The priesthood is given by God to man, so that they may have the authority to act in His name. Christ gave the priesthood to the Twelve Apostles, but after the ascension of Jesus Christ, as the Apostles died or were killed the authority of the priesthood was lost.
For centuries man did not have the power to act in God’s name, then in 1829, Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon Church, was translating the Book of Mormon. With Oliver Cowdery, his scribe, Joseph Smith read a passage about baptism in 3 Nephi 11:21-27. They decided to ask God about baptism and what they needed to do. On May 15, 1829, while they were praying in the woods a heavenly messenger appeared. Joseph Smith recorded, “we still continued the work of translation, when, in the ensuing month (May, 1829), we on a certain day went into the woods to pray and inquire of the Lord respecting baptism for the remission of sins, that we found mentioned in the translation of the plates. While we were thus employed, praying and calling upon the Lord, a messenger from heaven descended in a cloud of light, and having laid his hands upon us, he ordained us.” The messenger told them that he was John the Baptist. He gave Oliver Cowdery and Joseph Smith the Aaronic or lesser priesthood, which has the authority to baptize. In Joseph Smith History Joseph recorded what John the Baptist said when he gave them the Aaronic priesthood, “Upon you my fellow servants, in the name of Messiah, I confer the Priesthood of Aaron, which holds the keys of the ministering of angels, and of the gospel of repentance, and of baptism by immersion for the remission of sins.” Joseph and Oliver then baptized each other in the Susquehanna River. For the first time in centuries man on earth had the authority to act in God’s name.
Joseph and Oliver were also taught by John the Baptist that the Aaronic priesthood did not have the authority to give the gift of the Holy Ghost, and that they would be given another order of the priesthood to do this. Just a short time after receiving the Aaronic priesthood from John the Baptist, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were visited by the Apostles Peter, James and John. These heavenly messengers gave Joseph and Oliver the Melchizedek or greater priesthood. This priesthood gave them the authority to organize Christ’s Church on the earth, and give the gift of the Holy Ghost. Joseph and Oliver were then ordained as Apostles to be special witnesses of Christ. The authority carried by Jesus Christ’s original Twelve Apostles was now restored.
Joseph Smith – Home
Joseph Smith, Jr. – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Joseph Smith – American Prophet
Joseph Smith Daguerreotype
BBC – Religion & Ethics – The Story of Joseph Smith