Because the Come Follow Me curriculum for the next several months is about revelations received in Kirtland and many Church members would like to understand that period better, Meridian is running this series of articles by Karl Ricks Anderson on this remarkable period in Church history. To read the previous article in the series, CLICK HERE.
Cover image by Scot Facer Proctor.
Christ’s personal guidance of Joseph and the Church reached an apex in an upper room of a rural Ohio farmhouse on February 16, 1832. A vision recorded as Doctrine and Covenants 76 is so significant and superlative that the Lord, Joseph Smith, and others referred to it as “the vision.” Given to Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon in Hiram, Ohio, the vision is possibly the most comprehensive of all Joseph’s visions. The Savior’s broad and lengthy firsthand tutelage assured Joseph and Sidney that the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, created and controlled the universe. This instruction spelled out the origin and destiny of all mankind. During this vision, Christ revealed to them the most fundamental doctrine of the Church—the plan of salvation. The presence of the Father and the Son at the beginning of the vision signified to Joseph and the Saints that this was true doctrine. It was a major departure from religious doctrines of the day, and for those who accepted it, it changed their concept of heaven.
Joseph Smith highlighted the importance of man’s eternal destiny and his need to study it. He explained:
All men know that they must die. And it is important that we should understand the reasons and causes of our exposure to the vicissitudes of life and of death, and the designs and purposes of God in our coming into the world, our sufferings here, and our departure hence. What is the object of our coming into existence, then dying and falling away, to be here no more? It is but reasonable to suppose that God would reveal something in reference to the matter, and it is a subject we ought to study more than any other. We ought to study it day and night, for the world is ignorant in reference to their true condition and relation. If we have any claim on our Heavenly Father for anything, it is for knowledge on this important subject.
The Vision as a Tour of the Eternities
The vision could well be viewed as a comprehensive tour of the eternities. Joseph Smith said this vision included three things: “what was, and now is, and yet is to be.” The vision is often referred to as a vision of the three degrees of glory, but it encompasses much more than that. Joseph said God “sketch’d” eternity for him and Sidney. The vision began with key events in the premortal existence such as the premortal council, the Creation, and Satan’s rebellion and expulsion. It concluded with the Savior unveiling the three degrees of glory to them.
Who Guided Joseph and Sidney on Their Celestial Tour?
None other than the Savior guided Joseph and Sidney on their celestial tour. They testified of “Jesus Christ . . . whom we saw and with whom we conversed in the heavenly vision.” To converse means to have a two-way conversation. A close review of the vision reveals that at least fifteen verses make reference to Joseph and Sidney hearing the Savior speak to them during the vision. 
How Did the Savior Teach Joseph and Sidney?
During the vision the Savior used a show-and-tell teaching technique. He instructed Joseph and Sidney by first showing them scenes from the eternal worlds and then conversing about those worlds. The two men confirmed this interpretation as they wrote, “Great and marvelous are the works of the Lord, and the mysteries of his kingdom which he showed unto us, which surpass all understanding in glory, and in might, and in dominion.”
Philo Dibble, one of the first Ohio converts, was present in the room. He provides an observer’s viewpoint of the vision:
Joseph would, at intervals, say: “What do I see?” as one might say while looking out the window and beholding what all in the room could not see. Then he would relate what he had seen or what he was looking at. Then Sidney replied, “I see the same.” Presently Sidney would say “what do I see?” and would repeat what he had seen or was seeing, and Joseph would reply, “I see the same.”
This manner of conversation was repeated at short intervals to the end of the vision.
While showing eternity to them, the Savior continued to interpret what they were seeing as demonstrated in the footnoted verses.  Apparently telling and showing Joseph and Sidney was not sufficient for them to fully understand what the Lord wanted to convey to them. He, therefore, introduced a gift that only God could give. He opened the eyes of their understanding. Joseph and Sidney made special note of this gift: “Our understandings were enlightened, so as to see and understand the things of God.” This additional sense of understanding was familiar to Joseph. He already knew and relied on it. He identified this sense another way in the Kirtland Temple when Christ appeared to him in 1836. He said, “The veil was taken from our minds, and the eyes of our understanding were opened.”
What Did Joseph and Sidney See in the Vision?
It appears that in addition to being taught, Joseph and Sidney may have witnessed a comprehensive view of earths and planets, perhaps in some small degree that which we experience as we view stunning images from the Hubble telescope. Joseph said, “The glories of the kingdoms [were] manifested to me in the vision.” Seven months later the Lord revealed, “The earth and all the planets . . . are kingdoms.” In summarizing their vision, Joseph and Sidney wrote, “Great and marvelous are the works of the Lord, and the mysteries of his kingdom which he showed unto us, which surpass all understanding in glory, and in might, and in dominion.” It seems that the normally eloquent Sidney struggled for words to describe the magnificence of the heavenly realms as he declared to a large congregation, “It is beauty, it is heaven, it is felicity to look on.” Elder Neal A. Maxwell characterized the splendor Joseph and Sidney may have observed in these words: “As we look at the universe, we do not see unexplained chaos or cosmic churn. . . . It is like viewing a divinely choreographed, cosmic ballet—spectacular, subduing, and reassuring!”
Joseph Smith expressed some words that give further clues as to what they saw:
• “[God’s] throne is the heavens.”
• “I . . . beheld . . . Eternity sketch’d.”
• “I beheld the . . . starry world.”
• “As the stars are all diff’rent . . . so differs the glory of these.”
• “I beheld the terrestrial . . . which excels . . . in glory . . . light . . . [and] splendor.”
• “I beheld the celestial, in glory sublime; which is the most excellent kingdom that is.”
• “The stars are all different in lustre and size.”
How Long Was the Vision?
This may have been Joseph’s longest vision. Sidney Rigdon said he and Joseph sat there “for hours” enwrapped in vision. One can hardly imagine how glorious this must have been to have the Savior show glorious scenes, answer questions, and instruct in the mysteries of the eternities for what could have been many hours.
What Was the Scope of Their Celestial Tour?
The vision contained many visions, not just one. These visions began with seeing God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ and possibly the creation and the premortal council in Kolob. The understanding of Joseph and Sidney widened far beyond the realms of this world as they “beheld round the throne, holy angels and hosts, and sanctified beings from worlds that have been.” Christ explained that He created and is the Savior of this and all other worlds. The vision continued with a vision of the war in heaven and Lucifer being cast out of heaven, a vision of the sons of perdition, a vision of the celestial kingdom, a vision of the terrestrial kingdom, and finally, a vision of the telestial kingdom. Verses 91–112 of Doctrine and Covenants 76 represent a summary and comparison of the three kingdoms of glory.
How Much of the Vision Could Joseph Teach the Church?
As Joseph and Sidney concluded recording the vision, they wrote, “He commanded us we should not write [the works of the Lord, and the mysteries of his kingdom] while we were yet in the Spirit.” From this, it appears that the vision, similar to the Book of Mormon, contained a sealed portion not to be revealed at that time. Joseph recorded, “I could explain a hundred fold more than I ever have of the glories of the kingdoms manifested to me in the vision, were I permitted, and were the people prepared to receive them. The Lord . . . [communicates] light and intelligence and the knowledge of his ways as they can bear it.”
Apparently, the Lord restricted Joseph Smith from teaching all the doctrines he received. The vision could be compared to a deep well of pure water (even “living water”) containing knowledge and truths from which Joseph would have gladly given the Saints to drink had he been allowed. As the Saints prepared themselves to receive additional knowledge and truths, Joseph was able to draw living water from the deep well and teach them.
How Prepared Were the Saints to Receive the Vision?
The vision was a significant trial for members of the Church. It required a complete restructuring of their prior Christian beliefs in life after death, including the doctrine of one heaven and one hell. Many members were not prepared for the trials this new doctrine and revelation would impose. Joseph Holbrook, a faithful Kirtland Saint, was called on a mission to the eastern United States. He recorded an incident in which Saints in Genesee, New York, refused to accept the vision. He said, “We met with the brethren of the church of Genesee, held a prayer meeting and found there was a wrong spirit with some of the brethren, the presiding elder even forbidding us to believe in the vision of Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon.”
Even strong Church leaders struggled to fully accept the new doctrine. Brigham Young was one such leader. Brigham was perhaps Joseph’s most supportive follower and friend throughout the Prophet’s life. Despite Brigham’s loyalty to Joseph, his reaction was underwhelming at best. He publicly stated, “When the Vision came first to me . . . I did not reject it!” He then explained, “After all, my traditions were such, that . . . it was directly contrary and opposed to my former education. I said, Wait a little. . . . I could not understand it.”
Testimony of Joseph and Sidney
The testimony that Joseph and Sidney bore of Christ is powerfully simple yet magnificent. It certainly ranks among the strongest of any testimonies ever been borne of Him in any age. They testified:
And now, after the many testimonies which have been given of him, this is the testimony, last of all, which we give of him: That he lives! For we saw him, even on the right hand of God; and we heard the voice bearing record that he is the Only Begotten of the Father—That by him, and through him, and of him, the worlds are and were created, and the inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters unto God.
Joseph Smith certified the source of this vision, “It came from God.” Late in his life, Joseph added, “I . . . truly did see Eternity . . . in a vision from God. . . . It came unto me by the spirit direct.” No testimony of Christ could be any more clear and concise as the one Joseph and Sidney bore: “He lives!” How did they know this of a surety? Because they “saw him . . . and . . . heard the voice bearing record that he is the Only Begotten of the Father.”
 Doctrine & Covenants 76:28, 49, 113.
 History of the Church, 6:50.
 Times and Seasons 4 (February 1, 1843): 82 [v. 11]. Joseph Smith rendered the vision in poetic form in 1843. These words come from verses in that poem. Joseph took responsibility for them by signing his name.
 Times and Seasons 4 (February 1, 1843): 82 [v. 11].
 Doctrine & Covenants 76:14.
 Doctrine & Covenants 76:14–115.
 Doctrine & Covenants76:114.
 Philo Dibble, “Recollections of the Prophet Joseph Smith,” Juvenile Instructor 27 (May 15, 1892): 303–4.
 Doctrine & Covenants76:20, 23, 25–26, 30–33, 38, 50, 62, 71–75, 81–85, 109–12, 114–15.
 Doctrine & Covenants 76:12.
 Doctrine & Covenants 110:1.
 History of the Church, 5:402.
 Doctrine & Covenants 88:43, 47.
 Doctrine & Covenants 76:114.
 Times and Seasons 5 (May 1, 1844): 524.
 Times and Seasons 4 (February 1, 1843): 82–85 [vv. 4, 11, 58, 59, 65, 66, 69]. All statements come from Joseph Smith’s poem).
 Wilford Woodruff, Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 1833–1898, ed. Scott G. Kenney, typescript, 9 vols. (Midvale, Utah: Signature Books, 1983–85), 2:376.
 Doctrine & Covenants 76:20–27. In his poem, Joseph Smith said the righteous will be shown God’s plans “from the council in Kolob, to time on the earth” (Times and Seasons 4 [February 1, 1843]: 82 [vv. 5–7]). Because the vision elaborates on the exalted status and expulsion of Satan before the world was (D&C 76:25–27), it shows that the Lord revealed much concerning the premortal plan of God to Sidney and Joseph.
 Times and Seasons 4 (February 1, 1843): 82 [v. 17].
 Joseph wrote of this part of the vision: “By him [Christ], of him [Christ], and through him [Christ], the worlds were all made, Even all that career in the heavens so broad, Whose inhabitants, too, from the first to the last, Are sav’d by the very same Saviour of ours” (Times and Seasons 4 [February 1, 1843]: 83 [vv. 19–20]).
 Doctrine & Covenants 76:25–29, 30–49, 50–70, 71–80, 81–90.
 Doctrine & Covenants 76:114–15.
 History of the Church, 5:402.
 Doctrine & Covenants 76:114–15.
 Doctrine & Covenants 63:23.
 Doctrine & Covenants 76:7, 14.
 Joseph Holbrook, Autobiography, typescript, 27, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah.
 Young, in Journal of Discourses, 6:280–81.
 Doctrine & Covenants 76:22–24.
 History of the Church, 1:252–53.
 Times and Seasons 4 (February 1, 1843): 82 [vv. 11–15].
 Doctrine & Covenants 76:22.
 Doctrine & Covenants 76:23.