“Therefore, thou art blessed from henceforth that bear the keys of the kingdom given unto you; which kingdom is coming forth for the last time.”
“Unto whom [my servant Joseph Smith, Jun.] I have given the keys of the kingdom, which belong always unto the Presidency of the High Priesthood:”
“Before I went East on the 4th of April last  we were in council with Brother Joseph almost every day for weeks, says Brother Joseph in one of these councils there is something going to happen; I don’t know what it is, but the Lord bids me to hasten and give you your endowment before the temple is finished. He conducted us through every ordinance of the holy priesthood, and when he had gone through with all the ordinances he rejoiced very much, and says, now if they kill me you have got all the keys, and all the ordinances and you can confer them upon others, and the hosts of Satan will not be able to tear down the kingdom, as fast as you will be able to build it up; and now says he on your shoulders will the responsibility of leading this people right, for the Lord is going to let me rest a while.”
(Orson Hyde’s Testimony, Times and Seasons 5:651, Sept.15, 1844)
“The Presidency of the High Priesthood, after the order of Melchizedek, have a right to officiate in all the offices in the church.”
“Of necessity there are presidents, or presiding officers growing out of, or appointed of or from among those who are ordained to the several offices in these two priesthoods. Of the Melchizedek Priesthood, three Presiding High Priests, chosen by the body, appointed and ordained to that office, and upheld by the confidence, faith, and prayer of the church, form a quorum of the Presidency of the Church.
The twelve traveling councilors are called to be the Twelve Apostles, or special witnesses of the name of Christ in all the world—thus differing from other officers in the church in the duties of their calling. And they form a quorum, equal in authority and power to the three presidents previously mentioned.
The Seventy are also called to preach the gospel, and to be especial witnesses unto the Gentiles and in all the world—thus differing from other officers in the church in the duties of their calling. And they form a quorum, equal in authority to that of the Twelve special witnesses or Apostles just named.”
There were three primary contenders for the leadership of the Church on Joseph’s death:
- Sidney Rigdon, 1st Counselor of the First Presidency
- Brigham Young, President of the Quorum of Twelve
- James Strang, an Elder.
Only the Quorum of Seventy doesn’t seem to be represented here. The only two remaining presidents (Levi Hancock and Joseph Young) sided with Brigham Young.
Since James Strang was only an Elder, it is unlikely that every other apostle was less qualified than him, so he doesn’t fit in with pattern God revealed. To his credit, he was able to gather quite a following and his church is still alive today.
Being the highest ranking member of the First Presidency, it seems Rigdon had a valid claim to leadership of the Church. However, Sidney Rigdon wasn’t Joseph’s choice for 1st Counselor of the First Presidency. Rigdon only maintained this position because in a meeting to discuss Sidney’s worthiness, many apostles (including Hyrum) begged Joseph to leave him there. Joseph relented, but concluded the meeting by saying:
“I have thrown him off my shoulders, and you have again put him on me. You may carry him, but I will not.”
(Documentary History of the Church, Vol 6, pg. 49)
Sidney Rigdon went on to found his own church which ultimately fell apart. The only other member of the First Presidency was Amasa Lyman, who went on to follow Brigham Young.
Here is a list of the members of the Quorum of the Twelve (with their ordination/reordination dates) at the time Joseph died:
1 Brigham Young (Feb 1835)
2 Heber C. Kimball (Feb 1835)
3 Parley P. Pratt (Feb 1835)
4 *William Smith (Feb 1835, May 1839)
5 Orson Hyde (Feb 1835, June 1839)
6 Orson Pratt (Apr 1835, Jan 1843)
7 John Taylor (Dec 1838)
8 *John E. Page (Dec 1838)
9 Wilford Woodruff (April 1839)
10 George A. Smith (April 1839)
11 Willard Richards (April 1840)
12 *Lyman Wight (April 1841)
Only those with asterisks beside their names did not follow Brigham Young. Both John E. Page and William Smith (Joseph’s younger brother) followed James Strang. William Smith later went on to start his own church in Texas. During this time Lyman Wight followed him, but this church eventually dissolved and William joined the RLDS church some time later.
The RLDS church claims authority by lineage, Joseph Smith III being Joseph’s first son. It wasn’t reorganized until 1860. Although they have two temples, they don’t seem to perform any of the ordinances the Prophet Joseph worked so hard to establish.
If all of the above is true and God has established his kingdom “for the last time”, it would seem that kingdom must have been lead by Brigham Young.
“And there ran a young man, and told Moses, and said, Eldad and Medad do prophesy in the camp. And Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of Moses, one of his young men, answered and said, My lord Moses, forbid them. And Moses said unto him, Enviest thou for my sake? would God that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit upon them!”
Doctrine and Covenants Section 88, which included instructions for creating “the school of the prophets”, was received on December 27, 1832 by the Prophet Joseph.
“And again, the order of the house prepared for the presidency of the school of the prophets, established for their instruction in all things that are expedient for them, even for all the officers of the church, or in other words, those who are called to the ministry in the church, beginning at the high priests, even down to the deacons—”
It states the following in the Introduction to the Doctrine and Covenants:
“Beginning with the 1835 edition, a series of seven theological lessons was also included; these were titled the Lectures on Faith. These had been prepared for use in the School of the Prophets in Kirtland, Ohio, from 1834 to 1835. Although profitable for doctrine and instruction, these lectures have been omitted from the Doctrine and Covenants since the 1921 edition because they were not given or presented as revelations to the whole Church.”
The last known school of the prophets to be organized was in 1883 when John Taylor was president of the church (“School of the Prophets” Wikipedia article). If the Lord desired to train his prophets via this school, why was the school abandoned and its teaching removed from Church canon? Does the Lord no longer need prophets? or is the Lord using some other way to teach his prophets now?