As the chosen prophet of the Lord for this dispensation, Joseph Smith was called upon to assist the Lord in the restoration of the Church of Jesus Christ and to seal the testimony of that restoration with his life.
Joseph Smith presides over the dispensation of the fulness of times.
He was chosen and set apart in the premortal world for his calling.
He was given the keys of the holy priesthood and charged with laying the foundation of God’s kingdom in the latter days.
Joseph Smith was faithful to his prophetic calling to the end of his life.
He was one of the “weak things” spoken of by the Lord that overcame the wise and proud of the world (D&C 1:19).
Except for the Savior, Joseph Smith has done more for the “salvation of men in this world, than any other man that ever lived in it” (D&C 135:3).
He was a willing martyr to the great latter-day work of the Lord.
He had his calling and election made sure.
After the death of the Prophet Joseph Smith, other great prophets were called successively to carry on the work he started.
Use material from Historical Background and Notes and Commentary to teach each revelation in its historical context.
D&C 135-36. Keeping in mind the theme of this lesson, read and ponder these sections.
Abraham 3:23. Does this verse apply to Joseph Smith? 2 Nephi 3:11,15. Who was the seer “like unto Moses” who would be raised up in the last days? (D&C 107:91). See also Joseph Smith Translation, Genesis 50:27-33.
D&C 1:17-23. Why did the Lord call Joseph Smith to head the last dispensation?
D&C 1:29-30. What was Joseph Smith given power to do?
D&C 27:12-13. How did Joseph Smith receive the keys of God’s kingdom?
D&C 128:20-21. What prophets restored keys of the priesthood in this dispensation to Joseph Smith?
D&C 136:37-38. What was Joseph Smith able to do once he had received the keys of the priesthood?
D&C 136:39. What did the Lord say about Joseph Smith’s death?
Hebrews 9:16-17. When is a testament “of force”?
Teachings, p. 365. When was Joseph Smith called to be the head of the last dispensation?
Teachings, p. 157. Whenever priesthood keys are restored to the earth, it is under whose direction?
Gos. Doc, pp. 43-44. From whom did Peter receive the keys of the priesthood?
Discourses, p. 468. Could Joseph Smith’s life have been taken before he completed the work the Father had given him to do?
Discourses, p. 470. Why is Joseph Smith’s testimony in full force in the world today?
Discourses, p. 467. Did Joseph Smith have a foreshadowing of his death?
Gos. Doc, pp. 490-91. What does the Martyrdom teach us? What essential truths can one learn from it?
Wilford Woodruff, in Journal of Discourses, 16:267. Joseph “lived until he received every key, ordinance and law ever given to any man on the earth” and with them “he laid the foundation of the greatest work and dispensation that has ever been established on the earth.”
Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, pp. 290-92. The concept of foreordination is an essential truth to know in order to understand the work of God and especially the calling of Joseph Smith.
Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, pp. 411-13. This is a good analysis of the concept of the keys of the kingdom received by Joseph Smith for the great latter-day work.
Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, pp. 469-70. What is the principle of martyrdom and what legacy does it bestow when it occurs?
Some Suggestions for Presentation
Joseph Smith: Chosen before His Birth (Teacher Presentation)
One purpose of this lesson might be to show that Joseph Smith was particularly selected by the Lord to lay the foundation for the dispensation of the fulness of times. As such, he was required to seal his testimony with his life, thus leaving the world without excuse for disbelieving and rejecting the work of God. The teacher might wish to begin by pointing out that all of God’s prophets were chosen for their missions prior to their births into mortality (see Abraham 3:23).
“I suppose I was ordained to this very office in that Grand Council,” said Joseph Smith of his calling (Teachings, p. 365). Brigham Young was even more explicit: “It was decreed in the councils of eternity, long before the foundations of the earth were laid, that he, Joseph Smith, should be the man, in the last dispensation of this world, to bring forth the word of God to the people, and receive the fulness of the keys and power of the Priesthood of the Son of God.” (Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 108.) Point out that this is the reason why prophets of old prophesied concerning Joseph Smith’s appearance in the last days.
It might be profitable to read and discuss Joseph Smith Translation, Genesis 50:27-33 or the briefer account in 2 Nephi 3:7-11, 13, 15 with the class.
Joseph Was Given the Keys of the Kingdom (Scripture Analysis)
Joseph Smith’s calling was to set up the kingdom of God in preparation for the Savior’s return to the earth and the great Millennium to follow. The teacher could lead students in an examination of those scriptural references which clearly indicate this truth. Read, discuss, and mark the following passages, and suggest that students make a brief summary of each passage in their notebooks. Also, students may wish to chain the scriptures for later reference; use the first passage as the leading reference and then chain the others to it.
D&C 1:29-30. Joseph’s call was to “lay the foundation” of the “only true and living church” on earth.
D&C 136:37-38. By means of these keys, Joseph Smith laid the foundation not only of the Church but of the greatest dispensation known to man—the fulness of times.
D&C 135:3. This is why it can be written that Joseph Smith has done more for man’s salvation than any other man except Jesus Christ.
Conclude this section of the lesson by this testimony of Brigham Young who was a close associate of Joseph Smith: “I feel like shouting Hallelujah, all the time, when I think that I ever knew Joseph Smith, the Prophet whom the Lord raised up and ordained, and to whom he gave keys and power to build up the Kingdom of God on earth and sustain it. These keys are committed to this people, and we have power to continue the work that Joseph commenced, until everything is prepared for the coming of the Son of Man. This is the business of the Latter-day Saints, and it is all the business we have on hand.” (Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 458.)
Joseph Smith’s Mission Was Sealed by His Death (Discussion)
Most of us bear our testimonies verbally or by the individual examples we set. In a very real sense, however, one’s testimony often has more impact after one’s death than before. So it was with Joseph Smith and with Jesus Christ.
Read Hebrews 9:16-17 with the class and ask, What does Paul mean? How does it apply to Joseph Smith? Draw out the thought that, in a legal sense, one’s “last will and testament” is not of force until one is dead. Jesus’ death sealed his witness and testament; the same is true of other martyrs like Abinadi (see Mosiah 17), Stephen (see Acts 7), Abel and Zacharias (see Luke 11:47-51), and Joseph Smith (see D&C 135).
Now ask students to define the word martyr. After they have responded, point out that “in the gospel sense, martyrdom is the voluntary acceptance of death at the hands of wicked men rather than to forsake Christ and his holy gospel” (McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, p. 469). Invite students to take a minute to quietly think and ask themselves if there is any cause for which they would voluntarily surrender their lives. Point out that this is the dilemma which confronted the Prophet Joseph Smith.
Read Doctrine and Covenants 135:3 and ask students if they feel the tribute is well deserved and why. Then ask, Why is it necessary for righteous men to sometimes give their lives for the gospel? What does it prove? If desired, read Revelation 12:11 and ask students what they believe John meant when he spoke of those who “loved not their lives unto the death.” Is there anything more important or precious than life? Jesus, Joseph Smith, and other righteous men apparently thought so.
Suggest, in conclusion, that “pretenders” do not generally lay down their lives for a false cause. Martyrdom, in addition to sincerity and honesty, stamps the martyr’s cause with truth. As is sometimes observed, men should love principle more than life. Briefly invite students to discuss what that means. Then note the reason given by revelation as to why God permitted Joseph Smith’s death. Compare this with the incident recorded in Alma 14:8-11. Like Abinadi (see Mosiah 17:9-10, 20), Joseph Smith’s death stands as witness that he told the truth and was a righteous man while his enemies and detractors were not that kind of men.
The teacher should end this lesson with a strong testimony of Joseph Smith.