A great number of conceptions and ideas have arisen about Jesus Christ in 1900 years. And one is hard put to believe that such a gentle soul, with such a simple plan, could be the cause of the disputes, disagreements, wars, and bloodshed that have taken place on earth since he came to fulfill all righteousness.
His word and the story of his life have been explained, perverted, denied, affirmed, and completely misunderstood.
During the early 1800s, in the minds of self-appointed interpreters, God was vast, immaterial, unknowable, and indefinable. Somehow he became incarnated in the person of Jesus Christ. He would, they said, assume his mortal shape at some future and probably imminent day. All who would profess to believe on him would be saved.
Because the religionists could not agree on the principles by which these great events were to take place, they traveled around the country holding meetings and trying to stir up people to fear, believe, and confess. Each claimed his views and authorities were correct and acknowledged by God.
With all of their preaching and all of their fear-provoking threats about the future for those who did not accept their teachings, none claimed to be a prophet. They totally ignored the statement of Amos, who said the Lord would do nothing except he revealed the coming events by means of a prophet. (Amos 3:7.)
During the winter of 1819, Joseph Smith listened to four ministers of religion. While they collectively agreed that one must confess belief in Christ and live to reach the presence of the Lord, Joseph Smith discovered they told four different stories of how to reach that goal. One could choose any of the four routes, but until one made a choice he was subject to a great deal of tugging and hauling by those who professed to know.
Most who wanted to be saved solved the problem by joining with the preacher whose word appealed to them most.
But Joseph Smith was an extraordinary person. He did not respond in the usual way; instead, he learned that the apostle James had given a way to gain necessary wisdom to make a decision: “Let him ask of God. …” (James 1:5.) The word had come through eighteen centuries untouched and unchanged. But its effect on Joseph’s mind was unusual—he truly believed he might ask and that he would get an answer.
In the early spring of 1820 Joseph decided he would ask God, as James had instructed. Boy-like, just a few months past fourteen, he selected a place out-of-doors where he would not be disturbed or embarrassed. He crossed the fence dividing his father’s cleared acres from the surrounding forest and climbed the nearby hill. Finding a spot in dense timber where he felt safe, he knelt and began to pray.
Suddenly, Joseph was seized by an evil influence so powerful that it covered him in black darkness so suffocating that he could not speak. Struggling with all his might, he continued to pray silently for relief and succor. Relief came in an all-enveloping light; there, standing in the air before him, were two beings, manlike in form, so glorious, so wonderful, so beautiful that he could not describe them. One spoke:
“This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!” (JS—H 1:17.)
Joseph heard the Son declare that all churches had gone astray, and that he was to join none of them. (See JS—H 1:18–20.) In that one moment all of the error in the false statements and creeds spoken by men were brushed aside. God lives! He is a glorious personage! His Son, resurrected, is like him, but a different personage. The Son of God has an immortal Father, who has glorified his Son. These simple statements of the ancient apostles were proven true.
However, the knowledge that the Savior and his Father are personages, similar to what we may become, did not reveal knowledge of their attributes, characters, or purposes. The ancient statement of Jacob still stood: “Behold, great and marvelous are the works of the Lord. How unsearchable are the depths of the mysteries of him; and it is impossible that man should find out all his ways. And no man knoweth of his ways save it be revealed unto him; wherefore, brethren, despise not the revelations of God.” (Jacob 4:8.) Isaiah said, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isa. 55:8–9.)
We do not know to what extent the attributes, purposes, and personality of the Father or of the Son were revealed to the Prophet in his first vision, but we do know that Jesus Christ has, on many occasions, declared those of his attributes and characteristics that he desired to know. From these declarations and statements we begin to comprehend God and his Son Jesus Christ.
We may assume the Prophet grew in knowledge of the Son of God. But we do not know all that Joseph knew. Through him the Lord declared himself on numerous occasions. It is quite apparent that on these occasions the Lord wanted to identify himself by stating some eternal truth as a testimony of himself.
What does the Lord want us to know about himself?
He first established the truth of his physical person, and he revealed the truth about his Father’s physical person in the same blazing and glorious vision. To know this one truth—the physical relationship between the Father and Son—gives understanding of the Savior’s declaration that he and his Father are not one in person, but one in spiritual matters. It confirms the description of that oneness in the great prayer in Gethsemane. (See John 17.) It also gives a key to the first thirteen verses in the book of John, and, by inference, gives us knowledge that we are also the offspring of God and may become his sons and daughters. (See Moses 6:68.)
In revelations to and through Joseph Smith the Lord often declared himself. Moroni taught Joseph Smith his duty during a four-year period; yet when he yielded to the importuning of Martin Harris and the Book of Mormon manuscript was stolen from him, he must have felt that all was lost, that Satan had won a victory, and that he was condemned forever. However, the Lord was generous, telling Joseph that:
No one can frustrate the works, designs, or purposes of God, nor bring them to naught.
God does not walk in crooked paths.
He turns neither to the right nor left.
His paths are straight.
His course is one eternal round.
Men’s works may be frustrated, but the Lord’s never will be.
If a man boasts of his own strength, he will fall.
If a man sets at naught God’s counsel and follows his own, he will fall.
A man must not fear man more than God.
If a man is faithful, God will support him against the adversary. (See D&C 3:1–8.)
The Lord later declared that he is God, and that his word, quick and powerful, is sharper than a two-edged sword, to the dividing asunder of both joints and marrow (a phrase well understood by backwoods dwellers in the early 1800s). Then he said:
Lest anyone misunderstand, he added:
“I am Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God, who created the heavens and the earth, a light that cannot be hid in darkness.” (D&C 14:9.)
He further explained, “… mine arm is over all the earth.” (D&C 16:2.) Then, as he proceeded to instruct the Prophet and future members of his church, he gave forth a great burst of light:
“Behold, Jesus Christ is the name which is given of the Father, and there is none other name given whereby man can be saved.” (D&C 18:23.) “I am Alpha and Omega, Christ the Lord; yea, even I am he, the beginning and the end, the Redeemer of the world.” (D&C 19:1.)
“I, having accomplished and finished the will of him whose I am, even the Father, concerning me—having done this that I might subdue all things unto myself—
“Retaining all power, even to the destroying of Satan and his works at the end of the world, and the last great day of judgment, which I shall pass upon the inhabitants thereof, judging every man according to his works and the deeds which he hath done.” (D&C 19:2–3.)
And then this: “I am endless.” (D&C 19:10.)
He also gave a sharp warning:
“But if they would not repent they must suffer even as I; which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink—Nevertheless, glory be to the Father, and I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men.” (D&C 19:17–19.)
Those near the Prophet probably thought the principal message of each revelation was all they were meant to receive. But these messages also contain revelation about the Savior personally. By March of 1830, the Savior had revealed much about himself in declarations of introduction.
Because the Church was once again on the earth, the Holy Ghost was given to every member, and the Lord continued to reveal himself.
In August of 1830 people were reminded of what the Lord said before: “Listen to the voice of Jesus Christ, your Redeemer, the Great I Am, whose arm of mercy hath atoned for your sins.” (D&C 29:1.) He explained another great law at the same time when he said, “Wherefore, verily I say unto you that all things unto me are spiritual. …” (D&C 29:34.)
The Savior later reminded Ezra Thayre and Northrop Sweet to open their “ears and hearken to the voice of the Lord your God, whose word is quick and powerful, sharper than a two-edged sword, to the dividing asunder of the joints and marrow, soul and spirit; and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” (D&C 33:1.)
To Orson Pratt he revealed the truth concerning the biblical phrase: “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son. …” (John 3:16.)
“My son Orson, hearken and hear and behold what I, the Lord God, shall say unto you, even Jesus Christ your Redeemer; the light and life of the world, a light which shineth in darkness and the darkness comprehendeth it not; who so loved the world that he gave his own life, that as many as would believe might become the sons of God. Wherefore you are my son.” (D&C 34:1–3.)
In this statement the Savior declared his harmony with his Father, but said that while the Father gave the Son, the Son gave his own life, too. He was not forced; it was a voluntary sacrifice.
When Sidney Rigdon and Edward Partridge came inquiring, they were told of the eternal nature of the Lord when he told them:
“I am Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who was crucified for the sins of the world, even as many as will believe on my name, that they may become the sons of God, even one in me as I am one in the Father, as the Father is one in me, that we may be one.” (D&C 35:2.)
In these statements to Orson Pratt, Sidney Rigdon, and Edward Partridge the Lord seems to be saying: How much do I love you? I gave my life that you might have a way to become my sons, and thus also sons of God. What more love could one have than that, to give his life for his friends?
He revealed himself still more when he declared himself—with all the titles before mentioned as the Lord, “… the same which looked upon the wide expanse of eternity, and all the seraphic hosts of heaven, before the world was made; the same which knoweth all things, for all things are present before mine eyes; I am the same which spake, and the world was made, and all things came by me. I am the same which have taken the Zion of Enoch into mine own bosom; and verily, I say, even as many as have believed in my name, for I am Christ, and in mine own name, by virtue of the blood which I have spilt, have I pleaded before the Father for them.” (D&C 38:1–4.)
“And I have made the earth rich, and behold it is my footstool, wherefore, again I will stand upon it.” (D&C 38:17.)
“… Hearken ye and give ear to him who laid the foundation of the earth, who made the heavens and all the hosts thereof, and by whom all things were made which live, and move, and have a being.” (D&C 45:1.) Again he reiterated:
“… he who was crucified for the sins of the world” (D&C 54:1); “who has all power, who is from everlasting to everlasting …” (D&C 61:1); “who willeth to take them whom he will take, and preserveth in life them whom he will preserve; who buildeth up at his own will and pleasure; and destroyeth when he pleases, and is able to cast the soul down to hell. Behold, I, the Lord, utter my voice, and it shall be obeyed” (D&C 63:3, 5).
“… a voice as of one sent down from on high, who is mighty and powerful, whose going forth is unto the ends of the earth.” (D&C 65:1.)
“… the heavens and the earth are in mine hands, and the riches of eternity are mine to give.” (D&C 67:2.)
Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon spoke of Christ by inspiration and bore a mighty witness: “Hear, O ye heavens, and give ear, O earth, and rejoice ye inhabitants thereof, for the Lord is God, and beside him there is no Savior. Great is his wisdom, marvelous are his ways, and the extent of his doing none can find out. His purposes fail not, neither are there any who can stay his hand. From eternity to eternity he is the same, and his years never fail.” (D&C 76:1–4.)
Many have wondered what Joseph Smith said or thought about the Savior. The statement just quoted is an epitome of what he said in testimony, filled with the Holy Ghost. Then the Lord added to this testimony:
“For thus saith the Lord—I, the Lord, am merciful and gracious unto those who fear me, and delight to honor those who serve me in righteousness and in truth unto the end.” (D&C 76:5.)
On the day this word was given, much more was added. The Lord opened the eyes of Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon, and they saw as well as heard his glory:
“… he lives!” they declared, “For we saw him, even on the right hand of God; and we heard the voice bearing record that he is the Only Begotten of the Father—that by him, and through him, and of him, the worlds are and were created, and the inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters unto God.” (D&C 76:22–24.)
In this great vision these two men heard the voice again:
“And this is the gospel, the glad tidings, which the voice out of the heavens bore record unto us—
“That he came into the world, even Jesus, to be crucified for the world, and to bear the sins of the world, and to sanctify the world, and to cleanse it from all unrighteousness;
“That through him all might be saved whom the Father had put into his power and made by him;
“Who glorifies the Father, and saves all the works of his hands, except those sons of perdition who deny the Son after the Father has revealed him.” (D&C 76:40–43.)
The Lord promised that if they lived for it, men might see the Lord, even as Joseph Smith saw him, and could learn for themselves and know that the Lord Jesus Christ is the true light which lighteth every man that comes into the world; that he is in the Father and the Father in him; that they are indeed one; that he came into the world and made manifest the works of the Father. Then he quoted John the Baptist:
“And John saw and bore record of the fulness of my glory, and the fulness of John’s record is hereafter to be revealed.
“And he bore record, saying: I saw his glory, that he was in the beginning, before the world was:
“Therefore, in the beginning the Word was, for he was the Word, even the messenger of salvation—
“The light and the Redeemer of the world; the Spirit of truth, who came into the world, because the world was made by him, and in him was the life of men and the light of men.
“The worlds were made by him; men were made by him; all things were made by him, and through him, and of him.
“And I, John, bear record that I beheld his glory, as the glory of the Only Begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth, even the Spirit of truth, which came and dwelt in the flesh, and dwelt among us.
“And I, John, saw that he received not of the fulness at the first, but received grace for grace;
“And he received not of the fulness at first, but continued from grace to grace, until he received a fulness;
“And thus he was called the Son of God, because he received not of the fulness at the first.
“And I, John, bear record, and lo, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Ghost descended upon him in the form of a dove, and sat upon him and there came a voice out of heaven saying: This is my beloved Son.
“And I, John, bear record that he received a fulness of the glory of the Father;
“And he received all power, both in heaven and on earth, and the glory of the Father was with him, for he dwelt in him.” (D&C 93:6–17.)
With this statement he identified the 1820 revealed Christ as the same being testified of by John the Baptist.
These statements about the nature and purposes of the Lord were made certain by the Lord himself when on April 3, 1836, he suddenly appeared to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery in the Kirtland Temple:
“The veil was taken from our minds, and the eyes of our understanding were opened.
“We saw the Lord standing upon the breastwork of the pulpit, before us; and under his feet was a paved work of pure gold, in color like amber.
“His eyes were as a flame of fire; the hair of his head was white like the pure snow; his countenance shone above the brightness of the sun; and his voice was as the sound of the rushing of great waters, even the voice of Jehovah, saying:
“I am the first and the last; I am he who liveth, I am he who was slain; I am your advocate with the father.” (D&C 110:1–4.)
Here was the Lord, risen, glorified, and exalted. He had gone to his Father. He had received a fulness. He revealed himself as he was in 1836. Over a span of fourteen years the Lord revealed his person, his virtues, and his purposes through the Holy Ghost, both by vision and by personal appearance.
There is no doubt that Joseph Smith knew, loved, and worshiped the Lord with all his heart. He knew by seeing and by hearing that God lives and that Jesus is the Christ. His mission was to bear that witness so that we all could understand the truth of it, and understanding, accept and learn to part the veil and come into the presence of the Lord. All of us may know the same truths, by reading, pondering, and asking for the same knowledge. Let us fully realize these potent words:
“Verily, thus saith the Lord: It shall come to pass that every soul who forsaketh his sins and cometh unto me, and calleth on my name, and obeyeth my voice, and keepeth my commandments, shall see my face and know that I am.” (D&C 93:1.)
Then, by doing as he says, we may find him and see him and know him as he is.