“Chapter 28: Doctrine and Covenants 76:50–119,” Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual (2017)
“Chapter 28,” Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual
On February 16, 1832, while the Prophet Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon were working on the inspired translation of the Bible and pondering the meaning of John 5:29, they were shown a vision, which is recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 76. In the portion of the vision recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 76:50–119, Joseph and Sidney were shown the inhabitants of the celestial, terrestrial, and telestial kingdoms and the importance of receiving and being valiant in the testimony of Jesus Christ.
January 25, 1832Joseph Smith was ordained as President of the High Priesthood during a Church conference in Amherst, Ohio.
Late January, 1832Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon returned to Hiram, Ohio, to work on the inspired translation of the New Testament.
February 16, 1832Doctrine and Covenants 76 was received.
March 24–25, 1832Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon were taken by a mob at night and violently beaten and tarred and feathered in Hiram, Ohio.
Many early Church members had actively participated in other Christian denominations and naturally held on to some of their former beliefs. The doctrinal truths revealed through the Prophet Joseph Smith sometimes challenged these members’ previous religious instruction but provided them with a more correct understanding of God’s plan. Answering questions that arose during the inspired translation of the Bible, which the Prophet began in June 1830 and continued for approximately three years, was one important way the Lord unfolded the truths of the restored gospel to the Saints. The vision given to Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon on February 16, 1832, was precipitated by the inspired translation of John 5:29 in the New Testament, and it greatly expanded the Saints’ understanding of life after death.
In Joseph Smith’s day, Christians generally believed that in the postmortal life God would assign some people to heaven and condemn all others to suffer eternally in hell. This view was common among the early members of the Church. The Prophet’s father, Joseph Smith Sr., and the Prophet’s grandfather Asael Smith believed in Universalism, a type of universal salvation in which God would eventually save the wicked after they had suffered sufficiently. The truths that were revealed in the vision recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 76 described distinct levels of heaven, or kingdoms of glory, and how the judgment of the wicked and the righteous differed greatly from traditional religious views of life after death. (See Matthew McBride, “The Vision,” in Revelations in Context, ed. Matthew McBride and James Goldberg , 149–50, or history.lds.org.)
When the Saints learned of the vision given to the Prophet Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon, some members struggled to accept the doctrine that the Lord had revealed. President Brigham Young (1801–1877) related: “When God revealed to Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon that there was a place prepared for all, according to the light they had received and their rejection of evil and practice of good, it was a great trial to many, and some apostatized because God was not going to send to everlasting punishment heathens and infants, but had a place of salvation, in due time, for all, and would bless the honest and virtuous and truthful, whether they ever belonged to any church or not. It was a new doctrine to this generation, and many stumbled at it” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young , 292).
Brigham Young himself had difficulty understanding this doctrine at first. He recalled: “My traditions were such, that when the Vision came first to me, it was directly contrary and opposed to my former education. I said, Wait a little. I did not reject it; but I could not understand it.” He said that he needed to “think and pray, to read and think, until [he] knew and fully understood it for [himself]” (quoted in McBride, “The Vision,” 150–51).
The revelation became known among Church members simply as “the Vision.” When it was recorded, it became the first printed account of the Prophet’s witness of the Father and the Son that was accessible to Church members.
For more information about the historical context of Doctrine and Covenants 76, see the additional historical background for Doctrine and Covenants 76:1–49 in the preceding lesson in this manual.
After the Prophet Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon received the vision recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 76, the Saints’ understanding of life after death expanded. Church members learned that God has prepared different levels of heaven and that all of His children will be saved in a kingdom of glory, except for the few who deny Him and defy His power (see D&C 76:31, 42–44, 89–98). This vision is also the first of several revelations recorded in the Doctrine and Covenants emphasizing that faithful followers of the Father and the Son can receive exaltation and eternal life, which include the highest blessings God can bestow upon His children. For example, the righteous are promised to receive a glorious resurrection, to live in God’s presence, to receive all that He has, and to become like Him and receive a fulness of His glory (see D&C 76:54–59; 81:6; 84:33–38; 88:28–29, 107; 93:19–22, 27–28).
The Prophet Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon were shown in vision those who would come forth in the Resurrection of the just, and they heard a description of the faithfulness and blessings of those people. The Lord revealed that those who inherit the celestial kingdom are those “who received the testimony of Jesus, and believed on his name” (D&C 76:51). Elder Bruce R. McConkie (1915–1985) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained: “I have what is known as ‘the testimony of Jesus,’ which means that I know by personal revelation from the Holy Spirit to my soul that Jesus is the Lord; that he brought life and immortality to light through the gospel; and that he has restored in this day the fullness of his everlasting truth, so that we with the ancients can become inheritors of his presence in eternity” (“The Testimony of Jesus,” Ensign, July 1972, 109).
Receiving a testimony of Jesus also means that a person has accepted the gospel of Jesus Christ, has been baptized and received the Holy Ghost, has overcome the world by faith, and has been “sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise” (see D&C 76:51–53). The degree to which a person receives the testimony of Jesus and is valiant in living according to that testimony influences the eternal reward bestowed upon him or her (see D&C 76:51, 73–75, 79, 82).
Those who will inherit the celestial kingdom are those who have overcome the world through faith and obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel. The “Holy Spirit of promise” mentioned in Doctrine and Covenants 76:53 is the Holy Ghost acting to seal, approve, or ratify the ordinances and righteousness of a faithful person so that those ordinances are in effect after the Resurrection (see D&C 132:7). Through this manifestation of the Holy Ghost, a person may eventually receive the spiritual assurance of eternal life (see Ephesians 1:13–14; D&C 88:3–5). This assurance is sometimes referred to as the “more sure word of prophecy” (2 Peter 1:19; D&C 131:5).
Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught: “The Holy Spirit of Promise is the ratifying power of the Holy Ghost. When sealed by the Holy Spirit of Promise, an ordinance, vow, or covenant is binding on earth and in heaven. (See D&C 132:7.) Receiving this ‘stamp of approval’ from the Holy Ghost is the result of faithfulness, integrity, and steadfastness in honoring gospel covenants ‘in [the] process of time’ (Moses 7:21). However, this sealing can be forfeited through unrighteousness and transgression” (“Ye Must Be Born Again,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2007, 22).
Faithful Saints who have been “sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise” (D&C 76:53) are granted the blessing of becoming “joint-heirs with Christ,” who is the Firstborn of the Father (see Romans 8:14–17; see also D&C 76:94–95; 93:21–22). The Lord referred to these exalted Saints as “the church of the Firstborn” and as heirs “into whose hands the Father has given all things” (D&C 76:54–55; see also D&C 76:94–95; 84:37–38). Those who achieve their eternal potential and receive an inheritance in the celestial kingdom will become priests and kings, priestesses and queens, and their exaltation includes the promise that “they are gods” (see D&C 76:56, 58; see also Psalm 82:1, 6; John 10:34; D&C 29:13; 109:75–76; 131:1–4; 132:19–20; see also “Becoming Like God,” Gospel Topics Essay, topics.lds.org).
President Boyd K. Packer (1924–2015) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles testified that because we are children of God, our eternal destiny lies in our potential to become like Him:
“Since every living thing follows the pattern of its parentage, are we to suppose that God had some other strange pattern in mind for His offspring? Surely we, His children, are not, in the language of science, a different species than He is?
“… We may now be young in our progression—juvenile, even infantile, compared with Him. Nevertheless, in the eternities to come, if we are worthy, we may be like unto Him, enter His presence, ‘see as [we] are seen, and know as [we] are known,’ and receive a ‘fulness.’ (D&C 76:94.)” (“The Pattern of Our Parentage,” Ensign, Nov. 1984, 67–68).
For more information about “the church of the Firstborn,” see the commentary for Doctrine and Covenants 93:21–22 in this manual.
The Prophet Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon received the vision recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 76 as they pondered the doctrine of the Resurrection. The inspired changes that were revealed concerning John 5:29 helped them understand that there would be an order to the Resurrection: “They who have done good [will come forth] in the resurrection of the just; and they who have done evil [will come forth] in the resurrection of the unjust” (D&C 76:17). The Resurrection of the just is also known as the “first resurrection” (D&C 76:64) and includes all those who will inherit the celestial and terrestrial kingdoms (see D&C 88:96–99). The First Resurrection began when the graves of the righteous were opened after the Resurrection of Jesus Christ (see Matthew 27:52–53; Mosiah 15:21–24; 3 Nephi 23:9–10). The Doctrine and Covenants refers to the First Resurrection as the time when the just will come forth from their graves at the Second Coming of Jesus Christ (see D&C 29:13; 45:54; 88:96–99). The Resurrection of the unjust, or the “last resurrection” (D&C 76:85), will include those who will inherit the telestial kingdom and those who are sons of perdition, and it will occur at the end of the Millennium (see D&C 76:85; 88:32, 100–102).
Individuals who conform their lives in obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel are known as being just (see examples in Matthew 1:19; Enos 1:1; Mosiah 2:4; Moses 8:27). Through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, just men are sanctified and made perfect. The process of sanctification, or being made holy, comes through the grace of Jesus Christ and is for “all those who love and serve God with all their mights, minds, and strength” (D&C 20:31; see also Moroni 10:32–33). President Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught about the process by which we become perfected:
“Brothers and sisters, let us do the best we can and try to improve each day. When our imperfections appear, we can keep trying to correct them. We can be more forgiving of flaws in ourselves and among those we love. We can be comforted and forbearing. The Lord taught, ‘Ye are not able to abide the presence of God now … ; wherefore, continue in patience until ye are perfected’ [D&C 67:13].
“We need not be dismayed if our earnest efforts toward perfection now seem so arduous and endless. Perfection is pending. It can come in full only after the Resurrection and only through the Lord. It awaits all who love him and keep his commandments. It includes thrones, kingdoms, principalities, powers, and dominions [see D&C 132:19]. It is the end for which we are to endure. It is the eternal perfection that God has in store for each of us” (“Perfection Pending,” Ensign, Nov. 1995, 88).
The scriptures are clear that all of God’s children will be resurrected (see 1 Corinthians 15:22; Alma 11:42; 40:4). The eternal kingdom inherited by a resurrected person, as well as the nature of a person’s resurrected body, however, will be determined by his or her faithfulness and obedience to God’s laws (see 1 Corinthians 15:40–42; D&C 76:96–98; 88:22–24, 28–31). Those who will inherit the celestial kingdom will have bodies that are celestial, “whose glory is that of the sun” (D&C 76:70). Those in the terrestrial kingdom will have bodies that differ from those in the celestial kingdom, “even as [the glory] of the moon differs from the sun in the firmament” (D&C 76:71; see also D&C 76:78). Telestial bodies will have a lesser glory, “as the glory of the stars differs from that of the glory of the moon in the firmament” (D&C 76:81).
President Joseph Fielding Smith (1876–1972) explained:
“In the Doctrine and Covenants, Section 88, we are informed that there will be differences in the bodies of inhabitants of the several kingdoms to meet every need and restriction.
“‘And they who are not sanctified through the law which I have given you, even the law of Christ, must inherit another kingdom, even that of a terrestrial kingdom, or that of a telestial kingdom.
“‘For he who is not able to abide the law of a celestial kingdom cannot abide a celestial glory.
“‘And he who cannot abide the law of a terrestrial kingdom cannot abide a terrestrial glory.
“‘And he who cannot abide the law of a telestial kingdom cannot abide a telestial glory; therefore he is not meet for a kingdom of glory. Therefore he must abide a kingdom which is not a kingdom of glory’ [D&C 88:21–24]. …
“Since bodies will be raised in the resurrection to suit the condition of each individual, the Lord will assign each man and woman to the place which each has earned” (Answers to Gospel Questions, comp. Joseph Fielding Smith Jr. , 4:64–65).
The vision of the kingdoms of glory revealed that God’s plan for our life after mortality includes far more than the traditional view of one heaven and a never-ending hell. Because people are not all equally good or equally evil, the Prophet Joseph Smith (1805–1844) explained: “In the 14th chapter of John—‘In my Father’s house are many mansions’ [John 14:2] … should be—‘In my Father’s kingdom are many kingdoms. … 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” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith , 219).
The Prophet Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon saw that the terrestrial world was prepared for those “whose glory differs from that of the church of the Firstborn” (D&C 76:71). This means that terrestrial glory falls below celestial glory but is above that of telestial glory (see D&C 76:81, 91). The Prophet later learned that the celestial kingdom consists of “three heavens or degrees” (D&C 131:1). The telestial kingdom is also comprised of various glories (see D&C 76:98).
The gospel of Jesus Christ is the path that all of God’s children can follow to receive an inheritance in the celestial kingdom. That glorious eternal reward is within the grasp of everyone who chooses to receive the gospel and make and keep sacred covenants with the Lord (see D&C 10:50; 14:7; 20:14; 50:24).
The revelation recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 76 provides only a general description of the inhabitants of the terrestrial world. For example, according to Doctrine and Covenants 76:72–73, some of those in the terrestrial kingdom will be people “who died without law” and who are taught the gospel in the spirit world. It is important to understand that some people who are taught the gospel in the spirit world will inherit the celestial kingdom, while others who are taught will not receive the gospel in the same manner and will therefore inherit a lower kingdom (see D&C 137:7–9; 138:30–37, 58–59). Additionally, there are others who die without a knowledge of the gospel but who will inherit the telestial kingdom. The kingdom of glory that each person will ultimately inherit will be according to the law he or she chooses to accept and live (see also D&C 88:21–24).
Some who will inherit the terrestrial kingdom are those “who are not valiant in the testimony of Jesus” (D&C 76:79). In other words, these people obtained a testimony of Jesus Christ but were not sufficiently valiant to accept or live the fulness of the gospel in order to obtain a celestial reward. Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught of the importance of being valiant in our testimony of Jesus: “My prayer is that … we will make our conduct consistent with the noble purposes required of those who are in the service of the Master. In all things we should remember that being ‘valiant in the testimony of Jesus’ is the great dividing test between the celestial and terrestrial kingdoms [D&C 76:79]. We want to be found on the celestial side of that divide” (“Choose Wisely,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2014, 49).
There is a difference between having a testimony of Jesus Christ and living so that our lives reflect that testimony. President Ezra Taft Benson (1899–1994) described how we can be valiant in our testimony of Jesus: “‘Those who are just and true’ [D&C 76:53]! What an apt expression for one valiant in the testimony of Jesus. They are courageous in defending truth and righteousness. These are members of the Church who magnify their callings in the Church (see D&C 84:33), pay their tithes and offerings, live morally clean lives, sustain their Church leaders by word and action, keep the Sabbath as a holy day, and obey all the commandments of God” (“Valiant in the Testimony of Jesus,” Ensign, May 1982, 63).
Those who will receive an inheritance in the telestial kingdom are those who choose not to receive the gospel or a testimony of Jesus Christ (see D&C 76:82, 101). They have not denied the Holy Ghost as the sons of perdition do, but they have chosen a path of wickedness and are “thrust down to hell” (D&C 76:84). In this case, hell refers to that portion of the spirit world where those who were disobedient in mortality suffer for their own sins because they did not repent (see D&C 19:15–18). These individuals will remain in this state of hell until they come forth in “the last resurrection,” which follows the Millennium (D&C 76:85; see also D&C 43:18; 63:17–18; 76:106; 88:100–101).
Elder Quentin L. Cook explained: “At death, righteous spirits live in a temporary state called paradise. Alma the Younger teaches us ‘paradise [is] a state of rest, a state of peace, where [the righteous] shall rest from all their troubles and from all care, and sorrow’ [Alma 40:12]. The unrighteous spirits dwell in spirit prison, sometimes referred to as hell [see 2 Nephi 9:10–14; D&C 76:84–86]. It is described as an awful place, a dark place where those fearful of the ‘indignation of the wrath of God’ shall remain until the resurrection [Alma 40:14]. However, because of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, all spirits blessed by birth will ultimately be resurrected, spirit and body reunited, and inherit kingdoms of glory that are superior to our existence here on earth [see D&C 76:89]. The exceptions are confined to those who, like Satan and his angels, willfully rebel against God [see Isaiah 14:12–15; Luke 10:18; Revelation 12:7–9; D&C 76:32–37]. At the resurrection, the spirit prison or hell will deliver up its captive spirits” (“Our Father’s Plan—Big Enough for All His Children,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2009, 37).
The wicked who will suffer in hell will eventually be redeemed (see D&C 76:85), become “heirs of salvation” (D&C 76:88) and “servants of the Most High” (D&C 76:112), and will inherit a level of telestial glory (see D&C 76:98). This doctrinal understanding highlights the abundant mercy and grace of Jesus Christ and confirms that “he saves all” except the sons of perdition (D&C 76:44). Elder John A. Widtsoe (1872–1952) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles testified:
“The [Doctrine and Covenants] explains clearly that the lowest glory to which man is assigned is so glorious as to be beyond the understanding of man. It is a doctrine fundamental in Mormonism that the meanest sinner, in the final judgment, will receive a glory which is beyond human understanding, which is so great that we are unable to describe it adequately. Those who do well will receive an even more glorious place. …
“The Gospel is a gospel of tremendous love. Love is at the bottom of it. The meanest child [of God] is loved so dearly that his reward will be beyond the understanding of mortal man” (The Message of the Doctrine and Covenants, ed. G. Homer Durham , 167).
Some who will inherit the telestial kingdom are those who profess to follow Jesus Christ or particular prophets yet who willfully reject the Savior and refuse to accept His gospel or follow His prophets. To condemn disunity among the Saints in his day, the Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians:
“For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, … that there are contentions among you.
“Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ.
“Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?” (1 Corinthians 1:11–13).
The similar wording in Doctrine and Covenants 76:99–101 refers to those who are not in harmony with Jesus Christ or His prophets.
During His mortal ministry, Jesus Christ explained, “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). The need for obedience to the commandments and ordinances of the gospel has always been a central message of the gospel of Jesus Christ. President Brigham Young (1801–1877) taught: “The children of men will be judged according to their works, whether they be good or bad. If a man’s days be filled up with good works, he will be rewarded accordingly. On the other hand, if his days be filled up with evil actions, he will receive according to those acts. … When will the people realize that this is the period of time in which they should commence to lay the foundation of their exaltation for time and eternity, that this is the time to conceive, and bring forth from the heart fruit to the honor and glory of God, as Jesus did” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young , 286).
Referring to the vision recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 76, the Prophet Joseph Smith said: “I could explain a hundred fold more than I ever have, of the glories of the Kingdoms manifested to me in the vision, were I permitted, and were the people prepared to receive it” (in Manuscript History of the Church, vol. D-1, page 1556, josephsmithpapers.org).
The richness of doctrine and the spiritual insights given in the vision of the kingdoms of glory provide us with an understanding of postmortal life that far surpasses anything found in ancient scripture. President Wilford Woodruff (1807–1898) said: “I will refer to the ‘Vision’ [in D&C 76] alone, as a revelation which gives more light, more truth and more principle than any revelation contained in any other book we ever read. It makes plain to our understanding our present condition, where we came from, why we are here, and where we are going to. Any man may know through that revelation what his part and condition will be. For all men know what laws they keep, and the laws that men keep here will determine their position hereafter” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Wilford Woodruff , 120–21).
President Woodruff, who became a member of the Church in 1833, recalled his personal reaction to the revelation recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 76:
“I was taught from my childhood that there was one Heaven and one Hell, and was told that the wicked all had one punishment and the righteous one glory. …
“… When I read the vision … , it enlightened my mind and gave me great joy, it appeared to me that the God who revealed that principle unto man was wise, just and true, possessed both the best of attributes and good sense and knowledge, I felt He was consistent with both love, mercy, justice and judgment, and I felt to love the Lord more than ever before in my life” (“Remarks on the Necessity of Adhering to the Priesthood in Preference to Science and Art,” in Deseret News, May 27, 1857, 91).