In the spring of 1820, God the Father and Jesus Christ appeared to Joseph Smith as he prayed in a grove of trees near his home in western New York. This event is known as the First Vision. (To read about the vision in Joseph’s own words, click here.)
In the early 1800s in the United States there was great excitement about religion. Joseph’s family members had joined different churches, but Joseph was unsure which one he should join.
When Joseph was 14 years old, he was inspired by James 1:5, which promises, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.” Joseph determined to pray to know which church he should join and to ask for forgiveness of his sins.
When Joseph knelt to offer up the desires of his heart, a dark power overcame him. It bound his tongue as thick darkness gathered around him. Joseph exerted all his power to call upon God.
He described what happened next:
“I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me.
“… When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other—This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!” (Joseph Smith—History 1:16–17).
At the moment the light appeared, Joseph felt delivered from the enemy that had held him bound. Joseph felt great joy and love for several days after.
During the vision, Joseph asked which church was correct, and Jesus Christ answered, telling Joseph not to join any of them. The Lord explained that the churches of the day believed “in incorrect doctrines and that none of them was acknowledged of God as His Church and kingdom” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith , 438; Times and Seasons, Mar. 1, 1842, p. 707; see also Joseph Smith—History 1:19).
The First Vision marked the beginning of the Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ in this last dispensation. Joseph Smith was chosen to be the Lord’s prophet in the latter days. Over time, the Lord restored His authority and Church through Joseph Smith. God’s children were again blessed with revelation through prophets called of God, just as they were in biblical times. Revelation continues to this day through each of God’s chosen prophets who have succeeded Joseph Smith.
“Ask of God: Joseph Smith’s First Vision”
“Joseph Smith’s First Vision (1820)”
“First Vision Accounts: Joseph Smith, ‘Church History,’ 1 March 1842 (Wentworth Letter)”
“Preparation of Joseph Smith: The First Vision”
“The Testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith,” ChurchofJesusChrist.org
“Primary Accounts of Joseph Smith’s First Vision of Deity,” The Joseph Smith Papers
“Do I Believe Joseph Smith Saw God and Jesus Christ?” Latter-day Saints Channel
10 Things Joseph Smith’s First Vision Means for You,” Latter-day Saints Channel
“Joseph Smith Did See God,” Ensign, December 2015
“Because of Joseph,” New Era, April 2015
“Jesus Christ and the First Vision,” Friend, January 2013
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“The First Vision,” Friend, March 2008
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“Sharing Time: ‘This Is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!’” Friend, May 2005
“What Had to Happen?” New Era, March 2005
“The First Vision: Searching for the Truth,” Ensign, January 2005
“Sharing Time: Joseph Smith—Prophet of the Restoration,” Friend, July 2001
“Joseph Smith’s Testimony of the First Vision,” Ensign, April 1996
“Joseph Smith’s First Vision,” Friend, April 1995
“He Lives! For We Saw Him,” Ensign, August 1975
“The Greatness of Joseph Smith and His Remarkable Visions,” New Era, December 1973
“First Vision,” Lesson Helps for Teaching Children