Doctrine and Covenants 138

Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Seminary Teacher Resource Manual, (2001), 257–59


Section 138 is President Joseph F. Smith’s account of a vision he received in 1918. This account teaches us much about the spirit world and the redemption of the dead and helps us understand the importance of family history and temple work. President Smith taught:

“The work for our dead, which the Prophet Joseph laid upon us with more than ordinary injunction, instructing us that we should look after those of our kinsfolk, and our ancestors who have died without the knowledge of the gospel, should not be neglected. We should avail ourselves of those sacred and potent ordinances of the gospel which have been revealed as essential to the happiness, salvation and redemption of those who have lived in this world when they could not learn the gospel and have died without the knowledge of it, and are now waiting for us, their children, who are living in an age when these ordinances can be performed, to do the work necessary for their release from the prison-house. Through our efforts in their behalf their chains of bondage will fall from them, and the darkness surrounding them will clear away, that light may shine upon them and they shall hear in the spirit world of the work that has been done for them by their children here, and will rejoice with you in your performance of these duties” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1916, 6).

Some Important Gospel Principles to Look For

Additional Resources

  • Church History in the Fulness of Times: Religion 341–43, pp. 493–94.

  • Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual: Religion 324–325, pp. 356–61.

Suggestions for Teaching

Doctrine and Covenants 138. The Savior provided a way for people who did not have the chance to hear the gospel during mortality to be saved. During the three days His body lay in the tomb, He organized righteous spirits to teach the gospel to those in darkness.

(45–50 minutes)

Write on the board the word ordinances. Have students tell what an ordinance is (a sacred rite or ceremony). Invite them to name several ordinances, and list their answers on the board. Ask: Which of these ordinances are necessary for salvation? Invite students to name any of their relatives who died without hearing the gospel or receiving the ordinances necessary for salvation. Invite them to share any thoughts they have about whether those relatives will be saved in the kingdom of God. Give students the following true-false test:

  1. 1.

    All spirits of the dead, both righteous and wicked, live in a state of happiness. (False; see Alma 40:11–14; D&C 138:15.)

  2. 2.

    Christ commenced the work for the dead in the spirit world. (True; see D&C 138:29–30.)

  3. 3.

    Before the Resurrection of Christ, no one was resurrected. (True; see 1 Corinthians 15:22–23; Mosiah 15:20–21; D&C 138:15–17.)

  4. 4.

    Between His death and Resurrection, Jesus visited all the people in the spirit world. (False; see D&C 138:20, 29–30, 37.)

  5. 5.

    People who die without hearing the gospel but who accept it in the spirit world are saved immediately. (False; see D&C 138:33–34, 54, 58–59.)

  6. 6.

    Those who were not taught the gospel in this life will have a chance to repent of their sins in the spirit world. (True; see D&C 138:32–33, 57–58.)

  7. 7.

    Temple ordinances are done for people who did not receive them in mortality. (True; see D&C 138:33, 54, 58.)

Correct the quiz by reading the scriptures listed after each question and discussing students’ answers. (Note: Do not allow the discussion to deviate from the scriptures or words of the modern prophets. Avoid speculation on subjects that have not been revealed by the Lord.)

Doctrine and Covenants 138. Jesus Christ is the Redeemer of the living and the dead.

(25–30 minutes)

Show students a picture of the Beehive House (a larger version is included in the appendix, p. 317). Explain that Brigham Young built this house, and that Lorenzo Snow and Joseph F. Smith each lived here while President of the Church. President Smith, during the last six months of his life, spent much of his time in his personal study in the Beehive House, and it was here that he received the vision recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 138. Invite students to read Doctrine and Covenants 138:1–11, 60, and ask:

The Beehive House
  • What did President Smith do to prepare for this revelation? (Pondered, reflected, read scripture.)

  • Read 1 Nephi 11:1; Doctrine and Covenants 76:15–19. How do these verses compare to what President Smith did?

  • What does that teach us about receiving direction from the Lord?

  • What did President Smith call this vision in verse 60?

  • What do you think redemption means? (“The act of buying back or freeing from bondage.”)

Divide the class into three groups. Assign each group one of the following sets of people, and have them read the accompanying verses to find how Christ redeems them. Have the students mark the words redemption, Redeemer, and redeemed each time they appear in their verses.

Invite several students to share their findings. Read 2 Nephi 2:6–9; Helaman 14:16–17 and bear your testimony of the Lord’s power to redeem.

Doctrine and Covenants 138:14–18, 49–50. A resurrected body is necessary to progress and receive a fulness of joy. Those who have died consider being without a body a kind of bondage.

(15–20 minutes)

Invite a student to read the following statements. The First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve wrote:

“In the premortal realm, spirit sons and daughters knew and worshiped God as their Eternal Father and accepted His plan by which His children could obtain a physical body and gain earthly experience to progress toward perfection and ultimately realize his or her divine destiny as an heir of eternal life” (“The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” Ensign, Nov. 1995, 102).

Elder Russell M. Nelson, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, said:

“Life does not begin with birth, nor does it end with death. Prior to our birth, we dwelled as spirit children with our Father in Heaven. There we eagerly anticipated the possibility of coming to earth and obtaining a physical body. Knowingly we wanted the risks of mortality, which would allow the exercise of agency and accountability” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1992, 102; or Ensign, May 1992, 72).

Discuss the following questions:

  • If one of the purposes of life is to live eternally with Heavenly Father, why were we so anxious to leave the premortal life and come to earth?

  • Why is having a mortal body a blessing?

Have students search Doctrine and Covenants 45:17; 138:14–18, 49–50 and list reasons death might be looked upon as a bondage. Study 1 Corinthians 15:22–23; 2 Nephi 9:8–10; Doctrine and Covenants 88:15; 93:33–34 and look for what is taught about resurrection.

Doctrine and Covenants 138:18–57. Elders and many sisters who serve the Lord faithfully in this life will be missionaries in the spirit world when they die.

(20–25 minutes)

Ask students if they have ever been to a funeral of a faithful Latter-day Saint. Discuss these questions:

  • What might you say to the family of a person who has died?

  • Why can death be so sad?

  • In what ways can death be considered a blessing?

  • What do you think happens to missionaries who die while serving?

  • What do you think missionary work is like in the spirit world?

Have one group of students compare what is taught in the spirit world (see D&C 138:19, 33–35, 51–52) with what is taught in the Church in this life (see Matthew 28:18–20; 3 Nephi 27:13–21).

Have a second group compare how the gospel is preached in the spirit world (see D&C 138:18–21, 30–32, 37, 57) to how it is preached on earth (see Luke 9:1–2; Alma 12:28–34; D&C 42:5–8; 61:33–36).

Invite both groups to share what they found.