Book of Mormon prophets are consistent in their declaration that in the post-resurrection Judgment, only two classes of individuals exist--the righteous and the wicked. The righteous are gathered on the right hand of God, the wicked on His left. The righteous “have a perfect knowledge of their enjoyment, and their righteousness, being clothed with purity, yea even with the robe of righteousness.”1 The wicked are “filthy still,”2 and they “quake, and tremble, and shrink under the glance of his all-searching eye.”3 The righteous “inherit the kingdom of God,”4 while the wicked are “cast out”5 and “inherit the kingdom of the devil.”6
When we come to Section 76 of the Doctrine and Covenants, however, we are presented with what seems to be a very different picture of the post-resurrection world. Here we are introduced to the concept of four general outcomes—three degrees of glory…
“The glory of the celestial is one, even as the glory of the sun is one. And the glory of the terrestrial is one, even as the glory of the moon is one. 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.”7
…and one which is not a kingdom of glory:
“These are they who are the sons of perdition, of whom I say that it had been better for them never to have been born; For they are vessels of wrath, doomed to suffer the wrath of God, with the devil and his angels in eternity.”8
This doesn’t sound at all like the dualistic approach of the ancient American prophets. D&C 76 offers infinite gradations of glory, from celestial to telestial where the inhabitants are “as innumerable as the stars in the firmament of heaven, or as the sand upon the seashore,”9 with only the most wicked souls being cast into outer darkness; whereas, the Book of Mormon presents a traditional heaven-and-hell philosophy with no mention of anything between complete righteousness or utter iniquity. How can we reconcile these seemingly disparate views?
First and foremost, we must believe that both views are correct, for both were divinely inspired and the Holy Ghost does not contradict Himself! As President Howard W. Hunter once observed: “With God our Heavenly Father, all truth, wherever found or however apprehended, is circumscribed into one great whole. Ultimately, there are no contradictions, no quarrels, no inscrutable paradoxes, no mysteries.”10
Let’s assume for the moment that the Book of Mormon prophets are speaking of the same overall set of people that are seen by the Prophet Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon in their marvelous vision—everyone, “all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people.”11 If so, we can use the following formula to make a valuable comparison:
A + B = C + D
The left side of the equation is the view from the Book of Mormon. The right side of the equation is the view from D&C 76.
A = The wicked in the Book of Mormon.
B = The righteous in the Book of Mormon.
C = The sons of perdition in D&C 76.
D = Everyone who inherits a kingdom of glory in D&C 76.
How do we solve an equation with four variables, with two on each side of the equal sign? If we know that one variable on one side matches another variable on the other side, we can deduce that the remaining variables are equal, too. In this scenario, if we know that A = C, then B = D.
A = C
The wicked spoken of in the Book of Mormon are easily identifiable as the sons of perdition in D&C 76. The description of their terrible suffering and fate have numerous parallels. Here are a few:
Book of Mormon
“They have drunk out of the cup of the wrath of God.”12
“They are vessels of wrath.”13
“Their torment is as a lake of fire and brimstone.”14
“They…shall go away into the lake of fire and brimstone.”15
“There cometh upon them…a second death.”16
“The only ones on whom the second death shall have any power.”17
“The wicked remain as though there had been no redemption made, except it be the loosing of the bands of death.”18
“The only ones who shall not be redeemed in the due time of the Lord after the sufferings of his wrath.”19
“The judgment of an everlasting punishment is…upon them.”20
“They shall go away into everlasting punishment.”21
B = D
If the wicked in the Book of Mormon are sons of perdition, it stands to reason that the righteous spoken of in that volume consist of everyone else who are not sons of perdition--in other words, those of the telestial, terrestrial, and celestial glories—those that “shine forth:”
“And then shall the righteous shine forth in the kingdom of God. But behold, an awful death cometh upon the wicked; for they die as pertaining to things of righteousness; for they are unclean, and no unclean thing can inherit the kingdom of God; but they are cast out and consigned to partake of the fruits of their labors or their works, which have been evil; and they drink the dregs of a bitter cup.”22
Both Sides of the Equation are the Same
One crucial assumption we’re making in the foregoing formula is that we’re looking at the same set of resurrected souls in both the Book of Mormon and D&C 76. We generally agree that in D&C 76 we’re not leaving anyone out. We’re viewing “the resurrection of the dead” where all “shall come forth; they who have done good, in the resurrection of the just; and they who have done evil, in the resurrection of the unjust.”23
It was Joseph and Sidney’s meditation on John 5:29 which prompted the series of visions recorded in D&C 76 in the first place. The similarity of this biblical scripture to so many others recorded in the Book of Mormon gives us a key to understanding that the revelations in D&C 76 are simply additional light and knowledge concerning the same things written in the Book of Mormon—not unequal views in their overall scope. Just like D&C 76, the Book of Mormon prophets are writing about the the whole human race, just and unjust, at the conclusion of our second estate. For example, the prophet Mormon wrote:
“I would that all men might be saved. But we read that in the great and last day there are some who shall be cast out, yea, who shall be cast off from the presence of the Lord; Yea, who shall be consigned to a state of endless misery, fulfilling the words which say: They that have done good shall have everlasting life; and they that have done evil shall have everlasting damnation.”24
Other Book of Mormon prophets are likewise clear that they include all people in their view of the resurrection,25 and the Savior Himself used such language when He taught the multitude at the temple in Bountiful.26
When we read about the resurrected righteous in the Book of Mormon, we can infer that whatever is said of them must be applicable across the tiers of resurrected glory spoken of in D&C 76. If not, our equation is out of balance, and either the Book of Mormon prophets didn’t know what they were talking about, or D&C 76 is blown out of proportion and vastly overrated among the Latter-Day Saints. (Of course, neither of these absurdities is true!)
What does the Book of Mormon say about the resurrected righteous?
They are free from sin.27
They are happy.28
They are saved.29
They have eternal life.30
They are exalted.31
Even if we agree that recipients of telestial and terrestrial glory are saved, happy, and sanctified, how can we say that they inherit eternal life and exaltation, too? Very simply—there are no limits to their progression and eventually they become celestial persons with a full measure of all the blessings described in both the Book of Mormon and D&C 76. They are, in truth, already celestial persons, just with a lesser degree of that same glory.32
The Prophet Joseph Smith taught:
“When you climb up a ladder, you must begin at the bottom, and ascend step by step, until you arrive at the top; and so it is with the principles of the gospel—you must begin with the first, and go on until you learn all the principles of exaltation. But it will be a great while after you have passed through the veil before you will have learned them. It is not all to be comprehended in this world; it will be a great work to learn our salvation and exaltation even beyond the grave.”33
Book of Mormon prophets apparently use a “prophetic perfect” approach in talking about the destiny of the righteous in the hereafter.34 They keep their eyes and ours fixed on the utmost prize. They speak of the inevitable outcome of traversing the entire path that leads to the tree of life. They teach us that the sure reward of a continuously contrite heart, coupled with the redeeming power of Jesus Christ, is eternal life and salvation in the kingdom of our Father.
D&C 76 is more like a snapshot of our condition immediately following the resurrection and Judgment. Imagine looking at a photo in a high school yearbook. The photo shows sophomores, juniors, and seniors seated in a large auditorium, grouped according to their grade. These are all bright and dedicated students. They have the best teachers available. They have loving and supporting families. They have an esprit de corps second to none. All of these students are going to graduate high school, just in different years, when they are developmentally ready and have completed all the requirements for graduation.35
D&C 76 shows us that our post-resurrection placement in the kingdom of heaven depends on the choices we make in mortality and in the spirit world prior to the Judgment. Its description of multiple degrees of glory doesn’t disallow the possibility of continued advancement in the eternities; and, to be in harmony with the Book of Mormon, must allow for the eventual exaltation of every last member of the family of Adam who rejects the broad road to perdition.
Although at first glance the Book of Mormon and D&C 76 appear to present dichotomous views on the state of mankind both at and after the resurrection and Judgement, these latter-day scriptures can be harmonized when we realize that they are describing the same overall scene and are identifying classes of individuals that are comparable under closer scrutiny. The wicked described in the Book of Mormon are the sons of perdition in D&C 76. The righteous are those of the telestial, terrestrial, and celestial glories.
Valuable insights can be gained from examining side by side these scriptural perspectives of “things as they really will be.”36 The Book of Mormon emphasizes the blessed zenith attained by those that are saved in the kingdom of God. D&C 76 provides a finer picture of the righteous, emphasizing their varying states of progression at the time of their resurrection, but not precluding the promise of everlasting life to all who give their heart and fealty to the Lord of Life, even Jesus Christ.
1. 2 Ne. 9:14.
2. 2 Ne. 9:16; Mor. 9:14.
3. Mosiah 27:31.
4. 2 Ne. 9:18; 3 Ne. 11:33.
5. 1 Ne. 15:35; Alma 40:26.
6. Alma 41:4.
7. D&C 76:96-98.
8. D&C 76:32-33
9. D&C 76:109.
10. “President’s Formal Charge of Responsibility,” LDS Church News, Nov. 26, 1994.
11. Mosiah 27:25.
12. Mosiah 3:26.
13. D&C 76:33.
14. Mosiah 3:27.
15. D&C 76:36
16. Hel. 14:18.
17. D&C 76:37.
18. Alma 11:41.
19. D&C 76:38.
20. Mosiah 27:31.
21. D&C 76:44.
22. Alma 40:25.
23. D&C 76:16-17.
24: Hel. 12:25-26, italics added.
25. See, for example: 2 Ne. 9:15-16; Mosiah 16:1; Alma 11:44; Moro. 10:34.
26. 3 Ne. 26:4-5.
27. 2 Ne. 33:7; Alma 11:37.
28. 2 Ne. 9:18; Mosiah 2:41; Morm. 7:7.
29. Alma 9:28; 3 Ne. 11:33.
30. Mosiah 15:20-27; Alma 5:58; 11:40; Hel. 12:26.
31. See Alma 5:22-25; 34:36; Hel. 3:28-30. To “sit down” on a throne in the kingdom of God is emblematic of exaltation. In addition, see 1 Ne. 16:2; Mosiah 23:22; 3 Ne. 27:20-22. To be “lifted up at the last day” also alludes to being exalted.
32. See “All Glory is Celestial Glory” on this website.
33. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 348, italics added.
34. See the article “Prophetic Perfect” in Fairmormon.org.
35. My thanks to a dear friend, Richard Christie, for this metaphor.
36. Jacob 4:13.