As Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon worked on an inspired translation of the Bible, they had a number of questions about life after death. In particular, they wondered about a passage in which the Savior spoke of “the resurrection of life” and “the resurrection of damnation” (John 5:29). In their version of this passage, the Savior says:
They who have done good, in the resurrection of the just; and they who have done evil, in the resurrection of the unjust.John 5:29, footnote b
Joseph and Sidney were confused by this passage. Perhaps it was the positive word “resurrection” applied to the unrighteous that made them wonder what they were missing. Joseph later explained, “It appeared self-evident…that if God rewarded every one according to the deeds done in the body the term ‘Heaven,’ as intended for the Saints’ eternal home, must include more kingdoms than one” (“History, 1838–1856, volume A-1” p. 183, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed July 2, 2021).
In response to these questions, Joseph and Sidney saw an expansive vision in which they learned about the state of various groups of people after death. They experienced this revelation on February 16, 1832, in the presence of group of church members, who didn’t see what they saw, but who heard their description in real time. Their account of this revelation (Doctrine and Covenants 76) became generally known in the Church as “The Vision.” Here is an outline of their account:
- Preamble: God will reveal all mysteries to those who serve Him (v. 1-10).
- Context: Joseph and Sidney were meditating on a confusing passage of scripture (v. 11-19).
- The Savior: They saw the Son of God, and testified that He lives (v. 20-24).
- Perdition: The suffering and sorrow of the devil and his angels (v. 25-49)
- Celestial glory: The future state of people who had been cleansed from their sins through the Atonement of Jesus Christ (v. 50-70, 92-96).
- Terrestrial glory: The future state of “honorable men” who were “not valiant in their testimony of Jesus” (v. 71-80, 91, 97).
- Telestial glory: The future state of those who refused to receive the gospel (v. 82-90, 98-112).
- Epilogue: God will share His mysteries with those who love Him (113-119).
Here are some of the lessons I have learned from this revelation, with relevant blog posts:
- God has prepared a way for us to overcome both physical and spiritual death: What Is the “Resurrection of Damnation?”
- There is power in our own personal testimony, shared in appropriate moments with sincerity and conviction (v. 22-24): I Will Testify unto You of Myself – Alma 34:7-8.
- Keep all your blessings and accomplishments in perspective, and remember that worldly power is temporary (v. 25-29): Fallen from Heaven – 2 Nephi 24:12-20.
- The torment we experience as a result of our sins is self-inflicted (v. 36-37): Brimstone.
- Our sins are washed away not just by entering into a covenant with God, but by keeping it (v. 51-52): Moroni 8:25-26 The First Fruits of Repentance is Baptism.
- The Savior presides over vast armies of angels who provide assistance and guidance to us when we need their help (v. 67): What Is the Meaning of the Title “Lord of Hosts?”
- We apply the Savior’s atonement by striving to emulate Him and to develop His attributes (v. 79): What Does It Mean to “Apply the Atoning Blood of Christ?”
- One meaning of “hell” is spirit prison, which is a temporary state for the souls of the wicked, while they await the resurrection and judgment. It does not last forever. (v. 84-85): If Thou Shouldst Fall at This Time – Alma 20:17.