One way to picture the strait and narrow path that leads to eternal life is to view it as a ladder that goes from the earth all the way up to heaven. This was how it was shown to Jacob in vision. It is a very long ladder. There are three portions of that ladder, the highest portion is celestial, the middle portion terrestrial, and the lowest portion is telestial.
When we have faith, repent, and are baptized, we have placed our feet on the bottom rung of that ladder. We are then starting to learn to live by the laws of a glorified telestial kingdom, and consequently, we begin to gain the spiritual blessings available in a glorified telestial kingdom.
Now, that rubs most people the wrong way. It is perfectly correct, but we want to hear that when we were baptized we were ready for the celestial kingdom. After all, the telestial kingdom is for wicked people.
Yes, after the wicked repent and bow the knee, accepting Christ as their king, they will be resurrected with a telestial body and obtain a telestial kingdom for eternity. But it is called a “kingdom” because nobody enters it without accepting Christ as their king by covenant.
As members of the true church, God wants us to learn every law of his kingdom and obtain every blessing offered in it. But we must begin at the bottom. The bottom, the least and simplest laws of his kingdom, are the telestial law.
At baptism we begin to partake of the same blessings available in a glorified telestial kingdom. And what is available to those in a glorified telestial kingdom? Why principally, the gift of the Holy Ghost.
D&C 76:86 These [the telestial] are they who receive not of his fulness in the eternal world, but of the Holy Spirit through the ministration of the terrestrial.
88 And also the telestial receive it of the administering of angels who are appointed to minister for them, or who are appointed to be ministering spirits for them; for they shall be heirs of salvation.
Note that both these verses are about how those in the telestial kingdom learn to receive the Holy Ghost. When those people enter the telestial kingdom, they are given the same command that we are given when we entered the kingdom of God through baptism: “Receive the Holy Ghost”. The Holy Ghost is the great gift available in a glorified telestial kingdom, and it is the great gift given to us after baptism.
When we enter the kingdom of God and begin to learn his laws, we start at the bottom, because that is all we are prepared to handle when we first step in. We are given the gift of the Holy Ghost, but we have a long way to travel as we learn to “receive the Holy Ghost” in truth. We must enter the kingdom of God on the lowest rung. We can tell whether we are climbing from one rung to the next by whether we are beginning to receive the Holy Ghost more and more potently in our life, just as those in the telestial kingdom will need to.
Now let us assume that we climb this ladder from earth to heaven to the point where we reach the terrestrial portion of the ladder. This is the point that is depicted in Lehi’s dream as reaching the tree of life. If we get to that point in mortality, there will be a marked change in what we need to be about, and much greater joy, just as there was in Lehi’s dream. We will begin to learn a terrestrial law and begin to obtain the spiritual blessings available in a glorified terrestrial kingdom.
D&C 76:77 These [the terrestrial] are they who receive of the presence of the Son, but not of the fulness of the Father.
As the scripture states, those in a terrestrial kingdom can receive the ministrations of the celestial, including personal instruction from the Son himself. However, they cannot live in the presence of God. We must learn to live a terrestrial law and gain the blessings found in a terrestrial kingdom before we can move on.
We can think of any number of people in the scriptures who received direction from angels, or who the Lord directed by his own voice, or who the Lord even brought into his presence to teach. These were people who had progressed to points on the terrestrial portion of the ladder.
We need to progress from living a telestial to a terrestrial law. From the scriptures the principle law in the terrestrial kingdom is clearly “what the Lord says to you by vision, or by his own voice, or by his own presence, that thou shalt do”. Hardly enough emphasis can be placed on that final phrase “that thou shalt do”.
Think of the examples of such people in the scriptures.
Some were taught by angels, by the Lords voice, and some even enjoyed his presence. They were blessed with great joy. But the law “what the Lord says by vision or by his own voice, that thou shalt do” is a very serious matter. Jonah could hear the voice of the Lord. He disobeyed and the Lord was not satisfied to have him cast overboard, but also caused a great fish to swallow him, where he stayed for two days. Miriam could hear the voice of the Lord, as could Aaron. The Lord smote Miriam with leprosy for speaking against Moses. Could we endure Miram’s punishment for speaking against a Moses? Could we endure Jonah’s punishment for disobedience? No. We are not ready for a terrestrial law yet.
Think about it. When you or I disobey what happens to us? Mostly, not much. We aren’t disobeying visions, or disobeying the Lord’s own voice speaking to us. We lack both the magnitude of light that conveys, as well as the depth of obligation it carries.
Moses smote the rock with a staff instead of speaking to it as the Lord commanded, and was not allowed to enter the promised land. If we were in Moses’ shoes, after all we had done, could we endure such a punishment for disobedience? No. We know that even though Melchizedek quenched the violence of fire and stopped the mouth of lions while a child through his faith, yet he learned obedience by the things which he suffered. We know that Zacharias didn’t believe an angel, and was dumb until the birth of his son, John. Could we endure that for simply disbelieving? No. We are not ready for a terrestrial law.
We are not ready for the intense joy and light of a terrestrial law for several reasons:
Firstly) We are not ready because we have not learned to be steady enough in our commitment to endure such punishment if we were to disobey something commanded by God himself in person or by vision.
Secondly) We are also not ready because we have not proven our strict obedience enough for God to have the needed confidence in our obedience in the first place.
Thirdly) Joseph Smith explained: “The reason we do not have the secrets of the Lord revealed unto us, is because we do not keep them but reveal them. We do not keep our own secrets, … then how would we keep the secrets of the Lord? I can keep a secret till Doomsday”. Joseph Fielding McConkie summarizes this with the quip “God does not reveal himself to blabbermouths”.
Joseph Smith asked the same question three times through the Urim and Thummim. What did he suffer? Notice there was no direct disobedience on Joseph’s part, he merely asked three times. But still he suffered great agony and uncertainty in spirit as the Lord took the Utim and Thummim from him for a time. Are we ready for that ourselves? No. We are not ready for a terrestrial law.
Adam and Eve lived a terrestrial law, for the Father and the Son could come and teach them from time to time. And what happened when they disobeyed a command God gave them by his own voice? The effects were tremendous.
Now this doctrine is all through the scriptures. God wants us to gain all the blessings of his kingdom and to obey the full law of his kingdom, but we have to start at the beginning. We are not ready for it all at once.
Now this is crucial doctrine because we all have the wrong idea. I think most members of the church have a sort of feeling that if they could be as good as their bishop, or their stake president, or some good member they know and admire personally, then that is all the Lord could want from them spiritually. I think we tacitly believe Zion is a place where everyone learns to live like some good member or other we know in our stake.
That isn’t it at all.
The Lord wants us to live up to a terrestrial law. When we see and understand what that means we plainly see we aren’t there yet. We aren’t even close. But we MUST be striving toward that. We aren’t here to merely live a telestial law. We are here on probation to see what we will do. The Lord wants us to prove we are willing to serve him at all hazards, and that we will keep his manifestations strictly to ourselves. The Lord wants us to live up to a terrestrial law.
And THAT is what makes this doctrine crucial to understand.
This doctrine is crucial to help us move along the way we need to, instead of thinking we can coast into exaltation. It shows us that we are truly required to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling. It is beautiful doctrine, and manifests itself all through the scriptures.
For example, we read these verses, but without understanding the doctrine we don’t realize that the way things work in the kingdom of God in the resurrection is the way they work here.
D&C 76:86 These [the telestrial] are they who receive not of his fulness in the eternal world, but of the Holy Spirit through the ministration of the terrestrial;
87 And the terrestrial through the ministration of the celestial.
What do we have here in mortality? Why we, who are learning the telestial law, are in need of learning from those who God could teach by the mouth of angels, or by his own voice, or in person. We need to feast daily on the scriptures to learn from such men. Thus here in mortality we see that we, who are learning the telestrial law are being ministered to by those who have come up to a terrestrial law. And those who have come up to a terrestrial law are being ministered to by those who have come up to a celestial law. It is the same principle here in mortality as in the resurrection.
In fact, in Jacob’s vision of the ladder he saw angels going up and down. They go down to minister to those beneath them, and doing so exalts themselves to a higher point. The terrestrial are glorified by ministering to the telestial. The celestial are glorified by ministering to the terrestrial. We progress upward by bringing those beneath us up to our level. As we gather sheaves, our dead, and our family we save our own soul.
Lehi’s dream depicts our situation, though it mostly leaves off at the transition from a telestial to a terrestrial law, simply hinting that there is a significant change that brings great joy, and that we are back at the tree of life, i.e. back in a terrestrial eden of sorts. It mostly just lets us know that if we reach the terrestrial portion it will be crucial that we fall down and feast on the joy available there because those who do not may wander away from the tree.
The temple goes further and fleshes out the story significantly. It shows Adam and Eve struggle through the telestial portion, but then further follows their progression through the terrestrial portion to the point where they have not only learned by angels who prepare them to behold of God’s glory, and have come up to the general assembly and the church of the first born, but they have learned to hear the Lord’s own voice teaching them, and preparing them to come into his presence. Just as Lehi’s dream essentially leaves off from telling us more at the transition from telestial to terrestrial (when they arrive at the tree), so the temple leaves off telling us more at the point where we can begin to learn in God’s own presence. That is fitting, because the temple presents the problem of being cast out of God’s presence, and lays out the path to follow to return to his presence during our mortal probationary time. The temple’s use of the words telestial, terrestrial, and celestial in laying out our mortal progression is quite intentional. We make real covenants in the temple, but they are also types and shadows of more serious covenants yet to come.
We are required to build Zion. Can we read the verse and finally understand it for the first time?
D&C 105:5 And Zion cannot be built up unless it is by the principles of the law of the celestial kingdom; otherwise I cannot receive her unto myself.
We are required to build Zion. Zion is not built on telestial law, or even terrestrial law.
Zion can only be built on celestial law.
Adam and Eve lived a terrestrial law in Eden. They could enjoy the presence of God to teach them from time to time. But they were not prepared to live in his presence. Just as we, who are living a telestial law, can plainly see we are not yet ready for a terrestrial law, so also those who are living a terrestrial law, can plainly see they are not yet ready for a celestial law. But they press forward to come up to a celestial law so they can enjoy the fulness of the Father and gain eternal life.
Christ said of Zion “Behold, mine abode forever”. Christ came and lived with the people of Zion. In reality, I severely understated when I said that the Lord wants us to learn to live a terrestrial law. To build Zion we must come up past a terrestrial law to a celestial law. That is why D&C 84 warns that not a single one of the saints was ready for the return of Zion.
If all we want in the end is the blessings of a telestial kingdom, I suppose then it doesn’t matter if we are satisfied with its blessings here in mortality. But our Father in heaven wants more for us.
If it is eternal life we are after, we must press forward toward being worthy of living a terrestrial law and gaining its blessings. We can gauge our progress by whether we are enjoying the Holy Ghost more potently in our lives over time, as that is the measure of how well we are keeping the command to “receive the Holy Ghost”. These days, we have cut him down to a trickle by filling our lives with media that offends him as well as by fostering men in their wickedness rather than warning them of their dire state. We cannot have the spirit in the homes of members today without requiring the same strict decency that was required even in the homes of nonmembers before the 1960s. If we will stop choking off the Holy Ghost by rationalizing indecency, then there is great power to be found in the three great spiritual powerhouses that bring the Holy Ghost into our lives like nothing else: missionary work, saving our dead, and saving our family.