Alma 40:2 there is no resurrection...until after the coming of Christ
Some have been confused by the story of the raising of Lazarus (Jn 11). Obviously, Lazarus was brought back to life prior to the resurrection of Christ. However, Lazarus was not resurrected according to Alma's definition, for he was brought back to a mortal state. His mortal body did not put on immortality, nor did his corruption put on incorruption.
Hence the term "firstfruits" does not mean that Christ was the first dead person to be brought back to life. Rather, it means that he was the first to be resurrected with an immortal body.
Alma 40:3 there are many mysteries...But I show unto you one thing which I have inquired diligently of God that I might know
The mysteries of godliness are available to everyone who is willing to make the sacrifice to know them. Alma was the prophet but still had to make diligent inquiry to open the mysteries of heaven. In order to know hidden things, we must study it out in [our] mind (DC 9:8), have great desires (1 Ne 2:16), exercise faith (Ether 4:7), remember to ask (DC 42:61), fear God and serve him in righteousness and truth (DC 76:5-7). Nephi declared, For he that diligently seeketh shall find; and the mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto them, by the power of the Holy Ghost, as well in these times as in times of old, and as well in times of old as in times to come (1 Ne 10:19).
Many of the mysteries of godliness have already been made available to us. The details of the resurrection, the millennium, and the three degrees of glory are good examples of the mysteries already revealed in the dispensation of the fullness of times. Yet, these doctrines were not clearly taught in all previous dispensations.
Jeffrey R. Holland
"Clearly not all of the Nephite prophets knew the details of the Resurrection as we know them in our dispensation, though they knew a great deal for their time. For as much as was revealed about this first resurrection and whatever implications it had for later iterations of that event, at least Alma-for one-was not given to know many of the specifics of the Resurrection even though he had 'inquired diligently of God' that he might know them. It was a question about the doctrine of the resurrection that the increasingly humble Zeezrom put to Alma which the prophet could refer to only as one of 'the mysteries of God.' Years later in teaching his son Corianton, Alma still called it a 'mystery,' the details of which only God himself knows." (Christ and the New Covenant, p. 239-40)
Alma 40:8 all is as one day with God
The Lord is not bound by the constraints of the dimension we call time. Yet for us, we feel much more comfortable if, during the few days of this mortal probation, we can hear the clock ticking. But time as we know it will not always exist. The scriptures (Rev 10:6, DC 84:100, DC 88:110) teach that when Satan is bound at the beginning of the Millenium, the angels will declare that "time is no longer." Furthermore, in the celestial world, time will be understood as God understands it, they reside in the presence of God...where all things for their glory are manifest, past, present, and future, and are continually before the Lord (DC 130:7).
Alma 40:11 Now, concerning the state of the soul between death and the resurrection
We should acknowledge Alma's wisdom in asking a good question. We should also gain perspective by the question that is raised. Alma's curiosity about the spirit world confirms that the Nephite doctrine of salvation and punishment were concerned primarily with the final state of the soul-that is after the resurrection. Although the Nephites mention no division between the degrees of glory, it is apparent from Alma's question that when the Nephite prophets referred to salvation, they were referring to the celestial kingdom (2 Ne 10:25, see also Index for "Kingdom of God"). Furthermore, when they were referring to the punishments of the damned, by and large, they were talking about the fate of the sons of Perdition (Alma 12:16-18; Alma 40:26).
This concern with the final state of man is different than many Christian notions of heaven and hell. Many assume that the state of the soul after death is also the final state of man. This notion fails to take into account the importance of the resurrection and the reality that the rewards for the resurrected are different than the rewards for the disembodied spirits. Some Christians, who do not have the benefit of the Book of Mormon and D & C, stumble with the following question: "what happens to the soul after the resurrection? Does it go back to the same 'heaven' it just came from or does it go to some other place?"
Thomas S. Monson
Many years ago I stood at the bedside of a young father as he hovered between life and death. His distraught wife and their two children stood nearby. He took my hand in his and, with a pleading look, said, "Bishop, I know I am about to die. Tell me what happens to my spirit when I do."
I offered a silent prayer for heavenly guidance and noticed on his bedside table a copy of the triple combination. I reached for the book and fanned the pages. Suddenly I discovered that I had, with no effort on my part, stopped at the 40th chapter of Alma in the Book of Mormon. I read these words to him: (quotes Alma 40:11-12)
As I continued to read about the Resurrection, a glow came to the young man's face and a smile graced his lips. As I concluded my visit, I said good-bye to this sweet family.
I next saw the wife and children at the funeral. I think back to that night when a young man pleaded for truth and, from the Book of Mormon, heard the answer to his question. (Ensign, Oct. 2011, 4)
Alma 40:11 the spirits of all men...are taken home to that God who gave them life
In Ecclesiastes, we read the same doctrine about death, Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it (Eccl 12:7). The reader should not assume by these scriptures that the spirit will go back to reside with God on His celestialized throne, for this is not the case. What then does Alma mean by the phrase "taken home?"
Death is a time of judgment-not the final judgment-but a judgment nonetheless. Nephi tells us that the wicked will be taken to behold the face of God at the time of death, wo unto all those who die in their sins; for they shall return to God, and behold his face and remain in their sins (2 Ne 9:38). Nephi seems to be teaching that the wicked will behold the face of God in their sinful state. This is an unusual doctrine for those of us who are familiar with the scriptures which say, no unclean thing can dwell with God (1 Ne 10:21). But these wicked souls are not returning to God to dwell in his presence, they are beholding his face as a painful judgment against them and their wickedness. Brigham Young said, "If the wicked wish to escape from his presence, they must go where he is not, where he does not live, where his influence does not preside. To find such a place is impossible, except they go beyond the bounds of time and space." (Discourses of Brigham Young, pp. 376-77)
Likewise, the righteous are also "taken home" to behold the face of God, presumably for judgment. Apparently, Joseph Smith thought that he would behold the face of God at the time of his death (DC 130:15-16). Nevertheless, these righteous souls do not have to be brought into the presence of God in order to see his face. Brigham Young explains how it is possible to behold the face of God without being ushered into his immediate presence.
"[Where does the spirit go after death?] I will tell you. Will I locate them? Yes, if you wish me to. They do not pass out of the organization of this earth on which we live. You read in the Bible that when the spirit leaves the body it goes to God who gave it. Now tell me where God is not, if you please; you cannot. How far would you have to go in order to go to God, if your spirits were unclothed? Would you have to go out of this bowery to find God, if you were in the spirit? ... It reads that the spirit goes to God who gave it. Let me render this Scripture a little plainer; when the spirits leave their bodies they are in the presence of our Father and God, they are prepared then to see, hear and understand spiritual things. But where is the spirit world? It is incorporated within this celestial system. Can you see it with your natural eyes? No. Can you see spirits in this room? No. Suppose the Lord should touch your eyes that you might see, could you then see the spirits? Yes, as plainly as you now see bodies, as did the servant of Elijah. [Elisha. See 2 Kings 6:17] If the Lord would permit it, and it was His will that it should be done, you could see the spirits that have departed from this world, as plainly as you now see bodies with your natural eyes." (Journal of Discourses, 3:368)
Harold B. Lee
"As I understand what President Young is saying, when we go home to God, it is just like going back to our home country. We may not go into the presence of the governor of the state where we live, but we will go to the home country, and there we shall find our level among the people with whom we are most accustomed to associate." (Teachings of Harold B. Lee, p. 58)
Alma 40:12 righteous are received into a state of happiness, which is called paradise
Spirit Paradise is known by other names, including the spirit world, heaven, Abraham's bosom (Lu 16:22), and even prison (Moses 7:57, see also DC 138:50). It is important to understand that the terms "heaven and hell," particularly as used by other Christians, refer to spirit paradise and spirit prison.
"When men are prepared [for death], they are better off to go hence...The spirits of the just are exalted to a greater and more glorious work; hence they are blessed in their departure to the world of spirits. Enveloped in flaming fire, they are not far from us, and know and understand our thoughts feelings and motions, and are often pained therewith." (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 326)
"Where is the spirit world? It is right here....Can you see it with your natural eyes? No. Can you see spirits in this room? No. Suppose the Lord should touch your eyes that you might see, could you then see the spirits? Yes, as plainly as you now see bodies..." (Discourses of Brigham Young, pp. 376-7 as taken from Latter-day Commentary on the Book of Mormon compiled by K. Douglas Bassett, p. 341)
Harold B. Lee
"Where is the spirit world? Is it away up in the heavens? That isn't what the scriptures and our brethren explain. They have told us the spirit world is right here round about us, and the only spirits who can live here are those who are assigned to fill their missions here on earth. This is the spirit world. And if our eyes could be opened we could see those who have departed from us-a father, mother, brother, a sister, a child. We could see them, and sometimes when our physical senses are asleep, sometimes our spiritual self-and we have ears, spiritual ears, and spiritual eyes-sometimes they will be very keen and awake, and a departed one may come while we are lying asleep and come into our consciousness. We'll feel an impression. We'll wake up. Where does it come from? It comes from the spirits of those whom we are sealed to." (Teachings of Harold B. Lee, p. 58)
Parley P. Pratt
"[the spirit world] is here on the very planet where we were born...The earth and all other planets of a like sphere, have their inward or spiritual spheres, as well as their outward, or temporal. The one is peopled by temporal tabernacles, and the other by spirits. A veil is drawn between the one sphere and the other, whereby all the objects in the spiritual sphere are rendered invisible to those in the temporal." (Millet and McConkie, The Life Beyond, p. 16)
Alma 40:13 the spirits of the wicked...shall be cast out into outer darkness
The other names for spirit prison are "hell" and "outer darkness," among others. Sometime between April 1830 and the late 20th century, somebody, somewhere referred to the fate of the sons of perdition as "outer darkness." Like a vicious rumor, this erroneous doctrine caught on as a wildfire. Every missionary who has ever taught the Plan of Salvation has used the term "outer darkness" to refer to the fate of the sons of perdition. Because of this unfortunate, incorrect doctrinal tradition, the reader is usually confused by Alma's description of "outer darkness" in this verse. Let me suggest that the term "outer darkness" refers to just what Alma is talking about-spirit prison.
If the scriptures are to be our guide, then let's refer to them to answer this question. The term "outer darkness" appears in the following passages: Matt 8:12, Matt 22:13, Matt 25:30, Alma 40:13, DC 101:91, and DC 133:73. In none of these passages is the author referring to the sons of perdition. All of them are referring to the punishment of the wicked in spirit prison. On the other hand, let's examine the scriptures about the sons of perdition. The most descriptive is found in DC 76:31-39. Neither this passage, nor any other which discusses the fate of the sons of perdition, ever uses the term "outer darkness." Rather, the scriptures refer to this terrible place as perdition (Rev 17:8).
Bruce R. McConkie
"Hell is referred to as outer darkness. At death the spirits of the wicked 'shall be cast out into outer darkness; there shall be weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth, and this because of their own iniquity, being led captive by the will of the devil. Now this is the state of the souls of the wicked, yea, in darkness, and a state of awful, fearful looking for the fiery indignation of the wrath of God upon them; thus they remain in this state, as well as the righteous in paradise, until the time of their resurrection.' (Alma 40:13-14.) So complete is the darkness prevailing in the minds of these spirits, so wholly has gospel light been shut out of their consciences, that they know little or nothing of the plan of salvation, and have little hope within themselves of advancement and progression through the saving grace of Christ. Hell is literally a place of outer darkness, darkness that hates light, buries truth, and revels in iniquity." (Mormon Doctrine, p. 551)
Alma 41:14 a state of awful, fearful looking for the fiery indignation of the wrath of God
"The great misery of departed spirits in the world of spirits, where they go after death, is to know that they come short of the glory that others enjoy and that they might have enjoyed themselves, and they are their own accusers." (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 311)
"We might now inquire, what is the cause of this intense suffering and misery? Is it the action of the elements upon the spirit? Is it the materials of nature, operating from without upon it, that causes this distress, this weeping, wailing. mourning, and lamentation? It may be in some measure; it may help to produce the misery and the wretchedness; but there is something connected with the spirit itself that no doubt produces this weeping, wailing, and mourning. What is this something? It is memory, and remorse of conscience; a memory of what they have once done, a memory of their disobedience. Do you not suppose the spirits can have power to remember in that world as well as in this? Yes, they certainly can. Have you never read in the Book of Mormon, where it informs us, that every act of our lives will be fresh upon the memory, and we shall have a clear consciousness of all our doings in this life?
"...In this life, things that may have been erased from your memory for years will be presented before you with all the vividness as if they had just taken place. This will be like a worm upon the conscience; it will prey upon the spirit, and produce unhappiness, wretchedness, and misery. This will cause you to lament, and mourn, and weep after you are cast out from the presence of God." (Journal of Discourses, 2:239-40)
Alma 40:14 Missionary work in the spirit world
Prior to the resurrection of Christ, the wicked and the righteous were completely separated from each other, there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence (Lu 16:26). When the Lord set up the missionary program among the righteous, this great gulf was bridged so that the gospel could be preached to the spirits in prison, But behold, from among the righteous he organized his forces and appointed messengers, clothed with power and authority, and commissioned them to go forth and carry the light of the gospel to them that were in darkness, even to all the spirits of men; and thus was the gospel preached to the dead...Thus was the gospel preached to those who had died in their sins, without a knowledge of the truth, or in transgression, having rejected the prophets (DC 138:30-32). The reader is referred to Luke 16:19-31 and DC 138 which are great resources for understanding the spirit world.
James E. Talmage
"...many other great truths not known before, have been declared to the people, and one of the greatest is that to hell there is an exit as well as an entrance. Hell is no place to which a vindictive judge sends prisoners to suffer and to be punished principally for his glory: But it is a place prepared for the teaching, the disciplining of those who failed to learn here upon the earth what they should have learned...No man will be kept in hell longer than is necessary to bring him to a fitness for something better. When he reaches that stage the prison doors will open and there will be rejoicing among the hosts who welcome him into a better state." (Conference Report, Apr. 1930, p. 97 as taken from Latter-day Commentary on the Book of Mormon compiled by K. Douglas Bassett, p. 342-3)
Alma 40:16 a first resurrection...of all those who have been, or who are, or who shall be, down to the resurrection of Christ
The first resurrection to which Alma refers is the resurrection which took place at the time of Christ. It included the resurrection of all the righteous who died before the resurrection of Christ. Joseph Fielding Smith gives us the names of some of the righteous who were resurrected at this time: Adam, Eve, Abel, Seth, Noah, Shem, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Elias, Malachi, and the prophets who dwelt among the Nephites (DC 138:38-49). Alma himself was surely part of this first resurrection.
The resurrection of the righteous at the time of Christ happened both in the Old and the New World.
'And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose,
And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many.' (Matt 27:52-3)
'Verily I say unto you, I commanded my servant Samuel, the Lamanite, that he should testify unto this people, that at the day that the Father should glorify his name in me that there were many saints who should arise from the dead, and should appear unto many, and should minister unto them. And he said unto them: Was it not so?
And his disciples answered him and said: Yea, Lord, Samuel did prophesy according to thy words, and they were all fulfilled.
And Jesus said unto them: How be it that ye have not written this thing, that many saints did arise and appear unto many and did minister unto them?
And it came to pass that Nephi remembered that this thing had not been written.' (3 Ne 23:9-12)
By definition, the resurrection which is associated with the Second Coming is also referred to as the first resurrection.
Bruce R. McConkie
"To those who lived before the resurrection of Christ, the day of his coming forth from the dead was known as the first resurrection. Abinadi and Alma, for instance, so considered it. (Mosiah 15:21-25; Alma 40.) To those who have lived since that day, the first resurrection is yet future and will take place at the time of the Second Coming. (D. & C. 88:96-102.) We have no knowledge that the resurrection is going on now or that any persons have been resurrected since the day in which Christ came forth excepting Peter, James, and Moroni, all of whom had special labors to perform in this day which necessitated tangible resurrected bodies.
"Though all men are assured of a resurrection, all will not be resurrected at the same time, and there will be varying degrees of glory for immortal persons. All will come forth from the grave, 'But every man in his own order' (1 Cor. 15:23), as Paul expresses it." (Mormon Doctrine, p. 639-40)
Joseph Fielding Smith
"While there was a general resurrection of the righteous at the time Christ arose from the dead, it is customary for us to speak of the resurrection of the righteous at the Second Coming of Christ as the first resurrection. It is the first to us, for we have little thought or concern over that which is past. The Lord has promised that at the time of his Second Advent the graves will be opened, and the just shall come forth to reign with him on the earth for a thousand years...
"RESURRECTION OF CELESTIAL BODIES. In modern revelation given to the Church, the Lord has made known more in relation to this glorious event. There shall be at least two classes which shall have the privilege of the resurrection at this time: First, those who 'shall dwell in the presence of God and his Christ forever and ever'; and second, honorable men, those who belong to the terrestrial kingdom as well as those of the celestial kingdom (DC 76:62,75).
"At the time of the coming of Christ, 'They who have slept in their graves shall come forth, for their graves shall be opened; and they also shall be caught up to meet him in the midst of the pillar of heaven-They are Christ's, the first fruits, they who shall descend with him first, and they who are on the earth and in their graves, who are first caught up to meet him; and all this by the voice of the sounding of the trump of the angel of God.' (DC 88:97-8)...
"RESURRECTION OF TERRESTRIAL BODIES. Following this great event, and after the Lord and the righteous who are caught up to meet him have descended upon the earth, there will come to pass another resurrection. This may be considered as a part of the first, although it comes later. In this resurrection will come forth those of the terrestrial order, who were not worthy to be caught up to meet him, but who are worthy to come forth to enjoy the millennial reign...(DC 88:99)
"RESURRECTION OF TELESTIAL BODIES. All liars, and sorcerers, and adulterers and all who love and make a lie, shall not receive the resurrection at this time, but for a thousand years shall be thrust down into hell where they shall suffer the wrath of God until they pay the price of their sinning, if it is possible, by the things which they shall suffer.
"These are the 'spirits of men who are to be judged, and are found under condemnation; And these are the rest of the dead; and they live not again until the thousand years are ended, neither again, until the end of the earth.' (DC 88:100-1)
"These are the hosts of the telestial world who are condemned to 'suffer the wrath of God on earth'; and who are 'cast down to hell and suffer the wrath of Almighty God, until the fulness of times, when Christ shall have subdued all enemies under his feet, and shall have perfected his work.' (DC 76:104-6)" (Doctrines of Salvation, vol. 2, pp. 295-7)
Alma 40:17 their consignation to happiness or misery
Alma is teaching that the resurrection is different than what happens to the soul at death, when the spirit is assigned either to happiness in spirit paradise or to misery in spirit prison.
Alma 40:20 I give it as my opinion
Alma gives us a great example in this verse. He is teaching a principle he is not sure about. Yet, he doesn't teach it as doctrine but as his opinion. It turns out, of course, that his opinion was exactly correct-that the righteous were resurrected at the time of Christ's resurrection. But this phrase, "I give it as my opinion," should be the motto of every gospel doctrine teacher and Priesthood instructor who is teaching something which is not in the scriptures. The fact that this phrase is used only once in the Book of Mormon is a lesson to all of us. We should never teach as doctrine those things which we cannot support with the scriptures and the words of the Brethren.
Alma 40:23 all things shall be restored to their proper and perfect frame
In Alma 11, Amulek gives us the quintessential passage on the nature and perfection of the resurrected body, The spirit and the body shall be reunited again in its perfect form; both limb and joint shall be restored to its proper frame, even as we now are at this time...and even there shall not so much as a hair of their heads be lost; but every thing shall be restored to its perfect frame (Alma 11:43-44). From this we are to understand that the Lord will give us an incredible, free gift-a completely flawless, perfect, immortal body.
If our goal is to become perfect even as our Father in Heaven is perfect, then one of the most important elements in that quest has been taken care of for us in the great Resurrection. We are to receive a perfect body. This perfect body is to be united with that spirit body which has had its rest in the world of spirits.
Joseph F. Smith
"(speaking of the resurrection) Deformity will be removed; defects will be eliminated, and men and women shall [return] again to the perfection of their spirits, to the perfection that God designed in the beginning. It is his purpose that men and women, his children, born to become heirs of God, and joint heirs with Jesus Christ shall be made perfect, physically as well as spiritually through obedience to the law by which he has provided the means that perfection shall come to all his children." (Joseph Fielding Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions, vol. 4, p. 187)
Joseph Fielding Smith
"A little sound thinking will reveal to us that it would be inconsistent for our bodies to be raised with all kinds of imperfections. Some men have been burned at the stake for the sake of truth. Some have been beheaded, and others have had their bodies torn asunder; for example, John the Baptist was beheaded and received his resurrection at the time of the resurrection of our Redeemer. It is impossible for us to think of him coming forth from the dead holding his head in his hands; our reason says he was physically complete in the resurrection, He appeared to the Prophet Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery with a perfect resurrected body." (Doctrines of Salvation, vol. 2, p. 289)
Dallin H. Oaks
"Many living witnesses can testify to the literal fulfillment of these scriptural assurances of the resurrection. Many, including some in my own extended family, have seen a departed loved one in vision or personal appearance and have witnessed their restoration in 'proper and perfect frame' in the prime of life. Whether these were manifestations of persons already resurrected or of righteous spirits awaiting an assured resurrection, the reality and nature of the resurrection of mortals is evident. What a comfort to know that all who have been disadvantaged in life from birth defects, from mortal injuries, from disease, or from the natural deterioration of old age will be resurrected in 'proper and perfect frame.'" (Conference Report, Apr. 2000, May Ensign, p. 15)
David O. McKay
"The question frequently arises as to whether a child that died in infancy will remain a child in the hereafter, and whether in the resurrection the spirit will take up the same body that it tabernacled in the flesh.
"The doctrine of the Church in this respect was very clearly set forth by the late President Joseph F. Smith in an editorial in The Improvement Era, June 1904, wherein he stated, 'The body will come forth as it is laid to rest, for there is no growth or development in the grave. As it is laid down, so will it arise, and changes to perfection will come by the law of restitution. But the spirit will continue to expand and develop, to the full stature of man.'
"Parents, therefore, who have been parted from their children by death may rest assured that, if worthy through obedience to the principles of the gospel, they will not only meet their children in the spirit world, but will also recognize them and know them as they knew them in this life. Parents, too, have even a greater comfort in the fact that their little ones whose lives on earth were cut short will continue to grow and develop, and receive every blessing to which their inheritance and faithfulness will entitle them. (Gospel Ideals, p. 75 as taken from Latter-day Commentary on the Book of Mormon compiled by K. Douglas Bassett, p. 340)
Alma 40:25 then shall the righteous shine forth in the kingdom of God
"Here we will only quote two passages from the Scriptures: First from Matthew: The Son of Man shall send forth His angels, and they shall gather out of His Kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; And shall cast them into a furnace of fire...And then shall the righteous shine forth as the Sun in the Kingdom of their Father. (Matthew 13:41-43) Again: And many of them that sleep in the dust of the Earth shall awake, some to Everlasting Life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament: and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever. (Daniel 12:3)" (Reynolds and Sjodahl, Commentary on the Book of Mormon, vol. 4, p. 203)