Sunday, May 12, 2013

Doctine and Covenants Lesson #20 The Kingdoms of Glory


D&C 76

INTRODUCTION: VALUE OF THE VISION
President Wilford Woodruff: “I will refer to the ‘Vision’ 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. Any man may know through that revelation what his part and condition will be.” (Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, Durham, p. 47-48)

President Joseph Fielding Smith: “Section 76 of the Doctrine and Covenants, in its sublimity and clearness in relation to the eternal destiny of the human family, has not been surpassed. It should be treasured by all members of the church as a priceless heritage. It should strengthen their faith and be to them an incentive to seek the exaltation promised to all who are just and true.” (Church History and Modern Revelation, 2:50)

BACKGROUND FOR THE VISION
When Joseph Smith was translating the Bible in 1832, with Sidney Rigdon as his scribe, they came upon a remarkable passage of scripture, John 5:25-28.  “Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice.” (John 5:28) One thing that is remarkable about this scripture is that it tells us that, even in New Testament times, the apostles knew that those who had died without hearing the gospel would have the opportunity before they were judged. Maybe some of the Christian sects assume that this is figurative, speaking of those who are spiritually dead to Christ while in this life, but I don’t know how much more specific John could have been than to say “those that are in the graves.” But it is the next verse that we are studying today.  “ 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.”  (John 5:29)

Heading to D&C 76 – A vision given to Joseph Smith the Prophet and Sidney Rigdon, at Hiram, Ohio, February 16, 1832. Prefacing the record of this vision, Joseph Smith’s history states: “Upon my return from Amherst conference, I resumed the translation of the Scriptures. From sundry revelations which had been received, 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. Accordingly, … while translating St. John’s Gospel, myself and Elder Rigdon saw the following vision.” At the time this vision was given, the Prophet was translating John 5:29.

When they translated this verse, the Lord changed it slightly. So where do we find the JST for John 5:29 to see what the change was: D&C 76:17 “And shall come forth; they who have done good, in the resurrection of the just; and they who have done evil, in the resurrection of the unjust.”  “The resurrection of life” was clarified to “the resurrection of the just,” and “the resurrection of damnation” to “the resurrection of the unjust.” Joseph and Sidney had learned about being justified because that came up in the translation work on Genesis a year and a half previous, which we now call the Book of Moses in the Pearl of Great Price. “That by reason of transgression cometh the fall, which fall bringeth death, and inasmuch as ye were born into the world by water, and blood, and the spirit, which I have made, and so became of dust a living soul, even so ye must be born again into the kingdom of heaven, of water, and of the Spirit, and be cleansed by blood, even the blood of mine Only Begotten; that ye might be sanctified from all sin, and enjoy the words of eternal life in this world, and eternal life in the world to come, even immortal glory.”  (Moses 6:49)

This was in last week’s lesson: the just are those who have had their sins forgiven, those who have “opened” the gift of Christ’s grace through exercising the first principles and ordinances of the gospel. So, the summation of this scripture is that those who are justified and sanctified are resurrected to eternal life.

Yet here it says in the writings of John that the “unjust” are also resurrected. Huh?  “Now this caused us to marvel, for it was given unto us of the Spirit.”  (D&C 76:18) They were sure the change was correct, because it had been “given [to them] of the spirit.” They pondered about it and decided that, obviously, there was something more about the afterlife that they had not yet learned. 

”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.” (D&C 76:19)

They found out the answer to their question by way of a grand and glorious vision which they were commanded to write down for us “while still in the spirit,” before they could make any human error in recall. That is the glorious chapter of scripture we now call Section 76.

But before they wrote down the glorious vision, they felt to testify to us of another great truth that was reaffirmed to them because of the experience.

“For thus saith the Lord—I, the Lord, am merciful and gracious unto those who fear me, and delight to honor those who serve me in righteousness and in truth unto the end.  Great shall be their reward and eternal shall be their glory.  And to them will I reveal all mysteries, yea, all the hidden mysteries of my kingdom from days of old, and for ages to come, will I make known unto them the good pleasure of my will concerning all things pertaining to my kingdom.  Yea, even the wonders of eternity shall they know, and things to come will I show them, even the things of many generations.  And their wisdom shall be great, and their understanding reach to heaven; and before them the wisdom of the wise shall perish, and the understanding of the prudent shall come to naught.  For by my Spirit will I enlighten them, and by my power will I make known unto them the secrets of my will—yea, even those things which eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor yet entered into the heart of man.”  (D&C 76:5-10)

Our Father in Heaven is so excited to reveal truths to us. He abides by the rule that we must ask first, and I wonder if sometimes he has to exercise great patience, waiting for us to realize what we need to ask for. But when we do ask, how great is the outpouring he gives! You sometimes get the feeling that the Lord is saying, “I thought you’d never ask!”

CHRONOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVE OF THE VISION
The Kirtland Temple was dedicated in what year? 1836. This vision of the three degrees of glory was given when? February 16, 1832. There was no temple of any kind on the earth for the Lord to visit, so he visited the two Brethren here in Joseph Smith’s temporary residence, the John Johnson home, in Hiram, Ohio.
(photo)
By the way, do you know what other significant event occurred here, six weeks later? The first physical mob violence, completely unforeseen and unprovoked, led by two apostates, Simonds Rider and Ezra Booth, the tarring and feathering of the Prophet in the middle of the night. This action also led to the first martyrdom of the Church, the death of Joseph’s eleven-month-old adopted baby, Joseph Murdock, 4 days later, as a result of the exposure he endured. Heaven and hell in the same house. (Another interesting note is that little Joseph’s biological father, John Murdock, was on a mission at the time and didn’t hear about his baby’s death until he returned in June.) After that, as you know, mob action continued to escalate everywhere the saints moved to escape it. But at the same time, for those faithful in the church, visions and revelations and the bestowal of light and knowledge also escalated, giving the saints the eternal perspective that they needed to endure the difficulties that arose.

ELEMENTS OF THE VISION
We think of this as one vision, but as recorded, it was actually seven visions stuck together. Seven very important truths, six of which they were commanded to bear record of in writing. What were they, and in what order?
1.       The Vision of Jesus Christ. D&C 76:20-24.
2.       The Vision of Satan. D&C 76:25-29.
3.       Vision of sons of Perdition. D&C 76:30-49.
4.       The Vision of the Resurrection of the Just (Celestial Kingdom). D&C 76:50-70.
5.       The Vision of the Terrestrial World. D&C 76:71-80.
6.       The Vision of the Telestial World. D&C 76:81-113.
7.       The Unutterable Vision. D&C 76:114-118.

The Unutterable Vision. Joseph Smith said of this vision, “I could explain a hundredfold 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 them.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 304)

“Section 76 is like the windows on a great department store. The windows give us just a hint of what is inside the store.” (Brother Bill Beardall, from the “Gospel Doctrine Class” website)

The Vision of Jesus Christ—This great testimony has been an anchor to many Saints ever since that day. Many could undoubtedly recite it memorized, without ever having tried to memorize it; they have just enjoyed it so many times.

The Vision of Satan—Why was it important for us to have a vision of Satan? When it comes to having an eternal perspective, understanding the reality of Satan is important, just as is knowing Christ. We cannot avoid something we know nothing about.

Joseph Smith: “What must a man do to commit the unpardonable sin? He must receive the Holy Ghost, have the heavens opened unto him, and know God, and then sin against Him. After a man has sinned against the Holy Ghost, there is no repentance for him. He has got to say that the sun does not shine while he sees it.” (Teachings, p. 358)

Are we in daily jeopardy of committing the unpardonable sin?  President Spencer W. Kimball answers the question: “The sin against the Holy Ghost requires such knowledge that it is manifestly impossible for the rank and file to commit such a sin.” (Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p. 23)

The Vision of the Telestial World
 “These are they who received not the gospel of Christ, neither the testimony of Jesus.” (D&C 76:82) And yet, “These are they who deny not the Holy Spirit.  These are they who are thrust down to hell.”  And yet, they will not stay there.  “These are they who shall not be redeemed from the devil until the last resurrection, until the Lord, even Christ the Lamb, shall have finished his work.” (D&C 76:83-85) 

“These are they who say they are some of one and some of another—some of Christ and some of John, and some of Moses, and some of Elias, and some of Esaias, and some of Isaiah, and some of Enoch; But received not the gospel, neither the testimony of Jesus, neither the prophets, neither the everlasting covenant.” (D&C 76:100-101)

Saying and doing are different things.  It is not enough to say you are a follower of Christ or of his apostles,  because these people are really ”liars, and sorcerers, and adulterers, and whoremongers, and whosoever loves and makes a lie.  These are they who suffer the wrath of God on earth.  These are they who suffer the vengeance of eternal fire. 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.  (D&C 76:103-106)

They still will be resurrected to a kingdom of glory, because, unlike the devil and the sons of perdition, they did not deny the Holy Spirit, but they will have to sit in hell for quite some time, because that is the fruit of their actions on earth. Unfortunately, they are “as unnumerable as the stars in the [sky] or the sand upon the seashore. (See verse 109.)

And yet, “thus we saw, in the heavenly, vision, the glory of the telestial, which surpasses all understanding.”  (D&C 76: 89)  It will still be a glorious heaven, because eventually “These all shall bow the knee, and every tongue shall confess to him who sits upon the throne forever and ever.” (D&C 76: 110)
 photo from nasa.gov

The Vision of the Terrestrial World

“Behold, these are they who died without law; 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.”  (D&C 76:72-73)

Is it fair that these never had “the law,” or in other words, never had the chance to learn the gospel in this life?  Elder Melvin J. Ballard gives a reason why this might be so:

“Now, those who died without law, meaning the pagan nations, for lack of faithfulness, for lack of devotion in the previous life, are obtaining what they are entitled to. I don’t mean to say that all of them will be barred from entrance into the highest glory. Any one of them who repents and complies to the conditions might also obtain celestial glory, but the great bulk of them will only attain terrestrial glory.” (Sermons of Melvin J. Ballard, p. 251)

These are they “Who received not the testimony of Jesus in the flesh, but afterwards received it.  These are they who are honorable men of the earth, who were blinded by the craftiness of men.”  (D&C 76:74-75)

It seems unfair that the eternal regard of these people is messed up because others deceived them, but the reason this happened could only be that they listened to men, rather than listening to the promptings of the Spirit, which would have guided them to the truth. In the next life, they are given a second chance to gain a testimony of Jesus, and, as the scripture says, “every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is the Christ,” they will realize that he is the Christ while they are being taught in Spirit Prison.

Saddest of all in this group: “These are they who are not valiant in the testimony of Jesus; wherefore, they obtain not the crown over the kingdom of our God.”  (D&C 76:79)

President Ezra Taft Benson: “Not to be valiant in one’s testimony is a tragedy of eternal consequence. These are members who know this latter-day work is true but who fail to endure to the end. Some may even hold temple recommends, but do not magnify their callings in the Church. Without valor, they do not take an affirmative stand in the kingdom of God. Some seek the praise, adulation, and honors of men; others attempt to conceal their sins; and a few criticize those who preside over them.” (Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, p. 292-293)

Who thinks you fit here? If you have sins, such as President Benson mentioned, you need to give them up and follow Christ, and you have that opportunity every Sacrament Meeting. Membership in the Church alone does not get you into the Celestial Kingdom, it is true. You cannot join the Church and then sit still. You must use the gift of the atonement, by exercising the first principles and ordinances of the gospel continually.

But too many times we think that because we didn’t ever make the cut as bishop or apostle or we didn’t have cute enough wood cut-out projects when we were den leaders, or we never learned to garden or can, we will be limited to the Terrestial Kingdom, because that is the place for mediocre people. The Celestial Kingdom, we think, is only for the few gospel valedictorians, or the doctrinal overachievers. However, that is not true:  To make mistakes, to have character flaws, to get tired, to try and not succeed, to find that your best was not quite good enough—that is not to not be valiant. That is to be human and to need a Savior.  The Celestial Kingdom will be full of people like this.

photo from lds.org
The Vision of the Resurrection of the Just (D&C 76: 50-70)

As we learned in Moses 6:60 last week, and as Joseph Smith had learned a year or two earlier, those who exercise faith in Christ and are baptized for the remission of their sins and receive the Gift of the Holy Ghost by one in authority, and who endure to the end (or, as verse 53 says, “overcome by faith,”) will be perfected in Christ so that they will belong here.  They will be Celestial people. Christ will “subdue all enemies under [their] feet,” even those within themselves. (See verse 61.) Just as we learned last week, they open the “gift” of grace by exercising the first principles and ordinances of the gospel, and they continue to use that gift throughout their lives by constantly trying to adhere to those principles and ordinances, and eventually, through Christ, all the difficulties will be overcome.

“ Wherefore, as it is written, they are gods, even the sons of 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. And they shall overcome all things. Wherefore, let no man glory in man, but rather let him glory in God, who shall subdue all enemies under his feet.”  (D&C 76:58-61)

There is another term for the members of this kingdom introduced to us here in this vision. D&C 76:54 – They are they who are the church of the Firstborn. The Church of the Firstborn. Where else can we find this in the scriptures? You really have to hunt. The Topical Guide and the Bible Dictionary will not help you much. It is found in the Joseph Smith Translation appendix in the beautiful passage which I call the “Covenant of the Rainbow,” given to Noah after the flood. JST Genesis 9:21-23 –

And the bow shall be in the cloud; and I will look upon it, that I may remember the everlasting covenant, which I made unto thy father Enoch; that, when men should keep all my commandments, Zion should again come on the earth, the city of Enoch which I have caught up unto myself.

And this is mine everlasting covenant, that when thy posterity shall embrace the truth, and look upward, then shall Zion look downward, and all the heavens shall shake with gladness, and the earth shall tremble with joy;

And the general assembly of the church of the firstborn shall come down out of heaven, and possess the earth, and shall have place until the end come. And this is mine everlasting covenant, which I made with thy father Enoch.

The Church of the Firstborn is the City of Enoch, or Zion. When we “embrace the truth, and look upward,” (as we have said, we get on the path and keep heading in the right direction), Zion will “look downward” upon us and “come down out of heaven and possess the earth.” That would be the Celestial Kingdom, This is the covenant of Enoch. (Keep your finger there.)

“They are they into whose hands the Father has given all things— They are they who are priests and kings, who have received of his fulness, and of his glory; 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.”  (D&C 76:55-57) 

Where else can we find the order of Melchizedek and the order of Enoch in the scriptures? Speaking of Melchizedek , “And thus, having been approved of God, he was ordained an high priest after the order of the covenant which God made with Enoch, It being after the order of the Son of God; which order came, not by man, nor the will of man; neither by father nor mother; neither by beginning of days nor end of years; but of God; And it was delivered unto men by the calling of his own voice, according to his own will, unto as many as believed on his name.”  (JST Genesis 14:27-29) 

This wonderful covenant of the order of Melchizedek and the order of Enoch, is offered simple to “as many as [believe] on his name.” (See verse 29.) The people of Melchizedek kept the covenant of their father Enoch.  “And his people wrought righteousness, and obtained heaven, and sought for the city of Enoch which God had before taken, separating it from the earth, having reserved it unto the latter days, or the end of the world...And this Melchizedek, having thus established righteousness, was called the king of heaven by his people, or, in other words, the King of peace.”   (JST Genesis 14:34, 36)

They embraced the truth and looked upward, and joined Zion in Heaven, just as we will be able to do someday, through the grace of Christ, if we keep those same covenants.

Being of the Church of the Firstborn, of the Order of Melchizedek and the Order of Enoch, and the Order of the Son of God, are marvelous and beautiful titles, but when it comes down to it, they are all summed up easily in D&C 76:69 – “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.  They are “just men” (justified by Christ’s atonement, or made holy and worthy of the Celestial Kingdom—but it is also appropriate to say, they are “just men” or simply men or ordinary men, made perfect by Christ).

If you are a member of the Church, but do not fit in the pattern of one who is “valiant in the testimony of Christ,” you just need one sacrament meeting to start becoming so. And then by the next week, you will need the next sacrament meeting to keep “looking to Heaven.” And so on until you get there.


As my favorite Bruce R. McConkie quote goes:

“As members of the Church, if we chart a course leading to eternal life; if we begin the processes of spiritual rebirth, and are going in the right direction; if we chart a course of sanctifying our souls, and degree by degree are going in that direction; and if we chart a course of becoming perfect, and step by step and phase by phase, are perfecting our souls by overcoming the world, then it is absolutely guaranteed—there is no question whatever about it—we shall gain eternal life.  Even though we have spiritual rebirth ahead of us, perfection ahead of us, the full degree of sanctification ahead of us, if we chart a course and follow it to the best of our ability in this life, then when we go out of this life we’ll continue in exactly that same course.  We’ll no longer be subject to the passions and the appetites of the flesh.  We will have passed successfully the tests of this mortal probation and in due course we’ll get the fullness of our Father’s kingdom—and that means eternal life in his everlasting presence.”  (Bruce R. McConkie, "Jesus Christ and Him Crucified," Brigham Young University 1976 Devotional Speeches of the Year, p. 400-401, quoted in Robert Millet, Within Reach, p. 14—emphasis added.  The entire speech is available online at this link.)

“And thus we saw the glory of the celestial, which excels in all things—where God, even the Father, reigns upon his throne forever and ever;  Before whose throne all things bow in humble reverence, and give him glory forever and ever. They who dwell in his presence are the church of the Firstborn; and they see as they are seen, and know as they are known, having received of his fulness and of his grace;
And he makes them equal in power, and in might, and in dominion.”  (D&C 76:92-95)
Photo by Bob Brown, used with permission

CONCLUSION

As Joseph Smith said: “Nothing could be more pleasing to the Saints…than the light which burst upon the world through [that] vision. Every law, every commandment, every promise, every truth, and every point touching the destiny of man, from Genesis to Revelation, where the purity of the scriptures remains unsullied by the folly of men, go to show the perfection of the theory, and witnesses the fact that the document is a transcript from the records of the eternal world, the sublimity of the ideas; the purity of the language, the scope for action; the continued duration for completion, in order that the heirs of salvation may confess the Lord and bow the knee; the rewards for faithfulness, and the punishments for sin, are so much beyond the narrow-mindedness of men, that every honest man is constrained to explain: “It came from God.” (Histoy of the Church 1:252-253)

1 comment:

Jean macbeachen said...

I used information from this site for my last weeks lesson ( The plan of salvation)including the version of Amazing Grace by the Tabanacle choir.I found the added information very useful and more class members than usual said how much they enjoyed the lesson. Thank you for your help, I will continue to check your fantastic sight.Jean MacBeachen