Angels who are resurrected or translated have the ability to hide their glory from mortals and appear as if they were mortals themselves. The apostle Paul said, “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” (Hebrews 13:2). As Paul has suggested, mortals have hosted or seen angels without knowing that they were in the presence of such heavenly messengers.
The Prophet Joseph Smith put it this way, “The spirit of a just man made perfect, if he made his appearance he would appear or be enveloped in flaming fire, and no man in this mortal state could endure it, but an angel could come and appear as another man, for Paul says, ‘be careful to entertain strangers, for some have entertained angels unawares’ (Hebrews 12:2).” (Ehat and Cook, Words of Joseph Smith, p. 255.)
A classic example of this is found in the New Testament in Luke 24. Jesus walks several miles with two men, one of them Cleopas, and these two individuals are not able to identify that they are walking with the resurrected Lord! From Luke’s account we read, “Behold, two of them went that same day to a village called Emmaus, which was from Jerusalem about threescore furlongs (about 12 kilometers or 6.9 miles). And they talked together of all these things which had happened. And it came to pass, that, while they communed together and reasoned, Jesus himself drew near, and went with them. But their eyes were holden that they should not know him” (Luke 24:13-16). The phrase “their eyes were holden” means that these two mortal men were not able to recognize Jesus, because his glory was hidden from them.
A question that one of the men asked Jesus is further proof that they had no clue who it was they were talking to: “Art thou a stranger in Jerusalem, and hast thou not known the things which are come to pass there in these days?” Clearly this man would not have put forth this question if he had a clue that he was talking to Jesus!
Jesus has fun with the questioner and asks, “What things?” (Luke 24:19). The three talk some more as they walk, we can assume for quite some time as a 7 mile walk can take more than just a few minutes. Once the men arrive at their destination they invite Jesus to stay and visit, “they constrained Jesus, saying, Abide with us: for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent. And he went in to tarry with them” (Luke 24:29). At this time they finally recognized Jesus, that he was not some random stranger – “And their eyes were opened, and they knew him; and he vanished out of their sight” (Luke 24:31).
The prophet Mormon testified the he had visited with the translated Three Nephites: “But behold, I have seen them, and they have ministered unto me” (3 Nephi 28:26).
John C. Whitmer, the grandson of Mary Whitmer, shared the experience of his grandmother meeting Moroni when the Book of Mormon was being translated. I take this account to mean that Moroni did not appear to Mary in his glory as her account does not mention this, but rather that he was a “stranger carrying a knapsack”. From his account in 1878: “I have heard my grandmother (Mary Musselman Whitmer) say on several occasions that she was shown the plates of the Book of Mormon by a holy angel, whom she always called Brother Nephi. (She undoubtedly refers to Moroni, the angel who had the plates in charge.)
“It was at the time, she said, when the translation was going on at the house of the elder Peter Whitmer, her husband. Joseph Smith with his wife and Oliver Cowdery, whom David Whitmer a short time previous had brought up from Harmony, Pennsylvania, were all boarding with the Whitmers, and my grandmother in having so many extra persons to care for, besides her own large household, was often overloaded with work to such an extent that she felt it to be quite a burden.
“One evening, when (after having done her usual day’s work in the house) she went to the barn to milk the cows, she met a stranger carrying something on his back that looked like a knapsack. At first she was a little afraid of him, but when he spoke to her in a kind, friendly tone and began to explain to her the nature of the work which was going on in her house, she was filled with inexpressible joy and satisfaction. He then untied his knapsack and showed her a bundle of plates, which in size and appearance corresponded with the description subsequently given by the witnesses to the Book of Mormon. This strange person turned the leaves of the book of plates over, leaf after leaf, and also showed her the engravings upon them; after which he told her to be patient and faithful in bearing her burden a little longer, promising that if she would do so, she should be blessed; and her reward would be sure, if she proved faithful to the end. The personage then suddenly vanished with the plates, and where he went, she could not tell.
“From that moment my grandmother was enabled to perform her household duties with comparative ease, and she felt no more inclination to murmur because her lot was hard. I knew my grandmother to be a good, noble and truthful woman, and I have not the least doubt of her statement in regard to seeing the plates being strictly true. She was a strong believer in the Book of Mormon until the day of her death.” (Andrew Jenson, LDS Biographical Encyclopedia, Vol. 1, p.283. See also: B. H. Roberts, New Witnesses for God, Vol.2, p.125)
Another experience where an Moroni appeared as a mortal comes to us from one of the witnesses to the Book of Mormon, David Whitmer. He related, “When I was returning to Fayette with Joseph and Oliver, all of us riding in the wagon, Oliver and I on an old fashioned wooden spring seat and Joseph behind us, we were suddenly approached by a very pleasant, nice looking old man in a clear open place, who saluted us with ‘Good morning, it is very warm,’ at the same instant wiping his face or forehead with his hand. We returned the salutation and by a sign from Joseph I invited him to ride if he was going our way, but he said very pleasantly, ‘No, I am going to Cumorah.’ This was something new to me, I did not know what Cumorah meant, and as I looked enquiringly at Joseph, the old man instantly disappeared so that I did not see him again.
He was, I should think, about 5 feet 9 or 10 inches and heavy set… dressed in a suit of brown, woolen clothes; his hair and beard were white… I also remember that he had a sort of knapsack on his back, and something was in it which was shaped like a book. It was the messenger that had the plates.” (Jenson, Latter-day Saint Biographical Encyclopedia, 1:267).
Brigham Young summarized the power of angels to appear as mortals when he said, “Should an angel come and converse with any man in the congregation, no other one might know it. He would think the person spoke to him as one speaks to another face to face, when he would not be seen at all, only by the Spirit of God or by vision.” (Woodruff, Journal, June 22, 1851)