Lesson 20: The Kingdoms of Glory
[Note: As with many lessons in the topic-based curriculum, this one as presented in the manual is a review of what my very experienced-in-the-Church class members already know. Rather than teaching it as if it contained information class members have never heard, or presenting it in the manual’s catechistic mode of “What does this mean? And this? And this?” I wanted to catch class members’ imaginations with how truly extraordinary this revelation is, no matter how familiar we are with it now. So I’m going with a long introduction heavy on the history, hoping to put class members in the place of early Church members hearing these ideas for the first time, followed by a reading of key verses and whatever discussion they might spark. I don’t think we’ll have time to do anything but the introduction and some verses regarding the Celestial Kingdom – but that is fine with me, since my experience is that when we get into a rote discussion of the three kingdoms, there is a tendency to want to assign people (often historical people, by name) to particular kingdoms, and I think that practice is bad, bad, bad.
Doctrine and Covenants 76, 131, 132:19-24, 137
Purpose: To help class members carefully consider the eternal inheritances in the three kingdoms of glory and to encourage them to live in such a way that they will be able to inherit celestial glory and dwell in Heavenly Father’s presence with their families.
Discussion and Application
[1. The kingdoms of glory and “the testimony of Jesus”:
3. The telestial kingdom
4. The terrestrial kingdom
5. The celestial kingdom]
How many of you have had the opportunity to visit Kirtland, Ohio, and the other nearby towns where early Saints lived? One of the places you probably visited during that tour was the John Johnson farm in Hiram, Ohio, about 33 miles from Kirtland. The Church has restored the farm house there, and the guides can point out to you which room Joseph and Emma were sleeping in when a mob dragged Joseph from his bed and beat and tarred and feathered him.
John and Elsa Johnson were in their 50s then. They had made their first home after marriage in Vermont, not far from where Joseph and Lucy Mack Smith lived. At roughly the same time the Smiths moved to Palmyra, New York, the Johnsons moved to Hiram, Ohio. While the Smiths struggled with poverty, the Johnsons were prosperous and built the large home on their farm that you can visit today.
The Johnsons heard something about Mormonism after Church members moved to Kirtland. Some of the grown sons of the Johnson family went to Kirtland to learn more, and were baptized in 1831. Later in the same year, John and Elsa went to Kirtland to investigate. They met Joseph Smith and others in the Newel K. Whitney home in Kirtland, where one of topics of discussion was the gifts of the Spirit. Someone asked whether God gave men the power in that day to heal the sick, and pointed to Elsa Johnson, whose arthritic arm caused her so much pain that for years past she had been unable to raise her arm above the shoulder. Later in the discussion, Joseph stepped to Elsa’s side and told her, “Woman, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ I command thee to be whole,” and then left the room. Elsa’s arm was instantly healed. John and Elsa were converted, as were a number of others in Kirtland who quickly heard about her miraculous healing.
At some point in the winter of 1831-32, John and Elsa Johnson invited Joseph and Emma Smith to stay with them in their farm home in Hiram. Joseph was working on his revision of the Bible, and the peace of the farm over the hubbub of Kirtland appealed to Joseph. So he and Emma, and their infant adopted twins moved into the front bedroom of the Johnson home.
I’m not sure how much more peaceful the Johnson farm was over downtown Kirtland. Besides the Smiths and the large Johnson family, the house was often filled with men who came to consult Joseph, or whom Joseph asked to come help him in his work. On February 16, 1832, for instance, there were at least a dozen men there while Joseph and Sidney Rigdon were at work on the Bible revision. They had been working on the Gospel of John, and had read in chapter 5:
28 Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice,
29 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.
This was a familiar concept to Christians of the day: There is a heaven for the righteous, and a hell for the wicked. Period. Either/or. Black and white. When you are judged, it’s either the one, or it’s the other.
But Joseph wasn’t reading the scriptures with the assumption that he already knew what they taught and understood what God meant. He read carefully and slowly. He stopped to consider each idea. He prayed for guidance. He discussed passages with others, in this case Sidney Rigdon, who was a scholar of the scriptures himself. And of course he was blessed with inspiration, perhaps being specially prodded by the Spirit when there was something the Lord needed to reveal.
Let’s pause the story for a moment and consider how we read the scriptures. When a Sunday School teacher asks a question, do we automatically respond with a canned answer, the one we’ve had drilled into us by countless lessons that called for those familiar answers?
When you’re reading the scriptures privately, how do you move from merely reading a familiar story to actually pondering the scriptures?
In this case, the pondering of Joseph as he studied that scripture resulted in one of the most glorious revelations of this dispensation, one that was so momentous that almost two centuries later we frequently refer to it simply as “The Vision.” It was a revolution so extraordinary, so exalting, that we don’t have to specify which one we’re talking about – it’s The Vision, now recorded in Section 76 of the Doctrine and Covenants.
Joseph’s history indicates that “the Lord touched the eyes of our understandings” that day in the Johnson farm home. The dozen other men in the room realized something unusual was happening, but they didn’t immediately know what. Philo Dibble, one of the men there, recorded, “Not a sound nor motion [was] made by anyone but Joseph and Sidney. I saw the glory and felt the power, ut did not see the vision.” But Philo and the others heard Joseph and Sidney describing what they were seeing in vision, as the heavens opened and they saw what awaited mankind after death.
We’ll look at a few parts of The Vision more closely in a moment, but would someone like to summarize, very briefly, what was shown in The Vision?
How would you expect such a revelation to be received in the Church, and by others in the community?
Some did embrace The Vision immediately. One man, for instance, Lincoln Haskins of Allegany County, New York, was in Kirtland and heard news of The Vision almost immediately. He was the one who gave the news to Samuel H. Smith and Orson Hyde, who were missionaries stopping at Haskins’ New York home. “[H]e told us that he had seen Joseph & Sidney & that they had had a vision & that they had seen great & marvilous things,” Samuel recorded in his diary. Afew days later Samuel and Orson met two traveling Church members who had copied the manuscript of The Vision, by hand, and carried it with them to study.
When is the last time you were so excited by something you heard relating to the Gospel that you were willing to write it out by hand in order to have a copy to read over and over?
William W. Phelps called it “the greatest news ever published to man” when he printed The Vision in his newspaper in July 1832. Wilford Woodruff, who joined the Church in 1833, said “it enlightened my mind and gave me great joy. … I felt to love the Lord more than ever before in my life.”
Why would someone respond that way to the contents of The Vision?
Others had a more challenging time when they heard about The Vision.
Brigham Young: “It was a great trial to many.” Why, do you suppose?
Joseph Young: “I could not believe it at first. Why the Lord was going to save everybody.”
Some of the Saints simply could not accept this near universal idea of salvation, and entire branches rejected it at first: Ezra Landen, an elder in the branch at Geneseo, New York, said “the vision was of the Devil,” and led the branch to reject it. Joseph Smith wrote a letter to the branch urging them to exercise faith; Orson Hyde and John Murdock, acting as missionaries to that branch, explained the Vision more fully, testified to its truth, and brought the branch back into the fold.
From this and other experiences, Joseph learned that many new converts had testimonies so tender that they should be strengthened before they were taught many things that could upset them, like the details of The Vision; that is why we still today generally teach the first principles of the gospel to investigators, rather than overwhelming them at the beginning. Other than scoffing at the whole idea of a judgment and life after death, how do some people today react to this idea from The Vision:
Doctrine and Covenants 76:58
58 … it is written, they are gods, even the sons of God –
(It strikes me a roughly parallel to reaction in the 1830s: If they were upset that not enough people would be damned, some today are upset that any at all will be exalted!)
Let’s look at a few verses from The Vision.
Doctrine and Covenants 76:11-14
11 We, Joseph Smith, Jun., and Sidney Rigdon, being in the Spirit on the sixteenth day of February, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and thirty-two –
12 By the power of the Spirit our eyes were opened and our understandings were enlightened, so as to see and understand the things of God –
13 Even those thins which were from the beginning before the world was, which were ordained of the Father, through his Only Begotten Son, who was in the bosom of the Father, even from the beginning;
14 Of whom we bear record; and the record which we bear is the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ, who is the Son, whom we saw and with whom we conversed in the heavenly vision.
Joseph then tells us he was reviewing the verse in John, chapter 5, about the resurrection.
Doctrine and Covenants 19-24
19 And while we meditated upon these things, the Lord touched the eyes of our understandings and they were opened, and the glory of the Lord shone round about.
20 And we beheld the glory of the Son, on the right hand of the Father, and received of his fulness;
21 And saw the holy angels, and them who are sanctified before his throne, worshiping God, and the Lamb, who worship him forever and ever.
22 And now, after the many testimonies which have been given of him, this is the testimony, last of all, which we give of him: That he lives!
23 For we saw him, even on the right hand of God; and we heard the voice bearing record that he is the Only Begotten of the Father –
24 That by him, and through him and of him, the words are and were created, and the inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters unto God.
We usually think of The Vision in connection with what we learn of the next life. As these verses show, and as is evident throughout the section, The Vision is also an extraordinary testimony of Jesus Christ. He lives! as Joseph and Sidney have just testified, and it is only because of his Atonement that we have any hope of inheriting one of the kingdoms described in the rest of the revelation. It is only his justice and mercy that allows us to accept whatever degree of glory we receive, according to his grace and the degree to which we are willing to accept his gospel.
[Depending on discussion so far, there may be little time to focus on the details of the various kingdoms. My class is one that already knows the information thoroughly and doesn’t need it taught as though it were the first time they had heard it. Also, I am uncomfortable discussing “what you do to get into” the lower kingdoms, since in my experience it degenerates into judgment calls about who “in the world” will be assigned where. Below are the key verses to discuss if there is time; if time is short, focus entirely on the celestial kingdom.]
The Vision tell of the fate of those relatively few who know and then reject the power of God. And then we learn about the three divisions of salvation: a Celestial glory, a Terrestrial glory, and a Telestial glory.
Doctrine and Covenants 76:82
82 These are they who receive not the gospel of Christ, neither the testimony of Jesus.
Doctrine and Covenants 76:109-112
109 But behold, and lo, we saw the glory and the inhabitants of the telestial world, that they were as innumerable as the stars in the firmament of heaven, or as the sand upon the seashore;
110 And heard the voice of the Lord saying: These all shall bow the knee, and every tongue shall confess to him who sits upon the throne forever and ever;
111 For they shall be judged according to their works, and every man shall receive according to his own works, his own dominion, in the mansions which are prepared.
112 And they shall be servants of the Most high; but where God and Christ dwell they cannot come, worlds without end.
Doctrine and Covenants 76:72-77
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.
Doctrine and Covenants 76:79
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.
Doctrine and Covenants 76:50-70
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.
[Testimony, including mention of how radical this Vision was in 1832 for its contradiction of prevailing Christian ideas, and how radical it is today for even presenting a complex, organized possibility for salvation and exaltation.]