[Editor: This is the sixth article in a series of excerpts from Jeffrey M. Bradshaw’s new book, entitled “Temple Themes in the Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood.” Links to the full series are found at the end of this article. Color and black-and-white editions of the book are available on Amazon.com and at selected LDS Bookstores (including EbornBooks, BYU Bookstore, and the FAIR LDS Bookstore). An iBooks version is can be purchased from the Apple iBookstore, and a pdf version is available at www.templethemes.net]

“Passing the Angels Who Stand As Sentinels” (Part 1)

01. Richards-cherubimJ. Kirk Richards, 1977-: Cherubim and the Flaming Sword, 2000[1]

Giving his own summary of temple ordinances, the Prophet Joseph Smith wrote that they concerned:[2]

… washings, anointings, endowments, and the communication of keys pertaining to the Aaronic Priesthood, and so on to the highest order of the Melchizedek Priesthood, setting forth the order pertaining to the Ancient of Days, and all those plans and principles by which anyone is enabled to secure the fulness of those blessings which have been prepared for the Church of the Firstborn, and come up and abide in the presence of the Elohim in the eternal worlds.

Specific aspects of instruction in the endowment “pertaining to the Holy Priesthood” were described by Brigham Young in his description of the endowment:[3]

Let me give you a definition in brief. Your endowment is to receive all those ordinances in the House of the Lord, which are necessary for you, after you have departed this life, to enable you to walk back to the presence of the Father, passing the angels who stand as sentinels, being able to give them the key words, the signs and tokens, pertaining to the Holy Priesthood, and gain your eternal exaltation in spite of earth and hell.

Although this statement is frequently quoted in official Church publications,[4] the reference to “key words, the signs and tokens” is not explained. The sacred nature of these things prohibits any discussion of specific symbolism. However, it may be helpful for the modern reader to understand the general meaning of these terms in related contexts, which would have been much more familiar to those in Joseph Smith’s time than they are in our day.[5]

Before continuing, we observe that what matters in such tests for knowledge is not merely the requirement to remember the details of the instructions one has received, but, in addition, the expectation that one be sincerely engaged in the process of mastering the life lessons associated with them. Elder Dallin H. Oaks reminds us that, in the day of final judgment, it will not be enough to merely have gone through the outward motions of keeping the commandments and receiving the ordinances-the essential question will be what we have ourselves become during our period of probation.[6]

Hugh Nibley further elaborates, explaining that, for the same reason, the saving ordinances, as necessary as they are, in and of themselves “are mere forms. They do not exalt us; they merely prepare us to be ready in case we ever become eligible.”[7]In the end, our eligibility for entrance into the presence of God rests not only on the presumption that we have received the saving ordinances, but also on the results of the process of sanctification, being predicated on the righteous exercise of agency coupled with the atoning power of Jesus Christ.[8]

Key Words

“Key words “have been associated with temples since very ancient times. Throughout the ancient Near East, including Jerusalem, “different temple gates had names indicating the blessing received when entering: the gate of grace,’ the gate of salvation,’ the gate of life’ and so on,”[9] as well as signifying “the fitness, through due preparation, which entrants should have in order to pass through [each one of] the gates.”[10]

Nibley further explained: “The importance of knowing the names of things and giving those names when challenged is more than the mere idea of the password; it is… nothing less than… the law which makes of the name a veritable attribute of the thing named.'”[11] In other words, to pass through each gate, one was expected not only to know something, but also to be something.

This same principle is at work in the sacrament prayer, where the Saints learn that they must not only “always remember” and be “willing to take upon [themselves] the name of Jesus Christ,”[12] but, in addition, must ultimately become ready to doso in actuality if they are to receive every blessing to which they are entitled.[13]

Each one who enters the celestial kingdom will receive a “white stone, whereon is a new name written, which no man knoweth save he that receiveth it. The new name is the key word.”[14] The “white stone mentioned in Revelation 2:17 will become a Urim and Thummim to each individual who receives one, whereby things pertaining to a higher order of kingdoms will be made known,”[15] just as the earth will become to its inhabitants “a Urim and Thummim… whereby all things pertaining to an inferior kingdom, or all kingdoms of a lower order, will be manifest.”[16]

Thus, by the same means that reveals to the saints what they are to become in “life eternal” through knowledge of God and Jesus Christ,[17] they will also recover a knowledge of who they were before the world was.

02. Tissot-00.159.7herods temple-trimJ. James Tissot, 1836-1902: Reconstruction of Jerusalem and the Temple of Herod Seen from the East, ca. 1886-1894[18]

In ancient times, the name of the Lord was invoked in as part of covenant-making. Indeed, Truman G. Madsen proposes that the idea that the “proper use of the name YHWH constitutes a covenant between Israel and her God” may be the reason behind the third of the Ten Commandments.[19] Thus, the commandment that one must not take the name of the Lord in vain is concerned with more than common profanity. More profoundly, it applies to those who do not keep the covenants by which they have bound themselves to God, thereby making a mockery of the One whose name was invoked at their making.[20]

In Jerusalem, the final “gate of the Lord, into which the righteous shall enter,”[21] very likely referred to “the innermost temple gate,”[22] where those “seeking the face of the God of Jacob”[23] would find the fulfillment of their temple pilgrimage.

This final gate was associated with the name of God Himself. The dedicatory prayer for Solomon’s temple stressed that it was not meant to be a residence for God, since He “lived in his dwelling place in heaven’ but that the name of God’ dwelt in the Temple.”[24]

The shout of the people at Christ’s triumphal entry becomes more understandable when translated as “Blessed is he who comes with [rather than in] the Name of the Lord.”[25] Consistent with this translation, such a cry could be taken as an acknowledgement of the Jesus’ role as the Messiah, the great High Priest, one who had the Divine Name sealed on His forehead[26] and could bring those who were prepared into the presence of God. Each “disciple” would then “be as his master,” and each “servant as his lord.”[27]

03. Name on ForeheadExodus 28:36, 38: “A Plate of Pure Gold… upon Aaron’s Forehead”[28]

On the “plate of pure gold” that was to be worn upon the forehead of the high priest were engraved the words “Holiness to the Lord”-thus equating each worthy and authorized high priest with the temple itself. Paul taught this same principle to the Corinthian saints:[29]

Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?

… the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.

04. Ark of the Covenant-tissark-trimJ. James Tissot, 1836-1902: The Ark of the Covenant, ca. 1896-1902[30]

Signs and Tokens

The use of “signs” and “tokens” as symbols, connected with covenants made in temples and used as aids in sacred teaching, also goes back to the earliest times.[31] For example, the raised hand is a long-recognized sign of oath-taking,[32] and the Ark of the Covenant in the Tabernacle contained various tangible “tokens of the covenant”[33] relating to the priesthood, including the golden pot that had manna, Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tablets of the law.

As a related example, Elder Joseph Fielding Smith, then an apostle, wrote about the tangible symbols of sacred realities that are incorporated in our weekly worship. He said that in partaking of the emblems of the sacrament that are distributed to the congregation by priesthood officiators “there is the token that we subscribe fully to the obligations”[34] of the sacrament prayer.

By way of analogy to a possible function of the items within Ark of the Covenant-items that related to the higher priesthood-consider the Greek Eleusinian Mysteries,[35] which endured over a period of nearly two thousand years. These rites were said to consist of legomena(= things recited), deiknymena(= things shown), and dromena(= things performed).

A sacred casket contained the tokens of the god, which were used to teach initiates about the meaning of the rites. At the culmination of the process, the initiate was examined about his knowledge of these tokens. “Having passed the tests of the tokens and their passwords,the initiate would have been admitted to the presence of the god.”[36]

05. KustaE. S. Drower, 1879-1972: The Kushta, 1956[37]

Tokens could also be expressed in the form of handclasps.[38] For example, Nibley notes that according to the Manichaean religion, “the right hand was used for bidding farewell to our heavenly parents upon leaving our primeval home and [was] the greeting with which we shall be received when we return to it.”[39] Likewise, the Mandaeans still continue a ritual practice in which the kushta, a ceremonial handclasp, is given three times, each one of which, according to Elizabeth Drower, “seems to mark the completion… of a stage in a ceremony.”[40] At the moment of glorious resurrection, Mandaean scripture records that a final kushta will also take place, albeit in a different form:[41]

Sitil [Seth], the son of Adam… was brought to the Watch house [where] Silmais, the treasurer, holds the nails of glory in the hand, and carries the key of the kushta of both arms.[42] They opened the gate of the treasure house for him, lifted the great veil of safety upward before him, introduced him, and showed him that Vine [i.e., the Tree of Life],[43] its inner glory… Sitil, son of Adam, spoke: “On this [same] way, the Path and Ascent which I have climbed, truthful, believing, faithful and perfect men should also ascend and come, when they leave their bodies [i.e., at death].”

In the context of this discussion, what the terms “sign” and “token” have in common is the fact that they are “earthly symbols of realities that prevail throughout the universe.”[44] They point to meanings beyond themselves-meanings that can be revealed in our “minding true things by what their mock’ries be.”[45]

Moreover, citing Book of Mormon examples, Calabro concludes that in some cases the “gesture [can stand] for the covenant in that it signals membership in the covenant group.”[46] Beyond these basic similarities, the meanings of the terms “sign” and “token” in temple contexts differ somewhat, as explained with reference to ancient practices by Hugh Nibley:[47]

As you approach the camp surrounding the temple, you signify your intent with a reassuring sign, a signum, visible from a distance, calling attention to yourself as Adam does in his prayer and demonstrating your peaceful intent.[48] Upon reaching the gate, you present your token, a tangible object (compare… digit, dactyl, or a solid handclasp).[49]All these serve as a tesserahospitalis [i.e., a symbol of mutual hospitality], admitting one to a closed group or a party, or a club, guild meeting, etc. It is presented to the doorkeeper, a herald trained in such matters: “The Holy One of Israel is the Keeper of the Gate, and he employs no servant there!” Most important, “he cannot be deceived.”[50] The token recognized, you pronounce your name to the doorkeeper in a low voice, a whisper, for it is a special name agreed on between you and your host and should not be picked up and used by anyone else.[51]

Links to all of the articles in this series-

Part 1 Why Do We Participate in Temple Ordinances?”

Part 2 A Christ-Centered View

Part 3 Knowledge as the Principle of Salvation

Part 4 How Are We Physically and Spiritually Reborn in the Temple?”

Part 5 What is the Endowment?”

Part 6  Passing the Angels Who Stand as Sentinels

Part 7  “The Meaning of the Atonement

Part 8 “Becoming the Seed of Abraham”‘: The Sealing and Healing Power of Elijah

Part 9: “The Church and Kingdom”: Becoming Priests and Kings

Part 10: “The Elect of God”: What Does It Mean to Have One’s “Calling and Election Made Sure?

Part 11: All That My Father Hath Shall Be Given Unto Him”: Receiving the Kingdom

Part 12: The Second Comforter: “The Father Teacheth Him”

Part 13:Weary Him Until He Blesses You” 

Part 14: “What are the Three Degrees Within the Celestial Kingdom?”





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