Sun, Moon, and Stars

April 13, 2005    By: Geoff J @ 10:26 am   Category: Eternal Progression,MMP,Scriptures

Most of the Christian world believes the afterlife is divided into two states: heaven and hell. It was revealed to Joseph Smith that there are more details to the afterlife than that. The Lord explained in section 76 that when Paul talked about resurrected bodies having glories as different as the Sun, the Moon and the Stars that this was in fact a model of the afterlife. So in the Church we now understand that rather than just heaven and hell, there is gradation in “heaven”. There is a telestial kingdom which matches the glory of the stars, a terrestrial kingdom that is likened to the glory of the moon, and a celestial kingdom that is likened to the glory of the sun. It is my opinion that just as the three-kingdom model shows more gradation than the heaven/hell model, that in reality the afterlife is a continuum of glory ranging from no light (outer darkness) to enough light to be likened to the sun at noonday (in Arizona no less).

First, I have consistently argued that being part of a kingdom does not mean getting an entrance ticket, but rather it means we are by our very nature celestial or terrestrial or telestial people. (Grasshopper put up a nice post of this subject a few weeks ago over at Millenial Star.) We have either changed our character through repentance enough to be celestial persons or we haven’t. There is no cheating the system and just sliding through the celestial gates by the skin of our teeth (Indiana Jones-style) where then we can pal around with Abraham, Moses and all the prophets. If we are not like them, we will not be like them. Nor will we want to be with them. It is pretty simple. We receive the glory in the resurrection to match who we really are.

I think the Sun, Moon, Stars analogy inherently matches this continuum idea too. At the low end we have the faintest of stars. Only the tiniest amount of light can be discerned from these. Within the star category you have a continuum that goes up to the brightest of the stars in the night sky. That brightest star probably emits more light than a new moon. But the next night we see a sliver moon. Within a few weeks the full moon comes out and gives enough light to see your path at times. In fact a full moon on a clear night can sometimes give more light than the sun under heavy cloud cover and pouring rain. But the better the weather gets and the more the marine layer burns off the more light we get from the sun, culminating in noonday sun on a crystal clear day in summer. The point should be obvious – we can see a continuum even with the scriptural Sun, Moon, Stars analogy.

So what do you think? Are there major plateaus in the eternal rewards God us gives or is our reward/punishment in the eternities on a continuum that matches exactly our character?


  1. I thoroughly agree (big surprise, right?). How big of a difference is there really between the least righteous person in the celestial kingdom and the most righteous person in the terrestrial? By thinking of the after life we have only made the All-or-Nothing models slightly less offensive, but not very much at all.

    Personally, I think that outer darkness is just a generic term for whatever is less than telestial. This “whatever” should have degrees of glory (if you can even call it that at this level) as well.

    I also believe that there are degrees above the celestial kingdom, but it isn’t possible for any of us to reach them after just this mortal life so we don’t hear too much about them.

    I think of Jacob’s ladder. The three main steps which we are concerned with are C, Tr and Tl. But this doesn’t mean that there aren’t other steps, lot’s of them, both between these three and beyond. I feel that JS was definitely headed in that doctrinal direction in Nauvoo.

    Comment by Jeffrey Giliam — April 13, 2005 @ 11:59 am

  2. You forget, I believe, a critical aspects of the divisions, which I mentioned on the other posts. Regardless of how much light you have, our kingdom is a function of our relationships with Diety and with each other.

    Comment by J. Stapley — April 13, 2005 @ 12:07 pm

  3. I’m not sure any ordinances denote plateaus J. The ordinances and covenants open the possibility for us to receive sufficient light and truth (through our actual repentance) to become celestial beings… It still is what we are that makes the difference. Lots of people partake of the ordinances before they truly becomenew creatures“.

    Comment by Geoff Johnston — April 13, 2005 @ 12:35 pm

  4. I guess I was refering to another comment – That the Holy Ghost accesses the Ter Kingdom; the Savior accesses the Tel; and the Father accesses the Cel.

    Comment by J. Stapley — April 13, 2005 @ 12:50 pm

  5. I’m a tool, I’ve been switching Telestial and Terrestrial over the last several comments, my bad. I still must not be fully recovered from that road trip.

    Comment by J. Stapley — April 13, 2005 @ 12:51 pm

  6. I also think that part of what we must remember is that there is a law for each kingdom, and our ability to live that law is the determining factor in our abiding there. A law must imply some degree of coherence, since it implies a group acting in accordance with that law, so there must still be divisions. Those of outer darkness are those who cannot abide any law and seek to become a law unto themselves.

    Comment by Steve H — April 13, 2005 @ 1:34 pm

  7. There are certain ordainances that qualify us for the Celestial Kingdom as well as the divisions in the Celestial Kingdom. I fully agree with the multitude of gradations. It is interesting though that the best, most righteous person in the Terrestial Kingdom may be a “better” person, more Chirstlike than the worst person in the bottom of the Celestial Kingdom, the difference being the person in the Terrestial Kingdom was never baptized or didn’t accept his baptism. Thus he didn’t qualify by ordainence.

    Comment by don — April 13, 2005 @ 1:47 pm

  8. Steve and J,

    What I am implying is that here on earth most are living in the telestial “kingdom” because they are living a telestial law and that others are currently living in terrestrial “kingdom” because they live the terrestrial law and receive the attendant joy, peace, etc that comes with that obedience. Perhaps some are even living a celestial law and feel the internal celestial peace, joy, and power that attend that obedience. I doubt there are many who actually qualify for that though because it requires total consecration according to our doctrine and very few seem to be able or willing to consecrate everything yet. But I suspect if someone was living the celestial law they would be the ones who would have the faith to do as Jacob claimed:

    …and our faith becometh unshaken, insomuch that we truly can command in the name of Jesus and the very trees obey us, or the mountains, or the waves of the sea. (Jacob 4:6)


    This idea of the top person in a lower kingdom being more righteous than the bottom person in another kingdom is exactly what I am disagreeing with. I don’t think these kingdoms are places or holding bins as commonly believed but rather states of being and the attendant joy, peace, etc that comes with those states of being. If my theory is right then by definition the scenario you describe cannot happen. The covenants associated withthe ordinances help change us, but they don’t work if we don’t actually repent and change. That is why we “say nothing but repentance” to one another even after the ordinances have been performed.

    Comment by Geoff Johnston — April 13, 2005 @ 3:08 pm

  9. I lean towards J’s suggestions that the deciding factor is not just the ability to abide or obey a certain law. To me, the kingdoms are not about where we will be, but who we will be with. When we talk about law, we cannnot neglect our obedience to what Jesus calls the “weightier matters of the law” :

    Matthew 23:23:

    Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.

    I might add that pure love/charity is high on the Lord’s list.

    1 Cor 13:13

    And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.

    And, John 17:3:

    And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.

    So, I submit that our designation to a certain kingdom may depend on the quality of our relationships with the three members of the Godhead who administer those kingdoms. Some examples:

    1) We need to examine not only what ARE the “weightier matters of the law”, but how we FEEL about those things. How does our attitude toward, concern for, and love for these “matters” compare to the feelings that God and Jesus have for these things ?

    2) Can we even know how our feelings compare with God and Christ’s feelings if we have not taken sufficient time to get to know them ?

    3) There is a big difference between praying every day because the Spirit prompts you to do so and praying every day because you worship God in humility with all your heart and can’t wait to learn something new about Him.

    4) There is big difference between serving others because you learned at Church that it is the right thing to do, versus serving others because you are literally following God’s direction and, in essence, having frequent experiences with Him even though you aren’t physically in His presence.

    In this world we learn the reality of “birds of a feather”. Given the choice, we will spend most of our free time with persons that we are comfortable with. That’s a clue about the life to come.


    Comment by Brent — April 13, 2005 @ 7:31 pm

  10. Geoff,

    I agree. And I like the idea about the varying degrees of light because I have always thought of the kingdoms as more or less symbolic of the many mansions. In other words, the joy we experience and our proximity to Christ and the spirit will all be in relation to who we are as people.

    If we see the kingdoms as internally equal states, it seems to cause some problems. Supposing you rank the righteousness of all humanity, where is the line drawn between the telestial and terrestial kingdoms? I would imagine that there’s only a miniscule difference, if any, between the person at the top of the Tel and the person at the bottom of the Ter. I can’t imagine that there would be such a major divide between two people so similar.

    I think that Don’s point and your response are interesting. Part of the problem in trying to figure this out is that we don’t really know how likely people are to accept the gospel/ordinances in the next life. Will it be as rare a thing as it is in this world, or will any generally good person see the light and accept it wholeheartedly in the spirit world? I think I, and most others, lean towards the latter. Accepting the former, however, creates the possibility that you could have an extremely Christ-like person who has rejected the ordinances. Is that possible? If it is, it would seem to lend some weight to Don’s idea of a more-righteous person actually possessing a lesser state.

    Comment by Eric Russell — April 13, 2005 @ 8:20 pm

  11. Brent,

    It sounds like we are in agreement that the main issue is what we are. If we are not the type of person that naturally accomplishes the weightier matters of the law then the ordinances themselves will not save us. I agree with your comment (and I think the others here do to).

    The question we are still wrangling with is if the afterlife has three actual divisions or if that is only a metaphor signifying a continuum of rewards. I think actual justice requires a continuum since the quality of our characters can be graded on a continuum of how godlike we or are not.


    You pose an interesting question. I am leaning toward the idea that the ordinances in and of themselves are not what drives the reward system but rather the actual character of the person. Character is created by personal change, aka repentance. Therefore I think the covenants mostly help us to continue to repent and change. If a person who has made none of the required covenants leaves this life more intrinsically Christ-like than one who has I think the more Christ-like person will receive the greater reward.

    This is not to downgrade the importance of the covenants, but rather putting a higher premium on strict obedience to those covenants. Think about what we are told in the temple about the results of not living up to every covenant we make with God there. Yet how many are really living the law of consecration fully? I don’t see any easy way around that sort of thing. One major advantage of being baptized in the restored Church is the Gift of the Holy Ghost. But again that is really not a useful Gift unless we remain qualified to always have His spirit to be with us. So it all brings us back to what we are, not what ordinances we received. A person who has made all the covenants in this life had better be among the most righteous at the day of judgment because it is like the person in the parable who got 5 talents. God will not give us special treatment if we are not sufficiently changed our natures for the better. If someone else shows up and is more Christ-like than me without having the Gift of the Holy Ghost to assist them in this life I’m certain they will be rewarded much more generously than I will…

    Comment by Geoff Johnston — April 13, 2005 @ 8:30 pm

  12. I agree that there are associations associated with the kingdoms, but I still have to stick with the idea that there is a law involved in being able to abide the presence of those associations. We are told that those who cannot abide the law of a telestial kingdom are not fit for a kingdom and become a law unto themselves in outer darkness. This idea of a law entails the idea of associating with others. If we abide a law, it is only in association with others, and this is why we must obey that law is so that we can have peacable association with others who will obey that law.
    Also, we know that this earth will become a celestial kingdom. If a celestial kingdom is defined in space, wouldn’t a terrestrial or telestial kingdom? If those who are not fit cannot live with God, that implies a place. In fact, the idea of association at all implies some degree of proximity.

    Comment by Steve H — April 15, 2005 @ 5:12 pm

  13. Also, we know that this earth will become a celestial kingdom. If a celestial kingdom is defined in space, wouldn’t a terrestrial or telestial kingdom?

    Excellent point.

    Comment by J. Stapley — April 15, 2005 @ 5:16 pm

  14. Steve,

    I agree with the points you are making — at least I think I do. Did I say some things that are not in harmony with #12? Perhaps I am interpreting some of your statements differently than you are?

    Comment by Geoff Johnston — April 15, 2005 @ 5:59 pm

  15. Not to change the subject, but the Resurrection is also a physical thing. When we are resurrected, it is to a perfected state of a physical body. The question is, is a perfected body for the Telestial the same as a perfected state for the Celestial. Do the Kingdoms differ in physical nature as well as spiritual? Can we compare living environments like that of this Earth? We have the fish that live in an environment of water and are perfect in their suitability to such an environment. We have the Land dwellers in all there kinds and types. But the Celestial can dwell in all, even environments we don’t know about. Corinthians teaches us that there are body’s telestial, terrestrial and celestial in the resurrection. Is it possible that Paul was correct?

    Comment by Gary G, — March 19, 2007 @ 11:13 pm