DC 129 Historical Background
(February, 1843) A man came to me in Kirtland, and told me he had seen an angel, and described his dress. I told him he had seen no angel, and that there was no such dress in heaven. He grew mad, and went into the street and commanded fire to come down out of heaven to consume me. I laughed at him, and said, You are one of Baal's prophets; your God does not hear you; jump up and cut yourself (see 1 Kgs. 18); and he commanded fire from heaven to consume my house.
When I was preaching in Philadelphia, a Quaker called out for a sign. I told him to be still. After the sermon, he again asked for a sign. I told the congregation the man was an adulterer; that a wicked and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and that the Lord had said to me in a revelation, that any man who wanted a sign was an adulterous person. "It is true," cried one, "for I caught him in the very act," which the man afterwards confessed, when he was baptized...
(Friday, February 10, 1843) At five o'clock, I opened a mayor's court at my house, when John D. Parker, deputy sheriff, presented Oliver Olney before the court for stealing goods from the store of Moses Smith on the 23rd of January, when Olney declared before the court that he had been visited many times by the Ancient of Days; that he sat with him on the 9th, 10th and 11th of last June, and should sit in counsel again with him on Tuesday next; that he had had a mission from him to the four quarters of the world; that he had been and established the twelve stakes of Zion, and had visited them all, except one in the south; that he had suffered much for two or three years for want of clothing; that he despised a thief, except when he stole to clothe himself; that he opened the store of Moses Smith on the 23rd of January, and took out the goods then present (several hundred pieces) hid them in the cornfield, and carried them home from time to time, under the same roof with Mr. Smith, and that no one knew anything about the robbery but himself.
Olney was once a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but had been cut off a considerable time previous. He declared that the Church never taught him to steal; and I have written his voluntary confession here, that others may take warning and behave themselves in such a manner that they shall not be cut off the Church; for if they are, the Spirit of the living God will depart from them, and they may be left to a worse spirit of delusion and wickedness than even Oliver Olney, who never saw the Ancient of Days nor anything like him. But on the testimony presented, I bound him over to the next circuit court for trial, in the sum of five thousand dollars; and for want of bail, he was committed to Carthage jail. (History of the Church, 5:267-270)
The Nauvoo period marks a transition in the revelations of the Prophet. Many of the revelations from this time period are items of instruction rather than new revelation (D&C 129-131, 134). This section is a good example. The Prophet knew the keys to detecting Satan's deceptions long before 1843. Most likely, he learned this doctrine around 1829, when Michael appeared thwarting Satan's attempt to appear to Joseph as an angel of light (D&C 128:20). It makes sense that Michael, the captain of the Lord's host and Satan's nemesis since the pre-mortal sphere (Rev. 12:7-9), taught the young prophet how to detect Satan in his treachery.
We may look for angels and receive their ministrations, but we are to try the spirits and prove them, for it is often the case that men make a mistake in regard to these things... Lying spirits are going forth in the earth. There will be great manifestations of spirits, both false and true. (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 161)
DC 129:1 There are two kinds of... Angels
The Prophet is not giving a comprehensive list of all the kinds of angels in the scriptures. Specifically, in Old Testament times, some angels were mortal messengers from God (Gen. 19:1; 32:24). Translated beings can also appear as angels. (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 191) The Prophet taught, "there are no angels who minister to this earth but those who do belong or have belonged to it." (History of the Church, 5: 323 - 324) That means that in the Old Testament, there could be no angels of the resurrected type because no spirits had been resurrected prior to Christ's resurrection.
George Q. Cannon
Some people think, "If I had only the ministration of an angel, it would satisfy me." Do you know that when you receive the Holy Ghost you receive something that is greater than an angel?... The ministering of an angel appeals to our outer senses. We see with our eyes. But we may be deceived, for Satan, it is said, is able to transform himself almost like an angel of light. But not so with the Holy Ghost. When that descends upon a man, he knows it, and the testimony which it gives cannot be taken away. (George Q. Cannon, Gospel Truth: Discourses and Writings of President George Q. Cannon, selected, arranged, and edited by Jerreld L. Newquist [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1987], 266)
DC 129:4 offer him your hand and request him to shake hands with you
When Peter, James, and John visited Adam in the Garden of Eden, Adam used a handshake to determine whether or not the messengers were from God. This is an eternal key of the priesthood. There will come a day when handshakes will determine entrance into the Holy City, the heavenly Jerusalem, "blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city" (Rev. 22:14).
Through the Priesthood, and signs and tokens that have been revealed, [we may] come forth in the first resurrection, and pass by the sentinels and the Gods that stand to keep the way to eternal lives. And if there be thrones, dominions, principalities, and powers, we shall come in possession of them, for this is the promise of the Almighty. (Journal of Discourses, 26 vols. [London: Latter-day Saints' Book Depot, 1854-1886], 8: 106)
DC 129:6 he will come in his glory; for that is the only way he can appear
The organization of the spiritual and heavenly worlds, and of spiritual and heavenly beings, was agreeable to the most perfect order and harmony... The Hebrew Church "came unto the spirits of just men made perfect, and unto an innumerable company of angels, unto God the Father of all, and to Jesus Christ, the Mediator of the new covenant." What did they learn by coming of the spirits of just men made perfect? Is it written? No. What they learned has not been and could not have been written. What object was gained by this communication with the spirits of the just? It was the established order of the kingdom of God: the keys of power and knowledge were with them to communicate to the Saints. Hence the importance of understanding the distinction between the spirits of the just and angels.
Spirits can only be revealed in flaming fire or glory. Angels have advanced further, their light and glory being tabernacled; and hence they appear in bodily shape. The spirits of just men are made ministering servants to those who are sealed unto life eternal, and it is through them that the sealing power comes down.
[Recently deceased] Patriarch Adams is now one of the spirits of the just men made perfect; and, if revealed now, must be revealed in fire; and the glory could not be endured. Jesus showed Himself to His disciples, and they thought it was His spirit, and they were afraid to approach His spirit. Angels have advanced higher in knowledge and power than spirits.
Concerning Brother James Adams... Brother Adams has gone to open up a more effectual door for the dead. The spirits of the just are exalted to a greater and more glorious work; hence they are blessed in their departure to the world of spirits. Enveloped in flaming fire, they are not far from us, and know and understand our thoughts, feelings, and motions, and are often pained therewith. (History of the Church, 6: 51 - 52)
DC 129:8 If it be the devil as an angel of light
Joseph Fielding Smith
There is no doubt about Satan having great power and that he can appear as an angel of light. In this form he appeared on the banks of the Susquehanna River to oppose the restoration of keys, and was detected by Michael, and his plans were thwarted. (See D. & C. 128:20. Compare also Section 129:8.) Jacob, son of Lehi, in his teachings, stated that if there had been no atonement, our spirits ". . . must have become like unto him [Satan], and we become devils, angels to a devil, to be shut out from the presence of our God, and to remain with the father of lies, in misery, like unto himself; yea, to that being who beguiled our first parents, who transformeth himself nigh unto an angel of light, and stirreth up the children of men unto secret combinations of murder and all manner of secret works of darkness." (2 Nephi 9:9.)
Korihor, who tried to deceive the Nephites, admitted that Satan appeared to him as an angel and told him what to teach the people. (Alma 30:53.)
When the Prophet Joseph Smith and a company of brethren were journeying to Kirtland from Missouri, they camped at McIlwaine's Bend on the Missouri River. There Elder William W. Phelps "in open vision by daylight, saw the destroyer in his most horrible power, ride upon the face of the waters; others heard the noise, but saw not the vision." (D.H.C., Vol. 1, p. 203) The Savior declared that Satan had the power to bind bodies of men and women and sorely afflict them. (Matthew 7:22-23; Luke 13:16) If Satan has power to bind the bodies, he surely must have power to loose them. It should be remembered that Satan has great knowledge and thereby can exercise authority and to some extent control the elements, when some greater power does not intervene. Paul, writing to the Ephesian Saints called Satan "The prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience." (Ephesians 2:2.)" (Answers to Gospel Questions, 5 vols. [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1957-1966], 1: 178.)
Harold B. Lee
Satan has been said to have the power to transform himself into an angel of light: and because of that ability to transform himself, the Apostle Paul asked the Corinthians, "Do you think it is any great thing that his ministers can likewise transform themselves into ministers of righteousness" (see 2 Cor. 11:15), in order that they might lead the children of men astray. Because of Satan's ability thus to cleverly deceive, the Lord has given us a key in the scriptures by which we may be able to detect him when he comes presenting himself as that angel of light. And so we are told to be constantly on guard against these things.
Moroni said it is as easy as it is to tell the darkness from the daylight to discover evil from righteousness, for, "the devil persuadeth men continually to do evil and to believe not in Christ, but to deny him, and to serve not God nor keep his commandments. And he persuadeth no man to do good, neither his angels, neither do they who subject themselves unto him." ( See Moroni 7:16-17)
...I want to bear you my solemn witness that I know there are such forces in the world today. It would seem to me somewhat significant as I have thought about it, that the first and only experience of its kind I ever had, came shortly after I came into the Council of the Twelve when I was asked to administer to a young woman who was possessed of an evil spirit. Seemingly, there might have been a purpose in letting me know that these powers were around. In this experience, as I was challenged by the evil spirit, the hairs on my head felt as though pin pricks were in every hair and coursing down my body. I knew in that experience the power of evil, and I knew again the superior power of the priesthood and the powers of the Living God. I came on that occasion to understand what the Savior admonished in his day to his disciples when he said: "The prince of the darkness which is of this world cometh, and hath nothing in me."
He was trying to impress upon his disciples likewise that Satan would come to each of them with cunning, temptation and deceit. Latter-day Saints, the prince of darkness which is of this world cometh among us today. He is knocking without the door of every one of us, of you and me and all who bear the names within themselves of the gospel of Jesus Christ, of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and I pray God that he may find nothing in us, and will go away and let us alone. (Conference Report, October 1949, Afternoon Meeting 58)
DC 129:8 you will not feel anything; you may therefore detect him
Some will say that they have seen a spirit; that he offered them his hand, but they did not touch it. This is a lie. First, it is contrary to the plan of God; a spirit cannot come but in glory; an angel has flesh and bones; we see not their glory. The devil may appear as an angel of light. Ask God to reveal it; if it be of the devil, he will flee from you; if of God, He will manifest Himself, or make it manifest... Not every spirit, or vision, or singing, is of God. (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 162)
DC 129:9 These are three grand keys
There are three possible responses from an angel: 1) he shakes your hand and you feel it, 2) he shakes your hand and you don't feel it, or 3) there is no response at all. These are the three grand keys but there are other ways the devil can be detected. Moses detected him because there was no glory associated with him:
And it came to pass that Moses looked upon Satan and said: Who art thou? For behold, I am a son of God, in the similitude of his Only Begotten; and where is thy glory, that I should worship thee?
For behold, I could not look upon God, except his glory should come upon me, and I were transfigured before him. But I can look upon thee in the natural man. Is it not so, surely?
Blessed be the name of my God, for his Spirit hath not altogether withdrawn from me, or else where is thy glory, for it is darkness unto me? And I can judge between thee and God...
Get thee hence, Satan; deceive me not. (Moses 1:13-16)
Satan can't really appear with the same glory as a true heavenly angel. He may try; he may appear in white; he may appear with some luminescence, but it is not the same. The Book of Mormon translation is superior to Paul's claim that he can appear as an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14), for it says he "transformeth himself nigh unto an angel of light" (2 Ne. 9:9, emphasis added). That is how Moses detected him. He was not impressed with his glory. The spirit must have given him away as well.
There have also been ministering angels in the Church which were of Satan appearing as an angel of light. A sister in the state of New York had a vision, who said it was told her that if she would go to a certain place in the woods, an angel would appear to her. She went at the appointed time, and saw a glorious personage descending, arrayed in white, with sandy colored hair; he commenced and told her to fear God, and said that her husband was called to do great things, but that he must not go more than one hundred miles from home, or he would not return; whereas God had called him to go to the ends of the earth, and he has since been more than one thousand miles from home, and is yet alive. Many true things were spoken by this personage, and many things were false. How, it may be asked, was this known to be a bad angel? By the color of his hair; that is one of the signs that he can be known by, and by his contradicting a former revelation. (History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 Vols. 4:581)
Wherever miracles are wrought by the power of God, there will be found a true and righteous doctrine, unmixed with error: wherever miracles are wrought by the power of the devil, there will be found more or less false doctrine. (Orson Pratt's Works [Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1945], 233 - 234)
If Satan should appear as one in glory, who can tell his color, his signs, his appearance, his glory-or what is the manner of his manifestation? Who can drag into daylight and develop the hidden mysteries of the false spirits that so frequently are made manifest among the Latter-day Saints? We answer that no man can do this without the Priesthood, and having a knowledge of the laws by which spirits are governed; for as 'no man knows the things of God, but by the Spirit of God,' so no man knows the spirit of the devil, and his power and influence, but by possessing intelligence which is more than human, and having unfolded through the medium of the Priesthood the mysterious operations of his devices; without knowing the angelic form, the sanctified look and gesture, and the zeal that is frequently manifested by him for the glory of God, together with the prophetic spirit, the gracious influence, the godly appearance, and the holy garb, which are so characteristic of his proceedings and his mysterious windings.
A man must have the discerning of spirits before he can drag into daylight this hellish influence and unfold it unto the world in all its soul-destroying, diabolical, and horrid colors; for nothing is a greater injury to the children of men than to be under the influence of a false spirit when they think they have the Spirit of God. (Discourses of the Prophet Joseph Smith, compiled by Alma P. Burton [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1977], 113)