Lesson 154: Doctrine and Covenants 138:1–24, 38–50

Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Seminary Teacher Manual, 2013


On October 3, 1918, in the Beehive House in Salt Lake City (the home where President Brigham Young had lived when he was President of the Church), President Joseph F. Smith received the vision recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 138. In this vision President Smith saw the Savior, between the time of His death and the time of His Resurrection, minister to righteous spirits in paradise who had been awaiting deliverance from the bands of death. This is the first of two lessons that discuss Doctrine and Covenants 138.

Suggestions for Teaching

Doctrine and Covenants 138:1–11

President Joseph F. Smith ponders the scriptures and the Atonement of Jesus Christ

Ask students to reflect on the plan of salvation and what happens to the spirit and body at death.

  • What happens to our spirits and bodies when we die? Where do our spirits go?

  • What do you imagine the spirit world is like?

Explain that President Joseph F. Smith, the sixth president of the Church, received a revelation about the spirit world. Invite a student to read the introduction to Doctrine and Covenants 138 aloud. Ask the class to follow along and look for what President Smith experienced in the months before the October 1918 general conference. Ask them to report what they find.

Tell students that in those months President Joseph F. Smith was mourning the loss of his son Hyrum Mack Smith, who had served as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Elder Smith had died earlier that year from a ruptured appendix at the age of 45.

Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 138:1–4 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for the doctrine President Joseph F. Smith was pondering on October 3, 1918, as he was alone in the quiet of his room.

  • What doctrine was President Smith pondering? (After students respond, write the following doctrine on the board: Through the Atonement of Jesus Christ and by obedience to the principles of the gospel, all mankind may be saved.)

Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 138:5 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for what President Smith experienced as he pondered the Atonement.

  • What came to President Smith’s mind as he pondered the Atonement of Jesus Christ?

Ask students if they have ever had a scripture passage come to mind as they have pondered an aspect of the gospel. Invite them to share their experiences.

Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 138:6–10 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for the teachings that impressed President Smith. Ask them to report what they find. Then explain that President Smith received a vision that helps us understand Peter’s teachings about the spirit world.

Invite students to read Doctrine and Covenants 138:11 silently, looking for what President Smith saw as he pondered the scriptures. Ask students to report what they find.

Explain that before students learn about President Smith’s vision of the spirit world, they should notice the process of revelation he described: As he was pondering the scriptures, he reflected on the doctrine of the Atonement and the love Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ have for all mankind. These thoughts brought to his mind the words of Peter. Then, as he pondered Peter’s words, “the eyes of [his] understanding were opened,” the Holy Ghost rested on him, and he saw the spirit world.

  • What can we learn from President Joseph F. Smith about preparing to receive revelation? (Students may use other words, but they should identify the following principle: As we read and ponder the scriptures, we prepare ourselves to receive revelation. You might suggest that students write this principle in their scriptures near verse 11.)

  • How does reading and pondering the scriptures help invite revelation?

Invite a student to read the following statement by Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. (If possible, provide students with copies of the statement and ask them to follow along.) Ask students to listen for Elder Christofferson’s description of how we should study the scriptures:

Elder D. Todd Christofferson

“When I say ‘study,’ I mean something more than reading. … I see you sometimes reading a few verses, stopping to ponder them, carefully reading the verses again, and as you think about what they mean, praying for understanding, asking questions in your mind, waiting for spiritual impressions, and writing down the impressions and insights that come so you can remember and learn more” (“When Thou Art Converted,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2004, 11).

  • When have you followed this pattern in your scripture study? How did it change your experience?

Invite students to set a goal to read and ponder the scriptures the way Elder Christofferson described.

Doctrine and Covenants 138:12–24, 38–50

Joseph F. Smith sees the righteous dead awaiting their resurrection

Divide students into pairs. Ask them to discuss the following question with their partners:

  • What future event are you looking forward to the most? Why are you excited for it?

After sufficient time, invite a few students to report their answers to the class. Explain that when President Joseph F. Smith saw the spirit world in vision, he saw a large gathering of spirits.

Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 138:12–13 aloud. Ask the class to look for a description of the spirits who were gathered.

  • How did President Smith describe the spirits he saw?

Invite students to read Doctrine and Covenants 138:38–49 silently, looking for the names of some of the spirits who were there. (You may want to suggest that students mark these names in their scriptures.) Ask students to report some of the names they find.

  • According to verse 49, what were these spirits waiting for? (Deliverance.)

Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 138:14–16, 50 aloud. Ask the class to follow along and look for why these righteous spirits were filled with joy and gladness.

  • Why were these righteous spirits filled with joy and gladness? (“Because the day of their deliverance was at hand” [verse 15]. In other words, they knew they would soon be resurrected because of the Atonement of Jesus Christ.)

  • Why do you think the reunion of their spirits and bodies would be a deliverance for these righteous spirits?

Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 138:17 aloud, and ask the class to look for the blessings that righteous souls receive after their spirits and bodies reunite. You may want to invite students to mark what they find.

  • What can we receive when we are resurrected? (A fulness of joy.)

  • What can we learn from Doctrine and Covenants 138:14–17, 50 about deliverance from physical death? (Students may identify a variety of doctrines and principles, but be sure they understand the following two doctrines: Through the grace of God the Father and Jesus Christ, we will be delivered from the bands of death, and we can receive a fulness of joy through resurrection. You may want to write these doctrines on the board.)

Invite a student to read aloud the following statement by Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, who commented on the need for and blessings of having a physical body. Ask the class to listen for reasons why having a physical body is essential to Heavenly Father’s plan for us to receive a fulness of joy.

Elder David A. Bednar

“Our physical bodies make possible a breadth, a depth, and an intensity of experience that simply could not be obtained in our premortal existence. Thus, our relationships with other people, our capacity to recognize and act in accordance with truth, and our ability to obey the principles and ordinances of the gospel of Jesus Christ are amplified through our physical bodies. …

“The Father’s plan is designed to provide direction for His children, to help them become happy, and to bring them safely home to Him with resurrected, exalted bodies” (“We Believe in Being Chaste,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2013, 41, 43).

  • Why do we need a physical body to receive a fulness of joy?

To add to students’ answers, you may want to explain that a fulness of joy is the kind of joy Heavenly Father experiences. Heavenly Father has a physical body of flesh and bones (see D&C 130:22). When our spirits and bodies are separated, we are unlike Him and cannot receive a fulness of joy (see D&C 93:33–34). When are our spirits and bodies are inseparably connected—when we are resurrected—we can eventually become like our Heavenly Father and have a fulness of joy.

Explain that the righteous in the spirit world were waiting for the “advent,” or arrival, of the Son of God to free them and restore them to their “perfect frame” (D&C 138:16–17). Invite students to visualize what was happening on the earth while these righteous spirits were assembled. Jesus Christ was atoning for all of Heavenly Father’s children through His suffering in Gethsemane and on the cross. Some of the righteous spirits in the spirit world had waited thousands of years for their deliverance. The sacrifice Jesus Christ was making would include redemption from their sins as well as salvation from physical death.

Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 138:18–19 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, imagining what the event described in these verses might have been like.

  • What do you think the appearance of Jesus Christ in the spirit world might have been like for those He visited?

  • What did the Savior teach these spirits?

  • How might you have responded to the Savior, who had just performed the Atonement for you, if you had been there to hear Him preach in the spirit world? (You may want to ask students to ponder this question silently rather than answer it aloud.)

Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 138:23–24 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for how the righteous spirits responded to the Savior’s visit. Ask students to report what they find.

Point to the first doctrine you wrote on the board: Through the Atonement of Jesus Christ and by obedience to the principles of the gospel, all mankind may be saved. Explain that as students continue to study Doctrine and Covenants 138 they will learn how Heavenly Father has provided a way for all of His children to benefit from the Savior’s Atonement.

Commentary and Background Information

Doctrine and Covenants 138. President Joseph F. Smith’s personal context

Between 1869 and 1918, President Joseph F. Smith experienced the heartache and sorrow associated with the death of family members. He buried thirteen children, nine of whom died in childhood, and one wife. President Smith wrote the following in a letter to his wife Edna when his firstborn child, Mercy Josephine, died when she was not quite three years old.

President Joseph F. Smith

“I scarcely dare to trust myself to write, even now my heart aches, and my mind is all chaos; if I should murmur, may God forgive me, my soul has been and is tried with poignant grief, my heart is bruised and wrenched almost asunder. I am desolate, my home seems desolate and almost dreary, yet here are my family and my little babe; yet I cannot help but feel that the tenderest, sweetest and yet the strongest cord that bound me to home and earth is severed, my babe, my own sweet Dodo is gone! I can scarcely believe it and my heart asks, can it be? I look in vain, I listen, no sound, I wander through the rooms, all are vacant, lonely, desolate, deserted. I look down the garden walk, peer around the house, look here and there for a glimpse of a little golden, sunny head and rosy cheeks, but no, alas, no pattering little footsteps. No beaming little black eyes sparkling with love for papa; no sweet little enquiring voice asking a thousand questions, and telling pretty little things, prattling merrily, no soft little dimpled hands clasping me around the neck, no sweet rosy lips returning in childish innocence my fond embrace and kisses, but a vacant little chair. Her little toys concealed, her clothes put by, and only the one desolate thought forcing its crushing leaden weight upon my heart—she is not here, she is gone! But will she not come back? She cannot leave me long, where is she? I am almost wild, and O God only knows how much I loved my girl, and she the light and the joy of my heart.

“The morning before she died, after being up with her all night, for I watched her every night, I said to her, ‘My little pet did not sleep all night.’ She shook her head and replied, ‘I’ll sleep today, papa.’ Oh! how those little words shot through my heart. I knew though I would not believe, it was another voice, that it meant the sleep of death and she did sleep. And, Oh! the light of my heart went out. The image of heaven graven in my soul was almost departed” (in Joseph Fielding Smith, Life of Joseph F. Smith [1938], 455–56).

Supplemental Teaching Idea

video iconDoctrine and Covenants 138:11–24. Video presentation—“To This End Was I Born”

To help students understand and feel the significance of the Savior’s visit to the spirit world, consider showing a portion of the video “To This End Was I Born” (time code 19:24 to 24:25). This video is available on New Testament DVD Presentations 1–25 and on LDS.org.

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