“Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit” (Luke 23:46). Once Jesus said these words he was dead and then was placed into a tomb that was sealed. This makes us wonder what Jesus’s spirit did before his resurrection. This mystery is unknown to all Christian denominations except for the Latter-day Saints. Some have their speculations from little glimpses that the Bible tells us. 1 Peter 3:18-20 says,
18 For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit:
19 By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison;
20 Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.
As Latter-day Saints, we know that Jesus went to the Spirit World (prison). Jesus had taught many people during his Earthly mission His Gospel. He had come and fulfilled the Old Law, and set up the New Law. But what about all those people who had died before Jesus died?
The plan of salvation can also be called the plan of mercy. Jesus’s plan was just and merciful. To completely understand this, we need to understand first something that Jesus taught during his mission here on earth.
The first time Jesus cleansed the temple, Nicodemus came to the Savior to discuss matters of great concern. Nicodemus acknowledged the Master as “a teacher come from God.” Jesus taught him, “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:1–2, 5).
What this means is that Baptism is required. Even Jesus himself, who was perfect, completed the ordinance of Baptism. How can His plan be merciful and just if billions of people have died before hearing the Gospel and was baptized? This is why Jesus went to the Spirit World as Peter mentioned. In order for the Gospel to have mercy and justice, it required that those who died without hearing the gospel in mortality receive the opportunity to hear it in the Spirit World. It also required that those who rejected the gospel in this life receive some opportunity hear it again.
There were both righteous and unrighteous people in the Spirit World. Jesus had gone there to teach them the Gospel, so they could repent and live the way of the Gospel.
6 For for this cause was the gospel preached also to them that are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit. – Peter 4:6
Since there were those that followed the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the Spirit World, what happened to those people? Enoch foresaw the Crucifixion as well as the obedient in the Spirit World come forth in gloried resurrected bodies, and “the remainder [the wicked] were reserved in chains of darkness until the judgment of the great day” (Moses 7:56–57). Those who were obedient wait for the day of the resurrection.
In the Book of Mormon, we are taught by Alma that the obedient were in a “a state of happiness, which is called paradise, a state of rest, a state of peace, where they shall rest from all their troubles and from all care, and sorrow” (Alma 40:12)
We also know that during this short period of time, Jesus did not teach to everyone, but only to the righteous, where he organized them and taught them the gospel, so they could continue to teach the gospel in the Spirit World.
Some might think of this and then wonder, “What about baptism? How can the dead be baptized.” The bible teaches us that they can’t be baptized in the Spirit World. However, the bible also mentions that Baptism for the dead was practiced in the days of Peter and Paul. In teaching the Corinthians about Jesus Christ and the Resurrection of the dead, the Apostle Paul asked, “Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead?” (1 Cor. 15:29).
While the dead can’t baptize themselves, we the living, can do their work for them here on Earth in the Temple as well as other ordinances. This is why Latter-day Saints have Temples and consider them to be very sacred. Baptism for the Dead was eventually lost, as was some other parts of the Gospel, but Joseph Smith restored these ordinances when he restored the full Gospel of Jesus Christ.
The Savior Himself greatly anticipated His visit to the obedient in the spirit world: “The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live” (John 5:25).
I’m sure people not of my faith may have a lot of questions regarding what I just mentioned.
What happens if the deceased person doesn’t want to repent or be baptism? We believe that every person has the right to choose for themselves to accept the work we have done for them. By no means is anyone forced to accept this because that would go against the person’s agency.
There may be other questions you may have, and I’m more than willing to have a discussion with those that are sincere on learning.