Come Follow Me: D&C 137-138
These are the final two sections in the Doctrine and Covenants. They are closely related in theme and the reason for receiving them was the same: a desire to know what happens to those loved ones who have died.
Joseph Smith often pondered regarding the final disposition for the sould of his brother Alvin. Alvin was a stalwart believer in the gold plates and visions Joseph had received, even though he didn't live long enough to see or feel the plates. Joseph looked up to his eldest brother for strength and support, especially during the three years following the First Vision. The angel Moroni, in fact, told Joseph that he would be able to take the plates from the hill in 1824 if his brother Alvin were with him. Alvin died in Nov 1823, and so Moroni did not give up the plates on Joseph's second visit to the hill. Instead, Moroni would later require Joseph to take Emma with him.
As Joseph translated the gold plates, he learned of baptism and the confirmation of the Holy Ghost. He knew Alvin had not received these ordinances. According to many in the Christian world around Joseph, no one could be saved without baptism. Was Alvin to be consigned to hell for eternity?
In January 1836, final preparations were being made for the dedication of the Kirtland Temple that March. Much was on Joseph's mind, as he knew the Saints would be receiving an endowment of power, washings and anointings, and the hopes of a Pentecostal experience (see here).
This revelation would, indeed, be the first Pentecostal experience received by anyone in the nearly completed temple. It opened up a season of revelation, as Saints saw angels, spoke in tongues, prophesied, and even beheld God and Jesus.
In the vision, Joseph beholds the Celestial Kingdom, even describing the gate that stands at the entrance as 'circling flames of fire." Joseph notes seeing Adam, Abraham, and his brother Alvin in celestial glory.
Andhow it was that he had obtained an in that kingdom, seeing that he had departed this life before the Lord had set his hand to Israel the second time, and had not been for the remission of sins.
Thus came theof the Lord unto me, saying: All who have died a knowledge of this gospel, who would have received it if they had been permitted to tarry, shall be of the celestial kingdom of God (vs 6-7)
The Kirtland Temple became the site for the restoration of keys by Moses, Elias and Elijah. Keys that in temples would soon seal people to God and families.
The prophet Mormon insisted that all little children were saved in Christ. Now, continuing revelation would extend that promise to all those who died without the chance to hear the gospel of Christ and receiving saving ordinances. How thrilling that must have been for the early Saints to know that God reached out his hand to everyone, and not just a select few, for salvation.
Even today, much of the Christian world is trapped in the devilish creed of Calvinism, which teaches a limited atonement that only saves a few. Under this belief, God cruelly chooses whomever he will to save, and all others will rot in hell. If one has never had the chance to know of Christ, they are eternal worm bait. There is no free will/agency under Calvinism. God made you a certain way, and you cannot choose to repent nor change, so as to choose God and eternal life. There is no purpose to such a life, where one is forced into the rat maze, and either God shows you the way through to heaven or to hell, and there is only the one eligible path. That is Calvinism.
Under Calvinism, Alvin didn't stand a chance for salvation.
Because of the Restored Gospel and continuing revelation, God affirmed:
For I, the Lord, willall men according to their , according to the of their hearts. (vs 9)
Joseph F. Smith had seen much death in his life. As a 5 year old child, he saw his murdered father Hyrum and uncle Joseph's bodies laid out for burial. He saw the misery in the tears of the Saints around him for their beloved Prophet. His mother, Mary Fielding Smith, would die not long after arriving in Utah territory. As a young father, a beloved daughter of his died in childhood.
These and other deaths along the way would bother him greatly throughout his life. He wouldn't stop pondering just what exactly was happening to these loved ones. Then, as an aged prophet during the time of the First World War and the great Flu Epidemic of 1918, he saw millions die.
Again, he pondered the afterlife. He studied scripture passages that discussed Christ's role in the Spirit World, verses he had read hundreds of times before. Two weeks prior to his own death, Joseph F. Smith received his great vision of the Spirit World.
In the Vision, he saw the righteous rejoicing over their anticipated release from the Spirit World and into the glorious resurrection.
While this vast multitude waited and conversed, rejoicing in the hour of theirfrom the chains of death, the Son of God appeared, declaring to the who had been faithful;
And there heto them the everlasting , the doctrine of the and the redemption of mankind from the , and from individual sins on conditions of . (vs 18-19)
The "vast multitude" that converses and rejoices are reminiscent of the holy seraphim/angels who surrounded God's throne in Isaiah's vision (see Isa 6), conversing among themselves about the greatness and wonders of God.
Interestingly, even though this congregation included all the righteous (including Adam, Eve, Abraham, Sarah, and others), they still had to have the gospel preached to them. It seems clear that there were many portions of the gospel they had not received yet, had understood only a portion of it in their lifetimes, or had some closely held wrong beliefs that needed to be corrected. I would imagine that as we die and enter the Spirit World, there will be many wrong beliefs we will also have to shed, and relearn anew, what President Nelson calls "pure truth, the pure doctrine of Christ and pure revelation."
Joseph F. Smith saw both Paradise and the Spirit Prison/hell. Among the wicked, he saw:
Where these were,reigned, but among the righteous there was ;
And the saints rejoiced in their, and bowed the and acknowledged the Son of God as their Redeemer and Deliverer from death and the of .
Their countenances, and the from the presence of the Lord rested upon them, and they praises unto his holy name. (vs 22-24)
We can get a glimpse of Spirit Prison and Paradise in Alma's Near Death Experience in Alma 36, where he is in darkness and in pain, until he repents and then is instantly brought to Paradise, where he has peace and great joy. In Alma's experience, as he saw God's throne in the distance, he saw many rejoicing, and we see the same here.
As he noted, Christ did not personally go among the wicked. Instead, he organized his great work and sent forth others.
But behold, from among the righteous, hehis forces and appointed , with power and authority, and them to go forth and carry the light of the gospel to them that were in , even to the spirits of men; and thus was the gospel preached to the dead. (vs 30)
Just as our missionaries are sent out "clothed with power and authority" with a commission to preach, so it is in the Spirit World. The work of salvation is a vast effort. Unlike the Calvinist god, Christ loves all people and puts forth every effort to save each and every one of them. For this reason, we are a temple building people. And, hopefully, we are a temple attending people, so that we can renew our own covenants and ordinances, and help to save and exalt all of mankind.
So great is the love of God, Elder Holland recently noted that the first great commandment of the universe is to love God, and that the first great TRUTH of the universe is that is exactly how God loves us - with all of His heart, might, mind and strength. God pours all of his energy into saving and exalting us.
And he asks us to help rescue those dwelling in hell, whether as mortals upon this earth, or in the Spirit World through saving temple ordinances and covenants.