John 1:4 — (part 8) — The Postmortal World — Salvation for the Dead — LeGrand Baker

Once again let me remind you that I am writing my opinion, not church doctrine.

The postmortal spirit world is the culmination of our journey through linear time, and is the consummation of our definition of Self. There is a veil like a two-way mirror that separates us from that next world. We do not see them, but they must be able to remember (perhaps sometimes see) us, for if they could not remember this world, they could not repent or retain their family connections. Then vicarious temple ordinances would have no meaning and they could not use the experiences of this world as a platform from which to rise into eternity.

Human life on this earth happens on such an uneven playing field that many rational people look upon it with utter despair. They know nothing of a premortal life, so cannot know anything of the covenants and decisions made there. They find no hard evidence of a postmortal life, so either deny it, or accept it with a blind but hopeful “faith.” The tragedy is that many religionists who believe there is a purpose in existence, use that belief to justify prejudice, contempt, bullying, hatred, sometimes murder, and even genocide. That has always been so, as far back as written history can take us. Nevertheless, there is a fundamental goodness in most people, and an innate sense that this world is not all there is, but that we, like Moses, are wandering as “strangers in a strange land (Exodus 2:22).” The LDS Church survives under the cultural, political, and military umbrella of those good and honest people who share an inherent value of the dignity and beauty of life.

The Prophet Joseph Smith, while a prisoner in Liberty jail in 1839, wrote a letter to the Saints in which he lamented the persecutions they had suffered. The conclusion of that letter reads,

12 For there are many yet on the earth among all sects, parties, and denominations, who are blinded by the subtle craftiness of men, whereby they lie in wait to deceive, and who are only kept from the truth because they know not where to find it—
13 Therefore, that we should waste and wear out our lives in bringing to light all the hidden things of darkness, wherein we know them; and they are truly manifest from heaven—
14 These should then be attended to with great earnestness (D&C 123:10-17).

The gospel is the only truth that can level the inequities of this uneven playing field. Our missionary work is important but not sufficient. In the end, it is the work we do in the temples that will enable all persons, from all generations no matter what their disadvantages in this life, to have access to all truth in an environment that will let them become precisely who and what they choose to be, with all of the advantages of the Atonement.

Our responsibility of doing vicarious ordinances for the dead reinforces our sensitivity to, and our understanding of the reality of the hereafter. It also contravenes many of the fears we have in this life, and counterbalances much of the pain and sorrow we feel when a loved one dies.

Because we cannot see their world. The scope of the afterlife is still a mystery to us. And though we understand the gist of Peter’s words, we do not have access to the full breath of the meaning of what he writes.

For for this cause was the gospel preached also to them that are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit (1 Peter 4:6).

The greatest scriptural insight we have on the conditions of that spirit world is President Joseph F. Smith’s vision of the redemption of the dead in Section 138 of the Doctrine and Covenants. There we learn that those who had a firm testimony in this world, retained that testimony in the next (v. 9-16). They were aware of what was happening in our world, so they knew when the Savior would die, and gathered to welcome him into the spirit world (v. 16-18). Not everyone was there to meet him. The Savior did not visit those who were unworthy, but established missionary work among the righteous so they could teach the others and invite them to accept the vicarious temple covenants and ordinances. (v. 36-37, 57)

President Smith tells us who was in attendance. He does it so casually that it is apparent he did not need to be introduced to them, but recognized who they were. He mentions the Old Testament prophets by name, and tells us the Nephite prophets were there as well. This was a gathering of the noble and great ones, including both those who had already lived as mortals and were in the postmortal spirit world, and those, like Joseph Smith, who were to be born into this world long after the Savior was resurrected. (v. 53-55) That fact teaches us a great deal about the organization of heaven.

Last time I quoted a number of statements from Wilford woodruff showing that Joseph Smith is still he head of this dispensation and that there is an ongoing communication between his organization in the postmortal spirit world and the current leadership of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It suggests that the last living prophet is the liaison between the larger church over which Joseph presides in the spirit world and the current living prophet.

In Section 138 we see premortal and postmortal spirits associating together. We can know that they are among the noble and great ones because the list of people who were present is bracketed on both ends by identifying them as such.

38 Among the great and mighty ones who were assembled in this vast congregation of the righteous were Father Adam, the Ancient of Days and father of all (D&C 138:38),
…. [names and identifications of people who have died are given here] …..
53 The Prophet Joseph Smith, and my father, Hyrum Smith, Brigham Young, John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff, and other choice spirits who were reserved to come forth in the fulness of times to take part in laying the foundations of the great latter-day work,
54 Including the building of the temples and the performance of ordinances therein for the redemption of the dead, were also in the spirit world.
55 I observed that they were also among the noble and great ones who were chosen in the beginning to be rulers in the Church of God.
56 Even before they were born, they, with many others, received their first lessons in the world of spirits and were prepared to come forth in the due time of the Lord to labor in his vineyard for the salvation of the souls of men (D&C 138:53-56)

Last time I quoted Wilford Woodruff’s testimony in which he said, “Joseph Smith was ordained before he came here, the same as Jeremiah was.” {1} Similarly, Isaiah 48 and 49 as recorded in 1 Nephi 20 and 21 also shows that even before the war in heaven Joseph was responsible for the success of the dispensation that was to prepare for the second coming of the Savior.{2} It is perfectly reasonable then, that he, along with the others who were heads of dispensations, should be present at the Council meeting that organized missionary work among the dead.

From that I conclude that the members of the Council in Heaven remain an intact quorum and continue to work together and preside over all parts of our journey through linear time.

It is necessary for the order and organization of things, that at least some of the leaders must be able to transcend the boundaries between the pre- and post-mortal spirit worlds, but that is not, and cannot be true for the great majority of people.

I suspect that very few of us get out of this world having completed all of the things we covenanted to do here, and it would be contrary to the laws of justice and mercy if we could remember our premortal spirit world until we had fulfilled those covenants. Because if, when we die, we could remember our premortal experiences, that would negate our opportunity to “be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit (1 Peter 4:6).”

If the dead could remember the choices they made before they were born into our world, such a memory would negate the need for missionary work, conversion among the dead would be meaningless because they would remember that they had already accepted the blessings of the Atonement, And they would lose their free agency. Our not being able to remember gives us a chance to start over without bringing any baggage from the previous world, thus guaranteeing our free agency here in mortality. If postmortal spirits could remember their premortal covenants, then all that opportunity would be taken away. Therefore, after we die, the enormous majority of us remember this world but not the premortal world. Therefore, the next world is best understood as an extension of this one, and, as President Wilford Woodruff explains, there is perfect priesthood organization there that directs what is done and how it is accomplished.

I want to say to my brethren and sisters, that we are placed upon the earth to build up Zion, to build up the kingdom of God. The greater proportion of the male members of Zion, who have arrived at the years of early manhood, bear some portion of the Holy Priesthood. Here is a kingdom of Priests raised up by the power of God to take hold and build up the kingdom of God. The same Priesthood exists on the other side of the veil. Every man who is faithful in his quorum here will join his quorum there. When a man dies and his body is laid in the tomb, he does not lose his position. The Prophet Joseph Smith held the keys of this dispensation on this side of the veil, and he will hold them throughout the countless ages of eternity. He went into the spirit world to unlock the prison doors and to preach the Gospel to the millions of spirits who are in darkness, and every Apostle, every Seventy, every Elder, etc., who has died in the faith as soon as he passes to the other side of the veil, enters into the work of the ministry, and there is a thousand times more to preach there than there is here. {3}

When President Joseph F. Smith described his vision of the redemption of the dead, he quoted the first verse of Isaiah 61 in three different places (v. 18, 31, 42). In verse 42 he quoted much of it verbatim.

42 And Isaiah, who declared by prophecy that the Redeemer was anointed to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that were bound, were also there.

Isaiah 61:1 reads,

1 The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound;

Isaiah says the Savior will “preach good tidings unto the meek,” In Psalm 25, the “meek” are clearly identified as those who kept the covenants they made in the Council in Heaven, and in D&C 138 those are the persons to whom the Savior came. {4}

Isaiah 61 is a deeply encoded, but rather complete description of the Feast of Tabernacles temple rites that would be performed for the dead. There are three discussions of Isaiah 61 on this website under “Scriptures” then “Old Testament.” The first and most complete is called “An Endowment for the Dead.” The other two were written some time ago. They are “Temple rites for the dead” and “Blessed are all they that Mourn.” There is no point in repeating them here, so I invite you to read them there.

The Savior also used parts of Isaiah 61 to call attention to his work with the dead. In the synagogue in Nazareth he read the passage and said “This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears.” We can know that the Jews understood, because they responded the way they almost always did when they understood — they got angry and tried to kill him.

28 And all they in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath,
29 And rose up, and thrust him out of the city, and led him unto the brow of the hill whereon their city was built, that they might cast him down headlong.
30 But he passing through the midst of them went his way, (see Luke 4:16-30).

A different time, when his followers did understand but did not get angry was when he introduced the Sermon on the Mount with the Beatitudes.

4 Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. (Matthew 5:4 paraphrases Isaiah 61:2)

One wonders how much they understood. For Isaiah 61 is to a complete ancient temple drama, including coronation rites, priesthood ordinances, the birthright blessings of Abraham, a wedding ceremony, and an encoded promise of the resurrection.

When the resurrected Lord spoke the Beatitudes to the Nephites who had retained the Feast of Tabernacles temple drama as part of their worship services, it is likely that every adult present understood the full implications of this Isaiah chapter, just as Moroni did when he closed the Book of Mormon with review of those rites including the marriage ceremony.{5}

Understanding Isaiah 61 opens to us a whole new appreciation of the ancient Israelite and Nephite religion because it teaches us that they knew of the promise that the Savior would give their dead a full opportunity to accept the gospel.

Beginning with chapter 40, Isaiah is a poetic rendering of the ancient Feast of Tabernacles temple drama.{6} That is apparent from the sequence of its ideas – Council in Heaven, steps in the cosmic myth, and concluding with the second coming of the Savior. Scholars have long since noted that the second half of Isaiah relies heavily on the psalms. That reliance is another evidence that the last half of Isaiah is a review of the Israel temple drama because the psalms were the liturgy of the drama.{7}

It is probable that Isaiah 61 is a commentary on Psalm 22, which is the most powerful testimony I know that the pre-exilic Israelites understood the full magnitude of the Atonement. All four of the gospels recognize the 22nd Psalm as a description of the Savior’s experience on the cross. References in the gospels to Psalm 22 are Matthew 27:35, 27:46; Mark 15:24, 15:34; Luke 23:34; John 19:24. After his death, according to the psalm, Jehovah himself went down into the Underworld to save the king and his people from the clutches of death and hell.{8}

Psalm 22 is the earliest evidence I know of in the Old Testament that explicitly teaches that the Savior’s Atonement includes the promise of redemption of the dead. Its first two thirds is a prophetic description of the Savior’s agonies on the cross, then after the Savior dies in the psalm, its last third is about his triumphal entry into the spirit world.

22 I will declare thy name unto my brethren: in the midst of the congregation [as we read in D&C 139] will I praise thee.
23 Ye that fear the Lord, praise him; all ye the seed of Jacob, glorify him; and fear him, all ye the seed of Israel.
24 For he hath not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; neither hath he hid his face from him; but when he cried unto him, he heard.
25 My praise shall be of thee in the great congregation: I will pay my vows [keep my covenants] before them that fear him. [the meek]
26 The meek [defined in Psalm 25 as those who keep the covenants they made at the Council] shall eat and be satisfied: they shall praise the Lord that seek him: your heart shall live for ever.
27 All the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the Lord: and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before thee. [that is very inclusive]
28 For the kingdom is the Lord’s: and he is the governor among the nations.
29 All they that be fat upon earth shall eat and worship: all they that go down to the dust [the dead] shall bow before him: and none can keep alive his own soul. [even the dead require the blessings of the Atonement]
30 A seed shall serve him [in Isaiah 61 the “seed” that shall serve him are the living who do the work for the dead]; it shall be accounted to the Lord for a generation.
31 They shall come, and shall declare his righteousness unto a people that shall be born, that he hath done this (Psalms 22:22-31).

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FOOTNOTES

{1} Journal of Discourses, 21: 317-318. President Wilford Woodruff taught that principle during his sermon in General Conference, Sunday Afternoon, October 10th, 1880.

{2} I have four short essays discussing 1 Nephi 20. You can find them by using the search engine.

{3} President Wilford Woodruff, Journal of Discourses, 22: 334. Scriptural references that say the spirits in prison will be taught the gospel include: John 5:25; 1 Peter 3:19, 4:6; D&C 76:3-74, 88:99, 124:29, 127:5, 128:5-15 (Hebrews 11:40), 128:24-25,137:1-10, 137:7; Moses 7:38, 57.

{4} See the discussion of Psalm 25 in the “Scriptures” section of this website.

{5} See the discussion about Moroni 10:28-1 in this website.

{6} There is an exception. In the scriptures section of this website, under 2 Nephi 20, there is an introductory essay showing that Isaiah 44:28 through chapter 48 was either written or edited by the Jews during the Babylonian captivity. So those chapters are not part of Isaiah’s review of the Israelite temple rites.

{7} That is the message of the book Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord.

{8}That Psalm 22 as a prophecy of the Savior’s Atonement and as his triumph in the world of spirits is discussed in Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord, first edition 422-25, 435-37; paperback edition 305-08, 317-18.

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