On January 21, 1836, the Prophet Joseph Smith met in an upper room of the nearly completed Kirtland Temple with his counselors in the First Presidency, the bishoprics from Kirtland and Missouri, his father, and his scribe. These men had gathered for the administration of ordinances in preparation for the dedication of the temple. On this occasion the Prophet saw a vision of the celestial kingdom and heard the Lord declare how He will judge those who die without a knowledge of the gospel. Warren Parrish, Joseph Smith’s scribe at the time, recorded the vision in the Prophet’s journal. Part of the record of the vision was later included in the Doctrine and Covenants as section 137.
Suggestions for Teaching
Joseph Smith sees a vision of the celestial kingdom
Invite students to ponder the following questions. (You may want to invite them to write their responses in their class notebooks or scripture study journals.)
Who are some of the most important people in your life? Why are they especially significant to you?
After students have had time to ponder, invite a few to share their responses with the class.
Why would it be important to you to know that the people you love will have the opportunity to live in the celestial kingdom?
Explain that Doctrine and Covenants 137 contains Joseph Smith’s description of a vision in which he saw the celestial kingdom. In this description, he names some of the people he saw there. Invite students to read the section introduction to Doctrine and Covenants 137 to learn the historical background of this revelation.
Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 137:1–4 aloud. Ask the class to follow along and identify words and phrases that describe the celestial kingdom. Ask students to report what they find.
Invite another student to read Doctrine and Covenants 137:5–6 aloud. Ask the class to follow along and identify who Joseph Smith saw in the celestial kingdom.
Who did Joseph Smith see in the celestial kingdom? (Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ, Adam, Abraham, Joseph’s mother and father, and Joseph’s brother Alvin. It might be helpful to point out that Joseph’s father and mother were still alive at this time; in fact, his father was in the room with him at the time of this vision. This indicates that this vision was not of those who were already in the celestial kingdom but of those who would eventually be there.)
According to verse 6, why did Joseph marvel when he saw that his brother Alvin would be in the celestial kingdom?
To help students further understand why this experience was especially meaningful to Joseph Smith, invite a student to read the following statement:
Joseph Smith loved and admired his eldest brother, Alvin. Alvin loved Joseph too, and he supported Joseph in his preparation to receive the gold plates from the angel Moroni. In November 1823, when Alvin was 25 years old and Joseph was 17, Alvin suddenly became gravely ill. As his condition worsened and it became apparent that he would soon die, he counseled Joseph: “I want you to be a good boy and do everything that lies in your power to obtain the records. Be faithful in receiving instruction and keeping every commandment that is given you” (quoted in Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith , 401; see also Church History in the Fulness of Times Student Manual, 2nd ed. [Church Educational System manual, 2003], 41–42).
Alvin’s death brought great sorrow to the Smith family. A Presbyterian minister in Palmyra, New York, officiated at Alvin’s funeral. “As Alvin had not been a member of the minister’s congregation, the clergyman asserted in his sermon that Alvin could not be saved. William Smith, Joseph’s younger brother, recalled: ‘[The minister] … intimated very strongly that [Alvin] had gone to hell, for Alvin was not a church member, but he was a good boy and my father did not like it’” (quoted in Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, 401, 403).
Invite students to think about the feelings Joseph may have had when he saw Alvin in the celestial kingdom.
The Lord reveals how He will judge people who die without a knowledge of the gospel
Write the following question on the board: Why would Alvin be able to enter the celestial kingdom even though he had not been baptized during his lifetime?
Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 137:7–8 aloud. Ask the class to follow along and identify a truth that helps to answer the question on the board.
What truth did the Lord reveal to Joseph Smith that answers the question on the board? (Students should identify the following truth: All people who die without a knowledge of the gospel, who would have received it, will inherit the celestial kingdom.)
How might this truth comfort those who have loved ones who have died without a knowledge of the gospel?
Point out that the Lord revealed the truth in Doctrine and Covenants 137:7–8 before He revealed the principle of baptism for the dead. Students will study revelations on baptism for the dead in coming lessons.
Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 137:9 aloud, and ask the class to identify what the Lord taught about the way He will judge all people.
According to verse 9, how will the Lord judge us? (Students may use different words, but their responses should reflect the following principle: The Lord will judge us by our works and the desires of our hearts. Write this principle on the board.)
Why do you think our desires and our works are both important?
Read each of the following examples aloud. After each example, ask students to respond to this question:
How does this example illustrate the importance of our desires as well as our works?
A member of the Church has a righteous desire to be married in the temple. After a lifetime of faithful service in the Church, this member dies without having an opportunity to be sealed to a spouse in the temple.
A young man valiantly keeps his baptismal covenants and performs his Aaronic Priesthood duties. He has a great desire to serve a full-time mission but is unable to do so because of a physical disability.
A young woman holds a grudge against another young woman. She pretends to be friendly but secretly hopes that bad things will happen to the other young woman.
A young man thinks lustful thoughts, and he does not seek the Lord’s help to change his inappropriate thoughts and feelings.
As part of this discussion, you may want to read the following statement by Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles:
“Are we sure to be guiltless under the law of God if we merely refrain from evil acts? What if we entertain evil thoughts and desires?
“Will hateful feelings go unnoticed in the day of judgment? Will envy? Will covetousness? …
“Our answers to such questions illustrate what we might call the bad news, that we can sin without overt acts, merely by our feelings and the desires of our hearts.
“There is also good news. Under the law of God, we can be rewarded for righteousness even where we are unable to perform the acts that are usually associated with such blessings.
“When someone wanted to do something for my father-in-law but was prevented by circumstances, he would say, ‘Thank you. I will take the good will for the deed.’ Similarly, I believe that our Father in Heaven will receive the true desires of our hearts as a substitute for actions that are genuinely impossible” (“The Desires of Our Hearts,” Ensign, June 1986, 66).
How does it influence you to know that you will be judged by your works and the desires of your heart?
Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 137:10 aloud, and ask the class to look for another truth the Lord taught about those who will inherit the celestial kingdom.
According to verse 10, who will be saved in the celestial kingdom? (Students should express the following doctrine: All children who die before they become accountable will be saved in the celestial kingdom.)
Inform students that when Joseph Smith received this revelation, he and Emma had suffered the deaths of four of their children, including one adopted child. Later, two more of their children would also die as infants.
Invite students to think about how the truth revealed in verse 10 can bring comfort to families who grieve the death of a child. Consider giving them time to ponder experiences that they have had or that family members have had when this truth has brought comfort.
What have you learned from Doctrine and Covenants 137 about the Lord’s efforts to give all people the opportunity to live in the celestial kingdom?
Testify of the truths you have discussed today. You may want to give students the opportunity to share their testimonies as well.
Commentary and Background Information
Doctrine and Covenants 137:9. Judged by our works and our desires
Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles cautioned against two possible misunderstandings of Doctrine and Covenants 137:9:
“First, we must remember that desire is a substitute only when action is truly impossible. If we attempt to use impossibility of action as a cover for our lack of true desire and therefore do not do all that we can to perform the acts that have been commanded, we may deceive ourselves, but we will not deceive the Righteous Judge.
“In order to serve as a substitute for action, desire cannot be superficial, impulsive, or temporary. It must be heartfelt, through and through. To be efficacious for blessings, the desires of our hearts must be so genuine that they can be called godly.
“Second, we should not assume that the desires of our hearts can serve as a substitute for an ordinance of the gospel. Consider the words of the Lord in commanding two gospel ordinances: ‘Verily, verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.’ (John 3:5.) And in respect to the three degrees in the celestial glory, modern revelation states, ‘In order to obtain the highest, a man must enter into this order of the priesthood [meaning the new and everlasting covenant of marriage].’ (D&C 131:2.) No exception is implied in these commands or authorized elsewhere in the scriptures.
“In the justice and mercy of God, these rigid commands pertaining to essential ordinances are tempered by divine authorization to perform those ordinances by proxy for those who did not have them performed in this life. Thus, a person in the spirit world who so desires is credited with participating in the ordinance just as if he or she had done so personally. In this manner, through the loving service of living proxies, departed spirits are also rewarded for the desires of their hearts” (“The Desires of Our Hearts,” Ensign, June 1986, 67).
Doctrine and Covenants 137:10. The salvation of little children who die
Elder Shayne M. Bowen of the Seventy related an experience that illustrates the power of the truth taught in Doctrine and Covenants 137:10:
“While serving as young missionaries in Chile, my companion and I met a family of seven in the branch. The mother attended every week with her children. We assumed that they were longtime members of the Church. After several weeks we learned that they had not been baptized.
“We immediately contacted the family and asked if we could come to their home and teach them. …
“Sister Ramirez advanced rapidly through the lessons. She was anxious to learn all the doctrine that we taught. One evening as we were discussing infant baptism, we taught that little children are innocent and have no need for baptism. We invited her to read in the book of Moroni: …
“‘But little children are alive in Christ, even from the foundation of the world; if not so, God is a partial God, and also a changeable God, and a respecter to persons; for how many little children have died without baptism!’ [Moroni 8:12.]
“After reading this scripture, Sister Ramirez began sobbing. My companion and I were confused. I asked, ‘Sister Ramirez, have we said or done something that has offended you?’
“She said, ‘Oh, no, Elder, you haven’t done anything wrong. Six years ago I had a baby boy. He died before we could have him baptized. Our priest told us that because he had not been baptized, he would be in limbo for all eternity. For six years I have carried that pain and guilt. After reading this scripture, I know by the power of the Holy Ghost that it is true. I have felt a great weight taken off of me, and these are tears of joy.’ …
“After she suffered almost unbearable grief and pain for six years, the true doctrine, revealed by a loving Father in Heaven through a living prophet, brought sweet peace to this tormented woman. Needless to say, Sister Ramirez and her children who were eight years and older were baptized” (“Because I Live, Ye Shall Live Also,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2012, 15–16).
Supplemental Teaching Idea
Doctrine and Covenants 137:5–6. Video presentation—“Joseph Smith: The Prophet of the Restoration”
To help students appreciate the close relationship Joseph Smith had with his brother Alvin and the comfort he would have received from the vision the Lord gave him of Alvin in the celestial kingdom, you may want to show students a segment of the film “Joseph Smith: The Prophet of the Restoration” (see time codes 5:42 through 19:10). This video is available on Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Visual Resource DVDs.