First Vision

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The First Vision is the name given to the seminal event in the Restoration—the visitation of God, the Father, and His Son, Jesus Christ, to Joseph Smith in the Spring of 1820. The event is recognized and revered by members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (erroneously called Mormons) around the world.

There are several reasons that the First Vision is so important in the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, but one of the most important is that it impressed upon the Prophet Joseph Smith a new understanding of the nature of God and Jesus Christ. Whatever concept of God Joseph Smith might have had before, there was no doubt in his mind after the First Vision about what kind of beings God and Jesus were. He obtained that understanding because he saw them and conversed with them.

In John 17:3 we read that "this is life eternal, that (we) might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent." To properly know God is more than seeing Him and even talking to Him, but to know His true nature is a necessary step to be able to develop the faith in Him that is necessary to gain eternal life and salvation. Thanks to the First Vision, the knowledge of the true nature of God was once again restored on the earth.

Joseph Smith’s account of the First Vision

A short time after his family moved to Manchester, New York, the young Joseph Smith witnessed an unusual religious excitement in the area. This region of the United States was called the "burned over district," because religious revivalism had reached a feverish pitch. Various sects of Christianity sponsored tent revivals, proselyted with zeal, and competed vigorously with other sects for converts. This excitement brought divisions in the community and even in his family. Joseph Smith recounts that he was unsure which of the various religious sects he should join.

His father's family had converted to the Presbyterian faith, and four members of his own family had joined the local church. For a time he considered joining the Methodist church, but Joseph was concerned because he realized that not everybody could be right. He asked himself, "If any one of them be right which is it? And how can I know which one is right?"

While searching the scriptures in the Spring of 1820, when he was only fourteen years old, Joseph came across the following verse in the first chapter of the Epistle of James:

If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. (James 1:5)
The grove of trees (now known as the "Sacred Grove") where Joseph Smith knelt to pray is a popular destination for visitors

Smith felt deeply impressed by this scripture. He later recalled, "never did any passage of scripture come with more power to the heart of man than this did at this time to mine." (Joseph Smith—History 1:12) He decided to act upon his impression, and one morning went to a secluded grove of trees near the family's farm, knelt down, and began his first vocal prayer.

Almost immediately after starting his prayer, Joseph found himself engaged in a struggle with a demonic influence, which for a time completely inhibited his speech. A thick darkness gathered around him, and Joseph believed that he would soon be totally destroyed. However, he continued his prayer silently, asking for God's help. At the very moment when he was ready to sink into despair, he records:

I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me. It no sooner appeared than I found myself delivered from the enemy which held me bound. When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other—This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him! [1] (Joseph Smith—History 1:16-17)

When Joseph recovered and was able again to speak, he asked the two personages which religious sect he should join. He was told not to join any of them, because all were teaching incorrect doctrines and had a form of godliness but "denied the power thereof."

The official account of Joseph Smith's First Vision can be found in the scriptures of the Church. It should be noted that Joseph gave eight separate accounts of this vision over the years. As one would expect, these accounts are not exact duplicates of one another, and some accounts leave out important details, but each provides a slightly different perspective on this remarkable event. The official account was chosen for that purpose both because it is the most complete of all the accounts and because it is the one Joseph wanted to publish to the world.

Celebrating the Bicentennial of the First Vision

During his closing remarks at the October 2019 general conference, President Russell M. Nelson announced:

Now I would like to turn to another topic: plans for the coming year. In the springtime of the year 2020, it will be exactly 200 years since Joseph Smith experienced the theophany that we know as the First Vision. God the Father and His Beloved Son, Jesus Christ, appeared to Joseph, a 14-year-old youth. That event marked the onset of the Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ in its fulness, precisely as foretold in the Holy Bible.
Then came a succession of visits from heavenly messengers, including Moroni, John the Baptist, and the early Apostles Peter, James, and John. Others followed, including Moses, Elias, and Elijah. Each brought divine authority to bless God’s children on the earth once again.
Miraculously, we have also received the Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ, a companion scripture to the Holy Bible. The revelations published in the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price have also greatly enriched our understanding of God’s commandments and eternal truth.
The keys and offices of the priesthood have been restored, including the offices of Apostle, Seventy, patriarch, high priest, elder, bishop, priest, teacher, and deacon. And women who love the Lord serve valiantly in the Relief Society, Primary, Young Women, Sunday School, and other Church callings—all vital parts of the Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ in its fulness.
Thus, the year 2020 will be designated as a bicentennial year. General conference next April will be different from any previous conference. In the next six months, I hope that every member and every family will prepare for a unique conference that will commemorate the very foundations of the restored gospel.
You may wish to begin your preparation by reading afresh Joseph Smith’s account of the First Vision as recorded in the Pearl of Great Price. Our course of study for next year in Come, Follow Me is the Book of Mormon. You may wish to ponder important questions such as, “How would my life be different if my knowledge gained from the Book of Mormon were suddenly taken away?” or “How have the events that followed the First Vision made a difference for me and my loved ones?” Also, with the Book of Mormon videos now becoming available, you may wish to incorporate them in your individual and family study.
Select your own questions. Design your own plan. Immerse yourself in the glorious light of the Restoration. As you do, general conference next April will be not only memorable; it will be unforgettable.[2]

On January 1, 2020, President Nelson invited members of the Church to share the gospel of Jesus Christ in 2020.[3]

“When I spoke during last October’s general conference, I designated 2020 as a bicentennial period commemorating 200 years since God the Father and His Beloved Son, Jesus Christ appeared to Joseph Smith in a vision,” said President Nelson in a blog post. “This is a hinge point in the history of the Church and your part is vital.”

On February 26, 2020, President Nelson invited the world to consider "How Do You Hear Him?"[4]

My dear friends, today I wish to share with you a special invitation. There are a few wonderful occasions in the scriptures when our Heavenly Father personally introduced His Beloved Son, Jesus Christ, with a specific charge to "Hear Him!" Today, this most-important invitation from our loving Heavenly Father to listen to the voice of the Lord and to follow His teachings is extended to us.
In this special year as we commemorate the 200th anniversary of the First Vision, I invite you to think deeply and often about this key question: How do you hear Him? #HearHim[5]

Members of the Church could not have anticipated that part of the uniqueness of the April 2020 general conference was the announcement that due to the COVID-19 pandemic, each session was limited to the presence of the First Presidency and the speakers. The sessions were to be held in a small assembly room, instead of the Conference Center or the Tabernacle. The music for each session was prerecorded. The world would be watching the proceedings via television, cable, and the internet.

While the isolation to stop the spread of the coronavirus was deeply disappointing to Latter-day Saints, they continued to follow the counsel of the prophet and prepare by studying the Restoration. Members asked each other what they were doing to prepare, and many podcasts, lectures, talks, videos, and suggested readings were available for consideration. (See, for example the Joseph Smith Papers First Vision podcasts

Video: Joseph Smith's First Vision

The Church has published online a new film Ask of God—Joseph Smith’s First Vision, a stunning portrayal of Joseph Smith’s First Vision.

The film was originally released in the Church History Museum in October 2015, where it is shown in a 240-degree surround format for an immersive experience. Now it has been remastered to fit traditional screens and is available online at here to view, download, and share with others anytime.

While most movies about the First Vision use the 1838 account from the Pearl of Great Price, this film draws from all nine existing accounts recorded during Joseph Smith’s lifetime. Four were written or dictated by the Prophet himself and five were written by those who heard the story from him personally. While each account tells the same story, each emphasizes and reveals certain nuances about Joseph’s time in the woods that would become known as the Sacred Grove.

“Great effort has been taken to portray things as accurately as our knowledge of history permits,” said John Heath, a communications manager in the Church History Department.

The scenes in the film were shot on location in Palmyra, New York, using several cameras and helicopters to give the sensation of being lifted above the treetops of the grove and to give an aerial perspective of the surrounding valley, including the Smith family farmhouse.

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland described the movie as “a moving account of Joseph Smith’s First Vision of the Father and the Son.”

You can also experience this marvelous film on a 240° circular screen that surrounds the audience in the First Vision Theater at the Church History Museum in Salt Lake City. Get free tickets for the First Vision Theater.

Video: Joseph Smith's First Prayer

Infographic: The Restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ

The First Vision

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