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Cover image: “Christ Walking on the Water” by Julius Von Klever.
Editor’s Note: Our friend and longtime Meridian writer Larry Barkdull passed away. To remember and honor him this is one of a series of his past articles that we are republishing regularly.
Abinadi, a pivotal Book of Mormon prophet, was martyred for testifying that “God himself shall come down among the children of men.”[i] Redemption, he said, is available only through the condescending Savior, who is both the “Father and the Son.”[ii] Abinadi’s testimony became grounds for capital punishment!
Apparently, Mormon foresaw the testimony of Jesus as becoming a critical last-days’ issue and he chose the story of Abinadi to instruct us. Of significance, Abinadi’s testimony of the nature and mission of Jesus simultaneously caused the death of King Noah’s Babylon and the birth of Alma’s Zion. Similarly, we might expect that latter-day Babylon and Zion will fall and rise upon this singular issue.
“No man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost”
Throughout history, the doctrine of the person, nature and mission of Jesus Christ has been widely unknown or misunderstood-often violently so. In the fourth century A.D., when Christianity had no determined doctrine on the nature of God and Jesus Christ, a priest named Arius forwarded a doctrine that threatened to topple Christianity. Anthanasius argued another opinion about the nature of the Godhead. Bishop Gregory joined in the fray then John Chrysostom added his view.
Their attempts to define and understand the Father and the Son were as futile then as the various creeds are today-evidence of widespread apostasy, for “no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost.”[iii]
As the church fathers jockeyed for position to describe the nature of Jesus, the frustrated Roman emperor, Constantine, ordered the bishops to Nicaea in 325 to settle the matter. After serious debate and negotiation, a vote was taken, and Christ became officially inconceivable-the ultimate mystery. As a consequence, down through the ages, Christians have slain more Christians than the Romans ever martyred. Hotly debated today, the definition of Christ continues to divide Christianity and levels accusations on Mormons that we are somehow non-Christian for our unique belief. The Vision in 1820 set apart the Mormon definition of Christ as singular.
The “Seed” of Jesus Testify of His Nature
The testimony of Jesus–who he really is and what he really did–connects to another challenging doctrine: adoption. How and why does one become a son or daughter of Jesus Christ? Who are Christ’s seed? King Benjamin explained that we are adopted into the family of Jesus Christ and become his sons and daughters when we make a covenant.[iv]
Abinadi’s answer concerning adoption further fueled the flames of his execution by his linking the testimony of Jesus with the identity of Jesus’ seed. In fact, he said, the testimony of Jesus can only be borne by the Lord’s “seed.” It uniquely distinguishes them.[v]
The Testimony of Jesus Saves or Condemns the World
Could it be that the annihilation or salvation of this world will be decided on the testimony of the true nature and mission of Jesus Christ? If so, do we have any confirming evidence?
Consider “The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” which we frequently quote, and rightfully so. Issued in 1995, the proclamation is a treasure of astounding prophetic insights given to a world that now struggles with the definitions of marriage and family.
But fast-forward five years to the dawn of the new millennium. Do we remember another proclamation: “The Living Christ: The Testimony of the Apostles”? Might that proclamation also prove equally prophetic, defining and pivotal? If the answer is yes, the account of Abinadi immediately has profound latter-day implications, suggesting future bold, prophetic pronouncements and denunciations that could seal the fate of a corrupt world and herald the founding of Zion.
Who are the Beautiful Ones?
Let us examine how Abinadi structured his defense. To the question, who are they whose feet are beautiful upon the mountains?[vi] he first reviewed the commandments then revealed the Giver of those commandments. At that point, he launched into Isaiah 53, quoting the entire messianic chapter that contains stunning truths about the Savior. Expounding, Abinadi singled out two truths with the suggestion that they are interdependent: 1) the miraculous generation (origin) of Jesus Christ, and 2) the identity of the seed of Christ, who bear testimony of Jesus’ divine generation.
Who shall declare His Generation?
The first truth is a question: “Who shall declare his generation?”[vii] In other words, who can discover the origin of Jesus? Who can know that Jesus is the actual Son of God, generated by the Father as a separate divine individual endowed with the DNA of Deity? Who can know this sublime truth and stand for it when tradition casts Jesus as a great teacher and religious leader or a conglomeration of two gods melded into one unknowable, untouchable, inconceivable DivineIt?
Abinadi explained the generation or origin of Jesus Christ this way: “And now Abinadi said unto them: I would that ye should understand that God himself shall come down among the children of men, and shall redeem his people.”[viii] Notice that Abinadi assigned the title “God” to Jesus.
Abinadi then taught the mystery of the uniquely divine nature of this condescending, redeeming God, Jesus Christ, who simultaneously is the Father and the Son.
“And because he dwelleth in flesh he shall be called the Son of God, and having subjected the flesh to the will of the Father, being the Father and the Son–The Father, because he was conceived by the power of God; and the Son, because of the flesh; thus becoming the Father and Son–And they are one God, yea, the very Eternal Father of heaven and of earth.”[ix]
This passage gives even the mature gospel scholar cause to ponder. Its effect on King Noah and his priests was a call for Abinadi’s life. Its effect on Alma was sore repentance and risking his life to bear this testimony the remainder of his days.
Clearly, the testimony of Jesus is divisive and essential. If we believe that the Book of Mormon was written specifically to gather, enlighten and instruct us in the last days, if we believe that its purpose is to convince “the remnant of the House of Israel” and “the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God,” then we, like Abinadi, must increase our ability to comprehend, articulate, and testify of the nature of Jesus Christ and his mission, which testimony will most certainly become critical to the collapse of Babylon and the building up of Zion in the latter days.
Of significance, our testimony of Jesus, his “generation,” attributes, mission and relationship to the Father, qualifies us, in part, to be called Jesus’ seed, his adopted sons and daughters, the “beautiful ones.”
Isaiah asked, “Who shall declare his generation?” and Abinadi answered, Jesus’ seed shall declare this testimony.[x] Only they know, by the power of the Holy Ghost, the true origin and mission of Christ, their adopted father. Hence, only they can authoritatively bear this testimony to a dying world.
Understanding the Situation of God the Father
The testimony of the generation of Jesus begins with an understanding of the situation of God the Father. As the Creator of all things, the Father, alone, shoulders the burden of saving his creations. It is simple logic: If the Father has the power to create something, only he has the power to save it.
But with that understanding, we encounter a series of problems. Because the creations of the Father are infinite, because the effects of salvation must be endless, because the Father must anticipate redemptive situations that could challenge the boundaries of justice and mercy, because he must have the capacity to provide grace and succor for every conceivable challenge, affliction and weakness that his children might encounter, he must provide a solution that is infinite, eternal, exceeds the sum of the demands of justice, and all-encompassing.
There could be only one solution: the sacrifice of his life.
No solution could be more far-reaching, everlasting, just, merciful and grace-filled than the Creator’s voluntary sacrifice of his life. As a perfect, infinite and eternal being, he alone has the innate power to resolve the entire matter of salvation and succor once and for all. There are not multiple options here. Only the Father’s life in exchange for the lives of his creations can clear every obstacle, pay the infinite price of sin and satisfy the myriad issues and demands of salvation. He must willingly forfeit his life for his creations.
The Father creates a Proxy
But how? The Father is a resurrected being who cannot die. How can he give his life? The answer: He generates (creates) a proxy, a substantially identical duplicate of himself–not a clone, rather a Son–a being who is “the express image of his person,”[xi] who has yet to experience mortality and can still sacrifice his life. The Father creates this proxy as a God like himself, someone who looks like him, who has identical characteristics and attributes, who thinks, talks and acts like him, all the while having a separate identity, occupying distinct space, and exercising independent agency
By necessity, this proxy must be the first of all the Father’s creations: “the beginning of the creation of God.”[xii] Thus Jesus taught, “I was in the beginning with the Father.”[xiii] Jesus is “the firstborn of every creature… he is before all things…that in all things he might have the preeminence.”[xiv]
It is sobering to imagine our heavenly parents standing together at the dawn of eternity, contemplating the vastness of their future kingdom. At that first moment, what issues would have occupied their minds? Redemption and exaltation! So first things first. Our heavenly parents would not, could not create anything without initially providing a means to redeem, save and exalt their creations. Thus, their first act as gods had to do with preparing a redemptive solution in the person of a proxy for the Father: a saving Son. From the earliest moment of our heavenly parents’ godhood, their work and glory was and would continue to be defined as bringing to pass “the immortality and eternal life of man.”[xv]
Therefore, the Father begat a wholly unique being, an “express of his person,” a proxy, as his firstborn Son. As the firstborn, Jesus would be the rightful and natural heir to the Father’s kingdom,[xvi] thus making all of the Father’s creations and all of the Father’s children junior and subordinate to the Son. The Father placed his name upon the Son, making the Son his co-equal,[xvii] clothing him with the same power, knowledge, will, intentions, and “fulness.”[xviii]–“in [Jesus] dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.”[xix]
The Son is Co-creator
From the very beginning, the Father involved the Son is every creative enterprise: the Father as the architect of creation and the Son as the Father’s foreman, his “Word” of creative power: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.”[xx]
Paul explained Jesus’ creative activities this way: “For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers; all things were created by him, and for him…and by him all things consist.”[xxi]
And Jesus’ role as co-creator continues and will continue throughout eternity: “By him, and through him, and of him, the worlds are and were created, and the inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters unto God.”[xxii]
There is an exception to the co-creative process. The Father reserves to himself the right and ability to create (beget) his own children. Nevertheless, the Father involves the Son at an appropriate level. For example, Jesus was present at the creation of Adam–“Let us go down and form man in our image, after our likeness.”[xxiii] Later, God told Moses, “Thou art in the similitude of mine Only Begotten,” causing Moses to declare, “I am a son of God, in the similitude of his Only Begotten.”[xxiv]
Significantly, the Father creates his children in the image, likeness and similitude of his firstborn Son. Why? Because the fundamental purpose of our creation is the same as Christ’s: to rise to the level of our divine DNA and become beings like our heavenly parents.
How the Son becomes the Father
To accomplish that feat, the Father had to offer a sacrifice that would eclipse the demands of salvation: his own life. Because that was not possible, he proposed to deliver his children into the hands of his Son by means of the covenant of adoption, making the Son their adoptive father. Then, working through the Son, the Father could sacrifice his life by proxy: a Father’s life to save the lives of the children. There was no other way for Heavenly Father to provide for our redemption and exaltation. The Father needed to duplicate himself; he needed a proxy through whom he could work and sacrifice his life. Otherwise, the purposes of creation would be frustrated and all would be in vain.
Thus, in the incomparable miracle of the generation of Jesus Christ, the Father created a being exactly like himself, with the exception that this being had not yet taken a physical body, died and resurrected.
This firstborn and rightful heir to the kingdom of God was identical to the Father in characteristics, attributes, perfections, knowledge, power, glory, might and dominion, equal to the Father in every way, and co-creator of everything and everyone. As co-creator, the Son now shared the burden of salvation of all the Father’s creations. He was “generated” to become the Father’s substantial duplicate and proxy.
The Son becomes the Father’s Proxy
And Jesus lived true to the purpose of his creation. “For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me.”[xxv] The Father’s proxy indeed! “The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise.”[xxvi] Abinadi elaborated on the proxy mission of Jesus Christ: “The will of the Son [is] swallowed up in the will of the Father.”[xxvii]
As the Father’s proxy, subordinating his will to the Father, Jesus allowed the Father to use his mortal body to do a work that was uniquely the Father’s to accomplish. “Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? the words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself: but the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works.”[xxviii] Abinadi points to an astonishing evidence of the Father working through the Son to provide for the immortality of man: “And thus God [the Father] breaketh the bands of death, having gained the victory over death; giving the Son power to make intercession for the children of men.”[xxix]
Clearly, the indwelling Father speaks and acts through the Son, who is essentially the Father’s duplicate. Said Jesus, “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father.”[xxx] And the similarities do not stop there: “I and my Father are one.”[xxxi]This oneness is perhaps greater than we are capable of imagining.
Jesus qualifies to be called “the Father and the Son” because of his amazing generation. “He was conceived by the power of God” for the purpose of becoming the Father’s proxy. Because of the identical nature of the Father and the Son, and because Jesus voluntarily subjects his flesh to the Father, they can rightfully be called “one God.”[xxxii] There is great truth in the words we sing, “There was no other good enough to pay the price of sin. He only [only He] could unlock the gate of heaven and let us in.”[xxxiii]
O the greatness of our God! Only he could create another God in the “express image of his person.”[xxxiv] Jesus Christ was the first and the greatest miracle of the Father! And who shall declare the testimony of Jesus’ generation?
The Father and the Son saw Us!
Abinadi had the answer. In his defense, he taught another messianic truth from Isaiah 53: “When thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin he shall see his seed. And now what say ye? And who shall be his seed?”[xxxv] That is to say, when the Father shall make Jesus’ soul and offering for sin, Jesus shall see his adopted sons and daughters, they whose feet are beautiful upon the mountains–the beautiful ones.[xxxvi]
Imagine! In the atonement, Jesus saw each one of us through the eyes of the Father. Together, they contemplated the full price of our redemption, and Jesus yielded his life to the Father, who offered it to pay the price of all sin and every eventuality! The atonement is ultra-personal, and Jesus is the perfect, selfless proxy. He yielded his body to the Father to accomplish the sacrifice of the life of the Creator. He also stood proxy for each one of us, essentially assuming our identities, to pay the price of our sins and suffer in advance for our weaknesses and afflictions. He saw us!
The Beautiful Ones convey the Testimony of Jesus
Abinadi’s life had hung in the balance on this question: Who are the beautiful ones, they whose beautiful feet convey the testimony of Jesus?
And it came to pass that one of them said unto him: What meaneth the words which are written, and which have been taught by our fathers, saying: How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings; that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good; that publisheth salvation; that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth.[xxxvii]
Abinadi declared that the seed of Jesus Christ are they who testify of Jesus. They are the beautiful ones, “whosoever has heard the words of the prophets…all those who have hearkened unto their words, and believed that the Lord would redeem his people, and have looked forward to that day for a remission of their sins, I say unto you, that these are his seed, or they are the heirs of the kingdom of God. For these are they whose sins he has borne; these are they for whom he has died, to redeem them from their transgressions. And now, are they not his seed?”[xxxviii]
Furthermore, Abinadi taught that the prophets are the beautiful ones. “These are they who have published peace, who have brought good tidings of good, who have published salvation; and said unto Zion: Thy God reigneth!”[xxxix] The prophets bear the testimony of Jesus, who is the ultimate Beautiful One, “the founder of peace, yea, even the Lord, who has redeemed his people; yea, him who has granted salvation unto his people.”[xl]
The apostle John expanded the term “prophet” to include anyone who has the testimony of Jesus: “The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.”[xli] Abinadi alluded to this definition of “prophet” when he announced, “And again, how beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of those that are still publishing peace! And again, how beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of those who shall hereafter publish peace, yea, from this time henceforth and forever!”[xlii]
Can there be any doubt that we, who have the testimony of Jesus, are the beautiful ones? We are the covenant ones, the seed of Jesus Christ, who are charged to declare his “generation,” identity, perfections, characteristic, attributes, glory, might, power and dominion.
As Jesus is to the Father, so We are to the Father and the Son
We are the seed of Christ, the beautiful ones who take Jesus Christ as our exemplar: as he is to the Father, so we are to him. “Wherefore, what manner of men ought ye to be? Verily I say unto you, even as I am.”[xliii] We are the beautiful ones who have ceased our enmity with God, put off the natural man, yielded to the enticing of the Holy Spirit, and meekly, humbly, patiently, willingly submitted to the Father’s loving, transforming efforts.[xliv]
We are the beautiful ones who subordinate our wills to the Father so that he can work through us, as he worked through Christ, to accomplish our own missions, and by such accomplishment, as Christ accomplished his mission, we rise in glory to the stature and image of the Son. “When he shall appear, we shall be like him!”[xlv] As Jesus was created to have the identical countenance of his Father, so we are transformed to reflect the image of God in our countenances. We begin this transformation by being spiritually born of God and experiencing the mighty change of heart–achieving the heart of Jesus Christ![xlvi]
Then, yielding our new hearts to God,[xlvii] subordinating our will to his, allowing him to work through us, we become one with the Father and the Son, as Jesus was one with the Father. Jesus prayed, “That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us.”[xlviii]
And what work will he do through us? The work of saving souls! What other work is there for the Gods and their sons and daughters? We, the beautiful ones, the seed of Christ, stand as prophets with the ordained prophets of God to bring people to Christ by bearing the testimony that is uniquely ours: Jesus is the Christ, “the mighty God, the Everlasting Father,”[xlix] both “the Father and the Son,”[l] the “Word” by which all things are and were made,[li] “the life [and] the light of men,”[lii] the great Jehovah, “the first and the last…he who liveth…he who was slain…[the] advocate with the Father”[liii] in whom “all fulness dwells,”[liv] he who is “more intelligent than they all,”[lv] the first and the “beginning of the creation of God,”[lvi] the proxy for the Father.
The Testimony of Jesus: The Deciding Factor of the Last Days
This testimony, like Abinadi’s, is certain to cause the demise of Babylon and usher in Zion. As it was in the war in heaven, so it shall be in the last days for the war for souls: the testimony of Jesus shall prevail and defeat the enemies of God.
“And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night. And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death.”[lvii]