A Temple-Building People
Latter-day Saints are a temple-building and temple-loving people. It has been so from the earliest days of the Church. Through the Prophet Joseph Smith, the Lord declared that "my people are always commanded to build [temples] unto my holy name" (D&C 124:39-40).
Temples are different than the thousands of Church meetinghouses located around the world. Meetinghouses are where Sunday worship services, youth gatherings, service projects, and other community events take place. All are welcome to join in these activities.
Temples have a more specific purpose. They are places specially set apart for sacred service and ceremonies. They are designated by the Lord and dedicated to His purposes. Temples are the only places where some priesthood ordinances are authorized to be performed. These sacred ceremonies lift and inspire participants as they make commitments to follow the teachings and example of Jesus Christ.
Receiving temple ordinances and keeping covenants unites families together for eternity. Our relationships with those we love can last forever when we honor our commitments to God. In temples, these ordinances are also performed by members of the Church on behalf of those who have died without the opportunity to hear and accept the gospel of Jesus Christ. Such service extends the saving grace of Jesus Christ to all people. After a temple is dedicated, entrance is reserved for members of the Church who are prepared to participate in these ordinances.
Sacred Places Upon the Earth
From the very beginning, there have been sacred places upon the earth where God has communed with His children. They were designated by God and hallowed by His presence as places where He would teach and bless His children. Many of these places are recorded in the scriptures.
The Garden of Eden was surely a sacred place. It was where Adam and Eve dwelt in the presence of the Father and the Son. They were able to talk with Them directly. After the Fall and being banished from the Garden, Adam built an altar to worship God and offer sacrifices as they were commanded. Their prayers in this sacred place were heard and their lives were blessed.
As Moses approached the burning bush on Mount Sinai, the Lord instructed him to “put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.” The Lord then taught him and offered covenants for His people.
Centuries later, the Savior lead Peter, James, and John up the Mount of Transfiguration. In this sacred place, they experienced marvelous manifestations and received the keys of the kingdom of heaven. They were visited by Moses and Elijah and heard the voice of the Father bearing witness that Jesus is His beloved Son.
Temples in the Scriptures
In addition to sacred places, the Lord also directed that sacred temples be constructed. The first temple structure found in the scriptures is the tabernacle. It was built by the Israelites under the direction of Moses. The tabernacle was a tent-like structure made with the finest materials available. It was where sacred priesthood ordinances could be performed during their time in the wilderness. It was also a constant reminder of the Lord’s love for them and His presence among them. It served as a kind of "portable temple" for generations (Exodus 26-27; 40:35).
The temple built by King Solomon is the first formal temple mentioned in the Old Testament (2 Chronicles 5:1-14; 7:1-2). In addition, the Book of Mormon records that God's people began building temples soon after they arrived in the new world and continued for nearly a thousand years. The people of Nephi built a temple similar to that of Solomon (2 Nephi 5:16). King Benjamin gathered his people to the temple to teach and exhort them (Mosiah 2-4). And later, when the resurrected Savior visited the Nephites, He came to the temple (3 Nephi 11:1–10).
The details varied, but the purposes of these temples remained consistent—they were places where the people sought to draw closer to the Lord, participate in sacred ceremonies, and deepen their commitment to follow Him.
Temples at the Time of Jesus
During the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ, the only existing temple in the biblical world was known as the Temple of Herod. Jesus was often found in this temple (Luke 2:40-49; Matthew 21:10-14). There He taught and healed the sick. He also defended the sanctity of the temple from those who would defile it.
After the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and the rejection and deaths of His Apostles, the temple at Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 A.D. Within a few hundred years, the people in the Book of Mormon lands also rejected the Lord's prophets and apostles. Soon, their temples were also gone. With no prophets or apostles to lead His church, the Lord withdrew His authority and there were then no such temples on the earth for many centuries.
Temples Again on the Earth
In the spring of 1820, Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ appeared to Joseph Smith and began to restore the full gospel upon the earth. When the Church of Jesus Christ was re-established in 1830, the Lord again commanded His people to build temples (D&C 88:119; and 95).
The Church was barely a year old when plans to build a temple were first discussed. Construction began in Kirtland, Ohio in 1833 and the temple was dedicated in 1836. A few days later, the resurrected Savior Jesus Christ appeared in the temple. The ancient prophets Moses, Elias, and Elijah also appeared and conferred additional priesthood authority upon Church leaders (D&C 110). Unfortunately, Church members suffered significant persecution from others and were soon forced to leave Ohio. The building still stands today, although it is no longer an operating temple and is not owned by the Church.
Five years later, the Saints began building a temple in Nauvoo, Illinois. They were able to complete it despite ongoing persecution and the martyrdom of the Prophet Joseph and his brother Hyrum. Only a few months after it was dedicated in 1846, the Saints were again compelled to flee. Their beloved temple was abandoned and then destroyed by fire just two years later. You can learn more about the history of the temple when you listen to the Nauvoo Temple podcast series.
Crossing the plains to Utah, the Latter-day Saint pioneers resumed their temple building with great fervor. They desired salvation in the kingdom of God. They understood that temple ordinances were essential to that salvation, and so they spared no effort in building temples in which to receive them. In the West, they were able to find a place of refuge where the Church could begin to flourish. In the coming years, four temples were constructed throughout Utah, including the iconic Salt Lake Temple.
Today, there are over 160 operating temples in countries around the world. Dozens more are announced or under construction.
Regardless of the time in history, a temple of God is the most sacred place of worship in the world — a place where heaven touches the earth, a place where marvelous blessings are bestowed, and a place where we can feel closer to our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ as we strive to become more like Them.