Come Follow Me: D&C 76 - The Vision
In 1832, Joseph and Sidney received a remarkable Vision that lasted hours. They took turns describing the things they saw. D&C 76 was created from the revelation, covering many of the important truths they discovered.
The first thing to note is that BOTH Joseph and Sidney received the revelation. While many pretenders proclaimed they had revelations from God and/or angels, none had a list of others who joined in many of those revelations: the Three Witnesses, Oliver Cowdery seeing John the Baptist, the First Presidency seeing the Kirtland Temple in vision as they began plans to design and build it, members attending the Kirtland Temple dedication, etc.
When it came to Christianity, the Vision was revolutionary. A few had previously suggested that heaven had several levels, but no one had given as much detail as this. For most of Christianity, only a few would be saved, the rest of the world would be damned - regardless of their opportunity to learn about Jesus Christ in this life. In fact, one leading dogma for many Christians is Calvin's TULIP, which includes a limited atonement, predestination to heaven/hell, and that most will not be saved.
The Vision turns all of that on its head. Instead of a limited atonement, Christ offers a near universal salvation to humankind. Instead of predestination, there is fore-ordination and free will.It is a Vision of hope and joy.
"We, Joseph Smith, Jun., and Sidney Rigdon, being the Spirit on the sixteenth day of February, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and thirty-two—
"By the power of the our were opened and our understandings were enlightened, so as to see and understand the things of God—
"Even those things 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 ;" (vs 11-13)
As noted before, Joseph and Sidney received the revelation together. It lasted hours, but section 76 is not that long. Instead, we occasionally get glimpses of other things they saw. In this instance, they saw things "from the beginning before the world was," perhaps the Divine Councils in Heaven, maybe parts of the Creation itself.
"And while we upon these things, the Lord touched the eyes of our understandings and they were opened, and the of the Lord shone round about.
"And we beheld the of the Son, on the of the , and received of his fulness;
"And saw the holy , and them who are before his throne, worshiping God, and the Lamb, who him forever and ever.
"And now, after the many testimonies which have been given of him, this is the , last of all, which we give of him: That he !" (vs 19-22)
Here, Joseph and Sidney have joined the Divine Council in heaven. It represents the councils held since the earliest times of Creation (Abraham 3), and include other prophets having important visions being with the Council (Isaiah 6, 1 Nephi 1, Revelation 4). Many key prophets, including Isaiah, Lehi and the apostle John, experienced the Divine Council. Joseph and Sidney join that special group.
In seeing God and Christ, they had a theophany. A theophany is where God appears before a human. The First Vision is a theophany. Scripture show Adam, Noah, Enoch, Moses, Abraham, Jacob, Lehi, the brother of Jared, and many others experiencing a theophany. When the children of God prepare their hearts sufficiently, they are brought into the presence of God. They are, in that moment, redeemed from the Fall.
"That he lives!" is one of the most important statements in scripture. Much of the world thinks, along with the philosopher Nietzche, "God is dead." Joseph Smith proclaimed that while Nietzche may be dead, through the ever living Jesus Christ, even the philosopher will live again!
The Vision steps us through the various levels of heaven. This is similar to several ancient Judeao-Christian texts, most were not available in Joseph Smith's day. Included are the Ascension of Isaiah and the Apocalypse of Paul. In these visions, the prophets ascend through the levels of heaven, seeing the sufferings of the wicked, and the joys of the righteous.
For active Latter-day Saints, we also experience such a practice theophany every time we attend the endowment in the temple. It is our version of the Vision.
In explaining the kingdoms, we get a glimpse of Outer Darkness, Telestial, Terrestrial, and Celestial glories. To see the glory and love of God, we only need consider that the wicked, which include murderers, will go to the Telestial Kingdom, which is a kingdom of salvation:
"These are they who not the Holy Spirit.
"These are they who are thrust down to .
"These are they who shall not be redeemed from the until the , until the Lord, even Christ the , shall have finished his work.
"These are they who receive not of his fulness in the eternal world, but of the Holy Spirit through the ministration of the terrestrial;
"And the terrestrial through the of the celestial.
"And also the telestial receive it of the administering of angels who are appointed to minister for them, or who are appointed to be for them; for they shall be of salvation.
"And thus we saw, in the heavenly vision, the glory of the , which surpasses all understanding;" (vs 83-89)
The Telestial are wicked people, who barely repent of their sins, but not much more. They will suffer in hell, or Spirit Prison, for a time. As with Alma in his near death experience, they will suffer intensely, until they choose to repent (Alma 36), at which time they are released from the suffering. Note that it isn't God that causes the suffering. It is their own guilt that causes them to suffer, and the only escape is to repent.
Still, their glory and salvation "surpasses all understanding." That is how much God loves his children.
From these and other verses, a question opens up. Why are the Telestial administered to by the Terrestrial, and the Terrestrial by the Celestial? Is it a teaching/training to prepare these souls to ascend to higher kingdoms later on?
There are two theories in the Church.
The current leading theory, pushed by Joseph Fielding Smith and others, is that there is no progression between kingdoms. There is only progression within a kingdom, but not beyond.
Meanwhile, other Church leaders, like James Talmage (who wrote, Jesus the Christ), suggested it may be possible to advance or progress through the kingdoms. (see quotes below)
Again, both of these positions are theory. We just do not know, yet.
Sons of Perdition
Only the Sons of Perdition will not be saved. Why not? Because they refuse to be saved. They reject God, Christ and the Holy Ghost. They refuse to submit themselves to the Godhead. Instead of attributes of love, patience, humility, charity, faith and hope; they are the antithesis of these things: hate, greed, selfishness, etc.
While we may look upon Outer Darkness as a terrible place, it is the only place where the Sons of Perdition will feel comfortable. It is where they will be happiest. (Mormon 9:4)
A Truly Loving God
Ours is truly a loving God. He gave us Jesus Christ to rescue us from Outer Darkness. Without Christ, we all would be subject to the devil (Jacob 3:11). Instead, we are offered near universal salvation in a kingdom of glory. The only requirements for this basic salvation are: faith in Christ and repentance. Nothing else is necessary for entering the Telestial Kingdom.
This is called Justification. We are justified in the blood of Christ. We are made sinless in and through Him.
Then, through Sanctification, we are made holy. Sanctification requires more than just faith and repentance on a basic level. It means putting forth effort to become holy. We exercise faith in Christ, we repent, we receive ordinances, we receive a greater portion of the Holy Ghost, then we endure. This is the Doctrine of Christ (3 Nephi 11). Using this as a pattern, we are able to go from grace to grace, receiving grace for grace, until we obtain a fullness of God's glory (D&C 93).
To the level of sanctification we reach, determines our kingdom in the resurrection. This offers salvation to almost all of God's children. He loves us. He wants the best for us. He gives us what we are ready to receive. We are His children.
Quotes on Progression Between Kingdoms