The last words of the Old Testament leaves us with this warning, "Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse" (Malachi 4:5,6).
As Latter-day Saints, we believe this refers to an increased desire in the last days to do genealogy work for our deceased relatives, and it is also a reference to the sealing power that binds together a husband and wife, along with their children, as a family, not only for the time we live on this earth, but throughout all of eternity.
When Jesus lived on earth, there was a sect of Judaism known as the Sadducees that didn't believe in the resurrection, and one day they tempted the Master with a hypothetical situation of a woman who had been married to seven men. They then asked Him, "Therefore, in the resurrection, whose wife shall she be of the seven? for they all had her. Jesus answered and said, Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven" (Matthew 22:28-30).
It is believed by most people that once we die, we are no longer married, or remain as a family unit, but become as the angels of God, and live singly and separately. This is also the view many Latter-day Saints have of those who have not been sealed together by the power of the priesthood. On the other hand, many saints believe that once a couple has been married in the temple and have had their children sealed to them they'll remain together as a family with their children after death. Remarks that are commonly made by LDS members are, "I'm glad to know that my husband and I will still be together when this life is over", or "It's so comforting to know that when I die, my children will still belong to me."
Before we can better understand the scriptures on this subject, it may be instructive to first analyze how we live life here in mortality.
In our society, a young man and woman meet each other, date for a period of time, and then make a conscious decision to become married. At that point, they willingly commit themselves to each other and a ceremony is performed making this union a legally binding agreement.
In time, because of their close association, the couple began to have children born to them. Until the age of eighteen, these children are automatically the responsibility of the parents to feed, house, clothe and care for physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Neither party has a choice in this arrangement. The parent can't just throw the children out of the house or refuse to care for them without violating the law, and neither can the children legally decide on their own to leave their parents to live with someone else.
When a child becomes eighteen, however, the situation changes. The parents are no longer legally responsible for the child's well being, and the child is free to live wherever they want. In time, the child leaves home, finds someone they want to marry and the cycle starts all over again.
When a child becomes eighteen then, does that mean they are no longer part of the family they were born and raised in? Not at all. They may no longer live with their parents, but they still feel a sense of kinship to them, as well as with their siblings, regardless of where they may reside. They will continue to visit and communicate by phone and letters with their family members where possible, and will continue to feel a sense of love and devotion to all of them.
The question can be asked, "Why do they feel this sense of family unity when they're not legally required to do so?" The answer is because they want to, and it's this desire that binds them together. For example, a female child, when she marries, changes her last name, but that doesn't mean she ceases to belong to her parents. There is no law that can prevent a child, after the age of eighteen, from associating with their biological family if all members have a desire to stay together. In short, the family unit stays together, not because of some legality of law, but because of their feelings for each other that binds them all together.
When someone doesn't have that feeling of closeness with another family member, they don't associate with them. There is no law that says adults have to continue to associate with each other if they don't want to. So, in the end, people stay together as a family unit, not because they are forced to do so by law, but because they have developed a relationship that voluntarily binds them to each other.
And what about a husband and wife? What keeps them living together? Since divorce is a fairly simple procedure, it's not hard to terminate the legal agreement the two of them have made. Even without a divorce, people have been known to just up and leave their spouse and never come back.
One of the functions of marriage is to have and raise children, but why do husbands and wives remain together once all their children have grown and left home? Again, the simple answer is, because they want to stay together. There is nothing forcing them to live with one another, but they continue to do it year after year because that's what they desire.
If people stay together because they want to, then what about a man and a woman who want to share their life with one another, but who don't want to formally get married? Is it wrong for them to live together under such a condition? Not at all. Neither the laws of man, nor the laws of God forbid people from living together without being married. We do it all the time in our society! There are millions of teenage boys and girls living together out of wedlock, but we don't think it at all improper since they are brothers and sisters living together at home. Some might say, "Oh, but that's different." But is it? It's still a male and a female living together without being married.
We think nothing of having two men or two women room together in a dormitory at college, or having a group of men being together in one locker room and a group of women being together in another locker room. If that is acceptable behavior, then what's wrong with a man and a woman living together without being married?
In the eyes of God, there is nothing wrong with such a condition if there is no immoral relationship between them. As long as there is no sexual activity involved, there is nothing wrong with a man and a woman being together and sharing their life with one another.
As Latter-day Saints, we believe that spirits do not have the capacity to engage in sexual behavior. Sex is an earthly experience and can only be enjoyed while in our physical bodies. However, once we die, we lose the ability to perform those acts that God condemns outside of marriage.
If that is so, when a husband and wife die, whether sealed to each other or not, what is to prevent them from living together in the spirit world if they want to? Is there some law that forces them not to see or be near one another if they haven't been sealed together? And what about children? Is there some spiritual law that says brothers and sisters can't associate with one another or their parents once they enter the spirit world unless they have been sealed as a family unit? Joseph Smith taught, "And the same sociality which exists among us here will exist among us there, only it will be coupled with eternal glory, which glory we do not now enjoy" (D&C 130:2).
Numerous people of all faiths who have had near death experiences have told of being greeted on the other side by family members and dear friends. The evidence seems to strongly indicate that when we die, the love we have for one another continues, and the desire to be with those whom we love is just as possible there as it is in this life.
In the next world, husbands and wives can still be with each other and live together and enjoy associating with their children if that is their desire. We don't need to be sealed together in a temple of the Lord for this to happen. Our children will always be our children and we will always be their parents. No law can take away from us our relationship with one another as long as we have the ability to remember and have a love in our heart that binds us to them. When we lose that desire, then our association with them will naturally cease.
Then what is the purpose of being sealed to each other?
There are two reasons. First, Jesus said, "In the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven" (Matthew 22:30, italics added).
At death, we go to live in a state of existence that is between earth life and the resurrection (Alma 40:11). If, as we believe, at death couples who have not been sealed are no longer married, then it's obvious that in the spirit world people do marry and can be given in marriage, otherwise, what is the purpose of sealing our deceased relatives in the temple? Consider the situation of a young LDS person who dies before they find a spouse to marry in the temple. The General Authorities have comforted us with the knowledge that such persons will still have the opportunity to find a mate in the spirit world and at some point (probably during the millennium) be sealed to that individual. Is this not marrying and being given in marriage, even though the physical ceremony of legally uniting them for all eternity must be performed in this earthly environment?
After the spirit world comes the resurrection. As Latter-day Saints we further believe that at the resurrection we then enter into one of three levels of heaven - telestial, terrestrial, or celestial. But, until the resurrection, most of our deceased relatives have not entered into heaven and therefore we continue to unite them in marriage in the temples of the Lord. Notice also that Jesus told Peter, "And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven." (Matthew 16:19, italics added). As glorious as the spirit world may be, it is not heaven.
Once the resurrection has occurred, the ceremony of marrying people can no longer be performed. If someone hasn't been married by the time they've been resurrected, they will remain singly and separately forever. But can they still live together? I know of no law that will prevent us from associating with one another in heaven, especially if we reside in the same kingdom. If that is so, then what difference does it make if we are sealed as husband and wife or not? The answer is sex.
Those who are married, and are worthy to inherit the celestial kingdom, have the opportunity to become as God is. God has the ability to procreate, i.e., to beget children. Those who have not been sealed as husband and wife are not considered married after the resurrection and will not have the right nor the ability to procreate as God does, in whatever manner that function might occur. Even if it's different than the way we procreate in this life, without being sealed as husband and wife, we can live together and enjoy each other's company, but will be limited in what we can experience together. We will not have the full joy that comes from a legal union of a man and a woman.
But there seems to be a second, perhaps a more important reason for this binding of families. If the sealing is only for the purpose of marrying a man and a woman, why seal their children to them and why seal the parents to their parents in a continuously expanding family unit? Since our children will be grown adults in the resurrection, and will be sealed to a spouse along with their own children, does this mean will we all live together as one large family?
The Lord revealed unto the Prophet Joseph F. Smith in 1918 "The Prophet Elijah was to plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to their fathers, foreshadowing the great work to be done in the temples of the Lord in the dispensation of the fullness of times, for the redemption of the dead and the sealing of the children to their parents, lest the whole earth be smitten with a curse and utterly wasted at his coming" (D&C 138:47,48).
Why would the whole earth be smitten with a curse and utterly wasted if our hearts were not turned to our children and the children's hearts were not turned to their fathers? And what are the promises that were made to our fathers?
Joseph Smith, Jr. taught, "And now my dearly beloved brethren and sisters, let me assure you that these are principles in relation to the dead and the living that cannot be lightly passed over, as pertaining to our salvation. For their salvation is necessary and essential to our salvation... the earth will be smitten with a curse unless there is a welding link of some kind or other between the fathers and the children, upon some subject or other - and behold what is that subject? It is the baptism for the dead. For we without them cannot be made perfect; neither they without us be made perfect. Neither can they nor we be made perfect without those who have died in the gospel also; for it is necessary...that a whole and complete and perfect union, and welding together of dispensations, and keys, and powers and glories should take place, and be revealed from the days of Adam even to the present time" (D&C 128:18).
According to Joseph Smith, unless the fathers and the children are linked together, neither they nor us can be made perfect. Our salvation is dependant on them, as is their salvation depended on us. This linking brings the entire righteous family of mankind together into one complete and perfect family union. In addition to that, all the different dispensations, keys, powers and glories also need to be linked together. If this is not done, then the salvation of man will not be complete and therefore Christ's efforts to redeem us will have been utterly wasted by the time He comes again.
Paul explained, "Then cometh the end, when he [Christ] shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power. For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death. For he hath put all things under his feet. But when he [the Father] saith, all things are put under him [Christ], it is manifest [evident] that he [Christ] is excepted [exempted], which did put all things under him. And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him [the Father] that put all things under him that God [the Father] may be all in all. Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? Why are they then baptized for the dead" (1 Corinthians 15:24-29)?
Christ is required, by His Father, to subdue all things under Him. He must reign and be in control of all power, all authority, and all enemies, including death. Once He has linked and welded all things together under His rule - redeeming all who are worthy to inherit salvation - then He will present the completed act of redemption to His Father, whole and perfect. Paul asks the question, "If this isn't so, they why is it necessary to baptize the dead?" The work for the dead is essential in this effort to complete the work of salvation and unite all things under Christ's reign before He can present it to His Father.
The Lord Himself revealed, "In the beginning of the seventh thousand years will the Lord God sanctify the earth, and complete the salvation of man, and judge all things, and shall redeem all things, except that which he hath not put into his power, when he shall have sealed all things, unto the end of all things...finishing...his work" (D&C 77:12).
However, the sealing of families members together into one unit is reserved only for those who become exalted. But why should only those who are exalted be permitted to be sealed together? And what is the significance of uniting them all into one family structure?
Obviously, the purpose has to be connected with the powers of Godhood, which is the condition of exalted beings. Since we can all live together without being sealed to one another, but we cannot all procreate unless we have been eternally married, it become further obvious that this must be necessary as pertaining to the begetting of spirit children.
When a man and a woman marry, they are a couple, but it is when children are born to them that they become a family. After the resurrection, only exalted beings can create families! And what do these celestial families do? The parents teach their children and guide them through the same process we are presently going through. That means, the process of salvation begins anew for these spirit offspring of exalted beings.
God is our Father, we are His children, and He has stated that His work is to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man (Moses 1:39). This is His entire work; this is what He does for a living. He lives to save His children, and those who become worthy of exaltation will do the same for their children. But will such celestial parents save their children apart from other exalted couples? Or will the process of salvation be done unitedly, with each exalted couple working together and in concert with other exalted couples to provide for the needs of all of their spirit children?
The question cannot be accurately answered without revelation, and I am not aware of any on this subject. However, if all exalted beings are sealed, or linked together into one family unit, then the salvation of all of their spirit offspring may very well become a united family affair among those who are celestial procreators. They are formed into an organization, with a hierarchy and chain of command to oversee and supervise the salvation of the newly created family members. In effect, they become the managers, supervisors and foremen who plan and direct the work of saving their offspring. Those who inherit the celestial kingdom, but are not worthy of exaltation, may very well be the workers who "are ministering servants, to minister for those who are worthy of a far more and exceeding, and eternal weight of glory" (D&C 132:16).
Whatever the purpose is of this eternally linked family order, it is apparent that the spirit of Elijah is more than just uniting husbands and wives together with their children for all eternity so that our joy may become more full. Rather, it seems to have a grander significance, designed to unite the children of God into one whole and perfect family organization so that when Christ has completed the plan of salvation for us, we can not only return back to our Father, in heaven, but the work of creating eternal families and saving souls can continue on into the next generation.