The last prophet of the Old Testament, Malachi, prophesied that “the messenger of the covenant” would “suddenly come to his temple.” This sounds like a reference to the Savior’s Second Coming, especially when Malachi asks, “Who may abide the day of his coming?” He tells us that this messenger will refine and purify the sons of Levi, “and purge them as gold and silver,” so that they can “offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness” (Malachi 3:1-3).
Jesus Christ considered this passage so important that He quoted it during His visit to the American continent and commanded His disciples to write it down (3 Nephi 24:1-3).
And John the Baptist referenced the same passage when he conferred the Aaronic Priesthood on Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery in May of 1829. According to Joseph Smith’s account, John told them that this priesthood “shall never be taken again from the earth until the sons of Levi do offer again an offering unto the Lord in righteousness” (Joseph Smith—History 1:69, Doctrine & Covenants 13:1). Oliver remembered it slightly differently: “This priesthood and this authority…shall remain upon earth, that the Sons of Levi may yet offer an offering unto the Lord in righteousness!” (Joseph Smith—History, footnote)
Who are these “sons of Levi,” and what is this offering which they will give to the Lord in righteousness after they are purified?
Who are these sons of Levi?
Levi was one of the twelve sons of Jacob, also known as Israel (Genesis 29:34). Moses and his brother Aaron were descendants of Levi (Exodus 2:1-10, Exodus 6:16-20). The sons of Aaron were consecrated as priests (Exodus 28:1-4) and the rest of the descendants of Levi (known as the Levites) were their assistants (Numbers 3:5-10). One of the duties of the priests was to kill the animals which were offered to the Lord, and the Levites sometimes fulfilled this responsibility as well (2 Chronicles 29:34). Like the priests, Levites had to be cleansed in order to perform these duties appropriately (Numbers 8:6-16).
In September, 1832, the Lord promised Joseph Smith, “The sons of Moses and also the sons of Aaron shall offer an acceptable offering and sacrifice in the house of the Lord, which house shall be built unto the Lord in this generation.” Who were these sons of Moses and Aaron? The Lord went on to clarify:
The sons of Moses and of Aaron shall be filled with the glory of the Lord, upon Mount Zion in the Lord’s house, whose sons are ye; and also many whom I have called and sent forth to build up my church.
For whoso is faithful unto the obtaining these two priesthoods of which I have spoken, and the magnifying their calling, are sanctified by the Spirit unto the renewing of their bodies. They become the sons of Moses and of Aaron and the seed of Abraham, and the church and kingdom, and the elect of God (Doctrine and Covenants 84:31-34, italics added).
So by participating worthily in the ordinances of the priesthood, we are adopted into the family of Moses and Aaron (and therefore of Levi) and are able to offer an acceptable offering in the house of the Lord.
What is the offering?
In January, 1841, as members of the church gathered in Nauvoo, Illinois, Joseph Smith received a revelation in which the Lord explained the importance of building a temple. Some sacred activities could only be done in a sacred place. “For this cause I commanded Moses that he should build a tabernacle, that they should bear it with them in the wilderness, and to build a house in the land of promise, that those ordinances might be revealed which had been hid from before the world was.” (D&C 124:38). The Lord went on to describe certain activities which ought to be done in a sacred place:
Your anointings, and your washings, and your baptisms for the dead, and your solemn assemblies, and your memorials for your sacrifices by the sons of Levi, and for your oracles in your most holy places wherein you receive conversations, and your statutes and judgments, for the beginning of the revelations and foundation of Zion, and for the glory, honor, and endowment of all her municipals, are ordained by the ordinance of my holy house, which my people are always commanded to build unto my holy name (D&C 124:39).
The following year, Joseph wrote an epistle to the church, explaining the ordinance of baptism for the dead, outlining the biblical basis for this practice, and providing instructions about how these baptisms ought to be performed. Near the end of the epistle, he referenced the passage from Malachi and described the offering we will make:
Behold, the great day of the Lord is at hand;… and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness. Let us, therefore, as a church and a people, and as Latter-day Saints, offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness; and let us present in his holy temple, when it is finished, a book containing the records of our dead, which shall be worthy of all acceptation (D&C 128:24).
So we are the sons of Levi, if we choose to participate in the ordinances of the temple. And our offering to the Lord is the record we keep of our ancestors and of the work we do on their behalf.
Today, I will be grateful for the scope of God’s work upon the earth. I will be grateful that He allows His children, including me, to participate in His work of salvation on behalf of the living and of the dead. I will be grateful for holy places where He can reveal truths to us, and where we can make offerings to Him in righteousness.