On the mount of transfiguration Moses, Elijah, and perhaps others, gave the Priesthood keys to Peter, James, and John. Do we know what keys were restored? Since Elijah holds the sealing power were those sealing keys restored at that time? If so were temple sealings performed in Jesus’s time?
Latter-day Saints have a tremendous advantage understanding what happened on the Mount of Transfiguration because of parallel events that occurred in the Restoration. A short time before ascending the Mount of Transfiguration, Jesus promised to Peter “I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:19). In the very next chapter Peter, James, and John are visited by Moses and Elias (Elias is the Greek form of the name Elijah). Elijah was the prophet in the Old Testament who famously shut the heavens from rain (1 Kings 17). He spoke on earth that there would be no rain and heaven honored that word. Later, Elijah spoke on earth that rain would return and heaven honored that word. Because Elijah “sealed” the heavens from rain, this authority to speak and have it bound in heaven is referred to as the “sealing power”. Jesus made direct reference to it when He spoke to Peter.
With this authority, Peter and the other apostles could record that an individual entered the Kingdom of Heaven through baptism and heaven would acknowledge that citizenship as “binding”. Similarly, they could blot out someone’s record in the Church of Jesus Christ and Heaven would also acknowledge that “loosing”. Peter, James, and John would bring that administrative authority Joseph Smith. Not only did they restore the Melchizedek Priesthood, but they also “committed the keys of [Christ’s] kingdom” (D&C 27:13) which Peter in particular is famously associated with.
This was not the full extent of Elijah’s priesthood keys. Joseph Smith had his own Mount of Transfiguration experience in the Kirtland Temple. Elijah came bearing the sealing key in 1836. It still wasn’t until 6 years later that Joseph understood just how far reaching this authority is. He learned that if a person was not baptized Joseph could turn this key and create a baptismal record for the person provided a proxy received the ordinance in his place. This ordinance was then “bound” and recorded in heaven (or rather, heaven used this same record and treated it as valid). “This, therefore, is the sealing and binding power, and, in one sense of the word, the keys of the kingdom, which consist in the key of knowledge” (D&C 128:14). Little wonder then that Joseph was told such priesthood would not just be “restored” to him, but rather it would be “reveal[ed]” (D&C 2). Peter may have also needed some time to fully understand the authority he was given. The most overt references to baptisms for the dead is written decades after the gospels (2 Corinthians is estimated to have been written in 57AD and Peter’s epistles in 65AD).
Moses also appeared on the Mount and in the Kirtland Temple. In the modern day he “committed … the keys of the gathering of Israel from the four parts of the earth, and the leading of the ten tribes from the land of the north” (D&C 110:11). As with Elijah’s keys, Peter seemed to need time to more fully understand how this authority could be used. He did not recognize that when the tribes of Israel were lost many of them were scattered across the gentile nations. He needed revelation to broaden his sights.
Elias also visited the Kirtland Temple “and committed the dispensation of the gospel of Abraham, saying that in us and our seed all generations after us should be blessed” (D&C 110:12). This is the authority to perform what we refer to as temple sealings. We don’t know if this Elias was also on the Mount of Transfiguration. It’s likely that he was since his 3 other companions from the Kirtland temple were also there (Moses, Elijah, and Jesus). There’s much that happened there that we only know about because of the Restoration. The Joseph Smith Translation informs us that John the Baptist was also there. If we limited ourselves to the New Testament, the topic of conversation that night was the upcoming crucifixion. The Kirtland Temple informs us that important ordinances were taking place, and crucial keys were committed. Additionally, revelations were received about what would happen to the earth. It “shall be transfigured, even according to the pattern which was shown unto mine apostles upon the mount; of which account the fulness ye have not yet received” (D&C 63:21).
It’s also possible that Elias’ keys were committed at a later time, such as during the 40 day ministry. Regardless, some of Paul’s teachings on marriage (“neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord”) and Peter’s teachings on priesthood (“a royal priesthood“) suggest they were familiar with higher ordinances not spelled out in our New Testament.
Recently Elder D. Todd Christofferson reminded us of these principles and testified that these keys are still in use today. “Most importantly, the gathering is for the purpose of bringing the blessings of salvation and exaltation to all who will receive them. … I testify that the sealing power and authority restored to earth through Joseph Smith are real, that what is thereby bound on earth truly is bound in heaven. I testify that President Russell M. Nelson, as President of the Church, is the one man on earth today that by his keys directs the use of this supernal power.”