Come, Follow Me: If there are Degrees of Glory, Why did Jesus Preach Heaven and Hell?

The binary option we face is to achieve Eternal Life or to settle for lesser light.

Even in primary, I was taught the Plan of Salvation included three degrees of glory: the Telestial Kingdom, the Terrestrial Kingdom, and the Celestial Kingdom. It was far more elegant and complete than the simplistic heaven and hell emphasized by other faiths.

Scriptural sources for this knowledge includes Doctrine and Covenants 76 and 1 Corinthians 15. While “the Vision” in Section 76 is quite detailed, Paul’s description is simple:

“There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory. So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption” (1 Cor 15:40-42)

In context, Paul was discussing the sorts of states various individuals would experience in the resurrection – the permanent kingdoms they would inherit – and comparing the glory of these states to the relative luminosity of stellar lights.

In other words, some would inherit kingdoms of light shining like stars at night. While some stars are visible only on dark, clear nights when the moon is new, others are visible even when the moon is full. That having been said, the light of a full moon can make objects on the earth clear and visible… a feat impossible for even bright stars. Next to the moon, stars provide little light to the earth.

Above each of these is the brightness of the sun, which renders stars invisible, and the moon unnoticeable. Its brightness is blinding, orders of magnitude above the brightness of other stellar objects on the earth’s surface.

The idea behind this analogy is important. Even a person who has committed serious transgressions, and refuses to repent of them, will still inherit a kingdom of glory. The simple heaven/hell comparison popular in various faiths does not portray the truth that all of God’s children will live in a world that, at minimum, will be free of death, of pain, of hunger, of deformity, of disability, and of most of the problems that accompany mortality. It will be wonderful!

Why then, if a resurrected life free from the cares of mortality awaits all, does Jesus preach about hell?

In the sermon on the mount, Jesus warns that a person who says “thou fool” shall be in danger of hellfire. He warns if your right eye or hand offend you, you should get rid of it because it is better to be without one member than to be cast into hell. (Matthew 5:29-30) He describes a strait and narrow path that leads to life, and a broad and wide way that leads to destruction.

In many of Jesus’s parables, he continues the binary choice between good and evil. Consider the wise man and the foolish man, the wheat and the tares, the sheep and the goats, or the rich man and Lazarus.

Why?

I recall several youth leaders who, after drawing the familiar circles representing the various steps and phases that represented the course of humanity from pre-mortality to a kingdom of glory, would circle the top of the circle representing the celestial kingdom. They explained our goal was not some other kingdom or state, it was to inherit the Kingdom of God.

By circling the top of the celestial kingdom and distinguishing it from all of the others, they had, perhaps unknowingly, created a two destination model; essentially, a more complicated diagram of the old paradigm taught by Jesus…heaven and hell.

The reasoning for doing this is to emphasize the goal.

Jesus did not come to earth and endure indescribable torment and suffering so that we could go to some lesser kingdom, rather he paid the price so we could inherit exaltation and eternal life.

This is not to say there is no point to understanding the degrees of glory. It is the promise to all that the problems, injustices, and difficulties we have as part of mortal life will be solved. A corrupt and violent thief will not receive the same fate as a person who mostly tried to be good, but was not interested in fully committing to the gospel of Jesus Christ. The degrees of glory represent the hope that God will establish justice, and that all of his children will receive a life free of pain and death, as is appropriate. He will solve all of our problems.

That having been said, Jesus sends his prophets not to remind us “no matter what you will inherit a kingdom of glory,” but to encourage us it is worth working hard to be better. As good as it would be to live free of pain and death and hunger and thirst, He wants something so much more than that for us: to the amount that the sunlight on a clear day is brighter than the light of stars on a clear night.

In other words, while the degrees of glory provides us hope of the resurrection, an understanding of heaven provides us the destination that Christ had in mind for us when he sacrificed on our behalf.

Paul perhaps said it best:

“Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” (1 Corinthians 2:9)

Supplemental Reading:

Brett Jensen manages The Ward Preacher. You can follow him on Twitter @wardpreacher.

3 thoughts on “Come, Follow Me: If there are Degrees of Glory, Why did Jesus Preach Heaven and Hell?

  1. D&C 76 and D&C 138 clearly reveal no one can inherit any of the three kingdoms of glory without first exercising faith in Christ unto salvation, repenting and receiving a remission of their sins. Eventually, every individual who obtains an inheritance in one of the Father’s many mansions of glory will bow the knee to their Heavenly Father and confess unto him that Jesus is the Christ whose atoning sacrifice saved them from physical death. The only class of individuals who won’t be redeemed from spiritual death are the sons of perdition who steadfastly refuse to exercise faith in Christ unto repentance because they have an implacable hatred for him and his Father.

    So one might rightfully ask, ‘if all but the sons of perdition will, in the end, come unto Christ in faith, repent, receive a remission of their sins, and receive an inheritance of glory in one of the Father’s heavenly mansions of glory, why are there three broad kingdoms of glory for the saved. D&C 76 explains why this is so:

    1) The inheritors of the terrestrial kingdom of heavenly glory are those who have freely accepted the gospel of Christ and exercise a measure of saving faith in him, but in the end they will be judged as having not been fully valiant in the testimony of Jesus, therefore the relegation to a heavenly kingdom of lesser light and glory.

    2) The inheritors of the telestial kingdom of glory are those who lived lives of great wickedness while in the flesh who are thrust into hell (I.e. the spirit prison) where they are made to suffer for their unrepented sins in a process D&C 76 calls “the winepress of the fierceness of the wrath of Almighty God. Sooner or later, when the time is right, missionaries from paradise are sent to those who are suffering for their sins in hell and are taught that they can be freed from their suffering by accepting Jesus Christ and his gospel of forgiveness. All those in the spirit prison will eventually be forgiven, resurrected and glorified, with the exception of those who refuse to come unto Christ and repent. (See D&C 138 for more details)

  2. I’ll go one point at a time:

    A man cannot pay for his own sins after death, in the sense that the suffering he endures fin the spirit prison for his personal sins has the power to eventually absolve him of his guilt by perfectly satisfying the infinitely harsh, infinitely inflexible, and infinitely exacting demands of perfect divine justice. If it were actually possible for a very imperfect mortal to perfectly satisfy the infinite and eternal demands of immutable divine justice, you’d have an obscene scenario in which a fallen man becomes his own atoning Savior.

    The fact is that while it’s true a fallen man can suffer for his own sins in the spirit prison, and, in a very limited sense, pay a price for his guilt by having to suffer spiritual agony for his wickedness. But the truth is that the suffering he endures in hell has no more saving power to fully satisfy the immutable demands of divine justice than does an armed robber’s fully served 25 year prison sentence has the the power to absolve him of his guilt in the eyes of God. Only genuine faith in the Christ of the infinite and eternal atonement, a broken heart and a contrite spirit, and sincere repentance can combine to satisfy the otherwise impossibly high demands of God’s perfect law of justice.

    One of the mistakes members often make is thinking that wicked people who have not received Christ’s forgiveness can inherit a post-resurrection kingdom of glory. But the truth of the matter is that immediately after death the wicked are not at all worthy or repaired to inherit a telestial glory; rather, they are first thrust into hell and must remain there in darkness unless and until the spiritual punishment they endure in that place causes their hearts to become sufficiently softened to be truly able to freely and willingly come unto Christ in real faith, sincerely repent of their sins, receive God’s forgiveness, and then gladly receive a post-resurrection inheritance of glory in his one of the Father’s many mansions of glory.

    I can imagine few things more horrible to contemplate than the thought that great multitudes of our spirit brothers and sisters might spend a all eternity in a quasi-saved condition, but being placed there by by virtue of their own works, without the gladness and peace of mind that can only come through receiving the loving assurance of God’s forgiveness.

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