The Temple and the Kingdoms of Heaven
In the Bible it says that there are many mansions in heaven:
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. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also (John 14:2-3).
That there are many mansions in heaven may mean that there are many abodes there, but also that there are levels in heaven. Such has been the idea in Christianity since the beginning. The prophets, both ancient and modern, have told us that there are three kingdoms in heaven.
It says in 2 Corinthians 12:2, 4:
I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) such an one caught up to the third heaven…..How that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter (emphasis added).
Paul spoke of the three levels of heaven in the following verses:
There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory (1 Cor. 15:39–41).
These verses are poorly understood by most of Christendom, because so much is missing. In modern times, Prophet Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon experienced simultaneously a vision of the kingdoms of heaven in great detail, and they saw what types of people would qualify for each. They also saw that the physical, resurrected bodies of those inhabiting these kingdoms of heaven share in the glory typical of the kingdom where they dwell. People in the celestial, or highest kingdom, have celestial bodies likened to the glory of the sun. The celestial kingdom is where God and Christ dwell, so those who inherit that kingdom dwell in their presence forever. Mormons call this “exaltation” or “eternal life.” Covenants and ordinances performed in Mormon Temples are meant to prepare us for exaltation. (Read the account of the vision of the kingdoms of heaven.)
The Foundational Principles of Heavenly Inheritance
The progression of the Mormon temple ritual can be understood by examining the ancient temple of Solomon. The temple of Solomon was built so that the unprepared and uninitiated visitor only reached the outer courts. Nestled inside the building was the “Holy of Holies,” where the sacred Ark of the Covenant was kept. The Holy of Holies was the room in which the high priest or prophet could communicate directly with God, a place of revelation and miracles. The Levites who administered in the outer courts had to cleanse and sanctify themselves for their service, and this was even more necessary for the high priest or prophet who entered the Holy of Holies. This sacred room could be compared to the celestial kingdom of heaven, where the impure cannot come, the very presence of God.
The most beautiful room in a Mormon temple is the celestial room, representing the highest kingdom of heaven. All those who participate in Mormon temple ordinances hope someday to attain God’s presence with their loved ones. Entering the celestial room of the temple is the culmination of the Mormon endowment ritual, and one may linger there to pray and meditate. It is the only place where the meanings of the temple may be freely discussed. It should be obvious to the world that such a place is quite different than a public park, cafe, or football stadium, and that to open it to the public would destroy its purpose. It is open to anyone who wants to invest the effort to purify himself and devote himself (or herself) to a discipleship of Christ.
Purification and Sanctification
The world likes to make a mockery of Mormon temple worship and Mormon standards. Mormons live high standards to be worthy of temple blessings. Although they participate in worldly things, they must be pure for their temple service. The standards necessary for temple service build upon basic principles found in the Bible.
- Sacrifice — Sacrifice is a basic tenet of the gospel and is the foundation of it. In Old Testament times, sacrifice was the basic manifestation of one’s faithfulness to God. To sacrifice is to give up something good for something better, something higher. Old Testament faithful offered the first fruits of their labors (the first and best of their animals and produce) to God. In modern times as in ancient, the payment of tithing, one-tenth of one’s increase, is a basic manifestation that the person knows all things come from God, and there is no better use for one’s money than to build God’s kingdom by giving back one-tenth of it.
- Repentance — Together with sacrifice, repentance is the floor of the gospel. You can’t get anywhere near God without it. The spirit of Christ cannot dwell in an unholy place, and neither can the Holy Ghost. The Law of Moses defines repentance as a turning away from sin. It includes godly sorrow and regret, the desire to reconcile with God, the abandonment of the sinful practice, a sincere attempt to make restitution for injury caused, and the determination to keep the commandments of God from that point on.
- Piety and virtue — a person who is headed into the presence of God lives a life of goodness. He or she is kind, temperate, charitable, honest, and chaste. God has established an acceptable pattern for the use of procreative power, and no one who abuses that power has a place in God’s immediate presence.
- Yearning for God — Having an “eye single to the glory of God” (Doctrine and Covenants 82) means desiring His presence more than any worldly thing. There are people in this world who feel this way and who are willing to walk the path of purification to be worthy of that blessing. These people may look like soccer moms and businessmen, but they are on a profound journey that may not be apparent to the world. They are not cloistered or wearing the garb of clergy, and this may create some misunderstanding, but they spend hours every day on their spiritual quest and are willing to give up all worldly things at God’s request.
Mormons purify themselves to enter the temple, a sanctuary, the House of God. They do this to forward the process of sanctification, which means to be set apart for the Lord’s use. Only then can they expect to someday enter into His presence. The progression through the temple endowment ritual to the celestial room of the temple symbolizes this process.