Editor: This is the fourteenth and final article in a series of excerpts from Jeffrey M. Bradshaw’s new book, entitled “Temple Themes in the Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood.” Color and black-and-white editions of the book are available on Amazon.com and at selected LDS Bookstores (including EbornBooks, BYU Bookstore, and the FAIR LDS Bookstore). An iBooks version is can be purchased from the Apple iBookstore. Downloadable articles and a pdf version of this book are available at www.templethemes.net
Links to the previous 13 segments in this series are found at the end of the article.
Author: In discussing temple matters, I have tried to follow the model of Hugh W. Nibley, who was, according to his biographer Boyd Jay Petersen, “respectful of the covenants of secrecy safeguarding specific portions of the LDS endowment, usually describing parallels from other cultures without talking specifically about the Mormon ceremony. This approach earned him a great deal of trust from both General Authorities and from Church members” (B. J. Petersen, Nibley, p. 354). For Nibley’s views on confidentiality as it relates to temple ordinances, see, e.g., H. W. Nibley, On the Sacred and the Symbolic, pp. 553-554, 569-572.]
What Are the Three Degrees Within the Celestial Kingdom?
The “Mysteries of the Kingdom”
Temple teachings and ordinances are sometimes called “mysteries.” Though, in general religious usage, the word “mystery,” when standing alone, is typically used in a general way to signify revealed knowledge and understanding, references to the “mysteries of the kingdom“ in the revelations and teachings of Joseph Smith clearly point to priesthood ordinances of the “royal priesthood” connected with the temple that have been given to certain individuals and families from the time of Adam. Though God had given to Joseph Smith “the keys of the mysteries, and the revelations which are sealed,” the Prophet encouraged the Saints to learn of these things for themselves, beseeching them to go forward and “search deeper and deeper into the mysteries of Godliness.” As their reward, the faithful are promised: “And to them will I reveal all mysteries, yea, all the hidden mysteries of my kingdom from days of old.”
These ideas did not originate with the Prophet Joseph Smith. For example, when Jesus Christ spoke of the “mysteries of the kingdom,” He also alluded to temple matters. Margaret Barker, writes:
Secrets and mysteries were characteristic of temple tradition, and were the exclusive preserve of the high priesthood, who were permitted to enter the Holy of Holies.
The Mysteries of the Lower and Higher Priesthoods
Though differing somewhat in their terminology, the writings of Philo Judaeus, an important Jewish priest in the first century AD, and those within the New Testament book of Hebrews share similar distinctions in their description of a lower and higher priesthood, and their corresponding “mysteries.” In broad strokes, the significant contrast in both cases is between the lesser and the greater priesthood and their corresponding rites; in other words, between the Levitical priesthood (as described in Hebrews)-roughly corresponding to the Lower Mystery of Aaron (as described by Philo)-and the Melchizedek priesthood of Christ (in Hebrews)-analogous to the Higher Mystery of Moses (in Philo). In both cases, what characterizes the greater rites is that they bring the initiate beyond the veil into the presence of God, and there invest him with an eternal priesthood and kingship in the likeness of the Divine.
Erwin Goodenough saw an explicit connection between Philo’s Higher Mystery of Moses and the figure of Melchizedek in the theology of Alexandrian Christianity. In a text “drawing almost exclusively upon Philo’s De Vita Mosis,” Clement of Alexandria gave a description of a group of “Initiates” who had an account of the three names given to Moses: “Joachim, given him by his mother at circumcision; Moses, given him by Pharaoh’s daughter; and Melchi, a name he had in heaven which was given him, apparently by God, after his ascension”-and suggesting what Goodenough called the “eternal priesthood of Melchizedek.” In this sense, Barker concludes that Melchizedek (Melchi-zedek = my king [is] righteous[ness]) might be regarded as much a title as a name.
The Restoration of the Fullness of the Melchizedek Priesthood
While in no sense can they be simply equated, the teachings and revelations of the Prophet Joseph Smith regarding the priesthood and temple ordinances parallel the general structure outlined in the writings of Philo and the book of Hebrews. Summarizing the temple ordinances, the Prophet Joseph Smith wrote that they concerned:
… washings, anointings, endowments, and the communication of keys pertaining to the Aaronic Priesthood, and so on to the highest order of the Melchizedek Priesthood, setting forth the order pertaining to the Ancient of Days, and all those plans and principles by which anyone is enabled to secure the fullness of those blessings which have been prepared for the Church of the Firstborn, and come up and abide in the presence of the Elohim in the eternal worlds.
Although these ordinances cannot be described in detail outside the temple, we are fortunate that their overall meaning and import, along with a description of the Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood, are beautifully summarized in section 84 of the Doctrine and Covenants. Using language that is rich in imagery and allusion, section 84 contrasts the lesser or Aaronic priesthood, which includes the Levitical priesthood, with the Holy or greater priesthood, elsewhere designated the Melchizedek priesthood.
 Those who receive the Melchizedek priesthood, called “the sons of Moses,” are told that this priesthood “holdeth the key of the mysteries of the kingdom, even the key of the knowledge of God,” and that, without its “ordinances” and “authority,” “the power of godliness is not manifest unto men in the flesh; For without this no man can see the face of God, even the Father, and live.”
This modern description of the primary distinction between the two priesthoods is entirely consistent with what has already been outlined from ancient sources: it is the same privilege of “seeing God,” in likeness to the experience of Moses, that characterized true Israel in Philo’s description of the higher mysteries, and the blessing of “entering into [God’s] rest”-meaning the Divine Presence-that similarly represented the object of labor to which the author of Hebrews exhorted his Christian readers. Note that one can enter the presence of God in two ways: eschatologically through the experience of a glorious resurrection, and ritually through the ordinances of the higher priesthood. The former should be understood as the “completion or fulfillment” of the “types and images” of the latter, as will now be explained.
Three Degrees Within the Celestial Glory
Latter-day Saints are familiar with Joseph Smith’s revelation describing three degrees in the resurrection of the dead, with the celestial, terrestrial, and telestial kingdoms corresponding respectively to the glory of the sun, the moon, and the stars. “Degree” is just the right word to describe such gradations, since its meaning fits both our conception of differences between the three orders of heaven and also the step-by-step ascent portrayed in temple ritual.
Though it is not uncommon to equate the attainment of the celestial kingdom with the blessings of exaltation, Elder John A. Widtsoe, among others, have made it clear that “all who enter the celestial glory do not necessarily receive full exaltation therein.” Elsewhere, Elder Widtsoe wrote:
Naturally, those who enter the celestial kingdom are of various attainments… Therefore the members of the highest kingdom are also grouped, according to the Prophet Joseph Smith into three “degrees.”
While the relationship between the three primary degrees of glory and the temple endowment is well understood, the Prophet’s concept of three additionalsubdivisions within the highest or celestial degree of glory has remained obscure. However, the meaning becomes clear if we consider the correspondence between heaven and earth we find symbolized in temple ritual and architecture. Just as within the “celestial glory there are three heavens or degrees,” so there are three degrees of temple blessings associated with the celestial world. Through the ordinances of the Melchizedek Priesthood, endowed individuals successively receive the blessings of ”  the sons of Moses…  the seed of Abraham, and  the church and the kingdom.”
The figure depicts the main rooms on the second floor of the Salt Lake Temple, as completed by Joseph Don Carlos Young. The letters A, B, and C correspond to the three areas of the temple associated with the blessings of the celestial kingdom: A. Veil, B. Sealing Rooms, and C. Holy of Holies. These areas can be understood in terms of the threefold sequence of temple blessings as follows:
- Men and women who attain the first ritual degree of the celestial kingdom, inheriting the blessings of the “sons of Moses,” are privileged to come to the veil of the temple to “behold the face of God” and enter into celestial glory. This temple blessing anticipates the day when the faithful will enter into God’s presence in actuality. However, attaining this degree in the ordinances is not sufficient to qualify one for the full blessings of exaltation. Those who come only thus far and subsequently refuse the patriarchal order of marriage are described in revelation as “ministering servants” who “remain separately and singly, without exaltation… to all eternity; and from henceforth are not gods, but are angels of God forever and ever.”
- Those who have previously qualified to enter within the veil become “the seed of Abraham“ when they attain the second celestial degree, the patriarchal order of marriage, with its promise of eternal family relationships and a “continuation of the seed.” Reflecting the order in which these priesthood blessings must be received, the two sealing rooms in the Salt Lake Temple were laid out as annexes to the celestial room, reflecting the idea that they could be accessed only by those who had previously come through the veil. The sealing room on the east was originally reserved “for the living” while the west sealing room was reserved “for the dead.”
- Finally, according to the Prophet Joseph Smith, those who attain the third celestial degree, “keeping all the commandments and obeying all the ordinances of the house of the Lord,” obtain the “fulness of the priesthood” through their becoming “kings and priests [or “queens and priestesses”] of the Most High God,” with responsibility for “the church and kingdom” according to the “power of Melchizedek.” Thus, in the words of William Clayton, they are (ritually) “prepared for the enjoyment of a fulness of the third heavens,” in other words, the enjoyment of the highest of the three degrees within the celestial kingdom.
Speaking of the ordinances relating to the fulness of the Melchizedek Priesthood, Elder James E. Talmage explained that the Holy of Holies in the Salt Lake Temple, which, like the sealing rooms, is an annex to the main celestial room, “is reserved for the higher ordinances in the Priesthood relating to the exaltation of both living and dead.”The room is “raised above the other two rooms and is reached by an additional flight of six steps inside the sliding doors.”A second set of sliding doors at the top of the steps are “symbolic of the veil that guarded the Holy of Holies in ancient times.”
“Your life is hid with Christ in God,” and so are many others. Nothing but the unpardonable sin can prevent you from inheriting eternal life for you are sealed up by the power of the Priesthood unto eternal life, having taken the step necessary for that purpose.
Except a man and his wife enter into an everlasting covenant and be married for eternity, while in this probation, by the power and authority of the Holy Priesthood, they will cease to increase when they die; that is, they will not have any children after the resurrection.
 But those who are married by the power and authority of the priesthood in this life, and continue without committing sin against the Holy Ghost, will continue to increase and have children in the celestial glory. The unpardonable sin is to shed innocent blood, or be accessory thereto. All other sins will be visited with judgment in the flesh, and the spirit being delivered to the buffetings of Satan until the day of the Lord Jesus….
In the celestial glory there are three heavens or degrees; and in order to obtain the highest [i.e., a fullness of the priesthood as a priest and king after the order of Melchizedek], a man must [first, as a prerequisite,] enter into this order of the priesthood [meaning the new and everlasting covenant of marriage [i.e., the second, or Abrahamic degree]]; and if he does not, he cannot obtain it [i.e., the fullness of the priesthood, the highest degree]. He may enter into the other [i.e., he may enter into the first degree associated with Moses-in other words, cross the threshold of celestial glory at the veil], but that is the end of his kingdom; he cannot have an increase [i.e., “children after the resurrection”].
Links to all of the articles in this series-
Part 2 “A Christ-Centered View“
Part 5 “What is the Endowment?”
Part 7 “The Meaning of the Atonement“
Part 13: “Weary Him Until He Blesses You”
Harper further explains that the term is “from Anglo-French misterie (Old French mistere), from Latin mysterium, from Greek mysterion (usually in plural mysteria) secret rite or doctrine’ from mystesone who has been initiated,’ from myein to close, shut,’ perhaps referring to the lips (in secrecy) or to the eyes (only initiates were allowed to see the sacred rites).” See also C. Kernyi, Eleusis, p. 46; M. W. Meyer, Mysteries, pp. 405. “The Romans translated myesis, the act of closing the eyes, with initiatio, from in-itia, going into.’ Kernyi further explains: A festival of entering into the darkness, regardless of what issue and ascent this initiation may lead to: that is what the Mysteria were, in the original sense of the word'” (J. M. Lundquist, Fundamentals, p. 676). “The Greek word was used in [the] Septuagint for secret counsel of God,’ translated in Vulgate as sacramentum” (D. Harper, Dictionary).
Some say that the kingdom of God was not set up on the earth until the day of Pentecost… but, I say in the name of the Lord, that the kingdom of God was set up on the earth from the days of Adam to the present time. Whenever there has been a righteous man on earth unto whom God revealed His word and gave power and authority to administer in His name, and where there is a priest of God-a minister who has power and authority from God to administer in the ordinances of the gospel and officiate in the priesthood of God, there is the kingdom of God…. Where there is a prophet, a priest, or a righteous man unto whom God gives His oracles, there is the kingdom of God; and where the oracles of God are not, there the kingdom of God is not.
The Savior has the words of eternal life. Nothing else can profit us… I advise all to go on to perfection, and search deeper and deeper into the mysteries of Godliness.
 James Tissot (French, 1836-1902). The Prophecy of the Destruction of the Temple (La prophtie de la destruction du temple), 1886-1894. Opaque watercolor over graphite on gray wove paper, Image: 7 1/8 x 11 1/16 in. (18.1 x 28.1 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Purchased by public subscription, 00.159.213. In J. F. Dolkart, James Tissot, p. 195. With permission.
g., Philo, Giants, 54-55, p. 473; Philo, Exodus, 2:29, p. 70; and Hebrews 6:18-20. While Eccles sees the author of Hebrews as dismissing “as inferior to the Christian way all mystic Judaism of whatever kind,” the striking nature of the broad similarities between the Jewish and Christian mysticism must also be acknowledged (R.S. Eccles, Hebrews, p. 220). See Barker for a discussion of how the early Christians might have interpreted the arguments of Hebrews concerning the priesthood (M. Barker, Who was Melchizedek).
 Sterling notes the high regard given Philo’s writings by early Christians, “who preserved about two-thirds of his known corpus” (G. E. Sterling, Philo, p. 297). Legends of contact between Philo and the Christian community were preserved by Eusebius (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical, 2:17, p. 50), and at least one pseudepigraphal document purported to relate his (implausible) conversion to Christianity. For a largely negative analysis of possible influences of the Greco-Roman mysteries on Paul’s baptismal theology, see A. J. M. Wedderburn, Baptism, especially pp. 90-163.
 “Melchizedek” is written as two words in Genesis 14, Psalm 110, the Samaritan Pentateuch (S. Lowy, Principles, p. 320), the Targums (J. W. Etheridge, Onkelos, 14), and 11Q Melchizedek (F. G. Martinez, Melchizedek, 2:9, p. 140).
E. R. Goodenough, Introduction to Philo, p. 159; cf. E. R. Goodenough, Summary, p. 188; E. R. Goodenough, Paul, pp. 165-166. Regarding the fate of Jewish mystical groups such as those found at Dura, Goodenough writes (E. R. Goodenough, Summary, p. 198):
… from direct evidence we know nothing; but it would seem that the leaders of this Judaism from the sixth to the eighth centuries had a great change of attitude. They learned Hebrew… [and as] they did so, they could for the first time learn to pray in Hebrew, to read the Scriptures in Hebrew, and to study the rabbinical writings… At the same time, they not only stopped using the symbolic vocabulary…, but, wherever possible, destroyed it by clipping out the offensive forms… Christians preserved Philo and many Jewish apocalyptic books, but the medieval Jews so neglected the great mass of literature that Greek- and Iranian-speaking Jews must have produced in the whole ancient world that from Jews we have no trace of it left at all… It remains to be seen whether medieval Jewish Kabbalah… represents a survival and amplification of this more general Jewish mysticism, or was freshly created by the influence of medieval Christian mystics, or came down from Merkavah beginnings, or, as I suspect, was in some way a mixture of all these.
 D&C 107:1-6. D&C 76:57 makes it clear that the order of Melchizedek was patterned “after the order of Enoch, which was after the order of the Only Begotten Son.” Notwithstanding the important distinction between the two priesthoods, the Prophet Joseph Smith taught that “[a]ll priesthood is Melchizedek, but there are different portions or degrees of it” (J. Smith, Jr., Teachings, 5 January 1841, p. 180). In this sense, the Aaronic priesthood is rightly characterized as being “an appendage to the greater, or the Melchizedek priesthood” (D&C 107:14).
 See C. T. R. Hayward, Israel, pp. 156-219 regarding Philo’s explanation of the name Israel as meaning “the one ?who sees God.” Summarizing sources that describe having “seen God” as an identifying attribute of true Israel among some Jews and early Christians, Barker writes (M. Barker, Christmas, pp. 89-90):
When the Christians were emphasizing that they had seen the Glory (e.g., Luke 2:30-32, 3:6; John 1:14; cf. Isaiah 40:5, 49:6, 52:10, 56:12; Zechariah 2:10), the name “Israel” was said to mean “the one who has seen God,” and so the emphasis in the Christmas stories was a claim to be the new Israel. Philo often used the expression: it was fundamental to his Judaism. He never explained it nor argued for it; it was something he could assume. “The nation that sees, that is, Israel” (Philo, Dreams, 2:44, p. 391; cf. 1:71, p. 380): “For Israel means seeing God” (Philo, Preliminary Studies, 51, p. 308). “The sons of Israel” (Leviticus 15:31) for him became “the sons of the seeing one” (Philo, Interpretation, 3:15, p. 311). Almost all the early Christian writers adopted this explanation of Israel and claimed it for the Church (see C. T. R. Hayward, Israel, pp. 156-193). It was used in prayers: “For by [Christ] thou hast brought home the Gentiles to thyself for a peculiar people, the true Israel beloved of God and seeing God”; “the God of Israel, Thy people which truly see and which have believed in Christ” (A. Roberts et al., Apostolic Constitutions, 7:1:36, p. 474 and 8:2:15, p. 491; cf. M. Barker, Temple Themes, pp. 154-160).
1. A step; a distinct portion of space of indefinite extent; a space in progression; as, the army gained the hill by degrees; a balloon rises or descends by slow degrees; and figuratively, we advance in knowledge by slow degrees. Men are yet in the first degree of improvement. It should be their aim to attain to the furthest degree, or the highest degree. There are degrees of vice and virtue. 2. A step or portion of progression, in elevation, quality, dignity or rank; as a man of great degree. We speak of men of high degree, or of low degree; of superior or inferior degree. It is supposed there are different degrees or orders of angels.
 See G. M. Leonard, Nauvoo, p. 261; J. Smith, Jr., Record, 28 September 1843, p. 416. See also R. K. Esplin, Succession, pp. 314-315; J. Smith, Jr., Words, 27 August 1843, pp. 244-247, 303-307; W. W. Phelps, cited in S. Brown, Paracletes, pp. 80-81.
J. Smith, Jr., Teachings, 27 August 1843, p. 322; cf. D&C 76:56-59. In his discourse of 27 August 1843, the Prophet implied that Moses received the fulness of the Melchizedek priesthood, saying that “God cursed the children of Israel because they would not receive the last law from Moses,” and also that the “law revealed to Moses in Horeb never was revealed to the children of Israel as a nation” (ibid., pp. 322-323, 27 August 1843, pp. 323-323; cf. J. Smith, Jr., Words, 27 August 1843, pp. 243-247; A. Ehat, et al., in ibid., pp. 303-304 n. 21).
W. Clayton, Diaries, 17 May 1843. To be ritually prepared in this sense means that one has received the fulness of the priesthood, the highest ordinance that can be given from one man to another mortal on earth. The privilege of having one’s calling and election made sure is an additional blessing that can only be bestowed by God Himself.
 Elder Orson Hyde explained that the blessing of exaltation is reserved for “kings and priests… [who] have received their washings and anointings in the temple of God on this earth; [and] have been chosen, ordained, and anointed kings and priests, to reign as such in the resurrection of the just. Such as have not received the fulness of the priesthood, (for the fulness of the priesthood includes the authority of both king and priest) and have not been anointed and ordained in the temple of the Most High, may obtain salvation in the celestial kingdom, but not a celestial crown” (O. Hyde, Diagram). As with every other ordinance of the gospel, those who live to merit the blessings of the fulness of the priesthood but do not have an opportunity to receive them in this life will receive them at some future time (D&C 137:7-9).
 Ibid., p. 192. See also p. 295. Six steps also led to Solomon’s throne (1 Kings 10:19). Likewise, the Investiture Panel at Mari in ancient Mesopotamia depicts the six top steps of a stairway that led to the inner sanctuary where kingship was apparently bestowed and renewed (Y. M. al-Khalesi, Palms, p. 42). Note that six steps effectively define seven degrees of separation (J. M. Bradshaw et al., Investiture Panel).
In the public domain. (accessed February 13, 2012).
J. Smith, Jr., Documentary History, 16 May 1843, 5:391-392. Note that the last paragraph is included in D&C 131:1-4. Italicized words are my own. For the historical context of these teachings, see J. B. Allen, No Toil, pp. 129-130.
 By these words, it can be inferred that William Clayton had received the ordinance conferring the fulness of the priesthood. However, the words do not imply that he had already received the “more sure word of prophecy.” See D&C 131:5-6 and the discussion in chapter 8.
 Cf. D&C 132:26. Doubtless the “day of the Lord Jesus” refers to the time of resurrection (elsewhere called the “day of redemption” (D&C 132:26) or the “day of redemptions” (J. Smith, Jr., Words, 10 March 1844, p. 335)), when the spirits of the disobedient will again receive a measure of protection against the power of the Adversary by taking up a resurrected body (see 2 Nephi 9:8-12; Alma 34:35).