In the last days “shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed.” This kingdom, as foreseen by Daniel, was likened unto a stone “cut out of the mountain without hands,” which would roll forth and gain momentum until it eventually filled the whole earth (Daniel 2:44–45; see also D&C 65:2).
Elder Mark E. Petersen, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, testified, “The Church to which you and I belong is that stone. It has been cut out of the mountain without hands, and your destiny and mine is to help roll it forth” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1960, p. 82).
From the days of Adam the prophets have looked forward to the time when the dispensation of the fulness of times would be ushered in and the Lord would “gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth,” which are necessary for his Second Coming and millennial reign (Ephesians 1:10).
The appointed hour foretold by all the holy prophets came in the spring of 1820 when God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ appeared to Joseph Smith. With this glorious vision the prophetic words of Isaiah began to be fulfilled, wherein he testified that the Lord would do “a marvellous work and a wonder” among the children of men (Isaiah 29:14).
Joseph Smith, called of God, laid the foundation that his successors have built upon. Through the inspiration of heaven, the Prophet translated the Book of Mormon, received the holy priesthood, and organized the Church of Jesus Christ once again among mortal man. Through him the keys of the priesthood were restored.
“And again, what do we hear? …
“The voice of Michael, the archangel; the voice of Gabriel, and of Raphael, and of divers angels, from Michael or Adam down to the present time, all declaring their dispensation, their rights, their keys, their honors, their majesty and glory, and the power of their priesthood; giving line upon line, precept upon precept; here a little, and there a little; giving us consolation by holding forth that which is to come, confirming our hope!” (D&C 128:20–21).
With the restoration of these keys Israel could now be gathered in from its long dispersion, and all saving ordinances of the gospel could now be administered for both the living and the dead.
Among the early commandments to the Church was the injunction that “Zion must increase in beauty, and in holiness; her borders must be enlarged; her stakes must be strengthened; yea, verily I say unto you, Zion must arise and put on her beautiful garments” (D&C 82:14).
Since those days the Church has survived exile from four states, harassment and continuous persecution of its leaders and members, an extermination order from a governor, martyrdom of its prophet, disenfranchisement by the government, and poverty of the Saints. This is what the Church endured and survived in the first century of its history; through such adversity, persecution, and impoverishment, the Church gained strength and matured.
By the time Joseph F. Smith, son of the Prophet Joseph’s brother Hyrum, became President of the Church, he could say, “We have passed through the stages of infancy … and are indeed approaching the condition of manhood and womanhood in our experience in the Gospel” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1909, p. 2).
The missionary force brought a harvest of converts from all over the world. Seeds were planted abroad as missions became stakes. Zion’s borders became enlarged. When Joseph Fielding Smith, son of President Joseph F. Smith, became President of the Church, he declared, “We are coming of age as a church and as a people. We have attained the stature and strength that are enabling us to fulfill the commission given us by the Lord through the Prophet Joseph Smith that we should carry the glad tidings of the restoration to every nation and to all people” (in Manchester England Area Conference 1971, p. 5).
Two years later, President Smith’s successor, President Harold B. Lee, said:
“Today we are witnessing the demonstration of the Lord’s hand even in the midst of his saints, the members of the Church. Never in this dispensation, and perhaps never before in any single period, has there been such a feeling of urgency among members of this church as today. Her boundaries are being enlarged, her stakes are being strengthened. …
“No longer might this church be thought of as the ‘Utah church,’ or as an ‘American church,’ but the membership of the Church is now distributed over the earth” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1973, p. 6; or Ensign, July 1973, pp. 4–5).
A “stone … cut out of the mountain without hands” by God’s intervention (Daniel 2:45) is the metaphor used by the Lord to describe the expansion of the gospel to all the world. This stone is rolling forth and, indeed, will fill the earth. Then will the Lord’s kingdom stand forever, and he will rule over the world and reign among the house of Israel, who have loved him and kept his commandments.