Degrees of Glory
Author: Dahl, Larry E.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has an optimistic view of the eternal rewards awaiting mankind in the hereafter. Members of the Church believe that there are "many mansions" (John 14:2) and that Christ's Atonement and resurrection will save all mankind from death, and eventually will reclaim from hell all except the sons of perdition (D&C 76:43-44). The saved, however, are not placed into a monolithic state called heaven. In the resurrection of the body, they are assigned to different degrees of glory commensurate with the law they have obeyed. There are three kingdoms of glory: the celestial, the terrestrial, and the telestial. The apostle Paul spoke of three glories, differing from one another as the sun, moon, and stars differ in brilliance. He called the first two glories celestial and terrestrial, but the third is not named in the Bible (1 Cor. 15:40-41; cf. D&C 76:70-81, 96-98.) The word "telestial" is an LDS term, first used by the Prophet Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon in reporting a vision they received on February 16, 1832 (D&C 76; Webster's Third New International Dictionary defines telestial glory as "the lowest of three Mormon degrees or kingdoms of glory attainable in heaven"; see also Celestial Kingdom; Terrestrial Kingdom; Telestial Kingdom).
At the final judgment, all except the devil, his angels, and those who become sons of perdition during mortal life will be assigned to one of the three kingdoms of glory. The devil and his followers will be assigned a kingdom without glory (D&C 76:25-39;88:24, 32-35).
LDS SCRIPTURE SOURCES. Although the Bible contains references to varying levels of resurrection and heaven (1 Cor. 15:39-58; 2 Cor. 12:2), LDS understanding of the subject comes mainly through revelations given to the Prophet Joseph Smith. The first revelation dealing directly with this matter was received February 16, 1832, and is called "The Vision" (D&C 76). Concerning the circumstances of receiving this revelation, Joseph Smith explained: Upon my return from Amherst [Ohio] 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 vison" [HC 1:245: see also Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible (JST))].
Later revelations, especially Doctrine and Covenants 88, 131, 132, 137,and 1 38, have added information on this subject.
THE CELESTIAL GLORY. The Celestial Kingdom is reserved for those who receive a testimony of Jesus and fully embrace the gospel; that is, they have faith in Jesus Christ, repent of their sins, are baptized by immersion by one having authority, receive the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands, and endure in righteousness. All who attain this kingdom "shall dwell in the presence of God and his Christ forever and ever" (D&C 76:62). There are, however, different privileges and powers within this kingdom. "In the celestial glory there are three heavens or degrees; and in order to obtain the highest, a man must enter into this order of the priesthood (meaning the new and everlasting covenant of marriage); and if he does not, he cannot obtain it. He may enter into the other, but that is the end of his kingdom; he cannot have an increase" (D&C 131:1-4). "Increase" in this instance means the bearing of spirit children after mortal life (see Eternal Lives, Eternal Increase). Joseph Smith explained, "Except a man and his wife enter into an everlasting covenant and be married for eternity by the power and authority of the Holy Priesthood, they will cease to increase when they die; that is, they will not have any children after the resurrection" (TPJS, pp. 300-301). Latter-day Saints believe that those who attain the highest level in the Celestial Kingdom become gods, receive exaltation, and are joint heirs with Christ of all that the Father has (cf. Rom. 8:14-17; D&C 76:50-70;84:33-39;132:19-25).
There is no scriptural explanation of those who go to the two lower categories of the Celestial Kingdom except that they "are not gods, but are angels of God forever and ever," ministering servants who "remain separately and singly, without exaltation, in their saved condition, to all eternity" (D&C 132:16-17).
THE TERRESTRIAL GLORY. The inhabitants of the Terrestrial Kingdom are described as the honorable people of the earth who received a testimony of Jesus but were not sufficiently valiant in that testimony to obey all the principles and ordinances of the gospel (D&C 76:71-80). Also, those of "the heathen nations" who "died without law," who are honorable but who do not accept the fulness of the gospel in the postearthly spirit world, are candidates for the terrestrial glory (D&C 45:54;76:72). In the hereafter, they receive the presence of the Son, but not the fulness of the Father. The glory of the Terrestrial Kingdom differs from the celestial as the light we see from the moon differs from that of the sun in glory. There is no mention of different degrees or levels in the Terrestrial Kingdom, but it is reasonable that there, as in the celestial and telestial kingdoms, individuals will differ from one another in glory (see D&C 76:97-98).
THE TELESTIAL GLORY. Those who on earth are liars, sorcerers, whoremongers, and adulterers, who receive not the gospel, or the testimony of Jesus, or the prophets, go to the Telestial Kingdom. They are judged unworthy of being resurrected at the second coming of Christ and are given additional time in "hell" to repent and prepare themselves for a later resurrection and placement into a kingdom of lesser glory. During this period, they learn to abide by laws they once rejected. They bow the knee and confess their dependence on Jesus Christ, but they still do not receive the fulness of the gospel. At the end of the Millennium, they are brought out of hell and are resurrected to a telestial glory. There "they shall be servants of the Most High; but where God and Christ dwell they cannot come, worlds without end" (D&C 76:112). However, they do receive "of the Holy Spirit through the ministration of the terrestrial" (verse 86). Though differing in glory from the terrestrial and celestial kingdoms as the light we perceive from the stars differs from that from the moon and the sun, the glory of the Telestial Kingdom still "surpasses all understanding" (verse 89; see D&C 76:81-90, 98-112;88:100-101).
OPPORTUNITY FOR ALL. The Church holds that all mankind, except the sons of perdition, will find a place in one of the kingdoms of glory in the hereafter and that they themselves choose the place by the lives they live here on earth and in the post-earthly spirit world. Even the lowest glory surpasses all mortal understanding. Everyone is granted agency (D&C 93:30-32). All have access to the revelatory power of the Light of Christ, which, if followed, will lead them to the truth of the gospel (John 1:1-13; Alma 12:9-11; Moro. 7:14-19; D&C 84:45-48). Everyone will hear the gospel of Jesus Christ, either on earth or in the postearthly spirit world, and have ample opportunity to demonstrate the extent of their acceptance (D&C 138; cf. 1 Pet. 4:6). Those who do not have a chance to receive the gospel on this earth, but who would have fully accepted it had they been able to hear it, and who therefore do receive it in the spirit world, are heirs of the Celestial Kingdom of God (D&C 137:7-8). They will accept the saving ordinances performed for them by proxy in a temple on the earth (see Salvation of the Dead). Christ, victorious and gracious, grants to all the desires of their hearts, allowing them to choose their eternal reward according to the law they are willing and able to abide.