Church History Lesson 33 (D&C 135)
APPROACHES TO THE MARTYRDOM
There are many ways by which we can view the martyrdom. We could focus on what might have been. We could focus on the betrayal of people who should have known better. We could focus on the violence that was visited upon the prophet and his brother. And there are other approaches that we could take. But I believe that we should focus on the greatness of the Prophet Joseph Smith, who, like every major prophet in history, sealed his testimony with his blood.
THE GREATNESS OF THE PROPHET JOSEPH SMITH
John Taylor’s Observations
Immediately following the martyrdom, the Apostle John Taylor wrote down his reflections on what had just happened. These are contained in D&C 135:3.
“Joseph Smith, the Prophet and Seer of the Lord, has done more, save Jesus only, for the salvation of men in this world, than any other man that ever lived in it.”
This is a bold statement. It gives Joseph Smith credit not only for his own dispensation’s activities, but also for the fulfillment of the hopes and expectations of every dispensation in the earth’s history.
Joseph Smith’s Accomplishments
We could begin by looking at his accomplishments in his own time. Review with your students all of the things which Joseph accomplished in the short space of twenty years:
– Restored to the earth a correct understanding of the nature of God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost.
– Brought forth the Book of Mormon which he translated by the gift and power of God.
– Published it throughout the world.
– Restored the fullness of the organization, ordinances, and doctrines of The Church of Jesus Christ, just as they were in Jesus’ own time.
– Published the Book of Moses, the Book of Abraham, portions of the Book of Joseph, as well as his own history.
– Expounded on the teachings and doctrines of the Holy Bible in such a way that we can more fully understand what the ancient prophets and apostles were trying to teach us.
– Began the establishment of a Zion society which was to be very much like the one that Enoch established, and which would prepare the earth for the return of the Son of God.
– Received and taught doctrines of eternal marriage, eternal families, work for the dead, and all of the other grand and glorious teachings associated with the temple.
Any one of these would have been sufficient to make Joseph great in the eyes of God and of His people. But Joseph accomplished them all and in an astoundingly short period of time.
It appears that Joseph Smith was visited and instructed by every major prophet from before his time.
Joseph summarized his list of visitors in D&C 128:19-21 as follows:
19 Now, what do we hear in the gospel which we have received? A voice of gladness! A voice of mercy from heaven; and a voice of truth out of the earth; glad tidings for the dead; a voice of gladness for the living and the dead; glad tidings of great joy. How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of those that bring glad tidings of good things, and that say unto Zion: Behold, thy God reigneth! As the dews of Carmel, so shall the knowledge of God descend upon them!
20 And again, what do we hear? Glad tidings from Cumorah! Moroni, an angel from heaven, declaring the fulfilment of the prophets—the book to be revealed. A voice of the Lord in the wilderness of Fayette, Seneca county, declaring the three witnesses to bear record of the book! The voice of Michael on the banks of the Susquehanna, detecting the devil when he appeared as an angel of light! The voice of Peter, James, and John in the wilderness between Harmony, Susquehanna county, and Colesville, Broome county, on the Susquehanna river, declaring themselves as possessing the keys of the kingdom, and of the dispensation of the fulness of times!
21 And again, the voice of God in the chamber of old Father Whitmer, in Fayette, Seneca county, and at sundry times, and in divers places through all the travels and tribulations of this Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints! And the voice of Michael, the archangel; the voice of Gabriel, and of Raphael, and of divers angels, from Michael or Adam down to the present time, all declaring their dispensation, their rights, their keys, their honors, their majesty and glory, and the power of their priesthood; giving line upon line, precept upon precept; here a little, and there a little; giving us consolation by holding forth that which is to come, confirming our hope!
There were many more than these. It is likely that Joseph was personally acquainted with every major male and female among God’s people since the days of Adam. He was the conduit by which ancient knowledge and wisdom were restored to the earth.
REASONS FOR THE MARTYRDOM
The easy answer for why the martyrdom occurred is simply that Satan could not accept without a major fight, all of the things that the Prophet Joseph Smith was doing for the salvation of God’s children on this earth. He wanted him dead. And those who were his followers in sin were more than happy to do the deed. As for Joseph himself, he knew that his days were now coming to an end.
On his way to the martyrdom, the Prophet Joseph Smith said
(D&C 135:4) “I am going like a lamb to the slaughter; but I am calm as a summer’s morning; I have a conscience void of offense towards God, and towards all men. I shall die innocent, and it shall yet be said of me—he was murdered in cold blood.”
The martyrdom is also evidence in and of itself for the truthfulness of Joseph Smith’s mission. Had he been deceiving the people, it is not likely that he would have accepted all of the persecution, suffering, and sorrow of the past 20 years of his life, let alone allowed himself to be shot down.
At the beginning of his ministry, Joseph said,
“It was nevertheless a fact that I had seen a vision. I knew it and I knew that God knew it. And I could not deny it.”
At the end of his ministry he said,
“I don’t blame anyone for not believing my history. If I had not experienced what I have, I could not have believed it myself.”
The way that the Prophet Joseph Smith lived his life between these two statements is testimony to the fact that he was what he said he was, a living prophet of the living God.
Praise to the man who communed with Jehovah!
Jesus anointed that Prophet and Seer.
Blessed to open the last dispensation,
Kings shall extol him, and nations revere.
Praise to his mem’ry, he died as a martyr;
Honored and blest be his ever great name!
Long shall his blood which was shed by assassins
Plead unto heav’n while the earth lauds his fame.
Great is his glory and endless his priesthood.
Ever and ever the keys he will hold.
Faithful and true, he will enter his kingdom,
Crowned in the midst of the prophets of old.
Sacrifice brings forth the blessings of heaven;
Earth must atone for the blood of that man.
Wake up the world for the conflict of justice.
Millions shall know “Brother Joseph” again.
Hail to the Prophet, ascended to heaven!
Traitors and tyrants now fight him in vain.
Mingling with Gods, he can plan for his brethren;
Death cannot conquer the hero again.