Michael Detecting the Devil

At some point when Joseph Smith lived near the Susquehanna River in Harmony, PA (Dec. 1827-Jan.1831), a foundational but sometimes overlooked event took place near the Susquehanna River.  Satan appeared to the Prophet, disguised as an angel of light, apparently trying to deceive Joseph. Another angel appeared, Michael (or Adam), to the aid of Joseph Smith and exposed the devil disguised as a false angel of truth. Joseph Smith gives a small summary of this event in D&C 128:20 when he wrote of angels who had ministered to him such as, “Michael on the banks of the Susquehanna, detecting the devil when he appeared as an angel of light!” 

Other sermons by Joseph Smith give more potential insight into this obscure summary. It seems Adam may have given Joseph keys to detect true messengers of God from false ones. These teachings become the primary source material for D&C 129 about “three grand keys by which the correct nature of ministering angels and spirits may be distinguished” (Section heading). These “grand keys” (D&C 129:9) becomes part of the temple instructions Joseph would give in Nauvoo. 

The painting deliberately places Michael in between Joseph and Satan, acting as a protector and delineator of truth.  His left hand outstretches in a manner to both accuse and cast Satan aside. He is surrounded with light and glory, his cape floating upward as though he has just descended from heaven. Adam’s right hand is extended to Joseph, the moment before he likely gives grand keys about shaking hands with angels and spirits to discern true messengers of God from false.

This original painting was created for my Repicturing the Restoration project published in 2020 by BYU’s Religious Studies Center & Deseret Book. 

“Michael Detecting the Devil” 22×28 oil on board, 2016 (comes in a 4″ classic brown with gold liner frame, 30×36)



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