“Prophecies of Joseph Smith,” Church History Topics
“Prophecies of Joseph Smith”
While most of the revelations Joseph Smith received gave instructions, counsel, and doctrinal teachings or recovered sacred stories from the ancient past, a few contained historically specific prophecies about impending events.1 Those that did usually focused on global events leading up to the Second Coming of Jesus Christ or on specific endeavors in which the Saints were commanded to participate.
One of Joseph Smith’s most well-known millennial prophecies related to the American Civil War. On December 25, 1832, Joseph Smith received a revelation prophesying that a war between the northern and southern U.S. states would begin in South Carolina and that wars and uprisings throughout the earth would finally result in the “end of all Nations” at the time of the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. At the time the revelation was received, South Carolina and the federal government of the United States were involved in a dispute, but it was peacefully resolved the next March. Years later, Joseph reiterated his prophecy that war would break out in South Carolina over slavery debates, as it did nearly 20 years after Joseph Smith’s death.2
Joseph Smith also prophesied frequently concerning the future destiny of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its role in the last days. Perhaps the most beloved of these prophecies was contained in an 1842 letter addressed to Chicago newspaper editor John Wentworth. “No unhallowed hand can stop the work from progressing,” Joseph affirmed, despite the adversity the young Church had already faced. “Persecutions may rage, mobs may combine, armies may assemble, calumny may defame, but the truth of God will go forth boldly, nobly, and independent, till it has penetrated every continent, visited every clime, swept every country, and sounded in every ear, till the purposes of God shall be accomplished and the Great Jehovah shall say the work is done.”3
Many of Joseph Smith’s prophecies were visionary statements about the Lord’s will for the Church, which the Saints understood as being predicated on their faith and on human agency.4 Many of these prophecies were fulfilled as the Saints moved ahead in faith to carry them out. In other instances, the Saints struggled to make sense of the difficulties they encountered as they pursued inspired objectives.
For example, the Latter-day Saints’ earliest understandings of the prophecies concerning a future Zion focused on building a city in Jackson County, Missouri. After they were driven from the land, additional revelation helped them understand their experience and find new ways to channel their energy toward completing the Lord’s work. It also reassured them that when “their enemies come upon them, and hinder them from performing that work,” the Lord would “require that work no more” and “accept of their offering.”5 Although the loss of the land of Zion tried their faith, Church members continued to work to build up Zion in other places and ways.6
The Saints in Kirtland experienced a trial of faith connected with another of Joseph Smith’s prophetic statements. In late 1836 through the spring of 1837, Joseph Smith told the Saints that Kirtland would prosper economically if they would keep the commandments and support a new local financial institution called the Kirtland Safety Society.7 When the bank collapsed, some Saints treated Joseph Smith’s language as failed prophecy. Others looked for God’s blessings even in their economic trials.8 Oliver Granger, who accepted an assignment to handle Church-related debts in the wake of the larger economic collapse, was later reassured by the Lord that “his sacrifice shall be more sacred unto me, than his increase.”9
Some of the most stirring stories from Church history recount the efforts of Saints who exercised faith in Joseph Smith’s revealed pronouncements and worked to bring them about. On April 26, 1838, Joseph Smith received a revelation that instructed the Twelve Apostles to depart from Far West for a mission to England in one year’s time. When the Saints were driven out of Missouri that fall, some called it a false prophecy. Despite facing potential violence or imprisonment in returning to Missouri, Brigham Young was determined to act in accordance with the prophecy. He led the Twelve in a clandestine trip back to Far West, Missouri, and under cover of darkness on April 26, 1839, they departed symbolically on their mission in fulfillment of the commandment.10
Joseph Smith insisted on the freedom to state his own opinions. When someone told him they thought a prophet always speaks as a prophet, Joseph countered that “a Prophet was a Prophet only when he was acting as such.”11 At the same time, he did not shy away from speaking boldly when the Lord gave him revealed instructions, and he stood by his prophetic pronouncements. The gift of prophecy was an important aspect of Joseph Smith’s calling and legacy.