Cover image of the Beehive House via history.ChurchofJesusChrist.org.
Some short months ago, I visited in my home with Andrea Maxfield who currently serves the Church as Curator of the Beehive House in Salt Lake City, Utah. Andrea had been given an assignment to restore the Beehive House room in which President Joseph F. Smith’s 1918 Vision of the Redemption of the Dead was received. This was an exciting project and Andrea’s first quandary was which room was it? Her assignment found her interviewing members of President Smith’s family in order to establish that location.
The historians working on this project favored President Smith’s office on the second floor of the Beehive House. The office was a fairly large room, and it seemed easy to envision President Smith in contemplation where he had access to desks, bookcases, scriptures, paper, pen and ink. It was also the place of official Church business with many comers and goers, including members of the Twelve and counselors in the First Presidency.
Andrea was surprised when I told her that I had some years ago been informed by Smith family members that the Vision of the Redemption of the Dead was received in the first floor south east corner bedroom of the Beehive House. This was a modest room, specifically designed for President Smith’s needs in his last illness. The room would have contained a bed, a relatively small table, and a comfortable chair, perhaps others,—a meditative room for an elderly prophet in the last months of his life.
Though he spent time resting there, he was acutely aware of the times. The world was at war in a conflict known as “the war to end all wars.” It was further suffering from a global influenza pandemic afflicting one third of the world’s population, and which culminated in 50 million deaths. He felt an obligation for the fifteen thousand members of the Church, both men and women, serving in the military, as well as for the membership of the Church generally.
A very loving father, he had suffered great personal loss within the year. He was devastated by the January death of his eldest son, Hyrum Mack Smith, 45 years old, a member of the Twelve, and a powerful teacher and speaker. Hyrum Mack had been taken suddenly by a ruptured appendix. In February, a beloved daughter, Donnette, lost her husband, Alonzo Pratt Kessler, in a tragic fall leaving her with six children to raise alone. In September, Hyrum Mack’s wife, Ida, died days after giving birth, leaving five orphaned children behind, another grievous wound. By 1918, he had lost thirteen children. It seemed there was little end to pain and sorrow.
Yet, he declared that he had received several divine communications during the summer and autumn of 1918, likely in this same small room. (D&C 138 heading). An inveterate record keeper, he had noted significant dreams and visionary experiences from his youth up. He understood the Spirit of the Lord was to be found in scripture study, pondering and prayer.
On this wise, he tells us that on 3 October 1918, “I sat in my room, pondering over the scriptures; and reflecting upon the great atoning sacrifice that was made by the Son of God, for the redemption of the world.” (D&C 138:2) His mind reverted to the writings of Peter, verses he had frequented and marked. As he read, he became deeply impressed with Peter’s declaration that the resurrected Christ had preached the gospel to the spirits in prison. (I Peter 3:18-20, and 4:6.) As he pondered Peter’s words, he said, “The eyes of my understanding were opened.”
In this moment the scenes of his remarkable vision began to unfold revealing the Lord’s three-day ministry in the spirit world, and the organization of missionary work there. Profoundly moved, he alluded to the vision the following day, Friday, 4 October, in his opening remarks in the 89th semiannual General Conference. In a voice filled with emotion, he told the gathered Saints that he had not been alone that past five months, but had a “communication with the Spirit of the Lord continuously.”
The vision was recorded immediately following Conference, 7 October, 1918, by my Grandfather, Joseph Fielding Smith, who was a member of the Council of the Twelve, and his father’s secretary. Grandfather then prepared a manuscript for presentation to the Twelve and Patriarch on 31 October 1918 where it was unanimously accepted.
On 17 October 1918, Grandfather recorded in his journal, “I wrote, at my father’s dictation a revelation or vision, he received on the 3rd.” Grandfather was not here suggesting that the 17th was the date the vision was first recorded as some historians have supposed. Initial recording of the vision was a very important matter which neither he nor his father put off for ten days. What he is telling us is, that by the 17th he had taken a hand written account, checked punctuation, spelling, and paragraphing, and had typed it so that it could be prepared for printing or use in his meeting with the Twelve and Patriarch. (See Joseph Fielding Smith Journal, Oct. 17, 1918, Church History Library, Salt Lake City).
The vision was first published in the Deseret News on 30 November, eleven days after President Joseph F. Smith’s death on 19 November 1918. It was then printed in various Church periodicals.
It was my father, Elder Bruce R. McConkie, of the Council of the Twelve, who suggested to the brethren that this revelation should be published in the standard works. It was my father’s view that the vision should be placed in the scriptures in order to be referenced, studied, and utilized. The First Presidency and Twelve agreed, and the Saints canonized the revelation in General Conference, 3 April 1976. The Vision of the Redemption of the Dead first appeared in the Pearl of Great Price in 1977, and was moved to the Doctrine and Covenants in 1979 where it now appears as section 138.
The revelation overview written by my father states:
A vision given to President Joseph F. Smith in Salt Lake City, Utah, on October 3, 1918. In his opening address at the 89th Semiannual General Conference of the Church, on October 4, 1918, President Smith declared that he had received several divine communications during the previous months. One of these, concerning the Savior’s visit to the spirits of the dead while His body was in the tomb, President Smith had received the previous day. It was written immediately following the close of the conference. On October 31, 1918, it was submitted to the counselors in the First Presidency, the Council of the Twelve, and the Patriarch, and it was unanimously accepted by them.
Fatherprepared the versification and the vision summary for its publication in scripture as follows:
1-10, President Joseph F. Smith ponders upon the writings of Peter and our Lord’s visit to the spirit world; 11–24, President Smith sees the righteous dead assembled in paradise and Christ’s ministry among them; 25–37, He sees how the preaching of the gospel was organized among the spirits; 38–52, He sees Adam, Eve, and many of the holy prophets in the spirit world who considered their spirit state before their resurrection as a bondage; 53–60, The righteous dead of this day continue their labors in the world of spirits.
The last sentence of the overview suggests that the vision presents itself in two parts. The revelation first informs us of the generations which conformed to the gospel plan, suffered tribulation in the Lord’s name, and offered sacrificed in anticipation of his final great sacrifice. These were the faithful of the ages who died trusting in a glorious resurrection. They would now see his face and hear his voice. At his direction they would be given the power to rise, body and spirit inseparably connected. As to the rebellious, the Lord would not appear among them, but rather organized his forces for their instruction and hoped for repentance.
The final verses of the revelation take a sudden turn, centering on the pre-mortal preparation of the Prophet Joseph Smith, President Smith’s father, Hyrum, and others who were “reserved to come forth in the fulness of times to take part in laying the foundations of the great latter-day work. Including the building of temples and the performance of ordinances therein.” We learn that before these brethren were born they “received their first lessons in the world of spirits” (138:53-56) We are instructed further, that faithful elders who die continue their labors among the dead. (138:57)
President Smith, seeing in vision a father who was lost to him as a child through martyrdom, and observing his father’s transcendent role in establishing the kingdom of God on earth, could only have felt a deep reverence for Hytum’s preeminent place in the restoration.
In after years, my father wished he had divided the versification into two portions to note the subject change in the revelation. The last verses, though a part of the whole, comprised, in reality, a second revelation touching the sealing work for the dead and the preaching of the gospel to the dead in this dispensation. A gracious plan, in which no exigency would be overlooked.
What is of Particular Interest to Women
In our conversation on these various facets of the revelation, Andrea asked me a curious question: “Is there anything in the Vision of the Redemption of the Dead of particular interest to women?” Our thoughts turned then to the following verses.
38 Among the great and mighty ones who were assembled in this vast congregation of the righteous were Father Adam, the Ancient of Days and father of all,
39 And our glorious Mother Eve, with many of her faithful daughters who had lived through the ages and worshiped the true and living God. (D&C 138: 38-39)
The Prophet Joseph Smith had given the Church a broad understanding of our first parents in the earliest days of the Church. His 1830 revelation and translation of Genesis resulted in what we now have as the Book of Moses, which he labeled a “precious morsel.” The Prophet’s work there did much to deflect the apostate understanding which had characterized Christianity’s views on our first parents for centuries. It further placed the early Saints on the Edenic ground walked by our first parents, and gave directions for the building of a great temple there. Even then, the world view of Eve as a foolish and subordinate creation, even an after thought, was difficult to eradicate. That conception was intrinsic to Western Civilization, and came into the Church again with every new convert.
The status afforded Eve in President Joseph F. Smith’s revelation was particularly uplifting. This Eve came to initiate the pattern of covenant life that would go on to create worlds without number. The wording signified a full understanding of her mission, that she was in the image of Mother in Heaven and his words were a commission to look at Eve in the entirety of the exalted role she came into the earth to fill.
The words of the Vision were received in this light by Susa Young Gates at the time the revelation was given. Susa was a prominent Latter-day Saint leader, writer, editor, and close friend of President Smith and his wife Julina. Upon visiting the Beehive House shortly after the vision was recorded, President Smith handed her the transcript of his vision. “How blest, O how blest I am to have the privilege!” Susa wrote in her journal that night, “To be permitted to read a revelation before it was made public, to know the heavens are still opened.”
Susa’s description of the vision highlighted the aspects she found most compelling: “In it he tells of his view of Eternity; the Savior when He visited the spirits in prison—how His servants minister to them; he saw the Prophet and all his associate Brethren laboring in the Prison Houses; Mother Eve & her noble daughters engaged in the same holy cause!” Long an advocate for women’s causes, Susa rejoiced at the specific mention of women in the revelation, grateful “to have Eve and her daughters remembered…. This is unusual—the mention of women’s labors on the Other Side.” Susa felt that “the direct view of [women] associated with the ancient and modern prophets and elders confirms the noble standard of equality between the sexes which has always been a feature of this Church.”
Susa’s words are warm with confirming emotion, and particularly validating in a time when many women question their place in salvation’s plan.
What Were the Roles of Father Adam and Mother Eve in the Three-Day Interim?
Reading the Vision should alert us to the fact that the righteous hosts waiting the Lord’s entry into the spirit world were assembled by revelation and under priesthood direction, Adam, whom we also know as Michael, holding the keys. We see, also, that Eve was at his side. She is there “with many of her faithful daughters,” a phrase indicating that the faithful women of the ages are organized and under her direction.
There is little question those assembled are keenly aware of the Lord’s humiliation, the illegal trials, the agony of Gethsemane, and the suffering on the cross. It will be helpful at this point to observe Elder McConkie’s testimony of the events in Gethsemane: “We know that an angel came from the courts of glory to strengthen [the Lord] in his ordeal, and we suppose it was mighty Michael, who foremost fell that mortal man might be.” (April 1985)
That Michael, the Archangel, would be so intimately involved in Gethsemane, encouraging the Lord, who sweat blood from every pore, is an absolute continuity in mission. No two dispensations are more closely allied than that of the fall and that of the atonement. Thus these primary servants so intimately involved in dispensing salvation from the Councils of Heaven, again sustain each other in what is now to culminate upon the cross.
Further, Michael would bear an immediate witness of his Gethsemane encounter with the Lord in the throes of redemption to the waiting spirit host. They are, therefore, thoroughly instructed and filled with reverence, hymns, and prayer as the revelation on their redemption declares.
The Lord Appears to the Faithful Dead
And now, with a great shout the Lord is released from the incomparable weight of Gethsemane and Golgotha. In this instant, his mortal ministry has ended and his ministry among the spirits in prison has begun. In this moment, he will proclaim liberty to the captives and the opening of the prison door to them that are bound: “There he preached unto them the everlasting gospel,” and most particularly, “the doctrine of the resurrection and the redemption of mankind from the fall.” (D&C 138: 19)
Never could there have been a more powerfully directed sermon, never hearts more ready to receive, nor ears to hear than in this assembly in this moment of glad hosannas and bended knee. (D&C 138: 23-24) If the Lord’s holy words to the Nephites at his coming could not be written for their power and grace, then surely this moment for all the power and grace it contained was the same, if not more so.
And surely none was more sensible to that saving voice than the first of all mothers. For if to Eve the Father promised while yet in Eden, “Thy seed shall crush the serpent’s head,” then this was the moment in which she saw and heard and knew above every confirmation that it was so, and that all was as God had ordained.
“These the Lord taught,” the revelation tells us, “and gave them power to come forth, after his resurrection from the dead, to enter into his Father’s kingdom, there to be crowned with immortality and eternal life.” (138:51)
In this moment, the resurrection becomes the province of Adam, the first father, who is second only to the Lord in his administration. Michael, the scriptures proclaim, “shall sound his trump, and the dead shall awake, for their graves shall be opened, and they shall come forth.” (D&C 29:26) Christ, the first fruits, Adam and Eve will follow. Christ is the great High Priest; Adam next. This will be an orderly priesthood work. The fall has met the atonement unequivocally according to the faith of our first parents, and the promise of the Son of God.
The remarkable vision given to President Joseph F. Smith shortly before his death in 1918, occurred in a small and simply furnished south east corner bedroom on the first floor of the Beehive House. It was a room privy to much spiritual outpouring, and finally to his vision which was canonized in 1976, and placed in the Doctrine and Covenants as section 138 in 1979. The vision is filled with clariying doctrine, particulary regarding the missionary work organized by the Lord in the spirit world between the crucifixion and the empty tomb. The vision also outlined the pre-mortal preparation of the Prophet Joseph Smith, and other great men of this dispensation, notably President Smith’s own father whom he lost as a child. The revelation further clarified the work to be done by the faithful elders of the Church who die, and continue their labors in the world of spirits.
Reviewing the great Vision of the Redemption of the dead recalls to my heart my father’s hope that including it in the scriptural canon would give us opportunity to study, reference and utilize the truths to be found therein. In doing so we should come to see that the revelation was not only personal to Joseph F. Smith as he saw the Prophet, his father, and others of the early brethren whom he knew, but that it is personal to us also. We find ourselves listed there with “many others” perusing our first lessons with the early brethren in pre-mortal courts. Our work was, from that point forward, to sustain and secure theirs.
When my father approached his last days on this earth, Elder Boyd K. Packer came to the home to bless him. In that blessing Elder Packer called upon the promise of D&C 138 that the faithful elders who die “continue their labors in the preaching of the gospel of repentance and redemption … in the great world of the spirits of the dead.” (D&C 138:57) He said, further, that Dad would still hold the office of apostle on the other side of the veil.
It is impossible to say how much love and comfort there is in the word of the Lord. Our willingness to live by it is based in our acquaintance with it, and as the spirit impresses it upon our souls. I love to see the fulfillment of these promises as given to my father. A revelation which began in pondering has indeed given us much to ponder.
Lisa Olsen Tait, “Susa Young Gates and the Vision of the Redemption of the Dead: D&C 138,” in Matthew McBride and James Goldberg, eds., Revelations in Context: The Stories behind the Sections of the Doctrine and Covenants (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2016), 315–22.