In the book of Hebrews we read: "For every high priest is ordained to offer gifts and sacrifices: wherefore it is of necessity that this man have somewhat also to offer. For if he were on earth, he should not be a priest, seeing that there are priests that offer gifts according to the law: Who serve unto the example and shadow of heavenly things, as Moses was admonished of God when he was about to make the tabernacle: for, See, saith he, that thou make all things according to the pattern showed to thee in the mount" (Hebrews 8:3-5).
Christians are very much aware of the role that symbolism plays in the Bible. For example, it is understood by all Christians that the priest in the ancient temple who offered up blood sacrifices to God represented or symbolized Christ who is our High Priest who offered Himself up as a blood sacrifice for our sins. The temple itself is a symbol of the place where God lives. In speaking of these symbols, the writer of Hebrews refers to them as a "shadow of heavenly things" and as a "pattern."
The dictionary defines the word pattern as "A plan or model to be followed in making things, a representative sample." (Webster's University Dictionary). It can also be defined as a simple version of a more complex design. For example, a blueprint is the plan used by builders to construct a building. However, although it contains all the necessary information, it is far inferior in beauty and functionality to the real thing. In the same way, a shadow is a kind of a pattern of the person or thing to whom it belongs. The reason it is a pattern is because it is only a simple shape or outline of something that is more complex in design.
If the temple represents the place where God lives and its design was given to Moses as a pattern or shadow of heavenly things then, by definition, the temple is a blueprint or model of what heaven must be like, howbeit, in a very inferior way, much as a shadow is inferior to the person who casts it. If that is so, then the more we study this model the more we can understand what heaven is like.
But there is another model besides the temple that gives us even a better idea of what it's like in heaven and this model is something everyone is very familiar with.
The question that man has been asking for centuries is, "Who am I and why am I here?" The reason for this question is because man has a yearning to understand the purpose of life. If, as some say, there is no God and that man is just a biological accident of nature, then there is no reason or purpose to life except to survive as best we can. On the other hand, if we say there is a God then we must also admit that this same God had a divine purpose in creating us. And if that's the case, then it is important to understand what that purpose is.
Most traditional Christians believe that before the earth was created nothing existed except God. Then, at some point, God decided to create the earth, including all things on it, along with the universe as well as the place where God Himself lives, which we call heaven. If that is true, then that raises the question of why did God create us? The answer most Christians give is that God's ultimate plan is to have us live with Him in heaven and spend eternity there worshipping Him. But, if that is so, then why did He create this earth and place us here first instead of originally putting us in heaven where He intended for us to be? After all, if God created angels and they live in heaven with Him, as most Christians believe, then what is the purpose of us living on earth?
While most Christians struggle to answer this question, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches that long before this earth was ever created we lived in heaven with God as His spirit children. That means we were born to heavenly parents who cared for us and raised us, much like parents on earth raise their children. There we were nurtured, guided, and taught all the things that our heavenly parents wanted their divine offspring to know and we considered heaven to be our home.
But there came a time when some of the things we needed to learn could not be taught there. Since heaven is a place where sin cannot exist, it was necessary for us to go somewhere else in order to gain the same knowledge of good and evil just that our Father in heaven has. And that is why God created this earth. It was to become our school away from home.
But what kind of world was this earth to be? Was it meant to be some sort of strange, unfamiliar environment or did God create this earth to resemble the world we came from? The answer is that our new world was patterned after our former one. But, rather than it being exactly like heaven, it is a shadow of that world. Even so, there are many things here that are similar to what we experienced in heaven.
The apostle John saw in a vision that those who have the victory over the beast and his mark will someday stand on a sea of glass before God (Revelation 15:2). When Joseph Smith asked the Lord the meaning of this verse he was told, that the sea of glass "is the earth, in its sanctified, immortal, and eternal state" (D&C 77:1). The Lord further revealed that the angels "reside in the presence of God, on a globe like a sea of glass" and then explained that this earth in it's sanctified, immortal, and eternal state will be like unto it (D&C 130:7,9, emphasis added).
The ultimate destiny of this earth is to become a world just like that which God lives on. And what kind of a world is that? In part, it is a "globe." Therefore, when God first created the earth He patterned it after that which He lives on - a globe. But instead of it being exactly the same as heaven, this globe was a simpler, less magnificent version of the world we came from. Even so, it was patterned after that world we had grown up in and were familiar with.
After God had created the earth He "said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness" (Genesis 1:26). The LDS Church takes this verse literally, teaching that God has a human form and that He created man to look just like Him. And if God has a human form and we were born as spirit children in heaven to Him then that clearly infers that we, as spirits in heaven, had a human form as well, that had a head with two eyes, two ears, a mouth and hair on the top. Our bodies also had a torso with two arms and two legs. Recently the LDS Church has reaffirmed its belief that even our gender - male and female - was an essential characteristic of our individual premortal life (see The Proclamation of the Family).
When we are born on this earth, our spirit is placed in a physical body but rather than it being a body resembling a horse or a whale or some other kind of animal we were given a body that resembles the one we were familiar with before coming here; one that is patterned after the form that our spirits had in heaven, except it is only a shadow of that glorious one we were familiar with.
But shape is not the only thing that makes us human. Most Christians understand Genesis 1:26 to mean that God created us in His own moral, intellectual, and emotional likeness. That is to say, man was created with the ability to choose between right and wrong, that he can think and reason in the abstract, and possesses the same emotional feelings that God has but not to the same degree. While the LDS Church also believes this, it teaches that we had those same qualities in our premortal life. Therefore, even these earthly traits are similar to or are patterned after that which we had in heaven.
Then, once man and woman had been created, "God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth" (Genesis 1:28).
If we were born as children in heaven where we were raised, nurtured, taught, and loved by divine parents before coming to earth, then God has given us the opportunity here on earth to do what He is able to do in heaven, which is to have children and then to raise, nurture, teach, and love them. Therefore, as earthly parents we are following the pattern that exists in heaven. Furthermore, God is all powerful and reigns supreme over all of His creations. Therefore we can say that God has dominion over all things. When God placed man on the earth He likewise gave him dominion over all things on the earth, thus allowing man to pattern himself after the power that God exercises in heaven.
As we further observe human personalities it becomes obvious that every person has their own distinct talents as well as preferences. While all talents can be learn through practice it's clear that some people seem to be born with the natural ability to do certain things.
There are those are able to easily learn to play musical instrument or who have a beautiful singing voice while others have no natural rhythm and are tone deaf when it comes to carrying a tune. There are those who love being in the outdoors while there are others who prefer being indoors. Some have a natural talent for cooking while others have a talent for sewing. There are those who are good at doing mechanical chores while others are better suited to intellectual work. There are those who seem to have a natural instinct for business or finances while others are able to easily create works of art from all sorts of materials.
If we say that man did not exist until God created him on earth then we would also have to say that it was God who assigned each person at birth the particular talent they possess. But, if we say that earth life is patterned after the kind of life we lived in heaven then we can infer that each of us comes to earth with talents that we developed in heaven. And if that is true, then heaven is a place full of all kinds of activity.
The apostle John saw the heavenly city of Jerusalem and described what it looked in the 21st chapter of Revelation. In that chapter he describes a wall that had twelve gates and the streets were made out of pure gold. In this same revelation John talked about there being a great temple in heaven, where God sits upon a majestic throne (Revelation 4:3). All of this strongly suggests there is construction work that goes on in heaven where people are engaged in building walls, streets, magnificent buildings and beautiful furniture. It makes sense that those spirits who learned these kinds of skills in heaven would show a "natural" talent for doing similar work when they came to earth.
The scriptures also talk about angels who are warriors and it also talks about those who are guardians. Therefore, it should not be surprising to find people in this life who have a natural military ability that came from the skills they learned in heaven.
The scriptures mention the existence of all kinds of animals in heaven, both of beasts and of flying creatures. No doubt we loved being around animals in heaven but some loved it more than others. Therefore, it would seem only reasonable that when these spirits came to earth they would continue to exhibit that same love of animals here as well.
Music is not only known as the universal language but it is universal as well. It is found in every culture and in every age of man whether it is made by voice or by instrument. What makes this even more amazing is that no other animal except man makes music! Birds don't really "sing," they chirp. Bee don't really hum. Their wings make a whirring noise. Only man produces a melodic sound that has a rhythm to it. Therefore, we can reasonably assume that singing songs and playing musical instruments was very common in heaven.
And the same could be said for dancing. Man not only creates music in many different forms but he is the only creature who dances to his songs. And, like music, dancing has been done by man in every culture since the beginning of recorded time. Since this seems to be an inborn trait exclusive to man, we can therefore assume that we likewise danced in heaven if earth life is patterned after our heavenly life.
Another trait that is unique to mankind is art. Whether it's by painting, or sculpturing wood, stone, or metal, no other creature creates works of art. And closely associated with this is the appreciation of and a desire for beauty. Even in the mundane aspects of our life, such as clothing and shelter, we strive to have them look pleasing to the eye. And that is the very purpose of using make-up and wearing jewelry. Man is the only creation of God who possesses this quality and, as the scriptures tell us, heaven is more beautiful than words can describe. Even the description of angels and the clothes they wear are more magnificent than anything we have on earth. Thus we see additional evidence that our life here is patterned after that which is in heaven except it is only a shadow of that life we once lived.
Man has an instinctive, almost insatiable desire to learn and, closely associated with this, is the making of written records of his accomplishments. The word "history" is actually a contraction of two words: "his story." And it is from these writings that man passes on his knowledge for others to learn from. In fact, the Bible itself was written for this very reason. And the scriptures tell us that in heaven there are books kept of everything we do and that it is from these books that we will be judge. Then, obviously, we had a strong desire to learn and could read and write when we lived in heaven.
While mankind is not unique in his ability to communicate we nonetheless like to socialize more than other creatures and naturally tend to congregate together in communities, be it as families, tribes, cities, or countries. We like to travel and to explore new things. Therefore we can assume we did those same kinds of things when we lived in heaven.
Another trait that is common to mankind is the natural tendency to laugh and have fun. While some other animals do tend to "play" in their younger years, man never seems to outgrow this trait. We not only enjoy playing all sorts of games but we even get great enjoyment out of watching others play. That is what makes sporting games so popular. While animals may "play" they don't get any real enjoyment out of watching others do so nor do they play competitively just for the fun of it. Also, man is the only animal that actually laughs. Even though there are no scriptures that talk about laughter and games in heaven, if this life is patterned after our former life, then we can reasonably assume that we laughed and played games in heaven.
If that is so, then what about the Church that Christ established? Is that patterned after what is in heaven or is it strictly an earthly institution designed by man?
For most Christian denominations, church is nothing more than a community of believers. That is to say, the members are only bound together by their desire to worship God. And that's because each church is like a school of religious instruction where people come to learn about the gospel of Christ. As such, each worshipper is free to pick and choose which school they wish to attend, much like deciding which community college to enroll in. And if they are not satisfied with the curriculum or professors at one college, they have the option of switching their enrollment to another college of their choice. Under such a system, except for the desire to learn, there is no unity among the students or with the courses of instruction except within each individual college.
However, the scriptures refer to heaven as a "kingdom" and a kingdom is a form of government. If all those who now live or who have ever lived and will yet live on this earth came here from heaven then there had to be some system of government there that organized all of God's children into a perfect society where all of their needs could be met. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is organized in such a way that it unites all of its members into one body of believers through a system of government where the needs of each member is adequately meet no matter how large the Church becomes. And the governing principle or authority for this government is the priesthood.
The apostle Paul taught that the purpose of the church was "For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ" (Ephesians 4:12). If what we do on earth is patterned after the way we did things in heaven, then it is clear that the way God organized His spirit children to help perfect, teach, and edify them must also be the same way he does this on earth. Therefore, the kind of church government we see on earth should closely resemble what we would expect to see in heaven.
As we examine the wide range of human experiences what we find is that our life here on earth is very similar to our former life in heaven except it is not as glorious or perfect. But, even so, there are also some striking dissimilarities as well.
If God is perfect, then so is the place where He lives. Thus, when we lived in heaven with God we lived in a perfect world. Therefore, when a perfect God created this earth, He must have created it with the intention of making it perfect in it's own way. However, when the first man and woman violated God's command not to eat of a particular fruit, that act of disobedience tainted earth's creation with sin. Like poison being spilled into a lake, sin spread and polluted every aspect of earth. In time, as all things on earth drank from this poisoned source of life, animals began to kill one another and even the ground itself sprouted forth thorns and thistles. What started out as a beautiful new world that was patterned after our old world, the earth soon became a place very different in attitude, culture, and landscape than what we were used to.
Instead of constant joy and happiness, now we experience sorrow and heartaches. Where we once enjoyed light and beauty, we now must stumble through darkness and accept imperfection. Where we were once filled with love and compassion for others, now we are surrounded by greed and selfishness. Where we once longed to be like our Father in heaven, now we must be constantly reminded to seek after eternal life when everything here entices us to focus on living only for this temporary life.
But all these changes are meant to teach us lessons that could not be learned in heaven. As such, the purpose of this life is to prepare us to live forever in heaven in a much more exalted state. Since heaven is our home and it is also meant to be our eternal future dwelling place, therefore, to better prepare us for that life, of necessity, this life has to be patterned after heaven.