What happens after we die is one the most compelling questions ever asked. When I was in high school, my spunky paternal grandmother died suddenly from injuries following an accident. This was a great tragedy in our family. That spring as she was buried, I really had to know if her spirit would live on and if I would be reunited with her again someday.
During this sad time, I came to a spiritual understanding and belief that we lived as spirit children before we came to earth and that our spirits live on after we die—death is not the end. I also felt the assurance that one day our Saviour, Jesus Christ, will return to the earth and usher in the Resurrection, when our spirits will be reunited with our bodies.
Joseph Smith likewise mourned the sudden passing of his beloved brother Alvin. Later he wondered about his eternal destiny. In 1836 Joseph received a vision in the Kirkland temple wherein he saw Alvin with Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ in the celestial kingdom! Joseph “marveled how it was that [Alvin] had obtained an inheritance in that kingdom, seeing that he had departed this life before the Lord had set his hand to gather Israel the second time, and had not been baptized for the remission of sins” (Doctrine and Covenants 137:6).
The voice of the Lord taught the Prophet: “All who have died without a knowledge of this gospel, who would have received it if they had been permitted to tarry, shall be heirs of the celestial kingdom of God; Also all that shall die henceforth without a knowledge of it, who would have received it with all their hearts, shall be heirs of that kingdom; For I, the Lord, will judge all men according to their works, according to the desire of their hearts” (Doctrine and Covenants 137:7-9).
My husband had a beloved aunt who died without ever receiving the gospel. His family did her temple ordinances, including baptism, for her. One evening, as my husband was praying, he felt her spirit come to him and assure him that she had accepted the gospel of Jesus Christ and the temple work that had been done for her.
Preaching Christ’s Gospel to the Dead
In 1918, the Prophet Joseph F. Smith mourned many deaths: his parents (Hyrum and Mary Fielding Smith), thirteen of his children, two wives, two sisters, and a brother. President M. Russell Ballard, a descendant, explains: “That year was particularly painful for him. He grieved over the death toll in the Great World War that continued to climb to over 20 million killed. Additionally, a flu pandemic was spreading around the world, taking the lives of as many as 100 million people” (“The Vision of the Redemption of the Dead,” Ensign, Nov. 2018, 72). Compare those numbers to 4.7+ million individuals who have died from COVID-19 in the past two years (https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/). President Smith was truly “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3).
President Smith’s vision came as he pondered, “The great atoning sacrifice that was made by the Son of God, for the redemption of the world; And the great and wonderful love made manifest by the Father and the Son in the coming of the Redeemer into the world” (Doctrine and Covenants 138:2-3).
President Smith specifically studied the writings of the Apostle Peter: “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison … 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 3:18–19; 4:6).
As he pondered these verses, he records this revelation: “The eyes of my understanding were opened, and the Spirit of the Lord rested upon me, and I saw the hosts of the dead … the spirits of the just, who had been faithful in the testimony of Jesus while they lived in mortality … had suffered tribulation in their Redeemer’s name. All these had departed the mortal life, firm in the hope of a glorious resurrection, through the grace of God the Father and his Only Begotten Son, Jesus Christ” (Doctrine and Covenants 138:11-14).
Then, President Smith saw: “The Son of God appeared, declaring liberty to the captives who had been faithful; And there he preached to them the everlasting gospel, the doctrine of the resurrection and the redemption of mankind from the fall, and from individual sins on conditions of repentance. … And the saints rejoiced in their redemption, and bowed the knee and acknowledged the Son of God as their Redeemer and Deliverer from death and the chains of hell” (Doctrine and Covenants 138:18-19; 23). I also rejoice in God’s love for each of us, and in the prospect of the Redemption and the Resurrection of mankind.
In his divine vision, President Joseph F. Smith also reports: “From among the righteous, he [Jesus Christ] organized his forces and appointed messengers, clothed with power and authority, and commissioned them to go forth and carry the light of the gospel to them that were in darkness, even to all the spirits of men; and thus was the gospel preached to the dead” (Doctrine and Covenants 138:30).
Christ’s Plan for Eternal Life
This work of salvation is happening on both sides of the veil. Heavenly Father’s plan of happiness provides a way for all His children to accept the gospel. President Henry B. Eyring taught: “Our Heavenly Father is anxious to gather and bless all of His family. While He knows that not all of them will choose to be gathered, His plan gives each of His children the opportunity to accept or reject His invitation” (“Gathering the Family of God,” Ensign, May 2017, 20-21).
President Russell M. Nelson encourages us to share God’s plan of salvation, “Our message to the world is simple and sincere: we invite all of God’s children on both sides of the veil to come unto their Savior, receive the blessings of the holy temple, have enduring joy, and qualify for eternal life” (“Let Us All Press On,” Ensign, May 2018, 118-119).
I know that God loves His children and provided His plan of happiness for all of us. My husband and I feel great joy in the assurance that we have been sealed to each other for time and eternity in the temple. We are grateful for the revelations about the Redemption of the dead that have given us much peace. We have a firm hope in the Resurrection and in being reunited after death with each other, our children, and our ancestors.