When Alma was counseling his son Corianton, he spoke about the space between death and resurrection. This “space between” was of great interest to Alma, and of great concern to Corianton. It is something that has always interested me as well.
The very idea of this “space between” is evidence of our faith that life continues after death. This is not a new concept and is referred to in various ways throughout the scriptures. In John 14, Christ talks about preparing a place for us in his father’s house. Verses 1-2 say: Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.
We also read in Peter that after Christ’s death, he went and preached to the spirits in prison. 1 Peter 4:6 says: 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. And in Corinthians we read: Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? Why are they then baptized for the dead?
This paints a clear picture to me that our spirits continue on after this life.
When we go to the temple, we go for one (or two or all three) of these reasons: For the living, for the dead, or for comfort/guidance.
Ordinances of the temple are absolutely crucial. President Nelson has said that we cannot return to God’s glory without them. Ordinances of the temple provide for reconciliation with the Lord and seal families together forever. In the temple, we make covenants that allow us eventually return to God’s presence.
It is easy to look at those covenants we make as constraining or as a burden. But by keeping covenants we lose nothing of value. Think about it- what do we lose by staying morally clean? What do we lose by serving others or mourning with those who mourn? What do we lose by withholding judgment or avoiding light mindedness? Nothing of value is lost in this, and in fact, so much more is gained. President Nelson said that “Keeping a covenant is not constraining, but enabling. It elevates us beyond limits of our own perspective and power…”
So if these ordinances are absolutely crucial, and we are to be judged according to the flesh, what about those who have not received them?
In Moses 1:39, the whole purpose of God’s work is given. Is says, “For behold, this is my work and my glory – to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.”
It is through the atonement of Jesus Christ that this, bringing to pass the immortality and eternal life of man, is accomplished.
Immortality is free. Unconditional. It is a free gift to all mankind because of Christ’s resurrection.
Eternal life, or exaltation and life with God and our family, is available through our obedience to the covenants made and ordinances received in the temple. So when we go through the temple for the Living, for ourselves, and keep our covenants, we are taking hold of that purpose -the eternal life of man.
Circling back to the atonement of Christ – to atone means to suffer the penalty of sins, thereby removing the effects of sin from the repentant sinner and allowing him to be reconciled (or to coexist in harmony) to God. We, a fallen people, cannot save ourselves. Christ, who was perfect and worthy, was the only one who could to it for us. Through the atonement, we can become clean. We are able to repent of our sins and be forgiven. We can also be comforted in all of our trials, and so much more that I can’t even understand.
We rely on Jesus Christ to become worthy to enter the temple, where we receive the ordinances that allow us to be exalted.
This atonement was infinite, covering everything (sins, pain, heartache, etc.) and everyone (good, evil, nice, not nice).
It makes no sense for such an infinite atonement to only be allotted to those lucky few who find and accept it in mortality. And this is where the second purpose of temples, for the dead, comes into play. It is also where we return to that “space between” that Alma spoke of.
As I mentioned earlier, as written in Peter, after Christ’s atonement and death he ministered to those in the spirit world.
Doctrine and Covenants section 138 is a record of an amazing vision given to Joseph F. Smith in 1918. In it, President Smith saw the saints assembled in the spirit world waiting for Christ to come and declare their redemption from the bands of death, which he did, declaring liberty to the captives who had been faithful. Verse 19 says: 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.
But that said he was among the saints. He didn’t go among the wicked.
President Smith wondered about that, how on earth Christ had spent about three years ministering and teaching, and yet, as it says in verses 26-27, “notwithstanding his mighty works, and miracles, and proclamation of the truth, in great power and authority, there were but few who hearkened to his voice, and rejoiced in his presence, and received salvation at his hands. But his ministry among those who were dead was limited to the brief time intervening between the crucifixion and resurrection. And I wondered at the words of Peter, wherein he said that the son of God preached unto the spirits in prison, who sometimes were disobedient..”
I was wondering the same thing. He basically had three days to teach everybody. Not really possible. But the Lord had/has a great system:
We learn later in the same section of the Doctrine and Covenants that the Lord “organized his forces and appointed messengers” to carry the gospel to those who were in darkness, “even to all the spirits of men; [small and great, the unrighteous as well as the faithful] and thus was the gospel preached to the dead,” those who had died in their sins, with or without a knowledge of the truth.
And what were they taught? The principles and ordinances of the gospel. Verses 33-34 say: These were taught faith in God, repentance from sin, vicarious baptism for the remission of sins, the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands, and all other principles of the gospel that were necessary for them to know in order to qualify themselves that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.
Those who receive this message in that “space between,” can do a lot of things. They still have agency- they can choose to accept or reject the gospel. If they accept it, they can repent, and through the atonement of Jesus Christ become worthy to receive the ordinances that qualify them for exaltation.
Elder Cook said that every soul, living or dead, who is accountable for their actions, need the blessings of these sacred ordinances, and we can help our family members receive them. As church members, we have a divinely appointed responsibility to seek out our ancestors and compile family histories. This is far more than an encouraged hobby. The ordinances of salvation are necessary for all of God’s children.
But they cannot save themselves.
We are commanded be like the Savior as much as possible. Most of us have that righteous desire to become like him, but since we are mortal, we fall short.
In performing temple work for our dead, I believe we become closest to the Savior than any other way. Just like Jesus Christ atoned for our sins and made eternal life possible for us (because we couldn’t), we help make possible the blessings of the temple, and therefore exaltation, for those we do the work for (because they can’t).
If we believe this is true, that our work can be accepted by those we love on the other side, then we can gain a better, deeper understanding and appreciation for Christ’s atonement for us, which we can accept or reject. Repeating President Nelson, “Ordinances of the temple provide for reconciliation with the Lord and seal families together forever.” Just like the atonement reconciles us to God, so do the ordinances of the temple. We can help our families access that.
D&C 128:15 says: And now, my dearly beloved brethren and sisters, let me assure you that these are principles in relation to the dead and the living that cannot be lightly passed over, as pertaining to our salvation. For their salvation is necessary and essential to our salvation, as Paul says concerning the fathers – that they without us cannot be made perfect – neither can we without our dead be made perfect.”
Service in their behalf provides an opportunity for our continued temple worship, and as no unclean thing can dwell with God, we rely on the atonement of Christ to make us clean and worthy to enter the temple. This leads to a lifetime of worthiness for us. Through us, they are saved, and through them, we remain worthy to be saved.
The “Spirit of Elijah” is the Holy Ghost prompting us to search out our families who are waiting in the space between death and resurrection.
Malachi 4:4-5 says: Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord; And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.
In Moroni’s four visits to Joseph Smith, he repeats this, saying, “And he shall plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers, and the hearts of the children shall turn to their fathers. If it were not so, the whole earth would be utterly wasted at is coming.”
Remember that God’s work and glory are to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man. If our hearts are not turned to our fathers, and their work is not done, what a waste this whole thing would be. Again, they cannot do it without us.
Obadiah 1:21 says: And saviours shall come up on mount Zion to judge the mount of Esau; and the kingdom shall be the Lord’s.”
Doctrine and Covenants 103 also mentions being saviors.
“For they were set to be a light unto the world, and to be the saviors of men; And inasmuch as they are not the saviors of men, they are as salt that has lost its savor, and is thenceforth good for nothing but to be cast out and trodden under foot of men.”
Our purpose here is pretty clear here.
Joseph Smith wondered: “But what is the object of [the coming of Elijah]? or how is it to be fulfilled? The keys are to be delivered, the spirit of Elijah is to come, the Gospel to be established, the Saints of God gathered, Zion built up, and the Saints to come up as saviors on Mount Zion. But how are they to become saviors on Mount Zion? By building their temples … and going forth and receiving all the ordinances … in behalf of all their progenitors who are dead…; and herein is the chain that binds the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the children to the fathers, which fulfills the mission of Elijah.”
It is all connected in such a beautiful way!
The atonement of Christ.
Our covenants and ordinances.
Those waiting in the “space between.”
And it all culminates in the temple.