Podcast 31: Section 29: The Great Unfolding Plan
Welcome to the Podcast at Forever LDS. This is your host, Chris Heimerdinger. Many LDS podcasts are in the habit of stating, “Our views do not necessarily represent the views or doctrines of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and that “we, the podcasters (or article writers, or whatever) are wholly responsible for its content.” It’s a good habit to get into. My views and perspectives are my own, and are in no way intended to represent, or be critical of, my beloved Church. Most put that statement, or something similar, at the end of a podcast. Not sure if I like it at the beginning or the end. But I do like it. And I’d like to adopt the same habit for ForeverLDS.
Today’s podcast is a bit unusual. I’m generally not in the habit of just reading an entire block of scripture. But I love to narrate, and I think Latter-day Saints, in their noble quest to study and read and celebrate the Book of Mormon sometimes don’t get around tp reading or contemplating the Doctrine and Covenants and other Latter-day scriptures, except as a verse or two here and there in talks or Sunday School lessons, etc.
I recently went to the Temple, found that I’d arrived just as the previous group in the Chapel had left for their session, and found myself with some extra time. So I read Section 29, in total, and it was an enriching experience. I’m certain we’re commanded to read, and re-read, every volume of scripture multiple times because it’s inevitable that the verses will perpetually strike us in a different way. We’ll receive new insight that somehow eluded us on the first pass, or even the second, third, or 50th pass. It’s not that the scriptures have changed. We have changed, and the verses will freshly impact us in relation to what the Lord wants to communicate to our minds and hearts at that particular time. So it was for me.
Section 29 is a deeply profound revelation in the Doctrine and Covenants. It was received very early in Church History—Sept. of 1830, just a few months after Church was organized—and it was received while Joseph was literally standing in the presence of six other elders. In fact, early Church historian John Whitmer, also one of the 8 Witnesses of the Gold Plates, wrote as the original heading of Section 29: "A revelation to six elders of the church and three members.” So this was one of those unique instances when Joseph Smith received a revelation “live” and in public, so to speak, much like Section 76, which was actually a “shared” vision with Sidney Rigdon.
John Whitmer went on to explain: “They [those in attendance] understood from Holy Writ that the time should come that the people of God should see eye to eye, and they seeing somewhat different upon the death of Adam (that is, his transgression), therefore they made it a subject of prayer and enquired of the Lord and thus came the word of the Lord through Joseph the seer:"
So this revelation, like so many revelations, came about as a direct consequence of a specific prayer/inquiry from the saints on an important topic. LDS researcher Ken Alford, who works with the Joseph Smith Papers project, goes so far as to call Section 29 the “cliff notes” of the Plan of Salvation. He additionally points out that if you look at the cross references at the bottom of the page, it’ll surprise readers how often this Section takes us to the Book of Moses—that is, the “re-translation” of the Book of Genesis, which project Joseph Smith was working on almost simultaneously (LDS Perspectives Podcast, Episode 54: The JST in the D&C, Interview with Kenneth Alford, Released September 6, 2017).
I’m just gonna narrate this section for you, pausing or interrupting myself from time to time, to offer various thoughts as I read, which sometimes are accompanied by statements from General Authorities and reference verses in other volumes of scripture, but mostly represent my own perspectives. You, of course, are responsible for your own perfectives, and I encourage everyone to seek their own viewpoints, preferably with prayer.
I’ll skip the heading since I’ve just given you most of that information already. I’ll leave the verse numbers in the transcript version of this podcast on the main website, ForeverLDS.com, otherwise, I’ll read it as a single block. Here we go:
1 Listen to the voice of Jesus Christ, your Redeemer, the Great I Am, whose arm of mercy hath atoned for your sins;
2 Who will gather his people even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, even as many as will hearken to my voice and humble themselves before me, and call upon me in mighty prayer.
3 Behold, verily, verily, I say unto you, that at this time your sins are forgiven you, therefore ye receive these things; but remember to sin no more, lest perils shall come upon you.
4 Verily, I say unto you that ye are chosen out of the world to declare my gospel with the sound of rejoicing, as with the voice of a trump.
5 Lift up your hearts and be glad, for I am in your midst, and am your advocate with the Father; and it is his good will to give you the kingdom.
6 And, as it is written—Whatsoever ye shall ask in faith, being united in prayer according to my command, ye shall receive.
7 And ye are called to bring to pass the gathering of mine elect; for mine elect hear my voice and harden not their hearts;
8 Wherefore the decree hath gone forth from the Father that they shall be gathered in unto one place upon the face of this land, to prepare their hearts and be prepared in all things against the day when tribulation and desolation are sent forth upon the wicked.
9 For the hour is nigh and the day soon at hand when the earth is ripe; and all the proud and they that do wickedly shall be as stubble; and I will burn them up, saith the Lord of Hosts, that wickedness shall not be upon the earth;
10 For the hour is nigh, and that which was spoken by mine apostles must be fulfilled; for as they spoke so shall it come to pass;
11 For I will reveal myself from heaven with power and great glory, with all the hosts thereof, and dwell in righteousness with men on earth a thousand years, and the wicked shall not stand.
2 And again, verily, verily, I say unto you, and it hath gone forth in a firm decree, by the will of the Father, that mine apostles, the Twelve which were with me in my ministry at Jerusalem, shall stand at my right hand at the day of my coming in a pillar of fire, being clothed with robes of righteousness, with crowns upon their heads, in glory even as I am, to judge the whole house of Israel, even as many as have loved me and kept my commandments, and none else.
Pause. Okay, this was somewhat new to me. Not the idea that the Twelve original Apostles will judge the house of Israel, but the imagery, that Peter, James, John and the rest, presumably including Matthias who filled the vacancy of Judas Iscariot, shall stand with Him, at His right hand, on the day of His coming, in a pillar of fire—which, of course, harkens to events like what occurred with the great missionaries Lehi and Nephi, who were encircled by a “pillar of fire” “and it burned them not” (Hel. 5:24) or when the Savior visited the Americas and the Nephite little ones were “encircled about with fire” (3 Ne 17:24).
And then, “clothed with robes of righteousness, with crowns upon their heads, in glory even as I am”. The imagery is glorious, and I’m not sure if its stated anywhere with such detail and power as here in Section 29.
13 For a trump shall sound both long and loud, even as upon Mount Sinai, and all the earth shall quake, and they shall come forth—yea, even the dead which died in me, to receive a crown of righteousness, and to be clothed upon, even as I am, to be with me, that we may be one.
14 But, behold, I say unto you that before this great day shall come the sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall be turned into blood, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and there shall be greater signs in heaven above and in the earth beneath;
15 And there shall be weeping and wailing among the hosts of men;
16 And there shall be a great hailstorm sent forth to destroy the crops of the earth.
17 And it shall come to pass, because of the wickedness of the world, that I will take vengeance upon the wicked, for they will not repent; for the cup of mine indignation is full; for behold, my blood shall not cleanse them if they hear me not.
18 Wherefore, I the Lord God will send forth flies upon the face of the earth, which shall take hold of the inhabitants thereof, and shall eat their flesh, and shall cause maggots to come in upon them;
Pause. Okay, this is frightening stuff, all associated with events of the last days. Events still to come. A hailstorm that destroys the crops of the earth? That’s intense. We’re reminded of when the Lord destroyed the crops of the Egyptians with hail as one of the plagues of Moses, but this particular devastation is presumably worldwide. The scientist in me—or at least the science enthusiast—wonders what might bring about such an all-encompassing event. I don’t have an answer, but the idea of a hailstorm destroying the crops of the earth—an entire growing season of crops—is a healthy reminder to keep working on our year’s supply.
Then the next image: “God will send forth flies upon the face of the earth, which shall take hold of the inhabitants…and…cause maggots to come in upon them. That’s . . . gross. Again, what kind of flies are talking about?
Maybe this is just a personal interpretation, but the language “take hold of the inhabitants” sounds like this proliferation of flies that prey upon humans and lay their eggs is not, at least initially, fatal. This happens to the inhabitants while they are still alive. I know, like you, it’s less disturbing to think of this as happening to corpses, people who have already passed away from famine or war, but that’s not really how it reads.
Let’s, uh, very happily move on.
19 And their tongues shall be stayed that they shall not utter against me; and their flesh shall fall from off their bones, and their eyes from their sockets;
Pause. Many have said this sounds like a perfect description of what happens in nuclear war. There’s comparable language in Zachariah 14:12. If the cause is not nuclear war, it would have to be a phenomenon we don’t yet understand, and likely have never experienced before. Continuing.
20 And it shall come to pass that the beasts of the forest and the fowls of the air shall devour them up.
21 And the great and abominable church, which is the whore of all the earth, shall be cast down by devouring fire, according as it is spoken by the mouth of Ezekiel the prophet, who spoke of these things, which have not come to pass but surely must, as I live, for abominations shall not reign.
Pause. Ezekiel actually provides a lot more details about these events, particularly in Chapters 36-39. Dive right in. I dare you. Nah, Ezekiel isn’t sometimes mind-numbing like the Book of Isaiah at all! I love that phrase: “abominations shall not reign”. It’s powerful. Moving on.
22 And again, verily, verily, I say unto you that when the thousand years are ended, and men again begin to deny their God, then will I spare the earth but for a little season;
3 And the end shall come, and the heaven and the earth shall be consumed and pass away, and there shall be a new heaven and a new earth.
24 For all old things shall pass away, and all things shall become new, even the heaven and the earth, and all the fulness thereof, both men and beasts, the fowls of the air, and the fishes of the sea;
25 And not one hair, neither mote, shall be lost, for it is the workmanship of mine hand.
Pause. There’s a lot to unwrap in these verses. It’s difficult for many Christians, including Latter-day Saints, to get their minds around the sequences of events prior to the Judgment. We think of the Millennium as a thousand years of blissful peace, living under the direct leadership of Jesus Christ, doing temple work for every soul who has ever lived, etc., and I certainly hope all that happens, but the Millennium does not end with the Final Judgment, and apparently, right at its conclusion, Satan is unloosed to rage again in the hearts of men.
This may be new information to some. The millennium of peace end. I’m sure the Nephites couldn’t imagine an end to their own era of peace, established during the first two centuries after the coming of Christ, but it did, and in every instance that I know of, this happens—Satan is given power—because the inhabitants allow him to have it.
“For all old things shall pass away, and all things shall become new, even the heaven and the earth, and all the fulness thereof, both men and beasts, the fowls of the air, and the fishes of the sea…for it is the workmanship of mine hand.”
To me, what that means is that every species that has ever occupied the earth will all be partakers of the new heaven and earth. Species that have gone extinct. “You mean mankind will once again dwell with do-do birds and dinosaurs?” Apparently so, for they are the workmanship of the Lord’s hands. That doesn’t mean we throw in the towel on fighting to save endangered species today, but for those who love this planet’s vast variety of living things, past and present, it is comforting to know that if something disappears, it will be restored.
Bruce R. McConkie wrote, “All forms of life shall then be immortal; all shall come forth from death and live in a resurrected state forever; the resurrection applies to men and animals and fowls and fishes and creeping things--all shall rise in immortality and live forever in their destined orders and spheres of existence. (The Millennial Messiah: The Second Coming of the Son of Man [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1982], 695.)
Joseph Smith taught, “Says one, "I cannot believe in the salvation of beasts." Any man who would tell you that this could not be, would tell you that the revelations are not true. John heard the words of the beasts giving glory to God, and understood them. God who made the beasts could understand every language spoken by them. The four beasts (Rev. 5:13-14) were four of the most noble animals that had filled the measure of their creation, and had been saved from other worlds, because they were perfect: they were like angels in their sphere. We are not told where they came from, and I do not know; but they were seen and heard by John praising and glorifying God." (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pp. 291-292.)
To me, it all sounds this earth might become rather crowded with Apatosauruses and T-Rexes living next door, but I trust that the Lord has this all figured out. Moving on.
26 But, behold, verily I say unto you, before the earth shall pass away, Michael, mine archangel, shall sound his trump, and then shall all the dead awake, for their graves shall be opened, and they shall come forth—yea, even all.
27 And the righteous shall be gathered on my right hand unto eternal life; and the wicked on my left hand will I be ashamed to own before the Father;
28 Wherefore I will say unto them—Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.
29 And now, behold, I say unto you, never at any time have I declared from mine own mouth that they should return, for where I am they cannot come, for they have no power.
30 But remember that all my judgments are not given unto men; and as the words have gone forth out of my mouth even so shall they be fulfilled, that the first shall be last, and that the last shall be first in all things whatsoever I have created by the word of my power, which is the power of my Spirit.
31 For by the power of my Spirit created I them; yea, all things both spiritual and temporal—
32 First spiritual, secondly temporal, which is the beginning of my work; and again, first temporal, and secondly spiritual, which is the last of my work—
33 Speaking unto you that you may naturally understand; but unto myself my works have no end, neither beginning; but it is given unto you that ye may understand, because ye have asked it of me and are agreed.
Pause. To be quite honest, I don’t fully understand. I’m not sure I’m getting it at all, and the condescension of God as it’s described here is fascinating—that He’s speaking in a way that helps us to “naturally understand”, because, as I read it, if He went into any more detail than that, He’d lose us and nobody would be following a word that He’s saying.
So He doesn’t get into the science and the DNA and evolution and the many categories we likely haven’t even contemplated because we wouldn’t follow it, and in a spiritual sense it doesn’t matter right now. However, I presume at some point it will matter—a lot. So keep looking through your microscopes and doing the quantum math because we’re commanded to learn as much as we can in mortality. And as I’ve often expressed, those who are most prepared for eternal life may not be those who arrive on the stage having all the answers, but those possessing the right questions. Continuing.
34 Wherefore, verily I say unto you that all things unto me are spiritual, and not at any time have I given unto you a law which was temporal; neither any man, nor the children of men; neither Adam, your father, whom I created.
Quick pause. Not at any time has the Savior given us a law which is temporal. Always spiritual. He doesn’t set speed limits. He doesn’t determine the length of prison sentences. He gives us the spiritual principle, and then, as Joseph Smith taught, grants us the freedom to govern ourselves. Freedom. Agency. That’s the singular principle of the Plan of Salvation that the Lord cannot mess with. He cannot undo. It must be so painful, at time possibly humorous, but always with incomprehensible compassion and love, that God watches us grope about, make mistakes, and choose for ourselves, often entangling ourselves in errors that seem like Gordian knots. But that ability to choose is the essence of why we are here. Which is what is discussed for most of the remaining verses of Section 29. Continuing.
35 Behold, I gave unto him [Adam] that he should be an agent unto himself; and I gave unto him commandment, but no temporal commandment gave I unto him, for my commandments are spiritual; they are not natural nor temporal, neither carnal nor sensual.
36 And it came to pass that Adam, being tempted of the devil—for, behold, the devil was before Adam, for he rebelled against me, saying, Give me thine honor, which is my power; and also a third part of the hosts of heaven turned he away from me because of their agency;
37 And they were thrust down, and thus came the devil and his angels;
38 And, behold, there is a place prepared for them from the beginning, which place is hell.
39 And it must needs be that the devil should tempt the children of men, or they could not be agents unto themselves; for if they never should have bitter they could not know the sweet—
40 Wherefore, it came to pass that the devil tempted Adam, and he partook of the forbidden fruit and transgressed the commandment, wherein he became subject to the will of the devil, because he yielded unto temptation.
41 Wherefore, I, the Lord God, caused that he should be cast out from the Garden of Eden, from my presence, because of his transgression, wherein he became spiritually dead, which is the first death, even that same death which is the last death, which is spiritual, which shall be pronounced upon the wicked when I shall say: Depart, ye cursed.
42 But, behold, I say unto you that I, the Lord God, gave unto Adam and unto his seed, that they should not die as to the temporal death, until I, the Lord God, should send forth angels to declare unto them repentance and redemption, through faith on the name of mine Only Begotten Son.
43 And thus did I, the Lord God, appoint unto man the days of his probation—that by his natural death he might be raised in immortality unto eternal life, even as many as would believe;
44 And they that believe not unto eternal damnation; for they cannot be redeemed from their spiritual fall, because they repent not;
45 For they love darkness rather than light, and their deeds are evil, and they receive their wages of whom they list to obey.
46 But behold, I say unto you, that little children are redeemed from the foundation of the world through mine Only Begotten;
47 Wherefore, they cannot sin, for power is not given unto Satan to tempt little children, until they begin to become accountable before me;
48 For it is given unto them even as I will, according to mine own pleasure, that great things may be required at the hand of their fathers.
49 And, again, I say unto you, that whoso having knowledge, have I not commanded to repent?
50 And he that hath no understanding, it remaineth in me to do according as it is written. And now I declare no more unto you at this time. Amen.
“I declare no more at this time.” The revelation, witnessed by 6 elders and 3 Church members, came to an end. Joseph’s lips ceased to speak the voice and will of the Lord. And then, as we can envision, he turned and faced his rapt audience, and likely a scribe still desperately recording every word. I’d like to know what he said next, and how he physically felt or appeared, but I don’t know.
And like Joseph, there’s nothing more that I can add at this time.
Thank you for listening. Stay close to the Lord. If you don’t feel as close to God today as yesterday, who moved? This is Chris Heimerdinger, and this is, and I am, ForeverLDS.