Holzapfel, Richard Neitzel. “The Prophet’s Final Charge to the Twelve, 1844.” In Joseph Smith the Prophet & Seer, edited by Richard Neitzel Holsapfel and Kent P. Jackson, 495-524. Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2010. [Mormon/Theology/Priesthood]
In this article professor Richard Holzapfel of BYU studies the last six months of Joseph Smith’s life to make the case that there was a chronological sequence to what B. H. Roberts described as the “crescendo” of Joseph Smith’s life. That is, rather than being a fallen prophet, the last six months of Joseph’s life show him to exhibit greater spiritual insight and power than at any other period of his life. Indeed, the doctrines he taught and the institutions he created were necessary to complete his mission.
Holzapfel begins with a brief review of some of the most important developments during this period then he turns to a more extended treatment of seven of them. Basically the story is that beginning with a 21 January 1844 sermon, Joseph taught clearly for the first time a precise interpretation of the statement in Malachi 4 relative to the turning of the hearts of the children to the fathers and the fathers to the children. According to Holzapfel this involved moving from the idea of salvation and eternal life for individuals, to exaltation and eternal lives for couples and families. This was an important step that allowed Joseph Smith to bring to completion the doctrinal and organizational development of the church prior to his death.
Though Joseph Smith knew about the concept of the “Kingdom of God” as a separate organization from “the Church,” it was not until the Spring of 1844 that he actually set up the “Kingdom of God” on the earth, thus fulfilling the statement by Moses and similar ideas found in the Book of Revelation, that the Lord’s people would become a kingdom of priests. Before this could take place the fulness of the priesthood was restored and made available through the ordinances of the Temple. This allowed men and women to be anointed as kings and queens and to become joint heirs with Christ to all that the Father has and is.
With the fulness of the priesthood and the kingdom of God now restored, the final step in preparation for proper succession in the leadership was in place. All that remained was for Joseph Smith to not only confer this authority and power upon the Twelve Apostles, but to teach them the doctrines associated with this bestowal of authority and charge them to bear off their responsibility of presiding leadership in the church and kingdom. Regarding this charge, Holzapfel reproduces an extensive testimony of Wilford Woodruff that has been little known in the Church as well as possibly the earliest testimony regarding this meeting, which comes from a manuscript of the testimony of the Twelve found in the Brigham Young papers written possibly as early as September 1844.
Thus, Joseph Smith fulfilled his two roles as the preeminent witness of Jesus Christ in this dispensation. First, as a result of repeated visions and visitations of Christ he repeatedly testified that Jesus was the Savior and Redeemer. Second, he taught the fulness of the doctrines given to him by the Savior, which made Jesus the “author and finisher of our faith.” Holzapfel writes, “This witness saw its culmination in the Nauvoo Temple, where the saints received the ordinances of the Church of the Firstborn, allowing them to come up into the presence of Elohim. All of the blessings and promises that the Prophet Joseph Smith announced to the inhabitants of the earth in this dispensation come by and through Jesus Christ, ….” (518)