The concept of multiple levels of heaven is found in several religious traditions around the world. However, the belief in specifically three levels of heaven is most prominently associated with Mormonism.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, commonly known as the Mormon or LDS Church, believes in three levels or kingdoms of heaven: the celestial kingdom, the terrestrial kingdom, and the telestial kingdom. This belief is based on Mormon scriptures, particularly the Doctrine and Covenants.
What are the three levels of heaven in Mormonism?
According to Mormon theology, there are three main levels of heaven:
- Celestial Kingdom – This is the highest level of heaven, meant for devout Latter-day Saints. It is compared to the glory of the sun.
- Terrestrial Kingdom – This is the middle level of heaven, meant for honorable people who did not accept the LDS gospel. It is compared to the glory of the moon.
- Telestial Kingdom – This is the lowest level of heaven, meant for wicked and corrupt individuals. It is compared to the glory of the stars.
In addition, Mormons believe in “outer darkness” which is a state of damnation for the most wicked souls, including Satan and his demons. So in total, Mormons believe in three positive afterlife destinations and one negative destination.
The Celestial Kingdom
The celestial kingdom is the highest level of heaven in Mormon theology. It is meant for faithful and righteous members of the LDS Church who have undergone essential saving ordinances, such as baptism, confirmation, temple rituals like marriage sealing and endowments, and following the Word of Wisdom.
Those who attain the celestial kingdom will live in God’s presence and eventually attain exaltation and godhood themselves, ruling over their own creations. They will be joined with their righteous earthly families for eternity.
Requirements for the Celestial Kingdom
According to LDS teachings, requirements for entering the celestial kingdom include:
- Faith in Jesus Christ and correct beliefs
- Repentance and baptism into the LDS Church
- Receiving the Gift of the Holy Ghost by confirmation
- Obedience to gospel principles and LDS commandments
- Temple ordinances like endowments, sealings, and marriages
Children who die before age 8 are guaranteed entrance to the celestial kingdom according to Mormon doctrine. Others must meet all criteria and be judged righteous by God to qualify.
Glory and Perks of the Celestial Kingdom
The glory of the celestial kingdom is compared to the glory of the sun. Here are some of the benefits and features of this highest realm of heaven:
- God’s presence
- Exaltation and godhood
- Eternal increase (having spirit children)
- Rule over personal creations
- No more sorrow, sickness, or death
- Eternal family unity
- Highest degree of glory
The Terrestrial Kingdom
The terrestrial kingdom is the middle tier of heaven in LDS theology. It is meant for honorable people who refused the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ but lived morally righteous lives.
Members of various religious traditions can qualify for the terrestrial kingdom, including those who rejected Mormonism on earth. The glory of this level is compared to that of the moon.
Who Goes to the Terrestrial Kingdom?
The following groups qualify for the terrestrial kingdom, according to Mormon scriptures:
- Honorable people who rejected the LDS gospel
- Members of other religions and churches
- Good non-Christians and non-Mormons
- Mormons who failed to receive temple ordinances
- Baptized LDS members who failed to fully live gospel principles
This includes people of various faiths and those who did not have the opportunity to accept Mormonism in mortality. God judges each soul based on their personal circumstances.
Conditions in the Terrestrial Kingdom
Though not as glorious as the celestial kingdom, the terrestrial kingdom provides wonderful conditions including:
- Presence of Jesus Christ
- No pain or sickness
- Great glory compared to earth
- Some family relationships
However, those in the terrestrial kingdom are limited in their progression and do not receive exaltation or live with Heavenly Father.
The Telestial Kingdom
The telestial kingdom is the lowest level of heaven in Mormonism. It is meant for the wicked and unrepentant who still managed to avoid outer darkness.
Murderers, adulterers, liars, and other sinners qualify for this afterlife realm. The glory is compared to that of the stars and is greater than earthly existence, though far below the glories of the higher heavenly kingdoms.
Who Ends up in the Telestial Kingdom?
Below are the types of individuals granted access to the telestial kingdom after judgment:
- Murderers, liars, and adulterers
- Dishonest, corrupt, and immoral people
- Unrepentant sinners
- People who rejected the gospel and denied Christ
The telestial kingdom is for the wickedest of people who avoided outer darkness. They must suffer for their own sins before being cleansed and entering this kingdom.
The Telestial Kingdom’s Nature
The telestial kingdom offers the following conditions:
- Glory surpassing earthly existence
- Presence of the Holy Ghost (but not God the Father or Jesus Christ)
- No pain, illness, or suffering
- Some family relationships of a non-eternal nature
Progression is limited and exaltation cannot be attained from this lowest heavenly realm.
While not technically one of the three main kingdoms of glory, Mormons believe in a state called “outer darkness” reserved for the most wicked.
This includes Satan, his demons, and Mormons who commit the “unpardonable sin” of denying the Holy Ghost after receiving a full knowledge and testimony of the gospel.
Outer darkness is a place of eternal damnation and no progression. Those sent here are stripped of any previous blessings and suffer endlessly for their crimes against God. It is the worst possible fate in Mormon cosmology.
Scriptural Basis for Three Heavens
The Mormon belief in three heavens or “degrees of glory” comes primarily from two passages in the Doctrine and Covenants, part of their scriptural canon:
- D&C 76 – The “Vision of the Three Glories” given to Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon detailing the celestial, terrestrial, and telestial kingdoms.
- D&C 131 – Joseph Smith’s teachings on the three main kingdoms of glory and who qualifies for each.
Other Mormon scriptures reinforce concepts about the afterlife and degrees of salvation.
Comparison to Other Faiths’ Beliefs
The Mormon doctrine of three heavens has some similarities to other religious beliefs, but also clear differences:
- Many Christians believe only in heaven or hell. However, others believe in levels of reward.
- No direct parallel to celestial kingdom and exaltation/godhood.
- Mormon view reflects more “levels” and detail than traditional Christianity.
- Concept of multiple levels of paradise.
- Highest level is “Firdaws”, similar to celestial kingdom.
- Main difference is lack of explicit multiple heavens/kingdoms in Islam.
- Medieval Jewish philosopher Maimonides proposed multiple levels of salvation.
- Simple righteous in “Garden of Eden”, intellectually righteous in higher “heavens”.
- Not as defined or prominent as the Mormon three heavens.
While not completely unique, the specifics and prominence of three heavens in Mormonism are distinctive compared to other faiths.
In summary, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the primary religion that believes explicitly in three levels of heaven:
- The celestial kingdom – For righteous Mormons who obtain exaltation.
- The terrestrial kingdom – For honorable people who refused the LDS gospel.
- The telestial kingdom – For the wicked who still avoided outer darkness.
This belief comes from modern LDS scriptures like the Doctrine and Covenants and is an integral part of Mormon theology concerning the afterlife and varying degrees of salvation. Though some other faiths have analogous concepts, the Mormon elaboration on three heavens is relatively distinctive.