Mormons are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The term “latter-day” is significant in two ways. As we read in the King James version of the Bible, Paul addressed many of his letters to “the saints,” meaning members of Christ's Church. We use the term in that same sense, as a generic descriptor of members of the Church today. “Latter-day” makes a distinction that we are members of the same Church as the former-day saints in the 1st Century.
The term “latter-day” also refers to the era in which we live, which is the final period preceding the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. Mormons believe that the same gospel that we believe has been revealed to the earth many times in mankind's history. Those periods in which it was revealed are called “dispensations” in our theology. There have been many dispensations in various geographical areas—not just within the confines of the Middle East.
In addition to these many smaller dispensations, latter-day saint theology places emphasis on seven much larger, more important dispensations. Each of these either followed a period of general apostasy, during which the keys of divine authority were withdrawn from among mankind, and which necessitated restoration of that authority by divine intervention. Each of these dispensations were headed by notable prophets. They include Adam, Abel, Enoch, Noah, Moses, Peter, and Joseph Smith. Each one of these prophets had special roles to carry out during their mortal ministries. Some latter-day saints (not all) believe they also correspond with the seven Biblical angels. In essence, each of us has a pre-mortal existence, a mortal existence, and a post-mortal existence. In our pre-mortal existence, certain among us served in various roles as messengers, guardians, or other roles. We know by latter-day revelation that the Archangel Michael became Adam, the first man. We know that Gabriel, who appeared to many prophets in the Old Testament, announced the birth of Christ to Mary, and participated in other Biblical events, became the man Noah during his mortal life.
The seven dispensations form a holy week of sorts. It summarizes the span of civilization into periods of roughly one thousand years, with a few gaps during periods of apostasy. We are currently in the beginnings of the seventh thousand years. Mormon theology regards this as significant. The seventh thousand-year period will become a Sabbath for the earth, during which it will rest from the wickedness and warfare that has dominated it during mankind's history. It will be the period where the lion will lay down with the lamb” of which the prophets spoke anciently. During this period of peace, the earth will be restored to its paradisiacal, Eden-like state. Crime, violence, poverty, and war will cease.
Jesus likened the years preceding this era of peace to birth pangs, which would grow increasingly severe and painful until the delivery should occur. A terrible period of war, anarchy, oppression, and bloodshed would plague the world in the decades preceding the birth of a new order—the kingdom of God. The reign of that kingdom begins when Jesus Christ will return and it will last approximately a thousand years, like each of the preceding dispensations.
During this period, there will continue to be earthly governments, but they will exercise restraint and justice. Oppression will cease. Freedom will spread throughout the world. There will be religious tolerance. Although the return of Jesus Christ will be accompanied by the destruction of those who do evil, those who are just of all religions and even those who have no religious faith, but whose works are the works of righteousness and justice, will remain. They will enjoy the fruit of the peace and justice they have desires all their lives.
During this Millennial period, life will go on in increasingly beneficial conditions. Many diseases will be cured. There will be scientific advancements. The capital that has been wasted on warfare and defense will be focused towards the elimination of poverty and redistribution of wealth. The elements will be tamed in great measure. Starvation and want will become things of the past.
It is said that Satan will be bound during this time. This occurs in two ways. First, the return of Jesus Christ and the destruction of the wicked will bind Satan in that it removes from the earth those who were most prone to listen to his evil counsels. Second, those who remain were those who were most resistant to his influence to begin with. Thus they will be less likely to yield to temptation, limiting Satan's influence to cause misery.
Mortals will be continue to be born and live out their lives on the earth during the Millennium. They will enjoy all the opportunities they desire and will use their talents in ways that bring joy. Art, music, and culture will flourish. The sciences will advance in astounding ways. Imagine what could be accomplished technologically by good people in an era of unbroken peace!
At the end of mortality, we are told that mortals will not die, but that they will be transformed from the twinkling of an eye from mortality to immortality. They will rise from earth to interact with resurrected souls engaged in the work of salvation.
One of the primary missions of the Church during the Millennium will be to complete a vast genealogical record that encompasses all of humanity. The return of Jesus Christ opens the door for the resurrection of the dead to millions, even billions of individuals. They will assist in this work of binding the human family—the posterity of God the Father—into a single family unit through priesthood sealing ordinances in holy temples. Thousands of temples will dot the earth as part of this work.
At the end of the Millennial period, our scriptures tell us that Satan will be loosed for a little season. There will come a generation of mortals who will rebel and reject that which has gone before. The Second Coming will, at at that point, be a distant memory a thousand years in the past. Over the course of a couple of generations, they will become worldly and wicked much like our time.
As Armageddon signaled the end of the previous dispensation, likewise a final battle of Gog and Magog, a battle between Good and Evil will take place again. This battle will not just be a physical battle, but a spiritual one as well. There is great symbolism in it.
Consider the parallels between Eden and what I call “the Garden Earth” at the end of the Millennium. Satan tried from the beginning to wrest the dominion of Eden from Adam (who is Michael the Archangel). In the paradisiacal Garden of the Millennium, it is Michael who will lead the righteous in a final battle against his nemesis. Empowered by the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ, having overcome sin and death by the power of Christ's grace and mercy, and having been resurrected in eternal glory, Adam and his posterity will once and for all cast Satan out of the Garden.
Jesus Christ is the central figure in all of this. Mormon theology teaches that Jesus Christ was the Creator, the Jehovah of the Old Testament, and the Giver of the Law to the prophets. He was the Lamb of God who laid down his life as a sacrifice for sin. He was the Holy One of Israel, the Mighty one of Jacob. He was the Son of Man. He appeared to the heads of each of the mortal dispensations and commissioned them. In our time—the latter days—he appeared to Joseph Smith and committed the authority and teachings necessary to prepare the world for his coming and to establish the kingdom of God on earth. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the organization that lays the groundwork for the establishment of that kingdom, spiritually and physically. It has been commissioned to prepare the way and it is guided in that mission by continuing revelation to living prophets today.
At the end of the Millennial period, our scriptures teach us that the heavens and the earth shall pass away, that the elements will melt with fervent heat, and the world will wrapped together as a scroll. The earth itself is a living thing and it will pass through death and be resurrected. In its resurrected state, it will become a celestial kingdom, an abode fit for exalted children of God to dwell upon forever. As Jesus stated, the meek shall inherit the earth and enjoy its comforts and glories eternally.
As latter-day saints, we live our lives hoping that the Millennium will come soon. We choose not to focus on the perils of living in the last days or the threat of Armageddon. As a mother looks forward to the birth of her child, despite the pain involved, so do we look forward to the coming of Christ and the peaceful times that will follow. This is our hope. We do not live in fear. We are encouraged by modern revelations that tell us that this is the last dispensation and that the time of his coming is near, “even at the doors” (Doctrine and Covenants 110:16).