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