This lesson can help students understand how the spirits in the spirit world are taught the gospel. It can also help students understand how they can be a part of the great work of salvation for the dead.
Before teaching this lesson on Doctrine and Covenants 138, you may want to ask students if they have questions about anything they studied during the week. For example, they might have questions about the Mountain Meadows Massacre or Official Declaration 1.
Tell students that people throughout the world hold different beliefs about what happens to us after we die. Ask if students have ever met someone with different beliefs concerning what happens to us after we die. Invite a few students to share their experiences. (Be cautious not to speak negatively about or belittle other religious beliefs.)
How can we know which beliefs about life after death are accurate? (You may want to explain that even some Latter-day Saints may have inaccurate beliefs about life after death.)
To add to students’ responses, ask a student to read aloud the following statement by Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles:
“The scriptures are the touchstone [standard] for measuring correctness and truth” (“The Blessing of Scripture,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2010, 34).
Affirm that we can know the accuracy of various beliefs concerning life after death by comparing those beliefs with the truths the Lord has revealed in the scriptures, such as in Doctrine and Covenants 138.
Draw the accompanying diagram on the board. You may want to briefly explain that in some ways, the entire spirit world may be considered spirit prison because even the righteous look upon the separation from their bodies as a bondage (see D&C 138:49–50).
To help students briefly review truths they studied in section 138, assign half of the class to search Doctrine and Covenants 138:12–15, 22 for details concerning who will go to spirit paradise at death and the conditions they will experience there. Assign the other half of the class to search Doctrine and Covenants 138:20–22 for details concerning who will go to spirit prison at death and the conditions they will experience. Ask students to report what they find.
Point out that not only do the wicked and rebellious go to spirit prison at the time of their death, but also those who die in their sins without a knowledge of the gospel (see D&C 138:32). Remind students that while President Joseph F. Smith was pondering passages in 1 Peter, the Lord revealed to him how the people in spirit prison will have the opportunity to receive the blessings of the gospel.
Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 138:29–32 aloud, and ask the class to look for how the gospel is taught in the spirit world. Ask students to report what they find. They should identify something similar to the following truth: Under the direction of Jesus Christ, righteous messengers teach the gospel to those in spirit prison.
On the diagram on the board, draw an arrow from spirit paradise to spirit prison to represent the Lord’s righteous messengers preaching the gospel in spirit prison.
Summarize Doctrine and Covenants 138:33–37 by explaining that all of Heavenly Father’s children will have the opportunity to accept the principles and ordinances of the gospel of Jesus Christ, whether on earth or in the spirit world.
To help students understand how everyone will hear the gospel, explain that even though the Savior visited the spirit world for just a short time after His death, He organized the righteous spirits to preach the gospel to those in spirit prison. This effort continues today. When people who have not heard or accepted the gospel in our day die, they will also have an opportunity to hear and accept the gospel in the spirit world.
Remind students that in Doctrine and Covenants 138:38–49, President Joseph F. Smith listed the names of many of the “great and mighty” spirits he saw in the spirit world who were waiting for the Savior to appear to them after His death on the cross. Some of the spirits whom the Savior visited were Old Testament and Book of Mormon prophets. Beginning in verse 53, we read that President Smith also saw choice spirits who would come forth in the last dispensation, including the Prophet Joseph Smith (his uncle) and Hyrum Smith (his father).
Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 138:53–56 aloud. Ask the class to follow along and look for how these individuals contributed while they were on the earth to the salvation of those in spirit prison.
How have latter-day Church leaders helped the spirits in prison?
After students discover that latter-day prophets help in the redemption of the dead by building temples and administering temple ordinances for the dead, place or draw a picture of a temple next to the diagram on the board.
Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 138:58–59 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for what the dead must do to be redeemed. Ask students to report what they find.
What will happen to those who repent in the spirit world? (Students may use different words, but they should identify the following doctrine: Spirits who repent will be redeemed through obedience to the ordinances of the temple, be cleansed through the Atonement, and receive their reward.)
How can we assist in the work of salvation for the dead while we are on the earth? (By completing family history work and participating in temple ordinances for the dead.)
Point to the picture of the temple on the board. Testify that when we go to the temple to perform ordinances for those who are deceased, we help them—if they choose to accept the ordinances—to be redeemed from spirit prison and join the righteous spirits in paradise.
On the diagram on the board, draw an arrow from spirit prison to spirit paradise to represent the redemption of repentant spirits from spirit prison.
How can this knowledge influence your experiences with temple and family history work?
How have you been blessed by participating in family history and temple work? (You might also share an experience of your own.)
Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 138:60 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for President Joseph F. Smith’s testimony of the truths he recorded.
Encourage students to schedule time to do some family history or temple work in the next few weeks.
Conclude by sharing your testimony of the Lord Jesus Christ and the blessings of the Atonement available to the living and the dead.
Ask students how they know the Lord is guiding His Church today. Why is it important to have a living prophet? Why are families important? Invite students to look for answers to these questions as they study the lessons in the coming week.