Glory can come in many forms. If I were to present you with the following three options, and you could freely choose any one option, which would it be?
1. A mansion on a huge estate. This house comes with all the wealth needed to run the estate forever, including servants and staff to care for the grounds and home. Along with this option comes the ability to choose any lifestyle you could hope to have, be it quiet and simple or lush and lavish. You will be surrounded by all your loved ones and close family.
2. A good home in an upscale neighborhood. This comes with enough money to live comfortably forever, with no worries about any financial needs. You’ll be surrounded by good friends, but no family.
3. A modest home in a quiet neighborhood with no financial worries forever. You will always have employment that pleases you, and will have friends around you, but no family.
Believe it or not, there are people who would gladly choose the smaller glory of option 3. There are many who would be very happy with option 2. But option 1 has to be earned. You might be saying, “I knew there had to be strings attached!” The string that is attached to option one is that only certain types of personalities would be happy with that much. With possession comes responsibility, and the more you possess the greater your responsibilities. That is a natural law. Even option two has a smaller requirement of responsibility attached to it.
So no matter how good option one sounds, if you aren’t willing to shoulder the responsibility of running an estate, you might be happier with one of the other options. The Lord knows His children. When he presented us with the Plan of Salvation He included an almost limitless array of rewards so that every child could have the desires of his or her heart. And like option one above, if we choose the best of the best we will have to become the kind of person who can handle the responsibilities that go with that much wealth. But in the case of eternal reward, it isn’t so much a skillset we need to learn as it is a set of personality traits we need to develop that will qualify us for the reward our Father in Heaven really would like to give us.
The Father’s choice
Everything we are taught in the gospel of Christ is meant to prepare us for the highest level of reward available from our Father in Heaven. Can you blame him for wanting us to have the maximum joy possible in the eternities? We are free to choose a lesser reward, but he would not be demonstrating his love for us if he purposefully steered us to a lesser reward. So every covenant we make in the gospel of Christ is geared to teach us how to handle the greatest of all the blessings God has to give his children.
In fact, when I say that every covenant is geared towards moving us toward the Celestial kingdom, I am also saying that the other two kingdoms don’t require any covenants at all to achieve. This week’s lesson on the degrees of glory that await each of us focuses on the greatest revelations ever given on the subject. The first of the revelations, and the most telling of all is Doctrine and Covenants 76.
Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon had this revelation jointly, one of the few of its kind. It is known in the history of the Church as ‘The Vision.’ Almost everything in our theology about the afterlife, that sets us apart from the rest of the world, comes from this section of the Doctrine and Covenants. Let’s briefly look at the four sections of this revelation and see what is required to qualify for each level of reward in the hereafter.
Sons of Perdition
There are very few who will ever qualify for being sons of perdition. The Lord wants us to become sons of God, not the sons of “Utter Destruction.” Those who become the sons of perdition will have to have had the heavens opened to them and the Son of God revealed to them in a special way, then allow themselves to be overcome by Satan so that they turn on God and rebel against him just as Satan has. They will have to be willing to crucify Christ in their hearts afresh, and will turn and fight against God, knowing that they are in open rebellion against their God and their Savior.
Though the Lord says that he has shown many people the punishment of these few people, the vision is always quickly shut up so that no one but those who suffer the anguish and sorrow their punishment will bring will understand the full scope of their torment. These are the only ones upon whom the second death, the permanent separation from God, will have effect.
These are the hardcore men and women of the world. The liars, cheaters, whoremongers, etc. They want nothing to do with the testimony of Jesus and are more concerned about the world than anything else. You might be asking yourself why they would qualify for any degree of glory if that is the way they have chosen to live their lives. The answer is found in the promises made in the premortal life.
The blessing of keeping our first estate and accepting our Father in Heaven’s plan was that everyone would be added upon. This means all who accepted His plan could come to earth and receive a body. The promise also included a guarantee that they would receive glory in the eternities through the atoning sacrifice of Christ.
Those who qualify for the Telestial glory have already done all they need to do in order to qualify for the reward they will receive in the hereafter. At death they go to hell, which is another label for the spirit prison, there to suffer for their sins until the final resurrection. At that time they will come forth and receive their final reward.
The reward of those in the telestial kingdom is compared to the glory of the stars. Just as there are an infinite variety of stars, so there will be an infinite variety of reward for those who qualify for this kingdom. But none of their rewards will be comparable to those in the Terrestrial kingdom.
This kingdom is a mixed bag. One category in this kingdom consists of those who lived in mortality without any knowledge of God and His plan for them, but who are taught the gospel while in spirit prison and accept it. Another category consists of those who accept part of the gospel of Christ in mortality, but because of the craftiness of men refuse to accept the whole gospel. They leave mortality never having made any covenants with God.
There is also the category of those members of the Lord’s Church who have made covenants, but did not keep them, or were not valiant in their testimonies. This is not a complete list, but these categories show us that these are basically the good people of the earth. Their desires are good, but they get to the resurrection without ever being fully converted and valiant in the testimony of Christ and His work.
The glory of this kingdom is vastly different from the Telestial world, being compared to the moon in its brightness. The thing to remember though is that the moon has no brightness of its own. All the light that comes from the moon is a reflection of a far greater light, the sun. The key difference between this kingdom and the Celestial kingdom is the conversion and valiance those in the Celestial kingdom demonstrate in the testimony of Christ.
This kingdom also has a mixed group who will be given this reward. Those who die before the age of accountability are covered by the atoning sacrifice of Christ and will be rewarded the Celestial glory. Those who died without the gospel, but if they had been given the opportunity in mortality to hear the truth they would have embraced it with their whole soul, these also will receive the Celestial glory. Finally, those who have heard the gospel of Christ, accepted the testimony of Jesus, are baptised, and make all the available covenants with God, and are faithful to the end of their mortal lives, these also receive the Celestial glory.
This last category consists of almost everyone who will ever read this article. If you are reading this then you have probably already been baptised and quite possibly have already made temple covenants as well. The deciding factor on whether we go to the Celestial kingdom or to the Terrestrial kingdom is how seriously we strive to be valiant in our testimonies of Christ. Have we made all the covenants we are supposed to make? Are we reading our scriptures daily? Are we praying daily? Are we paying our tithes and offerings? Are we assisting in a material way in the gathering of Israel? Are we setting an example of a Christlike life to the best of our ability for those with whom we come in contact each day? Are we seeking to follow the guidance we receive from the Holy Spirit, and are we inviting His direction in our lives each day?
Those who do these things become the kind of people the Lord can trust with the power He wants to bestow on all His children. These are the people who become the sons and daughters of God, heirs to His kingdom, and joint heirs with Christ. They will become equal in Christ’s inheritance, receiving all that the God of this universe has to offer to his obedient and valiant children.
Those who inherit the Celestial kingdom will have a continuation of lives, meaning posterity. We will live with our loved ones in eternal glory, and enjoy our ever expanding posterity forever. This is how God continues to grow in glory, it is through his children and the multiplying of good works through all generations of time. Angels will be subjected to them, and they will be above all things. The very elements of the universe will be theirs to command.
I hope this gives you a glimpse at the difference between the glory available in the three basic kingdoms. There is nothing in the gospel of Christ that is geared to get us into either of the two lesser kingdoms. Nothing is needed to get into those kingdoms. All covenants in the gospel of Christ are geared to qualify those who make and keep those covenants for the rewards of the Celestial glory.
This is why you will never see anything in the scriptures that encourages us to just be the good people of the earth. Our Father in Heaven wants us to return to Him and receive of His glory. All the scriptures and teachings of the prophets have this goal in mind. Anything else, anything less, is a forfeiture of blessings.