The story of the building, preparation, and dedication of the Kirtland Temple is so spiritually rich and filled with visions that I quote below the entire section of the chapter in the Institute manual – ‘Church History in the Fulness of Times’.
A Pentecostal Season
In addition to their great personal efforts, the Saints spent from forty to sixty thousand dollars on the temple. Because they were so willing to sacrifice in building the temple, the Lord poured out great blessings upon them. From 21 January to 1 May 1836 probably more Latter-day Saints beheld visions and witnessed other unusual spiritual manifestations than during any other era in the history of the Church. Members of the Church saw heavenly messengers in at least ten different meetings, and at five of these gatherings different individuals testified that they had beheld the Savior himself. Many experienced visions, some prophesied, and others spoke in tongues.
One of the most important meetings held in the Kirtland Temple was on Thursday, 21 January 1836. The Prophet recorded the incident:
In the evening “at early candle-light I met with the presidency at the west school room, in the Temple, to attend to the ordinance of anointing our heads with holy oil. . . .
“We then laid our hands upon our aged Father Smith, and invoked the blessings of heaven. . . . The heavens were opened upon us, and I beheld the celestial kingdom of God, and the glory thereof. . . . I saw . . . the blazing throne of God. . . . I saw the beautiful streets of that kingdom, which had the appearance of being paved with gold.” Joseph Smith also saw many prophets in the celestial kingdom before the scene of his vision shifted (see D&C 137:1, 3–5 ). He then saw the recently appointed Twelve “standing together in a circle, much fatigued, with their clothes tattered and feet swollen, . . . and Jesus standing in their midst, and they did not behold Him. . . .
“Many of my brethren who received the ordinance [of washing and anointing] with me saw glorious visions also. Angels ministered unto them as well as to myself, and the power of the Highest rested upon us. The house was filled with the glory of God, and we shouted Hosanna to God and the Lamb. . . .
“. . . Some of them saw the face of the Savior, . . . for we all communed with the heavenly host.” 38
Joseph Smith saw his brother Alvin in the celestial kingdom and marvelled because Alvin had died before the gospel was restored. Also with the vision the Lord revealed the principle of mercy: “All who have died without a knowledge of this gospel, who would have received it if they had been permitted to tarry, shall be heirs of the celestial kingdom of God” ( D&C 137:7 ). The Prophet also learned that all children who die before the age of accountability “are saved in the celestial kingdom of heaven” ( D&C 137:10 ).
Some of the most memorable spiritual experiences occurred on the day the temple was dedicated—Sunday, 27 March 1836. Hundreds of Latter-day Saints came to Kirtland anticipating the great blessings the Lord had promised to bestow upon them. Early on the morning of the temple dedication, hundreds of people gathered outside the temple hoping to attend the dedicatory service. The doors were opened at 8:00 a.m., and the First Presidency assisted in seating the congregation of nearly a thousand people, but many were left outside. When the leaders of the Church were seated at the elevated pulpits and benches at each end of the hall and when all the available seats in the temple were filled, the doors were closed. This left hundreds of people still outside, including many who had sacrificed tremendously for the temple’s construction and had come long distances to attend the dedication. Sensing their disappointment, the Prophet directed them to hold an overflow meeting in the schoolhouse just to the west. The dedicatory service was repeated a second time the following Thursday for their benefit.
After the choir’s opening number, President Sidney Rigdon spoke for two and a half hours declaring that the temple was unique among all the buildings of the world because it was built by divine revelation. After a brief intermission, the officers of the Church were sustained. The climax of the day was the dedicatory prayer, which had previously been given to the Prophet by revelation. He expressed gratitude for God’s blessings and asked the Lord to accept the temple which was built “through great tribulation . . . that the Son of Man might have a place to manifest himself to his people” ( D&C 109:5 ). He petitioned that the blessings promised in the Lord’s initial command to build the temple (see D&C 88:117–21 ) might now be realized, and he prayed that Church leaders, members, and the leaders of nations would be blessed, and that the promised gathering of the scattered remnants of Israel would be accomplished (see D&C 109:60–67 ). This prayer became a pattern for other temple dedicatory prayers.
Following the prayer, the choir sang the hymn “The Spirit of God.” It had been written especially for the dedication by W. W. Phelps. The sacrament was then administered and passed to the congregation. Joseph Smith and others testified that they saw heavenly messengers at the service. The congregation concluded the seven-hour service by standing and rendering the sacred “Hosanna Shout”: “Hosanna, hosanna, hosanna to God and the Lamb, amen, amen, and amen,” repeated three times. Eliza R. Snow said the shout was given “with such power as seemed almost sufficient to raise the roof from the building.” 39
That evening over four hundred priesthood bearers met in the temple. While George A. Smith was speaking, “a noise was heard like the sound of a rushing mighty wind which filled the Temple, and all the congregation simultaneously arose, being moved upon by an invisible power; many began to speak in tongues and prophesy; others saw glorious visions; and I beheld the Temple was filled with angels.” 40 “David Whitmer bore testimony that he saw three angels passing up the south aisle.” 41 “The people of the neighborhood came running together (hearing an unusual sound within, and seeing a bright light like a pillar of fire resting upon the Temple).” Others saw angels hovering over the temple and heard heavenly singing. 42
The most transcendent spiritual manifestation of all occurred a week after the dedication. After the afternoon worship service, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery retired to the Melchizedek Priesthood pulpits in the west end of the lower room of the temple. The canvas partition, called a veil, was lowered so that they could pray in private. As they prayed, “the veil was taken from our minds, and the eyes of our understanding were opened” ( D&C 110:1 ). They saw a series of remarkable visions. The Lord Jesus Christ appeared, accepted the temple, and promised to manifest himself therein “if my people will keep my commandments, and do not pollute this holy house” ( D&C 110:8 ; see also vv. 2–9 ).
Moses next appeared and restored “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” ( v. 11 ). Elias then conferred “the dispensation of the gospel of Abraham” ( v. 12 ). Finally, in fulfillment of Malachi’s prophecy (see Malachi 4:5–6 ) and Moroni’s promise (see D&C 2 ) to “turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the children to the fathers” ( D&C 110:15 ), Elijah appeared to the Prophet and Oliver testifying that “the keys of this dispensation are committed into your hands” in preparation for “the great and dreadful day of the Lord” ( v. 16 ). Through the sealing keys that were restored by Elijah, Latter-day Saints could now perform saving priesthood ordinances in behalf of their kindred dead as well as for the living. These sacred ordinances for the dead were not introduced to the members of the Church until the Nauvoo era.
This great day of visions and revelation occurred on Easter Sunday, 3 April 1836. What better day in the dispensation of the fulness of times to reconfirm the reality of the Resurrection? That weekend was also the Jewish Passover. For centuries Jewish families have left an empty chair at their Passover feasts, anticipating Elijah’s return. Elijah has returned—not to a Passover feast, but to the Lord’s temple in Kirtland.