Section 84: A Revelation on Priesthood
After spending two weeks in Missouri “sitting in council with the saints” and providing for the establishment of bishops’ storehouses in Independence and Kirtland as commanded by the Lord, Joseph Smith and his companions, except for Jesse Gause (who remained in Missouri at least until June), returned to Ohio. On the return journey, Bishop Newel K. Whitney’s leg and foot were broken in a coach accident, and Joseph stayed with him in Greenville, Indiana, until the bishop could travel. After staying at an inn for nearly a month, Joseph was poisoned one night at dinner but recovered through a priesthood blessing. He and Bishop Whitney left the inn promptly the following day, arriving in Kirtland in late June. They had been away from their families for almost three months.
During 1832 certain difficulties involving Sidney Rigdon began. Sidney had suffered from depression from time to time but for the most part had been able to keep it under control. During the mobbing of March 24, 1832, in Hiram, Sidney had been dragged by his heels along the ground, so that his head suffered severe blows. Following this physical abuse, in addition to the physical sequelae, his depression apparently worsened. After returning to Kirtland from Missouri, Sidney claimed on July 5, 1832, to have had a revelation and “was telling the people that “the kingdom was rent from them, and they might as well all go home for they were rejected” (Times and Seasons 5 [October 1, 1844]: 660; see also Whitney, Times and Seasons 5 [October 15, 1844]: 686). Reportedly, he also bemoaned that “it was useless to pray or do anything” (Charles C. Rich Papers, as cited in Cook, Revelations of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 174).
In response to Sidney’s claims, Joseph went immediately from Hiram to Kirtland and relieved Sidney of his priesthood calling (counselor in the Presidency of the High Priesthood) and of his license to preach, but three weeks later a repentant Sidney Rigdon was reinstated in the presidency of the High Priesthood. Joseph Smith, ever kindhearted, explained these events in a letter to W. W. Phelps: “When Brother Sidney learned the feelings of the Brethren [in Missouri] in whom he had placed so much confidence, for whom he had endured so much fatigue and suffering, and whom he loved with so much love, his heart was grieved, his spirits failed, and for a moment he became frantic, and the adversary taking the advantage, he spake unadvisedly with his lips. . . . But he has since repented like Peter of old, and after a little suffering by the buffeting of Satan, has been restored to his high standing in the church of God” (Jessee, Personal Writings, 272-73). It should probably be noted that Sidney was not likely fully responsible for the things he had said in view of his significant depression. Nevertheless, President Rigdon was never quite the same man after the mobbing and beating in March 1832 and the difficult journey to Missouri immediately thereafter (see Van Wagoner, Sidney Rigdon, 116-18). Sidney had already moved from Hiram, so when Joseph returned with Bishop Whitney in late June, he spent the rest of that summer in Hiram working on the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible with Frederick G. Williams as scribe rather than Sidney. In August 1832, Joseph received section 99 at Hiram (see the introductory commentary for section 99).
In September 1832, the Prophet moved from the Johnson home in Hiram, Ohio, into quarters above Bishop Whitney’s store in Kirtland, with a kitchen downstairs. During the months since Joseph had left for Missouri, Emma, pregnant again and still grieving for the death of her adopted son, Joseph, had been required to live with three different families in Hiram and Kirtland under cramped and difficult circumstances.
Several months before, during the conference of the Church held in Amherst, Ohio, on January 25, 1832 (see section 75), at least twelve pairs of elders had been called to missionary service in the eastern United States. They labored for about nine months, which was the average duration of a mission in those days. By September they were beginning to return to Kirtland with accounts of their many successes. Joseph Smith, by then relocated in Kirtland, was overjoyed by their experiences. After their return, some of the missionaries came to Joseph and said in effect, “Joseph, give us a blessing. We would love to know more about our priesthood. Give us some morsels from the Lord.” Thus on September 22 and 23, 1832, Joseph and six elders united themselves in prayer and were given this revelation (section 84). Other notes taken on that occasion suggest that on the second day, September 23, ten brethren (high priests or elders) were present with Joseph when the revelation was given. Joseph recorded his recollections as follows: “The elders during the month of September began to return from their missions to the Eastern States, and present the histories of their several stewardships in the Lord’s vineyard; and while together in these seasons of joy, I inquired of the Lord, and received on the 22nd and 23rd of September, the following revelation on Priesthood [D&C 84]” (HC, 1:286-87).
An interesting aside is that when these missionaries returned to Kirtland, there was one thing that detracted from their general feelings of satisfaction regarding their missions. Many of them had found themselves preaching the gospel in such places as Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, New York, etc. These were places of culture, refinement, government, and education. They found there was a barrier that often appeared as a result of the vast differences between themselves and the people in these cities. These missionaries were men from the frontier, not very sophisticated, and of meager education. They just didn’t relate. The report of these missionaries was the seedbed for one of the greatest innovations in the Church, and in fact the whole United States—the School of the Prophets—the first really successful adult education program in the United States. After attending that school, the elders could return to the mission field better prepared to meet all people in any walk of life on their terms.
D&C 84 The Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood
D&C 84:33-42 Oath and covenant of the priesthood. Whoso breaketh this covenant . . . and altogether turneth therefrom, shall not have forgiveness of sins in this world nor in the world to come.
D&C 84:54-57 And your minds in times past have been darkened because of unbelief, and because you have treated lightly the things you have received—Which vanity and unbelief have brought the whole church under condemnation. And this condemnation resteth upon the children of Zion, even all. And they shall remain under this condemnation until they repent and remember the new covenant, even the Book of Mormon and the former commandments which I have given them, not only to say, but to do according to that which I have written.
D&C 84:85 Treasure up in your minds continually the words of life, and it shall be given you in the very hour.
D&C 84:88 I will go before your face . . . and mine angels round about you, to bear you up.
D&C 84:109-110 Let every man stand in his own office, and labor in his own calling, and let not the head say to the feet it hath no need of the feet.
1 A revelation of Jesus Christ unto his servant Joseph Smith, Jun., and six elders, as they united their hearts and lifted their voices on high.
verse 1 “and six elders” Joseph Smith indicated that section 84 was received over a two-day period. There is good evidence that verses 1-41 were received on September 22 and verses 42-120 on September 23. The two earliest manuscripts of D&C 84, both in the handwriting of Frederick G. Williams, who was serving as the Prophet’s scribe at that time, agree that six elders were present to receive verses 1-41, presumably on September 22. Both manuscripts note that verses 42-120 were received by ten elders (or high priests) on September 23.
2 Yea, the word of the Lord concerning his church, established in the last days for the restoration of his people, as he has spoken by the mouth of his prophets, and for the gathering of his saints to stand upon Mount Zion, which shall be the city of New Jerusalem.
verse 2 “his church, established in the last days” This verse explains a dual purpose for establishing the Church in the last days. First, the Church is established to restore the house of Israel, the chosen people of the Lord. This will be done by searching out both the literal descendants of Israel and those who will be adopted into the house of Israel from among the Gentiles, teaching and baptizing them, thereby restoring or adopting them into the covenant. Second, the Church has been organized to gather the saints of God to establish Zion in preparation for the second coming of Christ. The establishment of Zion refers to both the spiritual Zion, which exists wherever the pure in heart dwell (see D&C 97:21), and also the physical Zion, which is the New Jerusalem, whose center will be at Independence, Missouri.
“Mount Zion” “Mount Zion” is synonymous with Jerusalem or, more specifically, with the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. In scripture the term sometimes refers to Old Jerusalem (see Psalm 78:68-69; Isaiah 10:12), but more usually to the New Jerusalem, the Zion to be built upon the American continent (see for example, Isaiah 24:23; Obadiah 1:21; Micah 4:7; Articles of Faith 1:10). Mount Zion is the dwelling place of God (see Isaiah 4:5), and thus the term refers specifically to the temple and by extension to the land and society centered around the temple, which have become sanctified like the temple itself.
The Mount Zion referred to here is the New Jerusalem (see verse 3) which, by the time this revelation was received, the saints had been commanded to build in Independence, Missouri (see D&C 57:1-3). Joseph Smith once observed: “I shall say with brevity, that there is a New Jerusalem to be established on this continent, and also Jerusalem shall be rebuilt on the eastern continent” (HC, 2:262; Ether 13:1-12).
3 Which city shall be built, beginning at the temple lot, which is appointed by the finger of the Lord, in the western boundaries of the State of Missouri, and dedicated by the hand of Joseph Smith, Jun., and others with whom the Lord was well pleased.
verse 3 “Which city shall be built, beginning at the temple lot” The temple lot is described in D&C 57:3, and it had been dedicated a year earlier, on August 3, 1831. When the enemies of the Church prevented the establishment of Zion and the construction of its temple in Jackson County, this commandment was revoked (see D&C 124:49-51). Nonetheless, Zion will eventually be built, and it will be built beginning with the construction of a temple in Independence, Missouri. It seems likely, but may not be necessary (given D&C 124:49-51), that this temple will be constructed on the lot dedicated for that purpose by the prophet Joseph Smith. This property is now owned by the Church of Christ, Temple lot. This group is commonly known as the Hedrickites, after an early leader, Granville Hedrick.
“dedicated by the hand of Joseph Smith, Jun.” The Hebrew phrase “by the hand of” or “under the hand of” (beyad or tachat yad) means “under authority, control, or direction or,” as well as literally “by the hand of.” In this particular phrase in verse 3, it appears to mean that the temple lot was literally dedicated by Joseph Smith (see also verse 12).
“others with whom the Lord was well pleased” Note the past tense. Although the individuals who dedicated the location of Zion and its temple were approved of the Lord when they performed that labor, Ezra Booth had since left the Church and some others had weakened in their commitment by the time section 84 was received.
4 Verily this is the word of the Lord, that the city New Jerusalem shall be built by the gathering of the saints, beginning at this place, even the place of the temple, which temple shall be reared in this generation.
verse 4 “the city New Jerusalem shall be built by the gathering of the saints” The purpose for gathering to Independence, Missouri, both in the past and in the future, is to build the city and temple of God and establish the center place of Zion. In the future gathering for this purpose, however, it will not be necessary to call all the saints to Missouri, for “My cities . . . shall yet be spread abroad” (Zechariah 1:17; see also D&C 97:18). Those who are called to build up the center place of Zion will be called by the priesthood leaders of the Church at that time and will labor under their direction, but there will not be a worldwide gathering of all the saints to Missouri, for Missouri could not hold them all. Elder Bruce R. McConkie taught: “The place of gathering for the Mexican saints is in Mexico . . . 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, April 1975, 65).
5 For verily this generation shall not all pass away until an house shall be built unto the Lord, and a cloud shall rest upon it, which cloud shall be even the glory of the Lord, which shall fill the house.
verses 3-5 “this generation” Just what is the duration of a “generation”? A prophecy is made in verses 3 through 5 concerning the city of Zion of the city of New Jerusalem that will be established and the temple which will be erected in that city located in the western boundaries of the State of Missouri, the place already dedicated by the Prophet.
Brother Rox W. Doxey discusses the possible meanings of the word generation and suggests that the expression “this generation” in these verses refers to our entire dispensation of the gospel: “Inasmuch as that temple has not been built within [more than 180] years of 1832, some members of the Church have wondered about the length of a generation. Although a generation, under certain conditions, is mentioned in the Book of Mormon as an hundred years (Helaman 13:8-11), the term, under some conditions, refers to an indefinite period. For example, Jesus said that it was an evil and adulterous generation that sought after a sign (Matthew 12:39), and in our dispensation the Lord said that “this generation shall have my word through you [Joseph Smith]” (D&C 5:10). From these examples, it is clear that the dispensation of the fulness of times is considered a generation, for the people of our time are still receiving the word of the Lord in the revelation received through Joseph Smith. There is no way of determining the number of years meant in Section 84, verses 4 and 5. There are two things to be known, however. First, that the Lord has said through his Prophet that the temple will be built in this generation, and second, that from the time this announcement was made the leaders of the Church have never departed from the Lord’s intention” (Roy W. Doxey, The Doctrine and Covenants Speaks [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1964], 2: 56 -57).
The Lord may yet foresee the building of this temple (or these temples) in Independence, Missouri, some time prior his second coming.
verse 5 “and a cloud shall rest upon it” This passage is reminiscent of Old Testament references to the Lord’s house (see, for example, 1 Kings 8:10-11; 2 Chronicles 5:13-14), particularly to the tabernacle in the wilderness when the glory of the Lord descended in a pillar of cloud by day and fire by night and filled the tabernacle. In their commentary on the Doctrine and Covenants, Smith and Sjodahl wrote: “The Lord manifested himself in ancient Israel in a cloud, shaped as a pillar, which became luminous at night. It guided the people on the journey to Canaan. It stood at the entrance to the Sanctuary, and in it God spoke to Moses. It rested on the Sanctuary and filled it, when that sacred tent was set up. It was the visible sign of God’s guiding and protecting care over his people. This glory of the Lord is known as the Shekinah. When the first temple was dedicated, it filled the house (2 Chronicles 7:1-3), and the people bowed down and worshiped. The Shekinah departed when the temple was profaned (Ezekiel 43:2-3). The presence of the Lord will be manifested in this temple of the Latter-day Zion” (Doctrine and Covenants Commentary, 497).
verses 6-16 Verses 6 through 16 contain a genealogy of Moses’ priesthood or Moses’ line of priesthood authority. The specific descent from Adam to Noah is given elsewhere in D&C 107:40-52 and in Moses 6:1-25; 8:1-9.
President John Taylor taught that Melchizedek was Shem, the son of Noah. The late Elder Bruce R. McConkie disagreed with that idea. Elder McConkie seemed to base his belief on the plural of the word “fathers” in verse 14. What is the doctrine of the Church regarding this question? There isn’t any.
verses 6-31 Place a parenthesis, to open a parenthetical phrase, in verse 6 just after the phrase “sons of Moses.” Then go to verse 31 and close the parentheses just after the phrase “for the sons of Moses.” The material without the parentheses flows smoothly when read after omitting everything within the parentheses. The material within the parentheses contains significant historical and doctrinal material which is an important explanation of how the two priesthoods, the Melchizedek and the Aaronic, came to be held by Moses and Aaron.
6 And the sons of Moses, according to the Holy Priesthood which he received under the hand of his father-in-law, Jethro;
verse 6 “sons of Moses” The biblical idiom “son of” or “children of” can mean either biological offspring or someone who is in a certain category or belongs to a certain group (see, for example, Luke 5:34; Ephesians 2:3). In this passage, the phrase “according to the Holy Priesthood” makes it clear that these are Moses’s sons in the latter sense. As in section 84, the “sons of Moses” here are all those who, like Moses, receive the Melchizedek Priesthood.
“his father-in-law, Jethro” When Moses fled alone from Egypt, he traveled to the land of Midian, where he married Zipporah, the daughter of Jethro the Midianite (see Exodus 2:15–4:20). The Midianites, who lived in the western part of what is now Saudi Arabia, were descendants of Abraham by his wife Keturah and were therefore distant cousins of the Israelites. From his Midianite in-laws, Moses learned the gospel and received the Melchizedek Priesthood, which had been passed down among the Midianites from the time of Abraham to Jethro through the lineage indicated in verses 6 through 14. The priesthood lineage of Jethro (and Moses) back to Adam is traced in verses 14-17.
7 And Jethro received it under the hand of Caleb;
8 And Caleb received it under the hand of Elihu;
9 And Elihu under the hand of Jeremy;
10 And Jeremy under the hand of Gad;
11 And Gad under the hand of Esaias;
12 And Esaias received it under the hand of God.
verse 12 “Esaias” The prophet Esaias is someone other than the prophet Isaiah, although Isaiah’s name is uniformly rendered Esaias in the King James Version of the New Testament. The prophet referred to here and in Doctrine and Covenants 76:100 lived in the days of Abraham and is otherwise unknown to us.
“received it under the hand of God” See the commentary for verse 3. Unlike in verse 3, it is unlikely here that verse 12 intends to convey the idea of ordination directly under God’s hands, because the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Jesus Christ) did not yet have a physical body and because heavenly beings are not sent when there are righteous priests available in the flesh to perform ordinances “under God’s direction (or hand).” It may have been in this sense that Joseph Smith said, “All the prophets had the Melchizedek Priesthood and were ordained by God himself” (TPJS, 181). In addition, if Esaias had somehow received his priesthood literally at the hands of God, then the priesthood lineage given in verses 6-16 would be disrupted, any priests before Esaias would be links in a different chain of authority back to God, and their inclusion in Moses’s priesthood lineage would be pointless.
13 Esaias also lived in the days of Abraham, and was blessed of him—
verse 13 “Esaias . . . was blessed of [Abraham]” It is probable that Esaias received the priesthood from Abraham at the Lord’s direction and that this ordination was the larger part of Abraham’s “blessing” of Esaias. In just the same way, the Bible states that Melchizedek blessed Abraham (see Genesis 14:19). We know from section 84 and other sources that this blessing included ordination to the Melchizedek Priesthood. It is odd that though the Midianites were descended from Abraham through Midian, Midian himself is not mentioned in the priesthood lineage between Abraham and Jethro. Perhaps Midian, which is actually a place name, was a title or some other alternative designation for Esaias, just as the scriptures refer to Jethro as Reuel (see Exodus 2:18), Raguel (see Numbers 10:29), or Hobab (see Judges 4:11).
14 Which Abraham received the priesthood from Melchizedek, who received it through the lineage of his fathers, even till Noah;
verse 14 “Melchizedek” Melchizedek, a contemporary of Abraham, was a non-Israelite who held the keys of the high priesthood and who ordained the patriarch Abraham. Melchizedek was an ancient king of Shiloam or Salem (ancient Jerusalem, according to the Bible Dictionary) who succeeded in calling his wicked people to repentance and establishing peace by preaching the gospel to them (see Alma 13:1419; JST Genesis 14:25-40).
“through the lineage of his fathers, even till Noah” The language in this passage clearly suggests more than one generation between Melchizedek and Noah. Moreover, Alma 13:19-20 states the Melchizedek reigned in Salem “under his father” and that there were “many before him,” which gives the similar impression that there were generations between Melchizedek and Noah, or at least that Noah was not the father of Melchizedek. Hence, Melchizedek was not Shem. Though it is a belief of some in the Church that Melchizedek is Shem, the son of Noah, this identification cannot be confirmed from the scriptures or from modern revelation. The reference in D&C 138:41 to “Shem, the great high priest” is not sufficient to establish this connection, especially in light of D&C 84:14 and Alma 13:19-20. Some early church leaders did express the opinion that Shem was Melchizedek, but this information likely came from their reading in Jewish rabbinic literature. In the fourth century after Christ, Saint Jerome had also heard the same stories. Ironically, the rabbis’ purpose in identifying Melchizedek with Shem, beginning about the fourth or fifth century, was to combat Christian arguments for the existence of a “Melchizedek” priesthood outside the lineage of Aaron (see Hebrews 7:1-21).
15 And from Noah till Enoch, through the lineage of their fathers;
16 And from Enoch to Abel, who was slain by the conspiracy of his brother, who received the priesthood by the commandments of God, by the hand of his father Adam, who was the first man—
verse 16 “Adam, who was the first man” The First Presidency wrote in 1909: “It is held by some that Adam was not the first man upon this earth, and that the original human being was a development from lower orders of the animal creation. These, however, are the theories of men. The word of the Lord declared that Adam was ‘The first man of all men’ [Moses 1:34], and we are therefore duty bound to regard him as the primal parent of our race. It was shown to the brother of Jared that all men were created in the beginning after the image of God [Ether 3:15]; and whether we take this to mean the spirit or the body, or both, it commits us to the same conclusion: Man began life as a human being, in the likeness of our heavenly Father” (Improvement Era, November 1909, 80). Whatever man-like creatures may have existed on earth prior to the advent of Adam—and it seems highly possible that there were some—Adam and Eve were the first of those spirit children of God that were born with a mortal body in the image of their heavenly parents—in other words, Adam and Eve were the of the spirit children of the Father who were on the “fast track” to godhood (not on the “animal” track) to be born into mortality.
17 Which priesthood continueth in the church of God in all generations, and is without beginning of days or end of years.
verse 17 “Which priesthood continueth” This phrase refers to the higher or Melchizedek priesthood. There has been a Church of God (Jesus Christ) on the earth in all “generations” (dispensations). And whenever the true church has been upon the earth, it has been governed by the same authority and keys of the Melchizedek Priesthood. No credible claim to being the true church can be made in any time or place without possession of the keys of the Melchizedek Priesthood.
“without beginning of days or end of years” This allusion and the JST clear up a misunderstanding about Melchizedek from the text of Hebrews 7:3, in which Melchizedek is said to be “without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life.” The JST and section 84 clarify that it is the priesthood of Melchizedek, not the man himself, that was so described. According to Joseph Smith, “The Priesthood is an everlasting principle, and existed with God from eternity, and will to eternity, without being of days or end of years. The keys have to be brought from heaven whenever the Gospel is sent” (HC, 3:386).
18 And the Lord confirmed a priesthood also upon Aaron and his seed, throughout all their generations, which priesthood also continueth and abideth forever with the priesthood which is after the holiest order of God.
verse 18 “the Lord confirmed a priesthood also upon Aaron and his seed” There is another order of priesthood—the Aaronic. We must conclude that all of the rights and authority of the Aaronic Priesthood lie within those of the higher order of priesthood, the Melchizedek Priesthood. In other words, the Aaronic is merely a part of the Melchizedek Priesthood. Perhaps this explains the statement of the Prophet Joseph: “All Priesthood is Melchizedek, but there are different portions or degrees of it” (TPJS, 180).
The “priesthood which is after the holiest order of God” is the Melchizedek priesthood.
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.
verse 19 “this greater priesthood administereth the gospel” The Melchizedek Priesthood is necessary if the fulness of the gospel is to be on the earth. For example, John the Baptist, who held the Aaronic Priesthood and who knew the gospel, could baptize, but only Jesus and his disciples who held the Melchizedek Priesthood could bestow the gift of the Holy Ghost, administer the Church of Christ, and exercise the keys of the kingdom of heaven (see Matthew 3:11; 16:18-19).
“this greater priesthood . . . holdeth the key of the mysteries of the kingdom” We have spoken previously about the “mysteries of the kingdom” (see the commentary for D&C 6:7; 8:11). They are spiritual facts and concepts that cannot be understood by the carnal mind. They can only be truly understood and appreciated by the man whose mind is connected with and responsive to the influence of the Holy Ghost.
There is a certain subgroup of human beings here on earth who have an advantage in learning the mysteries of the kingdom—they have a “leg up” in obtaining and keeping the influence of the Holy Ghost. These are the men who hold the higher priesthood and are righteously administering the affairs of the Lord’s earthly kingdom. These men have better access to the two-way communication between heaven and earth—the figurative gaps or openings in the veil which separates heaven from earth are larger and filled, in one direction, with the petitions of the Lord’s righteous servants on behalf of those members of the kingdom whom these servants are serving. The larger gaps are filled in the other direction with the blessings of heaven to those same servants (see The Priesthood in Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine, volume 2, chapter 12).
On one level, therefore, we may say that righteous holders of the Melchizedek have an advantage in learning, by the Spirit of God, the mysteries of the kingdom. The Lord promised those who exercise their priesthood in righteousness that “the doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven” (D&C 121:45). Joseph Smith taught that the priesthood is the “channel through which all knowledge, doctrine, the plan of salvation, and every important matter is revealed from heaven” (HC, 4:207; TPJS, 166-67).
On another level, when the higher priesthood is on the earth, so are the keys of that priesthood, which keys include the authority to minister to the people of earth spiritual “mysteries.”
“even the key of the knowledge of God” One of the great blessings of the Lord to mortals who are consistently striving to obey his commands, is that he will reveal himself to the man through the influence of the Holy Spirit by the process of personal revelation (see D&C 93:1). We also learn here from this verse that the holders of the Melchizedek have an advantage in coming to truly know God (John 17:3). Again, the two-way communication between heaven and earth is more open for those who hold and honor their higher priesthood.
20 Therefore, in the ordinances thereof, the power of godliness is manifest. verse 20 “in the ordinances thereof, the power of godliness is manifest”
There are perhaps two different ways in which one might interpret this phrase:
- First of all, when a righteous holder of the Melchizedek Priesthood is exercising the rights of his office—performing ordinances including blessing the sick, bestowing the priesthood upon the heads of others, giving blessings of comfort, giving patriarchal blessings, etc.—he does not utilize his own personal power; rather he uses the power of God which he is authorized and entitled to borrow by virtue of his holding the priesthood.
- The second interpretation is perhaps more likely and centers around the definition of godliness. The power of God is not the same as the power of godliness. Definition one, above, assumes that the two are the same. Godliness actually means “God-like-ness.” Hence the power of godliness does not refer to God’s power, but rather to that power which empowers men to become like God. In the covenants (ordinances) we are commanded to enter into is found the essence of our becoming like God. As we keep our covenants and then enter into more lofty and more and more sacred covenants, we receive increments of the attributes of God—gifts of the Spirit— and we do become slowly more like God. Hence, the gospel ordinances, when done by proper authority, and when entered into with righteous intent, have the power to enable us to become like God.
The orthodox Christian world does not believe in the concept of deification—the idea that man’s destiny is to progress and become like God. Kindliness is the state of being kind. Loneliness is the state of being alone. Holiness is the state of being holy. Saintliness is the state of being saintly. Yet, the world refuses to understand that the scriptural word “godliness” means being like God. The word “godliness” is referred to several times in the Bible and includes the idea of man’s potential to become like God (see 1 Timothy 2:2; 3:16; 4:7-8; 6:3; 2 Timothy 3:5; 2 Peter 1:3).
21 And without the ordinances thereof, and the authority of the priesthood, the power of godliness is not manifest unto men in the flesh;
verse 21 The power of our becoming like God is in the ordinances of the holy priesthood—in the covenants into which we are commanded to enter. The priesthood is a grand channel for revelation and power.
22 For without this no man can see the face of God, even the Father, and live.
verse 22 “without this no man can see the face of God” “This” does not mean without holding the priesthood. Here, “this” refers to the power of godliness. We have to become more like God in order to see him. This becoming more like him can occur temporarily (transfiguration) or it can happen more permanently as we progress— through receiving incremental gifts of the Spirit in response to our obedience—toward godhood.
While those who hold the Aaronic priesthood can stand in the presence of angels and receive their counsel, the Melchizedek Priesthood is necessary in order to be able to abide the presence of God. Elder Bruce R. McConkie taught that without the priesthood powers, man “would not see the face of God. For if they did, his glory would destroy them. Sinful men cannot see the face of God and live” (The Promised Messiah, 589).
23 Now this Moses plainly taught to the children of Israel in the wilderness, and sought diligently to sanctify his people that they might behold the face of God;
verse 23 “this Moses plainly taught to the children of Israel” When Moses taught the Israelites, he held the Melchizedek Priesthood. He taught them the gospel of Jesus Christ and that they needed the ordinances of the holy priesthood to see God and become as he is. It was Moses’s intention, in taking the children of Israel to Mount Sinai, to give them these ordinances, including the ordinances of the temple (hence, the tabernacle) and to introduce them into the presence of God—“that they might behold the face of God.”
“sought diligently to sanctify his people” Moses sought to see his people grow spiritually through obedience to the commandments of the gospel of Jesus Christ. While Moses was in Midian, he learned the gospel of Jesus Christ (see Moses 1:17), received the Melchizedek Priesthood from his father-in-law (see verse 6), and experienced the vision of the burning bush, which called him to minister to the children of Israel still captive in Egypt (see Exodus 3:1–4:17). It was the intention of Moses and the will of God that the children of Israel should also be taught the gospel of Jesus Christ, be sanctified through obedience to the laws of the gospel, ordained, endowed, and brought into the presence of God at Mount Sinai. For this reason, they were brought to the mount (see Exodus 19:3-13). Initially, the children of Israel collectively accepted the Lord’s proposals (see Exodus 19:7-8; 24:3-8), and many of them received the ordinances, made the covenants, and were consequently brought into the very presence of God (see Exodus 24:9-11).
24 But they hardened their hearts and could not endure his presence; therefore, the Lord in his wrath, for his anger was kindled against them, swore that they should not enter into his rest while in the wilderness, which rest is the fulness of his glory.
verse 24 “But they hardened their hearts” Despite Moses’s intentions, however, the children of Israel weakened in their resolve and collectively refused to receive the covenants of the gospel. They did not fully repent, and they did not really want to know God or enter into his presence. Those who had already received the ordinances and made the covenants violated them. “God cursed the children of Israel because they would not receive the last law [the gospel] from Moses. . . . The Israelites prayed that God would speak to Moses and not to them [Exodus 20:19; Deuteronomy 5:23-27]; in consequence of which he cursed them with a carnal law [the law of Moses]” (Dahl and Cannon, Encyclopedia of Joseph Smith’s Teachings, 506-07).
In addition to rejecting the opportunity to receive the fulness of the gospel, the children of Israel then brazenly sinned against even the lesser law (and those who had seen God broke their holy covenants by making and worshiping the golden calf; see Exodus 32:7-9). While Moses was on the mountain receiving a dispensation of the higher laws of the gospel, Aaron and the people below “corrupted themselves” with idolatry (Exodus 32:7). In consequence, they became unworthy of the higher law, and God in his anger revoked the promises made in the gospel covenant.
“that they should not enter into his rest” The conditional promises God had made to Israel were revoked because the conditions for them had not been met.
What is “his rest”? See the commentary for 2 Nephi 21:10. See further discussion of this important spiritual gift in Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine, volume 1. See particularly, “Two Little-Appreciated Gifts of the Spirit” in chapter 10, Deliberate Faith and Revealed Faith and in “The Fruits of Faith” in chapter 11, Other Notes on Faith. Still further discussion of this topic is found in “The Rest of the Lord—the Gift of Hope” in chapter 17, Justification and Sanctification.
25 Therefore, he took Moses out of their midst, and the Holy Priesthood also;
verse 25 This doctrine is crucial to an understanding of the Old Testament scriptures. Why is the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ not clearly found in the writings of Moses and the other Old Testament prophets? Is it because these originally “Christian” texts have become corrupted and the “plain and precious” references to Jesus Christ and his gospel have been removed? No, not usually (but see Moses 1:41). The fulness of the gospel cannot be found in the Old Testament writings because most of it was never put there in the first place. According to this verse, God took the fulness of the gospel away from Israel as a nation at Sinai. Individual prophets and some others associated with them, such as the kings David and Solomon, did receive the fulness of the gospel and its covenants in Old Testament times (see D&C 132:39), but the gospel and its covenants were withheld from Israel collectively by divine decree because of Israel’s rejection of these blessings at Sinai. Joseph Smith wrote: “Was the Priesthood of Melchizedek taken away when Moses died? . . . That portion which brought Moses to speak with God face to face [the Melchizedek] was taken away; but that which brought the ministry of angels [the Aaronic] remained” (TPJS, 180-81).
The public writings of Moses preserved in the Old Testament (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) are documents specifically adapted to a people living a lesser law under the lesser priesthood. Because the knowledge of the fulness of the gospel, along with the higher priesthood and its ordinances, was removed from ancient Israel by command of the Lord (see Moses 1:23), a restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood in the latter days also called for a revision of the Old Testament scriptures, restoring them from their post-Sinai to their pre-Sinai point of view. The Joseph Smith Translation and the books of Moses and Abraham in the Pearl of Great Price fulfill this need by putting the events of Genesis and other Old Testament passages in their proper setting of the fulness of the gospel. As presently constituted, the biblical books of Moses are preparatory documents, perhaps corresponding to the Aaronic Priesthood (see Galatians 3:19, 24), whereas the creation accounts and the patriarchal narratives recorded by Joseph Smith in the Pearl of Great Price and the JST represent the restoration of the fulness, corresponding to the Melchizedek Priesthood.
26 And the lesser priesthood continued, which priesthood holdeth the key of the ministering of angels and the preparatory gospel;
verse 26 “And the lesser priesthood continued” When Israel sinned by its idolatry, Moses broke the stone tablets that God had made for Israel (see Exodus 32:19). This set of tablets contained upon them the new and everlasting covenant of the gospel. After Israel had been punished and the wicked and unrepentant killed, Moses returned to the mount and received another law based on the same principles as the original but formulated as a law of carnal commandments (a list of do’s and don’ts) with the fulness of the gospel and the higher priesthood removed from it (see verses 2527). This lesser law was not the gospel of Jesus Christ, but the law of Moses, named not after the divine Christ but after the man Moses, its lesser mediator (see JST Exodus 34:1-2; Galatians 3:19; JST Galatians 3:19; D&C 42:18; 76:69). When the knowledge and powers of the Melchizedek Priesthood were taken away from Israel, the Aaronic Priesthood was allowed to continue, but from that time on the people were forbidden entrance into the temple itself. “High priests” in Israel were Aaronic priests who administered only ordinances of the Aaronic Priesthood, and the only “temple” ordinances available to the people were animal sacrifices performed outside the building itself in the courtyard.
“the key of the ministering of angels” To minister means “to serve,” just as ministry means “service.” The Aaronic Priesthood holds the keys that entitle one to be visited and aided when necessary by angels sent from the presence of God (see Oaks, CR, October 1998, 48-52). Nevertheless, the Melchizedek Priesthood and the power of godliness manifested in its ordinances are necessary for one to enter into the presence of God himself (see verses 19-22).
27 Which gospel is the gospel of repentance and of baptism, and the remission of sins, and the law of carnal commandments, which the Lord in his wrath caused to continue with the house of Aaron among the children of Israel until John, whom God raised up, being filled with the Holy Ghost from his mother’s womb.
verses 26-27 “the preparatory gospel . . . and the law of carnal commandments” The lesser law of Moses is not the gospel of Jesus Christ. It does not contain full knowledge of Jesus as Savior, of the gift of the Holy Ghost (the conferring of which is a Melchizedek Priesthood ordinance), or of justification through grace (see D&C 20:30), for these all pertain to the fulness of the gospel. The law of Moses is a preparatory gospel of obedience, repentance, and baptism for the remission of sins. The law of Moses with its carnal commandments prepares human beings for the fulness of the gospel by raising them from a level of disobedience and wickedness associated with the telestial kingdom to a level of obedience and relative righteousness associated with the terrestrial kingdom. In this condition, having learned obedience by following rules, they are prepared to receive the celestial principles of the gospel and to become perfected and sanctified through the atonement of Jesus Christ.
Carnal commandments are rules, sometimes even seemingly arbitrary rules. Rules require less understanding than do principles, and rules are therefore better suited to the spiritually immature than are principles. Rules are usually black and white—do this; don’t do that. A law of carnal commandments is essentially a collection of rules that require little thought, wisdom, or spiritual experience and sensitivity from those who live them. Rules require obedience, not understanding. If one is obedient, one can live the law of carnal commandments, even if one has no idea why some behaviors are demanded and others are forbidden. Once one has learned to obey (through the observance of rules or carnal commandments), then, and only then, is one equipped and prepared to be instructed in the higher principles upon which the rules are based. Thus, observing rules develops the commitment of obedience, which then prepares us to receive principles. The succession of kingdoms (telestial, terrestrial, and celestial) is loosely paralleled by a succession of obedience (wickedness through disobedience, righteousness through rules, and perfection through gospel principles).
verse 27 “the Lord in his wrath” The law of Moses with its carnal commandments was not a blessing to ancient Israel at Sinai. It was rather a curse (see Galatians 3:10, 13). Those to whom God had offered the fulness of the celestial gospel at Sinai were cursed by having the fulness of the gospel withdrawn from them and by being given only a preparatory gospel in its place. Moreover, the lesser law itself pronounces a curse upon all who disobey even one of its tiniest rules (see Deuteronomy 27:26), and because all humans sin, all Israel falls under the curse of the law. On the other hand, to later generations of Israel the law of Moses was both a curse and a blessing—a curse for these same reasons but also a blessing because it provided a divine law that reminded them of their duties and responsibilities to the God of their fathers.
“until John” The preparatory nature of the law of Moses is illustrated by the ministry of John the Baptist, who held the Aaronic Priesthood, and who affirmed that the kingdom of God was approaching, and preached repentance and baptism for the remission of sins (see Matthew 3:1-6). He did these things to prepare Israel for the One who was coming to “baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire” (Matthew 3:11; see also verse 28). John did not himself publicly preach the fulness of the gospel of Christ, however; that was a ministry for Jesus’s apostles. John was the administrator of the preparatory gospel. Its principles and ordinances were faith, repentance, baptism in water, and the remission of sins—the first, second, and third principles of the gospel. Nevertheless, it was only a preparatory gospel because it did not contain the fourth principle of the gospel: baptism by fire and the Holy Ghost. The reader is invited to review the discussion of the three parts of the ordinance of baptism in Baptism, the Ordinance that Brings Spiritual Growth in Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine, volume 1, chapter 18. Also missing was the Melchizedek Priesthood with its other ordinances.
“filled with the Holy Ghost from his mother’s womb” Though the Holy Ghost had come upon John even before his birth (see Luke 1:15, 41), during his ministry John also had the gift of the Holy Ghost which he surely must have received by the laying on of hands by someone with the proper authority. We do not know who, where, when, or how. The Holy Ghost may, of course, at God’s discretion, come upon anyone, to any degree, and for any length of time, even if the individual is not yet a confirmed member of the Church. This was the case, for example, with Elizabeth, Zacharias, Simeon, Cornelius, and the young Joseph Smith (see Luke 1:41, 67; 2:25; Acts 10:47; JS-H 1:73). In all such cases, however, these persons must subsequently receive the laying on of hands to receive the gift of the Holy Ghost by the power of the Melchizedek Priesthood. See “What is the Gift of the Holy Ghost” in The Concept of Light in Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine, volume 1, chapter 15.
28 For he was baptized while he was yet in his childhood, and was ordained by the angel of God at the time he was eight days old unto this power, to overthrow the kingdom of the Jews, and to make straight the way of the Lord before the face of his people, to prepare them for the coming of the Lord, in whose hand is given all power.
verse 28 “baptized while he was yet in his childhood” John was baptized as a child, but not before the age of accountability, which is eight years of age. In the Judaism of John’s day, one was considered a child until the age of twelve, so John would probably have been baptized sometime between his eighth and twelfth birthdays and perhaps sooner rather than later. We have no record of who may have performed this baptism.
“ordained by the angel of God at the time he was eight days old unto this power” The word ordain has a broader range of meanings than we may sometimes recognize. According to Elder Bruce R. McConkie, the ministration described here was not an ordination to the priesthood but was what might now be more technically called a “setting apart” for a specific mission and receiving all the rights and powers pertaining to that mission: “The naming of children and circumcision of male members of the house of Israel took place on [the eighth] day. In the case of John, he ‘was ordained by the angel of God at the time he was eight days old’—not to the Aaronic Priesthood, for such would come later, after his baptism and other preparation but—‘unto this power, to overthrow the kingdom of the Jews, and to make straight the way of the Lord before the face of his people, to prepare them for the coming of the Lord, in whose hand is given all power’ (D&C 84:28). That is, at this solemn eighth day ceremony, an angel, presumably Gabriel, gave the Lord’s Elias the divine commission to serve as the greatest forereunner of all the ages” (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 1:89).
“to overthrow the kingdom of the Jews” The kingdom of the Jews was neither the kingdom of Israel nor the kingdom of heaven. At the time of John it was merely one of the fallen kingdoms of mortal men, governed by an Edomite usurper, King Herod, and led spiritually by apostate priests who did not hold the keys necessary to their office. The rightful successor to the priesthood of the house of Aaron and he who held the keys of the Aaronic Priesthood by right of succession at the time of John’s birth was Zacharias, John’s own father. According to Joseph Smith, “John was a priest after his father, and held the keys of the Aaronic Priesthood, and was called of God to preach the Gospel of the kingdom of God. The Jews, as a nation, having departed from the law of God and the Gospel of the Lord, prepared the way for transferring it to the Gentiles” (cited in Dahl and Cannon’s Encyclopedia of Joseph Smith’s Teachings, 352). In other words, the preaching of John overthrew the corrupt kingdom of the Jews. Because of the Jews’ rejection of the gospel and their rejection of John’s testimony of Christ, the right to have the gospel was taken from them and given to the Gentiles. Joseph Smith went on to say that “John, at that time, was the only legal administrator in the affairs of the kingdom there was then on the earth, and holding the keys of power. The Jews had to obey his instructions or be damned, by their own law. . . . The son of Zacharias wrested the keys, the kingdom, the power, the glory from the Jews, by the holy anointing and decree of heaven” (Ibid., 354).
29 And again, the offices of elder and bishop are necessary appendages belonging unto the high priesthood.
verse 29 “the offices of elder and bishop” These offices are subcategories, or “necessary appendages,” within the Melchizedek Priesthood. Elders hold the authority of Melchizedek but not necessarily the keys of that priesthood or the right to preside, as do high priests set apart to their offices. Bishops are here assumed to be bishops by right of ordination as high priests in the Melchizedek Priesthood rather than by right of Aaronic lineage. Technically, literal descendants who are the firstborn of the sons of Aaron have the legal right to the office of presiding bishop, but even such a descendant must be found worthy and appointed by those in authority holding the keys of the Melchizedek Priesthood (see D&C 68:15-20). In the Church today, presiding bishops who are not literal descendants of Aaron preside over the Aaronic Priesthood by virtue of their Melchizedek Priesthood, which allows them to “officiate in all the lesser offices” (D&C 68:19), so long as they are appointed by those in authority who also hold the Melchizedek Priesthood.
30 And again, the offices of teacher and deacon are necessary appendages belonging to the lesser priesthood, which priesthood was confirmed upon Aaron and his sons.
verse 30 “the offices of teacher and deacon” These offices are subcategories, or “necessary appendages” (verse 29), within the Aaronic Priesthood.
31 Therefore, as I said concerning the sons of Moses—for the sons of Moses and also the sons of Aaron shall offer an acceptable offering and sacrifice in the house of the Lord, which house shall be built unto the Lord in this generation, upon the consecrated spot as I have appointed—
verse 31 In this verse the Lord returns to his original topic, after a parenthetical diversion of twenty-five verses (see the commentary for verses 6-31 above).
“Therefore, as I said concerning the sons of Moses” The phrase “sons of Moses” does not refer to the literal offspring of Moses and Aaron but rather to those who, like Moses and Aaron, have entered into the covenants of the Melchizedek and Aaronic Priesthoods, respectively.
“shall offer an acceptable offering and sacrifice” See the commentary for D&C 13:1.
“which house shall be built unto the Lord in this generation” See the commentary for verses 3-4.
32 And the sons of Moses and of Aaron shall be filled with the glory of the Lord, upon Mount Zion in the Lord’s house, whose sons are ye; and also many whom I have called and sent forth to build up my church.
verse 32 “upon Mount Zion in the Lord’s house” See the commentary for verse 2.
“whose sons are ye” Joseph Smith and the elders with him who had accepted calls and served missions and had otherwise been faithful to their priesthood covenants, by virtue of righteously holding the Melchizedek Priesthood (and the Aaronic, which it embraces), are “sons” of Moses and of Aaron. Again, “sons of” here does not refer to those whose lineage is reckoned uniquely, but rather to all those heir to the same priesthood blessings once received by Moses and Aaron.
verses 33-42 In these verses is spelled out the Oath and Covenant of the priesthood, probably the most important doctrinal topic in section 84. We have previously discussed the important general principles of covenant making. If the reader wishes to review these, please study Covenants and Covenant Making in Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine, volume 2, chapter 3. The characteristics of the covenants we are commanded to make with God are there discussed.
We may quickly summarize the salient features of the vertical covenants which we make with God as follows: (1) God’s primary motive in all his dealings with mortals is that he wants to live with us forever after this life. He yearns to have us return to live with him again. (2) He understands us humans intimately—both collectively and individually, and he has apparently instituted the system of covenants to assist and encourage us in trying to live the gospel well enough to be judged worthy of returning to his celestial presence following this life. Covenants are God’s method or “technique” for helping us to return home. (3) As we enter into two-way promises with God, he inevitably promises us vastly more than we promise him. (4) God is the author of the covenant agreements, and here on earth he presents them to us in a sequence, beginning with the covenant of baptism and ending with the covenant of being sealed up to eternal life. As we “ascend” the sequence of covenants, we enter into increasingly sacred, increasingly important, and increasingly binding covenants. It would appear that it is God’s hope that if we are successful in keeping the initial covenants, we will better be able to keep the later ones. Again, covenants are a way in which God hopes to bring us home to him. (5) The promises he makes to us are increasingly choice and sacred as we ascend the sequence of covenants, but they are also increasingly binding. Penalties await those who enter into covenants and subsequently fail to live up to their end of the bargain. The gravity of the penalties progressively increases as we ascend the sequence of covenants.
It would seem that the concept of the “oath and covenant” of the priesthood consists of three essential elements:
- First, the oath. The terms of this priesthood covenant are guaranteed by an unbreakable oath, but it is not the male receiving this priesthood who swears. Rather, it is God himself who swears the oath and who thereby binds himself eternally to keep his covenant promises when the terms of the priesthood holders’ covenants are met.
- Second, the covenant. God himself fixes the terms of this binding two-way promise, and the prospective holder of the Melchizedek Priesthood agrees before hands are laid upon his head that he will keep his end of the bargain by magnifying his callings in the priesthood.
- Finally, the penalty. Damning penalties or cursings await those who receive the Melchizedek Priesthood and fail to magnify that priesthood. Today, stake presidents are asked to warn those candidates for ordination to the higher priesthood of the significant penalties that await them should they fail to honor their priesthood.
In essence, the Oath and Covenant of the priesthood is this: When a man receives the Melchizedek priesthood, he enters into a solemn covenant with the Lord that he will magnify his callings in the priesthood and keep the commandments. In turn the Lord promises him his exaltation in the celestial kingdom, and he will receive “all that my Father hath.”
One of the most powerful statements ever made on the Oath and Covenant of the priesthood was made by President Spencer W. Kimball at the Stockholm area conference in August 1974. In speaking to the priesthood session, he set his notes aside and was moved by the Spirit to speak as follows. This statement has never been published to my knowledge. He first read D&C 84:33-42:
I hope you know these ten verses in the 84th section of the Doctrine and Covenants. I hope you have memorized them, for they are basic. . . . Every man here is eligible to become the elect of God, and all that depends, after one has received the blessings, on you and me. Also, “all they who receive this priesthood receive me, saith the Lord; For he that receiveth my servants receiveth me; And he that receiveth me receiveth my Father; And he that receiveth my Father receiveth my Father’s kingdom; therefore all that my Father hath shall be given unto him.” Did you think of that! All that my Father hath! To be a God! To be a great leader! To be perfect! To have all the blessings which you can ascribe to your Father in heaven. All that is available to you and me as we hold the priesthoods, particularly the Melchizedek priesthood which, of course, comes only after the Aaronic priesthood. All is thine! That is what the father said to his son who was not the prodigal son but the brother of the prodigal son. The father brought blessings and gifts to the younger son who had been evil and who had returned to his home. The father put a ring on his finger and a cloak over his shoulders and killed the fatted calf. But he didn’t ever give him “all that the father hath.” But, he said to the other son, “You have always been faithful. You have always been true to your faith and trust, and all that I have is thine! That was the estate with all of its parts, and this is according to the Oath and Covenant which belongeth to the priesthood.
Now you made an oath when you received the priesthood. You made an oath! And you cannot with impunity ignore that oath! You promised! And every stake president and mission president who interviews asks for promises: Will you? Have you? Have you done? Will you continue to do? And with that oath you move forward in your service in the Melchizedek priesthood. Therefore all those who receive the priesthood receive this oath, and you move forward in your service in the Melchizedek priesthood. Therefore all those who receive the priesthood receive this Oath and Covenant of my Father which he cannot break. Which he the Father cannot break! Because he is true to all of his commitments. One hundred percent true. He cannot break it . . . but you can and I can. We can break our covenants. We can ignore our oath, and we can go into discord. Therefore all those who receive the priesthood receive this oath and covenant of my Father, which he the Father cannot break so long as we keep his requirements. “But whoso breaketh this covenant after he hath received it, and altogether turneth therefrom, shall not have forgiveness of sins in this world nor in the world to come.”
This is serious business, brethren. We are not playing with mere words. “And wo unto all those who come not unto this priesthood” for if we consider the seriousness of receiving the priesthood, then we might be tempted to say, “I don’t want it. I don’t want to be an elder if it’s that serious.” But the Lord anticipated that, and he said, “And wo unto all those who come not unto this priesthood which ye have received, which I now confirm upon you who are present this day.” Brethren, this isn’t a play thing. The priesthood of God is the most serious thing in the world. It was by the priesthood that the world was created. And it is by the same priesthood that your words will be created. And if you are to become a god with your wife and have worlds of your own, it will be through the magnifying of this priesthood which you hold.
Now, you see, you are not ordinary people. You are not just ordinary men with some suggested responsibilities. You are the sons of God. You are the elect of God. And you have within your hands the possibility of becoming a god. To pass by the angels and the gods, who are set there, to your exaltation. Oh, this should make us tremble! Brethren, we should tremble as we think of the responsibility. You have twenty-two million people in these four countries, I think. Twenty-two million, and you represent them all. You stand in a high place with your heavenly Father. And kings and lords and earls and dukes and emperors—they are men of the world; but you are men of heaven. You are men with all that potential.
I hope you will find the ten verses in the 84th section and memorize them until they become a part of you. Make it clear to yourself that they who receive this priesthood receive him. And that means more than just sitting in a chair and having somebody place hands upon your head. I think that when you receive it, you must accept it. You do not merely sit. “And he that receiveth my Father receiveth my Father’s kingdom; therefore all that my Father hath shall be given unto him.” Can you imagine anything greater? Shouldn’t we be frightened, and almost awed as we contemplate the honor we have? And the responsibility we have? This comes with the Oath and Covenant. We did swear, and it is evident that we cannot escape that responsibility.
We had a letter from a man the other day who said, “I have decided to go inactive for a while.” He just didn’t understand! It is impossible for one to go inactive. We have this responsibility upon our heads regardless of how we feel! How can we be casual? How can we be careless? How can we ever become inactive?!”
33 For whoso is faithful unto the obtaining these two priesthoods of which I have spoken, and the magnifying their calling, are sanctified by the Spirit unto the renewing of their bodies.
verse 33 “whoso is faithful unto the obtaining these two priesthoods” This phrase means more than just being ordained to the two priesthoods. It means actually obtaining, coming to have in one’s own possession, the powers of heaven. That can be done only “upon the principles of righteousness” (D&C 121:36). Many who are ordained to the priesthood fail to obtain or keep its powers because they do not exercise those powers in righteousness.
“magnifying their calling” For a discussion of the concept of magnifying one’s calling, see the commentary for Jacob 1:19.
“sanctified by the Spirit unto the renewing of their bodies” The Spirit of God, the Holy Ghost, of course, has a key role in the process of sanctification (see Justification and Sanctification in Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine, volume 1, chapter 17).
But what does sanctification have to do with “the renewing of [our] bodies”? Apparently, as we are sanctified by the Spirit of God, we may at times expect an improvement in the health of a mortal body in addition to the improvement and growth of our spiritual self. It would seem that this blessing is given to faithful individuals to assist them in further magnifying their callings. President Spencer W. Kimball taught: “I present to you the thought that President McKay was up in his nineties. President Smith was in his nineties. All the presidents of the Church since almost the beginning became men of age. Their bodies were renewed, and their spirits were sanctified” (Stockholm Area Conference, 1974). President Hugh B. Brown once testified that President David O. McKay had “been sanctified by the Spirit unto the renewing of his body” and added that “some of the rest of us are better off today than we were many years ago so far as physical health is concerned—and we attribute that fact to [the Lord’s] blessing” (CR, April 1963, 90). Elder Carlos E. Asay reported: “Many of us have felt the influence of this ‘renewal promise.’ Without it, scores of our assignments might have gone unfinished” (CR, October 1985, 58). Perhaps the ultimate manifestation of this phenomenon is “translation” of a mortal or lifting his body to a higher state (see Doctrine of Translation in Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine, volume 2, chapter 17).
There may be another important aspect to the meaning of this phrase. In Alma 13:12 the high priests who had been sanctified by the Holy Ghost could no longer look upon sin except it be with abhorrence. Perhaps the “renewing of their bodies” also includes the Holy Ghost’s blessing us so that we no longer desire to sin. As we grow spiritually, that is, as we are “sanctified by the Spirit,” our carnal or natural self tends to be purged and refined and replaced by an enhanced spiritual self. The pulls of the flesh have less and less power over us.
34 They become the sons of Moses and of Aaron and the seed of Abraham, and the church and kingdom, and the elect of God.
verse 34 “They become” To whatever degree the sanctification of the Spirit is experienced, those who obtain the two priesthoods and magnify their callings are really, personally, changed in some degree by doing so.
“the seed of Abraham” When this term is used in a singular sense, it refers to Jesus Christ (see Galatians 3:16). In a collective sense, however, it refers to all who, like Abraham, have faith in Christ (see Galatians 3:7). Just as those who follow Moses and Aaron in obtaining the priesthood become the children (sons) of Moses and Aaron, so all those who follow Abraham by having faith in Christ become the children, or seed, of Abraham. They are adopted into the house of Israel, and they are heirs of all the blessings promised to Abraham (see Galatians 3:27-29; Abraham 2:10).
“the church and kingdom” This phrase refers to the “church of the firstborn”— those who are to inherit the celestial degree of glory (see also the commentary for D&C 76:54).
35 And also all they who receive this priesthood receive me, saith the Lord;
verse 35 “all they who receive this priesthood” The word priesthood is commonly used in at least six different ways:
- God’s own personal power and authority. The power and authority possessed by God himself has been referred to as his (God’s) priesthood (JD, 26:245). This priesthood is the power by which the cosmos was ordered, universes and worlds were organized, and the elements in all their varieties were put into place. Through his priesthood, God governs all things.
- That specific portion of God’s power he makes available for borrowing. When requested in righteousness, and on the Lord’s errand, the Lord will hear the pleas of his authorized servants and allow them to borrow parts of his power for righteous purposes. This behest is often referred to as the man’s priesthood or “the power of the priesthood.”
The Holy Ghost plays a vital role in judging those who exercise their priesthood in righteousness. He also grants them the needed portions of God’s power. Joseph Smith taught: “The Holy Ghost is God’s messenger to administer in all those priesthoods” (HC, 5:555).
- The Lord’s designation or authorization. The Lord’s authority, permission, or authorization given to his servants to speak and act in his name is referred to as his priesthood. It is the divine authority for a man to invoke God’s power as the man administers in the Lord’s earthly kingdom.
- The covenant order of men. Those who possess this authority and these powers are also referred to collectively as the priesthood.
- The special revelation in the form of knowledge that passes through the figurative enlarged channels in the veil that separates heaven and earth. This priesthood, this revelation, includes timely knowledge and inspiration (in addition to authorization and power already discussed). This use of the word priesthood applies, for example, in statements such as: “This greater priesthood . . . holdeth the key of the mysteries of the kingdom, even the key of the knowledge of God” (D&C 84:19-20; cf. TPJS, 166-67). This priesthood conveys the mind and will of God; and, when employed by his servants on his errand, it functions as if by the Lord’s own mouth and hand (D&C 1:38).
- The special channel through which all this special revelation, authorization, and power pass. This special channel itself may also be called the priesthood. Joseph Smith taught that the Melchizedek priesthood “is the channel through which all knowledge, doctrine, the plan of salvation and every important matter is revealed from heaven” (TPJS, 166-67).
The reader is left to decide which use of the word priesthood is pertinent here. Subsequent verses suggest that perhaps definition 4. above is most pertinent.
36 For he that receiveth my servants receiveth me;
37 And he that receiveth me receiveth my Father;
38 And he that receiveth my Father receiveth my Father’s kingdom; therefore all that my Father hath shall be given unto him.
verses 36-38 The promises of God to the faithful are linked together here in a marvelous progression: Whosoever receives the servants of God (the priesthood) receives also their Master, the Son. Whosoever receives the Son receives also the Father who sent him. And whosoever receives the Father receives all that the Father has. These promises, of course, apply to both male and female members of the Church. Marion G. Romney taught: “This statement is worth emphasizing: ‘He that receiveth my servants receiveth me.’ Who are his servants? They are his representatives in the offices of the priesthood—the general, stake, priesthood quorum, and ward officers. It behooves us to keep this in mind when we are tempted to disregard our presiding authorities, bishops, quorum, and stake presidents, etc., when, within the jurisdiction of their callings, they give us counsel and advice” (CR, October 1960, 73).
verse 38 “all that my Father hath shall be given unto him” This is the promise of exaltation in the celestial kingdom of God. It is the promise of becoming like God, of becoming gods. Once again, the doctrine of deification was beginning to be taught to the saints (see John 17:21-23; Romans 8:14-17; 1 Corinthians 3:21-23; 2 Corinthians 3:18; Galatians 4:7; 1 John 3:2; Revelation 3:21; 21:7). Those who receive the priesthood and magnify their offices or callings will, as joint-heirs with Christ, receive all that the Father now possesses, just as Christ has received it. They will receive all the power, comprehension, and knowledge of God the Father. They will share his celestial glory and will live his type of celestial life.
39 And this is according to the oath and covenant which belongeth to the priesthood.
40 Therefore, all those who receive the priesthood, receive this oath and covenant of my Father, which he cannot break, neither can it be moved.
verses 39-40 A man enters into this covenant when he is ordained to the Melchizedek priesthood. For the definition of the “oath and covenant which belongeth to the priesthood,” see the commentary for verses 33-42 above.
The concept of the “oath and covenant” applies to more than just the oath and covenant of the priesthood. Whenever God commands obedience (a covenant) of his people, he guarantees (swears an oath) promised blessings which are far grander than that which the covenant requires. One example is the promise-curse of the Book of Mormon: “Inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments [covenants], [I swear an oath that] ye shall prosper in the land. . . . And . . . inasmuch as ye will not keep my commandments ye shall be cut off from the presence of the Lord” (Alma 9:13). Generally we may say that if we will make and faithfully keep the covenants presented to us, God guarantees by his own oath that we shall receive all things and be exalted in his celestial kingdom.
41 But whoso breaketh this covenant after he hath received it, and altogether turneth therefrom, shall not have forgiveness of sins in this world nor in the world to come.
verse 41 “altogether turneth therefrom” This phrase implies “without subsequent repentance.”
“shall not have forgiveness of sins in this world nor in the world to come” Here is the penalty for violating this priesthood covenant. For the average priesthood holder who has not been sealed up to eternal life this verse does not imply perdition. Rather it means that “he will not again have the priesthood conferred upon him, because he has trampled it under his feet; but as far as other things are concerned, he may be forgiven” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, 3:141-42). He who breaks the covenant shall not have the right to the priesthood hereafter, and he forfeits the right to exaltation and eternal associations. Nevertheless, as always, should such a person repent or, he may still be forgiven and receive celestial blessings in eternity.
42 And wo unto all those who come not unto this priesthood which ye have received, which I now confirm upon you who are present this day, by mine own voice out of the heavens; and even I have given the heavenly hosts and mine angels charge concerning you.
verse 42 “wo unto all those who come not unto this priesthood” Which definition of “priesthood,” of those listed under verse 35 above, do we use here? Again, I will leave it to the reader to decide. Certainly, those who will not heed the servants of God cannot receive the blessings of the gospel (see D&C 1:14). Also those who do not receive the ordination cannot be exalted in the celestial kingdom.
“which I now confirm upon you who are present this day, by mine own voice” The elders present on September 23, 1832, when section 84 was given, receive here a divine confirmation of their oath and covenant of the priesthood.
The voice of God in this case came through the mouth of his servant Joseph Smith (see D&C 1:38).
“I have given the heavenly hosts and mine angels charge concerning you” The word charge here means instructions. It would seem from this and other passages that at times God does instruct his angels to watch over his servants (see verse 88; D&C 109:22; Matthew 18:10).
verses 43-61 Every man born into this world has within him a modicum of the power of eternal discernment which has come to be known as the “Light of Christ” or the “Spirit of Jesus Christ.” This gift is the natural endowment of every mortal. If its promptings are obeyed, the possessor will be led to a belief in Jesus Christ and to further light and truth through the Holy Ghost.
43 And I now give unto you a commandment to beware concerning yourselves, to give diligent heed to the words of eternal life.
44 For you shall live by every word that proceedeth forth from the mouth of God.
verses 43-44 “words of eternal life . . . every word that proceedeth forth from the mouth of God” These phrases refer not only to those words voiced by God himself in personal revelation but also his words as voiced by his authorized servants (see D&C 1:38; 21:4-5).
45 For the word of the Lord is truth, and whatsoever is truth is light, and whatsoever is light is Spirit, even the Spirit of Jesus Christ.
verse 45 “word of the Lord . . . truth . . . light . . . Spirit . . . the Spirit of Jesus Christ” These several expressions refer to the light of Christ. See the important chapter, The Concept of Light in Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine, volume 1, chapter 15. The light of Christ is the source of all spiritual and physical energy on all levels of existence in this creation, from the subatomic to the intergalactic. Heat, light energy, truth, glory, and spirit characterize the works and the forces of God in the universe. All of these originate from the light of Christ.
46 And the Spirit giveth light to every man that cometh into the world; and the Spirit enlighteneth every man through the world, that hearkeneth to the voice of the Spirit.
47 And every one that hearkeneth to the voice of the Spirit cometh unto God, even the Father.
48 And the Father teacheth him of the covenant which he has renewed and confirmed upon you, which is confirmed upon you for your sakes, and not for your sakes only, but for the sake of the whole world.
verses 46-48 Every human being born into the world has a certain measure of light, life, energy, and spiritual intelligence. All of these derive from the light of Christ, which permeates the physical creation. If humans will heed this inborn light-energy, they will be led upward to more intense forms of the divine power until they eventually are led back to the Father, the ultimate source of all spiritual light.
verse 48 “not for our sakes only, but for the sake of the whole world” God reveals himself to some and gives them the blessings of eternity, not just for their sakes but so they can, in turn, take those same blessings to all the inhabitants of the world (D&C 88:81-82). We cannot receive the blessings of eternity without fulfilling in some way our obligation of taking those blessings to others.
49 And the whole world lieth in sin, and groaneth under darkness and under the bondage of sin.
50 And by this you may know they are under the bondage of sin, because they come not unto me.
51 For whoso cometh not unto me is under the bondage of sin.
52 And whoso receiveth not my voice is not acquainted with my voice, and is not of me.
53 And by this you may know the righteous from the wicked, and that the whole world groaneth under sin and darkness even now.
verses 49-53 “the whole world lieth in sin” Every human being has committed sin (Romans 3:23; 1 John 1:8). The only way sin may be removed is through the atonement of Christ. Hence, “whoso cometh not unto me is under the bondage of sin” (verse 51). Everyone in the whole world who has not received the gospel is in bondage to sin. This sin brings misery to their lives, and they groan under its influence. Those who seek deliverance from the bondage follow the influence of the light of Christ in their lives and seek ever greater light until they hear the gospel and recognize in it the voice they have heard faintly and followed before. The distinction between “righteous” and “wicked” in these verses is not based on whether they sin or not. They all lie under the bondage of sin (see verse 49). But the righteous are those who hate their sins and who seek deliverance from their bondage. They recognize the voice that proclaims deliverance and enter into the covenant that bestows it.
verses 54-58 President Ezra Taft Benson has told us that the Lord revealed to him during the dedication of the temple in Mexico that the condemnation spoken of in verses 54 through 57 is resting upon the Latter-day Saints (Ensign, November 1984, 6). We will long remember President Benson for his emphasis on the Book of Mormon and his calling the Church to repentance regarding that vital scripture.
54 And your minds in times past have been darkened because of unbelief, and because you have treated lightly the things you have received—
verse 54 “you have treated lightly the things you have received” Here the Lord turns his attentions to the saints. It is likely that the Lord condemns here the saints’ reception of his counsel regarding, among other things, the law of consecration and stewardship and the establishment of Zion. President Benson has taught us that this scripture also is applicable to the saints of our day and includes part of the revealed word of the Lord, particularly the Book of Mormon.
55 Which vanity and unbelief have brought the whole church under condemnation.
verse 55 “vanity and unbelief” Vanity means “emptiness.” Vanity also describes behavior that is empty and ultimately accomplishes nothing, just as the related phrase “in vain” means “all for nothing.” Vanity and vain are often applied to preoccupation with appearance rather than reality, because all such concern is ultimately pointless. Everybody ages, and God doesn’t care how pretty we are. In the religious sense, in this passage “vanity” means to prize appearance over reality, or to prize that which is of little or no value more highly than the riches of eternity.
Unbelief, in the Church, often occurs in the form of those saints who treat the doctrines of the kingdom as if they were a buffet lunch, selecting what they like and rejecting what they don’t. This is often a matter of selecting those principles which they can manage to live and rejecting those which are too difficult for them (see the phrase “not only to say but to do” in verse 57).
Those who are guilty of vanity and unbelief are “walking in darkness at noon-day” (D&C 95:5-6), having knowledge given to them but preferring ignorance, having light shined upon them but preferring the dark.
56 And this condemnation resteth upon the children of Zion, even all.
verse 56 “the children of Zion, even all” The immediate historical setting of these verses is the vanity and unbelief of the members of the Church in Zion (Missouri) who were then resisting the instructions of the Prophet Joseph about the establishment of Zion and the law of consecration (see verse 76; D&C 58:15, and its commentary). But in a secondary sense, “the children of Zion” includes the whole Church then and now. We are still guilty of the sins of vanity and unbelief and suffer the condemnation of God for it.
57 And they shall remain under this condemnation until they repent and remember the new covenant, even the Book of Mormon and the former commandments which I have given them, not only to say, but to do according to that which I have written—
verse 57 As stated above, President Benson applied these verses to the Church today:
The Lord declares that the whole Church and all the children of Zion are under condemnation because of the way we have treated the Book of Mormon. This condemnation has not been lifted, nor will it be until we repent (see D&C 84:51-81). The Lord states that we must not only say but we must do! We have neither said enough nor have we done enough with this divine instrument—the key to conversion. As a result, as individuals, as families, and as the Church, we sometimes have felt the scourge and judgment God said would be “poured out upon the children of Zion” [verse 58] because of our neglect of this book (Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, 64).
Elder Dallin H. Oaks further declared: “The subject I believe we have neglected is the Book of Mormon’s witness of the divinity and mission of Jesus Christ and our covenant relationship to him. . . . In too many of our classes, in too many of our worship services, we are not teaching of Christ and testifying of Christ in the way we should. This is one way we are failing to ‘remember the new covenant’” (Ensign, March 1994, 60-67).
58 That they may bring forth fruit meet for their Father’s kingdom; otherwise there remaineth a scourge and judgment to be poured out upon the children of Zion.
verse 58 “Meet,” of course, means appropriate.
“otherwise there remaineth a scourge and judgment” The members of the Church in 1832 were warned that if they did not repent of their vanity and unbelief, they would be judged and scourged. By 1838 almost all of the members were living in Missouri, but they had still been unable to establish Zion. On October 27, 1838, the infamous extermination order was issued by Governor Lilburn W. Boggs. Subsequently the Prophet Joseph was held in Liberty Jail, the saints were attacked and abused, and Brigham Young led the saints out of Missouri under trying circumstances. Some see the events of the fall of 1838 as the scourge visited upon the saints partly for their vanity and unbelief and partly for failing collectively to accept and implement the doctrines of Zion (see Smith and Sjodahl, Doctrine and Covenants Commentary, 509). Since President Ezra Taft Benson has pointed out the continuing condemnation of the contemporary Church, it follows that if the Church does not repent collectively in our day, we also await a scourge and judgment preceding the second coming of the Savior (see 1 Peter 4:17).
59 For shall the children of the kingdom pollute my holy land? Verily, I say unto you, Nay.
verse 59 “shall the children of the kingdom pollute my holy land?” In both the Old and the New Worlds, the land of promise was given to a chosen people with both a promise and a warning. If the inhabitants will dwell upon the land in righteousness, they will be blessed as promised, but if they turn to wickedness, they will be scoured off the land (see Leviticus 18:24-28; Deuteronomy 29:24-29; 2 Nephi 1:7; Ether 2:9). Ultimately, the Lord will not tolerate wickedness in the land of promise.
60 Verily, verily, I say unto you who now hear my words, which are my voice, blessed are ye inasmuch as you receive these things;
61 For I will forgive you of your sins with this commandment—that you remain steadfast in your minds in solemnity and the spirit of prayer, in bearing testimony to all the world of those things which are communicated unto you.
verses 60-61 The Lord’s mercy is again manifest as he offers to the elders present on September 22 and 23, 1832, forgiveness of their sins if they will but repent of their vanity and unbelief.
“with this commandment” With this revelation—section 84.
verses 62-102 The Savior provides the assembled priesthood leaders with detailed instructions concerning the preaching of the gospel.
62 Therefore, go ye into all the world; and unto whatsoever place ye cannot go ye shall send, that the testimony may go from you into all the world unto every creature.
63 And as I said unto mine apostles, even so I say unto you, for you are mine apostles, even God’s high priests; ye are they whom my Father hath given me; ye are my friends;
verse 63 “as I said unto mine apostles” In the Old World, Christ said to his apostles, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world” (Matthew 28:19-20). In the New World the Savior similarly charged his twelve disciples, and the prophet Mormon said of them, “They did go forth among all the people of Nephi, and did preach the gospel of Christ unto all people upon the face of the land; and they were converted unto the Lord, and were united unto the church of Christ and thus the people of that generation were blessed, according to the word of Jesus” (3 Nephi 28:23).
“you are mine apostles” The Savior’s charge to the early Church in verses 62102 was given to the leaders of the Church and not necessarily to the general membership. The Quorum of the Twelve had not yet been established when section 84 was received, so the high priesthood of the Church largely functioned as its general authorities. These verses contain instructions for the leaders of the Church in modern times as well as in ancient times.
“ye are my friends” Those who serve the Lord over time, as he commands, become, as did the prophets Moses and Abraham, not just God’s servants, or even his children, but his friends (see verse 77; John 15:15; James 2:23; Exodus 33:11).
64 Therefore, as I said unto mine apostles I say unto you again, that every soul who believeth on your words, and is baptized by water for the remission of sins, shall receive the Holy Ghost.
65 And these signs shall follow them that believe—
verse 65 The signs or blessings listed here are apostolic privileges. Perhaps “them that believe” refers to those who have been converted, called, commissioned, and in turn sent out as the Lord’s special witnesses. In any case, the apostolic blessings listed here may be passed to or enjoyed by others, but we should not assume that they are always available to every missionary or to every member.
66 In my name they shall do many wonderful works;
verse 66 “In my name” Human beings do not perform these works. They are only possible because his servants invoke the authority of Jesus Christ. The priesthood is God’s power which his servants are authorized to borrow.
67 In my name they shall cast out devils;
68 In my name they shall heal the sick;
69 In my name they shall open the eyes of the blind, and unstop the ears of the deaf;
70 And the tongue of the dumb shall speak;
71 And if any man shall administer poison unto them it shall not hurt them;
verse 71 This promise must have been particularly meaningful to the Prophet Joseph, who had been poisoned at an inn three months earlier and had been healed by the power of the priesthood (see the introductory commentary for this section).
72 And the poison of a serpent shall not have power to harm them.
73 But a commandment I give unto them, that they shall not boast themselves of these things, neither speak them before the world; for these things are given unto you for your profit and for salvation.
verse 73 “they shall not boast themselves of these things, neither speak them before the world” God’s miracles are sacred. They are not performed by men. Rather, a servant priesthood holder is the agent through whom God uses his power to work the miracle. God works the miracle. They should never be done for the glory of a man. Rather, all credit should be reverently and quietly given to God. The miracles should be kept out of the public eye. They are private and personal. The working of signs and miracles have little or no power to convert (D&C 63:7-12).
74 Verily, verily, I say unto you, they who believe not on your words, and are not baptized in water in my name, for the remission of their sins, that they may receive the Holy Ghost, shall be damned, and shall not come into my Father’s kingdom where my Father and I am.
verse 74 “they who believe not on your words . . . shall be damned” Those who do not accept the fulness of the gospel of Christ will be condemned to a kingdom of glory lower than the celestial.
75 And this revelation unto you, and commandment, is in force from this very hour upon all the world, and the gospel is unto all who have not received it.
76 But, verily I say unto all those to whom the kingdom has been given—from you it must be preached unto them, that they shall repent of their former evil works; for they are to be upbraided for their evil hearts of unbelief, and your brethren in Zion for their rebellion against you at the time I sent you.
verse 76 The Lord turns his attention to the saints and commands the returning missionaries, who were present when this revelation was received, to preach repentance unto the saints themselves. The saints are in need of a reprimand, and they need to repent. Reference is made here to the tension that had developed between Sidney Rigdon, Edward Partridge, and others in Missouri. These tensions had for the most part been resolved by the parties involved during the conference in Independence the preceding April 24, but the historical record shows that even though all parties were conciliatory at that time, it seems that the saints in Zion soon rekindled some hard feelings.
To upbraid is to reproach or censure. The commandment contained here to upbraid or reprimand the saints in Missouri for their unbelief was followed by two letters to them, both dated January 14, 1833. One of these was from Joseph Smith, and it contained the text of section 88. The other was from Orson Hyde and Hyrum Smith, writing for the Church in Kirtland. The text of these letters calling the Missouri saints to repentance can be found in the History of the Church, 1:316-21 (see the introductory commentary for section 85).
77 And again I say unto you, my friends, for from henceforth I shall call you friends, it is expedient that I give unto you this commandment, that ye become even as my friends in days when I was with them, traveling to preach the gospel in my power;
verse 77 “that ye become even as my friends in days when I was with them” The Savior refers to his ancient Old World apostles whom he referred to in their day as his friends (John 15:15). The Lord extends this same blessing to those returning missionaries in 1832—that is they are referred to by the Lord as his friends.
78 For I suffered them not to have purse or scrip, neither two coats.
verse 78 “I suffered them not to have purse or scrip” Again, the Lord refers to his Old World apostles. A purse is a coin-pouch. Many have taken the word “scrip” to mean the scriptures. This is not correct. Scrip was a small bag that shepherds carried at their side with a strap over their shoulder. It was filled with extra clothing and some food. The Lord is saying not to take any money or luggage, but rather to depend upon the Lord, the Church, and the good people they contacted and taught for their temporal support.
79 Behold, I send you out to prove the world, and the laborer is worthy of his hire.
verse 79 “to prove the world” An older meaning of prove is “to test or try.” The sense here is to preach the gospel to the world and by doing so to divide the listeners into sheep and goats: those who belong to the Savior’s flock and those who do not. The test applied by the preacher “proves” the spiritual character of the listener sufficiently to establish the facts (or provide “proof”) at the judgment day.
“the laborer is worthy of his hire” The missionary was to be supported by those who received his message. The full-time labor of the missionaries in taking the gospel to the world was worth the support of those who heard their message. That hardly amounts to a “paid ministry” because the brethren received only their bare sustenance and accumulated nothing—having no purse to put it in (see verse 78).
80 And any man that shall go and preach this gospel of the kingdom, and fail not to continue faithful in all things, shall not be weary in mind, neither darkened, neither in body, limb, nor joint; and a hair of his head shall not fall to the ground unnoticed. And they shall not go hungry, neither athirst.
verse 80 The Lord promises careful personal heavenly attention to the physical status of the apostle missionary (see verse 88).
81 Therefore, take ye no thought for the morrow, for what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink, or wherewithal ye shall be clothed.
82 For, consider the lilies of the field, how they grow, they toil not, neither do they spin; and the kingdoms of the world, in all their glory, are not arrayed like one of these.
83 For your Father, who is in heaven, knoweth that you have need of all these things.
84 Therefore, let the morrow take thought for the things of itself.
verses 81-84 The reader should keep in mind that these instructions and promises are for the leaders of the Church and other missionaries sent out by them, as they travel without purse or scrip. These instructions and promises are not intended as commandments or advice for the saints generally in living their everyday lives. Otherwise, we would not worry about such things as a year’s supply. We would set no goals, make no plans, prepare for no future possibilities. If such advice were to be generally applicable to the Church, there would be no bishops’ storehouses, no scheduled meetings or conferences, or even plans for the eventual establishment of Zion. On the contrary, the Lord expects his saints to be wise stewards and to take appropriate “thought for the morrow” and beyond.
85 Neither take ye thought beforehand what ye shall say; but treasure up in your minds continually the words of life, and it shall be given you in the very hour that portion that shall be meted unto every man.
verse 85 We often interpret this verse out of its scriptural context and apply its principle to members of the Church in general. While there may be some merit in doing that, we should keep in mind that these instructions apply to missionaries who cannot anticipate in advance what topics or questions may arise in the course of their work. This instruction should not normally be applied to speaking, preaching, or teaching assignments within the Church, where a great deal of thought and preparation is expected of those who magnify their callings.
86 Therefore, let no man among you, for this commandment is unto all the faithful who are called of God in the church unto the ministry, from this hour take purse or scrip, that goeth forth to proclaim this gospel of the kingdom.
verse 86 It is helpful, in reading this verse, to remove the expression: “for this commandment is unto all the faithful who are called of God in the church unto the ministry.” Then the verse reads: “let no man among you, from this hour, take purse or scrip.” This commandment to take no purse or scrip applied in the early Church to all subsequent missionaries. However, on September 16, 1860, President Brigham Young said that missionaries should no longer follow the practice of asking members in the mission field for support. Instead, that support should come from members at home. The laws of the United States and other nations (for example, vagrancy laws and visa requirements) also made traveling without purse or scrip socially infeasible and a hindrance to the work.
87 Behold, I send you out to reprove the world of all their unrighteous deeds, and to teach them of a judgment which is to come.
verse 87 “I send you out to reprove the world” In their Doctrine and Covenants Commentary, Smith and Sjodahl wrote: “To reprove . . . is to convict. God’s messengers, as it were, are lawyers before the bar of God. It is their duty to convict the world of sin, and to warn all men of the judgment which is to come. They are not sent out to entertain the world with philosophical lectures, or ethical discourses, or flowery oratory, or amusing anecdotes. Their one duty is to secure conviction and, if possible, repentance and salvation” (518, see also verse 79).
88 And whoso receiveth you, there I will be also, for I will go before your face. I will be on your right hand and on your left, and my Spirit shall be in your hearts, and mine angels round about you, to bear you up.
verse 88 “mine angels round about you, to bear you up” There are ministering angels. That is authentic church doctrine.
89 Whoso receiveth you receiveth me; and the same will feed you, and clothe you, and give you money.
90 And he who feeds you, or clothes you, or gives you money, shall in nowise lose his reward.
91 And he that doeth not these things is not my disciple; by this you may know my disciples.
verses 89-91 Some have noted a similarity between these verses and the Savior’s parable of the sheep and the goats: “Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? . . . Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Matthew 25:3146). This latter parable is not usually perceived in terms of missionary work. Yet it is clear by the parallels here that missionary work is an important setting and application for the parable of the sheep and goats in Matthew.
92 He that receiveth you not, go away from him alone by yourselves, and cleanse your feet even with water, pure water, whether in heat or in cold, and bear testimony of it unto your Father which is in heaven, and return not again unto that man.
verse 92 “cleanse your feet even with water” This is an apostolic responsibility not extended to other missionaries. The action described here is a variation on shaking the dust off the feet (Matthew 10:14-15).
93 And in whatsoever village or city ye enter, do likewise.
94 Nevertheless, search diligently and spare not; and wo unto that house, or that village or city that rejecteth you, or your words, or your testimony concerning me.
95 Wo, I say again, unto that house, or that village or city that rejecteth you, or your words, or your testimony of me;
96 For I, the Almighty, have laid my hands upon the nations, to scourge them for their wickedness.
97 And plagues shall go forth, and they shall not be taken from the earth until I have completed my work, which shall be cut short in righteousness—
verses 94-97 These verses sound once again an important theme of the Doctrine and Covenants—that of the voice of warning (see D&C 1; 45:31 and its commentary).
98 Until all shall know me, who remain, even from the least unto the greatest, and shall be filled with the knowledge of the Lord, and shall see eye to eye, and shall lift up their voice, and with the voice together sing this new song, saying:
verse 98 “all shall know me, who remain” When the Lord returns and cleanses the earth by fire, all who remain to inhabit his millennial kingdom will be his. Although not all will be church members, for many good people of other faiths will be worthy of his millennial kingdom, it will not take long for the truth to spread among the good people of all the earth.
“with the voice together sing this new song” When the kingdom is established upon the earth, it will be possible for the first time to sing of the Lord’s mighty works as already accomplished instead of yet in the future. The new song that will be sung will celebrate the works of the victorious Christ. The words of this song are found in verses 99-102. Elder Rudger Clawson of the Quorum of the Twelve said: “I declare to you, my brethren and sisters, that this new song . . . is one of the greatest songs that was ever written, and I have no doubt that it is a greater song than anything that ever can be written, because it sets forth the works of Almighty God and the consummation of all things” (CR, April 1932, 89).
verses 99-102 These verses constitute a new millennial psalm celebrating The Lord’s victory over evil and corruption, the final gathering of Israel, and the establishment of Zion. It will be sung by the saints after the Lord’s coming in glory. The prophet Isaiah foresaw this event and even this song and gave it the title “When the Lord Shall Bring Again Zion.” See Isaiah 52:8-10 or the corresponding verses in 3 Nephi which are 3 Nephi 16:18-20 and their commentary.
99 The Lord hath brought again Zion;
The Lord hath redeemed his people, Israel,
According to the election of grace,
Which was brought to pass by the faith
And covenant of their fathers.
verse 99 “The Lord hath brought again Zion” The establishment of the millennial kingdom is the establishment of Zion permanently and perfectly upon the earth. Zion will be established in more than one way, however. It will be “brought down . . . from above,” referring to the return of the City of Enoch, the heavenly Jerusalem, which the Lord shall bring with him at the time of his return. Zion will also be “brought up . . . from beneath,” referring to the Zion established upon the earth by faithful saints, living and dead, who will be lifted up from the earth at the last day (see 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17). These are the saints who have kept their covenant with the Lord to build Zion, even if it is only in their own homes or neighborhoods. Undoubtedly, it will include the righteous of other faiths who would have accepted the gospel on earth and worked to build Zion if only they had had the opportunity (see D&C 137:5-9).
“The Lord hath redeemed his people, Israel” To redeem is to buy back. Thus, Israel will sing the song of Jesus’s redeeming them from death, sin, and hell. They are redeemed from death by the resurrection, which will begin when the physical kingdom is established. They are redeemed from sin through his atoning sacrifice. They are or will be redeemed from hell by their being lifted up to a kingdom of glory. Those who are wicked when Christ comes, will remain in Satan’s power, in hell (the world of spirits), for the thousand years of the Millennium (see D&C 76:84-85, 106; 88:101; Revelation 20:5).
“brought to pass by the faith and covenant of their fathers” God’s grace is not random but is associated with the mercy and justice of God (see verse 102). It is true that we cannot save ourselves, but we can choose to have faith in Christ and to enter and keep his covenant. If we are faithful to our covenants, which are the same covenants God made with our fathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Christ will redeem us by his grace. And by doing so he graciously keeps his promises both to us and to the fathers.
100 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.
verse 100 “and time is no longer” It is common for Latter-day Saints to divide the future into “time” and “all eternity.” From this point of view, time is the present, fallen, and mortal world, whereas eternity is the world to come. To say “time is no longer” does not mean that time is no longer reckoned after the beginning of the Millennium, for the Millennium itself is to last for a thousand years, and so someone has to be counting. Rather “time is no longer” means that the world and the time of our probation have come to an end, because Satan is bound, and there is no more delay to the establishment of Zion on earth (see D&C 19:2-3).
“The Lord hath gathered all things in one” From the beginning, the establishment of Zion has been an attempt to gather together in one community those who have come to God and Christ and thus share one heart and one mind (see Moses 7:18). This unity of all into one is an eternal goal and will be largely accomplished in the great millennial kingdom (see D&C 27:13; 38:27; 41:6).
101 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.
verse 101 “The earth hath travailed” The earth is itself a living entity, which is said to suffer under the curse of the fall and the sins committed upon its face by its inhabitants (see Moses 7:48). From the time of the fall until the second coming of Jesus Christ, the earth has been unable to exercise its real strength, which would make this world a paradise, as it was once in Eden and will be again in the Millennium. As we draw closer to the coming of the Savior and as the world ripens in sin, the earth’s pains are compared to the increasing pangs of childbirth. Natural disasters will reflect the travail of the earth, becoming increasingly more severe as the end approaches. Then with the coming of the Savior, it will be over, and the earth, like the mother she is, will be delivered and bring forth “her strength” for the new millennial age.
“clothed with the glory of her God” When the risen Christ returns, he will bestow the glory of a terrestrial world on the earth, making earth once again a paradise, as it was in Eden before the fall.
102 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.
verse 102 “to our God” To Jesus Christ.
103 And again, verily, verily, I say unto you, it is expedient that every man who goes forth to proclaim mine everlasting gospel, that inasmuch as they have families, and receive money by gift, that they should send it unto them or make use of it for their benefit, as the Lord shall direct them, for thus it seemeth me good.
104 And let all those who have not families, who receive money, send it up unto the bishop in Zion, or unto the bishop in Ohio, that it may be consecrated for the bringing forth of the revelations and the printing thereof, and for establishing Zion.
105 And if any man shall give unto any of you a coat, or a suit, take the old and cast it unto the poor, and go on your way rejoicing.
verses 103-105 Those who served missions were not to benefit personally therefrom. If sums of money were given to them beyond their immediate needs, they were to be sent home for the support of their families or be sent to the bishop’s storehouse for the building of Zion. If someone donated other goods, such as a coat, the missionary could keep the better of two, but he could not accumulate possessions. What he did not need, he was to give away.
Specifically, at the time this revelation was received, W. W. Phelps and Oliver Cowdery were in Independence, Missouri, preparing to print the Book of Commandments, which would contain the revelations received through the prophet Joseph. They were also publishing the newspaper The Evening and the Morning Star, in which some of the revelations appeared. This verse commands missionaries in 1832 to send any donated funds to these two brethren to assist them in paying the cost of printing the scriptures.
106 And if any man among you be strong in the Spirit, let him take with him him that is weak, that he may be edified in all meekness, that he may become strong also.
verse 106 “take with him him that is weak” We all grow spiritually in part through the example and teaching of others who are strong.
107 Therefore, take with you those who are ordained unto the lesser priesthood, and send them before you to make appointments, and to prepare the way, and to fill appointments that you yourselves are not able to fill.
108 Behold, this is the way that mine apostles, in ancient days, built up my church unto me.
verse 108 Examples would include Paul and Barnabas taking young John Mark with them (see Acts 13:5) or Paul later training Timothy and Titus (see Acts 16:1; Titus 1:4).
109 Therefore, let every man stand in his own office, and labor in his own calling; and let not the head say unto the feet it hath no need of the feet; for without the feet how shall the body be able to stand?
110 Also the body hath need of every member, that all may be edified together, that the system may be kept perfect.
verses 109-110 “let every man stand in his own office” These verses allude to and summarize Paul’s well-known metaphor of the Church as the body of Christ and the saints as its “members” (a word originally meaning “body part”). Every person in the Church has an office, a calling, or a function. Each part is needed, and if each “member” stands in his or her own calling and magnifies it, then all the parts work together and the body of Christ (the Church) functions effectively. But if anyone neglects his or her own duty or covets the calling of another, then the body of Christ (the Church) is handicapped. Let the head of the Church (who was Joseph Smith in 1832) be the head, and don’t let the neck and shoulders or any other “member” try to be the head, or we deform and handicap the body of Christ, which is the Church. Let each “member” learn his or her own duty and perform it without jealousy or covetousness and without trying to perform or influence the duty of another.
111 And behold, the high priests should travel, and also the elders, and also the lesser priests; but the deacons and teachers should be appointed to watch over the church, to be standing ministers unto the church.
verses 112-116 These verses are directed specifically to Bishop Newel K. Whitney in Kirtland.
112 And the bishop, Newel K. Whitney, also should travel round about and among all the churches, searching after the poor to administer to their wants by humbling the rich and the proud.
verse 112 Bishop Whitney’s primary duty will be to care for temporal needs within the Church.
113 He should also employ an agent to take charge and to do his secular business as he shall direct.
verse 113 Bishop Whitney is given permission of the Lord to hire someone to take care of the retail store, Newel K. Whitney & Co., while he does the business of the Church.
114 Nevertheless, let the bishop go unto the city of New York, also to the city of Albany, and also to the city of Boston, and warn the people of those cities with the sound of the gospel, with a loud voice, of the desolation and utter abolishment which await them if they do reject these things.
verse 114 Bishop Whitney is also called on a preaching mission to New York City, Albany, and Boston to warn the people of the great hardships which await them if they reject the gospel. President Wilford Woodruff went one step further. He prophesied that New York would be destroyed by an earthquake, Boston would be swept into the sea, and Albany consumed by fire. Brigham Young was in attendance when these things were said, and he told the congregation that these remarks were revelation and would be fulfilled (Deseret News, 33:678). These calamities are likely to be associated with the natural disasters immediately preceding the end of this world (see verse 101).
The mission commanded in this verse was undertaken by Bishop Whitney almost immediately and lasted less that two weeks. He was accompanied on this mission by Joseph Smith, who recalled “a hurried journey to Albany, New York and Boston, in company with Bishop Whitney, from which I returned on the 6th of November, immediately after the birth of my son Joseph Smith, the third” (HC, 1:295).
115 For if they do reject these things the hour of their judgment is nigh, and their house shall be left unto them desolate.
116 Let him trust in me and he shall not be confounded; and a hair of his head shall not fall to the ground unnoticed.
verse 116 “Let him trust in me” This phrase refers to Bishop Whitney (see Luke 12:6-7).
117 And verily I say unto you, the rest of my servants, go ye forth as your circumstances shall permit, in your several callings, unto the great and notable cities and villages, reproving the world in righteousness of all their unrighteous and ungodly deeds, setting forth clearly and understandingly the desolation of abomination in the last days.
verse 117 “setting forth clearly and understandingly the desolation of abomination” The term “desolation of abomination” is also found as “the abomination that maketh desolate” (Daniel 11:31; 12:11) and “the abomination of desolation” (Matthew 24:15; Mark 13:14; JS-M 1:12, 32). Idolatry, murder, sexual sin, and perversion of rituals are among those sins described in the Old Testament as abominations. An abomination of desolation is sin so repugnant to God that his Spirit is completely withdrawn, destruction follows, and the land is left desolate, or empty, of its inhabitants.
The prophet Daniel described an event that would precede the coming of the Messiah as “the abomination that maketh desolate” (Daniel 11:31; 12:11). This specific event would consist of desecration of the temple and the perversion of its worship, which would leave the temple desolated of God’s Spirit. This, in turn, would lead to the eventual political destruction of the people of the Holy Land. Jews anciently understood the abomination of desolation as idolatry, bloodshed, and other heinous sins committed in the temple, particularly the attempts by pagan rulers to institute idolatry in the Jerusalem Temple, as in the cases of the Seleucid Greek king Antiochus IV (ca. 167 BC) and the Roman emperor Caligula (ca. AD 42).
When Jesus referred to the abomination of desolation, however, he added a warning: “Whoso readeth, let him understand” (Matthew 24:15), thus indicating the possibility of another meaning for the term beyond the physical desecration of the Jerusalem Temple (which took place in AD 70). The apostle Paul alludes to this additional dimension of the abomination of desolation in 2 Thessalonians 2:3-11. In Paul’s reference, the temple that will be desolated is equated with the Church of Jesus Christ (see 2 Thessalonians 2:4; see also Ephesians 2:19-22; 1 Corinthians 3:16-17; 2 Corinthians 6:16; 1 Peter 2:5). The abomination is the “falling away,” or apostasy, of the members (2 Thessalonians 2:3), which sets up a false idol in the temple (the Church). This false idol is the “man of sin,” or “son of perdition” (2 Thessalonians 2:3), who usurps the rightful place of God, the “Man of Holiness” (Moses 6:57). This idol, of course, is Satan (see 2 Thessalonians 2:8-9), who deceived the members of the Church into believing a false gospel. According to Paul, this “mystery of iniquity” was already at work in the Church as he wrote to the Thessalonian saints (2 Thessalonians 2:7) and was in fact almost complete.
Thus, while the “abomination of desolation” refers on one level to the desecration of the physical temple of God (which took place as prophesied in AD 70). on another level it refers to the desecration of the spiritual temple, the Church of Jesus Christ, and to the perversion of its doctrines and ordinances in a Great Apostasy (which also took place as prophesied; see D&C 1:15-16). The servants of God, newly called in this dispensation, are to reveal to the world that there has been an apostasy, call the world to repentance, and show them how to avoid the additional desolations that will inevitably precede the coming of the Messiah (see JS-M 1:32).
On a more general level, the principle could be stated that whenever people commit abominations, they bring upon themselves desolation. The Spirit of God withdraws, their priesthood is no more, and they are left to themselves and to the consequences they have freely chosen.
118 For, with you saith the Lord Almighty, I will rend their kingdoms; I will not only shake the earth, but the starry heavens shall tremble.
119 For I, the Lord, have put forth my hand to exert the powers of heaven; ye cannot see it now, yet a little while and ye shall see it, and know that I am, and that I will come and reign with my people.
120 I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. Amen.
verse 120 “I am Alpha and Omega” See the commentary on D&C 19:1.
- Michael J. Preece