Go back to Part 2
The Doctrine of the Risen Christ: Part 3
Robert L. Millet
Abstract: In continuing his study on the doctrines presented in the 3 Nephi, Brother Millet focuses on the question "What is the gospel?" He points out the Book of Mormon carries a more precise definition to gospel than "It is all truth." Once we understand what the gospel is, we may put its principles to work in our lives and to influence others.
Reprinted from FARMS Book of Mormon Lecture Series
We continue our study of the prophets and their messages in the Book of Mormon with a third hour on the ministry and message of Jesus Christ among the Nephites. Up until now we have touched on such subjects as the law of witnesses as contained in the Book of Mormon, especially in 3 Nephi 11, where Christ bears witness of himself, where 2,500 others bear witness of him, where he calls twelve special witnesses of him, where he speaks of the importance of a united witness and that there be no contention among the people, and where the Lord's witness concerning his gospel is, which we will talk about during this period. Another central message in 3 Nephi is what we might call "the call to a higher righteousness," the sermon there at the temple being a call to fulfill or live above the law that had been given anciently to Moses. So, we have the announcement and fulfillment of the law of Moses.
We talked last time about the power of the scriptures and how interesting it is that when the Savior appears, among the things he does is quote scripture. How interesting it is that when heavenly messengers appear, they quote scripture. We discussed, for example, how much of Moroni's message to the young Joseph Smith was scripture, and when the Lord Jesus appeared to the Nephites, he felt the need to quote Isaiah and Malachi and Micah.
Let's pick up today with a discussion of the gospel of Christ. Let's go first to 3 Nephi 11. We'll begin reading at about verse 31. Let me have you consider a question that might guide our study. The question is, What is the gospel? Most of us have been to hundreds of testimony meetings, and we have heard people bear testimony that they know the gospel is true. Think, what is the gospel? What do most people think they are saying when they say, "I know the gospel is true"? What are they thinking? What's going on?
Student answer: Perhaps they are confusing the traditions and culture of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with the actual doctrines of Christ.
Okay, I think I'd agree. When most people say, "I know the gospel is true," they are talking about Mormonism, our way of life, which certainly encompasses the doctrine. I think many people are talking about the Church organization, aren't they? "I know the Church is true"—that is an important witness. This matter of the gospel, or as it is sometimes called, "the doctrine of Christ," is taught repeatedly and very consistently in the Book of Mormon. Notice the words of the Savior, in 3 Nephi 11:31 concerning his doctrine:
Behold, verily, verily, I say unto you, I will declare unto you my doctrine.
And this is my doctrine, and it is the doctrine which the Father hath given unto me; and I bear record of the Father, and the Father beareth record of me, and the Holy Ghost beareth record of the Father and me; and I bear record that the Father commandeth all men, everywhere, to repent and believe in me. [There again is that witness of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.]
And whoso believeth in me, and is baptized, the same shall be saved; and they are they who shall inherit the kingdom of God.
And whoso believeth not in me, and is not baptized, shall be damned.
Verily, verily, I say unto you, that this is my doctrine, and I bear record of it. . . . (3 Nephi 11:31—35)
We find a similar testimony in 2 Nephi 31. Nephi begins that chapter by saying that there are a few more things he wants to talk about. He wants to touch on the doctrine of Christ. It is in that same chapter that Nephi deals with the importance of having faith in the Lord, and repenting, and being baptized and receiving the Holy Ghost, and enduring to the end.
Let me ask you another question. Let's turn to 3 Nephi 27, which is our most complete statement of the gospel, and let me pose another question. What would you say if I said that an answer I get occasionally to the question, What is the gospel? is this answer: The gospel is all truth. Is that true? Does the gospel contain all truth? Well, it sort of does, doesn't it? I mean, if something is true, we would say that this is part of this larger scheme of things we know as the gospel. If that is our definition, then I could pretty much go into a sacrament meeting and speak on about anything, as long as it was true. I think that could mean I could stand up and say, "Today my message is on the laws of motion," or, "Today I want to talk about some chemical formulas," or, "Today I want to talk about insecticides." Now, if what I was saying or preaching or teaching was true, would I be teaching the gospel? Well, that is why the Book of Mormon is a very important book; it draws a very important distinction for us. The Book of Mormon prophets' definition of gospel is not all truth. It is a very prescribed definition. Give me a synonym, then, for gospel.
Student answer: I believe it comes from good news, the good news of Christ, which means we have hope for a better world after this one because of the gospel.
Yes! What's the bad news, if that is the good news?
Student answer: Because we're fallen, if we don't follow Christ, we cannot be saved.
True. The bad news is that there was a fall, and we are in a fallen state and a lost condition, as the Book of Mormon would say. Without the atonement, there is no hope. The good news is Christ, the glad tidings. The Book of Mormon narrows that definition somewhat. In a broad way, we should know all truth, but there are certain truths that are saving. Now, is there redeeming value in me going in to a sacrament meeting or stake conference and preaching on insecticides? Probably not. Would the people be benefited somewhat? Probably not too many souls would be saved that way. Probably not a great deal of conversion would take place.
Let me refer to something that Elder Henry B. Eyring said some years ago. This is in 1984 at a Church Educational System symposium. He gave a very dramatic and powerful message about what he called "the sea of filth into which our young people find themselves traveling." He says:
Now I would like to say this: There are two views of the gospel—both truth. They make a terrific difference in the power of your teaching. One view is that the gospel is all truth. It is. The gospel is truth. With that view I could teach pretty well anything true in a classroom, and I would be teaching the gospel. The other view is that the gospel is the principles, commandments, and ordinances which, if kept, conformed with, and accepted, will lead to eternal life. That is also true.
When I choose which of these views I will let dominate my teaching, I take a great step. If I take the view that the gospel is all truth, rather than that it is the ordinances and principles and commandments which, if kept, conformed with, and accepted, lead to eternal life, I have already nearly taken myself out of the contest to help a student withstand the sea of filth. Why? Because he [the student] needs to have his eyes focused on light, and that means not truth in some abstract sense but the joy of keeping the commandments and conforming with the principles and accepting the ordinances of the gospel of Jesus Christ. If I decide I will not make that my primary vision of the gospel, I am already out of the contest to help my student with his capacity to see good and to want and desire it in the midst of filth.1
Joseph Smith, on one occasion, was asked early in his ministry a series of questions about Mormonism and about Mormon views toward government and marriage. One of the questions he was asked was this: "What are the fundamental principles of your religion?" I have often thought, If I had been there and had been asked that question, what would I answer? You see, that requires a big answer. What are the fundamental principles of our religion? Would we say that we believe in families, in the perpetuation of the family into eternity? Would we talk about a premortal existence? Would we talk about degrees of glory? Would we talk about the word of wisdom? All of those are important parts of our faith. Joseph Smith's answer is very instructive. He said, "The fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it."2 What is an appendage?
Student answer: Extra.
Yes, it's an extra. What did he just say? He just told us that the atonement is the central saving verity. Everything else has to be tied to the atonement, if it is to have any value.
I remember in Elder Packer's April 1977 general conference address on the Mediator—you may remember that wonderful parable that Elder Packer gave—he gave these lines, which tie into Joseph Smith's message:
Know this: Truth, glorious truth, proclaims there is such a Mediator. . . .
Through Him mercy can be fully extended to each of us without offending the eternal law of justice.
This truth is the very root of Christian doctrine. You may know much about the gospel as it branches out from there, but if you only know the branches and those branches do not touch that root, if they have been cut free from that truth, there will be no life nor substance nor redemption in them.3
I think that is telling us, as Joseph Smith did, that the message of the gospel, the glad tidings, the good news, that Jesus came, that an atonement has been offered, that ransom is available, and so forth, is the central truth. Anything else, if it can't be attached, tied, or cemented to that truth, won't have saving value. I think it says something about how we should teach the gospel, about what ought to be the focus of our presentation.
Years ago I heard President Harold B. Lee say that if what we do in this church, what we teach or practice or carry out, cannot somehow be tied to the notion that it brings to pass the immortality and eternal life of men and women, it has no place in this church. Now, in a similar way, if what we are teaching or focusing on can't somehow be tied to the atonement of Christ, the central message, then it probably has no place—or at least it won't—have strength or life of itself.
One other thing before we turn to 3 Nephi 27. I want to read one of the great definitions given in modern revelation, from Doctrine and Covenants 76:40—42. In the middle of the Prophet's vision of the degrees of glory, he said this:
This is the gospel, the glad tidings, which the voice out of the heavens bore record unto us—
That he came into the world, even Jesus, to be crucified for the world, and to bear the sins of the world, and to sanctify the world, and to cleanse it from all unrighteousness;
That through him all might be saved whom the Father had put into his power and made by him.
The gospel is the glad tidings; there is a sense, then, that we can look at the atonement and the gospel this way. Depending on where you go and what scriptures you concentrate on, you get a slightly different twist on what the gospel is. Sections 33 and 39 of the Doctrine and Covenants say the gospel is faith, repentance, baptism, Holy Ghost, and so on. Other places, like section 76, say the gospel is the atonement. Now, what is it? Let's look at the gospel as the gospel covenant—a two-way relationship between us and God. God promises to do certain things for us that we couldn't do for ourselves; we promise to do certain things that we can do. So, there is a sense that the gospel is the atonement, a sense in which the gospel represents those things that link us to the atonement, those things that tie us to the atonement. So, we begin our definition first by saying that, as pertaining to us, the gospel is faith, and repentance, and baptism, and the Holy Ghost, and enduring to the end. We would also add two more: resurrection and eternal judgment. Faith, repentance, baptism, the Holy Ghost—which we call the first principles and ordinances of the gospel—and enduring to the end, resurrection, and eternal judgment. Those constitute the principles of the gospel, our part of this two-way agreement with God.
Let's look at 3 Nephi 27. The second day has ended, as far as I can tell. Beginning with the first couple of verses, the Savior appears once again, to open day three. He shows himself to the people. Let's pick up with verse 2:
And Jesus again showed himself unto them, for they were praying unto the Father in his name; and Jesus came and stood in the midst of them, and said unto them: What will ye that I shall give unto you?
And they said unto him: Lord, we will that thou wouldst tell us the name whereby we shall call this church; for there are disputations among the people concerning this matter. (3 Nephi 27:2—3)
Why would there even be a question? Have you thought about this? Before this, they had named the church "the Church of God" or "the Church of Christ." It had been named "the Church of Christ" before this. Why this question? I don't know the answer, but can I speculate for a second, if that's legal? I have wondered if perhaps the Lord's coming and beginning a new dispensation, as it were, has ended the Mosaic dispensation and has initiated the Messianic dispensation. Remember what has happened up to now? Christ has actually ordained and rebaptized faithful holders of the priesthood. They have already been ordained; he ordains them again. They have been baptized; he baptizes them again. They start anew, you could say. I wonder if, with that as a backdrop, perhaps the people are wondering, "Is there something new that this church should be called?" I suppose you and I, as we move closer to the Millennium, might even ask the same thing: Is there something the Church is going to be called during the thousand years? Will it be "the Church of Jesus Christ of Millennial Saints"? I don't know. But maybe we would wonder the same kind of thing. Perhaps that is the backdrop for the query, "What do you want us to call the church?"
And the Lord said unto them: Verily, verily, I say unto you, why is it that the people should murmur and dispute because of this thing?
Have they not read the scriptures, which say ye must take upon you the name of Christ, which is my name? For by this name shall ye be called at the last day;
And whoso taketh upon him my name, and endureth to the end, the same shall be saved at the last day.
Therefore, whatsoever ye shall do, ye shall do it in my name; therefore ye shall call the church in my name; and ye shall call upon the Father in my name that he will bless the church for my sake. (3 Nephi 27:4—7)
There is something terribly significant about the name of Christ. I wish I knew all that was going on here. But do you notice the number of times in scripture it says, "Do this in the name . . ."? Consider that among the earliest things communicated from heaven to earth was a message from an angel to Adam. What did he say? "Thou shalt do all that thou doest in the name of the Son, and thou shalt repent and call upon God in the name of the Son forevermore" (Moses 5:8). So, there is this emphasis on the name. You see the Savior trying to answer the question and saying, "What is it you are to do? You are to do things in my name. So, if you are going to name this church, what are you going to name it?"
The next verse tells us: "And how be it my church save it be called in my name? For if a church be called in Moses' name then it be Moses' church; or if it be called in the name of a man then it be the church of a man . . ." (3 Nephi 27:8). At this point we could stop and interrupt ourselves and say that all a church needs to be Christ's church is to have his name. But you and I know there is more to it than that, and he's not going to let us get off with just calling it after him. There is something else it must have. He says, "But if it be called in my name then it is my church, if it so be that they are built upon my gospel" (3 Nephi 27:8). It must be built upon his gospel. Notice how we are leading into a definition of the gospel. We first ask, What's the name of the church? And then we say that it must be named after Christ, and it must be built upon his gospel. All right.
Let's pick up with verses 9 and 10:
Verily I say unto you, that ye are built upon my gospel; therefore ye shall call whatsoever things ye do call, in my name; therefore if ye call upon the Father, for the church, if it be in my name the Father will hear you;
And if it so be that the church is built upon my gospel then will the Father show forth his own works in it.
Think about that. If it is Christ's church, if it is named after him, and if it is built upon his gospel, it will evidence that it is the work of the Father. How? The works of the Father will be shown forth. What are the works of the Father? I fear that sometimes we are so eager and busy in doing our works that we forget that the Father has work he wants to do, and there is work he can do through us if we will let him.
It has occurred to me that perhaps the most effective way to get people to do their duty in the Church is not to brow-beat them into guilt. Maybe the way is not to entice them through reward. Maybe the best way to get people to do their duty in the Church is to teach the gospel more effectively, to get the Spirit of the Lord into the people's lives, and then to let that Spirit work changes upon the hearts of the people. When people begin to get the Holy Ghost within them, there comes forth from them what the Apostle Paul called "the fruit of the Spirit"—patience, love, long-suffering, gentleness, and meekness. You don't engender those. You don't say, "Brothers and sisters, go out and work on your meekness," or, "Let's go generate some charity." No, you get the Holy Ghost in them, and then those things come forth. Do you see what I am saying? When people are built upon the Lord's gospel, when they devote themselves to that cause, the works of the Father begin to come forth. That is to say, righteous works flow forth from changed hearts. Understand? I think that is what President Benson was trying so seriously to do with us. It was to cleanse the inner vessel.
Verse 11 reads: "But if it be not built upon my gospel, and is built upon the works of men, or upon the works of the devil, verily I say unto you they have joy in their works for a season, and by and by the end cometh, and they are hewn down and cast into the fire, from whence there is no return." This is an interesting point. There are people out there, and you know them, who can do good. There are people in the world who sometimes do more good than we do. But it isn't just a matter of doing good. It is a matter of having our foundation be the saving ordinances and the true doctrines and principles of the gospel. When that is our foundation, then ethical behavior follows.
This says something about what constitutes the gospel and what doesn't. You may know that we get our share of criticism from those outside the Church who want to know why we spend so much money on temples. Why don't we devote that to the care of the poor? they ask. Why aren't we more charitable? Why aren't we more eager to get out in society and make a difference? Why aren't we advocates of the "social gospel"? Well, there is only one big reason: The most significant thing we can do is preach the gospel and get the gospel into the hearts of people. As President Benson said, let the change come from the inside out. The world would want to go from the outside in, but the Lord changes things from the inside out. The world would want to mold and shape human behavior; Christ changes human nature.4 The only lasting change that can come to this world will be through the gospel.
The works of the devil, I suppose, are obvious. That would be any forms of wickedness or whatever sidetracks that would cause us to forget things that matter. The works of man are more subtle. The works of man might consist of those things that I would devote myself to that are secondary causes, in a sense. Discernment is what we are talking about here—not just the ability to tell right from wrong, but the discerning power to know things that matter from things that matter much less. It would be a tragedy, indeed, to spend our lives laboring in secondary causes. We need to go out and serve. We need to help and assist and lift our brothers and sisters in society, but we can do that ever so much more effectively when motivated and empowered by the gospel.
Verse 13 begins our definition: "Behold I have given unto you my gospel, and this is the gospel which I have given unto you—[notice the definition now] that I came into the world to do the will of my Father, because my Father sent me. And my Father sent me that I might be lifted up upon the cross" (3 Nephi 27:13—14). I want to talk about that for a second. Have you ever noticed the difference in our view of the atoning sacrifice and that of the Protestant or Catholic world? Ask a friend of yours who is not a member of our faith where the atonement took place. From their perspective, the answer would be, "On the cross." Ask most Mormons where the atonement took place, and most Mormons would say, "In Gethsemane." The fact of the matter is that both the answers are correct. What began in Gethsemane was consummated on the cross. The atoning sacrifice by our Savior might have begun to take place in the Garden, but it was consummated on Golgatha. He didn't say that he came into the world just to go into the Garden. He says, interestingly, that he came into the world to be lifted upon the cross. He specifically says, "My Father sent me that I might be lifted upon the cross" (3 Nephi 27:14). When our Lord and Savior went into Gethsemane to pray, he began to feel the weight and burden of the sins of mankind. He began to have the Father's Spirit withdrawn from him. He began to know the awful agony of an atoning sacrifice. How long he experienced that, I don't think we know. But we do know this: The next day on the cross, after ministering for sometime, the Father's Spirit began to be withdrawn again, and as Elder Talmage suggests, all the agonies of the night before returned.
So, verse 14 says:
And after that I had been lifted up upon the cross, that I might draw all men unto me, that as I have been lifted up by men even so should men be lifted up by the Father, to stand before me, to be judged of their works, whether they be good or whether they be evil . . .
And for this cause have I been lifted up; therefore, according to the power of the Father I will draw all men unto me, that they may be judged according to their works. (3 Nephi 27:14—15)
Now we get introduced to enduring and judging. We start reading in verse 16: "And it shall come to pass, that whoso repenteth and is baptized in my name shall be filled; and if he endureth to the end, behold, him will I hold guiltless before my Father at that day when I shall stand to judge the world." There's a very interesting idea here. Notice, we are getting most of the principles now in one or two verses. Notice that the faith, repentance, baptism, Holy Ghost, and the enduring and judging are all in one area here. But notice, if you are baptized, you are filled with the Holy Ghost.
But it stipulates, if he endures to the end. I am afraid that enduring to the end has, for most of us, a negative connotation. We imagine kind of a hold on, white-knuckled, to the rod of iron and grit your teeth and maybe we can make it to the celestial kingdom. There must be more to it than that. Enduring to the end, in my mind, entails staying on course, staying on the path, staying in covenant. And notice what follows: If he endures to the end, "him will I hold guiltless before my Father." Does that mean the person will never have sinned? No, they are held guiltless because they have kept their part of the covenant as best they can. Enduring to the end means, in that two-way relationship, I am trying to stay in covenant and keep my covenants as best I can, and if I endure faithfully to the end for the rest of my days, the Lord will treat me as though I were guiltless. Isn't that the same thing he is saying in the Doctrine and Covenants, speaking of those who serve faithfully as missionaries? The Lord will not hold sin against you if you serve faithfully. He says, in that most famous section of them all, section 4: "Therefore, O ye that embark in the service of God, see that ye serve him with all your heart, might, mind, and strength, that ye may stand blameless before God at the last day" (v. 2). Blameless because we never sinned? No. Blameless because we never made mistakes? No. But blameless because we gave our whole soul to the cause of truth. Because we stayed on course, because we stayed on covenant, because we endured, the Lord holds us blameless.
Back to 3 Nephi 27:19—21. To put things in summary fashion, notice what the Lord does in these verses:
And no unclean thing can enter into his kingdom; therefore nothing entereth into his rest save it be those who have washed their garments in my blood, because of their faith, and the repentance of all their sins, and their faithfulness unto the end.
Now this is the commandment: Repent, all ye ends of the earth, and come unto me and be baptized in my name, that ye may be sanctified by the reception of the Holy Ghost, that ye may stand spotless before me at the last day.
See how he pulls it all together? Notice, he mentions faith, repentance, baptism, Holy Ghost, enduring. Now, if we went through the entire chapter, we would add the others, resurrection and eternal judgment. The Prophet Joseph Smith said, "The Doctrines of the Resurrection of the Dead and the Eternal Judgment are necessary to preach among the first principles of the Gospel of Jesus Christ."5 Faith, repentance, baptism, Holy Ghost, enduring to the end, resurrection, and judgment.
Let's go over to 3 Nephi 27:26: "And behold, all things are written by the Father; therefore out of the books which shall be written shall the world be judged." The next verse may be one of the most quoted and cited passages in all the Book of Mormon, but I want you to notice the context for it. We often quote it and quote it out of context. That is okay; even out of context it is great. But notice the context for this passage: "And know ye that ye shall be judges of this people, according to the judgment which I shall give unto you, which shall be just. Therefore, what manner of men ought ye to be? Verily I say unto you, even as I am" (3 Nephi 27:27). The context for that is how we render judgments, how we judge. Is this not the same thing we would find in the Joseph Smith Translation of Matthew 7? What is the command? "Judge not unrighteously," the Savior said, "but judge righteous judgment." We are going to make ten thousand judgments. It isn't that we won't judge; it's that we must judge righteously.
So, that pretty much gives us our definition for the gospel. Let me comment on something. We won't need to take long on this, but let's look at chapter 28 and notice, in this chapter, the call of the Three Nephites and their ministry as opposed to the other nine Nephite apostles. This chapter makes much more sense when we read it in conjunction with other passages of scripture and prophets' messages, first with the 21st chapter of John in the New Testament, with the seventh section of the Doctrine and Covenants, and with a couple of statements that I will refer to from Joseph Smith's teachings. Notice what happens. We could say that another message of the Savior—and I don't know if we could call it a central message, but it's a very interesting message—is the ministry and mission of translated beings.
The Twelve were essentially asked, "What do you want before I leave?" Nine of them basically wanted the same thing Peter wanted—to go quickly into God's kingdom. I don't know all that that entails. Maybe it meant they wanted to hurry and rush into a resurrected glory and not to deal with the spirit world experience. But they wanted to go into his kingdom. The other three were a little nervous about their desire. Look at 3 Nephi 28:5—8:
And they sorrowed in their hearts, for they durst not speak unto him the thing which they desired.
And he said unto them: Behold, I know your thoughts, and ye have desired the thing which John, my beloved, who was with me in my ministry, before that I was lifted up by the Jews, desired of me.
Therefore, more blessed are ye, for ye shall never taste of death; but ye shall live to behold all the doings of the Father unto the children of men, even until all things shall be fulfilled according to the will of the Father, when I shall come in my glory with the powers of heaven.
And ye shall never endure the pains of death; but when I shall come in my glory ye shall be changed in the twinkling of an eye from mortality to immortality; and then shall ye be blessed in the kingdom of my Father.
And so, in a sense, the Three Nephites, like John, wanted to live on. They wanted their ministry to continue, and they were allowed that privilege. We would say they were translated. The description given in verse 8 and elsewhere in this chapter is that they don't seem to be subject to the pulls of a fallen world. In addition, we know they will continue in this condition until the Savior returns, at which time, they will be changed in the twinkling of an eye from their mortal state to an immortal state. Now they are in kind of a supercharged mortal state, but they are mortal still. We are not immortal until we go through the experience of death. Even they will go through the experience of death, but it will be instantaneous. They live, according to what the Prophet Joseph Smith taught, in a higher spiritual standing.
Let me read to you from The Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith: "Now the doctrine of translation is a power which belongs to this Priesthood. . . . Many have supposed that the doctrine of translation was a doctrine whereby men were taken immediately into the presence of God, and into an eternal fullness, but his is a mistaken idea. Their place of habitation is that of the terrestrial order. . . ."6 They have been moved from a telestial condition, which we are in, to a terrestrial. To what would you liken their state? What do you think of when you think of a terrestrial order?
Student answer: Eden.
Yes, or the Millennium. The Three Nephites are in sort of an Eden paradisiacal condition. The Prophet goes on: "Their place of habitation is that of the terrestrial order, and a place prepared for characters He held in reserve to be ministering angels unto many planets [I wish I knew what that meant], and who as yet have not entered into so great a fullness."7 Later, the Prophet just simply said this: "Translated bodies cannot enter into rest until they have undergone a change equivalent to death. Translated bodies are designed for future missions."8
So, these three apostles are allowed the privilege to live on. They will remain in that condition, as we have said, until the Savior returns. What do they do? Look at 3 Nephi 28:27—30:
And behold they will be among the Gentiles, and the Gentiles shall know them not.
They will also be among the Jews, and the Jews shall know them not.
And it shall come to pass, when the Lord seeth fit in his wisdom that they shall minister unto all the scattered tribes of Israel, and unto all nations, kindred, tongues and people, and shall bring out of them unto Jesus many souls, that their desire may be fulfilled, and also because of the convincing power of God which is in them.
And they are as the angels of God, and if they shall pray unto the Father in the name of Jesus they can show themselves unto whatsoever man it seemeth them good.
It appears that their mission is missionary related. Their job is to proclaim the gospel, to build up the kingdom, until the Lord returns. Again, we would learn more about this as we read in Doctrine and Covenants 7 about what was given to John as a mission, because their mission is similar.
Let's find the next message from the Savior. Go back to 3 Nephi 21. The first eleven verses of this chapter are remarkably important in setting forth the place and importance of the restoration of the gospel. I would like to have you look carefully at verses 1 through 7. I want you to find the first place where you find a period, that is, where we end our thought. From the beginning of chapter 21, start looking for a period. It is at the end of verse 7! I don't want to make a theological point out of a dot of ink here, but maybe that's a wise move. This thought goes from verse 1 to verse 7. It is a long thought, but we will express it simply. It is as follows: The Book of Mormon is one of the signs of the times. If we were listing the hundreds of signs of the times, things to look for before the Savior comes, the coming forth of the Book of Mormon is one of those signs. Now, Let's say it another way: We can know that the work of the Father here, meaning the gathering of Israel, is well under way when we see the Book of Mormon come forth.
We could find that same language taught elsewhere. Hold your place and go over to 3 Nephi 29:1:
And now behold, I say unto you that when the Lord shall see fit, in his wisdom, that these sayings shall come unto the Gentiles according to his word, then ye may know that the covenant which the Father hath made with the children of Israel, concerning their restoration to the lands of their inheritance, is already beginning to be fulfilled.
This is a very interesting thing. We just touched briefly—and we will touch on it a little more in a minute—this concept of Israel, the destiny of Israel, and the place of the Book of Mormon in that. Can you see the power of the Book of Mormon in the gathering of Israel? First, it defines the process. It tells us what it takes to be gathered. We gather first to Christ, and then we gather to the lands of our inheritance or to the congregations of the faithful. So, it defines the process, but, second, it is also supposed to be the vehicle for accomplishing the process. The Book of Mormon is to be central to the gathering of Israel.
Let's go back to 3 Nephi 21:8: "And when that day shall come, it shall come to pass that kings shall shut their mouths; for that which had not been told them shall they see; and that which they had not heard shall they consider." What does the phrase shut their mouths imply? I don't think it means "to go silent."
Student answer: Astonished.
Yes, astonished, overwhelming. It's unbelievable. Why? Look What's coming. Go ahead with verse 9: "For in that day, for my sake shall the Father work a work, which shall be a great and a marvelous work among them; and there shall be among them those who will not believe it, although a man shall declare it unto them." So, the work of the Father, the work of the restoration, will be just unbelievable, and people won't believe it until it is explained to them.
In verse 10 we get specific about the person who will lead this restoration: "But behold, the life of my servant shall be in my hand; therefore they shall not hurt him, although he shall be marred because of them . . . ," speaking undoubtedly of Joseph Smith. They shall not hurt him, although he will be marred. What comes to mind? Well, they put him to death. They tarred and feathered him and beat him, but it didn't stop the work from progressing. One of the local papers at the time of the martyrdom described it with these words: "Thus ends Mormonism."9 Well, not quite. ". . . Although he shall be marred because of them. Yet I will heal him, for I will show unto them that my wisdom is greater than the cunning of the devil. Therefore it shall come to pass that whosoever will not believe in my words, who am Jesus Christ, which the Father shall cause him to bring forth unto the Gentiles, and shall give unto him power that he shall bring them forth unto the Gentiles, (it shall be done even as Moses said) they shall be cut off from among my people who are of the covenant" (3 Nephi 21:10—11).
Verse 11 is a very important verse. Let me suggest why. We won't take the time, but if we took the time, we could go back and read in the 18th chapter of Deuteronomy and later in the New Testament in Acts (where Peter offered commentary upon that) the prophecy made by Moses that the Lord would raise up a prophet who would be great like unto Moses. That was the prophecy concerning Jesus, the coming of Christ. Peter added the detail in Acts that those who don't give heed to the words of that prophet will be cut off from among the people. Notice what the Savior just did. He took that same principle, that same doctrine, or idea, and applied it to the works and words of the Prophet Joseph Smith. Those who don't give heed to him and to his words—and by extension, to those of his successors—will be cut off from among the people of the covenant.
Now, what comes to mind? This is what came to my mind. See if this sounds familiar: "The arm of the Lord shall be revealed; and the day cometh that they who will not hear the voice of the Lord, neither the voice of his servants, neither give heed to the words of the prophets and apostles, shall be cut off from among the people" (D&C 1:14). What we are saying is that the work set in motion by Joseph Smith, the work of the Father, the work of restoration, the marvelous work and a wonder, or as it might be rendered more directly, the miraculous miracle—that work is a matter of life and death. It is a matter of salvation. Salvation itself is at stake. It isn't just a matter of another religious way of life. It is life. And the Lord takes that principle that he used in Deuteronomy 18 and applies it to Joseph Smith and his words, and he says the world is on trial here.
That's another great message. Let's go to 3 Nephi 10, and then we'll go to chapter 16. Let's make this our final message: the destiny of the house of Israel. Where are we in our story? The destruction has taken place, it is a gloomy setting, and the voice of the Lord is heard. Let's pick up with verse 3:
And it came to pass that there came a voice again unto the people, and all the people did hear, and did witness of it, saying:
O ye people of these great cities which have fallen, who are descendants of Jacob, yea, who are of the house of Israel, how oft have I gathered you as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and have nourished you.
And again, how oft would I have gathered you as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, yea, O ye people of the house of Israel, who have fallen; yea, O ye people of the house of Israel, ye that dwell at Jerusalem, as ye that have fallen; yea, how oft would I have gathered you as a hen gathereth her chickens, and ye would not.
O ye house of Israel whom I have spared, how oft will I gather you as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, if ye will repent and return unto me with full purpose of heart.
But if not, O house of Israel, the places of your dwellings shall become desolate until the time of the fulfilling of the covenant to your fathers. (3 Nephi 10:3—7)
You gain a feel, from those verses, of God's eagerness to gather his people to him, and as we have said, the gathering is much less a geographical phenomenon than it is a spiritual one. We gather to Christ, to the true points of his doctrine. We gather to his gospel. We gather to his church. We gather secondarily to places. The gathering is not to a place; it is to a person.
In chapter 16 there is a warning. It is a sobering warning to the people of latter-day Israel. First of all, before that warning, Christ talks about the lost tribes of Israel. Nephi spoke about the lost tribes in his day. He said they were lost as pertaining to people's knowledge of them, and you will hear, or have heard, many interesting and diverse interpretations as to where they are. You will hear people say, "Well, if we knew where they were, they wouldn't be lost." Well, we don't know exactly—except we know this much: Keep in mind that to the president of the Church are given certain keys and powers. It doesn't make much sense to give to Joseph Smith, and then to continue to pass down to our own day, to our own prophet, seer, and revelator, the keys of the gathering of Israel, including the restoration of the ten tribes, if you can't use them. Let me just read to you a thought or two that I had on this.
In 721 B.C. the ten northern tribes of Israel were taken captive into Assyria. From there they were led into the lands of the north and were thereafter lost from the annals of history. They have thus come to be known as the lost ten tribes. Much discussion and extended speculation have taken place as to their whereabouts and the manner in which they will return and be gathered home to the lands of their inheritance. It is common for Latter-day Saints, for example, to cite numerous legends or reminiscences of persons who supposedly heard Joseph Smith state that these Israelites are in the center of the earth, on a knob attached to the earth, on the North Star, or on another planet. . . . [But to those who argue that the ten tribes are presently together in one large body somewhere else, I ask them to consider the following:]
1. It is an established doctrine of the Church, one easily sustained by each of the standard works, that there was a universal apostasy after the mortal ministry of Christ. That such an apostasy embraced the ten tribes is evident in the Allegory of Zenos (see Jacob 5:29—29). [Remember, there came a time when all the branches of all the trees were corrupt.]
2. It is an equally well-established doctrine that in the last days there would be a universal restoration of the gospel. That is, the gospel restored to the earth through the Prophet Joseph Smith is the gospel that is destined to go to those of every nation, kindred, tongue, and people. There is no justification to suppose that every nation, kindred, tongue, and people does not include the ten tribes. Indeed, if the ten tribes were together in a body in 1830 with their prophets, why the necessity of a Joseph Smith and the return of a host of ancient prophets with their keys and authority to him? Surely if all these things were already on the earth the Lord wouldn't ignore them and start from scratch with some other people.
3. The keys of the gathering of Israel and the leading of the ten tribes from the land of the north—a phrase that seems to mean, more generally, from their scattered condition (see Zechariah 2:6)—were given to the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Keys are the right of presidency, the directing power. They imply responsibility. How could the prophet claim to preside over a people and an event unknown to him? This would be akin to calling a man to preside over some foreign mission but (a) refusing to tell him where the mission was located or (b) [not] allowing him any contact with the people. According to the analogy, all he would be afforded would be an invitation to the mission reunion. Truly, "It shall not be given to any one to go forth to preach my gospel, or to build up my church, except he be ordained by some one who has authority, and it is known to the church that he has authority and has been regularly ordained by the heads of the church" (D&C 42:11).10
So, the process of the gathering of Israel is the process of bringing people into the faith through conversion, the process of bringing people to baptism, bringing them into the kingdom of God. Chapters 16, 20, and 21 of 3 Nephi contain this detail. Chapter 16 also contains a warning, a sobering warning, especially for the United States of America and the Saints. If we are not careful, we may lose some great blessings. There will come a time—we call it the fulness of the Gentiles—when the Lord will turn, on a preferential basis, the blessings of the gospel to those we know as the Jews. And why will it happen? Because, as it said in 3 Nephi 16:10, the Gentiles will sin against that gospel.
I just want to close by having us go to 3 Nephi 20:24—26, if we could:
Verily I say unto you, yea, and all the prophets from Samuel and those that follow after, as many as have spoken, have testified of me.
And behold, ye are the children of the prophets; and ye are of the house of Israel; and ye are of the covenant which the Father made with your fathers, saying unto Abraham: And in thy seed shall all the kindreds of the earth be blessed.
[Now, notice this unusual but powerful promise to Israel:] The Father having raised me up unto you first, and sent me to bless you in turning away every one of you from his iniquities; and this because ye are the children of the covenant.
There is power in the covenant, power to secure families everlastingly.
In closing I want to share some thoughts from President Benson and from President Hunter. "That man or woman is most truly successful," said President Benson, "whose life most closely parallels that of the Master."11This has nothing to do with earthly wealth, power, or prestige. The only true test of greatness, blessedness, joyfulness is how close a life can become to being like the Master, Jesus Christ. And President Hunter said: "The great standard! The only sure way! The light and the life of the world! How grateful we should be that God sent his Only Begotten Son to earth. . . . Let us follow the Son of God. . . . We must know Christ better than we know him; we must remember him more often than we remember him; we must serve him more valiantly than we serve him. Then we will drink water springing up unto eternal life and will eat the bread of life."12
The Book of Mormon provides for us an unusual and unique privilege, to come to know Christ in ways that we could know him in no other way. That we will accept and rejoice in the testimony of Jesus and his gospel contained in the Book of Mormon is my prayer, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
1. Henry B. Eyring, CES Symposium (August 1984).
2. Joseph Fielding Smith, comp., The Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1976), 121.
3. Boyd K. Packer, "The Mediator," Ensign (May 1977): 56.
4. Ezra Taft Benson, The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1988), 79.
5. Ibid., 149.
6. Ibid., 170.
7. Ibid., 170—1.
8. Ibid., 190.
9. Weekly Herald (New York, 12 July 1844).
10. Joseph Fielding McConkie, Robert L. Millet, and Brent L. Top, Doctrinal Commentary on the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1992), 4:104, 107.
11. Ezra Taft Benson, Come Unto Christ (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1983), 47.
12. Howard W. Hunter, That We Might Have Joy (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1994), 4—5.