In 1842, twelve years and five months after The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was formally organized, the Melchizedek Priesthood was restored and at that point, every key to the kingdom of God was restored upon the earth.
In September 1842, the Prophet wrote a letter to the Church expressing his joy as he contemplated the knowledge and priesthood keys now restored to the earth: “And again, what do we hear? Glad tidings from Cumorah! Moroni, an angel from heaven, declaring the fulfilment of the prophets—the book to be revealed. … And the voice of Michael, the archangel; the voice of Gabriel, and of Raphael, and of divers angels, from Michael or Adam down to the present time, all declaring their dispensation, their rights, their keys, their honors, their majesty and glory, and the power of their priesthood; giving line upon line, precept upon precept; here a little, and there a little; giving us consolation by holding forth that which is to come, confirming our hope!” (D&C 128:20–21). (“Chapter 8: The Everlasting Priesthood,” Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, (2007),101–13)
By that point, one thousand eight hundred and nine years had passed since the death and crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Not many long years after that, the keys to the kingdom of God slowly slipped away until only a fraction of the truth and no priesthood power or authority existed on the earth. And in 1842, Peter, James and John conferred the Melchizedek Priesthood on Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, at which point, each of the prophets of the dispensations stepped forward and presented to Joseph Smith, Jr., the prophet of the Restoration, confirmation of truths which had been revealed to him, and then revealed yet more, line upon line.
From Joseph Smith we learned:
“The Priesthood was first given to Adam; he obtained the First Presidency, and held the keys of it from generation to generation. He obtained it in the Creation, before the world was formed, as in Genesis 1:26-28. He had dominion given him over every living creature. He is Michael the Archangel, spoken of in the Scriptures. Then to Noah, who is Gabriel; he stands next in authority to Adam in the Priesthood; he was called of God to this office, and was the father of all living in his day, and to him was given the dominion. These men held keys first on earth, and then in heaven. (Ibid)
To me, there is such power and comfort in the knowledge that the Priesthood of God was held by Father Adam, the Ancient of Days, and was handed down from prophet to prophet throughout the millennia. Many people never stop to think and consider that when Adam and Eve left the Garden of Eden, they left with our Heavenly Father’s plan of salvation, the Holy Melchizedek Priesthood as well as the keys to the kingdom of God. From Adam, the first to ever live on this earth, to Joseph Smith, Jr. when the full kingdom of God was restored and returned to the earth, one continual chain, unbroken, even through almost seven thousand years.
The continuity of the Everlasting or Melchizedek Priesthood is unending, Adam was the prophet of the first dispensation, just as Joseph Smith, Jr. was the prophet of the last dispensation.
The Melchizedek Priesthood is described as such:
“Its institution was prior to ‘the foundation of this earth, or the morning stars sang together, or the Sons of God shouted for joy’ [see Job 38:4–7], and is the highest and holiest Priesthood, and is after the order of the Son of God, and all other Priesthoods are only parts, ramifications, powers and blessings belonging to the same, and are held, controlled, and directed by it. It is the channel through which the Almighty commenced revealing His glory at the beginning of the creation of this earth, and through which He has continued to reveal Himself to the children of men to the present time, and through which He will make known His purposes to the end of time.” (Ibid)
The Lord gave very specific instructions to His priesthood holders who do not remain worthy of that holy office:
That they may be conferred upon us, it is true; but when we undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man. (D&C 121:37)
It is a great privilege and responsibility to hold the power of the Melchizedek Priesthood, which is the Priesthood of God. A priesthood holder is a part of something everlasting, playing a role in the kingdom of God, solely at the behest of our Savior Jesus Christ and His appointed prophets and servants. To live up to this holy office, is to serve as Jesus Christ served the sons and daughters of God, each of us, by suffering the Atonement, the Crucifixion and triumphing over death with the Resurrection. There is no other way and no other power by which man may bless others with the priesthood. Only by following the example of the Great Exemplar, acting in humility, righteousness and obedience.