What is the Telestial, Terrestrial, Celestial Kingdoms?

Note: Last night I had a hard time sleeping and finally got up to give myself something to do. I ended up writing this post about D&C 76.

My mind was racing with all of this stuff and I was having a hard time shutting it off even when I laid down again around 4 am. Then suddenly I chuckled as I remembered that when I first laid down to sleep last night, I had prayed for God to remove from me the spirit of deep sleep. I guess he’s not without a sense of humor! That’s not to say I’m right on any of what I wrote below. I just found that a humorous backstory worth sharing.


I was listening to Faithful the other day and noticed a familiar phrase used to describe Joseph’s arrival on Eressea:

“In the day he awoke, certain he was that death had carried him to Valinor, and its glory surpassed all understanding, and if he grieved, it was for this comprehension alone
….for its glory was very great, and joy has often ended the few mortals who scented its fields or gazed as struck by some magic bolt, from afar its peaks, golden, and pouring forth white and purple falls, as a rain of gems under sunlight, and stars in the blue twilight.

I looked that phrase up in D&C 76, and was surprised to see it was used to describe the telestial realm rather than the terrestrial:

“And thus we saw, in the heavenly vision, the glory of the telestial, which surpasses all understanding; And no man knows it except him to whom God has revealed it.”

Supposedly as Sidney saw this vision w Joseph, Sidney was ashen-faced and slumped in his chair whereas Joseph was not so overcome. Afterward Joseph said Sidney wasn’t used to it as he was. Could just be an old mormon urban legend but if true, not surprising that Sidney was nearly overcome seeing these kingdoms given how Pengolodh describes the effects Eressea has on mortals, much less the effects of the other two kingdoms.

Having said all that, I had assumed the earth in general was telestial, Eressea was terrestrial, and Valinor celestial. But this new reading messes that up a bit. I suppose Eressea has to be telestial (tel-estial being likely a play on Teleri who inhabit Eressea), making the earth at large something other than a glorified kingdom, Arda marred, I suppose, and absent any real glory. Valmar or perhaps specifically Taniquetil is obviously celestial, since that’s where God Manwe-Varda sit enthroned. What does that leave for terrestrial? Tirion, I’m guessing, the word terrestrial being a play on Tirion, possibly.

Tirion was home to the Vanyar and the Noldor but the Vanyar eventually moved to Valmar/Taniquetil and many of the Noldor left altogether. It wasn’t abandoned necessarily, but when Earandil approached Tirion it was on a day of festival when the city was all but empty. Mistaking it for the city of the gods, he started to leave before Eonwe called him back. Based on my reading of the legendarium, I’d definitely say the Vanyar and Noldo exceed the Teleri “in glory, and in power, and in might, and in dominion” just as stated in D&C 76.

So I guess that’s what Faithful is suggesting: Eressea is the telestial kingdom, Tirion is the terrestrial, and Valmar/Taniquetil is celestial. But that interpretation raises some interesting ideas and questions with the rest of 76. Following is my attempt to work through those questions:

CELESTIAL

They are they who received the testimony of Jesus, and believed on his name and were baptized after the manner of his burial, being buried in the water in his name, and this according to the commandment which he has given—

That by keeping the commandments they might be washed and cleansed from all their sins, and receive the Holy Spirit by the laying on of the hands of him who is ordained and sealed unto this power; And who overcome by faith, and are sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, which the Father sheds forth upon all those who are just and true. They are they who are the church of the Firstborn. [Bill makes a very compelling case that this refers specifically to the Vanyar.]

They are they into whose hands the Father has given all things— They are they who are priests and kings, who have received of his fulness, and of his glory; And are priests of the Most High, after the order of Melchizedek, which was after the order of Enoch, which was after the order of the Only Begotten Son. Wherefore, as it is written, they are gods, even the sons of God— Wherefore, all things are theirs, whether life or death, or things present, or things to come, all are theirs and they are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.

And they shall overcome all things. [“Shall” because they haven’t quite yet, being willing exiles thus far. But eventually they will return with every hill and boulder to reclaim and heal Arda marred.] Wherefore, let no man glory in man, but rather let him glory in God, who shall subdue all enemies under his feet. These shall dwell in the presence of God and his Christ forever and ever. These are they whom he shall bring with him, when he shall come in the clouds of heaven to reign on the earth over his people. These are they who shall have part in the first resurrection. These are they who shall come forth in the resurrection of the just.

These are they who are come unto Mount Zion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly place, the holiest of all. [Sounds like Taniquetil to me] These are they who have come to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of Enoch, and of the Firstborn. These are they whose names are written in heaven, where God and Christ are the judge of all. These are they who are just men made perfect [A reference, I believe, to the few first men who repented of the worship of the dark and were brought to Valinor] through Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, who wrought out this perfect atonement through the shedding of his own blood. These are they whose bodies are celestial, whose glory is that of the sun, even the glory of God, the highest of all, whose glory the sun of the firmament is written of as being typical.

And later in 76…

They who dwell in his presence are the church of the Firstborn; and they see as they are seen, and know as they are known, having received of his fulness and of his grace; And he makes them equal in power, and in might, and in dominion. [The Vanyar were the most beloved of Manwe Varda and dwelt nearest them. Ingwe, their king, who originally dwelt in Tirion, now dwells on Taniquetil. The Vanyar have been made equal to Manwe-Varda apparently, being now co-heirs in his kingdom.]

[There is a ton that could be unpacked here but to keep this brief, I think the celestial verses paint a picture of the Ainur and those elves/men who have ascended to their kingdom, specifically to where Manwe/Varda sit enthroned. To me, this doesn’t sound like the spirits of dead men or perhaps even elves go there, at least not without a pit stop in a lower kingdom first. This description of the celestial sounds like people and groups who have already gotten there. But as we’ll read, celestial spirits minister to terrestrial and bring them to Manwe’s city when they’re ready. In the case of Joseph Smith’s parents and brother Alvin, they’ve already done that.]

TERRESTRIAL

And again, we saw the terrestrial world, and behold and lo, these are they who are of the terrestrial, whose glory differs from that of the church of the Firstborn who have received the fulness of the Father, even as that of the moon differs from the sun in the firmament.

Behold, these are they who died without law; And also they who are the spirits of men kept in prison, whom the Son visited, and preached the gospel unto them, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh; Who received not the testimony of Jesus in the flesh, but afterwards received it. These are they who are honorable men of the earth, who were blinded by the craftiness of men.

[We’ve got two groups here, those who die without law and spirits of men in prison. The first group is addressed elsewhere in D&C 107 thusly: “Thus came the voice of the Lord unto me, saying: 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.” So basically, Jesus knows how to judge hearts and he knows who is good and not good and who can bear a terrestrial glory. Notice this crowd doesn’t go straight to the celestial kingdom but are declared heirs of it. Celestial angels minister to them and apparently take them to the celestial when they’re ready. That’s why Joseph sees his family in the celestial: “I saw Father Adam and Abraham; and my father and my mother; my brother Alvin, that has long since slept”. They apparently didn’t last long in Tirion.

The second group of people in this kingdom are repentant Numenoreans. They are the spirits of men kept in prison. When Eru visited, some of them repented, got his testimony or witness that they were clean, and got to go to the terrestrial kingdom. These imprisoned Numenoreans were blinded by the craftiness of men (and a devious Maia). Interestingly, it was within sight of Tirion that the forces of Numenor were finally stopped by Eru and imprisoned. Those who later repented got to enter that city as honored guests rather than a conquering host, receiving as gift what they would have taken by force, being misled.]

These are they who receive of his glory, but not of his fulness. These are they who receive of the presence of the Son, but not of the fulness of the Father. Wherefore, they are bodies terrestrial, and not bodies celestial, and differ in glory as the moon differs from the sun. These are they who are not valiant in the testimony of Jesus; wherefore, they obtain not the crown over the kingdom of our God.

[This part is a bit tricky but i think we’re still talking about the repentant Numenoreans. What’s tricky is where it says they are “not valiant in the testimony of Jesus” and b/c “they obtain not the crown…of our God”. I think this is referring to their misguided efforts during mortality. As a blessed people on Numenor, they had Eru’s testimony/witness and had a clear path to celestial glory. But they weren’t valiant in it (understatement? haha). Despite their worst efforts to dethron God, they didn’t obtain Manwe’s crown as a conquering force and they won’t now either. Believing as I do concerning Eru’s long-suffering, I imagine these repentant Numenoreans can ascend just as Joseph’s family did and would be considered “heirs of the celestial kingdom” just like those good spirits who died without a law but would have received it, presumably if it hadn’t been for Arda marred.]

TELESTIAL

[One quick note, I don’t think what we read below refers to the Teleri elves on Eressea but rather to the spirits that get resurrected to their realm. I imagine the Teleri won’t be content to stay on Eressea forever, although I could be wrong. But their incredible island will be the staging point for the healing of vast hordes of spirits apparently.]

These are they who received not the gospel of Christ, neither the testimony of Jesus. These are they who deny not the Holy Spirit. [This is, I think, the only real difference between these spirits and the sons of perdition. These telestial spirits have some real issues but they DON’T deny the holy spirit. Meaning, I assume, that they recognize their plight and want to turn from it and seek healing in the light of Eru. They accept his mercy. Merciful and long-suffering as He is, there is apparently a pretty kick-ass place for them to receive healing (Eressea).] These are they who are thrust down to hell. [Although it seems like hell Utumno is no more, there was a time when wicked spirits were captured and held there, suffering greatly. We read about it a few places in Faithful. Even though Utumno is no more (at least that’s my understanding), there are still dark places in the earth where wicked spirits, preferring darkness to light, wander and wallow. Turin was there until recently.] These are they who shall not be redeemed from the devil until the last resurrection, until the Lord, even Christ the Lamb, shall have finished his work. [This sounds like something that will happen when Arda is healed. B/c how healed could it be if there were hordes of wicked spirits wandering in hell under the feet of the righteous? Until then however, these dark souls languish in the dark places of the world. They must wait whereas good and wholesome spirits find a path to some place better when they die. They don’t have to wait for Eru to finish his work to heal Arda before finding rest.]

These are they who receive not of his fulness in the eternal world, but of the Holy Spirit through the ministration of the terrestrial; And the terrestrial through the ministration of the celestial. 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. [I alluded to this before, but there appears to be a flow between these kingdoms. Celestial spirits go minister to terrestrial spirits. Terrestrial go minister to telestial spirits. The idea, I assume, is to offer healing, lore, knowledge, etc such that a spirit can become something more. At least that’s how I read it. Even these dark telestial spirits (who, despite their darkness, refuse to deny the holy spirit) “shall be heirs of salvation”. Maybe it takes awhile but the light of Eru can heal them I imagine. Of course, that assumes the “they” hear refers to these telestial spirits. It could be that it’s referring to the terrestrial spirits that minister to them.] And thus we saw, in the heavenly vision, the glory of the telestial, which surpasses all understanding; And no man knows it except him to whom God has revealed it. [Just bolding that b/c that’s the phrase that brought about this entire post.]

And later in 76…

For these are they who are of Paul, and of Apollos, and of Cephas. [These are Bible names so I take it this refers to the religious of the world, deceived by that loathsome Bible (and probably other texts) into worshiping a false image of God. Upon death they find it difficult to lay down false beliefs apparently and wander here on earth rather than being taken to the terrestrial kingdom along with all those “who would have received it”.] These are they who say they are some of one and some of another—some of Christ and some of John, and some of Moses, and some of Elias, and some of Esaias, and some of Isaiah, and some of Enoch; But received not the gospel, neither the testimony of Jesus, neither the prophets, neither the everlasting covenant. [This bit I think refers to elves mostly, rather than men, or perhaps elves reborn as men who refuse the fatherhood of Manwe. They instead proclaim some other father, even a righteous being like Moses, etc. But lacking Jesus’ testimony or an everlasting covenant, they have no promise and foolishly choose to walk a path that doesn’t lead to the kingdom of the father. In the beginning, it was groups and individuals unwilling to have Manwe as their father who brought misery to that blessed realm. I’m thinking specifically of Feanor who said he would have no other father but Finwe. Daeron said something similar of Thingol and Melian. Although he didn’t have the same fate as Feanor, he did cause some real trouble for Beren/Luthien, perhaps due to his lack of acceptance of Manwe as the father. The Noldor elves named high kings other than Manwe, which I take to mean they rejected him as the father. As such, if they don’t repent of this, they inherit the telestial kingdom.]

Last of all, these all are they who will not be gathered with the saints, to be caught up unto the church of the Firstborn, and received into the cloud. These are they who are liars, and sorcerers, and adulterers, and whoremongers, and whosoever loves and makes a lie. These are they who suffer the wrath of God on earth. These are they who suffer the vengeance of eternal fire. [Basically a catch all here I suppose although I think there is more that could be unpacked here. It’s just a bunch of kinda bad people who have one redeeming quality — they don’t reject the holy spirit and because of that, there is hope for them to find healing.]

These are they who are cast down to hell and suffer the wrath of Almighty God, until the fulness of times, when Christ shall have subdued all enemies under his feet, and shall have perfected his work; When he shall deliver up the kingdom, and present it unto the Father, spotless, saying: I have overcome and have trodden the wine-press alone, even the wine-press of the fierceness of the wrath of Almighty God. Then shall he [the Father I think] be crowned with the crown of his glory, to sit on the throne of his power to reign forever and ever. [This whole paragraph seems like a repeat of ideas I mentioned above. I could be wrong but I can’t think of anything else to add. These dark souls are stuck here on earth, some suffering badly, until it’s healed and “perfected”. Then they get relief and get to enter the telestial realm that “surpasses all understanding”.]

But behold, and lo, we saw the glory and the inhabitants of the telestial world, that they were as innumerable as the stars in the firmament of heaven, or as the sand upon the seashore; [Apparently a lot of people fall into this category! Maybe even the vast majority of people? I don’t know. On the one hand that’s a depressing thought that so many go there but on the other hand, it’s a pretty freaking rad place! And possibly there are paths to ascend to greater kingdoms.] And heard the voice of the Lord saying: These all shall bow the knee, and every tongue shall confess to him who sits upon the throne forever and ever; [Unlike the sons of perdition, they don’t deny Manwe or his spirit or his Christ.] For they shall be judged according to their works, and every man shall receive according to his own works, his own dominion, in the mansions which are prepared; And they shall be servants of the Most High; but where God and Christ dwell they cannot come, worlds without end. [God can’t name them as heirs so he calls them “servants” instead. Perhaps a bit of craftiness on Manwe’s part to spare them a worse fate. Not that they actually do much serving I imagine. Kinda like “hey you can be my ‘servant’ {wink wink}; hang out on this amazing island that surpasses all understanding.” What does trouble me some is the last part about not being able to come to Taniquetil, worlds without end. Hyperbole perhaps? Or just missing a qualifier of “until you’re fully healed and can bear a terrestrial glory first”? Or is it a la D&C 19 where God talks a bigger punishment game than he really has the heart for? I don’t know. I hope so because I’ve come to believe the long-suffering of God essentially has no limits, even if there are some requirements of justice that have to be tended to.]

THE VOID

And this we saw also, and bear record, that an angel of God who was in authority in the presence of God, who rebelled against the Only Begotten Son whom the Father loved and who was in the bosom of the Father, was thrust down from the presence of God and the Son, And was called Perdition, for the heavens wept over him—he was Lucifer, a son of the morning. And we beheld, and lo, he is fallen! is fallen, even a son of the morning! [Rather than referring to Melkor, that liar from the beginning, this seems to refer to Feanor who until recently was “fallen” and in Mandos. He was referred to as Lucifer specifically in Slumbered. So was Melkor, but Slumbered specifically says: “a fire-spirit called Feanaro, the bright flame Lucifer downcast, to redemption yet awaiting in turn”]

And while we were yet in the Spirit, the Lord commanded us that we should write the vision; for we beheld Satan, that old serpent, even the devil, who rebelled against God, and sought to take the kingdom of our God and his Christ—Wherefore, he maketh war with the saints of God, and encompasseth them round about. [This seems to be a separate thought from the prior paragraph, almost like backstory, not a continuation of what was just said. It’s describing Melkor’s efforts against the sons of Perdition (Feanor) to encompass them in his dark will. Of course, it’s not just Feanor’s sons that fell. Maeglin fell too and is presumably a son of perdition, or at least was. Maybe that just means he got bound up in the oath and fell b/c of it and is therefore something like an adopted son of Feanor/Perdition. You could also probably apply these verses to beings like Sauron and the balrogs and orcs I imagine. But honestly I think here we’re talking specifically about war being made on “saints of God” so pretty much Feanor’s sons.]

And we saw a vision of the sufferings of those with whom he made war and overcame, [he made war with more than Feanor’s sons but he didn’t overcome all of them. I’m thinking of people like Hurin and his children. They never served Melkor.] for thus came the voice of the Lord unto us: Thus saith the Lord concerning all those who know my power, and have been made partakers thereof, and suffered themselves through the power of the devil to be overcome, and to deny the truth and defy my power—They are they who are the sons of perdition, of whom I say that it had been better for them never to have been born;

For they are vessels of wrath, doomed to suffer the wrath of God, with the devil and his angels in eternity; Concerning whom I have said there is no forgiveness in this world nor in the world to come—

Having denied the Holy Spirit after having received it, and having denied the Only Begotten Son of the Father, having crucified him unto themselves and put him to an open shame. [Ok so maybe there are more differences between these guys and gen pop of the telestial kingdom but you’ll notice here that these guys deny the Holy Spirit whereas the telestialites do not. It looks like these sons of perdition actually brought about the crucifixion. They were presented w the path of estel through Eru’s becoming flesh and instead of accepting the Spirit, repenting, finding healing, they literally kill mortal Eru. That is potentially one difference between Sauron, balrogs, et al and these sons of Feanor (although Carcaroth at least was hanging out with the wraith brothers so I’m guessing it’s more than those 3 and Melkor in the void). But I keep thinking of this idea that many of the fallen Ainur may not have been willing to cross the line of rejecting Eru. The only data point I have for this is Sauron repenting for a time after the First Age, even though he eventually declined to seek pardon in the west and fell back into his old ways.]

These are they who shall go away into the lake of fire and brimstone, with the devil and his angels— [I guess Utumno isn’t gone, it has just been moved to the void maybe?] And the only ones on whom the second death shall have any power; [I take this to mean no resurrection for these guys.] Yea, verily, the only ones who shall not be redeemed in the due time of the Lord, after the sufferings of his wrath. [In contrast to the telestialites.] For all the rest shall be brought forth by the resurrection of the dead, through the triumph and the glory of the Lamb, who was slain, who was in the bosom of the Father before the worlds were made.

skipping a bit………

…and saves all the works of his hands, except those sons of perdition who deny the Son after the Father has revealed him. [I take this to mean the father revealed the son in his mortal ministry and they killed him anyway, knowing what they did. A firm and final rejection of mercy it seems.] Wherefore, he saves all except them—they shall go away into everlasting punishment, which is endless punishment, which is eternal punishment, to reign with the devil and his angels in eternity, where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched, which is their torment— [This is where D&C 19 comes into play with a surprising twist, to me at least:

“Nevertheless, it is not written that there shall be no end to this torment, but it is written endless torment. Again, it is written eternal damnation; wherefore it is more express than other scriptures, that it might work upon the hearts of the children of men, altogether for my name’s glory. Wherefore, I will explain unto you this mystery, for it is meet unto you to know even as mine apostles. I speak unto you that are chosen in this thing, even as one, that you may enter into my rest. For, behold, the mystery of godliness, how great is it! For, behold, I am endless, and the punishment which is given from my hand is endless punishment, for Endless is my name. Wherefore— Eternal punishment is God’s punishment. Endless punishment is God’s punishment.”

God’s long-suffering applies even to these sons apparently? The words “endless punishment” are used in both places. Though they may not find forgiveness in this world or the next, there may be hope for them somewhere, somehow, even still. Truly amazing! Of note is that D&C 19 was not suppose to be published. God told them not to “speak these things unto the world”. I wonder if that was for the benefit of the wraiths. Hearing this, they may have hardened further thinking they could eventually take advantage of mercy down the road, even if it’s a long ways down the road. Just a thought.]

And the end thereof, neither the place thereof, nor their torment, no man knows; Neither was it revealed, neither is, neither will be revealed unto man, except to them who are made partakers thereof; Nevertheless, I, the Lord, show it by vision unto many, but straightway shut it up again; Wherefore, the end, the width, the height, the depth, and the misery thereof, they understand not, neither any man except those who are ordained unto this condemnation. And we heard the voice, saying: Write the vision, for lo, this is the end of the vision of the sufferings of the ungodly.

[This post is overlong already and I don’t have the heart to pull quotes from Faithful and Slumbered about Melkor’s desires to unmake and to make void all that Eru sought, but it would seem that Melkor and those who followed him got exactly what he sought to bring about, except it became their own fate alone, and no one else’s. I’m reminded of Hurin’s conversation with Melkor. At first, Hurin defies Morgoth and stands his ground but he seems to lose nerve toward the end:

“Beyond the Circles of the World I will not pursue them,” said Morgoth. “For beyond the Circles of the World there is Nothing. But within them they shall not escape me, until they enter into Nothing.”
“You lie,” said Hurin.
“You shall see and you shall confess that I do not lie,” said Morgoth.

Morgoth, is, of course, lying, being a liar from the beginning. But there is some truth in his statements. There really is a nothing-void, or maybe more than one. And he has received his own fate along with those who were overcome by him. The void-pit he meant for others is now his own fate along w those he overcame: “And that great pit, which hath been digged for them by that great and abominable church, which was founded by the devil and his children, that he might lead away the souls of men down to hell—yea, that great pit which hath been digged for the destruction of men shall be filled by those who digged it, unto their utter destruction, saith the Lamb of God; not the destruction of the soul, save it be the casting of it into that hell which hath no end.” Interestingly, being in this pit doesn’t destroy their soul since that is something that apparently can’t be destroyed. But it’s not happy times there. I guess I’ll stop here and maybe come back to this topic some other time.]

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