Come Follow Me: D&C 63
Along with Oliver Cowdery and Sidney Rigdon, Joseph Smith returned from Independence to Kirtland. While there, the temple site had been revealed by the Lord, and Jackson County established as the center of Zion.
My wife and I were just on vacation there this past weekend for a few days. In the center of the future Zion sets the temple lot. It is currently owned by the Church of Christ (Temple Lot), a branch of Mormonism. Next to the temple lot is the sea shell designed temple of the Community of Christ (formerly the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints). Kitty corner to the temple lot is the visitor's center for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Primitive Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has their headquarters building on the opposite side of the Community of Christ's temple. Other early Restoration churches/persons have a foothold in the area. One of the more prominent of these is my friend John Hajicek (a member of the Strang branch of Mormonism ), who has the largest collection of Mormon historical items, books, papers, etc, bar none. Sadly, I wasn't able to meet with him this trip, as he is in Park City, Utah being interviewed for a documentary. John is available on Facebook, and shares photos of many of his new historical finds.
The key is, Utah Latter-day Saints are not the only "Mormons." We are the major branch of groups that separated at the death of Joseph Smith. Each has interest in the city of Independence and especially the temple lot. We are not the only ones who reverence Joseph Smith as a prophet. We are not the only ones looking forward to Zion being built in Jackson County. You may say we are cousins in the Restoration, each with its own ties and claims to Joseph the Prophet.
Back to Joseph Smith's time.Upon arriving back in Kirtland, Joseph wrote in his journal:
“In these infant days of the Church, there was a great anxiety to obtain the word of the Lord upon every subject that in any way concerned our salvation; and as the land of Zion was now the most important temporal object in view, I enquired of the Lord for further information upon the gathering of the Saints, and the purchase of the land, and other matters.”
This is noted in the preface of section 63. It is such an important comment that I did not want us to overlook it. Many revelations were occurring. About half of the revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants were received before the Church was 2 years old! Yet, of all the important revelations thus far, Joseph noted that the most important temporal thing was to build the physical Zion as a gathering place. You will note I've mentioned the Gathering many times in the lessons I've shared to this point. Why?
Because to this day it is still the "most important temporal object in view" for all branches of the Restoration.
"Wherefore, verily I say, let the wicked take heed, and let theand tremble; and let the unbelieving hold their lips, for the of wrath shall come upon them as a , and all flesh shall that I am God.
"And he that seeketh shall see , but not unto salvation.
"Verily, I say unto you, there are those among you who seek signs, and there have been such even from the beginning;
"But, behold, faith cometh not by signs, but follow those that believe.
"Yea, come by , not by the will of men, nor as they please, but by the will of God.
"Yea, signs come by faith, unto mighty works, for without no man pleaseth God; and with whom God is he is not well pleased; wherefore, unto such he showeth no signs, only in unto their ." (vs 6-11)
Again, the Lord warns the wicked. It is a continuous process in the scriptures. God continually must stir people up to repentance through threatening them with death, hell, pain and sorrow. As the saints in both Kirtland and Independence will find out, disobedience leads people away from God, turns them against the Lord's Prophet, and many become enemies of the Church.
Some among the wicked (including rebellious members, like Ezra Booth) insisted on signs that Joseph Smith was a Prophet. In fact, some members insisted on continuous signs to keep them satisfied with the Prophet and Church.
As with many more people along the line, who came to oppose the Church, they did not seek a testimony of faith. Instead, they sought signs to satisfy the flesh. Signs must follow faith, or they are of only temporary value. There is no foundation for them to build upon. As with Laman and Lemuel, when they saw the angel, it was a powerful experience at the time. But, because they had no faith, the sign did not last long for them. Soon, they were again accusing Lehi of being a visionary man, and Nephi as an usurper of their birth right.
Such signs without faith can only lead to a greater judgment against them for not using the experience to repent and develop true faith.
However, with faith, signs can lead to great miracles. The greatest miracle would have been founding Zion back when the Church was so little. Sadly, too many members were proud, arrogant, fighting amongst themselves and with non-members. Some, like Ezra Booth, did not like the idea of Zion being built in the wilderness of Missouri. Several, who belonged to the United Order, had broken their covenant. Even with frequent revelations, the upcoming Pentecost at the Kirtland Temple dedication and other miracles, the saints expected miracles and signs to make things easy for them, regardless of their lack of faith and disobedience.
Because of the lack of true faith, Zion could not be built back then. Because of a lack of faith and obedience, we are still awaiting the city of Zion to be built. When among the active members, less than half pay a full tithe. Many refuse to speak in Sacrament meeting, read their scriptures daily, pray intensely several times a day, etc., how can we ever hope to build Zion, unless the Lord were to first cleanse us with the refiner's fire? Such is the tale of the Latter-day Saints, being driven from place to place, which has helped to refine those generations. Sadly, many in the current generations do not ponder the great sacrifices made by the early saints, nor learn from these warnings of the Lord.
"Wherefore, I, the Lord, am not pleased with those among you who have sought after signs and wonders for faith, and not for the good of men unto my glory.
"Nevertheless, I give commandments, and many have turned away from my commandments and havethem.
"There were among youand adulteresses; some of whom have turned away from you, and others remain with you that hereafter shall be revealed.
"Let such beware and repent speedily, lest judgment shall come upon them as a, and their shall be made manifest, and their works shall follow them in the eyes of the people." (vs 12-15)
Signs should not be to satisfy our own curiosity, but to bring people to Christ. As the Lord warned in the Matthew 16:4, "it is a wicked and adulterous generation who seeketh for a sign." In section 63, the Lord expounds upon both the wicked and the adulterous. It seems both seek signs for the wrong purpose. Both must repent quickly, or stand in judgment.
Our hearts cannot be focused on the worldly things that will drive away the Spirit of the Lord. This especially includes lusting, which can drive away the Spirit, turn our focus away from God and onto our animal desires. Such turns us away from the vision of Zion, and onto the selfishness and dehumanizing feelings of Babylon. Instead of seeing women as daughters of God, they are viewed as things to possess and impose our selfish wills upon. Such can quickly destroy a Zion home, and exchange it with darkness and chaos.
"Nevertheless, he that in faith and doeth my , the same shall overcome, and shall receive an upon the earth when the day of transfiguration shall come;
"When the shall be , even according to the pattern which was shown unto mine apostles upon the ; of which account the fulness ye have not yet received.
"And now, verily I say unto you, that as I said that I would make known my will unto you, behold I will make it known unto you, by the way of commandment, for there are many who observe not to keep my commandments.
"But unto him that keepeth my commandments I will give the of my kingdom, and the same shall be in him a well of living , unto everlasting life." (vs 20-23)
Yet, for those who build their faith, there will be an inheritance in the last days. Note that we are not talking about the inheritances early saints received in Zion. Perhaps these were to be temporary inheritances for their mortal probation. The eternal inheritances will be given at the time when the earth and all the righteous are "transfigured", or "translated" as we use the term today.
The Lord notes transfiguration in conjunction with the experience at the Mount of Transfiguration. This concept is introduced four years prior to the partial endowment (initiatory) given in the Kirtland Temple, and about 15 years until the Nauvoo Temple endowment. We can see here, as we do with the Book of Mormon and other early revelations, the beginnings of the modern endowment.
Some have suggested that the Mount of Transfiguration was the endowment given to Peter, James and John. The endowment back then was probably different from the modern endowment we have today. Yet the covenants and ordinances would have been similar. The key to the endowment then, and now, is the individual having a spiritual experience, where holy angels bring them into the presence of God.
"And now, behold, this is the will of the Lord your God concerning his saints, that they should themselves together unto the land of Zion, not in haste, lest there should be confusion, which bringeth pestilence.
"Behold, the land of —I, the Lord, hold it in mine own hands;
26 Nevertheless, I, the Lord, render unto the things which are Cæsar’s."Wherefore, I the Lord will that you should the lands, that you may have advantage of the world, that you may have claim on the world, that they may not be unto anger.
"For it into their hearts to anger against you, and to the shedding of blood.
"Wherefore, the land of Zion shall not be obtained but by or by blood, otherwise there is none inheritance for you." (vs 24-29)
The Gathering officially begun, the Lord commands them to not hurry. Sadly, due to weickedness, the first group to be sent would be the Colesville Saints, who lost their lands in Kirtland when they were taken from them. More wickedness would cause many to ignore the guidance of the Prophet and other leaders, who told the saints to only gather to Zion when called upon to do so. Many would go in their poverty, expecting the bishop to give them lands. Jackson County exploded from 3000 inhabitants to 4500 in one year, due to the influx of members who didn't wait to be called to gather to Zion. The ensuing wars, persecutions, and dangers occurred because God's commands were not heeded from the very beginning.
Note that Zion could be obtained by purchase or war. God preferred the peaceful way, keeping peace with Caesar by slowly buying up lands. The saints' disobedience led them to obtaining lands by war, of which there were insufficient numbers of saints to go to war against the entire state of Missouri.
Even today, the Church is quietly buying up properties in Jackson and surrounding counties, preparing for the future of Zion. It is better to be a good neighbor and not gather in haste, than to drive others to be at war with us. That is not Zion.
"And if by purchase, behold you are blessed;
"And if by , as you are forbidden to shed blood, lo, your enemies are upon you, and ye shall be scourged from city to city, and from synagogue to synagogue, and but shall stand to receive an inheritance." (vs 30-31)
In D&C 98, the Lord will tell us to "renounce war and proclaim peace." President Spencer W. Kimball once noted that we are a "warlike people." It is easy to justify war. America has been doing so for a long time. The Book of Mormon notes that war is only acceptable in self-defense. Many times, America has entered into wars of offense (Vietnam, Iraq, Syria, etc), leading to hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths. The Lord suggests in these sections that peaceful methods must be employed. We are "forbidden" to shed blood. As we will see, the saints were scourged from city to city. The saints have yet to receive an inheritance.
"I, the Lord, am with the ; I am holding my from the inhabitants of the earth.
"I have sworn in my wrath, and upon the face of the earth, and the wicked shall the wicked, and fear shall come upon every man;
"And the also shall ; nevertheless, I, the Lord, am with them, and will down in heaven from the presence of my Father and the wicked with unquenchable fire.
"And behold, this is not yet, but." (vs 32-35)
The Lord, though angry with the wicked, is patient. Their destruction does not occur until they are ripened in iniquity. The disasters to come will be worse than all disasters we've seen to date. Even the saints shall hardly escape. The only escape will be Zion and her stakes, and then, the saints must fully decide to be true saints, otherwise they will be left out among the wicked in Babylon. As noted before in D&C 45, "those among the wicked who will not lift up their swords to fight, must needs flee to Zion for safety."
The question then is, shall we build Zion before such disasters occur, or will we be building it on the fly, during a time of great desperation? Note, it will not be the saints fighting the war with their weapons of war, the Lord will come down himself and defeat the wicked. Yet, how many members believe they will be building Zion with one hand on the trigger of their favorite rifle?
Now, is the time to renounce war and declare peace. Now is the time to prepare to build Zion, so we aren't doing it in the middle of global catastrophe.
"Wherefore, seeing that I, the Lord, have decreed all these things upon the face of the earth, I will that my saints should be assembled upon the land of Zion;
" that every man should take in his hands and upon his loins, and lift a warning unto the inhabitants of the earth; and declare both by word and by flight that shall come upon the wicked." (vs 36-37)
Not only do we need to prepare ourselves, but invite our friends and neighbors to prepare. How many of our friends laughed at our food storage, only to gather up food, cleaning supplies, masks, toilet paper and hand sanitizer over the last year (2020) during the Covid pandemic? Perhaps some may listen now to the importance of being both spiritually and temporally prepared for the days of chaos and destruction.
In speaking of this, I'm not wanting us to share conspiracy theories with our friends. There are plenty of conspiracy theories floating around about both Republicans and Democrats in the United States. Instead, teach them the doctrines, as I've shared them here.
Finally, the Lord pronounces blessings on the righteous, whether they live until the Second Coming or die beforehand. The living will be translated in a moment as the Lord descends in glory. The dead will resurrect and meet him.
At the last day, the servants/angels of God will divide the wheat from the tares, the righteous from the wicked. One way this will happen is that the righteous will flee to Zion, while the wicked remain in Babylon. There will be wise and foolish virgins, members of the Church and other Christians, who will not prepare, and will not be ready to enter Zion. They will suffer.
One thing to note is that God is often reprimanding the leaders of the Church. Even Joseph Smith is chastised occasionally. God chastens and humbles those whom he loves. Those who love God will humble themselves and accept the chastening. In return, they are more blessed for their meekness in following God.