I ran into your website just an hour ago and I’m so glad that I did. I can’t even keep track of how many questions and answers I’ve read already. But anyway, I have a question about the priesthood. When the law of Moses was established was the Melchizedek priesthood taken away due to the wickedness of the people? In fact, was it when the Aaronic priesthood was set in the first place? How did the members from the church back then receive all of the ordinances necessary for exaltation without the Melchizedek priesthood, if it really was taken away? Was the Melchizedek priesthood brought to the American Continent before the coming of Christ? I’m so confused about it that I don’t even know how to ask… Anyway, I would really appreciate if you could shed some light on this.
You are, in essence, asking for a temporal history of priesthood. From the time of Adam to Moses, there was only one priesthood on the earth. The children of Israel were not prepared to receive the full covenant from the hand of Moses, so they were given a lesser law, which was to be administered via a lesser priesthood (study D&C 84:6-26 for more on this). Joseph Smith taught “All Priesthood is Melchizedek, but there are different portions or degrees of it. That portion which brought Moses to speak with God face to face was taken away; but that which brought the ministry of angels remained. All the prophets had the Melchizedek Priesthood and were ordained by God himself” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith 180). Most of the ordinances, notably excepting those performed by prophets, were officiated by the lesser priesthood. All temple worship, including sacrifices, was overseen by Levites, priests, and a high priest (note that this office was in the Aaronic Priesthood at the time). The fullness of the ordinances could only be performed by a limited few during this time. One notable prophetic exception was Elijah, who exercised the sealing powers (as part of the higher priesthood) to seal the heavens for 3 ½ years.
During this period of Levitical clergy, Lehi left Jerusalem. He was of the tribe of Manasseh (one of the tribes of Joseph) and would not be allowed to offer up a sacrifice. And yet when he hears of his sons’ safe return from fetching the plates, he builds an altar and performs that very rite. So Lehi held the Melchizedek Priesthood (of which the Aaronic is a subset) and brought that to the Americas. Again, Elder Smith sheds some further light on this and points out that the teachers and priests in the Book of Mormon must then be offices in the Melchizedek Priesthood.
“The Book of Mormon tells us definitely, in many places, that the priesthood which they held and under which they officiated was the Priesthood after the holy order, the order of the Son of God. This higher priesthood can officiate in every ordinance of the gospel, and Jacob and Joseph, for instance, were consecrated priests and teachers after this order” (Doctrines of Salvation p86).
When Christ came to the Jews, he again restored the Melchizedek Priesthood and conferred it upon His Apostles. Sadly, shortly after the first century this authority was taken from the early Christians, and was likewise lost from the Nephites a few centuries later.
For over a millennia, the world thirsted for God’s authority until, as part of the restoration of all things, John the Baptist conferred the Aaronic Priesthood on Joseph Smith. A short time later the Melchizedek Priesthood was restored as well and distributed among the believers in these last days.