God is the same yesterday, today and forever. He loves His children. He wants them to be happy, so He prepared a plan for them. Central to that plan is the Atonement of Jesus Christ. The Atonement is the price the Savior paid as a remission for the sins of mankind—for all men from Adam to the last person who will live on the earth. Through the atonement, all families of the earth will be blessed with the opportunity to go back to the presence of God.
Since the beginning, God has revealed His plan through prophets. Prophets are men called by God who are given the authority to receive revelations and to preach the gospel. Amos declared that the Lord always reveals His secrets unto His servants the prophets (Amos 3:7). The first prophet was Adam. God spoke and revealed to him the Plan of Salvation, and gave him the promise of the Messiah. Adam then taught his children the gospel of Jesus Christ. While many believed, some of his sons and daughters rejected his teachings.
When Adam died, God showed great love for His posterity by calling other prophets. These prophets warned the people about their sins and exhorted them to repent and return to God. When people hardened their hearts and rejected God’s prophets, they fell away from the truth. This is called apostasy. Whenever there is an apostasy, God withdraws His prophet from the people and calls another to preach the gospel anew. Among those who were called to preach repentance to the people were Noah, Abraham, Moses, Elijah, Isaiah, and many others. These prophets prophesied of the coming of Jesus Christ. However, because many did not believe them, the people again fell into apostasy.
The Earthly Ministry of Jesus Christ
When the time was right, God sent His Only Begotten Son to accomplish His divine mission to atone for the sins of the world. For God loved the world so much that He sent His Only Begotten Son, that those who believe in Him might be saved (See John 3:16).
When Jesus Christ was upon the earth, He preached the gospel, ordained His apostles, established His church, and fulfilled prophecy. Remarkably, many people did not believe His teachings. Instead, they reviled, scourged, and crucified Him. However, through His suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane and His death upon the cross, the Savior made an infinite atoning sacrifice, promising eternal life to those who repent and follow His commandments.
After the Lord’s resurrection, the apostles, having received the keys of the priesthood, continued to lead the church through revelation. However, not many years after, those wicked people who killed Jesus Christ killed the apostles one by one until no one was left to lead the Church. Because of the death of the apostles, the authority which they once held was also gone.
The Great Apostasy
With all the apostles killed except John the Beloved who was banished because of His testimony of Jesus Christ, the church was left without authorized leadership. Without authority, revelation stopped and saving ordinances could not be performed. Eventually, the gospel taught by the Savior and His apostles was altered by unauthorized people and many plain and precious truths were lost. Without a prophet to lead them, the people were left in a state of chaos and spiritual darkness. This period of time was known in history as the Dark Ages or the Great Apostasy.
The Great Apostasy was universal and lasted for more than 1,700 years. Its rapid development following the death of the apostles had been foreseen and predicted by ancient prophets. Isaiah spoke of a gross darkness which would cover the earth and the people (Isaiah 60:2). Paul, speaking to early Christian converts, warned of grievous wolves or false teachers who would speak perverse things and draw away disciples after them (Acts 20:29–30). The Savior also warned of false prophets and false Christs who would deceive many (Matthew 24:4–12). But despite this, God, in His great love for the people, promised to restore the gospel and rebuild His church through another prophet who had been ordained from the foundation of the world.
Joseph Smith and the Restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ
After several centuries of darkness, Heavenly Father once again stretched forth His hands to reach out to His children. He called another prophet, a 14-year old boy, through whom the gospel of Jesus Christ and the priesthood authority was restored.
When Joseph Smith was just a young boy, he became concerned about the welfare of his soul and desired to know which church to join. He attended different congregations to find answers to his questions, but the more he did, the more confused he got. One day as he was studying the scriptures, he came across the writings of James, an apostle of Jesus Christ, which read, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him” (James 1:5). After much reflection, young Joseph realized that he could actually know the truth for himself by asking God in prayer.
One morning, he went to a nearby grove and poured out his heart to God, desiring to know the truth. In answer to his prayer, God the Father and Jesus Christ appeared to him and told him that there was no true church on the earth at that time. The Savior told Joseph Smith that he was chosen as a prophet to restore the true church He had established during His mortal ministry.
To accomplish this mission, the Lord sent heavenly messengers to Joseph Smith to restore all the keys of the priesthood necessary to administer the ordinances of the gospel. The church was officially organized on April 6th, 1830, as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, often nicknamed the Mormon Church. Today, the Church is being led by a living prophet named Thomas S. Monson who receives continuing revelation from God.
Fourteen year old Joseph Smith wondered what church he should join. In the spring of 1820 during a religious revival in the community of Palmyra, New York, Joseph was confused about conflicting messages from different religious leaders. He went into the woods, knelt in prayer and asked God which of the churches he should align himself with. Miraculously, God the Father appeared to Joseph along with his son, Jesus Christ, and told Joseph that he should join none of the churches, for the true church of Christ had been lost from the earth. Joseph was chosen by God to restore the true church to the world.
Throughout the course of the next ten years, Joseph gradually restored the fullness of the gospel to the earth, starting with the translation of the Book of Mormon, a record of Jesus Christ’s visit to the American continent after his resurrection. The record was written on golden plates and hidden in a hillside, which God directed Joseph to find. Joseph also restored the organization of Jesus Christ’s original church, just as Christ himself established it in Jerusalem with a prophet at the head of the church and a quorum of twelve apostles. Along with that, God restored through Joseph the true priesthood power that had been lost after Christ’s death. Joseph and his followers built temples, beautiful structures dedicated to performing saving ordinances through God’s true priesthood power.
The early Latter-day Saints experienced much persecution in their settlements in Ohio, Missouri and Illinois. Shortly after the martyrdom of the Prophet Joseph Smith, the Saints moved westward under the direction of their new prophet, Brigham Young. After great trials in crossing the plains in handcart companies, the Saints settled in the Salt Lake Valley. Today, Salt Lake City, Utah remains the headquarters of the church, but it now spans the world. The expansive missionary program run by the church has spread the complete gospel of Jesus Christ to people on every continent seeking for truth and light.