In the whole history of the world, before the Restoration, we have record of only one permanent temple in the Old Testament (Temple of Solomon which was torn down and rebuilt twice) and three mentions of temples in the Book of Mormon. All but the last temple mentioned in the Book of Mormon were there to serve the needs of the Mosaic Law. The House of God, the Kirtland temple, was the first of five temples either built or planned by Joseph Smith. This shows us that temples were meant to be a major aspect of this dispensation.
Blessings for the masses
Special purposes of the Kirtland Temple
3 For ye have sinned against me a very grievous sin, in that ye have not considered the great commandment in all things, that I have given unto you concerning the building of mine house;
The great commandment He says they have violated refers to is their instructions to get started building the temple. It had been five months since the commandment had been given and they had established the school of the prophets, but the Lord wanted so much more than that. Here is a quote from some of the resource material from the lesson:
The records from the spring of 1833 show that the Saints were thinking of the Kirtland “house” primarily as a “school house,” not necessarily connecting their command with the temple in Zion. Now the June 1 revelation declared that Joseph Smith and the Saints had not sufficiently “considered” the urgency or the importance of the commandment.
They knew they were to build a house of God, but they had no concept of what that had to do with the temples they knew about in scripture. This was going to be an educational process.
4 For the preparation wherewith I design to prepare mine apostles to prune my vineyard for the last time, that I may bring to pass my strange act, that I may pour out my Spirit upon all flesh—
8 Yea, verily I say unto you, I gave unto you a commandment that you should build a house, in the which house I design to endow those whom I have chosen with power from on high;
9 For this is the promise of the Father unto you; therefore I command you to tarry, even as mine apostles at Jerusalem.
In the New Testament the apostles were told to tarry until they had received the Holy Ghost. The saints figured that this is what the Lord meant here as well. They just didn’t know exactly what was supposed to happen.
When the Day of Pentecost came the apostles had a great spiritual experience. The Holy Ghost was manifested with great power on that day. This was the expectation for what was to happen in the new house of the Lord as well. But I suspect from my reading that they might have assumed that this would be something to happen only to the apostles.
16 And let the lower part of the inner court be dedicated unto me for your sacrament offering, and for your preaching, and your fasting, and your praying, and the offering up of your most holy desires unto me, saith your Lord.
17 And let the higher part of the inner court be dedicated unto me for the school of mine apostles, saith Son Ahman; or, in other words, Alphus; or, in other words, Omegus; even Jesus Christ your Lord. Amen.
The bolded items in verses 16 and 17 are things that we don’t normally do in the temples today. In the Kirtland temple they held sacrament meetings where they administered the sacrament, sang hymns, bore testimony, gave sermons, and prayed. They also held their once a month fast meetings in the temple, though they held theirs on Thursday instead of Sunday.
The temple was used for choir practices, as a school with lessons in geography, languages, and history, as a place of meeting for various priesthood quorums, for the school of the prophets, and church meetings. It was used as a temple, a church house, and a school.
A need for unity
There were blessings the Lord wanted, and needed, to give the saints, but they were not yet unified enough to be able to receive those blessings. The Church was plagued by divisions and bickering. Here is a paragraph from some of the historical materials for this lesson.
Beginning in 1834, Church leaders from both Missouri and Ohio gathered in Kirtland to attend the school and otherwise prepare for the solemn assembly where they would receive the endowment. The two sets of leaders had a history of not getting along, however, and lapses of unity characterized the period. Around the same time, Orson Hyde sent a scathing letter to Joseph Smith about a dispute with another Apostle, Joseph’s brother William Smith. Hyde refused to attend the school until the matter was settled. Though Hyde’s concerns were soon resolved, other disputes continued to trouble the group. “The adversary is bringing into requisition all his subtlety,” Joseph Smith said, “to prevent the Saints from being endowed by causing devision among the 12, also among the 70, and bickerings and jealousies among the Elders.”
If you have been to the temple, you have probably noticed that unity, and the need for unity is an important part of temple worship. Unity is what creates a Zion society. The functions assigned to this House of the Lord, were intended to help the saints become unified enough to be able to receive the blessings the Lord intended for His people.
The blessings of unity
When the temple was finally dedicated the promised blessings were delivered. There was an endowment of power, a display of the Spirit that was miraculous to say the least. People spoke in tongues, some saw the Savior, others angels, and the Savior himself appeared to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery to accept the Kirtland Temple. Here is one last quote from the historical materials for this lesson.
On Sunday, April 3, 1836, as Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery prayed at the temple pulpits, they were visited by Jesus Christ and many angelic messengers. Christ pronounced them clean, accepted the house they had built for Him, and affirmed “the endowment with which my servants have already been endowed.” Immediately thereafter, they received from Moses himself “the keys of the gathering of Israel from the four parts of the Earth,” as well as receiving other keys from other ancient prophets. In their eyes, the promises had been fulfilled and the elders did not need to tarry in Kirtland any longer.
Armed with priesthood keys not previously available, and the power of the Lord, the Church was able to make great strides in moving the work of the Lord forward. Those who went out on missions directly following the dedication of the Kirtland temple baptized thousands instead of just handfuls of people. The Church grew more rapidly than it had ever done.
Joseph now had the keys to the gathering of Israel and the sealing power. The Lord had to have a temple, and a people worthy of a temple, in order to restore these blessings. This brings us to the lessons to be learned here. Our temples are places of power. The Lord expects us to be clean, unified, and worthy to enter into His house to perform saving ordinances for both the living and the dead. In the temple can be found ordinances and blessings not available anywhere else in the world.
Do we remember that the blessings of the temple are meant for all mankind, not just a select few? Do we remember when we attend the temple that we have been obedient to the Lord in order to obtain the privilege of attending the ordinances of His house? Do we realize that this obedience entitles us to His blessings, His highest blessings? Do we appreciate these great blessings available only in the Lord’s house?
You can read a companion article to this lesson here: Why Should I Be Grateful for God’s Chastisement?