I have often asked myself if I would have recognized Jesus if I had lived in Judea while He was on the earth. I realize there would be some significant impediments to easy belief/acceptance. It seems the foremost would have been that there was an established, legitimate priestly hierarchy in place in Jesus’ day, which Jesus had no part in. Jesus was a total outsider. Joseph Smith summed it up like this: “Jesus was looked upon as having the least claim in all gods kingdom.” (Words of Joseph Smith, p. 160) By legitimate I mean that priesthood authority had been passed down over generations from a legitimate prophet (Moses) to the presiding authorities in Jesus’ day. This priestly class actively presided over the religious affairs of the people, which naturally extended into social and even political affairs/influence. If God wanted His people to easily recognize Jesus as His legitimate messenger, why didn’t he simply send Him into the right family so He would have naturally ended up as the High Priest? What was our Father trying to teach them and us by His selection of Jesus’ earthly parentage? Is God’s view very different than ours regarding legitimate priestly authority? Joseph Smith, referring to John the Baptist, stated that, “John at that time was the only legal administrator holding the keys of Power there was on Earth.” (ibid) From God’s perspective the entire “legitimate” priestly class was illegitimate. John did not get his authority from them, but directly from heaven:
“For he was baptized while he was yet in his childhood, and was ordained by the angel of God at the time he was eight days old unto this power, to overthrow the kingdom of the Jews, and to make straight the way of the Lord before the face of his people, to prepare them for the coming of the Lord, in whose hand is given all power.” (D&C 84:28)
Joseph Smith explained the source of John’s power as:
“John, the son of Zachariah, by the holy anointing, and decree of heaven, held the keys of power at that time.” (Words p. 163) Whether that is the same as or different from the ordination by the angel mentioned above I do not know. Either way, the only thing that matters is that he got his power from a heavenly source, and not an earthly one.
So if John was the “only legal administrator” since his power came from heaven, does it even matter if we hold perceived priesthood power passed down from a legitimate prophet (Joseph Smith)? Or does the only priesthood power that matters (i.e. that truly saves) come directly from heaven? If God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, do His rules regarding the acquisition of real priestly power change? Could reliance on perceived “legitimate” priestly authority end up being a massive stumbling block to recognizing God’s true messengers? Could it be a stumbling block to recognizing the Savior today?