Chapter 1 Section B
About sixteen years before the birth of Christ, Herod I, king of Judea, commenced the reconstruction of the then decayed and generally ruinous Temple of Zerubbabel. For five centuries that structure had stood, and doubtless it had become largely a wreck of time. Many incidents in the earthly life of the Savior are associated with the Temple of Herod. It is evident from scripture that while opposed to the degraded and commercial uses to which the Temple had been betrayed, Christ recognized and acknowledged the sanctity of the temple precincts. The Temple of Herod was a sacred structure; by whatsoever name it might have been known, it was to Him the House of the Lord. And then, when the sable curtain descended upon the great tragedy of Calvary, when at last the agonizing cry, “It is finished,” ascended from the cross, the veil of the Temple was rent, and the one-time Holy of Holies was bared. The absolute destruction of the Temple had been foretold by our Lord, while yet He lived in the flesh. In the year 70 A.D. the Temple was utterly destroyed by fire in connection with the capture of Jerusalem by the Romans under Titus. The Temple of Herod was the last temple reared on the eastern hemisphere. From the destruction of that great edifice onward to the time of the re-establishment of the Church of Jesus Christ in the nineteenth century, our only record of temple building is such mention as is found in Nephite chronicles. Book of Mormon scriptures affirm that temples were erected by the Nephite colonists on what is now known as the American continent; but we have few details of construction and fewer facts as to administrative ordinances pertaining to these western temples. The people constructed a Temple about 570 B. C. and this we learn was patterned after the Temple of Solomon, though greatly inferior to that gorgeous structure in grandeur and costliness. It is of interest to read that when the resurrected Lord manifested Himself to the Nephites on the western continent, He found them assembled about the Temple. The Book of Mormon, however, makes no mention of temples even as late as the time of the destruction of the Temple at Jerusalem; and moreover the Nephite nation came to an end within about four centuries after Christ. It is evident, therefore, that on both hemispheres temples ceased to exist in the early period of the apostasy and the very conception of a Temple in the distinctive sense perished amongst mankind.
For many centuries no offer of a sanctuary was made unto the Lord; indeed, it appears that no need of such was recognized. The apostate church declared that direct communication from God had ceased; and in place of Divine administration a self-constituted government claimed supreme power. It is evident that, as far as the Church was concerned, the voice of the Lord had been silenced; that the people were no longer willing to listen to the word of revelation, and that the government of the Church had been abrogated by human agencies.
When, in the reign of Constantine, a perverted Christianity had become the religion of state, the need of a place wherein God would reveal Himself was still utterly unseen or ignored. True, many edifices, most of them costly and grand, were erected. Of these some were dedicated to Peter and Paul, to James and John; others to the Magdalene and the Virgin; but not one was raised by authority and name to the honor of Jesus, the Christ. Among the multitude of chapels and shrines, of churches and cathedrals, the Son of Man had not a place to call His own. It was declared that the pope, sitting in Rome, was the vicegerent of Christ, and that without revelation he was empowered to declare the will of God.
Not until the Gospel was restored in the nineteenth century, with its ancient powers and privileges, was the Holy Priesthood manifest again among men. And be it remembered that the authority to speak and act in the name of God is essential to a Temple, and a Temple is void without the sacred authority of the Holy Priesthood. In the year of our Lord 1820, Joseph Smith, the prophet of the latest dispensation, then a lad in his fifteenth year, received a Divine manifestation, in which both the Eternal Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, appeared and instructed the youthful suppliant. Through Joseph Smith, the Gospel of old was restored to earth, and the ancient law was re-established. In course of time, through the ministry of the prophet, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was organized, and its establishment was marked by manifestations of Divine power.
It is a significant fact that this Church, true to the distinction it affirms-that of being the Church of the living God as its name proclaims-began in the very early days of its history to provide for the erection of a temple. The Church was organized as an earthly body-corporate on the sixth of April, A. D. 1830; and, in July of the year following, a revelation was received designating the site of a future temple near Independence, Missouri. The construction of a temple on this chosen spot is yet delayed, as is also the case with another temple-site in Far West Missouri, on which the corner-stones were laid in 1838. The Church holds as a sacred trust the commission to build the temples so located, but as yet the way has not been opened for the consummation of the plan. In the meantime temples in other places have been reared, and already the modern dispensation is marked by the erection of six such sacred edifices.
On the first day of June, 1833, in a revelation to the Prophet Joseph Smith, the Lord directed the immediate building of a holy house, in which He promised to endow His chosen servants with power and authority. The people responded to the call with willingness and devotion. In spite of dire poverty and in the face of unrelenting persecution, the work was carried to completion, and in March, 1836, the first Temple of modern times was dedicated at Kirtland, Ohio. The dedicatory services were marked by Divine manifestations comparable to those attending the offering of the first Temple of olden times; and on later occasions heavenly beings appeared within the sacred precincts with revelations of the Divine will to man. In that place the Lord Jesus was again seen and heard. Within two years from the time of its dedication the Kirtland Temple was abandoned by the people who built it; they were forced to flee because of persecution, and with their departure the sacred Temple became an ordinary house, disowned of the Lord to whose name it had been reared. The building still stands and is used as a meeting-house by a small and comparatively unknown sect.
The migration of the Latter-day Saints was to the west; and they established themselves first in Missouri, and later in Illinois with Nauvoo as the central seat of the Church. Scarcely had they become settled in their new abode when the voice of revelation was heard calling upon the people to again build a house sacred to the name of God.
The corner-stones of the Nauvoo Temple were laid April 6, 1841, and the capstone was placed in position May 24, 1845; each event was celebrated by a solemn assembly and sacred service. Though it was evident that the people would be forced to flee again, and though they knew that the Temple would have to be abandoned soon after completion, they labored with might and diligence to finish and properly furnish the structure. It was dedicated April 30, 1846, though certain portions, such as the baptistry, had been previously dedicated and used in ordinance work. Many of the Saints received their blessings and holy endowments in the Nauvoo Temple, though, even before the completion of the building, the exodus of the people had begun. The Temple was abandoned by those who in poverty and by sacrifice had reared it. In November, 1848, it became a prey to incendiary flames, and in May, 1850, a tornado demolished what remained of the blackened walls.
On the 24th of July, 1847, the “Mormon” pioneers entered the valleys of Utah, while yet the region was Mexican territory, and established a settlement where now stands Salt Lake City. Four days later Brigham Young, prophet and leader, indicated a site in the sage-brush wastes, and, striking the arid ground with his staff, proclaimed, “Here will be the Temple of our God.” That site is now the beautiful Temple Block, around which the city has grown. In February, 1853, the area was dedicated with sacred service, and on the 6th of April following, the corner stones of the building were laid to the accompaniment of solemn and imposing ceremony. The Salt Lake City Temple was forty years in building; the capstone was laid on the 6th of April, 1892, and the completed Temple was dedicated one year later.
Of the four Temples already erected in Utah, the one in Salt Lake City was the first begun and the last finished. During its course of construction three other Temples were built by the Latter-day Saints, one at St. George, one at Logan, and one at Manti, Utah. Add to these the two earlier Temples-at Kirtland, Ohio, and at Nauvoo, Illinois-and we have six of these sacred structures already erected in the present and last dispensation of the Priesthood-the dispensation of the fullness of times.
It is not the purpose of the present chapter to consider in detail any particular Temple, either ancient or modern; but rather to show the essential and distinguishing features of Temples, and to make plain the fact that in both ancient and modern times the covenant people have regarded the building of Temples as a labor specifically required at their hands. From what has been said it is plain that a Temple is more than chapel or church, more than synagogue or cathedral; it is a structure erected as the House of the Lord, sacred to the closest communion between the Lord Himself and the Holy Priesthood, and devoted to the highest and most sacred ordinances characteristic of the age or dispensation to which the particular Temple belongs. Moreover, to be indeed a holy Temple-accepted of God, and by Him acknowledged as His House-the offering must have been called for, and both gift and giver must be worthy.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints proclaims that it is the possessor of the Holy Priesthood again restored to earth, and that it is invested with Divine commission to erect and maintain Temples dedicated to the name and service of the true and living God, and to administer within those sacred structures the ordinances of the Priesthood, the effect of which shall be binding both on earth and beyond the grave.