“The Eternal Ministry of Christ,” Ensign, Jan. 1991, 7
The Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, the Pearl of Great Price, and the sermons and writings of the Prophet Joseph Smith bless us with a knowledge of who Jesus Christ is, what his gospel plan entails, and what our relationship is and should be to him. With these latter-day witnesses, added to those of the Old and New Testaments, we not only know that Christ lives, but we also know what it means to us that he lives.
Despite rejection by most of his contemporaries, and despite the blindness of a modern world that frequently sees no need of him, we know that the mortal Jesus was no ordinary Jewish carpenter from Galilee. Prior to his earthly birth, he ruled in glory under his Father. Abraham saw Christ in premortal glory and testified that he was “like unto God” (Abr. 3:24), or, as Paul wrote, “equal with God” (Philip. 2:6). Jesus himself, in praying to his Father, said: “And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was.” (John 17:5.) He was “the brightness of [the Father’s] glory, and the express image of his person.” (Heb. 1:3.) The divine acts of creating and governing worlds without number, giving the divine will to prophets, and atoning for the sins of God’s children were part of the mission of Jesus Christ—Jehovah—who was, as King Benjamin taught, “the Lord Omnipotent who reigneth, who was, and is from all eternity to all eternity.” (Mosiah 3:5.) Into the hands of him who was the Only Begotten in the flesh, the Father has given all power and authority.
A correct understanding of the role of Jesus Christ, then, must include a knowledge of the broad range of his eternal ministry. The scriptures teach us that Christ is the Creator, the Revealer, the Redeemer.
Both ancient and modern scriptures testify that Christ was the Creator. To Joseph Smith he said, “Thus saith the Lord your God, even Jesus Christ, the Great I AM, Alpha and Omega. …
“I am the same which spake, and the world was made, and all things came by me.” (D&C 38:1, 3.) Paul wrote that by Christ “were all things created, that are in heaven and that are in earth, visible and invisible, … all things were created by him, and for him.” (Col. 1:16.) King Benjamin called Christ “the Creator of all things from the beginning.” (Mosiah 3:8.)
Moses gained a clear view of Christ’s role in the creation when he was shown the Lord’s work in a vision. The Father said, “by the word of my power, have I created them, which is mine Only Begotten Son, who is full of grace and truth.
“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 1:32–33.)
Under the Father, Jehovah continues to preside over his creations. He “uphold[s] all things by the word of his power” (Heb. 1:3), and the light that emanates from him fills “the immensity of space,” “giveth life to all things,” and governs all creation. (D&C 88:12–13.)
Jesus Christ is Jehovah, the God of ancient and modern Israel, who has spoken with his prophets since the beginning of time. President Joseph Fielding Smith taught: “All revelation since the fall has come through Jesus Christ, who is the Jehovah of the Old Testament. In all of the scriptures, where God is mentioned and where he has appeared, it was Jehovah who talked with Abraham, with Noah, Enoch, Moses and all the prophets. He is the God of Israel, the Holy One of Israel.” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, 3 vols., comp. Bruce R. McConkie, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954–56, 1:27.) The Book of Mormon also teaches this doctrine. When Christ appeared in the New World following his resurrection, he said, “I am he that gave the law, and I am he who covenanted with my people Israel.” (3 Ne. 15:5; see also 1 Ne. 19:7–10; 3 Ne. 11:14.) In modern times, he has also revealed himself as Jehovah: “Listen to the voice of Jesus Christ, your Redeemer, the Great I AM.” (D&C 29:1; see also D&C 38:1; D&C 39:1; cf. Ex. 3:13–14.)
Jesus’ ministry was not limited to his acts of creation, his governing of the worlds, or his communication with prophets. Because he is the Word of God, the embodiment of the Father’s will, his mission also included coming to earth as a mortal, being tested to a greater degree than anyone else who has ever lived, overcoming every trial and temptation without committing sin, and suffering for the sins of the world. His coming to earth in the humblest of circumstances—born in a stable to a poor family far from home—disguised his divine identity and the mission for which he was sent. Yet it was only under such lowly circumstances that his work could have been done, for he needed to descend below all things. (See D&C 88:5–6). As a children’s hymn teaches so beautifully,
He came down to earth from heaven,
Who is God and Lord of all,
And His shelter was a stable
And his cradle was a stall;
With the poor, and mean, and lowly,
Lived on earth our Savior Holy.
(Hymns, 1985, no. 205.)
Paul knew and understood the nature of the condescension of Christ: Jesus “made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:
“And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself.” (Philip. 2:7–8.) Indeed, Jesus laid “his glory by” when he came to earth. (See Hymns, 1985, no. 209.) He became mortal, like us, so he could more fully touch our lives:
“Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people.
“For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted. …
One of the reasons Christ descended from his divine throne to become as we are was to establish a pattern for us to follow. He demonstrated that we can indeed keep the commandments and overcome the trials and temptations of life. It is of immeasurable worth to millions who have suffered trials and temptations or have experienced sorrow in their mortal existence to know that there is One who has suffered and sorrowed more. He not only has overcome adversity, but he empathizes with those who are still struggling to learn how.
But Christ’s mortality entailed much more than setting a good example. It included his atoning suffering—suffering that is beyond human comprehension. “I, God, have suffered these things for all,” he said, “that they might not suffer if they would repent.” (D&C 19:16.) All this was done for others as an expression of his incomparable grace. As we ponder Jesus’ suffering on our behalf, let us not forget who he is. This is Jehovah, Almighty God himself, who descended from his throne of glory, submitted himself to mortality, suffered, and died—for us.
Jesus’ atonement, the ultimate act of sacrifice and servitude, was also his greatest triumph. In carrying out this labor of supreme love, he demonstrated for all what greatness really means. His atonement shows us the pettiness of our own vain delusions of grandeur and our obsession with status and its symbols. All definitions of worth must be measured against the example of Christ. The world’s scales rarely measure real value; they often pervert it instead.
When James and John and their mother came to the Master with requests for status and position in the hereafter, he gently taught them the error of the world’s understanding of such things. From him they learned that real greatness comes not in rank but in service:
“Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them.
“But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister;
“And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant:
“Even as the son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (Matt. 20:25–28; italics added.)
Jesus, the greatest of all, descended to the lowest depths so that when he returned to his rightful place of glory he could take others with him.
We know that Jesus did return to his place of glory. He who was called in mortality the sacrificial “Lamb of God” (see John 1:29) is now in eternity the “King of Kings, and Lord of Lords.” (Rev. 19:16.) Even with his return to glory he has not yet ceased his work, for we are not yet there with him. His eternal mission, like that of his Father, is to bring to pass our “immortality and eternal life.” (Moses 1:39.) Christ’s gospel plan helps us gain qualities that reflect his divine nature; obedience to his will helps us overcome our weaknesses and become more like him. But the preeminent ingredient of our salvation is, and always will be, his grace.
Perhaps Jesus’ parable of the lost sheep (see Luke 15:1–7) gives us a glimpse into the depth of the love that motivates him. Some will follow readily, while others may need more time, more care, and more prodding from the Divine Shepherd. But his atoning suffering has already shown that he considers no price too much to pay for our souls; his work is not finished until every effort has been expended to save each individual soul who will choose to follow him. Those who do respond to his voice, who cast aside the things of the world and come unto him, will learn in due time the truth of his promise: “In my Father’s house are many mansions: … I go to prepare a place for you.” (John 14:2.)
Christ’s beginnings are not to be found in a stable in a Judean village. He came from glory and has returned to glory. The place he has prepared for us through his atoning sacrifice is a place of glory in the presence of the Father. Those who are faithful will inherit there “all that the Father hath” (D&C 84:38) and will forever rejoice in the blessings made possible through the ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ (see D&C 78:17–22).
There are many names and titles given to Christ in the scriptures. Each bears testimony of his mission. Among the most important are the following:
Jesus: “Jesus” was a fairly common personal name in the days of the Savior. The form with which we are familiar derives from the Latin rendering, Iesus, of the Greek ’Iesous, which is a transliteration of the Aramaic original, Yeshuca. This name is constructed from the root y sh c, “to save,” and it is the equivalent of the Hebrew Yehoshuca (biblical Joshua), which means “Jehovah is Salvation.” Joseph and Mary named the Christ child Yeshuca at the command of a messenger from God, “for he shall save his people from their sins.” (Matt. 1:21.)
Christ: This term, meaning “anointed one,” comes from the Greek christos. It is a translation of the Hebrew Mashiah, “Messiah.”
Messiah: This derives from the Hebrew word Mashiah, “anointed one.” In the Old Testament, the term was primarily a royal title; the king was the “anointed one.” Anciently, faithful followers and servants of Jehovah looked forward to the coming of the Anointed One, the King of Kings, who would deliver them from all enemies, particularly the bondage of sin. Sadly, teachings about this Deliverer became distorted to the point that most Jews in Jesus’ day did not understand the Messiah’s mission and failed to recognize him when he came. They anticipated instead one who would deliver them from Roman occupation, and they believed that the Law of Moses was sufficient to save them from sin.
Savior: This term, meaning “one who saves,” is used with reference to Christ more than sixty times in the scriptures. He is our savior from the two great enemies of all mankind—death and sin.
He has saved all of us from physical death, the separation of the spirit from the body. Jesus overcame death through his atonement and grants resurrection to all through his grace. (See 2 Ne. 9:7–10; Alma 11:41–42; D&C 138:14.)
Christ also saves us from spiritual death, which is alienation from God and therefore death as to the things of righteousness. We bring this condition on ourselves when we sin in any degree, thereby cutting ourselves off from God and making ourselves unworthy to return to his presence. We are taught that God “shall not save his people in their sins” (Alma 11:36) and that “no unclean thing can inherit the kingdom of heaven” (Alma 11:37). Our wrongdoings make us unclean and therefore not fit to be where the Lord is. But through his atonement, Christ has overcome the eternal consequences of this situation. The salvation that he provides from spiritual death is conditioned on our faithfulness. (See Alma 11:40.) We can never “earn” salvation from spiritual death, but Christ, who paid the price in full and did all the work necessary to bring salvation, will apply his saving grace to us, if we will do his will.
Deliverer: This term is used in the same way that Savior is used. To deliver is to save or rescue.
Redeemer: In many cases, Redeemer is used in much the same way Savior and Deliverer are, but it has an important emphasis. The central message of the word is that Christ has bought us back. To redeem means to ransom, to rescue by paying a price. Christ is our Redeemer because he purchased us out of the bondage of sin. The price was his own suffering and death.