Gospel Doctrine Book of Mormon Lesson 4: “The Things Which I Saw While I Was Carried Away in the Spirit”
1 Nephi 12-14
This lesson combines with the Vision of the Tree of Life, expanding upon Nephi’s vision of the future of his people and the last days, some of which were discussed in my blog post for lesson 3.
After seeing the Tree of Life and the life and resurrection of Jesus Christ, Nephi sees further into the future. Unlike his father Lehi’s dream, Nephi’s vision goes beyond the connection of the family and into a major Revelation of the last days, from a Nephite/Lamanite perspective.
Vision of the resurrected Christ
1 Nephi 12
This part of the vision begins with the visit of the resurrected Jesus to the Nephites. With the Lord’s death,
“And I saw the heavens open, and the Lamb of God descending out of heaven; and he came down and showed himself unto them.
And I also saw and bear record that the Holy Ghost fell upon twelve others; and they were ordained of God, and chosen” (1 Ne 12:6-7).
This section of the vision actually seems to jump out of Lehi’s Vision of the Tree of Life, and goes back to his visions in 1 Nephi 1:
“And being thus overcome with the Spirit, he was carried away in a vision, even that he saw the heavens open, and he thought he saw God sitting upon his throne, surrounded with numberless concourses of angels in the attitude of singing and praising their God.
And it came to pass that he saw One descending out of the midst of heaven, and he beheld that his luster was above that of the sun at noon-day.
And he also saw twelve others following him, and their brightness did exceed that of the stars in the firmament.
And they came down and went forth upon the face of the earth; and the first came and stood before my father, and gave unto him a book, and bade him that he should read” (1 Ne 1:8-11).
Here, both Nephi and Lehi see Christ descend from the heavens, with 12 apostles following after, or being ordained to the holy calling. He sees the period of peace among the Nephites and Lamanites that would last several generations at the resurrected Christ’s coming.
Nephi then notes the mists of darkness and the great and spacious building as the pride of the world, which leads to the conflicts arising anew between Nephites and Lamanites. This ties in interestingly with Lehi’s vision of the Tree of Life and the Great and Spacious Building. Lehi partakes of the fruit with others, and notes that some look elsewhere and then walk away from the tree, ashamed. Nephi saw the Nephites/Lamanites partake of the fruit of Christ during their 200 year “Millennium.”
The time would come when pride would return among the peoples, and they would again contend. Eventually, the Nephites would be destroyed by the Lamanites. But the contention would not end there, for Nephi sees the on-going contentions would turn into “wars and rumors of wars” among the Lamanites and any other groups in the area.
The Lamanites would again “dwindle in unbelief” and become a dark and loathsome people. Perhaps Nephi could foresee the simple tent dwellers of North America, and the human sacrifice of “more advanced” groups, like the Aztecs, Mayans and others. Writing would be almost entirely obliterated from the western hemisphere, with the only known exception being in Central America. All others would have oral tradition that would tie them to nature and their gods.
The Gentiles in Prophesy
! Nephi 13
Nephi then saw the nations of the Gentiles, normally considered the European nations for Book of Mormon view of Gentiles. This would be a vision of them after the death and resurrection of Jesus, as it would work in conjunction with the ending times of the Nephites.
Great and Abominable Church
Immediately, he sees the formation of the Great and Abominable Church among the Gentiles. Many LDS read this and think it means the Catholic Church. This is a belief often shared by many Protestants in their reading of the abominable church mentioned in the Book of Revelation. However, let us read how Nephi describes this church:
“And the angel said unto me: 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 it came to pass that I beheld this great and abominable church; and I saw the devil that he was the founder of it.
And I also saw gold, and silver, and silks, and scarlets, and fine-twined linen, and all manner of precious clothing; and I saw many harlots.
And the angel spake unto me, saying: 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, and bring them down into captivity” (1 Ne 13:5-9).
There is no serious historian who would think the Catholic Church was slaying the saints of God, torturing them, etc. While the Catholic church did become very powerful and rich, it is difficult to establish that getting gain was its main goal.
The Catholic church has had bad people in its history, but also great men like St Francis of Assisi, St Ignatius of Loyola (founder of the Jesuits), St Augustine, St Jerome, Mother Teresa, John Paul II, and others. These people brought true Christianity to the world. The Jesuits opened up the first schools for the poor. St Francis cared for the poor and animals. St Augustine envisioned the “City of God”, while Jerome formed the current and official Bible we now use. Of course, Mother Teresa is enroute to being a Saint for her charitable work in India. John Paul II was a key part of the Triad (Reagan, Thatcher) that freed hundreds of millions of people from Soviet slavery. Clearly, these are examples that the Catholic Church is not, nor has been, the Great and Abominable Church.
Instead, the Great and Abominable Church is any organization that has “getting gain” as its main goal. We need to find groups akin to the Gadianton Robbers (see Book of Helaman), who sought wealth and power at any cost, including the murdering of good people (the saints). In early Gentile/Christian history, this would have been the Roman Empire, where Nero and others used Christians as entertainment in the Roman Colosseum, fodder for the lions who would feed upon their carcasses. This same Rome is the place where both Peter and Paul were executed.
It is more likely, then, that the Great and Abominable Church is not really a church, but a political view that attacks freedom of religion. Later in the Book of Mormon, Nephites would be greatly concerned as they battled for freedom against the “king men.” While roving preachers (Korihor, Sherem) would cause some harm, more harm occurred by those seeking a social justice that placed them as over lords. It would be political atheists, who would threaten the believing Nephites with death if the sign of Christ’s birth did not occur by a certain day (3 Nephi 1).
And in our day, we see what philosophies tend to be most destructive towards Christianity and the human soul: communism, Marxism, and depotism. Occasionally, religion is mixed in, but often it is a twisted form of religion that murders to get gain. During the Crusades, the Popes sought to retake Jerusalem for Christianity. The political soldiers and lords who led the armies often were side-tracked in their desire for getting gain by sacking Constantinople (Eastern Orthodox), or portions of France, killing Christian saints (believers) in doing so. Most Muslims today are wonderful and peaceful people, yet certain radical groups within their ranks seek gain by murder of children and innocents.
In other words, it isn’t religion that is the problem. It is religion that is co-opted by evil men seeking gain.
.Gentiles in America
Nephi sees the Lord’s wrath on the proud Europeans, and prepares some to cross the Atlantic to start a new world. Even as Nephi was inspired to build a ship and cross the waters to his Promised Land, so Christopher Columbus and others would also be inspired in the dangerous journey.
"It was the Lord who put it into my mind, (I could feel His hand upon me), the fact that it would be possible to sail from here to the Indies. All who heard of my project rejected it with laughter, ridiculing me. There is no question that the inspiration was from the Holy Spirit, because He comforted me with rays of marvelous inspiration from the Holy Scriptures.” (Christopher Columbus’ Journal)
The Pilgrims left England and Netherlands for religious and political freedom. They were persecuted for their beliefs in England, and for their being foreigners with different political views in the Netherlands. Their only hope was to begin a life in the Americas. Of the 102 voyagers on the Mayflower, only 52 survived through the first winter. But others came and they grew as a people. They “humbled themselves before the Lord; and the power of the Lord was with them” (1 Ne 13:16).
Establishing a nation with religious and political freedom was unheard of in known history. Yet, because the Lord worked upon the people, he also prepared them for such concepts of freedom. This was a novus ordo seclorum or new world order. Novus ordo seclorum is the Latin motto suggested in 1782 by Charles Thomson, the Founding Father chosen by Continental Congress to come up with the final design for the Great Seal of the United States.
The Great Seal of the United States of America
This new world order sought to make men great in the eyes of God, by giving them the ability to truly be like their Creator. Instead of having all aspects of life dictated by despots, many getting gain off the backs of the serfs who slaved for them, this new order would allow each person to believe and strive as he or she wanted. Since the small beginnings in America, we have seen billions of people freed from the enslavement of others. Any and all people are invited to get out from underneath the pyramid’s base - the enslavement of modern Pharaohs, and climb it to the “all seeing eye” of knowledge and of God.
The Bible and other Holy Scripture
Just as in Lehi’s vision, he was given a book by the Lord to read (1 Nephi 1) and would then receive the Brass Plates of Laban as the guide for his people, so Nephi would see a book that would be read, the Bible. He sees, in fact, that they are similar to the Brass Plates, though they are missing important pieces of God’s truth. Interestingly, Nephi would be commanded to add to that truth by writing his own spiritual story.
The books of the Bible were pure when they “came forth from the mouth of a Jew”, but were later changed in the days of Gentile Christians. What does it mean when the verse says “a Jew”? Does it generally mean the Hebrew prophets and Christian apostles that wrote? Or is it the specific words of “a Jew”? Perhaps the Jew referred to is Jesus Christ, as he would have guided each prophet in the writings of the future Bible.
“Wherefore, thou seest that after the book hath gone forth through the hands of the great and abominable church, that there are many plain and precious things taken away from the book, which is the book of the Lamb of God.
And after these plain and precious things were taken away it goeth forth unto all the nations of the Gentiles; and after it goeth forth unto all the nations of the Gentiles, yea, even across the many waters which thou hast seen with the Gentiles which have gone forth out of captivity, thou seest—because of the many plain and precious things which have been taken out of the book, which were plain unto the understanding of the children of men, according to the plainness which is in the Lamb of God—because of these things which are taken away out of the gospel of the Lamb, an exceedingly great many do stumble, yea, insomuch that Satan hath great power over them” (1 Ne 13:28-29).
It is not so much that things were changed in the Bible, but things were left out. Is there evidence that the Bible is missing books? Yes. In the early days of Judaism and Christianity, there was not a standard list of scriptures. Different Jews and Christians in different areas had a variety of books they used, many of which did not make it into today’s official list of books of the Bible. Today, we note that Catholics regard the Apocrypha as holy scripture, even though the Protestant world does not. Among the Dead Sea Scrolls, all the Books of the Old Testament were found except Esther, and then hundreds more spiritual books were also found as well. These other books were sacred scriptures for the Essene Jews in Jesus’ day. The Book of Enoch was important to both Jews and Christians. It is quoted or referenced in the New Testament 39 times (cf Jude 1:14-15). The Shepherd of Hermas was used by many Christian sects in the first several centuries of Christianity, but was rejected by St Jerome for not being written by one of the apostles. There are many other examples of missing scripture, as well.
In this displacement of important texts, many plain and precious teachings were lost, which traditional Christianity has struggled with over the centuries. By 325 AD, Christians and their leaders were arguing over whether there was just one God of three persons (Trinity) made of pure spirit substance (Bishop Athanasius), One God the Father, and Christ the Lord as separate beings and since there is only one God, Jesus is not a God (Bishop Arius), or that the Father and Son are both Gods and separate beings, with Christ as a subordinate God to the Father (Origen, Eusebius). Other issues, such as deification of man, monotheism vs monolatry, baptism for the dead (1 Corinthians 15:29), faith vs works, grace, priesthood authority, and many other issues were fought over time after time.
The Great Apostasy
Nephi foresaw what Mormons call the “Great Apostasy.” While some Church leaders in the past have stated that it was a “total apostasy” that occurred, a close study of the scriptures and of history will show this is not the case. Had there been a “total apostasy” there would have been no Bible teaching of Christ and the commandments. There would have been no people on earth calling themselves “Christian” or that prayed to God that they would be forgiven through the atonement of Christ.
Clearly, the apostasy was not a complete one. Many good truths and teachings survived over the centuries in traditional Christianities. Some groups embraced more of God’s truth than others. For those with greater truth would come greater blessings and rewards in heaven. Yet, there were many key things missing. The Bible was organized because the proto-orthodox Christian church sought to eliminate their competitors (such as the Gnostics) and the writings they used. This required a hard decision: rejecting any new claims of revelation. The Bible would be sealed, and no more scriptural revelation would be allowed. It also meant that only the books that managed to get through the sometimes political process of selecting books would be officially sanctioned. St Jerome was on the cusp of rejecting Hebrews and Revelation, except the Western Church insisted on retaining them. If he wanted his list of books to be approved, he would have to include them. Meanwhile, other books were rejected simply because the Gnostics or others used them.
In eliminating official revelation, the Church had to find another means to establish doctrine and eliminate diversity of scriptural interpretation. The Nicaea Council of 325 AD established the Trinity as the official view of what God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are. Yet, it took another century for it to really be established, as Arius’ teachings still almost won out. The council did not answer all questions about Jesus. For example, how could Jesus be only a Spirit, and yet also be a physical being? The Council of Chalcedon attempted to answer this with the duality of Jesus Christ.
Eventually, there were some issues that just could not be satisfied by a synod, and the universal (Catholic) Church began to unravel. First, the Great Schism separated east and west, due to the issue of who had the true apostolic authority, the Pope of Rome or the Patriarch of Constantinople.
Centuries later, Martin Luther would write his theses against various Catholic teachings and practices, including indulgences (paying money for one’s sins). Later reformers would seek to provide the Bible to more people, translating it into German, English and French. William Tyndale would be executed for translating the New Testament into English. In speaking with a priest who was against spreading the Bible’s word, Tyndale retorted, “if God spares my life, ere many years, I will cause the boy that driveth the plow to know more of the Scriptures than thou dost!”
Such a prophesy! Not many centuries later, the farm boy Joseph Smith, Bible in hand, would bring about a revolution in the restoration of all those lost teachings of old! “I will be merciful unto the Gentiles in that day, insomuch that I will bring forth unto them, in mine own power, much of my gospel, which shall be plain and precious, saith the Lamb” (1 Ne 13:34). The Lord would then bring forth the Book of Mormon, primarily for the Lamanites, but also for the Gentiles. But the Lord would not only stop at the Book of Mormon.
“And after it had come forth unto them I beheld other books, which came forth by the power of the Lamb, from the Gentiles unto them, unto the convincing of the Gentiles and the remnant of the seed of my brethren, and also the Jews who were scattered upon all the face of the earth, that the records of the prophets and of the twelve apostles of the Lamb are true” (1 Ne 13:39).
When Mormons read this chapter, they normally think the other books refer to their additional scriptures: Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price. These would be included in the list. But since its publication in 1830, many ancient books have come forth that have increased our understanding of ancient Israel, early Christianity and the Lord Jesus Christ. These include the Dead Sea Scrolls, Nag Hammadi library, and hundreds of other early Jewish and Christian texts that have been discovered since the days of Joseph Smith. These also are brought forth to enlighten us in our day, and to be as a witness of God, Christ, and the many precious and plain things that were lost long ago. Here we see a prophesy from the Book of Mormon literally fulfilled in our day!
The Great and Abominable Church versus the Saints
1 Nephi 14
Nephi’s vision continues to see that curses and blessings will fall upon the Gentiles, depending on their humility and obedience to the Lord. Again, the great and abominable Church is mentioned. It will fight against the Church of Christ. What is the Church of Christ? I believe it has two connotations. First, it is the fully restored gospel of Jesus Christ found in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It is “the only true and living church upon the face of the earth with which I, the Lord, am well pleased” (D&C 1:30). This does not mean that it is the only true (correct teachings) church, nor the only living (indwelling of Spirit) church. It means it is the only one with which the Lord is “well pleased”, and that is because it has accepted the plain and precious things that were once lost.
As mentioned before, each church and person who follows its tenets will be blessed for the truths they embrace. The more truths, the greater the blessings. When one church has greater truth, it is a notch above the others. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints contains the restoration of many ancient truths, and so is a notch above the rest.
That said, the second meaning for the church of Christ is any and all churches that accept Christ as Lord and Savior, and embrace Christian truths of righteousness.
In the last days, not only the Mormons (who have a history of being persecuted), but many Christians will find themselves persecuted by the Great and Abominable Church. Their religious freedoms will be threatened or destroyed by unbelievers, who seek to get gain and power at any cost. Yet the saints of God will be protected by the power of God in those days. LDS believe that the Lord will help us build sanctuaries of righteousness, if necessary, in the midst of the wicked. These will be cities of safety and refuge which will be shared with other good people of faith. Working together, we will build little Zions as refuges from the storm. In the end days, the Lord will then destroy the evil in the world, and the church of getting gain will be no more.
John the Revelator and Nephi the Revelator
After seeing the wicked destroyed, Nephi learns that the vision he has received (including many things he cannot share with us) were also revealed to John the Revelator and others. The apostle John was given the responsibility to witness of the last days, and therefore Nephi was commanded not to elaborate on the rest of what he saw. Still, the things Nephi taught us in his Vision of the Tree of Life (1 Ne 11-15)) are important for understanding how to understand John’s Revelation, or at least Nephi’s version and understanding of the Revelation of John.
What we do see from this vision is that for modern Gentiles and Lamanites alike, we live in the last days. Each one of us must choose whether to stay at the Tree of Life and partake of its fruit of love and redemption, or look across the gap toward the great and spacious building of pride.
As we reach the end days and the Coming of the Lord in glory in our own day, greater disasters will occur and the great and abominable church of men seeking gain through murder and larceny will grow ever bigger. It may be made up of many organizations and people, but their focus is all the same: getting power and wealth through any means necessary. We may well see the freedoms that now spread across much of the world, end in many places due to the political and evil actions of the abominable church.
In the Book of Mormon, we will see many examples of how the righteous are preserved, by repenting, believing on Christ’s name, following his example, and uniting together as a family of saints.
Dead Sea Scrolls - Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dead_Sea_Scrolls
Five Dead Sea Scrolls available online: http://dss.collections.imj.org.il/
Dead Sea Scrolls translations online: http://www.gnosis.org/library/scroll.htm
1 Book of Enoch: http://www.sacred-texts.com/bib/boe/
Shepherd of Hermas: http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/shepherd-lightfoot.html
Early Jewish Writings: http://www.earlyjewishwritings.com/
Early Christian Writings: http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/
William Tyndale: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Tyndale