One evening Joseph Smith was visited by the angel Moroni who repeated a message three times during the night. Part of the message was this:
1 Behold, I will reveal unto you the Priesthood,
by the hand of Elijah the Prophet, before the
coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.
2 And he shall plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers, and the hearts of the children shall turn to their fathers.
3 If it were not so, the whole earth would be utterly wasted at His coming.
This passage is remarkable, but one of the most amazing things about it isn’t in the text itself. It’s in the date this revelation was given: September 21, 1823.
When we read this passage we know immediately that it has something to do with family history, temple work, and the sealing power of the priesthood. But when Moroni delivered this message to Joseph in 1823, no one knew anything about genealogy. No one had a clue about temples – especially Joseph Smith. He was only 17 years old.
• It would be 7 years before the Church was organized.
• 13 years before Elijah would visit the Kirtland Temple to fulfill prophecy.
• 20 years later, when Joseph preached at Brother King Follett’s funeral, he had come to understand the significance of family history and temple work, but not in 1823.
In 1823, this revelation made no sense to Joseph.
Why would the Lord, after centuries of darkness, make this the first scripture of the New Dispensation? Why was this the first revelation of the Restoration? What was so incredibly important that the Lord would make sure this message was recorded before dealing with anything else, including the organization of the Church, and all other revelations?
A Curious Placement in Scripture
And, Moroni’s words are not new, he was quoting the prophet Malachi’s closing words of the Old Testament (Malachi 4:6). Think about this for a moment. This passage’s placement in scripture is curious.
• The closing words of the Old Testament
• The opening words of the Dispensation of the Fullness of Times
• Both address the same topic.
I’d say the Lord was trying to make a point. And the point is made in vv2-3, “And the hearts of the children shall turn to their fathers.” Meaning? Our thoughts must turn to our forefathers – our ancestors.
“If it were not so,” if this does not happen, the scripture warns,
“the whole earth would be utterly wasted at [the Lord’s] coming.”
If our hearts are not turned to our forefathers – Why would the earth be wasted?
Heaven’s Goal: Get Everyone Home
Heavenly Father’s main goal, His Plan, His work and His glory is to what? “Bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39). Ultimately, the earth was created to save us: His children. If His children are not sought out and endowed with those covenants and ordinances that somehow save and exalt and get us back home to His presence, then what is the reason for His having created the earth?
The Population Reference Bureau estimates that 106 billion people have been born since the dawn of the human race. Even though this number is only an estimate, we do know that there are billions of people who have lived on the earth and never heard the gospel of Jesus Christ, much less had their ordinance work done.
To make it fair, the Lord devised a plan within The Plan to give all of His children the same opportunity to hear and accept the gospel. So important was this facet to the Plan that the very first thing Christ did after His death and resurrection was enter the Spirit World and organize missionary forces among the spirits there.
30 Behold, from among the righteous, he [Jesus Christ] organized his forces and appointed messengers clothed with power and authority, and commissioned them to go forth and carry the light of the gospel to them that were in darkness, even to all the spirits of men…
31 And the chosen messengers went forth to…proclaim liberty to the captives who were bound, even unto all who would repent of their sins and receive the gospel.
32 Thus was the gospel preached to those who had died in their sins, without a knowledge of the truth, or in transgression, having rejected the prophets.
33 These were taught faith in God, repentance from sin, vicarious baptism for the remission of sins, the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands.
34 And all other principles of the gospel that were necessary for them to know in order to qualify themselves that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in spirit…and thus was the gospel preached to the dead.
Through the centuries, how many, do you suppose, have responded to gospel teaching in the Spirit World? Of the billions of spirits who have learned the Doctrine of Christ, what percentage, do you think, have accepted? 5%? 10%? 50%? Well, according to the prophets, most have accepted. Listen to this.
President Wilford Woodruff:
“There will be very few, if any, who will not accept [and]…embrace the Gospel.”
(Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Wilford Woodruff, 185)
President Lorenzo Snow:
“In Temples we are accomplishing a great work [for] our kindred dead… There will be very few who will not receive the truth.”
(Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Lorenzo Snow, 141-43)
What this means is that the conversion rate in the Spirit World is very high. Most are receiving the gospel and awaiting their ordinance work to be done. But ordinance work must be done here on earth.
Now, I have always wondered why the Lord leaves the physical ordinance work to us. I mean, Heavenly Father could do all of this Himself. With a word, He could provide genealogical records linking everyone back to Adam. With a turn of a finger, He could deem all ordinance work complete. It would be easier. It would be neater. It certainly would be quicker. But, you know something? It wouldn’t connect us.
The Lord, in His brilliant wisdom, asks our help in the Plan because this is the only way our hearts will turn to our fathers. There is an emotional connection – a spiritual welding link that happens when we physically seek out their records and follow through with their temple work. A bond occurs, connecting, as it were, heaven and earth.
Prophet Joseph Smith:
“The greatest responsibility in this world that God has laid upon us is to seek after our dead.”
(Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, 475)
The greatest responsibility…that God had laid upon us, he says, is to seek our forebears. What a responsibility. What a blessing.
The Plan has been laid out. The prophesies have been given. The gospel has been restored. Now, we have a work set before us as many await their work to be done.
Michel Otterson, The Hearts of the Children, Brigham Young University – Idaho Devotional, 28 November 2006)
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