“A Mission Long Foreknown,” Ensign, Jan. 2001, 30
As early as March 1829 the Lord declared to Joseph Smith, “This generation shall have my word through you” (D&C 5:10). At the time, the Prophet Joseph was 23 years old. He would live only 15 more years, but in those 15 very full years, he became the instrument through whom the Lord ushered in the dispensation of the fulness of times, when the Lord would “reveal unto my church things which have been kept hid from before the foundation of the world” (D&C 124:41).
Ancient prophets knew that an apostasy from the early Christian church would necessitate a latter-day restoration from heaven.1 Following the earthly ministry of Christ’s Apostles, priesthood authority was lost, ordinances essential for salvation were changed, truths were removed or held back from the scriptures, and covenants were taken away.2 These vital principles and ordinances could be restored only by revelation through the instrumentality of God Himself. Therefore, the Lord declared that in the latter days He would “bring forth … in mine own power, much of my gospel, which shall be plain and precious” (1 Ne. 13:34, emphasis added).
As promised, God has manifested Himself in these latter days “in word, and also in power, [and] in very deed” (1 Ne. 14:1). Through the ministry of angels and revelations to modern prophets, God has restored the fulness of His gospel to the earth, bringing about what He called “a great and a marvelous work among the children of men” (1 Ne. 14:7).
The calling and mission of Joseph Smith, the first prophet of this marvelous Restoration, were known long before his birth. He “and other choice spirits … were reserved to come forth in the fulness of times to take part in laying the foundations of the great latter-day work” (D&C 138:53). He was “among the noble and great ones who were chosen in the beginning to be rulers in the Church of God” and prepared before birth “to come forth in the due time of the Lord to labor in his vineyard for the salvation of the souls of men” (D&C 138:55, 56; see also Jacob 5:70–71).
In 1823 an angel named Moroni appeared to 17-year-old Joseph in Palmyra, New York, telling him that “God had a work for me to do; and that my name should be had for good and evil among all nations, kindreds, and tongues, or that it should be both good and evil spoken of among all people” (JS—H 1:33). Consider the implications of that announcement. What were the chances that the prophecy could possibly come to pass given the time and circumstances in which Joseph Smith lived? Only a divine source could have known it would be fulfilled. But it has come to pass.
This was not the first time Joseph’s life and mission had been foretold. Prophets from all ages have known of him and prophesied of the work he would do.
Joseph of Egypt. One such prophecy was uttered by the ancient patriarch Joseph. He was promised by the Lord that a descendant of his—a “choice seer”—would be raised up in the latter days (2 Ne. 3:6, 7). This seer would be “esteemed highly,” and his work would be of great worth to all mankind; in fact, this seer’s work would help “deliver” the Lord’s people in that day, as the work of Moses did in his day (see 2 Ne. 3:7, 9).
Joseph of Egypt said this choice latter-day seer would bring forth a record (the Book of Mormon) and other books (the Doctrine and Covenants, Pearl of Great Price, and so forth) that would bear witness to the world that the scriptures already given (the Bible) are true (see 2 Ne. 3:11–12; see also JST, Gen. 50:30–33, Bible appendix; 1 Ne. 13:35–36, 39–41). The patriarch Joseph saw that these two records would “grow together” to confound false doctrine, establish peace, and bring people to a knowledge of the Lord’s covenants (2 Ne. 3:12).
Joseph prophesied that this seer would have the same name as he did—Joseph—and that the seer’s father would also be named Joseph (see 2 Ne. 3:15). With three older brothers, it was not mere coincidence that Joseph Smith Jr. received his father’s name.
Moses. The prophet Moses learned that Joseph Smith would restore lost scripture. The Savior revealed: “And now, Moses my son, I will speak unto thee concerning this earth upon which thou standest; and thou shalt write the things which I shall speak.
“And in a day when the children of men shall esteem my words as naught and take many of them from the book which thou shalt write, behold, I will raise up another like unto thee; and they shall be had again among the children of men—among as many as shall believe” (Moses 1:40–41; emphasis added).
Joseph Smith was that prophet like unto Moses who restored Moses’ words to the biblical record.3 But as prophesied, only those who believe in Joseph Smith’s mission enjoy the refreshing insights of the doctrinal restoration.
Isaiah. The prophet Isaiah foresaw Joseph Smith’s work and even wrote of conversations Joseph’s associates would have regarding the translation of the Book of Mormon.4 Much of the prophecy in Isaiah 29 has reference to the coming forth of the Book of Mormon.5
Malachi. Likewise, Malachi prophesied of a latter-day forerunner who would prepare the way for the Lord to come to His temple (see Mal. 3:1). On 3 August 1831, Joseph Smith dedicated the first site for a modern-day temple at Independence, Missouri.6 On 27 March 1836, he dedicated the Kirtland Ohio Temple (see D&C 109). It was in this temple that Joseph Smith’s divine mission was reconfirmed by the Savior and Joseph received priesthood keys from Moses, Elias, and Elijah (see D&C 110).
Elijah’s appearance in the Kirtland Temple signaled the fulfillment of another prophecy of Malachi—that Elijah would return to the earth before the great and dreadful day of the Lord to restore the sealing keys of the priesthood lest the whole earth be smitten with a curse (see Mal. 4:5–6; D&C 2). When he appeared in the Kirtland Temple to Joseph Smith, Elijah announced that the prophecy of Malachi was now fulfilled and that by this we “may know that the great and dreadful day of the Lord is near, even at the doors” (D&C 110:16; see also D&C 110:13–15).
In addition to building temples, through revelation the Prophet Joseph learned the purposes of temples7 and received the temple ordinances. As a result of his efforts and those of succeeding prophets (especially President Gordon B. Hinckley), there are more than 100 temples in operation or in construction and planning stages today. Nothing else in the history of modern Christianity compares to how Malachi’s prophecies have been fulfilled by latter-day prophets and the Latter-day Saints.
John the Baptist. John the Baptist had a knowledge of the prophet of the Restoration. When priests and Levites asked John if he was Elias or the Messiah, “he confessed and denied not that he was Elias [the forerunner]; but confessed, saying I am not the Christ.
“And they asked him saying, How then art thou Elias? And he said, I am not that Elias who was to restore all things. And they asked him saying, Art thou that prophet? And he answered, No” (JST, John 1:20–22, Bible appendix; emphasis added). Joseph Smith is the modern Elias spoken of by John the Baptist who was “to restore all things” (see D&C 132:40, 45).
Peter, James, and John. While returning from the Mount of Transfiguration, the Savior told Peter, James, and John about one who was to “come and restore all things, as the prophets have written” (JST, Matt. 17:14). The Apostles assumed He was referring to John the Baptist, but as the Savior explained further, they “understood that he spake unto them of John the Baptist, and also of another who should come and restore all things, as it is written by the prophets” (JST, Matt. 17:14, Bible appendix; emphasis added). Joseph Smith, it seems from our perspective now, was this other prophet, to whom Peter, James, and John themselves appeared in 1829, restoring the authority and keys of the Melchizedek Priesthood which they held (see D&C 128:20).
The Savior’s Words to the Nephites. At the time of His appearance in ancient America, the Savior prophesied to the Nephites of the role that Joseph Smith eventually filled in bringing forth the Book of Mormon and beginning the Restoration (see 3 Ne. 21:1–11). The Savior taught that this seer’s life would be safeguarded until his mission was completed: “The life of my servant shall be in my hand; therefore they shall not hurt him, although he shall be marred because of them. Yet I will heal him” (3 Ne. 21:10).
Joseph’s life and mission were marred. The translation of the Book of Mormon was temporarily interrupted by the loss of the first 116 pages, but God had prepared a way for the problem to be overcome and the translation to go forward (see D&C 10:6–19, 38–45). In 1832 he was tarred and feathered by a mob and left for dead. He said, “My friends spent the night in scraping and removing the tar, and washing and cleansing my body.” The next morning was the Sabbath, and with great faith and effort, Joseph kept a commitment to speak that day. His hearers included some of the mobbers from the night before. “With my flesh all scarified and defaced, I preached to the congregation as usual, and in the afternoon of the same day baptized three individuals.”8 A few months later, while he was traveling through Indiana his dinner was poisoned.9 Bishop Newell K. Whitney administered to him and Joseph was healed immediately, although the effects of the poison caused him to vomit so violently his jaw became dislocated and to lose some of his hair. It is true that his life and mission were “marred” by opposition again and again, but he was preserved to finish the Lord’s work. President Brigham Young once said, “If a thousand hounds were on this Temple Block [Temple Square], let loose on one rabbit, it would not be a bad illustration of the situation at times of the Prophet Joseph. He was hunted unremittingly.”10 And although the Prophet was slain for his testimony, the work he began continues to roll forward. President Young also said, “Why was he hunted from neighborhood to neighborhood, from city to city, and from State to State, and at last suffered death? Because he received revelations from the Father, from the Son, and was ministered to by holy angels, and published to the world the direct will of the Lord concerning his children on the earth.”11
Those who read the scriptures become aware of these prophecies about a restorer. If Joseph Smith is not the foreseen prophet, who else could it possibly be?12 Not only did the ancient prophets know of Joseph Smith and prophesy of his mission, but he knew many of them personally.
In the spring of 1820, Joseph Smith was visited by the Father and the Son and also by “many angels.”13 The heavens opened again in 1823 when Moroni appeared, followed in subsequent years by a host of other heavenly messengers all declaring their dispensations, rights, privileges, and keys of authority (see JS—H 1:27–54; D&C 128:19–21; and Moro. 7:35–37).14
“Who among the world’s scholars,” one author wrote, “can boast of having stood face to face with Adam, Enoch, Noah, a messenger from Abraham’s dispensation, Moses, John the son of Zacharias, Peter, James, and John? While religious leaders were claiming that the heavens were sealed to them, Joseph Smith was being personally tutored by ancient prophets who laid their hands upon his head and conferred upon him the power, keys, and authority they held.
“… Who but Joseph Smith could tell us that Seth was in the perfect likeness of his father (D&C 107:43), or could give a detailed description of Paul”15 or describe personal visits with John the Beloved?16
Joseph knew the Bible, he knew its authors, and they knew him. He was heaven-taught and angel-tutored. Reflecting on his experiences, he said, “Could you gaze into heaven five minutes, you would know more than you would by reading all that ever was written on the subject.”17 And Joseph was blessed, many times, to have that view. President Daniel H. Wells (1814–91), a counselor in the First Presidency, testified: “It seemed to me that he advanced principles that neither he nor any other man could have obtained except from the Source of all wisdom—the Lord himself. … Where could he have got this knowledge and understanding, that so far surpassed all I had ever witnessed, unless it had come from Heaven?”18 Wilford Woodruff once observed, “He seemed a fountain of knowledge from whose mouth streams of eternal wisdom flowed; and as he stood before the people, he showed that the authority of God was upon him.”19
All the major events of the Restoration were foreseen and foreknown.
The First Vision. Peter foretold “the times of refreshing [to] come from the presence of the Lord” when the Father and the Son would begin the restitution of all things (see Acts 3:19–21). In 1820 the Father and Son appeared to Joseph Smith, and the dispensation of the fulness of times began.20
Angels to restore the gospel. John the Revelator foresaw that an angel would appear, “having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth” (Rev. 14:6). The angel Moroni’s appearances (1823–27) initiated the fulfillment of John’s prophecy (see D&C 133:36–37). Subsequently, other angels appeared to assist in the Restoration.21
The Book of Mormon. Isaiah, Ezekiel, and King David all foretold the coming forth of the Book of Mormon.22 Enoch also saw in vision the restored gospel of Jesus Christ and the Book of Mormon “sweep[ing] the earth as with a flood, to gather out mine elect from the four quarters of the earth” to establish Zion (Moses 7:62).
In the tops of the mountains. Micah and Isaiah saw the Saints gathering to the tops of the everlasting mountains. There they would establish the “mountain of the Lord’s house,” to which “all nations shall flow” to learn of God’s ways so they can “walk in his paths” (Isa. 2:2–3; see also Micah 4:1–2, Isa. 18:3).
Like Isaiah and Micah, the Prophet Joseph Smith prophesied of the Saints going west and settling in the tops of the mountains where the Church is now headquartered.23 Other ancient prophets knew the Saints would be organized “in the height of Zion,” in the tops of the “everlasting hills” (Jer. 31:12; Gen. 49:26).
Worldwide growth. Nephi foresaw the growth of the latter-day Church: he said the Latter-day Saints would be few in number but would be over all the earth (see 1 Ne. 14:12). This prophecy is now being fulfilled in a marvelous way. The Church, which began with just six members, now numbers more than 11 million in over 150 nations.
Miraculous gathering of Israel to the gospel. Jeremiah foresaw the modern missionary force and the miraculous gathering of Israel. Missionary “hunters” and “fishers,” as Jeremiah described them (Jer. 16:16), are now being sent to seek the righteous wherever they may be. Jeremiah said that the miracles accompanying the gathering of latter-day Israel via missionary work would be so astounding that those miracles would be spoken of more than the miraculous deliverance from ancient Egypt (see Jer. 16:14–15; Jer. 23:7–8).
Knowledge poured out. Daniel, Joel, and Isaiah foresaw modern developments and inventions assisting the growth of the gospel. For instance, Daniel said that “knowledge shall be increased” (Dan. 12:4). Joel said God would “pour out [his] spirit upon all flesh” and many would “dream dreams … [and] see visions” (Joel 2:28–29). Isaiah foresaw a time when the Lord’s work would be hastened by swift travel across the earth (see Isa. 18:1–3; 2 Ne. 15:26–27). Modern inventions in transportation and communication have paralleled (by divine design) Church growth.24 The day approaches when “the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea” (Isa. 11:9).
An ensign waving to all the world. Isaiah described the Prophet Joseph as one to whom “rightly belongs the priesthood and the keys of the kingdom,” who would establish “an ensign … for the gathering of [the Lord’s] people in the last days.”25 In 1823, when the angel Moroni first appeared, he quoted Isaiah’s prophecy and declared that it was about to be fulfilled (see JS—H 1:40). Elder Bruce R. McConkie (1915–85) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles identified Joseph Smith as the very person Isaiah was referring to.26
The stone rolling forth. Daniel foresaw a stone cut out without hands that would roll forth and fill the whole earth (see Dan. 2:34–35). In 1831 the Lord identified His latter-day Church as that stone rolling forth and filling the earth (see D&C 65:2, 6). It has been cut out by the hand of God and is now moving across the globe as foretold. Daniel said the restored Church would never be destroyed but would stand forever (see Dan. 2:44). The Prophet Joseph Smith reaffirmed Daniel’s prophecy, declaring, “The Standard of Truth has been erected; no unhallowed hand can stop the work from progressing.”27 President Gordon B. Hinckley has testified: “This cause will roll on in majesty and power to fill the earth. Doors now closed to the preaching of the gospel will be opened. The Almighty, if necessary, may have to shake the nations to humble them and cause them to listen to the servants of the living God. Whatever is needed will come to pass.”28
Out of obscurity. The life of Joseph Smith and the early history of the Church were filled with persecution and seemingly insurmountable obstacles. However, the Savior inspired His small group of Saints with prophecies that His Church would one day be brought “out of obscurity and out of darkness.”29 It is happening as prophesied, as noted in this reminding refrain from one of our hymns:
For God remembers still
His promise made of old
That he on Zion’s hill
Truth’s standard would unfold!
Her light should there attract the gaze
Of all the world in latter days.30
The fulfillment of all these and other great prophecies is truly a “marvellous work and a wonder” (Isa. 29:14). As Elder Robert L. Backman of the Seventy testified, “The Restoration is real, and it is gathering steam now to fulfill its destiny.”31 It is exciting to live in a day when the ancient prophets’ words are being fulfilled.
Under the Lord’s direction, the Restoration has been established in these latter days to bless the entire human family (see 1 Ne. 15:18). The gospel has been restored on the earth as a light, a standard, and as a messenger to prepare the way for the coming of the Lord (see D&C 45:9). This work will continue. “But,” as Elder Neal A. Maxwell of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles reminds us, “all the easy things the Church has had to do have been done. From now on it is high adventure!”32 Ours is the great privilege of participating in the Lord’s work—the dramatic unfolding of the Restoration and the incomparable building of the latter-day Zion.
Not only did ancient prophets see Joseph Smith, they also saw the Saints living in the latter days. To those who build upon the foundation established by the Prophet Joseph Smith, the Lord has promised, “And blessed are they who shall seek to bring forth my Zion at that day, for they shall have the gift and the power of the Holy Ghost; and if they endure unto the end they shall be lifted up at the last day, and shall be saved in the everlasting kingdom of the Lamb; and whoso shall publish peace, yea, tidings of great joy, how beautiful upon the mountains shall they be” (1 Ne. 13:37).
Most Ensign articles can be used for family home evening discussions. The following questions are for that purpose or for personal reflection:
How does it change our perspective of the teachings of Joseph of Egypt, Moses, Isaiah, and others when we understand that ancient prophets knew not only of the coming of Christ but also of the latter-day Restoration?
How does it change our perspective on Joseph Smith when we understand that he knew the weight of his great prophetic calling?
What do we learn about our Heavenly Father when we consider the grand scope of the Restoration, realizing that its necessity was foreseen and its implementation planned before this world began?