Latter-day Saints don’t believe in a straight heaven or hell. That would be pretty scary if you were borderline. What would tip you over the edge that would precipitate one being kicked out of heaven and straight down to the fiery depths of hell? That’s a frightening proposition, when you really think about it.
Joseph Smith, Jr., through the power of revelation, had been going over the New Testament, verse by verse, restoring the plain and precious truths removed from the ancient book of scripture. In doing so he asked a wonderful question which is detailed in Doctrine & Covenants, Section 76, as well as the answer. Prior to the actual verses of that section, it is written:
A vision given to Joseph Smith the Prophet and Sidney Rigdon, at Hiram, Ohio, February 16, 1832. HC 1: 245–252. Prefacing his record of this vision the Prophet wrote: “Upon my return from Amherst conference, I resumed the translation of the Scriptures. From sundry revelations which had been received, it was apparent that many important points touching the salvation of man had been taken from the Bible, or lost before it was compiled. It appeared self-evident from what truths were left, that if God rewarded every one according to the deeds done in the body, the term ‘Heaven,’ as intended for the Saints’ eternal home, must include more kingdoms than one. Accordingly, while translating St. John’s Gospel, myself and Elder Rigdon saw the following vision.” It was after the Prophet had translated John 5: 29 that this vision was given.
This vision seen by Joseph Smith is written in detail in Section 76. The vision showed three degrees or kingdoms of glory and purgatory. In other words, only the worst of the worst would end up in purgatory. All others would be judged according to their works and placed in one of the three degrees of glory as their eternal reward for those works. Let’s examine what the scriptures say about each kingdom.
Celestial Kingdom ? The highest degree of glory is detailed in verses 50 through 70. It’s glory is compared to that of the noonday sun.
50 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—
51 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—
52 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;
53 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.
54 They are they who are the church of the Firstborn.
55 They are they into whose hands the Father has given all things—
56 They are they who are priests and kings, who have received of his fulness, and of his glory;
57 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.
58 Wherefore, as it is written, they are gods, even the sons of God—
59 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.
60 And they shall overcome all things.
61 Wherefore, let no man glory in man, but rather let him glory in God, who shall subdue all enemies under his feet.
62 These shall dwell in the presence of God and his Christ forever and ever.
63 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.
64 These are they who shall have part in the first resurrection.
65 These are they who shall come forth in the resurrection of the just.
66 These are they who are come unto Mount Zion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly place, the holiest of all.
67 These are they who have come to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of Enoch, and of the Firstborn.
68 These are they whose names are written in heaven, where God and Christ are the judge of all.
69 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.
70 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.
It is said that this is the largest of the Father’s kingdoms. Whether that is true or not, I do not know. I know that everything in me strives to be worthy to live out my eternities in the Celestial Kingdom with my sweet husband, whom I adore, by my side in the company of our families.
That is what the gospel is about, families really are forever, and this is how. When the proper ordinances, marriage, are conducted by the proper priesthood authority, eternal bonds are formed and honored (D&C 82:10) by our Father in Heaven and Savior, Jesus Christ. Could there be anything sweeter, anything worth fighting for more than to be with the ones you love through eternity?
February 1st of 2006 was the first day of a six week nightmare that brought to my heart the strength of my love and devotion to my husband. Over the course of those weeks my husband almost died several times, so close at times it was as if he’d already shuffled off this mortal coil and gone home to his Heavenly Father. My heart and spirit were so crushed at the thought of losing my husband that tears coursed down my face day and night as I struggled to trust in my Lord that no matter what happened, all would be well. The only comfort I found in that time was that Alvin and I had married in a temple of the Lord and been sealed for all time and eternity. Day and night, as I sat by my husband’s bedside pleading with the Father to leave him with me a little longer, this was the only comfort I found: We had lived worthily enough that our marriage was for eternity. If he had to leave, it would be but for a brief eternal moment. Heavenly Father heard my prayers and my husband is still with me, albeit suffering with end stage kidney failure.
My knowledge and testimony of the Celestial Kingdom is all that provided that surcease from the overwhelming fear and pain. Families can be together forever, if we live our lives in a worthy fashion.
Terrestrial Kingdom ? Verses 71 through 80 describe this kingdom and those who shall inhabit it. It’s glory is likened unto the moon risen high in the night sky, shining softly over the earth.
71 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.
72 Behold, these are they who died without law;
73 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;
74 Who received not the testimony of Jesus in the flesh, but afterwards received it.
75 These are they who are honorable men of the earth, who were blinded by the craftiness of men.
76 These are they who receive of his glory, but not of his fulness.
77 These are they who receive of the presence of the Son, but not of the fulness of the Father.
78 Wherefore, they are bodies terrestrial, and not bodies celestial, and differ in glory as the moon differs from the sun.
79 These are they who are not valiant in the testimony of Jesus; wherefore, they obtain not the crown over the kingdom of our God.
80 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.
Telestial Kingdom ? Verses 81 through 89 detail the lowest degree of glory, which, according to scripture, surpasses all mortal understanding of its beauty and glory. It is likened until the stars that dot a midnight sky.
81 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.
82 These are they who received not the gospel of Christ, neither the testimony of Jesus.
83 These are they who deny not the Holy Spirit.
84 These are they who are thrust down to hell.
85 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.
86 These are they who receive not of his fulness in the eternal world, but of the Holy Spirit through the ministration of the terrestrial;
87 And the terrestrial through the ministration of the celestial.
88 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.
89 And thus we saw, in the heavenly vision, the glory of the telestial, which surpasses all understanding;
The Celestial, Terrestrial and Telestial kingdoms all exist within the eternal circle as kingdoms of glory. Each carries its own rewards, but only the Celestial kingdom allows for families to be together.
Now Purgatory, that’s an entirely different story.
Purgatory (or hell if you’d like to call it that) ? Okay – you really, really do NOT want to end up here. Verses 31 through 38 and 43 through 46 gives us a description of those who shall inhabit this place, it isn’t pretty.
31 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—
32 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;
33 For they are vessels of wrath, doomed to suffer the wrath of God, with the devil and his angels in eternity;
34 Concerning whom I have said there is no forgiveness in this world nor in the world to come—
35 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.
36 These are they who shall go away into the lake of fire and brimstone, with the devil and his angels—
37 And the only ones on whom the second death shall have any power;
38 Yea, verily, the only ones who shall not be redeemed in the due time of the Lord, after the sufferings of his wrath.
43 . . . except those sons of perdition who deny the Son after the Father has revealed him.
44 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—
45 And the end thereof, neither the place thereof, nor their torment, no man knows;
46 Neither was it revealed, neither is, neither will be revealed unto man, except to them who are made partakers thereof;
Ouch! I really don’t believe I can say more than about Purgatory. I just REALLY don’t want to go there.
So, in a nutshell, this is what awaits us on the other side of the veil. Next we’ll talk about the Atonement, because of Jesus Christ’s unselfish act, we can all make it to the highest degree of glory if we are willing to work for it. Imagine, living with Jesus Christ and Heavenly Father in your presence and your family by your side . . . my heart fills to overflowing at the thought.