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Recently, I saw several of my friends on social media comforted by a news article reporting that the Catholic Pope believes animals will be saved in heaven. This is a topic that has been debated over the years among Christian churches, with no clear consensus being reached. However, although the Bible is mostly silent on this matter, latter-day revelation and modern prophets have made it clear that animals will be in heaven and that all living things will be saved by Jesus Christ. Simply stated, God saves all that he creates!
Gazing into Heaven
There are many opinions about what heaven is like and who belongs there, but the only way to know for sure is by revelation from God. As the Prophet Joseph Smith explained, “Men of the present time testify of heaven and hell, and have never seen either; and I will say that no man knows these things without [revelation]” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith p. 160). On another occasion he taught, “Could you gaze into heaven five minutes, you would know more than you would by reading all that ever was written on the subject [by those of the world]” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith p. 324).
Fortunately for us, prophets of God have had the privilege of gazing into heaven and have shared with us what they saw. Through their eyes, we can gaze into heaven also. That is, as the Holy Ghost confirms to us the truth of their experience, it can be as if we were there to experience it personally. We can thereby know for ourselves what is in heaven.
One prophet that had the privilege of gazing into heaven was the New Testament Apostle John, who recorded his sacred experience in the book of Revelation. Because of the symbolic nature of John’s writings, it can be difficult to interpret what he described seeing. However, with the inspired commentary of the Prophet Joseph Smith, who also had the privilege of viewing heaven, the words of John can be plainly understood and can teach us many important truths about what we can expect to find in heaven.
John described his visit to heaven in these words: “I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice which I heard … said, Come up hither” (Rev. 4:1). With this invitation, John entered the door to heaven. Upon entering, he described seeing God sitting upon his throne surrounded by 24 elders who were worshipping Him. In addition to these exalted men, he also saw four beasts giving “glory and honour and thanks to him that sat upon the throne, who liveth forever and ever” (Rev. 4:9). This scene is concluded with this expression being made to God, “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created” (Rev. 4:11).
Animals in Heaven
While this vision seems to describe animals in heaven worshipping God, it difficult to be certain because of John’s heavy use of symbolism. But, the Prophet Joseph Smith made it clear what John saw when he explained plainly:
“John saw curious looking beasts in heaven; he saw every creature that was in heaven, –all the beasts, fowls and fish in heaven,– actually there, giving glory to God. How do you prove it? (See Rev. 5:13) ‘And every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, heard I saying, Blessing and honor, and glory, and power, be unto Him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever more.’
“I suppose John saw beings there of a thousand forms, that had been saved from ten thousand times ten thousand earths like this,-strange beasts of which we have no conception: all might be seen in heaven. The grand secret was to show John what there was in heaven. John learned that God glorified Himself by saving all that His hands had made, whether beasts, fowls, fishes or men; and He will glorify Himself with them.
“Says one, ‘I cannot believe in the salvation of beasts.’ Any man who would tell you that this could not be, would tell you that the [Book of Revelation is] not true. John heard the words of the beasts giving glory to God, and understood them. God who made the beasts could understand every language spoken by them. The four beasts were four of the most noble animals that had filled the measure of their creation, and had been saved from other worlds, because they were perfect: they were like angels in their sphere. We are not told where they came from, and I do not know; but they were seen and heard by John praising and glorifying God” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith p. 291-292).
Joseph Smith’s own experience with seeing heaven led him to interpret John’s vision literally. The beasts John saw simply represented animals in heaven. The purpose was just to “show John what there was in heaven,” including animals. Perhaps it was this plain approach to interpreting the book that caused Joseph to assert that “The book of Revelation is one of the plainest books God ever caused to be written” (Teachings p. 290).
Not only did John see animals in heaven but, as the Prophet Joseph Smith explained, John heard them and understood them. This indicates that animals in heaven can communicate with other saved beings in heaven and that they enjoy a level of intelligence and happiness. As astonishing as that doctrine may sound to some, it is confirmed by latter-day revelation.
Doctrine and Covenants section 77 is a unique revelation that consists of an inspired question and answer session on the Book of Revelation. In it, several important questions about the book are asked, followed by inspired answers and interpretations. In response to questions about what these beasts represent and what we are to understand about them, we are told the following:
“They are figurative expressions, used by the Revelator, John, in describing heaven [and] … the happiness of man, and of beasts, and of creeping things, and of the fowls of the air; that which is spiritual [or immortal] being in the likeness of that which is temporal [or mortal] … the spirit of man in the likeness of his person, as also the spirit of the beast, and every other creature which God has created …
They are limited to four individual beasts, which were shown to John, to represent the glory of the classes of beings in their destined order or sphere of creation, in the enjoyment of their eternal felicity …
Their eyes are a representation of light and knowledge, that is, they are full of knowledge; and their wings are a representation of power, to move, to act, etc.” (D&C 77:2-4).
This revelation confirms that animals will be in heaven and further reveals that they will have immortal bodies in the same likeness as their mortal bodies. In other words, animals will be resurrected (see Alma 11:45 for a revealed definition of resurrection). It also reveals that the mortal bodies of beasts were created in the likeness of the “spirit of the beast” (D&C 77:2), indicating that animals had a premortal spirit existence just like man and so did “every other creature which God has created” (D&C 77:2). Evidently, all living things pass through this pattern of being first created as spirits, then receiving mortal bodies, and finally being resurrected to immortal bodies (see “Spirit” in the LDS Bible Dictionary).
Not only will animals be resurrected in heaven, but this reveals that animals will be intelligent enough to enjoy it. We are told that they are full of “light and knowledge,” and experience a level of celestial happiness or “eternal felicity” (D&C 77:3-4). To be clear, this does not mean that animals in heaven are as intelligent and exalted as men and women in heaven, for we alone are created in the image of God and destined to be exalted like our Father in Heaven. But animals certainly have sufficient intelligence to recognize where they are and feel inspired to worship the Creator and Savior they know made it possible.
The Salvation of Animals
Some might wonder, what did animals do to deserve to be saved? Doesn’t salvation require us to exercise faith in Christ or be baptized or something? This is what causes many Christian churches to debate the issue, but gratefully we have the doctrine of the Book of Mormon and other latter-day revelations to clarify this point.
In the Book of Mormon we learn that “all things” were originally created in a way that they were immortal and good enough to be in the presence of God (2 Nephi 2:22). They “would have remained” in this condition “forever and had no end” were it not for the Fall of Adam (2 Nephi 2:22). As the Bible Dictionary explains, “After Adam fell, the whole creation fell and became mortal” (see “Fall of Adam and Eve,” LDS Bible Dictionary). This context of universal mortality and death for all created things gives added meaning to the declaration in the Doctrine and Covenants that Jesus Christ “glorifies the Father, and saves all the works of his hands” (D&C 76:43 italics added). Clearly, the Atonement of Christ has power to save all of God’s creations, not just mankind.
This means that all living things were originally created by God in a non-mortal condition where they would not die. Then, because of the Fall of Adam and Eve, all living things fell to a mortal condition where they were all subject to death. Finally, because of the Atonement of Christ, all living things will be redeemed from death “by the power of the resurrection” (2 Nephi 9:12). This doctrine truly expands our understanding of Paul’s classic pronouncement that “As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:22).
Because faith in Christ, repentance, and baptism are for our own personal sins and not for Adam’s transgression (Article of Faith 2-4), these principles of the gospel only apply to those who are “accountable and capable of committing sin” (Moroni 8:10), not to the animal creations. Like little children who are “alive in Christ” and saved by his “pure mercies” (Moro. 8:12, 19), animals are currently in a state of ignorance and are therefore saved universally by the Atonement of Christ.
The doctrine of the salvation of animals may seem like a purely theoretical or academic doctrine at first, but it can be of great comfort to some. I remember teaching it once in a seminary class when a quiet young man raised his hand. He was not the type of student to speak much in class. In fact, I think this might have been his first time to say anything. He thanked me for teaching that animals would be saved. I asked him why he was grateful for this truth and he said, “I don’t have a lot of friends, but I had a pet dog, and he was my friend. He died recently and I really miss him. I am glad to know he will go to heaven and I can see him again.” The whole class was touched by his open admission of how much this doctrine meant to him personally. I was taught a valuable lesson of how meaningful this doctrine can be.
Not only can this doctrine comfort us, it expands our understanding of Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ and their plan of salvation. God saves all that he creates! Christ is the Savior of all living things! They don’t create anything just to fall out of existence into nothing. All living things have their own place in heaven and their own eternal purpose. Just as they were created to beautify the earth, they are saved to beautify heaven. God loves them and God saves them. No wonder they were found by John surrounding the throne and worshipping God!
In a formal statement explaining the Church’s doctrine on creation, the First Presidency in 1909 concluded their message with these powerful words confirming the salvation of animals. They declared:
“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, basing its belief on divine revelation, ancient and modern, proclaims man to be the direct and lineal offspring of Deity. God Himself is an exalted man, perfected, enthroned, and supreme. By His almighty power He organized the earth and all that it contains, from spirit and element, which exist coeternally with Himself. He formed every plant that grows and every animal that breathes, each after its own kind, spiritually and temporally—‘that which is spiritual being in the likeness of that which is temporal, and that which is temporal in the likeness of that which is spiritual.’ He made the tadpole and the ape, the lion and the elephant, but He did not make them in His own image, nor endow them with godlike reason and intelligence. Nevertheless, the whole animal creation will be perfected and perpetuated in the Hereafter, each class in its ‘distinct order or sphere,’ and will enjoy ‘eternal felicity.’ That fact has been made plain in this dispensation (see D&C 77:3).” (First Presidency, Origin of Man, Nov. 1909 Improvement Era 75-81, quoted in Feb 2002 Ensign)