Joseph Smith revealed that there are three Kingdoms of Glory, and that each is governed by its own law (D&C 88 and 76 also closely look at sections 84 and 107 for more about priest hood). These three Laws have three priesthoods associated with them, namely:
1. Law of Moses = Aaronic/Levitical priesthood = Telestial Glory: was given as a curse and only binds heavy burdens and offers temporary atonement through the blood of animals sacrificed yearly. This priesthood is limited to men of one tribe (Levi), and Aaron and his family had the higher Aaronic priesthood that was necessary for the annual atonement offering on yom kippur. Joseph offered this atonement offering again for latter day Israel in the Kirtland temple, and then the Aaronic priesthood was taken again from earth (D&C 13, 84:31, 110, and Joseph Smith History, specifically compare Joseph and Oliver’s account of the restoration of the Aaronic priesthood). See also Hebrews and various chapters about the law in the Book of Mormon.
2. Law of Joseph = Abrahamic/Patriarchal/Evangelical priesthood = Terrestrial Glory: grants temporary blessings and salvation through good works, constant repentance (broken heart and contrite spirit), and preaching the gospel. This is lineal priesthood bestowed on all the twelve tribes or those adopted into a tribe (note that the Nephites were from the tribe of Manasseh but kept the law of Moses, thus, they had to have this priesthood or the High Priesthood in order to officiate in the ordinances of the Law of Moses). The Abrahamic priesthood can officiate in lower offices so Aaronic priesthood is unnecessary currently except for the office of bishop (Thus, there are no valid bishops currently as the Aaronic priesthood was taken from the earth, and so was the high priesthood, both are only needed for Zion which also does not currently exist). Women receive this priesthood in the temple and can officiate in the temple for other women. They also proclaim the gospel through this priesthood and can give temporal blessings like men, i.e., it has sealing power of blessings and cursings that the patriarchs were given anciently. See Abraham chapter 2 and D&C 110. Notice that all the offices of the priesthood except for Patriarch are Elders of some kind (70 traveling elders and 12 traveling high council are special elders. All elders can serve in all lower offices except for bishop unless they are also a descendant of Aaron and ordained by a high priest.
It also appears that women cannot be ordained to offices in the Abrahmic priesthood as it is Patriarchal and handed down from father to son (D&C 107:40-52), but women can obtain it through the modern temple endowment which then allows them to preach the gospel (evanglize) and give blessings. Joseph Smith stated that this priesthood was the greatest experienced in this church (because the Church of Christ had failed to live consecration, thus we were downgraded to a different church). See the following pages at the Joseph Smith Papers for more info: Link 1 and Link 2.
3. Law of Christ/Consecration = Melchizedek Priesthood (after the order of Enoch and the order of the Son of God) = Celestial Glory: one eternal sacrifice of Christ to make all perfect through him this priesthood is for all people men and women bond and free. Saved by grace not by dead works. The elect/noble and great ones who were called and chosen before the foundations of the world received this priesthood (Alma 13:3, JST Genesis 14, and Abraham especially chapter 3). This is the power needed to return to the Father’s presence, and JST Genesis 14:27-32 says about Melchizedek that:
27 And thus, having been approved of God, he was ordained an high priest after the order of the covenant which God made with Enoch,
28 It being after the order of the Son of God; which order came, not by man, nor the will of man; neither by father nor mother; neither by beginning of days nor end of years; but of God;
29 And it was delivered unto men by the calling of his own voice, according to his own will, unto as many as believed on his name.
30 For God having sworn unto Enoch and unto his seed with an oath by himself; that every one being ordained after this order and calling should have power, by faith, to break mountains, to divide the seas, to dry up waters, to turn them out of their course;
31 To put at defiance the armies of nations, to divide the earth, to break every band, to stand in the presence of God; to do all things according to his will, according to his command, subdue principalities and powers; and this by the will of the Son of God which was from before the foundation of the world.
32 And men having this faith, coming up unto this order of God, were translated and taken up into heaven.
Thus, the only way to truly gain the fullness of the Melchizedek Priesthood is to be called by God’s voice out of the heavens. As children of Abraham we are promised only the Patriarchal Priesthood if the Spirit finds us worthy as stated in D&C 20:60:
60 Every elder, priest, teacher, or deacon is to be ordained according to the gifts and callings of God unto him; and he is to be ordained by the power of the Holy Ghost, which is in the one who ordains him.
Furthermore, we can use the Abrahmic Priesthood to preach the fullness of the gospel of Christ, and to give blessings if we obtain the spirit. D&C 42:12-17 states that:
12 And again, the elders, priests and teachers of this church shall teach the principles of my gospel, which are in the Bible and the Book of Mormon, in the which is the fulness of the gospel.
13 And they shall observe the covenants and church articles to do them, and these shall be their teachings, as they shall be directed by the Spirit.
14 And the Spirit shall be given unto you by the prayer of faith; and if ye receive not the Spirit ye shall not teach.
15 And all this ye shall observe to do as I have commanded concerning your teaching, until the fulness of my scriptures is given.
16 And as ye shall lift up your voices by the Comforter, ye shall speak and prophesy as seemeth me good;
17 For, behold, the Comforter knoweth all things, and beareth record of the Father and of the Son.
Furthermore, verses 43 and 44 of the same section state that:
43 And whosoever among you are sick, and have not faith to be healed, but believe, shall be nourished with all tenderness, with herbs and mild food, and that not by the hand of an enemy.
44 And the elders of the church, two or more, shall be called, and shall pray for and lay their hands upon them in my name; and if they die they shall die unto me, and if they live they shall live unto me.
Thus, the current church can do much good. Namely, it can preach the fullness of the Gospel of Christ, and administer blessings to those in need of comfort through the power of the Patriarchal Priesthood if the person using this priesthood obtains the spirit. It prepares us to receive the fullness. However, it can not bring about Zion which is where we will live the fullness of the Gospel of Christ, and have the fullness of the Melchizedek Priesthood and the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost, and be in God’s presence.
Finally let me discuss some of the symbolism of the current temple Endowment which teaches us about the various orders of the Priesthood. Firstly, there are 4 signs and tokens of the priesthood given along with their associated names. Two for the Aaronic Priesthood, and two for the Melchizedek Priesthood.
- The first sign/token represents the order of Levi which is represented by, and allows one to officiate in, the initiatory ordinances (outward ordinances).
- The second sign/token represents the order of Aaron which allows one to offer temporary atonement for one’s people, and is represented by the instructional portion of the endowment, i.e., it is a schoolmaster to bring us back into the presence of the Father.
- The third sign/token represents the Patriarchal Order which is represented by, and allows one to administer covenants, oaths and blessings. Notice that this is also when you enter the Terrestrial Kingdom.
- The fourth sign/token represents the order of Enoch aka the order of Son of God or the Fullness of the Melchizedek Priesthood. This is represented by testing of your knowledge at the veil, i.e., proving yourself faithful of being brought back into God’s presence. Notice that the final order is only obtained by God’s voice calling us back into His presence from the Celestial Kingdom while we are still standing in the terrestrial world. Thus, the current endowment and the scriptures teach us that we need the High Priesthood in order to enter back into God’s presence, and that it is only by God’s voice calling us to this highest order, and only through the mercy of the atonement of Christ that we can enter the Celestial Kingdom.
D&C 76:50-70 says:
50 And again we bear record—for we saw and heard, and this is the testimony of the gospel of Christ concerning them who shall come forth in the resurrection of the just—
51 They are they who received the testimony of Jesus, and believed on his name and were baptized after the manner of his burial, being buried in the water in his name, and this according to the commandment which he has given—
52 That by keeping the commandments they might be washed and cleansed from all their sins, and receive the Holy Spirit by the laying on of the hands of him who is ordained and sealed unto this power;
53 And who overcome by faith, and are sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, which the Father sheds forth upon all those who are just and true.
54 They are they who are the church of the Firstborn.
55 They are they into whose hands the Father has given all things—
56 They are they who are priests and kings, who have received of his fulness, and of his glory;
57 And are priests of the Most High, after the order of Melchizedek, which was after the order of Enoch, which was after the order of the Only Begotten Son.
58 Wherefore, as it is written, they are gods, even the sons of God—
59 Wherefore, all things are theirs, whether life or death, or things present, or things to come, all are theirs and they are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.
60 And they shall overcome all things.
61 Wherefore, let no man glory in man, but rather let him glory in God, who shall subdue all enemies under his feet.
62 These shall dwell in the presence of God and his Christ forever and ever. 63 These are they whom he shall bring with him, when he shall come in the clouds of heaven to reign on the earth over his people.
64 These are they who shall have part in the first resurrection.
65 These are they who shall come forth in the resurrection of the just.
66 These are they who are come unto Mount Zion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly place, the holiest of all.
67 These are they who have come to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of Enoch, and of the Firstborn.
68 These are they whose names are written in heaven, where God and Christ are the judge of all.
69 These are they who are just men made perfect through Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, who wrought out this perfect atonement through the shedding of his own blood.
70 These are they whose bodies are celestial, whose glory is that of the sun, even the glory of God, the highest of all, whose glory the sun of the firmament is written of as being typical.
Notice that there is nothing about a temple ceremony or an endowment being necessary to save us. However, the three part baptism of water, the spirit, and the blood of Christ is mentioned, and becoming a high priest is also necessary to be saved and reenter God’s presence. The endowment clearly teaches this, and yet we think the endowment will save us. It is a completely unnecessary ordinance except insofar as it causes us to realize that the church has lost the fullness of the priesthood and therefore cannot save us. It does not have the power to bring about Zion, and it does not have the power to bring us back into the presence of God the Father. It only has the power to proclaim the knowledge of the fullness of the gospel and to prepare us for the restoration of the fullness which will shortly come.