For in that day, before the Son of man shall come, he shall send forth his angels and messengers of heaven, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; And shall cast them out among the wicked; and there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth. For the world shall be burned with fire. JST Matthew 13:42-44
What does it mean to be wicked or righteous? When the Savior taught the parable of the wheat and the tares and other parables about the kingdom of heaven, he said that at His coming, he would send angels and messengers to separate “all things that offend, and them which do iniquity” and “cast them out among the wicked.”
The Spirit World – levels of righteousness
In the Gospel Principles manual, we can read a little more about where those that “offend” and those “which do iniquity” will be sent. We know that during this life, those who have not accepted the gospel of Jesus Christ (whether or not they even had the opportunity) will be sent to Spirit Prison. “In the spirit prison are the spirits of those who have not yet received the gospel of Jesus Christ… also in the spirit prison are those who rejected the gospel after it was preached to them either on earth or in the spirit prison. These spirits suffer in a condition known as hell.” (p.244) In Alma we read, “ the spirits of the wicked, yea, who are evil – for behold they have no part nor portion of the Spirit of the Lord… these shall be cast out into outer darkness; there shall be weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth, and this because of their own iniquity.” So does this mean that everyone who has not received the gospel in this life is “wicked”? We could assume that, since they are in “spirit prison” with those who suffer because they will not accept the gospel. But there is more to spirit prison than just suffering. “The spirits in paradise can teach the spirits in prison” (p.243) and “if [the spirits in prison] accept the gospel and the ordinances performed for them in the temples, they may leave the spirit prison and dwell in paradise.” (p.244) So being in spirit prison doesn’t automatically pass a judgment of “wicked” on a person. The wicked go to spirit prison and suffer in condition known as hell, while those who were righteous go to spirit prison to wait for an opportunity to accept the gospel, and to wait for their temple work to be done.
The spirit world, then, is just like the mortal world we live in right now. There are levels of righteousness and spirituality, and there are levels of suffering. In this life, when we are righteous and live the gospel, we have peace – we also experience suffering, because that is the nature of this world; however, we can experience peace as well. Those who do not have the gospel, yet live righteously, are also living in a measure of peace and happiness. Just because they don’t have the gospel does not mean they need to be tormented. There are those who have an even greater measure of the spirit and peace, those who believe in Christ, but do not have the fullness of the gospel. I think that when we realize how the spirit world is set up – that there are righteous people even in spirit prison, we can understand that there are righteous people on this earth who do not have the fullness of the gospel. This understanding of wicked and righteous helps me to be less judgmental of those I associate with.
Many of us have heard Christians who say anyone who has not accepted Christ is going to “hell” – and that they will be burned and all that. Thankfully we have a more understanding view of how the spirit world works, and those who are righteous, even if they have not had an opportunity to accept the gospel, will not suffer in “hell”, although they will dwell in spirit prison. But sometimes I think we are misguided in our understanding of what is wicked and what is righteous, and there are members of the Church who will tell you that those not of our faith will be going to hell.
The Second Coming of the Savior Jesus Christ gives us another opportunity to study the “wicked”and the “righteous”. “When Jesus comes again… the wicked will be destroyed.” (p.257) Again, who will the wicked be at the time of the Savior’s coming? Probably more those who are in the second category of the spirits who will be in spirit prison – those who reject the gospel after it has been preached to them, whether in this life or in the next. The Gospel Principles book gives us a little more insight into who will be left during the Millennium (after the Second Coming – remember, at the second coming the wicked will be destroyed, and the righteous will live on the earth during the Millennium). Who will be “the righteous”? “They will be those who have lived virtuous and honest lives. These people will inherit either the terrestrial or celestial kingdom.” (p. 263)
Will only members of the Church be living during the Millennium? No – all people who have lived virtuous and honest lives will be on the earth during the Millennium. I know many people not of our faith who are virtuous and honest people. They will all live with Christ as well. “Eventually everyone will confess that Jesus Christ is the Savior.” But until then, it will be just like living with our kind Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, atheist, black, Asian, Republican, and Democrat neighbors as we do today.
Puts it into perspective now, doesn’t it? If we cannot live in happiness and in harmony with people who are different than us now, what makes you think you will be able to live that way in the Millennium? It makes me want to be more kind and charitable to people I don’t agree with, especially if they are kind and charitable people. I want to be able to live during the Millennium, but I know that I won’t be able to if I don’t learn how to get along with people right now, in this life.
I hope it is easier for you now to understand the difference between “wicked” and “righteous” – and that not all those in spirit prison are horrible people – some of those people may even be resurrected during the Second Coming with the other righteous during the First Resurrection. (see Gospel Principles p. 260)
A sister in our Relief Society made this very profound statement, “Each person will be taught the gospel in a way that they perfectly understand what they are accepting or rejecting.” When someone rejects the gospel, we have a tendency to judge them as “wicked” – but as this wise sister said, they will have the opportunity to understand perfectly what it is they are rejecting or accepting, and maybe they don’t understand it perfectly.
How do you understand wickedness and righteousness as it pertains to the Spirit World and to the Savior’s Second Coming? Can you look around you now in your life and see people who you think might actually live during the Millennium that before you maybe thought wouldn’t? Does having a better understanding of who the righteous are help you desire to get along and associate with people you may not have before because of their beliefs?