Ministry of Jesus Christ

by Daniel C. Peterson

Christ Calling Peter and Andrew, by James T. Harwood. An important part of Jesus' ministry was the calling of apostles to lead his Church on earth. Latter-day Saints believe that apostles and prophets form a necessary foundation for Christ's Church.

The central role played by Jesus' mortal ministry in Latter-day Saint doctrine and belief is well expressed in Joseph Smith's statement that "the fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it" (TPJS, p. 121; HC 3:30).

Latter-day Saints share with many other Christians the acceptance of the four New Testament gospels and Acts 1:1-11 as essentially accurate historical accounts of the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ. While not biblical inerrantists, their confidence in the biblical record is strengthened in two unique ways: First, they believe specific elements of Christ's earthly ministry to have been revealed beforehand to pre-Christian prophets. These revelations agree with subsequent accounts in the gospels. Second, they believe that the risen Jesus himself has affirmed many details of that biblical account. Thus, the Book of Mormon and other texts of the specifically Latter-day Saint canon are regarded as "proving to the world that the holy scriptures are true" (D&C 20:11; cf. 1 Ne. 13:39).

That God's Son would come to earth and take upon himself a physical body, for example, was foreknown by many prophets (1 Ne. 13:42; Enos 1:8; Mosiah 3:5; Hel. 8:13-22; Ether 3:15-17). The approximate date of his coming was also known (1 Ne. 10:4; 19:8; 2 Ne. 25:19; Hel. 14:2). Several ancient believers were privileged to see him before his mortal advent (2 Ne. 2:4; 11:2; Alma 19:13; Ether 3:14; 9:22; D&C 107:49, 54; Moses 1:2; 7:4; Abr. 2:6-11; cf. Isa. 6:1-3). His name-title, Jesus Christ, (i.e., "Savior Anointed") was known long beforehand, as were the name and virginity of his mother and the place of his birth (1 Ne. 11:13-14, 18-20; 2 Ne. 25:19; Mosiah 3:8; Alma 7:10; Ether 3:14; Moses 6:52, 57; 7:50; cf. Micah 5:2). Ancient prophets foresaw his baptism, predicting even its location and specific details of the mission of John the Baptist (1 Ne. 10:8-10). Nephi1 knew that the Savior would call twelve apostles to assist in his ministry (1 Ne. 11:34-36; 12:9; 13:26, 40-41; 14:20, 24, 27), and King Benjamin prophesied of his many miracles (Mosiah 3:5-6). Jesus' atoning death by crucifixion was well known to pre-Christian prophets, who understood that it would be accompanied by three days of darkness preceding his resurrection (1 Ne. 10:11; 11:33; 19:10; 2 Ne. 25:14; Mosiah 3:9-10; Alma 7:11; Hel. 14:14, 20, 27; Moses 7:55). Indeed, sacrificial practices from Adam onward, including the rituals of the Law of Moses, prefigured Christ and, furthermore, were recognized as doing so by many who performed them (Jacob 4:5; Moses 5:5-7).

Later LDS scriptures, including the words of the risen Jesus himself, confirm such details of the New Testament record as the unity of the Sermon on the Mount (3 Ne. 12-14) and the authenticity of some of his separate sayings (3 Ne. 15:12-24). His pain in the garden of Gethsemane is attested (D&C 19:18; cf. Mosiah 3:7), as are his crucifixion (D&C 20:23; 21:9; 35:2; 45:52; 46:13; 53:2), his resurrection on the third day (Morm. 7:5; D&C 18:12; 20:23), and his identity as the long-awaited suffering Savior (3 Ne. 11:10-11). His earthly agonies are said to qualify him as an intercessor between God and man (D&C 45:4; cf. Isa. 53:12). In such texts as Doctrine and Covenants section 7 and the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible (JST), Latter-day Saints believe that they have been granted more complete information on Jesus' Palestinian ministry. (Interestingly, the JST anticipates modern scholarly emphasis on the individual character of the New Testament gospels by labeling each one as the "testimony" of its respective author. This same view seems to underlie Doctrine and Covenants 88:141.)

Gospel accounts inform and underscore LDS understanding of the earthly ministry of Jesus, in whom Latter-day Saints see God physically present among his people. Not only did Jesus perform miracles, expressing thereby his power over both demons and natural elements, but he explicitly affirmed his unity of purpose with the Father (John 14:8-10; 17:21) and his identity as the Jehovah of the Old Testament (John 8:56-59). While Moses ascended the mountain to receive the old law, Jesus ascended a mount to proclaim a new one (cf. 3 Ne. 15:4-5). Moses himself was present at the transfiguration (Matt. 17:1-8). LDS scriptures further affirm the New Testament gospels' warm portrait of Jesus' compassion for sinners, his concern for the poor, and his love for children. They portray him as a popular teacher who taught with parables, preached in synagogues, confronted hypocrisy, and won the love and admiration of many of his hearers.

Latter-day Saints recall, too, the reaction of Jesus' hearers to the Sermon on the Mount: "For he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes" (Matt. 7:29). Just as he did not call upon the power of others to perform miracles, Jesus needed no precedents to justify his teachings. In himself he had power over death—both over the death of others (as in the healing of Lazarus, the daughter of Jairus, and the son of the widow of Nain) and his own death (John 5:26; 10:17-18). Thus, Latter-day Saints join with other Christians in an acceptance of Jesus of Nazareth as their redeemer from death. But he is also the source of priesthood authority, who called and empowered ordinary, untrained men to serve him in a newly organized church and, acting for him in his capacity as "the good Shepherd," to "feed his sheep" (John 21:15-17) through both teaching and priesthood ordinances. They reject claims of a dichotomy between the priestly and the prophetic in his ministry. They note that he taught the necessity of baptism and submitted to that requirement himself (John 3:1-5; Matt. 3:15). They recall that he reverenced the temple of his day and expected others to do likewise (Luke 2:41-50; John 2:13-17).

LDS understanding of the role of faith and works in salvation is grounded in the insistence of Jesus that love for him will express itself in obedience to his commandments (John 14:15; cf. John 15:14; Matt. 5- 7). His call for his followers to be perfect (Matt. 5:48) is rendered plausible by the fact that he overcame the same temptations that beset them (Heb. 4:15-16; Matt. 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13) and that he suffered for their transgressions (Mosiah 3:7; Isa. 53:3-12). Indeed, Latter-day Saints are informed by their scriptures that it is at least partially because of the experience gained and the empathy achieved during his earthly sojourn that Jesus knows how to minister to the needs of those who trust in him (Alma 7:12; D&C 62:1; 88:6).

Bibliography

McConkie, Bruce R. The Mortal Messiah, 4 vols. Salt Lake City, 1979-1981.

Talmage, James E. JC. Salt Lake City, 1915.

Taylor, John. The Mediation and Atonement of Jesus Christ. Salt Lake City, 1882; repr. 1964.