Christ's Twelve Apostles: Then and Now
The Church in the Time of Christ
During Jesus Christ’s mortal ministry in the Holy Land, He established His Church. He said it was His Church (Matt 16:18). It was called by His name (see Rom 16:16 ), and the members were called Saints (see Ephesians 2:19-20). Like the prophets who had preceded Him and testified of Him, Jesus received His instructions and His authority from God, our Heavenly Father (see Hebrews 1:1-2;5:4-6).
Organizing the Church
To establish order in His Church, Jesus ordained 12 Apostles and gave them the power and authority of the priesthood (see Mark 3:14; Luke 9:1-2). He appointed Peter the chief Apostle and gave him the priesthood keys to seal blessings both on earth and in heaven (see Matthew 16:19).
Jesus appointed other priesthood leaders to assist the Apostles in the work of the Church. He sent officers called Seventies in pairs to preach (see Luke 10:1). Some of the other officers in the Church included high priests, elders, bishops, priests, teachers, and deacons. These officers were all necessary to perform ordinances and instruct and inspire Church members. These officers helped the members come to a “unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God” (Ephesians 4:13). The Apostle Paul later compared the Church to a building that was “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone” (Ephesians 2:20).
The Bible does not tell us everything about the priesthood or the organization and government of the Church. However, enough of the Bible has been preserved to show the beauty and perfection of the Church organization. The Apostles were commanded to go into all the world and preach (see Matthew 28:19-20). They could not stay in any one city to supervise new converts. Therefore, local priesthood leaders were called and ordained, and the Apostles presided over them. The Apostles and other Church leaders visited and wrote letters to the various congregations. Thus, our New Testament contains letters written by Paul, Peter, James, John, and Jude, giving counsel and instruction to the local priesthood leaders.
The New Testament shows that this Church organization was intended to continue. For example, the death of Judas left only 11 Apostles. Soon after Jesus had ascended into heaven, the 11 Apostles met together to choose someone to take the place of Judas. Through revelation from the Holy Ghost, they chose Matthias (see Acts 1:23-26). Jesus had set a pattern for 12 Apostles to govern the Church.
The Great Apostasy
Throughout history, the Lord’s people have often fallen into a state of wickedness and spiritual darkness known as “apostasy.” This happened while the Apostles were still alive and supervising the young, growing Church. Some members taught ideas from their old beliefs instead of the simple truths taught by Jesus. Some rebelled openly. In addition, there was persecution from outside the Church. Church members were tortured and killed for their beliefs. One by one, the Apostles were killed or otherwise taken from the earth. Because of wickedness and apostasy, the apostolic authority and priesthood keys were taken from the earth.
Because of these events, the organization that Jesus Christ had established no longer existed, and confusion resulted. More and more error crept into Church doctrine, and soon the dissolution of the Church was complete. The period of time following the death of Christ’s Apostles, when the true Church no longer existed on the earth, is called the Great Apostasy. This period lasted for many centuries.
The Church in Our Day
The Promised Return of Truth
During the Great Apostasy, people lived in spiritual darkness. About 1,700 years after Christ, people were becoming more interested in knowing the truth about God and religion. Some of them could see that the Church Jesus had established was no longer on the earth. Some recognized that there was no revelation and no true authority. The time had come for the Church of Jesus Christ to be reestablished on the earth. This time was foreseen in scriptures that prophesied the loss of the truth and its eventual return (see Acts 3:20–21; 2 Thessalonians 2:3). This restoration of truth was also in keeping with the Lord’s promise, as recorded in the Old Testament: “I will proceed to do a marvellous work among this people, even a marvellous work and a wonder” (Isaiah 29:14).
Another Prophet Called by God
In the spring of 1820, one of the most important events in the history of the world occurred near Palmyra, New York. As a young boy, Joseph Smith wanted to know which of all the churches was the true Church of Jesus Christ. He went into the woods near his home and prayed humbly and intently to his Heavenly Father, asking which church he should join. On that morning, Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ appeared to Joseph Smith. The Savior told him not to join any church because the true Church was not on the earth.
Beginning with this event, the pattern of God restoring truth and authority through a prophet began again. Joseph Smith was called to help bring back the true Church of Jesus Christ. Since that time, the heavens have remained open. Revelation continues to this day through a prophet chosen by God.
Priesthood Keys and Authority Returned
God again gave the priesthood to men. John the Baptist came in 1829 to confer the Aaronic Priesthood on Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery (see D&C 13; 27:8). Later in the same year, Peter, James, and John, the presidency of the Church in ancient times, came and gave Joseph and Oliver the Melchizedek Priesthood and the keys of the kingdom of God (see D&C 27:12–13).
Later, additional keys of the priesthood were restored by heavenly messengers such as Moses, Elias, and Elijah (see D&C 110:11–16). Through these events, the priesthood was returned to the earth. Those who hold this priesthood today have the authority to perform ordinances such as baptism. They also have the authority to direct the Lord’s kingdom on earth.
Christ’s Church Was Organized Again
On April 6, 1830, the Savior again directed the organizing of His Church (see D&C 20:1). Having received the priesthood keys, Joseph Smith now had authority to do this. During Christ’s mortal ministry, His Church was called the Church of Jesus Christ, and the members were called “Saints.” Now, in this later period of time, His Church is called The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (see D&C 115:4).
Joseph Smith was sustained as prophet and “first elder” of the Church (see D&C 20:2-4). Later the First Presidency was organized, and he was sustained as President. When the Church was first organized, only the framework was set up. The organization developed further as the Church continued to grow.
The Church grew quickly, and soon it was organized with the same offices as those of the ancient Church. That organization included apostles, prophets, seventies, evangelists (patriarchs), pastors (presiding officers), high priests, elders, bishops, priests, teachers, and deacons.
Today, a prophet, acting under the direction of the Lord, leads the Church. This prophet is also the President of the Church. He holds all the authority necessary to direct the Lord’s work on earth (see D&C 107:65, 91). Two counselors assist the President. Twelve Apostles, who are special witnesses of Jesus Christ, teach Church members and regulate the affairs of the Church in all parts of the world. Other General Authorities and general officers of the Church serve under the direction of the First Presidency and the Twelve.
The Church today has grown much larger than it was during Jesus’s mortal ministry. There are now millions of members worldwide. As the Church has grown, the Lord has revealed additional units of organization.
The Church Will Never Be Destroyed
Thousands of years ago, the Lord said He would “set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, . . . and it shall stand for ever” (Daniel 2:44). The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is that kingdom. Although there have been periods of worldwide apostasy in the past, the Lord has promised that His Church will remain until Jesus Christ returns to reign personally on the earth. Members of the Church enjoy many blessings as they share those blessings with others preparation for the Savior’s coming