The Blessing of Living Prophets
By David W. Smith
Doctrine and Covenants 29 contains powerful teachings. From it we learn important truths regarding the Second Coming and the fall of Adam and Eve.
In this week before general conference, I want to use this section and the context in which it was received to promote confidence in, and emphasize the importance of, living prophets.
Angels to Declare Repentance
Satan tempted Adam and Eve to partake of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. They did so, were cast out of the Garden of Eden, and became subject to physical death. However, the Lord put a condition on that death:
“But, behold, I say unto you that I, the Lord God, gave unto Adam and unto his seed, that they should not die as to the temporal death, until I, the Lord God, should send forth angels to declare unto them repentance and redemption, through faith on the name of mine Only Begotten Son” (verse 42).
The prophet Alma attested that this angelic ministry did occur:
“And after God had appointed that these things should come unto man, behold, then he saw that it was expedient that man should know concerning the things whereof he had appointed unto them; therefore he sent angels to converse with them, who caused men to behold of his glory. And they began from that time forth to call on his name; therefore God conversed with men, and made known unto them the plan of redemption, which had been prepared from the foundation of the world; and this he made known unto them according to their faith and repentance and their holy works” (Alma 12:28–30).
Adam and Eve, having received this instruction (see Moses 5:6–8), “made all things known unto their sons and their daughters. . . . And thus the Gospel began to be preached, from the beginning, being declared by holy angels sent forth from the presence of God, and by his own voice, and by the gift of the Holy Ghost.” (Moses 5:12, 58).
This instruction by angelic ministers is also recounted in other ancient texts:
“Sometimes Adam and Eve are visited by three heavenly messengers. In the Apocalypse of Adam, the first couple are visited by three angels who awaken him and teach them about their origins and give them knowledge of the practice of baptism. Adam later passes on this knowledge to his son Seth and their descendants. These three angels are also found in the Mandaean Adam and Eve stories, where Manda dHaiye, a kind of angelic Redeemer figure, sends three kingly angelic messengers, called ‘uthras’ to teach Adam and Eve the rituals which are necessary for this life and which will help them to ascend back to the place where God the ‘Great Life’ dwells. Kurt Rudolph notes that the fundamental mission of these messengers of light to ‘instruct the faithful and redeem their souls.'”
Angels and Prophets Today
Angels taught Adam and Eve and other ancient Church leaders, but what about today? Do we have angels to come and declare repentance in our time? Mormon provided valuable insight into the ministry of angels:
“And the office of their ministry is to call men unto repentance, and to fulfil and to do the work of the covenants of the Father, which he hath made unto the children of men, to prepare the way among the children of men, by declaring the word of Christ unto the chosen vessels of the Lord, that they may bear testimony of him. And by so doing, the Lord God prepareth the way that the residue of men may have faith in Christ, that the Holy Ghost may have place in their hearts, according to the power thereof; and after this manner bringeth to pass the Father, the covenants which he hath made unto the children of men.” (Moroni 7:31–32; emphasis added)
Then do we have witnesses from the current chosen vessels of the Lord that they have received angelic ministry, including ministry by the Savior Himself? These chosen vessels occasionally testify that this ministry does happen today:
- Russell M. Nelson: “The veil of death is very thin. I know by experiences too sacred to relate that those who have gone before are not strangers to leaders of this Church.”
- Jeffrey R. Holland: “I love Jesus Christ and have a relationship I cannot really share. He is the most compelling theme in my life—a very rewarding obsession. I have often borne witness; now I am a witness. I am a witness of the Resurrection in the same sense as Peter, James, John, Brigham, and Wilford.”
- Quentin L. Cook: “Please be assured that senior Church leaders who preside over the divinely appointed purposes of the Church receive divine assistance. This guidance comes from the Spirit and sometimes directly from the Savior. Both kinds of spiritual guidance are given. I am grateful to have received such assistance.”
Now, we won’t find many references to this divine ministry, or much detail regarding it, because as President Boyd K. Packer counseled, “It is not wise to continually talk of unusual spiritual experiences. They are to be guarded with care and shared only when the Spirit itself prompts you to use them to the blessing of others.” But we can be confident that our living prophets are being led by heaven.
Joseph Smith and Hiram Page
In addition to the text of section 29 and the discussion of angels, the context in which section 29 was revealed also helps us better understand the importance of living prophets.
The introduction to the revelation in Revelation Book 1 includes the specific questions that precipitated the revelation: “A Revelation to Six Elders of the Church & three members they understood from Holy Writ that the time had come that the People of God should see eye to eye & they seeing somewhat different upon the death of Adam (that is his transgression) therefor they made it a subject of Prayer & enquired of the Lord & thus came the word of the Lord through Joseph the seer saying given At Fayette Seneca County State of New York.” We thus learn that there are two primary topics covered by the revelation: the last days or Millennium (seeing eye to eye) and the fall of Adam (the death of Adam).
There is another clue in the context. This revelation appears in Joseph Smith’s history directly after section 28, which addressed Hiram Page. Remember that “Hiram Page, a member of the Church, had a certain stone and professed to be receiving revelations by its aid concerning the upbuilding of Zion and the order of the Church. Several members had been deceived by these claims, and even Oliver Cowdery was wrongly influenced thereby” (Doctrine and Covenants 28, section header).
The introduction in Joseph Smith’s manuscript history to section 28 states, “Many (especially the Whitmer family and Oliver Cowdery) were believing much in the things set forth by this stone, [so] we thought best to inquire of the Lord concerning so important a matter, and before conference convened, we received the following,” after which appears sections 28 and 29. Concerning the Hiram Page revelations, Newel Knight noted “that Satan had conspired to overthrow their belief in the true plan of salvation.”
This context is an example of the importance of living prophets. Although we do not now have the false revelations given to Hiram Page, we do know they pertained to the plan of salvation, and likely to the fall of Adam and Eve. How grateful I am that Joseph was able to receive true revelation and provide us with profound doctrine on both the fall of Adam and Eve and the Second Coming.
What the prophets teach today may not be popular. It may also go against general opinion. But we must trust in the revelations they receive—that they are being led by heaven—and follow their counsel. As we do so, we will overcome Satan and learn the true principles that will enable us to return to God’s glory and join Him therein.
More Come, Follow Me resources here.
 Address to mission presidents, Buenos Aires, Argentina, October 1997; in M. Catherine Thomas, Light in the Wilderness: Explorations in the Spiritual Life , 319.
 “History, 1838–1856, volume A-1 [23 December 1805–30 August 1834],” 54, 58, josephsmithpapers.org.
David W. Smith has volunteered with FAIR since August 2019. He has had an article published in BYU Studies, and he presented at the Joseph Smith Papers Conference in 2019. He has a bachelor's degree in philosophy and a master's degree in public administration, both from Brigham Young University.