Jesus Christ opened the doors for the preaching of the gospel in the spirit world (see 1 Peter 3:18–20; D&C 138:16–19). While the gospel may be accepted by spirits in the spirit world, the ordinances of salvation must be performed for them here on earth. Latter-day prophets have revealed that many in the spirit world are anxious for those ordinances to be performed in their behalf. As you study the material in this chapter and renew your efforts to help in the work of salvation for the dead, contemplate the blessings and joy that accompany the work of bringing others to Christ (see D&C 18:15–16).
Through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, All of God’s Children May Be Saved by Obedience to the Laws and Ordinances of the Gospel [9.1]
Scriptures to Study and Ponder
The Atonement of Jesus Christ is central to the plan of salvation. [9.1.1]
Our Heavenly Father’s plan for the redemption of His children is known by various titles in the scriptures, such as “the plan of salvation” (Moses 6:62), “the great plan of happiness” (Alma 42:8), and “the plan of redemption” (Alma 39:18). The Creation and the Fall are both essential parts of our Heavenly Father’s plan, but the focal point is the Atonement of Jesus Christ.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained: “The central fact, the crucial foundation, the chief doctrine, and the greatest expression of divine love in the eternal plan of salvation—truly a ‘plan of happiness,’ as Alma called it [Alma 42:8]—is the atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ. Much goes before it and much comes after, but without that pivotal act, that moment of triumph whereby we are made free from the spiritual bondage of sin and the physical chains of the grave, both of which are undeniable deaths, there would be no meaning to the plan of life, and certainly no ultimate happiness in it or after it” (Christ and the New Covenant: The Messianic Message of the Book of Mormon , 197).
Elder Bruce R. McConkie (1915–85) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles also taught about the importance of the Atonement to the plan:
“We say, with justifiable pride and complete verity, that we have the everlasting gospel, God’s eternal plan of salvation, the plan devised by the great Elohim to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of all his spirit children, those on this little dot of a planet and those on all the infinite worlds that his hands have made. (Moses 1:29–39.) …
“… The Only Begotten came to ransom fallen man and atone for the sins of the world—all to the end ‘that as many as would believe and be baptized in his holy name, and endure in faith to the end, should be saved’ [D&C 20:25]. The plan of salvation, designed by the Father, was thus made operative through the atonement of his Son” (The Promised Messiah: The First Coming of Christ , 284, 287–88).
“Strait is the gate … which leadeth unto life.” [9.1.2]
Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles testified that Jesus, as our Redeemer, has the authority to set the conditions for salvation and there are no exceptions to His conditions:
“Jesus confirmed that ‘strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life’ [Matthew 7:14]. Specifically, He said, ‘Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God’ [John 3:5]. This means we must ‘repent, and be baptized every one … in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and … receive the gift of the Holy Ghost’ [Acts 2:38]. …
“There are no exceptions granted; none are needed. As many as will believe and be baptized—including by proxy—and endure in faith shall be saved, ‘not only those who believed after [Christ] came in the meridian of time, in the flesh, but all those from the beginning, even as many as were before he came’ [D&C 20:26]. It is for this reason that the gospel is preached ‘also to them that are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit’ [1 Peter 4:6]” (in Conference Report, Oct. 2000, 10; or Ensign, Nov. 2000, 11).
The requirements of salvation are the same for all. [9.1.3]
One result of God being “no respecter of persons” (Acts 10:34; see also Romans 2:11; D&C 1:35) is that the terms and conditions of salvation are the same for all of God’s children, no matter when they lived. Elder David B. Haight (1906–2004) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles spoke of the consistency of the plan of salvation and listed some of the conditions on which it is administered:
“We believe that Christ came into the world to ransom mankind from the temporal and spiritual death brought into the world by the fall of Adam, that through the shedding of His innocent blood all mankind are raised in immortality and that those who believe and obey His laws are raised unto eternal life.
“Salvation is administered on the same terms and conditions in all ages. Men must have faith in him, repent of their sins, be baptized in his name, receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, and remain steadfast to gain life eternal.
“The Lord God has sent his holy prophets among all men in all ages to declare these things, even as he does today (see Mosiah 3:13)” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1988, 24–25; or Ensign, May 1988, 22).
The ordinances of the gospel are vital for salvation. [9.1.4]
The requirements for salvation include receiving the necessary ordinances. President Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles encouraged us to qualify for all of the ordinances available to us at this point in our lives and then to seek to make them available to members of our family—both living and deceased:
“To explain something of the significance of the ordinances, I begin with the third article of faith: ‘We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.’ …
“Each Latter-day Saint needs to ask himself or herself the questions: Is my life in order? Do I have all of the ordinances of the gospel that I should possess by this time in my life? Are they valid?
“If you can answer these questions affirmatively, and if the ordinances come under the influence of the sealing power and authority, they will remain intact eternally. In that case your life, to this point, is in proper order. You then would do well to think of your family, living and dead, with the same questions in mind” (“Come to the Temple,” Ensign, Oct. 2007, 20).
Between the Death and Resurrection of the Physical Body, the Spirit Lives in the Spirit World and Has the Opportunity to Continue to Progress toward Perfection [9.2]
Our spirit continues to live. [9.2.1]
Death is an important part of the plan of salvation, a necessary step in returning home to our Heavenly Father. “When the physical body dies, the spirit continues to live. In the spirit world, the spirits of the righteous ‘are received into a state of happiness, which is called paradise, a state of rest, a state of peace, where they shall rest from all their troubles and from all care, and sorrow’ (Alma 40:12). A place called spirit prison is reserved for ‘those who [have] died in their sins, without a knowledge of the truth, or in transgression, having rejected the prophets’ (D&C 138:32)” (True to the Faith: A Gospel Reference , 46).
The spirit world is close to this world. [9.2.2]
President Ezra Taft Benson (1899–1994) used the words of Brigham Young to help teach regarding the relationship between the spirit world and this world:
“The spirit world is not far away. From the Lord’s point of view, it is all one great program on both sides of the veil. Sometimes the veil between this life and the life beyond becomes very thin. This I know! Our loved ones who have passed on are not far from us.
“One Church President asked, ‘Where is the spirit world?’ and then answered his own question: ‘It is right here. … Do [spirits] go beyond the boundaries of this organized earth? No, they do not. They are brought forth upon this earth, for the express purpose of inhabiting it to all eternity.’ He also said, ‘… If the Lord would permit it, and it was His will that it should be done, you could see the spirits that have departed from this world, as plainly as you now see bodies with your natural eyes.’ (Brigham Young, in Journal of Discourses, 3:369, 368.)” (“Because I Live, Ye Shall Live Also,” Ensign, Apr. 1993, 4).
The spirit resembles the body. [9.2.3]
When Jesus Christ appeared to the brother of Jared, He appeared in His premortal spirit body. He said to the brother of Jared at that time:
“Seest thou that ye are created after mine own image? Yea, even all men were created in the beginning after mine own image.
“Behold, this body, which ye now behold, is the body of my spirit; and man have I created after the body of my spirit; and even as I appear unto thee to be in the spirit will I appear unto my people in the flesh” (Ether 3:15–16).
Elder Mark E. Petersen (1900–1984) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained that the physical body and our spirit are similar in appearance: “Every one of us is a spirit, and our spirit occupies a body of flesh and bone. The spirit is the real person. Our spirit resembles our body, or rather our body was ‘tailored’ to fit our spirit. The spirit bears the image and likeness of God, and the body, if normal, is in the image and likeness of the spirit” (The Way of the Master , 124; see also 1 Nephi 11:11).
KingDoms of Glory
Our attitudes and inclinations do not change. [9.2.4]
Teaching about the importance of repentance during mortality, the Book of Mormon missionary Amulek taught, “That same spirit which doth possess your bodies at the time that ye go out of this life … will have power to possess your body in that eternal world” (Alma 34:34). Elder Bruce R. McConkie (1915–85) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles further explained: “Life and work and activity all continue in the spirit world. Men have the same talents and intelligence there which they had in this life. They possess the same attitudes, inclinations, and feelings there which they had in this life. They believe the same things, as far as eternal truths are concerned; they continue, in effect, to walk in the same path they were following in this life” (Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed. , 762).
Progress toward exaltation takes time. [9.2.5]
One purpose of our mortal existence is that we might progress to become like our Father in Heaven. Though we enter the spirit world with the same tendencies we exhibited in mortality, opportunities for growth and progress are available in the spirit world. The Prophet Joseph Smith (1805–44) explained the incremental nature of our growth after we die: “When you climb up a ladder, you must begin at the bottom, and ascend step by step, until you arrive at the top; and so it is with the principles of the gospel—you must begin with the first, and go on until you learn all the principles of exaltation. But it will be a great while after you have passed through the veil before you will have learned them. It is not all to be comprehended in this world; it will be a great work to learn our salvation and exaltation even beyond the grave” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith , 268).
Trials and testing continue. [9.2.6]
Elder Neal A. Maxwell (1926–2004) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught that our time of probation and testing continues after death:
“Sometimes in the Church we speak imprecisely … as if individuals who die go immediately to the celestial kingdom and are at once in the full presence of God. We tend to overlook the reality that the spirit world and paradise are part, really, of the second estate. The work of the Lord, so far as the second estate is concerned, is completed before the Judgment and the Resurrection. …
“The veil of forgetfulness of the first estate apparently will not be suddenly, automatically, and totally removed at the time of our temporal death. This veil, a condition of our entire second estate, is associated with and is part of our time of mortal trial, testing, proving, and overcoming by faith—and thus will continue in some key respects into the spirit world. …
“Thus, if not on this side of the veil, then in the spirit world to come, the gospel will be preached to all, including all transgressors, rebels, and rejectors of prophets, along with all those billions who died without a knowledge of the gospel (D&C 138)” (The Promise of Discipleship , 119, 122).
Jesus Christ Initiated the Preaching of the Gospel to Those in Spirit Prison [9.3]
Scriptures to Study and Ponder
President Joseph F. Smith received a vision of the redemption of the dead. [9.3.1]
When Jesus Christ appeared to Mary Magdalene after His Resurrection, He said that He had “not yet ascended to [His] Father” (John 20:17). While Jesus’s body lay in the tomb, His spirit visited the spirit world. We learn details of the Savior’s visit to the spirit world in Doctrine and Covenants 138, a vision given to President Joseph F. Smith (1838–1918).
President Smith became very acquainted with death during his lifetime. His father, Hyrum Smith, was martyred with the Prophet Joseph Smith in Carthage Jail when young Joseph F. was five years old. His mother, Mary Fielding Smith, died when he was 13. And 10 of his children died in infancy. The death of his children brought extreme sorrow to President Smith, as his son Joseph Fielding Smith recorded: “When death invaded his home, as frequently it did, and his little ones were taken from him, he grieved with a broken heart and mourned, not as those mourn who live without hope, but for the loss of his ‘precious jewels’ dearer to him than life itself” (Life of Joseph F. Smith , 455).
At the beginning of 1918 a worldwide influenza epidemic was well underway, which would result in the deaths of many millions of people. World War I was also in process and would take 16 million lives. Then, on January 23, 1918, Elder Hyrum Mack Smith, a beloved son of President Joseph F. Smith and a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, died of a ruptured appendix at the age of 45. President Smith, who was 80 years old at the time of his son’s death, grieved deeply at the loss and became critically ill himself. He spent much of his time confined to his room. He said the following about this time of trial: “I have not lived alone these five months. I have dwelt in the spirit of prayer, of supplication, of faith and determination; and I have had my communication with the Spirit of the Lord continuously” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1918, 2).
On October 3, 1918, during his illness, President Smith was pondering upon the Atonement and the love of Heavenly Father and the Savior (see D&C 138:1–3). As he pondered, he beheld a “vision of the redemption of the dead” (D&C 138:60), which adds insight and clarification about salvation for the dead. President Smith learned that after the Savior’s death, He appeared to “the spirits of the just, who had been faithful in the testimony of Jesus while they lived in mortality” (see D&C 138:12–18) and “organized his forces and appointed messengers, clothed with power and authority, and commissioned them to go forth and carry the light of the gospel to them that were in darkness” (D&C 138:30).
President Smith died six weeks after he received this revelation, which we now have as section 138 of the Doctrine and Covenants.
The Savior opened the door to salvation for the dead. [9.3.2]
President Joseph Fielding Smith (1876–1972) explained that until the Savior initiated the preaching of the gospel to those in bondage in the postmortal spirit world, there was no redemptive work for the dead:
“The Savior opened the door for the salvation of the dead. Before that time the unworthy dead were shut up in prison and were not visited. (Moses 7:38–39; Isaiah 24:22.) We have good reason to believe that the righteous spirits in paradise did not mingle with the unrighteous spirits before the visit of our Lord to the spirit world. He declared that there was a gulf fixed that could not be crossed which separated the righteous from the unrighteous [see Luke 16:26], therefore there was no sound of the voice of prophets and the Gospel was not declared among the wicked until Christ went into that world before his resurrection. He it was who opened the prison doors.—Isaiah 42:6–7; 61:1.
“President Brigham Young declared that ‘Jesus was the first man that ever went to preach to the spirits in prison, holding the keys of the Gospel of salvation to them. Those keys were delivered to him in the day and hour that he went into the spirit world, and with them he opened the door of salvation to the spirits in prison.’ (J. D. 4:285.) This is in full accord with the scriptures. President Joseph F. Smith, in the vision he beheld of the spirit world, confirmed this view [see D&C 138]. In that world Christ taught the righteous spirits and commissioned them to carry his message and sent them forth among the un-baptized dead. In this way he fulfilled his promise made to Isaiah that he would preach to the spirits of the dead and open their prison doors that they might go free” (The Way to Perfection, 6th ed. , 315–16).
There is perfect order and structure in the spirit world. [9.3.3]
Doctrine and Covenants 138:30 teaches that while the Savior was in the world of spirits, He “organized his forces” so that the gospel message might be preached “to all the spirits of men.” Shortly before his death, President Jedediah M. Grant (1816–56) of the First Presidency shared with President Heber C. Kimball (1801–68), also of the First Presidency, an experience that illustrates the order and structure established in the spirit world.
At President Grant’s funeral, President Kimball said: “[Brother Grant] said to me, [Brother] Heber, I have been into the spirit world two nights in succession, and, of all the dreads that ever came across me, the worst was to have to again return to my body, though I had to do it. But O, says he, the order and government that were there! When in the spirit world, I saw the order of righteous men and women; beheld them organized in their several grades, and there appeared to be no obstruction to my vision; I could see every man and woman in their grade and order. I looked to see whether there was any disorder there, but there was none; neither could I see any death nor any darkness, disorder or confusion. He said that the people he there saw were organized in family capacities; and when he looked at them he saw grade after grade, and all were organized and in perfect harmony” (“Remarks at the Funeral of President Jedediah M. Grant, by President Heber C. Kimball; Tabernacle, Thursday, December 4, 1856,” Deseret News, Dec. 10, 1856, 316).
“Not one soul shall be overlooked.” [9.3.4]
President Joseph Fielding Smith pointed out that in our Heavenly Father’s perfect plan, not one soul shall be left out or denied an opportunity for salvation:
“In the justice of the Father, he is going to give to every man the privilege of hearing the gospel. Not one soul shall be overlooked or forgotten [see D&C 1:1–3]. This being true, what about the countless thousands who have died and never heard of Christ, never had an opportunity of repentance and remission of their sins, never met an elder of the Church holding the authority? Some of our good Christian neighbors will tell you they are lost forever, that they cannot believe in the grave, for there is no hope beyond.
“Would that be fair? Would it be just? No! The Lord is going to give to every man the opportunity to hear and to receive eternal life, or a place in his kingdom. We are very fortunate because we have had that privilege here and have passed from death unto life.
“The Lord has so arranged his plan of redemption that all who have died without this opportunity shall be given it in the spirit world” (Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols. [1954–56], 2:132).
Many in the Spirit World Anxiously Await the Blessings of Gospel Ordinances [9.4]
“It is accounted unto them the same.” [9.4.1]
While the gospel may be taught and accepted by spirits in the spirit world, the saving ordinances must be performed by those here in mortality in behalf of those who died without receiving them. President Joseph Fielding Smith explained:
“Baptism is an ordinance belonging to this life, as also are confirmation and ordination to the priesthood, and the man who does not receive these blessings here cannot receive them in the spirit world. There he may repent and believe and accept the truth, but he cannot be baptized, confirmed, or ordained, or endowed, for these ordinances belong here. What is to be done in the matter?
“We are going to take substitutes who will act vicariously, which means one acting for another, and in the temples they will stand for those who are dead and there, in the behalf of the dead, receive all these blessings for them. When they do this, if the dead accept the labor performed, it is accounted unto them the same as if they had acted for themselves” (Doctrines of Salvation, 2:161–62).
Many spirits anxiously await gospel ordinances. [9.4.2]
President Spencer W. Kimball (1895–1985) taught about the anticipation of many in the spirit world who desire to receive gospel ordinances:
“The spirit world is full of spirits who are anxiously awaiting for us to perform these earthly ordinances for them. …
“Some of us have had occasion to wait for someone or something for a minute, an hour, a day, a week, or even a year. Can you imagine how our progenitors must feel, some of whom have perhaps been waiting for decades and even centuries for the temple work to be done for them?” (“The Things of Eternity—Stand We in Jeopardy?” Ensign, Jan. 1977, 1, 7).
President Wilford Woodruff (1807–98) related an experience he had when he was visited by the spirits of the founding fathers of the United States of America and other early leaders while he served as the first president of the St. George Utah Temple, the first temple completed after the Saints had migrated to the West:
“Two weeks before I left St. George, the spirits of the dead gathered around me, wanting to know why we did not redeem them. Said they, ‘You have had the use of the Endowment House [a temporary structure in Salt Lake City used for performing temple ordinances before the Salt Lake Temple was completed] for a number of years, and yet nothing has ever been done for us. We laid the foundation of the government you now enjoy, and we never apostatized from it, but we remained true to it and were faithful to God.’
“These were the signers of the Declaration of Independence [of the United States of America], and they waited on me for two days and two nights. …
“I straightway went into the baptismal font and called upon Brother McAllister to baptize me for the signers of the Declaration of Independence, and fifty other eminent men, making one hundred in all, including John Wesley, Columbus, and others” (The Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, ed. G. Homer Durham , 160–61).
Very few will not accept the gospel. [9.4.3]
Some may wonder if many in the spirit world will accept the gospel message when it is presented to them. President Wilford Woodruff gave the following assurances:
“I tell you when the prophets and apostles go to preach to those who are shut up in prison, and who have not received the gospel, thousands of them will there embrace the gospel. …
“There will be very few, if any, who will not accept the gospel. Jesus, while his body lay in the tomb, went and preached to the spirits in prison, who were destroyed in the days of Noah. After so long an imprisonment, in torment, they doubtless gladly embraced the gospel, and if so they will be saved in the kingdom of God. The fathers of this people will embrace the gospel” (The Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, 152, 158).
During the October 1893 general conference, President Lorenzo Snow (1814–1901) shared similar thoughts:
“The great bulk of those who are in the spirit world for whom the work has been done will receive the truth. The conditions for the spirits of the dead receiving the testimony of Jesus in the spirit world are a thousand times more favorable than they are here in this life” (Millennial Star, Oct. 6, 1893, 718).
“A wonderful work is being accomplished in our temples in favor of the spirits in prison. I believe, strongly too, that when the Gospel is preached to the spirits in prison, the success attending that preaching will be far greater than that attending the preaching of our Elders in this life. I believe there will be very few indeed of those spirits who will not gladly receive the Gospel when it is carried to them. The circumstances there will be a thousand times more favorable” (Millennial Star, Jan. 22, 1894, 50).
Spirits know of and accept our temple work. [9.4.4]
An experience of Elder Melvin J. Ballard (1873–1939) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles helps us understand that those in the spirit world are aware of the work we do for them in the temples:
“Elder Ballard sat at our baptismal font [in the Logan Utah Temple] one Saturday while nearly a thousand baptisms were performed for the dead. As he sat there, he contemplated on how great the temple ceremonies were, and how we are bringing special blessings to the living and the dead. His thoughts turned to the spirit world, and he wondered if the people there would accept the work we were doing for them.
“Brother Ballard said: ‘All at once a vision opened to me, and I beheld a great congregation of people gathered in the east end of the font room. One by one, as each name was baptized for, one of these people climbed a stairway over the font to the west end of the room. Not one soul was missing, but there was a person for every one of the thousand names done that day.’
“Brother Ballard said that he had never seen such happy people in all his life, and the whole congregation rejoiced at what was [being] done for them” (Nolan Porter Olsen, Logan Temple: The First 100 Years , 170).
How are family history work and temple ordinances for the dead examples of Heavenly Father’s love for all His children?
President Wilford Woodruff and President Lorenzo Snow both explained that preaching the gospel would be easier in the spirit world than in this mortal life. Why do you think this is so?
Why do you think our Heavenly Father requires the same ordinances for the dead as He does for the living? What does this teach us about Him and the plan of salvation?
Questions to Ponder
Carefully study and ponder Doctrine and Covenants 138. Write a paragraph or two explaining how this revelation motivates or inspires you in doing family history and temple work.
Prepare a family home evening lesson on the Church’s unique doctrine of redemption for the dead. Use scriptures and quotations you have studied in this chapter as part of your lesson.
Gospel Principles , 241–44.
D. Todd Christofferson, “Why Do We Baptize for the Dead?” New Era, Mar. 2009, 2–5.