I'm a son of Levi (and you are, too)
This past week I read the following verse in 3 Nephi 24, where Christ quotes Malachi 3. Lots of good stuff in Malachi. No wonder Christ was instructed to quote it to the Nephites. But one verse, in particular, caught my eye the other day. Speaking of the coming of the coming of Christ's messenger to the Lord's Temple (presumably Elijah to the Kirtland Temple), Malachi says:
And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; 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.
This "sons of Levi" verse has always seemed a little confusing to me. I'd heard several people mention this and try and interpret it. But I had just always figured it was just some Old Testament-y prophecy that we're not going to understand until the Church is a lot larger and includes more people from the Middle East or something. Not something that was super applicable to most modern Church members from Ephraim or Manasseh lines we are today.
But as I reflected on this more this past time through, I realized this was one of the verses Moroni quoted to the teenage Joseph Smith no less than four times when Joseph's ministry really started. And John the Baptist repeated this promise when conferring the Aaronic Priesthood:
Upon you my fellow servants, in the name of Messiah I confer the Priesthood of Aaron, which holds the keys of the ministering of angels, and of the gospel of repentance, and of baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; and this shall never be taken again from the earth, until the sons of Levi do offer again an offering unto the Lord in righteousness.
So it's obviously something that should be applicable to all of us today. So I studied some more. We know Levi was one of the tribes of Israel. We know Aaron (the namesake of the Aaronic Priesthood) was Levite. The Levite descendants of Aaron were priests, but the rest of the Levites assisted the Aaronic priests in the Temple (I'm imagining the ancient complement to today's ordinance workers).
Cool, so what does that have to do with us? That's where I remembered this powerhouse verse from D&C 84 I had never understood before:
For whoso is faithful unto the obtaining these two priesthoods of which I have spoken, and the magnifying their calling, are sanctified by the Spirit unto the renewing of their bodies.
They become the sons of Moses and of Aaron and the seed of Abraham, and the church and kingdom, and the elect of God.
Suddenly it clicked. When God talks about the sons of Moses and Aaron, he's talking about priesthood holders. Aaron was a Levite, therefore "sons of Aaron" (Aaronic priesthood holders) are "sons of Levi," too.
So, I guess I'm a son of Levi. Maybe you are, too.
Which means that when Malachi (and by extension, Moroni, Joseph Smith, and Christ) says the sons of Levi will be purged and purified like gold or silver, he's talking about refining us. And when he mandates that the sons of Levi must offer an offering to the Lord in righteousness before the Second Coming, that's not just some work for future generations– that's a mandate for us here and now. Christ elucidated further:
The sons of Moses and also the sons of Aaron [you and me] shall offer an acceptable offering and sacrifice in the house of the Lord, which house shall be built unto the Lord in this generation…
And the sons of Moses and of Aaron shall be filled with the glory of the Lord, upon Mount Zion in the Lord's house, whose sons are ye.
The offering we are to offer is to be made in the Temple. And Joseph Smith clarifies in D&C 124 what type of offering this is to be:
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. Let us, therefore, as a church and a people, and as Latter-day Saints, offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness; and let us present in his holy temple, when it is finished, a book containing the records of our dead, which shall be worthy of all acceptation.
I was so excited when this all finally started clicking. I love finding things in the scriptures that I didn't know before. Although, apparently I'm late to the party. Today I found that the Doctrine & Covenants student manual sums up my amazing "new" findings in a concise, matter-of-fact way:
Historically, the sons of Levi, including the sons of Aaron and the sons of Moses, were the custodians of the house of God and were responsible for its ordinances. Today the Lord promises that men who are called by the Lord to "build up my Church" and who are "faithful unto the obtaining these two priesthoods of which I have spoken, and the magnifying their calling," become the "sons of Moses and of Aaron…" As righteous Saints serve the Lord in holy ordinances, including those of the temple, the sacrifice they offer through their service will be part of the "offering in righteousness" that the sons of Levi, including the sons of Moses and Aaron, will present to the Lord before His coming.
Couldn't have said it better, myself.
Side note: Before I get comments informing me about the more literal interpretation of the offering by the sons of Levi, just know that I am aware of what various brethren have said on the matter. I'm not avoiding that interpretation. It's just not the subject of this post. It's one of those strange and complex things that aren't applicable to our immediate situation or our salvation at this time. But if anyone really wants to read up on it, that same student manual I mentioned earlier has some quotes from Joseph Smith and Joseph Fielding Smith about that aspect of the wording. For me, I just think it's awesome that God is so thorough that His prophecies are often fulfilled both literally and metaphorically.