During his mortal ministry, Jesus made it clear that he was “not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 15:24). When he sent his twelve apostles out to preach, he instructed them, “Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not: But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 10:5-6).
Things had changed after his resurrection, however, when he instructed the 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” (Matthew 28:19; see also Mark 16:15). According to Luke’s account, on the day of his resurrection, the Savior told them, “that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem… but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high,” whereupon “he was parted from them, and carried up into heaven. And they worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy” (Luke 24:47, 49, 51-52). The story is repeated in Acts 1:4-5, 8, where we read that the resurrected Christ “commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which, saith he, ye have heard of me. For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence… But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.”
Luke also recorded the fulfillment of Christ’s word “when the day of Pentecost was fully come… And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:1-4). Jews from throughout the known world gathered at Jerusalem for the festival understood the apostles in their own languages and were amazed (Acts 2:5-12, 33). The apostles evidently took this as evidence that they were now to go to all nations to preach the good news of salvation and “they that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word” (Acts 8:4).
Missionary work began soon thereafter among the Samaritans (Acts 8:5-25) and other non-Jews (Acts 8:26-40; 10) and most of the book of Acts describes the missionary travels of Paul and his companions among the Gentiles of the northeastern Mediterranean region. The apostle Peter learned in vision that he should heed the invitation to come to Caesarea to teach the Roman centurion Cornelius and his family (Acts 10:1-23). As he taught them, “the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word. And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost. For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God. Then answered Peter, Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we? And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then prayed they him to tarry certain days” (Acts 10:44-48).
When other Church leaders at Jerusalem questioned Peter about his actions in baptizing Gentiles, he explained his revelation and added, “And as I began to speak, the Holy Ghost fell on them, as on us at the beginning. Then remembered I the word of the Lord, how that he said, John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost. Forasmuch then as God gave them the like gift as [he did] unto us, who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ; what was I, that I could withstand God? When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life.” (Acts 11:15-18). During a subsequent meeting of the apostles and elders to decide if Gentile converts should be circumcised, Peter repeated his account of the Holy Ghost falling on Cornelius and his household (Acts 15:8).
We find a similar situation in modern times. Less than a year after the restoration of the Church, the Lord instructed, “Wherefore, for this cause I gave unto you the commandment that ye should go to the Ohio; and there I will give unto you my law; and there you shall be endowed with power from on high; And from thence, whosoever I will shall go forth among all nations, and it shall be told them what they shall do… and when men are endowed with power from on high and sent forth, all these things shall be gathered unto the bosom of the church” (D&C 38:32-33, 38).
A month later, the Lord told the elders of my church. “Ye are not sent forth to be taught, but to teach the children of men the things which I have put into your hands by the power of my Spirit; And ye are to be taught from on high. Sanctify yourselves and ye shall be endowed with power, that ye may give even as I have spoken… Lift up your voices and spare not. Call upon the nations to repent” (D&C 43:15-16, 20).
The Lord intended to fulfill his promise in the temple that he commanded the Saints to build in Kirtland, “For the preparation wherewith I design to prepare mine apostles to prune my vineyard for the last time, that I may bring to pass my strange act, that I may pour out my Spirit upon all flesh… Yea, verily I say unto you, I gave unto you a commandment that you should build a house, in the which house I design to endow those whom I have chosen with power from on high; For this is the promise of the Father unto you; therefore I command you to tarry, even as mine apostles at Jerusalem” (D&C 95:4, 8-9).
In the summer of 1833, the Latter-day Saints who had begun settling in Zion (Jackson County, Missouri) were forcibly removed by mob action. The Lord promised that “it is expedient in me that mine elders should wait for a little season for the redemption of Zion—That they themselves may be prepared, and that my people may be taught more perfectly, and have experience, and know more perfectly concerning their duty, and the things which I require at their hands. And this cannot be brought to pass until mine elders are endowed with power from on high. For behold, I have prepared a great endowment and blessing to be poured out upon them, inasmuch as they are faithful and continue in humility before me… it is expedient in me that the first elders of my church should receive their endowment from on high in my house, which I have commanded to be built unto my name in the land of Kirtland” (D&C 105:9-12, 33; see also verse 18).
In his dedicatory prayer for the Kirtland Temple, Joseph Smith said, “And we ask thee, Holy Father, that thy servants may go forth from this house armed with thy power, and that thy name may be upon them, and thy glory be round about them, and thine angels have charge over them; And from this place they may bear exceedingly great and glorious tidings, in truth, unto the ends of the earth, that they may know that this is thy work, and that thou hast put forth thy hand, to fulfil that which thou hast spoken by the mouths of the prophets, concerning the last days” (D&C 109:22-3). He also asked, “Let the anointing of thy ministers be sealed upon them with power from on high. Let it be fulfilled upon them, as upon those on the day of Pentecost; let the gift of tongues be poured out upon thy people, even cloven tongues as of fire, and the interpretation thereof. And let thy house be filled, as with a rushing mighty wind, with thy glory. Put upon thy servants the testimony of the covenant, that when they go out and proclaim thy word they may seal up the law, and prepare the hearts of thy saints for all those judgments thou art about to send, in thy wrath, upon the inhabitants of the earth, because of their transgressions, that thy people may not faint in the day of trouble” (D&C 109:35-38). From this, it is clear that the Prophet Joseph understood the endowment from on high tied to the Kirtland Temple was the same as that given to the apostles in Jerusalem when the Holy Ghost was poured out upon them.
See also verse 15, where the prophet asked that the Saints might “receive a fulness of the Holy Ghost,” and verses 54-57, where he prays for “all the nations of the earth” to which missionaries would now be sent, “That their hearts may be softened when thy servants shall go out from thy house, O Jehovah, to bear testimony of thy name; that their prejudices may give way before the truth, and thy people may obtain favor in the sight of all; That all the ends of the earth may know that we, thy servants, have heard thy voice, and that thou hast sent us.”
During the dedicatory proceedings that followed the prayer, “President Frederick G. Williams arose and testified that while President Rigdon was making his first prayer, an angel entered the window and took his seat between Father Smith and himself, and remained there during the prayer. President David Whitmer also saw angels in the house… President Brigham Young gave a short address in tongues, and David W. Patten interpreted, and gave a short exhortation in tongues himself (History of the Church 2:427-8). Later that evening, “Brother George A. Smith arose and began to prophesy, when a noise was heard like the sound of a rushing mighty wind, which filled the Temple, and all the congregation simultaneously arose, being moved upon by an invisible power; many began to speak in tongues and prophesy; others saw glorious visions; and I beheld the Temple was filled with angels, which fact I declared to the congregation. The people of the neighborhood came running together (hearing an unusual sound within, and seeing a bright light like a pillar of fire resting upon the Temple), and were astonished at what was taking place” (History of the Church 2:428).
The next Sunday, 3 April 1836, Christ himself appeared in the temple to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery to accept the new temple and spoke of “the endowment with which my servants have been endowed in this house,” saying that “the fame of this house shall spread to foreign lands” (D&C110:7-10). This came to pass beginning in 1837, when the first missionaries, led by apostle Heber C. Kimball, were sent to Europe. Thus, as in New Testament times, missionary work outside the land in which the Church was organized was not carried on until after the apostles had been endowed with power from on high. Today, with few exceptions, the Church continues to send missionaries to the temple, albeit for a different kind of endowment, before sending them out on mission.