Chapter 10: The Return of Brother Joseph

Joseph Smith, Junior, will again be on this earth dictating plans.1


It was on the humid evening of Thursday, June 27, 1844 in Carthage, Illinois that the Prophet Joseph Smith and his brother, Patriarch Hyrum Smith, fell to the bullets of assassins. Their testimonies of the Restoration were sealed with their blood.

When the Saints in Nauvoo first learned of the deaths of Joseph and Hyrum, they were devastated beyond belief to lose their cherished brethren. Throughout his lifetime Joseph had been accused of various crimes by his enemies, but he had always been honorably acquitted and proven to be innocent as soon as he had gone to court. The Saints had expected that this would happen again when he went to Carthage to stand trial for false charges being leveled by some apostate brethren. Few of the Saints understood that this would be the last time they would see their beloved Brother Joseph alive.

Wandle Mace, who lived in Nauvoo, described the city’s reaction to the stunning news of their deaths:

“When early in the morning the sad news reached Nauvoo, it spread from mouth to mouth instantaneously, almost paralyzing everyone with the words, ‘Joseph and Hyrum are dead, assassinated in jail!’

“Who can depict the scene? What pen describe the sorrow and mourning manifested by all? Strong men wept like children; women moaned as they gathered their little children around them and told them of the fearful crime that had taken place at Carthage. . . . Brave men, who would willingly have sacrificed their lives to save the lives of their beloved Prophet and Patriarch, were now as helpless as babes.”2

The members of the Church could not believe that Joseph had been taken from them so easily, and at such a young age.3 However, as they began to ponder the teachings that he had left them, and as their eyes were opened by the Holy Spirit, they came to an important realization.

Perhaps the most thrilling news of the latter-day dispensation is the prophecy that Joseph will return as a resurrected being to complete his work here in mortality. Not only will he return, but he will be resurrected many years before the Second Coming so that he can accomplish the various tasks that were specifically assigned to him in the pre-mortal councils of God. References to Joseph’s resurrection and return can be found in the scriptures, in his own teachings and in the discourses of several Church leaders.

Many of the Nauvoo Saints Learn of Joseph’s Future Return

In studying the discourses, accounts and journals from the early Saints, it becomes apparent that many of them knew that Joseph would someday triumphantly return as a resurrected being. But none of them knew of this during his lifetime.

One of those who learned of this magnificent doctrine shortly after Joseph's martyrdom was Parley P. Pratt. He was on a mission in Wisconsin when he received the devastating news that Joseph and Hyrum had been murdered at Carthage. Shocked and stunned at the news, he immediately returned home to Nauvoo, walking the last hundred miles from Peoria, Illinois to Nauvoo. He was completely overwhelmed as to what advice he should give the Saints when he arrived in Nauvoo. He later described the depth of his emotional turmoil:

“I walked onward, weighed down as it were unto death. When I could endure it no longer, I cried out aloud, saying, ‘Oh, Lord, in the name of Jesus Christ I pray Thee, show me what these things mean, and what I shall say to Thy people?’

“Suddenly the Spirit of God came upon me, and filled my heart with joy and gladness indescribable; and while the spirit of revelation glowed in my bosom with as visible a warmth and gladness as if it were fire, the Spirit said unto me, ‘Lift up your head and rejoice. For behold, it is well with my servants Joseph and Hyrum. My servant Joseph still holds the keys of my kingdom in this dispensation, and he shall stand in due time on the earth, in the flesh, and fulfill that to which he is appointed.’”4

Parley was so astonished at this message that he asked the Lord to repeat it, which He did. When Parley arrived in Nauvoo, he told all of his friends of this delightful news, and he even taught it to the Saints in several Church meetings.5

Other Saints also soon came to realize that Joseph had predicted his return, even though they had not realized it at the time. When he gave his parting address to the Nauvoo Legion on June 18, 1844, he told the faithful men in the Legion:

“Those who are your friends are my friends, and I promise you when I come again, I will lead you forth, so that where I am you shall be with me.”6

Joseph repeated this message again six days later when he returned to Nauvoo for the final time to help gather the weapons that the state had loaned to the Nauvoo Legion. Wandle Mace was there, and he noted what Joseph had said:

“‘Boys---he always called us ‘his boys’---don’t be sad, don’t be cast down, I will come back again.’ After a little hesitation he added, ‘as soon as I can.’ That expression, ‘as soon as I can,’ sank deep into my heart and confirmed my fears. I never expected to see him again alive. The sad expression upon his face as he looked upon us, ‘his boys,’ for the last time I shall never forget. I felt in my inmost soul that he was going to be butchered, and we should see him no more alive.”7

Joseph’s promise to return “as soon as I can” filled the Saints with great hope. They knew that their beloved Brother Joseph was now serving on the other side of the veil in the spirit world, and when he was finished with his assignments there, he would return to take up his resurrected body.

President Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball Teach of Joseph’s Future Resurrection

Both President Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball clearly understood the doctrine of Joseph’s future return. They spoke of it many times in their discourses to the Saints. To them it was an irrefutable fact that Joseph still had much to accomplish here in mortality, and that he would complete his mission on the earth as a resurrected being.

President Young told the Saints on several different occasions:

Joseph Smith, Junior, will again be on this earth dictating plans . . . and he will never cease his operations, under the directions of the Son of God, until the last ones of the children of men are saved that can be, from Adam till now.”8

“There is an almighty work to perform in the spirit world. Joseph has not yet got through there. When he finishes his mission in the spirit world, he will be resurrected, but he is not yet done there. . . . When his spirit again quickens his body, he will ascend to heaven, present his resurrected body to the Father and the Son, receive his commission as a resurrected being, and visit his brethren on this earth, as did Jesus after His resurrection.”9

“I will refer you to a discourse I delivered here last season upon the subject of the resurrection and the Millennium. . . . Joseph, Hyrum, Father Smith and many others will be there to dictate and preside. Joseph will stand at the head of this dispensation and hold the keys of it, for they are not taken from him; they never were in time; they never will be in eternity. I shall be there if I live or if I die.”10

“I said to Brother Joseph, the spring before he was killed, ‘You are laying out work for twenty years.’ He replied, ‘You have as yet scarcely begun to work; but I will set you enough to last you during your lives, for I am going to rest.’ All I can do or ask now is to do the work, so that it will be right and acceptable to him when he comes here again.”11

Heber C. Kimball also testified of Joseph’s resurrection. He told us that when the Prophet Joseph returns, he will want to have the assistance of his faithful brethren whom he knew in mortality, and they will also be resurrected:

“After my body is laid in the grave, and after the Prophet Joseph has received his resurrected body, he probably will not suffer my body to remain long in the ground, but will be apt to say, ‘Come and let us go and help Brother Heber to again take his body.’

“Do you suppose that if Brother Brigham were to die tomorrow, and if Joseph is resurrected, which he will be so soon as his mission is filled in the spirit world, that Joseph will permit Brother Brigham’s body to remain any longer in the grave than may be requisite? No, for he then will have need of the assistance of his faithful resurrected brethren, as he now has of faithful spirits.”12

Heber C. Kimball also poignantly described the future day when the Saints will return to Jackson County to build the city of New Jerusalem, and some of the stalwart brethren who will be there:

“I am pretty sure of one thing: we shall go to Jackson County, Missouri; that is, those who do right and honor their callings, doing what they have been told to do. You will be blessed, and you will see the day when Presidents [Brigham] Young, [Heber C.] Kimball, and [Daniel H.] Wells, and the Twelve Apostles will be in Jackson County, Missouri, laying out your inheritances. In the flesh? Of course. We should look well without being in the flesh! We shall be there in the flesh, and all our enemies cannot prevent it.

“Brother Wells, you may write that. You will be there, and Willard [Richards] will be there, and also Jedediah [M. Grant], and Joseph and Hyrum Smith, and David [W. Patten], and Parley [P. Pratt]; and the day will be when I will see those men in the general assembly of the Church of the First Born, in the great council of God in Jerusalem, too. Will we want you to be along? I heard Joseph say twice that Brother Brigham and I should be in that council in Jerusalem, when there should be a uniting of the two divisions of God’s government.”13

The Savior Prophesies of Joseph’s Return

In addition to the testimonies of these early Church leaders, there is a prophecy of Joseph’s resurrection in the Book of Mormon. When the Savior visited the Nephites and Lamanites after His resurrection, He described some of the assignments that the Prophet Joseph Smith was appointed to do in the latter days. The Savior told the people that through the Prophet Joseph their descendants would receive the Book of Mormon and accept the true gospel of Jesus Christ. This would occur when a “great and a marvelous work” would begin to take place on the earth.14

The Savior said that He would protect Joseph as he performed his earthly mission,15 and this was fulfilled many times during his life.

However, in the end, the Savior said that Joseph would be “marred,” but it “shall not hurt him,” or harm his immortal soul. The Savior promised that eventually He would “heal him, for I will show unto them that my wisdom is greater than the cunning of the devil.”16 Joseph was “marred” when he was innocently martyred at Carthage, and he will be “healed” when he returns and is given power to take up his body in its glorified and resurrected state.

Malachi Prophesies of the Important Work to be Completed by the Prophet Joseph

The prophet Malachi also spoke of the future mission of the resurrected Prophet Joseph Smith. Just as Moses had prophesied of the future coming of Jesus Christ,17 Malachi prophesied of the important work that the Prophet Joseph must complete before the Second Coming can occur. These prophecies from Malachi were so important that Jesus gave them to the Nephite people after His resurrection, since they had not yet received these prophecies.18 Malachi said:

Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom ye seek shall suddenly come to His temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in; behold, He shall come, saith the Lord of Hosts. . . . 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.”19

Some people have misunderstood this passage of scripture. They have thought that it refers to John the Baptist and the First Coming of the Savior. However, when Jesus Christ was here upon the earth He did not have the opportunity to purge the sons of Levi so that they can worthily offer sacrifices at the temple in Jerusalem.

This prophecy refers instead to His Second Coming, and the Prophet Joseph was appointed in the pre-mortal councils of God to act as His messenger and prepare the way for His Return. There is much that the Prophet Joseph still must do to prepare for the Savior’s Second Coming, as we shall see in the remainder of this book.

The Priesthood and Keys Given to Joseph Were Never Taken from Him

We can also find additional evidence of Joseph’s return in other scriptural passages in the Doctrine and Covenants.

On several occasions the Lord gave the Prophet Joseph a significant promise concerning the priesthood and keys that he received. The Lord stated clearly that Joseph would hold this priesthood power until the Second Coming, regardless of whether he was here in mortality or in the spirit world. The Lord told him:

“Verily I say unto you, the keys of this kingdom shall never be taken from you, while thou art in the world, neither in the world to come.”20

And speaking on another occasion to several Church leaders, the Lord admonished them:

“Exalt not yourselves; rebel not against my servant Joseph; for verily I say unto you, I am with him, and my hand shall be over him; and the keys which I have given unto him . . . shall not be taken from him till I come.”21

It is also important to note that Joseph was given priesthood keys to perform certain labors that he did not accomplish during his lifetime. Shortly after the dedication of the Kirtland Temple, Joseph recorded: “Moses appeared before us, and committed unto us the keys of the gathering of Israel from the four parts of the earth, and the leading of the ten tribes from the land of the north.”22 Joseph will participate in these great events when he has returned as a resurrected being.

Joseph Will Be the First Person to Be Resurrected in This Dispensation

The early brethren were well aware that Joseph would be the first person in this dispensation to be resurrected. Six months after Joseph’s death, Heber C. Kimball told the Saints in Nauvoo that “Joseph will be the first man who will rise from the dead, and then all men according to their proper order.”23 President Brigham Young expanded on this subject when the Saints had moved to Utah:

“If we ask who will stand at the head of the resurrection in this last dispensation, the answer is: Joseph Smith, Junior, the Prophet of God. He is the man who will be resurrected and receive the keys of the resurrection, and he will seal this authority upon others, and they will hunt up their friends and resurrect them when they shall have been officiated for, and bring them up.

“And we will have revelations to know our forefathers clear back to Father Adam and Mother Eve, and we will enter into the temples of God and officiate for them. Then man will be sealed to man until the chain is made perfect back to Adam, so that there will be a perfect chain of priesthood from Adam to the winding-up scene.”24

In tribute to the important mission and calling of the Prophet Joseph, both in mortality and in the spirit world, President Young boldly declared:

“Joseph Smith holds the keys of this last dispensation, and is now engaged behind the veil in the great work of the last days. . . . No man or woman in this dispensation will ever enter into the celestial kingdom of God without the consent of Joseph Smith. From the day that the priesthood was taken from the earth to the winding-up scene of all things, every man and woman must have the certificate of Joseph Smith, Junior, as a passport to their entrance into the mansion where God and Christ are. . . .

“He holds the keys of that kingdom for the last dispensation---the keys to rule in the spirit world; and he rules there triumphantly, for he gained full power and a glorious victory over the power of Satan while he was yet in the flesh, and was a martyr to his religion and to the name of Christ, which gives him a most perfect victory in the spirit world. He reigns there as supreme a being in his sphere, capacity, and calling, as God does in heaven.”25

The Prophet Joseph will be the first person to resurrect in this dispensation of the latter days, and because he has been assigned to do many tasks that must occur before the Savior can return, he will resurrect many years before the Second Coming.

He will facilitate the commencement of the resurrection of the righteous Saints.26 It will be an indescribably wonderful day when we can meet Joseph and Hyrum, Father Smith, Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, other revered Church leaders, and many other faithful Saints.

We will learn firsthand of their experiences, both here in mortality and in the spirit world. It will be a magnificent and deeply spiritual experience to listen to Brother Joseph once again---to receive the doctrines that he was not able to impart during his mortal life.

Not all of the Saints will be resurrected at the same time that Joseph is resurrected. Many of them will be resurrected later when the Savior returns in glory and power. We learn from the scriptures that at the time of the Second Coming another resurrection will occur in which many of the righteous Saints will then be resurrected:

“The face of the Lord shall be unveiled; and the Saints that are upon the earth, who are alive, shall be quickened and be caught up to meet Him. And they who have slept in their graves shall come forth, for their graves shall be opened; and they also shall be caught up to meet Him in the midst of the pillar of heaven.”27

Each of these resurrection days, either at the time of the Prophet Joseph or at the time of the Second Coming, will be a glorious experience for the Saints as they are reunited with their dearly-departed ancestors and loved ones. Many tears of joy and gratitude will be shed. The hearts of the Saints will be filled with wonder and thanksgiving.

The Prophet Brigham Young Discloses Many Details about the Prophet Joseph’s Return

On Sunday, October 3, 1852, a beautiful, sunny day in Salt Lake City,28 Brigham Young gave one of his most powerful discourses to the Saints in the Old Tabernacle, located where the Assembly Hall stands today on Temple Square. On that occasion, he described in great detail the marvelous day of Joseph’s return. He asked the congregation of Saints:

“Will the Saints arise from the dead? Yes. Who will know it? But a few. When the resurrection commences, I say but few will know it; and allow me to inform you, when you have seen Joseph, and Hyrum, and Father Smith, and many others, risen from the dead, and you elders go abroad preaching, you will not tell the world of their resurrection, for they will not believe it.

“You may testify that Father Smith has arisen, that Joseph and Hyrum again possess their bodies; that they again live in the flesh, and they will laugh you to scorn, and persecute you to the death, if they have the power, for your testimony’s sake.

“Will the Saints rise from the dead before the world is converted? Yes. You may despair of ever seeing all creation converted to the Lord Jesus, or to the faith of the holy gospel. Will you see the resurrection? Yes, you will be in it, and enjoy it; you will be in the first resurrection. Will the world believe it, and know of it? They will not.”29

Many People Will Not Recognize that the Millennium Has Begun

Continuing his address, President Young told the Saints of the great and important events that will transpire as the Lord begins to establish His Kingdom on the earth. President Young also noted that only the righteous would recognize that these latter-day events were occurring, just as the people had missed the First Coming of the Savior in the meridian of time:

“Zion will be redeemed, the great temple of the Lord will be built---whereupon the glory of the Lord will rest, and a cloud by day, and a pillar of fire by night---the Saints will be gathering from all nations, and will walk into the temples of God, to do the work of redemption for their dead, and saviors will be upon Mount Zion to save the house of Esau.

“But will the nations know of it? They will not. And when the Lord reigns King of nations as He does King of Saints, the inhabitants of the earth will not distrust but that it is the power of some great One, that it is the plans of wise men brought into action.

“Thus they will be governed and controlled and overruled, and led by the principles of the holy priesthood, and they will never mistrust but that it is the doings of wise men at the head of a powerful nation, schooled in governmental affairs, who know how to control their own nation and then bring into subjection their neighboring nations, until the whole earth has become subject to them.

“They will not know that it is the Savior who is ruling King of nations as He does King of Saints. A great portion of the inhabitants of the earth will never mistrust but that it is the effects of the wisdom of men.

“The Saints will be instructed how to build up Zion, how to build temples, and do the work of redemption for their dead, and the wicked nations will know nothing about it. When the Millennium is ushered in, no man or woman will know anything about it, only by the power of God. He [the Lord] will rule and reign, and His glory shall be in Zion, and the wicked will not know it is the hand of our God. The Saints will enjoy the light of His countenance, walk therein, and dwell in His presence.”30

The Sacred Opportunity to Associate with the Resurrected Saints

It will be in these times of peace and tranquility that the Saints will have the opportunity to visit with those who have been resurrected. We will be able to sit at the feet of past prophets and have them tell us in great detail the many fascinating things that occurred while they were here in mortality.

Many questions will be answered. Knowledge will flow forth like water from a dam that has burst. President Young spoke to the Saints about this marvelous future day, and described how wonderful it will be to freely associate with the resurrected Saints:

“About the time that the temples of the Lord will be built and Zion is established, pretty nigh this time, you will see (those who are faithful enough), the first you know, there will be strangers in your midst, walking with you, talking with you. They will enter into your houses and eat and drink with you, go to meetings with you, and begin to open your minds, as the Savior did to the two disciples who walked out in the country in days of old. . . .

“They will expound the scriptures to you, and open your minds, and teach you of the resurrection of the just and the unjust, of the doctrine of salvation. They will use the keys of the holy priesthood, and unlock the door of knowledge, to let you look into the palace of truth. You will exclaim, ‘That is all [so] plain! Why did I not understand it before?’ And you will begin to feel your hearts burn within you as they walk and talk with you.”31

The Saints will be blessed with the riches of eternity during the Millennium. But before this can take place, many important tasks must occur in preparation for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.

When the Prophet Joseph is resurrected, he will have many important assignments that he will need to accomplish. One of the principal tasks that he was specifically assigned to complete is the establishment of the Kingdom of God, which is the political organization that will rule the nations during the Millennium. This must take place before the Second Coming, to prepare the way for the Return of Jesus Christ.32

The Kingdom of God has not been fully established yet, and it will be the Prophet Joseph’s task to see that it is implemented correctly.

Chapter Footnotes

1 . Brigham Young, October 9, 1859, Journal of Discourses 7:289.
2 . Autobiography of Wandle Mace, typescript, BYU Special Collections, pp. 149-150.
3 . Autobiography of Wandle Mace, typescript, BYU Special Collections, p. 129.
4 . Parley P. Pratt, Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1938, 1970), p. 333; emphasis added.
5 . Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, pp. 333-334.
6 . Autobiography of Wandle Mace, typescript, BYU Special Collections, pp. 131-132; emphasis added.
7 . Autobiography of Wandle Mace, typescript, BYU Special Collections, pp. 145-146; emphasis added.
8 . Brigham Young, October 9, 1859, Journal of Discourses 7:289; emphasis added.
9 . Brigham Young, March 15, 1857, Journal of Discourses 4:285-286.
10 . Brigham Young, April 8, 1853, Journal of Discourses 6:308.
11 . Brigham Young, October 7, 1857, Journal of Discourses 5:331; emphasis added.
12 . Heber C. Kimball, March 15, 1857, Journal of Discourses 4:294-295; emphasis added.
13 . Heber C. Kimball, April 7, 1861, Journal of Discourses 9:27.
14 . 3 Nephi 21:1-9.
15 . 3 Nephi 21:10.
16 . 3 Nephi 21:10.
17 . Deuteronomy 18:15-19.
18 . 3 Nephi, chapters 24 and 25.
19 . Malachi 3:1-3; emphasis added.
20 . D&C 90:3; emphasis added.
21 . D&C 112:15; emphasis added.
22 . D&C 110:11; emphasis added.
23 . History of the Church 7:340.
24 . Brigham Young, August 24, 1872, Journal of Discourses 15:138-139.
25 . Brigham Young, October 9, 1859, Journal of Discourses 7:289.
26 . History of the Church 7:340.
27 . D&C 88:95-97.
28 . Journal History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, (manuscript, LDS Church Archives), 3 October 1852, p. 1.
29 . Brigham Young, October 3, 1852, Millennial Star 16:594 and Deseret News, May 11, 1854; emphasis added.
30 . Brigham Young, October 3, 1852, Millennial Star 16:594-595 and Deseret News, May 11, 1854; emphasis added.
31 . Brigham Young, August 15, 1852, Journal of Discourses 6:294-295.
32 . Daniel 2:44-45, 7:21-22; D&C 65:6, 105:30-32, Heber C. Kimball, April 7, 1861, Journal of Discourses 9:27.