Church History Lesson 20 (D&C 76; 131; 132:19-24; 137)
The Prophet Joseph Smith said, “Could you gaze into heaven five minutes, you would know more than you would by reading all that ever was written on the subject.”1
This week’s lesson reveals our future rewards in various kingdoms of glory provided for under our Father’s plan for the salvation of His children. It is based primarily on a revelation (D&C 76) received by Joseph Smith and Sydney Rigdon in the home of John Johnson at Hiram, Ohio, February 16, 1832.
The Lord is anxious to honor the righteous by revealing to them the mysteries of his kingdom and secrets of his will (D&;C 76:1–10). The Lord said: “In my father’s house are many mansions” (John 14:2). The Prophet wondered about the meaning of these verses (John 5:28–29). They inquired of the Lord about these verses and the answer they received is found in D&C 76:11–18.
● Their understanding was expanded concerning death, the resurrection, the judgment of God, the differing heavens, and the characteristics of those who will inhabit those heavens.
● A dozen men were present in the room while Joseph and Sidney experienced the vision.
● Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon were commanded to write what is (D&C 76:113). recorded in section 76 while they “were yet in the Spirit.”
● They saw other things that they were commanded not to record (D&C 76:114–119). But enough is recorded for us to understand clearly what eternal rewards are available and what we must do to qualify for them.
Bruce R. McConkie said, “Thus, for instance, we have that knowledge about the three degrees of glory which is written in section 76, but we do not have a full understanding of those kingdoms of eternal glory, ‘which surpass all understanding in glory, and in might, and in dominion.’ Such added knowledge was received by the Prophet and Sidney Rigdon, but they were forbidden to write it, and it is ‘not lawful for man to utter.’”2
Their Vision of the Savior
Significantly, Joseph said that they “conversed” with the Savior (D&C 76:14). They received a vision of both God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ (D&C 76:14, 19–24).
— They saw the throne of God.
— They conversed with the Savior, whom they saw on the right hand of the Father.
— They saw angels and other sanctified persons worshiping God and the Savior.
— They heard a voice declaring that Jesus is the Only Begotten of the Father.
The Sons of Perdition
● Perdition (D&C 76:25–27). Lucifer, in the pre-earth life before he rebelled against God, was in authority in the presence of God. (v. 25–26). Lucifer means ‘Light-bearer’ and indicates the exalted position of him who was so called, for a ‘light-bearer’ is a sun in the firmament. But when he was cast out, he was called Perdition.
● They “beheld Satan” and “saw a vision of the sufferings of those with whom he made war and overcame (D&C 76:28–30).” However, the only ones who will truly know “the height, the depth, and the misery” of perdition are those who receive it (vv. 45–48).
● They heard the voice of the Lord concerning the sons of perdition (D&C 76:31–39, 41–48, 49).
● How one becomes a son of perdition (vv. 31, 35).
The Prophet Joseph Smith said, “What must a man do to commit the unpardonable sin? He must receive the Holy Ghost, have the heavens opened unto him, and know God, and then sin against Him. After a man has sinned against the Holy Ghost, there is no repentance for him. He has got to say that the sun does not shine while he sees it; he has got to deny Jesus Christ when the heavens have been opened unto him, and to deny the plan of salvation with his eyes open to the truth of it; and from that time he begins to be an enemy. This is the case with many apostates of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”3
● The resurrection of the damned (vv. 38–39).
— Rather than just two ultimate conditions—life or damnation—there will be more than one resurrection, based on how people have lived (vv. 16–17).
George Q. Cannon said, “In many minds there has been a great misapprehension on the question of the resurrection. Some have had the idea, and have taught it, that the sons of perdition will not be resurrected at all. They will not be redeemed from their sins as will those who inherit one of the kingdoms of glory. Nevertheless, Jesus our Lord and Savior died for all, and all will be resurrected—good and bad . . . no matter how great their sins may be, the resurrection of their bodies is sure.”4
● The Sequence of the final resurrection (D&C 76:51–86):
—Those who inherit the celestial kingdom are resurrected first (vv. 51–70).
—Those who inherit the terrestrial kingdom are resurrected second (vv. 71–79).
—Those who inherit the telestial kingdom are resurrected last (vv. 81–86).
The Telestial Kingdom
Since our goal is not to inherit either the telestial or the terrestrial kingdoms, we do not need to know much about them. But the information obtained from this vision helps us better appreciate the exalted nature of celestial glory and develop the desire to go beyond these kingdoms—into the celestial place where our Father and Jesus dwell.
● Those assigned to the telestial kingdom are those who “received not the gospel of Christ, neither the testimony of Jesus . . . neither the prophets, neither the everlasting covenant.” (D&C 76:82, 101).
● However, they will “bow the knee, and . . . confess to him who sits upon the throne. . . .For they shall be judged according to their works”(D&C 76:110–111).
● Telestial beings are those who have committed all manner of wickedness but have not committed the unpardonable sin of denying the Holy Spirit (D&C 76:83, 103). This they could not do, “because they had never known His power, or tasted of the heavenly gift.” —D&C Commentary, 465).
● “Thrust Down to Hell (D&C 76:84–85, 104–106).” The telestial kingdom is not hell. Nevertheless, the wicked who inherit it will have suffered God’s punishments in hell (spirit prison) until the time of the second resurrection.
Smith and Sjodahl said, “Those who partake of the telestial kingdom are the unclean inhabitants of the earth; those who have defiled themselves with immoral practices, the liars, sorcerers, thieves, blasphemers, and all who have loved wickedness. Because of their evil practices they bring down upon themselves the wrath of God. These are turned over to Satan and become subject to his rule and suffer his buffetings until the day of the earth, or their redemption which is the resurrection which will not come until the end of the earth, or the ‘fulness of times,’ or when our Savior has finished his work; then they shall be brought forth after they have paid the ‘uttermost farthing,’ and have learned by the things they have suffered that ‘crime does not pay.'”5
The Terrestrial Kingdom
● Those who receive a testimony of Christ but reject his gospel will receive the terrestrial kingdom (D&C 76:72–75, 79).
● Those “who died without law” and “spirits of men kept in prison . . . who received not the testimony of Jesus in the flesh, but afterwards received it” will also inherit the terrestrial kingdom (vv. 72–74; D&C 45:54).
● They are “honorable men of the earth, who were blinded by the craftiness of men” and therefore did not receive and accept the gospel (v. 75).
Bruce R. McConkie said, “Those destined to inherit the terrestrial kingdom are: (1) those who died ‘without law’—those heathen and pagan people who do not hear the gospel in this life, and who would not accept it with all their hearts should they hear it; (2) those who hear and reject the gospel in this life and then accept it in the spirit world; (3) those ‘who are honorable men of the earth, who [are] blinded by the craftiness of men’; and (4) those who are lukewarm members of the true church and who have testimonies, but who are not true and faithful in all things.”6
● Those “who are not valiant in the testimony of Jesus” (Saints who do not live the gospel as they should) will also inherit the terrestrial kingdom (v. 79).
Ezra Taft Benson said, “Not to be valiant in one’s testimony is a tragedy of eternal consequence. These are members who know this latter-day work is true, but who fail to endure to the end. Some may even hold temple recommends, but do not magnify their callings in the Church. Without valor, they do not take an affirmative stand for the kingdom of God. Some seek the praise, adulation, and honors of men; others attempt to conceal their sins; and a few criticize those who preside over them.”7
● What does it mean to be valiant in the testimony of Jesus?
Bruce R. McConkie said, ““It is to be courageous and bold; to use all our strength, energy, and ability in the warfare with the world; to fight the good fight of faith. . . . The great cornerstone of valiance in the cause of righteousness is obedience to the whole law of the whole gospel.
“To be valiant in the testimony of Jesus is to ‘come unto Christ, and be perfected in him’; it is to deny ourselves ‘of all ungodliness,’ and ‘love God’ with all our ‘might, mind and strength.’ (Moro. 10:32).
“To be valiant in the testimony of Jesus is to believe in Christ and his gospel with unshakable conviction. It is to know of the verity and divinity of the Lord’s work on earth.
“But this is not all. It is more than believing and knowing. We must be doers of the word and not hearers only. It is more than lip service; it is not simply confessing with the mouth the divine Sonship of the Savior. It is obedience and conformity and personal righteousness. . . .
“To be valiant in the testimony of Jesus is to ‘press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men.’ It is to ‘endure to the end.’ (2 Ne. 31:20). It is to live our religion, to practice what we preach, to keep the commandments. It is the manifestation of ‘pure religion’ in the lives of men; it is visiting ‘the fatherless and widows in their affliction’ and keeping ourselves ‘unspotted from the world.’ (James 1:27).
“To be valiant in the testimony of Jesus is to bridle our passions, control our appetites, and rise above carnal and evil things. It is to overcome the world as did he who is our prototype and who himself was the most valiant of all our Father’s children. It is to be morally clean, to pay our tithes and offerings, to honor the Sabbath day, to pray with full purpose of heart, to lay our all upon the altar if called upon to do so.
“To be valiant in the testimony of Jesus is to take the Lord’s side on every issue. It is to vote as he would vote. It is to think what he thinks, to believe what he believes, to say what he would say and do what he would do in the same situation. It is to have the mind of Christ and be one with him as he is one with his Father.”8
● Preaching of the gospel in the spirit world (D&C 138:29–37, 57–59; see especially verses 30–33).
— Those who “repent of their sins” and “receive the gospel” (in the spirit world) “will be redeemed, through obedience to the ordinances of the house of God” (vv. 31, 58)
— They will receive a reward according to their works (D&C 137:7–8).
The Celestial Kingdom
● In contrast to the terrestrial kingdom, heirs of the celestial kingdom are truly “valiant” in the testimony of Christ (D&C 76:51–53). They received a testimony of Christ and also of the gospel, and were faithful to both..
● To “receive the testimony of Jesus” in this context means not only to obtain a testimony of Jesus but to obey the first principles and ordinances of the gospel (v. 51).
● To “overcome by faith” and be “sealed by the Holy Spirit-of promise” means that the Holy Ghost, must ratify and seal the veracity of the ordinance and works of each person (v. 53). He does so by reading our hearts and attesting to our honesty and worthiness.
Bruce R. McConkie said: “The Holy Spirit of Promise . . . [is a] name-title is used in connection with the sealing and ratifying power of the Holy Ghost, that is, the power given him to ratify and approve the righteous acts of men so that those acts be binding on earth and in heaven.”9
A Vision of the Celestial Kingdom (D&C 137)
This revelation was given through the Prophet Joseph Smith in the temple at Kirtland, Geauga County, Ohio, on January 21, 1836. 10 This revelation and vision came as the First Presidency and other leaders gathered in Joseph Smith’s temple office at the west end of the third or attic floor. Oliver Cowdery said, “The heavens were opened to many, and great and marvelous things were shown.”11
— A glorious vision of the celestial kingdom burst upon them.
— Joseph saw the celestial kingdom, its gate, its streets, and the Father and the Son sitting on the throne.
— He identified certain individuals who apparently either had inherited or would inherit die celestial kingdom, such as Adam, Abraham, father and mother Smith, and his brother Alvin, who had died. in 1823.
— Of those, only Joseph’s parents were still alive, and his father was in the room with Joseph at the time of the vision. According to President Elder Joseph Fielding Smith, the prophet was seeing “a vision of the future.”12
● The Prophet learned in section 137 that some people who receive the gospel in the spirit world will inherit the celestial kingdom (D&C 137:5–10). Thus, those who lived and died without the opportunity to accept the gospel will have the opportunity to inherit the fulness of God’s glory in the eternal worlds.
Three Celestial Degrees and the Meaning of Exaltation (D&C 131)
Eleven years after the vision in D&C 76 was revealed, the Prophet Joseph taught that there are three degrees within the celestial kingdom (D&C 131:1).
● Only those who are “exalted” receive the fulness of celestial blessings (D&C 131:1–4). There will be others in the celestial kingdom who will not enjoy all these blessings.
● The phrases “an increase” and “a continuation of the seeds forever and ever” mean that those who abide in the covenant are exalted in the highest degree of the celestial kingdom will have spirit children in the eternities (v. 4).
Blessings for Those Who Are Exalted
The blessings for those who are exalted in the highest degree of the celestial kingdom are almost beyond human comprehension (D&C 76:54–70, 94–95).
— To become “priests and kings” and to receive the Father’s fulness means that such persons “are gods, even the sons of God (v. 56, 58).” Those who overcome all things and obey every ordinance required for exaltation will become what the Father is and have what he has.
— “Just men made perfect through Jesus the Mediator” means men who lived righteous but not perfect lives, who are made perfect through the atonement of Christ (v. 69). (Moroni 10:32–33).
After we are resurrected, we will return to the presence of God to be judged according to our works (Alma 11:43–45; D&C 76:111). We should consider the eternal rewards we desire and commit ourselves to comply with the law by which we can receive those rewards (D&C 88:22).
Elder Joseph Fielding Smith said, “While all men shall be saved, except the few sons of perdition who wilfully reject the truth, yet our place and station will depend upon our integrity and willingness to obey the commandments of the Lord. Every man will be placed just where he belongs, according to his works. Justice will be meted out to all, and every man will find his level according to that which he was willing to receive.”13
● The Doctrine of Restoration. Alma refers to resurrection as a “restoration” (Alma 40:23). One reason for calling it a restoration is because “the soul shall be restored to the body, and the body to the soul; yea, and every limb and joint shall be restored to its . . . proper and perfect frame.” A second reason for calling the resurrection a “restoration” is because “all things [will] be restored to their proper order” (Alma 41:2). Each individual spirit will “be restored to its body, and . . . every apart of the body [will] be restored to itself” (Alma 41:2). Each of us will inherit an eternal and perfected version of the body we have possessed in mortality.
● Alma further explained the doctrine of restoration (Alma 41:3–6). He said that all men will be “judged according to their works” (v. 3), but also by whether “the desires of their hearts were good” (v. 3). If our works and our desires are good, we will “be restored unto that which is good” in the resurrection (v. 3). On the other hand, “if their works are evil they shall be restored unto them for evil” (v. 3).
● Alma also taught that men “are their own judges” (Alma 41:4–7). Contrary to popular belief, we will not need to literally “stand before God” to be judged by Him. The judgment will have already occurred at the moment of resurrection. We will rise in the resurrection “as we are,” and that will be determined by ourselves, not by God or any other person or being. In the end, we will inherit whatever we have made of ourselves.
● Because of the principle of restoration, wickedness can never produce happiness (Alma 41:10–13). Alma warned his son, “Do not suppose, because it has been spoken concerning restoration, that ye shall be restored from sin to happiness. The doctrine of restoration is closely associated with the law of the harvest. We don’t plant corn and get beans. And we don’t sow wickedness and then expect happiness. (Alma 41:14–15). The Prophet Joseph Smith said, “Happiness is the object and design of our existence; and will be the end thereof, if we pursue the path that leads to it; and this path is virtue, uprightness, faithfulness, holiness, and keeping all the commandments of God.”14
Conclusions about the Kingdoms of Glory
We will inherit a place in the celestial kingdom, the terrestrial kingdom, or the telestial kingdom based on the manner in which we have “received the testimony of Jesus” (D&C 76:50–51, 79–82).
— Those who rejected both Christ and the Church while in mortality will inherit the telestial kingdom.
— Those who accepted Christ but not the Church while in mortality willl inherit the terrestrial kingdom, along with those members of the Church who were not valiant in their testimonies.
— Those who accept both Christ and the Church, and who keep their covenants and endure to the end, will receive the celestial kingdom.
1. History of the Church, 6:50.
2. The Promised Messiah, Chapter 6, “Messiah Revealed In All The World,” The Book of Mormon Testifies of Christ.
3. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Elder Joseph Fielding Smith , 358.
4. “Editorial Thoughts,” Juvenile Instructor, Feb. 1900, 123.
5. D&C Commentary, 465.
6. A New Witness for the Articles of Faith, 146.
7. In Conference Report, Apr. 1982, 89; Ensign, May 1982, 63.
8. In Conference Report, Oct. 1974, 45–46; or Ensign, Nov. 1974, 35.
9. Mormon Doctrine, 361–362.
10. History of the Church, 2:380–81.
11. 1836 Diary, BYU Studies 12.4 [Summer 1972]: 418.
12. Church History and Modern Revelation, 3:71.
13. Doctrines of Salvation, 2:27.
14. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 255–256.