Historical Context and Background of D&C 133

Video Overview

Brief Synopsis by Steven C. Harper

Section 133 ends what section 1 began. The November 1831 conference at Hiram, Ohio, planned to publish 10,000 copies of Joseph’s revelations as A Book of Commandments for the Government of the Church of Christ. Joseph began to edit the revelations, and Oliver Cowdery made plans to take them to Independence, Missouri, for publication by William Phelps on the Church’s press. Joseph’s history says that

at this time there were many things which the Elders desired to know relative to the preaching of the Gospel to the inhabitants of the earth, and concerning the gathering; and in order to walk in the true light, and be instructed from on high, on the 3rd of November, 1831, I inquired of the Lord and received the following important revelation, which as since been added to the book of Doctrine and Covenants, and called the Appendix.1

Section 133 continues and even escalates the apocalyptic tone of section 1. It announces that Christ will dramatically come soon. He will come to judge all that forget God, including the ungodly Latter-day Saints. So the Saints should prepare for his coming by sanctifying their lives and becoming Zion. “Go ye out from Babylon,” the Lord says again and again, solidifying the dualistic “Zion versus Babylon” typology he chose in sections 1 and 133 to frame the Doctrine and Covenants.

Zion will be rescued when the Lord comes. Babylon will be destroyed. “Hearken and hear, O ye inhabitants of the earth. Listen, ye elders of my church together, and hear the voice of the Lord; for he calleth upon all men everywhere to repent” (D&C 133:16). The angels have already been sent to announce that the hour of his coming nears. Indeed, that is the beginning of the Restoration. As section 133 explains, messengers commit the gospel to mortal prophets, who offer it to “some,” who then go to “many,” until “this gospel shall be preached unto every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people” (vv. 36–37). Then the Lord answers the prayers of his people, who have long pled, “O that thou wouldst rend the heavens, that thou wouldst come down, that the mountains might flow down at thy presence” (v. 39). He will answer “as the melting fire that burneth, and as the fire which causeth the waters to boil” (v. 41). He comes soon to sanctify the repentant and to burn the unrepentant.

So how does the revelation answer the elders’ questions about preaching the gospel and gathering Israel? First, it emphasizes, the Saints must get themselves out of Babylon, and the only alternative is to “flee unto Zion” (D&C 133:12). Second, send the elders back in to rescue any who will repent. Send them first to the Gentiles and then to the Jews. They should “thrash the nations by the power of his Spirit” (v. 59) and send any who will repent on to Zion to be endowed with priesthood power and the blessings promised to the House of Israel. That’s why the revelations were given and why they are to be published to all mankind. “And unto him that repenteth and sanctifieth himself before the Lord shall be given eternal life. And upon them that hearken not to the voice of the Lord shall be fulfilled that which was written by the prophet Moses, that they should be cut off from among the people” (D&C 133:62–63).

Section 133 answers the elders’ questions about preaching the gospel and gathering lost Israel. Other revelations give much more detailed instructions how to do those things. This one emphasizes why and when. To a fledgling group of fallible Latter-day Saints gathered in a private home, it sets forth an audacious scope of covering the globe with the restored gospel. It reiterates Christ’s great commission to take the gospel to every creature so that each can decide whether to repent or not. Moreover, there is no time to lose. The revelation’s urgent tone emphasizes that Christ soon comes to judge an apostate world—Babylon.

What resulted from this revelation? That little group of faltering Saints has grown exponentially and sent tens of thousands of its sons and daughters to the ends of the earth to preach the gospel and gather scattered Israel to Zion in anticipation of the Lord’s second coming. It would be hard to overstate the motivating power of sections like 133. It is, as one early Saint declared, “fraught with so much heavenly intelligence.”2

1. “History, 1838–1856, volume A-1 [23 December 1805–30 August 1834],” 166, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed December 8, 2020; The Evening and the Morning Star (May 1833): 1:12.

2. The Evening and the Morning Star (May 1833): 89.

Additional Context by Casey Paul Griffiths

From Doctrine and Covenants Minute

Doctrine and Covenants 133 is often referred to as “the appendix” of the Doctrine and Covenants. It was received on November 3, 1831, near the same time that sections 1 and 67 were received and was placed at the end of the Book of Commandments. While Doctrine and Covenants 1 is considered the “preface” of the book, section 133 effectively functions as an appendix to the book. Apostle John A. Widtsoe explained, “The ‘Appendix’ [D&C 133], supplements the introduction [D&C 1]. The two sections together encompass the contents of the book in a condensed form. An appendix is something which the writer thinks should be added to amplify that which is in the book, to emphasize it, to make it stronger or to explain the contents a little more completely.”1

Doctrine and Covenants 133 contains an extensive discussion of the signs leading up to the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. When the revelation was first published in The Evening and the Morning Star, it was accompanied by the following introduction:

Indeed it is a source of joy to us, to know, that all the prophecies and promises which are contained in them, which have not been fulfilled, will come to pass. The saints may lift up their heads and rejoice, for their redemption will soon be perfected. Soon the curtain of heaven will be unfolded, as a scroll is unfolded after it is rolled up, and they will see their Lord face to face. In view of these coming scenes, they may lift up their heads and rejoice, and praise his holy name, that they are permitted to live in the days when he returns to his people his everlasting covenants, to prepare them for his presence.2

In the 1838 history of the Church prepared under his direction, Joseph Smith gave the following description of the circumstances surrounding this revelation: “At this time there were many things which the elders desired to know relative to preaching the gospel to the inhabitants of the earth, and concerning the gathering: and, in order to walk by the true light, and be instructed from on high, on the 3rd of November 1831. I enquired of the Lord and received the following revelation, which from its importance, and for distinction has since been added to the Book of Doctrine and Covenants and called the Appendix.”3

While most of the sections in the Doctrine and Covenants appear in chronological order, section 1 and section 133 were deliberately placed out of order. Doctrine and Covenants 1 was placed at the beginning of the book, and section 133 was placed at the end. Section 133 originally was to appear at the end of the Book of Commandments (1833), but the printing press for the book was destroyed. The revelation was included as the final section in the 1835 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants. In the 1876 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants, which was prepared under the direction of Brigham Young, the section was assigned its present number (133), and it has remained at this place in every subsequent edition.4

See “Historical Introduction,” Revelation, 3 November 1831 [D&C 133].

1. John A. Widtsoe, The Message of the Doctrine and Covenants, 1969, 17.

2. “A Prophecy Given to the Church of Christ, March 7, 1831,” The Evening and the Morning Star, June 1832, 1, JSP.

3. JS History, vol. A-1, p. 166, JSP.

4. Stephen E. Robinson and H. Dean Garrett, A Commentary on the Doctrine and Covenants, 2005, 4:262.