For my Come, Follow Me lesson for this week, I studied Doctrine and Covenants 12-13. The revelations contained in the two sections were revealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith while he lived in a little town then known as Harmony, Pennsylvania. In a wooded area near Harmony, John the Baptist appeared to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery on May 15, 1829.
Joseph and Oliver had been working in the scriptures when they came upon the topic of baptism. Since neither of the men had been baptized, they decided to ask the Lord about baptism. They found a secluded spot in a wooded area and knelt in prayer. John the Baptist appeared as a resurrected being appeared to them. He placed his hands on their heads and conferred the Aaronic Priesthood upon them, calling them “my fellow servants” (Doctrine and Covenants 13:1). The angel’s message is contained in Doctrine and Covenants 13.
Upon you my fellow servants, in the name of Messiah, I confer the Priesthood of Aaron, which holds the keys of the ministering of angels, and of the gospel of repentance, and of baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; and this shall never be taken again from the earth, until the sons of Levi do offer again an offering unto the Lord in righteousness.
The angel told Joseph and Oliver that he was acting under the direction of Peter, James, and John. They were ancient apostles of Jesus Christ and hold the keys of the higher priesthood, or the Melchizedek Priesthood. John the Baptist promised Joseph and Oliver that they would receive the Melchizedek Priesthood at a future date.
After the angel departed, Joseph and Oliver went into the nearby Susquehanna River between Harmony, Pennsylvania, and Colesville, New York. Joseph baptized Oliver, and then Oliver baptized Joseph. We do not know the date that they were ordained to the Melchizedek Priesthood, but we learn the following from Doctrine and Covenants 27:12, a revelation dated August 1830 in Harmony, Pennsylvania:
12 And also with Peter, and James, and John, whom I have sent unto you, by whom I have ordained you and confirmed you to be apostles, and especial witnesses of my name, and bear the keys of your ministry and of the same things which I revealed unto them;
13 Unto whom I have committed the keys of my kingdom, and a dispensation of the gospel for the last times; and for the fulness of times, in the which I will gather together in one all things, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth.
The restoration of the Aaronic Priesthood and then the Melchizedek Priesthood was critical to the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ because it is the power to act in God’s name. Even though we do not know the exact date, we know that the Melchizedek Priesthood power was restored before April 6, 1830, when The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was organized. Joseph Smith was the first elder in the new church, and Oliver Cowdery was the second elder. With the restoration of both priesthoods, Joseph and Oliver had the authority to baptize people and to confirm them as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.