Through temple work, the Lord has made it possible for all who have died without a knowledge of the gospel of Jesus Christ “to return to the presence of God and for families to be united eternally” (“The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2010, 129). In this lesson, students will learn how the spirit of Elijah motivates us to participate in family history work and to become “saviours … on mount Zion” (Obadiah 1:21).
Invite students to consider how many of their ancestors have died without hearing the gospel or receiving saving ordinances.
Remind students that after the Savior died, He appeared to the spirits of the dead. Details of this visit, as seen in vision by President Joseph F. Smith (1838–1918), are recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 138. (Note that this is an example of helping students to understand context when studying scriptures.)
Ask a few students to take turns reading aloud from Doctrine and Covenants 138:27–37. Invite the class to follow along, looking for what the Lord did during His ministry in the spirit world.
How did the Savior prepare the way for the spirits of the dead to be redeemed? (Emphasize the following truth: The Savior commissioned, instructed, and prepared righteous spirits to preach the gospel to those in spirit prison.)
According to verse 34, why must the principles of the gospel be preached to those in spirit prison? (Explain that being “judged according to men in the flesh” means that all of God’s children, living or dead, will have the opportunity to accept the gospel and receive saving ordinances so that all can be judged by the same standard. See also D&C 137:7–9.)
Ask students to read Doctrine and Covenants 138:31, 58–59, looking for what individuals who are taught the gospel in the spirit world must do in order to become “heirs of salvation.”
According to these verses, what must the spirits of the dead do to become “heirs of salvation”? (Help clarify this principle: After individuals in spirit prison are taught the gospel message, they can choose to repent and accept the ordinances vicariously performed in temples.)
Share the following statement by Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles:
“Some have misunderstood and suppose that deceased souls ‘are being baptized into the Mormon faith without their knowledge’ or that ‘people who once belonged to other faiths can have the Mormon faith retroactively imposed on them.’ They assume that we somehow have power to force a soul in matters of faith. Of course, we do not. God gave man his agency from the beginning. ‘The dead who repent will be redeemed, through obedience to the ordinances of the house of God’ [D&C 138:58], but only if they accept those ordinances” (“The Redemption of the Dead and the Testimony of Jesus,” Ensign, Nov. 2000, 10).
Invite students to divide into pairs and role-play explaining to a nonmember how God’s plan makes it possible for all individuals, both living and dead, to receive the gospel and saving ordinances.
Invite students to list ways in which we can participate in family history work. (Finding family names and taking them to the temple, collecting and preserving family photographs and stories, indexing, and so forth.)
How can participating in family history work affect our feelings toward deceased family members?
To help students identify the source of those feelings, display the following statement by Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and ask a student to read it aloud:
“Elder Russell M. Nelson has taught that the Spirit of Elijah is ‘a manifestation of the Holy Ghost bearing witness of the divine nature of the family’ (‘A New Harvest Time,’ Ensign, May 1998, 34). This distinctive influence of the Holy Ghost draws people to identify, document, and cherish their ancestors and family members—both past and present. The Spirit of Elijah affects people inside and outside of the Church” (“The Hearts of the Children Shall Turn,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2011, 25).
Consider writing the following definition of “the Spirit of Elijah” on the board:
Ask a student to read Malachi 4:5–6 aloud.
According to this passage, how would the promised visit of the prophet Elijah influence the families of the world and the Lord’s work of salvation in the latter days? (Remind students that the resurrected Elijah appeared to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery on April 3, 1836, in the Kirtland Temple and conferred upon them the sealing keys of the Melchizedek Priesthood [see D&C 110:13–16].)
What does it mean that the hearts of fathers and children would be turned to each other?
Invite a student to read aloud the following explanation of these verses by the Prophet Joseph Smith (1805–44):
“Now, the word turn here should be translated bind, or seal. But what is the object of this important mission? or how is it to be fulfilled? The keys are to be delivered, the spirit of Elijah is to come, … and the Saints to come up as saviors on Mount Zion [see Obadiah 1:21].
“But how are they to become saviors on Mount Zion? By building their temples, erecting their baptismal fonts, and going forth and receiving all the ordinances … in behalf of all their progenitors who are dead, and redeem them … ; and herein is the chain that binds the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the children to the fathers, which fulfills the mission of Elijah” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith , 472–73).
What did Joseph Smith say we become as we receive temple ordinances on behalf of our kindred dead? (Saviors on Mount Zion.)
Display the following statement from President Gordon B. Hinckley (1910–2008), and ask a student to read it aloud:
“We literally become saviors on Mount Zion. What does this mean? Just as our Redeemer gave His life as a vicarious sacrifice for all men, and in so doing became our Savior, even so we, in a small measure, when we engage in proxy work in the temple, become as saviors to those on the other side who have no means of advancing unless something is done in their behalf by those on earth” (“Closing Remarks,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2004, 105).
Explain that Jesus Christ performed the Atonement vicariously for us. When we perform vicarious ordinances in behalf of those who have died, we become “saviors on Mount Zion.” The term “Mount Zion” can refer to several locations, including the heavenly city of God or the city of New Jerusalem (see Hebrews 12:22; D&C 76:66; 84:2–4; 1 Kings 8:1).
In what ways can understanding the phrase “saviors on Mount Zion” motivate us to do more to help our past and present family members receive the blessings of the temple?
As part of the discussion, you might share the following statement by Elder D. Todd Christofferson:
“By identifying our ancestors and performing for them the saving ordinances they could not themselves perform, we are testifying of the infinite reach of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Christ ‘died for all.’ [2 Corinthians 5:15.]” (“The Redemption of the Dead and the Testimony of Jesus,” Ensign, Nov. 2000, 10).
Invite students to silently read Doctrine and Covenants 128:18. Ask them to mark the reasons Joseph Smith gave for participating in the work of redeeming our deceased family members. After discussing what students identified, discuss the following:
How can our efforts to provide saving ordinances for our ancestors also bring salvation to us?
On the board, write the following words: Find, Take, and Teach.
Ask students to explain how these three words could describe the steps we are encouraged to take as we perform temple and family history work. (Make sure students identify the following: Find and prepare names for temple ordinance work; take those names to the temple and perform proxy temple ordinances for those individuals; teach others to do the same.)
To help students understanding the blessings that come from following these steps, display and ask a student to read aloud the following statement by Elder David A. Bednar, or show the video “The Promised Blessings of Family History” (lds.org/topics/family-history/fdd-cook/blessings-video). As students read or watch, invite them to look for promised blessings that come from participating in family history work.
“I invite the young people of the Church to learn about and experience the Spirit of Elijah. I encourage you to study, to search out your ancestors, and to prepare yourselves to perform proxy baptisms in the house of the Lord for your kindred dead (see D&C 124:28–36). And I urge you to help other people identify their family histories.
“As you respond in faith to this invitation, your hearts shall turn to the fathers. … Your love and gratitude for your ancestors will increase. Your testimony of and conversion to the Savior will become deep and abiding. And I promise you will be protected against the intensifying influence of the adversary. As you participate in and love this holy work, you will be safeguarded in your youth and throughout your lives” (“The Hearts of the Children Shall Turn,” 26–27).
What blessings come to those who participate in family history work?
Ask if any students can share personal experiences with receiving blessings through participating in family history work.
For those of you who have received ordinances for ancestors, what feelings can you share about participating in these sacred experiences?
Invite students to research their family histories using the resources available at FamilySearch.org and to seek help from a family history consultant in their ward or branch as needed. Encourage students to make a plan to find the names of their ancestors, take the names of these ancestors to the temple and perform ordinances in their behalf, and teach others to do the same.