“Messages from the Doctrine and Covenants: The Three Degrees of Glory,” Ensign, Apr. 2005, 62–65
More than any other book, the Doctrine and Covenants helps us understand the nature of life after death. The Savior taught, “In my Father’s house are many mansions” (John 14:2). The Prophet Joseph Smith explained that “mansions” may be understood to mean “kingdoms”—those kingdoms in which we will dwell in the life after this. He said: “It should be—‘In my Father’s kingdom are many kingdoms,’ in order that ye may be heirs of God and joint-heirs with me. … There are mansions for those who obey a celestial law, and there are other mansions for those who come short of the law, every man in his own order.”1
As scientific knowledge increases, it will become more evident that there is order in the universe and that all things are governed by harmonious and immutable laws. Perfect order exists in everything in nature from the nucleus of the atom to the immensity of space. This is true in spiritual things as well as temporal; therefore, blessings that are spiritual are also governed by spiritual laws. “There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven … , upon which all blessings are predicated—and when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated” (D&C 130:20–21).
In other words, there is a relationship between obedience and blessings. The Lord has said that we will be blessed and will live in a degree of glory in the next life according to the eternal laws we obey in mortality. “For he who is not able to abide the law of a celestial kingdom cannot abide a celestial glory” (D&C 88:22). The same holds true for the terrestrial and telestial kingdoms (see D&C 88:23–24).
As the Prophet Joseph Smith was laboring on what we now call the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible, he received a vision later recorded as Doctrine and Covenants section 76. Included in this revelation is a comparison of the three degrees of glory: the celestial, terrestrial, and telestial kingdoms. Following is a brief description of each.
Receive a testimony of Jesus and believe on His name (see D&C 76:51).
Be baptized by immersion (see D&C 76:51).
Receive the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands (see D&C 76:52).
Obey the commandments and be washed and cleansed of all sins (see D&C 76:52).
Overcome by faith (see D&C 76:53).
Be sealed by the Holy Spirit of Promise (see D&C 76:53).
Those who qualify for the celestial kingdom will receive, among other blessings:
Be of a company of angels, of the general assembly and church of Enoch and of the Firstborn (see D&C 76:54, 67).
Receive the fulness, glory, and grace of the Father (see D&C 76:55, 56, 94).
Be priests and kings of the Most High God (see D&C 76:56–59).
Overcome all things (see D&C 76:60).
Dwell forever in the presence of Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ (see D&C 76:62).
Be with Christ at the time of His Second Coming (see D&C 76:63).
Come forth in the First Resurrection (see D&C 76:64–65).
Go up unto Mount Zion and unto the heavenly city of God (see D&C 76:66).
Minister to terrestrial and telestial beings (see D&C 76:87–88).
Be able to have offspring, or in other words, gain the right to become eternal parents (see D&C 131:4).
The Lord further revealed the important doctrines of salvation for the dead and salvation of little children in the celestial kingdom:
“All who have died without a knowledge of this gospel, who would have received it if they had been permitted to tarry, shall be heirs of the celestial kingdom of God;
“Also all that shall die henceforth without a knowledge of it, who would have received it with all their hearts, shall be heirs of that kingdom; …
“… All children who die before they arrive at the years of accountability are saved in the celestial kingdom of heaven” (D&C 137:7–8, 10). Except for those whose mental abilities prevent them from reaching the age of accountability (see D&C 29:50), the age of accountability is eight (see D&C 68:25).
We do not know much about who will inherit two of the three degrees within the celestial kingdom. However, much has been said about the highest level in the celestial kingdom, or exaltation, because that is where the Father wants all of His children to live (see Moses 1:39). The Doctrine and Covenants teaches that temple marriage is the key to obtaining exaltation:
“In the celestial glory there are three heavens or degrees;
“And in order to obtain the highest, a man must enter into this order of the priesthood [meaning the new and everlasting covenant of marriage];
“And if he does not, he cannot obtain it.
“He may enter into the other, but that is the end of his kingdom; he cannot have an increase” (D&C 131:1–4).
“If a man marry a wife by my word, which is my law, and by the new and everlasting covenant, and it is sealed unto them by the Holy Spirit of promise, by him who is anointed, unto whom I have appointed this power and the keys of this priesthood; … and if [they] abide in my covenant …
“Then shall they be gods, because they have no end; therefore shall they be from everlasting to everlasting … because they have all power, and the angels are subject unto them” (D&C 132:19–20).
The Lord compared terrestrial glory to that of the moon (see D&C 76:97). It exceeds the telestial in all things (see D&C 76:91). Those who will inherit this kingdom are those who experienced one or more of the following circumstances:
Died without law (see D&C 76:72).
Were honorable people who allowed themselves to be blinded by the craftiness of men (see D&C 76:75).
Were not valiant in their testimonies of Jesus (see D&C 76:79).
Among other blessings and limitations, those who qualify for the terrestrial kingdom will:
Come forth in the First Resurrection after celestial beings are resurrected.2
Receive of God’s glory but not His fulness (see D&C 76:76).
Enjoy the presence of the Son but not the fulness of the Father (see D&C 76:77).
Not be able to obtain a crown in the kingdom of God (see D&C 76:79).
Be ministered to by celestial beings (see D&C 76:87).
The Lord compared telestial glory to that of the stars (see D&C 76:81). Those who shall inherit this kingdom are those who:
Rejected the gospel, the testimony of Jesus, the prophets, and the everlasting covenant (see D&C 76:82, 101).
Were liars, sorcerers, adulterers, and whoremongers (see D&C 76:103).
Loved “and [made] a lie” (D&C 76:103).
Among other blessings and limitations, those who inherit the telestial kingdom will:
Be denied the Savior’s fulness (see D&C 76:86).
Be able to receive the Holy Ghost through the ministration of beings in higher glories (see D&C 76:86–88).
Never be able to come where God and Christ dwell (see D&C 76:112).
I am grateful that the Lord revealed these eternal truths through the Prophet Joseph Smith. Such truths help us have a greater understanding of the plan of salvation and a stronger testimony of Jesus Christ. We are blessed to know what our eternal destiny will be if we will keep the commandments and endure to the end.