The Plan of Salvation: The Degrees of Glory
The Lord has revealed to His prophets something regarding heaven and what we can expect to find there. We have a few writings from ancient prophets who were “caught up” to see in vision the realms of glory. But for most of Christendom, information regarding the nature of heaven is vague. We know there is an afterlife, and most Christian faiths preach that there will be a resurrection and judgment, and that the righteous will dwell with God.
Fortunately, we have the testimony of a Latter-day Prophet, Joseph Smith, who saw in vision the three degrees of glory. He has recorded this vision in the Doctrine and Covenants, one of the volumes of Mormon scripture. Joseph said, “By the power of the Spirit our eyes were opened and our understandings were enlightened, so as to see and understand the things of God—Even those things which were from the beginning before the world was, which were ordained of the Father, through his Only Begotten Son, who was in the bosom of the Father, even from the beginning; Of whom we bear record; and the record which we bear is the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ, who is the Son, whom we saw and with whom we conversed in the heavenly vision” (Doctrine and Covenants 76:12-14).
The Lord revealed to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery the following truths:
- In the Lord’s house there are many mansions, but there are three main divisions in heaven, or three degrees of glory.
- The highest degree is called the “Celestial Kingdom.” The Celestial Kingdom is where God Himself dwells.
- The middle degree is called the “Terrestrial Kingdom.”
- The lowest degree is called the “Telestial Kingdom.”
- The kingdom which most people would call “hell” is called by the Lord “outer darkness.” This is the only kingdom without glory and is where the devil and his angels will be cast out to after the Millennium. The only people who will inherit this kingdom are those who commit the unpardonable sin, which is called “the sin against the Holy Ghost.” The sin against the Holy Ghost is to have a perfect knowledge of Christ (such as the prophets have, because of their visions) and then to deny Him, crucifying Him anew.
This is how Joseph Smith described the kingdoms of glory:
The Celestial Kingdom is to be compared to the glory of the sun and is where God dwells. People who inherit celestial glory are those who “received the testimony of Jesus, and believed on his name and were baptized after the manner of his burial, being buried in the water in his name.” They have kept the commandments of God and have been cleansed from all their sins. Their names are written in the books of heaven. They have overcome by faith and are “sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, which the Father sheds forth upon all those who are just and true.” The Father gives them all things. In heaven, they are priests and kings and receive of His fulness, and of His glory. They shall dwell in the presence of God and Christ forever. These are they whom Christ shall bring with Him when He comes in His glory. They will “come in the clouds of heaven to reign on the earth over his people.” They shall have part in the first resurrection. The glory of their bodies is as the sun.
The Terrestrial Kingdom can be compared to the glory of the moon. The people who inherit the terrestrial kingdom may have died without learning the laws of Christ. They are those who inherited spirit prison rather than spirit paradise in the Spirit World. They are those who were preached to in the Spirit World, and who, though they did not receive the testimony of Jesus while on earth, were willing to receive it in the Spirit World. They are the honorable men of the earth, who were “blinded by the craftiness of men.” These are they who receive of the glory of God and Christ in heaven, but not of their fulness. “These are they who receive of the presence of the Son, but not of the fulness of the Father.” Some are those who were not valiant in the testimony of Jesus while they dwelled on earth.
The Telestial Kingdom can be compared to the glory of the stars (which appear dimmer than the moon in the night sky). Even this, the lowest kingdom of glory, is so glorious that it “surpasses all understanding.” These are those who would not receive the gospel of Christ or the testimony of Jesus. But they have not denied the Holy Spirit, as those who are sent to “outer darkness.” Because they have chosen not to repent while on earth, there is some degree of suffering involved in the Spirit World before inheriting this kingdom. The people who inherit this kingdom will not be resurrected until Christ finishes His work, in other words, until the last resurrection. Christ does not visit this kingdom. These people are ministered to by the Holy Ghost through ministers sent to them from the terrestrial kingdom. The people who inherit telestial glory are of any persuasion except the correct one…” For these are they who are of Paul, and of Apollos, and of Cephas. These are they who say they are some of one and some of another,” but they receive not the gospel of Christ. They are liars, sorcerers, adulterers, and whoremongers. They refuse to receive help from the Lord on earth.
The Plan of Salvation is often called the Plan of Progression, not only because we progress from the premortal world to earth life to the Spirit World to a kingdom of glory, but because we are meant to learn, grow, and serve throughout all eternity. Those who inherit the Celestial Kingdom will eventually comprehend everything and thus will be called gods. However, there is no progression from one heavenly kingdom to another; all learning and progress takes place within the kingdom of glory assigned.
To read Joseph Smith’s vision in its entirety, click here.
See also: Mormon Beliefs: The Plan of Salvation