fathers.” That is, they receive the promises given to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Those who receive the ordinance of celestial marriage are promised a posterity as numerous as the dust particles of the earth, “both in the world and out of the world” (D&C 132:30-32). This implies, of course, that the procreative process will continue into the next phase of our existence.
Those descendants of Abraham who would hope to receive these “promises of the father” have a solemn obligation. They are the custodians of the gospel on the earth. Whenever it has been lost from the earth, it has been restored through Abraham’s descendants. While the gospel is on the earth, Abraham’s family has the responsibility to share it with others. President David O. McKay’s “every member a missionary” was not just a catchy slogan to keep us busy. It was a reiteration of a sacred obligation and covenant that each of Abraham’s descendants made in their premortal existence. In order to claim the blessings made to Abraham’s posterity— exaltation and innumerable posterity—we must also assume the obligations of the covenant people.
Vision of Elijah (verses 13-15)
13 After this vision had closed, another great and glorious vision burst upon us; for Elijah the prophet, who was taken to heaven without tasting death, stood before us, and said:
verse 13 “Elijah the prophet . . . stood before us” Please review the material on Elijah in the background material for section 2.
Elijah was the prophet of the ninth century BC, whose story is told in 1 Kings 17 to 2 Kings 2, and who was the last of the Old Testament prophets to hold the keys of the sealing power. Like Moses, Elijah did not die but was translated (2 Kings 2:11) so that he could return and physically bestow his priesthood keys upon Peter, James, and John (Matthew 17:3). For roughly one thousand years from Elijah to Christ, the power to perform temple sealings, it seems was not upon the earth.
14 Behold, the time has fully come, which was spoken of by the mouth of Malachi—testifying that he [Elijah] should be sent, before the great and dreadful day of the Lord come—
15 To turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the children to the fathers, lest the whole earth be smitten with a curse—
verses 14-15 “spoken of by the mouth of Malachi” Again, see the introductory commentary for section 2.
What exactly did Elijah restore? He restored the keys of the sealing power. This may seem like a question with an all-too-obvious answer, but what precisely is the sealing power? Apparently there are three distinct correct answers to this question. The general sealing power consists of three separate parts, each with a distinct definition:
1. In the first, the root “seal” in “sealing power” is interpreted as meaning connect. The sealing power is the power to connect people together in families for eternity. Specifically, “sealing” refers to the marriage of a husband and wife and to the joining together of children and parents in relationships that are to endure forever. The sealing together of husband, wife, and children in eternal family units is the culminating ordinance of the priesthood, to which all other ordinances are preparatory. It must be performed by one holding the “sealing power.”
2. In the second definition, to “seal” does not mean to connect. Rather it means to certify as authentic. Signets and “seals” have been used for centuries to indicate authenticity or proper authority. In the secular world today licenses, diplomas, legal documents, and the like, bear seals that officially attest to their authenticity. So it is with matters of the eternities. This sealing power is the priesthood power given to the Lord’s authorized servants to perform certain acts on earth and have them recognized (sealed) or validated in heaven. In this context, the word “seal” appears many times in the scriptures. Jesus Christ was “sealed” by God the Father (John 6:27). Paul reminded ancient saints that God had anointed and “sealed” them (2 Corinthians 1:21-22) and told others they “were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise, which is the earnest [assurance] of our inheritance until the redemption” (Ephesians 1:13-14). John spoke of the servants of God being sealed in their foreheads (Revelation 7:3). This is the authority by which “all covenants, contracts, bonds, obligations, oaths, vows, performances, connections, associations, or expectations” can be “made and entered into and sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise” and receive “efficacy, virtue, or force in and after the resurrection of the dead” (D&C 132:7). Elder Bruce R. McConkie said, “All things that are not sealed by this power have an end when men are dead. Unless a baptism has this enduring seal, it will not admit a person to the Celestial Kingdom . . . All things gain enduring force and validity because of the sealing power” (Mormon Doctrine, 615-16).
3. But there is even more to this sealing power! Consider the account of the Lord’s giving to Nephi, the son of Helaman, the “sealing power.” Just exactly what is this power that the Lord is bestowing upon Nephi? It is defined in the verses which follow: “And thus, if ye shall say unto this temple it shall be rent in twain, it shall be done. And if ye shall say unto this mountain, be thou cast down and become smooth, it shall be done. And behold, if ye shall say that God shall smite this people, it shall come to pass. And now behold, I command you, that ye shall go and declare unto this people, that thus saith the Lord God, who is the Almighty: Except ye repent ye shall be smitten, even unto destruction” (Helaman 10:8-11). So what is this awesome power? It is simply the power possessed by its recipient to ask for anything he feels is appropriate, and it shall be brought to pass by divine mandate. And how did Nephi qualify to receive this great blessing? The Lord previously explained to him: “I will bless thee forever; and I will make thee mighty in word and in deed, in faith and in works; yea, even that all things shall be done unto thee according to thy word, for [I know that} thou shalt not ask that which is contrary to my will” (Helaman 10:5, italics mine). The bestowal of this power is a manifestation of the Lord’s ultimate confidence in its recipient that the power will not be misused. In this context, the prophet Elijah, who also possessed the sealing power at the time of the wicked Israelite king Ahab, sealed up the heavens so that there would be no rain: “As the Lord God of Israel liveth, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word” (1 Kings 17:1).
The mission of John the Baptist in restoring the Aaronic Priesthood and the mission of Peter, James, and John in restoring the Melchizedek Priesthood were vitally important, but they would have come to nothing were it not for the return of the prophet Elijah. For Elijah brought the power to seal all that was done in the Church and make it as sure and certain in heaven as upon the earth. He brought the power to seal up the saints to eternal life (Revelation 7:3; D&C 68:12). He brought the power to seal all contracts, covenants, and relationships—including, most importantly, family relationships—with the power, or guarantee, of Almighty God (D&C 132:7). As Joseph Smith said, “While the spirit of Elias is a forerunner, the power of Elijah is sufficient to make our calling and election sure” (Dahl and Cannon, Encyclopedia of Joseph Smith’s Teachings, 208). A partial analogy might be to say that John the Baptist prepares for a contract by providing pen, paper, and ink. Peter, James and John draw up an air-tight legal document and see that it is properly signed and witnessed. Then Elijah, like a notary public, applies the great seal that makes it a “done deal” both here and hereafter.
The president of the Church today holds and exercises the keys and power of sealing on earth, including all of its three vital parts. The president can designated parts of this power to others for the purpose of the administration of the Kingdom of God on the earth. For example, general authorities of the Church, the presidencies of temples, and a limited number of officiators in each temple receive part of this sealing power during their tenure. After one is approved by the First Presidency to receive the sealing power, the president of the Church, one of his counselors, or a member of the Twelve Apostles specifically designated by the president confers the sealing power upon him by the laying on of hands. This is the specific authority to perform the temple sealing ordinances, the eternal connecting together of families.
It makes sense that such power would have been given to faithful prophets in the Old Testament and among the Nephites as well as apostles of the New Testament. One might well wonder if the original and unspoiled Old Testament may have contained such promises. We know that our present Old Testament does not.
Elijah came to “plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers” whereby the “hearts of the children [should] turn to their fathers” (D&C 2:2). Through the temple ordinances, God’s promises to the fathers—the promises pertaining to the gospel and eternal increase (Abraham 2:8-11)—are extended to all God’s children. The hearts of the children turn to the ancient fathers because the children are now participants in and recipients of the blessings of the fathers. Being profoundly grateful for such privileges, members of the Church (motivated by the “Spirit of Elijah”) also find their hearts turning to their more immediate fathers, and they do all within their power (through genealogical research and subsequent temple work) to insure that the blessings of the ancient fathers are enjoyed by ancestry as well as posterity.
We have previously read the following: “If it were not so [that is, if Elijah had not come to restore the powers by which families could be sealed everlastingly], the whole earth would be utterly wasted at his [Christ’s] coming” (D&C 2:3). Why? Simply because the earth would not have accomplished its foreordained purpose—to establish on its face a family system patterned after the order of heaven. All covenants entered into by man upon the earth would be of no force in the eternities. If there were no binding and sealing powers whereby families could be cemented forever, then the plans and designs and schemes and activities of mortal man would be basically purposeless from an eternal perspective. (Some of the above material quoted or paraphrased from the essay on D&C 110 by Milton V. Backman, Jr., and Robert L. Millet in Studies in Scripture, Volume One, The Doctrine and Covenants, 422-29.)
When we say that “families” can be cemented together forever, we may give the mistaken impression that in the celestial heaven, for all eternity, there will be several families all sealed into those separate family groups. This is an error. In the celestial kingdom, there will only be one family. And every individual in that kingdom will be sealed to each and every one of the celestial beings there. Those doing genealogical research are not only seeking to seal families “vertically.” That is, they are not just pursuing one or two names and following them back in time as far as possible. They are also extending their research “laterally.” That is they seeking to find the connections and seal many family names together. It is by this process that ultimately every celestial being will be sealed to every other celestial being, and that one family will persist and be added to eternally. It is exciting to contemplate just what roles this family will play in the eternal lives of each of us who is blessed with a celestial resurrection!
It has been taught that Sunday April 3, 1836, was the day of the annual Jewish Seder or Passover meal. This was that night that Jews throughout the world left out a cup in the hope that the Prophet Elijah would return to the earth to announce the coming of the Messiah. Elijah did return that day, but not to the Jews. He returned to the temple in Kirtland, Ohio (see Joseph Fielding Smith, CR, April 1936, 75). To be more precise, however, Stephen D. Ricks has pointed out that in 1836 the seder would actually have taken place on the evening of April 1. “Thus, it would be inaccurate to claim an absolute chronological correspondence of the two events. However, in view of the long-standing use of the word Passover for the entire week following the fifteenth of Nisan, it would certainly be correct to say that Elijah came during the Passover season” (“The Appearance of Elijah and Moses in the Kirtland Temple and the Jewish Passover,” BYU Studies 23:4 ).
16 Therefore, the keys of this dispensation are committed into your hands; and by this ye may know that the great and dreadful day of the Lord is near, even at the doors.
verse 16 “the keys of this dispensation” “This dispensation” refers to the present dispensation of the fulness of times. All of the keys given to prophets of previous dispensations of the gospel on the earth are now restored to earth. The “great and dreadful day of the Lord,” of course is the day of his second coming to earth.
Brief Historical Setting
When the saints fled Jackson County, Missouri, in the fall of 1833 and the winter of 1833-34, many of them crossed the Missouri River into Clay County. As already mentioned, the people of Clay County generally warmly welcomed the saints into their midst. It was understood, however, that the saints’ stay in Clay County would be temporary. When it became evident that the exiles would not be able to return to Jackson County very soon, if at all, the people of Clay County became uneasy. Particularly were the old settlers concerned because some of the saints began buying land and building homes, and they gave the appearance of settling permanently.
On June 29, 1836, a mass meeting was held at the court house in Liberty, and a resolution was passed calling upon the saints to withdraw from the county. In delivering the resolution to the saints, a committee of Missourians verbally offered to assist the saints in finding another suitable location if they would agree to move. Two days later, the saints held a meeting of their own and adopted a reply to the Missourians’ resolution. Essentially they agreed to move in order to keep the peace.
At this time, northern Missouri was sparsely settled and was suggested to the Church as a suitable site where they might live alone—unmolested and in peace. In the fall of 1836, a number of families began moving to Far West, then located in Ray County. The Missourians seemed satisfied and even expressed the idea that if the Mormons were willing to settle that prairie country, “let them have it and welcome.” The northern part of Ray Country was even divided into two additional counties to accommodate the saints. One of these, Caldwell, would be “especially for Mormons.” The other, Daviess, was considered “the Missourians’.” A representative to the state legislature from Clay County, Alexander W. Doniphan, was helpful to the saints and played a major role in the creation of Caldwell and Daviess Counties. Doniphan would later establish himself as a genuine friend of the saints, and would even intervene at a critical moment, and probably become instrumental in saving the life of Joseph Smith.
An agreement was reached that the Mormons would live only in Caldwell County and that they would not settle in other counties without consent of the settlers already there. This was, of necessity, only a verbal agreement since any such agreement in writing was obviously an unconstitutional restraint for any free citizen.
The saints rapidly left Clay County and moved north. They did make agreements with the citizens of Dewitt in Carroll County and those of Daviess County to allow some Mormon settlements in those areas. These concessions were made by the Missourians in exchange for money.
Caldwell County in 1836 was a wilderness. By the spring of 1838, however, the population was more than 5,000. In Far West, by that time, there were “one hundred and fifty houses, four dry goods stores, three family groceries, half a dozen blacksmith shops, a printing establishment, and two hotels. A large and comfortable school house had been built in 1836 and served also as a church and courthouse” (B. H. Roberts, Comprehensive History of the Church, 1:425).
- Michael J. Preece