Chapter 9: The Spirit World and the Redemption of the Dead

Introduction to Family History Teacher Manual: Religion 261, (2012), 38–43


A correct understanding of the doctrine of redemption of the dead makes family history and temple work more than just an interesting hobby. Elder Neal A. Maxwell (1926–2004) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles spoke of the perspective that Latter-day Saints could use regarding the vastness of the Lord’s work in the postmortal spirit world:

“Often Church members suffer from a lack of perspective, perhaps understandably, as to the vastness and intensity of the Lord’s work in the spirit world. The scope is enormous! Demographers estimate that some sixty to seventy billion people have lived on this planet thus far. Without diminishing in any way the importance of the absolutely vital and tandem work on this side of the veil, we do need a better grasp of ‘things as they really will be’ (Jacob 4:13). Otherwise, we can so easily come to regard family history as a quaint hobby and its resulting temple work as something we will get around to later” (The Promise of Discipleship [2001], 105).

This lesson will help students gain an appreciation for the Lord’s great love and mercy in providing opportunities for salvation to all His children, both here on earth and in the world of spirits. As we do family history and temple work, we are helping to fulfill the commission to preach the gospel to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people (see D&C 133:37) by extending gospel blessings to those who did not receive them during mortal life.


    Some Doctrines, Principles, and Gospel Truths

  • Through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, all of God’s children may be saved by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel.

  • 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.

  • Jesus Christ initiated the preaching of the gospel to those in spirit prison.

  • Many in the spirit world anxiously await the blessings of gospel ordinances.

Suggestions for Teaching

Through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, All of God’s Children May Be Saved by Obedience to the Laws and Ordinances of the Gospel

Draw a large circle on the board and label it “Earth.” Draw several stick figures inside the circle representing people. State that these figures represent people of different nationalities, philosophies, religious beliefs, professions, and time periods. They are all children of our Heavenly Father.


Emphasize to your students that each has left Heavenly Father’s presence to live here on the earth. Ask students:

  • What are the requirements for God’s children to return and live with Him again?

Consider separating your students into four groups. Write the following scripture blocks on the board:

Adam’s Day

Moses 6:50–53

New Testament

Acts 2:37–38; 4:10–12

Book of Mormon

3 Nephi 27:16, 19–20


D&C 18:22–26

Assign each group to study one of the four scripture blocks and to identify what their assigned scriptures teach about what is required to be saved. When the groups have finished studying, have a member of each group come to the board and write what they discovered under the appropriate heading. Then ask the class:

  • What do you notice when you compare the requirements of salvation you read about with the requirements for other time periods and people? (They are the same. Basically, have faith in Jesus Christ and the Atonement, repent, be baptized, receive the Holy Ghost, and endure to the end.)

To further confirm the necessity of repentance and baptism to enter the kingdom of God, consider sharing with your students the following quotation by the Prophet Joseph Smith (1805–44):

Joseph Smith

“If there was sin among men, repentance was as necessary at one time or age of the world as another—and that other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. If, then, Abel was a righteous man he had to become so by keeping the commandments; if Enoch was righteous enough to come into the presence of God, and walk with him, he must have become so by keeping his commandments, and so of every righteous person, whether it was Noah, … Abraham, … Jacob, … Moses, … or whether it was Jesus Christ himself, who had no need of repentance, having done no sin. … Surely, then, if it became John and Jesus Christ, the Saviour, to fulfil all righteousness to be baptised—so surely, then, it will become every other person that seeks the kingdom of heaven to go and do likewise” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith [2007], 93–94).

Draw on the board a wavy circle outside the “earth” and add some dotted stick figures to represent postmortal spirits in the spirit world. Explain to students that this represents spirits in the spirit world.

Earth and Spirit World

Help students understand the location of the spirit world by having them read the quotation by President Ezra Taft Benson (1899–1994) from the student manual under the heading “The spirit world is close to this world” (9.2.2).

Ask a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 138:32–34 while the rest of the class follows along, looking for what is taught to those in the spirit world.

  • How does what is taught in the spirit world compare to the gospel taught on earth? (Same teachings and same gospel.)

  • What conclusions do you draw from what we have discussed so far? (Possible answers include: The requirements of salvation are the same for the living as for the dead.)

Invite a student to read the quotation by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles from the student manual under the heading “The Atonement of Jesus Christ is central to the plan of salvation” (9.1.1).

  • How do the requirements listed on the board relate to the Atonement? (Faith in Jesus Christ includes faith in His Atonement; repentance involves drawing upon the Atonement to have strength to repent and to be cleansed of sin; through baptism and the ministering of the Holy Ghost we can be forgiven of our sins.)

  • What suggestions do you have to help us remember that the Atonement of Jesus Christ is the central focus of our Heavenly Father’s plan for us?

  • How does knowing that the requirements for salvation are the same for every one of God’s children help you to trust in His plan?

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

Have students quickly look in Alma 40:12–13 and identify the two divisions in the spirit world. (“Paradise” and “outer darkness,” which in this context means spirit prison.) Have students take a closer look in Alma 40:11–14 and identify words and phrases that describe the state of the righteous and the state of the wicked in these divisions of the spirit world. Consider writing “Paradise” and “Spirit prison” on the board and writing words and phrases under each as students give their responses. (Note: You may need to erase the board before doing this.)


Spirit prison

Before continuing with the lesson, explain to students that the Lord sometimes simplifies His message. For example, John 5:29 describes how the Savior referred to two major resurrections: “the resurrection of life” and “the resurrection of damnation.” Yet even within these two categories, we learn that there will be an order to how the Resurrection proceeds—not all who come forth in the resurrection of life (sometimes called the First Resurrection, or the resurrection of the just) will be resurrected at the same time. Nor will all in the resurrection of damnation (sometimes referred to as the Second Resurrection or resurrection of the unjust) be resurrected at the same time (see D&C 88:99–102). Within spirit prison there are likely many different levels and gradations of wickedness—those who lived the most extreme of wicked lives on earth, countless others who lived very righteously on earth, and persons of every other level of obedience and disobedience. They all have one thing in common: they did not accept the gospel and proper baptism while in mortality.

Point out also that sometimes the Lord speaks in extremes to emphasize His point. For example, in Doctrine and Covenants 19:5–7, the Lord describes the torment that awaits the wicked “that it might work upon the hearts of the children of men” (verse 7). The terms used in Alma 40:13–14 (which may be written on the board) may likewise “work upon the hearts of the children of men” to motivate them to seek after spirit paradise.

Introduce Doctrine and Covenants 138 by sharing the historical commentary in the student manual under the heading “President Joseph F. Smith received a vision of the redemption of the dead” (9.3.1). Then ask half of the students to quietly study verses 12–14 and the other half to study verses 20–24, looking for additional words that describe conditions of the wicked in the spirit world. You might add students’ findings to your lists on the board.

  • Take a moment and look at the conditions in spirit prison. How can this motivate you to want to search out your kindred dead and ensure that saving ordinances are done for them in the temple?

Give students several minutes to study the student manual under the headings “Progress toward exaltation takes time” (9.2.5) and “Trials and testing continue” (9.2.6). Then have students turn to another member of the class and briefly discuss what these readings teach about some of the purposes of the spirit world. Ask your students why it is important and helpful to know that after we die we continue to grow and progress in the spirit world.

Jesus Christ Initiated the Preaching of the Gospel to Those in Spirit Prison


Ask students to search Doctrine and Covenants 138:1–4 and identify the two major topics President Joseph F. Smith (1838–1918) was pondering when he received this revelation. After students have identified the Atonement and the love manifested by the Father and Son, point out to them that in this revelation President Smith saw that the Savior did not go in person to those in spirit prison; He went only to those who were in paradise and had lived righteously while on the earth. Give students a minute or two to read verses 25–28 quietly to discover the question President Smith pondered while he was seeing this vision of the spirit world.

  • How would you state in your own words the question President Smith contemplated? (How could the Savior preach the gospel to such a vast number of people when He was in the spirit world for only three days?)

Write the following questions on the board, or distribute them on a small handout:

What did the Savior do while He was in the spirit world?

What is the significance of “all” in Doctrine and Covenants 138:30–31, 37?

How does the preaching of the gospel in the spirit world demonstrate God’s perfect love?

Give students several minutes to study verses 29–31, 37, 57, looking for answers to the questions on the board. After sufficient time, invite students to discuss their answers with another member of the class. After students have finished discussing with one another, consider asking:

  • How do these verses help you see how the Atonement reaches those in the spirit world?

  • Why do these truths matter to you? What difference does it make whether a person knows these truths regarding the spirit world?

Time permitting, you might read and discuss with your class the commentary in the student manual under the heading “There is perfect order and structure in the spirit world” (9.3.3).

Many in the Spirit World Anxiously Await the Blessings of Gospel Ordinances

Ask students to think of something they had great anticipation for in the past, but had to wait a long time to receive. Have a few students briefly share their experience with the class. Then invite students to think about how their waiting might compare with those waiting for the opportunity to receive salvation in the spirit world. Consider asking students to share some of their experiences researching their deceased ancestors up until now. In particular, ask them to share information regarding birth and death dates—how long they have been in the spirit world. What have they discovered about what an individual ancestor was like? How do they feel about extending the blessings of the gospel to this individual? (If students have not had such an experience, be prepared to share an experience of your own.)

To prepare students to learn about how well the gospel is accepted in the spirit world, consider asking a returned missionary in your class to take a few minutes and share with the class the overall success rate of missionaries in his or her mission. Of all the people contacted in his or her mission, about how many were baptized? What were some of the more prevalent challenges missionaries faced in teaching the gospel in that mission? What does that student think could be done to bring greater success in preaching the gospel?

Have a student read the quotations by President Wilford Woodruff (1807–98) and President Lorenzo Snow (1814–1901) in the student manual under the heading “Very few will not accept the gospel” (9.4.3).

To conclude the lesson, ask the class:

  • As you’ve considered how long some of your ancestors have waited in the spirit world and what your efforts make available to them, what feelings or spiritual confirmations have you felt about the truthfulness of family history work?

Close with your testimony regarding the love of God and His Son in providing the opportunity for all of Heavenly Father’s children to receive salvation.