Question about the Nature of Humanity’s “First Estate”—Part One


Question: Does the “first estate” mentioned in Jude 1:6 and “second estate” in Abraham 3:26 mean that God’s children get just one chance at eternal life, or are there multiple mortalities or probationary states?

Answer: To get to the heart of this question, it is important to first perceive the big picture of God’s plan of salvation and exaltation. Then, after we establish that, to see where a “first estate” and “second” estate fit into that picture.

As Hugh Nibley affirmed, Jesus became a God the same way we may all become Gods. Says the prophet Joseph Smith, “It is the first principle of the Gospel to know for a certainty the character of God, and to know that we may converse with him as one man converses with another, and that he was once a man like us; yea, that God himself, the Father of us all, dwelt on an earth, the same as Jesus Christ himself did.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p 345.)

Jesus’ commandment to his disciples in Palestine to “be therefore perfect even as your Father who is in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48) was thus literal, as no one can be “perfect even as your Father who is in heaven” without becoming as he is. When teaching his Nephite disciples on the American continent, on the other hand, Jesus commanded them to “be perfect even as I, or your Father who is in heaven is perfect” (3 Nephi 12:48).

A key part of Jesus’ perfection, therefore—the law of the covenant that he kept—was to atone for humanity’s transgressions, which he had done by the time he appeared to the Nephites after his resurrection. As a case in point, prior to atoning for humanity’s transgressions Jesus had said, “I cast out devils and do cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I shall be perfected” (Luke 13:32; Hebrews 5:8–9).

In his mortal ministry, in other words, Jesus was in the process of becoming like his Father—as he says, “Whatsoever things he [the Father] does, these also does the Son likewise” (John 5:19). But he tells his disciples on the American continent, “The works which ye have seen me do, that shall ye also do, for that which ye have seen me do even that shall ye do” (3 Nephi 27:21). Hence his subsequent words, “What manner of men ought ye to be? Verily I say unto you, even as I am” (3 Nephi 27:27).

Consequently, Jesus’ three disciples who “desired that ye might bring the souls of men unto me, while the world shall stand” (3 Nephi 28:9), received his further promise that “ye shall have a fulness of joy; and ye shall sit down in the kingdom of my Father; yea, your joy shall be full, even as the Father hath given me a fulness of joy; and ye shall be even as I am, and I am even as the Father; and the Father and I are one” (3 Nephi 28:10).

It isn’t apparent, however, that Jesus’ promise to these disciples would be fulfilled immediately after their earthly ministry without their too, at some point, performing “the works which ye have seen me do” (3 Nephi 27:21). Moreover, while he could now say he was “even as the Father” (3 Nephi 28:10), he could not say this in Palestine as at that point he had not yet done all he had seen the Father do. (Evidently, as Jesus did nothing but what the Father did [John 5:19], one thing the Father must have done was to atone for a world’s transgressions.)

Clearly, therefore, neither the Father nor the Son attained godhood without experiencing multiple mortal probations on this and other earths. Again citing Joseph Smith, “When you climb up a ladder, you must begin at the bottom, and ascend step by step, until you arrive at the top; and so it is with the principles of the Gospel—you must begin with the first, and go on until you learn all the principles of exaltation. But it will be a great while after you have passed through the veil before you will have learned them. It is not all to be comprehended in this world; it will be a great work to learn our salvation and exaltation even beyond the grave” (TPJS, p 348).

It goes against all rational thinking to expect that cannibals who lived and died in Borneo, for example, were given that single chance to attain godhood. Or, that God’s children are able to advance as spirits in the spirit world the same as in a mortal body that is subject to distinct challenges and temptations. Or, that certain “great and noble ones”—identified as “souls” (Abraham 3:22–24)—advanced to that spiritual level solely as spirits if “the spirit and the body are the soul of man” (Doctrine & Covenants 88:15).

Are not salvation and exaltation the promise of “eternal lives” (Doctrine & Covenants 132:24, 44), for which term no single version exists in Hebrew, only plural (chaim, “lives”)? Moreover, if we receive one “crown” for our spiritual progress in this mortal world, how did Jesus merit “many crowns” (Revelation 3: 11; 9:13)? And if he, as Jehovah, had not previously attained a body, how could he, as a spirit, create physical “worlds” (Doctrine & Covenants 76:24; Moses 1:33)? If their inhabitants, who were created in his image and likeness, needed to work out their salvation and exaltation in physical bodies, did that same law of God not apply also to him?

Indeed, Israel’s God Jehovah—who was known in his ministry on this earth as Jesus Christ—appeared to Abraham in a physical body as one of three “men” who ate food Sarah cooked for them: “Jehovah appeared to him in the plains of Mamre as he sat in the tent door in the heat of the day. And he lifted up his eyes and looked, and, lo, three men stood by him: and when he saw [them], he ran to meet them from the tent door, and bowed himself toward the ground” (Genesis 18:1–2; cf. vv 3–8)? Afterwards, when two of the three “men”—later called “angels”—went to deliver Lot out of Sodom, “Abraham stood yet before Jehovah” and conversed with him (Genesis 18:22; 19:1).

(Part Two to be continued in next week’s newsletter.)

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