Seeing the Face of God in the Temple – Part 1

The Israelite high priest sees God face-to-face upon the Ark of the Covenant

The Israelite high priest sees God face-to-face upon the Ark of the Covenant

The Doctrine and Covenants section 93 verse 1 reads:

Verily, thus saith the Lord: It shall come to pass 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)

This superlative promise was one of the foundations of Joseph Smith’s restoration, and whose revelations repeated throughout his calling as God’s prophet:  

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)

Furthermore, the promise is extended particularly to those who come into the temple:

And inasmuch as my people build a house unto me in the name of the Lord, and do not suffer any unclean thing to come into it, that it be not defiled, my glory shall rest upon it;

Yea, and my presence shall be there, for I will come into it, and all the pure in heart that shall come into it shall see God. (D&C 97:15–16)

LDS scholar Richard L. Bushman, in his extraordinary biography of the prophet, noted that a personal theophany was one of Joseph’s most important goals for the Saints.  Indeed, the “endowment,” as the early Saints understood it, involved seeing God:

In the temple, the long awaited endowment of power was to take place.  Joseph hoped his Saints would face God as Moses’ people never could.1

Oliver Cowdery told the Twelve, when they were ordained in February 1835, that they were “not to go to other nations till you receive your endowments.”  Because they had not known Jesus in mortality, these modern apostles had to know Him by revelation. “Never cease striving until you have seen God face to face,” Cowdery told them.2

Joseph once taught this as key to the endowment:

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 Savior, will see him in the solemn assembly.3

Methodist biblical scholar Margaret Barker has recently shown that seeing God face-to-face was one of the original purposes of the temple in ancient Israel during the First Temple period (Solomon’s Temple) and before4.  The heavenly ascent to the throne through the temple was rewarded by a face-to-face meeting with God, a fact that was later suppressed and edited from the Bible by a group known as the Deuteronomists.  Indeed, the Bible is correct “as far as it is translated correctly”5.

But what does it mean to see God face-to-face, or to see the face of God, or to even “be in God’s presence” when we go to the temple?  Should we expect to see God physically with our eyes when we attend the temple?  While this may be one of the meanings of the phrase, I believe there are several ways we may interpret this, and which may help to give us a fuller understanding of our temple experience.

Here is a short list of possible interpretations of seeing the face of God:

  • Literally seeing God’s face, even our face before His face (face-to-face), with our physical eyes and senses
  • Spiritually seeing God, through revelation and with our spiritual eyes
  • Coming to a greater knowledge of God and his divine nature, being, and plan
  • Seeing ourself, as heirs of God, becoming like Him
  • Seeing our brothers and sisters, also as heirs of God, becoming like Him

I will attempt to go into more detail about each of these, and there is some overlap.  This will be a series of posts, this first article focusing on the first point of literally seeing God, the Father and/or His Son, Jesus Christ.

Literally Seeing

This is perhaps our first and foremost interpretation of what it means to see God face-to-face, or to be in His presence.  One of the inaugural events of the restoration of the Gospel in these latter days was the vision of God the Father and God the Son, Jesus Christ, to the boy Joseph Smith.  He testified:

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! (Joseph SmithHistory 1:17)

Later Joseph said,

I had actually seen a light, and in the midst of that light I saw two Personages, and they did in reality speak to me; (Joseph SmithHistory 1:25)

It could be said that Joseph’s purpose ever after this event was to help others, the Saints, have the same revelation.  It was to bring them back into God’s presence, and to see Him.  This was what the temple was to provide, and it did and has so provided.

John Murdock recorded his experience at a prayer meeting with Joseph:

During the winter of 1833 we had a number of prayer meetings in the Prophet’s chamber.  In one of those meetings the Prophet told us, if we could humble ourselves before God, and exercise strong faith, we should see the face of the Lord.  And about midday, the visions of my mind were opened, and the eyes of my understanding were enlightened, and I saw the form of a man, most lovely.  The visage of his face was sound and fair as the sun.  His hair a bright silver grey, curled in most majestic form, His eyes a keen penetrating blue, and the skin of his neck a most beautiful white.  And He was covered from neck to the feet with a loose garment, pure white, whiter than any garment I have ever before seen.  His countenance was most penetrating, and yet most lovely.. And while I was endeavoring to comprehend the whole personage from head to feet, it slipped from me.  But it left on my mind the impression of love, for months, that I never felt before to that degree.6

In January of 1836, a few months before the dedication of the Kirtland temple, Joseph recorded a vision while in the temple:

The heavens were opened upon us, and I beheld the celestial kingdom of God, and the glory thereof, whether in the body or out I cannot tell… Also the blazing throne of God, whereon was seated the Father and the Son. (D&C 137:1, 3)

Several other early members of the Church  recorded that they saw Christ in the temple on that occasion:

The Bishop of Missouri, Edward Partridge, wrote that “a number saw visions & others were blessed with the outpouring of the Holy Ghost.  The vision of heaven was opened to these also, some of them saw the face of the Saviour, and others were ministered unto by holy angels.”7

On another occasion, Zebedee Coltrin, one of the presidents of the seventy, related this experience as recorded by Wilford Woodruff:

Zebedee Coltrin related a vision in the temple in Kirtland after the School of the Prophets was organized. He said while sitting in council, a personage passed through the room dressed in usual clothing. Joseph said that was the Savior. Soon another personage passed through the house clothed in fire His features and feet were visible, but his body was wrapped in flames. Joseph said that was God the Father8

At the dedication of the Kirtland Temple, Edward Partridge recorded testimonies:

On the first day of the dedication, President Frederick G. Williams, one of the Counselors to 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, and that he saw him, and gave a description of his clothing and all things pertaining to it.9

Shortly after the dedication of the temple, the Saints received their endowment.  Joseph wrote,

The Saviour made his appearance to some, while angels ministered unto others, and it was a penticost and 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 hande[d] down upon the pages of sacred history to all generations, as the day of Pentecost.10

A few days later, Joseph and Oliver Cowdery received another vision in the temple:

The veil was taken from our minds, and the eyes of our understanding were opened.

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 110:1–4)

In the same vision the Lord promised his Saints:

For behold, I have accepted this house, and my name shall be here; and I will manifest myself to my people in mercy in this house.

Yea, I will appear unto my servants, and speak unto them with mine own voice, if my people will keep my commandments, and do not pollute this holy house. (D&C 110:7–8)

Many years later, on the day of the death of President Wilford Woodruff in 1898, Lorenzo Snow was in the Salt Lake Temple, seeking guidance from the Lord.  This account comes from the Improvement Era:

Passing through the Celestial room and out into the large corridor a glorious manifestation was given President Snow which I relate in the words of his grand-daughter, Allie Young Pond, now the wife of Elder Noah S. Pond, recently president of the Northern States Mission:

“One evening while I was visiting grandpa Snow in his room in the Salt Lake Temple, I remained until the door keepers had gone and the night-watchmen had not yet come in, so grand-pa said he would take me to the main front entrance and let me out that way. He got his bunch of keys from his dresser. 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 grand-pa when he stopped me and said: ‘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. He instructed me to go right ahead and reorganize the First Presidency of the Church at once and not wait as had been done after the death of the previous presidents, and that I was to succeed President Woodruff.’

“Then grand-pa 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.’

“Grand-pa 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 he came another step nearer and put his right hand on my head and said: ‘Now, grand-daughter, I want you to remember that this is the testimony of your grand-father, 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.’”11

So can the Saints literally see God in the temple?  The answer is, absolutely.  As promised in D&C 93:1, D&C 88:68, and D&C 97:15–16, the Lord promises to manifest himself to us.  Joseph recorded a few years later:

When the Savior shall appear we shall see him as he is. We shall see that he is a man like ourselves.

John 14:23The appearing of the Father and the 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 130:1, 3)

Is it a common occurrence?  Probably not.  The early Saints had to prepare themselves substantially before such a manifestation was given them.  In today’s parlance we might say that it is upon making one’s calling and election sure, receiving the more sure word of prophecy, and the Second Comforter, that such a revelation could take place in the temple.  But it is certainly not unheard of, and it was one of the primary reasons the temple was restored in latter days.  It is precisely what Joseph desired for the Saints in building the temple.

It is curious that we do not discuss this aspect of the temple more often today.  We often teach that the temple is where we can go to be in God’s presence, and to feel His Spirit, but not necessarily to see His face.  What are your thoughts about that?  Please share with us in the comments below.

(Continued in Part 2)

Notes:
  1. Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling, 217. []
  2. Ibid., 308. []
  3. DHC VII p. 308-310 []
  4. Margaret Barker, Temple Themes in Christian Worship, 146-49 []
  5. Article of Faith 8. []
  6. An abridged Record of  the Life of John Murdock, p. 23, Church Archives []
  7. Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling, 313 []
  8. The Journal of Wilford Woodruff, October 11, 1883 []
  9. JD 11:10 []
  10. Ibid., 318 []
  11. LeRoi C. Snow, “An Experience of My Father’s,” Improvement Era, September 1933. []

23 Comments

  1. Cache
    Posted April 10, 2011 at 10:33 pm | Permalink

    I remember hearing about the ceremony in the temple of receiving the Second Comforter. Members are invited to the temple to have some one-on-one time with the savior. The frequency of this ordinance is unknown, but wouldn’t be too surprising if several people in a stake had received it.

    Also, the First Vision wasn’t made public until the saints were in Nauvoo. Parley P. Pratt printed the account in England, which got back to the States. Joseph Smith then confirmed the account to the church.
    I believe the reason why we don’t hear of the prophets’ personal accounts with the Savior is because they are very sacred, very personal experiences. A prophet might choose to share these experiences with close friends or family, such as the Quorum of the Twelve, or a young granddaughter.

  2. Cache
    Posted April 10, 2011 at 10:34 pm | Permalink

    If anyone has any references to the examples I just gave, I would love to have them.

  3. DavidC
    Posted April 10, 2011 at 10:56 pm | Permalink

    I think some of your examples demonstrate that seeing the face of the Savior is not the same thing as making your calling and election sure.

  4. Posted April 10, 2011 at 11:18 pm | Permalink

    Cache, I wrote a post once about the culminating sealing ordinance of the temple. Here is a link:
    http://www.templestudy.com/2008/03/25/the-culminating-sealing-ordinance-of-the-temple/

  5. Posted April 11, 2011 at 1:03 am | Permalink

    Another great post, Bryce! This topic has been on my mind a lot lately and I consider this information coming to me right now as a great blessing, personally. Thank you for your efforts.

  6. Posted April 11, 2011 at 6:37 am | Permalink

    You’re welcome Steve. I’m glad it was useful. Hopefully the other installments will be likewise.

  7. Raven
    Posted April 11, 2011 at 8:03 am | Permalink

    I find this topic fascinating for many reasons, but one of them is that this is definitely the kind of experience that we don’t hear much about anymore in the Church. I agree with Cache that part of the reason for this is the sacred nature of such experiences. But I also think that our modern minds have become cynical and quick to mock. What would our reaction be if we did hear from someone close to us that they had seen the face of God, or of Christ? And was the sharing of such experiences a necessary part of early Church life? Was this something the early saints needed to strengthen them as they pioneered this new faith and sacrificed so much to live it? I think we need more reminders (like this post) that coming face to face with God is not an false promise. It is something very real and very possible.

  8. Posted April 11, 2011 at 9:19 am | Permalink

    Great post, Bryce! I am planning to speak about this very subject, but in relation to Solomon’s Temple, at the Expound Symposium on May 14th. I believe that “seeing the face of the Lord” was one of the key paradigms of the pre-exilic ritual system of the First Temple. I see as evidence of this a number of the Psalms and other scriptures that describe the appearance of the Lord as the climax of the principal cultic ceremonies. Although this idea is later obscured, in earlier tradition there was often the expectation that the Lord would appear in his sanctuary, and I see temple visions such as Isa. 6 as reflecting this belief.
    I won’t say more so I don’t totally spoil my presentation!

  9. Posted April 11, 2011 at 9:27 am | Permalink

    Thanks David! I’m looking forward to hearing your presentation! I’m sure it will be great.

  10. Mike
    Posted April 11, 2011 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

    I haven’t yet seen the face of God in the temple but my wife and I have had several experiences where I have felt the presence of disembodied spirits and she has seen them.
    We were workers in the Preston England Temple and while we were officiating, with only the witness couple in attendance, I felt and my wife saw a room full of people!

  11. Kevin Harris
    Posted April 11, 2011 at 7:29 pm | Permalink

    Yes, thank you. This post and your blog are a breath of fresh air. I get tired of people watering down or minimizing the words of the prophets. Instead of trying to justify our lack of spiritual experiences, these scriptures and experiences should motivate us to draw closer to the Lord. The words of Elder Uchtdorf come to mind from this last conference: “Brethren, we are faced with a choice. We can be satisfied with a diminished experience as priesthood bearers and settle for experiences far below our privileges. Or we can partake of an abundant feast of spiritual opportunity and universal priesthood blessings.”

  12. Posted April 11, 2011 at 8:05 pm | Permalink

    Great quote from Pres. Uchtdorf!

  13. Clay Pendleton
    Posted April 12, 2011 at 11:30 am | Permalink

    Yes, I would like to make a comment about a fascinating book that deals with this type of a Temple experence that Joseph wanted us to work towards. The title of the book is called – Fathers. The actual title: The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs. The book was translated over 100 years ago by R.H. Charles who translated many Jewish Apocrypha/Pseudepigrapha books as they were discovered from Hebrew into something like King James style. The book has been updated since into a more modern style writing. The Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs deals with the Testimonies of the Sons of Jacob to their children before they died in Egypt. I found one Testament truly remarkable. The Testament of Levi to his childred before he died. I can see why Jewish scribes and leaders refused to allow early documents such as this one into their cannon due to the distinctinon and separation of Yahua the Son and God the Eternal Father. They would refuse to allow scriptures showing a belief in plural Gods even if it was from – Abraham, Issac, Jacob or the Sons of Jacob. Levi gives his testimony and tells of a type of Temple Ordinance experence he has had with Yahua and refers Yahua as the Messenger sent from God the Eternal One. Yahua, the Messenger, will come and save Israel and the whole human race from death. Yahua has chosen Levi to receive the Priesthood and is taken up to see the 1st, 2nd and 3rd heavens where God the Eternal lives. Yahua clothes Levi into the holy robes of the Priesthood and later testifies of the future events of the House of Israel and it’s Priesthood Temple distruction. He fortells of the Priesthood being given to the Gentiles and this Priesthood will never be taken from the earth until the children of Levi due offer up a sacrifice.

  14. Posted April 12, 2011 at 11:42 am | Permalink

    Thanks for your comment Clay. I’ve written about the Testament of Levi here at TempleStudy. You can read it at this link:
    http://www.templestudy.com/2008/04/30/priestly-initiations-in-the-testament-of-levi/

  15. Posted April 12, 2011 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

    Once again, Bryce, you have written an excellent post. Surely the sacred nature of such experiences, combined with growing attention from outsiders and nonbelievers contribute to the reason we don’t often hear these accounts.

    Thankfully, I have been blessed to hear the witnesses of others who have had meetings such as those in this post. What each of them seem to have in common is a remarkable degree of sacrifice to the Lord’s church in living a consecrated life. Perhaps that is why so many early church members obtained this experience and we don’t seem to.

  16. Posted April 13, 2011 at 8:41 pm | Permalink

    I loved this post — it is uplifting and comforting to know that my feelings about this are not singular. Thank you for putting all these references in one place and not being hesitant to reveal some long lost, but encouraging doctrine in a time when we must seek out these things on our own.

  17. Posted April 14, 2011 at 6:36 pm | Permalink

    Awesome post, I look forward to the next parts. This is a topic that I find very interesting, and I had actually started a thread over at Mormon Dialogue forum about the presence of God in the temple two weeks or so ago. Being in the presence of God has always been an important part of temples, and I love that our latter-day temples have that connection (among others of course) with the ancient temples. And I agree with your last paragraph, that it is frequently said that in the temple we are in the presence of God and can feel His Spirit, but the “face to face” aspect isn’t as prominent.

  18. Joshua Whelpley
    Posted April 18, 2011 at 9:40 pm | Permalink

    A fantastic article. It provides an impetus to attend the Temple as often as possible.

  19. Sylvia
    Posted May 11, 2011 at 5:22 am | Permalink

    I greatly appreciate your insight into this subject! It is well done and I look forward to reading all the installments! :)

    I have always had a deep love and reverence for the temple and am grateful for inspiration and insight into that great gift we have been blessed with. I go as frequently as I can and always feel like I’m coming Home when I go – not just home, but Home!

  20. Brent
    Posted July 17, 2011 at 9:21 pm | Permalink

    Elder McConkie wrote about this as one of the 10 blessings of the priesthood and said that it is more of a right to those who hold the priesthood, magnify their callings, and qualify themselves through righteous living. See http://lds.org/ensign/1977/11/the-ten-blessings-of-the-priesthood?lang=eng
    Besides the great scriptures you’ve mentioned in this article, especially those from the D&C, I’ve always thought that the Savior was also alluding to a personal manifestation in John 14:21 & 23.

  21. Pierrick
    Posted July 20, 2011 at 8:28 am | Permalink

    Thanks again for this wonderful post.
    What I do like about the doctrine of seeing the face of God is that it inspires me to be (more) pure and holy. I want to get rid of all the unclean thoughts and practices in order to qualify for that blessing.

    Speaking to Moses the Lord said :
    EXO 25:22 And there I will meet with thee, and I will commune with thee from
    above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubims which are upon the ark of
    the testimony,

    Nowadays, thanks to the Priesthood, we can comune with the Lord if we meet the requirements cited in D&C . It has not always been this way : we are very blessed people.

  22. Brent
    Posted January 24, 2012 at 7:21 pm | Permalink

    A very inspiring post! Thank you, it brightened my day.

  23. Luke
    Posted April 6, 2012 at 8:51 am | Permalink

    I don’t believe the ordinance of the second endowment is the same as having your calling and election made sure.

    The second endowment is extremely rare and appears to be only offered to those who, at least outwardly, have shown their allegiance to God and His Church through years of faithful service
    and devotion in leadership callings and who are then invited to receive this holy ordinance.

    If they genuinely are all they claim to be and have been invited to receive this sacred ordinance by the First Presidency then they would of course also qualify to have their calling and election sealed upon them through the Second Comforter – to behold the face of the Lord.

    The outward ordinance does not, however, guarantee the receipt of the revelatory confirmation.

    We know this from at least one leader in the UK who apostasized with his wife after being disappointed that he did not see the Saviour in the Preston Temple after receiving the second endowment.

    Like all ordinances of the gospel of Jesus Christ the efficacy of this ordinance depends upon the sincerity and honesty of the recipient.

    Reversely, there are many humble servants of Christ who might not have been outwardly honoured by the Church but who have received the Second Comforter after proving themselves in every aspect of their lives.

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