Jesus told His disciples, "For the hour is coming in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice and shall come forth; they that have done good unto the resurrection of life and they that have done evil unto the resurrection of damnation" (John 5:28-29).
Ever since Christ ascended into heaven, Christians have been anticipating His return but when that event happens it will also usher in the resurrection. Those Christians who are alive at that time "shall be caught up together with them [who are in the grave who believed in Christ] in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air; and so shall we ever be with the Lord" (1 Thessalonians 4:17).
But what about those who died who didn't accept Christ? John wrote, "the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years" (Revelation 20:5,6).
As we read the Bible what we learn is that there are to be two resurrections, the first and the second, which are also referred to as the resurrection of the just and the resurrection of the unjust or the resurrection of the righteous and the resurrection of the damned. Those who participate in the first resurrection are to consider themselves blessed while those who come forth in the second resurrection will not be so blessed.
However, in speaking of the resurrection Jesus also told the apostle John, "And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be" (Revelation 22:12). Since no two people are alike in their spirituality, it is obvious that not all of our deeds are the same. Some people sin more than others and some sin less than others both among the believers in Christ and the non-believers. Therefore, if God is going to reward us according to our deeds, then there has to be many different rewards in both heaven and in hell. And, in fact, Jesus confirmed this when He told his disciples, "In my Father's house are many mansions" (John 14:2).
On February 17, 1832 as Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon were studying the Bible and read John 5:29 they wondered how there could only be two rewards when everyone's works were different. In answer to that question, these two men saw a vision that showed them there are four main categories of reward awaiting mankind after the resurrection - the celestial, terrestrial, telestial, and outer darkness - each of which are described as kingdoms. And in this vision, the Lord explained who inherits which kingdom.
The place where God lives is known as the celestial kingdom and those who go there are they who heard the gospel of Christ, accepted it, were baptized in His name by someone having the proper authority and who kept His commandments. "These are they whom he (Jesus) 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" (D&C 76:50-64). This is the kingdom that Christians refer to when they speak of going to heaven to live with God.
When this vision ended Joseph and Sidney saw another vision which was of the terrestrial kingdom. This is not a place where God the Father dwells but is a place where God, the Son, can come to visit. Joseph and Sidney saw that those who inherited this kingdom were those who had died without law, those who did not accept the gospel while in this life when they had heard it but afterwards accepted it when it was preached to them while they were in the spirit. This is also the place where good, honorable men go who wouldn't accept the gospel either in this life or the next because they were blinded by "the craftiness of men," and this is also the place where those who did accept the gospel while in this life go who were not valiant in their testimony of Jesus Christ" (D&C 76:71-79).
Those who inherit the telestial kingdom are the wicked who would not accept the gospel either in this life or the next and the kingdom of outer darkness is reserved for the devil and his followers. However, the interesting part of this revelation and what is of most concern to us has to do with those who do accept the gospel in this life but who are not valiant in their testimony of Jesus.
Many Christians believe that once a person has been saved, they are saved forever and that there is nothing they can do be lose their salvation, but the Lord has revealed that such is not the case. Even if a person has accepted Jesus as their Savior, has been baptized in water by the proper authority but does not remain valiant or, in other words, is not faithful to the gospel of Christ and to their testimony of Him, they will not become heirs of the celestial kingdom.
That, of course, raises the question of what does it mean to be "valiant"?
The most obvious answer is that a person must remain an active member of Christ's church in keeping the commandments of God. And, indeed, there are those who accept the gospel of Christ when it is preached to them, are baptized, and who are active in the church for a period of time but then "fall away" and become inactive. In such a situation, it is clear that they have not been valiant in their testimony.
But being valiant means more than just being an active member. It means keeping the commandments, accepting and fulfilling church callings, doing one's duty, and serving the Lord with all of ones heart, mind, and soul. But not everyone does all of these things all of the time so it is obvious that there isn't just one definition of "valiant.' Instead, there are degrees of valiancy
Suppose someone has been valiant most of their life and then becomes upset over something that happened between them and another member of the Church and they go inactive. At that point we could say they are no longer valiant. But what about someone who became inactive but is now active? Are they now to be considered valiant even though they had not been valiant in the past? If so, is our valiancy determined by our activity in the Church at the time we die or is it judged by our entire life from the time we accepted the gospel?
And what about the person who comes to church every Sunday and is an honorable person but who doesn't accept any callings? Are they being valiant? Or what of someone who accepts a calling but who is slothful in fulfilling their duties within that calling? Are they being valiant? And what of someone who serves faithfully in their calling but isn't very faithful in doing their home teaching or holding Family Home Evening, or reading their scriptures every day? Are they being valiant?
If only the valiant are worthy of inheriting the celestial kingdom, then it becomes important for us to know exactly what it means to be valiant and exactly how valiant we must be in order to inherit the kingdom of God.
The answer can be found in understanding the plan of salvation. Before the earth was ever created we had to take sides in a war over whether to support a plan put forth by our Father in heaven or support a plan proposed by Lucifer. Among the most valiant warriors in that war was Michael, the archangel, whose valiancy was second only to that of Jehovah in defending the Father's plan. Yet there were others who were nearly as valiant while there were still others who showed lesser degrees of valiancy.
The Lord told Abraham that those who supported our Father's plan kept their first estate and were given the privilege of coming to earth to experience mortality as part of their opportunity to receive eternal life. In this life we see such giants of faithfulness as Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Samuel, Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Peter, John, Paul, and many others.
But there were other people who also were given the privilege of experiencing mortality such as Cain, Jezebel, Nebuchnezzer, Alexander, Ceasar, Caligula, Ghengis Khan, Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Saddam, and others. These men had also kept their first estate by being valiant in defending the Father's plan, but their valiancy was no doubt far less than that of Jehovah, Michael, or Gabriel.
And the same situation exists here on earth. There are spiritual giants whose faithfulness to God is awe inspiring to see while there are others whose faithfulness to God just barely gives them the right to call themselves a Christian. But earth life is just a very small (howbeit, a very important) part of our growing experience. When we die our spirits enter another realm where we are still expected to show our valiancy to God's plan. In this life the faithful are constantly striving not only to preach the gospel to those who have never heard it but to activate those who had once accepted the gospel but are no longer following it.(We refer to them as inactives.) In addition to this, since even the faithful have times when they are more valiant in following the gospel than at other times, therefore they too need help remaining faithful and even increasing their faithfulness.
There is every reason to believe that this same work is going on in the spirit world. The apostle Peter wrote, "For this cause was the gospel preach also to them that are dead that they might be judged according to men in the flesh but live according to God in the Spirit" (1 Peter 4:6). If the gospel is being preached to the dead then it is certain that those spirits who were less valiant in their testimony of Christ in this world are being encouraged to be more valiant to God in the next, and it is just as certain that in the spirit world the faithful are still striving to increase their valiancy.
At the time of the resurrection God won't look at our valiancy that existed just at the time we laid our bodies in the grave but rather He will look at the entire span of our life, beginning with our birth in heaven as spirit children, through our growing years in heaven, throughout our life here on earth, and our progress in the spirit world. He will look to see if we have set our feet on a path that leads to Him or if, by our actions, we have shown a lack of interest in following His ways.
But, since there are varying degrees of valiancy, the question can be asked, how valiant must we be in order to enter into the celestial kingdom? In other words, if Hitler and Stalin's valiancy in the pre-mortal world was sufficient to qualify them to enter mortality, where is the dividing line between being valiant enough and not being valiant enough to enter into the celestial kingdom?
The answer is that we will make that determination for ourselves because God will not force anyone into heaven nor will He deny anyone's desire who wants to live there with Him. But in order for a person to live in the celestial kingdom they have to be willing to do what it takes to get there. Those who don't want to put forth that kind of effort will not want to live in heaven even if God invites them in.
Some might say that if we can improve on our faithfulness to God in the spirit world, then why not wait until then to become valiant? Alma gave the first of two answers to that question when he told his son Corianton, "Ye cannot say, when ye are brought to that awful crisis, that I will repent, that I will return to my God. Nay, ye cannot say this; for that same spirit which doth possess your bodies at the time that ye go out of this life, that same spirit will have power to possess your body in that eternal world. (Alma 34:34).
Although our earth life is very, very short in comparison to eternity, it is extremely important to our spiritual growth. The habits we develop here go with us when we die and if we procrastinate being valiant in this life there is no reason to suppose that we will behave any differently in the next world. If we are slow to keep the commandments of God here, there is a very good chance that we will continue to be that way right up to the time of the resurrection and even beyond.
But there is a second reason why we need to be as valiant as we can in this life. Just like we will be rewarded with inheriting one of four main kingdoms based on how we lived our life, so also there are many levels of rewards within each of those kingdoms. Those who just barely make it into the celestial kingdom will receive a much different reward than those who were extremely valiant.
The Lord has explained that in the celestial kingdom there are three levels or degrees and that to reach the highest a person must be sealed to a spouse for all eternity (D&C 131:1-4). Those who have been married in the temple often think that at the time of the resurrection they will not only enter into the celestial kingdom but will automatically and immediately go to the highest level of that kingdom which is known as exaltation. But there is every reason to believe that such may not be the case.
If God is just and fair in His judgments then it is neither just nor fair for someone to receive the same reward for being slothful in their faithfulness to Him as someone who has been extremely valiant. Yet the gospel does give everyone the same opportunity to achieve exaltation and affords each of us ample time to do what must be done in order to obtain that glorious realm. Since not everyone is the same, some people require more time than others to improve themselves before they can become worthy of receiving all that the Father has and the gospel allows time for that to happen.
Those whose valiancy is just barely enough to allow them the right to enter into the celestial kingdom are not yet worthy to receive the highest degree of glory. Even so, they will have the opportunity to improve themselves, if they choose, until they have become worthy enough to take on a much greater weight of glory.
Although being exalted sounds like a great and wonderful condition, it not only means receiving all the power and glory that God has but it also involves taking on all the responsibilities and obligations that go along with that glory. If someone cannot be depended upon to carry out small assignments they are certainly not trustworthy with fulfilling much greater and infinitely more important tasks that will involve the salvation of untold numbers of spirit beings.
The purpose of earth life is to teach and prepare us to take upon ourselves the duties of godhood and those who have been valiant in this life and have improved upon their valiancy in the next will enter into the celestial kingdom much better prepared and will much more quickly receive their exaltation than those who were less valiant.
But this kind of progression doesn't stop with our exaltation. The Lord has revealed "And all those who are begotten through me are partakers of the glory of the same and are the church of the Firstborn" (D&C 93:22). What this means is that those who accept Christ will receive the same glory that He has (see Revelation 3:21) and will belong to the church of the Firstborn.
To receive the same glory as Christ means to receive exaltation and since Jesus is the Firstborn of the Father, the Church of the Firstborn is the same as saying the Church of Jesus Christ. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints proclaims that it is Christ's one and only true church on the earth which Jesus personally and literally presides over. This is His kingdom and as members of His church we have sworn an oath to help Him build up that kingdom.
The reason why that oath is so important is because Christ is building His eternal kingdom now! It is those who accept Him and are faithful to him in this life and in the next who will belong to the Church of the Firstborn. As such, Christ's church is not meant to last only until the resurrection and then go away. It is meant to be eternal and is designed to last throughout all eternity, and it will be those who are members of that eternal church who will receive the fullness of God's glory.
However, just like in Christ's earthly church, even though all members are equally important, not everyone is equal in position. In the Church there is the President who presides over the entire church, but under his direction are apostles and prophets, General and Area Authorities, stake presidents, bishops, quorum presidents, auxiliary leaders, teachers, secretaries, librarians, custodians, and other necessary workers.
Each of these positions are vitally important to the functioning of the church as a whole but the more responsibility a position requires the more valiancy is also required of those who hold that position. And if that is true in this life there is every reason to believe that it is just as true throughout eternity. After the resurrection, those who belong to the Church of the Firstborn will likewise hold positions of authority over other members of that same church and those who will receive those higher positions of authority will be those who have demonstrated a greater degree of faithfulness to Christ. This is what Jesus was referring to when He said that in His Father's house there are many mansions. Perhaps a clearer translation would be "In my Father's kingdom there are many positions of authority."
When Jesus walked on the earth there was a time when the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to Him and said, "Grant that these my two sons my sit, the one on thy right hand and the other on the left in thy kingdom." Jesus told her that she didn't realize what she was asking because the only way that could happen is if they were able to endure what He had to endure. But then He added that in time they would indeed come to endure what He was going to suffer and then "it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared of my father."
When the other ten apostles heard this they were angry at these two disciples but Jesus called them to Him and said, "You know that among the rulers of the Gentiles those who exercise dominion over others exercise great authority over them but among you, my disciples, this shall not be so. Whosoever will be great among you will be those who minister onto others, and whosoever will be chief among you must be the greatest of all servants." (see Matthew 20:20-28).
Notice that Jesus is talking about how "authority" in the kingdom of God is gained through service and the more valiant we are in our service to God the greater will be our authority in the kingdom of God. Also notice that this authority will be given to those who have been prepared to receive it.
Jesus illustrated this very point in His parable of the talents. To those who increase their talents the Lord will say, "Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things" (Matthew 25:23, italics added)
To be a ruler gives someone the right to exercise authority over others and in the kingdom of God (which is what this parable is illustrating) such authority is granted to those who have shown their faithfulness to God and the more faithful a person is the greater their authority will be in the kingdom of God. Throughout the New Testament there are numerous verses that talk about the faithful wearing a crown. Kings wear crowns and it is a symbol of their authority to rule.
But, even in this life, there are some kings who rule over larger kingdoms than others and there are some kings who have more authority than others. For example, Herod was the king over the Jews at the time when Jesus was born but his authority was far less than the Emperor of Rome who appointed him to his kingship. From the scriptures we have just quoted and others that could be quoted, it seems clear that the same situation will exist in the kingdom of God after the resurrection.
What this shows is that even though there may be many saints who will wear a crown, not all of them will have the same authority and what will make the difference between them will be level of their valiancy. This gives greater significance to the scriptures that says, "For behold, this life is the time for men to prepare to meet God; yea, behold, the day of this life is the day for men to perform their labors" (Alma 34:32).
The reason why it is so important for us to be valiant in our testimony of Christ and striving to become even more valiant is because, in the end, we will be rewarded according to our deeds.