Near the end of his life, Joseph Smith conferred the priesthood keys of this dispensation on the members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. After the Prophet’s martyrdom, at a meeting held on August 8, 1844, many Saints received a spiritual manifestation confirming to them that Brigham Young, who was President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, was to lead the Church. As students come to understand the principles associated with succession in the Presidency of the Church, they will have confidence that the Lord has selected and prepared each individual who becomes President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“Succession in the Presidency,” chapter 3 in Teachings of the Living Prophets Student Manual (Church Educational System manual, 2010), 28–41.
“The Twelve to Bear Off the Kingdom,” chapter 23 in Church History in the Fulness of Times Student Manual, 2nd ed. (Church Educational System manual, 2003), 286–96.
Brent L. Top and Lawrence R. Flake, “‘The Kingdom of God Will Roll On’: Succession in the Presidency,” Ensign, Aug. 1996, 22–35.
Ask the following question:
How does the process of selecting a new President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints differ from the way leaders might be chosen in other organizations?
Inform students that this lesson will examine the transfer of Church leadership following the death of the Prophet Joseph Smith. Explain that several years before his death, the Prophet had received revelations concerning the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Ask students to study Doctrine and Covenants 107:33 and 112:30–32 looking for the Lord’s description of the priesthood authority held by the members of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve.
How did the Lord describe the authority of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles? (Make sure students understand the following principle: The members of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles hold the priesthood keys of this dispensation, and the Twelve function under the direction of the First Presidency.)
Distribute a copy of the handout found at the end of the lesson to each student. Explain that Joseph Smith spent the last months of his life meeting frequently with members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles to prepare them to lead the Church. Have a student read aloud the handout section titled “Meeting with the Twelve Apostles, March 1844.” Tell students that this is a brief account of a meeting held by the Prophet Joseph Smith with the Apostles and other Church leaders, as recounted by President Wilford Woodruff, who was an Apostle at that time. After the reading, ask:
How did this conferral of keys on members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles help prepare them for the time when the Prophet Joseph Smith would no longer be with them? (They received the same priesthood keys that were held by the Prophet Joseph.)
Why was it important for Joseph Smith to confer these priesthood keys on the Apostles before his death? (At that time, Joseph Smith was the only one who held all the priesthood keys of this dispensation. If he had not conferred these keys on others, then angels would have had to come to earth again to restore them.)
Explain that when the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles was first organized in 1835, the order of seniority was determined by age. Thomas B. Marsh, who was believed at the time to be the oldest Apostle, was considered the senior Apostle (it has since been learned that David W. Patten was actually the oldest Apostle).
Ask a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 124:127–28 aloud. Explain that in October 1838, President Marsh apostatized and left the Church and David W. Patten died. Brigham Young then became the senior Apostle, as explained in these verses. Following the initial selection of Apostles and continuing to the present, seniority in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles has been determined by date of ordination.
Explain that when Joseph and Hyrum Smith were martyred on June 27, 1844, the Twelve, except for John Taylor and Willard Richards, were in the eastern United States serving missions. Within three weeks, however, all of the Apostles had learned the tragic news and hurriedly returned to Nauvoo. As the Apostles arrived, they found confusion among Church members about who would lead the Church. Some Church members believed the leadership rightly fell to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Over the next months, several men put forth claims that they had the right to lead the Church. Ask two students to read aloud the handout sections titled “Sidney Rigdon’s Claim” and “James Strang’s Claim.” As the class listens, invite them to think about the concerns they might have had about these claims had they been in Nauvoo at the time.
Follow up by asking students:
Why were the claims made by these men not legitimate? (You may need to point out that although Sidney Rigdon was a member of the First Presidency, Joseph had not conferred priesthood keys on him.)
Invite a student to read aloud the handout section titled “August 7, 1844.” Discuss the following question with the class:
Why was Brigham Young’s testimony of the keys of the apostleship important? (After students respond, write the following doctrine on the board: The Apostles hold all the keys of the priesthood necessary to preside over the Church.)
Invite a student to read aloud the handout section titled “August 8, 1844, 10:00 A.M.”
How did the Lord bless the Saints to know whom He had appointed to lead the Church?
How can we know that Church leaders today are called of God? (After students respond, write the following principle on the board: Through the Holy Ghost, we can receive a witness that those who lead the Church have been called of God.)
When have you felt the Spirit witnessing to you that the President of the Church today is called of God?
Explain that during the meeting held at 2:00 p.m. on August 8, Brigham Young and other Apostles spoke. Have a student read aloud the handout section titled “August 8, 1844, 2:00 P.M.”
Explain that when Joseph Smith died, Brigham Young, as the senior Apostle, was immediately able to exercise all of the keys of the priesthood. For more than three years following the Prophet’s martyrdom, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles presided over the Church, under the direction of Brigham Young. Then on December 5, 1847, Brigham Young was sustained as President of the Church and the First Presidency was reorganized.
Sidney Rigdon moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and organized a Church of Christ with apostles, prophets, priests, and kings. This church collapsed by 1847. And even though James Strang’s claims to the presidency were false, three of the former Twelve Apostles—William E. McLellin, John E. Page, and William Smith—supported him. Strang was murdered in 1856 by disaffected followers.
To help students understand the process of succession in the Church Presidency today, display the following statement by President Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles about what took place following the death of President Gordon B. Hinckley. Ask a student to read the statement aloud:
“There was no question about what would be done, no hesitancy. We knew that the senior Apostle was the President of the Church. And in that sacred meeting, Thomas Spencer Monson was sustained by the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles as the President of the Church. … Now, as the scriptures provide, he is the only man on the earth who has the right to exercise all of the keys. But we all hold them as Apostles. There is one man among us called and ordained, and he becomes the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” (“The Twelve,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2008, 83).
Following the death of the President of the Church, who will always become the next President of the Church? (The senior Apostle, who is the President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.)
Some students may wonder when the President of the Church receives the keys necessary to preside over the Church. Explain that every Apostle is given all of the keys when he is first ordained as an Apostle. Ask a student to read aloud the following statement by President Gordon B. Hinckley (1910–2008):
“But authority to exercise those keys is restricted to the President of the Church. At his passing, that authority becomes operative in the senior Apostle, who is then named, set apart, and ordained a prophet and President by his associates of the Council of the Twelve” (“Come and Partake,” Ensign, May 1986, 47).
What feelings do you have as you realize that the Lord’s kingdom on earth will move forward with little interruption following the death of a Church President?
You may want to conclude this lesson by testifying that the same priesthood keys and powers that Joseph Smith conferred upon Brigham Young and the members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles are held today by the President of the Church, his Counselors in the First Presidency, and the members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. You might also share how you gained your testimony that Church leaders are called by God. Invite students to prayerfully seek to obtain or strengthen their testimonies of the truths they have discussed today.