A Temple-Building People
Latter-day Saints are a temple-building and temple-loving people. It has been so from the earliest days of the Church. Through the Prophet Joseph Smith, the Lord declared that "my people are always commanded to build [temples] unto my holy name" (D&C 124:39-40).
In temples, we can draw closer to the Lord, we can learn more about His plan for our happiness, we can receive essential ordinances for our exaltation, and we can perform vicarious service on behalf of those who have died without the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Sacred Places Upon the Earth
From the very beginning, there have been sacred places upon the earth where God has communed with His children. They were designated by God and hallowed by His presence as places where He would teach and bless His children. Many of these places are recorded in the scriptures.
The Garden of Eden was surely a sacred place where Adam and Eve dwelt in the presence of the Father and the Son and were able to converse with Them directly. After the Fall and their subsequent expulsion from the Garden, Adam built an alter to worship God and offer sacrifices as they were commanded. Their prayers were heard and their lives blessed.
As Moses approached the burning bush on Mount Sinai, the Lord instructed him to “put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground”—sacred ground where the Lord would instruct Him and offer covenants for His people.
Centuries later, the Savior would lead Peter, James, and John up the Mount of Transfiguration where they would experience marvelous manifestations and receive the keys of the kingdom of heaven. There they were visited by Moses and Elijah and heard the voice of the Father bearing witness that Jesus is His beloved Son.
Temples in the Scriptures
In addition to sacred places, the Lord also directed that sacred temples be constructed. The first temple structure mentioned in the scriptures is the tabernacle built by the Israelites under the direction of Moses. The tabernacle was a tent-like structure made with the finest materials available where sacred priesthood ceremonies could be performed during their time in the wilderness. It served as a kind of "portable temple" for generations (Exodus 26-27; 40:35).
Other Old Testament references to formal temples include the Temple of Solomon (2 Chronicles 5:1-14; 7:1-2) and the Temple of Zerubbabel (Ezra 3:1-13; 6:3). In addition, the Book of Mormon records that God's people began building temples soon after they arrived in the new world and continued for nearly a thousand years. The people of Nephi built a temple similar to that of Solomon (2 Nephi 5:16). King Benjamin gathered his people to the temple to teach and exhort them (Mosiah 2-4). And later, when the resurrected Lord visited the Nephites, they were at the temple (3 Nephi 11:1–10).
The details varied, but the purposes of these temples remained consistent—they were places where the people sought to draw closer to God, participate in sacred ceremonies, and deepen their commitment to follow Him.
Temples at the Time of Jesus
During the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ, the only existing temple in the biblical world was known as the Temple of Herod. Jesus was often found in this temple (Luke 2:40-49; Matthew 21:10-14). There He taught and healed the sick. He also defended the sanctity of the temple from those who would defile it.
After the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and the rejection and deaths of His Apostles, the temple at Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 A.D. Within a few hundred years, the people in the Book of Mormon lands also rejected the Lord's prophets and apostles. Soon, their temples were also gone. With no prophets or apostles to lead His church, the Lord withdrew His authority and there were then no temples on the earth for many centuries.
Temples Again on the Earth
In the spring of 1820, Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ appeared to Joseph Smith and began the restoration of the fulness of the gospel upon the earth. When the Church of Jesus Christ was re-established in 1830, the Lord again commanded His people to build temples (D&C 88:119; and 95).
The Church was barely a year old when plans to build a temple were first discussed. Construction began in Kirtland, Ohio, in 1833 and the temple was dedicated in 1836. Unfortunately, Church members suffered significant persecution from others and were forced to leave Ohio two years later. The building still stands today, although it is no longer an operating temple and is not owned by the Church.
Five years later, the Saints began building a temple in Nauvoo, Illinois. They were able to complete it despite ongoing persecution and the martyrdom of the Prophet Joseph and his brother Hyrum. Only a few months after it was dedicated in 1846, the Saints were again compelled to flee. Their beloved temple was abandoned and then destroyed by fire just two years later.
Crossing the plains to Utah, the Latter-day Saint pioneers resumed their temple building with great fervor. They desired salvation in the kingdom of God. They understood that temple ordinances were essential to that salvation, and so they spared no effort in building temples in which to receive them. In the West, they were able to find a place of refuge where the Church could begin to flourish. In the coming years, four temples were constructed throughout Utah, including the iconic Salt Lake Temple.
Today, there are over 150 operating temples in countries around the world, with many more announced or under construction.
Regardless of the time in history, a temple of God is the most sacred place of worship on earth—a place where heaven touches the earth, a place where marvelous blessings are bestowed, and a place where we can feel closer to our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ.