Lesson 24: “Give Us Strength According to Our Faith … in Christ”
Reading: Alma 13–16
In the previous lesson, we saw that the teachings of Alma and Amulek in Alma 9-12 were oriented toward the temple endowment and the focus of returning to the presence of the Lord. Here in chapter 13, we find the culmination of their teaching.
All good endowments have a story that takes us from the pre-mortal existence, through creation and fall, and through Christ's atonement lead us back into God's presence. We've seen some of these components in the previous chapters, including the discussion of Adam and the Fall, and how all mankind will resurrect through Christ's atonement and enter back into God's presence (Alma 11). For the wicked, the glory of God will cause them great pain of conscience and they will wish the rocks would fall and cover them up (Alma 12).
For Alma 13, we will begin in the pre-mortal existence, even prior to the Creation, back to the great Council of Heaven, where God's children are offered a great gift: the priesthood. We learn that the priesthood is "after the order of his Son" (Alma 13:1-2). This holy and high priesthood preceded this earth, where righteous men were foreordained to the priesthood after the order of the Son of God, This foreordination was performed in God's heavenly temple, and its complete fulfillment occurs in the holy temples here on earth. More on that in a moment.
"And this is the manner after which they were ordained—being called and prepared from the foundation of the world according to the foreknowledge of God, on account of their exceeding faith and good works; in the first place being left to choose good or evil; therefore they having chosen good, and exercising exceedingly great faith, are called with a holy calling, yea, with that holy calling which was prepared with, and according to, a preparatory redemption for such.And thus they have been called to this holy calling on account of their faith, while others would reject the Spirit of God on account of the hardness of their hearts and blindness of their minds, while, if it had not been for this they might have had as great privilege as their brethren" (Alma 13:3-4).
Here we learn about events prior to this earth's creation. God's spirit children existed prior to this earth. There is no creatio ex nihilo (creation from nothing). In this pre-mortal existence, the spirits of men were left to choose good or evil. Some chose good and exercised great faith, and so were entrusted with the holy priesthood in mortality. The difference between those foreordained and those who were not is based on their level of faith. Those not ready to exercise great faith were not ready for such a foreordination. In connection to the covenant with Israel, we would consider that Israel was foreordained to be the covenant people. LDS understanding is that the Melchizedek Priesthood primarily falls to the tribe of Joseph and his son, Ephraim, as the right to rule the spiritual kingdom (as Judah has the right to rule the physical kingdom of Israel).
Whether foreordained or not, any man can become worthy through exceeding faith in Christ, to receive this priesthood in mortality. But for those who harden their hearts, there will be no priesthood given unto them. In fact, we learn in D&C 121:33-46 that the priesthood only works on the principles of righteousness, and when a man attempts to rule wickedly, it is "amen" or the end to that man's priesthood.
Note that the priesthood is a "privilege" and not a right. It is not something we earn or demand as a right, but is a gift given to those who prepare themselves to use it. That preparation requires great faith, repentance, and good works. If a man is ordained to the priesthood, while lacking the preparation, he may hold the priesthood, but will not have the power that comes with it.
"Or in fine, in the first place they were on the same standing with their brethren; thus this holy calling being prepared from the foundation of the world for such as would not harden their hearts, being in and through the atonement of the Only Begotten Son, who was prepared—And thus being called by this holy calling, and ordained unto the high priesthood of the holy order of God, to teach his commandments unto the children of men, that they also might enter into his rest" (Alma 13:5-6).
All spirit children of God were born equal. It is what we did in our pre-mortal existence and here that determines whether we are ready to receive any gifts from God. It is not an issue of meriting such gifts, but of being ready and able to receive it. Why give the gift of the Spirit to a man, who refuses to listen to it? The priesthood is given to help us help others enter into God's "rest" or presence.
"This high priesthood being after the order of his Son, which order was from the foundation of the world; or in other words, being without beginning of days or end of years, being prepared from eternity to all eternity, according to his foreknowledge of all things" (Alma 13:7).
Here we get an interesting definition of some terms. "in other words" notes we are to receive a definition or meaning of a term. "without beginning of days or end of years" and "eternity to all eternity" does not necessarily mean forever into the past and future, but that it began with the foundation of the world! In the Book of Mormon, we thrice find the term "eternal round" (1 Nephi 10:19, Alma 7:20, 37:12. see also D&C 3:2, 35:1). Interestingly, Alma uses the term twice, once just prior to going to Ammonihah to preach, and the other in teaching his sons. Such view of time is in keeping with ancient Israel, which did not see time as linear, but as a cycle.
It seems that an eternal round is a period of time, or a cycle of time, during which there is a Creation and a Destruction. During this period, God's work is performed to create spirit children, send them to a newly formed earth, allow them to Fall, offer them an Infinite Atonement, and bring those who will follow Christ back into His presence.
"they become high priests forever, after the order of the Son, the Only Begotten of the Father, who is without beginning of days or end of years, who is full of grace, equity, and truth. And thus it is. Amen" (Alma 13:9).
This ordination to high priest is an eternal ordination. It does not end with death, but continues on into the eternities. It is the priesthood which Jesus Christ had (Hebrews 5-7), as well as his apostles. It is the priesthood that Moses held, and desired to use to bring Israel back into the presence of God at Sinai (D&C 84:19-26). We will now see that it is also the priesthood that Melchizedek the King of Salem held.
"Therefore they were called after this holy order, and were sanctified, and their garments were washed white through the blood of the Lamb.Now they, after being sanctified by the Holy Ghost, having their garments made white, being pure and spotless before God, could not look upon sin save it were with abhorrence; and there were many, exceedingly great many, who were made pure and entered into the rest of the Lord their God" (Alma 13:11-12).
Here we see the ancient guidance given by God to Moses in preparing Aaron and his sons to serve as high priests in the Tabernacle. They were to be sanctified, washed clean, and made pure in order to enter into God's presence. So it is with us if we want to see the face of God and live in His kingdom. Mormons attending the temple dress in white clothing to symbolize such purity, as they seek to be sanctified by the Holy Ghost and purified in the blood of Christ (sanctification and justification). The grea t purpose of the temple is for us to symbolically learn to be pure and enter into God's rest.
Alma begins speaking of Melchizedek, his people, and the priesthood and ordinances that led them into God's presence. According to the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible, the people of Melchizedek were a wicked people, but repented and became righteous and sanctified (made holy) to where their city was caught up to the city of Enoch in a state of paradise (JST 14).
Melchizedek is a name that is two words: Melchi (King) and Zedek (Righteousness), or the King of Righteousness. Being King over the city of Salem (Peace), he is also the Prince of Peace (Alma 13:18). Abraham paid tithes to Melchizedek, and the King performed great miracles throughout his life as a priesthood holder. As with Enoch and Moses, he becomes a symbol of the future Christ. Today, the priesthood after the order of the Son of God is nicknamed the Melchizedek Priesthood, or the Priesthood of the King of Righteousness!
As Melchizedek is a great king and priest unto God, so we can also do so. The highest form of this priesthood is found in the temple ordinances. When man and woman are sealed in eternal marriage, they receive together the Patriarchal Priesthood. This priesthood was given to Abraham, and through this priesthood all the nations of the world are blessed with the gospel and the binding ties (Book of Abraham 1). In the temple, man and woman learn to become kings and queens and priests and priestesses under the tutelage of Jesus Christ. As Melchizedek becomes a symbol of Christ, so too do those who receive the fullness of the priesthood become a symbol of the Great High Priest, Jesus Christ.
Alma tells the people of Ammonihah that it is now the time to repent, for angels are " angels are declaring it unto many at this time in our land; and this is for the purpose of preparing the hearts of the children of men to receive his word at the time of his coming in his glory" (Alma 13:24). Alma and Amulek are two witnesses of the coming of angels, who prepare all of us for the coming of God in glory. Alma concludes his sermon telling them that,
"Having faith on the Lord; having a hope that ye shall receive eternal life; having the love of God always in your hearts, that ye may be lifted up at the last day and enter into his rest.30 And may the Lord grant unto you repentance, that ye may not bring down his wrath upon you, that ye may not be bound down by the chains of hell, that ye may not suffer the second death" (Alma 13:29-30).
That the few righteous among the people will be cast out or burned in the fire (along with the holy scriptures), shows that (as noted in the previous lesson) the people of Ammonihah were inhospitable and sought to impose their wickedness upon the righteous. Alma and Amulek are cast into prison, and tortured for days, also a sign that the city was ripened in wickedness (Alma 14). Even the miraculous rescue of the prophets from prison did not cause the people to repent. All that was left was for the Lord to allow the Lamanites to destroy them (alma 16), and allow them to "suffer the second death" (Alma 13:30) out of the presence of God.
Justification and Sanctification: http://joelsmonastery.blogspot.com/2012/01/book-of-mormon-lesson-6-free-to-choose.html
Joseph Smith Translation of Bible on Melchizedek: http://www.lds.org/scriptures/jst/jst-gen/14?lang=eng