In Genesis 1:28-30, God gave his very first revelation to mankind. This revelation gave specific instructions about what Adam and Eve were to do while they were on the Earth:
And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth. And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat. And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for meat: and it was so.
Everything in the Bible following these instructions was continuing revelation. Some revelations reinforced practices already in place. Some changed practices to meet the needs of the time or the readiness of the people. Some revealed new eternal truths. The instructions given to Adam were not seen by God as sufficient to meet the needs of all people for all time, so when Adam died, God called a new prophet. Throughout the entire Bible, we see a continuing stream of new prophets, sent to receive God’s most recent instructions tailored specifically to the needs of the people receiving them.
From time to time God removed the prophets due to the wickedness of the people. If they were unwilling to receive and obey the prophets, they were not entitled to them. However, at the end of each period of apostasy, He again called a prophet. While Jesus was on the Earth, there was no need for another prophet, since He communicated with God Himself. However, after He was gone, the apostles, with Peter at the head, received continuing revelation from God.
An example of this is found in the report of Peter’s vision which helped him to understand that the gospel must be taken to the entire world, not just the Jewish people. This same revelation was used to resolve the question of the continuing need for circumcision. Without a prophet on the earth at that time, there would have been no way to know that the times required new rules and practices.
Eventually, the apostles were gone. God did not continue to replace them and so eventually there was no one with the authority to receive revelation. The small, valiant group of Saints struggled on, preserving Christianity for us, but with no way to resolve doctrinal disputes except by intellectual study, debate, and human votes. This led to a proliferation of churches and today, the number of churches continues to grow as people disagree about doctrine and split from an existing church. Even within established religious traditions such as Protestantism, there are many eternally critical variations of belief.
In 1820, Joseph Smith, age fourteen, wanted to know what church to join. He found the counsel given in James 1:5 to ask God if you lack wisdom, so he went into the woods to pray. God and Jesus Christ appeared to Him and instructed him not to join any church because the fullness of the gospel was not on the earth at that time. Each church had pieces, but none had it all just right. As an adult, he would be guided through the tutoring of an angel to become the first prophet of the restoration.
As we move toward the final days of the world, there are so many complications. Moral decisions are being made every day that involve issues that were never even up for debate in ancient times—and sometimes, thanks to technology, didn’t exist then. The need for a prophet is at least as great now as it was when Adam, Moses, Noah, Abraham, and Peter sought and received revelation. God loves us too much to send us into the final days without modern guidance and so He has promised we will never again be without a prophet.
Learn about Thomas S. Monson, the current Mormon prophet.
Read about the Biblical apostle, Peter.