keys of the kingdom

This lesson is primarily about what took place on the Mount of Transfiguration, which is more of an event than a place. We don’t know which mountain they were on when Jesus was transfigured before his three apostles. One of the main events that took place that night was the passing of important priesthood keys from former prophets to the new leaders of Christ’s church. This was the night they received the keys of the kingdom. Our discussion will be mainly about priesthood keys and about what happened on the Mount of Transfiguration.

What are priesthood keys?

God’s priesthood is kept in order by the use of keys, the rights of presidency or administration. All who hold the priesthood can perform basic priesthood functions, like blessing the sick, but ordinances are the markers along the road to salvation, and they must be managed so they are administered in an orderly and controlled manner. The Lord does not allow just anyone to baptize, administer His sacrament, and ordain other priesthood holders. All of these things must be done by His authorized representatives.

The main word here is “authorized.” Only one person at a time is authorized to perform any and all priesthood ordinances. That person is the prophet. But it is not possible for just one person to perform all the needed ordinances for the millions who need them done. For this reason, they Lord has allowed the prophet, His rightful, authorized representative, to share the responsibility for performing the needed ordinances of the priesthood for all God’s children by delegating portions of his authority to others. He shares his authorized rights, his keys, with others. Each person with whom he shares priesthood authorization only has a portion of what he, himself has. He delegates portions of his authority to those who are set apart as presidents of priesthood quorums or who hold special assignments, like patriarchs or temple sealers.

Each priesthood holder must look to the priesthood holder above himself who holds the keys in his area or in his quorum for permission to perform priesthood ordinances. The Bishop, for example, holds the keys for administering the ordinances of the priesthood in his ward, such as the sacrament and the blessing of babies. The Stake President holds the keys to such ordinances as Melchizedek priesthood ordinations and the issuing of temple recommends.

The important concept behind the use of priesthood keys is the need to keep order in the Lord’s kingdom. All the rights to perform the ordinances of salvation ultimately belong to the prophet, but are delegated down the line through the apostles to the Stake Presidents, Bishops, and quorum presidencies. Each person holding keys has very specific and limited responsibilities given to them, and they always answer for the use of their keys to those who granted them those keys. When they are released from the calling that gave them the keys, those rights are taken from them and given to the next person to hold that calling.

Special keys

Some of the prophets were foreordained before they came to earth to direct the work of specific dispensations of time and to be responsible for certain priesthood responsibilities that transcended their own time on earth. Adam, for example is the father of the human family, and still holds responsibility for and directs the work of all the prophets under him in accomplishing the work of the Lord in mortality. Moses was given the keys to the gathering of Israel, and is ultimately responsible for what takes place in that regard. Elijah was given the keys of the sealing power, being the last prophet in the Old Testament times to hold that power. It became his responsibility to oversee that work until those keys could be passed to another temporarily.

Mount of Transfiguration

Most of what we know that took place on the Mount of Transfiguration comes from modern prophets. In the New Testament we are only told that Jesus privately took Peter, James, and John to a mountain, where He was transfigured before them. Moses and Elijah appeared to them, then, from a cloud that came down and covered them, they heard the voice of the Father introduce His son and tell them to hear Him (the son).

It is from the living prophets that we have learned that it was at this time that the First Presidency of the Savior’s church received from Moses and Elijah the keys of the gathering of Israel and the sealing power. After the apostasy, the keys went back to Moses and Elijah, who then came and gave them to Joseph Smith at the beginning of this dispensation. Today those keys, the right to administer in those ordinances, are held by the living prophet, because they have been passed down from prophet to prophet since the days of Joseph Smith.

Context for the Story

Last week’s Sunday School lesson talked about Jesus feeding the 5,000. These people were primarily Jews. He followed this miracle with his teaching the people that He is the bread of life, and that they need to come to him and believe in Him in order to have eternal life. Just before the experience on the Mount of Transfiguration Jesus was in Gentile territory, and many of those 4,000 men following him for three days were about to be turned away hungry. The Lord had compassion on them because he didn’t want to see them leave feeling physically empty, so he performed the same miracle for them. This was a foreshadowing of the teaching the apostles would later come to understand that Jesus is the God of the gentiles as well. He is also their bread of life.

The Mount of Transfiguration is sandwiched between this miracle of feeding the 4,000 and the last supper and His betrayal. It is assumed that this experience on the mount was to help Jesus prepare for what was coming in just a few days. He not only received personal strength from the experience, but his First Presidency were spiritually equipped with the keys necessary for them to perform the work needed to guide the Church. They also were able to see Jesus in a glorified state, and personally heard the Father bearing record of the divinity of His son.

There are only four recorded instances of the Father bearing record of Jesus. The first was at the baptism of Jesus, when he bore record to John of Christ’s divinity. The second was on the Mount of Transfiguration. The third was in the Book of Mormon when Christ visited the Nephite survivors. The fourth was the visit of the Father and Son to Joseph Smith. Half of what few accounts we have of the Father speaking to His children on earth in mortality come from modern revelation.

I have included two references for you about the Mount of Transfiguration which are mentioned in the lesson. The first is a talk given in Conference by Elder David B. Haight in 1977. It is well worth your time to listen to it. The second is a chapter from the manual entitled The Life and Teachings of Jesus and His Apostles

Elder David B. Haight