Monday, October 29, 2012

Lesson 44: “I Speak unto You As If Ye Were Present” Mormon 7–9

Lesson 44: “I Speak unto You As If Ye Were Present”
Mormon 7–9

Mormon’s words to Israel
Mormon 7

The Nephites are destroyed as a people.  They have been killed or absorbed into the Lamanite culture.  Mormon and a handful survive for the moment.  He has more to say.

“…I would speak somewhat unto the remnant of this people who are spared, if it so be that God may give unto them my words, that they may know of the things of their fathers; yea, I speak unto you, ye remnant of the house of Israel…” (Mormon 7:1).

Mormon then shares the most important things he can share with them.

Know ye that ye are of the house of Israel.”

They are a part of the covenant people of God.  This is something they cannot escape, only run away from. In the last days, the people of the covenant will return, both spiritually and physically, into one people.  They will be eager to enter into the Abrahamic covenant, once again.  Today, as in the days of the Nephites, we enter the covenant via baptism.

 “Know ye that ye must come unto repentance, or ye cannot be saved.”

Only in faith and repentance can they, or anyone else, be saved.  We are only made sinless and guiltless before God through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  All who repent and believe will be saved.  Once one is sinless, he is ready to receive the Abrahamic covenant through the ordinance of baptism.

 “Know ye that ye must lay down your weapons of war, and delight no more in the shedding of blood, and take them not again, save it be that God shall command you” (Mormon 7:2-4).

Why does Mormon focus on war, and not on sexual depravity, cannibalism, denying the Holy Ghost, or other heinous sins? To remain clean, we must “renounce war and proclaim peace” (D&C 98:16).  We cannot delight in killing and warfare, especially wars of revenge. Instead, we must learn to seek peace. “And blessed are all the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God” (3 Ne 12:9).  To bury one’s weapons of war brings us directly back to the words of the Lamanite king to the converted Lamanites.  They had to bury “their weapons of war, for peace” (Alma 24:19) and did so “because of their love towards their brethren” (Alma 26:32).  One cannot embrace violence and love at the same time.  Contention is of the devil (3 Nephi 11:29) and is the beginning of such hatred and revenge as we’ve seen destroy the Nephites.

For Americans and many others on earth right now, this is a very difficult teaching.  We are a war-like people.  We enjoy watching contentions, murder, and violence on television all the time.  Much of what we watch is not the classic good guy/bad guy battles where good overcomes evil, but a feast of bloodshed in horror movies and action films.  We seek violence for the sake of violence.  We seek ever more violent images, because our senses have become numb.   Many music videos promote angry displays of violence against society, against women, and others.  Sexual exploitation is a violence we often overlook in music, movies, and literature.

Mormon testifies of Christ

Know ye that ye must come to the knowledge of your fathers, and repent of all your sins and iniquities, and believe in Jesus Christ, that he is the Son of God….”

Again in our discussion of the gospel, we return to the basic and founding principles of the gospel: Faith in Christ and repentance.

 “And he bringeth to pass the resurrection of the dead, whereby man must be raised to stand before his judgment-seat.”

The resurrection brings all mankind back into the presence of God, as we will see further on in chapter 9. All will stand before God and be judged.  

 “And he hath brought to pass the redemption of the world, whereby he that is found guiltless before him at the judgment day hath it given unto him to dwell in the presence of God in his kingdom, to sing ceaseless praises with the choirs above, unto the Father, and unto the Son, and unto the Holy Ghost, which are one God, in a state of happiness which hath no end” (Mormon 7:5-7).

The world is redeemed.  Those found guiltless or justified in Christ through faith and repentance will be saved at the judgment day.  Again, the Book of Mormon brings us back to one of its key teachings: returning to the presence of God.  While Mormon does not divide up the kingdom of God into the Celestial, Terrestrial and Telestial, we do see that those who are saved will sing praises to the “one God”, which is the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, or the Godhead.  Even the Telestial will be in the complete presence of the “one God”, even if only in the person of the Holy Ghost. 

However, Alma 36 shows Alma able to see God on his throne, once he believed and repented of his sins. He sees God from a distance, possibly because while he has repented and been made guiltless, he has not yet become holy enough (sanctified) to stand near God. Alma may have seen God from the Telestial seating in the theater, and rejoiced to be there (though he said he wished he could be closer).

To be saved, whether in a Celestial, Terrestrial or Telestial state is a “state of happiness which hath no end.”

“And ye will also know that ye are a remnant of the seed of Jacob; therefore ye are numbered among the people of the first covenant; and if it so be that ye believe in Christ, and are baptized, first with water, then with fire and with the Holy Ghost, following the example of our Savior, according to that which he hath commanded us, it shall be well with you in the day of judgment” (Mormon 7:10).

Again, faith in Christ, repentance and receiving water baptism to enter into the Abrahamic covenant are the first principles and ordinance.  These are required to be justified or made guiltless in Christ’s blood.  Then, we receive the baptism by fire and the Holy Ghost, which is the key to sanctification, being made holy.  The greater we are cleansed and purified by the Spirit, the more holy we are and the closer we stand to the throne of God.  All who are justified and made guiltless will be saved in heaven.  Those who receive the Holy Ghost will be sanctified or made holy to an ever higher level of God’s glory.

Moroni’s first final farewell
Mormon 8

In this chapter is Moroni’s first final farewell.  He will have three farewells to us, as he adds the writings of Ether, and then his own book at the end of the volume.  He sees that all have died, including his father, at the hands of the Lamanites.  He is left alone, with no more plates to write on, and no ore to make additional plates.  Obviously, he finds the way to make more plates, as he does add the books of Ether and Moroni later.  He will travel about 40 years after the final Nephite destruction, and possibly find some people willing to help him or house him for periods of time among them.  It may be they may have helped him find ore to make more plates for the record.

At the time of his writing this chapter, Moroni notes that 15 years have passed since the final destruction.  Even to this point, he has not been able to obtain more ore to make plates.  He still mourns the loss of his father and people.  Over those 15 years, he’s watched the Lamanites (both biological and cultural Lamanites) hunt down the remaining Nephites. Verse 7 may suggest that some Nephite cities remained after the destruction, but were destroyed later by the Lamanites.

The Lamanites continue to war, fighting amongst themselves, suggesting they were not one people, but many peoples that were united culturally.  In ancient Mesoamerica, ancient peoples would often go to war to extend their boundaries or to seek food.  Slash and burn techniques for creating farmland often left the land barren, forcing entire cities to up and move elsewhere, where the lands are more fertile.  Fertile lands were precious and often fought over. Others would go to war against the sovereign ruler, seeking to either free themselves or to become leader of a new hegemony.  Here we see that the Lamanites continued fighting, not as one group, but as several fragmented groups.  Moroni notes that the Gadianton robbers continue as one of these groups, as well.  However, they are distinguished from the Lamanites.  Are they made up of other people that are only culturally unlike the Lamanites, or are they an entirely separate people that live near the Lamanite and Nephite lands? When Mormon and Moroni speak of the future promises to the Lamanites, does this include the Gadianton Robbers as Lamanites?

Moroni and the Scriptures

Moroni looks forward to the promise that the words of his father will come to light in the last days.  He uses the word “light” a lot in this chapter regarding the plates.  He encourages us to “search the words of Isaiah” and especially connects this request to Isaiah 29, interpreting Isaiah’s message through Nephi’s eyes and the coming forth of the Book of Mormon.  He insists that the restoration of the Book of Mormon will occur in a day when miracles are no longer believed.  In Joseph Smith’s day, few believed in the gifts of the Spirit or angelic visitations.  He warns that there will be secret combinations in the world when the plates come forth.  Such dangers and sins have only increased, as technology has spread both truth and evil upon the earth.

Yea, it shall come in a day when the power of God shall be denied, and churches become defiled and be lifted up in the pride of their hearts; yea, even in a day when leaders of churches and teachers shall rise in the pride of their hearts, even to the envying of them who belong to their churches.  Yea, it shall come in a day when there shall be heard of fires, and tempests, and vapors of smoke in foreign lands; And there shall also be heard of wars, rumors of wars, and earthquakes in divers places.  Yea, it shall come in a day when there shall be great pollutions upon the face of the earth; there shall be murders, and robbing, and lying, and deceivings, and whoredoms, and all manner of abominations; when there shall be many who will say, Do this, or do that, and it mattereth not, for the Lord will uphold such at the last day” (Mormon 8:28-31). 

Today we can see defiled churches that promote and embrace sexual sin and other evil as acceptable. They seek to get gain, just like Gadianton robbers and secret combinations of old.  People can have free love and “it mattereth not, for the Lord will uphold such at the last day.”  We see some very wealthy church leaders who promote the gospel of wealth and greed, and “it mattereth not.”  There are wars and rumors of wars in all areas of the world, and “it mattereth not.”  Great physical, spiritual and emotional pollutions affect our world, and “it mattereth not.”   All crimes will happen, and many will look the other way on them, for “it mattereth not.”

We live in a world that does not accept consequence for its choices. It expects government and church to not only absolve them from their sins, but to save them from the consequences and pay for their indiscretions.  Parents allow government and church to raise their kids.  Government is expected to supply contraceptives for sexual promiscuity, and abortions for any inconvenient pregnancies. Churches are expected not only to forgive, but to embrace any and all kinds of sexual behavior. If people sleep around, is that not a kind of whoredom? Truly, such “are in the gall of bitterness and in the bonds of iniquity.”

 And as always, the first sign of apostasy from God is the fine clothing:

And I know that ye do walk in the pride of your hearts; and there are none save a few only who do not lift themselves up in the pride of their hearts, unto the wearing of very fine apparel, unto envying, and strifes, and malice, and persecutions, and all manner of iniquities; and your churches, yea, even every one, have become polluted because of the pride of your hearts. For behold, ye do love money, and your substance, and your fine apparel, and the adorning of your churches, more than ye love the poor and the needy, the sick and the afflicted” (Mormon 8:36-37).

Worst of all, those who should be called Christians are embarrassed to be Christian:

“O ye pollutions, ye hypocrites, ye teachers, who sell yourselves for that which will canker, why have ye polluted the holy church of God? Why are ye ashamed to take upon you the name of Christ?” (Mormon 8:38).

In embracing sin as the norm, many Christians (including LDS Christians) have polluted the church by accepting sin as normal.  The Church today gets attacked frequently today, even from within, by those who seek to normalize sinful behaviors. We are seeing the break down of the family and of individual lives because sin is now accepted as the norm. 

We have become a violent society.  Such violence is as atrocious as the violence that Mormon and Moroni describe of their own people.  We are commanded to shun violence, and many people openly protest the unpopular wars we are engaged in (often with good reason), yet think nothing of the violence that occurs every day in our own society.  

To the Unbelievers
Mormon 9

Moroni now writes to the unbelievers of the future.  He testifies that the day of destruction will come.  In that final day, there will be no time to repent, for judgment will be at hand.  For those who refuse to believe and repent, Moroni teaches:

“Behold, I say unto you that ye would be more miserable to dwell with a holy and just God, under a consciousness of your filthiness before him, than ye would to dwell with the damned souls in hell” (Mormon 9:4).

As we read in Alma 12, the wicked would rather have the mountains fall upon them and hide them from the presence of God, than to stand in his presence.  And I would note that for many who profess Christ, but insist on living in wickedness, they are among those who do not believe.  They have not embraced the gospel of Christ, but a gospel of their own mingled with scripture.  You cannot proclaim Christ and yet believe and teach sin.

 O then ye unbelieving, turn ye unto the Lord; cry mightily unto the Father in the name of Jesus, that perhaps ye may be found spotless, pure, fair, and white, having been cleansed by the blood of the Lamb, at that great and last day” (Mormon 9:6).

There is only one road to salvation: believe and repent. Only in being justified and made sinless in Christ’s blood can we escape the judgment.

“And again I speak unto you who deny the revelations of God, and say that they are done away, that there are no revelations, nor prophecies, nor gifts, nor healing, nor speaking with tongues, and the interpretation of tongues” (Mormon 9:7).

Our modern prophets are human, and sometimes make mistakes. However, there are some who dismiss anything the prophets may say, which they disagree with, as not being from God.  I would suggest that we risk denying the revelations God gives to our prophets, if we dismiss them too quickly.  As noted above, some would insist that the Lord’s anointed is wrong in regards to behaviors currently accepted by society, but condemned by the Lord through his prophets.  Sometimes to be on the Lord’s side means we must humbly follow and believe, even if we don’t fully understand.

“I will show unto you a God of miracles, even the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; and it is that same God who created the heavens and the earth, and all things that in them are” (Mormon 9:11).

What are the miracles that Moroni speaks of?  Yes, it includes healings and tongues.  But it more speaks of the Abrahamic covenant and the Gospel of Abraham given to mankind in all ages wherein we have prophets.  All the prophets have revealed to them that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah and Redeemer of the world.  They have revealed to them the things necessary to return to the presence of God and to be like Him.  Too many Christians, including too many Mormons, just do not fully believe that God speaks to his prophets today.  And what does God command them to teach?  Believe in Christ.  Repent of all your sins.  Be justified and made clean/guiltless/sinless in the blood of Christ.  Receive baptism and the other ordinances to enter into the covenant of Abraham.  Receive the Holy Spirit to sanctify and make you holy, so you can stand in the presence of God, Jesus and the Holy Ghost.

We live in the last days of the world.  Whether it ends in my life or not, someday I will come to the end of my mortality.  At that time, I will know whether I have truly believed in Christ and humbled myself sufficiently to repent of all my sins.  Even one sin can keep me from being fully made clean in Christ, so I must give them all away.  I must believe in the revelation of Christ, sent to living prophets and accept their teachings so that I may enter the Abrahamic covenant and be cleansed in Christ.  I then must seek to be made holy through the Holy Ghost, that some day I may again stand in God’s presence and be like him.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Book of Mormon Lesson 43: “How Could Ye Have Departed from the Ways of the Lord?” Mormon 1–6; Moroni 9

Book of Mormon Lesson 43: “How Could Ye Have Departed from the Ways of the Lord?”
Mormon 1–6; Moroni 9

In Alma 34:35, the prophet teaches a very profound concept:

“For behold, if ye have procrastinated the day of your repentance even until death, behold, ye have become subjected to the spirit of the devil, and he doth seal you his; therefore, the Spirit of the Lord hath withdrawn from you, and hath no place in you, and the devil hath all power over you; and this is the final state of the wicked” (Alma 34:35).

A person or people may become so wicked and hard-hearted that the Holy Spirit withdraws completely.  Such a person has procrastinated the day of his repentance “even until spiritual death.”  What a contrast to the last several lessons of Jesus’ sojourn with the Nephites. In these chapters, we’ve seen the people renewed, reborn, and sealed to Christ.  They have been filled with the Spirit, which they prayed for and desired most of all (3 Nephi 19:9).  Christ has all power over the righteous Nephites for about 200 years time.  When they died, they were received into the bosom of Abraham, which is the final state of the righteous.

In our study of Mormon and Ether, we will see how a people become so depraved that the only solution for God is a mercy killing.  They are telestial beings at best, sons of perdition at worst.  They love evil and contention. They thirst for the blood of their enemies.  The Nephites have a love/hate relationship with Mormon.  They see him as their only hope for rescue from the Lamanites, and yet will not give heed to them.  Here are some of the things Mormon says concerning the Nephites of his day:

“The whole face of the land had become covered with buildings, and the people were as numerous almost, as it were the sand of the sea” (Mormon 1:7).

It seems the destructions occur only after the people have populated the land.  Today, we see over-crowding into cities causing a rise in gangs. Over-population can cause famine and poverty.  In this time, Nephites and Lamanites would seek to extend their kingdoms in hopes of dealing with the struggles just mentioned.  So, we have a premise for beginning war.

But wickedness did prevail upon the face of the whole land, insomuch that the Lord did take away his beloved disciples, and the work of miracles and of healing did cease because of the iniquity of the people.  And there were no gifts from the Lord, and the Holy Ghost did not come upon any, because of their wickedness and unbelief” (Mormon 1:13-14).

Imagine the world without prophets, miracles, or gifts of the Spirit.  Imagine a world without faith, hope and charity.  Here is the situation Mormon finds himself.

 And these Gadianton robbers, who were among the Lamanites, did infest the land, insomuch that the inhabitants thereof began to hide up their treasures in the earth; and they became slippery, because the Lord had cursed the land, that they could not hold them, nor retain them again. And it came to pass that there were sorceries, and witchcrafts, and magics; and the power of the evil one was wrought upon all the face of the land, even unto the fulfilling of all the words of Abinadi, and also Samuel the Lamanite” (Mormon 1:18-19).

Signs leading to destruction include Gadianton robbers or gangs infesting the land.  Today, there are over 100,000 gang members in Chicago alone.  People turn to witchcraft and magic, because they do not have the gifts of the Spirit.  The Spirit of Satan (as opposed to the Holy Ghost) displays his power in the land.

“But behold, the land was filled with robbers and with Lamanites; and notwithstanding the great destruction which hung over my people, they did not repent of their evil doings; therefore there was blood and carnage spread throughout all the face of the land, both on the part of the Nephites and also on the part of the Lamanites; and it was one complete revolution throughout all the face of the land” (Mormon 2:8).

The people refuse to repent. They no longer are capable of repenting.  Repenting would require them to trust in God, rather than on their swords.  And yet, their swords and other treasure is slippery.  They cannot trust one another, nor can they trust God to deliver them.  In rejecting God and his power to save and order things, they rely on the power of Satan.  Revolution, or chaos, runs rampant.  As I’ve written elsewhere, God seeks to give order to the earth and all things.  The Creation is all about God creating order from chaos: light from darkness, earth from the chaotic waters, life from no existence, etc.  In the Nephite Millennium, we see God’s order hold sway. Now it has collapsed and completely replaced by Satan’s chaos.  Order leads to more life.  Chaos leads to destruction.  Or, in scientific terms, chaos leads to entropy.

… their sorrowing was not unto repentance, because of the goodness of God; but it was rather the sorrowing of the damned, because the Lord would not always suffer them to take happiness in sin.  And they did not come unto Jesus with broken hearts and contrite spirits, but they did curse God, and wish to die. Nevertheless they would struggle with the sword for their lives.  And it came to pass that my sorrow did return unto me again, and I saw that the day of grace was passed with them, both temporally and spiritually; for I saw thousands of them hewn down in open rebellion against their God, and heaped up as dung upon the face of the land. And thus three hundred and forty and four years had passed away” (Mormon 2:13-15).

They experienced misery and sorrow.  But they had no recourse for their misery.  Unlike the rebellious Alma, who suffered for three days in intense and exquisite pain, but then found peace and joy in repentance (Alma 36), these Nephites refused to believe and repent.  Instead of believing and repenting, they chose to “curse God, and wish to die.”  When Mormon states that “the day of grace was passed with them”, we must wonder if they are so far beyond the Spirit that Christ’s atonement can no longer reach any of them.  Perhaps in the Spirit World, some may believe and repent, but it seems that many would likely refuse Christ there, as well.  To be in “open rebellion against their God” suggests that they had a true and perfect knowledge of Christ – after all they just concluded centuries of perfect peace with Christ dwelling among them occasionally.  If they had such a witness, but then chose Satan – many joining the Gadianton robbers or just choosing to be as bad as the Gadianton robbers, suggests that they were “subjected to the spirit of the devil, and he doth seal [them] his”.

We can only anticipate that at the end of the final Millennium, when Satan is loosed for a season and many choose to follow the devil in that final act of open rebellion, those will also become sons of perdition.

And now, because of this great thing  (beating the Lamanites) which my people, the Nephites, had done, they began to boast in their own strength, and began to swear before the heavens that they would avenge themselves of the blood of their brethren who had been slain by their enemies. And they did swear by the heavens, and also by the throne of God, that they would go up to battle against their enemies, and would cut them off from the face of the land.  And it came to pass that I, Mormon, did utterly refuse from this time forth to be a commander and a leader of this people, because of their wickedness and abomination…. And when they had sworn by all that had been forbidden them by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, that they would go up unto their enemies to battle, and avenge themselves of the blood of their brethren, behold the voice of the Lord came unto me, saying:  Vengeance is mine, and I will repay; and because this people repented not after I had delivered them, behold, they shall be cut off from the face of the earth”  (Mormon 3:9-15).

Instead of thanking God for their victories, they boasted in themselves.  Worse, instead of being on the defense, they chose to begin an offensive war of revenge.  You’ll note they still believe in God, as they swear by God’s throne and the heavens.  Yet, they want God to work on their terms.  They sought to destroy the Lamanites completely.  Mormon recognized that this evil desire would become the beginning of the end for the Nephites, and refused for a time to be their leader.

Because the Nephites attacked the Lamanites in seeking revenge and to destroy them, Mormon explains,

“But, behold, the judgments of God will overtake the wicked; and it is by the wicked that the wicked are punished; for it is the wicked that stir up the hearts of the children of men unto bloodshed” (Mormon 4:5).

When war comes, it is always the wicked who start it.  They stir men’s hearts to bloodshed, rather than into defending themselves.  They seek to inflict the world and the innocent with the chaos of war.  In doing so, hearts are hardened, people lose faith, the wicked destroyed and the innocent suffer.

And it is impossible for the tongue to describe, or for man to write a perfect description of the horrible scene of the blood and carnage which was among the people, both of the Nephites and of the Lamanites; and every heart was hardened, so that they delighted in the shedding of blood continually.  And there never had been so great wickedness among all the children of Lehi, nor even among all the house of Israel, according to the words of the Lord, as was among this people” (Mormon 4:11-12).

Mormon’s pleas are useless.  They will not listen:

“Behold, I am laboring with them continually; and when I speak the word of God with sharpness they tremble and anger against me; and when I use no sharpness they harden their hearts against it; wherefore, I fear lest the Spirit of the Lord hath ceased striving with them.  For so exceedingly do they anger that it seemeth me that they have no fear of death; and they have lost their love, one towards another; and they thirst after blood and revenge continually” (Moroni 9:4-5).

Idolatry, Torture and Cannibalism

Mormon then gives us a glimpse of some of the worse violence provided:

“…they (The Lamanites) did also march forward against the city Teancum, and did drive the inhabitants forth out of her, and did take many prisoners both women and children, and did offer them up as sacrifices unto their idol gods” (Mormon 4:14).

He expounds upon this to his son, Moroni:

“…the Lamanites have many prisoners, which they took from the tower of Sherrizah; and there were men, women, and children.  And the husbands and fathers of those women and children they have slain; and they feed the women upon the flesh of their husbands, and the children upon the flesh of their fathers; and no water, save a little, do they give unto them” (Moroni 9:7-8).

But as bad as the Lamanites are, the Nephites are far worse:

For behold, many of the daughters of the Lamanites have they (Nephites) taken prisoners; and after depriving them of that which was most dear and precious above all things, which is chastity and virtue—  And after they had done this thing, they did murder them in a most cruel manner, torturing their bodies even unto death; and after they have done this, they devour their flesh like unto wild beasts, because of the hardness of their hearts; and they do it for a token of bravery” (Moroni 9:9-10).

O the depravity of my people! They are without order and without mercy. Behold, I am but a man, and I have but the strength of a man, and I cannot any longer enforce my commands.  And they have become strong in their perversion; and they are alike brutal, sparing none, neither old nor young; and they delight in everything save that which is good; and the suffering of our women and our children upon all the face of this land doth exceed everything; yea, tongue cannot tell, neither can it be written” (Moroni 9:18-19).

Women and children are the victims.  Men are sons of perdition, as they love only evil things.  They are like Cain:

“And Cain loved Satan more than God….  And Cain said: Truly I am Mahan, the master of this great secret, that I may murder and get gain. Wherefore Cain was called Master Mahan, and he gloried in his wickedness.  And Cain went into the field, and Cain talked with Abel, his brother. And it came to pass that while they were in the field, Cain rose up against Abel, his brother, and slew him. And Cain gloried in that which he had done, saying: I am free; surely the flocks of my brother falleth into my hands” (Moses 5:18; 31-33).

The Solution for all times, places and people

Mormon tells us there is a solution.  In fact, there is only one solution.  There is a way to avoid the great destructions and violence that inflicts our world even today. 

“…that they may be persuaded that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God; that the Father may bring about, through his most Beloved, his great and eternal purpose, in restoring the Jews, or all the house of Israel, to the land of their inheritance, which the Lord their God hath given them, unto the fulfilling of his covenant;  And also that the seed of this people may more fully believe his gospel, which shall go forth unto them from the Gentiles….” (Mormon 5:14-15).


Friday, October 19, 2012

Lesson 42: “This Is My Gospel” 3 Nephi 27–30; 4 Nephi

Lesson 42: “This Is My Gospel”
3 Nephi 27–30; 4 Nephi

The Things of God, Man and the Devil
3 Nephi 27

The twelve disciples fasted and prayed, wishing to know what the Church should be called.  Obviously, there was contention on the matter among the members of the Church, and perhaps even among the Twelve.  The Lord appeared, telling them to stop their disputing.  He explained that if a church is named after Moses or someone else, then it belongs to that person.  Therefore,

“…if it be called in my name then it is my church, if it so be that they are built upon my gospel” (3 Ne 27:8).

This might seem like a no brainer issue, but something similar happened in Paul’s day (1 Corinthians 3).  Even in the early days of the Church, it changed its name from “The Church of Christ” to “The Church of Latter-day Saints” and finally to “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints”, but only after the Lord commanded it.

“For thus shall my church be called in the last days, even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” (D&C 115:4). 

Because of the name change away from the Church of Christ in the 1830s, there were some members in Kirtland Ohio that felt the Church had strayed from its roots and believed Joseph Smith was a fallen prophet.  This is how important a name can be, anciently and today.

But just because a church calls itself after Christ’s name, does not mean it is his Church. It must also be “built upon my (Jesus’) gospel.”  To the extent that a church strays from that directive, it is less and less the Lord’s church.  A Church built upon the gospel will show forth the Father’s works.

if it be not built upon my gospel, and is built upon the works of men, or upon the works of the devil, verily I say unto you they have joy in their works for a season, and by and by the end cometh, and they are hewn down and cast into the fire, from whence there is no return. For their works do follow them, for it is because of their works that they are hewn down; therefore remember the things that I have told you” (3 Ne 27:11-12).

Here, the Lord gives us an insight on not only the churches that are in the world, but all organizations and things found on earth.  All things are founded upon the Lord’s gospel, man’s gospel, or Satan’s gospel.  Of the three, only the Lord’s gospel promises eternal joy and peace.  The other two are temporary, and one may find “joy” or perhaps “pleasure” is a better word, in those things. But eventually the things of man corrode and fall apart, while the works of Satan will all end tragically.

How do we determine the things of man?  A simple illustration might help us see this.  Many eons ago, my youngest son asked me to buy him the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle game for his Nintendo system.  He told me that it would make him the happiest person on earth.  So, for his birthday, I purchased it for him. Indeed, he seemed like the happiest kid in the world when he unwrapped it.  For days he played the game, almost without stop.  After a couple weeks, I noticed he wasn’t playing it. I asked him why he wasn’t.  He responded that he now had beaten the game several times and was bored with it.  No longer did I see the face of the happiest kid in the world, but someone who needed his next “fix.”

Meanwhile the scriptures explain to us that the things of God fill us with the Holy Spirit, which brings us joy and peace.  King Benjamin insisted that happiness only comes from turning to Christ and His gospel, believing and repenting, then receiving the ordinances and the Holy Ghost as a constant companion (Mosiah 2-5).  A person who continually walks with the Spirit never becomes bored with spiritual experiences, even though they may come in very simple packaging and little fanfare or marketing.

Meanwhile, the things of Satan addict people to evil.  Whether it is sexual perversion, violence, greed, or any other immoral practice, does not matter. Satan gives the person big sensations to experience.  Such feelings are often addictive, which is why people become addicted to sex, drugs, violence, and a variety of other things.  Once ensnared, Satan no longer has a need to support the person, and allows the person’s world to collapse.

It is possible that some churches work under the power of God, or partially under his blessing.  It may be that others work under the doctrine of man’s gospel – not evil, but not virtuous, either.  Then there are some practices and beliefs that are totally wicked.  Here are the three choices set before most of us: Telestial, Terrestrial or Celestial life.

I am lifted up

Jesus continues by explaining, 

“And for this cause have I been lifted up; therefore, according to the power of the Father I will draw all men unto me, that they may be judged according to their works.   And it shall come to pass, that whoso repenteth and is baptized in my name shall be filled; and if he endureth to the end, behold, him will I hold guiltless before my Father at that day when I shall stand to judge the world.   And he that endureth not unto the end, the same is he that is also hewn down and cast into the fire, from whence they can no more return, because of the justice of the Father” (3 Ne 27:15-17).

All men will return back into the presence of God, to be judged of their works.  There are two parts of this judgment: those who repent and are baptized, and those who endure to the end.  The first part notes the Justification of Christ’s atonement.  Those who believe and repent (symbolized by baptism) are made guiltless, or sinless.  They are saved from Outer Darkness and spiritual death.  Meanwhile, those who also seek to endure to the end, keeping the commandments and being righteous, are Sanctified by Christ’s atonement and the Holy Ghost.  As a person seeks to grow in righteousness, they receive a greater portion of the Holy Ghost, making the person more holy and sanctified than before.

For those who do not believe, repent, nor endure to the end, there is only one place for them: Outer Darkness.  Because we have this life and the Spirit World, we have time to be justified and rescued from eternal hell fire.  However, the longer we wait, the less time we will have to become sanctified to a higher level of heaven than just the Telestial.  So, it is important not to waste our probationary period here on earth.  These teachings are made clearer by Jesus:

And no unclean thing can enter into his kingdom; therefore nothing entereth into his rest save it be those who have washed their garments in my blood, because of their faith, and the repentance of all their sins, and their faithfulness unto the end (Justification)  Now this is the commandment: Repent, all ye ends of the earth, and come unto me and be baptized in my name, that ye may be sanctified by the reception of the Holy Ghost, that ye may stand spotless before me at the last day (Sanctification)” (3 Ne 27:19-20).

Jesus then explains we are judged from the books.  The apostle John noted that the Book of Life AND the books of works were brought forth in the final judgment.  Those who have been Justified are found in the Book of Life.  Those not found in the Book of Life are cast out into Outer Darkness.  For those who are in the Book of Life, they are then judged according to the books of works, to determine how holy and sanctified the individual has become (Revelation 20:12-15).

Transfiguration and Translation
3 Nephi 28

The Twelve desired a gift.  Nine of them wanted to live to old age, and then be received into heaven. They were granted this blessing.  However, three of the group wished to dwell upon the earth until the last day. 

Therefore, more blessed are ye, for ye shall never taste of death; but ye shall live to behold all the doings of the Father unto the children of men, even until all things shall be fulfilled according to the will of the Father, when I shall come in my glory with the powers of heaven.  And ye shall never endure the pains of death; but when I shall come in my glory ye shall be changed in the twinkling of an eye from mortality to immortality; and then shall ye be blessed in the kingdom of my Father.  And again, ye shall not have pain while ye shall dwell in the flesh, neither sorrow save it be for the sins of the world; and all this will I do because of the thing which ye have desired of me, for ye have desired that ye might bring the souls of men unto me, while the world shall stand: (3 Ne 28:7-9).

Here we learn some important concepts of Translation:
1.       They do not “taste of death.”  This could be interpreted two ways.  First, that anyone taking a bite out of on of their arms would conclude they have not decomposed.  That is probably not the correct meaning given (although still valid), given the context.  It means they will not experience death.  They shall die and be reborn in a twinkling of an eye, so quick there is not time to experience what death is.
2.       They will live in a translated state until God accomplishes all of his work and Christ comes in glory at his Second Coming.
3.       Satan has no power over them.
4.       They do not endure normal pain, but will experience the pains and sorrows of the world.  Experiencing sorrow for the sins of the world seems to suggest they somehow experience, at least in part, the sorrow and pain Jesus felt in taking upon himself the sins of the world.

We are told that the translation experience required they be transfigured or changed from a mortal to an immortal body.  Transfiguration is normally expressed in temporary events, such as when Moses or Joseph Smith saw God.  They both returned to their mortal state, but weakened from the experience.  For those who are translated, the transfiguration is a permanent transformation, making them holy and sanctified both spirit and body.  Though not resurrected, they are in between the resurrected and mortal states.

For these three, this was an ascension event.  They likely were brought up to the throne of God where the change from mortal to immortal was made.  It is actually an event that is anticipated in the LDS endowment, when the members are asked to put the temple robes on top of their normal white clothing.  This change from mortal appearance to immortal appearance, or to a transfigured or translated or resurrected state, is important to recognize.

Mormon speaks to us of the forthcoming Book of Mormon
3 Nephi 29-30

Mormon returns to share his thoughts with us.  He focuses on the works of his hands, the abridgment of the large plates of Nephi.  He explains briefly the main and key events and teachings therein.  The Lord lives and all which his prophets have foretold will come to pass.  When the Book of Mormon comes forth, then Israel would no longer be spurned by God.  Since its publication in 1830, we see that the Jews are returning to Israel. They again have their own nation.  Hundreds of thousands of Lamanites (both direct DNA and cultural descendants) have read the Book of Mormon and know that they are of the House of Israel.

Can you imagine how that sounded at the time Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery translated Mormon’s words?  Only a handful of people believed in the work they were doing.  No one but Joseph saw the metal plates until the Three Witnesses. The early Saints were persecuted and driven from place to place, and still there is this prophecy in the book itself stating that its words would come to the House of Israel, and help prepare them for the Second Coming!

And ye may know that the words of the Lord, which have been spoken by the holy prophets, shall all be fulfilled; and ye need not say that the Lord delays his coming unto the children of Israel. And ye need not imagine in your hearts that the words which have been spoken are vain, for behold, the Lord will remember his covenant which he hath made unto his people of the house of Israel.  And when ye shall see these sayings coming forth among you, then ye need not any longer spurn at the doings of the Lord, for the sword of his justice is in his right hand; and behold, at that day, if ye shall spurn at his doings he will cause that it shall soon overtake you” (3 Ne 29:2-4).

With the coming of the Book of Mormon, God is beginning to fulfill his work and covenant with Israel.  What a bold statement to make, if this book were made by a fraud.  Instead, we see it coming true.

One thing Mormon does warn Israel and Gentile alike: do not take lightly the revelations and miracles of God.

Yea, wo unto him that shall deny the revelations of the Lord, and that shall say the Lord no longer worketh by revelation, or by prophecy, or by gifts, or by tongues, or by healings, or by the power of the Holy Ghost!  Yea, and wo unto him that shall say at that day, to get gain, that there can be no miracle wrought by Jesus Christ; for he that doeth this shall become like unto the son of perdition, for whom there was no mercy, according to the word of Christ!” (3 Ne 29:6-7).

In chapter 30, Mormon briefly calls upon the Gentiles to repent.  They must become a part of spiritual Israel, or be destroyed at his Second Coming.  The path is as described many times in the Book of Mormon: faith in Christ, repentance, baptism for remission of sins, and receiving the gifts of the Holy Ghost.

Fourth Nephi – the Nephite Millennial Zion

In Fourth Nephi, we begin by seeing the results of the great destruction among the Nephites, followed by the coming of the resurrected Lord, and finally through the teaching of the Twelve.  People throughout the lands of the Nephites and Lamanites repent.  They have a “Millennium” of more than 200 years, before things begin to break down.

What constitutes the key factors behind this Zion period?

1.       “... And as many as did come unto them, and did truly repent of their sins, were baptized in the name of Jesus; and they did also receive the Holy Ghost”
2.       “…the people were all converted unto the Lord” – not just a few. One cannot have a Zion, if some of the people are not converted, truly converted, to the Lord.
3.       “…there were no contentions and disputations among them” – note they had contentions over baptism and the name of the Church, which Jesus had to settle for them.  Now, there were no contentions. Satan had no power over this people.
4.       “…every man did deal justly one with another.”   There were no Gadianton robbers seeking to get gain or advantage over another.  All were honest in their dealings with their fellow man.
5.       “And they had all things common among them….”  Note, this does not say whether the material goods were taken by government via taxes and redistributed.  More likely, they distributed to the poor via the Twelve disciples or an organization set up by them to manage it (local teachers and priests?).
6.       “…they were all made free….”  There were neither slaves nor servants among them. Remember, much of Nephite history deals with one form of slavery or another:  Lamanites seeking to enslave Nephites, Zoramites enslaving their poor, Gadiantons enslaving those who would not join them.
7.       They were all “partakers of the heavenly gift”.  This is a phrase that we could spend lots of pages writing about.  The heavenly gift?  Is it the Holy Ghost?  The 2nd Comforter?  Perhaps.  But I think it more suggests the concept of Zion as a model of heaven.  Enoch’s Zion was made perfect, the whole people were translated (like the 3 Nephites just mentioned above), and Zion was lifted up and taken to heaven.  It was made into a Celestial temple.  Now, the Nephites had their own Celestial temple here on earth.  The heavenly gift is to dwell in unity among a Zion people, who have all things in common – material and spiritual things, who are all converted to Christ, and who are ready to become one with the Godhead.

And so we see that Christ’s teachings have led us to this point, where we find the people, no longer Nephites and Lamanites, but the people of Christ, living as the pure in heart in a perfect society of love, harmony and peace.

Sadly, it only lasts a few centuries.  Then greed, contention and worldly desires set in.  The people quickly devolve from the finest in the world to the worst the world has ever known.  Once a people have been so enlightened by truth and witnessed Christ as they did, they can never again put the genie back into the bottle and be regular people.  There is only one direction, and that is straight down, as if they got too close to the edge of heaven, slipped, and fell straight to hell.

Herein we see a prophecy of the world today.  A people are led by God to discover the promised land. They prosper when they follow God, and suffer when they disobey their covenant with him.  They eventually come to a great destruction, followed by the Coming of Christ and a Millennial reign.  Afterward, Satan is loosed for a season, wherein the demon will gather those sons of perdition to his side.  All of this leads to a grand and ultimate fight at the end of the world, with the wicked destroyed, and the world is prepared for a new, reborn, people.