The Keys of the Aaronic Priesthood

A Sacrament talk given in the Lethbridge First Ward, Lethbridge Alberta Stake on 24 May 2004

by Kim Siever

On 5 April 1829, Oliver Cowdery met Joseph Smith for the first time. Two days later, the two of them began translating the golden plates. About a month and a half following that—on the 15th of May—they came across a passage in the eleventh chapter of 3 Nephi that mentioned baptism for the remission of sins. They desired to know more regarding the passage and the doctrine, so they found a place on the Susquehanna River banks near Harmony, Pennsylvania, and prayed to the Lord for this knowledge and how they could obtain the blessings of baptism for themselves.

When Joseph Smith first approached the Lord in prayer regarding which church to join, the Lord appeared to him. The Lord was the one who gave him instruction and answered his questions. This time, however, rather than appear to the men Himself, He chose to send a resurrected being to visit them. The idea of having a resurrected being serve as the Lord's messenger was not new to Joseph Smith. Moroni appeared to him six years before this and gave him instruction. This time, however, the personage was John the Baptist. This appearance was different from that of Moroni in two ways.

Firstly, John the Baptist was a name with which Joseph Smith was familiar. Joseph's family was a Christian family and Joseph's own decision to consult the Bible for answers to religious confusion implies solidly that he had received previous instruction from it. He would have recognised whom John the Baptist was at the very mention of his name. On the other hand, he did not know who Moroni was. He received no teachings from his parents on Moroni. No minister of any church at the time had taught about Moroni. In essence, Moroni was a complete stranger to Joseph Smith when he appeared to him in his bedroom.

Secondly, Moroni's visits served informational purposes. Moroni's first visit consisted of teaching Joseph Smith about the work God had for him to do. Joseph Smith-History states:

He called me by name, and said unto me that he was a messenger sent from the presence of God to me, and that his name was Moroni; that God had a work for me to do; and that my name should be had for good and evil among all nations, kindreds, and tongues, or that it should be both good and evil spoken of among all people.

He said there was a book deposited, written upon gold plates, giving an account of the former inhabitants of this continent, and the source from whence they sprang. He also said that the fulness of the everlasting Gospel was contained in it, as delivered by the Savior to the ancient inhabitants;

Also, that there were two stones in silver bows-and these stones, fastened to a breastplate, constituted what is called the Urim and Thummim-deposited with the plates; and the possession and use of these stones were what constituted “seers” in ancient or former times; and that God had prepared them for the purpose of translating the book.1

Subsequent visits from Moroni fulfilled the religious instruction Joseph Smith would need before being able to translate the plates.

John the Baptist's visit, conversely, served virtually no informational purpose. Based on Joseph Smith's account, all we know of the visit is that John appeared to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, conferred the Aaronic Priesthood upon them and told them he was acting under the direction of Peter, James and John. He also told them these three would come later to confer the Melchizedek priesthood on them.

In addition to what little counsel they received and the conferral of the Aaronic Priesthood, John instructed Joseph and Oliver to baptise each other. Joseph baptised Oliver, who in turn baptised Joseph. Afterward, they ordained each other to the Aaronic Priesthood. Following this experience, "their minds were enlightened with . . . insight into the meaning of the scriptures."2

Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery certainly received an answer to the question they had; they now understood the scripture that gave them questions. However, they received more than additional knowledge. The priesthood, at least part of it, had now been restored. The authority to act in God's name was again present on earth.

Naturally, having the priesthood is beneficial to us as members of the Church. However, how it is beneficial is not quite as clear as it being beneficial is. What does the Aaronic Priesthood represent?

When he conferred the Aaronic Priesthood on Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, John the Baptist stated:

Upon you my fellow servants, in the name of Messiah, I confer the Priesthood of Aaron, which holds the keys of the ministering of angels, and of the gospel of repentance, and of baptism by immersion for the remission of sins3

It is through this that we benefit from the Aaronic Priesthood.

Repentance is mentioned several times throughout the scriptures. None of us can ever live a sinless life. We all need to repent and have our sins and the effects thereof taken from us. However, what many of us fail to remember or even realise is that repentance precedes baptism.

We cannot decide one day that we would like to be baptised in order to have a clean slate. We cannot decide that we have enough sins stocked up and now we need to start again. Baptism alone does not redeem us of our previous sins.

Mormon taught that in the early church "[none were received] unto baptism save they came forth with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, and witnessed unto the church that they truly repented of all their sins"4. Matthew, Mark and Luke all state John the Baptist taught and performed "baptism of repentance". Nephi taught, "the gate by which ye should enter is repentance and baptism by water; and then cometh a remission of your sins"5. Not only does repentance precede baptism, but it is required for our sins to be remitted.

That being said, there is more to baptism than its redemptive role. Baptism is symbolic. I would go so far as to say it is mostly symbolic, having little, if any, practical value.

When we are truly converted to the gospel of Jesus Christ as the people in King Benjamin's time6, seven things happen.

  1. We gain faith in Jesus Christ
  2. We view ourselves in our carnal state
  3. We gain humility
  4. We come to a knowledge of the goodness, omnipotence, wisdom, patience, and long-suffering of God
  5. We come to a knowledge of the atonement
  6. We desire to be forgiven of our sins
  7. We no longer desire to do evil

After we have progressed through this process, our hearts will have undergone a complete change. Our desire to do evil will be replaced with a greater desire to do good. As a result, we "shall be called the children of Christ, his sons, and his daughters . . . for [our] hearts are changed through faith on his name; therefore, [we] are born of him and . . . become his sons and his daughters"7.

Through baptism, we are born again spiritually, and become children of Christ. Just as we are born physically amidst blood and water, so too are we born spiritually amidst blood and water—water in the baptismal font and the redeeming blood of Jesus we obtained through our repentance.

The first symbol of baptism is rebirth.

Paul taught the second symbol of baptism when he wrote to the Romans:

Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?

Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.

For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection8

The second symbol of baptism, then, is it represents the death, burial and resurrection of the Saviour.

When Alma left King Noah's court, he hid among the common people and taught them Abinadi's message. Eventually, he took his followers to the waters of Mormon to be baptised. Before baptising them, however, he said:

What have you against being baptized in the name of the Lord, as a witness before him that ye have entered into a covenant with him9

When Alma baptized Helam, part of the baptismal prayer was:

I baptize thee . . . as a testimony that ye have entered into a covenant to serve him10

His son Alma taught the Gideonites:

Show unto your God that ye are willing to repent of your sins and enter into a covenant with him to keep his commandments, and witness it unto him this day by going into the waters of baptism.11

The third symbol of baptism is to show that we have entered into a covenant to serve the Lord and keep His commandments.

Baptism then is symbolic of rebirth; the death, burial and resurrection of the Saviour; and the covenants we make to serve God and keep his commandments. We see that baptism is so much more than the remission of sins granted when combined with sincere repentance of our sins; it is so much more than a simple washing away of our sins. In fact, it seems that more of the redemptive value of the "baptism of repentance" comes from the repentance than it does from the ordinance.

Repentance and baptism are intertwined. You cannot have one without the other. Repentance leads us to have a change of heart and covenant to serve God. Baptism is how we publicly show this covenant. God's part of the covenant is to forgive us of our sins and cleanse us. We cannot be baptized without repentance and we cannot complete our change of heart without covenanting with God through baptism.

Since the Aaronic Priesthood is where the ordinance of baptism lies, we are dependent on its restoration to make possible our ability to come unto Christ and covenant with Him.

We notice that in addition to the gospel of repentance and baptism for the remission of sins, John the Baptist's conferral on Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery makes mention of the keys of the ministering of angels. Often we consider this to mean that Aaronic Priesthood holders have the ability to call upon angels or heavenly messengers to come down and intercede on their behalf. I believe it is so much more.

When Nephi's brothers mocked him for trying to build a boat, he said to them:

Ye have seen an angel, and he spake unto you; yea, ye have heard his voice from time to time; and he hath spoken unto you in a still small voice12

In addition to physical manifestations to Lehi's sons, the angel ministered to them at times only with his voice. Paul spoke of "ministering spirits" in Hebrews 1:14. Nephi said, "Angels speak by the power of the Holy Ghost"13.

It seems then that when angels minister to us, it is not similar to Moroni's visit to Joseph Smith. Rather it is through the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit. Most of us, if not all, have received ministrations of this type; we have received promptings and inspiration through the Holy Spirit.

It is difficult for us to have the Spirit if we are not keeping the commandments as we covenanted to do when we were baptized. It is difficult for us to have the Spirit if we do not repent of our sins. We can be spiritually cleansed through baptism and repentance, which then allows us to have the companionship of the Holy Ghost. In addition, as we covenant each week during the Sacrament to take Jesus' name upon us, keep his commandments and remember Him, God promises us to have His Spirit dwell with us. Repentance, baptism and the Sacrament then make our lives appropriate for personal ministration of angels.

So returning back to my original question, how is having the Aaronic Priesthood beneficial to us? Deacons, teachers, priests and bishops—through the ordinances they perform and oversee—make it possible for angels to minister to us. It is through their efforts that we are reminded to cleanse ourselves and recommit to our covenants.

The 15th of May, 1829 was not just a stepping stone to the visit by Peter, James and John. As we study and reflect on the priesthood as a whole, let us be careful not to overlook the vital role the Aaronic Priesthood plays in our life.


Back to top

  1. JS—H 1:33
  2. Church History in the Fulness of Times. Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1993
  3. JS—H 1:69
  4. Moro 6:2
  5. 2 Ne. 31:17
  6. Mosiah 4:2-6;5:2
  7. Mosiah 5:7
  8. Romans 6:3-5
  9. Mosiah 18:10
  10. Mosiah 18:13
  11. Alma 7:15
  12. 1 Ne. 17: 45
  13. 2 Ne. 32:3
Hot pepper clothes