The Premortal Heavenly Temple

The temples on earth are reflections of the temple in heaven. They mirror each other both in form and content. Consider the following points that I pull from Matthew Brown’s exceptional and classic book on the temple, The Gate of Heaven:1

  • John saw “the temple which is in heaven” (Rev. 14:15, 17; Rev. 15:5–8).
  • Other scriptures also mention God’s heavenly sanctuary (Ps. 11:4; Rev. 7:15; Rev. 16:17).
  • “There are a number of ancient Hebrew traditions that specifically state that God resides in a temple that is located in the center of the universe.”
  • The earthly temples of Israel in ancient times were built after the same manner as the heavenly temple.

There are many more examples, both ancient and modern, that could be given which illustrate the existence of the heavenly temple, and most of them focus on the ascent one takes on their journey from mortality back to and through that temple to return to the throne of God.

The the last few days I’ve been pondering the existence of this temple and its role in our premortal life and journey into mortality. I have found that what we do on earth in the temple has striking parallels and resemblances to what occurred in the heavenly temple before the creation and our passage to this earth:

  1. Initiation – the whole temple experience is a type of initiation, or preparation, for another stage in life. It prepares us for passage into a new realm, a new state of being, a new place of living. As earthly temples prepare us for the hereafter, so did the heavenly temple probably prepare us in our journey into mortality.
  2. Garment – There is an early Christian hymn known as The Pearl which is found in the Acts of Thomas Judas the Apostle, and gives a story in which the person journeying from heaven into mortality must remove their “garment of light” in order to begin their earthly mission. Nibley notes that this garment represents “the preexistent glory of the candidate. When he leaves his earthly mission, it is laid up for him in heaven to await his return…. In some texts the garment is kept folded beneath the throne of God, awaiting the return of the owner”2.
  3. Priestly Robes – In addition to the “garment of light,” The Pearl also says that the candidate must also remove their “purple robe” to venture to this earth, which Nibley interprets as the “outer garment” or “garment of the high priest…. the white undergarment is the proper preexistent glory of the wearer, while the other is the priesthood later added to it”3.
  4. Ordinances Foreknown – As we’ve noted elsewhere, Dr. Skinner brings the excellent insight that “the ordinances of exaltation, including their general symbolism and specific tokens centering on the bodily sacrifice of Christ were in place and likely foreknown by us in our premortal existence”4. If we had such a knowledge of the ordinances and its accompanying specifics, we must have participated in some form of the temple ordinances in that sphere in order to learn them.
  5. Preparatory Redemption – The atonement of Jesus Christ was in operation even before the creation. During our primeval childhood in the mansions of our Father we made mistakes. It was a learning and growing process. As part of that process, there was a preparatory redemption of all the spirit children of God so that we would come to earth on a clean slate, having been redeemed from our premortal sins and from the fall of Adam and Eve, and being made completely innocent. Dr. Skinner provides us with a quote from Elder Orson Pratt:

    among the two-thirds [of God's spirit children] who remained, it is highly probably that, there were many who were not valiant . . . , but whose sins were of such a nature that they could be forgiven through faith in the future sufferings of the Only Begotten of the Father, and through their sincere repentance and reformation. We see no impropriety in Jesus offering Himself as an acceptable offering and sacrifice before the Father to atone for the sins of His brethren, committed not only in the second, but also in the first estate.5

    Dr. Skinner adds,

    does that mean sin was to be found during that phase of our existence? It certainly seems possible…. Is it possible that the reason one-third of the Father’s children were cast out of his presence for rebellion is that they ultimately and finally refused to accept not just the role of Jesus as our Redeemer but also the means by which their rebellion could have been forgiven, namely the atonement of Jesus Christ, which was operative in our premortal existence? Perhaps.6.

    So there was some form of cleansing and remission of sin before passing to this earth.

  6. First Principles of the Gospel – As mentioned above, in our premortal life there existed the same first principles of the gospel that exist here, namely, faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and repentance.
  7. Priesthood Foreordination – The priesthood has been in operation for all eternity, and existed in our premortal life with our Father. Dr. Skinner provides us a quote from President Joseph Fielding Smith,

    With regard to the holding of the priesthood in the preexistence, I will say that there was an organization there just as well as an organization here, and men there held authority. Men chosen to positions of trust in the spirit world held the priesthood.7

    Dr. Skinner continues,

    Thus in the temple when we learn about such leaders as Peter, James, and John carrying out assignments while only Adam and Eve inhabited this newly formed earth, they could do so with perfect propriety, holding priesthood authority, because the priesthood was organized and functioning in premortality, before any of us were born into our second estate. The temple reflects reality.8

    I would add, the heavenly temple reflects the earthly temple, even from premortality. Did many of us receive the priesthood in premortality? I would say that anyone who has received the priesthood in mortality probably received it first in premortality. So our foreordination to the priesthood was not just a foreknowledge of our receiving of the priesthood in mortality, but an actual receipt of the priesthood in some form while we were still there.

  8. New Names – We have modern revelation which teaches us specifically that some people received new names when they came into mortality. We are taught that the premortal Jehovah received the name Jesus Christ in mortality. In the same fashion Michael received the name Adam. Gabriel received the mortal name Noah. It follows, logically, that we have each received a new name when we entered mortality, different than the one we used in our premortal home. As we’ve mentioned elsewhere, names are tied with phases of being, stages of life, and passage to different places.
  9. Detailed Foreknowledge of Plan of Salvation – We are taught that our foreknowledge of Christ’s atonement, and God’s plan of salvation, was clear to such an extent that we all jumped for joy in exclamation of our acceptance in how we would be saved in mortality, and the path by which we would be enabled to return to God our Father (Job 38:7). We are also taught that we most likely participated with Christ and other noble and great ones in the preparation and creation of this earth (Abraham 3:24). This we probably did in exercising the priesthood authority we were given then, as mentioned above. We are taught and participate in these same principles of salvation, and taught about the creation, in earthly temples today.

So, what happened in the premortal heavenly temple? It appears that the order of things in the temple is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Perhaps this is why as we attend the temple more often, the veil becomes thinner, and the ordinances of the gospel become clearer. Perhaps we begin to recall those teachings we received first in another place and time.

Update 3/30/08: I began to read chapter 13 in Dr. Skinner’s book Temple Worship this afternoon for the first time, and was pleasantly surprised to find the very same sentiments expressed by Dr. Skinner as I wrote yesterday in this post:

Thus temples were foreordained and foreseen by God before we came to this earth. Perhaps we bring with us into mortality very faint memories, maybe even only wisps of thought, of our commitment to temples and temple worship made in premortality. Perhaps that is one of the reasons we feel we are returning home when we go to the temple…. We were acquainted with temples in our premortal heavenly home, and now they serve as a point of contact with everything that was good and right before we entered this fallen world.9

Notes:
  1. Matthew Brown, The Gate of Heaven: Insights on the Doctrines and Symbols of the Temple, 6-7 []
  2. Hugh Nibley, The Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri: An Egyptian Endowment, 2nd ed., 489-490 []
  3. ibid. []
  4. Andrew Skinner, Temple Worship, 50 []
  5. Qtd. in Andrew Skinner, Temple Worship, 51 []
  6. ibid., 51-52; emphasis added []
  7. Qtd. in ibid., 37 []
  8. ibid., 37-38 []
  9. ibid., 118 []

6 Comments

  1. Posted March 29, 2008 at 10:48 pm | Permalink

    Bryce:

    Would you then contend that what we often call the preexistence, had a temple,
    and it was the same temple that is in the Celestial kingdom. Or in other words, are you saying the preexistence is the Celestial Kingdom?

    -David

  2. Posted March 30, 2008 at 8:57 am | Permalink

    Thanks for the comment. Your question is an interesting one. The preexistence, better termed premortality, was the celestial kingdom because it was God’s home and we dwelt in his presence there, and it did have a temple. It is our goal to return to the celestial kingdom. But the future celestial kingdom that we will inherit through faithfulness will be somewhat different, if it is not solely by local. We are taught that our celestial kingdom will eventually be right here on earth, once it has been cleansed, purified, and celestialized (Isa. 65:17; Rev. 21:1; D&C 45:58; D&C 63:20–21; D&C 77:1; D&C 84:101; D&C 88:17–18; etc…). This portion of the celestial kingdom did not exist yet, because the earth had not been created yet. It still doesn’t exist, for it will not be established until the earth is glorified and made new. Then God’s glory and kingdom will expand and extend to fill this sphere. Here we will be in the presence of God and have a temple as well. Whether it is the same temple as existed in our premortal state, it is hard to say. I tend to believe that it is the same, unless God establishes different celestial temples for each of his creations.

    What is certain is that wherever God is, there is his temple. And wherever the temple is, there is God.

  3. Posted March 30, 2008 at 7:15 pm | Permalink

    What do you say about Revelation 21:22 where it says,
    “And I saw no temple therein: for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it.”?
    This seems to imply that the Celestial City has no need of a Temple b/c a Temple represents the presence of God…and in the Celestial Kingdom, we have the presence of God with us.

  4. Posted March 30, 2008 at 8:09 pm | Permalink

    The celestial city itself IS the temple. Most of chapter 21 is describing the heavenly temple. It is the temple that has twelve gates (v. 12), and twelve foundations (v. 14). It is the temple that has a wall of jasper and streets of pure gold like glass (v. 18, 21). John is describing the heavenly temple. Heaven itself, where God dwells, is a temple. There was no temple therein because the visionary was already inside.

  5. Rex Case
    Posted April 15, 2008 at 5:18 pm | Permalink

    The celestial temple where Gods literal throne sits was described by Joseph smith and seen by Abraham. the celestial temple in new j that Joseph planed to build is basically a replica. the literal temple of god is celestial. the current endowment that we have is thru terrestrial temples..

    the true celestial temple has none of the preparatory steps of initiation and is a place of general assembly with throne and platform in the center. the top of the ark of the covenant is a physical rep of the same as described by Issiah of the court of the seraphim. (same description as by js) six wings or sections on each side the throne or mercy seat in the center.

    It also helps that I had memories restored of this place while in the MTC… I read JS account and description years later. and have an aunt whom has also had a few blurbs of memories. mine was a solid equivalent 15 minute time window and still remember it very well. it makes understanding the symbols and teachings a breeze. (call it cheating if you want)

    is there a temple in the ck…. yes and no. when he is there the structure is for general assembly. when he is present technically God is the Temple just as john the Revelator said. when God is present in the “Temple” in new j.. it is the celestial temple because because He is Physically present.. or with a more temporal touch in principal.. whichever aircraft the president of the USA is on is called air force 1 but there are many aircraft… that same aircraft with the VP is called air force 2… air force one is wherever the pres goes… Don’t know if that helps anyone:)

  6. Joseph Murphy
    Posted January 15, 2010 at 10:14 pm | Permalink

    Premortal existence in January 31 1956.
    For Joseph the righter

    I was an angel in heaven and during Flight, I lost my wings falling from heaven.
    I was briefly in the celestial kingdom in the air its self during flight.
    And lost my angelic wings.
    God passes a message at some point in my fall.
    Message begins.
    Now go forth and teach the people of these things that you see and do here.
    And that you are a part of here.
    So that they might believe.
    end of message.

    I believe there was a temple of god in heaven.
    But I don’t remember it.
    I have my own art work done from memory in heaven.
    I broke my right leg during my fall in heaven.
    And it shows up on moderne Day X-Rays as destroyed bone with broken particles.
    That is my proof of my life in heaven.
    I was raised in church of christ, Converted to LDS belief in 1990.
    JM

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