RS-Lesson 18

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Beyond the Veil: Life in the Eternities

Church Cirriculum

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This week’s lesson might sound like a repeat from the previous lesson on Plan of Salvation, but it is much more specifically focused on one of my favorite aspects of our theology: the 3 degrees of glory[.

The majority of the lesson centers on section 76 of the [Doctrine and Covenants]], which relates a vision received by Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon in the John Johnson home in Hiram, OH (where both were tarred & feathered by the mob, injuring Sidney Ridgon’s head in the process, which always made me wonder if he was quite right after that. But I digress.) The photo to the right is the actual room in which they received it. Joseph Smith had been working on his translation of the Bible in 1832 (in the actual room in the picture).

  • “From sundry revelations which had been received,” the Prophet later said, “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.” (1832)

Joseph had just read John 5:29:

  • 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.

When he and Sidney were pondering what this meant, a vision opened to them in which they saw God the Father, Jesus on his right hand, the three degrees of glory, and Satan separated from the rest with those who follow him. This is an interesting example of an effort to translate resulting in an entirely new revelation, similar to the Book of Moses and Matthew 24 in the POGP.

Comments and Questions

Why do three degrees of glory make more sense than just Heaven & Hell? (In Mormon Speak, how does this scripture restore many plain and precious truths?)

Eternal Progression

Here, then, is eternal life—to know the only wise and true God; and you have got to learn how to be gods yourselves, and to be kings and priests to God, by going from one small degree to another, and from a small capacity to a great one; from grace to grace, from exaltation to exaltation, until you attain to the resurrection of the dead, and are able to dwell in everlasting burnings, and to sit in glory, as do those who sit enthroned in everlasting power. [The righteous who have died] shall rise again to dwell in everlasting burnings in immortal glory, not to sorrow, suffer, or die any more, but they shall be heirs of God and joint heirs with Jesus Christ. What is it? To inherit the same power, the same glory and the same exaltation, until you arrive at the station of a god, and ascend the throne of eternal power, the same as those who have gone before. (1844)

This manual is just full of King Follett discourse.

Comments and Questions

Is this idea intimidating or does the idea of progress make it easier to handle?

In our eternal progression, why do you think we need to improve “from one small degree to another”? Is this how you learn and grow? Why do some people stop progressing? Celestial Seating Chart

Here’s the lowdown on who’s who in the Celestial Kingdom from D&C 76:

  • they are they who received the testimony of Jesus, (received meaning accepted or just heard it?)
  • and believed on his name (so, must be Christian, at least eventually)
  • 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; (so, correct ordinances are necessary. Because of the rite itself or because of making a commitment and promise that changes your demeanor?)
  • and who overcome by faith, (rather than by logic, brute force or personality)
  • and are sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, which the Father sheds forth upon all those who are just and true. (sealed in marriage or through being endowed? does this mean communal salvation - e.g. being sealed to all the Saints?)
  • They are they who are the church of the Firstborn. (I always wonder if we’re talking about Jesus or Adam on this one).
  • They are they into whose hands the Father has given all things— (given all things in this life or the hereafter? things meaning “truths” or actual things? This seems to contrast with the telestial people below who are getting tripped up by God; maybe this is just a byproduct of being free from the snares of our own bad behavior.)
  • they are they who are priests and kings, (but HUMBLE priests & kings, priestesses & queens)
  • who have received of his fulness, (what is ‘his fulness’? shrank not to drink the bitter cup? being aware of and accepting the fulness of truths? something else?)
  • and of his glory; (so, to receive of his glory, we have to be sanctified enough not to be consumed by it)
  • 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. (why does Melchizedek always get so much credit? BOM usually just lists the order of the Son of God. Where are the editors?)
  • Wherefore, as it is written, they are gods, even the sons of God— (does “sons of God” qualify or soften the meaning here, making it clear we are not “equal” with God?)
  • 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. (much better version of community property. It’s all about who’s pitching in, after all.)
  • These shall dwell in the presence of God and his Christ forever and ever.
  • These are they whose names are written in heaven, where God and Christ are the judge of all. (This doesn’t refer to men as “judges in Israel,” so maybe those guys are less empowered subordinates with a multi-level hierarchical approval process for damning people; or maybe it’s like an interview process and God & Jesus are the ultimate decision makers).
  • 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. (I love that phrase “just men made perfect.” Not perfect men made judges.)
  • 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. (More on the bodies in a moment).

Questions and Comments

In the description of those who will inherit celestial, terrestrial, and telestial glory, the phrase “the testimony of Jesus” is used five times. What are the characteristics of a person who is “valiant in the testimony of Jesus”?

Terrestrial Kingdom

There’s a list of those who will receive Terrestrial glory in D&C 76: 81-85, 100-106, 110-112:

  • “Behold, these are they who died without law; (so, like those guys in the Blue Lagoon? Does this mean they can’t inherit celestial under any circumstances? That doesn’t sound quite right.)
  • 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. (So, what if they never heard it in the first place or had really bad missionaries?)
  • “These are they who are honorable men of the earth, who were blinded by the craftiness of men. (Unwitting dupes?)
  • These are they who receive of his glory, but not of his fulness. (Interesting word choice. So, what is “his fulness”?)
  • These are they who receive of the presence of the Son, but not of the fulness of the Father. (Christians who reject theosis? ‘Cause that’s what it sounds like.)
  • “Wherefore, they are bodies terrestrial, and not bodies celestial, and differ in glory as the moon differs from the sun. (That makes me wonder - are our resurrected bodies better or worse based on degrees of glory - e.g. no cellulite in Celestial? That’s motivating!)
  • These are they who are not valiant in the testimony of Jesus; wherefore, they obtain not the crown over the kingdom of our God.” (”not valiant” means what? And “crown over the kingdom” implies we rule rather than being subjects.)

Questions and Comments

How can we avoid being “blinded by the craftiness of men”? What can we do to help others avoid being blinded?

Telestial Kingdom

Here’s the description of Telestial glory from D&C 76:

  • These are they who are liars, (Are they all going to be confused when they start talking to each other and don’t know who is lying and who’s not? Will it be like a cutthroat soap opera?)
  • and sorcerers, (Like David Copperfield? What about Houdini?)
  • and adulterers, (Wouldn’t it be weird if you’re all saving your DH’s seat in the CK, and he just doesn’t show, and then you find out this way?)
  • and whoremongers, (Pimps? Words like “whoremonger” make me think we could use a NIV of LDS scriptures)
  • and whosoever loves and makes a lie. (I always wonder if that means “loves a lie” or “lies about love”?)
  • These are they who suffer the wrath of God on earth. (So, God’s tripping them up on earth? Is that because they lost the light of Christ and had to deal with the natural consequences of their bad choices?)
  • These are they who suffer the vengeance of eternal fire. (Although, as we’ll see below, this is more like “they feel horrid” than Hell = Guantanamo 2).
  • These are they who are cast down to hell and suffer the wrath of Almighty God, until the fulness of times, when Christ shall have subdued all enemies under his feet, and shall have perfected his work. (So, they just suffer until then. There’s an end in sight apparently.)

Comments and Questions

Is this a better alternative to traditional notions of “Hell”?

True Nature of Hell

“The great misery of departed spirits in the world of spirits, where they go after death, is to know that they come short of the glory that others enjoy and that they might have enjoyed themselves, and they are their own accusers.” (1843)

“A man is his own tormentor and his own condemner. Hence the saying, They shall go into the lake that burns with fire and brimstone. The torment of disappointment in the mind of man is as exquisite as a lake burning with fire and brimstone. I say, so is the torment of man. Some shall rise to the everlasting burnings of God, for God dwells in everlasting burnings, and some shall rise to the damnation of their own filthiness, which is as exquisite a torment as the lake of fire and brimstone.” (1844)

Comments and Questions

How can a man be “his own tormentor and his own condemner”? Does this make Hell seem more just?

To the teachers: Please share any other thoughts or tips you have for fellow teachers out there. Most of this lesson is just reading from D&C 76 about the different kingdoms; it might be fun to do a puzzle to get through the material (e.g. a “fill in the blanks” as you read through D&C together or a “sorting” puzzle to put the descriptions in the right kingdoms).

To the rest of you: What are your thoughts about the 3 degrees of Glory and the insights from D&C 76? Personally, this is one of my favorite aspects of our theology because everyone’s a winner (comparatively)! Discuss.

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