3 Nephi 8–11
Most Mormons believe that the destruction occurred, three days of darkness passed, and then Jesus showed up for lunch the next day.
However, the Book of Mormon’s text actually clues us in on the timeframe involved here.
“And it came to pass in the thirty and fourth year, in the first month, on the fourth day of the month, there arose a great storm, such an one as never had been known in all the land” (3 Nephi 8:5).
“And it came to pass that in the ending of the thirty and fourth year, behold, I will show unto you that the people of Nephi who were spared, and also those who had been called Lamanites, who had been spared, did have great favors shown unto them, and great blessings poured out upon their heads, insomuch that soon after the ascension of Christ into heaven he did truly manifest himself unto them—” (3 Nephi 10:18).
The destructions occurred almost a year before Jesus appeared to the people. Such a time delay would allow Jesus to perform his works in Jerusalem among his apostles after his resurrection, begin the work for the dead in the Spirit World, and organize the work among those who resurrected with him..
The Great Destruction
3 Ne 8-10
We find in the great destruction the probability that it was the result of a volcano, or perhaps several volcanoes erupting at the same time. The darkness that prevented fires from being kindled could come from the thick ash that would float in the air for several days. Volcanic eruptions have been known to cause storms, including tornadoes and lightning. In a significant eruption, earthquakes can cause cities to be buried, covered in ash, or sink into the ocean or a large body of water, such as Lake Atitlan in Central America (where at least one sunken city has been found). Tsunamis along the oceans could occur, destroying or sinking coastal cities.
We should note that a list of cities burned by fire, including Zarahemla and Jacobugath, could have been founded in the shadows of volcanoes, or new volcanoes may have arisen at that time, sending smouldering rocks and debris down upon the inhabitants.
Sixteen cities are mentioned that were destroyed. Likely, others received damage. This is suggestive of a Limited Geographical Model, wherein the events in the Book of Mormon occurred in a limited area of the Americas, rather than the entire hemisphere. Most LDS scholars today do believe in a limited geography for the Book of Mormon happening in Central America, though some place it elsewhere in the Americas.
The New Law of Sacrifice
3 Nephi 9
The Nephites heard a voice in the darkness that spoke to them of what had occurred. The wicked were destroyed, with the remainder surviving only because they did not stone the prophets nor cast them out.
Yet the Lord called to them saying that their animal sacrifices were no longer accepted. A new sacrifice would be required of them:
“ And ye shall offer up unto me no more the shedding of blood; yea, your sacrifices and your burnt offerings shall be done away, for I will accept none of your sacrifices and your burnt offerings.
And ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit. And whoso cometh unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, him will I baptize with fire and with the Holy Ghost, even as the Lamanites, because of their faith in me at the time of their conversion, were baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and they knew it not” (3 Nephi 9:19-20).
We learn a few things here. First, not everyone who is filled with the Holy Ghost recognizes the event for what it is. Often, they just know that something is different, and they believe.
But the new sacrifice now required is a change of heart. Humility is required. In Alma 32, Alma noted that the poor were compelled to be humble, but more blessed are those who humble themselves without having to be compelled. Here we see the people have also been compelled to be humble through a great disaster. Now they are commanded to replace their pride and intellect with a recognition that God is greater than them all. King Benjamin’s teaching that we are less than the dust of the earth, comes to mind.
It is a broken heart and contrite spirit that lead us to believe in Christ, to repent, and to receive the ordinances and covenants of salvation. It opens us to receiving the Holy Ghost as a constant companion. Such contrition by Alma the Younger caused him to believe and repent, and in so doing, was rescued from hell (Alma 36).
We know that the days leading to the Second Coming of Christ will be similar to these events among the Nephites. The sun will be darkened and the moon will turn to blood prior to the Lord’s coming in power and glory (Joel 2:31, Revelation 6:12). Great destructions will occur that will destroy the wicked off of the earth. Only after such horrendous events will those that remain be ready to turn to Christ with a contrite spirit and broken heart, prepared for the long period of peace.
The Gathering of Israel
3 Nephi 10
The Lord offers a statement he made to Jerusalem:
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee; how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings, and ye would not!” (Luke 13:34, Matt 23:37).
Matthew notes this in context:
“Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city:
That upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar” (Matthew 23:34-35).
The destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD by the Romans, which left the place desolate, also came upon the Nephites for killing and persecuting the prophets, shedding innocent blood. We can suppose that this warning equally applies to the Desolation that wiped out the Jaredites, and will destroy much of the earth at the coming of Christ in glory.
The Doctrine of Christ
3 Nephi 11
Perhaps the greatest teaching in the scriptures is found in this chapter, and reflected in 2 Nephi 31-33. Both Nephi and Jesus call it the “doctrine of Christ” and it is the foundational doctrine for the entire gospel.
We find that the Nephites had been debating over the issue of baptism. Joseph Spencer suggests that the debate involved the differences in baptism taught by Nephi and Abinadi/Alma. Nephi’s baptismal covenant was one that combined everyone into a community covenant with God. Alma’s baptismal covenant was one focused on the individual and his/her actions as a member of the church.
The Lord will reiterate Nephi’s teachings. It isn’t that Alma’s baptism was wrong, but perhaps was incomplete. As it is, Jesus called the disciple Nephi forward, giving him authority to baptize (even though he had been baptizing people previously), so they could be baptized into a higher understanding of the ordinance and covenant.
We could say that Alma taught baptism on the level of the Mosaic/Aaronic level, while Nephi’s baptism was based on the higher Melchizedek law itself. Alma’s baptism counts, but there is a better way still.
Jesus begins by teaching that contention is the doctrine of Satan. He uses contention to divide and conquer. As we’ve seen in previous lessons, the Christian church collapsed because of contention and pride.
Jesus teaches the Nephites the correct form for this higher baptism:
“Having authority given me of Jesus Christ, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen” (3 Ne 11:25).
This is significantly different than the baptism of Alma and Abinadi:
“Helam, I baptize thee, having authority from the Almighty God, as a testimony that ye have entered into a covenant to serve him until you are dead as to the mortal body; and may the Spirit of the Lord be poured out upon you; and may he grant unto you eternal life, through the redemption of Christ, whom he has prepared from the foundation of the world” (Mosiah 18:13).
Jesus then explains the difference between the two baptisms, explaining the Doctrine of Christ:
“And after this manner shall ye baptize in my name; for behold, verily I say unto you, that the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost are one; and I am in the Father, and the Father in me, and the Father and I are one” (3 Nephi 11:27).
Jesus will continue explaining this. In Alma’s baptism, it is a covenant for the individual with Christ. For Jesus and Nephi it is a covenant with the Godhead. In many of the Book of Mormon lessons, I’ve discussed theophanies (man being in God’s presence) as a key theme throughout the book. Here we gain some very important concepts in regards to this..
When Lehi (1 Nephi 1), Isaiah (2 Nephi 16) and others saw God, they often saw him in conjunction with the Divine Council of heaven. God on his throne, surrounded by divine angels. Lehi was invited to join the divine council, when they descended and brought him a book to read, containing his mission call to Jerusalem. Isaiah found himself in the heavenly temple, and once cleansed was able to speak with God, who asked “Whom shall I send”, with Isaiah being part of the divine council in responding “Here am I, send me” (cf Abraham 3:27). Isaiah and Lehi become symbolic of Christ, prophetic messengers sent to deliver a message of deliverance from the divine council.
That message is this: the Father, Son and Holy Ghost are one. They are united in all things. Christ had “suffered the will of the Father in all things from the beginning” (3 Ne 11:11). .The Nephites are now called upon to also learn to be one. No contentions. Unified in the first principles and ordinances of the gospel. The baptismal covenant ties the initiate to both the Godhead and the covenant people as one. Only in becoming one as a people, can they ever hope to be one with the Godhead. Jesus prayed that his disciples would be one, even as the Father and Son are one (John 17), in hopes that they would also become a united and holy people.
Moses sought such unity of the people, so he could bring them into the presence of God (D&C 84:19-26). Here we see that the ordinances of the Melchizedek Priesthood teach us the “mysteries of godliness” and to prepare to see the face of God.
Enoch taught his people diligently until they became Zion:
“And the Lord called his people Zion, because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them” (Moses 7:18).
Only then was the city lifted up to heaven, because the people were ready to become one with God and the divine council.
In the LDS temples, we receive the higher ordinances of the gospel. Baptism is the door to the Celestial Kingdom, and the temple ordinances teach and prepare us further on how to be one with the Godhead and each other. In the temple, we make promises to serve God and to consecrate all we have to God and to Zion. We learn to pray together in one voice. We enter into the Celestial room, representing the presence of God, where we can quietly contemplate his greatness along with others who have entered, representing the divine council of heaven. We are sealed for eternity to our spouses, children, grandchildren and ancestors as one family. We are sealed to God, Christ and the Holy Ghost, being one with them as they are with one another.
In the following lessons on Jesus’ teachings, we are going to see that they all focus on creating a united people of covenant, a Zion people. In Jesus’ teachings here, we catch a glimpse of the real promises made to us in baptism and the priesthood and temple covenants, as we learn to become one covenant people, and part of the divine council of God.
Sunken city at Lake Atitlan: http://www.moon.com/blogs/mundo-maya/documentary-reveal-underwater-maya-city
Sunken cities: http://books.google.com/books?id=Eh1WHqo0JN8C&pg=PA97&lpg=PA97&dq=sunken+city+central+america&source=bl&ots=Qzssj-h9hY&sig=b-6nk6LWF4oPNKFEih18LxNSPGA&hl=en#v=onepage&q=sunken%20city%20central%20america&f=false
Limited Geographical Theory/Model: http://en.fairmormon.org/Book_of_Mormon/Geography/New_World/Limited_Geography_Theory
“An Other Testament: on Typology”, Joseph Spencer: http://www.saltpress.org/