(Get your free copy of Portrait of a Zion Person: www.pillarsofzion.com.)
When Jesus appeared to the Nephites, he insisted that they include in their scriptures the writings of Malachi, which contain a powerful latter-day prophecy concerning the sons of Levi.
And he [Jesus Christ] shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness.[i]
This prophecy seems to indicate that the righteous offering is not possible unless the Lord leads the sons of Levi through a purifying furnace to remove from them contaminants with the result being a fundamental change and a new reason for being.
When John the Baptist appeared to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery along the bank of the Susquehanna River, he connected his restoring the Aaronic Priesthood with the offering that was to be made by the sons of Levi: “…and this [Aaronic Priesthood] shall never be taken again from the earth, until the sons of Levi do offer again an offering in righteousness.”[ii]
By John the Baptist’s connecting the restoration of the priesthood with the righteous offering, we begin to see that the offering is not merely something that is to be done by men of a certain bloodline, but rather a priesthood duty.
What is the authority of the Aaronic Priesthood? In the Lord’s words, Aaronic Priesthood authority is to hold “the key of the ministering of angels and the preparatory gospel; which gospel is the gospel of repentance and baptism, and remission of sins, and the law of carnal commandments.”[iii]
Anciently, the Aaronic Priesthood was presided over by Aaron’s sons, who were Levites, and collectively, the sons of Aaron and the sons of Levi administered the covenants and ordinances of the preparatory gospel of repentance to the family of Israel. Included in their priesthood duties was offering animal sacrifices on the altar of the temple in similitude of the sacrifice of the Lamb of God.
Quoting Joseph Smith, Elder Bruce R. McConkie states that in the last days, the literal bloodline of Levi will accept the restored gospel, receive ordination to the priesthood, and once again “offer their traditional sacrifices to the Lord as part of the restoration of all things.”[iv]
But there is more. The terms, “sons of Levi” and “an offering in righteousness,” have additional definitions. When Joseph Smith received a revelation on the priesthood that became Doctrine and Covenants 84, he learned that the sons of Aaron [Levi] and the sons of Moses refer to latter-day Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthood holders, respectively. Significantly, the revelation states that both of these sets of “sons” are to offer a righteous offering.
Therefore, as I said concerning the sons of Moses—for the sons of Moses and also of Aaron [Levi] 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.[v]
That “consecrated spot” is revealed in Doctrine and Covenants 57: “Behold, the place which is now called Independence is the center place; and a spot for the temple is lying westward, upon a lot which is not far from the courthouse.”[vi] Notice how the sons of Aaron and Moses and their offering now find a home in the temple.
The revelation of the priesthood concurs. A cloud shall rest upon the temple, “which cloud shall be even the glory of the Lord, which shall fill the house.” And the glory of the Lord shall also be upon “the sons of Moses!”[vii]
Why might the glory of the Lord rest upon these priesthood holders? One reason could be because of their righteous offering. We recall that the Lord had just told us that the “sons of Moses and of Aaron [Levi] shall offer an acceptable offering and sacrifice in the house of the Lord.”[viii] And then, if we were ever in doubt about their identity, the Lord specifically states, “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 ye are.”[ix]
We are the sons of Moses and of Aaron who are to offer an offering in righteousness!
We note with interest that this information prefaces the oath and covenant of the priesthood as though the Lord wants us to understand that the offering of the sons of Levi and of Moses is central to their priesthood covenant. But what is the offering that we must make?
That offering was revealed to the Prophet some ten years after the revelation on the priesthood in 1842. In this revelation, the Lord brings together all the ancient and modern prophecies of the glory of latter-day priesthood holders and their offering.
Behold, the great day of the Lord is at hand; and who can abide the day of his coming, and who shall stand when he appeareth? For he is like a refiner’s fire, and like fuller’s soap; and he shall sit as a refiner and a purifier of silver, and he shall purify the sons of Levi, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness. Let us, therefore, as a church and a people, and as Latter-day Saints, offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness; and let us present in his holy temple, when it is finished, a book containing the records of our dead, which shall be worthy of all acceptation.[x]
Clearly, our offering in righteousness, which is central to the oath and covenant of the priesthood, which is central to the coming of John the Baptist and the restoration of the Aaronic Priesthood, which is central to the building of the temple in New Jerusalem, which is central to the glory that shall fill the sons of Aaron and Moses upon Mount Zion – our prophesied offering is our family history.
As we serve in holy temples for our deceased ancestors, we become saviors on Mount Zion. The sacrifices that we offer in the temple through our serving there is part of our “offering in righteousness,” which the sons of Aaron [Levi] and the sons of Moses will present to the Lord at his coming. If the Saints fail to make this offering, said the Prophet Joseph Smith, it is “at the peril of their own salvation.”[xi]
Listen to the words of other prophets.
“I would invite you to read carefully in the sections in the Doctrine & Covenants that focus on this sacred responsibility and the language that says you are to perform these ordinances for not ‘the’ dead, but ‘your’ dead.”[xii]
“The Lord has not given me the responsibility to save your family, but he has given me the responsibility of saving my own family. My own family will be the unit through which I may obtain exaltation and continuation of the seeds.”[xiii]
“There are some members who engage in temple work but fail to do family history research on their own family lines. Although they perform a divine service in assisting others, they lose a blessing by not seeking their own kindred dead as divinely directed by latter-day prophets….I have learned that those who engage in family history research and then perform the temple ordinance work for those whose names they have found will know the additional joy of receiving both halves of the blessing.”[xiv]
“These are trying days, in which Satan rages, at home and abroad, hard days, evil and ugly days. We stand helpless as it seems before them. We need help. We need strength. We need guidance. Perhaps if we would do our work in behalf of those of the unseen world who hunger and pray for the work we can do for them, the unseen world would in return give us help in the day of our urgent need. There are more in that other world than there are here. There is more power and strength there than we have here upon this earth. We have but a trifle, and that trifle is taken from the immeasurable power of God. We shall make no mistake in becoming collaborators in the Lord’s mighty work for human redemption.”[xv]
“Brother Widtsoe reaffirmed that “those who give themselves with all their might and mind to this work [genealogical work] receive help from the other side. Whoever seeks to help those in the other side receives help in return in all the affairs of life.”[xvi]
“Man was not given a choice to do this work when and if he has time, but the work was given as an obligation to be filled.”[xvii]
“This [performing vicarious ordinances for our dead in the temple] is the great work of the dispensation of the fullness of times, by which the hearts of the fathers are turned to the children and the hearts of the children are turned to the fathers.”[xviii]
In this busy life, we are wont to push off family history to Aunt Gladys, the family genealogist, who in her golden years, has both the knack and the time. But the scriptures and the prophets do not support that way of thinking. The responsibility is laid squarely on every son of Aaron and of Moses who receives the priesthood in the last days. This priesthood duty belongs to the dispensation of the fullness of times. And sisters are not exempted, for the revelation states that the obligation of making the offering rests upon each of us “as a church and a people, and as Latter-day Saints.”[xix]
Let us rise to the glory of our calling and bless those who are depending on us. In the words of Joseph Smith, “The greatest responsibility in this world that God has laid upon us is to seek after our dead.”[xx]
[i] 3 Nephi 24:3.
[ii] D&C 13:1.
[iii] D&C 84:26-27.
[iv] Mormon Doctrine, “Levites,” 440, quoting The Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 172-73.
[v] D&C 84:31.
[vi] D&C 57:3.
[vii] D&C 84”4-6.
[viii] D&C 84:31.
[ix] D&C 84:32.
[x] D&C 128:24.
[xi] The Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 193, 356.
[xii] David A. Bednar, Springfield videos, 2011.
[xiii] Howard W. Hunter, General Priesthood General Conference, Sept. 30, 1966.
[xiv] Howard W. Hunter, First Presidency Message, Ensign Feb. 1995.
[xv] John A. Widtsoe, “Worth of Souls,”131.
[xvi] Boyd K. Packer, The Holy Temple, 252.
[xvii] Howard W. Hunter, Regional Representatives Seminar Address, Sept. 27, 1967.
[xviii] Howard W. Hunter, Conference Report, Oct. 1, 1971, 51-55.
[xix] D&C 128:24.
[xx] The Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 356.