Revelation on the Afterlife

February 26, 2009


Q. If God had two separate revelations to America and Israel, why did he leave out the complicated afterlife progression in the middle eastern revelation and then give them to Joseph Smith?

Good question. I assume that you are inquiring about how we, as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, believe that there are “three kingdoms of glory” in the afterlife, not simply the heaven and hell concept that the rest of the Christian world teaches.

It is apparent that we don’t have all of the teachings of all the prophets of Biblical times. The Bible is a compilation of assorted writings of various prophets; it is not a complete book. Here are some references made by some of the authors to other epistles/books of scripture that we simply do not have today—they are lost books of scripture (Num. 21: 14, Josh. 10: 13, 1 Chr. 29: 29, 2 Chr. 9: 29, 2 Chr. 12: 152 Chr. 13: 22, 2 Chr. 20: 34, 2 Chr. 33: 19, 1 Cor. 5: 9, Col. 4: 16, Jude 1: 14 ). If we know that manuscripts have been lost, isn’t it safe to assume that teachings and doctrines have also been lost? That is a logical conclusion and a safe conclusion.  The Bible does not contain a complete record of what has been taught by Biblical prophets. This is where the restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ through Joseph Smith comes in—through Joseph Smith, God restored doctrines and truths that had been lost in previous eras. This is a beautiful concept. I love that God follows this same pattern over and over through history.   When people fall away from His gospel and truths are lost, He calls a prophet just as He always has and restores the fullness of the Gospel through that prophet.

Celestial bodiesThere is, however, evidence from the Bible that the doctrine of “three kingdoms of glory” was taught. In fact, it seems to be so well understood that Paul just refers to it offhandedly.   In 1 Corinthians 15:31-42, he teaches about the resurrection of the dead. Just as all animals are different (fish, birds, beasts), Paul clearly teaches that not all resurrected bodies are the same—there are celestial bodies, terrestial bodies, and telestial bodies, each with its own glory.  In addition, there are different glories (kingdoms)—the glory of the sun (Celestial kingdom), glory of the moon (Terrestial kingdom), and glory of the stars (Telestial kingdoms, of which there are many). It follows that if there are celestial bodies, then they must inherit the Celestial kingdom or glory of the sun and so forth. This is what was revealed to Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon in February 1832 (see Doctrine and Covenants 76).  In addition to there being celestial bodies and a celestial kingdom and so on, it was given to them what the basic characteristics would be of the people who are assigned to these different kingdoms.

So, while we don’t have as full of an account of the afterlife progression from the Biblical prophets as we do from Joseph Smith there is still evidence that it has been taught the way Joseph Smith revealed it from at least the time of Paul and the early Church leaders.

For a more detailed explanation of our doctrine on the afterlife, see these two great posts: Life After Death: Part 1 and Life After Death: Part 2

Thanks for your inquiry.

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8 Responses to “Revelation on the Afterlife”

  1. mia

    i’m new to the church and was looking for more info about eternal progression, a friend suggested this blog. thanks!

  2. Thaddeus

    mia, we appreciate your feedback. How new to the Church are you? Have you been baptized?

    I hope you keep coming back here. Leave us comments and help us write about what is important to you. That’s what we’re here for.

  3. Zachary Rumple

    Hi, my name is Zac. I’m 20 years old and I’m a Christian. I don’t see how (from 1 Cor. 15) you got that Paul was talking about three separate afterlives. Paul is clearly saying that we have one type of body here on earth and another in Heaven. Verse 37 (NIV) says “When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else.” Paul is simply saying that the time we spend on earth is equivalent to the growing period of a seed and is spent in our earthly bodies.

    Now to talk about verses 40 and 41. The NIV says “There are also heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies; but the splendor of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendor of the earthly bodies is another. The sun has one kind of splendor, the moon another and the stars another; and star differs from star in splendor.” These verses are by no means talking about three different kingdoms. The earthly bodies that Paul refers to are mountains, valleys, etc… He’s saying that our bodies are to heavenly bodies as beautiful creations on earth are to the sun, moon, and stars. He then goes on to specify that the sun, stars, and moon have different kinds of splendor. This explains that angels’ splendor differs from God’s, as well as the people who are in Heaven now.

    Please give me feed back. I’m just trying to understand what you believe and why. If I sound mad at all, I promise I’m not. People tell me that when I write or debate that I seem mean.

  4. Thaddeus

    Zac, you don’t sound at all mean. Thank you for taking the time to ponder this issue thoughtfully and for asking us what our take on it is. It saves a lot of heartache when we talk openly to one another.

    You’re right that Paul is describing bodies, and not necessarily heavens or levels of heaven. At least not directly. His point in 1 Corinthians 15 is that resurrection is a reality. Our bodies will return to life in the same way Jesus’ did, and likewise with added glory (or in the NIV language, “splendor”).

    Our view is that a person who is resurrected in a body of celestial glory (compared with the sun in brilliance and intensity) is meant for a celestial home with God the Father. A terrestrial body-type resurrection (glory of the moon) will receive a terrestrial kingdom. And a telestial resurrection (glory of the stars) will inherit a kingdom of like glory.

    You would be right to question such logical reaching, if Paul’s letter to the Corinthians was our primary source. It’s not. We just point to it as confirmatory Biblical evidence of a revelation Joseph Smith received in 1832, which is included as section 76 of Doctrine and Covenants.

    Zac, will you read that section? I don’t mean to say, “This is why we’re right and you’re not.” In fact, I don’t expect you just to believe me. You probably don’t believe Joseph Smith was a prophet, so his words have much less authority in your mind than the Bible does. Still, read it. I know Joseph Smith was a prophet chosen by God. At the very least, you’ll understand me more clearly. You will understand much more than that, too when you read it with prayer.

  5. vision

    hey thad,
    well i am an atheist but i enjoy learning about diffent religions and i just wanted to see what mormons beleive of the afterlife.

    i will say that i have to agree with zach. paul is by no means talking about three different bodies only two.

    i honestly believe that joseph smith wrote the doctrine and covenant after he read the bible and purposeful or honestly misinterpret it and wrote part 76. i am sorry, i am not trying to offend you or nothing.

    what i am trying to say is that no, to me Joseph smith word is not superior to the bible.

    so when i read Corinthians it is clear to me that paul is talking about 2 bodies, before resurrection (terrestrial which is corruptible) and celestial, after resurrection (incorruptible; perfect and able to inherit the kingdom of heaven) he talks about different bodies of species and and stars, moon, earth to compare different glories between bodies to make a point in comparing the different glory of a celestial and terrestrial body.

    i honestly don’t hold any bias in this. i mean from my part i would prefer for you to be right, at least i have a chance in spirit prison when they come and preach to me, i would accept then lol, but no zack seems to have it right.

    i was actually looking for something that has to do with marriage and afterlife in the mormon religion, do you have any good articles that would explain this?

  6. Willie

    vision, I did find this article written a while back that talks a bit about marriage after death.

  7. Thaddeus

    i honestly believe that joseph smith wrote the doctrine and covenant after he read the bible and purposeful or honestly misinterpret it and wrote part 76. i am sorry, i am not trying to offend you or nothing.

    No offense taken. That’s the position I would expect you to take. You don’t believe Joseph Smith was a prophet.

    But I do.

    I hope that when you read section 76 you could appreciate why we Mormons believe what we do. We truly believe that Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon saw this vision of the post-judgment afterlife, and because of this vision they had some first-hand experience that had been lacking since the days of Paul and Peter.

  8. Gabrielle

    Hi there,
    I am a mormon and I just want to say that the revelations we have received about the afterlife express the lovingkindness God and Jesus Christ have for us all. All will inherit a degree of glory according to our conversion, shown by our obedience to the commandments of God which he has given us for our guidance and happiness. Missionary work continues in the spirit world and we have the privilege of geneaology work in the temples so that all will have a chance to accept the gospel and receive a fulness of joy. Worship God, give him glory and praise for he has through his Son Jesus allowed us all to be resurected and a higher salvation for those that love him!