The Mission of Elijah


The following address is a condensed version of remarks delivered to a meeting of General Authorities and later to a gathering of Genealogical Department employees.

The Mission of Elijah

Elder Mark E. Petersen

Our whole religion is based upon the fact of immortality. Men have come back from the dead to accomplish the restoration of the gospel. Even God himself came.

First came the Father and Jesus Christ, his Beloved Son. They visited Joseph Smith in the Sacred Grove near Palmyra, New York. They talked with him face to face and answered his questions.

Moroni also came, repeatedly, visiting with and instructing the young prophet. Then came John the Baptist of New Testament times. Peter, James, and John were next. Moses came to the Kirtland Temple. And then came Elijah, who was taken into heaven without tasting death.

Each one was physical evidence of the fact of immortality, but each one brought more than the proof of life after death. Each one came with a great purpose—far beyond the proof of immortality. The Father and Son opened this dispensation and provided the knowledge of the true nature of God—that he is a person and that man was made in his image.

Moroni revealed the location of the Book of Mormon. John the Baptist brought the Aaronic Priesthood. Peter, James, and John brought the Melchizedek Priesthood. Moses brought the keys of the gathering of the Jews to Palestine and the gathering of Ephraim and Manasseh.

One of the most important events of this dispensation was the coming of the Prophet Elijah to the Prophet Joseph Smith in the Kirtland Temple on 3 April 1836. He brought the keys of his ministry, but many people have misunderstood what those keys were. President Joseph Fielding Smith explained it this way:

“It is held by some that Elijah came with these keys because he held some peculiar position standing between the living and the dead due to the fact that he was translated. But when Elijah came to Joseph Smith it was with a resurrected body, for he was with Christ in his resurrection. It was not because Elijah held peculiar keys which applied to the dead, that he was sent, but because, as explained by Joseph Smith the Prophet, the ordinances of the Gospel would not be valid unless there was on the earth the sealing power which Elijah held to bind these ordinances in the heavens.” (The Way to Perfection, Salt Lake City: The Genealogical Society of Utah, 1931, p. 161.)

Elijah now came with the sealing power to make the ordinances of the gospel fully valid, as President Joseph Fielding Smith explained.

Said President Smith in discussing this matter further:

“Elijah came to restore … the fulness of the power of priesthood. This priesthood holds the keys of binding and sealing on earth and in heaven of all the ordinances and principles pertaining to the salvation of man.”

President Smith then added:

“These keys hold the power to seal husbands and wives for eternity as well as for time. They hold the power to seal children to parents, the key of adoption, by which the family organization is made intact forever. … Through these keys the hearts of the children have turned to their fathers.” (Doctrines of Salvation, 3 vols., comp. Bruce R. McConkie, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954–56, 2:117, 119.)

So these keys are not for baptisms for the dead alone; they are not for endowments alone; but they are also for sealings for the living and the dead. How important this is! Without our dear ones—without our ancestors—we cannot obtain a fulness of joy, and neither can they without us.

To teach us forcefully how important this work is, the Prophet Joseph Smith made these powerful statements:

“The main object [of the gathering of the Saints] was to build unto the Lord a house whereby He could reveal unto His people the ordinances of His house and the glories of His kingdom, and teach the people the way of salvation; for there are certain ordinances and principles that, when they are taught and practiced, must be done in a place or house built for that purpose.”

And then he said:

“It is for the same purpose that God gathers together His people in the last days, to build unto the Lord a house to prepare them for the ordinances and endowments, washings and anointings, etc.”

He spoke then of the necessity of our having the priesthood to qualify for exaltation. This applies to the dead as well as to the living. Then he declared:

“If a man gets a fullness of the priesthood of God he has to get it in the same way that Jesus Christ obtained it, and that was by keeping all the commandments and obeying all the ordinances of the house of the Lord.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, comp. Joseph. Fielding Smith, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1938, p. 308.)

Then I ask you, is this genealogical and temple work really necessary? Dare any of us neglect it? The Prophet said that it is one of the most important things we can do in life, then added:

“Any person who is exalted to the highest mansion has to abide a celestial law and the whole law too.” (Teachings, p. 331.)

And that includes temple work for both the living and the dead. That is one reason why we must exert our efforts as we go out to the stakes and elsewhere to emphasize this important work.

The Prophet also said:

“The keys are to be delivered, the spirit of Elijah is to come, the Gospel to be established, the Saints of God gathered, Zion built up, and the Saints to come up as saviors on Mount Zion.

“But how are they to become saviors on Mount Zion? By building their temples, erecting their baptismal fonts, and going forth and receiving all the ordinances, baptisms, confirmations, washings, anointings, ordinations and sealing powers upon their heads in behalf of all their progenitors who are dead.” (Teachings, p. 330.)

We cannot do work for our dead unless we first identify them. This means we must undertake genealogical research in behalf of our own ancestry—our own forefathers—our own dead kindred. We must teach the people the details of this genealogical research and encourage the local congregations to teach each other.

First, we record our own generation; second, the parents; third, the grandparents; fourth, the great-grandparents. Many great-grandparents are still living. There is ordinarily no great chore in obtaining their names or even the names of those great-grandparents who have departed this life. They are people of today, not of hundreds of years ago. We can very readily obtain the information for the four generations, and this we must do.

But what about the fifth and sixth generations? Are they to be deprived of temple work? Aren’t their souls as precious as any others?

President Wilford Woodruff said:

“We want the Latter-day Saints … to trace their genealogies as far as they can. … Have children sealed to their parents, and run this chain through as far as you can get it.” (The Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, comp. G. Homer Durham, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1946, p. 157.)

We must trace our own ancestry back as far as we can. The four generations are not enough. We have the extraction program and it will help, but it does not relieve us of our own personal responsibility. Our own research will tie in with the extraction program and that is good, but the extraction program will augment our efforts only; it will not replace them.

We cannot neglect our responsibility to have these sealings done. We must make sure of our own ancestors—do not leave the responsibility to others.

How many of us are doing our own research? How many of us have turned in our own four-generation sheets? How many of us are continuing our research?

My wife and I started our genealogical work together at the time we were married, and throughout more than fifty years of mortal life, she and I worked together in genealogical and temple work; it has always been a very dear thing to me, and I am glad that now circumstances are such that I can go to the temple once a week and help to redeem the dead for whom we have prepared records.

It is my hope and prayer that we may be strong in performing this mighty work.