I received an email asking about the meaning of D&C 90: 2. Here’s my response:
This verse, like most scripture, is deliberately unclear. This is why the first topic in the fireside was the Holy Ghost and its relationship to both gifts of the spirit and understanding the “mysteries” of God. (See JS-H 1: 74.) The Holy Ghost inspired the text (conveying the words of Christ directly to Joseph; see D&C 90: 1). Therefore, having the Holy Ghost is required to understand the meaning of the text. (2 Peter 1: 20-21.)
The verse says: “Therefore, thou art blessed from henceforth that bear the keys of the kingdom given unto you; which kingdom is coming forth for the last time.” (D&C 90: 2.)
Ask yourself these questions:
-Who is “thou”? Is it Joseph Smith or some collective group or successors?
-Who “bears the keys of the kingdom” in the verse? In 1833, was that Joseph Smith? Or was it some group? Was it his successors?
-Who had the “keys of the kingdom given unto [them]”? In 1833, was that Joseph Smith, or was it someone else? Did it include a group? Successors, too?
-What does “for the last time” mean? Does it mean it will never, ever happen again? Or does it mean the “latest” or “most current”?
There are a few verses after this one that will help with some of these questions. For example, verse 3 seems to identify Joseph Smith: “Verily I say unto you, the keys of this kingdom shall never be taken from you, while thou art in the world, neither in the world to come[.]” (D&C 90: 3.) This seems to be singular. It is addressed to Joseph. But you must decide if it is him, or if it means anyone in the church leadership, then and now. The Holy Ghost should assist you in reaching the right conclusion.
It adds in verse 4: “Nevertheless, through you shall the oracles be given to another, yea, even unto the church.” (D&C 90: 4.) This seems to make it clear that the “you” and the “thou” referred to earlier was Joseph Smith. But it then raises other questions:
-What are “the oracles”? Are these the revelations (i.e., sections of the D&C, parts of the Pearl of Great Price, etc.)?
-Are “the oracles” a power or gift of the Spirit?
-If some power or gift, when? To whom? Was it fulfilled in Hyrum? (See D&C 124: 123-124.)
-Was it fulfilled in the Council of Fifty when Joseph gave “the keys of the kingdom” to them, establishing the right to create a kingdom to overtake all other governments and grind all competing governments on the earth to dust in fulfillment of Daniel 2: 36-44.
On the question of “the last time,” verse 5 helps with the meaning:
“And all they who receive the oracles of God, let them beware how they hold them least they are accounted as a light thing, and are brought under condemnation thereby, and stumble and fall when the storms descend, and the winds blow, and the rains descend, and beat upon their house.” (D&C 90: 5.) If we can “stumble and fall,” it suggests we can lose what we were given. If we can lose it, then it can be returned. That would mean “last time” in verse 2 is referring to the “latest,” much like D&C 76: 22, where “last of all” means the “most current” or the “latest” testimony. It doesn’t mean that there will never be another person with a testimony of Christ.
The verse also makes it clear that everyone (including Joseph and his peers/successors) can “stumble and fall” if they treat the “oracles” lightly. To “stumble” is one thing. But to “fall” suggests departing from the way and losing what was given. This returns us to “the oracles” and the meaning of that term:
-Are they the revelations/Book of Mormon? (See D&C 84: 54-57.)
-Is it some ordination or gift?
-If a gift or power, and if it is possible to “fall” from it, then what does that imply?
You decide by the Holy Ghost what verse 2 means. I believe it means that Joseph Smith was blessed and he held keys which would never be taken from him, even if he died. That his possession of those keys allowed him to be regarded as a member of God’s kingdom. He was the latest person, or only one living in 1833 to be regarded as a full member of that kingdom. But you should prayerfully decide what it means for yourself.