Speaking of the Savior, modern Apostles have testified: “His was a great vicarious gift in behalf of all who would ever live upon the earth” (“The Living Christ: The Testimony of the Apostles,” Ensign or Liahona, Apr. 2000, 2). Because of the Savior’s atoning sacrifice and His ministry in the spirit world, every one of God’s children who ever lived on earth will have the opportunity to accept or reject the gospel. In this lesson, students will learn about the Savior’s role in the world of spirits and our role in the salvation of the dead.
Consider displaying the pictures Burial of Jesus (Gospel Art Book , no. 58; see also LDS.org) and Mary and the Resurrected Jesus Christ (Gospel Art Book, no. 59).
Invite a student to read aloud the following statement by Elder Spencer J. Condie of the Seventy:
“The facts of Jesus’ death and Resurrection are hailed by those of Christian denominations as fundamental tenets. However, what Jesus’ immortal spirit did after His death and before His Resurrection is a mystery to all but the Latter-day Saints. And the significance of what He did during those hours provides the doctrinal foundation for building temples across the earth. Furthermore, a testimony of what He did can greatly console those who mourn the death of a loved one” (“The Savior’s Visit to the Spirit World,” Ensign, July 2003, 32).
Refer to the pictures and ask the class:
What did Jesus do between His burial and His Resurrection?
To provide some background, invite students to read Luke 23:39–43.
What did the Savior say to the malefactor on the cross? (Point out that the Prophet Joseph Smith taught that a more accurate rendering of the Savior’s words is, “This day thou shalt be with me in the world of spirits” [in History of the Church, 5:424–25]. The Savior’s words to the malefactor are misunderstood by many Christians to mean that a person can repent of serious sins at the very end of his or her life. However, the scriptures teach that we should not procrastinate our repentance.)
How do these words hint at the Savior’s activity while His body was entombed? (See also 1 Peter 4:6.)
Tell students that President Joseph F. Smith received a revelation that describes Jesus Christ’s visit to the world of spirits. To help students understand the context of this revelation, summarize the section introduction and the first 10 verses of Doctrine and Covenants 138. Then ask several students to take turns reading aloud from Doctrine and Covenants 138:11–12, 15–16, 18–19, 23–24. Discuss the following questions:
According to this vision, what did the Savior do between His burial and Resurrection? (Students should express that while His body was entombed, Jesus visited the righteous spirits in the spirit world.)
Why were these righteous spirits filled with joy and gladness? (As students respond, emphasize the following truth: According to God’s plan, the dead who had been faithful in mortality could be redeemed from death after the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. You may want to point out that no missionaries were sent to preach to those in the spirit world until after the death and Resurrection of the Savior [see Luke 16:19–31; Moses 7:36–39].)
Invite students to read Doctrine and Covenants 138:20–21, 25–28 silently and identify the question President Smith contemplated. (Note: To help students see the importance of asking good questions and seeking answers as they study the scriptures, point out that many revelations recorded in scripture were given as a result of a heartfelt question.) After students respond, ask them to read Doctrine and Covenants 138:29–30, looking for how the spirits in prison would hear the gospel. Ask:
What did the Savior do among the righteous while visiting the spirit world? (Ensure that students identify the following truth: While in the world of spirits, Jesus organized the work of salvation for the dead.)
What was the purpose of the Savior’s ministry in the spirit world? (Students should be able to articulate the following truth: The Savior provided a way for all of God’s children to hear the gospel and receive a fulness of joy.)
What does this teach us about the effects of Jesus Christ’s atoning act? (The effects of the Atonement reach into the spirit world.)
Consider sharing the following statement by President Joseph Fielding Smith (1876–1972):
“[W]hat 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. …
“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” (Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols. [1954–56], 2:132).
Why do these truths about the spirit world matter? What difference does it make whether a person knows these truths regarding the spirit world?
How can the knowledge of the Savior’s ministry in the spirit world be a comfort to you?
Provide each student a copy of the accompanying handout, “Latter-day Work for the Dead.” Divide students into small groups or pairs. Invite them to read the statements on the handout, looking for and discussing the blessings promised to those who participate in the work of redeeming the dead.
After sufficient time, ask the following questions:
How does our participating in temple and family history work help those who have died gain access to the blessings that come through Jesus Christ’s atoning sacrifice?
How does participating in vicarious ordinances for the dead help us become more like the Savior? (As students respond, emphasize the following principle: As we participate in temple ordinances for our kindred dead, we help provide for their salvation and we are strengthened against the adversary.)
Consider sharing the following explanation by President Gordon B. Hinckley (1910–2008) of how vicarious work for the dead parallels the Savior’s redemptive work:
“That which goes on in the House of the Lord, … comes nearer to the spirit of the sacrifice of the Lord than any other activity of which I know. Why? Because it is done by those who give freely of time and substance, without any expectation of thanks or reward, to do for others that which they cannot do for themselves” (“A Century of Family History Service,” Ensign, Mar. 1995, 62–63; see also Obadiah 1:21).
Refer students back to the statements on the handout, and ask:
When have you seen or felt one of the blessings promised to those who participate in the work of redeeming the dead?
Invite students to silently consider the following question:
Which of these promises do you desire to have in your life right now, and what are you willing to do to obtain it?
Challenge students to meet with their ward family history consultant and learn more about how to do work for their deceased ancestors. Read aloud Doctrine and Covenants 128:22, and testify of the eternal ministry of Jesus Christ and the sacred work for the dead that was ordained from before the foundation of the world.