Chapters 11-14 of 1st Nephi are often referred to as the Apocalypse of Nephi. 

An apocalypse is a vision given to a prophet in which the veil is parted and some aspect of the Lord’s plan is laid out to the prophet’s view.  In fact, the word “apocalypse” means “opening of the veil.” Such apocalyptic visions are often symbolic in nature and require a heavenly messenger to explain the meaning of the symbols. Apocalyptic visions were given to Enoch, Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, Ezekiel, and perhaps most strikingly to John the Revelator – the great example being the book of Revelation (known to many as the Apocalypse). 

What we commonly call Lehi’s vision of the Tree of Life is an apocalypse, which his son Nephi was privileged to share.

The Two Ways

In the Apocalypse of Nephi, the prophet sees mankind following two ways – one that leads to the Tree of Life and another that leads to destruction. In this lesson we focus on chapters 12-14, in which an angel explains to Nephi the meaning of his vision.

We learn that there are three key dangers on the “broad road” that leads to destruction:

  1. “Behold the fountain of filthy water which thy father saw; yea, even the river of which he spake; and the depths thereof are the depths of hell.” [1]
  2. “The mists of darkness are the temptations of the devil, which blindeth the eyes, and hardeneth the hearts of the children or men, and leadeth them away into broad roads, that they perish and are lost.” [2]
  3. “The large and spacious building … is vain imaginations and the pride of the children of men.” [3]

There is a “great gulf fixed” between the way of the tree of life and the way of destruction, and a great multitude gets lost beyond the gulf. Poignantly, in chapter 12 Nephi foresees the destiny of Lehi’s descendants as they are ultimately lost on those broad roads, drowning in darkness and doomed to fall with the great house of pride.

Then the vision expands in chapter 13 to include the “nations and kingdoms of the Gentiles,” or the peoples of the earth, who are subject to a “great church”:

Behold the formation of a church which is most abominable above all other churches, which slayeth the saints of God, yea, and tortureth them and bindeth them down, and yoketh them with a yoke of iron, and bringeth them down into captivity … and I saw the devil that he was the founder of it. [4]

Behold the gold, and the silver, and the silks, and the scarlets, and the fine-twined linen, and the precious clothing, and the harlots, are the desires of this great and abominable church.  And also for the praise of the world do they destroy the saints of God. [5]

The Great and Abominable Church

This “great church” is symbolized by the “large and spacious building” that Lehi saw hovering above the earth. The Hebrew word Lehi used to describe the building was probably binyan, which means “edifice” or “construction.” In other words, the “great and abominable church” consists of the systems and structures we build to “cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men.” [6]

Dedicated to the accumulation of power and wealth, the “great and abominable church” is any system or combination dedicated to enrich some at the expense of others. You find it in any organization where you find corruption, greed, vanity, and mockery of the sacred. In its worst forms it is a murderous combination engaged in the torture and enslavement of others.

It is primarily interested in merchandise, as John says in Revelation: “The merchandise of gold, and silver, and precious stones, and of pearls, and fine linen, and purple, and silk, and scarlet, and all thyine wood, and all manner vessels of ivory, and all manner vessels of most precious wood, and of brass, and iron, and marble.” [7] Lusting after these fruits, it makes slaves of the souls of men. [8]

Lest we make the mistake of identifying the “great and abominable church” with any particular organization, the angel explains to us: “There are save two churches only; the one is the church of the Lamb of God, and the other is the church of the devil; wherefore, whoso belongeth not to the church of the Lamb of God belongeth to that great church, which is the mother of abominations, whose founder is the devil.” [9]

In other words, there are two great cities – Zion and Babylon – and we decide every day of our lives which to live in.

This means that we cannot and must not identify the “great and abominable church” with one or another specific organization. It is all Babylon, and is found in innumerable organizations. In Nephi’s time, the word “church” did not exist in its modern sense; he probably used the Hebrew word yahad, which meant something like “unity” or “society” or “brotherhood.”

The great and abominable system of things is above all a business devoted to the gratification of human pride; it is actually not so much a particular church as a state of the heart. 

As Professor Stephen Robinson has pointed out, membership in the church of the Lamb of God “is based more on who has your heart than on who has your records.” [10]   Innumerable people of all ages whose names are not found on the records of the Church belong to Christ because of their faith in Him and/or their practice of His principles.  By contrast, some Latter-day Saints seem to belong to the “great and abominable church” because their hearts are “set so much upon the things of this world, and aspire to the honors of men.” [11]

“They have taken away from the gospel of the Lamb”

It was essential to the plan of Satan that the progress of the great and abominable church not be hampered by the gospel of Christ.  As a result, through the devil’s machinations many of the saving truths and covenants were simply removed from the scriptures:

Behold, they have taken away from the gospel of the Lamb many parts which are plain and most precious; and also many covenants of the Lord have they taken away.

  And all this have they done that they might pervert the right ways of the Lord, that they might blind the eyes and harden the hearts of the children of men. [12]

Modern scholars now confirm that the scriptures were tampered with. Professor Margaret Barker argues that early in the Christian era, Jewish authorities removed elements from the sacred writings that pointed to a Savior who would be the Son of God – precisely to weaken the case for Jesus as the Messiah.  She says:

There was no fixed canon of Hebrew Scripture until after the advent of Christianity, and there is good reason to suspect that the familiar Hebrew canon was established in reaction to Christianity. Even the Hebrew text from which the English Bible is translated was fixed at the end of the first century CE and excluded the version(s) which the first Christians (and the Dead Sea community) had used …  This explains what happened to much of the evidence. [13]

Ironically, the later Christian church adopted these altered Hebrew scriptures without realizing it, and the loss of the plain gospel led to centuries of confusion. “Because of these things which are taken away out of the gospel of the Lamb, an exceedingly great many do stumble.” [14]

The Plain and Precious Things Shall Come Forth

Still, Nephi learns, the Lord will not “suffer that the Gentiles shall forever remain in that awful state of blindness.”  The Book of Mormon will ultimately restore what has been lost. The Lord says to Nephi:

I will manifest myself unto thy seed, that they shall write many things which I shall minister unto them, which shall be plain and precious … these things shall be hid up, to come forth unto the Gentiles … And in them shall be written my gospel, saith the Lamb, and my rock and my salvation.” [15]

The Book of Mormon is the Lord’s tool for bringing down “the great and abominable church.”  For “these last records … shall make known to all kindreds, tongues, and people, that the Lamb of God is the Son of the Eternal Father, and the Savior of the world.” [16] In the end, Satan’s plan to cover the truth with a mist of darkness will be foiled by the light that comes from the Book of Mormon.

It will be a long twilight struggle. Given the grip over of the earth of the “great and abominable” system of things, the church of Jesus Christ will never be particularly numerous:

I beheld the church of the Lamb of God, and its numbers were few, because of the wickedness and abominations of the whore who sat upon many waters.

The power of the Lamb of God … descended upon the saints of the church of the Lamb, and upon the covenant people of the Lord, who were scattered upon all the face of the earth; and they were armed with righteousness and with the power of God in great glory.

And when the day cometh that the wrath of God is poured out upon the mother of harlots, which is the great and abominable church of all the earth, whose founder is the devil … the work of the Father shall commence, in preparing the way for the fulfilling of his covenants, which he hath made to his people who are of the house of Israel. [17]

Clearly, that day has come. The wrath of God is now being poured out upon the “great and abominable” system of things. Unceasing war and turmoil – “wars and rumors of wars” – afflict us more and more. But the “work of the Father” has commenced, the restoration of the “plain and precious gospel” has come, and the two ways Lehi saw in his vision are set before each one of us:

For the time cometh, saith the Lamb of God, that I will work a great and a marvelous work among the children of men: a work which shall be everlasting, either on the one hand or on the other – either to the convincing of them unto peace and life eternal, or unto the deliverance of them to the hardness of their hearts and the blindness of their minds unto their being brought down into captivity. [18]

Let us each be very sure where our hearts are – in Zion with the humble followers of Christ or with the proud and arrogant citizens of the “large and spacious building” of Babylon.


[1] 1 Ne. 12:16.

[2] 1 Ne. 12:17.

[3] 1 Ne. 12:18.

[4] 1 Ne. 13:5-6.

[5] 1 Ne. 13:8-9.

[6] D&C 121:37.

[7] Rev. 18:12.

[8] Rev. 8:13.

[9] 1 Ne. 14:10.

[10] Stephen E. Robinson, “Warring Against the Saints of God,” Ensign, Jan. 1988, p. 35.

[11] D&C 121:35.

[12] 1 Ne. 13:26-27.

[13] Margaret Barker, Temple Theology, Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2004. p. 11-12.

[14] 1 Ne. 13:29.

[15] 1 Ne. 13:36.

[16] 1 Ne. 13:40.

[17] 1 Ne. 14:12-17.

[18] 1 Ne. 14:7.