Ever since ancient times, a Restoration of the gospel had been prophesied to occur in the last days. Jesus had promised to return his true church to Earth, but he had to wait until the people were ready to receive it. After 1,300 years of spiritual darkness, the was a flowering of literature, science, and art during the Renaissance. Men like Martin Luther began to criticize the excesses of medieval Christianity compared to the simplicity of the early church.
• Gospel Fundamentals, (2002), Chapter 19: The Church of Jesus Christ Today: Part Six: The Church of Jesus Christ
• Doctrines of the Gospel Student Manual, (2000), 59–60
• Doctrines of the Gospel Student Manual, (2000), 61–63
• Church History In The Fulness Of Times Student Manual, (2003), 1–13
The discovery and colonization of America was another important preparation for the Restoration. The prophet Nephi had foreseen a righteous Gentile named Christopher Columbus who would sail across the ocean—inspired by the Holy Ghost—to spread the Christian faith for the glory of God. He foresaw extremely attractive white people settling on the shores of America.
Nephi foresaw the scattering of the Native Americans by the white colonists, and that the land would be given to these Gentiles as an inheritance. He saw the American Revolution, and that the power of God would be on the side of the outnumbered American revolutionary armies, and the wrath of God would be against anyone who gathered to do battle against them.
The final step to prepare for the Restoration was the ratification of the United States Constitution in 1789, which guaranteed freedom of religion in its first amendment. God raised up wise men for the purpose of drafting this document which balanced the impulse for freedom with the essential need for order.
A soldier in the Revolutionary War named Asael Smith of New England was a deeply religious man, but was skeptical of organized religion. He could not reconcile the teachings of the established churches with scripture and common sense. The spirit of inspiration sometimes rested on Asael, and he once said, "It has been borne in upon my soul that one of my descendants will promulgate a work to revolutionize the world of religious faith."
Asael's son Joseph inherited his father's skepticism of organized religion, but was often visited by God in visions and dreams, leaving him with intimations of the coming Restoration of the gospel. On December 25, 1804, a child was born to Joseph Smith and his wife Lucy Mack whom they named Joseph, Jr. Thus did the Biblical Joseph's 3,500-year-old prophecy begin to be fulfilled: that in the last days would come a father and a son who shared his name, and the son would become a great prophet like Moses.