This Sunday I taught lesson 20 in the Gospel Doctrine manual for the Doctrine and Covenants. The lesson was on the Three Degrees of Glory, and dovetailed on the previous week’s lesson on the Plan of Salvation.
To begin the lesson, I drew a series of stick-figure scenarios on the board:
Diagram 1: This family – mother, father, and children – are faithful members of the Church and have been sealed under the covenant. However, one of these children decides to leave the church. What happens to this eternal family? Is this family no longer forever?
Diagram 2: This family – mother, father, and children – are faithful members of the Church and have been sealed under the covenant. However, the mother and father got divorced and their sealing was canceled. What happens to the children? Who are they sealed to? Are they eternal orphans?
Diagram 3: This family – mother, father, and children, are faithful members of the Church and have been sealed under the covenant. However, the mother dies and the father is sealed to another woman. When that woman dies, the father is sealed once again to another woman. How does this eternal family work? Is the father an eternal polygamist? Which wife will he be sealed to in the eternities?
Diagram 4: This family – mother, father, and children, are NOT members of the Church, but are members of another faith. However, one of the children finds the Gospel and joins the Church. This child receives all the necessary ordinances for salvation, but cannot be sealed to his family? How can his family be forever?
As it turns out, most people in the Church today are affected by at least one of these situations. Well, spoiler alert, this lesson can’t provide all the answers to all those conundrums. Some of this requires a lot of faith. But learning about the Plan of Salvation and the Three Degrees of Glory can help us understand the mind of God, and help us develop faith in his Plan. The study of D&C 76 can also give us hints to answering some of these difficult questions.
This section is received on February 16, 1832 to Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon while in Hiram, Ohio. This revelation came to be known as simply “The Vision” because of its importance in revolutionizing the Church’s theology.
Think about it. This revelation was revered even above the first Vision is the early days of the Church. It was also a complete game-changer. It was even difficult for members of the Church to accept at the time. Brigham Young explained, “My traditions were such, that when the Vision came first to me, it was directly contrary and opposed to my former education. I said, Wait a little. I did not reject it; but I could not understand it.”
Why was it so hard to wrap their minds around? Well, Christian thought up to this point in history focused a lot on a dualistic view of the afterlife: it’s either heaven or hell for you. Heaven was the glorious paradise of the pious few, and Hell was the place reserved for most of us mortals, since we’re all sinners.
By the time the 19th century rolled around, Universalism became wildly popular — this idea that Christ’s grace is sufficient for all, therefore, all are saved regardless of behavior.
As you might imagine, a salvific paradigm where there are multiple options might have been astounding. Not to mention there’s a potential for progression. The most significant doctrine of the revelation, however, was probably the idea that we can become like God (theosis). The concept of theosis was indeed taught in the early Christian church, but fell out of use by around the 5th century.
Now, because Lesson 19 talked all about the basic tenets of the Plan of Salvation, I won’t go into that here. This lesson is just about Exaltation. The Three Degrees of Glory. What happens after judgment.
A good chunk of section 76 has to do with learning about Satan. As it turns out, our Latter-day Saint view of Satan is absolutely unique. This is what D&C 76 has to say about him:
The Latter-day Saint understanding of Satan largely comes from D&C 76. it also comes from a collection of restoration scripture in the Book of Mormon, and the Book of Moses.
Judaism does not foster a concrete idea of Satan with a captial “s.” The ό σατάν or שטן of the Bible is largely viewed as a more generic “adversary” to God in his Divine Council, more than a evil-incarnate devil. Think of it like a prosecuting attorney. There is a designated individual in God’s court assigned to being the opposition to God to help with the decision making process.
Our Latter-day Saint understanding of Satan expands this in teaching that this designated adversary in the Divine Council at some point rebelled against God, opposed his plan, and was cast out of the Divine Council to forever be “the Devil”
We get the sense that by 600 B.C., the average Jew didn’t have the same understanding of Satan that we do in the Mormon church. But wait, didn’t Lehi teach about Satan? Good point. Yes, Lehi did teach about the nature of Satan, but 2 Nephi 2:17 clearly states that Lehi “supposed” that Satan must have been a thing based on his studies. This isn’t some already established truth that Lehi is teaching, but rather a theological expansion based on his own studies and personal revelation.
Three Degrees of Glory
Split the class into 4 groups. Assign each group a block of scripture to read. Have the class members identify unique features of each kingdom.
- Who will dwell in this kingdom?
- What is this kingdom like?
- What is the glory of this kingdom?
- What part of the godhead can dwell in this kingdom?
After giving class members time to read, go through each kingdom and write their answers on the board.
Greek Side Note
Sometimes we use 1 Corinthians 15 as a “proof text” for our understanding of the 3 degrees of glory. However, it’s helpful to make sure we’re looking at this scripture in context.
While this scripture appears to be talking about the Celestial and Terrestrial kingdom and the glory of their heralded logos (sun, moon, stars), that is actually just a product of the King James Translation.
When you look at the Greek, what the King James Version translates as “Celestial” is just έπουράνια, or “heavenly.”
What the King James Version translates as “Terrestiral” is the word έπίγεια, or “earthly”.
All Paul is saying, is that the glory of heavenly things compares to the glory of earthly things in the way that the glory of the sun differs from the moon.
Still a beautiful concept. Just not proof that Paul was teaching the Three Degrees of Glory.
Bring together the whole conversation by asking the class why we should learn about the Plan of Salvation. What is it about the Three Degrees of Glory that gives us hope?
I think that the most important reason to study the Three Degrees of Glory, is that as we do so, we more fully recognize the magnitude and mercy of the Atonement. Jesus Christ suffered all, so that we could become as glorious as Him. He suffered for our sins so that we could enter into His presence and eventually become as gods. Because he loves us.