The typical reaction of church members when first exposed to Joseph Smith’s use of cosmological imagery is one of disbelief. “You mean there is more to the gospel of Jesus Christ than I have been taught?” is a typical reaction. This is mostly due to the fact that their previous gospel education or belief system did not include this aspect of gospel study. It was one of the first concepts lost in the widespread apostasy after the death of Christ’s apostles, so other Christian denominations know nothing of it. Nephi, in the Book of Mormon, wrote at length about how the “plain and precious” parts of the gospel were suppressed in the apostasy. Along with all that is taught publicly, there is more to the Restored Gospel than meets the eye.
This information cannot harm you, nor detract from you testimony. There is no need to fear it. Rather, it can only expand and complement your present grasp of the gospel, as well as markedly strengthen your conviction that you are a member of the one true church of Jesus Christ, restored by a prophet in these latter days.
The Restoration saw the reinstatement of these concepts, along with the other vital concepts you have learned in your time as a latter-day saint. They are explained in the teachings of Joseph Smith, and they are employed in his revelations, including the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price. In addition, this very same information allows us to understand the otherwise arcane and odd symbolic imagery used by all the prophets and in our modern temples.
This information is not taught to investigators. We leave that task to our capable and inspired missionaries, who are called to carry the basic gospel principles to the world under the direction of church leaders. They teach the vital essentials that most Christians can understand, enough to convince them of the validity of the Restoration if they choose to listen. Of course, sincere inquiry confirms these truths via the Spirit to all who ask with a sincere heart and real intent.
However once one has obtained a conviction of the Restoration and a testimony of the prophet Joseph Smith and the church he founded through personal revelation, this information becomes the next step forward in one’s ongoing efforts to master gospel principles and concepts.
You will not find this instruction in church manuals, nor will you hear it in General Conference talks. It is not taught in Sunday School nor from our pulpits on Sundays. The information presented in those venues is for investigators and newly confirmed members. It’s also vital for longtime members to review regularly. Those are the first principles. This is additional information we are meant to search out for ourselves as part of our eternal progression.
Yet this additional information should be approached the same way as the basics taught by missionaries and in church, with diligence and earnest prayer to confirm its validity and value to our understanding of the “fullness” of the Restored Gospel.
This fullness, this ancient knowledge, includes a rich set of metaphors—graphics and word images—that were used anciently by prophets, down through time. Mastering the use and meaning of these metaphors and this imagery requires time and effort. It simply cannot be done in one sitting or with a brief explanation. It requires considerable study and practice, as with any new skill.
It’s missing entirely from our cultural and religious training and tradition. Therefore, church members must begin with the basics, including the ancient history of the heavens, as taught by the prophets, and how things seen there by our ancestors, at the very dawn of time, spawned this cryptic set of metaphors and icons. One simply must master the history of this imagery and how it was used in ancient cultures worldwide, not just by the prophets, to understand its implementation in sacred texts.
To the newcomer, it all seems odd and unfamiliar. Yet it is the key to all prophetic and temple imagery, including prophecy and the sometimes bizarre imagery used by the prophets—things like horses, wheels, eyes, mountains, candlesticks, beasts, etc.
It’s much like learning a new language. You must start with a few words, and then work and study to build your vocabulary. But once mastered, anyone can read and understand the scriptures and temple rituals. (Yes, temple icons and rituals can be “read,” just like scripture!)
Why should we settle for less? After all, this was a restoration of “all things,” including that which was lost in the apostasy.
Unlike the interpretations proffered by our Christian cousins, where a verse from this vision and another from that vision are cited and then cobbled together to create a strained interpretation, this is a simple and systematic way of reading and understanding prophecy and temple imagery that anyone can understand, given the proper training. Other ministers and scholars use a distorted, piecemeal and disjointed method of interpretation, “cherry picking” scripture. That is a methodology foreign to the prophets, the apostles and the Savior’s way of teaching.
One need not be a prophet to understand prophecy. A little training and study, using Joseph Smith’s guidance and direction, suffice to help anyone read and understand the most puzzling of prophetic utterances. The meaning literally leaps off the pages of scripture, once mastered. What is more, the imagery and ritual in our temple endowment, which has little meaning to our untrained eyes and ears, becomes part of the rich tapestry that constitutes gospel imagery and iconography, meanings and understandings that are virtually invisible without this training.
So, this is your invitation to move forward in your gospel knowledge and instruction, opening the meaning of scriptural and temple imagery to your mind, strengthening your existing testimony and adding to your conviction of the Restoration, the prophet Joseph Smith and the church he founded.