This article was adapted from my new book, The Three Pillars of Zion. Click here to receive a free sample.
When we think about the restoration of the priesthood, we often stop at John the Baptist and Peter, James and John. But, in fact, they were only the beginning. The priesthood is a much larger principle with powers that challenge the boundaries of our appreciation. Once we begin to comprehend the full extent of what happened, we gain an understanding of how Zion might be established in a life, a marriage, a family, or in a priesthood society.
According to D&C 42:67,[i] a Zionlike life is constructed of three covenants: 1) the new and everlasting covenant, 2) the oath and covenant of the priesthood, and 3) the law of consecration. The authority of the priesthood provides that the other two covenants could be administered to us.
The Orders of the Priesthood
Joseph Smith said, “All Priesthood is Melchizedek, but there are different portions or degrees of it.”[ii] That is, there is but one priesthood, which is Melchizedek, and it is “the highest and holiest priesthood, and is after the order of the Son of God, and all other priesthoods are only parts, ramifications, powers and blessings belonging to the same, and are held, controlled, and directed by it.”[iii] The Melchizedek Priesthood has a variety of orders, among which are Aaronic, Melchizedek and Patriarchal.[iv] Each of these priesthood orders needed to be restored.
The earliest recorded reference to priesthood restoration was in 1823, when Moroni appeared to Joseph Smith and prophesied, “I will reveal unto you the priesthood by the hand of the Elijah.”[v] But to which order of the priesthood was Moroni referring?
The restoration of the priesthood began on May 15, 1829 with the appearance of John the Baptist, who restored the Aaronic Priesthood.[vi] Shortly thereafter, in June 1829, it is assumed, Peter, James and John restored the Melchizedek Priesthood, including the keys to the Kingdom of God,[vii] which priesthood and keys authorize men to perform the ordinances of salvation, and give those priesthood holders the right and the commission to preach the gospel of salvation throughout the world.[viii]
Now the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods had been restored, but in 1823, Moroni had prophesied that Elijah would come and “reveal” priesthood. Because Elijah had not yet appeared indicates that there was still more of the priesthood to be revealed.
Elijah Restores the Sealing Keys to the Patriarchal Order of the Priesthood
A few years later, Elijah would return and reveal or restore the sealing keys. In addition to sealing the ordinances of the priesthood so that they are recognized in heaven, these keys are associated with what is called the Patriarchal Order of the Priesthood. That priesthood order, which included the ordinance of celestial marriage,[ix] was restored in a preceding vision by Elias.
But prior to that event, a temple had to be built. Joseph Smith learned that this special priesthood order could not be restored unless it took place in a temple. Once, when the Prophet was expounding on the various priesthood orders, he made the following statement: “[This]…Priesthood is Patriarchal authority. Go to and finish the temple, and God will fill it with power, and you will then receive more knowledge concerning this priesthood.”[x]
Shortly after the dedication of the Kirtland Temple, April 3, 1836, Elijah appeared to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery and committed to them the sealing keys associated with the patriarchal order of the Priesthood, [xi] which Priesthood had power “to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the children to the fathers.”[xii]
This patriarchal order of the Priesthood is entered into by husbands and wives when they are sealed in the temple. “The patriarchal order is, in the words of Elder James E. Talmage ‘a condition where ‘woman shares with man the blessings of the Priesthood,’ where husband and wife minister, ‘seeing and understanding alike, and cooperating to the full in the government of their family kingdom.’ A man cannot hold this priesthood without a wife, and a woman cannot share the blessings of this priesthood without a husband, sealed in the temple.”[xiii]
To turn the hearts of parents and children to each other is, according to Joseph Smith, the same as sealing their hearts together: “Elijah shall reveal the covenants to seal the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the children to the fathers.”[xiv] To make possible this linkage, Elijah restored the keys that bind, ‘the covenants of the fathers in relation to the children, and the covenants of the children in relation to the fathers.’”[xv] That is, Elijah restored the sealing keys of the Priesthood whereby covenants and ordinances made and performed are bound in earth and in heaven,[xvi] and therefore they carry “efficacy, virtue, or force in and after the resurrection of the dead.”[xvii]
With regard to Zion, the message is clear: Zion is defined by the priesthood, by couples and families gathering to temples to obtain the covenants and ordinances of salvation, by entering into the patriarchal order of the Priesthood through marriage, and by having those marriages and families sealed together forever.
Elijah Restores the Fulness of the Priesthood
Elijah’s mission was greater still; Elijah’s charge was also to restore the “fulness of the priesthood,” which includes the fullness of the temple covenants and the ordinances of the house of the Lord.[xviii] Therefore, the Lord commanded the saints to build a temple for the purpose of endowing them with power from on high: “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.”[xix]
To endow means to present as a gift of honor; to award, bestow, confer, give, grant.[xx] When a college receives an endowment, the principal is typically placed in a fund where it spins off income perpetually; that is, the endowment is structured to continually give. Just so, God endows us in the temple with knowledge and power that bless us eternally. By drawing upon the Lord’s endowment and by growing in our understanding of it, we receive progressively greater power to bless our families and others of God’s children.
Of the connection between the ordinances associated with the temple endowment and the fullness of the priesthood, Elder Bruce R. McConkie wrote, “It is only through the ordinances of his holy house that the Lord deigns to ‘restore again that which was lost unto you, or which he hath taken away, even the fulness of the priesthood.’”[xxi] And Joseph Smith said: “If a man gets a fulness of the priesthood of God he has to get it in the same way that Jesus Christ obtained it, and that was by keeping all the commandments and obeying all the ordinances of the house of the Lord.”[xxii]
Again, we see Zion in these descriptions. Zion people are endowed with power from on high; they receive all the ordinances of salvation, which culminates with temple marriage and the fulness of the priesthood. Their eternal standing and blessings are confirmed by revelation and by ordinance.
Moses Restores Priesthood Keys of Family Gathering
Elijah’s appearance in the Kirtland Temple was preceded by the appearances of the Savior, Moses and Elias. That Moses and Elias came to restore priesthood keys should hold enormous significance for parents in Zion. Moses committed the keys of the gathering of both the dead and the living of the families of Israel. This suggests that individually we now are in possession of priesthood powers to gather our families “from the four parts of the earth.”[xxiii]
For what purpose is the gathering of families? Elder McConkie wrote, “Israel gathers for the purpose of building temples in which the ordinances of salvation and exaltation are performed for the living and the dead.”[xxiv] On an individual level, this statement suggests that Zion couples gather to the temple to be sealed together for eternity, and Zion parents have power to gather or call their families to the temple to receive the crowning ordinances of salvation.
Elias Restores the Keys to Abraham’s Gospel Dispensation
Elias, whose office is that of forerunner,[xxv] appeared after Moses and “committed the dispensation of the gospel of Abraham, saying that in us and our seed all generations after us should be blessed.”[xxvi] President Joseph Fielding Smith said, “Elias came, after Moses had conferred his keys, and brought the gospel of the dispensation in which Abraham lived. Everything that pertains to that dispensation, the blessings that were conferred upon Abraham, the promises that were given to his posterity, all had to be restored, and Elias, who held the keys of that dispensation, came.”[xxvii]
This is the power to organize families into eternal units.[xxviii]
That is, because of Elias, our children and grandchildren can now be blessed with the gospel of Abraham (the New and Everlasting Covenant), which blessings include the rights to receive the priesthood, all gospel blessings, ordinances and sealings, including the sealing of eternal marriage and their sealing to eternal life. These rights flow to children born to Zion parents because those parents, like Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and their wives, have entered into the New and Everlasting Covenant and progressed until they entered into the New and Everlasting Covenant of Marriage.[xxix] Elder McConkie wrote,
That same day (April 3, 1836) ‘Elias appeared, and committed the “dispensation of the gospel of Abraham,” meaning the great commission given to Abraham that he and his seed had a right to the priesthood, the gospel, and eternal life. Accordingly, Elias promised those upon whom these ancient promises were then renewed that in them and in their seed all generations should be blessed. (D&C 110:12-16.) Thus, through the joint ministry of Elijah, who brought the sealing power, and Elias, who restored the marriage discipline of Abraham, the way was prepared for the planting in the hearts of the children of the promises made to the fathers. (D&C 2:2.) These are the promises of eternal life through the priesthood and the gospel and celestial marriage.”[xxx]
The Joint Missions of Elias and Elijah
Joseph Fielding McConkie wrote, “Simply stated, Elijah was sent to restore the keys of the patriarchal order of priesthood, rights which had not yet been fully operational in this dispensation. Elijah restored the keys whereby families (organized in the patriarchal order through the keys delivered by Elias) could be bound and sealed for eternity.”[xxxi]
Why is the patriarchal priesthood important to Zion people?
Because patriarchal priesthood is family priesthood; because entering into this order of the priesthood directly effects and eternally empowers fathers and mothers to do the work of redemption among their posterity. President Joseph Fielding Smith said, “Through the power [keys] of this priesthood which Elijah bestowed, husband and wife may be sealed, or married for eternity; children may be sealed to their parents for eternity; thus the family is made eternal, and death does not separate the members. This is the great principle that will save the world from utter destruction.”[xxxii]
Imagine Moses, Elias and Elijah laying their hands upon your head to give you a blessing. First, Moses blesses you with the ability to gather with your family to the Kingdom of God and the holy temple. Then Elias blesses you and your spouse and children to organize into an eternal family. He offers you the same covenant of the gospel that Abraham received—the New and Everlasting Covenant. When you agree to its terms, Elias blesses you with everything that was promised to Abraham: you and your posterity will have the eternal “right to the priesthood, the gospel, and eternal life.”[xxxiii] Central to those blessings is “the marriage discipline of Abraham,”[xxxiv] meaning the promise that your marriage will be eternal, through your faithfulness, and that you and your spouse will enjoy the blessing of eternal posterity. Additionally you are promised, as was Abraham, that you and your posterity will receive a promised land in this world and a promised inheritance in the celestial world to come.
Now that you have entered into the New and Everlasting Covenant, which includes eternal marriage, Elijah confirms these blessings with a seal that cannot be broken, a “welding link.”[xxxv] Then, as a final blessing, because you have proven faithful at all hazards, Elijah seals upon you the fulness of the priesthood, which in the ultimate sense means that he seals you up unto eternal life; that is, Elijah makes everything with which you have been blessed more sure.[xxxvi]
Because of your righteousness, Elijah extends to you a promise for your children. The promise is this: As you turn your heart to your children, their hearts will turn to you and the Covenant that you have entered into. Elijah’s blessing guarantees to you that no matter what happens in time or eternity, these children are yours. Then, when Elias and Elijah finish their blessing upon your head, the Savior steps forward, and he receives you into his embrace. You are home at last, and your spouse and your children are there with you.
Building One Priesthood Power Upon Another
Of the interwoven tapestry of the restoration of the priesthood, Joseph Fielding McConkie wrote,
Joseph Smith taught that ultimate salvation is found only in the eternal union of man and woman. Every priesthood, grace, power, and authority restored to the Prophet Joseph Smith centers in the salvation of the family. Peter, James, and John restored the Holy Priesthood, thereby authorizing men to perform the ordinances of salvation; Elias restored the ordinance of eternal marriage and the promise of an endless seed; and Elijah restored the sealing power and the fulness of the priesthood by which husband, wife, and children are bound eternally. These doctrines build on the assurance of the Book of Mormon that the resurrection is corporeal and thus that women will be resurrected as women and men as men, the bond of their love ever intact. Thus, as baptism is the gate to the strait and narrow path leading to eternal life, eternal marriage becomes the door through which all who inherit that glory must enter. None enter alone. The man and the woman must stand side by side. Couples in turn must be bound in eternal covenant with their righteous progenitors and with their posterity. In that eternal and restored system we know as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, salvation is a family affair.
Rescuing This Generation
Joseph Smith said, “How shall God come to rescue this generation? He will send Elijah the Prophet…Elijah shall reveal the covenants to seal the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the children to the fathers.”[xxxviii] Achieving Zion is impossible without eternal marriages and families. On a family level, the Lord will rescue this generation by sending Elijah the prophet to seal the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the children to the fathers. Elijah’s sealing, the crowning blessing of the priesthood.
We see the blessings of the priesthood unfold in the pattern set forth in the missions of John the Baptist, Peter, James and John, Moses, Elias and Elijah. First, the preparatory priesthood is given to men. This priesthood has the power to initiate us into the New and Everlasting Covenant through baptism. Then the higher or Melchizedek Priesthood is conferred upon men with the Father’s oath and our covenant with Him. This priesthood has the power to confer the Holy Ghost and administer the fulness of the priesthood, which is the sum of the parts of the New and Everlasting Covenant.
Throughout our progression in the Covenant, we are aware that the Savior has come to us to direct the work of salvation and exaltation in our lives. His Atonement is the driving force in receiving and perfecting the Covenant; the Atonement makes possible eternal marriage and family.
To that end, Moses comes. He brings with him the keys to gather a man and a woman and their family to the temple. Then comes Elias, whose keys bless the couple and their children with saving and exalting ordinances. Finally, Elijah comes and seals or confirms all that has happened and makes every part of the New and Everlasting Covenant more sure.
Now the orders of the priesthood have accomplished their perfect work, as far as this world is concerned. The individual and his/her spouse and their children are rescued, redeemed, purified, sanctified, endowed and sealed, and at this elementary level, Zion is established.
This article was adapted from my new book, The Three Pillars of Zion. Click here to receive a free sample.
[i] See D&C 42:67 footnote a
[ii] Joseph Smith, The Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 180
[iii] Joseph Smith, The Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p.166-167
[iv] Encyclopedia of Mormonism, “Patriarchal Order of the Priesthood,” p.1067-1068
[v] D&C 2:1
[vi] See D&C 13
[vii] See Ezra Taft Benson, “What I Hope You Will Teach Your Children about the Temple,” Ensign, August 1985
[viii] See Mark 16:15; Bruce R. McConkie, “Elias,” Mormon Doctrine, p. 220
[ix] See Bruce R. McConkie, “Elias,” Mormon Doctrine, p.219
[x] Joseph Smith, History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints 5:554-555
[xi] John A. Tvedtnes, The Church of the Old Testament, p. 34
[xii] D&C 110:15
[xiii] James E. Talmage, Young Woman’s Journal 25 [Oct. 1914]:602-603; Encyclopedia of Mormonism, “Patriarchal Order of the Priesthood,” p.1067
[xiv] Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p.323
[xv] See Matthew B. Brown, The Gate of Heaven, p. 215; B.H. Roberts, Comprehensive History of the Church 5:530
[xvi] D&C 127:7; 128:8
[xvii] D&C 132:7
[xviii] See Ezra Taft Benson, “What I Hope You Will Teach Your Children About the Temple, Ensign, August 1985, quoting Joseph Fielding Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 308
[xix] D&C 95:8, emphasis added
[xx] “Endow,” American Heritage Dictionary
[xxi] See D&C 124:28; 127:8; 128:17; Bruce R. McConkie, “Restoration of the Gospel: 10. Temple Ordinances,” Mormon Doctrine, p. 637, emphasis added
[xxii] Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 308
[xxiii] D&C 110:11
[xxiv] Bruce R. McConkie, A New Witness for the Articles of Faith, p.539
[xxv] “Elias,” Encyclopedia of Mormonism, p. 449
[xxvi] D&C 110:12
[xxvii] Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, vol. 3, p.127, emphasis added
[xxviii] Robert L. Millet and Joseph Fielding McConkie, The Life Beyond, p.96.
[xxix] See D&C 131:2
[xxx] Bruce R. McConkie, A New Witness for the Articles of Faith, p.322
[xxxi] Joseph Fielding McConkie, Joseph Smith: The Choice Seer; Robert L. Millet and Joseph Fielding McConkie, The Life Beyond , p.96. For other references stating that Elijah restored the sealing keys of the patriarchal priesthood, see John A. Tvedtness, The Church of the Old Testament, p. 33-35; Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p.172: [Elijah’s mission was to “restore the authority and deliver the keys of the priesthood…Why send Elijah? Because he holds the keys of the authority to administer in all the ordinances of the priesthood.”
[xxxii] Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, vol 2:, p.118, emphasis added
[xxxiii] Bruce R. McConkie, A New Witness for the Articles of Faith, p.322
[xxxiv] Bruce R. McConkie, A New Witness for the Articles of Faith, p.322
[xxxv] D&C 128:18
[xxxvi] See Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 337-38
[xxxvii] Joseph Fielding McConkie, (Chapter 20—“Salvation and the Eternal Family”), Joseph Smith: The Choice Seer
[xxxviii] Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p.323