Surely, the restoration of the priesthood qualifies as one of the greatest blessings of the restoration. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints rests upon the claim of divine authority. Without divine authority, our worship and ordinances would be in vain. At the time of Joseph Smith, many Christians realized the necessity of priesthood authority and were looking for a restoration of it.
In his first vision, Joseph Smith was told by the Lord that “all religious denominations were believing in incorrect doctrines, and that none of them was acknowledged of God as his church and kingdom.” (Times and Seasons, 1 March 1842.) Nine years following the first vision, in 1829, the authority to establish a church and perform divinely sanctioned ordinances was restored in the wilderness near Harmony, Pennsylvania.
To fully appreciate what the priesthood is and how it functions, we must understand how three priesthood principles – authority, keys, and power – are related and how they differ.
The priesthood is the authority to act on behalf of God. He gives this commission to worthy male members of the Church so they can preach the gospel, administer the ordinances of salvation, and govern His kingdom on earth. The priesthood is conferred by the laying on of hands of another priesthood holder who has proper authority and keys to do so.
Specific priesthood authority is associated with the office or quorum to which a priesthood holder is ordained after having the priesthood conferred upon him. There are several offices in the Aaronic priesthood and several more in the Melchizedek, all of which are defined and explained in many sections of the Doctrine and Covenants:
107:10-17, 23-26, 33-35, 38-39, 58, 68, 71-72, 85-88, 93-97 42:43-44 112:30-32
124:91-93, 124, 133, 136, 138-139
There are many ways in which priesthood holders act on behalf of God to bless His children (D&C 20:38-59 . This includes the specific duties of “elders, priests, teachers, deacons, and members of the Church of Christ ” (v. 38). After noting that apostles are elders, the Lord describes the duties of priesthood holders: elders (vv. 38-45), priests (vv. 46-52), teachers (vv. 53-59), and deacons, who may do all that teachers do, if occasion requires (v. 57). Note that the Lord says expressly that “neither teachers nor deacons have authority to baptize, administer the sacrament, or lay on hands [to ordain other Aaronic priesthood holders’] (v. 58). These duties are limited to priests and elders.
The Doctrine and Covenants also describes ways in which Melchizedek priesthood holders act on behalf of God (D&C 107:8-12, 23, 25). The duties of the various Melchizedek Priesthood offices are explained in D&C 107: the first presidency (v. 9), apostles (v. 24), seventies (v. 25), high priests (v. 10), and those duties that may be performed by both elders and high priests (vv. 11, 22).
The method by which Melchizedek priesthood holders receive their priesthood authority is described in D&C 20. They are ordained to their callings under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost residing in the one who ordains him (v. 60). Prior to this ordination, they must be sustained by a “conference” of the Church as part of the business of that conference (vv. 61-62). This is accomplished by a “vote of the Church to which they belong” [their ward], or from the [stake[ conference (v. 63). The Lord expressly commands that “no person is to be ordained to any office in this church, where there is a regularly organized branch of the same, without the vote of that church” (v. 65).
In those circumstances where there is no immediately-available “branch of the Church that a vote may be called” the ordination may proceed under the authority of the presiding Melchizedek priesthood officers until the next conference can be called (v. 66). But in all cases-whether before or after ordination-every Melchizedek priesthood officer must eventually be sustained by the high council and then by a conference (v. 67).
Melchizedek priesthood ordinations must be “known to the Church ” ( D&C 42:11). N o man may “preach my gospel” or “build up my church” unless he has been (1) “ordained by someone who has authority” and (2) “it is known to the Church that he has authority and has been regularly ordained by the heads of the church.” Thus, it is crystal clear that there are no secret ordinations in the Church as apostate polygamous groups have claimed.
Priesthood keys differ from, and are in addition to, priesthood authority. Joseph F. Smith said: ” The Priesthood in general is the authority given to man to act for God . Every man ordained to any degree of the Priesthood, has this authority delegated to him. But it is necessary that every act performed under this authority shall be done at the proper time and place, in the proper way, and after the proper order. The power of directing these labors constitutes the keys of the Priesthood . In their fulness, the keys are held by only one person at a time, the prophet and president of the Church. He may delegate any portion of this power to another, in which case that person holds the keys of that particular labor.” ( Gospel Doctrine , 5th ed. [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1939], 136; emphasis added).
From this we can see that priesthood ordination is a general conferral of authority and not a specific assignment. The priesthood is organized and hierarchical, with authorities delegating tasks as appropriate to others. Without that specific authority to act, one may not exercise his priesthood properly. For example, I am an ordained bishop, but I hold no keys to administer in any ward as its bishop at the present time. That would require a conferral of keys from a stake president who presides over that ward. Thus, my priesthood office lies dormant until and unless I am authorized again to act in that office.
All priesthood keys reside in the president of the Church (D&C 132:7). Some have wandered into apostasy because they did not fully understand or recognize this cardinal principle: One cannot act without proper keys, and those always come from the presiding officer of the Church. At the general Church level, all of the apostles hold all priesthood keys, but only one of them-the president of the Church-is authorized to exercise all priesthood keys on behalf of the entire Church. “There is never but one on the earth at a time on whom this power and the keys of this priesthood are conferred” (v. 7). And that one man is the apostle who has held that office the longest-the senior apostle.
From Liberty Jail, January 16th, 1839, Joseph Smith and the First Presidency addressed the following letter of instructions to the Apostles:
“Brothers H.C. Kimball and B. Young:
“Joseph Smith, Jun., Sidney Rigdon and Hyrum Smith, prisoners for Jesus’ sake, send greeting . . . Inasmuch as we are in prison, for a little season, if need be, the management of the affairs of the Church devolves on you, that is the Twelve .
. . It will be necessary for you to get the Twelve together, ordain such as have not been ordained, or at least such of them as you can get, and proceed to regulate the Elders as the Lord may give you wisdom . . . Appoint the oldest of those of the Twelve, who were first appointed, to be the president of your quorum . . . .” (Orson F. Whitney, Life of Heber C. Kimball [Salt Lake City: Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1945], 237-239; emphasis added).
In obedience to this instruction, Brigham Young was sustained by the Apostles as president of their quorum. He stood at that time as the senior member of the quorum since Thomas B. Marsh had apostatized and David W. Patten had been martyred in the battle at Crooked River, Missouri.
Five years later, just prior to his martyrdom in 1844, the Prophet Joseph Smith said: “I know not why; but for some reason I am constrained to hasten my preparations, and to confer upon the Twelve all the ordinances, keys, covenants, endowments, and sealing ordinances of the priesthood, and so set before them a pattern in all things pertaining to the sanctuary and the endowment therein” (Millennial Star 5 [March 1845]: 151).
George Q. Cannon said, [The Church] “is governed by men who hold the keys of the Apostleship, who have the right and authority. Any one of them, should an emergency arise, can act as President of the Church, with all the powers, with all the authority, with all the keys, and with every endowment necessary to obtain revelation from God, and to lead and guide this people in the path that leads to the celestial glory; but there is only one man at a time who can hold the keys, who can dictate, who can guide, who can give revelation to the Church. The rest must acquiesce in his action, the rest must be governed by his counsels, the rest must receive his doctrines” (in Journal of Discourses , 19:234).
The specific keys of the Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthoods are discussed later in this lesson.
Priesthood power is the power that is manifest when a worthy priesthood holder performs his duty. This power is not his own; he by himself possesses no special power-only the authority to call upon “the powers of heaven” as an authorized agent of the Lord Jesus Christ. Priesthood power is the force which the Lord created and governs the heavens and the earth. It is also the power by which He redeems and exalts His children.
Priesthood power does not automatically come with the conferral of priesthood office or keys (D&C 121:36-38). So h olding the priesthood and/or keys is not enough to ensure that a priesthood act will be accompanied by heavenly power. Indeed, if one misuses his priesthood without proper authority (keys) or without personal righteousness, the Lord says, “Amen to the priesthood or authority of that man” (v. 37). Such unauthorized persons are “left unto [themselves], to kick against the pricks, to persecute the saints, and to fight against God” (v. 38). They become apostates.
Furthermore, the Lord clearly distinguishes between “the rights of the priesthood” (ordination) and “the powers of heaven” (priesthood power), which can only be manifest “upon the principles of righteousness” (v. 36). Thus, one may have authority and even hold keys, but all of that will be for naught unless he maintains sufficient worthiness to “connect” with the will of heaven. That the priesthood “may be conferred upon us, it is true; but when we undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves” (v. 37). Thus, unless my priesthood actions are connected with the will of heaven, I have no priesthood power.
The Restoration of the Aaronic Priesthood
The Mission of John the Baptist
In D&C 84:28 we are told that John the Baptist was baptized in his “childhood,” and “ordained” by an angel when eight days old. Joseph Fielding McConkie explains what this means:
“John was baptized in his childhood,’ not in his infancy. To suppose that little children need baptism is the gall of bitterness,’ the bonds of iniquity,’ and denies the atonement of Christ, according to Mormon ( Moroni 8:14,20). From the days of Abraham we find the Lord saying, Thou mayest know for ever that children are not accountable before me until they are eight years old’ (JST Genesis 17:11). John would not have been baptized before he reached that age.
“To say that John was ‘ordained’ when eight days of age is not to suggest that he received the priesthood at that time. The word ordained is frequently used in the Doctrine and Covenants to identify something being designated for a certain purpose without suggesting a conferral of authority. For instance, the Prophet’s wife, Emma, was ‘ordained’ to teach and exhort (D&C 25:7), gospel ordinances were ‘ordained’ (D&C 49:15), doctrines were ‘ordained’ (D&C 76:13), beasts and fowls were ‘ordained’ for man’s use (D&C 49:19), sons of perdition were ‘ordained’ unto their condemnation (D&C 76:48), and wholesome herbs and grain were ‘ordained’ for the use of man (D&C 89:10, 14) …
“We do not know at what age John received the priesthood or who conferred it upon him. We know that it was after he was eight years of age and after he had been baptized and that he could trace his priesthood back to Aaron (D&C 84:26-27). We assume that it was done by his father, Zacharias, the rightful heir of the Aaronic priesthood” ( Witnesses of the Birth of Christ [Salt Lake City, UT: Bookcraft, 1998] 47-48).
John the Baptist held the Aaronic priesthood and was an “Elias” sent to prepare the people for the coming of Christ (D&C 27:7). The Lord sent him to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery “to ordain you unto the first [Aaronic] priesthood which you have received, that you might be called and ordained even as Aaron” (D&C 27:8). John the Baptist was a unique prophet in many ways. He prepared the way for Jesus Christ. He had the unique privilege of baptizing him. He was the last prophet of the Mosaic dispensation. He was also the first prophet of the New Testament. Thus it was completely appropriate that he was the one sent to bestow the Aaronic Priesthood upon Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, thus beginning the dispensation of the fullness of time.
Circumstances of the Restoration of the Aaronic Priesthood
The restoration of the Aaronic Priesthood was the first bestowal of divine authority in this dispensation. As with so many other revelations, this one came as a result of questions that arose from reading or translating the scriptures ( JS-History 68-72) . It occurred while Joseph and Oliver were working on the translation of the Book of Mormon, when, on May 15, 1829, they went into the woods on the banks of the Susquehanna River behind Joseph’s home to inquire of the Lord through prayer regarding baptism for the remission of sins (vv. 68, 72).
In the midst of their prayer, Joseph said: “a messenger from heaven descended in a cloud of light, and having laid his hands upon us, he ordained us” (v.68). The messenger identified himself as “John, the same that is called John the Baptist in the New Testament” and that he was acting “under the direction of Peter, James and John, who held the keys of the Priesthood of Melchizedek” (v.
Though Joseph used the words “ordained us” to describe the event, that was not literally true. He said it in the general sense of their having received priesthood authority. The actual steps were as follows.
1. Conferral of the priesthood . John the Baptist conferred the priesthood upon Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery. The precise words he used were, “Upon you my fellow servants, in the name of Messiah, I confer the Priesthood of Aaron. . . . (v. 69; emphasis added). It is interesting that John the Baptist referred to the Savior as “Messiah,” which an authentic Jew of Jesus’ time would do. Christ is a Greek name, while Messiah is Hebrew. At this stage of his spiritual and scriptural understanding, Joseph Smith could not have known this. It is an evidence of the authenticity of his description of the event.
2. Baptism . John the Baptist then instructed them to immediately baptize each other- Joseph first baptizing Oliver Cowdery and then Oliver baptizing Joseph (vv. 70-71). Because they now possessed the Aaronic Priesthood they could perform this sacred ordinance for each other, by which their sins could be remitted and their covenants with the Lord established. Joseph reports that, “Immediately on our coming up out of the water after we had been baptized, we experienced great and glorious blessings from our Heavenly Father. No sooner had I baptized Oliver Cowdery, than the Holy Ghost fell upon him, and he stood up and prophesied many things which should shortly come to pass. And again, so soon as I had been baptized by him, I also had the spirit of prophecy, when, standing up, I prophesied concerning the rise of this Church, and many other things connected with the Church, and this generation of the children of men. We were filled with the Holy Ghost, and rejoiced in the God of our salvation” (v. 73).
3. Ordination . Finally, having been thus baptized, they proceeded to ordain each other to the Aaronic Priesthood in the same order as they had been baptized (v. 71). Thus we see that the conferral of priesthood is one thing (v. 69), and ordination to an office within the priesthood is entirely another (v. 71). The office to which they would have been ordained on this occasion would have been a Priest, since only Priests can exercise all the keys of the Aaronic Priesthood, including the ordination of other Priests.
This sacred event made the scriptures on prayer and priesthood more clear to Joseph and Oliver. Joseph said: “Our minds being now enlightened, we began to have the scriptures laid open to our understandings, and the true meaning and intention of their more mysterious passages revealed unto us in a manner which we never could attain to previously, nor ever before had thought of” (v. 74). Oliver Cowdery’s feelings about receiving the Aaronic Priesthood are contained in notes 4-7 for JS-History 1:71.
The Authority, Keys, and Powers of the Aaronic Priesthood
D&C 13:1 is taken from JS-History 1:69, and is identical in wording. While conferring the Aaronic Priesthood, John the Baptist said that it contained “the keys of the ministering of angels, and of the gospel of repentance, and of baptism by immersion for the remission of sins.” He also promised that this priesthood “shall never be taken again from the earth, until the sons of Levi do offer again an offering unto the Lord in righteousness.”
Joseph Fielding Smith said: “We may be sure that the Aaronic Priesthood will never be taken from the earth while mortality endures, for there will always be need for temporal direction and the performance of ordinances pertaining to ‘the preparatory Gospel.'” ( Church History and Modern Revelation , 4 vols. [Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1946-1949], 1:62). The promise that the Aaronic Priesthood would remain on the earth “until Sons of Levi do offer again an offering unto the Lord in righteousness” should be taken literally. There will be blood sacrifices again, at least for a brief period, at the temple in the New Jerusalem. (Joseph Fielding, Doctrines of Salvation , 3:93-94).
The Prophet Joseph Smith said: “These sacrifices, as well as every ordinance belonging to the Priesthood, will, when the Temple of the Lord shall be built, and the sons of Levi be purified, be fully restored and attended to in all their powers, ramifications, and blessings . . . . Else how can the restitution of all things spoken of by the Holy Prophets be brought to pass. It is not to be understood that the law of Moses will be established again with all its rites and variety of ceremonies; this has never been spoken of by the prophets; but those things which existed prior to Moses’ day, namely, sacrifice, will be continued. It may be asked by some, what necessity for sacrifice, since the Great Sacrifice was offered? In answer to which, if repentance, baptism, and faith existed prior to the days of Christ, what necessity for them since that time?” ( Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith , 173).
During the “revelation on Priesthood” (D&C 84) given in September of 1832, the Lord explained again that the Aaronic Priesthood “holdeth the key of the ministering of angels and the preparatory gospel” (v. 26). This means “the gospel of repentance and of baptism, and the remission of sins, and the law of carnal commandments” (v. 27). It is identical with the priesthood that existed among the children of Israel in Moses’ day, “which the Lord in his wrath caused to continue with the house of Aaron among the children of Israel until [the time of] John [the Baptist], whom God raised up, being filled with the Holy Ghost from his mother’s womb” (v. 27).
D&C 107 teaches that the Aaronic Priesthood is an appendage to the Melchizedek Priesthood. The Aaronic Priesthood is so named “because it was conferred upon Aaron and his seed, throughout all their generations” (v. 13). It is referred to as “the lesser priesthood. . . because it is an appendage to the greater, or the Melchizedek Priesthood, and has power [only] in administering outward ordinances” (v. 14). It holds “the keys of the ministering of angels, and to administer in outward ordinances, the letter of the gospel, [and] the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins” (v. 20).
The Keys of the Ministering of Angels
Gordon B. Hinckley said: “That means . . . that if you live worthy of the priesthood, you have the right to receive and enjoy the very power of heavenly beings to guide you, to protect you, to bless you.” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1982, 64; or Ensign , Nov. 1982, 45).
Wilford Woodruff said: “I had the administration of angels while holding the office of a priest. I had visions and revelations. I traveled thousands of miles. I baptized men, though I could not confirm them because I had not the authority to do it. I speak of these things to show that a man should not be ashamed of any portion of the priesthood.” ( The Discourses of Wilford Woodruff , sel. G. Homer Durham [ Salt Lake City : Bo298).
Dallin H. Oaks said, [The ministering of angels can occur through personal appearances and] “can also be unseen.Angelic messages can be delivered by a voice or merely by thoughts or feelings communicated to the mind.
. . .Most angelic communications are felt or heard rather than seen.” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1998, 51; or Ensign , Nov. 1998, 39).
The Lord has promised his authorized servants that He “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” (D&C 84:88). In the Book of Mormon we have record of how angels ministered daily to Nephi, the son of Helaman, while was in prison (3 Nephi 7:18). While Christ was among the Nephites he called down angels from heaven who surrounded their little ones and ministered unto them (3 Nephi 17:23-24).
The Keys of Repentance and Baptism
Repentance and baptism are also called the “preparatory gospel” (D&C 13; 84:26-27; 107:20). This is because repentance and baptism help us prepare to receive blessings that are administered through the Melchizedek Priesthood, such as the gift of the Holy Ghost and temple ordinances. For example, John the Baptist preached repentance and baptized people in preparing the way for the Savior (Matthew 3:1-6, 11). And Aaronic Priesthood holders in our day preach repentance through home teaching, missionary work, testimony bearing, and fellowshipping. Aaronic Priesthood holders participate in the ordinance of baptism under the direction of the bishop, and worthy priests may perform baptisms and serve as witnesses at baptisms.
Aaronic Priesthood holders participate in the process of administering repentance to others both by preaching repentance and by officiating in the ordinance of the sacrament. Jeffrey R. Holland said: “We ask you young men of the Aaronic Priesthood to prepare and bless and pass these emblems of the Savior’s sacrifice worthily and reverently. What a stunning privilege and sacred trust given at such a remarkably young age! I can think of no higher compliment heaven could pay you. We do love you. Live your best and look your best when you participate in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1995, 89; Ensign , Nov. 1995, 68).
The Restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood
Some weeks after John the Baptist restored the Aaronic Priesthood, Peter, James, and John appeared to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery and conferred upon them the Melchizedek Priesthood. And although the exact date for the restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood appears not to have been preserved in current Church records, there is much testimony from both Joseph and Oliver that clearly establishes the reality of these events.
The Mission of John the Revelator
The Savior made promises to John that he would remain on the earth until the second coming (John 21:20-23). John was “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (v. 20), meaning a special friend to the Lord. Peter asked the Lord concerning His promises to John (v. 21), and His response included the promise that “he [will] tarry till I come” (v. 22). From this statement the saying went “abroad among the brethren, that that disciple should not die” though Jesus did not say expressly to Peter “He shall not die” (v. 23). Still, from this statement questions still persist: Did John die? If not, what is his status? If he did, why did Jesus make the statement?
The issue has been debated for centuries among the various Christian sects. Some scholars say that he indeed died and was buried at Ephesus . Others believe he still walks the earth. A third school of thought states that even though he was buried at Ephesus, he is not really dead but simply sleeps in the grave until the second coming of the Savior (Sidney B. Sperry, Doctrine and Covenants Compendium [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1960], 66-67).
Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery finally solved the issue through an appeal to the Lord. The Prophet Joseph Smith said: “During the month of April [1829, at Harmony, Pennsylvania ] I continued to translate, and he [Oliver Cowdery] to write, with little cessation, during which time we received several revelations. A difference of opinion arising between us about the account of John the Apostle, mentioned in the New Testament, as to whether he died or continued to live, we mutually agreed to settle it by the Urim and Thummim.” ( History of the Church , 1:35-36).
The result of their inquiry is given in D&C 7, which the heading of that section says “is a translated version of the record made on parchment by John and hidden up by himself” ( History of the Church, 1:35-36). We do not know whether Joseph saw the parchment or if its contents were just revealed to him, but we do know from this scripture that John was translated (D&C 7:1-6).
Joseph Fielding Smith said: “The keys of the ministry which John says (Sec. 7:7) were given to Peter, James and himself, constituted the authority of Presidency of the Church in their dispensation. . . . These keys were given at the transfiguration to these three Apostles, and they in turn gave them to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery in this dispensation. (D&C 27:12-13; 128:20).” ( Church History and Modern Revelation , 1:49).
Circumstances of the Restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood
Though we do not know precisely when the Melchizedek Priesthood was restored, we have a number of scriptures and other historical records that tell us details concerning when, where, and how it occurred.
1. When he conferred the Aaronic Priesthood upon Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, John the Baptist explained that it “had not the power of laying on hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost, but that this should be conferred on [them later]” (JSJ-History 1:70). He was acting “under the direction of Peter, James and John, who held the keys of the Priesthood of Melchizedek, which Priesthood, he said, would in due time be conferred on us, and that I should be called the first Elder of the Church, and he (Oliver Cowdery) the second” (v. 72).
2. By the time D&C 18 was given-sometime in June 1829-the Melchizedek Priesthood had already been restored (v. 9). Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, and David Whitmer had sought to realize the promise made by John the Baptist at the time of the conferral of the Aaronic Priesthood that the Melchizedek Priesthood would “in due time” be conferred upon Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery (JS-History 1:72), and Joseph Smith wrote that section 18 was given to “illustrate the nature of our calling to this Priesthood, as well as that of others who were yet to be sought after” ( History of the Church , 1:62). The Lord says in D&C 18:9: “I speak unto you, even as unto Paul mine apostle, for you are called even with that same calling with which he was called,” which means they were already apostles by the time this revelation was given.
3. It had probably been restored by 14 June 1829. Oliver Cowdery wrote a letter from Fayette , New York , to the Prophet’s brother, Hyrum Smith, who was then residing at his family’s home near Palmyra in Manchester Township , New York . This letter is significant because it contains words identical to D&C 18:10, 14, 21, and 25. This suggests that the revelation (which refers to Joseph and Oliver as “apostles”) had already been received by this date-thus narrowing the window of possible dates to sometime between May 15 th and June 14 th , 1829.
(Letter of Oliver Cowdery to Hyrum Smith, 14 June 1829, Fayette, New York, Church Archives).
4. It was conferred upon Joseph and Oliver by Peter, James, and John (D&C 27:12-13). They were ordained apostles and special witnesses of Christ (v. 12), and were given the keys of the kingdom for this final dispensation (vv. 12-13).
5. It was conferred somewhere in the wilderness between Harmony, Pennsylvania and Collesville , New York (D&C 128:20). This detail is corroborated by the testimony of two individuals who heard the Prophet Joseph Smith describe the circumstances and location of the event.
6. It occurred 16-17 miles north of Harmony, Pennsylvania , while fleeing their enemies.
Addison Everett said:
[Joseph] “said that at Colesville , New York , in 1829, he and Oliver Cowdery were under arrest on a charge of deceiving the people. . . . [While conferring with their attorney in private he advised them] If they get hold of you they will perhaps do you bodily injury; and I think the best way for you to get out of this is to get right out there,’ pointing tot he window and hoisting it.
“They got into the woods. . . a few rods from the house. It was night and they traveled through brush and water and mud, fell over logs, etc., until Oliver was exhausted. Then Joseph helped him along through the mud and water, almost carrying him.
“They traveled all night, and just at the break of day Oliver gave out entirely and exclaimed, Oh, Lord! Brother Joseph, how long have we got to endure this thing?’
“They sat down on a log to rest, and Joseph said that at that very time Peter, James and John came to them and ordained them to the apostleship.
“They had sixteen or seventeen miles to go to get back to Mr. Hale’s, his father-in-law’s, but Oliver did not complain any more of fatigue.” (Letter of Addison Everett to Oliver B. Huntington, February 17, 1881, Young Women’s Journal, II (November, 1890), 76-77).
7. It was restored during times of great persecution (JS-History 1:74). The Prophet Joseph Smith said that they were “forced to keep secret the circumstances of having received the Priesthood and our having been baptized, owing to a spirit of persecution which had already manifested itself in the neighborhood” (v. 74). The fact that the restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood occurred while they were fleeing for their lives underscores the difficult circumstances. It probably also explains why they didn’t have the time or presence of mind to sit down and write about the event, as they had done when the Aaronic Priesthood was restored under more peaceful circumstances.
8. It probably occurred before 1 June 1829. Brigham Young said: “Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, and David Whitmer were the first Apostles of this dispensation. . . .” (in Journal of Discourses , 6:320). Yet we know that David Whitmer was not present when Peter, James and John appeared to Joseph and Oliver in the wilderness near Harmony, Pennsylvania . David did not even know the Prophet well until he helped them move away from Harmony to his home in Fayette , New York “in the beginning of the month of June” ( History of the Church , 1:48-49). David Whitmer himself said that he had received his ordination from the Prophet Joseph during the month of June 1829. (Larry C. Porter, “The Priesthood Restored,” in Robert L. Millet and Kent P. Jackson, eds., Studies in Scripture, Vol. 2: The Pearl of Great Price [Salt Lake City: Randall Book, 1985], 397).
9. Also, this ordination would have had to have occurred before June 1, 1829, because Joseph, Emma, Oliver and David Whitmer traveled to the home of Peter Whitmer Sr. in time for their translation activities to resume on June 1 st . David Whitmer said: “The translation at my father’s farm, Fayette Township, Seneca County, New York occupied about one month, that is from June 1, to July 1, 1829” ( Kansas City Daily Journal , 5 June 1881).
10. It probably occurred before 29 May 1829. Since it took three days to travel from Harmony, Pennsylvania to Fayette , New York , and since translation activities started again on June 1, 1829, it follows that they must have left Harmony not later than May 29, 1829. And since the restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood occurred while they still resided at Harmony, we can reasonably conclude that it must have occurred before they left for Fayette.
Thus, we can reasonably conclude that the Melchizedek Priesthood was restored sometime between May 15 th and May 29 th , 1829.
The Authority, Keys, and Powers of the Melchizedek Priesthood
The Melchizedek Priesthood is the greater priesthood. It possesses all the authority, knowledge, and covenants necessary for the exaltation of God’s children. The specific keys of this priesthood are described primarily in D&C 84 and D&C 107.
The keys of the Melchizedek Priesthood (D&C 107:18-20): The Melchizedek Priesthood holds “the keys of all the spiritual blessings of the church,” and “to have the privilege of receiving the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven,” and “to have the heavens opened unto them.” These are the specific duties and blessings of the Melchizedek Priesthood. They will also be discussed in detail later in this lesson.
The authority to administer the gospel of Jesus Christ (D&C 84:19). The Melchizedek Priesthood includes the authority to administer the gospel of Jesus Christ-to govern the Church, preach the gospel, and administer the ordinances of salvation. Holders of the Melchizedek Priesthood preside over the Church and its meetings. One cannot serve in a ward bishopric, a stake presidency, a high council, or in any priesthood capacity as a general authority without first being ordained a high priest in the Melchizedek Priesthood.
The right of presidency in spiritual things (D&C 107:8-12). The right of presidency is the right to preside in the Church. The President of the Church is the only person on earth who may use (or authorize another person to use) the keys of the priesthood for governing the entire Church. He authorizes other priesthood leaders to hold the keys that are necessary for presiding in their callings: Temple presidents, mission presidents, stake presidents, bishops, district presidents, branch presidents, and quorum presidents.
The keys of all the spiritual blessings of the Church (D&C 107:18-19). The spiritual blessings that come to us through the Melchizedek Priesthood ordinances, including among others: the blessing and naming of children, bestowing the Gift of the Holy Ghost, administering to the sick, patriarchal blessings, blessings of comfort and counsel, and all the ordinances of the holy temple. A few of these are described in D&C 84 and 107.
- Access to temple ordinances and the knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom (D&C 84:19-21). Thus, for a man to receive the temple ordinances he must first have obtained this higher priesthood and shown himself to be a worthy bearer of it. Likewise, to receive all the ordinances of the temple, a woman must be connected to a worthy priesthood holder.
- The right to have the heavens opened and receive revelation (D&C 107:19). T he right to commune with heavenly beings. Also, the opportunity to see, commune with, and enjoy the presence of God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ.
- The ability to see God and stand in His presence (D&C 84:19, 22).
Receiving and honoring the Melchizedek Priesthood is a prerequisite to the ability to “see the face of God” (obtain exaltation). And without this priesthood and the sealing ordinances associated with it, one cannot obtain a celestial glory (D&C 131:2-3). If we desire to see our Father’s face again, to stand in his presence, and to live there eternally, we must obtain the ordinances of the Melchizedek Priesthood and honor the covenants associated with them.
The keys of missionary work (D&C 110:11). These are the keys of the gathering of Israel that were bestowed upon the Prophet Joseph Smith and his successors by the appearance of Moses in the Kirtland Temple on April 3, 1836. He conferred “the keys of the gathering of Israel from the four parts of the earth, and the leading of the ten tribes from the land of the north.”
The keys to perfection of the Saints (D&C 110:12). These are the keys of the “gospel of Abraham” that were bestowed upon the Prophet Joseph Smith and his successors by the appearance of Elias (Noah) in the Kirtland Temple on April 3, 1836. He promised that through these keys “in us and our seed all generations after us should be blessed.”
The keys of genealogical and temple work (D&C 110:13-16). These keys were bestowed upon the Prophet Joseph Smith and his successors by the appearance of Elijah in the Kirtland Temple on April 3, 1836. He announced that “the time has fully come, which was spoken of by the mouth of Malachi-testifying that he [Elijah] should be sent, before the great and dreadful day of the Lord come-To turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the children to the fathers, lest the whole earth be smitten with a curse” (v. 15). And he said that because “the keys of this dispensation are committed into your hands . . . by this ye may know that the great and dreadful day of the Lord is near, even at the doors” (v. 16).
These last three keys are connected to the three-fold mission of the Church and will be discussed in more detail in chapter 18 on the Kirtland Temple .
The Blessings of the Priesthood
Joseph Fielding Smith said: “This matter of holding the priesthood is not a light or a small thing. We are dealing with the Lord’s power and authority, which he has given to us by the opening of the heavens in this day so that every blessing might again be available to us, as they were when man was first placed upon the earth” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1971, 108; Ensign , Dec. 1971, 98).
Brigham Young said: “An individual who holds a share in the Priesthood, and continues faithful to his calling, who delights himself continually in doing the things God requires at his hands, and continues through life in the performance of every duty, will secure to himself not only the privilege of receiving, but the knowledge how to receive the things of God, that he may know the mind of God continually; and he will be enabled to discern between right and wrong, between the things of God and the things that are not of God. And the Priesthood-the Spirit that is within him, will continue to increase until it becomes like a fountain of living water; until it is like the tree of life; until it is one continued source of intelligence and instruction to that individual” (in Journal of Discourses , 3:192).
Spencer W. Kimball said: “We commemorate the restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood, called the Holy Priesthood after the Order of the Son of God’ (D&C 107:3), once more this month. It is an event of supreme importance to man in this dispensation, for the priesthood is the power and authority of God delegated to man on earth to act in all things pertaining to the salvation of men. It is the means whereby the Lord acts through men to save souls. Without this priesthood power, men are lost. Only through this power does man “hold the keys of all the spiritual blessings of the church,” enabling him to receive “the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, to have the heavens opened” unto him (D&C 107:18-19), enabling him to enter the new and everlasting covenant of marriage and to have his wife and children bound to him in an everlasting tie, enabling him to become a patriarch to his posterity forever, and enabling him to receive a fulness of the blessings of the Lord” (Ensign, June 1975, 3).