This lesson is the second of two on the revelation recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 138. As President Joseph F. Smith pondered some passages in the New Testament, he saw a vision of the spirit world and of the righteous spirits awaiting deliverance from the bands of death. President Smith also saw that Jesus Christ, between the time of His death and the time of His Resurrection, organized and authorized righteous servants to teach the gospel to the spirits in spirit prison.
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 point out 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 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 learned in the previous lesson on 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 138:7–10 aloud. Ask the class to follow along and look for what Peter said the Savior did after He was “put to death in the flesh.”
What did Peter say the Savior did when He went to the spirit world?
Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 138:25–28 aloud. Ask the class to follow along and identify what President Smith wondered as he reflected on the Lord’s work in the spirit world.
What was President Smith’s question? (After students respond, you may want to write the following question on the board: How was it possible for the Lord to preach the gospel to all of the people in spirit prison in only three days?)
Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 138:29–32 aloud, and ask the class to look for the answer President Smith received as he pondered.
How did the Savior preach the gospel to those in spirit prison in such a short amount of time?
Ask students to use what they learned in verses 29–32 to state a truth about how the gospel is taught in the spirit world. 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. You may want to invite students to mark the phrases in verse 30 that teach this truth.
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.
Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 138:33–34 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for what the Lord’s righteous messengers taught the spirits in prison. Ask students to report what they find.
How do these teachings compare with what people are taught as they prepare for baptism in mortality?
What is “vicarious baptism”?
According to verse 34, why do these principles of the gospel need to be preached to those in spirit prison? (You may need to explain that being “judged according to men in the flesh” means that all of God’s children, living or dead, need to have the opportunity to learn about and accept the gospel so they can be judged by the same standard.)
Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 138:35–37 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for how many spirits will have an opportunity to accept the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Why do you think it is important to know that all of Heavenly Father’s children will have the opportunity to hear and accept the gospel of Jesus Christ?
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.
Ask students to think of their righteous family members or ancestors who have died.
Have you ever wondered what they are doing 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 latter days, 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.
According to verses 55–56, when did these leaders begin preparing for the work they would do here on the earth?
Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 138:57 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for what faithful elders will continue to do after they die.
What will faithful elders continue to do after they die?
To clarify that the work in the spirit world is not limited to those who hold the Melchizedek Priesthood, invite a student to read aloud the following statement by President Joseph F. Smith. Ask the class to listen for what faithful women do in the spirit world:
“These good sisters who have been set apart, ordained to the work, … will be fully authorized and empowered to preach the gospel and minister to the women while the elders and prophets are preaching it to the men” (Gospel Doctrine, 5th ed. , 461).
You may want to invite students to mark the phrases in verse 57 that teach the following truth: After departing mortal life, faithful Saints will continue their labors in preaching the gospel.
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 here on the earth? (By completing family history work and participating in temple ordinances for the dead.)
As part of this discussion, you may want to invite a student to read aloud the following statement by Elder Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles:
“Any work you do in the temple is time well spent, but receiving ordinances vicariously for one of your own ancestors will make the time in the temple more sacred, and even greater blessings will be received” (“The Joy of Redeeming the Dead,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2012, 93–94).
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 in doing 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.