On May 15, 1829, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery went to the woods near Joseph’s farm in Harmony, Pennsylvania, to inquire of the Lord after translating a passage in the Book of Mormon that emphasized the importance of the ordinance of baptism. While they were praying, John the Baptist appeared to them as a resurrected personage. He conferred the Aaronic Priesthood upon them, directed them to baptize one another in the nearby Susquehanna River, and then directed them to ordain each other to the Aaronic Priesthood. John’s words to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery are recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 13. Following their baptism, Joseph and Oliver were filled with the Holy Ghost and experienced great blessings.
Suggestions for Teaching
John the Baptist confers the Aaronic Priesthood on Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery
Write the following questions on the board before class or provide them on a handout for each student (do not include the answers). As students come to class, invite them to answer the questions on a piece of paper or on their handouts. If necessary, suggest that they use the index to the triple combination (see “Priesthood, Aaronic”) or the Guide to the Scriptures (see “Aaronic Priesthood”) to find the correct answers. You may want to wait until after students have recorded their answers before you begin the devotional.
Where in the scriptures can we learn about the restoration of the Aaronic Priesthood?
On what date was the Aaronic Priesthood restored?
What was the name of the angel who restored the Aaronic Priesthood to the earth by conferring it upon Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery?
How was the Aaronic Priesthood conferred upon them?
What else did the angel promise Joseph and Oliver they would receive? From whom would they receive it?
(Answers: (1) Joseph Smith—History or Doctrine and Covenants 13; (2) May 15, 1829 [see Joseph Smith—History 1:72]; (3) John the Baptist [see Joseph Smith—History 1:72]; (4) By the laying on of hands [see Joseph Smith—History 1:68, 71]; (5) John the Baptist told them they would later receive the Melchizedek Priesthood from the Apostles Peter, James, and John [see Joseph Smith—History 1:72].)
After the devotional, ask students to share their answers to the first question. After they have answered this question correctly, assign students to work in pairs and check their answers to the rest of the questions. Instruct them to use Joseph Smith—History 1:68–72 and the description by Oliver Cowdery that follows Joseph Smith—History. You may want to move around the classroom to help students find the right answers.
After sufficient time, review the answers together as a class. As you go over these answers together, help students identify and understand the following doctrines: John the Baptist restored the Aaronic Priesthood to the earth (see Joseph Smith—History 1:72). The priesthood is conferred by the laying on of hands (see Joseph Smith—History 1:68, 71). Also, as you review students’ answers, explain that Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery received the Melchizedek Priesthood from Peter, James, and John later in May 1829 (see Larry C. Porter, “The Restoration of the Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthoods,” Ensign, Dec. 1996, 30–47).
Invite a student to read Joseph Smith—History 1:68 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for what Joseph and Oliver were doing that led them to ask the Lord about baptism for the remission of sins.
According to this verse, what led Joseph and Oliver to inquire about baptism for the remission of sins? (They were translating the Book of Mormon and came across teachings concerning baptism for the remission of sins.)
Point out that the restoration of the Aaronic Priesthood is so important that John the Baptist’s words were included in the Doctrine and Covenants as section 13. Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 13 aloud. Ask the class to follow along and identify how the restoration of the Aaronic Priesthood answered Joseph and Oliver’s prayer to know more about baptism for the remission of sins.
In what ways did the restoration of the Aaronic Priesthood answer Joseph and Oliver’s prayer to know more concerning baptism for the remission of sins?
On the board, draw a simple picture of a door with a keyhole.
What is the purpose of a door? (As students discuss this question, help them see that a door sits in the opening of a passageway to another location. Additionally, a door can either keep us out or let us in.)
Show students a set of keys (or draw a simple picture of a key on the board) and ask the following question:
How does a key relate to the function of a door? (A key locks or unlocks a door. When we use a key to unlock a door, it enables us to pass through and experience what is on the other side.)
Explain that the Lord uses keys as a symbol to represent the authority of the priesthood, which unlocks and opens the way for us to receive eternal opportunities and blessings. Invite students to search Doctrine and Covenants 13:1, looking for the keys associated with the Aaronic Priesthood. You may want to suggest that students mark these keys in their scriptures as they find them.
What did John the Baptist say the Aaronic Priesthood holds the keys of? (The Aaronic Priesthood holds the keys of the ministering of angels, the gospel of repentance, and baptism by immersion for the remission of sins. You may want to invite a student to write this statement under the picture of the door on the board.)
To help students better understand these keys of the Aaronic Priesthood and the blessings they make available to members of the Church, invite a student to read aloud the following explanation by Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. (Consider making a small copy of this statement for each student to keep in his or her scriptures.)
“What does it mean that the Aaronic Priesthood holds [the key of] the ‘gospel of repentance and of baptism, and the remission of sins’? The meaning is found in the ordinance of baptism and in the sacrament. Baptism is for the remission of sins, and the sacrament is a renewal of the covenants and blessings of baptism. Both should be preceded by repentance. …
“Not one of [us] has lived without sin since [our] baptism. Without some provision for further cleansing after our baptism, each of us is lost to things spiritual. …
“We are commanded to repent of our sins and to come to the Lord with a broken heart and a contrite spirit and partake of the sacrament in compliance with its covenants. When we renew our baptismal covenants in this way, the Lord renews the cleansing effect of our baptism. …
“We cannot overstate the importance of the Aaronic Priesthood in this. All of these vital steps pertaining to the remission of sins are performed through the saving ordinance of baptism and the renewing ordinance of the sacrament. Both of these ordinances are officiated by holders of the Aaronic Priesthood under the direction of the bishopric, who exercise the keys of the gospel of repentance and of baptism and the remission of sins” (“The Aaronic Priesthood and the Sacrament,” Ensign, Nov. 1998, 37–38).
How do the keys of the Aaronic Priesthood help us receive the blessings of the Atonement of Jesus Christ?
According to Elder Oaks, who directs the keys of the gospel of repentance and baptism in each ward?
To help students better understand the key of the ministering of angels, invite a student to read the following explanation by Elder Oaks:
“As a young holder of the Aaronic Priesthood, I did not think I would see an angel, and I wondered what such appearances had to do with the Aaronic Priesthood.
“But the ministering of angels can also be unseen. Angelic messages can be delivered by a voice or merely by thoughts or feelings communicated to the mind” (“The Aaronic Priesthood and the Sacrament,” 39).
Invite a student to come to the front of the class and hold up the pictures Young Man Being Baptized (Gospel Art Book , no. 103; see also LDS.org) and Blessing the Sacrament (no. 107), if available.
How might understanding the keys of the Aaronic Priesthood influence your thoughts or actions as you prepare, administer, or partake of the sacrament each week?
Invite the young women in class to share their feelings about the Aaronic Priesthood and the blessings it brings into their lives. You may also want to share why you appreciate the restoration of the Aaronic Priesthood.
Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery experience great blessings following their baptisms
Invite a student to read Joseph Smith—History 1:73 aloud. Ask the class to follow along and identify words and phrases that describe what Joseph and Oliver experienced after they were baptized. You may want to suggest that students mark these words and phrases in their scriptures.
What came upon Joseph and Oliver after they were baptized?
Since Joseph and Oliver had not yet received the gift of the Holy Ghost, what they experienced on this occasion was the power of the Holy Ghost. Joseph and Oliver would receive the Melchizedek Priesthood for conferring the gift of the Holy Ghost at a later date (see Joseph Smith—History 1:70; see also Bible Dictionary or Guide to the Scriptures, “Holy Ghost,” scriptures.lds.org).
Invite a student to read Joseph Smith—History 1:74 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for a specific blessing Joseph and Oliver received through the power of the Holy Ghost. After students have reported what they have found, write the following doctrine on the board: The Holy Ghost helps us understand the meaning and intention of the scriptures.
Why do you think we need the Holy Ghost to help us understand the scriptures?
When has the Holy Ghost helped you understand the “true meaning and intention” of the scriptures?
Invite students to spend a few minutes writing in their class notebooks or scripture study journals about what they will do to invite the help of the Holy Ghost as they study the scriptures.
Commentary and Background Information
Joseph Smith—History 1:74. Having the Holy Spirit when studying the scriptures
Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles commented on the necessity of having the Spirit with us as we study the scriptures:
“If we seek and accept revelation and inspiration to enlarge our understanding of the scriptures, we will realize a fulfillment of Nephi’s inspired promise that those who diligently seek will have ‘the mysteries of God … unfolded unto them, by the power of the Holy Ghost’ (1 Ne. 10:19).
“… Many of the other things mentioned in the scriptures can be comprehended only by the inspiration of the Holy Ghost. In the words of the Apostle Paul, ‘The things of God knoweth no man, except he has the Spirit of God’ (JST, 1 Cor. 2:11). …
“Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery set the example for this dispensation. After their baptism, they were filled with the Holy Ghost. Then, as Joseph explained in his personal history, ‘Our minds being now enlightened, we began to have the scriptures laid open to our understandings, and the true meaning and intention of their more mysterious passages revealed unto us in a manner which we never could attain to previously, nor ever before had thought of’ (JS—H 1:74). …
“As Paul told Timothy, ‘all scripture is given by inspiration of God’ (2 Tim. 3:16; also see 2 Pet. 1:21). This means that in order to understand scripture, our minds need to be enlightened by the Spirit of the Lord” (“Scripture Reading and Revelation,” Ensign, Jan. 1995, 7, 9).
Doctrine and Covenants 13:1. What is meant by the sons of Levi offering an offering unto the Lord?
The Prophet Joseph Smith gave the following explanation of the sacrifice that will be offered by the sons of Levi:
“It is generally supposed that sacrifice was entirely done away when the Great Sacrifice [i.e., the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus] was offered up, and that there will be no necessity for the ordinance of sacrifice in future: but those who assert this are certainly not acquainted with the duties, privileges and authority of the priesthood, or with the Prophets.
“The offering of sacrifice has ever been connected and forms a part of the duties of the Priesthood. It began with the Priesthood, and will be continued until after the coming of Christ, from generation to generation. …
“These sacrifices, as well as every ordinance belonging to the Priesthood, will, when the Temple of the Lord shall be built, and the sons of Levi be purified, be fully restored and attended to in all their powers, ramifications, and blessings. This ever did and ever will exist when the powers of the Melchisedic Priesthood are sufficiently manifest; else how can the restitution of all things spoken of by the holy Prophets be brought to pass? It is not to be understood that the law of Moses will be established again with all its rites and variety of ceremonies; this has never been spoken of by the Prophets; but those things which existed prior to Moses’ day, namely, sacrifice, will be continued” (History of the Church, 4:211–12).
President Joseph Fielding Smith further explained:
“We are living in the dispensation of the fulness of times into which all things are to be gathered, and all things are to be restored since the beginning. Even this earth is to be restored to the condition which prevailed before Adam’s transgression. Now in the nature of things, the law of sacrifice will have to be restored, or all things which were decreed by the Lord would not be restored. It will be necessary, therefore, for the sons of Levi, who offered the blood sacrifices anciently in Israel, to offer such a sacrifice again to round out and complete this ordinance in this dispensation. Sacrifice by the shedding of blood was instituted in the days of Adam and of necessity will have to be restored.
“The sacrifice of animals will be done to complete the restoration when the temple spoken of is built; at the beginning of the millennium, or in the restoration, blood sacrifices will be performed long enough to complete the fulness of the restoration in this dispensation. Afterwards sacrifice will be of some other character” (Doctrines of Salvation, ed. Bruce R. McConkie , 3:94).
Doctrine and Covenants 13:1. An explanation of keys
Elder Bruce R. McConkie explained that the revelations of God refer to keys in two ways:
“Two different usages of the term keys are found in the revelations. One has reference to the directive powers whereby the Church or kingdom and all its organizations are governed, the keys of the kingdom being the powers of presidency. The other usage refers to the means provided whereby something is revealed, discovered, or made manifest” (Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed. , 409–10).
Doctrine and Covenants 13:1. The key of baptism by immersion for the remission of sins
Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles offered the following insight into the key of the ministering of angels:
“In a closely related way, these ordinances of the Aaronic Priesthood are also vital to the ministering of angels.
“‘The word “angel” is used in the scriptures for any heavenly being bearing God’s message’ (George Q. Cannon, Gospel Truth, sel. Jerreld L. Newquist , 54). The scriptures recite numerous instances where an angel appeared personally. …
“But the ministering of angels can also be unseen. Angelic messages can be delivered by a voice or merely by thoughts or feelings communicated to the mind. …
“… Most angelic communications are felt or heard rather than seen.
“How does the Aaronic Priesthood hold the key to the ministering of angels? The answer is the same as for the Spirit of the Lord.
“In general, the blessings of spiritual companionship and communication are only available to those who are clean. As explained earlier, through the Aaronic Priesthood ordinances of baptism and the sacrament, we are cleansed of our sins and promised that if we keep our covenants we will always have His Spirit to be with us. I believe that promise not only refers to the Holy Ghost but also to the ministering of angels, for ‘angels speak by the power of the Holy Ghost; wherefore, they speak the words of Christ’ (2 Nephi 32:3). So it is that those who hold the Aaronic Priesthood open the door for all Church members who worthily partake of the sacrament to enjoy the companionship of the Spirit of the Lord and the ministering of angels. …
“The Aaronic Priesthood holds the keys of the ‘gospel of repentance and of baptism, and the remission of sins’ (D&C 84:27). The cleansing power of our Savior’s Atonement is renewed for us as we partake of the sacrament. The promise that we ‘may always have his Spirit to be with [us]’ (D&C 20:77) is essential to our spirituality. The ordinances of the Aaronic Priesthood are vital to all of this” (“The Aaronic Priesthood and the Sacrament,” Ensign, Nov. 1998, 38–40).
Doctrine and Covenants 13:1. The ministering of angels
President Gordon B. Hinckley explained the ministering of angels this way:
“When Wilford Woodruff, a man who had lived many years and had many experiences, was the President of the Church, he said to the boys of the Aaronic Priesthood: ‘I desire to impress upon you the fact that it does not make any difference whether a man is a Priest or an Apostle, if he magnifies his calling. A Priest holds the keys of the ministering of angels,’ said he. ‘Never in my life, as an Apostle, as a Seventy, or as an Elder, have I ever had more of the protection of the Lord than while holding the office of a Priest.’ (Millennial Star, 53:629.)
“Think of it, my dear young brethren. This priesthood which you hold carries with it the keys of the ministering of angels. That means, as I interpret it, that if you live worthy of the priesthood, you have the right to receive and enjoy the very power of heavenly beings to guide you, to protect you, to bless you. What boy, if he is thoughtful, would not welcome this remarkable blessing?” (“The Priesthood of Aaron,” Ensign, Nov. 1982, 45).
Supplemental Teaching Idea
Joseph Smith—History 1:68–72; Doctrine and Covenants 13. Video presentation—“Restoration of the Aaronic Priesthood”
Consider using the following teaching idea after students have found the answers to the questions at the beginning of lesson 19.
To help students better understand the context and feel the impact of the restoration of the Aaronic Priesthood, show them the video “Restoration of the Aaronic Priesthood.” This video can be found on the Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Visual Resource DVDs and on LDS.org. Invite students to ponder the following questions as they watch the video:
Why was it necessary for the Aaronic Priesthood to be restored to the earth?
What led the Prophet Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery to pray on May 15, 1829?