Cover image: Illustration of Christ appearing to the Nephites by Andrew Bosley.
The ministry of Jesus Christ was divided into two parts: pre- and post-resurrection. In 3 Nephi, we are blessed to receive both parts, which He calls “the fulness of the gospel” (20:30).
In the four Gospels, we get the pre-resurrection teachings of the Savior, which are called “the law of the Gospel.” Then, in Acts 1:3, we read that He taught the disciples the “things of the kingdom of God” for forty days after His resurrection, but we get only hints of what those things were.
In 3 Nephi, we get the pre-resurrection teachings of the Savior, such as the Sermon on the Mount. Then, in 3 Nephi 26, He teaches that there are “greater things” to be learned—those things he taught the disciples in his forty-day post-resurrection ministry but were not recorded.
To prepare the Nephites for these “greater things,” He first administers the sacrament to them in a miraculous way (20:3-9). Now filled with the Spirit, they are ready to receive their covenants. “Ye are the children of the covenant,” He tells them (20:26), speaking of the covenant which the Father made with Abraham that “in [his] seed shall all the kindreds of the earth be blessed—unto the pouring out of the Holy Ghost” (20:27).
What is a covenant?
Like a contract, a covenant is an agreement between two or more parties that they will perform certain things and receive certain rewards if they perform those things. However, unlike an ordinary contract, a gospel covenant is based on love. The parties in a contract are not asked to love one another, but the parties in a gospel covenant commit to something higher. It is a commitment of love, which is why the Lord speaks of His relationship to Israel as like a marriage covenant between loving spouses (for example, see Isaiah 62:5, Hosea 2:14-23, John 3:29, Revelation 21:2, 9-10).
What does the gospel covenant require us to do?
First, we are invited into the covenant. “If they will repent and hearken unto my words,” the Lord says, “I will establish my church among them, and they shall come into the covenant and be numbered among this the remnant of Jacob” (21:22). We are to repent and call upon the Lord all our lives. Repentance, as President Russell M. Nelson says, is not a one-time thing. “Repentance is not an event; it is a process. It is the key to happiness and peace of mind. . . . Focus on daily repentance” (“We Can Do Better and Be Better,” April 2019 General Conference).
We also covenant to “hearken unto [the Savior’s] words” forever. How do we do this? By scripture study and following the prophet of the Lord, of course. But we also seek and listen for revelation to ourselves. President Nelson also says, “I plead with you to increase your spiritual capacity to receive revelation. . . . . Pray in the name of Jesus Christ about your concerns, your fears, your weaknesses—yes, the very longings of your heart. And then listen! Write the thoughts that come to your mind. Record your feelings and follow through with actions that you are prompted to take. As you repeat this process day after day, month after month, year after year, you will ‘grow into the principle of revelation’” (“Revelation for the Church, Revelation for Our Lives,” April 2018 General Conference). Note that the people of Nephi kept a covenant of obedience strictly after the Savior’s visit: “They did do all things even as Jesus had commanded them” (26:20).
A second covenant we make is to “offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness. Then shall the offering of Judah and Jerusalem be pleasant unto the Lord” (24:3-4). Although this commandment is given specifically to priesthood holders, it applies to all. What offerings should we give? Jesus commands the people to write down this commandment: “Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse . . . and prove me now herewith . . . if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing that there shall not be room enough to receive it” (24:10). Our greatest offering is the sacrifice of a broken heart and a contrite spirit (D&C 59:8-10).
Another key covenant is chastity. “Depart ye, depart ye, go ye out from thence; touch not that which is unclean; go ye out of the midst of her; be ye clean that bear the vessels of the Lord” (20:41). Quoting Isaiah, the Lord instructs us to leave “spiritual Babylon” and stay strictly away from the sexual immorality Babylon represents. The “vessels of the Lord” refer to the temple implements the priests of Israel were to return to Jerusalem after the Babylonian exile. We also covenant to be a pure and chaste priesthood as we serve in the temple of the Lord.
Finally, the people covenanted to consecrate everything they had to the work of the Lord. Elder Bruce R. McConkie taught, “The law of consecration is that we consecrate our time, our talents, and our money and property to the cause of the Church: such are to be available to the extent they are needed to further the Lord’s interests on earth” (“Obedience, Sacrifice, and Consecration,” April 1975 General Conference). We learn that the people of Nephi “had all things in common among them.” They also performed consecrated service: “They taught and did minister one to another” (26:19).
We too are called to consecrate our time, talents, and wherewithal to the great work of gathering Israel. “Awake, awake again, and put on thy strength, O Zion. . . . Shake thyself from the dust; arise” (20:36-37). If we are sleepy and gathering dust in our work for the Lord, let’s “awaken, arise, and inspire the inhabitants of the earth as a mighty force for righteousness,” as President Nelson has asked (“Daughters of Zion,” New Era, Nov. 1985, 9). In our time “shall the Father work a work, which shall be a great and a marvelous work” (21:9); we have the opportunity to be part of that work, which President Nelson has called “the greatest challenge, the greatest cause, and the greatest work on earth”—the gathering of Israel (“Hope of Israel,” Worldwide Youth Devotional, June 3, 2018).
How do we serve in this “greatest work on earth”? “Enlarge the place of thy tent and let them stretch forth the curtains of thy habitations; spare not, lengthen thy cords and strengthen thy stakes” (22:2). We gather “scattered Israel” by enlarging our “tents,” that is, bringing people into our homes and hearts—family members, neighbors, less-active members, and those who don’t yet belong to the Church. President Nelson asks us to “expand our circle of love to embrace the whole human family.” We “strengthen the stakes” by faithfully fulfilling our callings.
As children of the covenant, Elder Bruce R. McConkie explained, “It is our privilege to consecrate our time, talents, and means to build up his kingdom. We are called upon to sacrifice, in one degree or another, for the furtherance of his work. Obedience is essential to salvation; so, also, is service; and so, also, are consecration and sacrifice” (“Obedience,” op. cit.).
To this point in the Savior’s ministry to the people of Nephi, He has been preparing them for even greater knowledge and covenants. Just as He taught “the things of the kingdom” to the disciples in Palestine for forty days after His resurrection, so He taught the people in the New World the “greater things” of the kingdom. In 3 Nephi 26, He presents to them what we might call an “apocalyptic” revelation: an account of the Lord’s entire plan from first to last. “He did expound all things, even from the beginning until the time that he should come in his glory—yea, even all things which should come upon the face of the earth” (26:3).
Prophets such as Adam, Enoch, Abraham, Moses, and Joseph Smith have received such apocalyptic (“opening of the veil”) presentations since the beginning. The Lord wants His people to understand His plan, but that understanding is only for those who are prepared to receive it. We note that Mormon is commanded not to record the things of chapter 26: “Behold, I was about to write them . . . but the Lord forbade it” (26:11). saying, I will try the faith of my people” (26:11).
Why did the Lord permit Mormon to record only the “lesser part of the things which he taught the people” (26:8)? Clearly, Mormon’s readers were not to have access to the greater things of the plan of salvation until they were ready for them. “When they shall have received this [the Book of Mormon], which is expedient that they should have first,” Mormon explains, “if it shall so be that they shall believe these things then shall the greater things be made manifest unto them” (26:9). Readers of the book will be blessed with greater knowledge and covenants once they have demonstrated enough faith to accept and live by the covenants revealed in the Book of Mormon: “I will try the faith of my people,” says the Lord (26:11). We are told that not “even a hundredth part” of those hidden teachings could be written; those who are prepared can have access to the richness of those truths in the holy temple.
Every covenant is associated with a sign or a token. The sign of the covenant to us is the Book of Mormon itself: When in the latter days people “shall begin to know these things—it shall be a sign unto them, that they may know that the work of the Father hath already commenced unto the fulfilling of the covenant which he hath made unto the people who are of the house of Israel” (21:7). So the Book of Mormon is not just a guidebook to the gospel: in itself, it is the sign of the fulfillment of his covenant in his glorious coming.
The covenant of the Lord is a “covenant of peace.” If we are faithful to that covenant, the Lord says, “My kindness shall not depart from thee . . . O thou afflicted, tossed with tempest, and not comforted!. . . thou shalt be far from oppression for thou shalt not fear, and from terror for it shall not come near thee” (22:10-11, 14).