“The Living Christ: The Testimony of the Apostles” states: “In the modern world, [Jesus Christ] and His Father appeared to the boy Joseph Smith, ushering in the long-promised ‘dispensation of the fulness of times’ (Ephesians 1:10)” (Ensign or Liahona, Apr. 2000, 3). This lesson will focus on the central role of the First Vision in the doctrine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and on the Savior’s part in that vision. This lesson will also emphasize that studying the First Vision strengthens our faith in God the Father and in Jesus Christ.
Establish the context of this lesson by briefly reviewing Joseph Smith—History 1:5–12. Then ask students to liken this passage to our day by pointing out similarities between Joseph Smith’s experience of searching for truth and the experiences of those searching for truth in our day. (Answers should include the following: There was much contention among the various churches. Joseph Smith was unable to learn which church was true by logic or intellect. Religious leaders interpreted the same passages of scripture differently.)
Invite a student to read Joseph Smith—History 1:14–15 aloud. Then ask the class:
Why do you think Satan tried to prevent Joseph Smith from praying? (Answers may include the following: Satan knew Joseph Smith from the premortal world and knew that Joseph’s foreordained mission was to help restore truth to the earth. Satan tried to prevent this from happening.)
Ask students to read Joseph Smith—History 1:16–17 silently and write down doctrines that emerge from Joseph Smith’s testimony. After sufficient time, invite students to share the doctrines they identified.
Consider displaying the following statement by Elder Christoffel Golden of the Seventy:
“The Prophet wrote: ‘I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other—This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!’ [Joseph Smith—History 1:17].
“This experience by the boy Joseph, followed by many other visions and revelations, reveals that God actually exists; the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, are two separate and distinct beings; man is created in the image of God; our Heavenly Father is literally the Father of Jesus Christ; God continues to reveal Himself to man; God is ever near and interested in us; and He answers our prayers” (“The Father and the Son,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2013, 100).
How would you describe the importance of Joseph Smith’s First Vision in Latter-day Saint theology? (As students respond, emphasize the following: Joseph Smith’s vision of the Father and the Son restored many important truths to the earth.)
How would you describe the relevance of Joseph Smith’s First Vision to seekers of truth today?
Display the following statement by President Gordon B. Hinckley (1910–2008), and ask a student to read it aloud:
“Our entire case as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints rests on the validity of this glorious First Vision. … Nothing on which we base our doctrine, nothing we teach, nothing we live by is of greater importance than this initial declaration. I submit that if Joseph Smith talked with God the Father and His Beloved Son, then all else of which he spoke is true. This is the hinge on which turns the gate that leads to the path of salvation and eternal life” (“What Are People Asking about Us?” Ensign, Nov. 1998, 71).
Why does “our entire case as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” rest on the validity of the First Vision? (Students should understand that if Joseph Smith’s account is false, then the Restoration of the Church of Jesus Christ did not occur; however, if Joseph Smith’s account is true, then the Restoration did occur and the restored gospel is true.)
How have you gained a testimony of the truthfulness of the First Vision?
Invite students to begin thinking about what they might do to seek a renewed confirmation of the truthfulness of the First Vision. Consider sharing the following statement by Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles:
“To the youth listening today or reading these words in the days ahead, I give a specific challenge: Gain a personal witness of the Prophet Joseph Smith. … Read the testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith in the Pearl of Great Price. … This is Joseph’s own testimony of what actually occurred. Read it often. Consider recording the testimony of Joseph Smith in your own voice, listening to it regularly, and sharing it with friends. Listening to the Prophet’s testimony in your own voice will help bring the witness you seek” (“Joseph Smith,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2014, 30).
Before continuing, explain to students that the First Vision was not the only time the Savior visited Joseph Smith and others in this dispensation. For instance, Jesus Christ appeared to Joseph Smith and other Church leaders several times during the early days of the Restoration (for example, see D&C 76:22–24; 110:1–10).
Ask students to read Joseph Smith—History 1:17, looking for what Heavenly Father commanded Joseph Smith to do when He first appeared to Joseph.
Invite a student to read the following statement by Elder Robert D. Hales of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles aloud:
“It is of special significance that whenever Heavenly Father wants to introduce His Son to us, He commands us to listen—to ‘hear’ the words of Jesus [see Matthew 3:16–17; Luke 9:35; 3 Nephi 11:7; Joseph Smith—History 1:17].” (“Gaining a Testimony of God the Father; His Son, Jesus Christ; and the Holy Ghost,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2008, 30).
Notice that Heavenly Father commands us to “hear” the words of Jesus Christ. What do you think it means to “hear” Christ’s words? (To “hear” the words of Jesus Christ can imply both listening to and obeying His words.)
Invite students to identify a doctrine in Joseph Smith—History 1:17. Using their own words, students should identify a doctrine like the following: Heavenly Father wants us to listen to and obey His Son, Jesus Christ.
Invite a student to continue reading Elder Hales’ statement aloud while class members listen for what Elder Hales taught about Jesus Christ:
“Who is this Jesus? He participated with His Father in the Creation of the world and was responsible, under the direction of His Father, to create all things on the face of the earth. ‘And worlds without number have I created; and I also created them for mine own purpose; and by the Son I created them, which is mine Only Begotten’ [Moses 1:33]. Jesus Christ is the Only Begotten of the Father in the flesh. He is our Mediator with the Father. He is the Savior who laid down His life for us and pleads our cause with the Father. Therefore, we pray to Heavenly Father in the name of His Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus, the Son, is not the same being as His Father, but He is like His Father. He too is a glorified being of power and authority” (“Gaining a Testimony,” 31).
What did you learn about Jesus Christ from Elder Hales? Why might this knowledge motivate you to listen to and obey Jesus Christ’s words?
What blessings have you received by listening to and obeying the words of Jesus Christ?
Invite a student to read 3 Nephi 23:5 aloud while the class looks for the promise given by Jesus Christ to those who heed His words.
According to this verse, what blessing is given to those who heed the words of Jesus Christ?
Invite a student to read aloud the following statement by President Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the First Presidency:
“This is how Joseph Smith’s First Vision blesses our own personal lives, the lives of families, and eventually the whole human family—we come to believe in Jesus Christ through the testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith. Prophets and apostles throughout the history of mankind have had divine manifestations similar to Joseph’s. …
“… All of these manifestations, ancient and modern, lead those who believe to the divine source of all righteousness and hope—to God, our Heavenly Father, and to His Son, Jesus Christ. …
“Through our faith in the personal witness of the Prophet Joseph and the reality of the First Vision, through study and prayer, deep and sincere, we will be blessed with a firm faith in the Savior of the world, who spoke to Joseph ‘on the morning of a beautiful, clear day, early in the spring of eighteen hundred and twenty’ (Joseph Smith—History 1:14)” (“The Fruits of the First Vision,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2005, 38).
According to President Uchtdorf, what blessing comes from learning about the First Vision? (Though they may use different words, students should identify the following principle: As we learn about the First Vision, we develop greater faith in God the Father and in His Son, Jesus Christ.)
How does learning about the visit of the Father and the Son to Joseph Smith deepen our faith in Them? (Answers may include the following: The First Vision is another witness that They live; it reassures us that They are interested in the affairs of man; it is evidence that They hear and answer prayers.)
What role does the First Vision play in your testimony of the Restoration?
What could you do in the coming week to strengthen or receive confirmation of your testimony of the First Vision?
Challenge students to spend some time in the coming days pondering and praying about the First Vision. Invite them to write down the thoughts and feelings they have about Joseph Smith’s sacred experience.