D&C Gospel Doctrine Lesson 25: Priesthood the Power of Godliness

D&C 84 & D&C 107

I thought this week’s lesson would be a challenge, because this is generally my reaction when I hear we’re having a lesson on priesthood:

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Men. Stuffy. White shirts. No women. Boring. When I hear we’re having a lesson on the priesthood, it’s really easy for me to want to check out.

HOWEVER, I am pleased to say that preparing this lesson was a rewarding experience and I really learned a lot.

THIS is what God wants us to think about when we think about the priesthood:

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The priesthood is the power of God. With the priesthood, we can serve in the ministering of angels, have access to the key of the knowledge of God, and ultimately become like God.

Historical Context

Like with all scripture, we need to make sure we put section 84 in context.

This revelation was received in 1832 in Kirtland Ohio.

It was received in the presence of either 6 or 10 recently returned missionaries on either September 22 or September 23 (or both).

By the time this revelation had been received, both the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods had been restored, and the temple site at Far West Missouri had been dedicated. There’s some discrepancy about whether the Melchizedek priesthood was restored in 1829 or 1831, but suffice it to say that by 1832 we had it.

Joseph and God had the temple on the brain. God reminds Joseph in this revelation to work towards building a temple in Far West in D&C 84:2-3

Yea, the word of the Lord concerning his church, established in the last days for the restoration of his people, as he has spoken by the mouth of his prophets, and for the gathering of his saints to stand upon Mount Zion, which shall be the city of New Jerusalem. Which city shall be built, beginning at the temple lot, which is appointed by the finger of the Lord, in the western boundaries of the State of Missouri, and dedicated by the hand of Joseph Smith, Jun., and others with whom the Lord was well pleased.

Here’s a picture of the temple plot today:

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The Lord makes clear throughout this revelation that the priesthood is inseparably connected with the temple, but the Saints wouldn’t really understand what that meant until the institution of temple teachings and ordinances later:

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Moses and the Israelites

D&C 84:6-16, 23-26 talks about Moses. Why? Because “foes oppose us, we take an honest stand. We roll like Moses, claiming our promised land.”

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Just kidding, Hamilton aside, the Lord spends a whopping dozen verses talking about Moses for a couple reasons. First, it serves as a historical prologue in an ancient covenant treaty pattern. But you don’t care about that. The more important reason is that God wanted to inspire Joseph and the Saints to succeed where the Israelites had failed.

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After delivering the children of Israel out of Egypt, Moses went up to Sinai to meet with the Lord face to face. He went to receive the new law and covenant that they would now live under. Moses wanted to bring the Israelites into the presence of God because he believed that they could and should know God personally.

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However, you know the story, the Israelites were idiots. As depicted in this screenshot of The Ten Commandments, they started worshiping a golden calf and were laying out girls on moving carts. Seriously? How stupid do you have to be? Her leg is practically wedged into the spoke of the wheel. One wrong move and she’d be flung under the cart with a grotesquely broken leg. Not cool, Israelites.

Long story short, the Lord decided that they weren’t ready for the higher priesthood, so they were left with only the Aaronic priesthood and a set of carnal commandments for officiating in the Law of Moses.

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Now the million dollar question is: Can Joseph succeed where Moses failed? God wants all his children to be able to enter his presence and his divine council. Will the Saints be able to live up to this higher law and officiate in ordinances of the Melchizedek priesthood? Spoiler: Yes.

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Roles and Responsibilities of the 2 Priesthoods

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At this point, I split the class into 2 groups and had them each research the roles and responsibilities of that respective priesthood. After I gave them time to read the assigned scriptures, we detailed on the whiteboard what those different roles and responsibilities were. Here’s just an example:

Aaronic

Melchizedek

Ministering of Angels
Carnal commandments

Preparatory Gospel

Faith, Repentance, Baptism

Office of Deacon, Teacher, Priest, (Bishop)

Key to the Knowledge of God

Spiritual matters

Higher priesthood

Named after Melchizedek, the high priest

Offices of Elder, High Priest, Patriarch, 12, 70, etc.

Melchizedek Priesthood: The Key of the Knowledge of God

Let’s start with the Melchizedek Priesthood. D&C 84 indicates that a unique feature of this priesthood is that it holds the “key of the knowledge of god” (v. 19). What does that even mean? Well your temple bells should be going off right now.

Key of the Knowledge of God = Knowing special secrets of God

In the Bible, as well as in Egyptian & Greco-Roman mystery cults, when it talks about special or secret knowledge about God, they’re talking about temple stuff. Temples are about coming into the presence of God and being admitted into God’s divine council. One enters that divine council by being worthy and obtaining special knowledge of God.

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Both Lehi and Nephi indicate that they have had visions of this divine council (seeing God on his throne surrounded by numberless concourses of angles), and were admitted in. Ezekiel also had such a vision, as have many prophets.

This “special knowledge” is not just knowledge from God, but it’s also knowledge about God. We learn about who He is and what His nature is. We learn of his plan and his desires for us.

The key of the knowledge of God then, is about obtaining special ritual knowledge that can help you enter into the Lord’s presence again. We obtain this knowledge by officiating in ordinances of the Melchizedek priesthood.

Key of the Knowledge of God = knowing God

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While using a temple context is useful, it’s not the only way to look at the scripture. You can also interpret it as: Having the Melchizedek Priesthood is how we can come to know God better.

The Melchizedek Priesthood is the power of God, and by using it, we are exercising His power. Coming to know God is how we can ultimately have salvation and eternal life:

And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent. (John 17:3)

So knowing God is a prerequisite for eternal life. At least, that’s one way to look at the verse.

Key of the Knowledge of God = Becoming as God

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Saying knowledge is a prerequisite for eternal life is a completely valid interpretation, but sometimes I like to look at it as saying that eternal life is a prerequisite for truly knowing God. (especially when you look at the Greek’s use of ινα “in order that”)

If you take John 17:3, and interpret it as:

This is life eternal. This is the purpose and joy of eternal life: getting to know God up close and personal

all of a sudden, we become peers with God. Eternal Life is an opportunity for us to learn at the feet of the Creator of the Universe. We can become like Him. We can create. We can only harness these powers of creation with faith and the Melchizedek priesthood.

Aaronic Priesthood: The Ministering of Angels

This priesthood is the lesser priesthood, it’s true, but it doesn’t mean it’s not impressive. If anything, we take the power of the Aaronic priesthood too lightly and don’t realize the sacred magnitude this priesthood contains.

What is the ministering of Angels?

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Painting by Walter Rane

The ministering of Angels is to participate in the work that the angels do. What do angels do? They comfort, they deliver messages, they serve God, they give warning, they protect, they perform miracles by virtue of the priesthood.

The ministering of angels is not only to do what angels would do, but to also interact with angels.

Angel in Greek literally just means “messenger,” so an angel can be anyone, but I’m going to relate some quotes and accounts on real experiences with angels. Angels are real, they are all around us, and they help us accomplish God’s work.

Joseph Smith

The spirits of the just are exalted to a greater and more glorious work; hence they are blessed in their departure to the World of Spirits. Enveloped in flaming fire they are not far from us and know and understand our thoughts and feelings and notions and are often pained therewith. (History of the Church 6:51-52)

Brigham Young

The Lord’s angels are around us…There is much in my presence besides those who site here, if we had eyes to see the heavenly beings that are in our presence (Discourses of Brigham Young, 41-42)

Wilford Woodruff

The angels are watching over us. The eyes of all the heavenly hosts are over us. Those who have lived in other dispensations understand this dispensation far better than we do, and they are watching over the labors of the Elders of Israel. (Bateman, Prophets Have Spoken, 1:1046)

James E. Talmage

Because of God’s great love, He has set heavenly beings to watch over us and to guard us from the attacks of evil powers while we live on earth. Do we realize that in our daily walk and work we are not alone,  but that angels attend us wherever our duty causes us to go? (Millenial Star 55 [July 10, 1893]: 446)

Accounts of Angelic Visits

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The following accounts are all taken from Donald Parry, Angels: Agents of Light, Love, and Power (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 2013).

Joseph Smith and Allen Stout

A story about Joseph Smith and his bodyguard Allen Stout provides yet another example of an encounter with a translated person who concealed his angelic status while fulfilling his mission upon the earth. As Joseph Smith and Allen Stout were walking on a road west of the Mississippi River, “they saw a man walking along a road leading in from the south and coming towards them. The Prophet told Allen to remain where he was while he stepped over to speak with this pedestrian. Allen turned his back towards them and for a time forgot the Prophet and became engaged with his own thoughts, while he stood whipping a low bush with the cane he carried.

“The hand of the Prophet upon his shoulder aroused him. The Prophet said, ‘We must return immediately to Nauvoo.’ They walked silently and rapidly. Allen became very sorrowful over his recreancy to his duty and could not refrain from weeping. The Prophet asked him why he wept. Allen confessed, ‘I am an insufficient bodyguard—criminally neglectful of your welfare. I allowed that man you met to speak with you without even being ready to defend if he attacked you. He could have killed you and made his escape without my knowing who he is, which way he went or what he even looks like. You will have to dispense with my services and take a guard on which you can depend. Your life is too precious to be trusted to my care.’

“The Prophet then said, ‘That man would not harm me. You saw John the Revelator.'” (McConkie, Remembering Joseph, 210-211)

Sherrie’s Shield of Faith

This account, quoted in Angels, came from an Ensign article from 1995. The article is about a little girl named Sherrie who had to endure a 14-hour operation and was comforted in her recovery with many angelic visitors:

Following the surgery, Clayne and Debbie spent the day praying fervently and taking turns keeping vigil at Sherrie’s bedside. As he watched his red-haired daughter sleep in a curtained cubicle that night, Clayne worried that she might die, as Dr. Walker had warned. But Sherrie awoke the next morning and immediately began speaking. A feeling of reverence engulfed the cubicle. For a moment, Clayne was puzzled by Sherrie’s words.

“Daddy, Aunt Cheryl is here,” she told her father. “And another lady I don’t know is with her.” Clayne and an attending nurse, the only ones at Sherrie’s bedside, glanced at each other. Sherrie continued.

“Grandpa Norman [Sherrie’s deceased great-grandfather] and Grandma Brown [Sherrie’s deceased great-great-grandmother] are here. And Daddy, who is that standing beside you?”

“I don’t know, honey,” Clayne replied. “Who does he look like?”

“He looks like you, only taller.” Sherrie paused, then continued. “He says he’s your brother, Jimmy.”

Clayne was three when Jimmy, ten years his senior, died of cystic fibrosis. “I doubt that during Sherrie’s life Jimmy’s name had ever been mentioned,” Clayne says. “She had never even seen a picture of him.”

Clayne, feeling that Sherrie’s death was imminent, hurried from the intensive care unit to awaken Debbie, who was sleeping in the hospital’s parent room. “There are visitors,” he told his wife. “I can’t see them, and I doubt that you can see them. But I can feel them.”

For nearly an hour, Sherrie looked about the cubicle and described her visitors, all deceased family members. Exhausted, she then fell asleep.

“Daddy, all of the children here in the intensive care unit have angels helping them,” Sherrie later told her father. Other visits and sacred experiences, before and after subsequent surgeries and during painful tests and procedures, followed.

“People from the other side helped,” Sherrie recalls tearfully. “When I was really in pain, they would come and help me calm down. They told me that I would be okay and that I would make it through.”

Wilford Woodruff and the Deathly Hallows

This account slightly reminiscent of the legend of the Deathly Hallows in Harry Potter, but teaches a great principle

At general conference in the Tabernacle in Salt Lake City, President Wilford Woodruff related another account wherein someone from the world of spirits came to receive a mortal at death. President Woodruff told of a deceased man named Peter Maughan, who had appeared to three mortals with the goal of appointing one of them to die. Peter went to the first and and conversed with him but concluded that he would not “call” that man to come to the other side of the veil. Peter then went to the second man, who, like the first, was not taken in death. The third man, days later, “was taken sick and died.” President Woodruff concluded: “Now, I name this to show a principle. They have work on the other side of the vail; and they want men, and they call them. And that was my view in regard to Brother George A. Smith. When he was almost at death’s door, Brother Cannon administered to him, and in thirty minutes he was up and ate breakfast with his family. We labored with him in this way, but ultimately, as you know, he died. But it taught me a lesson. I felt that man was wanted behind the vail.” (Journal of Discourses, 22:334)

Harold Be. Lee and the train accident

This account comes from Harold B. Lee. He tells the story of John and Almena Wells, who lost their son in a train accident.

President Harold B. Lee related the tragic experience of John Wells, a member of the Presiding Bishopric, and his wife, Almena, when their son was killed by a freight train in a canyon near Salt Lake City, Utah. Both parents experienced deep sorrow and heartache, but President Lee explained, “Sister Wells was inconsolable.” Her mourning and grieving, which began when she first heard of the accident and continued through the funeral, did not seem to help. She was “in a rather serious state of mind.” Soon after the funeral, while Sister Wells was mourning on her bed, “her son appeared to her and said, ‘Mother do not mourn, do not cry. I am all right.'” Her son explained the nature of the accident, that he had tripped on a root and fell on the tracks as the train passed. “He said that as soon as he realized that he was in another environment he tried to see his father, but couldn’t reach him. His father was so busy with the duties in his office he could not respond to his call. Therefore he had come to his mother. He said to her, ‘You tell Father that all is well with me, and I want you not to mourn any more.'” Bishop and Sister Wells’s son had appeared as a ministering spirit to comfort his parents after his untimely death. (Teachings of Harold B. Lee, 415.

Conclusion

I ran out of time by this point, so I simply ended by sharing a couple angelic experiences of my own and bearing my testimony of the reality of angels.

As fantastic and incredible as these angelic experiences are, mortals can serve angelic roles too. The Aaronic priesthood requires that we engage in the ministering of angels. Even though it would be amazing for a glorified person in white to come up to you and say “everything’s going to be ok,” it is just as powerful to have an ordinary person in jeans to come up to you and say “everything’s going to be ok.” We can, and should be angels in each others’ lives. Giving inspired priesthood blessings is one of the best ways we can serve as angels to others and be a conduit for God’s revelation.

Additional Tidbits

Covenant Treaty Pattern

For those few interested in ancient covenant-making practices, section 84 fits an ancient covenant treaty pattern pretty well. In other words, this section follows the same pattern of covenant making found in the Bible and the ancient Near East. No wonder it’s called The Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood. Joseph Smith must have been really lucky if he made that up.

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Singing with the Tongue of Angels

You should read Book of Mormon Central’s KnoWhy on Speaking with the Tongue of Angels for more information, but basically, the end of D&C 84 makes the same promise as 2 Nephi 32:2

Speaking with the Tongue of Angels means that you can entered into the Divine Council and have entered the presence of God. You are associating with, and speaking with, angels. literally.

D&C 84:98 talks about how if you are faithful, you will eventually know God. You will be filled with the knowledge of God. You will see the Lord face to face (“eye to eye”). This is a typical heavenly ascent pattern. Once you obtain knowledge, you can enter the presence of God. Once admitted into the divine council, you can speak/sing with the tongue of angels. And what do you know, what comes right after verse 98? AN ANGELIC SONG. LITERALLY.

They even typeset this section of D&C in verse instead of in prose. I haven’t done a lot of research on this one, but I don’t think this is a direct quote from any Old or New Testament scripture. I think this is God’s song. This is the song that all shall sing when they enter the presence of God and it’s beautiful. It’s reminiscent of the Song of the Sea in Exodus and songs in Isaiah.

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D&C Gospel Doctrine Lesson 20: Three Kingdoms of Glory

This Sunday I taught lesson 20 in the Gospel Doctrine manual for the Doctrine and Covenants. The lesson was on the Three Degrees of Glory, and dovetailed on the previous week’s lesson on the Plan of Salvation.

 

To begin the lesson, I drew a series of stick-figure scenarios on the board:

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Diagram 1: This family – mother, father, and children – are faithful members of the Church and have been sealed under the covenant. However, one of these children decides to leave the church. What happens to this eternal family? Is this family no longer forever?

stick-figure-family-divorce

Diagram 2: This family – mother, father, and children – are faithful members of the Church and have been sealed under the covenant. However, the mother and father got divorced and their sealing was canceled. What happens to the children? Who are they sealed to? Are they eternal orphans?

stick-figure-family-polygamy

Diagram 3: This family – mother, father, and children, are faithful members of the Church and have been sealed under the covenant. However, the mother dies and the father is sealed to another woman. When that woman dies, the father is sealed once again to another woman. How does this eternal family work? Is the father an eternal polygamist? Which wife will he be sealed to in the eternities?

stick-figure-family-convert

Diagram 4: This family – mother, father, and children, are NOT members of the Church, but are members of another faith. However, one of the children finds the Gospel and joins the Church. This child receives all the necessary ordinances for salvation, but cannot be sealed to his family? How can his family be forever?

As it turns out, most people in the Church today are affected by at least one of these situations. Well, spoiler alert, this lesson can’t provide all the answers to all those conundrums. Some of this requires a lot of faith. But learning about the Plan of Salvation and the Three Degrees of Glory can help us understand the mind of God, and help us develop faith in his Plan. The study of D&C 76 can also give us hints to answering some of these difficult questions.

Historical Context

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This section is received on February 16, 1832 to Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon while in Hiram, Ohio. This revelation came to be known as simply “The Vision” because of its importance in revolutionizing the Church’s theology.

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Think about it. This revelation was revered even above the first Vision is the early days of the Church. It was also a complete game-changer. It was even difficult for members of the Church to accept at the time. Brigham Young explained, “My traditions were such, that when the Vision came first to me, it was directly contrary and opposed to my former education. I said, Wait a little. I did not reject it; but I could not understand it.”

Why was it so hard to wrap their minds around? Well, Christian thought up to this point in history focused a lot on a dualistic view of the afterlife: it’s either heaven or hell for you. Heaven was the glorious paradise of the pious few, and Hell was the place reserved for most of us mortals, since we’re all sinners.

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By the time the 19th century rolled around, Universalism became wildly popular — this idea that Christ’s grace is sufficient for all, therefore, all are saved regardless of behavior.

As you might imagine, a salvific paradigm where there are multiple options might have been astounding. Not to mention there’s a potential for progression. The most significant doctrine of the revelation, however, was probably the idea that we can become like God (theosis). The concept of theosis was indeed taught in the early Christian church, but fell out of use by around the 5th century.

Now, because Lesson 19 talked all about the basic tenets of the Plan of Salvation, I won’t go into that here. This lesson is just about Exaltation. The Three Degrees of Glory. What happens after judgment.

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Satan

A good chunk of section 76 has to do with learning about Satan. As it turns out, our Latter-day Saint view of Satan is absolutely unique. This is what D&C 76 has to say about him:

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The Latter-day Saint understanding of Satan largely comes from D&C 76. it also comes from a collection of restoration scripture in the Book of Mormon, and the Book of Moses.

Judaism does not foster a concrete idea of Satan with a captial “s.” The ό σατάν or שטן of the Bible is largely viewed as a more generic “adversary” to God in his Divine Council, more than a evil-incarnate devil. Think of it like a prosecuting attorney. There is a designated individual in God’s court assigned to being the opposition to God to help with the decision making process.

Our Latter-day Saint understanding of Satan expands this in teaching that this designated adversary in the Divine Council at some point rebelled against God, opposed his plan, and was cast out of the Divine Council to forever be “the Devil”

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We get the sense that by 600 B.C., the average Jew didn’t have the same understanding of Satan that we do in the Mormon church. But wait, didn’t Lehi teach about Satan? Good point. Yes, Lehi did teach about the nature of Satan, but 2 Nephi 2:17 clearly states that Lehi “supposed” that Satan must have been a thing based on his studies. This isn’t some already established truth that Lehi is teaching, but rather a theological expansion based on his own studies and personal revelation.

Three Degrees of Glory

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Split the class into 4 groups. Assign each group a block of scripture to read. Have the class members identify unique features of each kingdom.

  • Who will dwell in this kingdom?
  • What is this kingdom like?
  • What is the glory of this kingdom?
  • What part of the godhead can dwell in this kingdom?

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After giving class members time to read, go through each kingdom and write their answers on the board.

Outer Darkness

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Telestial Glory

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Terrestrial Glory

15

Celestial Glory

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Greek Side Note

Sometimes we use 1 Corinthians 15 as a “proof text” for our understanding of the 3 degrees of glory. However, it’s helpful to make sure we’re looking at this scripture in context.

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While this scripture appears to be talking about the Celestial and Terrestrial kingdom and the glory of their heralded logos (sun, moon, stars), that is actually just a product of the King James Translation.

When you look at the Greek, what the King James Version translates as “Celestial” is just έπουράνια, or “heavenly.”

What the King James Version translates as “Terrestiral” is the word έπίγεια, or “earthly”.

All Paul is saying, is that the glory of heavenly things compares to the glory of earthly things in the way that the glory of the sun differs from the moon.

Still a beautiful concept. Just not proof that Paul was teaching the Three Degrees of Glory.

Conclusion

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Bring together the whole conversation by asking the class why we should learn about the Plan of Salvation. What is it about the Three Degrees of Glory that gives us hope?

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I think that the most important reason to study the Three Degrees of Glory, is that as we do so, we more fully recognize the magnitude and mercy of the Atonement. Jesus Christ suffered all, so that we could become as glorious as Him. He suffered for our sins so that we could enter into His presence and eventually become as gods. Because he loves us.

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