06 January 2010

The Vision of Moses as a Heavenly Ascent

One of the most remarkable chapters in scripture is Moses. Though it serves as a superb introduction to succeeding chapters that describe the Creation and the Fall, its separate prologue1 and epilogue signal its status as a revelation that can stand apart on its own. The events described apparently took place sometime after Jehovah called Moses out of the burning bush but before he had returned to Egypt to deliver the children of Israel.

Though several of the individual episodes in the chapter are very well known—Moses’ confrontation with Satan, his comprehensive vision of the earth and all its inhabitants, and God’s declaration about his “work and glory”—how all these pieces join beautifully into a coherent whole has been underappreciated in the past. It is now quite evident, however, that the outline of events in Moses 1 fits squarely in the tradition of ancient “heavenly ascent” literature and its relationship to temple theology, rites, and ordinances. It is significant that this account was revealed to Joseph Smith more than a decade before the full temple endowment was administered to others in Nauvoo.

Although the stories of heavenly ascent are similar in many respects to temple practices, they make the claim of being something more. While ancient temple rituals dramatically depict a figurative journey into the presence of God, the ascent literature tells the stories of prophets who experience actual encounters with Deity within the heavenly temple — the “completion or fulfillment” of the “types and images” in earthly priesthood ordinances. In such encounters, the prophet may experience a vision of eternity, participation in worship with the angels, or the conferral of certain blessings that are “made sure” by the voice of God Himself. Consistent with the basic temple pattern and stories of heavenly ascent, Moses descends from his first home in the spirit world and then undertakes a step-by-step return to the Father.

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