The Doctrine and Covenants is a unique book of scripture, standing as a witness that God reveals his will to mankind through living prophets today. It is, as President Ezra Taft Benson pointed out, “the only book in the world that has a preface written by the Lord Himself.”1 Through this book, our Father in Heaven revealed himself and his Son, our Savior, anew after a long night of apostasy.
The Doctrine and Covenants testifies of Jesus Christ and his mission not only by its very existence, but in his own words, given as he directed the reestablishment of his work on this earth.
In addition, the revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants teach us of temple work and eternal families. They give us a glimpse of life after death and what it means that “in my Father’s house are many mansions.”2 They help us have greater insight into our role in the gathering of Israel and the establishment of Zion. Through these revelations we are instructed in detail about the priesthood of God: its power, authority, and keys. We also learn from them other details about the Restoration of the Church of Jesus Christ to the earth and its organizational structure. They teach us our duty individually and collectively as we live our lives and prepare for the eventual return of the Savior to the earth.
We who know these revelations and seek to have these truths guide our lives have a responsibility and an accountability concerning them as well as the promise of great blessings. President Joseph Fielding Smith said:
“It is the duty of the members of this Church to make themselves familiar with the revelations as they have been given, and with the commandments as they have been taught in these revelations, or have been presented in them and given to the people, that we might know the truth which makes us free. And if we will study them, if we will put them into practice, if we will keep the commandments of the Lord, we will know the truth and there shall be no weapon formed against us that shall prosper. There shall be no false doctrines, no teaching of men that will deceive us. There are many cults and many false faiths, there are many strange ideas in the world, but if we will search these revelations then we will be fortified against errors and we will be made strong. False teachings will have no effect upon us for we will know that truth which makes us free.”3
President Benson taught that the “Doctrine and Covenants is the binding link between the Book of Mormon and the continuing work of the Restoration through the Prophet Joseph Smith and his successors.” He testified that “the Book of Mormon brings men to Christ,” and the Doctrine and Covenants “brings men to Christ’s kingdom, even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” He said that “the Book of Mormon is the ‘keystone’ of our religion, and the Doctrine and Covenants is the capstone, with continuing latter-day revelation.”4
This important role of the Doctrine and Covenants is implicit in one of Enoch’s great prophecies: “And righteousness will I send down out of heaven [the numerous visitations, communications, and revelations to the Prophet Joseph Smith]; and truth will I send forth out of the earth [the Book of Mormon], to bear testimony of mine Only Begotten; his resurrection from the dead; yea, and also the resurrection of all men; and righteousness and truth will I cause to sweep the earth as with a flood, to gather out mine elect from the four quarters of the earth, unto a place which I shall prepare, an Holy City, that my people may gird up their loins, and be looking forth for the time of my coming; for there shall be my tabernacle, and it shall be called Zion, a New Jerusalem.”5
According to Enoch’s text, therefore, we should expect to find reference and revelation in the Doctrine and Covenants about the Savior and his Resurrection, the resurrection of all mankind, the gathering of Israel to Zion, proper preparation for the coming of the Lord, and the events and conditions surrounding his Second Coming.
When we study the Doctrine and Covenants with an eye to its focus on Jesus Christ, we may be surprised to see just how rich and full is its testimony of him. The Savior, his mission, his Atonement, or his Resurrection are mentioned on almost every page.
From these modern revelations we learn that Jesus Christ lived in a pre-earth existence.6 He is not just a manifestation of the Father, but is a separate being in the full sense of the word.7 He is, in fact, the firstborn of our Father in Heaven’s spirit children.8 He figured prominently in the councils in which our universe was planned and was chosen there as the Savior of mankind.9 He fulfilled a major role in the Creation of this earth.10 As the Jehovah of the Old Testament,11 he helped place Adam and Eve on the earth.12 Jesus Christ was also foreordained to the work he accomplished here as a mortal.13 Jesus is the Messiah of whom it was prophesied before his mortal life that he would destroy all the enemies of Israel.14
Jesus became the example for all who believe on his name, are baptized, and obey his commandments. The promise is that by so doing we gain salvation and become one with him as he is one with the Father.15 Through baptism we take upon ourselves the sacred name of Jesus Christ, and we are then to do all that we do in his name.16 Those who say they have taken his name upon themselves and are not obedient have no place with him in his kingdom.17
The Doctrine and Covenants teaches us that the Lord Jesus Christ allowed himself to be crucified so we can receive a remission of sins through repentance and our personal sacrifice of a broken heart and a contrite spirit.18 His Crucifixion and death, combined with his sufferings in Gethsemane, constitute his great atoning sacrifice, and those who do not repent must suffer even as he did in Gethsemane.19
Between his death and Resurrection, the Savior organized missionary forces in the spirit world to preach to those who had not received the saving gospel while on the earth. He did not go among the wicked spirits personally but worked with those who would go as missionaries to them.20 The Savior was then resurrected. Later he ascended into heaven, where he reigns in power and authority.21 He has received a fulness of all that the Father has: a fulness of glory, of power, of truth, and of joy.22
Perhaps the greatest message in the Doctrine and Covenants about Jesus Christ and his mission, so far as we are concerned, is that he is still involved in the affairs of mankind. Obviously, it was he who revealed the scriptures found in the book, but there is more—he also revealed himself. The Doctrine and Covenants testifies that three men who lived in this dispensation actually saw him. They could then bear testimony that Christ lives and was resurrected from the dead. To illustrate, the Father and the Son appeared to Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon in February 1832. The two men not only saw them, but they heard a voice declare the Savior to be the Son of God. They wrote: “The Lord touched the eyes of our understandings and they were opened, and the glory of the Lord shone round about.
“And we beheld the glory of the Son, on the right hand of the Father, and received of his fulness. …
“And now, after the many testimonies which have been given of him, this is the testimony, last of all, which we give of him: That he lives!
“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.”23
And then on 3 April 1836, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery saw the Savior in a brilliant vision by the west pulpits of the Kirtland Temple. Their account is as follows:
“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.”24
Enoch also prophesied that truths connected with the resurrection of all mankind would be revealed in this dispensation.25 Often these revelations came as the Lord’s chosen leaders on the earth contemplated scriptural truths that had already been given to mankind.
In February 1832, as Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon pondered the writings of John about the Resurrection, the Lord gave them a wonderful revelation offering new knowledge about how he will judge all people according to their works on earth. Through this judgment he will divide nearly all into three groups: celestial, terrestrial, or telestial beings.26 Those who are not worthy of any place in his kingdom he will cast into “outer darkness.”27 Later that same year the Lord revealed that those who will inherit the celestial kingdom must live a celestial law on the earth, whereas terrestrial and telestial beings will be those who have abided a terrestrial or a telestial law on earth. And those who do not live any of these laws are the ones who will be cast out.28
In the Doctrine and Covenants the Lord has revealed at least four other important truths about the resurrection of mankind. First, those who live during the Millennium will not die as we know death now; they will be changed from mortality to immortality in the “twinkling of an eye.”29 This transformation is millennial or paradisiacal life followed by an instantaneous resurrection.30 They will not spend even a moment in a grave.
Second, those who have already been resurrected as a result of Jesus Christ’s Resurrection include Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Elijah, and other ancient prophets.31 The first resurrection of mankind began with Christ and extends until the end of the Millennium.32
Third, those who lived in “heathen nations” will take part in the First Resurrection.33 Though they may have been involved in activities forbidden by gospel teachings, they are not accountable if they knew not the law. Those who willfully sin, however, will come forth in the second resurrection.34
Fourth, those who live the law of the celestial kingdom on earth and have an eternal companion receive all that God has and are gods themselves.35 They therefore enjoy a fulness of glory, power, truth, and joy, even as does the Savior.36
There are also in the Doctrine and Covenants other significant items connected with resurrection apart from the resurrection of all mankind. The Lord revealed, for example, that this earth obeys his every command and will undergo a cleansing and sanctification similar in effect to a resurrection. It will then be the dwelling place of those who are worthy of the celestial world.37 This earth will be a source of revelation to those who dwell on it, whereby they may know all things related to lesser kingdoms of glory.38
Many passages in the Doctrine and Covenants fulfill Enoch’s prophecy that righteousness and truth would be revealed in this dispensation to help bring about the gathering of Israel to Zion. It will be helpful to review some of these revelations as they pertain to three convenient categories—the three groups of scattered Israel: those of all tribes (including the Book of Mormon people) dispersed among the gentile nations of the earth, the so-called ten lost tribes, and the Jews.39
In the Doctrine and Covenants we learn that the Lord sent Moses, Elias, and Elijah to the Prophet Joseph Smith to restore priesthood keys of gathering the people of Israel and preparing them in every way for exaltation.40 The covenant given to Abraham was part of this restoration. Abraham and his descendants—in fact, all who become his seed through the ordinances of the gospel—enter into the same covenant and are obligated to share the gospel with others.41 Thus, President David O. McKay’s statement “Every member a missionary”42 was not simply a catchy slogan to encourage us to do missionary work, but a powerful reminder of our part in the Abrahamic covenant.
The Dispersed of Israel. One of the most important messages of the Doctrine and Covenants is that each member has an obligation to preach the gospel.43 Numerous individuals requested that the Prophet Joseph Smith ask the Lord concerning their duties in this life. Several sections of the Doctrine and Covenants contain replies from the Lord on these matters. In almost every case,44 he reminded the person involved of the responsibility to teach the gospel to others. It is through our missionary labors that we are to gather the dispersed of Israel.
The Ten Tribes. Because the ten tribes are to gather to Zion to obtain their blessings, we have an obligation to establish Zion.45 Zion, the Lord has said, is “the pure in heart.”46 The gathering to Zion started with the Saints assembling in one place; it is now to be wherever there are wards and stakes of the Church. Joseph Smith prophesied that eventually Zion would cover all of North and South America,47 and during the Millennium, as the Lord reigns over his people, Zion will spread over the whole earth.48
The Jews. The conversion of the Jews as a people will not take place until the Lord returns to the earth.49 Latter-day Saints look forward to the fulfillment of prophecies surrounding that event.
Enoch said that one purpose for the establishment of Zion would be that the Lord’s people “may gird up their loins.” This figurative expression from the Old Testament means to belt the garment that is worn ungirded in the house or in times of relaxation. The reasons for girding one’s garment are to prepare for work, travel, or battle. This phrase is found 11 times in the Doctrine and Covenants and is consistently used to motivate recipients of the revelations to be prepared.50 They were to prepare themselves so they would not yield to Satan’s temptations, and they were to prepare themselves and others for the eventual return of the Savior to the earth.
In the Doctrine and Covenants the Lord reveals that Zion cannot be established “unless it is by the principles of the law of the celestial kingdom.”51 The law of the celestial kingdom is, of course, taught in the temples of God. We therefore build temples as quickly as there are sufficient numbers of people who will benefit from them. However, covenants made in the temples must be translated into everyday living by those who want to gird up their loins for the coming of the Savior.
The Lord commanded the Saints in 19th-century New York, for example, to make sure that they took care of the poor and unfortunate among them. He also commanded them in the same revelation to be united, for if they were not one they were not his people.52 He gave these commandments to them as they were preparing to leave New York to go to Ohio in 1831. This was the first step in gathering to Zion in Jackson County, Missouri. Within eight months of these instructions some of these members were already in Independence. Two years later mobs drove them out. Subsequently the Lord explained in a revelation the reason he had allowed this to happen: they had not done as he had instructed—they were not taking care of the unfortunate, and they were not united.53
Thus it would appear that taking care of the unfortunate and being united according to the model of the celestial kingdom are high on the Lord’s list of expectations for his people. When we covenant with him to sacrifice and to consecrate ourselves and all we have to his service, we need to make these covenants manifest in our lives.
In the revelation explaining why “mine elders should wait for a little season for the redemption of Zion,” the Lord said it was so that “they themselves may be prepared, and that my people may be taught more perfectly, and have experience, and know more perfectly concerning their duty, and the things which I require at their hands.”54 Today, nearly 163 years later, we may well ask ourselves if we as individuals and families are preparing more perfectly for the establishment of Zion.
Another aspect of Enoch’s prophecy indicates that righteousness and truth restored in this dispensation would help the Saints look toward the return of Christ to the earth. Revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants outline the major signs and events related to these last days. They also explain the places of the Savior’s appearances and what will happen when he comes.55
The most important aspect of this information focuses on our personal preparation for his coming. Some early converts to the Church were expecting the imminent return of the Savior because of the teachings of their former faith, and their becoming Latter-day Saints even heightened those expectations. However, while the Lord revealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith that He is coming again, He made it plain that there was yet much to be done before that day.
Three revelations received during December 1832 give us specific guidance. Section 86 explains the parable of the wheat and the tares and its application to us. Section 87 warns of the wars and other calamities that will precede the Second Coming. Then on 27 December the Lord gave section 88, which Joseph Smith called the “‘olive leaf’ … plucked from the Tree of Paradise, the Lord’s message of peace to us.”56 In this revelation the Lord offers instructions on how to prepare for his coming. We are to seek him diligently and “draw near” to him. He, in turn, will “draw near” to us and respond to our righteous desires. We are also to sanctify ourselves so that our eyes will be single to him and his glory. We will then be filled with light so there will be no darkness in us and we will be prepared to see his face.57
The Lord then adds some very practical counsel on how to draw near to him and to sanctify ourselves. Among other things, we are to avoid evil thoughts and light-mindedness. We must be free of pride, an excess of laughter, and improper desires. We must love one another, cease to be idle, cease faultfinding, get sufficient rest, and remember our prayers.58 Because all of this counsel is given in the same part of the revelation as the command to build the Kirtland Temple, a distinct impression is that those who worship in righteousness in the temple are adequately prepared to meet the Savior under any circumstance.
The revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants contain a significant portion of light and truth that Enoch prophesied would come to the people of the latter days. The central figure in the book is Jesus Christ. He identifies himself on almost every page as the one revealing these truths. He testifies of his Father, of his own divine nature and mission, and of the work of the Holy Ghost. Repeatedly the Redeemer warns, counsels, and consoles his people.
He is the one who commanded that the book be published and that we search the revelations in it. As we do so, we learn how to look to God and how to worship him.
Further, as we search them we know these revelations to be “the will of the Lord, … the mind of the Lord, … the word of the Lord, … the voice of the Lord, and the power of God unto salvation” for the people of this dispensation.59 They chart the course for what President Brigham Young described as the “ship Zion,” sailing on with God “at the helm.”60