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.
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.
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.