My topic is the temple. I would like to help you delve deeply into its doctrine, explore the heights of its glory, and grasp its eternal significance.
Temples are not new. “Whenever the Lord has had a people on the earth who will obey his word, they have been commanded to build temples” (Bible Dictionary, “Temple,” 781). The Old Testament is replete with references to ordinances, covenants, and even the clothing of the temple (see, for example, Ex. 28–29; Lev. 8).
The best-known biblical temple was built in Jerusalem in the days of Solomon. The Lord personally accepted that holy house (see 2 Chr. 7:12). It was partially destroyed in 600 B.C.
Almost a hundred years later it was restored by Zerubbabel. This structure was damaged by fire in 37 B.C.; subsequently Herod enlarged and leveled the Temple Mount and commenced the rebuilding of the second temple (see Bible Dictionary, “Temple,” “Temple of Herod,” 781).
This was the temple known by Jesus. He was there as a child when His anxious mother could not find Him (see Luke 2:43–49).
At the first cleansing of the temple, Jesus called it “my Father’s house” (John 2:16; see John 2:13–16). At the second cleansing, Jesus called it “my house” (Matt. 21:13; Mark 11:17). Knowing the temple would be further desecrated, Jesus called it “your house … left unto you desolate” (Luke 13:35)—a prophecy fulfilled when it was destroyed in A.D. 70.
Several years ago, Sister Nelson and I were in Jerusalem being guided through recent excavations in a tunnel to the left of the present Western Wall of the old temple. In that tunnel we saw Jewish rabbis praying for the day that the third temple would be built in Jerusalem.
“From Adam to the time of Jesus, ordinances were performed in temples for the living only. After Jesus opened the way for the gospel to be preached in the world of spirits, … work for the dead, as well as for the living, has been done in temples” (Bible Dictionary, “Temple,” 781).
As we read of temples, we also learn of covenants that God has made with faithful followers—His “children of the covenant” (3 Ne. 20:26; see 3 Ne. 20:25; Acts 3:25). Some 4,000 years ago, God made a covenant with Abraham that all the nations of the earth will be blessed through his seed (see Gen. 17:7; Gen. 22:18; Abr. 2:9–11). It was reaffirmed with Isaac (see Gen. 26:1–4, 24) and again with Jacob (see Gen. 28; Gen. 35:9–13; Gen. 48:3–4). The thread of that covenant is woven throughout the entire fabric of the Old Testament, the New Testament, and the Book of Mormon (see, for example, Book of Mormon title page). That covenant has been divinely renewed in this dispensation as part of the Restoration of all things (see D&C 124:58).
Prophets have long known that the Abrahamic covenant was to be fulfilled only “in the latter days” (1 Ne. 15:18). That’s our day! (See D&C 110:12–16.) We are those covenant people! What does that really mean? Let us learn together from selected scriptures.
In Mosiah 5:7 we read: “Because of the covenant which ye have made ye shall be called the children of Christ, his sons, and his daughters; for behold, this day he hath spiritually begotten you; for ye say that your hearts are changed through faith on his name; therefore, ye are born of him and have become his sons and his daughters.”
In 3 Nephi 20:25, Jesus is speaking: “Ye are the children of the prophets; and ye are of the house of Israel; and ye are of the covenant which the Father made with your fathers, saying unto Abraham: And in thy seed shall all the kindreds of the earth be blessed.”
In our holy temples, we literally receive those blessings promised to the lineage of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
In the Restoration, temple work received a very high priority. The first revelation from a ministering angel pertained to this doctrine. Recorded in the second section of the Doctrine and Covenants, it is an echo of the fourth chapter of Malachi. Moroni foretold the coming of Elijah, who would turn the hearts of the fathers to the children and the hearts of the children to their fathers (see Mal. 4:5–6; D&C 2:1–2).
Elijah did come, on April 3, 1836, Easter Sunday, at the beginning of Passover. He came to the Kirtland Temple to confer keys of sealing authority, precisely as prophesied by the angel Moroni (see D&C 110:14–16).
In the temple, ordinances are administered through which the power of God is manifest (see D&C 84:20). Without those ordinances and the authority of the priesthood, “the power of godliness is not manifest unto men in the flesh” (D&C 84:21).
The inscription on modern temples reads, “Holiness to the Lord” (see Ex. 28:36; Ex. 39:30). Those words describe the building, yes. They also describe the ordinances and covenants of the temple and the people who worship within its walls.
The Kirtland Temple was a preparatory temple. It stands today as a monument to the faith of the people who built it. Later, when the Saints reached Illinois, the Lord once again asked His people to build a temple. Why?
We read in Doctrine and Covenants 124:29–30:
“For a baptismal font there is not upon the earth, that they, my saints, may be baptized for those who are dead—
“For this ordinance belongeth to my house.”
Verse 32 carries this stern warning: “If you do not these things … ye shall be rejected as a church, with your dead, saith the Lord your God.”
Verse 40 states: “Let this house be built unto my name, that I may reveal mine ordinances therein unto my people.”
The heading for section 128 notes that this section was an epistle. Why was the Prophet Joseph Smith writing a letter to the Saints instead of addressing them directly? He was in seclusion. He was being hunted by angry mobs. He couldn’t even go home. He was sequestered in the home of his friend Edward Hunter. Read these wondrous words, written under the roof of Edward Hunter’s house:
“I now resume the subject of the baptism for the dead, as that subject seems to occupy my mind, and press itself upon my feelings the strongest, since I have been pursued by my enemies. …
“… These are principles in relation to the dead and the living that cannot be lightly passed over, as pertaining to our salvation. For their salvation is necessary and essential to our salvation, as Paul says concerning the fathers—that they without us cannot be made perfect—neither can we without our dead be made perfect. …
“… The earth will be smitten with a curse unless there is a welding link of some kind or other between the fathers and the children. … Baptism for the dead … is necessary … that a whole and complete and perfect union, and welding together of dispensations, and keys, and powers, and glories should take place. … Things which never have been revealed from the foundation of the world, but have been kept hid from the wise and prudent, shall be revealed … in this, the dispensation of the fulness of times” (D&C 128:1, 15, 18).
The Saints obeyed. They built the temple in Nauvoo. Some 6,000 Saints received their endowments and sealings before they had to leave and lose their temple. Now it stands again—rebuilt in all its majesty—as a very busy temple.
Some 30 years after the exodus from Nauvoo, the St. George Utah Temple was finished. It was the first temple in which vicarious ordinances for the dead were carried out on an organized scale.
At the dedication of the lower story of the St. George Utah Temple, on January 1, 1877—the very year that President Brigham Young died—he said:
“What do you suppose the fathers would say if they could speak from the dead? Would they not say, ‘We have lain here thousands of years, here in this prison house, waiting for this dispensation to come?’ … What would they whisper in our ears? Why, if they had the power the very thunders of heaven would be in our ears, if we could realize the importance of the work we are engaged in. All the angels in heaven are looking at this little handful of people, and stimulating them to the salvation of the human family. … When I think upon this subject, I want the tongues of seven thunders to wake up the people.”1
In 1894 President Wilford Woodruff (1807–98) instructed members of the Church: “We want the Latter-day Saints from this time to trace their genealogies as far as they can, and to be sealed to their fathers and mothers. Have children sealed to their parents, and run this chain through as far as you can get it. … This is the will of the Lord to this people.”2
The purpose of family history work is to obtain the names and data of our ancestors so that temple ordinances can be performed in their behalf.
Doctrine and Covenants section 138 is the crowning jewel of the remarkable ministry of President Joseph F. Smith (1838–1918). It was received the month before President Smith passed away. In that unique circumstance, he was still in the world but could see into the next world. It is dated October 1918.
I’ll begin at verse 11: “I saw the hosts of the dead, both small and great.
“And there were gathered together in one place an innumerable company of the spirits of the just, who had been faithful in the testimony of Jesus while they lived in mortality. …
“They were assembled awaiting the advent of the Son of God into the spirit world, to declare their redemption from the bands of death. …
“While this vast multitude waited and conversed, rejoicing in the hour of their deliverance from the chains of death, the Son of God appeared, declaring liberty to the captives. …
“And there he preached to them the everlasting gospel, the doctrine of the resurrection and the redemption of mankind from the fall, and from individual sins on conditions of repentance” (D&C 138:11–12, 16, 18–19).
And in verse 51: “These the Lord taught, and gave them power to come forth, after his resurrection from the dead, to enter into his Father’s kingdom, there to be crowned with immortality and eternal life.”
Temples catalyze that crown! How grateful we are for this knowledge!
May I digress a moment to relate an amusing experience we had a few years ago. Sister Nelson and I had the privilege of taking President Spencer W. Kimball (1895–1985) and his wife to an activity. Our five-year-old son was with us. I asked him to tell President Kimball about the picture our son had on the wall of his bedroom. He dutifully replied, “It’s the temple.”
President Kimball, with his global perspective, asked, “Which temple?”
That completely stumped our little boy, with his limited perspective. He thought a minute and then replied, “Why, the marriage temple, of course.” President Kimball gave a broad smile.
President Howard W. Hunter (1907–95) said in 1994, the year before he passed away: “I … invite the members of the Church to establish the temple of the Lord as the great symbol of their membership and the supernal setting for their most sacred covenants. … I would hope that every adult member would be worthy of—and carry—a current temple recommend, even if proximity to a temple does not allow immediate or frequent use of it.”3
President Gordon B. Hinckley has reaffirmed that hope. He has also expanded temple and family history work exponentially. In May 1999 he launched the FamilySearch™ Internet service. It is now averaging more than 50,000 visitors every day. From the Pedigree Resource File, a component of that endeavor, we are receiving an income of more than a million names per month, all lineage-linked. The database has exceeded one billion names.
When President Hinckley was called to serve in the First Presidency in 1981, how many temples did we have in the Church? Nineteen. Now we have 122! More are under construction, and others have been announced.
To each young adult I emphasize that the temple can bless you—even before you enter it. By maintaining a standard of moral conduct high enough to qualify for a temple recommend, you will find inner peace and spiritual strength. Now is the time to cleanse your lives of anything that is displeasing to the Lord. Now is the time to eliminate feelings of envy or enmity and seek forgiveness for any offense.
Several years ago the First Presidency issued a letter to priesthood leaders regarding the optimum time for members to receive a temple recommend. From it I quote:
“Single members in their late teens or early twenties who have not received a mission call or who are not engaged to be married in the temple should not be recommended to the temple for their own endowment. They can, however, receive a Limited-Use Recommend to perform baptisms for the dead. The desire to witness temple marriages of siblings or friends is not sufficient reason for a young adult to be endowed” (Nov. 12, 2002; see also First Presidency letter, June 21, 2005).
Please note that this instruction applies to singles in their “late teens or early twenties.” We hope that a few years later, these individuals will be married or established in a stable manner and their temple worship will be a high priority throughout their lives.
Before you enter the temple for the first time, participation in a temple preparation seminar will be helpful. So will reading a booklet that your bishop or branch president will provide, Preparing to Enter the Holy Temple.4 These will help you understand the magnificence of the ordinances and covenants of the temple.
Plan now to be married in the temple, and conduct your courtship with the temple in mind. When you and your companion kneel at the altar of a holy temple, you do so as equal partners. You become an eternal family unit. Anything that might erode the spirituality, love, and sense of true partnership is contrary to the will of the Lord. Fidelity to these sacred ordinances and covenants will bring eternal blessings to you and to generations yet unborn.
The urgency of vicarious temple work was stressed in a letter from the First Presidency dated March 11, 2003. Addressed to all Church members, it said that “millions of our ancestors have lived upon the earth without receiving the benefit of temple ordinances. …
“All of the ordinances which take place in the House of the Lord become expressions of our belief in that fundamental and basic doctrine of the immortality of the human soul.”5
My beloved brothers and sisters, our day was foreseen by our Master: “This shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; … saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Jer. 31:33).
As we are His people, we may “inherit thrones, kingdoms, principalities, and powers, dominions, … exaltation and glory in all things” (D&C 132:19). This is our legacy. This is our opportunity. Of this, I testify.