By Eric Johnson
In Mormonism, final judgment is something that takes place at the end of the millennium. The success in keeping the commandments is what determines one’s final destination: the Celestial Kingdom, the Terrestrial Kingdom, the Telestial Kingdom, or Outer Darkness. Seventeenth President Russell M. Nelson stated,
One day we will meet our Maker and stand before Him at Judgment. We will be judged according to our ordinances, covenants, deeds, and the desires of our hearts (“Personal Preparation for Temple Blessings,” Ensign (Conference Edition), May 2001, p. 34).
Apostle Dieter F. Uchtdorf explained the sequence after death:
After the Resurrection, there will be a Day of Judgment. While all will eventually be saved and inherit a kingdom of glory, those who trust in God and seek to follow His laws and ordinances will inherit lives in the eternities that are unimaginable in glory and overwhelming in majesty. That Day of Judgment will be a day of mercy and love—a day when broken hearts are healed, when tears of grief are replaced with tears of gratitude, when all will be made right (Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “O How Great the Plan of Our God!” Ensign (Conference Edition), November 2016, p. 21).
While Uchtdorf makes it sounds like this will be a pleasant experience for most, others leaders say it will be enjoyable only for those who have been successful in keeping the commandments. According to a church manual, it depends on what type of law a person is living that determines the verdict at the final judgment:
At the Final Judgment we will inherit a place in the kingdom for which we are prepared. The scriptures teach of three kingdoms of glory—the celestial kingdom, the terrestrial kingdom, and the telestial kingdom (see D&C 88:20–32) (Gospel Principles, 2009, p. 271).
Eighth President George Albert Smith said this judgment will depend on how well a person took advantage of the available opportunities:
Latter-day Saints will be judged according to their opportunities. A knowledge of pre-existence has been given to the Latter-day Saints; a knowledge that we are here because we kept our first estate, and that we have been given the opportunity of gaining eternal life in the presence of our Heavenly Father by keeping our second estate. We will not be judged as our brothers and sisters of the world are judged, but according to the greater opportunities placed in our keeping. We will be among those who have received the word of the Lord, who have heard his sayings, and if we do them it will be to us eternal life; but if we fail, condemnation will result. (CR, October 1906, p. 47.) (The Teachings of George Albert Smith, p. 31).
Marion G. Romney, a member of the First Presidency, gave further explanation:
The Church also accepts the scriptural doctrine that following the resurrection each person—then an immortal soul—will be arraigned before the bar of God’s justice and receive a final judgment based on his performance during his mortal probation, that the verdict will turn on obedience or disobedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel. If these laws and ordinances have been complied with during mortal life, the candidate will be cleansed from the stain of sin by the atoning blood of Jesus Christ and be saved in the celestial kingdom of God, there to enjoy with God eternal life. Those who have not complied with the laws and ordinances of the gospel will receive a lesser reward (“How Men Are Saved,” Ensign (Conference Edition), November 1974, p. 38).
This work must be accomplished in this lifetime. Tenth President Joseph Fielding Smith warned that the temporary mortality we are now experiencing is “the most vital period in our eternal existence” because it
would either give to those who received it the blessing of eternal life, which is the greatest gift of God, and thus qualify them for godhood as sons and daughters of our Eternal Father, or, if they rebelled and refused to comply with the laws and ordinances which were provided for their salvation, it would deny them the great gift and they would be assigned, after the resurrection, to some inferior sphere according to their works (Doctrines of Salvation 1:69).
As far as having an opportunity to move to a better kingdom after the assignment has been made at the judgment, Smith said such a scenario was impossible:
It has been asked if it is possible for one who inherits the telestial glory to advance in time to the celestial glory? The answer to this question is, No! The scriptures are clear on this point (Doctrines of Salvation 2:31).
Twelfth President Spencer W. Kimball agreed on pages 234-235 of his book The Miracle of Forgiveness where he noted,
No progression between kingdoms. After a person has been assigned to his place in the kingdom, either in the telestial, the terrestrial, or the celestial, or to his exaltation, he will never advance from his assigned glory to another glory. That is eternal! That is why we must make our decisions early in life and why it is imperative that such decisions be right. (Also cited in The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p. 50; and Search These Commandments, 1984 ed., pp. 81-82.)
Judgement According to the Bible
There are two resurrections according to the Word of God: a resurrection to life and a resurrection of damnation (John 5:29). For the resurrection to life, it depends on whether or not the person’s sins have been forgiven. The Bible teaches that salvation comes by grace through faith and not by works (Eph. 2:8-9; Titus 3:5-7). Good works are not capable of getting a person to heaven. After all, the Bible teaches that “we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags.” Because we are sinners worthy of eternal death (Rom. 3:23; 6:23), our good works may look good to us while falling short of God’s standards. Jesus said in Matthew 7:21-23,
Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?” Then I will tell them plainly, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!”