There is much to cover in Alma 40-42. It is good to emphasize one or two doctrines when teaching Alma 40-41. I focused on the fact that there is a resurrection, that many witnesses have testified of this reality, and that the scriptures have much to share regarding the order of the resurrection, and what will take place between the time of death and the resurrection.
In Alma 40 Alma writes to his son Corianton. Although we do not have all of the questions he was asking, the text seems to indicate that Corianton was concerned with the resurrection, as well as how things in mortality seem to be unfair (Alma 40:1 and 41:1-2). Alma wrote:
Now there must needs be a space betwixt the time of death and the time of the resurrection… Now, concerning the state of the soul between death and the resurrection—Behold, it has been made known unto me by an angel, that the spirits of all men, as soon as they are departed from this mortal body, yea, the spirits of all men, whether they be good or evil, are taken home to that God who gave them life. And then shall it come to pass, that the spirits of those who are righteous are received into a state of happiness, which is called paradise, a state of rest, a state of peace, where they shall rest from all their troubles and from all care, and sorrow (Alma 40:6, 11-12).
We learn here that the righteous go to a place of “happiness… a state of rest, a state of peace…” while the unrighteous are taken to a place where they receive a different reward:
And then shall it come to pass, that the spirits of the wicked, yea, who are evil—for behold, they have no part nor portion of the Spirit of the Lord; for behold, they chose evil works rather than good; therefore the spirit of the devil did enter into them, and take possession of their house—and these shall be cast out into outer darkness; there shall be weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth, and this because of their own iniquity, being led captive by the will of the devil. Now this is the state of the souls of the wicked, yea, in darkness, and a state of awful, fearful looking for the fiery indignation of the wrath of God upon them; thus they remain in this state, as well as the righteous in paradise, until the time of their resurrection (Alma 40:13-14).
We learn in the Doctrine and Covenants that the wicked in the Spirit World were in darkness until the death of Jesus Christ (see D&C 138:21-22), which made it so that they would have the opportunity to learn of Christ and come unto him. After the Savior’s death unlocked the gate between Spirit Prison and Paradise, we learn in the Doctrine and Covenants that:
And as I wondered, my eyes were opened, and my understanding quickened, and I perceived that the Lord went not in person among the wicked and the disobedient who had rejected the truth, to teach them; But behold, from among the righteous, he 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. And the chosen messengers went forth to declare the acceptable day of the Lord and proclaim liberty to the captives who were bound, even unto all who would repent of their sins and receive the gospel. Thus was the gospel preached to those who had died in their sins, without a knowledge of the truth, or in transgression, having rejected the prophets. 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 (D&C 138:29-34).
This event made it possible so that those that rejected the gospel of Jesus Christ, or those that never heard of the Son of God will have a chance to accept Christ, repent of their sins, and come unto him. This doctrine helps us to understand what the Savior meant when he told Peter, “upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). It was through the keys restored to the earth and through the priesthood of God that the gates of hell will stay open- that the gospel can be preached among those in hell in order that they may come unto Christ and receive salvation. 1
Alma 40:11 – Taken Home to That God That Gave Them Life
Alma 40:11 can be confusing. Alma states that the wicked are in a state of “darkness” where it is “awful” (Alma 40:14), yet he says that “all men, whether they are good or evil, are taken home to that God who gave them life” (Alma 40:11). Often students ask, “So which is it? Do all men go directly in to the presence of God, or is something else inferred here?”
Alma’s language is similar to that of the author of Ecclesiastes: “Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it” (Ecclesiastes 12:7). Both of these scriptural writers are speaking in wide ranging terms, and their statements should not be understood to mean that the spirit, at the time of death, goes directly into the immediate presence of the Lord. President Brigham Young explained that to speak of the spirit returning to the God who gave it means that “when the spirits leave their bodies they are in the presence of our Father and God” in the sense that they “are prepared to see, hear and understand spiritual things.” 2 Elder Orson Pratt said, “To go into the presence of God is not necessarily to be placed within a few yards or rods, or within a short distance of his person.” 3
President George Q. Cannon explained: “Alma, when he says that the spirits of all men, as soon as they are departed from this mortal body. . . are taken home to that God who gave them life,’ has the idea doubtless, in his mind that our God is omnipresent- not in His own personality but through His minister, the Holy Spirit. He does not intend to convey the idea that they are immediately ushered into the personal presence of God. He evidently uses that phrase in a qualified sense.” 4
“As for my going into the immediate presence of God when I die,” President Heber C. Kimball observed, “I do not expect it, but I expect to go into the world of spirits and associate with my brethren, and preach the Gospel in the spiritual world, and prepare myself in every necessary way to receive my body again, and then enter through the wall into the celestial world.” 5
Alma 40:12 indicates that the righteous who die will enter into a place of “happiness” which is also a “state of rest, a state of peace” where they are safe from their mortal troubles. It is important to note that those who enter into paradise are “safely dead”, in other words, the Adversary will no longer have influence over them. President George Q. Cannon wrote:
Satan has power here over us to a certain extent. He can afflict us; he can tempt us; he can annoy us in many ways. These are the consequences of the fall and for a wise purpose belong to our probation here in the flesh. But, if we listen to the Lord, if we strive to keep His commandments, if we seek to be governed by His Spirit, when death comes, Satan’s power ceases. He can no more afflict or torment or tempt or annoy those who are thus faithful. His power over them ceases forever.
But not so with those who disobey God, who keep not His commandments, who yield to the power and spirit of Satan. They are his servants; they are under his influence. He takes possession of them when they pass from this mortal existence, and they experience the torments of hell.
Satan is bound as soon as the faithful spirit leaves this tabernacle of clay and goes to the other side of the veil. That spirit is emancipated from the power and thraldom and attacks of Satan. Satan can only afflict such in this life. He can only afflict those in that life which is to come who have listened to his persuasions, who have listed to obey him. These are the only ones over whom he has power after this life.” 6
I appreciate the thoughts by Elder Bruce R. McConkie on this subject. He said:
Everyone in the Church who is on the straight and narrow path, who is striving and struggling and desiring to do what is right, though is far from perfect in this life; if he passes out of this life while he’s on the straight and narrow, he’s going to go on to eternal reward in his Father’s kingdom.
We don’t need to get a complex or get a feeling that you have to be perfect to be saved. You don’t. There’s only been one perfect person, and that’s the Lord Jesus, but in order to be saved in the Kingdom of God and in order to pass the test of mortality, what you have to do is get on the straight and narrow path–thus charting a course leading to eternal life–and then, being on that path, pass out of this life in full fellowship. I’m not saying that you don’t have to keep the commandments. I’m saying you don’t have to be perfect to be saved. If you did, no one would be saved.
The way it operates is this you get on the path that’s named the “straight and narrow.” You do it by entering the gate of repentance and baptism. The straight and narrow path leads from the gate of repentance and baptism, a very great distance, to a reward that’s called eternal life. If you’re on that path and pressing forward, and you die, you’ll never get off the path. There is no such thing as falling off the straight and narrow path in the life to come, and the reason is that this life is the time that is given to men to prepare for eternity. Now is the time and the day of your salvation, so if you’re working zealously in this life–though you haven’t fully overcome the world and you haven’t done all you hoped you might do–you’re still going to be saved. You don’t have to do what Jacob said, “Go beyond the mark.” You don’t have to live a life that’s truer than true. You don’t have to have an excessive zeal that becomes fanatical and becomes unbalancing.
What you have to do is stay in the mainstream of the Church and live as upright and decent people live in the Church–keeping the commandments, paying your tithing, serving in the organizations of the Church, loving the Lord, staying on the straight and narrow path. If you’re on that path when death comes–because this is the time and the day appointed, this the probationary estate–you’ll never fall off from it, and, for all practical purposes, your calling and election is made sure. Now, that isn’t the definition of that term, but the end result will be the same. 7
Resurrection – How the resurrection is to take place
Brigham Young tied keys to the resurrection:
When the angel who holds the keys of the resurrection shall sound his trumpet, then the peculiar fundamental particles that organized our bodies here, if we do honor to them, though they be deposited in the depths of the sea, and though one particle is in the north, another in the south, another in the east, and another in the west, will be brought together again in the twinkling of an eye, and our spirits will take possession of them. 8
In 1872 President Young stated his belief that there are some ordinances the Church does not currently practice, one being resurrection:
It is supposed by this people that we have all the ordinances in our possession for life and salvation, and exaltation, and that we are administering in these ordinances. This is not the case. We are in possession of all the ordinances that can be administered in the flesh; but there are other ordinances and administrations that must be administered beyond this world. I know you would ask what they are.
I will mention one. We have not, neither can we receive here, the ordinance and the keys of the resurrection. They will be given to those who have passed off this stage of action and have received their bodies again, as many have already done and many more will. They will be ordained, by those who hold the keys of the resurrection, to go forth and resurrect the Saints, just as we receive the ordinance of baptism, then the keys of authority to baptize others for the remission of their sins. This is one of the ordinances we cannot receive here, and there are many more. 9
Additionally, Wilford Woodruff’s journal contains the following:
Who will resurrect Joseph’s Body? It will be Peter, James, John, Moroni, or someone who has or will receive the keys of the resurrection. It will probably be one of those who hold the keys of this dispensation and has delivered them to Joseph and you will see Jesus and he will eat peaches and apples with you. But the world will not see it or know it for wickedness will increase. Joseph and Jesus will be there. They will walk and talk with them at times and no man mistrusts who they are. Joseph will lead the Armies of Israel whether he is seen or no, whether visible or invisible as seemeth him good.
Joseph has got to receive the keys of the resurrection for you and I. After he is resurrected he will go and resurrect Brother Brigham, Brother Heber, and Brother Carlos, and when that is done then He will say, “now go Brother Brigham and resurrect your wives and children and gather them together. While this is done, the wicked will know nothing of it, though they will be in our midst and they will be struck with fear. This is the way the resurrection will be. All will not be raised at once but will continue in this way until all the righteous are resurrected.
After Joseph comes to us in his resurrected body, He will more fully instruct us concerning the baptism for the dead and the sealing ordinances. He will say, be baptized for this man and that man and that man be sealed to that such a man to such a man, and connect the Priesthood together. I tell you there will not be much of this done until Joseph comes… 10
How are the dead raised?
Joseph F. Smith taught:
The spirit and the body will be reunited. We shall see each other in the flesh, in the same tabernacles that we have here while in mortality. Our tabernacles will be brought forth as they are laid down, although there will be a restoration effected; every organ, every limb that has been maimed, every deformity caused by accident or in any other way, will be restored and put right. Every limb and joint shall be restored to its proper frame. We will know each other and enjoy each other’s society throughout the endless ages of eternity, if we keep the law of God. 11
We Will Rise as Identical Beings
We will meet the same identical being that we associated with here in the flesh—not some other soul, some other being, or the same being in some other form, but the same identity and the same form and likeness, the same person we knew and were associated with in our mortal existence, even to the wounds in the flesh. Not that a person will always be marred by scars, wounds, deformities, defects or infirmities, for these will be removed in their course, in their proper time, according to the merciful providence of God. Deformity will be removed; defects will be eliminated, and men and women shall attain to the perfection of their spirits, to the perfection that God designed in the beginning. It is his purpose that men and women, his children, born to become heirs of God, and joint heirs with Jesus Christ, shall be made perfect, physically as well as spiritually, through obedience to the law by which he has provided the means that perfection shall come to all his children. 12
Nothing is more beautiful than a resurrected being
According to his own account, Zebedee Coltrin saw, along with Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, a vision of the resurrected Adam and Eve. “They were the two most beautiful and perfect specimens of mankind [I have] ever seen.” “Their heads were white as snow, and their faces shone with youth.” 13
Lorenzo Snow was another witness who saw and conversed with resurrected individuals. On one account he saw the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ. He taught:
Nothing is more beautiful than a resurrected being. We know that in the future, after we have passed through this life, we will then have our wives and our children with us. We will have our bodies glorified, made free from every sickness and distress, and rendered most beautiful. There is nothing more beautiful to look upon than a resurrected man or woman. There is nothing grander that I can imagine that a man can possess than a resurrected body. There is no Latter-day Saint within the sound of my voice but that certainly has this prospect of coming forth in the morning of the First Resurrection and being glorified, exalted in the presence of God, having the privilege of talking with our Father as we talk with our earthly father. 14
1. See Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, Volume. 2, p.157-158.
2. Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, 3:368.
3. Orson Pratt, Journal of Discourses, 16:365.
4. George Q. Cannon, Gospel Truth, p. 58.
5. Heber C. Kimball, Journal of Discourses, 3:112-13.
6. George Q. Cannon, Sept. 1, 1885, Juvenile Instructor 20:264 see also Gospel Truth: Discourses and Writings of President George Q. Cannon, selected, arranged, and edited by Jerreld L. Newquist [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1987], 61.
7. Bruce R. McConkie, The Probationary Test of Mortality, as address at the University of Utah Institute of Religion, January 10, 1982.
8. Brigham Young, Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 372.
9. Brigham Young, “Increase of Saints Since Joseph Smith’s Death, etc.”, Aug. 24, 1872, Journal of Discourses 15:137.
10. Susan Staker, ed., Waiting for the World’s End: The Diaries of Wilford Woodruff, pp.168-169. See also Robert J. Matthews, Selected Writings of Robert J. Matthews, chapter 44, The Doctrine of the Resurrection, p. 505-525
11. Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine, p. 447. See also: Teachings of Joseph F. Smith, chapter 10: Jesus Christ Redeems all Mankind from Temporal Death, p. 86-93.
12. Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine, p. 23. See also: Teachings of Joseph F. Smith, chapter 10: Jesus Christ Redeems all Mankind from Temporal Death, p. 86-93.
13. The first quotation is from the S. L. School of the Prophets Minute Book, 1883, p.70 [11, Oct. 1883]. The second quotation, Spanish Fork, Utah High Priests Quorum Minutes 5 Feb., 1878, extract Zebedee Coltrin Papers. Found in Church Archives. See also: Zebedee Coltrin’s Vision, and House of Revelation, Ensign, January 1993.
14. Lorenzo Snow, Teachings of Lorenzo Snow, p. 99.