The August lessons in the Gospel Doctrine class tell of the risen Christ, his 40-day ministry among his disciples, and their preparation as witnesses of him. This article emphasizes latter-day appearances of the Savior after the restoration of the gospel, in keeping with his ancient promise: “I … will manifest myself to him … and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.” (John 14:21, 23.)
This glorious gospel dispensation opened with the personal appearance of God our Eternal Father and his beloved son Jesus Christ to a 14-year-old farm boy destined to become the greatest prophet and seer to grace the earth. Of his first vision, the boy prophet testified:
“… I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me. …
“When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other—This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!” (JS—H 1:16–17.)
This vision of the Father and Son, introducing through Joseph Smith the dispensation of the fulness of times, has been called the greatest theophany of the ages, meaning the greatest visible manifestation of God and his Son.
This vision shattered false ideas of God taught through the centuries. In Joseph Smith’s day the accepted human conception of God was an incorporeal essence that:
“Warms in the sun, refreshes in the breeze,
Glows in the stars, and blossoms in the trees;
Lives thro’ all life, extends thro’ all extent,
Spreads undivided, operates unspent.”
(Alexander Pope, Essay On Man, “Epistle One,” lines 271–74.)
Pope’s essay was a beautiful description of something, but not the God in whose image, the Bible declares, man was made. (See Gen. 1:26–27.) Joseph Smith saw God and Jesus Christ as intelligent Beings who do exist and with whom one can converse. And in this last dispensation, more than a score of others testify that they have seen the Savior and that he in very deed lives.
During the first conference held in this dispensation after the Church was organized, Newel Knight witnessed the heavens open and beheld the Savior sitting on the right hand of the Father. The Prophet Joseph wrote:
“A vision of futurity burst upon him. He saw there represented the great work which through my instrumentality was yet to be accomplished. He saw heaven opened, and beheld the Lord Jesus Christ, seated at the right hand of the majesty on high, and had it made plain to his understanding that the time would come when he would be admitted into His presence to enjoy His society for ever and ever.” (History of the Church 1:85.)
While the fourth conference of the Church was in session in early June 1831, Lyman Wight was so enveloped in the Spirit that the heavens were opened to his gaze and he saw the Son sitting on the right hand of the Father. (See HC 1:176.)
One evening in the early summer of 1831, Mary Elizabeth Rollins, a 12-year-old girl, visited the Prophet’s home in Kirtland with her mother to learn more about the Book of Mormon. Other friends and relatives had also gathered there, and when the Prophet came into the room he suggested they hold a meeting. The 12-year-old girl recalled:
“After prayer and singing, Joseph began talking. He began very solemnly and very earnestly. Suddenly he stopped and seemed, almost transfixed, he was looking ahead and his face outshone the candle which was on a shelf just behind him. I thought I could almost see his cheekbones. He looked as though a searchlight was inside his face and shining through every pore. I could not take my eyes from his face.
“After a short time he looked at us very solemnly, and said, ‘Brothers and Sisters, do you know who has been in your midst this night?’ One of the Smith family said: ‘An angel of the Lord.’
“Joseph did not answer. Martin Harris was sitting at the Prophet’s feet on a box, he slid to his knees, clasped his arms around the Prophet’s knees and said, ‘I know, it was our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.’ Joseph put his hand on Martin’s head and answered, ‘Martin, God revealed that to you. Brothers and sisters, the Saviour has been in your midst, I want you to remember it. He cast a veil over your eyes for you could not endure to look upon Him. You must be fed with milk and not meat. I want you to remember this as if it were the last thing that escapes my lips.’” (Diary of Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner, unpublished manuscript, pp. 2–4.)
In February 1832, Joseph Smith was living with John Johnson in Hiram, Ohio. Assisted by Sidney Rigdon, he was making a revision of the Bible. One day as they pondered and studiously considered the matter of man being rewarded according to the deeds done in the body, they concluded that the term “heaven,” as intended for the Saints’ eternal home, must include more kingdoms than one. The Prophet Joseph bears record:
“And while we meditated upon these things, the Lord touched the eyes of our understandings and they were opened, and the glory of the Lord shone round about.
“And we beheld the glory of the Son, on the right hand of the Father, and received of his fulness;
“And saw the holy angels, and them who are sanctified before his throne, worshiping God, and the Lamb, who worship him forever and ever.
“And now, after the many testimonies which have been given of him, this is the testimony, last of all, which we give of him: That he lives!
“For we saw him, even on the right hand of God; and we heard the voice bearing record that he is the Only Begotten of the Father—
“That by him, and through him, and of him, the worlds are and were created, and the inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters unto God.” (D&C 76:19–24.)
In the room at the time were about a dozen other men, among whom was Philo Dibble, who testified, “I saw the glory and felt the power, but did not see the vision.” (Juvenile Instructor 27:303.)
In the revelation that commanded the organization of the School of the Prophets, the Lord said:
“Therefore, sanctify yourselves that your minds become single to God, and the days will come that you shall see him; for he will unveil his face unto you, and it shall be in his own time, and in his own way, and according to his own will.” (D&C 88:68.)
During the School of the Prophets Joseph Smith gave a series of talks known as “Lectures on Faith,” the main theme of these lectures being centered on the above passage. Said the Prophet Joseph:
“… after any portion of the human family are made acquainted with the important fact that there is a God, who has created and does uphold all things, the extent of their knowledge respecting his character and glory will depend upon their diligence and faithfulness in seeking after him, until, like Enoch, the brother of Jared, and Moses, they shall obtain faith in God, and power with him to behold him face to face.” (Lectures on Faith, no. 2, N. B. Lundwall, compiler and publisher, p. 23.)
Later on the Lord himself promised “that every soul who forsaketh his sins and cometh unto me, and calleth on my name, and obeyeth my voice, and keepeth my commandments, shall see my face and know that I am.” (D&C 93:1.)
The Prophet Joseph recorded in the account of the dedication of the Kirtland Temple: “The Savior made his appearance to some.” (HC 2:432.) Elder George A. Smith stated in a discourse:
“On the first day of the dedication, President Frederick G. Williams, one of the Council of the Prophet, and who occupied the upper pulpit, bore testimony that the Savior, dressed in his vesture without seam, came into the stand and accepted of the dedication of the house; that he saw him, and gave a description of his clothing and all things pertaining to it.” (Journal of Discourses 11:10.)
One week following the dedication of the Kirtland Temple the Prophet Joseph Smith, with Oliver Cowdery, the Council of the Twelve, and several brethren of the priesthood, partook of the sacrament in the lower room of the temple. After having performed this service to the brethren of the priesthood, Joseph and Oliver retired to the pulpit on the west side of the room, and the veils that secluded them from the other brethren were dropped. The two young men then bowed their heads in solemn and silent prayer. After rising from prayer, the following glorious vision burst before them:
“We saw the Lord standing upon the breastwork of the pulpit, before us; and under his feet was a paved work of pure gold, in color like amber.
“His eyes were as a flame of fire; the hair of his head was white like the pure snow; his countenance shone above the brightness of the sun; and his voice was as the sound of the rushing of great waters, even the voice of Jehovah, saying:
“I am the first and the last, I am he who liveth, I am he who was slain; I am your advocate with the Father.” (D&C 110:2–4.)
Before he was crucified, the Savior promised the second comforter to his disciples. John reports that Jesus said:
“And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever;
“… and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him;
“… and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.” (John 14:16, 21, 23.)
“‘Now what is the other comforter?’ Joseph asked. ‘It is no more nor less than the Lord Jesus Christ Himself; and this is the sum and substance of the whole matter; that when any man obtains this last Comforter [the promise of eternal life], he will have the personage of Jesus Christ to attend him, or appear unto him from time to time, and even He will manifest the Father unto him, and they will take up their abode with him, and the visions of the heavens will be opened unto him, and the Lord will teach him face to face. …’”(HC 3:381.)
The Prophet further commented:
“John 14:23—The appearing of the Father and Son in that verse, is a personal appearance; and the idea that the Father and the Son dwell in a man’s heart is an old sectarian notion, and is false.” (D&C 130:3.)
Those who receive the Second Comforter, or the promise of eternal life, have the privilege of communing personally and openly with the Man of Holiness and his Son Jesus Christ. The Prophet Joseph spoke repeatedly of the Saints communing personally with both God the Father and Jesus Christ. (See HC 1:283–4; 3:381; 5:530; 6:51.)
Alexander Neibaur, a Jewish convert from England and a dental surgeon by profession, was asked by his son shortly before his death, “‘Father, you have been telling us of your long and hard experience, and we have listened with intense affection and interest, but let me ask you, is it worth it all? Is the Gospel worth all this sacrifice?’
“The glow of testimony and truth lighted the torches in the dimming eyes of that ancient Hebrew prophet and poet and he lifted his voice in firm and lofty assurance as he said:
“‘Yes! Yes! and more! I have seen my Savior. I have seen the prints in his hands! I know that Jesus is the Son of God, and I know that this work is true and that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God. I would suffer it all and more, far more than I have ever suffered for that knowledge even to the laying down of my body on the plains for the wolves to devour.’” (The Utah Genealogical and Historical Magazine, 5:62.)
When Lorenzo Snow was 22 years of age, having been a member of the Church for six months, he received his patriarchal blessing from Patriarch Joseph Smith, Sr., father of the Prophet. In it he was told, “Thou shalt have faith even like that of the brother of Jared.” (Thomas C. Romney, The Life of Lorenzo Snow, Deseret Book Co., 1955, p. 1.) The brother of Jared was a man of such great faith that “he could not be kept from within the veil; therefore he saw Jesus; and he did minister unto him.” (Ether 3:20.)
Years later, upon learning of the death of President Wilford Woodruff, President Snow dressed in his holy temple robes, retired to the sacred altar in the Salt Lake Temple, and poured out his heart to the Lord. He reminded the Lord how he had pleaded that President Woodruff outlive him, that he might not be called to bear the heavy burdens and responsibilities of Church leadership. “Nevertheless,” he prayed, “Thy will be done. I have not sought this responsibility, but if it be Thy will I will present myself before thee for Thy guidance and instruction. I ask that Thou show me what Thou wouldst have me do.”
After finishing the prayer, he expected a reply, some special manifestation from the Lord. He waited—and waited—and waited. There was no reply, no voice, no manifestation. He left the room in deep disappointment, passed through the celestial room and out into the large corridor leading to his own room, where a most glorious manifestation was given him. One of the most beautiful accounts of this experience is given by his granddaughter, Allie Young Pond: One day she and President Snow were walking in the Salt Lake Temple, and she tells of the following conversation:
“After we left his room and while we were still in the large corridor, leading into the Celestial room, I was walking several steps ahead of Grandpa when he stopped me, saying, ‘Wait a moment, Allie, I want to tell you something. It was right here that the Lord Jesus Christ appeared to me at the time of the death of President Woodruff. …’
“Then grandpa came a step nearer and held out his left hand and said, ‘He stood right here, about three feet above the floor. It looked as though He stood on a plate of solid gold.’
“Grandpa told me what a glorious personage the Savior is and described His hands, feet, countenance and beautiful white robes, all of which were of such a glory of whiteness and brightness that he could hardly gaze upon Him.
“Then grandpa came another step nearer me and put his right hand on my head and said: ‘Now, granddaughter, I want you to remember that this is the testimony of your grandfather, that he told you with his own lips that he actually saw the Savior here in the Temple, and talked with Him face to face.’” (Deseret News, Church Section, April 2, 1938, p. 8.)
Alfred Douglas Young, an early convert to the Church, was conversing with his brother on the morning of September 17, 1841, about the principles of the gospel, when he was constrained by the Spirit to go to some secret place. Out into the woods some distance from his brother’s house, he was beckoned in vision by an angelic personage to “Follow thou me”:
“He ascended upward in the direction from whence he came and I followed him. He took me into the presence of God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ. There was a rail between us; but I saw them seated on a throne. I had in my hands many sheaves of wheat of the purest white.
“There was an altar on my left hand and also one directly in front of me. The one on my left appeared to be about three feet in height, the one in front about eighteen inches. I laid the sheaves of wheat that were in my hands on the altar to my left as an offering to the Lord. I bowed myself on my knees on the altar in front of me which was also in front of the throne.
“I prayed God the Father in the name of his Son Jesus Christ to accept the offering I had laid upon the altar.
“While I prayed the rail was removed and I stood upon my feet. Jesus arose and stepped from the side of his Father and came near where I stood. I was in their Presence and I gazed upon their glory.
“Jesus then said to me, ‘Your offering is accepted, and wouldest thou know the interpretation thereof?’ I replied, ‘Yes, Lord.’ The angel, my conductor, said, ‘Look,’ and I saw as it were an innumerable company that had come up from all nations, kindreds, tongues, and peoples around the throne of God, and they fell down and worshipped Him and gave glory to Him. Jesus then said, ‘These are they thou shalt be the means of bringing into my Father’s Kingdom and this is the interpretation of the offering thou hast laid upon the altar.’” (Alfred Douglas Young, “Autobiographical Journal,” 1808–1842, pp. 3–13.)
Elder Orson F. Whitney, a young missionary in the eastern states, says that one night in a vision:
“I seemed to be in the Garden of Gethsemane, a witness of the Savior’s agony. I saw Him as plainly as ever I have seen anyone. Standing behind a tree in the foreground, I beheld Jesus, with Peter, James and John, as they came through a little wicket gate at my right. Leaving the three Apostles there, after telling them to kneel and pray, the Son of God passed over to the other side, where He also knelt and prayed. It was the same prayer with which all Bible readers are familiar: ‘Oh my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.’
“As He prayed the tears streamed down his face, which was toward me. I was so moved at the sight that I also wept, out of pure sympathy. My whole heart went out to him; I loved him with all my soul, and longed to be with him as I longed for nothing else.
“Presently He arose and walked to where those Apostles were kneeling—fast asleep! He shook them gently, awoke them, and in a tone of tender reproach, untinctured by the least show of anger or impatience, asked them plaintively if they could not watch with him one hour. There He was, with the awful weight of the world’s sins upon his shoulders, with the pangs of every man, woman and child shooting through his sensitive soul—and they could not watch with him one poor hour!
“Returning to his place, He offered up the same prayer as before; then went back and again found them sleeping. Again He awoke them, readmonished them, and once more returned and prayed. Three times this occurred, until I was perfectly familiar with his appearance—face, form and movements. He was of noble stature and majestic mien—not at all the weak, effeminate being that some painters have portrayed; but the very God that he was and is, as meek and humble as a little child.
“All at once the circumstances seemed to change, the scene remaining just the same. Instead of before, it was after the crucifixion, and the Savior, with the three Apostles, now stood together in a group at my left. They were about to depart and ascend into Heaven. I could endure it no longer. I ran from behind the tree, fell at his feet, clasped Him around the knees, and begged him to take me with him.
“I shall never forget the kind and gentle manner in which He stooped, raised me up, and embraced me. It was so vivid, so real. I felt the very warmth of his body, as He held me in his arms and said in tenderest tones; ‘No, my son, these have finished their work; they can go with me; but you must stay and finish yours.’ Still I clung to Him. Gazing up into his face—for he was taller than I—I besought him fervently: ‘Well, promise me that I may come to you at the last.’ Smiling sweetly, He said, ‘That will depend entirely upon yourself.’” (Orson F. Whitney, Through Memories Halls, 1930, p. 82.)
While on his world tour and approaching Apia, Samoa, on a vessel, President David O. McKay “beheld in vision something infinitely sublime”:
“In the distance I beheld a beautiful white city. Though far away, yet I seemed to realize that trees with luscious fruit, shrubbery with gorgeously tinted leaves, and flowers in perfect bloom abounded everywhere. The clear sky above seemed to reflect these beautiful shades of color. I then saw a great concourse of people approaching the city. Each one wore a white flowing robe, and a white headdress. Instantly my attention seemed centered upon their Leader, and though I could see only the profile of his features and body, I recognized him at once as my Savior! The tint and radiance of his countenance were glorious to behold! There was a peace about him which seemed sublime—it was divine!
“The city, I understood, was his. It was the City Eternal; and the people following him were to abide there in peace and eternal happiness.
“But who were they?
“As if the Savior read my thoughts, he answered by pointing to a semicircle that then appeared above them, and on which were written in gold the words:
“These Are They Who Have Overcome The World—Who Have Truly Been Born Again!” (Cherished Experiences, comp. by Clare Middlemiss, Deseret Book Co., 1955, p. 102.)
There are some living today who have experienced the glorious personal manifestation of the Savior, but who have been constrained not to disclose their experience.
Surely this is Christ’s church and he can manifest himself to whomsoever he will.
In his closing address at the April general conference, 1974, President Spencer W. Kimball referred to a dream related by President George F. Richards, who at the time was president of the Council of the Twelve. President Richards said:
“It is not out of place for us to have important dreams, … more than 40 years ago I had a dream which I am sure was from the Lord. In this dream I was in the presence of my Savior as He stood in mid-air. He spoke no word to me, but my love for Him was such that I have not words to explain. I know no mortal man can love the Lord as I experienced that love for the Savior unless God reveals it to him. I would have remained in his presence, but there was a power drawing me away from him.
“As a result of that dream, I had this feeling that no matter what might be required at my hands, what the Gospel might entail unto me, I would do what I should be asked to do even to the laying down of my life. …
“If only I can be with my Savior and have that same sense of love that I had in that dream, it will be the goal of my existence, the desire of my life.” (Ensign, May 1974, p. 119.)
President Joseph Fielding Smith has written: “There are thousands who believe in the promise of the Lord, ‘that every soul who forsaketh his sins and cometh unto me, and calleth on my name, and obeyeth my voice, and keepeth my commandments, shall see my face and know that I am.’ (D&C 93:1.) And this promise is unto all men everywhere so that all may know if they will.” (Improvement Era 33:726.)