It is interesting to note that this entire revelation came about due to a verse in the Bible. Joseph records:
"We, Joseph Smith, Jun., and Sidney Rigdon, being in the Spirit on the sixteenth day of February, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and thirty-two. ...For while we were doing the work of translation, which the Lord had appointed unto us, we came to the twenty-ninth verse of the fifth chapter of John, which was given unto us as follows: And 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" (D&C 76:11,15,17).
The desire of these two men, Joseph and Sidney, was to know concerning these two resurrections, in regards to 'Heaven' and 'Hell.' Joseph tells us:
"From sundry revelations which had been received, it was apparent that many important points touching the salvation of man had been taken from the Bible, or lost before it was compiled. It appeared self-evident from what truths were left, 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 of the Church, 1:245).
Concerning resurrection, two resurrections will take place as taught by John. The first is the resurrection of the just, and the second the resurrection of the unjust. Now it tells us that the resurrection of the just is for "they who have done good" and the resurrection for the unjust for "they who have done evil." But that is a broad way of teaching it. If, as Joseph thought, there were multiple kingdoms in heaven, then which were represented by the just and which by the unjust?
Those that will dwell in the kingdom of God, in Celestial Glory which is the highest of the kingdoms of heaven, will come forth in the resurrection of the just. And the second kingdom, the Terrestrial, will come forth among the first resurrection. But it is written concerning those of the Telestial Glory, "These are they who shall not be redeemed from the devil until the last resurrection" (D&C 76:85).
The final question concerning these two resurrections is when do they take place? The first resurrection happens before the Millennium, and it is through that Millennium of 1,000 years that those just souls will be on the earth to finish the work of the Lord. During that time those who come forth in the second resurrection will still be in the Spirit world. Verse 85 of the vision teaches that they will remain there "until the Lord, even Christ the Lamb, shall have finished his work" (D&C 76:85).
It was once pointed out to me that the vision of the kingdoms of glory (and perdition) begin with the worst and work upwards towards the kingdom of God. I was told this was the case so that the worst could be shown and over with and they could they focus on the better things, having ended just after seeing the kingdom of God as an end goal. Another interesting note concerning the vision is that although the vision is about life after death, it begins with life before earth. I think these two thoughts go together. It is true that you would want to end with seeing the Celestial Glory, but I also feel that Perdition was shown before the kingdoms of glory because in order to truly understand the sons of perdition you must understand the pre-earth life, which would naturally be shown first. So the vision seems to flow directly from one thing into the next. Pre-earth life and the origin of the devil, then going on into perdition (the home of the devil), next jumping to the kingdom of God (to see the contrast of worst and best), then into the bottom kingdom of glory working its way up to the greatest again.
Sidney and Joseph were shown the great council in heaven where Lucifer and Christ offered to be the Savior and Lucifer was rejected, taking with him many of the hosts of heaven. The account of the vision tells us:
"And this we saw also, and bear record, that an angel of God who was in authority in the presence of God, who rebelled against the Only Begotten Son whom the Father loved and who was in the bosom of the Father, was thrust down from the presence of God and the Son, and was called Perdition, for the heavens wept over him - he was Lucifer, a son of the morning" (D&C 76:25-26).
Satan, at this time, waged a war in heaven against Christ. The devil was cast out along with all those that followed them, one-third of all the children of God, and they became Perdition and the sons of perdition.
Perdition is both a place and a state of being. Those people in this state of being are called Sons of Perdition. Sons of Perdition include the third of the heavenly hosts that followed Lucifer when he was cast out of the presence of God. In addition to these spirits, Sons of Perdition also includes all those who commit a sin that is unforgivable by God.
In regards to those souls that end up here, the record states: "They 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; concerning whom I have said there is no forgiveness in this world nor in the world to come. ...These are they who shall go away into the lake of fire and brimstone, with the devil and his angels - And the only ones on whom the second death shall have any power" (D&C 76:32-34,36-37). The second death is spiritual death. All souls that end up in a kingdom of glory do not suffer this spiritual death eternally as perdition does. Even the Telestial Kingdom, although the lowest of the kingdoms, is still a kingdom of glory, saved from the second death.
This kingdom is the lowest of the kingdoms of glory and is where all the wicked go that do not commit the unforgivable sin. We are taught that this kingdom is for those 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" (D&C 76:82:84).
The children of God that do not accept his gospel in this life or in the life to come enter this kingdom, so long as they do not commit the unpardonable sin, or "deny...the Holy Spirit."
There is a lengthy list of characteristics that belong to those of the Terrestrial kingdom. I will mention and talk about but a few of these.
"Behold, these are they who died without law. ...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" (D&C 76:72,74-75).
Mentioned in those verses above are those who received not the testimony of Jesus in the flesh, but afterwards received it. Do not confuse this with those that never heard the words of the Lord and accepted them in the spirit world. These are two different things. The Lord teaches that "All who have died without a knowledge of this gospel," that is not having heard it at all in their life, "who would have received it if they had been permitted to tarry, shall be heirs of the celestial kingdom of God" (D&C 137:7). The Vision is talking about those that heard the gospel on earth and rejected at that time, but accepted it in the next life. These are the heirs of the Terrestrial world.
Also noted are the honorable but deceived men of the world. These are those who strive to do good in their lives, but are not a part of the gospel of God.
This degree of glory is the highest, it is the kingdom in which God presides, and therefore it is for those that follow the laws set forth by God. Over twenty verses are written in this section explaining the characteristics of those pertaining to this kingdom. I will share just a few of those.
"They are they who received the testimony of Jesus, and believed on his name and were baptized after the manner of his burial... They are they who are the church of the Firstborn... They are they who are priests and kings, who have received of his fulness, an of his glory. And are priests of the Most High, after the order of Melchizedek... They are gods, even the sons of God" (D&C 76:51,54,56-58).
Taking these one at a time now, first is those who received a testimony of Christ and were baptized "after the manner of his burial." That last part is important. Christ died, was buried and then rose again. Likewise, our baptism shows this. As Christ died as was buried, so do we show this by our being submerged underneath the water. And just as Christ rose again, so do we come back out of the water. That is the true form of baptism given to us from the Lord. (Also read Moroni chapters 6-8)
They who are the church of the Firstborn. These are they who belong to the Church of Jesus Christ. This was the same church that the disciples belonged to in the scriptures. In the latter-days this church has been restored on the earth. These are the people that accept the gospel of Christ and live it to the fullest of its teachings.
Priests and kings, after the order of Melchizedek. Being after the order of Melchizedek means to be a worthy holder of the Melchizedek Priesthood, or the higher priesthood.
Lastly, it says that "they are gods, even the sons of God." This has everything to do with the phrase "of a noble birthright." Every person who has ever lived, or will ever live, is of a noble birthright. We are literal children of God, and have the potential to become Gods ourselves. Those who reach the Celestial kingdom of glory can fulfill this potential.
Concluding the vision, the Prophet and Sidney Rigdon write: "And 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" (D&C 76:96-98).
Resources and Additional Reading:
Doctrine and Covenants Section 76
Kingdoms of Glory
In the year of 1843 Joseph Smith wrote to W.W. Phelps describing the entire vision of Section 76 in a poem. Here is his poem of The Vision:
I will go, I will go, to the home of the Saints,
Where the virtue's the value, and life the reward;
But before I return to my former estate,
I must fulfill the mission I had from the Lord.
Wherefore, hear O ye heavens, and give ear O ye earth,His ways are a wonder, his wisdom is great;
And rejoice, ye inhabitants, truly again;
For the Lord he is God, and his life never ends,
And besides him there ne'er was a Savior of men.
The extent of his doings there's none can unveil;
His purposes fail not; from age unto age
He still is the same, and his years never fail.
His throne is the heavens--his life-time is allFor thus saith the Lord, in the spirit of truth,
Of eternity now, and eternity then;
His union is power, and none stays his hand,
The Alpha, Omega, for ever. Amen.
I am merciful, gracious, and good unto those
That fear me, and live for the life that's to come:
My delight is to honour the Saints with repose,
That serve me in righteousness true to the end;From the council in Kolob, to time on the earth,
Eternal's their glory and great their reward.
I'll surely reveal all my myst'ries to them--
The great hidden myst'ries in my kingdom stor'd;
And for ages to come unto them I will show
My pleasure and will, what the kingdom will do:
Eternity's wonders they truly shall know.
Great things of the future I'll show unto them,And before them the wisdom of wise men shall cease,
Yea, things of the vast generations to rise;
For their wisdom and glory shall be very great,
And their pure understanding extend to the skies.
And the nice understanding of prudent ones fail!
For the light of my spirit shall light mine elect,
And the truth is so mighty 'twill ever prevail.
And the secrets and plans of my will I'll reveal,I, Joseph, the prophet, in spirit beheld,
The sanctifi'd pleasures when earth is renew'd;
What the eye hath not seen, nor the ear hath yet heard,
Nor the heart of the natural man ever view'd.
And the eyes of the inner man truly did see
Eternity sketch'd in a vision from God,
Of what was, and now is, and yet is to be.
Those things which the Father ordained of old,Of whom I bear record, as all prophets have,
Before the world was or a system had run;
Through Jesus, the Maker and Savior of all--
The only begotten (Messiah) his son.
And the record I bear is the fulness--yea, even
The truth of the gospel of Jesus--the Christ,
With whom I convers'd in the vision of heav'n.
For while in the act of translating his word,I marvell'd at these resurrections, indeed,
Which the Lord in his grace had appointed to me,
I came to the gospel recorded by John,
Chapter fifth, and the twenty-ninth verse which you'll see.
For it came unto me by the spirit direct:
And while I did meditate what it all meant,
The Lord touch'd the eyes of my own intellect.
Hosanna, for ever! They open'd anon,I beheld round the throne holy angels and hosts,
And the glory of God shone around where I was;
And there was the Son at the Father's right hand,
In a fulness of glory and holy applause.
And sanctified beings from the worlds that have been,
In holiness worshipping God and the Lamb,
For ever and ever. Amen and amen.
And now after all of the proofs made of him,And I heard a great voice bearing record from heav'n,
By witnesses truly, by whom he was known,
This is mine, last of all, that he lives; yea, he lives!
And sits at the right hand of God on his throne.
He's the Saviour and only begotten of God;
By him, of him, and through him, the worlds were all made,
Even all that career in the heavens so broad.
Whose inhabitants, too, from the first to the last,And I saw and bear record of warfare in heaven;
Are sav'd by the very same Saviour of ours;
And, of course, are begotten God's daughters and sons
By the very same truths and the very same powers.
For an angel of light, in authority great,
Rebell'd against Jesus and sought for his power,
But was thrust down to woe from his glorified state.
And the heavens all wept, and the tears dropp'd like dew,And while I was yet in the spirit of truth,
That Lucifer, son of the morning, had fell!
Yea, is fallen! is fallen and become, oh, alas!
The son of perdition, the devil of hell!
The commandment was--"Write ye the vision all out,
For Satan, old serpent, the devil's for war,
And yet will encompass the Saints round about."
And I saw, too, the suff'ring and misery of thoseFor thus saith the Lord, now concerning all those,
(Overcome by the devil, in warfare and fight)
In hell-fire and vengeance--the doom of the damn'd;
For the Lord said the vision is further, so write:
Who know of my power and partake of the same;
And suffer themselves that they be overcome
By the power of Satan, despising my name--
Defying my power, and denying the truth:They're the vessels of wrath, and dishonour to God,
They are they of the world, or of men most forlorn,
The sons of perdition, of whom, ah! I say,
'Twere better for them had they never been born.
Doom'd to suffer his wrath in the regions of woe,
Through all the long night of eternity's round,
With the devil and all of his angels below.
Of whom it is said no forgiveness is found,And denying the only begotten of God,
In this world, alas! nor the world that's to come,
For they have deny'd the spirit of God,
After having receiv'd it, and mis'ry's their doom.
And crucify him to themselves, as they do,
And openly put him to shame in their flesh,
By the gospel they cannot repentance renew.
They are they who go to the great lake of fire,
Which burneth with brimstone, yet never consumes,
And dwell with the devil, and angels of his,
While eternity goes and eternity comes.
They are they who must groan through the great second death,
And are not redeemed in the time of the Lord;
While all the rest are, through the triumph of Christ,
Made partakers of grace, by the power of his word.
The myst'ry of godliness truly is great;That he came to the world in the middle of time,
The past, and the present, and what is to be;
And this is the gospel--glad tidings to all,
Which the voice from the heavens bore record to me:
To lay down his life for his friends and his foes,
And bear away sin as a mission of love,
And sanctify earth for a blessed repose.
'Tis decreed that he'll save all the work of his hands,The Saviour will save all his Father did give,
And sanctify them by his own precious blood;
And purify earth for the Sabbath of rest,
By the agent of fire as it was by the flood.
Even all that he gave in the regions abroad,
Save the sons of perdition--they are lost, ever lost!
And can never return to the presence of God.
They are they who must reign with the devil in hell,And which is the torment apostates receive,
In eternity now, and eternity then!
Where the worm dieth not, and the fire is not quench'd,
And the punishment still is eternal. Amen.
But the end or the place where the torment began,
Save to them who are made to partake of the same,
Was never, nor will be revealed unto man.
Yet God, by a vision, shows a glimpse of their fate,And while I was pondering, the vision was closed,
And straightway he closes the scene that was shown;
So the width, or the depth, or the misery thereof,
Save to those that partake, is forever unknown.
And the voice said to me, write the vision; for, lo!
'Tis the end of the scene of the sufferings of those
Who remain filthy still in their anguish and woe.
And again I bear record of heavenly things,Who receiv'd, and believ'd, and repented likewise,
Where virtue's the value above all that is priz'd,
Of the truth of the gospel concerning the just,
That rise in the first resurrection of Christ.
And then were baptiz'd, as a man always was,
Who ask'd and receiv'd a remission of sin,
And honoured the kingdom by keeping its laws.
Being buried in water, as Jesus had been,For these overcome, by their faith and their works,
And keeping the whole of his holy commands,
They received the gift of the spirit of truth,
By the ordinance truly of laying on hands.
Being tried in their life-time, as purified gold,
And seal'd by the spirit of promise to life,
By men called of God, as was Aaron of old.
They are they, of the church of the first-born of God,They're priests of the order of Melchizedek,
And unto whose hands he committeth all things;
For they hold the keys of the kingdom of heav'n,
And reign with the Saviour, as priests and as kings.
Like Jesus (from whom is this highest reward),
Receiving a fulness of glory and light;
As written--they're Gods even sons of the Lord.
So all things are theirs; yea, of life or of death;'Tis wisdom that man never glory in man,
Yea, whether things now, or to come, all are theirs,
And they are the Saviour's, and he is the Lord's,
Having overcome all, as eternity's heirs.
But give God the glory for all that he hath;
For the righteous will walk in the presence of God,
While the wicked are trod underfoot in his wrath.
Yea, the righteous shall dwell in the presence of God,These are they that arise in their bodies of flesh,
And of Jesus, forever, from earth's second birth--
For when he comes down in the splendour of heav'n,
All those he'll bring with him to reign on the earth.
When the trump of the first resurrection shall sound;
These are they that come up to Mount Zion, in life,
Where the blessings and gifts of the spirit abound.
These are they that have come to the heavenly place;To the church of old Enoch, and of the first-born:
To the numberless courses of angels above:
To the city of God, e'en the holiest of all,
And the home of the blessed, the fountain of love;
And gen'ral assembly of ancient renown'd,
Whose names are all kept in the archives of heav'n,
As chosen and faithful, and fit to be crown'd.
These are they that are perfect through Jesus' own blood,Again, I beheld the terrestrial world,
whose bodies celestial are mention'd by Paul,
where the sun is the typical glory thereof,
And God, and his Christ, are the true judge of all.
In the order and glory of Jesus go on;
'Twas not as the church of the first-born of God,
But shone in its place, as the moon to the sun,
Behold, these are they that have died without law;]To spirits in prison the Saviour once preach'd,
The heathen of ages that never had hope,
And those of the region and shadow of death,
The spirits in prison, that light has brought up.
And taught them the gospel, with powers afresh;
And then were the living baptiz'd for their dead,
That they might be judg'd as if men in the flesh.
These are they that are hon'rable men of the earth;Not valiant for truth, they obtain'd not the crown,
Who were blinded and dup'd by the cunning of men;
They receiv'd not the truth of the Saviour at first;
But did, when they heard it in prison again.
But are of that glory that's typ'd by the moon:
They are they, that come into the presence of Christ,
But not to the fulness of God on his throne.
Again, I beheld the telestial, as third,These are they that receiv'd not the gospel of Christ,
The lesser, or starry world, next in its place,
For the leaven must leaven three measures of meal,
And every knee bow that is subject to grace.
Or evidence, either, that he ever was;
As the stars are all diff'rent in glory and light,
So differs the glory of these by the laws.
These are they that deny not the spirit of God,'Till the Lamb shall have finish'd the work he begun;
But are thrust down to hell, with the devil, for sins,
As hypocrites, liars, whoremongers and thieves,
And stay 'till the last resurrection begins.
Shall have trodden the winepress in fury alone.
And overcome all by the pow'r of his might:
He conquers to conquer, and saves all his own.
These are they that receive not a fulness of light,And so the telestial is minister'd to,
From Christ, in eternity's world, where they are,
The terrestial sends them the Comforter, though,
And minist'ring angels, to happify there.
By ministers from the terrestrial one,
As terrestrial is, from the celestial throne;
And the great, greater, greatest, seem's stars, moon, and sun.
And thus I beheld, in the vision of heav'n,And lo! I beheld the terrestrial, too,
The telestial glory, dominion and bliss,
Surpassing the great understanding of men,--
Unknown, save reveal'd, in a world vain as this.
Which excels the telestial in glory and light,
In splendour and knowledge, and wisdom and joy,
In blessings and graces, dominion and might.
I beheld the celestial, in glory sublime;Where the church of the first-born in union reside,
Which is the most excellent kingdom that is,
Where God, e'en the Father, in harmony reigns;
Almighty, supreme, and eternal in bliss.
And they see as they're seen, and they know as they're known
Being equal in power, dominion and might,
With a fulness of glory and grace round his throne.
The glory celestial is one like the sun;As the stars are all different in lustre and size,
The glory terrestrial is one like the moon;
The glory telestial is one like the stars,
And all harmonize like the parts of a tune.
So the telestial region is mingled in bliss;
From the least unto greatest, and greatest to least,
The reward is exactly as promised in this.
These are they that came out for Apollos and Paul;For they never received the gospel of Christ
For Cephas and Jesus, in all kinds of hope;
For Enoch and Moses, and Peter and John;
For Luther and Calvin, and even the Pope.
Nor the prophetic spirit that came from the Lord;
Nor the covenant neither, which Jacob once had;
They went their own way, and they have their reward.
By the order of God, last of all, these are they,These are they that are sinful, the wicked at large,
That will not be gather'd with saints here below,
To be caught up to Jesus, and meet in the cloud:
In darkness they worshipp'd; to darkness they go.
That glutted their passion by meanness or worth;
All liars, adulterers, sorcerers, and proud,
And suffer as promis'd, God's wrath on the earth.
These are they that must suffer the vengeance of hell,The vast multitude of the telestial world--
'Till Christ shall have trodden all enemies down,
And perfected his work, in the fulness of time,
And is crowned on his throne with his glorious crown.
As the stars of the skies, or the sands of the sea;
The voice of Jehovah echo'd far and wide,
Every tongue shall confess and they all bow the knee.
Ev'ry man shall be judg'd by the works of his life,But the great things of God, which he show'd unto rile,
And receive a reward in the mansions prepar'd;
For his judgments are just, and his works never end,
As his prophets and servants have always declar'd.
Unlawful to utter, I dare not declare;
They surpass all the wisdom and greatness of men,
And only are seen, as has Paul where they are.
I will go, I will go, while the secret of life,
Is blooming in heaven, and blasting in hell;
Is leaving on earth, and a-budding in space:
I will go, I will go, with you, brother, farewell.