Come Follow Me: D&C 12-13
This is a revelation given to Joseph Knight, one of the early converts to the Church. Imagine what it must have been like back in 1829, when most churches no longer believed in continuing revelation, angels, etc. Here was 24 year old Joseph Smith claiming to be a prophet, and revelation was again on the earth. Consider how the early followers would have understood concepts such as "establish the cause of Zion," "knock and it shall be opened to you," or as in last week's lesson on Hyrum Smith's revelation in section 11, "become the sons of God."
Their understanding was very limited. Even Joseph Smith, at this time, would not have comprehended the enormity of the work ahead: publishing the Book of Mormon, receiving priesthood and keys, building temples and cities.
What they understood by the word Zion would be very different in just a few years, when they began moving to Independence, Missouri. At the time of the revelation, it was just a metaphor for starting a religious movement.
When we take our hindsight out of the equation in reading such revelations, we can begin to understand just what they understood at the time, and how our understanding has grown with continuing revelation.
One of those great revelations occurs in section 13:
"Upon you my fellow servants, in the name of Messiah Ithe , which holds the of the ministering of , and of the gospel of , and of by immersion for the remission of sins; and this shall never be taken again from the earth, until the do offer again an offering unto the Lord in ."
No one on earth knew what the Aaronic Priesthood was. No one understood the authority needed to baptize. The Lord waited for Joseph and Oliver to ask about baptism. God could have easily just had an angel baptize them or tell them to do whatever they wished. Instead, God used his hierarchy of angels to begin a process of transferring power and keys to human beings.
The Aaronic Priesthood was restored to the earth by John the Baptist on
May 15, 1829. Between then and May 1830, the Melchizedek Priesthood was
also restored by the ancient apostles Peter, James and John.
The priesthood provides two things: power and authority. Authority to govern the Church, perform ordinances, and organize is very important. As important as authority is, however, it is impotent without the power of the priesthood. President Packer recently stated that we do well on distributing the authority, but need to improve on distributing the true powers of heaven. He also notes in his discussion on priesthood,
"I include the sisters because it is crucial for everyone to understand what is expected of the brethren. Unless we enlist the attention of the mothers and daughters and sisters—who have influence on their husbands, fathers, sons, and brothers—we cannot progress. The priesthood will lose great power if the sisters are neglected." (Ensign, April 2010, The Power of the Priesthood)
This power is not only for the men, but also for the women of the Church. Why? Because of the ordinances and covenants attached to the priesthood. Women serve callings under priesthood power and authority. Their priesthood responsibility is as important as that of man's.
The Aaronic Priesthood provides the outward ordinances, holding the keys of repentance, baptism and the ministering of angels (D&C 13).
What is the "ministering of angels?" Most Christians in Joseph's day did not believe in the continuing gifts of the Spirit, miracles, visions or angelic visits. Yet, the Book of Mormon spoke frequently about angels. Nephi taught that "angels speak by the power of the Holy Ghost." For Joseph, angels were frequent visitors to him in these early years.
Most of those over the years claiming to be prophets claim to have visions or angelic visits. What made Joseph's experiences different? For many of his visions and revelations, others were also witnesses. The Three Witnesses saw Moroni and the plates. The Eight Witnesses saw the plates and handled them. Mary Whitmer saw Moroni and the plates. Now, Joseph AND Oliver would be visited by John the Baptist, and within a month by Peter, James and John. Later, Sidney Rigdon would see the Three Degrees of Glory with Joseph.Joseph, Sidney, and Frederick Williams would see the temple in vision, before it was built. In the Kirtland Temple, dozens of members saw angels, spoke in tongues, saw visions, and some even saw God and Jesus.
The key to the ministering of angels also means we can ask God to send angels to assist others, as well.
It was by this power of ministering of angels that Alma the Elder sent and angel to his son and the sons of Mosiah to call them to repentance. Many people have been touched by the ministering of angels over the past two centuries. I know of many people who have had angels ministered to them. It is a real power from the Aaronic Priesthood.
greater Priesthood of Melchizedek holds even greater power and promise:
"And this greater priesthood administereth the gospel and holdeth the key of the mysteries of the kingdom, even the key of the knowledge of God.
Therefore, in the ordinances thereof, the power of godliness is manifest.
And without the ordinances thereof, and the authority of the priesthood, the power of godliness is not manifest unto men in the flesh;
For without this no man can see the face of God, even the Father, and live.
Now this Moses plainly taught to the children of Israel in the wilderness, and sought diligently to sanctify his people that they might behold the face of God;
But they hardened their hearts and could not endure his presence; therefore, the Lord in his wrath, for his anger was kindled against them, swore that they should not enter into his rest while in the wilderness, which rest is the fulness of his glory. (D&C 84:19-24)
While the Aaronic Priesthood gives the power to have angels minister to a person and to have a remission of sins, the Melchizedek Priesthood holds the power to bring people into the presence of God, to have His mystery revealed to them, and to become not only cleansed of sin, but purified to a divine state!
Moses' goal at Sinai was to take Israel to the top of the mountain, where each one of them would see God personally. They refused to go, fearing God's wrath and reluctant to give up their sinful ways. God gave them the lesser priesthood as a preparatory power, to prepare them for the greater opportunities. If mankind was not ready to converse with God, perhaps they could be prepared to converse with angels.
The Melchizedek Priesthood, however, contains the power, primarily through the ordinances, of being in the presence of the members of the Godhead.
First, the Gift of the Holy Ghost is confirmed upon a person, giving that person access to the third member of the Godhead. In the temple ordinances, which set us apart from the world both figuratively and literally, we learn to walk through the Cosmos and all of Creation, in a journey to return back into the full presence and glory of God. This is not a journey that is accomplished alone. It is a journey for both Adam and Eve, husband and wife, who share the power, authority and blessings of the Melchizedek Priesthood within the temple. In the marriage sealing, husband and wife both receive together the Patriarchal Priesthood, the greatest role in the Melchizedek Priesthood. Husband and wife are promised that as they are faithful to God, they will receive blessings in time and eternity, to stand in God's presence and be like Him.
This is the purpose of the priesthood in our day: to prepare a people to stand in the presence of God and be holy. Through the ordinances the priesthood provides, men and women can enjoy the greatest blessings and opportunities of God in heaven. These promises begin with baptism and find the climax as the believers enter into the Celestial Room of the temple, symbolic of the day when they literally will walk into the Celestial Kingdom and into the presence of God the Father and Jesus Christ.
I also recommend the following talks which speak on keys, authority, and women using the priesthood by Pres Dallin H. Oaks: