“Gaining a Testimony of Jesus Christ,” Ensign, Dec. 1980, 11
For some years I have sought to learn all that a mortal can of the life of Jesus Christ—the greatest life ever lived—of his words and works in the days of his flesh, the atonement he wrought, and the glory that was his in life, and in death, and in living again.
I stand in awe. The glorious Majesty from on high has dwelt among men. He has made flesh his tabernacle; he was born of woman; he took upon himself the form of a servant; he condescended to leave his eternal throne that he might abolish death and bring life and immortality through the gospel. The Great God, the Eternal Jehovah, the Lord Omnipotent came among us as a man, as Mary’s son, as the Son of David, as the Suffering Servant, as the Perfect Manifestation of the Father.
In 1935, an the one hundredth anniversary of the organization of the first quorum of Apostles in our dispensation, the First Presidency of the Church—Presidents Heber J. Grant, J. Reuben Clark, Jr., and David O. McKay—issued a statement: “Two great truths must be accepted by mankind if they shall save themselves: first, that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the Only Begotten, the very Son of God, whose atoning blood and resurrection save us from the physical and spiritual death brought to us by the Fall; and next, that God has again restored to the earth, in these last days, through the Prophet Joseph, His holy Priesthood with the fulness of the everlasting Gospel, for the salvation of all men on the earth. Without these truths man may not hope for the riches of the life hereafter” (Improvement Era, Apr. 1935, p. 205). Then the First Presidency bore their witness, and, in effect, the witness of all of us, the witness of the whole Church, that those two pronouncements are true.
We have a glorious message to take to the world. It’s a message of salvation, a message of joy and hope and glad tidings. It’s in the spiritual realm. And immediately the question arises as to how you establish the truth and divinity of a spiritual message.
How do you prove spiritual truths? How do you prove the resurrection of Jesus Christ? How do you prove that the Father and the Son appeared to Joseph Smith, or that any of the angelic ministrants came who gave him keys and powers and authorities as the Church was established?
We stand in exactly the same situation that the ancient apostles were in. They, too, had a proclamation to take to the world. They had to proclaim, first, the divine Sonship of the Lord Jesus, that he was in literal reality God’s Son, that he had come into the world and worked out the infinite and eternal atoning sacrifice whereby all men are raised in immortality while those who believe and obey may be raised unto eternal life. And they had to proclaim, second, that they themselves—Peter, James, and John, and all of the Twelve, and the Seventies, and the others—were legal administrators called of God, empowered by him, given the keys of the kingdom, the right to proclaim the truths of the gospel, and the power to administer in its ordinances. Now, how could eleven men and their auxiliary associates—eleven Galileans who had no rabbinical training, who were not scholars in the eyes of the world—go out and do the thing that Jesus laid upon their shoulders, which was to take the message of salvation to every living creature?
I shall take a segment of Christ’s life and use it as an illustration, a pattern, an indication. It sets the principle, showing how the message of salvation was proclaimed in that day. And if we can envision what is here involved, then we will know what we have to do in principle in our day to take the equivalent message to our Father’s other children.
I believe that a testimony of Jesus Christ hinges on a belief in the resurrection: If Jesus rose from the dead, he is the Son of God! If he is the Son of God, his gospel is true! If his gospel is true, men must believe or disobey at their peril! They must accept his truths and be baptized and live the law, or they will be damned! What this comes down to is that if the apostles in that day had the power and ability to convince men that Jesus rose from the dead, then they had established the truth and divinity of the work. And how do you prove the resurrection? As we are going to see, you prove it by testimony.
Paul testified that Jesus Christ was “declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead” (Rom. 1:1–4).
The resurrection proves that Jesus was the Son of God. Now these words also from Paul: “Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye ave received, and wherein ye stand;
“[Now this is the very heart and center and core of the gospel:] by which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain.
“For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures;
“And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:
“And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve:
“After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep.
“After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles” (1 Cor. 15:1–7).
Now the segment of the life of the Lord Jesus which we will consider:
We’ll begin after the supper and the sermons in the upper room, after the incomprehensible agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, after the trials, and after the crucifixion. The body of Jesus was placed in a tomb before sunset on Friday, and his spirit was in the spirit world for thirty-eight or forty hours.
Sometime early Sunday morning, Jesus rose from the dead. We do not know the time, but the record says that “when it was yet dark” (John 20:1), Mary Magdalene came to the tomb. Of all the women of the New Testament, Mary Magdalene is preeminent save only Mary, the Lord’s mother. Mary Magdalene is the one alone who is named as having traveled with Jesus and the Twelve as they went on their missionary journeys in all the villages and cities of Galilee. When she arrived at the tomb, she found not the body of the Lord Jesus. She was told by the angels to tell Peter that Christ was risen, and that he was going before them into Galilee, according to the promise that he had made.
Now we can’t tell exactly the sequence, but we can be reasonably certain. Either she went back and told Peter and came again, or she went out of the tomb then and saw the risen Lord. In any event, she was the first mortal to see a resurrected person. In her sorrow and in her tears and in her anxiety, she sensed a presence, supposed it was the gardener, and said with perfect proprietary right, “Sir, if you have taken him, show me where that I may take him” (see John 20:15). The personage said one word, “Mary.” Immediately she recognized the Lord. She said, “Rabboni,” which is the reverential form of the word “Rabbi,” and means “my Lord” or “my Master.” And at that point, she attempted to throw her arms around the Lord Jesus, and he said, “Hold, touch me not; I have not yet ascended to my Father which is in Heaven” (see JST, John 20:17).
Now, either there is more that is not there recorded, or between that episode and one that immediately followed, the Lord did ascend to his Father, because very shortly, and the record says, “As it began to dawn” (Matt. 28:1), other women arrived, apparently in a group, and they went into the tomb and were told various things by the angelic ministrants. But when they came out, the account says, they met Jesus and they threw their arms around his feet. Now that has to mean that they felt the nail marks in his hands and perhaps more. We do not know what transpired there, other than that Jesus directed again the same message the angels had given the woman from Magdala. Jesus said, “Tell Peter and the brethren that I am going before them into Galilee” (see Matt. 28:10). Now that’s two appearances of the risen Lord on Easter morning.
The next appearance, although we cannot document this with accuracy—we do not know the total chronology—was to Peter and we suppose it was because Peter was to be the president of the Church; he held the keys of the kingdom. The Lord appeared to him, obviously to renew and reaffirm the relationship and the power and authority that he had, and to recommission him, as it were, to do the work that he had been appointed to do.
The next appearance, the details of which we know, occurred on the Emmaus Road. Emmaus, whose location is lost to us, was some seven or eight miles from Jerusalem. On the afternoon of that day, two disciples were walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus. One of them was named Cleopas; we assume the other one was Luke, since he alone records what took place. As they walked along, a stranger joined them and asked them what they were discussing and considering. They were a little put out that someone would come and interfere with their sacred communication, and they said to him: “Art thou a stranger here? Don’t you know what’s happened in Jerusalem? Haven’t you heard that Jesus was crucified at the Passover time and that he promised to rise again the third day?” (See Luke 24:18–21.) And they told him that certain women had been in their group and had made reports of his rising.
Then he said to them, “O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken” (Luke 24:25), and he proceeded from Moses and the prophets and the Psalms to talk about the Messianic sayings concerning himself. It may be that this conversation lasted as long as two hours. In any event, they arrived at the place in Emmaus where the two disciples were going to camp, and they invited him to stay: “Abide with us: ‘tis eventide” (see Luke 24:29). He made as though he would go on, but he accepted the invitation. And then he broke bread and blessed it. He must have done it in a way that was familiar to them, or something else happened to remove the veil from their eyes, because they immediately recognized him. Then he vanished out of their sight.
That’s four appearances. Those two disciples returned immediately from Emmaus to Jerusalem. They went to a place that is called the upper room. We are quite secure in speculating that this was the same upper room in which the Last Supper was held. It was a large and commodious place; there was quite a congregation present. The only ones we usually talk about are the ten Apostles, but there were others, and this raises the presumption that among the others there may have been women. In any event, the two disciples went and began to recite to the group what had occurred to them. When they entered the room, someone was bearing testimony that the Lord had appeared to Simon, showing that that appearance had preceded this hour at least.
As they were going forward with their meal and with their testimonies, the account says Jesus himself stood in the midst of them. Then it says “they were terrified and affrighted, and supposed that they had seen a spirit” (Luke 24:37), which is a natural conclusion because they were in a barred room, the door was closed, and here someone had materialized who had come either through the ceiling or the wall. And he said to them: “Why are ye troubled? and why do thoughts arise in your hearts?
“Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have” (Luke 24:38–39).
And without any question, they then felt the nail marks in his hands and his feet, and they thrust their hands into the spear wound in his side. We know by express declaration that that is precisely what the Nephite believers did when he appeared during the latter part of that year in the Americas. Then he said to those in the upper room. “Have ye here any meat?” (Luke 24:41), which was a rhetorical question—they were eating and he knew it. They brought “him a piece of a broiled fish, and of an honeycomb. And he took it, and did eat before them” (Luke 24:42–43). And some other conversations ensued.
Ten of the Twelve were there. For what reason we do not know, Thomas was absent. When they told Thomas what had happened, he said, “Except I shall see with my eyes and handle with my hands and feel the prints of the nails, I will not believe” (see John 20:25). Now we’ve come to suppose that this was doubt on his part, which it was, but it was no more material or substantial than the doubt in the minds of the other ten when they supposed Jesus was a spirit. Thomas was simply indicating that he had not yet envisioned the corporeal, literal nature of the resurrection, though he should have accepted the testimony of the Apostles. Thomas in fact was one of the most valiant of the Twelve—he was the only one of the Twelve who said, “I will go and die with thee,” when Jesus was going to raise Lazarus from the dead, and when the others said the Jews in that area sought to kill the Lord (see John 11:16).
Now these men were valiant and capable and devoted and able, but they were learning degree by degree and step by step.
One week later, again on a Sabbath day—and this is setting the pattern for worship on Sunday as the Sabbath—apparently in the upper room, the same or a similar group assembled. Jesus appeared, and he said to Thomas, “Stretch forth thine hand, and feel the prints of the nails in my hands and in my feet, and be not faithless, but believing” (see John 20:27). Then Thomas apparently fell on his knees and said, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28). And we suppose that he accepted the invitation and felt and handled as the others had felt and handled the previous week. Then came the words about him being blessed for believing when he saw but others being more blessed who believed without seeing.
The next appearance chronologically of which we have record was on the shore of the lake of Tiberias (the Sea of Galilee). Some time must have elapsed. The scene is early in the morning. Only seven of the Twelve are present, five of whom are named. They had been fishing all night and had caught nothing, Jesus stood on the shore of the lake and called out to them and said, “Children, have ye any meat?” They had not. He said, “Cast your net on the other side” (see John 21:5–6), which they did. And immediately the nets were full to the breaking point, which is reminiscent of the same miracle that occurred in his mortal life with the sons of Zebedee.
John, with a little more spiritual insight than the others, said, “It is the Lord” (John 21:7). And Peter, in his impetuous nature, east off the fisherman’s robe and swam to shore to be the first to greet the Lord. They brought the fish in. When they got on the shore, they found that Jesus had a fire on which he was broiling fish and baking bread, and he also asked them for fish from their supply, which he added to what was being already cooked. And they ate, and the presumption is—and I’ll indicate a reason why later—that Jesus also on that occasion ate.
That’s the time when Jesus asked Peter three times if he loved him and gave the great decree to feed his sheep. That’s the occasion when he told John that he would live to bear testimony before nations and kingdoms before he would see the Lord returning in his glory.
The next appearance was on that mountain in Galilee. We know very little of this, but quite obviously it was a great and glorious and grand appearance—more than five hundred brethren were there. This leads us to assume that there must have been women present also. We suppose that he would follow the same pattern that he followed among the Nephites and that for a select group of that sort he would preach more doctrine and do more things than he had otherwise done. In any event, that’s the occasion when he issued the decree that the Twelve should go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. And many other things, without question, were said.
Now that’s eight appearances. After that he appeared to James (see 1 Cor. 15:7).
The tenth appearance of which the New Testament speaks is the ascension. With reference to that, we know only that forty days after his resurrection he appeared to the Eleven. They apparently walked out to the Mount of Olives: and while they were on the Mount of Olives, they had the conversation about the restoration of the kingdom to Israel. And then he ascended. The account says that two angels stood by and said, “Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11).
From this brief review we learn several important things: we know that resurrected beings, containing their glory within themselves, can walk as mortals do on earth; that they can converse and reason and teach as they once did in mortality; that they can both withhold and manifest their true identities; that they can pass with corporeal bodies through solid walls; that they have bodies of flesh and bones which can be felt and handled; that if need be (and at special times) they can retain the scars and wounds of the flesh; that they can eat and digest food; that they can vanish from mortal eyes and transport themselves by means unknown to us.
Now how do you prove that the Father and the Son appeared to Joseph Smith? How do you prove the message of salvation that Jesus gave to those Apostles? Here’s an illustration, and the words are part of the sermon that Peter preached when he went to the home of Cornelius, who had been visited by an angel, and who had found special favor in the Lord’s sight. Peter said, “We are witnesses of all things which [Jesus of Nazareth] did both in the land of the Jews, and in Jerusalem; whom they slew and hanged on a tree:
“Him God raised up the third day, and shewed him openly;
“Not to all the people, but unto witnesses chosen before of God, even to us, who did eat and drink with him after he rose from the dead.
“And he commanded us to preach unto the people, and to testify that it is he which was ordained of God to be the Judge of quick and dead.
“To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins.” (Acts 10:39–43; italics added.)
The way Peter and the ancients proved that Jesus was the Son of God, and therefore that the gospel which he taught was the plan of salvation, was to establish that he rose from the dead. And the way you prove that a man rises from the dead, because it’s in the spiritual realm, is to bear witness by the power of the Spirit of knowledge that is personal and real and literal to you. Peter could have gone into a congregation and said, “I know that Jesus is the Lord because Isaiah said this and this with reference to him. Or one of the other prophets said this.” And he did that, for a reason, I suppose. But the great crowning thing that Peter could do was to stand before the people and say, “I know he was the Son of God. I stood in the upper room. I recognized him. He’s the man who ministered among us for more than three years. I felt the nail marks in his hands and in his feet. I thrust my hand into the spear wound in his side. I saw him eat food—he ate fish and an honeycomb. He has a body. He said his body was flesh and bone. I know he is the Son of God. I am his witness!”
The message of salvation is proclaimed by witnesses, and this segment of the life of the Lord Jesus sets a pattern and shows what we have to do when we carry the message of the Restoration to our Father’s other children.
How do you prove the message of the Restoration? Well, you preach the gospel. You have to teach the doctrines of salvation, or else people will not have a judgment or be in an intelligent position to weigh the merit and proof of your testimony. First, you teach what God has done in wondrous glory in the day in which we live. You teach how the heavens have been opened and how he has spoken again and how he has restored the fulness of his everlasting gospel, sending angelic ministrants to give keys and powers and authorities to men. And after you’ve taught the truth and used the holy scriptures to do it, and made the message as plain and as easy and as simple as in your power lies, then the crowning and convincing and convicting thing that’s left is that you bear testimony.
We as members of the Church and kingdom of God on earth have received what is called the gift of the Holy Ghost. And the gift of the Holy Ghost is the right to the constant companionship of that member of the Godhead based on faithfulness. And that means that the Holy Spirit of God, who is a personage of spirit, in harmony with laws, eternal laws that have been ordained, will speak to the spirit that is within us, giving us eternal proof. And we call the receipt of that proof testimony. It comes by revelation from the Holy Spirit of God.
A testimony in our day consists of three things: It consists of the knowledge that Jesus is the Lord, that he is the Son of the living God who was crucified for the sins of the world; it consists of the fact that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God called to restore the gospel truths and be the revealer of the knowledge of Christ for our day; and it consists of knowing that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the only true and living Church upon the face of the whole earth, the one place where salvation is found, the organization which administers the gospel and therefore administers salvation to the sons of men.
We teach the gospel. And after we have taught in plainness to the best of our ability, then we bear witness, and we say, “I know.” We say the Holy Spirit of God has revealed to me, to us, to the Latter-day Saints, that this work is true. And after we have taught and borne testimony, every individual who is in tune, every individual who has prepared himself spiritually to receive the truth, will feel in his heart that what we’ve said is true. And it won’t be a matter of argument; it won’t be a matter of debate; it won’t be an intellectual conversion. It will be a revelation from the Holy Spirit of God.
I think this same pattern has been followed in every age and dispensation. I think also that we have something in our day that’s over and above and beyond what was had in any other day. The Lord has given us the Book of Mormon as a witness of the truth, and the Book of Mormon is “to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that JESUS is the CHRIST, the ETERNAL GOD, manifesting himself unto all nations” (Book of Mormon title page). And the Book of Mormon came forth to prove “to the world that the holy scriptures are true, and that God does inspire men and call them … in this age and generation, as well as in generations of old” (D&C 20:11).
If we do not get something out of the life of Jesus that applies to us, we don’t get the benefit that we ought. We should take his life and pattern our lives after the way he lived. We should take the episodes of his life and learn from them the concepts and principles that will enable us in similar situations to do what we have been called upon to do in our day.
When the Lord himself bore testimony of the truth of the Book of Mormon, he used the most solemn language known to humankind. He swore with an oath. He said with reference to Joseph Smith, “He has translated the book, even that part which I commanded him, and as your Lord and your God liveth it is true” (D&C 17:6).
If we’re properly in tune and understand what’s involved in the eternal realities of which we speak, we ought to be able to bear that same kind of witness with reference to the restoration of eternal truth in our day. We ought to be able to say: “The Lord has restored again and set up his kingdom among men.” And God being our witness, it is true.
After reading “Gaining a Testimony of Jesus Christ” individually or as a family, you may wish to discuss some of the following questions during a family gospel study period:
The author says a testimony of Jesus Christ “hinges on a belief in the Resurrection.” What makes the reality of the resurrection such a convincing proof of the Sonship of Jesus the Christ?
What are the events surrounding the resurrection?
Peter and others bore testimony of what they had actually seen of Jesus. By what means can our testimonies have the same kind of validity, surety, and power?
How do we qualify to have the Holy Spirit of God “speak to the spirit that is within us”?
The author suggests that to “prove the message of the Resurrection” is a two-part process. What are the two parts? How might gospel instruction and gospel living in your home be improved to help family members make this process a part of their lives?
The author says that “a testimony in our day consists of three things. …” What are they? Does your testimony typically contain these things, or does it usually concentrate on other, more general, things?
What are some ways you and other members of your family can share your testimony of Jesus Christ with others?