These sections are out of temporal order in the Doctrine and Covenants. Taken together, they serve different purposes but have an interesting set of complimentary voices when coupled together. D&C 133 was originally intended to be the appendix to the revelations. Written only a few days after D&C 1, the prefix, in November of 1831, a year and a half after the church was first established, recorded at about the time they intended to publish the revelations for mass consumption. They have similar themes and serve as a good way to sum up Joseph Smith’s revelations. They describe the intent, purpose and ultimate vision of the restoration. D&C 134 was written later, in 1835 by Oliver Cowdery in response to the persecutions and injustices inflicted on the Saints in Missouri. D&C 133 serves to spell out the role, expectations and responsibilities of the church. D&C 134 serves to summarize the church’s position on their relationship with and expectation from the civil governments within which they operate. D&C 133 spells out the church’s mission. D&C 134 spells out governments role in relationship to that mission.
The revelation starts off quickly with the theme in verse 2:
This verse contains harsh language and the revelation generally deals in harsh binaries that don’t actually reflect my own experience but I believe represents the religious language of the time. My experience is different, with gradations, growth, times when I’m doing well, other times when I’m not. Good people sometimes do bad things, recognizing most people are doing their best, often with mixed up incentives and difficult circumstances.
Terryl Givens has a really great way of nuancing the word judgment that shows up here in this interview on Faith Matters:
But I think the key is in Paul, his epistle to the Corinthians, when he tells us that Jesus will judge us so that He need not condemn us. Judgment, as I understand — as we understand, as it’s being used in both the Book of Mormon and the New Testament, is that process by which we are brought to recognize distinctions and how they have operated in our lives and in our character. Judgment in this sense is the prelude to further progress. So judgment is that process by which we are made to become aware of where we are, what yet needs to be done, what lies have we been telling ourselves, how have we been alienated from our true identities.Terryl Givens
Verse three seems to be saying the same thing but at a larger scale, talking of nations, though I think it applies to both nations as well as us personally.
If Christ is light, making bare is holy arm could be a way to discover what’s actually happening through all nations. Experiencing moments of clarity within the fog of circumstance and bad incentives is the work of Christ. When these moments happen before we’ve prepared for them, they can be painful. In that sense, we don’t have to wait for God to find us. We can find God. Verses 5 and 6 is a call to be more proactive.
Babylon vs. Zion
Two contrasting organizations described here, Zion and Babylon. This language is big-tent thinking. Zion includes the pure in heart, those striving to eradicate poverty and build a tent large enough to include all who love God and have a desire to serve God through the service of others. Babylon is the contrasting big tent, filled with people looking to enrich and uplift themselves over others. All of us at times wander in Babylon, perhaps that is our starting point. It takes hard work, sacrifice, consecration and ultimately the grace of Christ to root our hearts and our feet in Zion.
And of course, verse 8 reminds us this is not an individual endeavor. We need to seek out all and invite them into Zion as well, recognizing Zion is truly large and complex. When we think about Zion, we think about enlarging our tents to include more people. Zion is open, big, expansive.
Send forth the elders of my church unto the anations which are afar off; unto the bislands of the sea; send forth unto foreign lands; call upon all nations, first upon the cGentiles, and then upon the Jews. And behold, and lo, this shall be their cry, and the voice of the Lord unto all people: Go ye forth unto the land of Zion, that the borders of my people may be enlarged, and that her astakes may be strengthened, and that bZion may go forth unto the regions round about.verse 8, 9
Preparation for the Coming of Christ
There’s urgency in many of the verses in this revelation, but verse 15 stands out in this regard.
We don’t need to be in a hurry. I think when it comes to Zion, the preparation is just as important as the event. Both the striving toward Zion can be thought of in some ways part of Zion itself. Preparation takes time, but we need to start now. We don’t just flip a switch and find our hearts pure. It’s work, effort, coming moment by moment, grace for grace.
Verse 19 and 20 also stands out for me:
Wherefore, prepare ye for the acoming of the Bridegroom; go ye, go ye out to meet him.For behold, he shall astand upon the mount of Olivet, and upon the mighty ocean, even the great deep, and upon the islands of the sea, and upon the land of Zion.19, 20
We should be proactive. Prepare and then proactively go out to meet him. Let Christ’s return come soon, now, in our hearts. This is shadow work, letting Christ’s light shine in our dark corners. Verse 20 describes the ubiquity of this event(s) – in the mounts, on the mighty ocean, and upon the islands of the sea – everywhere, for all.
The next section describes the possibilities. Lands unite (v 24), desserts bloom (v29), rich treasures (v30) and every person shall be filled with the “songs of everlasting joy” (v 33).
All of this sounds good, but starting in verse 41, things get dark and terrible, the Lord’s return is like a “melting fire” (v41), people will tremble (v42), and terrible things come (v43). The Lord will be clothed in red apparel (v48) and the sun, the moon and the stars flee in “shame” “whithholding its light (v49). Verse 51 describes an angry, vengeful God. I’m not sure this makes sense or represents the type of God I yearn for. One way to think about it isn’t so much God, but our reaction to an unprepared return, when we are forced to reckon with what we’ve done and who we are. These moments of clarity can often be painful and dark. The dark night of the soul. But it’s temporary, invariably, and Christ suffers with us, ultimately, v53:
After the darkness comes light. After the winter, spring. After death, resurrection (v56).
Verse 57 gets to the entire point of this whole thing:
And for this cause, that men might be made apartakers of the bglories which were to be revealed, the Lord sent forth the fulness of his cgospel, his everlasting covenant, reasoning in plainness and simplicity57
Essentially, the purpose of the gospel is to provide the vehicle for repentance, so that through the weak things “the Lord shall thresh the nations by the power of His spirit” (verse 59). Given that none of us are strong. Every single one of us are weak and vulnerable and utterly dependent on the God who gave us life. God uses those who admit as much to break down those who won’t.
The revelation ends on a dark note as a warning to those who will not listen and as a reminder that there is always an escape.
Section 133 describes the purpose of the church. Section 134 describes the responsibility and duties of government. On the Unshaken podcast, Jared Halverson describes this section as the twelve articles of faith expansion of Article of Faith 12. A few highlights:
Government has been instituted by God (verse 1). This is a strong rebuke of the latest trends disparaging government. No, we need government, we need a good government that makes and administers laws for “the good and safety of society.”
Verse 4 expands on the right of religious worship as long as it does not “infringe upon the rights and liberties of others”. The government should “punish guilt, but never suppress the freedom of the soul”.
Verse 5 is a call to citizens to sustain and respect government, while the government is duty bound to “secure the public interest” while also “holding sacred the freedom of conscience.”
Verse 6 makes a distinction between the laws of men and the laws of God, the one “regulating our interests” in how we relate to each other while the other for “spiritual concerns”.
Verse 12 is a difficult one and is a principle deeply contextualized to the Saints’ experiences in Missouri. The LDS church had black members early on. Missouri was a slave state that worried the influx of preeminently northern members moving into the state potentially with free blacks among their mix may tilt the balance in the state. This verse seems designed to assuage that concern. But it’s awful text and has no relevance beyond that limited context. That it’s not worth the risk to try to help the “bond-servant” without consulting the master believing it is “unlawful and unjust, and dangerous to the peace of every government.”