And the Three Degrees of Glory

By Loyal to the Word



Do you want to know about the resurrection of the dead? Who is going to be saved in the celestial kingdom of God? Then read your Book of Mormon. Read your Doctrine and Covenants. The 76th section of the Doctrine and Covenants, known as the Vision, is the clearest, most concise statement regarding salvation that I know anything about, and I doubt if the Lord ever gave to any people, at any time upon the face of the earth, anything clearer than this revelation.
                                                                                                                                                                                       - Joseph Fielding Smith

                                                                                                                                                                                  Doctrines of Salvation, 1:279

If you and I ever get into the celestial kingdom, we have got to keep the law of that kingdom. Show me that law that a man keeps and I will tell you where he is going.
                                                                                                                                                                                       - Wilford Woodruff

                                                                                                                                                                               Latter-day Prophets Speak, p. 63

            Much confusion and misinformation prevails in the Church regarding the subject of the judgment and the degrees of glory. This state of confusion should not exist, since the doctrine of the Judgment is laid out very plainly in scripture and accessible to all. This paper will attempt to clear up mistaken ideas about the requirements to enter each kingdom of glory and put forth the true doctrine as it is given in the scriptures.


On Being Judgmental


This paper will make some very unapologetic declarations about what type of people will inherit which kingdom of glory. Strangely, in the Church there are many who are hesitant to draw conclusions in this area, deeming such a thing to be “judgmental,” even with all the information the Lord has revealed to us regarding the criteria for reward and punishment, which he expects us to believe.

This author is always puzzled when someone says to another, “you are judgmental.” It doesn’t make sense, really. Of course the accused person is judgmental – so is the accuser! Everyone makes judgments every single day; it is how we understand the world as human beings. This person is tall, that person is quiet, that person is intimidating, that person has a short temper, etc. We have to make judgments in order to make sense of our surroundings. No one can escape this. Perhaps what is meant when someone says, “you are judgmental” is that the accused person is not understanding of others or is quick to think badly of them. This, indeed, we are supposed to avoid. But nothing is inherently wrong with making judgments. The Savior taught, “Judge not unrighteously, that ye be not judged: but judge righteous judgment” (JST Matt. 7:1, emphasis added). How do we judge a righteous judgment? God said, “Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgment: thou shalt not respect the person of the poor, nor honour the person of the mighty: but in righteousness shalt thou judge thy neighbor” (Lev. 19:15).

Judging a righteous judgment does not mean forgetting everything we know from the scriptures. The truth is that the Lord has revealed to us in very explicit and specific detail what the criteria is for inheriting each degree of glory in the afterlife. To ignore this information he has given us, or to say that we are not permitted to make any conclusions based on it, is the same as not believing it. Do we believe what the Lord has revealed about how he will judge mankind? Then let’s act like we do and learn of his words.


The Three Degrees of Glory


Church members are well aware that there are three degrees of glory in the afterlife, which are available for inheritance after the judgment. These kingdoms are, from highest to lowest: the celestial, terrestrial, and telestial kingdoms. Church members are also keenly aware that entrance into each of the kingdoms, from higher to lower, is contingent upon the conduct a person displays throughout their life. “And unto every kingdom is given a law” (D&C 88:38) the scriptures tell us. “For he who is not able to abide the law of a celestial kingdom cannot abide a celestial glory. And he who cannot abide the law of a terrestrial kingdom cannot abide a terrestrial glory. And he who cannot abide the law of a telestial kingdom cannot abide a telestial glory” (D&C 88:22-24).

Where the problem lies is when members ignore what God has given us for information about the criteria for each kingdom. But we cannot safely ignore it! Really, what God has told us in Section 88 of the Doctrine & Covenants is that the judgment is much like a mathematical equation: 1+1=2, and 1+2=3. Always. This law does not vary. It is just as true that if a person is living the laws of a telestial kingdom, they will inherit that kingdom, just as surely as 1+1=2 and not 3. We are explicitly told that “unto every kingdom is given a law; and unto every law there are certain bounds also and conditions. All beings who abide not in those conditions are not justified” (D&C 88:38-39). Consequently, a person who lived the law of a telestial kingdom would not be justified in inheriting a terrestrial or a celestial kingdom (D&C 88:22-24). Just as 1+1=2, a person living a telestial lifestyle will go to the telestial kingdom.

In conclusion to all of this, when we are told in the scriptures that such and such conduct qualifies someone for such and such kingdom, we may assume with full confidence that a person who does those things will enter that kingdom. This means that if we know enough about a person’s conduct, we can predict, based on what the scriptures tell us, what their ultimate destiny will be. The only caveat is that we must know enough details about their personal conduct to make such a judgment, which is often impossible. But we do know the principles on which all mankind will be judged, and therefore every man may examine himself and see how he measures up.


Qualifications for the Celestial Kingdom


The celestial kingdom is the ultimate goal of every righteous Latter-day Saint. Exaltation in this kingdom is the pinnacle of salvation, and the salvation of which the scriptures speak. In addition to there being three degrees of glory (celestial, terrestrial, and telestial), the celestial kingdom has within itself three degrees (D&C 131:1). Baptism is required to enter the celestial kingdom, presumably to the lowest degree (2 Ne. 31:17-18). Temple marriage is required for the highest degree (D&C 131:1-4), and those who enter there become exalted. As for the middle (second) degree in the celestial kingdom, there is no revealed answer. Speculation might tell us that it is those who have received their endowment but not the marriage sealing.

Exaltation is by definition salvation in the highest degree of the celestial kingdom. It consists of living forever in the presence of our Heavenly Father (D&C 132:23), and becoming a god ourselves (D&C 132:20). It also consists of living forever with those who qualify of our earthly families as an eternal family unit, with father and mother being sealed to children, each member themselves also being a god (Mal. 4:5-6). It also consists of a man being sealed to his wife (or wives) for all eternity in the marriage relationship (D&C 132:19). Through this marriage relationship, in addition to being sealed to earthly offspring who have themselves become gods, husband and wife will have “a continuation of the seeds forever and ever” (D&C 132:19) meaning the ability to have spirit offspring without number. These spirit offspring will eventually inhabit the endless number of worlds created by the aforementioned husband and wife (Moses 1:4, 39). Exaltation consists of a “fulness of joy” (3 Ne. 28:10), and life with three tiers of family: 1) Our Heavenly Family, 2) those who qualify from our earthly family, and 3) our eternal progeny.

After considering the grand nature of exaltation in the celestial kingdom, it is imperative to know who can go to the celestial kingdom and why. What sort of people go to the celestial kingdom? We shall quote the scriptures on this matter:


And again we bear record—for we saw and heard, and this is the testimony of the gospel of Christ concerning them who shall come forth in the resurrection of the just—

They are they 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, and this according to the commandment which he has given—

That by keeping the commandments they might be washed and cleansed from all their sins, and receive the Holy Spirit by the laying on of the hands of him who is ordained and sealed unto this power;

And who 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.

They are they who are the church of the Firstborn.

They are they into whose hands the Father has given all things—

They are they who are priests and kings, who have received of his fulness, and of his glory;

And are priests of the Most High, after the order of Melchizedek, which was after the order of Enoch, which was after the order of the Only Begotten Son.

Wherefore, as it is written, they are gods, even the sons of God—

Wherefore, all things are theirs, whether life or death, or things present, or things to come, all are theirs and they are Christ's, and Christ is God's.

And they shall overcome all things.

Wherefore, let no man glory in man, but rather let him glory in God, who shall subdue all enemies under his feet.

These shall dwell in the presence of God and his Christ forever and ever.

These are they whom he shall bring with him, when he shall come in the clouds of heaven to reign on the earth over his people.

These are they who shall have part in the first resurrection.

These are they who shall come forth in the resurrection of the just.

These are they who are come unto Mount Zion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly place, the holiest of all.

These are they who have come to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of Enoch, and of the Firstborn.

These are they whose names are written in heaven, where God and Christ are the judge of all.

These are they who are just men made perfect through Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, who wrought out this perfect atonement through the shedding of his own blood.

These are they whose bodies are celestial, whose glory is that of the sun, even the glory of God, the highest of all, whose glory the sun of the firmament is written of as being typical.

(Doctrine and Covenants 76:50-70)


And thus we saw the glory of the celestial, which excels in all things—where God, even the Father, reigns upon his throne forever and ever;

Before whose throne all things bow in humble reverence, and give him glory forever and ever.

They who dwell in his presence are the church of the Firstborn; and they see as they are seen, and know as they are known, having received of his fulness and of his grace;

And he makes them equal in power, and in might, and in dominion.

And the glory of the celestial is one, even as the glory of the sun is one.

(Doctrine and Covenants 76:92-96)


            What we learn from the foregoing is that those who go to the celestial kingdom are:


1) Those who have “received the testimony of Jesus, and believed on his name and were baptized after the manner of his burial” (D&C 76:51), meaning that they believe in Jesus Christ and have joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints through baptism and “receive the Holy Spirit by the laying on of the hands” of a legal administrator (D&C 76:52).


2) Those who have “overcome by faith, and are sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise” (D&C 76:53). To have “overcome by faith” means that they have “endure[d] to the end, in following the example of the Son of the living God” (2 Ne. 31:16) and lived a righteous life and stayed true to the gospel cause. To be “sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise” no doubt means that the ordinances entered into, such as baptism, but more especially the marriage sealing in the temple, has been ratified and approved by the Holy Ghost. The phrase “Holy Spirit of promise” is particularly meaningful to temple marriage, even though the doctrine of eternal marriage was not yet revealed at the time of this great revelation in 1832. Marriage is essential for exaltation in the celestial kingdom (D&C 131:1-4).


3)  Those who “are the church of the Firstborn” (D&C 76:54), meaning that they are members of the Church here on earth and therefore members of Christ’s Church or fold in the eternal worlds, and that their names are “written in the Lamb’s book of life” (Rev. 21:27) and “whose names are written in heaven” (D&C 76:68) as long as they are faithful.


4) Those who are “priests and kings” (D&C 76:56), who have partaken of the ordinances of the temple and realize the blessings pronounced therein when they are raised to life in the eternal worlds.


5) Those men who are “priests of the Most High, after the order of Melchizedek” (D&C 76:57). The Melchizedek priesthood is just as essential to salvation as baptism, and is necessary for men to receive in order to partake in the ordinances of the temple. Women, though they do not actually hold the priesthood, fulfill this requirement of receiving the Melchizedek priesthood when they join in marriage to a worthy priesthood holder.


6) Those who do not “glory in man, but rather let him glory in God” (D&C 76:61). Those worthy to enter the celestial kingdom do not “putteth [their] trust in the arm of flesh” (2 Ne. 4:34). They have faith in God and believe his doctrine and his scriptures. Liberal members of the Church who distrust the scriptures and discount the teachings of the prophets in favor of their own intellectualizations do not have the requisite faith or integrity to reach the celestial kingdom.


7) Those “who are just men made perfect through Jesus the mediator of the new covenant” (D&C 76:69). Note that they are not perfect prior to their entrance into the celestial kingdom, as some practically assume, but they are “just men made perfect.” Therefore the celestial kingdom will consist of those who are good people, or “just men [and women]” who have taken upon themselves the ordinances of God. Nobody is perfect, and that is not the requirement in this life. But we will be “made perfect” in the eternal worlds (D&C 76:69; Matt. 5:48). Part of this requirement is that we live a pure life as well as we can, love God, and love all others. The love of all mankind is called “charity” and it “is the pure love of Christ” (Moro. 7:46). To have charity is to see others through the lens that Jesus Christ sees them, and to love them as children of God. The scriptures go on to explain that a person who has charity “suffereth long, and is kind, and envieth not, and is not puffed up, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, and rejoiceth not in iniquity but rejoiceth in the truth, beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things” (Moroni 7:45; 1 Cor. 13:4-7). Moroni declared that “except ye have charity ye can in nowise be saved in the kingdom of God” (Moro. 10:21). What is required for the celestial kingdom is the right spirit of goodness and obedience. The scriptures say, “if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ” (Moro. 10:32).


            Many wonder whether their sacrifice is acceptable to the Lord and worry whether their failings are keeping them from being sufficiently worthy of entering the celestial kingdom. There need not be any ignorance on the matter. In fact, if a worthy person is not sure whether they will inherit the celestial kingdom or not, then they probably do not understand the doctrine. A person can know and have an assurance by the Holy Ghost if they are sufficiently worthy to enter the celestial kingdom, just as in the Book of Mormon times, “many thousands did truly mourn for the loss of their kindred, yet they rejoice and exult in the hope, and even know, according to the promises of the Lord, that they are raised to dwell at the right hand of God, in a state of never-ending happiness” (Alma 28:12, emphasis added). In fact, the consistent presence of the Holy Ghost in a person’s life is an indicator that they are worthy of the celestial kingdom because they are “justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:11). It is as the Prophet Joseph Smith taught: "those who keep the sayings of Jesus and obey His teachings have not only a promise of a resurrection from the dead, but an assurance of being admitted into His glorious kingdom" (Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 62).


Qualifications for the Terrestrial Kingdom


            The terrestrial kingdom is the second, or middle, of the three degrees of glory. Those who enter the terrestrial kingdom do not become exalted, neither do they live in family units or marriage relationships (D&C 132:16-17). Those who enter the terrestrial kingdom do not live with God the Father, or with Jesus Christ, however they do receive ministration from Christ and from other celestial beings (D&C 76:77, 86-87). The difference in glory between the terrestrial kingdom from the celestial is as pronounced as the difference in brightness between the moon and the sun (D&C 76:71).

One prevailing notion that is seriously mistaken is the idea that the terrestrial kingdom, the kingdom just below the celestial, is a place where grave sinners may find their inheritance. This author has read of a once faithful member of the Church who since opted to live as a homosexual. This person stated that he simply chooses to ‘live a terrestrial lifestyle.’ But this homosexual will be gravely disappointed when he dies and finds out that he was not worthy of the lofty reward of the terrestrial kingdom. Good people, not vile sinners, go to the terrestrial kingdom, as we shall illustrate shortly. Let us refer again to the scriptures and analyze what is written therein to gain a greater understanding of what is required to reach the terrestrial kingdom:


And again, we saw the terrestrial world, and behold and lo, these are they who are of the terrestrial, whose glory differs from that of the church of the Firstborn who have received the fulness of the Father, even as that of the moon differs from the sun in the firmament.

Behold, these are they who died without law;

And also they who are the spirits of men kept in prison, whom the Son visited, and preached the gospel unto them, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh;

Who received not the testimony of Jesus in the flesh, but afterwards received it.

These are they who are honorable men of the earth, who were blinded by the craftiness of men.

These are they who receive of his glory, but not of his fulness.

These are they who receive of the presence of the Son, but not of the fulness of the Father.

Wherefore, they are bodies terrestrial, and not bodies celestial, and differ in glory as the moon differs from the sun.

These are they who are not valiant in the testimony of Jesus; wherefore, they obtain not the crown over the kingdom of our God.

And now this is the end of the vision which we saw of the terrestrial, that the Lord commanded us to write while we were yet in the Spirit.

(Doctrine and Covenants 76:71-80)



What we learn from the foregoing is that those who go to the terrestrial kingdom are:


1) Those who “died without law” (D&C 76:72), meaning those who did not accept the gospel (with its attendant laws and ordinances), but yet were not sinful. In this connection the scriptures tell us, “And then shall the heathen nations be redeemed, and they that knew no law shall have part in the first resurrection; and it shall be tolerable for them” (D&C 45:54). Of course, terrestrial people are resurrected in the first resurrection, being included among the righteous (D&C 88:96-99; John 5:28-29), but they are resurrected after celestial people and have no part in the same glory. Those who are heathens of course can accept the gospel and receive the celestial kingdom, but of those who choose, in this life or in the spirit world, to remain in their heathen ways and yet live righteously, they shall inherit the terrestrial kingdom. “Without law” means “without the law of the gospel.” Sidney B. Sperry, the well known scholar in the Church stated, “those in this category [of those who ‘died without law’] must include millions of people throughout the earth who never heard the Gospel of Christ and most of whom, even if they had heard it, would not have comprehended it or accepted it” (as quoted in Brewster, Doctrine and Covenants Encyclopedia, p. 591).


2) Those who “are the spirits of men kept in prison, whom the Son visited, and preached the gospel unto them, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh” (D&C 76:73). These are those who “died in their sins, without a knowledge of the truth, or in transgression, having rejected the prophets” (D&C 138:32). In other words, this is referring to two classes of people: those who “died without law” and opted to not accept the gospel in the spirit world (see point 1), and those who heard the truth while living but rejected it, only to later accept it in the spirit world (see point 3). The wicked antediluvians (pre-Flood peoples) who were killed in the Flood were apparently among the latter class (1 Pet. 3:18-20; D&C 138:28-34). In reference to those who died in the Flood, Elder McConkie explained,


These particular spirits, the souls of those who lived in Noah's day were taught the gospel during their mortal probation. (Moses 8:19-24.) Their opportunity to believe and obey the truths of salvation came while they yet dwelt in mortality. Hence, even assuming they accept the truth in the spirit world, the highest inheritance available to them is the terrestrial kingdom; they are forever barred from that eternal life found only in the celestial kingdom of heaven. This limitation on the doctrine of salvation for the dead was revealed to Joseph Smith in the vision of the degrees of glory. Speaking of the terrestrial world, the Lord said: These are “they who are the spirits of men kept in prison, whom the Son visited, and preached the gospel unto them, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh; Who received not the testimony of Jesus in the flesh, but afterwards received it.” (D. & C. 76:73-74.)
(Bruce R. McConkie, Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3: 313)


            It should also be noted that to be “judged according to men in the flesh” means to be judged “according to the principles of the gospel” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, 2: 132).


3) Those who “received not the testimony of Jesus in the flesh, but afterwards received it” (D&C 76:74), meaning those who heard the message of the gospel while living and rejected it, but “afterwards received it” in the spirit world.


4) Those who “are honorable men of the earth, who were blinded by the craftiness of men” (D&C 76:75). As this scripture explains clearly, those who inherit the terrestrial kingdom are good people, or “honorable,” and not evil. It will include those masses of sectarian Christians who, while not accepting the full gospel, yet live good lives and follow that which they accepted from God. Really, the terrestrial kingdom, in its rewards and in a large measure its prerequisites, is much like what the masses of sectarian Christians are expecting of heaven, and it is exactly what they will get if they continue to live good lives but refuse to accept God’s true doctrine and ordinances. For them it will be a glorious reward, but, just as they have been taught in their churches, they will not be gods and they will not live in a family unit (D&C 132:16-17).


5) Those Church members who “are not valiant in the testimony of Jesus” (D&C 76:79). This refers to people who are members of the true Church but are not very motivated. They are morally clean but not very concerned with the Kingdom of God. This type of people do not care to magnify their callings. Those who don’t care to do home teaching, for instance, are not valiant. The Savior taught that he will say to the faithful, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things” (Matt. 25:21, emphasis added). It follows then, that those who neglect the small things of the kingdom, like home teaching, or magnifying their ward calling, etc. will not inherit the celestial kingdom.

Of this class of terrestrial people, who are “not valiant in the testimony of Jesus,” Joseph Fielding Smith taught, “They may live clean lives; they may be honest, industrious, good citizens, and all that, but they are not willing to assume any portion of the labor which devolves upon members of the Church, in carrying on the great work of redemption of mankind” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Improvement Era, 1919, Vol. Xxii. May, 1919 No. 7).


            In summary of the terrestrial kingdom, Bruce R. McConkie aptly stated:


To the terrestrial kingdom will go: 1. Accountable persons who die without law (and who, of course, do not accept the gospel in the spirit world under those particular circumstances which would make them heirs of the celestial kingdom); 2. Those who reject the gospel in this life and who reverse their course and accept it in the spirit world; 3. Honorable men of the earth who are blinded by the craftiness of men and who therefore do not accept and live the gospel law; and 4. Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who have testimonies of Christ and the divinity of the great latter-day work and who are not valiant, but who are instead lukewarm in their devotion to the Church and to righteousness. (D. & C. 76:71-80.)
(Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 2d ed. p. 784.)


Those Who Inherit the Telestial Kingdom


            The telestial kingdom is the kingdom where the wicked and evil people of the world will go. It includes those who will be burned at the Second Coming of Christ. “For, behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble” (Malachi 4:1). All those who go to the telestial kingdom must first spend their requisite time in hell, and only afterwards are they resurrected in the last resurrection. The telestial kingdom differs from the terrestrial glory to the same proportion that stars are dimmer than the moon (D&C 76:81). There are many wicked deeds that will consign a person to the telestial kingdom, and they are not all equal in depravity. Therefore, “the glory of the telestial is one, even as the glory of the stars is one; for as one star differs from another star in glory, even so differs one from another in glory in the telestial world” (D&C 76:98, emphasis added). The most wicked sinners that will go to the telestial kingdom will be the dimmer lights among that kingdom. Those whose deeds are not as foul by comparison will be among the brighter.

The telestial kingdom will be somewhat comparable to the world in which we now live, which is itself a telestial sphere at the present time. That being said, however, the telestial kingdom which people will inhabit after the resurrection will be of a higher quality and scale, as far as telestial worlds go, than the present condition of our planet earth. Despite the low class of people who will inhabit this kingdom, and its low status in relation to the other kingdoms, even its glory “surpasses all understanding” (D&C 76:89).

Regarding those who will inherit the telestial kingdom, the scriptures declare:


And again, we saw the glory of the telestial, which glory is that of the lesser, even as the glory of the stars differs from that of the glory of the moon in the firmament.

These are they who received not the gospel of Christ, neither the testimony of Jesus.

These are they who deny not the Holy Spirit.

These are they who are thrust down to hell.

These are they who shall not be redeemed from the devil until the last resurrection, until the Lord, even Christ the Lamb, shall have finished his work.

These are they who receive not of his fulness in the eternal world, but of the Holy Spirit through the ministration of the terrestrial;

And the terrestrial through the ministration of the celestial.

And also the telestial receive it of the administering of angels who are appointed to minister for them, or who are appointed to be ministering spirits for them; for they shall be heirs of salvation.

And thus we saw, in the heavenly vision, the glory of the telestial, which surpasses all understanding;

And no man knows it except him to whom God has revealed it.

(Doctrine and Covenants 76:81-90)


And the glory of the telestial is one, even as the glory of the stars is one; for as one star differs from another star in glory, even so differs one from another in glory in the telestial world;

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—some of Christ and some of John, and some of Moses, and some of Elias, and some of Esaias, and some of Isaiah, and some of Enoch;

But received not the gospel, neither the testimony of Jesus, neither the prophets, neither the everlasting covenant.

Last of all, these all are they who will not be gathered with the saints, to be caught up unto the church of the Firstborn, and received into the cloud.

These are they who are liars, and sorcerers, and adulterers, and whoremongers, and whosoever loves and makes a lie.

These are they who suffer the wrath of God on earth.

These are they who suffer the vengeance of eternal fire.

These are they who are cast down to hell and suffer the wrath of Almighty God, until the fulness of times, when Christ shall have subdued all enemies under his feet, and shall have perfected his work;

When he shall deliver up the kingdom, and present it unto the Father, spotless, saying: I have overcome and have trodden the wine-press alone, even the wine-press of the fierceness of the wrath of Almighty God.

Then shall he be crowned with the crown of his glory, to sit on the throne of his power to reign forever and ever.

But behold, and lo, we saw the glory and the inhabitants of the telestial world, that they were as innumerable as the stars in the firmament of heaven, or as the sand upon the seashore;

And heard the voice of the Lord saying: These all shall bow the knee, and every tongue shall confess to him who sits upon the throne forever and ever;

For they shall be judged according to their works, and every man shall receive according to his own works, his own dominion, in the mansions which are prepared;

And they shall be servants of the Most High; but where God and Christ dwell they cannot come, worlds without end.

(Doctrine and Covenants 76:98-112)


What we learn from the foregoing is that those who go to the telestial kingdom are:


1) Those who “received not the gospel of Christ, neither the testimony of Jesus” (D&C 76:82). They rejected the gospel and have no part in it.


2) Those who “deny not the Holy Spirit” (D&C 76:83). The inhabitants of the telestial kingdom are not sons of perdition. Those who go to this kingdom did not have sufficient light and knowledge to have become sons of perdition, though many members of the Church will no doubt find themselves in this kingdom as a result of poor decisions.


3) Those who are “thrust down to hell” (D&C 76:84). All those who inherit the telestial kingdom first go to hell. This fact is part and parcel of inheritance in the telestial kingdom. After their sins are burned out of them through intense suffering, telestial people are permitted to inherit the telestial kingdom - but it is only after intense suffering. It was to the telestial people who Christ gave this warning:


Therefore I command you to repent—repent, lest I smite you by the rod of my mouth, and by my wrath, and by my anger, and your sufferings be sore—how sore you know not, how exquisite you know not, yea, how hard to bear you know not. For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent; But if they would not repent they must suffer even as I; Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit (Doctrine and Covenants 19:15-17)


            Thus we read in the Book of Mormon that “all mankind were fallen, and they were in the grasp of justice” (Alma 42:14) since “the natural man,” that carnal part of our nature which telestial people have given into, “is an enemy to God” (Mosiah 3:19). Those who choose evil and carnal works, telestial people, are in this category of enemies to Deity. Accordingly, “the plan of mercy could not be brought about except an atonement should be made; therefore God himself atoneth for the sins of the world, to bring about the plan of mercy, to appease the demands of justice” (Alma 42:15). The condition of mercy, therefore, is repentance. Sore repentance is required of these telestial people “otherwise justice claimeth the creature and executeth the law, and the law inflicteth the punishment [which is hell]” (Alma 42:22).


4) Those who “shall not be redeemed from the devil until the last resurrection” (D&C 76:85), meaning that they will suffer in hell with the devil while in the “outer darkness” portion of the world of spirits (Alma 40:13), from the time they die until the end of the millennium (Alma 40:11, 13-14; D&C 88:100-101). That being true, it follows that some will spend more, and some less time in hell than others, depending on which age of the world they lived and died. But each person will suffer in the exact proportion and intensity that their sins require.


5) Those 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 received not the gospel, neither the testimony of Jesus, neither the prophets, neither the everlasting covenant” (D&C 76:99-101). Though some telestial people may claim allegiance to a church, this will not save them from the consequences of their conduct. Joseph Smith remarked, “The sectarian world are going to hell by hundreds, by thousands and by millions” (History of the Church, 5:554). In fact, the very fact that such people will claim faith in God yet disdainfully reject the truth will contribute to their damnation and consignment to the telestial kingdom. In this connection Joseph Smith further remarked,


What will become of the world, or the various professors of religion who do not believe in revelation and the oracles of God as continued to His Church in all ages of the world, when He has a people on earth? I tell you, in the name of Jesus Christ, they will be damned; and when you get into the eternal world, you will find it will be so, they cannot escape the damnation of hell.
(Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 272.)

Compare this principle once with Christendom at the present day, and where are they, with all their boasted religion, piety and sacredness while at the same time they are crying out against prophets, apostles, angels, revelations, prophesying and visions, etc. Why, they are just ripening for the damnation of hell. They will be damned, for they reject the most glorious principle of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and treat with disdain and trample under foot the key that unlocks the heavens and puts in our possession the glories of the celestial world. Yes, I say, such will be
damned, with all their professed godliness.
(Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 298.)


            This is not to say that all those who reject the principle of modern revelation will go to hell. Many good people of the various churches who reject the gospel go to the terrestrial kingdom (D&C 76:75). But those who reject the work of God in a venomous and disdainful manner are enemies to God. And those who actively fight against the truth are among those who are in this category. Moroni confirmed this for us when he warned,


And he that shall breathe out wrath and strifes against the work of the Lord, and against the covenant people of the Lord who are the house of Israel, and shall say: We will destroy the work of the Lord, and the Lord will not remember his covenant which he hath made unto the house of Israel—the same is in danger to be hewn down and cast into the fire. (Mormon 8:21)


6) Those who “are liars, and sorcerers, and adulterers, and whoremongers, and whosoever loves and makes a lie” (D&C 76:103). The telestial kingdom is the place where such bad people of the world will ultimately go. It is the place where those who are fit to suffer in hell will find their lasting inheritance after tremendous suffering.



It includes “liars” or those who have made it their habit to speak untruths. Honesty is a fundamental part of being a good person, and those who are devoid of it cannot go where good people have their inheritance (the terrestrial and celestial kingdoms).



It likewise includes “sorcerers” or those who involve themselves in darkness and mischief like that of voodoo or witchcraft.



It likewise includes “adulterers” or those who have had sexual or otherwise intimate relations with someone other than their lawfully wedded spouse (D&C 42:22-24). Marriage is perhaps the most sacred human trust, and those who break it can only go to hell unless there is awful repentance.



It likewise includes “whoremongers,” which is the scriptural word for those who engage in sexual sin of any kind. Sexual sin is one of the most grave of all the categories of sins. It is “most abominable above all sins save it be the shedding of innocent blood [murder] or denying the Holy Ghost” (Alma 39:5). There are many degrees and varieties of sexual sin. All are evil and once indulged in qualify the sinner for the telestial kingdom and damnation in hell. But in order to put them in perspective, from the most heinous to less heinous of the sexual sins, we shall attempt to categorize the various sexual sins in a probable list, from most heinous at the top to less heinous at the bottom:


o   pedophilia

o   forcible rape of an adult

o   homosexuality/bestiality

o   adultery

o   fornication (including any of the varieties of sexual intercourse performed between unmarried persons)

o   “petting” between unmarried persons

o   pornography addiction/masturbation


All those who engage in any of the activities in the above list and never properly repent will go to hell. Clearly the acts in this list are all pernicious, and one often leads to another. But even the least of these acts will condemn a person. The scriptures proclaim, “Who shall ascend into the hill of the LORD? or who shall stand in his holy place? He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart” (Psalms 24:3-4).

In this pornographic world we now live in, it is hard to escape being exposed to pornography in some degree or another. Therefore, the mere accidental exposure to pornography does not qualify one for the telestial kingdom. But when a person is actively seeking out pornography, this constitutes part of the “whoredoms” of which the scriptures speak.

It should be kept in mind at all times that there are degrees of wickedness and degrees of suffering which will occur in hell. A fornicator will not suffer to the same degree as Hitler, but they will both go there. Likewise an adulterer and a masturbator will both find themselves in hell, but they will not suffer to quite the same degree – only as much as the gravity of their sin warrants.


7) The book of Revelation adds to the list found in Doctrine & Covenants 76:103 of those who will be deserving of hell and the telestial kingdom. It says, “the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone” (Rev. 21:8).


The Fearful

            The “fearful” are those “many [that] have believed not, and have perished in their sins, and are looking forth with fear, in torment, for the fiery indignation of the wrath of God to be poured out upon them” (Moses 7:1). To be a telestial person is to be full of fear, in this life but more especially in the next, when they realize the depth of the torment which is theirs.


The Unbelieving and Abominable

            The “unbelieving, and the abominable” are those crude people of the world that make it a worse and a filthier place to live in. Such people will go to hell and be eventually found in the telestial kingdom.



            In the book of Revelation, “murderers” also makes the list of those who will be in hell (Rev. 21:8). Murder, which is by definition a wrongful or malicious killing, is second only to blasphemy against the Holy Ghost in seriousness (Alma 39:5). Once a person murders, they cannot repent for their sin and are ineligible for forgiveness. “Thou shalt not kill,” the Lord declared, “and he that kills shall not have forgiveness in this world, nor in the world to come” (D&C 42:18, emphasis added). The fate of a murderer is always to go to hell. Joseph Smith taught that “such characters cannot be forgiven, until they have paid the last farthing. The prayers of all the ministers in the world can never close the gates of hell against a murderer” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 189). All murderers who have not also sinned against the Holy Ghost will eventually be found in the telestial kingdom.



            “Idolaters” in Rev. 21:8 has a multi-reference to those who place emphasis on the things of the world and set up material things as “idols,” those who have false pagan systems of worship, and those who indulge in various forms of sexual debauchery, which was an integral part of ancient idol worship.


8) Those who “suffer the wrath of God on earth” (D&C 76:104). This has reference to the withholding of God’s favor and grace because of wickedness (1 Ne. 17:35, D&C 130:20-21), and also the “fearful looking for the fiery indignation of the wrath of God upon them” (Alma 40:14) while they are even yet in the flesh.


9) Those who “suffer the vengeance of eternal fire” (D&C 76:105), which is simply a reiteration of the fact that all telestial inhabitants must first be “thrust down to hell” (D&C 76:84).


10) Telestial inhabitants shall be “as innumerable as the stars in the firmament of heaven, or as the sand upon the seashore” (D&C 76:109). Only with specific reference to the telestial kingdom is this astonishing statement made. It is therefore given to us to understand that most people in this world will qualify for the telestial kingdom. The telestial kingdom is for those who followed the way of the world, and it wouldn’t be the way of the world if most people in the world did not pursue that path. It therefore follows that most people who live on this earth to adult age will go to hell, according to the revelations of God (Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed. p. 778; Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, 2:22).


11) It is said of telestial inhabitants, “These all shall bow the knee, and every tongue shall confess to him who sits upon the throne” (D&C 76:110). Despite their refusal to accept the atonement of Christ in this life, telestial people, after being cleansed through their awful experience in hell, will be required to acknowledge Jesus Christ as the Savior of the world. This will be a prerequisite to their entrance into the glory of the telestial kingdom. This acknowledgement, however, at this point in time will have no power to redeem them from their earthly sins, which at this point they themselves, and not Christ, have already paid the price for in hell (D&C 19:16-18). In other words, this confession that Jesus is the Christ can never bring them out of the telestial kingdom (D&C 76:112).


12) Telestial inhabitants “shall be judged according to their works, and every man shall receive according to his own works, his own dominion, in the mansions which are prepared” (D&C 76:111). This is a reiteration of the fact that many shades and degrees of evil people will be among the number that are found in the telestial kingdom, and all will receive exactly according to their works (D&C 76:98).


13) Those who “shall be servants of the Most High” (D&C 76:112). After being cleansed through their experience in hell, those who inherit the telestial kingdom remain as servants to God, and not heirs. Their role will be “to minister for those who are worthy of a far more, and an exceeding, and an eternal weight of glory” (D&C 132:16).


14) Of those in the telestial kingdom, the revelation declares, “but where God and Christ dwell they cannot come, worlds without end” (D&C 76:112). This clear statement unequivocally declares that there can be no progression from the telestial glory on up to higher kingdoms of glory. In fact, there is no advancement at all between any of the kingdoms of glory, including the terrestrial to the celestial kingdom (D&C 132:16-17). “Worlds without end,” of course, means “forever and ever.” This is evident in the way in which the Prophet Joseph Smith used the phrase. He said,


There have been remarks made concerning all men being redeemed from hell; but I say that those who sin against the Holy Ghost cannot be forgiven in this world or in the world to come; they shall die the second death. Those who commit the unpardonable sin are doomed to Gnolom—to dwell in hell, worlds without end.
(Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 361, emphasis added.)


            And so we see that the inhabitants of the telestial world include those who have lived sinfully. It is the final inheritance of all those who go to hell (except sons of perdition). Those who go there have indulged in the ways of evil, including murder, sexual sin, lying, stealing, and other impure practices and life habits.




There is a mass of confusion among many Latter-day Saints surrounding the subject of hell. Some have thought erroneously, “we don’t believe in hell.” This is absolutely false, and those who are thus mistaken need to educate themselves with the scriptures and the teachings of the prophets. The scriptures indicate that hell is real and that very, very many people will go there. Joseph Fielding Smith stated,


The Church does teach that there is a place called hell. Of course we do not believe that all those who do not receive the gospel will eventually be cast into hell. We do not believe that hell is a place where the wicked are being burned forever. The Lord has prepared a place, however, for all those who are to be eternally punished for the violation of his laws.

(Joseph Fielding Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions, 2: 208).


What is hell? Bruce R. McConkie explained,


That part of the spirit world inhabited by wicked spirits who are awaiting the eventual day of their resurrection is called hell. Between their death and resurrection, these souls of the wicked are cast out into outer darkness, into the gloomy depression of sheol, into the hades of waiting wicked spirits, into hell. There they suffer the torments of the damned; there they welter in the vengeance of eternal fire; there is found weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth; there the fiery indignation of the wrath of God is poured out upon the wicked. (Alma 40:11-14; D. & C. 76:103-106.)

(Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 2d ed. p. 349.)


            Hell is a place of intense torment which is “like an unquenchable fire, whose flame ascendeth up forever and ever” (Mosiah 2:38) and is “as a lake of fire and brimstone,” (Alma 12:17) but not literal fire. In fact, the torments of hell are entirely nonphysical. It is a place where the wicked are “racked with eternal torment,” and their souls are “harrowed up to the greatest degree and racked with all [their] sins” (Alma 36:12) as they “remember all [their] sins and iniquities, for which [they will be] tormented” (Alma 36:13). As those in hell are “racked, even with the pains of a damned soul,” (Alma 36:16) they are “harrowed up by the memory of [their] many sins” (Alma 36:17) and “there could be nothing so exquisite and so bitter as [these] pains” (Alma 36:21). Referring to the torment in hell the Lord has said, “your sufferings [will] be sore - how sore you know not, how exquisite you know not, yea, how hard to bear you know not” (D&C 19:15).

The torments of hell are what is known as the Second Death (Alma 12:16-17, D&C 63:17). Therefore, the second death is suffered by all unrighteous people, but has perpetual power over the sons of perdition. Hell is permanent only for those who have committed the unpardonable sin (D&C 76:32-33). The balance of those in hell will, after being purged as if by fire, inherit the telestial kingdom after the judgment (Rev. 20:13). References to hell being “eternal” or “never-ending” have reference to the scope, rather than the duration of hell (D&C 19:6-12; 76:84-85).  

            Who goes to hell? Two classes of people will be found in hell: 1) as discussed earlier, those who are destined for the telestial kingdom must first pass through hell and suffer in proportion to the gravity of their sins, until they are resurrected at the end of the Millennium (D&C 88:100-101; 76:106), and 2) Those who are sons of perdition will be cast into hell with the telestial people, except after they are resurrected they are cast straightway back into hell forever (D&C 76:32-34; 88:103).


Other Factors in the Judgment


Our Judgment and Treatment of Others

What other important factors are at play in God’s impending judgment upon his children? The scriptures give us important information that add a new dimension to our understanding of how the Lord will judge us. The Lord Jesus Christ declared, “Judge not unrighteously, that ye be not judged; but judge righteous judgment. For with what judgment ye shall judge, ye shall be judged; and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again (JST Matthew 7:2-3, emphasis added). This statement indicates that the way in which we judge others will affect God’s judgment of us. Again, how do we make a “righteous judgment”? The scriptures say, “Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgment: thou shalt not respect the person of the poor, nor honour the person of the mighty: but in righteousness shalt thou judge thy neighbor” (Lev. 19:15, emphasis added). In other words, we should be more like the Lord in our judgment, “for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7). If we expect to have a good judgment upon ourselves, then we must seek to treat others with the same mercy that we wish to have from God. This is explained by Alma in the Book of Mormon in his discourse to his son:


[S]ee that you are merciful unto your brethren; deal justly, judge righteously, and do good continually; and if ye do all these things then shall ye receive your reward; yea, ye shall have mercy restored unto you again; ye shall have justice restored unto you again; ye shall have a righteous judgment restored unto you again; and ye shall have good rewarded unto you again.

For that which ye do send out shall return unto you again, and be restored; therefore, the word restoration more fully condemneth the sinner, and justifieth him not at all.

(Alma 41:14-15)


Certainly God will not abandon the criteria by which he will judge us, found in Section 76 and other scriptures. We cannot afford to lull ourselves into the erroneous and dangerous belief that the wicked may inherit the Kingdom of God if they cut others some slack. But the idea that our good or poor judgment of others will be reflected in God’s harshness or leniency towards us adds a new and interesting dimension into the judgment that should not be ignored.


Forgiveness of Others

            Tying in closely with treatment of others is our willingness to forgive those who have done us wrong. “I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men” (D&C 64:10). It is a requirement for salvation in the celestial kingdom that we forgive others. “Wherefore, I say unto you, that ye ought to forgive one another; for he that forgiveth not his brother his trespasses standeth condemned before the Lord; for there remaineth in him the greater sin” (D&C 64:9). It is an interesting fact, however, that Joseph Smith taught that our willingness to forgive others directly affects God’s ability to forgive us of our trespasses. The Prophet said,


Ever keep in exercise the principle of mercy, and be ready to forgive our brother on the first intimations of repentance, and asking forgiveness; and should we even forgive our brother, or even our enemy, before he repent or ask forgiveness, our heavenly Father would be equally as merciful unto us.
(Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 155. Emphasis added)


            It therefore follows that if we are quick to forgive those who have wronged us, God will be just as quick as that to forgive us of our wrongs against him. This is not to say that just because a person forgives others that they are exempt from punishment for serious sins. Necessary and requisite time is needed to recompense for serious transgressions. But the quicker we are to forgive others, the better our chances become, exponentially, of inheriting God’s kingdom. Forgiveness is a divine trait, and those who are pure in heart enough to possess it, and have lived a righteous life, will be found on the right hand of God in the world to come.



            Most of this world’s inhabitants are ignorant of the laws of God to some degree or another, and most people in this world are strangers to God and his true Church. God will not punish a person for not having the opportunity of being informed of his Gospel during their lifetime on earth. This is the great blasphemy against God that Satan has perpetuated and which has been swallowed whole by sectarian churches the world over. It makes God into an arbitrary being and a respecter of persons. Joseph Smith explained this circumstance well:


This glorious truth is well calculated to enlarge the understanding, and to sustain the soul under troubles, difficulties and distresses. For illustration, suppose the case of two men, brothers, equally intelligent, learned, virtuous and lovely, walking in uprightness and in all good conscience, so far as they have been able to discern duty from the muddy stream of tradition, or from the blotted page of the book of nature.

One dies and is buried, having never heard the Gospel of reconciliation; to the other the message of salvation is sent, he hears and embraces it, and is made the heir of eternal life. Shall the one become the partaker of glory and the other be consigned to hopeless perdition? Is there no chance for his escape? Sectarianism answers “none.” Such an idea is worse than atheism. The truth shall break down and dash in pieces all such bigoted Pharisaism; the sects shall be sifted, the honest in heart brought out, and their priests left in the midst of their corruption.

(Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 192)


            The gospel is preached to those in the spirit world who have never had a chance to accept it here (D&C 138:32-37). It is a common misconception that people who have heard the gospel in this life and rejected it can hear it again in the spirit world, embrace it, and thus become heirs of celestial glory. While such spirits can hear the gospel a second time, if they choose to accept the message then it will have been too late for them to claim the blessings of celestial glory. Such characters, as has been noted above, will belong to the terrestrial kingdom (D&C 76:74). Only those “who would have received it with all their hearts” if they had “been permitted to tarry” on earth (D&C 137:7-8) will be heirs to the celestial kingdom, and no others! For those righteous dead spoken of in D&C 137:7-8, the first time they hear the gospel will be in the spirit world.

            Further, Joseph Smith taught that a person who did not know about the gospel will be judged for their conduct according to the knowledge and understanding which they did have. He taught, “God judges men according to the use they make of the light which He gives them” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 303). This statement condemns those who, knowing better, have wasted their life in rebellion, and it exalts the honest in heart throughout all generations of the world who were confused and unsure of the truth because of the philosophies of men. Again, the Prophet Joseph Smith taught, “[Jehovah] will award judgment or mercy to all nations according to their several deserts, their means of obtaining intelligence, the laws by which they are governed, the facilities afforded them of obtaining correct information, and His inscrutable designs in relation to the human family” (Joseph Smith as quoted in Daniel H. Ludlow, Latter-day Prophets Speak, p. 52). The Prophet Joseph also said in this regard:


To say that the heathens would be damned because they did not believe the Gospel would be preposterous, and to say that the Jews would all be damned that do not believe in Jesus would be equally absurd; for “how can they believe on him of whom they have not heard, and how can they hear without a preacher, and how can he preach except he be sent;” consequently neither Jew nor heathen can be culpable for rejecting the conflicting opinions of sectarianism, nor for rejecting any testimony but that which is sent of God, for as the preacher cannot preach except he be sent, so the hearer cannot believe without he hear a “sent” preacher, and cannot be condemned for what he has not heard, and being without law, will have to be judged without law.
(Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 221)


            All people have the light of Christ, which “giveth light to every man that cometh into the world” (D&C 84:16), and so violations of basic moral codes of right and wrong are still punishable by hell for all people in all places. But as to the details of God’s laws and ordinances which a person could not have been expected to know except they shall “hear” by “a preacher” who is “sent” by God (Rom. 10:14-15), these things will be taught to the dead in the spirit world (see D&C 138:32-34) so that they are given the chance which they did not receive on earth – the chance to join the true Church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.




            It is very clear from the foregoing study the types and quality of people which will go to the celestial, terrestrial, and the telestial kingdoms after the final judgment. We also now have a clear picture of what hell is and who goes there. We need not rely on faulty misconceptions about God’s mercy or justice – we can know the criteria by which we will be graded at the conclusion of life’s great test. We should not be afraid to believe what is in the scriptures. And if we actually believe them, then we can be confident in coming to some very firm conclusions. The scriptures are so plain that it can be very accurately judged where a person will go (if enough is known about their works). The great benefit in this is that we can all take personal inventory of our lives and tell very accurately where we stand with God.




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