In 1832, Joseph Smith and another church leader received a revelation, in the form of a vision, that helps us better understand what happens to us after the final judgment. This is what many religions call Heaven and Hell. But, as we will see, it isn’t really that simple. People are very different from each other, and there really isn’t a fixed line between good and evil in this life. I don’t know anyone who is perfectly good or perfectly bad. Since people are so different, there ought to be differing rewards as well, right?
Jesus explained it in a very simple way. Apparently, too simply, because most people totally misunderstood what He was saying!
In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. (John 14:2)
People took that to mean that there is lots of room in Heaven for those who are good. What he actually meant was that there are many degrees of reward depending on the degree of righteousness. People aren’t just black and white, and therefore, their existences after this life cannot logically be black and white either, ie., Heaven or Hell. Saved or Condemned. With God or with Satan. Follow this link for a short explanation of the many mansions that Jesus went to prepare.
The Apostle Paul taught this concept in his first epistle to the Corinthians.
There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another.
There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory.
So also is the resurrection of the dead. (1 Corinthians 15:40-42)
In the vision given to Joseph Smith this teaching was further expanded and clarified. If you would like to read his description of the vision, it can be found in the book that contains many of Joseph’s revelations and inspired writings: The Doctrine and Covenants. This book is divided into sections rather than chapters, and the section we will be discussing is Section 76. In the introduction to the section, we learn that Joseph and Sidney Rigdon, in a work of retranslating the Holy Bible, came to John 5:28-29, which reads:
Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice,
And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.
They began to ponder the doctrines of Heaven and Hell. Studying and pondering the scriptures is a great way for revelation to come, not just for the prophet, but for any of us who are seeking knowledge. They were concerned about the idea of just one Heaven and one Hell, considering that people were not equally good or equally bad. Where was the line, which, when one crossed would result in one going to Heaven or to Hell? In the vision opened up to them they saw the afterlife, and the “many mansions” that Jesus talked about.
In this vision, the Lord actually described three different glories, or worlds. The apostle Paul may have had a similar vision, except that he refers to the glories as Heavens. He talks about it in the third person, but additional modern revelation tells us that he was actually speaking of his own experience. He talks about being caught up to the third heaven.
I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) such an one caught up to the third heaven. (2 Corinthians 12:2)
In the vision given to Joseph Smith, he saw and later described all three of these “heavens” or “glories”.
The first of the glories to be inherited following this life is referred to as the Celestial glory or kingdom. Here are some of the characteristics described:
And again we bear record—for we saw and heard, and this is the testimony of the gospel of Christ concerning them who shall come forth in the resurrection of the just--
They are they who received the testimony of Jesus, and believed on his name and were baptized after the manner of his burial, being buried in the water in his name, and this according to the commandment which he has given--
That by keeping the commandments they might be washed and cleansed from all their sins, and receive the Holy Spirit by the laying on of the hands of him who is ordained and sealed unto this power;
And who overcome by faith, and are sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, which the Father sheds forth upon all those who are just and true.
So, the requirements to enter into this glory or Heaven are,
- one must have faith in Jesus Christ,
- be baptized,
- receive the Holy Spirit by the laying on of hands, and then,
- keep the commandments.
And then, this is what the Celestial glory will be for them:
They are they into whose hands the Father has given all things--
They are they who are priests and kings, who have received of his fulness, and of his glory;
And are priests of the Most High, after the order of Melchizedek, which was after the order of Enoch, which was after the order of the Only Begotten Son.
. . . . . . .
Wherefore, all things are theirs, whether life or death, or things present, or things to come, all are theirs and they are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.
And they shall overcome all things.
Wherefore, let no man glory in man, but rather let him glory in God, who shall subdue all enemies under his feet.
These shall dwell in the presence of God and his Christ forever and ever.
These are they whom he shall bring with him, when he shall come in the clouds of heaven to reign on the earth over his people.
These are they who shall have part in the first resurrection.
These are they who shall come forth in the resurrection of the just.
These are they who are come unto Mount Zion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly place, the holiest of all.
. . . . . . . .
These are they whose names are written in heaven, where God and Christ are the judge of all.
These are they who are just men made perfect through Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, who wrought out this perfect atonement through the shedding of his own blood.
These are they whose bodies are celestial, whose glory is that of the sun, even the glory of God, the highest of all, whose glory the sun of the firmament is written of as being typical.
Wow! It seems like the heirs of the Celestial Kingdom are getting a lot more than they are giving. And they are. It doesn’t mean that fulfilling the requirements to enter in will be easy, but definitely worth it.
Is it possible that there can be a Heaven that is less glorious than this? Yes. It is referred to as the terrestrial kingdom, and the revelation goes on to describe it thus:
And again, we saw the terrestrial world, and behold and lo, these are they who are of the terrestrial, whose glory differs from that of the church of the Firstborn who have received the fulness of the Father, even as that of the moon differs from the sun in the firmament.
Behold, these are they who died without law;
And also they who are the spirits of men kept in prison, whom the Son visited, and preached the gospel unto them, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh;
Who received not the testimony of Jesus in the flesh, but afterwards received it.
These are they who are honorable men of the earth, who were blinded by the craftiness of men.
These are they who receive of his glory, but not of his fulness.
These are they who receive of the presence of the Son, but not of the fulness of the Father.
Wherefore, they are bodies terrestrial, and not bodies celestial, and differ in glory as the moon differs from the sun.
These are they who are not valiant in the testimony of Jesus; wherefore, they obtain not the crown over the kingdom of our God.
And now this is the end of the vision which we saw of the terrestrial, that the Lord commanded us to write while we were yet in the Spirit.
Although the revelation does not give a lot of detail about what the kingdom is like, it does describe it as being to the celestial kingdom as the moon is to the sun. So, we know that it is a good place, just not as great as the celestial kingdom. Its residents will have communion with Jesus Christ, but not with Heavenly Father. What Joseph was taught in greater detail was how we end up in this particular kingdom. These are people who were good and honorable people but did not accept the gospel of Jesus Christ or receive the ordinances necessary, like baptism. These are people who did accept the gospel, and were baptized, but then failed to be valiant in their testimony of Christ, or in other words, did not keep the commandments that they promised to obey, did not repent.
And finally, the least of the heavens or glories is described:
And again, we saw the glory of the telestial, which glory is that of the lesser, even as the glory of the stars differs from that of the glory of the moon in the firmament.
These are they who received not the gospel of Christ, neither the testimony of Jesus.
These are they who deny not the Holy Spirit.
These are they who are thrust down to hell.
These are they who shall not be redeemed from the devil until the last resurrection, until the Lord, even Christ the Lamb, shall have finished his work.
These are they who receive not of his fulness in the eternal world, but of the Holy Spirit through the ministration of the terrestrial;
And the terrestrial through the ministration of the celestial.
And also the telestial receive it of the administering of angels who are appointed to minister for them, or who are appointed to be ministering spirits for them; for they shall be heirs of salvation.
And thus we saw, in the heavenly vision, the glory of the telestial, which surpasses all understanding;
And no man knows it except him to whom God has revealed it.
So, what is this telestial glory or kingdom like? We see that it is to the terrestrial kingdom as the stars are to the moon. We can see the stars, and they shine, but because of their distance do not appear to us as brightly as the moon, which in turn is not as bright as the sun because its light is merely a reflection of the sun’s light. They receive ministration of angels and the Holy Spirit, but not of Heavenly Father or Jesus Christ. They are also heirs of salvation. So, what does it mean in verse 84, “These are they who are thrust down to hell?” Remember our discussion of the spirit world where spirits go to reside after death? Remember how it is divided up into paradise and
Gehenna. Those who are destined for this lowest of all glories, will spend their unembodied time in that “Gehenna”, a spirit prison, or “Hell”, until their resurrection and judgment? According to verse 85, above, these spirits will be the last to be resurrected, and therefore will spend the longest time disembodied.
They are also in Hell in another sense, because they will be fully aware of what they could have had if they had made better choices in life, and now will never receive.
There is yet another definition of Hell, that Joseph Smith saw in this vision, and described for us, although not in great detail. This is a condition reserved for relatively few.
And we saw a vision of the sufferings of those with whom he made war and overcame, for thus came the voice of the Lord unto us:
Thus saith the Lord concerning all those who know my power, and have been made partakers thereof, and suffered themselves through the power of the devil to be overcome, and to deny the truth and defy my power--
They are they who are the sons of perdition, of whom I say that it had been better for them never to have been born;
For they are vessels of wrath, doomed to suffer the wrath of God, with the devil and his angels in eternity;
Concerning whom I have said there is no forgiveness in this world nor in the world to come--
Having denied the Holy Spirit after having received it, and having denied the Only Begotten Son of the Father, having crucified him unto themselves and put him to an open shame.
These are they who shall go away into the lake of fire and brimstone, with the devil and his angels--
And the only ones on whom the second death shall have any power;
Yea, verily, the only ones who shall not be redeemed in the due time of the Lord, after the sufferings of his wrath.
For all the rest shall be brought forth by the resurrection of the dead, through the triumph and the glory of the Lamb, who was slain, who was in the bosom of the Father before the worlds were made.
Wherefore, he saves all except them—they shall go away into everlasting punishment, which is endless punishment, which is eternal punishment, to reign with the devil and his angels in eternity, where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched, which is their torment--
And the end thereof, neither the place thereof, nor their torment, no man knows;
Neither was it revealed, neither is, neither will be revealed unto man, except to them who are made partakers thereof;
Nevertheless, I, the Lord, show it by vision unto many, but straightway shut it up again;
Wherefore, the end, the width, the height, the depth, and the misery thereof, they understand not, neither any man except those who are ordained unto this condemnation.
And we heard the voice, saying: Write the vision, for lo, this is the end of the vision of the sufferings of the ungodly.
Now, that is the Hell that most people are somewhat familiar with, that whole fire and brimstone thing. But as you can see, relatively few people will be consigned to that punishment. Relatively few people are even capable of reaching that depth of misery! You don’t get there by just being lazy, or even committing a little sin. You have really got to work at it! So, if you think that you might go to Hell because you just weren’t as good as you might have been in this life. Yeah, I wouldn’t worry too much about it. It requires a lot greater effort than that! But keep in mind that the greatest rewards are reserved for those who are trying to be righteous, trying to be more like Heavenly Father, and trying to know Him, which is what He really wants! He does not expect you to be perfect now – He just wants you to keep trying and never give up.
And that is our part in fulfilling the plan of God – to keep trying to live the gospel taught by Jesus Christ, and never give up.
What exactly is the gospel? That will be our next topic of discussion. See you Monday, October 18, 2021.