Spiritual Experiences of the Kirtland Temple Dedication
The Endowment of 1836
By Richard and Pamela Price
The Time of the Solemn Assembly, March 27 to April 3
Dedication of Kirtland Temple
This painting depicts the event when angels appeared while 416 members of the priesthood worshiped in the Kirtland Temple the evening after the official dedication on March 27, 1836.
On December 27, 1832, the Lord gave to the Prophet Joseph Smith one of the greatest revelations ever revealed to man, which is now Section 85 of the Doctrine and Covenants. Joseph called it the “Olive leaf . . . the Lord’s message of peace to us.” Among other things, the revelation provided for some of the basic mechanics through which Zion is to be redeemed. Those mechanics included (1) a Temple, (2) a School of the Prophets, to study and worship in the Temple to prepare those who attended to actually enter Christ’s celestial presence, and (3) a visit of Christ to the Temple to personally bestow the Holy Spirit of Promise upon them.
In this Olive Leaf Revelation the instructions were given that the Saints should build the Kirtland Temple in the words, “Establish a house, even a house of prayer, a house of fasting, a house of faith, a house of learning, a house of glory, a house of order, a house of God” (Doctrine and Covenants 85:36b). In this house they were to conduct the School of the Prophets (Ibid., 85:39–44). They were also commanded to “tarry ye in this place [Kirtland], and call a solemn assembly . . . assemble yourselves together, and organize yourselves, and prepare yourselves; and sanctify yourselves . . . that I may testify unto your Father, and your God, and my God, that you are clean . . . that I may fulfill this promise, this great and last promise which I have made unto you“ (Ibid., 85:19–20). This ultimate promise was the bestowal of the “other Comforter” or the “Holy Spirit of Promise” (Ibid., 85:lc–2a), which is the highest degree of the Holy Spirit—the endowment. To possess this degree of the Holy Spirit is to possess “the glory of the celestial kingdom” (Ibid., 85:2a).
Christ Himself promised that if the Saints would become righteous enough, He would come to the Kirtland Temple and appear to the priesthood. Joseph wrote, “You will see that the Lord commanded us, in Kirtland, to build an house of God, and establish a school for the prophets. This is the word of the Lord to us, and we must, yea, the Lord helping us, we will obey; as on conditions of our obedience he has promised us great things; yea, even a visit from the heavens to honor us with his own presence. We greatly fear before the Lord lest we should fail of this great honor, which our Master proposes to confer on us; we are seeking for humility and great faith lest we be ashamed in his presence" (Times and Seasons 5:720).
In an effort to become worthy of these promised blessings, the Saints labored sacrificially on the Temple from 1833 to 1836. They started the School of the Prophets even before the Temple was finished and diligently prepared for the endowment through study. After moving into the Temple, they also sought to prepare by receiving the Temple ordinances during the winter of 1836.
In an effort to teach those of the ministry the meaning of these things more completely, the Prophet Joseph on January 24 said, “In the evening met the Presidency in the room over the printing room [in the Presidency’s office building south of the Temple], and counseled on the subject of the endowment, and the preparation for the solemn assembly, which is to be called when the house of the Lord is finished” (Church History 2:18). The solemn assembly was a week-long series of special meetings, which would hopefully end with the Lord’s making His appearance in the Temple to administer the endowment to the Church leaders personally.
The Endowment of Celestial Fire
At last the Temple was finished and the great day of dedication came, for which the Saints had worked and yearned so earnestly. The Temple dedication service was held on Sunday, March 27, 1836, and was the beginning of the solemn assembly. That morning the Saints began assembling in the Temple before seven o’clock.
A thousand Saints crowded into the Temple and eagerly sat through the service, with only one twenty-minute intermission until past four p.m.
It was such a marvelous experience that the Saints held it ever after to be one of the highlights of their lives and loved to tell their children and grandchildren about it.
But an ever greater outpouring of the endowment occurred that same evening. Four hundred and sixteen men of the School of the Prophets returned to worship in the Temple, when a most spectacular thing happened—the Temple was suddenly bathed in celestial fire and continued in that condition for several hours.
I met the quorums in the evening, and instructed them respecting the ordinance of washing of feet, which they were to attend to on Wednesday following; and gave them instructions in relation to the spirit of prophecy, and called upon the congregation to speak, and not to fear to prophesy good concerning the Saints, . . . Brother George A. Smith arose, and began to prophesy, when a noise was heard like the sound of a rushing mighty wind, which filled the Temple, and all the congregation simultaneously arose, being moved upon by an invisible power; many began to speak in tongues, and prophesy; others saw glorious visions; and I beheld the Temple was filled with angels, which fact I declared to the congregation. The people of the neighbourhood came running together (hearing an unusual sound within, and seeing a bright light like a pillar of fire resting upon the Temple) and were astonished at what was transpiring.
The number of official members present on this occasion was four hundred and sixteen. . . . This continued until the meeting closed at eleven P.M. (Millennial Star 15:726)
It is unfortunate that history does not reveal more of the details of this marvelous experience. It must have been as inspiring to those present as the endowment which the New Testament Saints enjoyed on the day of Pentecost. Not only did the four hundred priesthood men in the Temple witness this marvelous outpouring of God’s power, but the people of the neighborhood did also—apparently members and nonmembers alike saw the celestial pillar of light that glowed over the Lord’s Temple for three or four hours.
The Ordinance of Washing of Feet
Throughout the week the solemn assembly services continued. On Tuesday the Church leaders continued their worshiping in the Temple. Early that morning the School of the Prophets held a class in Hebrew grammar. After the class the leaders started a worship service that lasted continuously for forty-two hours, during which time the ordinance of washing of feet was performed. The washing of feet was the last Temple ordinance to be administered during the time of the “solemn assembly” in preparation for the hoped-for visit of the Lord.
This ordinance was a very simple ceremony—being only a repetition of the washing of feet as practiced by Christ at the Last Supper. The washing of feet is a Temple ordinance and is not to be practiced in ordinary worship services. Joseph explained that this ordinance ‘‘was never intended for any but official members” of the Church (Church History 1:602).
The administering of the ordinance of washing of feet must be presided over by the president-prophet of the Church, for the Lord said, “the ordinance of washing feet is to be administered by the president, or presiding elder of the church. It is to be commenced with prayer; and after partaking of bread and wine, he is to gird himself, according to the pattern given in the thirteenth chapter of John’s testimony concerning me” (Doctrine and Covenants 85:46).
Joseph recorded in his history an account of the forty-two hour service in which the ordinance of washing of feet was administered.
At eleven o’clock A.M., Presidents Joseph Smith, junior, Frederick G. Williams, Sidney Rigdon, Hyrum Smith, and Oliver Cowdery met in the most holy place in the Lord’s House, and sought for a revelation from Him concerning our going to Zion, and other important matters. After uniting in prayer, the voice of the Spirit was, that we should come into this place three times and also call the other Presidents, the two Bishops, and their Councils, each to stand in his place and fast through the day and also the night, and that during this, if we would humble ourselves, we should receive further communications from Him. After this word was received we immediately sent for the other brethren, who came. . . .
Soon after this, the word of the Lord came to us, through President Joseph Smith, junior, that those who had entered the holy place, must not leave the house until morning, but send for such things as were necessary, and, also, during our stay, we must cleanse our feet and partake of the Sacrament that we might be made holy before Him, and thereby be qualified to officiate in our calling, upon the morrow, in washing the feet of the Elders.
Accordingly we proceeded to cleanse our faces and our feet, and then proceeded to wash each other’s feet. (Millennial Star 15:726)
After the leadership washed each other’s feet . . .
We partook of the bread and wine. The Holy Spirit rested down upon us, and we continued in the Lord’s House all night, prophesying, and giving glory to God.
Wednesday morning, 30th. At eight o’clock, according to appointment, the Presidency, the Twelve, the Seventies, the High Councils, the Bishops and their entire Quorums, the Elders and all the official members in this Stake of Zion, amounting to about three hundred, met in the Temple of the Lord to attend to the ordinance of washing of feet. I [Joseph] ascended the pulpit and remarked to the congregation that we had passed through many trials and afflictions since the organization of this Church, and that this was a year of jubilee to us, and a time of rejoicing. . . .
Tubs, water, and towels were prepared, and I called the house to order, and the Presidency proceeded to wash the feet of the Twelve, pronouncing many prophecies and blessings upon them in the name of the Lord Jesus; and then the Twelve proceeded to wash the feet of Presidents of the several Quorums. The brethren began to prophesy upon each other’s heads, . . . and continued prophesying, and blessing, and sealing them with hosanna and Amen, until nearly seven o’clock p.m.
The bread and wine were then brought in, and I observed that we had fasted all the day, and lest we faint, as the Savior did, so shall we do on this occasion; we shall bless the bread, and give it to the Twelve, and they to the multitude. While waiting, I made the following remarks—that the time that we were required to tarry in Kirtland to be endued, would be fulfilled in a few days, and then the Elders would go forth . . . and preach Jesus Christ and Him crucified. . .
I then observed to the Quorums that I had now completed the organization of the Church, and we had passed through all the necessary ceremonies, that I had given them all the instructions they needed, and that they now were at liberty, after obtaining their licenses, to go forth and build up the kingdom of God, and that it was expedient for me and the Presidency to retire, having spent the night previous in waiting upon the Lord in His Temple, and having to attend another dedication on the morrow [Thursday] or conclude the one commenced on the last Sabbath, for . . . those . . . who could not get into the house [at the first dedication service] . . . but that it was expedient for the brethren to tarry all night and worship before the Lord in His house.
I left the meeting in charge of the Twelve and retired about nine o’clock in the evening. The brethren continued exhorting, prophesying, and speaking in tongues until five o’clock in the morning. The Savior made His appearance to some, while angels ministered to others, and it was a Pentecost and an enduement indeed, long to be remembered, for the sound shall go forth from this place into all the world, and the occurrences of this day shall be handed down upon the pages of sacred history, to all generations; as the day of Pentecost, so shall this day be numbered and celebrated as a year of Jubilee, and time of rejoicing to the Saints of the Most High God. (Millennial Star 15:726-728)
The Lord Appeared to Joseph and Oliver
At five a.m. on Thursday, March 31, the apostles finished the forty-two hour service which included the administering of the ordinance of washing of feet. Three hours later the Presidency began a second Temple dedication service for the benefit of the many who could not find room to be seated the Sunday before. On Friday and Saturday of the solemn assembly week, the brethren rested from Temple activities. Then, on Sunday, April 3, 1836, the services reached their zenith when the Lord appeared to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery in a most spectacular manner.
Immediately after this vision closed, three visions followed, in which Moses, Elias, and Elijah appeared to Joseph and Oliver as they worshipped in the Melchisedec pulpit area behind drawn curtains, while the congregation waited.
Joseph wrote that Moses “committed unto us the keys of the gathering of Israel.” Elias appeared,
and committed the dispensation of the Gospel of Abraham, saying, that in us, and our seed, all generations after us should be blessed.
After this vision had closed, another great and glorious vision burst upon us, for Elijah the Prophet stood before us, and said . . . Therefore the keys of this dispensation are committed unto your hands. (Millennial Star 15:739)
This marvelous manifestation of the Lord in glory marked the end of the week of solemn assembly, and the next day the men who had attended the School of the Prophets through the winter, began to spread abroad in all parts of the land.
The School of the Prophets made preparation to behold the Lord in His celestial and glorified state and be endowed by Him in person. If this had happened, it would have caused Zion to burst into being at that time—for Zion is a group of people who have dwelt in the presence of the Lord.
But, in spite of the intense preparation, the brethren never quite reached the necessary spiritual height which would have enabled them to have been “honored by a visit of His own presence.” These three or four hundred leaders did, however, reach a height beyond anything recorded since New Testament times for such a group. They received the Spirit in such a strong measure that “it caused their bones to quake” and the “Savior made His appearance to some.” To just what degree His appearance was revealed to them is not recorded, but evidently they saw Him only in vision, and did not enter His presence to the degree that Joseph and Oliver did.
As a result of the degree of endowment which they did receive, however, the Church truly had “a year of Jubilee.” The missionary success which followed was phenomenal. For a century and a half the Saints have looked back with awe upon this week of solemn assembly and all that it did for the Church. And the Saints have also, during all that time, looked forward to an even greater endowment in the Lord’s House in Kirtland, which has been promised for the future.
(Vision 84 [March 2015]: 6–7; The Restoration Story, 84–85)