In 1840 a now-popular hymn with text by Elder Parley P. Pratt of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles was published in the Church’s Millennial Star. This hymn captures the spirit and importance of the Restoration of the gospel in its fulness. Two stanzas of the hymn read:
The morning breaks, the shadows flee;
Lo, Zion’s standard is unfurled!
The dawning of a brighter day,
Majestic rises on the world.
The clouds of error disappear
Before the rays of truth divine;
The glory bursting from afar,
Wide o’er the nations soon will shine.1
Truly the bright light of the Restoration, bursting forth from the time of the Prophet Joseph Smith, makes clear the fundamental, eternal principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ. That light, revealed through the Prophet, replaced doctrinal shadows and clouds of error the world had inherited as a result of the great Apostasy nearly 2,000 years ago. How grateful we ought to be for the restoration of sacred truths! And how we ought to thank the many good men and women who, with limited spiritual resources, kept the seeds of the gospel alive through centuries of relative spiritual darkness until a nation and a people were prepared for the Restoration.
Of all the truths of the “everlasting covenant, even the fulness of [the] gospel” (D&C 66:2) restored to the earth through the Prophet Joseph Smith, the most fundamental yet profound are those concerning Jesus Christ. “The fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it.”2
Because of the Restoration, we who live on earth now are free to explore and appreciate truths about Jesus Christ that were unavailable to mankind for many generations. Truly the Bible testifies of the Savior, his mortal ministry, and his absolutely essential Atonement in behalf of all mankind. For hundreds of years it was a lone witness of that gospel. But what marvelous clarification and additional knowledge have come to us in this dispensation! Through the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, the Pearl of Great Price, the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible, and the teachings of latter-day prophets, we learn sacred truths about the many dimensions of the Savior’s mission in the pre-earth life, mortality, and beyond the grave.
This article will focus on just three of those dimensions—his roles as Son, Father, and Redeemer.
The Prophet Joseph learned early that the sectarian creeds were confusing in their declarations on the nature of God. They held to the notion of the Trinity as conceived in the Nicene and Athanasian Creeds, developed by councils convened in the early centuries of Christianity to settle theological differences. Those creeds portray God as three personages in one and one in three, “neither confounding the persons, nor dividing the substance”; as being uncreated, incomprehensible, and almighty. From these creeds has grown the current orthodox view held by most Christian denominations that “there is but one living and true God, everlasting, without body, parts, or passions; of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness.”3
But in the First Vision, the Prophet learned that the Father and the Son are two separate personages. He later taught that they have bodies of flesh and bones and that the Holy Ghost, the third member of the Godhead, is also a personage but has a spirit body rather than one of flesh and bones (see D&C 130:22).
If indeed “it is the first principle of the Gospel to know for a certainty the Character of God,”4 then it is vital to know the true nature and proper relationship of God the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ.
The Firstborn. In Paul’s letter to the Colossian Saints, he writes of Jesus Christ as “the firstborn of every creature” (Col. 1:15). Three verses later, however, the Savior is called the “firstborn from the dead” (Col. 1:18). Many do not see the double meaning of the word firstborn as it is used in these verses. Modern revelation helps make it clear. To the Prophet Joseph, the Savior said, “I was in the beginning with the Father, and am the Firstborn” (D&C 93:21). Also, we are taught in 1 Nephi 10:11 [1 Ne. 10:11] that “after he had been slain he should rise from the dead” and in 2 Nephi 2:8 [2 Ne. 2:8] that following his death, he took up his body again “by the power of the Spirit, that he may bring to pass the resurrection of the dead, being the first that should rise.” Jesus Christ is the Firstborn, then, in two senses of the word—he is the first spirit child born to God the Father in the premortal world, and he was the first one on this earth to be resurrected, or born from the grave. As Firstborn, he led the way toward mortal life for all of us, and as Firstborn, he made it possible for each of us to be resurrected. Those of us who believe on his name in mortality are baptized, keep the commandments, and are sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise are “the church of the Firstborn …
It seems clear that our Heavenly Father intends for us to remember and honor Jesus Christ as his Firstborn Son.
The Only Begotten. “Only Begotten Son” is a well-accepted term relating to Jesus Christ. It is found repeatedly in the Bible and is used by Christians generally. The real meaning of the term, however, is clouded unless one has an understanding of the true nature of God the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ. The Prophet Joseph’s First Vision and later revelations taught us these essential facts: that the Father and Son are separate beings and that the Father has a body of flesh and bones. With this understanding provided by modern revelation, it is possible to grasp the truth that God the Father is indeed the Father of Jesus Christ’s mortal body. The angel said to Mary, “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee; therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35; see also 1 Ne. 11:13–21).
Elder James E. Talmage of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained: “That Child to be born of Mary was begotten of Elohim, the Eternal Father, not in violation of natural law but in accordance with a higher manifestation thereof; and the offspring from that association of supreme sanctity, celestial Sireship, and pure though mortal maternity, was of right to be called the ‘Son of the Highest.’ In His nature would be combined the powers of Godhood with the capacity and possibilities of mortality; and this through the ordinary operation of the fundamental law of heredity, declared of God, demonstrated by science, and admitted by philosophy, that living beings shall propagate—after their kind. The Child Jesus was to inherit the physical, mental, and spiritual traits, tendencies, and powers that characterized His parents—one immortal and glorified—God, the other human—woman.”5
President Ezra Taft Benson added his witness in these words: “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints proclaims that Jesus Christ is the Son of God in the most literal sense. The body in which He performed His mission in the flesh was sired by that same Holy Being we worship as God, our Eternal Father. Jesus was not the son of Joseph, nor was He begotten by the Holy Ghost. He is the Son of the Eternal Father!”6
For those who hold that the Father and the Son are one and the same personage, there is no problem in using either title in reference to that one being, who they believe is incomprehensible. Latter-day Saints, however, comprehend the distinct nature of our Eternal Father and our appointed Redeemer. Yet there often is need for distinguishing between the two beings—for making clear whether it is truly the Father or the Son that is meant in scriptural references. Several verses in latter-day scripture use Father to refer to Jesus Christ (for example, Ether 3:14; Mosiah 15:1–4; Alma 11:38–39). In other verses it appears that the Savior is speaking, but he speaks as if he were the Father, even referring to “mine Only Begotten Son” (D&C 29:42; see also D&C 29:1). How are such things to be understood?
In an extended discussion of this subject entitled “The Father and the Son: A Doctrinal Exposition by the First Presidency and the Twelve,”7 dated 30 June 1916, Church leaders taught: “The term ‘Father’ as applied to Deity occurs in sacred writ with plainly different meanings. Each of the four significations specified in the following treatment should be carefully segregated.”8
The four listed meanings of the term Father include:
“‘Father’ as Literal Parent”—referring to God the Father, or Elohim, as the father of our spirits;
“‘Father’ as Creator”—referring to both God the Father and to Jesus Christ;
“Jesus Christ the ‘Father’ of Those Who Abide in His Gospel”; and
“Jesus Christ the ‘Father’ by Divine Investiture of Authority.”9
A few scriptural examples of each of the definitions that clearly apply to Jesus Christ—numbers 2, 3, and 4—may help us see His role more clearly.
Creator. Jesus Christ is often referred to as the Father because he is the Creator of heaven and earth. Amulek taught this truth in response to Zeezrom’s question, “Is the Son of God the very Eternal Father?” (Alma 11:38): “Yea, he is the very Eternal Father of heaven and of earth, and all things which in them are; he is the beginning and the end, the first and the last;
“And he shall come into the world to redeem his people; and he shall take upon him the transgressions of those who believe on his name; and these are they that shall have eternal life, and salvation cometh to none else” (Alma 11:39–40).
To Moroni the Savior explained His role as Father, or Creator, of the heavens and earth: “And in that day that they shall exercise faith in me, saith the Lord, even as the brother of Jared did, that they may become sanctified in me, then will I manifest unto them the things which the brother of Jared saw, even to the unfolding unto them all my revelations, saith Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Father of the heavens and of the earth, and all things that in them are” (Ether 4:7; emphasis added).
In their exposition on the subject, the First Presidency and the Twelve offered this clarifying insight: “Jesus Christ, whom we also know as Jehovah, was the executive of the Father, Elohim, in the work of creation. … Since His creations are of eternal quality He is very properly called the Eternal Father of heaven and earth.”10
Father of Those Who Abide in His Gospel. King Benjamin provides an example of the idea that Jesus Christ is the Father of all who truly accept the Atonement. Benjamin speaks of those who are “spiritually begotten” of the Savior and become “his sons, and his daughters” (Mosiah 5:7) through making and keeping gospel covenants. This same principle is spoken of by Abinadi when he explains that the Savior’s “seed” (Mosiah 15:10) are those who believe on him and hearken to the words of his prophets (see Mosiah 15:10–14).
Again the First Presidency and the Twelve summarize: “If it be proper to speak of those who accept and abide in the Gospel as Christ’s sons and daughters—and upon this matter the scriptures are explicit and cannot be gainsaid nor denied—it is consistently proper to speak of Jesus Christ as the Father of the righteous, they having become His children and He having been made their Father through the second birth—the baptismal regeneration.”11
Father by Divine Investiture of Authority. The First Presidency and the Twelve wrote: “In all His dealings with the human family Jesus the Son has represented and yet represents Elohim His Father in power and authority. … The Father placed His name upon the Son; and Jesus Christ spoke and ministered in and through the Father’s name; and so far as power, authority, and Godship are concerned His words and acts were and are those of the Father.”12
Hence, when Jesus Christ begins a revelation with “Listen to the voice of Jesus Christ” and says that “the righteous shall be gathered on my right hand unto eternal life; and the wicked on my left hand will I be ashamed to own before the Father,” then later in the same revelation speaks of “mine Only Begotten Son” (D&C 29:1, 27, 42), it can be understood in the latter verse that it is still the Savior speaking, by divine investiture of authority. In that same revelation he speaks both for himself and for the Father. It may be in many of the scriptures where it appears the Father is speaking that Jesus Christ is really the voice, speaking in the name of the Father in the first person as if he were the Father. Elder James E. Talmage wrote that “God the Eternal Father has manifested Himself to earthly prophets or revelators on very few occasions, and then principally to attest the divine authority of His Son, Jesus Christ.”13 And Elder Joseph Fielding Smith of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught that “the Father has never dealt with man directly and personally since the fall, and he has never appeared except to introduce and bear record of the Son. Thus the [Joseph Smith Translation] records that ‘no man hath seen God at any time, except he hath borne record of the Son.’”14
While we are considering Jesus Christ as Father, perhaps we should remind ourselves that he is Jehovah, the God and Father of ancient Israel. He is the God of the Old Testament as well as of the New Testament. He himself bore witness of that truth to the Nephites when he appeared to them after his Resurrection and said, “Behold, I say unto you that the law is fulfilled that was given unto Moses.
“Behold, I am he that gave the law, and I am he who covenanted with my people Israel; therefore, the law in me is fulfilled, for I have come to fulfil the law; therefore it hath an end” (3 Ne. 15:4–5).
And in our own dispensation, to the Prophet Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery came 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 110:3–4).
Just as the Restoration helps us better understand Jesus Christ’s roles as Son and Father, it greatly illuminates our view of him as the Redeemer. Consider the following.
An Infinite and Eternal Sacrifice. The scriptures make it clear that Jesus Christ, under the direction of his Father, has created “worlds without number” (Moses 1:33). There would be no purpose in these creations unless provisions were made for their redemption. And since the Savior created them, it follows that he too would redeem them. Such is the message of the revelation we sometimes call “the Vision”—section 76 of the Doctrine and Covenants. Verses 22–24 read:
“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.”
In a poetic version of those same verses, published in the 1 February 1843 issue of the Times and Seasons, the Prophet Joseph Smith wrote:
And I heard a great voice, bearing record from heav’n,
He’s the Saviour, and only begotten of God—
By him, of him, and through him, the worlds were all made,
Even all that career—in the heavens so broad,
Whose inhabitants, too, from the first to the last,
Are sav’d by the very same Saviour of ours;
And, of course, are begotten God’s daughters and sons,
By the very same truths, and the very same pow’rs.
(Times and Seasons, 1 Feb. 1843, 82–83)
On the basis of the vision and the Prophet’s poetic rephrasing, Elder Bruce R. McConkie of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles affirmed: “Now our Lord’s jurisdiction and power extend far beyond the limits of this one small earth on which we dwell. He is, under the Father, the Creator of worlds without number. (Moses 1:33.) And through the power of his atonement the inhabitants of these worlds, the revelation says, ‘are begotten sons and daughters unto God’ (D&C 76:24), which means that the atonement of Christ, being literally and truly infinite, applies to an infinite number of earths.”15
Such an idea lends new meaning to the phrase “infinite and eternal sacrifice” (Alma 34:10).
Sufferings of Every Kind. There are those who wonder if Jesus Christ can really understand their particular kind of suffering or the depth and duration of their pain. The Apostle Paul made some reference to this matter (see Heb. 2:18; Heb. 4:15), but Alma left no doubt as he testified to the inhabitants of Gideon:
“And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people.
“And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.
“Now the Spirit knoweth all things; nevertheless the Son of God suffereth according to the flesh that he might take upon him the sins of his people, that he might blot out their transgressions according to the power of his deliverance; and now behold, this is the testimony which is in me” (Alma 7:11–13).
Stated simply, Jesus Christ’s empathy for us in our suffering does not come only through revelation (“the Spirit knoweth all things”) but from actual experience (“according to the flesh”). Because of his own experience with pain and sorrow—his descent “below all things” (D&C 88:6)—he knows “how to succor his people in their infirmities.” To succor is to bring help or relief to someone in distress. Truly, the Savior does understand our pain and undoubtedly weeps with us in our extremities. He will bring peace, the healing of the soul, to those who trust in him.
Our Advocate with the Father. Several scriptural references indicate that Jesus Christ is our Advocate and will plead our cause before the Father. One revelation, however, tells us just what it is the Savior says to the Father in our behalf:
“Listen to him who is the advocate with the Father, who is pleading your cause before him—
“Saying: Father, behold the sufferings and death of him who did no sin, in whom thou was well pleased; behold the blood of thy Son which was shed, the blood of him whom thou gavest that thyself might be glorified;
“Wherefore, Father, spare these my brethren that believe on my name, that they may come unto me and have everlasting life” (D&C 45:3–5).
Redemption through Grace and Works. Latter-day scriptures help to settle the age-old debate of whether we are saved by grace or by works. The truth is that salvation is by both. Clearly, grace is necessary to our redemption (see 2 Ne. 25:23); without the power of God and the Atonement of Jesus Christ, all our works would be in vain. But grace alone will not save anyone either. God requires that we come unto Jesus Christ of our own volition through faith, repentance, sacred gospel ordinances, and enduring to the end (see 2 Ne. 9:18–24, 41–46; 3 Ne. 27:13–21).
Redeeming the Dead. One of the most glorious truths restored to the earth in our day is that the power of the Atonement and the opportunity for all mankind to embrace it extend into the postmortal spirit world. While the Apostle Peter refers to the Savior’s mission to the spirit world between his death and Resurrection (see 1 Pet. 3:18–21; 1 Pet. 4:6), modern revelation, as given in President Joseph F. Smith’s vision of the redemption of the dead (Doctrine and Covenants 138), greatly expands our understanding. We learn that the Savior did not meet personally with wicked spirits. He met with the righteous and organized them to preach the gospel to “all the spirits of men … , even unto all who would repent of their sins and receive the gospel” (D&C 138:30–31). Specifically mentioned as candidates for receiving the gospel in the spirit world are “those who had died in their sins, without a knowledge of the truth, or in transgression, having rejected the prophets … , the unrighteous as well as the faithful” (D&C 138:32, 35), even those spirits “unto whom he could not go personally, because of their rebellion and transgression” (D&C 138:37). The revelation ends with a glorious promise: “The dead who repent will be redeemed, through obedience to the ordinances of the house of God,
“And after they have paid the penalty of their transgressions, and are washed clean, shall receive a reward according to their works, for they are heirs of salvation” (D&C 138:58–59). What a hopeful, expansive, and liberating view!
Words are woefully inadequate to express the sense of awe, love, and profound gratitude that comes to those who, through believing and repenting and suffering, experience the power of the Atonement—forgiveness, peace, and joy. And that is just the beginning. For each of us is given the opportunity to enjoy these blessings of the Atonement continually as we endure to the end in the path marked by Jesus Christ.
It takes literally dozens of name-titles to portray the many dimensions of the Savior’s character and mission, a mission that goes far beyond the confines of Jerusalem, the Nephite city Bountiful, or even the whole earth. It stretches all the way to Kolob and beyond. And what is the motive for his grand service? His love for his Father and his love for us (see D&C 34:1–3; D&C 133:52–53).
Love is an action word. Jesus Christ said, “If ye love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). He led the way, showing his love for his Father by obedience (see John 4:34; John 5:30; John 6:38; John 8:28). And obedience is the way we can show our love and gratitude to him who is our Father in the gospel, our Lord, and our Savior.