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Lesson 3: The Restoration of the Priesthood

“Lesson 3: The Restoration of the Priesthood,” Duties and Blessings of the Priesthood: Basic Manual for Priesthood Holders, Part A (2000), 16–23

“Lesson 3: The Restoration of the Priesthood,” Duties and Blessings of the Priesthood: Basic Manual for Priesthood Holders, Part A, 16–23

Lesson 3

The Restoration of the Priesthood

The purpose of this lesson is to help us understand the restoration of the holy priesthood, which was taken from the earth after the time of Christ.


As priesthood bearers, we hold the same authority that God gave to His servants in the past.

  • Display visual 3-a, “Christ ordained twelve Apostles and gave them the keys of the priesthood.”

    Christ ordaining Apostles

    3-a, Christ ordained twelve Apostles and gave them the keys of the priesthood.

The following are some of the ordinances we can perform with the priesthood:

  1. Baptize, as John the Baptist and the Nephites did (see Matthew 3:15–17 and 3 Nephi 11:19–26).

  2. Administer the sacrament, as Jesus did (see Luke 22:19–20).

  3. Bestow the Holy Ghost, as Paul and the Nephites did (see Acts 19:5–6 and 3 Nephi 18:37).

  4. Heal the sick, as Peter did (see Acts 3:1–8).

These priesthood ordinances were performed in the past by many faithful priesthood holders. We can perform priesthood duties today because God’s priesthood is again on earth. Worthy men in His Church have been given the same priesthood that His ancient servants held.

The Great Apostasy and the Restoration

As discussed in lesson 2, the Apostasy took place after the time of Christ. Because of the wickedness of men, the priesthood and most of the true teachings of Jesus Christ were changed or lost. Many great prophets had foretold that the time would come when the people would fall away from the truth. One such prophet was Isaiah. Speaking of the Apostasy, he said that the people “have transgressed the laws, changed the ordinance, broken the everlasting covenant” (Isaiah 24:5). Isaiah’s prophecy was fulfilled. Because of transgression, after the time of Christ the true order of the priesthood was taken from the earth. The Book of Mormon people were for a time the only people to enjoy the blessings of the priesthood, but finally even they fell away from the truth. Because of the Apostasy, the people on the earth could no longer hear the true gospel and receive the saving ordinances of the priesthood.

Heavenly Father wants all His children to return to Him. It was necessary, therefore, for Him to restore the priesthood and its ordinances and all other truths necessary for us to return to Him.

Many prophets looked forward to the Restoration. Isaiah, for example, prophesied of a time when the Lord would “do a marvellous work among this people, even a marvellous work and a wonder” (Isaiah 29:13–14). Peter also foretold of the time when there would be a “restitution of all things” (see Acts 3:19–21). Restitution means to bring back something that has been taken or lost. The priesthood and the gospel had to be restored or all mankind would have been lost. This restoration began in 1820 when God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ appeared to Joseph Smith.

Joseph Smith and the Restoration of the Priesthood

Joseph Smith was one of the “noble and great” spirit children of our Heavenly Father. Like Abraham, he was chosen before he came to earth for a very important mission. (See Abraham 3:22–23.) As a result, Joseph Smith’s mission was foretold by many of the early prophets. Both Joseph of Egypt and Lehi, the Book of Mormon prophet, knew about Joseph Smith and his mission. Lehi spoke to his son Joseph of a prophecy made by Joseph of Egypt about a latter-day prophet who was also named Joseph.

Joseph Smith began his search for truth at a very young age. When he was only 14, he went to a grove of trees and asked God to tell him which church to join. As a result of his prayer, God and Jesus Christ appeared to him and instructed him. Three years later, in 1823, the angel Moroni appeared to Joseph Smith and told him about the Book of Mormon. Eventually, Moroni gave Joseph Smith this sacred record of the former inhabitants of America. With the help of God, Joseph was able to translate the record. The Book of Mormon and the revelations given to Joseph Smith restored many of the truths which had been lost during the Apostasy.

But the restoration of the truth about God and His doctrines was not enough. Joseph Smith was born when the priesthood was not on the earth. Because he could not fulfill his mission without the priesthood, it was necessary that the priesthood be restored to him by those who held the keys, or the authority to ordain him. In 1838 Joseph Smith recorded the following about how he and Oliver Cowdery received the Aaronic Priesthood.

  • Display visual 3-b, “The Aaronic Priesthood and the Melchizedek Priesthood were restored on the banks of the Susquehanna River.”

“We … continued the work of translation, when, in the ensuing month (May, 1829), we on a certain day went into the woods to pray and inquire of the Lord respecting baptism for the remission of sins, that we found mentioned in the translation of the plates. While we were … praying and calling upon the Lord, a messenger from heaven descended in a cloud of light, and having laid his hands upon us, he ordained us [to the Priesthood of Aaron]. …

“The messenger who visited us on this occasion and conferred this Priesthood upon us, said that his name was John, the same that is called John the Baptist in the New Testament, and that he acted under the direction of Peter, James and John, who held the keys of the Priesthood of Melchizedek, which Priesthood, he said, would in due time be conferred on us. … It was on the fifteenth day of May, 1829, that we were ordained under the hand of this messenger, and baptized” (see Joseph Smith—History 1:68–72; see also D&C 13).

Later in that same year, 1829, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were given the Melchizedek Priesthood. Jesus’ ancient Apostles Peter, James, and John appeared to them, laid their hands upon their heads, and ordained them (see D&C 27:12). Thus, Joseph Smith received both the Aaronic Priesthood and the Melchizedek Priesthood. The priesthood authority had been restored: those who had held it in earlier times had brought back to the earth the power of God.

The Aaronic Priesthood

“The Aaronic Priesthood is an ‘appendage to the greater, or Melchizedek Priesthood’ (D&C 107:14). It is named after Aaron, Moses’ brother, because it was conferred on him and his seed. Brethren who hold the Aaronic Priesthood have authority to administer in ordinances such as baptism and blessing and passing the sacrament. (See D&C 107:13–14, 20.)

“The mission of the Aaronic Priesthood is to help those who hold it to—

  • “Become converted to the gospel of Jesus Christ and live by its teachings.

  • “Magnify their priesthood callings.

  • “Give meaningful service.

  • “Prepare to receive the Melchizedek Priesthood.

  • “Prepare to serve full-time missions.

  • “Live worthy to receive temple covenants and be worthy husbands and fathers.

“When the Aaronic Priesthood is conferred on a man, he is ordained to an office in that priesthood. These offices are deacon, teacher, and priest. Brethren who hold the same office are organized into a quorum. Each quorum is presided over by a president who teaches the members their duties and encourages brotherhood among them” (Priesthood Leader’s Guidebook [1992], 6–7).

The Aaronic Priesthood is a preparatory priesthood. It prepares the way for those who administer the blessings of the Melchizedek Priesthood, and it gives Aaronic Priesthood holders the experience they need to receive the Melchizedek Priesthood.

  • What can Aaronic Priesthood holders do to prepare themselves to receive the Melchizedek Priesthood? How can Melchizedek Priesthood holders help them?

The Melchizedek Priesthood

The Melchizedek Priesthood is named for Melchizedek, who lived in the days of the Old Testament prophet Abraham. Before his day it was called the Holy Priesthood after the Order of the Son of God. But to avoid repeating the name of God too often, the Church was instructed to call the priesthood after Melchizedek “because Melchizedek was such a great high priest” (see D&C 107:1–6).

The Doctrine and Covenants reveals that the Melchizedek Priesthood has the right of presidency over all offices in the Church. Brethren holding the Melchizedek Priesthood have the authority needed to lead in the Church and oversee the preaching of the gospel. They also have the authority to preside over wards, branches, stakes, and missions. There exists no higher authority or priesthood. In addition, this priesthood has the authority to administer all the spiritual ordinances necessary for us to return to our Heavenly Father. (See D&C 107:8–19.)

Some of the powers and duties of the Melchizedek Priesthood include:

  • Bestowing the gift of the Holy Ghost.

  • Ordaining worthy men to the Melchizedek Priesthood.

  • Performing temple work for the living and the dead.

  • Administering to the sick.

  • Attending to the spiritual and temporal welfare of all people.

The Melchizedek Priesthood offices of elder, high priest, patriarch, Seventy, and Apostle vary only with regard to their specific responsibilities. Melchizedek Priesthood holders may perform all the duties of the Aaronic Priesthood. Through the Melchizedek Priesthood, we prepare ourselves and others to someday enter the kingdom of heaven.

  • Invite class members to discuss some of the blessings they enjoy because the priesthood has been restored. Invite them also to think about how they might more fully enjoy all of the blessings that are available through the priesthood.


Elder Ezra Taft Benson said: “God has again spoken from the heavens. The priesthood and authority to act in His name have been restored again to men on the earth, following centuries of darkness. The fulness of the everlasting gospel is here with all of its saving principles” (The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson [1988], 113).

If the priesthood were not on the earth, we could not do God’s work, and the true Church could not exist. Consequently, no one could gain eternal life. Eternal life comes only to those who keep the principles and ordinances of the gospel, and the ordinances of the gospel cannot be performed without the priesthood. Because the priesthood is God’s power and not man’s, man cannot give himself the priesthood. Nor can he confer it on others unless he has received it by proper authority (see D&C 42:11). For these reasons the priesthood was restored to Joseph Smith by heavenly messengers. Today the priesthood is found in the true Church of Jesus Christ, which was restored to perform the Lord’s work for the benefit of all mankind (see D&C 84:17).

Any male member of the Church who has received the priesthood of God has a great responsibility to help himself, his family, and all people around him receive the blessings of eternal life.


Learn the opportunities and duties of the priesthood. You may do this by reading the scriptures, fasting and praying, studying your priesthood manual, and receiving instruction from your priesthood leaders.

Perform your duties in the priesthood to the best of your ability and always seek to improve.

Support those in authority over you, being careful not to assume any power or authority not given to you.

Teacher Preparation

Before presenting this lesson:

  1. Read Doctrine and Covenants 13, 20, 84, 107, 121, and 124 to gain a better understanding of the priesthood.

  2. Study Gospel Principles chapters 14, “Priesthood Organization,” and 17 “The Church of Jesus Christ Today.”

  3. Assign class members to present any stories, scriptures, or quotations you wish.