The Importance of the Kirtland Temple

Kirtland temple

In the LDS church, the Kirtland temple dedication is certainly seen as a special time. However, it is rarely given anything more than a brief mention. I honestly don’t even recall ever having an actual discussion about it. It is however incredibly important and shows the divine forgiveness of God along with the important role that Joseph Smith served for the early church.

Build the Temple

In 1832 the church had only been organized for two years, yet it was already experiencing extreme persecution from many in the surrounding areas. The church continued to grow and started facing increasing levels of persecution. It was however a time of great excitement as God began to unfold his great work of the last days.

On December 27th, 1832, a revelation was given to Joseph and the first Elders of the church. Today this is canonized as D&C 88 and contains several important things to consider. The important thing to note for this discussion is that this is the revelation where God requests the church build a house unto him. The revelation mentions:

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; …

And above all things, clothe yourselves with the bond of charity, as with a mantle, which is the bond of perfectness and peace. Pray always, that ye may not faint, until I come. Behold, and lo, I will come quickly, and receive you unto myself. Amen.

D&C 88:119-125Revelation

It was at this time that Joseph was instructed to build a temple unto God. This temple was to be a central aspect of the worship of God in the church. This wasn’t just a place to go to perform certain activities. It was a place that was pivotal to all aspects of God’s future work with his people.

The members of the church at the time though struggled to actually build this house of God and make it a reality. Many had recently relocated to the Kirtland area and were facing poverty and extreme persecution. Therefore, about 6 months later on June 1st, 1833, God chastised the members for failing to build his house and described it as a “very grievous sin”. This revelation is canonized today as D&C 95 and gives further details about the importance of the temple. It mentions:

Therefore, ye must needs be chastened and stand rebuked before my face; 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; 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. …

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

D&C 95:2-8Revelation

After this revelation the church began in earnest to build what would become the Kirtland temple. It is however important to note four main reasons that God gives, for the importance of the Kirtland temple. These are:

  1. “Prepare mine apostles to prune my vineyard for the last time”
  2. “Bring to pass my strange act”
  3. “Pour out my Spirit upon all flesh”
  4. “Endow those whom I have chosen with power from on high”

In this revelation God doesn’t describe the Kirtland temple as an incidental building, but as essential for his latter-day work. Construction continued on the temple for over 2 years during which excitement continued to build for the promised blessings. During this time however Joseph and Sidney continued to teach that the Kirtland temple was the key to their deliverance as a people. In an April 21st, 1834, address, it is recorded:

Bro. Sidney Rigdon then took up the second item, viz:— The endowment of the Elders with power from on high. He gave an account of the endowment of the ancient apostles and laid before the conference the dimensions of the house to be built in Kirtland and rehearsed the promise to the elders in the last days which they were to realize after the house of the Lord was built.

Sidney Rigdon – April 21st, 1834

A few days before this, on August 16th, 1834, Joseph wrote a letter to the High Council in Kirtland and mentioned that God had a specific date in mind for the deliverance of his people. However, this would require a lot of work on their part and failure would result in dire consequences. Joseph wrote:

The first elders are to receive their endowment in Kirtland before the redemption of Zion. … Use every effort to prevail on the churches to gather to those regions and situate themselves to be in readiness to move into Jackson Co. in two years from the Eleventh of September next which is the appointed time for the redemption of Zion, … I say unto you If the church with one united effort perform their duties If they do this the work shall be complete …
Now my beloved brethren you will learn by this we have a great work to do, and but little time to it in and if we dont exert ourselves to the utmost in gathering up the strength of the Lords house that this thing may be accomplished behold their remaineth a scorge for the Church even that they shall be driven from City to City and but few shall remain to receive an inheritence if these things are not kept there remaineth a scorge

Joseph Smith – August 21st, 1834

In this letter, Joseph is clearly claiming that two years from September 11th, 1834, would be the redemption of Zion. This would then make that date exactly September 11th, 1836. The church clearly had a lot to do and very little time to do it in as Joseph mentioned. It is also quite interesting to note that this date aligns perfectly with a September 11th, 1831, revelation Joseph received that stated God would preserve Kirtland for five years after which his protection would be removed. This revelation is canonized today as D&C 64 and mentions:

I, the Lord, will to retain a strong hold in the land of Kirtland, for the space of five years, in the which I will not overthrow the wicked, that thereby I may save some. 

D&C 64:21Revelation

Clearly, September 11th, 1836, was a make-or-break point for the church. God wanted to redeem his people and gave the church 5 years in order to organize and sanctify themselves. However, as we all know, this is much more difficult than it initially seems.

About one year after Joseph’s 1834 letter to the High Council, Joseph further reiterated the need to complete the Kirtland temple. In another High Council meeting, this time on August 4th, 1835, Joseph rebuked the newly called twelve apostles for not working diligently enough and mentioned:

[The elders] failed in [the] out set, to fill their great and important mission, as they know that God has commanded us to build a house in which to receive an endowment, previous to the redemption of Zion, and that Zion could not be redeemed until this takes place

Joseph Smith – August 4th, 1835

Joseph continued to express the need for the temple and the endowment of power as mentioned by God. It was this endowment that would qualify them for the future work of God. Joseph then, a few months later, mentioned that those who were worthy would see Christ and receive their endowment of power. In Joseph’s November 12th, 1835, discourse to the twelve apostles, Joseph mentioned:

I feel disposed to speak a few words more to you my brethren concerning the endowment, all who are prepared and are sufficiently pure to abide the presence of the Saviour will see him in the solem assembly.

Joseph Smith – November 12th, 1835

The Twelve apostles however were having a hard time humbling themselves in order to receive the blessings of God. Just a few days prior to this, on November 3rd, 1835, Joseph received a revelation condemning the Twelve apostles for their inability to understand their situation. The revelation states:

Thus came the word of the Lord unto me concerning the, Twelve saying behold they are under condemnation, because they have not been sufficiently humble in my sight … but Verily I say unto you they must all humble themselves before Me, before they will be accounted worthy to receive an endowment to go forth in my name unto all nations

Joseph Smith – November 3rd, 1835

At this point in the historical record, we have no indication that anything substantial changed. We however know that the Kirtland temple dedication was a spiritual high for the church and then afterwards the church experienced a sharp decline. We also know that September 11th, 1836, came and went with no divine deliverance as mentioned by God. After this date however, the church experienced many stumbling blocks of their own making.


After more than two years of work, and huge amounts of preparation, the important day had finally arrived. On March 27th, 1836, the Kirtland temple was dedicated, and this event began what would be a very pivotal week in the history of the church. Starting at 7 in the morning, the members began to assemble until the Kirtland temple was so full, they had to shut the doors as there was no space left. After administrative affairs and a very long talk by Sidney Rigdon, Joseph stood and then offered the dedicatory prayer that we have today as D&C 109.

The prayer itself has several important components. However, for this purpose we will consider just one section. Towards the conclusion of the prayer, Joseph acknowledges two key facts that are important to remember. In the prayer, Joseph mentions:

Now these words, O Lord, we have spoken before thee, concerning the revelations and commandments which thou hast given unto us, who are identified with the Gentiles. … O Lord, remember thy servant, Joseph Smith, Jun., and all his afflictions and persecutions—how he has covenanted with Jehovah, and vowed to thee, O Mighty God of Jacob—and the commandments which thou hast given unto him, and that he hath sincerely striven to do thy will.

Joseph Smith – March 27, 1836

In the dedicatory prayer, Joseph acknowledges that the members of the church are gentiles and that he has made a special covenant with Jehovah. We don’t have any specifics as to the covenant. However, I believe it will become clear what that covenant likely was.

On March 29th, two days after the dedicatory prayer, Joseph requested that the leadership of the church meet at the temple and fast through the day and night. They then spent the day in prayer, partook of the sacrament, and then proceeded to wash each other’s feet. Previously, the ritual of washing of feet was administered in 1832 prior to admittance in the School of the Prophets. This was requested by God in D&C 88 and was, according to Joseph, a way to cleanse them and purify them for the instruction which they were to receive. Joseph mentioned:

Soon after this, the word of the Lord came to us through Presdt. J. Smith jun that those who had entered the holy place must not leave the house untill morning … and also, that during our stay we must cleans ourt 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.

Joseph Smith – March 29th, 1836

On March 30th, Joseph requested that all the leadership along with all the men, in any priesthood capacity, met at the temple. These men, who numbered about 300, then also partook of the sacrament and were ritually cleansed through the washing of their feet. The record for the day states Joseph as saying:

I 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 is a year of Jubilee to us and a time of rejoicing … messengers were dispatched for bread and wine; tubs water and towels were prepared <​and​> I called the house to order, and the presidency proceeded to wash the feet of the 12 … The brethren continued exhorting, prophesying and speaking in tongues until 5 o clock in the morning— the Saviour made his appearance to some, while angels minestered unto others, and it was a penticost and enduement indeed …  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.

Joseph Smith – March 30th, 1836

That day was marked as a literal fulfillment of Joseph’s previous statement that those that purified themselves would see the Savior. This was certainly a special day for many and a day they wouldn’t forget. It is also very important to remember that Joseph denoted 1836 as a year of Jubilee. This is a very important year in the Jewish calendar and signifies a release from bondage. The full importance of this statement will be shown shortly. The divine manifestations though seem to not have been very widespread as Joseph had hoped. There certainly were some manifestations, however from the contemporary accounts we have, these manifestations were limited to a handful of individuals. It seems it certainly wasn’t the turning point in the church which Joseph had hoped for.

On April 3rd, 1836, Joseph concluded the dedicatory week with another meeting in the Kirtland temple with about 1000 people. In this meeting talks were given and then the sacrament was administered. At the conclusion Joseph and Oliver separated themselves to an inner section of the temple, away from the main group, and then silently prayed. The record then reflects that Christ, Moses, and Elijah appeared to Joseph and Oliver giving them instruction. This is canonized today as D&C 110.

At the conclusion of the vision, Joseph appears to have instructed Warren Cowdery, who was the scribe at the time, to write the vision and then Joseph doesn’t have another thing written for about two years. It would seem to us today that after the vision Joseph would immediately tell everyone about the miraculous occurrence, yet he doesn’t. Joseph tells no one of the vision and it is not even made public until November 6th, 1852, in the Deseret News. This of course doesn’t make any sense, unless the vision doesn’t mean what we were told that it does. It is also very troubling since a lot of LDS theology rests on the assumptions that are made about the vision itself.

Sin Offering

It may seem unrelated, however, to consider the importance of the vision in the Kirtland temple, we first must understand a sin offering in the Law of Moses. In the Law of Moses, prior to a sin offering Moses, Aaron, and the priests were required to ritually cleanse themselves for seven days and then on the eighth day they were commanded to perform the offering for sin. This today is known as Yom Kippur and is considered the holiest day in the Jewish year. It is a time of repentance and reconciliation and a time to realign with God.

On the 8th day of this ritual, Aaron was then to take two young goats and sacrifice them for the sins of the people. One was to be offered as a sacrifice to God while the other was to symbolically be given the sins of the people and then taken to the wilderness to carry the sins away. The record we have in Leviticus is certainly filled with a lot of rituals. However, Moses made it clear to Aaron when he said, when speaking about the atonement performed on the eighth day:

For today the LORD will appear unto you

Leviticus 9:4

When looking at the Kirtland Temple dedication and comparing it with a sin offering in the Law of Moses, several important things seem to stand out. The similarities further reinforce the idea that there is an unmistakable link between the Law of Moses and the dedication of the Kirtland temple:

  1. The first similarity would naturally be the seven-day period of ritual purification. Joseph ritually purified the church leadership while Moses purified Aaron and his sons.
  2. The second would be that in both cases an offering was made on the 8th day and was accepted by God through a visible manifestation of his glory or presence. In Leviticus it describes how God would accept the offerings through a pillar of fire or a cloud of smoke. In Joseph’s case it was accepted through a visual manifestation.
  3. The third similarity would be that the dedicatory week for the Kirtland temple was the same week as the Passover in the Jewish calendar in 1836. This is significant because Passover represents the freedom from oppression that the Jewish people were under in Egypt. This could naturally be generalized to be freedom from any kind of bondage whether spiritual or physical.
  4. The fourth similarity is that Easter in 1836 falls on the 8th day of the temple dedicatory week which happened to be April 3rd, 1836. As was mentioned this is the day when Joseph and Oliver experienced their vision. While Easter is certainly not a Jewish holiday, it however represents the resurrection of Christ and the atonement he made for all people. It would naturally represent the culmination of everything that Christ wanted to give his people.
  5. The fifth and final piece would be that Joseph mentioned 1836 as a year of jubilee. In the Jewish calendar ever 50th year is a jubilee year and is signified by a release of all debts and bondage. This special year began by sounding “a trumpet-blast of liberty” from a shofar on the Day of Atonement.

The Day of Atonement in the Law of Moses and the Kirtland temple dedication seem to share many similarities. This makes it seem much more likely that these similarities were intentional in order to signify the continuing work of God and his use of divine patterns. The scriptures themselves are examples of God’s divine pattern repeating itself over and over. The Kirtland temple dedication seems to me another example of this Atonement pattern repeating in modern times.


After understanding the importance of the Day of Atonement in the Law of Moses, I think the importance of the Kirtland temple and the vision itself will become clearer. The vision is also very important for what it says and what it doesn’t say. As was mentioned previously, there is some misunderstanding regarding the vision and a lot of assumptions based on these misunderstandings.

The vision begins with a description of Christ standing upon a structure of gold by stating, “under his feet was a paved work of pure gold“. This is significant from the fact that Moses was told by God, “I will commune with thee from above the mercy seat“. The mercy seat itself was a covering of gold that would seal up the ark of the covenant and was very important to the Day of Atonement discussed about previously. Therefore, in both cases is God speaking with his prophet from a mercy seat like representation which was critical to atone for the sins of the people.

The next important point is that Joseph was told that his sins were forgiven, and he was clean before God, and should rejoice. This of course is another match to the Day of Atonement concept as the entire day was focused on the forgiveness of sins. In addition, God mentions that people who built the Kirtland temple should rejoice. As was looked at previously, the Kirtland temple was instrumental to the work of God and so it was pleasing to God that it was finally complete and dedicated to him.

God then tells Joseph and Oliver that he has accepted the Kirtland temple as his own and his name “shall be here“. God also mentions that he “will manifest myself to my people in mercy in this house“. This is a future tense and implies actions that will happen in the future. As we know today, the early church quickly fell into complicated times with the Kirtland Safety Society issues and the Mormon Missouri War. Therefore, it is safe to say that all this language is still in the future.

The next key consideration is that God references the endowment, which took place a few days prior, in the Kirtland temple and then mentions a future endowment of spiritual power. Today we get confused because the word ‘endowment’ in Mormonism means something totally different today than it did in the past. The endowment God is referring to is a spiritual gift not a set of instructions. If all God wanted to give was a set of instructions, then he would likely do it through a written revelation. This later part though was actually removed from the text when it was published. This is likely because Brigham no longer controlled the Kirtland temple and therefore didn’t want future prophecies of God using it to be public. The full text reads:

Yea the hearts of thousands and tens of thousands shall greatly rejoice in consequence of the blessings which shall be poured out, and the endowment with which my servants have already been endowed and shall hereafter be endowed in this house

D&C 110:9Revelation

This again is a future work of God. We have no records of a day of Pentecost type experience after March 30th, 1836. This certainly could be because no one mentioned anything or wrote anything down. However, we do know that after the Kirtland temple dedication the church went from one self-made crisis to another. This ultimately culminated in Joseph surrendering himself to the authorities to avoid what could have been an actual war of extermination in which the church would have been annihilated. This was not the deliverance that God had promised would happen on September 11th, 1836, because the church showed that they were not ready for it.

The last important thing that Christ mentions in his vision is that the fame of the Kirtland temple will “spread to foreign lands“. This of course is a bit general and could be fulfilled by the current LDS missionary efforts of just mentioning the building in a few random foreign countries. However, I seriously doubt this is what God meant. He didn’t mean that a random family here and there would speak of the Kirtland temple. He meant that the building would be known globally as the house of God. This is most certainly a future prophecy. Today the Kirtland temple is essentially just a visitors’ center, however in the future it will be a center of God’s power.

The vision of Christ then closed, and they were greeted with a visitation from Moses who gave them the “keys of the gathering of Israel“. This is very significant, because about one year later Joseph began foreign missions. He recognized that the people in America had rejected the fulness and so started gathering people from remote areas in order to keep the roots of the tree alive. Very interestingly this is exactly what Jacob 5 said would happen. Joseph knew this was the correct course of action because of a June 4th, 1837, statement which reads:

No quorum in the Church was entirely exempt from the influence of those false spirits who are striving against me for the mastery; even some of the Twelve were so far lost to their high and responsible calling, as to begin to take sides, secretly, with the enemy. In this state of things, … God revealed to me that something new must be done for the salvation of His Church.

Joseph Smith – June 4th, 1837

The church had been highly favored of the Lord; however, they now were attempting to become highly favored in Babylon instead. This of course wasn’t what God wanted for his people. However, God always allows people to go their own way, even if it is to their ultimate destruction.

At this point Elias then appeared and committed to Joseph and Oliver the “dispensation of the gospel of Abraham“. We don’t know much about this Elias since Elias is simply a Greek version of the name Elijah. However, it is also used at times as a title to signify someone who prepares. It is very important though to note that Elias signified they were in the dispensation of Abraham, which was a preparatory dispensation. Their sins had been forgiven and they were accepted by God. However, by the actions of the church they signified they were not ready for anything more.

The vision of Elias then closed, and they were blessed with another vision, this time from Elijah. In this vision Elijah mentions that he is fulfilling a prophecy from Malachi and that Joseph and Oliver have the keys of the current dispensation. In the LDS church today, we construe this to mean all sorts of things that it doesn’t say. All it says is that Elijah fulfilled a prophecy and Joseph and Oliver had keys to the current dispensation. According to the previous vision, we know that the current dispensation was the gospel of Abraham. As was mentioned previously, the gospel of Abraham was a preparatory gospel, it was not the fulness which they previously had since the fulness had been rejected.

As was mentioned previously, the vision was recorded and then Joseph didn’t direct anything to be written in his journal for about two years. This is incredibly strange if the vision was the grand and glorious fulfillment of everything Joseph had worked for, which the LDS church believes the vision is today. The only logical conclusion to me is that the vision was a sign of divine acceptance and mercy, yet it was still a downgrade to the church. God is very serious that when he accepts a people, then they need to be his people and not the people of Babylon. He expects a committed relationship and in turn he will commit to his people.


It frankly is a marvel that the young church was able to build the Kirtland temple. I can’t imagine the hardships and persecution they were under while also trying to fulfill the commandments of God. However, it is clear that at least at the start they failed to understand the true importance of the temple and its future status in the work of God. It is also clear that the church had the fulness of God however were unable to live up to it. This resulted in the divinely appointed date of September 11th, 1836, to come and go with nothing more than a mark in a history book. If the church had lived up to their side of the bargain, then the entire history of the LDS church would be different today.

This honestly may seem a little radical however this is exactly what was mentioned by God in the revelations to Joseph. God wanted to redeem his church; however, his people were not ready for that, so he left them to their own devices. Through the work and intercession of Joseph, he was able to mediate a Day of Atonement for the church however there still needed to be a reconciliation. The church could avoid the divine punishment, but it still needed to qualify for the blessings of God. Interestingly this is exactly what God said would happen. An incredibly pertinent part of Book of Commandments Chapter 4, which today is D&C 5, was removed. However, it describes exactly how God would operate with his church. It reads:

And thus, if the people of this generation harden not their hearts, I will work a reformation among them, .. and I will establish my church like unto the church which was taught by my disciples in the days of old.

And now if this generation do harden their hearts against my word, behold I will deliver them up unto Satan

Book of Commandments 4

The church was turned over to Satan, however the church was mercifully allowed to come back into God’s presence when they were ready to try again. We are no different today. Sometimes it feels like one step forward and two steps backwards. However, as we get spiritually stronger, with God’s help, then it turns into two steps forward and one step back.

The Kirtland temple still holds an important place in the future work of God, if we are to believe his revelations. We must not take this lightly and understand that God’s future work will involve the Kirtland temple to a substantial degree. I think this is very exciting and I can understand why it was vital for the early church to build it and dedicate it to God’s work. I look forward to the time when God’s people again can have a day of Pentecost and the true endowment of power in the only divinely accepted house of God, the Kirtland temple.

Author: Patrick