Dissenters within the Church and opponents outside the Church brought about the martyrdom of the Prophet Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum Smith. Their deaths added a powerful seal to their testimonies of the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. A study of the life and martyrdom of the Prophet Joseph Smith will help students consider the many blessings the Lord has given them through the ministry of the Prophet Joseph Smith, through whom He restored His gospel in the latter days.
“The Martyrdom,” chapter 22 in Church History in the Fulness of Times Student Manual, 2nd ed. (Church Educational System manual, 2003), 273–85.
“The Martyrdom: The Prophet Seals His Testimony with His Blood,” chapter 46 in Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith (2007), 529–40.
Display a picture of the Carthage Jail. Explain to the students that on June 27, 1844, the Prophet Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum, who was the Patriarch to the Church, were martyred in this jail in Carthage, Illinois. Joseph Smith was 38 years old at the time of his death, and Hyrum was 44.
Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 136:36–39 aloud while the class follows along. Encourage students as they read to identify how the Lord summarized the life of Joseph Smith and the work he performed. Then discuss the following question:
How did the Lord describe the life and work of the Prophet Joseph Smith? (Student responses could include the following truths: Joseph Smith laid the foundation for God’s work in this gospel dispensation. The Prophet Joseph Smith was innocent at the time of his death, and he had faithfully fulfilled the mission given to him by God.)
To help students understand some of the influences that brought about the death of the Prophet, tell them that the Saints lived in relative peace in the state of Illinois for about three years, but by 1842, they were again experiencing opposition. Opponents of the Church included citizens of Illinois who feared the political influence of the Saints. Others grew envious of the economic growth of Nauvoo and were critical of the power of Nauvoo’s city government and militia. Some misunderstood certain unique Mormon doctrines and practices. Dissenters within the Church and opponents outside the Church combined their efforts to fight against the Prophet and the Church.
Distribute a copy of the handout found at the end of this lesson to each student. Invite a student to read aloud the section titled “Opposition to the Prophet and the Church.”
Explain that according to the laws that were in effect at the time of the Prophet’s death, no law was broken when a press was destroyed. Display the following statement by Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles:
“The amendment to the United States Constitution that extended the guarantee of freedom of the press to protect against the actions of city and state governments was not adopted until 1868, and it was not enforced as a matter of federal law until 1931. … We should judge the actions of our predecessors on the basis of the laws and commandments and circumstances of their day, not ours” (“Joseph, the Man and the Prophet,” Ensign, May 1996, 72).
Why is the last sentence in Elder Oaks’s statement important to remember as we consider the actions of early Church leaders? (You may want to point out that most of the members of the Nauvoo city council were Church members, but they were acting in their capacity as elected civil servants when they ordered the press to be destroyed. The Church as an organization did not take action against the press, but the city council took action to “abate the … nuisance” [in History of the Church, 6:432]).
Invite a student to read aloud the handout section titled “Joseph and Hyrum Are Falsely Charged.” Ask another student to read Doctrine and Covenants 135:4 aloud. Invite the class to follow along, looking for the prophecy Joseph Smith made as he traveled toward Carthage.
Even though every mortal is imperfect, what do you think it would take for someone to have “a conscience void of offense towards God, and towards all men”? (D&C 135:4).
Explain that as Hyrum Smith prepared to go to Carthage Jail, he read Ether 12:36–38 and then turned down the page. Invite a student to read aloud Doctrine and Covenants 135:5, which is a direct quotation of these verses from Ether, while the class follows along. Invite students to consider why this scripture passage would have been meaningful to Hyrum. You might suggest to students that they mark any words or phrases that stand out to them.
What specific words or phrases in these verses from the book of Ether do you think would have been meaningful to Hyrum as he faced imprisonment and possible death?
What do you think the following phrase means: “All men shall know that my garments are not spotted with your blood”? (Consider having students cross-reference verse 5 with Jacob 1:19 and Mosiah 2:27 to discover the meaning of this phrase. Learning to cross-reference a scripture with other scriptures that provide additional insight is an important scripture study skill.)
Ask students to consider how Joseph and Hyrum might have felt knowing they had fulfilled their callings and duties from God to the best of their abilities.
What can we learn from the examples of Joseph and Hyrum Smith that could help us fulfill the responsibilities we receive from God?
Ask a student to read aloud the section heading for Doctrine and Covenants 135. (You may want to point out that the differences between this heading in the 1981 and 2013 editions of the scriptures reflect recent scholarship.) Invite several students to take turns reading aloud Doctrine and Covenants 135:1–2 and the handout section titled “Martyrdom at Carthage Jail.” Ask the class to follow along as these students read.
What do you think the phrase “to seal the testimony of this book and the Book of Mormon” means?
As students share their thoughts, consider writing the following definition on the board: to “seal” is to permanently establish something, such as a testimony. You might suggest that students write this definition in their scriptures next to verse 1.
Ask students to silently read Doctrine and Covenants 135:3, 6–7, looking for some of the truths we learn from this announcement of the martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum Smith.
What truths did you learn from this announcement of the martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum Smith? (Students may identify many truths, including the following: Joseph Smith has done more for the salvation of people in this world than any other man except Jesus Christ. The Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants were brought forth for the salvation of the world.)
In what specific ways do you think your life would be different without the ministry of the Prophet Joseph Smith?
Ask a student to read aloud the statement from Elder Dallin H. Oaks found in the handout section titled “Tributes to the Prophet Joseph Smith.”
Why is it important to realize that close associates of Joseph Smith considered him to be a prophet and an “honorable, virtuous man”?
Conclude by asking students if any of them would like to share their testimony of Joseph Smith. Encourage students to look for opportunities in the next few days to share with others their testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith and his role in restoring the gospel of Jesus Christ.