Cover image via Gospel Media Library.
In Helaman 14:2, Samuel the Lamanite prophesied, “Five years more cometh … then cometh the Son of God.” Giving the people a prophecy with a timetable is something prophets rarely do, and it appears that the faithful saints were keeping track and of time and watching for the Savior’s birth. In 3 Nephi 8:3, “the people began to look with great earnestness” for the prophesied three days of darkness over the face of the land, which would accompany the Savior’s death. These verses imply that Samuel had also given a timetable for the death of the Savior, because after mentioning that “the thirty and third year had passed away” (3 Nephi 8:2), the people believed that the promised sign was imminent.
3 Nephi 8:5 notes that the “thirty and fourth year … first month … fourth day” was the date of a great storm, a sign of the great upheaval accompanying the Savior’s death. Daniel H. Ludlow has written:
The New Testament account of the crucifixion of Christ would seem to indicate that the Savior was crucified the very week he became thirty-three years of age. The Book of Mormon not only substantiates this account, but also provides us with an exact date of the crucifixion. According to the Nephite calendar system, the Savior was crucified “in the thirty and fourth year, in the first month, on the fourth day of the month.” (3 Nephi 8:5.) Although we are not certain when the first month of the Nephite calendar would occur, if the Nephites were using the same calendar system as the Hebrews, the first month would be in the spring of the year sometime between about the middle of March and the middle of April. (Daniel H. Ludlow, A Companion to Your Study of the Book of Mormon, 258.)
It is significant that the historian Mormon is attempting to be very careful about assigning dates. In 3 Nephi 8:1 he verifies that “we know our record to be true,” because it was kept by a “just man” who could perform miracles. Apparently, this is Mormon’s only source, because the government has dissolved into tribes, and no national records have been kept. As a historian, he wants to make sure his record is accurate. If someone were fabricating the record, why would they invent such a meticulous detail? If a person were making up this history, he could insert any dates he wanted. This is another significant internal evidence of the authenticity of the Book of Mormon. In 3 Nephi 8:4, Mormon mentions that the people were beset with “great doubtings and disputations,” despite the “many signs” they had been given. As the great storm approaches, perhaps the Lord is saying, “Try to ignore this sign!” We hear in verses 8-10 the words – “storm … tempest … thunder … lightnings.”
It is as if the Lord is preaching through the instrument of nature. In a prophecy regarding the Savior’s Second Coming, Doctrine and Covenants 88:88-90 reads:
And after your testimony cometh wrath and indignation upon the people. For after your testimony cometh the testimony of earthquakes, that shall cause groanings in the midst of her, and men shall fall upon the ground and shall not be able to stand. And also cometh the testimony of the voice of thunderings, and the voice of lightnings, and the voice of tempests, and the voice of the waves of the sea heaving themselves beyond their bounds.
It is most interesting to note that the exact reverse is true for those who are righteous and “received the prophets and stoned them not.” They were not “buried up in the earth,” “not drowned in the depths of the sea . . , not burned by fire,” and “not carried away in the whirlwind” (3 Nephi 10:12-13).
In the cosmology of the ancients, the four elements of creation are Earth, Water, Fire, and Air.
Notice what happens to the various cities that were destroyed – some were covered by earth, some were burned with fire, some sunk into the depths of the sea, and some were carried away in the whirlwind.
Josephus, in his Antiquities of the Jews, tied four aspects of the temple veils to these four elements. They were made of linen which signifies the earth, because flax grows out of the earth; and dyed purple, which signified the sea, the color of the blood of a sea shell fish; blue signified the air; and red is the color of fire. He also tied these colors and elements to the vestments of the High Priest. Jesus, as the ultimate High priest, is able to use these elements either for creation or for destruction.
In fact, these verses may be said to describe the un-creation of the world. As the Creator of all life suffers on the cross, the earth mourns. In 3 Nephi 10:14, Jesus names the men whose prophecies are vindicated by these destructions. The prophet Zenos predicted that “because of the groanings of the earth,” many would be prompted to exclaim, “The God of nature suffers” (1 Nephi 19:12).
Nephi records these events in symbolic language that reflects his own understanding and culture as he makes allusions to biblical prophecy. He does not describe earthquakes in terms of the Richter scale, but in terms of scriptural language. He describes the whole earth shaking “as if it were to divide asunder,” much as Psalm 82:5 describes such phenomena with the words, “all the foundations of the earth are out of course.”
Light and Darkness
After about three hours of such activity, “behold, there was darkness upon the face of the land,” even “thick darkness,” and those that remained could “feel the vapor of darkness” (3 Nephi 8:19-20). And yet, Jesus Christ declared himself to be the “light of the world.” Samuel the Lamanite had asked the people of Zarahemla, why they allowed themselves to be led by “blind guides” – “How long will ye choose darkness rather than light?” (Helaman 13:29)
Throughout the scriptures we find the contrasting metaphors of light and darkness, especially in the signs of Christ’s birth and death.
During the creation God separated the light from the darkness (Gen. 1:3‑4).
When the Israelites were fleeing from the Egyptians are crossing the Red Sea we are told that a cloud came between the two camps, “and it was a cloud of darkness to them, but it gave light by night to [the Israelites]” (Ex. 14:20).
The prophet Isaiah prophesied the effect that the ministry of Christ would have by saying, “the people which sat in darkness saw great light; and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up” (Isaiah 9:2).
Luke records part of the Sermon on the Mount which says, “The light of the body is the eye; therefore when thine eye is single, thy whole body also is full of light; but when thine eye is evil, thy body also is full of darkness” (Luke 11:34).
When the Savior was speaking with Nicodemus he said, “This is the condemnation, that light came into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19).
“How long will ye choose darkness rather than light?” What better way to describe the deeds of the majority of people who lived on the Americas whose society has disintegrated.
President Ezra Taft Benson made a statement that I think is appropriate here:
In the Book of Mormon we find a pattern for preparing for the Second Coming. A major portion of the book centers on the few decades just prior to Christ’s coming to America. By careful study of that time period, we can determine why some were destroyed in the terrible judgments that preceded His coming and what brought others to stand at the temple in the land of Bountiful and thrust their hands into the wounds of His hands and feet. (Ensign, May 1989)
So, why was it that God chose to destroy the people now and not during the other periods we’ve talked about when wickedness seemed to be ruling? 3 Nephi 9:5, 7, 8, 9, 11. These people had killed those who were righteous – “the prophets and the saints.”In verse 2 of this same chapter we read, “Wo, wo, wo” unto this people. This is one of only three times in all of scripture where we find a triple “Wo”! (See also 2 Nephi 28:15 and D&C 38:6) Mormon is emphasizing a point here. Notice what Samuel had said to residents of Zarahemla in Helaman 13:12‑14 – “when ye shall cast out the righteous from among you, then shall ye be ripe for destruction.” 3 Nephi 9:3 confirms that “that great city Zarahemla have I burned with fire.” In 3 Nephi 9:13We learn what it means to be “more righteous” — those that did not kill the prophets. 3 Nephi 10:12verifies that “the more righteous part of the people … were saved, and it was they who received the prophets and stoned them not.” This is another scriptural witness of the fact that God always works through prophets, and he is constantly validating their role. The first words Christ says to the Nephites at the temple after announcing who he is vindicates the prophets! One of the signs that a people has attained a “fulness of iniquity” is slaying the prophets.
The voice that pierces the vapor of darkness begs those who were not destroyed to “return unto me and repent of your sins, and be converted, that I may heal you.” 3 Nephi 9:13-14 He promises all who will come that they will have “eternal life,” repeating the word come three times.
A New Sacrifice
Jesus announces himself as the Son of God, and the Creator of the world. He states that the law of Moses is fulfilled and that the blood sacrifices required by the law of Moses are done away, and would no more be accepted. A new sacrifice is required. 3 Nephi 9:20, “And ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit.”
Elder Neal A. Maxwell wrote:
In today’s society, at the mere mention of the words obedience and submissiveness hackles rise and people re put on nervous alert. . . . People promptly furnish examples from secular history to illustrate how obedience to unwise authority and servility to bad leaders have caused much human misery and suffering. It is difficult, therefore, to get a hearing for what the words obedience and submissiveness really mean—even when the clarifying phrase, “to God,” is attached. [“Not My Will, But Thine” (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1988), p. 1]
What constitutes a broken heart? I used to think that a broken heart is one that is sorrowing for sins. But the Savior says things like, “lift up your head,” “go in peace,” and “be of good cheer.” The Savior declares that he has come that man “might have joy,” and become as he is. A better explanation of the word may be learned from the use of broken in the sense of wild horses being “broken.” In time, the horses learn that fighting the rope is painful for them. Once the rancher can put the rope in his open palm, turn around, walk in the opposite direction and have the horse follow, then the horse is “broken.” A “broken” heart is a submissive heart. When I take the rope of my life and lay it in the palm of my Savior, I have a broken heart. I am now willing to say, “I’ll go where you want me to go.” He doesn’t have to pull or tug on the rope. In fact, he probably doesn’t even need the rope. He says, “Come to me, but when you come, be sure to put the rope in my hand because I want you to be ready. I have some things to teach you and I can’t teach you if you pull against me.”
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland has taught:
Often such an exercise in submission is as lonely as it is wrenching. Sometimes, in those moments when we seem to need the Lord the very most, we are left to obey seemingly unaided. Sometimes it seems especially difficult to submit to “great tribulation” when we look around and see others seemingly much less obedient who triumph even as we weep. But time is measured only unto man, says Alma (see Alma 40:8), and God has a very good memory.
That this human drama has a meaning we may be sure, but most of it we cannot yet see. When it is over we will be told. We are led to expect that the Author will have something to say to each of us on the part that each of us has played. Playing it well, then, is what matters most. To be able to say at the final curtain “I have suffered the will of the Father in all things” is our only avenue to an ovation in the end.
The work of devils and of darkness is never more certain to be defeated than when men and women, not finding it easy or pleasant but still determined to do the Father’s will, look out upon their lives from which it may seem every trace of God has vanished, and asking why they have been so forsaken, still bow their heads and obey. [Paraphrased from C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1961), p. 39] (BYU Speeches, “The Will of the Father”)
Neal A. Maxwell has said, “The submission of one’s will is really the only uniquely personal thing we have to place on God’s altar. The many other things we ‘give’ are actually the things He has already given or loaned to us.” In other words, rather than bringing an animal to the altar of sacrifice, we bring ourselves to the sacrament table, having surrendered our will to God, and having a heart that is submissive to its master.
The Savior tells us more about the way in which we are to come to him. 3 Ne. 9:22 – “whoso repenteth and cometh unto me as a little child, him I will receive, for such is the kingdom of God.” How am I going to come? Like a little child – a Primary child, perhaps a Sunbeam. Little children are teachable, trusting, and believing. They believe in a fat man that rides around the whole world in a flying sleigh and goes down chimneys. They believe it so much that they are disappointed when they find out he is not real.
If I went into a class of Sunbeams and asked, “Who will help me?” how many hands go up? If I go into a Teachers Quorum, and ask, “Who will help me?” what happens? All the heads go down, and they avoid any eye contact. The children think that anything you ask them to do will be fun, because an adult is doing it. The disciples of Christ are like children. They think the gospel is marvelous – that it is wonderful.
Another thing children do very well is imitate. When my daughter was very young, and she saw me reading, she would get a book and sit by me and “read.” When I would paint, she wanted to paint just what I was painting. Jesus says, “You watch me and I’ll show you how to pray.” “You saw how I did that, now go out and pray with your families. You saw the people come to me one by one, now you go and do likewise.”
A little child is also eager to please. They come with love and enthusiasm. If we come as a child, the Lord can work with us.
How Do I Hear Him?
After the first voice, the weeping and wailing die down. The people have been in silence — thinking and pondering. 3 Ne. 10:1-3 Then the voice comes the second time. 3 Ne. 10:4 He says, “There is a reason I want you to come.” Four times he repeats that he wants to gather them “as a hen gathers her chicks.” He says he has gathered them in the past, he would have gathered them, but they would not, he would gather them now, and he will gather them in the future. In 3 Nephi 10:18, why does he use this analogy? Why does a hen gather her chicks? To protect them. To nourish them. Christ says, “I want to protect you, and nourish you.” What is he going to nourish us with? His love. His teachings. If I come as a little child, then this is how he will receive me.
At the end of this chapter, we see a major editorial break, including a preview of what is to come – (“I will show unto you that . . .”), a promise (an account of his [Jesus] ministry shall be given hereafter”), a sign off (“therefore for this time I make an end to my sayings”), and a headnote (“Jesus Christ did show himself unto the people of Nephi”), all within two verses (3 Nephi 10:18-19). (See Grant hardy, Understanding the Book of Mormon, p. 191) In the next chapter we see a major shift in the course of Nephite history when one age ends and another begins as Jesus appears in person to his people.
Mormon begins his account of Christ’s appearance with this headnote:
Jesus Christ did show himself unto the people of Nephi, as the multitude were gathered together in the land Bountiful, and did minister unto them; and on this wise did he show himself unto them.
Mormon is usually a meticulous record keeper, but here he does not specify an exact date when this momentous visit occurred. We know that the destruction took place in the first month of the thirty-fourth year. Here, the scene is also at the temple of Bountiful, but the two scenes could have been separated by several weeks or even months. Mormon notes that the visit occurred “soon after the ascension of Christ into heaven” (4 Nephi 1:1). This could have several meanings—right after Christ’s resurrection, or after his ascension following his forty-day ministry described in Acts 1:1-12.
3 Nephi 11 begins with the people “conversing about this Jesus Christ,” when they heard a “voice as if it came out of heaven,” but they did not understand it, even though “it did pierce them that did hear to the center.” It was “not a harsh voice,” but it caused “their hearts to burn” (v. 3). The voice came again, but still they did not understand it. President Boyd K. Packer describes the reasons why the people had such difficulty:
These delicate, refined spiritual communications are not seen with our eyes nor heard with our ears. And even though it is described as a voice, it is a voice that one feels more than one hears. Once I came to understand this, one verse in the Book of Mormon took on a profound meaning and my testimony of the book increased immeasurably. It had to do with Laman and Lemuel, who rebelled against Nephi. Nephi rebuked them and said, “Ye have seen an angel, and he spake unto you; yea, ye have heard his voice from time to time; and he hath spoken unto you in a still small voice, but ye were past feeling, that ye could not feel his words.” (1 Nephi 17:45.) (Boyd K. Packer, That All May Be Edified, 336)
In verse 5, when the voice came a third time, we are told that “they did . . . open their ears to hear it.” Clearly, it was something they had to do to be open to the communication from God. Amulek said that “I was called many times and I would not hear” (Alma 10:6). Then followed one of the few instances where the voice of the Father is heard, saying, “Behold my Beloved Son.” Note that the Father also spoke at the baptism of Jesus, on the Mount of Transfiguration, and the First Vision.
Christ’s New World Ministry
I love how Elder Jeffrey R. Holland envisions the scene:
Imagine yourselves to be among the people of Nephi living in the land of Bountiful in approximately A.D. 34. Tempests and earthquakes and whirlwinds and storms, quickened and cut by thunder and sharp lightning, have enveloped the entire face of the land.
Some cities—entire cities—have burst into flames as if by spontaneous combustion. Others have disappeared into the sea, never to be seen again. Still others are completely covered over with mounds of soil, and some have been carried away with the wind.
The whole face of the land has been changed, the entire earth around you has been deformed. Then, as you and your neighbors are milling about the temple grounds (a place that has suddenly seemed to many like a very good place to be), you hear a voice and see a man clothed in a white robe descending out of heaven. It is a dazzling display. He seems to emanate the very essence of light and life itself—a splendor in sharp contrast to the three days of death and darkness just witnessed. (BYU Speeches, “The Will of the Father”)
When Christ descends from heaven to visit the Nephites, the first thing he does is introduce himself. We can learn much about people by what they choose to say about themselves when they are introducing themselves.
1. My coming was foretold by the prophets. 3 Nephi 11:10
2. I am the light and the life of the world. 3 Nephi 11:11
3. I have drunk out of the bitter cup. 3 Nephi 11:11
The bitter cup imagery comes from Isaiah 51:17, 22 and 2 Ne 8:22. Isaiah uses words that enable us to picture the effects of this bitter cup when he describes it as the cup of trembling. A friend of mine wanted to understand what Christ went through as he “trembled” in Gethsemane. He poured himself a cup of vinegar and made himself drink it. It caused him to tremble and shake for ten minutes.
The Savior describes his own suffering in Doctrine and Covenants 19:16-18. He relates that this “suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain.” I “would that I might not drink the bitter cup and shrink” conveys the idea that the Savior had to submit his will to that of the Father in fulfilling his redemptive mission. As he drank of the cup, he trembled and suffered, “both body and spirit.” He drank “the dregs of the cup of trembling” in the garden and on the cross, and then he said, “I thirst.” In Psalm 69:20-21, the Savior used the word “heaviness” to describe what he endured in Gethsemane. The last taste on the Savior’s lips before he died was bitterness—he drinks the bitter cup to the end. The act of drinking the bitter cup is one of the things he would have us remember about him. He says, “I’ll take the bitter cup out of your hands and drink it for you. But I’m going to give you another cup.” What cup?The sacrament cup. Remembering this might help the sacrament be more meaningful for you.
4. I have glorified the Father 3 Ne. 11:11
5. I have suffered the will of the Father in all things from the beginning.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland commented:
He speaks and says simply, with a voice that penetrates the very marrow of your bones, “I am Jesus Christ, whom the prophets testified shall come into the world” (3 Nephi 11:10).
There it is—or, more correctly speaking, there he is! He is the focal point and principal figure behind every fireside and devotional and family home evening held by those Nephites for the last six hundred years, and by their Israelite forefathers for thousands of years before that.
Everyone has talked of him and sung of him and dreamed of him and prayed—but here he actually is. This is the day, and yours is the generation. What a moment! But you find you are less inclined to check the film in your camera than you are to check the faith in your heart.
“I am Jesus Christ, whom the prophets testified shall come into the world.” Of all the messages that could come from the scroll of eternity, what has he brought to us? Get a pencil. Where’s my notebook? Turn on every tape recorder in town ….
The Good Shepherd in his newly exalted state, appearing to a most significant segment of his flock, chooses first to speak of his obedience, his deference, his loyalty, and loving submission to his father. In an initial and profound moment of spellbinding wonder, when surely he had the attention of every man, woman, and child as far as the eye could see, his submission to his father is the first and most important thing he wishes us to know about himself.
Frankly, I am a bit haunted by the thought that this is the first and most important thing he may want to know about us when we meet him one day in similar fashion. Did we obey, even if it was painful? Did we submit, even if the cup was bitter indeed? Did we yield to a vision higher and holier than our own, even when we may have seen no vision in it at all?
(BYU Speeches, “The Will of the Father”)
In 3 Nephi 11:14-15, Jesus says to the multitude, “Arise, and come forth unto me, that ye may thrust their hands into my side, and also that ye may feel the prints of the nails in my hands and in my feet.” Here we are shown just how precious each individual is to the Savior of the world. He values each individual, and greets them “one by one.” This is how we come unto him—“one by one.” We are baptized “one by one” – we partake of the sacrament “one by one.” With a multitude numbering 2500 people, if each person spent ten seconds with the Savior, this process would have taken nearly seven hours. They went forth, “one by one,” seeing with their eyes and feeling with their hands the tokens of the crucifixion. Imagine the impact such a personal experience would have on each of these eyewitnesses.
Although the Savior is resurrected, his wounds remain. We might wonder why the tokens of Christ’s resurrection remain on his resurrected body. Perhaps it is so that the prophecy of Zechariah 13:6 could be fulfilled, where Jesus will be asked, “what are these wounds in thine hands?” The Savior will answer, “those with which I was wounded in the house of my friends.”
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland explains:
Jesus has chosen, even in a resurrected, otherwise perfected body, to retain for the benefit of His disciples the wounds in His hands and in His feet and in His side—signs, if you will, that painful things happen even to the pure and the perfect; signs, if you will, that pain in this world is not evidence that God doesn’t love you; signs, if you will, that problems pass and happiness can be ours. Remind others that it is the wounded Christ who is the Captain of our souls, He who yet bears the scars of our forgiveness, the lesions of His love and humility, the torn flesh of obedience and sacrifice. “These wounds are the principal way we are to recognize Him when He comes. He may invite us forward, as He has invited others, to see and to feel those marks. If not before, then surely at that time, we will remember with Isaiah that it was for us that a God was ‘despised and rejected . . . ; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief,’ that ‘he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed’ (Isaiah 53:3, 5).” (“Teaching, Preaching, Healing,” Ensign, January 2003, 42)
3 Nephi 11:17-18 – After they have all gone forth, they shout “Hosanna!” and fall down at his feet and worship him. The word Hosanna is from a Hebrew word that means “Save us now!” The people are asking the Savior to teach them how to be saved. In answer to this request, he immediately begins to teach them the basic principles and ordinances of the gospel. He speaks to Nephi and commands him to come forth. This is the same Nephi that prayed “all that day” for the sign of Jesus’s birth to be given in 2 Nephi 1:12, and he received his answer from “the voice of the Lord.” Now he is meeting the Savior in person.
Christ came to give the people the “new law.” President Harold B. Lee once said,
Christ came not only into the world to make an atonement for the sins of mankind but to set an example before the world of the standard of perfection of God’s law and of obedience to the Father. In his Sermon on the Mount, the Master has given us somewhat of a revelation of his own character, which was perfect, or what might be said to be “an autobiography, every syllable of which he had written down in deeds,” and in so doing has given us a blueprint for our own lives. (Decisions for Successful Living, pp. 55-56)
Jesus teaches them the “new law” from the temple at Bountiful. In 3 Ne. 14:13-14, he teaches the people to “enter ye in at the strait gate” – the word strait meaning “narrow.” He continues, “for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, which leadeth to destruction, and many there be who go in thereat; Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.”
Picture a sliding gate that is very b r o a d. At the sermon at Bountiful, Christ is narrowing the gate. The telestial gate is very BROAD – you can kill, commit adultery, etc. and all you have to do is repent and accept the Savior to gain entrance. Next, the he describes the gate to the terrestrial kingdom, when he says, “You cannot kill.” This gate is much narrower. Then he defines the gate to the celestial kingdom with the words, “You can’t get even angry with each other.” The gate is getting even narrower now. The desires of our hearts must be tamed. This is a lifelong challenge. I love the assurance Doctrine and Covenants 46:9 provides, which says that the “best gifts” are given for the “benefit of those who love me and keep all my commandments, and him that seeketh so to do.” God honors the desires of our hearts if “seek so to do” all that he has commanded.
The new law makes the gate narrower.
Those who do not keep the law are Telestial. (repent eventually)
Those who keep the law are Terrestrial. (honorable)
Those who keep the law with the right attitude are Celestial. (valiant)
Doctrine and Covenants 88:20-22, 28-29 teaches that a celestial law develops a celestial spirit. A body will be resurrected with a body that corresponds to the spirit it has developed. If you can “abide” a celestial law you can develop a celestial spirit. Abide has several definitions— “to dwell,” “to tarry, remain, or stay,” “to continue permanently or in the same state,” and “to be firm and immovable.” All of us can live a celestial law in spurts, but can we abide? There is a law for every kingdom. There is no law in outer darkness—the inhabitants there live their own law. (I shudder to imagine what this lawlessness might look like.) As a general statement: Telestial people do bad things. Terrestrial people are honorable. We think “honorable” is a commendation, but the definition falls short of being valiant, the distinguishing feature of celestial people.
3 Ne. 11:19-21 The Savior gives the apostles “power to baptize.” They had already received the power to baptize in conjunction with the law of Moses, but now they are being given authority to baptize people for entrance into the Church of Jesus Christ. He gives specific instructions on how this to be done, by immersion, and even specifies the words to be spoken when the ordinance is performed. (See verses 23-26)
3 Ne. 11:22 He emphasizes “there shall be no more disputations among you” – essentially saying, “I don’t want you to argue anymore.” 3 Nephi 11:28-30 Apparently, there had previously been disputations about “the points of my doctrine.” He tells them the reason why—“contention is not of me, but is of the devil.” He is “the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another.” The Lord said, “this is my doctrine, that such things should be done away.”
Jesus gives them an example of how celestial beings behave. 3 Nephi 11:32-36 “The Father, and I, and the Holy Ghost are one.” Christ is saying to us, “Be like we are – be one in your relationships.” This is a wonderful ideal, but like most ideals, it is easier said than done. He is saying, in effect, “We don’t argue up here. The Father, and I, and the Holy Ghost are one—do thou likewise.”
First Attitude of a Celestial Being: Don’t argue, contend, or dispute
If you start an argument—you are obeying a telestial law.
If you don’t start it, but you participate in it, you are obeying a terrestrial law.
If you won’t contend—you are abiding a celestial law.
In which of our relationships would this principle be most valuable? The marriage relationship—Adam and Eve were commanded to “be one.” But unity is a blessing in fostering peaceful relationships of all kinds. Businesses spend much of their budgets on human resources and teaching their employees to work as a team.
This is one of three chapters in the Book of Mormon that detail the doctrine of Christ. 2 Nephi 31 and 3 Nephi 27:13-22 are the others two. (In the latter it is referred to as “my gospel.”)
3 Nephi 11:32-41 The phrase “my doctrine” appears eight times in these verses. What is the doctrine of Christ?
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland taught:
It is clear at the outset that the sermon in the Book of Mormon is built upon one overwhelmingly important premise that is not so obvious in the New Testament — that the doctrines taught and the blessings promised are predicated upon first principles, on saving ordinances and covenants of the gospel, including the baptismal covenant, which brings people through “the gate” to the strait and narrow path leading to eternal life. As Christ taught here, so Nephi taught earlier—that these first principles and ordinances constitute the “doctrine of Christ.” (Jeffrey R. Holland, Christ and the New Covenant: The Messianic Message of the Book of Mormon [Deseret Book, 1997], 261 – 262.)
3 Nephi 11:37-38 Christ repeats his commandment to “become as a little child.” Repeated injunctions require us to pay attention! Would that we could become as guilelessas little children.
3 Nephi 11:40 mentions “the gates of hell,” as the destination of all who fail to build on the rock of Christ. However, other scriptures reveal the true meaning of “the gates of hell.” We know that baptism is the gate which allows entrance to the strait and narrow path (2 Nephi 31:17-18). What, then, are the “gates of hell?”
Dr. Hugh Nibley observed:
“The gates of hell,” then, does not refer to the devil at all; though his snares and wiles might lead men sooner or later to their death, delivering them “to the destruction of the flesh,” his power ends there. The gates of hell are the gates of hell — the “holding back” of those who are in the spirit world from attaining the object of their desire. (Hugh Nibley, Mormonism and Early Christianity, 108.)
In one of the very earliest Christian poems, Christ is described as going to the underworld to preach to the dead, “And the dead say to him, . . . ‘Open the gate to us!’” whereupon the Lord, “heeding their faith,” gives them the seal of baptism. Baptism for the dead, then, was the key to the gates of hell which no church claimed to possess until the nineteenth century, the gates remaining inexorably closed against those very dead of whose salvation the early Christians had been so morally certain. (Hugh Nibley, Mormonism and Early Christianity, 106.)
Catherine Thomas in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism writes:
The Savior’s reference to the “gates of hell” (Hades, or the spirit world; Matt. 16:18) indicates, among other things, that God’s priesthood power will penetrate hell and redeem the repentant spirits there. Many have been, and many more will yet be, delivered from hell through hearing, repenting, and obeying the gospel of Jesus Christ in the spirit world after the death of the body. After his mortal death Jesus Christ went to the spirit world and organized the teaching of the gospel there.
The ordinances of the Priesthood will penetrate even the doors that separate the living from the dead. Now these next verses have power when we consider them in the light of temple work for the dead. Matthew 16:19 – “And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
My husband has a great-grandfather by the name of William Webb who lived in Harlton in the County of Cambridge, England from 1675 to 1746. He left a will in which he passed on an amazing “legacy” to his descendants. After bequeathing his barns, herds, and stables, he recorded these words:
There is a legacy left to me by my father who was let it by his father to be passed on to my heirs. There is spiritual unrest in the land, Beliefs are springing up and being heard. We believe with others that man should be free to worship his Maker in a manner pleasing to himself. We believe that Death is not the end but that the Soul lives on and is judged by its Maker for the good or evil it has done, with punishment or reward according to Meritt.
My father John, a righteous, just, forgiving man was told in a dream that the time was nearing when Jesus Christ would return to set up his Kingdom. It will not happen during my lifetime, nor that of my children, and perhaps not my grandchildren. But the time will come soon when believers may become members in the Kingdom of Jesus Christ. Having grieved over not being here when that time comes, because I will have layed this body to rest long since, I prayed enquiring after the believers and followers of Jesus who have gone to their Eternal Rest. As I prayed a calm peace surrounded me and I felt his Presence. I was assured that there will be a way for the dead to enter the Kingdom. Because of the Spirit that thrilled me while in the Presence I am sure it will be so.
I rejoice that the Lord would answer a sincere, seeking man in such a marvelous manner! That an ordinary man like John Webb could receive such an amazing outpouring of hope from heaven shows me that the Lord is truly mindful of “every creature of his creating” (Mosiah 27:30). What a great legacy for his descendants today, and those yet to be born!
Christ’s visit to his “other sheep” in America is the climax of the Book of Mormon narrative for many reasons. The powerful images of tangible darkness and light communicate a message that cannot be ignored. Jesus Christ introduced himself as “the light of the world.” Following that light will bring joy and peace. President Russell M. Nelson has invited us to “Hear him.” In the April 2020 General Conference he said, “The very first word in the Doctrine and Covenants is hearken. It means ‘to listen with the intent to obey.’ To hearken means to ‘hear Him’—to hear what the Savior says and then to heed His counsel. In those two words—‘Hear Him’—God gives us the pattern for success, happiness, and joy in this life.” When the Nephites finally heard the voice of the Savior, it was only after he had spoken three times. They only heard the voice when “they did . . . open their ears to hear it” (3 Nephi 11:5). The Lord wants us to be able to hear His voice, which Elder Packer says is “not seen with our eyes nor heard with our ears.” These “delicate, refined spiritual communications” can only be understood by those who have tuned out the “white noise” of the world, and have desires to commune with God.