The prophets have spoken often about the Millennium, but what most people focus on are the signs that will precede that event. These include such things as the gospel being preached in every nation, the building of specific temples, the gathering of Israel, wars and rumors of war, natural disasters, increased wickedness, etc. However, the prophets have also repeatedly stated that we are to "prepare" the way for the coming of the Lord. We read in D&C 33:10, "open your mouths and they shall be filled, saying: Repent, repent, and prepare ye the way of the Lord, and make his paths straight; for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." This same message is repeated many times in modern-day scripture and by modern-day prophets. The question is: What is that preparation, and why is it necessary before the Lord can come?
Most people interpret these scriptures as meaning that we must prepare ourselves so that when the Lord comes we will be ready to be accepted by Him and not be cast away. However that is not the sense in which the prophets have used this word. In most cases they seem to indicate that there is something we must do in order that Christ can come.
The word "prepare" means that something must be done first before something else can happen. For example, if we are going to put in a paved road for someone to travel on, we have to prepare the ground first by clearing away the trees, then staking out where the road is to go, next grading the road, and finally laying the foundation of the road. It is only when all of these preparations have been completed that the paving of the road can begin.
Therefore, when the prophets say we must prepare the way of the Lord what they are indicating is that something essential needs to be done first in order to make His coming possible. One of the things that needs to be done is to cry repentance unto the world. But, if the gospel of repentance has been preached since the time of Adam, then why is it necessary for this work to be done now in order to "prepare" the way for Christ to come later?
The prophets have answered this question. Elder George A. Smith, in the October conference of 1914 said, "May the Lord bestow his blessings upon you, my brethren and sisters, and upon all Israel, wherever they may be, and may the spirit of peace and the desire to do good in the world find lodgment in the hearts of the children of men, that repentance may come, that they may turn from the wickedness that has been in the world, and in that way bring about the Millennium and the return to this earth of peace, that our Father has said has been taken from it."
According to Elder Smith, what will "bring about the Millennium and the return to this earth of peace" is when "the desire to do good… finds lodgment in the hearts of the children of men." And how will that happen? When men "turn from the wickedness that has been in the world." That of course is what the gospel of repentance is all about.
Joseph Smith said in1843, "Christians should cease wrangling and contending with each other, and cultivate the principles of union and friendship in their midst; and they will do it before the millennium can be ushered in and Christ takes possession of his kingdom." (DHC, Vol 5, p. 499). President J. Ruben Clark wrote, "You cannot bring the millennium by negotiating a treaty. That will come only when you have placed the gospel of Christ . . . into the heart of all mankind (Dangers of the Treaty Pointed Out, by J. Ruben Clark)
According to theses remarks "before the millennium can be ushered in" and the only way it can come is "when you have placed the gospel of Christ" and "the principles of union and friendship" in the hearts of people. Apparently the reason why it is vitally important for the gospel to be preached in preparation for Christ's second coming is so that when He does come again there will be a society of people on earth who will have the spirit of peace and brotherly love in their heart.
President Kimball has said, "My beloved brothers and sisters, what a world it would be if the members of every family in this church were to be on their knees like this every night and morning! And what a world it would be if hundreds of millions of families in this great land and other lands were praying for their sons and daughters twice daily. And what a world this would be if a billion families throughout the world were in home evenings and church activity and were on their physical knees pouring out their souls for their children, their families, their leaders, their governments! This kind of family could bring us back toward the translation experience of righteous Enoch. The millennium would be ushered in." (April 8, 1973 General Conference, Ensign July 1973, p.15),
According to President Kimball, what will usher in the millennium is "if a billion families throughout the word were in home evenings and church activity and were on their physical knees pouring out their souls." And the only way that can happen is if the gospel is sufficiently preached throughout the world.
The scriptures tell us that Zion will be here on earth when Christ comes again and, Zion is a place where the pure in heart dwell (D&C 97:21). During the millennium, New Jerusalem will be Zion, and the city of Enoch, which will come down from heaven, is also referred to as Zion (which will become part of New Jerusalem). The scriptures tell us that when that day comes, "the Lord shall be in their midst, and his glory shall be upon them, and he will be their king and their lawgiver" (D&C 45:57-59). Furthermore, we are told that "Zion is the city of our God, and surely Zion cannot fall, neither be moved out of her place, for God is there, and the hand of the Lord is there" (D&C 97:19). Thus, to dwell in Zion is to live where God lives. And in order to do that a person must be righteous enough to have the Lord "be in their midst."
But Zion must also exist upon the earth before Christ comes. The Lord has instructed us, "I say unto you, keep my commandments, and seek to bring forth and establish the cause of Zion" (D&C 6:6; 11:6; 12:6; 14:6). "Thou art called to labor in my vineyard, and to build up my church, and to bring forth Zion" (D&C 39:13).
The purpose for laboring "to build up my church" and "seek to bring forth and establish the cause of Zion" is because, "if thou art faithful and walk in the paths of virtue before me, I will preserve thy life, and thou shalt receive an inheritance in Zion" (D&C 25:2, see also D&C 64:30). Therefore, we are commanded to go forth and labor to establish a righteous people so they can inherit Zion at the time when Christ returns.
The scriptures explain it this way: "The word of the Lord concerning his church, established in the last days for the restoration of his people, as he has spoken by the mouth of his prophets, and for the gathering of his saints to stand upon Mount Zion, which shall be the city of New Jerusalem" (D&C 84:2) But to inherit Zion, "the Lord requireth the heart and a willing mind; and the willing and obedient shall eat the good of the land of Zion in these last days. And the rebellious shall be cut off out of the land of Zion, and shall be sent away, and shall not inherit the land" (D&C 64:34,35). Therefore, "thou shalt magnify thine office, and push many people to Zion with songs of everlasting joy upon their heads" (D&C 66:11).
According to these scriptures, when Christ comes again he wants to gather His saints so they may stand with Him "upon Mount Zion, which shall be the city of New Jerusalem." But only those who have the heart and a willing mind and who are willingly obedient to Christ will be gathered there. All others (who are the rebellious) will be cut off from inheriting the land of Zion. Therefore, we are commanded to magnify our office in "push[ing (i.e., persuading) as] many people to Zion [so that they may enter therein] with songs of everlasting joy upon their heads."
Elder James E. Talmage said, "the earth is destined to become a celestialized body fit for the abode of the most exalted intelligences. The Millennium, with all its splendor, is but a more advanced stage of preparation, by which the earth and its inhabitants will approach foreordained perfection." (Articles of Faith, p. 339) In other words, the Millennium is part of the preparation necessary to make the earth "a celestialized body fit for the abode of the most exalted intelligences."
Dr. Hugh Nibly explained, "Let us say a few things about Zion, generalizing from the Old Testament. Zion is a code word that denotes a very real thing: Any community in which the celestial order prevails. Specifically in the Old Testament, all the prophets speak of Zion as the place that can receive the Lord, to which he will be willing to come and in which he is willing to dwell. Not every place can receive the Lord as his habitation-only Zion, a place fit to receive God himself. We ask when we are going to have the millennium; it will be when the pure in heart are able to receive the Lord." (Approaching Zion, p. 4). What Dr. Nibly is saying is that before Christ can come and usher in the millennium, there must be people who are "pure in heart [who] are able to receive the Lord" and with whom "he is willing to dwell."
Joseph Fielding McConkie said, "How close are we to the Second Coming? In a revelation to Joseph Smith, we are told that everyone will be privileged to hear the fullness of the gospel 'in his own tongue, and in his own language' by legal administrators (D&C 90:11). Alma tells us that 'the Lord doth grant unto all nations, of their own nation and tongue, to teach his word' (Alma 29:8). In describing the vision shown to him and his father, Nephi tells us that there will be congregations of the Saints 'upon all the face of the earth' before Christ's return (1 Ne. 14:12). This chain of thought suggests not only that the restored gospel must be freely taught among the Arab nations, for example, but that it must be taught in their native tongues by Arabs who are legal administrators of the gospel. It further requires that there be Latter-day Saint congregations throughout all Arab nations and that there be those in their congregations who have received the fullness of temple blessings. It also suggests that we have a considerable labor ahead of us and that missionary work is still in its infancy." (Straight Answers to some Tough Gospel Questions, p. 118)
In order for Christ to return, there has to be righteous saints of Arab descent living in what is now Arab countries. And the same applies to people living in China, Russia, India, and many other places. In fact, there needs to be so many native saints living in those countries that it justifies having temples built there. And it must be remembered that temples are literally "houses of the Lord." Just like Saddam Hussein had palaces (and sometimes several of them) in almost every major city in Iraq where he could stay when visiting that city, so also, Christ must have a house to live in no matter where on His earth He may choose to visit. Since those preparations have not yet been made for Him then the way for Christ's return has not been sufficiently prepared.
In the October 2005 General Conference Elder M. Russell Ballard, speaking about missionary work, said, "there is an incredible amount of work that [still] needs to be done," and he made a special plea to every bishop to send one additional person on a mission than they were already planning on calling (Ensign, May 2005, p.). If this tremendous amount of work needs to be done before the Lord's return, then the longer it takes us as members of the Church to complete this preparation the longer it will be before the Lord can come again. And conversely, the quicker we complete this preparation the quicker we hasten the Lord's arrival.
President McKay has said, "The responsibility of the Church is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ as restored to the Prophet Joseph Smith…. There is nothing that can stop the progress of truth excepting only our weaknesses or failure to do our duty. Every member is a missionary. If every member will carry that responsibility… no power on earth can stop this church from growing. There's one responsibility which no man can evade, that's the responsibility of personal influence… It's what you are, not what you pretend to be that will bring people to investigate [the Church]" (CR Oct. 1969, 88-89, Priesthood Manual, Teachings of David O. McKay, p. 53).
According to President McKay, if we, as members of Christ's Church, are faithful in doing our duty by carrying out our responsibilities and living the principles of the gospel then the Church will progress and grow, thereby filling the world with a knowledge of Christ. But if we do not do our duty and allow our weaknesses to interfere with our own spirituality, then the progress of the Church will be slowed. And when that happens, we are also slowing the rate at which the gospel is spreading, which, in turn, impedes Christ's return.
But why must we prepare the way now by preaching the gospel in all nations before the Lord can return? Can't He just come any time He wants to? Perhaps we can answer this question by way of an example.
Image a kingdom ruled over by a beloved king. Now, image that a ruthless enemy overthrows that king, sending the king fleeing into exile. With the king gone, the enemy establishes himself as the new head of government and imposes his own tyrannical rule of law over the people of that kingdom. The exiled king, watching from afar, sees his people suffering and in misery and decides to retake his kingdom. But, in order to do that he must have an army willing to fight by his side. More than that, he must have a strategy to win the conflict. If the enemy has a large army ready and willing to defend their newly taken territory, then the king must likewise have a large enough army to vanquish and conquer his enemy.
Now, image that the king's strategy is to first weaken his enemy from within before he launches a full frontal attack. And the way he will do this is by sending some of his trusted aids to live among the people of his kingdom. Once there, they begin recruiting others to join them. However, instead of looking for front-line soldiers, the king is looking to establish a resistance movement within the enemy's territory. Ordinary people, doing their day-to-day work, are secretly doing what they can to obstruct, disrupt, sabotage, thwart, and undermine the enemy's rule over his subjects.
This is exactly what happened in Iraq in 2003. And invading army came in and overthrew Saddam Hussein, causing him to flee into hiding. In effect, he was in exile in his own country. But, those loyal to him immediately began to plot how they could return their former dictator to power. Since their forces were no match for the mighty American military war machine, they resorted to resistance tactics. We refer to these loyalists by the term "insurgents." They mingle among the common population, making it hard for us to distinguish between friend and foe. Clandestinely, the carry out hit and run attacks, seeking to inflict enough minor damage to wear away the will of the American army.
However, they know they can never succeed in this effort all by themselves. Therefore, they need to enlist the aid of other ordinary people to assist them because without the support of enough people, they cannot hope to return to power. But, they don't need everyone in the country to support them. In fact, they don't even need a majority of people. What they do need is enough people committed to their cause and a majority of people who, for whatever reason, are unwilling do anything one way or the other. Even so, they continually seek to recruit people to either actively become fighters or passively give them and their cause sympathy, support, and encouragement.
However, as the insurgents increase their activity, so do those who are in power. The combined efforts of both the Iraqi government and the U.S. military strike back by raiding suspected hideouts, jailing suspected activists, and interrogating the common citizen to gather information, all in an effort to route out and destroy the rebels. Of course, the more the government strikes back, the more the insurgents try to use these actions to enflame hatred among the common Iraqi citizen toward their government and rally more people to their cause.
Jesus is the rightful king of this earth but Satan, His archenemy, has usurped the King's power and has set himself up as the king of the earth, enslaving its people under his tyrannical rule. Jesus has allowed this condition to exist for a while, but the time will come when He will return and reclaim His rightful place as the King. And the way He has chosen to do that is by forming a group of resistance fighters. So He sends some of his most trusted aids, such as Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, Gordon B. Hinckley, and others to persuade and enlist common, ordinary people like you and I to join the King's army. But, we're not expected to be the front-line soldiers. We are the insurgents.
As we go about our ordinary lives, quietly paying allegiance to the King of Kings, we seek to undermine the government of Satan. Where he allows hate, we practice love. Where he encourages anger and resentment, we create peace. Where he orders selfishness and greed, we show forth kindness and compassion for others. But, Satan will not stand for this defiance to his rule, so he sends forth his soldiers to seek out and destroy all those who will not bow to his authority. Thus, the more resistance fighters there are, the more Satan increases his effort to eradicate them by force.
However, for Jesus to succeed in returning, He doesn't need a majority of people on earth to be on His side. All He needs is enough people committed to His cause and a majority of people who do not oppose His rule. Even so, He is continually seeking to recruit people to become active resistance fighters.
But taking back the kingdom is only half the battle. As we found out in Iraq, keeping the peace can be worse than defeating the enemy. What good does it do for Jesus to return if the vast majority of people don't acknowledge Him as their King? If that were the case, then He would have to rule by force to maintain His authority. So, by enlisting people to actively resist the government of Satan, Jesus is, at the same time, converting people into actively accepting Him as their Lord and Master. If they are willing to follow His orders when He is out of power, then they'll be even more willing to follow His commands when He is in power. Thus, Jesus is seeking to not only take back His kingdom but to have as many loyal subjects within that kingdom as He can once He reclaims it.
But there is more to it than that. Before Christ returns His kingdom must be a place fit for Him to live because God cannot dwell in unrighteousness. Therefore, of necessity, when He comes to reclaim His Kingdom He must rid it of all unrighteousness. But if all the earth is wicked, and all the wicked are destroyed before He returns, then He will rule over an empty and desolate kingdom. But there is no glory in that. However, if He can cleanse the earth of sin and still have a vast number of people left, living lives of righteousness, who welcome their king with joyous thanksgiving at His arrival and who will serve Him thereafter with a willing and glad heart, then His kingdom is something worth returning to.
Perhaps we can illustrate this situation by way of a different example. Let's say there is a farmer who has a very large farm. When the time comes for him to plant, he sends out his laborers into the field to cultivate the soil. Next, he sends his laborers out to plant the seeds. Later He sends them out to weed and fertilize the ground. All of this in preparation for harvesting a bountiful crop. But, will he do this only to a portion of his field? Of course not. He wants to cultivate, seed, weed, and fertilize his entire farm so that every part of it provides him with an abundant return.
The work of the Lord is to assist His Father in bringing to pass, not only the immortality but the eternal life of every man. Since Christ is responsible for doing this with all men everywhere on the earth, He must cultivate, seed, weed, and fertilize every area of the earth. To do this, He needs laborers in every part of the world. That takes a large number of people who are committed to serving Christ in helping Him accomplish this goal. The crop that will be harvested is people who are fit to dwell in a celestial environment.
President McKay had said, "The mission of the church is to prepare the way for the final establishment of the Kingdom of God on the earth" (CR April 1941, 106, Priesthood manual, "Teachings of David O. McKay, p. 22). In the allegory of the wild and tame olive tree we read in Jacob 5:19, "the Lord of the vineyard said unto the servant: Come, let us go to the nethermost part of the vineyard." The way we as members of the church "prepare the way for the final establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth" is by preaching the gospel to every nation, kindred, and tongue - i.e., to the nethermost part of the vineyard. And the reason why this is so necessary in the last days is because when Christ comes there will be found a bountiful harvest of righteous people living in every nation on the earth, among every kind of nationality, who speak in every tongue. Hence, the entire world, to the nethermost corner of it, will become a place fit for the King of righteousness to dwell.
We are already beginning to see this happen. In 200 there were already more than 200,000 members of the Church in Africa. Although this is a large and quickly growing number of faihtful saints, they do not make up the majority of people who live in Africa. Some of the worst atrocities against mankind are being committed in African nations, yet, at the same time there are enough faithful Saints living there that it justifies having three operating temples. The same can be said for Washington D.C. where, number wise, there are thousands of faithful LDS members living in the shadow of a temple but who make up only a small percentage of the city's population where the crime rate is one of the highest in the nation.
When Christ returns, he will cleanse the earth of the wicked, but the remaining number of righteous people still living in all areas of the world, such as in Washington D.C., Africa, the Middle East, China, and India will be significant. And it is in this way that all the earth will become a place fit for Christ to dwell in righteousness.
President McKay explained, "And what is the kingdom of God?… It is divine government among men… The term [kingdom of God] implies divine rule in the hearts and will of men and in society…. Based upon man's voluntary submission of his will to that of God. On one occasion Jesus said, 'The kingdom of God is within you,' (Luke 17:21). That is true, for it is in the heart of man that membership in the outward kingdom has its origin" (Priesthood manual, Teachings of David O. McKay, page 23).
In talking about the unity that should exist in the Church President McKay said, "The mission of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is to establish peace… In branches and wards of the Church there is no virtue more conducive to progress and spirituality than the presence of this principle. When jealousy, backbiting [and] evil speaking supplant mutual confidence, unity, and harmony, the progress of the organization is stifled. Inner weakness is more dangerous and more fatal than outward opposition. The Church is little if at all injured by persecution from ignorant, misinformed, or malicious enemies; a greater hindrance to its progress comes from faultfinders, shirkers, commandment breakers and apostate cliques from within" (Priesthood manual, p44, 45).
Again President McKay indicates that nothing can stop the progress of the Church except its own members. It is the spirituality of the members that makes the Church move forward until it fills the entire world or the lack of our spirituality that will stifle and retard that progress. It isn't enough just to preach the gospel to every nation. Those who become converted to Christ must also become a society who is pure in heart through voluntary submission to Christ's will. The longer it takes the Church to establish that kind of a society to the nethermost regions of the world the longer it will take Christ to return. Therefore, it appears that it is the faithfulness of the members of the Church who will determine when Christ will come again.
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