As part of the Restoration of all things in the dispensation of the fulness of times, the Lord restored the doctrine of redemption of the dead through the Prophet Joseph Smith. This doctrine was restored “line upon line.” The work of redeeming the dead is essential to the salvation of both the living and the dead, and the Prophet Joseph Smith taught the importance of participating in this work: “The greatest responsibility in this world that God has laid upon us is to seek after our dead” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith , 475).
Richard G. Scott, “The Joy of Redeeming the Dead,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2012, 93–95.
D. Todd Christofferson, “The Redemption of the Dead and the Testimony of Jesus,” Ensign, Nov. 2000, 9–12.
“Becoming Saviors on Mount Zion,” chapter 41 in Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith , 469–78.
Matthew S. McBride, “Letters on Baptism for the Dead: D&C 127, 128,” Revelations in Context series, May 29, 2013; history.lds.org.
Share the following historical background with students:
“In November 1823, Alvin Smith, the oldest child of Lucy Mack Smith and Joseph Smith Sr., suddenly became seriously ill and lay near death. Alvin was 25 years old, a strong and capable young man whose hard work contributed greatly to the family’s financial stability. His mother described him as ‘a youth of singular goodness of disposition,’ whose ‘nobleness and generosity’ blessed those around him ‘every hour of his existence.’ …
“Knowing he was dying, Alvin called his brothers and sisters to him and spoke to each of them. To Joseph, who was almost 18 years old and had not yet received the gold plates, Alvin said, ‘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. …’
“When Alvin died, the family asked a Presbyterian minister in Palmyra, New York, to officiate at his 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’” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith , 401, 403).
Because the doctrine of redemption for the dead had not been restored at the time of Alvin’s death, what concerns might the Smith family have had about Alvin’s salvation?
Tell students that this lesson will help them understand that the Lord revealed the doctrine of redemption for the dead incrementally, line upon line. Invite students to silently read the section heading to Doctrine and Covenants 137. Explain that this revelation preceded the dedication of the Kirtland Temple by just a few months. (You might point out that in the 2013 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants, some changes were made to the heading for section 137.)
Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 137:1–6 aloud while the class follows along. Discuss the following:
Who did Joseph Smith see in the celestial kingdom? (Students may be interested to know that Joseph Smith’s father and mother were alive at the time this vision was received; in fact, Joseph’s father was in the room with him as the revelation occurred.)
According to verse 6, why did Joseph Smith marvel that his brother Alvin was in the celestial kingdom? (You may want to remind students that this vision was received several years before Joseph Smith learned about the doctrine of redemption for the dead.)
Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 137:7–9 aloud. Ask the class to follow along and look for a doctrine that helped the Latter-day Saints better understand God’s plan to save His children.
What is the provision in God’s plan for those people like Alvin Smith who died without the opportunity to receive the gospel of Jesus Christ or the ordinance of baptism? (As students share their ideas, help them identify the following doctrine: All people who die without a knowledge of the gospel, who would have received this knowledge if they had heard it, will inherit the celestial kingdom.)
What does this doctrine teach you about Heavenly Father’s character and His love for His children?
When have you been comforted by this doctrine? When have you seen others, perhaps those you taught as a missionary, receive comfort from their understanding of this doctrine?
The Prophet Joseph Smith first spoke about the doctrine of baptism for the dead at the funeral of Seymour Brunson on August 15, 1840, soon after the Saints had established themselves in Nauvoo, Illinois. Church members were surprised and excited when they learned of this revealed doctrine. For several months after the announcement, Saints performed baptisms in the nearby Mississippi River on behalf of their deceased loved ones (see Teachings: Joseph Smith, 403; Church History in the Fulness of Times Student Manual, 2nd ed. [Church Educational System manual, 2003], 251).
How did this sermon add to the growing understanding of Heavenly Father’s plan to save His children? (As students respond, write the following truth on the board: The saving ordinance of baptism can be performed for those who did not accept the gospel while in mortality.)
How do you think you would have responded if you had heard the Prophet Joseph Smith speak about the doctrine of baptism for the dead for the first time in this dispensation?
Explain that during the October 1841 general conference of the Church in Nauvoo, Illinois, the Prophet Joseph Smith declared that the Lord wanted the Saints to stop performing baptisms for the dead until the baptisms could be performed in His house (see D&C 124:29–34). On November 8, 1841, Brigham Young, then President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, dedicated the font in the basement of the unfinished Nauvoo Temple, and Church members began performing vicarious baptisms on behalf of the dead.
Ask students to read the section heading for Doctrine and Covenants 127, which explains that section 127 is a letter from the Prophet Joseph Smith to the Saints, instructing them to keep records of the baptisms they performed for the dead. Explain that about a week later, Joseph wrote another letter on the subject of baptism for the dead, which is found in Doctrine and Covenants 128.
Write the following scripture references on the board. (Do not include the material in parentheses; it is provided for you, the teacher.)
Assign students to read each of the passages written on the board. Ask them to look for the doctrines that have added to our understanding of God’s plan for the redemption of the dead. Invite students to summarize the doctrine about redemption for the dead that is taught in each scripture passage. Ask a few students to write the doctrines on the board next to the passages. Point out that the revelations recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 127 and 128 illustrate a common pattern found in the Restoration of the gospel—the Lord reveals truths line upon line, rather than all at once.
Explain to students that many years after these revelations were received, the Lord provided further understanding of His plan to redeem the dead. In 1918, President Joseph F. Smith received a vision about the redemption of the dead. The vision came when he was mourning the loss of his son Hyrum M. Smith, who had died earlier that year while serving as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
Invite students to read Doctrine and Covenants 138:28–37, looking for truths that were revealed to President Joseph F. Smith concerning the redemption of the dead.
What truths about redemption for the dead are taught in these verses? (As students share the truths they have found, make sure they understand this truth: Under the direction of Jesus Christ, righteous messengers teach the gospel to those in spirit prison.)
How do these additional truths help us understand how someone who has died without receiving the ordinances of the gospel, such as Alvin Smith, can receive an inheritance in the celestial kingdom?
Read aloud the following statement by Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles:
“As members of Christ’s restored Church, we have the covenant responsibility to search out our ancestors and provide for them the saving ordinances of the gospel. ‘They without us should not be made perfect’ (Hebrews 11:40; see also Teachings: Joseph Smith, 475). And ‘neither can we without our dead be made perfect’ (D&C 128:15)” (“The Hearts of the Children Shall Turn,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2011, 25).
Why should the work of redeeming the dead be a priority in our lives?
How does providing saving ordinances for our kindred dead help both them and us to become perfect?
Read aloud the following statement by Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles:
“While temple and family history work has the power to bless those beyond the veil, it has an equal power to bless the living. It has a refining influence on those who are engaged in it. They are literally helping to exalt their families” (“Generations Linked in Love,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2010, 93).
How does the doctrine of redemption of the dead testify of the infinite reach of the Atonement of Jesus Christ?
Read aloud the following statement by Elder Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles:
“The Lord revealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith sublime doctrine concerning the sacred ordinance of baptism. That light came when other Christian churches taught that death irrevocably, eternally, determined the destiny of the soul. They taught the baptized were rewarded with endless joy while all others faced eternal torment without hope of redemption. …
“This glorious doctrine is another witness of the all-encompassing nature of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. He made salvation available to every repentant soul. His Atonement conquered death, and He permits the worthy deceased to receive all ordinances of salvation vicariously” (“The Joy of Redeeming the Dead,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2012, 93).
What experiences have taught you the importance of participating in the work of redeeming the dead?
How has your testimony increased because you have participated in the work of redeeming the dead? (Invite a few students to share their testimonies.)
Encourage students to consider how they might participate in the great work of redeeming the dead, whether through family history research or through serving as proxies in performing temple ordinances. Share your testimony that through the work done in modern temples, all of Heavenly Father’s children may receive all of the ordinances necessary for salvation.