New Testament Lesson 13 (Matthew 15:21—17:9)
JESUS PROMISES PRIESTHOOD KEYS
On this occasion, Jesus took the Twelve with Him to a secluded location at Caesarea Philippi, where they discussed their recent mission experiences and other interactions with the public. “Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?” He asked them (v. 13). This was not because He was curious about others were saying, but because He wanted them to express their own witnesses of His true identity. After hearing their reports, He asked them directly, “But whom say ye that I am?” (v. 15).
Upon this Rock I Will Build My Kingdom
● The question was directed to all twelve of them (Matthew 16:13–15), but only Simon Peter responded to the question, which he did with a testimony: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16).
● Jesus blessed Simon Peter for his response and pointed out that “flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven” (v. 17). Peter had received his witness through prayer from God the Father.
● It was that principle—revelation—that drew forth Jesus’ teachings on the “rock” of revelation (Matthew 16:17–18).
— He gave Simon a new name—Petros—a masculine noun meaning “a small rock.”
— He said he would build His Church on the Petra of revelation—a feminine noun meaning ‘bedrock.”
— The Prophet Joseph Smith said: “Jesus in His teaching says, Upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. What rock? Revelation.”1
● With revelation, the Savior said His Church’s keys and influence will be stronger than the “Gates of Hell” (v. 18).
— In Jewish culture the “Gates of Hell” referred to place where spirits go at death.
— Thus, these keys would have authority and effect even beyond the veil of death.
The Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven
● This interpretation is bolstered by the Savior’s statement that they would receive the power to “seal on earth and in heaven” (Matthew 16:19).
● President Harold B. Lee said, “In other words, Peter, holding the keys of the kingdom, was as much the president of the high priesthood in his day as Joseph Smith and his successors, to whom also these ‘keys’ were given in our day, are the presidents of the high priesthood, and the earthly heads of the Church and kingdom of God on the earth.”2
What Are Keys?
● President Joseph F. Smith said, “The priesthood in general is the authority given to man to act for God. Every man ordained to any degree of the priesthood, has this authority delegated to him. But it is necessary that every act performed under this authority shall be done at the proper time and place, in the proper way, and after the proper order. The power of directing these labors constitutes the keys of the priesthood. In their fulness, the keys are held by only one person at a time, the prophet and president of the Church. He may delegate any portion of this power to another, in which case that person holds the keys of that particular labor.”3
● Eder Bruce R. McConkie said, “These keys include the sealing power, that is, the power to bind and seal on earth, in the Lord’s name and by his authorization, and to have the act ratified in heaven. Thus if Peter performed baptism by the authority of the sealing power here promised him, that ordinance would be of full force and validity when the person for whom it was performed went into the eternal worlds, and it would then admit him to the celestial heaven. Again, if Peter used these sealing keys to perform a marriage, then those so united in eternal marriage would continue as husband and wife forever. When they attained their future heaven, they would find themselves bound together in the family unit the same as they were on earth.”4
● Jesus predicted his own death and resurrection (Matthew 16:21–23).
— Notice that the supposed “rock” Peter is here called “Satan.”
● Jesus challenged the disciples to “Take up [your] cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24–28). The JST version says, “For a man to take up his cross, is to deny himself all ungodliness, and every worldly lust, and keep my commandments” (JST Matthew 16:26).
THE TRANSFIGURATION OF CHRIST
The First Presidency Is Selected
● About one week later, Peter, James, and John received special privileges and keys when Jesus took them up upon the Mount of Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1).
— Elder Joseph Fielding Smith said, “In the days of Christ’s ministry he called the first Apostles who were ever ordained to that office so far as we have any knowledge. He conferred upon them all the power and authority of the priesthood. He also appointed three of these Twelve to take the keys of presidency. Peter, James, and John, acted as the First Presidency of the Church in their day.”5
— Elder Bruce R. McConkie said, “From other sources we know that Peter, James, and John were the preeminent three, and were in fact the First Presidency of the Church in that day, although we have no way of knowing whether they served as a separate quorum apart from the others of the Twelve as is the case today. They may well have done, since ‘the keys of the kingdom’ that they restored in this dispensation ‘belong always unto the Presidency of the high priesthood’ (D&C 81:2) meaning they are always, in all dispensations, held by the First Presidency of the Church.”6
— Elder McConkie also taught:
“They alone witnessed the raising of Jairus’ daughter from the dead. (Mark 5:22–24,35–43). They alone beheld the glory and majesty of the trans-figured Jesus; they alone received from him, and from Moses and Elijah the keys of the kingdom, being prohibited from so much as telling the others of the Twelve of these transcendent events until after our Lord’s resurrection. They alone were taken to a spot in Gethsemane where they could behold his agony as he took upon himself the sins of the world. (Mark 14:32–42). They were the ones who came to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery in this dispensation to confer priesthood and keys. (D&C 27:12–13; 128:20).
“Why always these three and not various ones or even all of the Twelve. The plain fact is that Peter, James, and John were the First Presidency of the Church in their day. . . . By latter-day revelation we know that they held and restored ‘the keys of the kingdom, which belong always unto the Presidency of the high priesthood’ (D&C 81:2), or in other words, they were the First Presidency in their day.”7
The Actual Transfiguration
● Jesus took Peter, James, and John to a high mountain (Matthew 17:1–2).
— Transfiguration is a temporary change in a person’s physical appearance and nature, from a lower to a higher state, brought about by the power of God.
— Jesus’ countenance changed, and His face and clothing became brilliantly white.
— Transfiguration is made possible through the Holy Ghost (Moses 1:11).
— The Prophet Joseph Smith said, “Many have supposed that the doctrine of translation was a doctrine whereby men were taken immediately into the presence of God, and into an eternal fullness, but this is a mistaken idea. Their place of habitation is that of the terrestrial order, and a place prepared for such characters He held in reserve to be ministering angels unto many planets, and who as yet have not entered into so great a fullness as those who are resurrected from the dead.”8
— Elder Bruce R. McConkie said, “Transfiguration is a special change in appearance and nature which is wrought upon a person or thing by the power of God. This divine transformation is from a lower to a higher state; it results in a more exalted, impressive, and glorious condition.”9
Location of the Transfiguration
● The site of the Transfiguration is not known for certain; traditionally, Mount Tabor (in Galilee) and Mount Hermon (in Syria) have been suggested.
● The Mount of Transfiguration experience is one of the most profound and significant events in all of the New Testament, yet little is known about it by those outside the Church and even by many of our own members.
The Purposes of the Transfiguration
● Elder Bruce R. McConkie said, “Until men attain a higher status of spiritual understanding than they now enjoy, they can learn only in part what took place upon the Mount of Transfiguration.”10
● Jesus was transfigured (Matthew 17:2).
● The three apostles also saw in vision the transfiguration of the earth at the Savior’s Second Coming (D&C 63:20–21). The Prophet Joseph Smith said: “They saw the glory of the Lord when he showed the transfiguration of the earth on the mount.”11
● The three Apostles were also “transfigured before [Christ].”12
— Transfiguration is necessary for mortals to behold the glory of God (D&C 67:11–12).
● They were taught about the Savior’s death and resurrection (JST Luke 9:31).
Moses and Elijah Appear
● Peter, James, and John received from Jesus, Moses, and Elijah the priesthood keys they would need to govern the Church after the Savior’s death.
● The bible says Moses and “Elias” appeared (Matthew 17:3–4).
— As used here “Elias” is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew name Elijah.
— In some other scriptural passages, Elias is used as a title describing someone as a forerunner, or preparer (Matthew 17:10–13).
● Why Moses and Elijah? (Matthew 17:3). Elder Bruce R. McConkie said, “Moses, the great prophet-statesman whose name symbolized the law, and Elijah the Tishbite, a prophet of so great fame that his name had come to typify and symbolize the collective wisdom and insight of all the prophets. Moses held the keys of the gathering of Israel and the leading of the ten tribes from the land of the north; Elijah, the keys of the sealing power. These are the keys which they conferred upon Peter, James, and John upon the mount, and which they also conferred upon Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery in the Kirtland Temple nearly two thousand years later . . . Both of them were translated beings and had bodies of flesh and bones, a status they apparently enjoyed so that they could confer keys upon mortal men.”13
Other Important Events at the Transfiguration
● Peter suggested that they build three tabernacles (Matthew 17:4). Why did he want to build them? In commemoration of the sacred events that had transpired there, where they “received priesthood keys from the Savior, Moses, and Elias on the Mount of Transfiguration.”14
● A glorious cloud came over them and God bore witness of his Son (Matthew 17:5). The Father has done this on several other occasions:
— At Jesus’ baptism.
— At Jesus’ appearance to the Nephites.
— At Joseph Smith’s first vision.
● Peter later gave an eyewitness testimony of the Transfiguration (2 Peter 1:16–18).
● Elder David B. Haight said, [Jesus’ Transfiguration] “was meant for our spiritual enlightenment as well as for those who were personal witnesses.”15
PRIESTHOOD KEYS IN OUR DAY
A Pattern of Restoration for Priesthood Keys
● There was a similar appearance of Moses and Elijah in our day (D&C 110:11–16).
● Peter, James and John restored their keys to the Prophet Joseph Smith (D&C 27:12–13).
The Keys of the Kingdom Today
● The same power remains with us on the earth today (D&C 128:9; 132:7, 13, 46). President Wilford Woodruff said: “Various priesthood keys were held by Adam, Noah, the heads of gospel dispensations, and other mighty prophets. President Wilford Woodruff said that Joseph Smith told the Twelve Apostles that he had sealed upon them all keys, rights, authorities, and sealing powers.”16
● The Twelve Apostles have the keys of the Kingdom (D&C 112:16–19).
● Anyone sent by the Apostles is also an apostolic witness (D&C 112:21–22). This is a very select group:
— General authorities.
● While all of the Apostles are prophets who hold all the keys of the kingdom, only the President of the Church, who is the senior living Apostle, may use these keys or authorize others to use them on behalf of the entire Church (D&C 28:1–7; 132:7).
● Leadership for the Lord’s Church was explained in this revelation (D&C 107:21–27).
● The special calling of Apostles is distinct from all other church callings (D&C 107:23–24, 33–35, 58).
● There is a clear and public procedure by which a prophet is chosen (D&C 43:2–3, 7, 11).
● The Prophet Joseph Smith wrote to the Apostles while he was incarcerated at Liberty Jail, on January 16, 1839: “It will be necessary for you to get the Twelve together, ordain such as have not been ordained . . . and proceed to regulate the Elders as the Lord may give you wisdom.” He then wrote a “P.S.” at the bottom of the letter which said, “Appoint the oldest of those of the Twelve, [meaning those] who were first appointed, to be the president of your quorum.” Agreeable to the instruction contained in the post-script of this letter, President Brigham Young was sustained by the Apostles as president of their quorum.”17
— Elder Joseph Fielding Smith explained, “There is no mystery about the choosing of the successor to the President of the Church. The Lord settled this a long time ago, and the senior Apostle automatically becomes the presiding officer of the Church, and he is so sustained by the council of the Twelve which becomes the presiding body of the Church when there is no First Presidency. The president is not elected, but he has to be sustained both by his brethren of the council and by the members of the Church.”18
1. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Elder Joseph Fielding Smith , 274.
2. In Conference Report, Oct. 1953, 25.
3. Gospel Doctrine, 5th ed. , 136.
4. Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed. , 615–616; also in Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3 vols. [1966–73], 1:389–390.
5. Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Elder Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols. [1954–56], 3:152.
6. The Mortal Messiah: From Bethlehem to Calvary, 4 vols. [1979–81], 2:104–105.
7. Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 1:401–402.
8. History of the Church, 4:210.
9. Mormon Doctrine, 803.
10. Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 1:399.
11. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 13.
12. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 158.
13. Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 1:402–403.
14. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 158.
15. In Conference Report, Apr. 1977, 8; or Ensign, May 1977, 7.
16. The Discourses of President Wilford Woodruff, sel. G. Homer Durham , 71–73.
17. Elder Orson F. Whitney, Life of Heber C. Kimball , 237–239.
18. Doctrines of Salvation, 3:156.