KEYS OF THE KINGDOM
In June 2008 Sister Robinson and I visited a small cathedral in Copenhagen, Denmark. We went there to see the famous statues created by Bertel Thorvaldsen, of Jesus Christ and the twelve Apostles. In these 13 separate sculptures, Peter holds a large key in his hand. This statue depicts the keys of the kingdom that Christ promised to give to Peter before his death and resurrection. This is the same cathedral that President Kimball with other church leaders visited years ago when President Kimball testified to the caretaker of the cathedral about the real keys on earth today. See April 2008 Conference – Elder Boyd K. Packer. My wife and I found the statues elegant and the experience very worthwhile. The statue of Christ at that cathedral is the original Christus which is copied in the Salt Lake Temple Visitors Center and at other church centers.
The promised keys were given during one of the most significant events in the New Testament on the mount of transfiguration when Jesus was transfigured before Peter, James and John. It was then that they received from Jesus, Moses and Elijah the priesthood keys they would need to govern the Church after the Savior’s death.
The account of the transfiguration in Matt. 17:1-5 is not greatly detailed. Modern day prophets have taught that during the transfiguration Peter, James and John also saw a vision of the transfiguration of the earth at the Savior’s Second Coming. (DC 63:20-21) They were also taught about the Savior’s death and resurrection. These events would strengthen each of them in the eventful days and years ahead.
The name Elias is used in different ways in the scriptures. In Matt. 17:3-4 it is the Greek name for Elijah. It other places it is a title to describe someone who is a forerunner or preparer.
This event is particularly interesting to us as we serve missions because many people frequently do not understand the need for priesthood keys and priesthood power with its line of authority. They do not understand the difference between the keys and the priesthood. But, keys and priesthood are a necessity today to administer to the affairs of the church and receive revelation in the church to know how the church should respond to current events. Without priesthood keys this would not occur.
About a week before the transfiguration, Peter was promised, “And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven…”, after Christ declared that his church will be built on the rock of revelation. (Matt. 16:16-19)
In 1836, one of the most significant events of the restoration occurred. Moses and Elijah returned again to the earth in the recently completed Kirkland Temple and laid their hands on Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery to restore the same keys given to Peter, James, and John. (DC110:11-13) These keys are used today under the direction of the President of the Church. Thus, Joseph Smith and all his successors have been or are now in possession of all the keys from the previous dispensations for the kingdom of heaven on earth in the last days. Through the ages various prophets have held keys for their dispensations and labors. Joseph Smith stated all these prophets from Michael (Adam) down to the present time including John the Baptist, Peter, James and John who had keys from Christ, divers angels and Raphael, whose mortal identity has not been revealed, and others have come and restored their keys:
21 … all declaring their dispensation, their rights, their keys, their honors, their majesty and glory, and the power of their priesthood… (DC 128:21)
Simply stated, the priesthood is the authority to act in behalf of God for the salvation of God’s children. The power of directing these labors constitutes the keys of the Priesthood. Thus, a bishop or stake president for example does not have increased priesthood by this special appointment. A Mission President does not have more priesthood than a missionary who labors under his direction. But, the Mission President holds the power to direct the official priesthood labors performed in the mission. That power of presiding over and directing the work is the “keys”.
All keys are held by each member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles. All keys are exercised by only one person at a time, the presiding officer of the church – which keys give him the power to govern and direct the administration of the church on earth. This is normally the prophet and president of the church and only he can exercise them fully.
“The keys of the kingdom,…belong always unto the Presidency of the High Priesthood” (DC 81:2)
At the death of the President of the Church, dissolution of the first presidency automatically occurs so the senior member of the Quorum of Twelve, as the presiding officer of the Quorum, then exercises these keys in their fullness. Thus, at the time of their ordination as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, each Apostle receives by ordination and blessing all of the keys of the priesthood which are currently available to man on the earth and which lay dormant until he is the senior member of the Quorum. The presiding officer may delegate a portion of these keys to others in which case that person holds the keys of that particular labor for the duration of his calling.
Mc Conkie, in Mormon Doctrine, states that when the Lord comes to reign personally upon the earth during the millennial era, he will take back the keys. And, eventually in the celestial day, “the keys of the kingdom shall be delivered up again unto the Father” (JST Luke 3:8)
Who can doubt that the transfiguration was an event that happened for a significant reason? That is part of the Biblical record because it was not just an odd, irrelevant thing that happened and that has no bearing on anything. The Savior took part in the transfiguration for a reason. It mattered because the keys are important. Who can question the reason for a similar event in the Kirkland Temple in 1836 with the early restored church? That mattered because the keys are important.
As missionaries we can learn a lesson from the mount of transfiguration. It is a pattern we can follow. Christ sought communion with his Father to support him in the coming hours. He took Peter, James and John to help fortify them and strengthen their faith. They were taught of the Savior’s coming death and resurrection, teachings which would strengthen each of them in the days to come. We can likewise be strengthened when we need spiritual strength by fervent prayer and study of the doctrines of the gospel. The Savior will strengthen us as he did Peter, James and John.