In the days of ancient Israel, the temple was known as "the house of the Lord" (1 Sam. 1:7; 1 Kings 6:1; 2 Kings 12:11-16) and was literally considered by the Jews to be the place where God Himself dwelled upon the earth among His chosen people. Today, the only people who erect such buildings to God are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. And, just as in the days before Jesus, these buildings are considered so sacred that they are not open to the general public. Only those who are "faithful in all things whatsoever [God] has commanded" them are worthy to enter into His house.
Because of this, there seems to be an aura of mystery in the minds of many outside of the LDS church concerning what people really do inside the temples because Latter-day Saints don't openly discuss these things. The Church has published numerous pamphlets and booklets in an effort to explain the ordinances which are performed inside these holy buildings, yet people continue to be intrigued about exactly what goes on inside of them.
As the Lord explained to Joseph Smith, the purpose of temples is to provide a place where God can bless and crown us with honor, immortality, and eternal life. To achieve those blessings, all people, including those who have died, must be baptized, be washed clean, be anointed, receive their endowments, and, finally, become sealed as families - husbands to wives, children to parents.
But what precisely does it mean to be crowned with honor, immortality, and eternal life? The Lord told Joseph Smith, "I say unto you, I gave unto you a commandment that you should build a house, in the which house I design to endow those whom I have chosen with power from on high" (D&C 5:8). Jesus revealed to the apostle John, "To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame and am set down with my Father in his throne… and has made us unto our God kings and priests; and we shall reign on the earth" (Rev. 3:21; 4:10).
The work done in the temple is meant to endow us with power from on high, so that we can inherit the glory which Christ has inherited from His Father, and sit with Him on His throne as kings and priests ( queens and priestesses for women) unto our God as He has sat down in His Father's throne, and to rule and reign with Him on the earth. That is why Jesus is known as the King of kings. As such, we can view what happens in the temple as being similar in purpose to a coronation ceremony, preparing us for this great blessing spoken of in the scriptures.
However, in the temple we only received the promise to become such if we remain true and faithful to the commandments of the Lord. Therefore, this blessing of being crowned with honor, immortality and eternal life is conditional. There are things we must do in order to enter into this exalted state. And that is what the ordinances performed in the temple are meant to teach us. But this instruction in godliness isn't quite as simple as it may appear because these teachings are presented to us in symbolic language. In fact, all of the ordinances of God, whether performed inside or outside of the temple, are highly symbolic in nature.
However, most people are not familiar with the language of symbolism because it is not something we commonly use in our everyday life. Since nearly everything associated with the temple is symbolic in meaning, it's not uncommon that people often fail to grasp the eternal significance of these ordinances.
The reason why symbols are hard to understand is because their meaning is implied rather than being obvious or easily seen. In our culture, we're use to things being straight forward, plain, and simple to understand. But symbols are anything but straight-forward. Instead, they can convey a multitude of meanings rather than providing us with one clear, definitive statement. Therefore, most of us are poorly prepared to understand the language of symbols.
Then how can we learn to understand their message?
Before we answer that question, we first need to keep in mind that the primary purpose of the work done in the temple is to confer certain rights, privileges, and blessing upon us pertaining to our full salvation. It is not necessary for us to understand the symbolism of this work in order for it to be effective in our life. In other words, all of the ordinances of God are valid when performed by the proper authority, whether we understand its symbolism or not.
Nevertheless, having said that, our Father in heaven has given us an added blessing of personal instruction in the temple ordinances in the form of symbols. When we come to understand the spiritual significance of these symbols, we are then further endowed with additional enlightenment and a greater knowledge of what we need to do to become joint-heirs with Christ and thereby inherit all that the Father has (see Rom. 8:17; Rev. 21:7).
Since we, as a society in general, are not familiar with the use of symbolism, it might be helpful for us to gain a broad understanding of what they are before we talk specifically about the symbols of God.
The dictionary defines a symbol as: "Something that represents something else" (American Heritage Dictionary). A symbol stands in place of or represents something other than what is expressly said or seen in the symbol itself. For example, the flag of the United States of America is just a piece of cloth with three different colors arranged in a striped pattern. But it becomes a symbol when it stands for or represents a particular country. When we see that particular flag, it makes us think of the country for which it stands. It also symbolizes that we are one nation, under God, where there is liberty and justice for all. Those who hate the United States, symbolically express their anger at us by burning the symbol which represents America, its flag.
However, there is not a fixed meaning behind each symbol. In fact, the meaning for any symbol is given by the person using it. As such, each symbol can express a different meaning depending on who is using it. For example, in today's society, wearing a cross as a piece of jewelry usually indicates that that person is a Christian. But in ancient times, the cross was a symbol of death, which struck fear and terror into the hearts of those living in the Roman Empire. The ancient Christians living in those times used the symbol of a fish, because it indicated they were fishers of men. But today, a picture of a fish over a doorway symbolizes someplace that deals in seafood. Therefore, in order to understand the meaning of any symbol, we have to understand what the person using it intends for it to mean.
But, symbols are more complicated than this because they can be understood on many different levels, thereby conveying many different meanings all at the same time. Then how are we to understand the meaning of the symbols found in the temple?
The main key to unlocking this mystery is to remember what the purpose of the temple is. God's work is to bring about the immortality and eternal life of man, and He does this by preparing us to possess the fullness of His glory. Therefore, we need to interpret all the temple symbols in the light of how they can help us become like God is.
The second key is to realize that symbols are not meant to be understood in a literal sense. Therefore, when we focus on the obvious meaning we are actually missing the intended meaning. The really important truths are not out in the open but are hidden. This was the pattern Jesus used with all of His parables. Therefore, we need to look for the meaning that's within and behind the symbol. The outer meaning pertains to the outer or earthly things of life, while the inner meaning pertains to the inner or spiritual things of God. As such, the outer meaning represents what we must do, while the inner meaning represents what we must become.
The third key is to liken all the symbolism to ourselves so it can be for our profit and learning. We need to internalize the symbols by asking ourselves, "How does this apply to me? What message is there that can help me become more like Christ?"
This is an essential concept because we are saved as individuals, not as a group. The symbols of the temple can best be understood when we realize they were given to instruct each of us personally. Therefore, each person needs to see himself in every aspect of the ceremony. This is true even for the stories found in the scriptures. Their true message is found when we realize that what the character in the story is going through represents each of us as we go through life.
Because of this, going through the temple is a personal journey of learning. Even though each of us may go through the same experience, we all view it from a different perspective. We see it through the glasses of our own personal ideas, feelings, needs, and prior experiences. Therefore we each get something different out of it. As such, the lessons we learn are personal in nature. We discover things that apply to us individually, which is as it should be because the temple is all about our own personal, spiritual journey back to God.
Alma asked, "Have ye been spiritually born?" (Alma 5:14-28). The temple experience should teach us how to live our life on a celestial level of spirituality. Therefore, this is the message we should be seeking to find within each of God's symbols. But once we have found it, we then need to apply that principle in our life, because it's only when we incorporate these great spiritual truths into our behavior and they become a part of our thinking and attitude that they will have the power to exalt us.
Since these messages are hidden within symbols, we have to take the time to discover them through prayerful contemplation. And the more spiritual knowledge we acquire, the greater our ability becomes to see more possibilities in each symbol. Since the same symbol can have an variety of meanings, teaching numerous lessons on many different levels, and since there are countless symbols found in the temple, both apparent as well as many that are not so readily apparent, the Lord has provided us with a smorgasbord feast of knowledge where the learning never ends.
God is a Master Teacher. Therefore, He has prepared the temple experience in a way that provides us with the best environment for learning. In the temple we are not merely instructed verbally, nor are we simply a passive spectator. Instead, we are active participants. As such, we learn by doing as we participate in the temple experience. To illustrate what I mean, let's take a trip inside a temple.
To better appreciate this journey we first need to understand that those who work in the temple are completely dressed in white clothing. This in itself is highly symbolic because white symbolizes purity. At the same time, it also represents something that is spotlessly clean. The scriptures tell us that Jesus is the "light of the world" (John 8:12; Mosiah 16:9; Alma 38:9; D&C 11:28) and light is pure white. The word "light" is also used in the scriptures to represent righteousness as does the color white. Also, when we see a group of people walking around in white, it gives us the impression of being in the presence of angels. So we see that just this one symbol provides us with a multitude of spiritual meanings.
Also, it should be realized that, because of economy and convenience, the newer, smaller temples now being built perform all the ordinances on one floor at ground level. However, the older, larger temples, such as the one in Washington D.C., have several floors. Since I am more familiar with the Washington D.C. temple, we'll take our imaginary tour inside of it.
Immediately as we enter the temple from the parking lot, dressed in our Sunday best street clothing, we are greeted by a temple worker, dressed in white, who checks our temple recommend card. This card symbolizes that we have been found worthy by a representative of the Lord to enter the House of God. After careful inspection of this card, the temple worker then permits us to proceed further into the temple.
On the ground floor level there are a few other temple workers dressed in white moving about, but most people here are still dressed in their street clothing, either because they are just coming in or are getting ready to leave.
We then go to the second floor where the dressing rooms are located, and there we change out of our street clothing and into our white clothing. On this floor, we see some people dressed in their street clothing, but the majority of people are dressed in white.
On the third floor is where the endowment rooms are located. These are used for instruction and performing of ordinances pertaining to our full salvation. Everyone on this floor is dressed in white. On the floor above this are the sealing rooms. This is where the final and culminating ordinance of sealing husbands and wives and their children take place. Everyone on this floor is likewise dressed in white.
On the surface, this journey doesn't seem to be particularly impressive, but that's because we went through it with our spiritual eyes shut and completely ignored all the symbolism around us. So let's take the same trip again, but this time with our eyes of understanding open.
As we leave the parking lot and enter into the House of the Lord, we are leaving the earthly world behind as though we are stepping through the veil of death on our way to heaven. At this point, we are still dressed as we do on earth. Waiting to greet us is an "angel" who checks to see if our life has been lived in such a way that we are worthy to enter into the place where God lives. We could say that this person is somewhat similar to the stories of St. Peter at the gates of heaven deciding who gets in and who doesn't after examining the lives they have lived on earth, as symbolized by our temple recommend.
If we pass the test, the "angel" allows us to proceed into "heaven." Inside the temple, while we are on the ground floor, we are still in an "earthly" realm where most people are still dressed in their earthly clothes. However there are some ministering "angels" in this realm assisting the newly arrived souls and giving them needed direction and guidance.
As we ascend to the next floor, we rise above the earthly world and shed our earthly way of doing things. This is where we are symbolically making a transition from being an "earthly" person (symbolized by our street clothing) into a more spiritual realm (symbolized by the wearing of white clothing). Once the transition has been completed, we have prepared ourselves to rise to the next level in our heavenly progress where we are instructed more fully in our eternal responsibilities. Here we receive those ordinances which prepare us to receive all that the Father has. Once we have completed that work we are then ready to rise to the next and highest level of our progression, where we are sealed together, thereby literally fulfilling the words of Jesus when he said, "Be one, and if ye are not one, ye are not mine" (D&C 38:27). Although there are numerous meanings connected with the symbolism of being sealed, at this time we are only examining the symbolism found in the process of going from one floor in the temple to the next.
If we were to summarize this trip, we could say that it represents our journey from earth life into heaven until we have progressed to the highest part of heaven. More than that, since the ground floor represents the earthly realm (it being located on the earth) that leaves three remaining floors, representing the three degrees (or levels) of the celestial kingdom (D&C 131:1).
Although this journey we've just taken is a small, almost insignificant part of the temple experience, yet we see how full of symbolic meaning it is, and we haven't even considered the implications of how all of these meanings can be applied to each of us personally in our own lives.
In the scriptures we find many stories of God's dealing with man. To many people, these stories are viewed only as historical events. But if we take the time to look beyond the obvious, we often can discover that they contain hidden symbolic teachings as well. To illustrate this principle, let's take a look at a few well known stories.
The very first story found in the Bible is that of creation. In summary, the first chapter of Genesis tells us that before the earth existed, it "was without form and void and darkness was upon the face of the deep." Then God divided the waters and out of the waters He brought forth the dry land. Next, God placed many things on the dry land to beautify and give variety to it. And as His last act of creation, God brought forth man as a living creature and gave him dominion over all things found on the earth. At this time God personally visited the earth and openly conversed with the man whom He had created.
Most of us have heard this story many, many times, and many people would honestly ask, "What possible symbolism could there be in this story? More than that, how can this story possibly have any application in my life?"
Let's take a look at one possible answer. The earth is a creation of God, but so are we. In the beginning, we were created from the union of a microscopic sperm with an egg. In the beginning of its development this egg is void of any form. You can't tell if it's going to develop into a human, a chicken, or a kangaroo. It is conceived and developed in the darkness of a womb filled with water. As the egg grows it divides the waters, and, in time the "dry land" (the body) appears. On this "land" God has placed organs, arms, feet, and every other needful thing for the use of man. Then, after nine months, the last great act of creation is played out when man is brought forth as a living creature. When he comes forth, he has the God-given right of dominion over his "earth" (his body). Just as God placed Adam and Eve in an environment that had everything they needed, the great majority of us are born into a family that similarly provides for all of our needs as well. When we compare these two events, we seen that the story of the earth's creation is nearly the same as the story of our own creation.
But someone might still ask, "How can I apply this understanding to my own spiritual growth?" To answer this question all we need do is substitute the earth and its relationship with God to our physical body and its relationship with God. For example, the place where God lives is free of sin because He cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance (Alma 45:16; D&C 1:31). Temples are houses of God precisely because they have been sanctified, thus cleansing them from all sin. In the beginning, before Adam sinned, the entire earth itself was a temple because it too was free of sin. That is why God could walk in the earthly garden in Eden in the cool of the evening (Gen. 3:8).
The apostle Paul reminded the early Christians, "Know ye not that your body is the temple of God?" (1 Cor. 6:19). The only way it can become a temple of God is if it has been sanctified and cleansed of sin. In our beginning, we were sinless, but, like Adam, in time each of us has transgressed the commandments of God. Like Adam, each of us have been cast out of God's presence. Through baptism we are "born again" of the water and become re-created. We once more become sinless, just as the earth was originally made. Through repentance we strive to keep ourselves in a sinless state so that God can always be with us, as He was with Adam before his fall. Thus, our bodies become a temple where God can come and dwell within us as long as we keep His commandments.
The next story found in the Bible is about the fall of Adam and Eve. In summary, Adam and Eve were created sinless and naked. As such, God is their literal earthly Father as well as their Father who lives in heaven. Shortly after creating them, Father gave both Adam and Eve some commandments, including to "be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth and subdue it" (Gen. 1:28) and He also forbid them to eat of the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (vs 16,17). But He also allowed them the freedom to decide for themselves whether to obey these commands or not. Before long, Satan came to them in disguise and beguiled (deceived, tricked, fooled) Eve into disobeying the Father's commandments. However, after they had eaten of the forbidden fruit, they heard their Father coming. Ashamed to have Him see them naked, they covered themselves with some fig leaves. When their Father couldn't find them He asked, "Adam, where art thou?" (Gen. 3:9). Upon seeing that Adam had covered his nakedness God asked, "Who told thee that thou wast naked?" (vs 11). Eventually, both Adam and Eve confessed their transgression saying, "I did eat" (vs 12 & 13). After rebuking them, "the Lord God did make coats of skins, and clothed them" (vs 21).
Again, we see a simple, straight-forward story, that, on the surface, seems to have very little symbolic meaning to us. But let's take another look at it.
When Adam was created, he was naked and without sin. When we come forth into the world as a new born baby, we likewise come forth naked and sinless. Before taking of the forbidden fruit, both Adam and Eve conversed with the Lord in their completely naked condition and felt no shame. More than that, God didn't place any guilt upon them for being naked. But after they ate of the forbidden fruit, for some reason, both of them felt ashamed to be seen naked before God, when previously they felt perfectly comfortable being in front of Him without wearing any clothing.
Little children feel no sense of shame being naked in front of their parents. They allow their parents to assist in dressing them, potty training them and bathing them. But, as they grow older, they begin to gain a sense of modesty. There comes a time in the life of every child where they don't want to be naked in front of their parent or others. When this time comes, they usually want to get dressed in private as well as using the facilities of the bathroom in private. Thus, each of us seeks to cover our nakedness just as Adam and Eve did.
God gave Adam and Eve commandments, and God gives us commandments. God gave them their freedom to make decisions, and He has given us that same freedom. Adam and Eve disobeyed their heavenly Father, and so do we. They were punished, and so are we. Thus we see that the story of Adam and Eve is symbolic of each of us. In effect, we too are Adam, or Eve respectively. What they went through, we go also through. Therefore, if we look at their life, we can see it is as a reflection or duplicate of our own life. Therefore, how they related to God is also instructive concerning our relationship to God.
God commanded Adam and Eve to be fruitful, multiply and replenish the earth. Most people only see the obvious meaning that they were to have many children. However, the apostle Paul has instructed us that we are to be "fruitful in every good work" (Col. 1:10). And what works was he talking about? He wrote that the "fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, [and] temperance" (Gal. 5:22,23). The scriptures instruct us that we should bring forth an exceeding abundance (i.e., multiply or a have a multitude) of good works so that we may glorify Him who created us (see Eph. 3:20; Matt 5:16). Also, to "multiply" our good works is similar in meaning to magnifying our calling.
To replenish something means to restore, replace or refill that which has been lost. Each time we sin, we lose some of our spirituality. Therefore, we continually need to replenish, or refill that which we have lost. That is the reason we study and ponder the scriptures, attend church, and have personal prayers (see 2 Cor. 4:16). Also, because of sin, we have become lost to God. Baptism and repentance provides the means to replenish or restore our relationship with God. So to "be fruitful, multiply, and replenish the earth" should have both physical and spiritual meanings to us.
The Lord also gave Adam a commandment to have dominion over the earth and subdue it. Each of us have likewise been given dominion over our own bodies (symbolized by the earth) and have been commanded to subdue the natural man and bring it under subjection to the will of God.
Part of having dominion over and subduing the natural man is learning how to resist the temptations of Satan. Satan came to Adam and Eve in disguise, because, if he had come to them in his true character, they would have never listened to him. Satan likewise comes to us in disguise with the intent to persuade us to disobey our heavenly Father. He may come disguised as our brother, or sister, or friend. He may come masquerading as a great teacher, professor, or intellectual academic. He may come disguised as someone offering us fun, good times, or other worldly pleasures. But, regardless of his disguise, his tricks are still the same. When we look for the spiritual significance of how he beguiled Eve, we can better see him in his true character when he tries to beguile us.
After Adam had sinned and heard his Father coming, he had a sense of guilt and shame for having transgressed God's command, so he hid himself in an effort to evade being caught. When we do something that is wrong, we often feel shame and take measures to hide our sins, just like Adam did. However, as Adam found out, you can't hide from God. He already knows what we've done wrong before we tell Him. That is another message we learn from this story. In fact, it was because Adam was hiding that God asked him what he had done wrong, otherwise, why should he be hiding? Often times we make things worse for ourselves when we try to hide our sins. The scriptures tell us "He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth them and forsake them shall have mercy" (Prov. 28:13).
God asked Adam, "Where art thou?" and God is also asking of us, "Where art thou in thy relationship with me?" God is searching for us. God calls after us and invites us to come unto Him. Adam confessed his sins unto God and willingly submitted himself to God's corrective punishments (unlike Cain would do later). If we see Adam as a symbol of ourselves, then we should realize that we too need to come unto God, confessing our sins and humbly submit ourselves to His righteous teachings.
When Adam sensed his nakedness, he took some leaves to cover himself. However, I doubt it covered him very well. Yet, Adam did the best he could with the knowledge he had. But, God's ways are superior to man's way. We see this in how God made Adam and Eve coats of skins that did a better job of covering their body with material that was more durable and more protective.
Like Adam, we also try to do things using our own limited knowledge. But God always knows a better way. More than this, He is always willing to teach us of His ways. Therefore, we should learn to "trust in the Lord with all of our heart; and lean not on [our] own understanding. In all [our] ways [we should] acknowledge him and he shall direct [our] paths. [We should] Be not wise in [our] own eyes" (Prov. 3:5-7).
Adam covered himself because he was ashamed to be naked. But notice that God did not correct Adam on this point. God did not say, "I made thee naked, and who art thou to be ashamed of what I have made?" Instead, God made something that covered Adam's nakedness better than what Adam had designed. The symbolism in this is that God wants us to cover our nakedness. He wants us to dress modestly. There are many in the world who think there is nothing wrong with showing off more of one's body. There are those who argue that since God made us naked, and this is our natural state, they say that when we reveal our bodies, we are only revealing God's creation. However, this kind of philosophy doesn't fit with the symbolism found in the story of Adam and Eve, or in the scriptures, or in the house of God.
Notice also that God made Adam and Eve a coat of skins even though He had punished them. This shows God's love and concern for Adam despite Adam's transgression against God. In the same way, God still loves us and blesses us even when we transgress His laws.
As we can see, from this one simple story, we have been taught many lessons about God and our relationship to him.
After Adam and Eve were driven out of the garden, God "gave unto them commandments that they should worship the Lord their God, and should offer the firstlings of their flocks for an offering unto the Lord. And Adam was obedient unto the commandments of the Lord. And after many days an angel of the Lord appeared unto Adam, saying, Why doest thou offer sacrifices unto the Lord? And Adam said unto him, I know not, save the Lord commanded me. And then the angel spake saying: This thing is a similitude of the sacrifice of the Only Begotten of the Father, which is full of grace and truth" (Moses 5:5-7).
This is the another story that has both an obvious meaning as well as a number of hidden meanings that teach us many things concerning what God expects of us.
God gave Adam a commandment that he was to sacrifice the firstling of his flocks as an offering unto the Lord. This commandment is referred to in the scriptures as the law of sacrifice (Lev. 7:11). Adam was obedient to this law even though he didn't understand the purpose behind it. If we put ourselves in Adam's place, and apply his situation to ours, we discover there are many times when God gives us commandments which we may not understand the purpose of. This story teaches us that the Lord doesn't always explain the reason for His commandments, yet He still requires us to be obedient to His word. The same was true in the garden of Eden. God didn't tell Adam and Eve why they were forbidden to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Instead, He merely told them what He wanted of them and then expected them to follow His instructions.
Just as Adam was required to offer up sacrifices, so are we. Although the atonement of Christ did away with the offering of blood sacrifices, the apostle Paul exhorted, "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service" (Rom. 12:1). The apostle Peter wrote, "Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 2:5). Jesus told the Nephites, "And ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit" (3 Nephi 9:20).
The word "sacrifice" means to give up something we highly value in exchange for something else. An altar is a place where we go to worship God. Therefore, to sacrifice something on an altar means that we offer God something we value in exchange for something we desire from Him. Adam offered up the firstling of his flock for the remission of his sins. We can ask ourselves, What am I willing to sacrifice in exchange for a remission of my sins? Some of the things that man highly values are his time, talents, material wealth, physical comforts and earthly pleasures. When we are willing to sacrifice (i.e. give up) all that is valuable to us in exchange for God's blessings, that is the purest form of worship, because we are demonstrating that God is more important to us than any earthly thing we have or could have (see Matt. 22:37-38).
We often hear people say that we are not suppose to follow the leaders of the Church in "blind faith," but that is exactly what the Lord expected of Adam. By definition, faith means putting our trust in someone or something we can neither prove nor know with certainty. Therefore, the term "blind faith" is actually a redundant phrase because the word "faith" means the exercising of blind trust in someone or something. If Adam is symbolic of each man (as Eve is symbolic of each woman) then the symbolism of this story teaches us that we are to trust God's word completely without questioning it. And that also applies to God's word which He utters through the voice of His servants (see D&C 1:14,38). After all, that's how we've come to have the scriptures.
The Biblical definition of an "angel" is: "a messenger, representative, or envoy from God." That means, the angel in this story didn't decide on his own to come visit Adam and ask him what he was doing. Instead, he came to Adam under direction from God. But why? It appears from the story that God sent one of His representatives to see whether Adam was being true and faithful to the commandments he had been given. If Adam is symbolic of each of us, we can be assured that God is also checking to see if we too are remaining true and faithful to His word. And the way He does this is by testing us (see Abr. 3:25), usually through His representatives who look for certain signs (tokens, evidence) of our faithfulness to Him.
Furthermore, why did the angel ask a question to which he plainly knew the answer? Because, it gave Adam a chance to speak for himself. In effect, Adam was giving a report on his labors to a representative of God. In the Church, our bishops and Stake presidents are representatives of God. When we go before them to obtain our temple recommend, we are, in effect, giving a report on our faithfulness, just as Adam did.
Because Adam had been faithful in keeping God's commandment, God then explained to Adam (through His messenger, the angel) the meaning and significance of the ordinance he was performing. In other words, it was after (not before) Adam proved his faithfulness that the Lord then gave him further enlightenment and knowledge. And the same holds true for us as well. The Lord expects us to prove our faithfulness to Him before He provides us with further understanding. After we prove faithful to that increase in knowledge, He will then enlighten us with even more knowledge. Thus, we see that God literally and figuratively teaches us "line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little" (Isaiah 28:10; D&C 98:12; 128:21) as we prove ourselves worthy to receive it.
Notice also that this knowledge was given to Adam according to the Lord's own timing rather than because of Adam's insistence. Furthermore, Adam waited patiently for the Lord's answer. Many times people pray to God and then expect immediate answers. There are times when we are anxious to know about certain things and are tempted to become impatient because the Lord seems to be slow in giving us what we ask for. Just as Adam did, we too must learn to wait patiently on the Lord.
These are just some of the things this simple, but profound, story can teach us. And we could do the same with many of the other stories found in the scriptures. But in order to see these hidden lessons, we have to have eyes that are willing to see, ears that are willing to hear, and a heart that is prepared to receive the things of God. That is one of the reasons why the temple is not available to all people. They don't want to see these lessons because their eyes are not single to the glory of God and their hearts are not set upon the things of God. Therefore, as He did with Adam, God tests each of us to see if we have properly prepared ourselves to be given further enlightenment and knowledge about His ways. That's the purpose of going to our bishop and Stake president to obtain a temple recommend. It is our way of saying, "I, Adam, having been true and faithful in a few things, now desire to go up to the House of the Lord to receive further instructions and be taught in His ways." That is the real meaning behind the symbol of our temple recommend.
Unfortunately, too many people don't view their temple recommend in this light. As such, they are not prepared to be instructed and taught when they do enter the temple. Even more unfortunate are the times when people go through the temple ceremonies in the manner which the Lord described when He said, "their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them"(Matthew13:15).
But why do we need to go to the temple to learn these great lessons? Why can't we learn them just as well at home or in church? The reason is because the temple is a place where God's Spirit can be felt the strongest without the countering influence of Satan. The reason for this is because the temple is the house of God. It is a building that has been sanctified and dedicated to the Lord for the purpose of helping prepare His children to inherit all that He has.
Outside of the temple we like to discuss, debate, and question what others might teach us. However, inside the temple, the Holy Ghost is our Teacher, and He has the ability to impress things upon our mind and heart in a way that no mortal can. When He teaches, there is no discussion, debating or questioning what He says because the meaning of His words come to us with absolute clarity, with no possibility for misunderstanding. The temple is a place where the veil between the Lord and us is very thin. From the other side of this veil God seeks to speak to us. He whispers in our ear the things we need to know to return to Him when it becomes our time to pass through the veil. If we listen carefully to what He tells us, and if we do as He instructs us, then someday He will say to the angels guarding the way to heaven, "Let him enter into My rest."
This is the purpose of temples and this is how we can come to understand the meanings behind the symbols of God.