Lesson 21: Joseph F. Smith: Redemption of the Dead

, "Lesson 21: Joseph F. Smith: Redemption of the Dead," The Presidents of the Church: Teacher’s Manual1996


By seeing Doctrine and Covenants 138 in its scriptural setting, class members will come to know that the Savior’s atonement is the greatest of blessings.


  1. 1.

    Prepare to show the following pictures:

    1. a.

      Joseph F. Smith in the color section.

    2. b.

      An individual tree within a forest (see p. 62) and a picture of a forest (in this lesson).

    3. c.

      A missionary (optional).

  2. 2.

    Hand copy or photocopy the handout of the pretest for each class member; also have pencils available (see end of lesson).

  3. 3.

    If the videocassette Testimonies of the Presidents of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (53242) is available, show the section “Joseph F. Smith.”

Note: Because many may not easily understand the principle of redemption of the dead, it is suggested that you teach informally with much class discussion. It is important that the lesson be taught with the Spirit so the class can feel your testimony.

Ensure that each knows the meaning of redemption. (“To free from captivity by payment of ransom” [Webster’s Tenth New Collegiate Dictionary, s.v. “redemption”].)

Because Adam and Eve transgressed, we all must die, but Jesus offered to redeem us, or pay for our sins. He suffered and died for us so we can live again. Jesus paid the price for us. That is redemption. He is our Redeemer.

Suggested Lesson Development



Introduce the lesson by giving each class member a copy of the pretest and a pencil. Instruct the class to answer true or false to each of the statements. Tell them that they will correct their own pretests later in the lesson.

Pictures and discussion

  • You may have heard someone say, “He can’t see the forest for the trees.” What do you think is meant by that statement? (We often see just the trees around us—whatever is close to us—[show the close-up picture of the tree]. What is near to us seems all-important, and we don’t see the overall picture. [Show the picture of the forest.])

  • In the story of Camelot, why did the wizard, Merlin, change young Arthur into a hawk so he could fly high above the earth? (It was to give Arthur a better view of the world and teach him that there were no boundaries between kingdoms. Before then he could see only the trees, the narrow view. If your class members are not familiar with Camelot, refer them to the view of astronauts or to the view a man has on the top of a mountain.)

  • What are some of your “trees,” things close to you that you now think to be important? (They might mention being good at sports, winning the game, being popular, being in style, etc.)

  • If you could see your whole life through eternity, how important would these “trees” be? (Answers may vary. Bring out that most would not be important.)

  • Why do you think the Lord showed some of his prophets, such as Abraham and Moses, visions of the world from beginning to end? (See Moses 1:27–39 and Abraham 3.)

The Lord was pointing out that the overall picture was much greater than what any single person could see at the moment. We are blessed to have prophets who have been shown or told the greater picture.

Latter-day Saints Should Not Fear Death

Thought question and quotation

  • Does it worry you or make you sad to know that someday you must die? Think about that question; then listen carefully to what President Joseph F. Smith said:

President Smith said, “I rejoice that I am born to live, to die, and to live again. I thank God for this intelligence. It gives me joy and peace that the world cannot give, neither can the world take it away. … I have no reason to mourn, not even at death. It is true, I am weak enough to weep at the death of my friends and kindred. … But I have no cause to mourn, nor to be sad because death comes into the world. … All fear of this [temporal] death has been removed from the Latter-day Saints” (Gospel Doctrine [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1939], p. 428).

Picture and discussion

Show the picture of a missionary.

  • Has anyone in your family or someone you know well gone on a mission? Did anyone cry when they left? Why? Did they mourn? (Possible answers might be: They cried, but they didn’t mourn. They knew they would miss associating with them, but they knew it would be a temporary separation.)

  • What kind of reunion was there or will there be when the missionary returns? (Joyful, happy, proud.)

President Smith compared death with returning from a mission (see Gospel Doctrine, p. 440). The missionary answered the mission call, accomplished the purpose of his mission, and then returned home. We all had a mission call to come to this earth. We came and are accomplishing the purpose of our mission, and someday we will return to our heavenly home to a joyful reunion if we have lived according to the commandments of our Heavenly Father.

Latter-day Saints Are Taught a Larger Picture of Life than Others


  • Is there someone who has died whom you would like to visit, such as a relative or a friend? Someone you would like to know, such as an ancestor or a person from history? A hero? (The teacher might mention someone he or she would like to visit and tell why such a visit would be meaningful.)

  • Why do we as Latter-day Saints believe that we can have the privilege of associating with our loved ones after death? Where do we get this belief, this hope?

Scripture discussion

Lead the class into the following scriptures: Moses 5:9–10; Ezekiel 37:5–6, 12, 14; Daniel 12:2; Job 19:25–26. Stress that each of these Old Testament prophets foresaw the time of a great resurrection from the dead.

Many prophets of the Book of Mormon also foresaw the Resurrection (see Alma 11:40–45).


  • What evidence do we have that the prophecies from each of these scriptures were fulfilled? (Answers may vary. Try to see that the following evidences are mentioned.)

Testimonies Recorded by New Testament and Book of Mormon Writers. Matthew 27:52–53; 3 Nephi 11:14–15.

Latter-day Testimonies. Joseph Smith, Jr., Oliver Cowdery, and Sidney Rigdon all bore witness that they saw the Lord Jesus—the same that was crucified in Jerusalem—and that he revealed himself to them (see D&C 76:14, 20; 110:2).

Understanding Our Sojourn through Eternity


At this point correct the true and false pretest. In the following list, correct statements follow the incorrect statements from the pretest. Discuss the following scriptures:

T 1. Our spirits existed before we were born on earth. (See D&C 49:17.)

F 2. Before birth we had bodies of flesh and bone as we now have. (Before birth we were spirits. See D&C 138:56.)

T 3. At birth we received a physical body that was subject to death. (See Moses 6:59.)

T 4. At death there is a separation of body and spirit. The body decays and the spirit goes to the spirit world. (See Alma 40:21.)

T 5. In the spirit world there is a partial judgment. The righteous go to paradise and the wicked go to spirit prison. (See Alma 40:12, 14; D&C 138:20–22.)

F 6. At the end of the millennium, only the righteous will be resurrected and have their spirits and bodies reunited, never again to be separated. (At the beginning of the millennium, only the righteous will be resurrected and have their spirits and bodies reunited, never again to be separated. See D&C 88:96–101.)

F 7. Those who received their mortal bodies, lived wickedly, and then died will not be resurrected. (Those who received their mortal bodies, lived wickedly, and then died will be resurrected at the end of the millennium, giving them time to reflect on misdeeds and repent if they choose. See D&C 88:101.)

If everyone will be resurrected, what is the advantage of keeping commandments? (Those who keep the commandments inherit eternal life and exaltation. See Abraham 3:26.)

President Joseph F. Smith’s Vision of the Redemption of the Dead

President Joseph F. Smith testified that even without the testimonies of others or even of scriptures or any book written, he had “received the witness of the Spirit in my own heart, and I testify before God, angels and men, without fear of the consequences, that I know that my Redeemer lives, and I shall see him face to face, and stand with him in my resurrected body upon this earth, if I am faithful; for God has revealed this unto me. I have received the witness, and I bear my testimony, and my testimony is true” (Gospel Doctrine, p. 447).

If we read Doctrine and Covenants 138, we will know where he got that strong conviction of that knowledge. It is the record of the vision this prophet had relating to the redemption of the dead. As he was reading scripture and thinking about this subject, he was especially concerned about Peter’s account of Jesus going to preach to the spirits in prison and mentioning the disobedient who died in the days of Noah and the great flood. He read, “For this cause was the gospel 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).

President Smith recounted that vision: “As I pondered over these things which are written, the eyes of my understanding were opened, and the Spirit of the Lord rested upon me, and I saw the hosts of the dead, both small and great. And there were gathered together in one place an innumerable company of the spirits of the just, who had been faithful in the testimony of Jesus while they lived in mortality. … I beheld that they were filled with joy and gladness, and were rejoicing together because the day of their deliverance was at hand. They were assembled awaiting the advent of the Son of God into the spirit world, to declare their redemption from the bands of death. … The spirit and the body [were] to be united never again to be divided, that they might receive a fulness of joy” (D&C 138:11–12, 15–17).

Before the vision, President Smith had puzzled over the question, how could Jesus have gone personally to the wicked among the spirits and preached to them directly when he was only in the tomb for three days? This vision showed him that the Savior had not gone personally, but had organized his faithful people to go and do the teaching.


  • How does Christ teach his gospel to us on the earth? Does he visit each person individually or preach to congregations or groups? (No. He talks to his prophets, gives them power and authority, and they delegate and organize.)

We are taught by someone who has been called, and so were the people in the spirit prison. It is interesting that among those President Smith saw in the “vast congregation” he mentioned Father Adam, Mother Eve, and many of the great prophets from several dispensations, and, he said, “all these and many more, even the prophets who dwelt among the Nephites” (D&C 138:49).

What Is Our Part in the Redemption of the Dead?

Righteous spirits who have finished earth life are busy teaching those in the spirit prison. We on the earth must perform the necessary earthly ordinances for them—baptism and temple ordinances following family history research. We can help save our dead, but we must also help save ourselves through obedience.

Let us seriously think of the purpose of our life on earth: we receive a body, undergo a period of testing, and then our faith is renewed and strengthened. We become willing to make whatever sacrifice is necessary to achieve our goal. As President Joseph F. Smith said, “There is sweet comfort in this knowledge [of the resurrection], and in the thought that through obedience to the ordinances and principles of the gospel, … men shall be born again, redeemed from sin, arise from the grave, and like Jesus return into the presence of the Father. Death is not the end” (Gospel Doctrine, pp. 447–48).

Testimony and Challenge

Challenge the class to understand that since we know the plan of life, we should live keeping our eye on the whole forest and not just the trees. We must keep our eternal goals plainly in mind and do all that we can to reach those goals.

Videocassette testimony

If it is available, show the videocassette, part 2 (51 seconds), of Joseph F. Smith’s testimony.