“I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me.”
These familiar words have echoed for almost two centuries, detailing the appearance of God the Father, and His Son, Jesus Christ to the boy Joseph Smith.
And a marvelous pillar of light it was. It was described as “above the brightness of the son.”
Orson Pratt described Joseph’s vision and this glorious light in this manner:
“…he at length, saw a very bright and glorious light in the heavens above; which, at first, seemed to be a considerable distance. He continued praying, while the light appeared to be gradually descending towards him; and as it drew nearer, it increased in brightness and magnitude, so that, by the time that it reached the tops of the trees, the whole wilderness, for some distance around was illuminated in a most glorious and brilliant manner. He expected to have seen the leaves and boughs of the trees consumed, as soon as the light came in contact with them; but perceiving that it did not produce that effect, he was encouraged with the hope of being able to endure its presence. It continued descending slowly, until it rested upon the earth, and he was enveloped in the midst of it.”
We’re familiar with other lights that flooded Joseph Smith’s surroundings. Another such account is described in Joseph Smith History when the glorified angel Moroni appear in Joseph’s room:
While I was thus in the act of calling upon God, I discovered a light appearing in my room, which continued to increase until the room was lighter than at noonday, when immediately a personage appeared at my bedside, standing in the air, for his feet did not touch the floor.
Not only was his robe exceedingly white, but his whole person was glorious beyond description, and his countenance truly like lightning. The room was exceedingly light, but not so very bright as immediately around his person. When I first looked upon him, I was Afraid; but the fear soon left me.
A final, and incredibly intriguing, burst of light that has been documented by Archibald Buchanan’s family occurred immediately after Joseph Smith fell from Carthage Jail. In a 1974 Ensign article, Buchanan states:
After the Prophet’s body fell from the window at Carthage, the mob rushed upon him to desecrate his body. But God would not permit this act of violence. He sent a sheet of lightning between the Prophet and those sons of the infernal pit, and they dared not touch him. Golden, my son, remember this—they could not touch him. They ran and are running still and will run till judgment day.”
Another account from William Daniels, which has received some criticism for embellishment of some of the events, states that one mob member wanted to cut off Joseph’s head, as there was a bounty out. It reads:
“The ruffian, of whom I have spoken, who set him against the well-curb, now secured a bowie knife for the purpose of severing his head from his body. He raised the knife and was in the attitude of striking, when a light, so sudden and powerful, burst from the heavens upon the bloody scene, (passing its vivid chain between Joseph and his murderers,) that they were struck with terrified awe and filled with consternation. This light, in its appearance and potency, baffles all powers of description. The arm of the ruffian, that held the knife, fell powerless; the muskets of the four, who fired, fell to the ground, and they all stood like marble statues, not having power to move a single limb of their bodies.
By this time most of the men had fled in great disorder. I never saw so frightened a set of men before. Col. Williams saw the light and was also badly frightened; but he did not entirely lose the use of his limbs or speech. Seeing the condition of these men, he hallooed to some who had just commenced to retreat, for God’s sake to come and carry off these men. They came back and carried them by the main strength towards the baggage wagons. They seemed as helpless as if they were dead.”
So, what exactly happened? It appears from these two accounts that members of the mob wanted to desecrate Joseph’s body and remove his head. It also appears that God intervened with a powerful sheet of lightning that burst from the heavens.
In 1859 President Brigham Young (1801–77) said: “It was decreed in the councils of eternity, long before the foundations of the earth were laid, that [Joseph Smith] should be the man, in the last dispensation of this world, to bring forth the word of God to the people and receive the fullness of the keys and power of the Priesthood of the Son of God. The Lord had his eye upon him, and upon his father, and upon his father’s father, and upon their progenitors clear back to Abraham, and from Abraham to the flood, from the flood to Enoch and from Enoch to Adam. He has watched that family and that blood as it has circulated from its fountain to the birth of that man. He was foreordained in eternity to preside over this last dispensation.”
God prepared His prophet. God called His prophet. God took His prophet back into His presence. God be thanked for His Beloved Prophet. God be thanked for His protective power. God be thanked for His glorious work and for His pillars of light.