The Doctrine of Salvation for the Dead in the Book of Mormon
Elder and Sister Renlund gave a brilliant parable for those who may see our church as a little boat captained by feeble old man. It was a tender plea, for those who see problems in the church, to help them stay in the boat. But let’s be clear, that is not how the Renlund’s and most of us see the good ship Zion. So, I’d like to adjust the parable with how things really are.
We notice a young man looking over the railing of a tall ship. We ask him, “How’s it going?” He replies, “I’m thinking on jumping and swimming to shore.”
We respond, “Are you crazy? This is a freakin Nimitz! It is the largest, most powerful ship in the world. If there is a nuclear attack, this would be the safest place on earth. The captain has the intellect of a heart surgeon. The co-captains are as bright as Supreme Court judges, and Standard University Professors. They have been on this ship for a hundred years. They are extremely experienced. Their radar/sonar equipment is out of this world. They can and will get us to shore.
And the food’s not that bad. Have you tried the funeral potatoes? They’re to die for. That water you’re not so fond of will heal you.
If you jump you may not survive the fall. But that hardly matters. You don’t have a life jacket. None of us have the strength to swim to shore, not to mention the sharks. You will, without question, die.”
The Church of Jesus Christ is not a dinky boat anymore. With all due respect to our pioneer forbearers, ours is not the church they knew. They baptized a couple thousand a year. We baptize millions every year on both sides of the veil. And to paraphrase a well known prophecy of Joseph Smith, “You ain’t seen nothing yet.”
So here’s a question. Which church did Nephi see? Did he see the church of Joseph Smith’s day, or did he see the church of our day and beyond? On this issue, he who delighted in plainness, was abundantly clear. He saw the church that was destined to save all mankind. He said so repeatedly.
Nephi read two chapters of Isaiah to his brothers (Isaiah 48-49 in 1 Nephi 20-21). He told them they applied (could be likened) to them (see 1 Nephi 19:23). He said Isaiah’s message was for his people as well as those who had been or would be scattered. He said his message was for “all the house of Israel,” that they might have hope (see 1 Nephi 19:24 and 1 Nephi 22:3-5). Those chapters talk about:
- Israel being refined in the furnace of affliction (Isaiah 48).
- God’s atonement and Him not forgetting them (Isaiah 49:15-16).
- The Latter-day Zion (Isaiah 49:22).
- Salvation for the dead (Isaiah 49: 8-9, see footnote 9a).
- They would inherit the desolate heritages (Isaiah 49:8).
- The prisoners would go forth (1 Nephi 21:9).
- They would be brought out of darkness (Isaiah 49:9).
Most of Israel was scattered because they hardened their hearts against the Holy One of Israel (1 Nephi 22:5). Learning that God had not forgotten them, that He would suffer for them (see 1 Nephi 21:15-16), could give them hope. But there is no hope in Christ’s atonement without access to that atonement. Nephi didn’t believe hope was possible without baptism (see 2 Nephi 33:9). That is probably why he centered his commentary regarding those chapters on Christ’s latter-day church (see 1 Nephi 22:6-10).
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints could offer hope to Nephi and his righteous brothers because they knew they would participate in and benefit from that church. All holy men were promised that they would see the latter-day Zion in the flesh (see D&C 45:12-14). They could, with faith, look for “a city . . . whose builder and maker is God” (Hebrews 11:10). They, no doubt, anticipated a day of righteousness—a day when the latter-day Zion would “bring about the destruction of the powers of darkness, the renovation of the earth, the glory of God, and the salvation of the human family.” (Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 231–32). They could hope for a better world (Ether 12:4).
But more particularly, to Nephi’s point, he said our church was “concerning” those who had hardened their hearts against the Holy One of Israel (1 Nephi 22:5). They would be “scattered among all nations” and “be hated of all men” (1 Nephi 22:5). Many (if not most) of them would end up in Spirit Prison.
“Nevertheless, after they shall be nursed by the Gentiles, and the Lord has lifted up his hand upon the Gentiles and set them up for a standard, and their children have been carried in their arms, and their daughters have been carried upon their shoulders, behold these things of which are spoken are temporal” (1 Nephi 22:6).
Many of their children will be gathered in mortality. That is probably why Nephi said “these things . . . are temporal,” “according to the flesh” (1 Nephi 22:2,3,6). However, those children are not all the house of Israel. They are a remnant who will have the gospel in the last days. But in the Book of Mormon, when that remnant is mentioned, it is invariably followed by the word “all” (see 1 Nephi 13:39–40; 1 Nephi 22:6–9; 2 Nephi 3:5–13; 2 Nephi 21:11–12; 2 Nephi 30:3–8; 3 Nephi 5:23–26; 3 Nephi 16:4–5; 3 Nephi 20:25–30; 3 Nephi 21; Mormon 3:18–22; Mormon 5:9–14; Ether 13:6–11).
For example, Nephi taught,
“Wherefore, our father hath not spoken of our seed alone, but also of all the house of Israel, pointing to the covenant which should be fulfilled in the latter days; which covenant the Lord made to our father Abraham, saying: In thy seed shall all the kindreds of the earth be blessed” (1 Nephi 15:18).
Therefore after Nephi talked about those children being carried, he continued,
“for thus are the covenants of the Lord with our fathers; and it meaneth us in the days to come, and also all our brethren who are of the house of Israel” (1 Nephi 22:6). Those days to come are the latter days. That word “us” seems fairly straightforward, like, “that standard is for us.”
That word “all” may not be so clear. “All” can be qualified. When Matthew said all of Jerusalem went out to meet John (see Matthew 3:5) we assume he didn’t mean literally everyone. However Nephi left no room for us to assume he was referring to only a lucky generation at the end of the world. By including his people, as well as those who had been or would be scattered, he apparently meant all.
Nephi continued talking about all the families of the earth being blessed through Abraham’s seed (see 1 Nephi 22:9). We understand that. We are his seed, notwithstanding we “are identified with the Gentiles” (D&C 109:60). We know how we can bless all the families of the earth. We know that involves salvation for the dead. Nephi seems to know as well. Before he addressed God bringing Israel out of captivity, it may be helpful to reiterate who he said these things are for.
All the house of Israel (1 Nephi 19:24).
All the house of Israel (1 Nephi 22:6).
All the house of Israel (1 Nephi 22:9).
All the kindreds of the earth (1 Nephi 22:9).
All the kindreds of the earth (1 Nephi 22:10).
“Wherefore, the Lord God will proceed to make bare his arm in the eyes of all the nations, in bringing about his covenants and his gospel unto those who are of the house of Israel.
Wherefore, he will bring them again out of captivity, and they shall be gathered together to the lands of their inheritance; and they shall be brought out of obscurity and out of darkness; and they shall know that the Lord is their Savior and their Redeemer, the Mighty One of Israel” (1 Nephi 22:11-12).
After the gospel is restored, Israel will be:
- Gathered to their lands of inheritance.
- Brought out of captivity.
- Brought out of darkness.
For those who struggle with the whole house of Israel being gathered to their lands of inheritance, see Ezekiel 37. Also notice who Ezekiel said the Book of Mormon would be for (see Ezekiel 37:16; see also Mormon 5:14 and 3 Nephi 21:1-3). Evidently that book will play a crucial role in their coming to “know the Lord is their Savior and their Redeemer.”
Bringing them out of “obscurity” sounds a lot like Family Search. Isaiah told captive Israel to “show yourselves,” (see 1 Nephi 21:9). That is a fascinating phrase in this context.
Nevertheless, it appears Nephi, like President Gordon B. Hinckley, saw Christ’s latter-day church as being for the salvation and eternal life of all who have ever lived. (see President Gordon B. Hinckley, quoted by Jeffrey R. Holland, 2/5/1999, “Our Consuming Mission,” Address to CES Religious Educators, Salt Lake Tabernacle, February 5th, 1999).
Nephi’s brother Jacob taught that all the house of Israel would be “restored to the true church and fold of God” (2 Nephi 9: 1-2; see also 2 Nephi 6:4-5). He also taught that people in “hell” would be brought out and judged. “They who are righteous” he said, “shall be righteous still, and they who are filthy shall be filthy still” (2 Nephi 9:16). Only sons of perdition will be “filthy still” (see D&C 88:35). Many who come out of prison will end up on the right hand of God (see Moses 7:57).
King Benjamin taught that Christ’s blood atones for children who die in their infancy, and those who die not knowing the will of God, who ignorantly sinned. (Mosiah 3:11 and 16). But, he said after “the knowledge of a Savior shall spread throughout every nation, kindred, tongue, and people” (Mosiah 3:20, italics added), then “none shall be found blameless before God, except it be little children” (Mosiah 3:21). Evidently those who die in their ignorance, do not remain in their ignorance.
Nephi, in Second Nephi, quoted Isaiah again. He quoted twelve chapters which are packed with prophecies about our day. The first words of those chapters are concerning a temple to be built in Utah (see 2 Nephi 12:1-3). This is his introduction.
“And now I write some of the words of Isaiah, that whoso of my people shall see these words may lift up their hearts and rejoice for all men. Now these are the words, and ye may liken them unto you and unto all men” (2 Nephi 11:8).
There is much more in the Book of Mormon that suggests when they said “all,” in connection with the latter-day Zion, they meant all.
What follows is the same as above treated in greater depth. It includes the reason this view is so important.
When we teach the plan of salvation, why is it we rarely, if ever, include The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints? We could not be saved without Christ’s church. It is part of the plan for us. People born in 1492 could not be saved without His latter-day church. It is part of the plan for them. It is the “restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began” (Acts 3:21), which means it was planned. So, why don’t we include it? Many gospel scholars have told me that since Abraham was exalted without our church, and since “The plan” must be for all, we can’t include it. Therefore, not only do we generally not include our church in our depictions and discussions of the plan, some are prepared to argue that we can’t.
But when the ancient prophets talked about the plan of redemption, they always included our church. Envisioning a plan different from how they saw it, can cause us to miss some things, including their point. What follows will be a new view for some. A view very much in line with President Gordon B. Hinckley and Elder Russel M. Nelson, who both taught our church is part of God’s divine plan.
A Church for All
We know Nebuchadnezzar had a dream about our church. Ask a well-versed member of the church, “Why would Nebuchadnezzar care?” I have asked that question of every knowledgeable member I could for the last twenty-five years. The answer has always been something like, “I’m not sure he would care. His dream seems to be more for us than him.” Not once has anyone said, “His salvation depends on our church.” But we know better. We know our church can reach back in time. Baptism for the dead isn’t a new concept to any of us. This is not a knowledge thing. This is a direction thing. When we read scriptures about our day, we tend to look in our direction. We tend to think latter-day prophecies are for Latter-day Saints. We tend to think these things are more for us than them.
We know that virtually every prophet in scripture talked about the scattering of Israel, the atonement of Jesus Christ, the latter-day Zion, the gathering of Israel, the Second Coming and the Millennium. But when we teach the plan, except for the atonement of Christ, we seldom, if ever, include these elements. These things are how our God plans to save all mankind. They are the plan. And yet many think we can’t include them because Abraham was exalted without them. They rightfully reason for something to be part of the plan, it needs to be for all. But Abraham does need these things. Elder John Taylor can help us here. He taught,
The ancient Nephites who lived on the earth, those men of God who, through faith, wrought righteousness, accomplished a good work and obtained exaltation, are as much interested in the welfare of their descendants as we are, and a good deal more; and Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and those ancient men of God who once lived on the earth, and who yet live, are as much interested in the accomplishment of God’s purposes as we are, and a good deal more . . . We are not alone in these things, others are operating with us, I mean all the men of God who ever lived, and they are as much interested as we are, and a good deal more, for they know more, and “they without us cannot be made perfect” neither can we be perfected without them. . . . there is a combination of earthly beings and of heavenly beings, all under the influence of the same priesthood, which is an everlasting priesthood, and whose administrations are effective in time and in eternity. We are all operating together, to bring about the same things and to accomplish the same purposes.
Thus, even exalted Abraham participates in and will benefit from the latter-day Zion. Paul wrote, “That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him” (Ephesians 1:10). Someone being in heaven doesn’t exclude him/her from the gathering and other blessings of the Restoration. In fact, Joseph Smith taught that there was knowledge to be revealed in our dispensation “Which our forefathers have awaited with anxious expectation to be revealed in the last times, which their minds were pointed to by the angels, as held in reserve for the fulness of their glory” (D&C 121:27). Abraham is one of our foremost forefathers. He may be exalted, but that doesn’t mean he has a fulness. Joseph taught that not even Adam can “receive a fullness until Christ shall present the Kingdom to the Father, which shall be at the end of the last dispensation.”
Obtaining that fulness (whatever that means) is part of the plan. It is “According to that which was ordained in the midst of the Council of the Eternal God of all other gods before this world was, that should be reserved unto the finishing and the end thereof, when every man shall enter into his eternal presence and into his immortal rest” (D&C 121:32). Evidently Abraham isn’t finished yet. Perhaps that’s why he “looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Hebrews 11:10). That city is the latter-day Zion. God spoke of the restitution of all things “by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began” (Acts 3:21) because it meant everything to them.
On June 12th, 2018, in the annual Seminary and Institute broadcast, Elder Kim B. Clark, General Authority Seventy, Church Commissioner of Education, taught, “The gathering of scattered Israel . . . is an important part of the Father’s plan.” And, “The Lord’s true and living church is a critical part of the Father’s plan for the salvation of his children.”
President Gordon B. Hinckley, of the First Presidency, taught, “This church is part of his divine plan.” Elder Russell M. Nelson, as an apostle, taught, “We are part of a great movement—the gathering of scattered Israel. I speak of this doctrine today because of its unique importance in God’s eternal plan.” He included “. . . we help to gather the elect of the Lord on both sides of the veil.” And, “This dispensation of the fullness of times would not be limited in time or in location.”
Saying the gathering is part of the plan, is saying our church is part of the plan. As a prophet, President Russell M. Nelson taught basically the same thing. He said, “We invite all of God’s children on both sides of the veil to come unto their Savior, receive the blessings of the holy temple, have enduring joy, and qualify for eternal life” (April 2018 General Conference). President Gordon B. Hinckley, as a prophet, taught,
Ours is a vision greater than that granted any other people who have walked the earth. It encompasses all of the sons and daughters of God of all generations of time, those who have walked the earth, those now upon the earth, and those yet to come upon the earth. For the salvation and eternal life of all of these we have a responsibility.
On another occasion, President Hinckley spoke of the mission of the church that
Contemplates all generations of mankind—those who have gone before, all who live upon the earth, and those who will yet be born. It is larger than any race or nation or generation. It encompasses all mankind. It is a cause without parallel. The fruits of its labors are everlasting in their consequences.”
There is no way our God would show his ancient prophets the church that would be responsible for the salvation and eternal life of all people (including their people) and not tell them that. In other words, if Daniel told Nebuchadnezzar about our church (and we know he did, see Daniel 2), he must have told him what it would mean to him.
What if the king loved one of his wives, could they be married for eternity? Did they have temples or eternal marriage in Babylon? If not, we know he would need our church. Even if Daniel had the sealing power and could perform eternal ordinances, would the king then not need our church?
If he did repent, and if he had all the ordinances, he could have become like Daniel or Abraham—a holy man. God revealed that all holy men sought for, and obtained a promise of participating in the dispensation of the fullness of times (a day of righteousness).
Wherefore, hearken ye together and let me show unto you even my wisdom-the wisdom of him whom ye say is the God of Enoch, and his brethren,
Who were separated from the earth, and were received unto myself-a city reserved until a day of righteousness shall come-a day which was sought for by all holy men, and they found it not because of wickedness and abominations;
And confessed they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth;
But obtained a promise that they should find it and see it in their flesh. (D&C 45:11-14).
Surely Daniel was among those, “Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, (Hebrews 11:33, italics added). It is hard to imagine him saying something like, “Behold O king, the Lord will establish a kingdom in the latter-days that will stand forever. I will see it and be a part of it. I was promised it. It will be so wonderful. But I can’t, for the life of me, imagine why He would show it to you.”
On the contrary, a view of that kingdom, could inspire Nebuchadnezzar and his people to repent, while, at the same time, give Daniel and his righteous friends a reason to hang on. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland taught,
I believe with all my heart that the brethren and sisters of our earlier eras were able to do what they did and were able to keep going in the face of, what was in every dispensation, terrible trouble and apostasy because they could see our day and knew that then, in the great latter day the work would succeed. We do have a rare city of Enoch experience here, and a 4th Nephi period there, but not for long and not for many people. By and large the story of the scriptures, up to this dispensation, is a story of difficulty and apostasy and defeat…
…I do believe it was because they could see the glory and majesty of the latter-day work that would come in our day—I believe it was that that allowed earlier leaders to persevere in the face of such terrible difficulty and destruction in their own time.
Elder Holland seems to be echoing Joseph Smith who taught,
The building up of Zion is a cause that has interested the people of God in every age; it is a theme upon which prophets, priests and kings have dwelt with peculiar delight; they have looked forward with joyful anticipation to the day in which we live; and fired with heavenly and joyful anticipations they have sung and written and prophesied of this our day; . . . a work that God and angels have contemplated with delight for generations past; that fired the souls of the ancient patriarchs and prophets; a work that is destined to bring about the destruction of the powers of darkness, the renovation of the earth, the glory of God, and the salvation of the human family.
They would not anticipate nor persevere for a kingdom that is more for us than them. It is true we are in a favored position to bring about that latter-day glory. And so we tend to think these things are for the lucky generation at the end of the world. But a moments reflection reminds us we are all in this together. We all wait for the day when the author of our faith will finish or redemption, that “day of righteousness” when our “redemption shall be perfected” (D&C 45:46), when our God will come and “complete the salvation of man” (D&C 77:12) in Zion.
Zion is second only to the Atonement of Jesus Christ in Heavenly Father’s plan. And yet most of us have never seen it depicted in a picture of the plan. We’ve seen temples suggesting our need for covenants. But the church that gathers on both sides of the veil, the church that does genealogy work and baptisms for the dead, the church that records on earth things which are recorded in heaven, the church that sends out missionaries, we typically do not depict in the plan. Few, if any reading this, have ever seen missionaries (representing the gathering) in a portrayal of the plan. But when the ancients taught the plan, they almost always included these things.
If we do not see that they looked upon our day with self-interest, we are missing, to some extent, their reason for bringing these things up. In other words we are missing, to some extent, their point. This is a small shift in how we see these things. But it is like a switch plate on a railroad track. It can take us to a whole new destination.
I am repeating myself here. But I want to be clear. The sum of the matter is this, the ancient prophets spoke repeatedly to their people about the scattering of Israel, the Atonement of Jesus Christ, the Restoration of the gospel in the latter-days, the gathering of Israel, the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, and the Millennium. These doctrinal events are how God plans to save their people. God was giving them hope. That was their point.
Brigham Young taught,
Where is Zion? Where the organization of the church of God is. And may it dwell spiritually in every heart; and may we so live as to enjoy the spirit of Zion always.Do we realize that if we enjoy a Zion in time or in eternity we must make it for ourselves? That all, who have a Zion in the eternities of the Gods, organized, framed, consolidated, and perfected it themselves, and consequently are entitled to enjoy it.This is the Gospel; this is the plan of salvation; this is the Kingdom of God; this is the Zion that has been spoken and written of by all the Prophets since the world began. This is the work of Zion which the Lord has promised to bring forth.
That word “all” keeps coming up. As we have seen, President Hinckley said our church is for all many times. But that word can be tricky. It can be qualified. Eve, after all, was technically not the mother of all living. For something to be part of “The plan,” we generally assume it has to be for everyone. I think President Hinckley would say “Exactly.”
In the first chapter of Isaiah it is clear Isaiah was talking to his wayward people. By verse twenty six, he was still talking to them. It reads, “And I will restore thy judges as at the first, and thy counselors as at the beginning: afterward thou shalt be called, The city of righteousness, the faithful city” (Isaiah 1:26). That city is the latter-day Zion. They would have had no problem understanding that city was for them because Isaiah was talking to them. When he said “thy” and “thou” they knew that was them.
But since we too are the house of Israel, and we too can liken Isaiah’s words unto ourselves, and we actually live in that city, and we know the scriptures were compiled for our day, and the people to whom Isaiah spoke are dead, we tend, at that verse, to shift Isaiah’s audience from his people to us—an extension of his people.
The authors of the Book of Mormon solve that problem. When they quoted Isaiah they told their people, and consequently us, who his prophecies are for. And we will see, with regards to those prophecies, they said all, all the time.
Again, that word can be tricky. When they said “all the house of Israel” they could have meant all of Israel living in the last days. But they often included their people when they said “all,” suggesting they really meant all. Commenting on Isaiah’s prophecy about our church (see Isaiah 49:22), Nephi taught,
Nevertheless, after they shall be nursed by the Gentiles, and the Lord has lifted up his hand upon the Gentiles and set them up for a standard, and their children have been carried in their arms, and their daughters have been carried upon their shoulders, behold these things of which are spoken are temporal; for thus are the covenants of the Lord with our fathers; and it meaneth us in the days to come, and also all our brethren who are of the house of Israel (1 Nephi 22:6).
Those days to come are the latter-days. We know that standard is the restored gospel. And yet Nephi was claiming our church for his people (“and it meaneth us”), as well as all the house of Israel. Later Nephi asked his brother Jacob to speak to his brothers about the same prophecy.
And now, behold, I would speak unto you concerning things which are, and which are to come; wherefore, I will read you the words of Isaiah. And they are the words which my brother has desired that I should speak unto you. And I speak unto you for your sakes, that ye may learn and glorify the name of your God” (2 Nephi 6:4, italics added).
And now, the words which I shall read are they which Isaiah spake concerning all the house of Israel; wherefore, they may be likened unto you, for ye are of the house of Israel. And there are many things which have been spoken by Isaiah which may be likened unto you, because ye are of the house of Israel (2 Nephi 6:5, italics added).
And now, these are the words: Thus saith the Lord God: Behold, I will lift up mine hand to the Gentiles, and set up my standard to the people; and they shall bring thy sons in their arms, and thy daughters shall be carried upon their shoulders (2 Nephi 6:6).
Some may see this prophecy as meaning the latter-day Zion will bless Israel’s children living in the last days, which of course is true. But that hardly constitutes “all the house of Israel.” What about Israel’s children who lived in 1676? Surely, they are part of “all.” If that standard is not for them, then Jacob and Nephi would be wrong, or extremely difficult to understand. On the other hand, if they saw our church like we see our church, as really being for all, they make perfect sense.
That verse about that standard to be raised was the center of Nephi’s commentary on two chapters of Isaiah (Isaiah 48 and 49). Before he read those chapters to his brothers he said who they were for.
Wherefore I spake unto them, saying: Hear ye the words of the prophet, ye who are a remnant of the house of Israel, a branch who have been broken off; hear ye the words of the prophet, which were written unto all the house of Israel, and liken them unto yourselves, that ye may have hope as well as your brethren from whom ye have been broken off; for after this manner has the prophet written (1 Nephi 19:24, italics added).
Those “from whom [they had] been broken off” ended up in Babylon. They were brought into bondage because they, like the ten tribes, hardened their hearts against the Holy One of Israel (see 1 Nephi 22:5). The chapter heading for the first chapter Nephi read (1 Nephi 20) reads, “The Lord reveals his purposes for Israel—Israel has been chosen in the furnace in affliction and are to go forth from Babylon, compare Isaiah 48.”
The Lord prophesied that furnace would do its job. “And I will turn my hand upon thee, and purely purge away thy dross, and take away all thy tin” (Isaiah 1:25). Being torn from home and family, being scattered and made to serve in bondage must have refined many of them. And yet most of Israel, even if penitent, would find themselves without the gospel in this life and in Spirit Prison in the life to come. Perhaps that’s why Nephi quoted the next chapter of Isaiah. It talks about the prisoners being freed from Spirit Prison (see 1 Nephi 21:9), the Lord assuring Israel He had not forgotten them (see 1 Nephi 21:14–16), and that standard to be raised in the last days (see 1 Nephi 21:22).
In conjunction with that standard, Nephi spoke of a “marvelous work” and the Lord bringing about his covenants and his gospel (see 1 Nephi 22). He centered on the Restoration.
But it is to whom he said our church is for that is instructive. After reading those Isaiah chapters, he began his commentary with, “And since they [the ten tribes] have been led away these things have been prophesied concerning them, and also concerning all those who shall hereafter be scattered and be confounded . . .” (1 Nephi 22:5, italics added).
Combining his introduction to those Isaiah chapters with the beginning of his commentary, it is as if he said, “The latter-day Zion is for those who have been scattered, those who are now being scattered, and those who would hereafter be scattered and confounded. It is for all the house of Israel.” He sounds a lot like President Hinckley.
Orson Pratt observed, “There is no one thing more fully revealed in the scripture of eternal truth, than the rise of the Zion of our God in the Latter-days.” Nephi just told us why. He was claiming our church for Laman and Lemuel as well as his righteous brothers, as well as so many Israelites on their way to hell.
Nephi said Isaiah’s words offered hope to all the house of Israel. The phrase, “That thou mayest say to the prisoners: Go forth” (1 Nephi 21:9), could give them hope. But can they “go forth” without baptism? Is hope possible without baptism? Apparently Nephi didn’t think so. He later wrote, “I also have charity for the Gentiles. But behold, for none of these can I hope except they shall be reconciled unto Christ, and enter into the narrow gate, and walk in the strait path which leads to life, and continue in the path until the end of the day of probation” (2 Nephi 33:9).
He might as well had said, “In the last days they will do baptisms for the dead.” How else could our church offer ancient Israel hope? There is no hope in telling wayward people, “Although you’re going to hell, at least your children will be saved.” Hope is deeply personal. Notwithstanding all our Savior has done for us, without access to his atonement, we are hopeless. The atonement makes salvation possible. Zion makes it available. In his commentary, Nephi centered on Zion.
Surely Israel felt hopeless in Babylon. In those two Isaiah chapters we read “But, behold, Zion hath said: The Lord hath forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgotten me—but he will show that he hath not” (1 Nephi 21:14, italics added). Those italicized words are not found in the Bible. They offer an impressive prophecy.
Nebuchadnezzar’s outlandish demands for the interpretation of his dream must have reverberated throughout Babylon. God did indeed show them, in a spectacular way, he had not forgotten them. If Daniel saw our church (and we know he did) then he, like the Book of Mormon prophets, knew who it was for. And he, like the Book of Mormon prophets, would tell them that. They could liken Isaiah’s words unto themselves because those words applied to them. Those walls that the Lord said were continually before him, are the walls (as we will see) of the latter-day Zion. His palms makes salvation possible. Those walls make it available. For those who felt forsaken and forgotten, the words of Isaiah could offer tremendous hope. But only if they understood those walls have a gate, and that one day, they could go through it.
Being “reconciled unto Christ” with the help of that “narrow gate” (2 Nephi 33:9), goes hand in hand with Israel being gathered to their lands of inheritance. On this subject, Mormon explained,
And behold, they [the words of The Book of Mormon] shall go unto the unbelieving of the Jews; and for this intent shall they go—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 (Mormon 5:14, italics added)
Can Israel be restored to their lands of inheritance without accepting Jesus as their Redeemer? On this subject, President Marion G. Romney taught,
These predictions by the Book of Mormon prophets make it perfectly clear that the restoration of the house of Israel to the lands of their inheritance will signal their acceptance of Jesus Christ as their Redeemer, to which I testify, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.”
Can we accept our Redeemer without being baptized and coming into the fold of God? Jacob didn’t seem to think so. He connected being gathered to lands of inheritance with coming into the God’s true church.
And now, my beloved brethren, I have read these things that ye might know concerning the covenants of the Lord that he has covenanted with all the house of Israel–
That he has spoken unto the Jews, by the mouth of his holy prophets, even from the beginning down, from generation to generation, until the time comes that they shall be restored to the true church and fold of God; when they shall be gathered home to the lands of their inheritance, and shall be established in all their lands of promise (2 Nephi 9:1–2, italics added).
Remember, in this context, when they said “Jews,” they meant “all the house of Israel” (see Mormon 5:14). If they are all to be gathered to the lands of their inheritance, then they will all have to accept Christ and be restored to the true church and fold of God.
Does “all” include the dead? Ezekiel was one of those prophets who, from generation to generation, spoke on this subject. He wrote,
Then he said unto me, Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel: behold, they say, Our bones are dried, and our hope is lost: we are cut off for our parts.
Therefore prophesy and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God; Behold, O my people, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel (Ezekiel 37:11–12, italics added).
With that prophecy, we might wonder if “all” includes any living? We believe the gathering includes the dead. It seems the ancient prophets saw the gathering the same way.
Commenting on the allegory of Zenos (which is the quintessential chapter on the gathering), Jacob exclaimed, “how merciful is our God unto us, for he remembereth the house of Israel, both roots and branches” (Jacob 6:4, italics added). Branches need roots and roots need branches. We are all in this together. We all need The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The roots are ancient Israel. “And, behold, the roots . . . are yet alive” (Jacob 5:54).
When that standard is raised, and Israel’s seed is nourished, they are not all the house of Israel. They are Israel’s seed living in the last days. Perhaps that’s why Nephi said, “these things of which are spoken are temporal” (1 Nephi 22:6). But that standard (which includes that seed) will bless all mankind spiritually. Maybe that’s why he said these things are “both temporal and spiritual” (see 1 Nephi 22:1–3 and 1 Nephi 15:31–32). Nephi continued with his commentary of those two Isaiah chapters.
And after our seed is scattered the Lord God will proceed to do a marvelous work among the Gentiles, which shall be of great worth unto our seed; wherefore, it is likened unto their being nourished by the Gentiles and being carried in their arms and upon their shoulders.
And it shall also be of worth unto the Gentiles; and not only unto the Gentiles but unto all the house of Israel, unto the making known of the covenants of the Father of heaven unto Abraham, saying: In thy seed shall all the kindreds of the earth be blessed (1 Nephi 22:8–9, italics added).
We understand how Abraham’s seed will bless all the families of the earth. We understand how our mission encompasses all mankind. Evidently so does Nephi because he then taught that blessing all the kindreds of the earth necessitated the Lord establishing his church in the last days.
And I would, my brethren that ye should know that all the kindreds of the earth cannot be blessed unless he shall make bare his arm in the eyes of the nations. Wherefore, the Lord God will proceed to make bare his arm in the eyes of all the nations, in bringing about his covenants and his gospel unto those who are of the house of Israel (1 Nephi 22:10–11).
And then he said “wherefore.” “Wherefore” means “as a consequence of.” As a consequence of God “bringing about his covenants and his gospel,” He will save the dead. Nephi continued,
Wherefore, he will bring them again out of captivity and they shall be gathered together to the lands of their inheritance; and they shall be brought out of obscurity and out of darkness; and they shall know that the Lord is their Savior and their Redeemer, the Mighty One of Israel (1 Nephi 22:12).
Who are they? They are who Nephi said these prophecies are for—those who hardened their hearts against the Holy One of Israel (see 1 Nephi 22:5). They are “all the house of Israel.” Nephi said that six times before this verse (1 Nephi 22:12).
That word “again” is interesting. If the Jews were released from Babylon and returned to Jerusalem, when would they be in captivity again? The answer is likely Spirit Prison. Nephi’s use of the word “captivity” seems to correspond with Isaiah’s phrase “that thou mayest say to the prisoners: Go forth.” We believe that has reference to salvation for the dead (see 1 Nephi 21 footnote 9a). It’s hard to imagine Nephi would give commentary on a passage he didn’t understand. In that “prisoners” passage, Isaiah taught, “to cause to inherit the desolate heritages.” Likewise, Nephi taught “and they shall be gathered together to the lands of their inheritance.” Isaiah described “them that sit in darkness.” Nephi included “they shall be brought out of obscurity and out of darkness” (1Nephi 21:8-9 compared to 1 Nephi 22:12).
In this context, “Obscurity” is the perfect word. Obscurity is a state of being unknown. We bring our ancestors out of obscurity through Family Search. We bring them out of darkness through preaching the gospel on both sides of the veil. We bring them out of captivity by doing the ordinances for them—all of them.
Even so, it would have been nice if he, who delighted in plainness, had said, “In the last days God will establish a temple that will bless all mankind, including my people.” Actually, that’s exactly what he did say. Before he again quoted Isaiah’s writings extensively, which are packed with prophecies about our day, right before he read about a temple to be built in Utah (see 2 Nephi 12:1–3), he taught, ”And now I write some of the words of Isaiah, that whoso of my people shall see these words may lift up their hearts and rejoice for all men. Now these are the words, and ye may liken them unto you and unto all men” (2 Nephi 11:8).
I think Nephi would argue that word “all” is not that tricky.
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What follows is evidence the Book of Mormon prophets knew we would help save the dead. This is significant because we Know Joseph Smith didn’t know that when he published that book. It is also added evidence that they knew our church was for all. Some may want to skip this because it goes into great depth. And there is hardly a need to add to the mountain of empirical evidence that Joseph was a prophet. Nevertheless it is neat to see they saw our church like we do.
To appreciate the value of this perspective readers can jump to the sections entitled A Two Lens View of Scripture and How to Expound The Scriptures in One. This article is really about a scriptural tool. A tool that requires we see these things as part of the plan. There is also a short video at the end that illustrates that plan.
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Did They Know the Gospel Would be Preached to The Dead?
King Benjamin described two groups who are considered blameless after death. The first is those who die without the gospel. ”For behold, and also his blood atoneth for the sins of those who have fallen by the transgression of Adam, who have died not knowing the will of God concerning them, or who have ignorantly sinned” (Mosiah 3:11). The second are children who die before the age of accountability. “For behold he judgeth, and his judgment is just; and the infant perisheth not that dieth in his infancy” (Mosiah 3:18).
Surely if he thought there was an advantage in ignorance, he would not have gone to such great lengths to teach his people. Rather he taught, “And even at this time, when thou shalt have taught thy people the things which the Lord thy God hath commanded thee, even then are they found no more blameless in the sight of God” (Mosiah 3:22).
The idea that those who die in their ignorance are covered by the atonement, but his people were now without excuse, could have caused some of them to have concerns. However, King Benjamin had already addressed such concerns. Earlier he taught,
And moreover, I say unto you, that the time shall come when the knowledge of a Savior shall spread throughout every nation, kindred, tongue, and people. And behold, when that time cometh, none shall be found blameless before God, except it be little children, only through repentance and faith on the name of the Lord God Omnipotent (Mosiah 3:20–21).
He went from two blameless groups after death to one. Once the gospel goes to every people then only little children will be blameless. Those who die in their ignorance do not remain in their ignorance.
On the same subject, Abinadi taught, “And these are those who have part in the first resurrection; and these are they that have died before Christ came, in their ignorance, not having salvation declared unto them. And thus the Lord bringeth about the restoration of these; and they have a part in the first resurrection, or have eternal life, being redeemed by the Lord” (Mosiah 15:24).
Surely if Abinadi thought those who die in their ignorance automatically get eternal life he would not have risked his life to share the gospel. Indeed, he would not have said anything to anybody about it. He, like King Benjamin, taught,
And now I say unto you that the time shall come that the salvation of the Lord shall be declared to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people.
Yea, Lord, thy watchmen shall lift up their voice; with the voice together shall they sing; for they shall see eye to eye, when the Lord shall bring again Zion.
Break forth into joy, sing together, ye waste places of Jerusalem; for the Lord hath comforted his people, he hath redeemed Jerusalem.
The Lord hath made bare his holy arm in the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God (Mosiah 15:28–30).
Jerusalem was laid waste when Israel was scattered. They are who Nephi was talking about—those from whom they had been broken off. God will comfort them. He will redeem them. That will be accomplished when the Lord makes “bare his arm in the eyes of all the nations.” The Lord making bare his arm is the restoration of His church (see 1 Nephi 22:11). At that time and especially at his Second Coming “all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God” (Mosiah 15:30, italics added).
If these things didn’t pertain to their people, then why bring them up? “You priests need to repent. Hold on a second. Those of you reading this need to know the gospel will go to everyone in your day. How neat for you. Now, where was I?”
No, they were talking to their people. For wicked priests (recipients of Abinadi’s message) who would likely end up in hell, and parents (recipients of King Benjamin’s message) with children who would refuse to be baptized, that message may prove to be the most pertinent of all.
The Savior quoted, “The Lord hath made bare his holy arm in the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of God” (3 Nephi 16:20). Immediately afterwards He told the people to go home, ponder, pray, and prepare their minds that they might understand (see 3 Nephi 17:2–3). Why? And why repeat that passage (see 3 Nephi 20:35) if getting it on the record was all He cared about?
Did They Know Spirits in Hell Could be Redeemed?
Jacob told his brothers that they could “rejoice, and lift up [their] heads forever, because of the blessings which the Lord God shall bestow upon [their] children” (2 Nephi 9:3). But many of their children would perish because of unbelief (2 Nephi 10:2). Therefore, many of their children would end up in Spirit Prison. That went directly to Jacob’s point—God prepared a way to get them out.
“O how great the goodness of our God, who prepareth a way for our escape from the grasp of this awful monster; yea, that monster, death and hell, which I call the death of the body, and also the death of the spirit” (2 Nephi 9:10). As we will see, to escape is not just keeping people out of hell, it includes getting people out.
Of that deliverance Jacob continued, “and hell must deliver up its captive spirits, and the grave must deliver up its captive bodies, and the bodies and the spirits of men will be restored one to the other” (2 Nephi 9:12). After Jacob included a description of those delivered from Paradise (see 2 Nephi 9:13), he continued,
And it shall come to pass that when all men shall have passed from this first death unto life, insomuch as they have become immortal, they must appear before the judgment-seat of the Holy One of Israel.
And assuredly, as the Lord liveth . . . they who are righteous shall be righteous still, and they who are filthy shall be filthy still; wherefore, they who are filthy are the devil and his angels; and they shall go away into everlasting fire, prepared for them (2 Nephi 9:15–16).
The moment Jacob taught that those in hell are judged, he was teaching there is salvation for the dead. That is unless they are all sent back. That would make their escape from that awful monster a cruel joke.
Enoch saw, “And as many of the spirits as were in prison came forth, and stood on the right hand of God; and the remainder were reserved in chains of darkness until the judgment of the great day” (Moses 7:57). There is only one obstinate group that will return to hell. Of them the Lord says “they shall return again to their own place” (D&C 88:32).
That which breaketh a law, and abideth not by law, but seeketh to become a law unto itself, and willeth to abide in sin, and altogether abideth in sin, cannot be sanctified by law, neither by mercy, justice, nor judgment. Therefore, they must remain filthy still (D&C 88:35).
Wherefore, he saves all except them [sons of Perdition]—they shall go away into everlasting punishment, which is endless punishment, which is eternal punishment, to reign with the devil and his angels in eternity, where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched, which is their torment (D&C 76:44).
Evidently Endless punishment is forever for one group. That last verse sounds like Jacob.
And . . . they who are filthy shall be filthy still; wherefore, they who are filthy are the devil and his angels; and they shall go away into everlasting fire, prepared for them; and their torment is as a lake of fire and brimstone, whose flame ascendeth up forever and ever and has no end (2 Nephi 9:16).
Apparently there is an exception to “all” after all. Mormon taught,
And I would that all men might be saved. But we read that in the great and last day there are some who shall be cast out, yea, who shall be cast off from the presence of the Lord;
Yea, who shall be consigned to a state of endless misery, fulfilling the words which say: They that have done good shall have everlasting life; and they that have done evil shall have everlasting damnation. And thus it is. Amen (Helaman 12:25-26).
Did They Know God Would Save Those Who Die in Unbelief?
There are many verses in The Book of Mormon that can be read two ways. For example, verses teaching that God will gather Israel to their lands of inheritance could refer to the living, the dead, or both. We know the answer is “both.” But we don’t always know the mind of the author. The following verse however doesn’t seem to leave any question. Nephi taught,
After my seed and the seed of my brethren shall have dwindled in unbelief, and shall have been smitten by the Gentiles . . . and after they shall have been brought down low in the dust, even that they are not, yet the words of the righteous shall be written, and the prayers of the faithful shall be heard, and all those who have dwindled in unbelief shall not be forgotten (2 Nephi 26:15, italics added).
After their seed have dwindled in unbelief and after they are dead (“brought down low to the dust, even that they are not,”) they shall not be forgotten. Indeed “all those who have dwindled in unbelief shall not be forgotten.” They are unmistakably dead (see Genesis 42:13 with Genesis 44:20; or Jeremiah 31:15). They died in unbelief. And yet none of them will be forgotten. All we need ask is what does it mean to be remembered?
We know it is God who will remember them (see Enos 1:13–18; 1 Nephi 21:14–16; 2 Nephi 29:2; Jacob 6:4; D&C 3:18–19). We cannot assume He, at some point in eternity, says, “Oh that’s right I remember those who dwindled and died in unbelief—too bad they messed up.” If that’s all the words of the righteous and prayers of the faithful can yield, then it is a useless promise. Obviously, the God of the universe has a good memory. To remember them means to save them to some degree, or it means nothing at all. Isaiah prophesied,
But, behold, Zion hath said: The Lord hath forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgotten me—but he will show that he hath not.
For can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? Yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee. O house of Israel.
Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands; thy walls are continually before me (1 Nephi 21:14–16.)
Wilford Woodruff, referring to this passage in Isaiah, said, “Any man who has ever read the book of Isaiah . . . can see that he, with other prophets, had his eye upon the latter-day Zion of God.” Hence, the Lord connects remembering Israel to his Atonement (palms) and his church (walls). To remember them is to save them.
Long before any of Lehi’s seed dwindled in unbelief, God promised Abraham he would remember them. “I covenanted with Abraham that I would remember his seed forever” (2 Nephi 29:14). Evidently, he remembers all his children. ”and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile” (2 Nephi 26:33). We cannot assume he remembers only the lucky heathens living in the last days. Jacob spoke of many of their children perishing in unbelief and yet they would be restored to the knowledge of Christ.
For behold, the promises which we have obtained are promises unto us according to the flesh; wherefore, as it has been shown unto me that many of our children shall perish in the flesh because of unbelief, nevertheless, God will be merciful unto many; and our children shall be restored, that they may come to that which will give them the true knowledge of their Redeemer (2 Nephi 10:2).
That word “many” seems contrary to Jacob teaching that all the house of Israel will be restored to the true church and fold of God. It seems contrary to Nephi teaching all who have dwindled in unbelief shall not be forgotten. Those brothers said “all” all the time. This time Jacob said “many.”
That word “many” makes God sound caprices, like many will perish because of unbelief but that’s okay because He will save many in the end. But Jacob didn’t say “many of our children shall be restored,” probably because all of them will be.
The context of that verse helps. In the preceding verse we read, “And now I, Jacob, speak unto you again, my beloved brethren, concerning this righteous branch of which I have spoken” (2 Nephi 10:1).
This is a promise “according to the flesh.” Not all, in the flesh, will be that righteous branch—albeit many will be. The result of that branch being righteous is “our children, [all of them], shall be restored, that they may come to that which will give them the true knowledge of their Redeemer” (2 Nephi 10:2). God will be merciful unto as many as will accept his latter-day gospel and they in turn will help bless those who perished in unbelief.
As noted earlier, Nephi taught that when that standard is raised, and Israel’s seed is carried, they will, in turn, bless all the house of Israel. Concerning that righteous branch, he wrote,
And now, the thing which our father meaneth concerning the grafting in of the natural branches through the fulness of the Gentiles, is, that in the latter days, when our seed shall have dwindled in unbelief, yea, for the space of many years, and many generations after the Messiah shall be manifested in body unto the children of men, then shall the fulness of the gospel of the Messiah come unto the Gentiles, and from the Gentiles unto the remnant of our seed- (1 Nephi 15:1).
And at that day shall the remnant of our seed know that they are of the house of Israel, and that they are the covenant people of the Lord; and then shall they know and come to the knowledge of their forefathers, and also to the knowledge of the gospel of their Redeemer, which was ministered unto their fathers by him; wherefore, they shall come to the knowledge of their Redeemer and the very points of his doctrine, that they may know how to come unto him and be saved (1 Nephi 15:13–14).
Wherefore, our father hath not spoken of our seed alone, but also of all the house of Israel, pointing to the covenant which should be fulfilled in the latter days; which covenant the Lord made to our father Abraham, saying: In thy seed shall all the kindreds of the earth be blessed (1 Nephi 15:18)
Often, in the Book of Mormon, when it speaks of that remnant in the last days, it is followed by the blessing of all (see 1 Nephi 13:39–40; 1 Nephi 22:6–9; 2 Nephi 3:5–13; 2 Nephi 21:11–12; 2 Nephi 30:3–8; 3 Nephi 5:23–26; 3 Nephi 16:4–5; 3 Nephi 20:25–30; 3 Nephi 21; Mormon 3:18–22; Mormon 5:9–14; Ether 13:6–11). That word “many” is consistent with that.
A Book for All
If our church is for all, does that include its keystone? Is the Book of Mormon for all? Let’s look at that verse from Jacob again.
For behold, the promises which we have obtained are promises unto us according to the flesh; wherefore, as it has been shown unto me that many of our children shall perish in the flesh because of unbelief, nevertheless, God will be merciful unto many; and our children shall be restored, that they may come to that which will give them the true knowledge of their Redeemer. (2 Nephi 10:2).
What is “that which will give them the true knowledge of their Redeemer”? “That” could be missionaries who preach to those who perish in unbelief. It could be the Book of Mormon. Most likely it is both. After Nephi said “all who have dwindled in unbelief shall not be forgotten,” he taught, “For those who shall be destroyed shall speak unto them out of the ground” (2 Nephi 26:16). “Them” includes those who have been brought down low to the dust. It includes “all who have dwindled in unbelief” (2 Nephi 26:16).
Nephi makes it clear that that book will not come to them in mortality “. . . those who have dwindled in unbelief shall not have them [the plates], for they seek to destroy the things of God (2 Nephi 26:17). But after they are brought down low to the dust, after they are not, “those who shall be destroyed shall speak unto them out of the ground” (2 Nephi 26:16).
We have reason to believe the Book of Mormon will end up in the Spirit World. The way the scriptures are presented in the temple, in the covenants we make for the dead, suggests (indeed requires) they have access to them. Immediately after Ezekiel prophesied that the whole house of Israel would inherit the land in the resurrection, he taught, “then take another stick, and write upon it, For Joseph, the stick of Ephraim, and for all the house of Israel his companions” (Ezekiel 37:16. italics added).
Mormon makes a similar connection between his words coming forth and all of Israel being gathered, suggesting that at least all of Israel will get his book.
Now these things [the words in the Book of Mormon] are written unto the remnant of the house of Jacob” (Mormon 5:12; see also the title page that suggests that remnant is the Lamanites).
And behold, they shall go unto the unbelieving of the Jews; and for this intent shall they go—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 (Mormon 5:14, italics added).
This seems to be another example of the gospel going to a remnant and then to all. If all are to be restored to the land of their inheritance, then all will need to be persuaded that Jesus is the Christ. It seems Mormon was saying his book would be part of that process. Earlier he taught,
Yea, behold, I write unto all the ends of the earth; yea, unto you, twelve tribes of Israel . . .
And I write also unto the remnant of this people . . .
And these things doth the Spirit manifest unto me; therefore I write unto you all. And for this cause, I write unto you, that ye may know that ye must all stand before the judgment-seat of Christ, yea, every soul who belongs to the whole human family of Adam; and ye must stand to be judged of your works, whether they be good or evil; (Mormon 3:18–20).
And also that ye may believe the gospel of Jesus Christ, which ye shall have among you; and also that the Jews, the covenant people of the Lord, shall have other witness besides him whom they saw and heard, that Jesus, whom they slew, was the very Christ and the very God (Mormon 3:21).
In this passage we tend to think he was writing to the Jews in general as a people and not really to those who saw and heard and slew Jesus. After all, they would be dead when his book would come forth.
This view is reinforced because the Book of Mormon prophets, at times, referred to the Jews as if they were corporate Israel. For example, Jacob prophesied that the Jews would be carried captive to Babylon (around 600 B.C.), then return to Jerusalem (around 530 B.C.), and then crucify Jesus (around 34 A.D.; see 2 Nephi 6: 8-9). We know he didn’t think the Jews of his day would slay Jesus. Likewise, we don’t think Mormon thought the Jews of our day would see and hear and crucify Jesus. We tend to think he was writing to the Jews, “the covenant people of the Lord,” who are an extension of them—not really them.
But notice part of corporate Israel that Jacob was talking about, really did crucify Christ. If Mormon was treating the Jews as corporate Israel, that doesn’t mean he wasn’t also writing to those who actually killed Jesus (around 34 A.D.).
In 34 A.D. the Savior told the people at Bountiful how they would know the latter-day gathering had commenced.
And verily I say unto you, I give unto you a sign, that ye may know the time when these things shall be about to take place-that I shall gather in, from their long dispersion, my people, O house of Israel, and shall establish again among them my Zion (3 Nephi 21:1, italics added).
The sign, He would explain, would be the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. We know those He was talking to would be long gone by the time that book would come forth. Why would they care about that sign? The Savior told Joseph Smith why. He revealed that right before He died (around 34 A.D.) He told his disciples why they would want to watch for the latter-day signs of the times.
And I will show it plainly as I showed it unto my disciples as I stood before them in the flesh, and spake unto them, saying: As ye have asked of me concerning the signs of my coming, in the day when I shall come in my glory in the clouds of heaven, to fulfil the promises that I have made unto your fathers,
For as ye have looked upon the long absence of your spirits from your bodies to be a bondage, I will show unto you how the day of redemption shall come, and also the restoration of the scattered Israel (D&C 45:16-17).
They will know when the Book of Mormon comes forth. And then they will get that book. The Savior, at Bountiful, continued, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, when these things shall be made known unto them [the gentiles] of the Father, and shall come forth of the Father, from them unto you” (3 Nephi 21:2-3, italics added).
This is not corporate Israel. This is not latter-day Israel. This is 34 A.D. Israel. We know this because the Lord then distinguished between them and their seed.
For it is wisdom in the Father that they should be established in this land, and be set up as a free people by the power of the Father, that these things might come forth from them [the gentiles] unto a remnant of your seed, that the covenant of the Father may be fulfilled which he hath covenanted with his people, O house of Israel;
Therefore, when these works and the works which shall be wrought among you hereafter shall come forth from the Gentiles, unto your seed which shall dwindle in unbelief because of iniquity 3 Nephi 21:4-5);
And when these things come to pass that thy seed shall begin to know these things-it shall be a sign unto them, that they may know that the work of the Father hath already commenced unto the fulfilling of the covenant which he hath made unto the people who are of the house of Israel (3 Nephi 21:7).
Nephi, Mormon and Moroni, each said they were writing to “the ends of the earth” (Mormon 9:21; 2 Nephi 29:2; Mormon 3:18; see also 3 Nephi 27:20). But that could mean their book would make it to Australia. They each said they were writing to “all.” But that could mean all living in the last days. Mormon saying he was offering another witness to those who saw and heard and slew Jesus, seems straightforward. And yet we can, and generally do, read that to mean he was not writing to them, but an extension of them. But the Savior telling those people at Bountiful that they, and their seed, would see that sign, and get that book, cannot be read two ways.
I like asking my students, “How many people were baptized into the church last year?” They generally say, “About 300,000.” I respond, “You know you’re off by millions.” They know. It’s what is going on on the other side of the veil that makes this work so marvelous. Of that work, the Lord continued, “For in that day, for my sake shall the Father work a work, which shall be a great and a marvelous work among them” (3 Nephi 21:9). Of that work, Nephi wrote,
And the Lord will set his hand again the second time to restore his people from their lost and fallen state. Wherefore, he will proceed to do a marvelous work and a wonder among the children of men.
Wherefore, he shall bring forth his words unto them, which words shall judge them at the last day, for they shall be given them for the purpose of convincing them of the true Messiah, who was rejected by them [about 34 A.D.]; and unto the convincing of them that they need not look forward any more for a Messiah to come, for there should not any come, save it should be a false Messiah which should deceive the people; for there is save one Messiah spoken of by the prophets, and that Messiah is he who should be rejected of the Jews (2 Nephi 25:17-18).
The Savior at Bountiful continued,
And they [the gentiles] shall assist my people, the remnant of Jacob, and also as many of the house of Israel as shall come, that they may build a city, which shall be called the New Jerusalem.
And then shall they assist my people that they may be gathered in, who are scattered upon all the face of the land, in unto the New Jerusalem.
And then shall the power of heaven come down among them; and I also will be in the midst.
And then shall the work of the Father commence at that day, even when this gospel shall be preached among the remnant of this people. Verily I say unto you, at that day shall the work of the Father commence among all the dispersed of my people, yea, even the tribes which have been lost, which the Father hath led away out of Jerusalem.
Yea, the work shall commence among all the dispersed of my people, with the Father to prepare the way whereby they may come unto me, that they may call on the Father in my name.
Yea, and then shall the work commence, with the Father among all nations in preparing the way whereby his people may be gathered home to the land of their inheritance (3 Nephi 23-28).
Nephi finished his record with the following.
And now, my beloved brethren, all those who are of the house of Israel, and all ye ends of the earth, I speak unto you as the voice of one crying from the dust: Farewell until that great day shall come.
And you that will not partake of the goodness of God, and respect the words of the Jews, and also my words, and the words which shall proceed forth out of the mouth of the Lamb of God, behold, I bid you an everlasting farewell, for these words shall condemn you at the last day. (2 Nephi 33: 13-14).
Both Nephi and Mormon connected their book to the judgment. Mormon was clear the judgment was for “every soul who belongs to the whole family of Adam.” Regarding that judgment, Peter taught that the dead will “be judged according to men in the flesh” (1 Peter 4:6). Well those in the flesh have that book. Of that judgment, Nephi wrote,
Wherefore, these things shall go from generation to generation as long as the earth shall stand; and they shall go according to the will and pleasure of God; and the nations who shall possess them shall be judged of them according to the words which are written (2 Nephi 25:22).
This sounds like there could be some nations who might not possess them. But Nephi concluded his record with,
And now, my beloved brethren, and also Jew, and all ye ends of the earth, hearken unto these words and believe in Christ; and if ye believe not in these words believe in Christ. And if ye shall believe in Christ ye will believe in these words, for they are the words of Christ, and he hath given them unto me; and they teach all men that they should do good (2 Nephi 33:10).
These words that are for “all [the] ends of the earth” teach “all men that they should do good.” It sounds like he thought they were for all.
Mormon and Moroni wrote specifically to the Lamanites of the last days (see Title page and Mormon 7). Why didn’t they write to any Nephites? True some of their seed, we believe, survived by mingling with the Lamanites. But Mormon suggests that doesn’t count. As a people the Nephites were destroyed. He wrote,
And they have been handed down from one generation to another by the Nephites, even until they have fallen into transgression and have been murdered, plundered, and hunted, and driven forth, and slain, and scattered upon the face of the earth, and mixed with the Lamanites until they are no more called the Nephites, becoming wicked, and wild, and ferocious, yea, even becoming Lamanites (Helaman 3:16).
In our day the missionaries were called to go amongst the Lamanites (see D&C 32), not the “Lamanites and Nephites.” That’s probably because there are no Nephites. Before that call, the Lord acknowledged they had been destroyed.
And this testimony shall come to the knowledge of the Lamanites, and the Lemuelites, and the Ishmaelites, who dwindled in unbelief because of the iniquity of their fathers, whom the Lord has suffered to destroy their brethren the Nephites, because of their iniquities and their abominations. (D&C 3:16–18).
It is therefore interesting that, when Joseph lost the 116 pages, the Lord told him,
Nevertheless, my work shall go forth, for inasmuch as the knowledge of a Savior has come unto the world, through the testimony of the Jews, even so shall the knowledge of a Savior come unto my people-
And to the Nephites, and the Jacobites, and the Josephites, and the Zoramites, through the testimony of their fathers- (D&C 3:16-17).
It’s like our God doesn’t recognize they’re dead. Joseph Smith taught,
All things whatsoever God in his infinite wisdom has seen fit and proper to reveal to us, while we are dwelling in mortality, in regard to our mortal bodies, are revealed to us in the abstract, and independent of affinity of this mortal tabernacle, but are revealed to our spirits precisely as though we had no bodies at all; and those revelations which will save our spirits will save our bodies. God reveals them to us in view of no eternal dissolution of the body, or tabernacle.
God’s word, found in the Book of Mormon, seems to reflect that view. Speaking of the last days when God’s word will be gathered into one, the Lord prophesied,
And it shall come to pass that the Jews shall have the words of the Nephites, and the Nephites shall have the words of the Jews; and the Nephites and the Jews shall have the words of the lost tribes of Israel; and the lost tribes of Israel shall have the words of the Nephites and the Jews.
And it shall come to pass that my people, which are of the house of Israel, shall be gathered home unto the lands of their possessions; and my word also shall be gathered in one. And I will show unto them that fight against my word and against my people, who are of the house of Israel, that I am God, and that I covenanted with Abraham that I would remember his seed forever (2 Nephi 29:13-14).
And so yes, Mormon and Moroni wrote specifically to the Lamanites. But they also wrote to the Jews or all the house of Israel (which includes Nephites) and the gentiles, meaning the rest of mankind (see Title page and Mormon 3:18-20), and all the ends of the earth (2 Nephi 29:2; 2 Nephi 33:10-13; Mosiah 12:21; 3 Nephi 27:20; Mormon 3:18-22; Moroni 10:24).
Elder Spencer W. Kimble taught, “The more clearly we see eternity, the more obvious it becomes that the Lord’s work in which we are engaged is one vast and grand work with striking similarities on each side of the veil . . .” Mormon and others seemed to have that view. Apparently, President Hinckley and President Nelson have that view. Of that marvelous work, President Hinckley taught, “Keep before you the big picture, for this cause is as large as all mankind and as broad as all eternity. This is the church and kingdom of God.”
That book will be in the Spirit World. I plan on teaching with it, even if it’s only there in my head, I will quote it. For those unbelieving of the Jews—those who dwindled in unbelief—even those who saw and heard and slew Him, I am dying (pun intended) to share the following with them.
Wherefore, when I came, there was no man; when I called, yea, there was none to answer. O house of Israel, is my hand shortened at all that it cannot redeem, or have I no power to deliver? Behold, at my rebuke I dry up the sea . . . (2 Nephi 7:1–2).
I hope to talk with them about how huge the sea is, and the power and goodness of our God. I think they’ll like seeing they are not forgotten. I will tell them they are not cast off forever, because that book makes that point repeatedly. They kept saying “all.”
Jacob asked, “And now, my beloved, how is it possible that these, after having rejected the sure foundation, can ever build upon it, that it may become the head of their corner?” (Jacob 4:16).
Who are “these”? Are they those who actually rejected Him [34 A.D.] or their descendants who are an extension of them? Yes. As to how they individually or as a people could ever build on Him, Jacob’s answer was the same—Zenos’s allegory. He concluded, “And how merciful is our God unto us for He remembereth the house of Israel, both roots and branches” (Jacob 6:4, italics added). Who is this Savior who immediately after his death prepared a way for saving (to some degree) all who had rejected Him?
Six times in the Doctrine and Covenants He tells us “I am the same that came unto mine own, and mine own received me not” (D&C 6:21). Evidently that really hurt Him. “And they that passed by railed on him, wagging their heads” (Mark 15:29). I stand all amazed that He didn’t fry them there on the spot. One twitch of his quivering finger, one word from his parched lips, and they would have been sent to where they belonged. And yet as soon as He said, “It is finished” (John 19:30) He set out to reclaim them. Even they will not be forgotten.
Moroni tells us that the story of Joseph is a type of the New Jerusalem (our church).
For as Joseph brought his father down into the land of Egypt, even so he died there; wherefore, the Lord brought a remnant of the seed of Joseph out of the land of Jerusalem, that he might be merciful unto the seed of Joseph that they should perish not, even as he was merciful unto the father of Joseph that he should perish not (Ether 13:7).
How could his father die but not perish? Only in our church does that make any sense. Nephi tells us Joseph saved his father “and all his household from perishing with famine” (1 Nephi 5:14). Notwithstanding our fathers die, we can help save them from perishing—not from “a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord” (Amos 8:11). And notice how many of Jacob’s household were saved. And remember how rotten most of them were. And yet even though Joseph saved all his household, and all of Egypt, Moroni focused on a son saving his father as a type of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
We have considerable evidence that in 1829, when the Book of Mormon was published, Joseph Smith didn’t realize the full reach of Zion. We have evidence that by 1840 (Joseph’s announcement regarding baptism for the dead) he had put it all together. In 1842 he taught that “the building up of Zion” is for “the salvation of the human family.” This is another example of the Book of Mormon being way ahead of Joseph Smith.
But the real value of knowing these things are for all, is it can broaden our views. For example, if we lived in Jerusalem during Isaiah’s day, him telling us we are wicked, that we could repent, that we would be refined, and that there would be a “faithful city” (see Isaiah 1), would likely mean little to us.
But after the Babylonians killed our friends and families, made our wives and children someone’s property (see Jeremiah 8:10), and turned us into slaves (see Lamentations 1), we would likely cling to every word of Isaiah. Could our scarlet sins really be as snow? We would believe Isaiah was talking to us. Could our God really purge away our dross? Indeed, that was happening to us. Could we repent? Yes. Could we be baptized and sealed to our families? Probably not. Thus, we would need that faithful city. The Lord’s house to be established in the top of the mountains would mean everything to us.
Then suppose we died and someone gave us the book which says we will not be cast off forever (see 2 Nephi 7:1–2). Suppose we read this passage from the first chapter.
And he read, saying: Wo, wo, unto Jerusalem, for I have seen thine abominations! Yea, and many things did my father read concerning Jerusalem—that it should be destroyed, and the inhabitants thereof; many should perish by the sword, and many should be carried away captive into Babylon.
And it came to pass that when my father had read and seen many great and marvelous things, he did exclaim many things unto the Lord; such as: Great and marvelous are thy works, O Lord God Almighty! Thy throne is high in the heavens, and thy power, and goodness, and mercy are over all the inhabitants of the earth; and, because thou art merciful, thou wilt not suffer those who come unto thee that they shall perish! (1 Nephi 1:13–14, italics added).
Would we not believe that passage was for us? Suppose we read where Nephi said Isaiah’s words could be likened unto us (see 1 Nephi 19:24). Would we not do that?
When I read from that perspective, especially when I read Nephi’s commentary on Isaiah, the word that repeatedly comes to mind is “hope.”
A Two Lens View of Scripture
We tend to read the scriptures with two lenses in our minds. We have a latter-day lens and a plan of salvation lens. It’s like we’re looking through a pair of binoculars with lenses not in sync. For example, I once heard an Institute Director ask a large gathering of church educators, “Why was Nephi so excited about Isaiah?” He paused. I thought ‘This is the perfect question.’ He continued, “Perhaps we or our children will experience the Second Coming and Millennial reign of Christ.” That made no sense. It was like saying “Perhaps we or our children will be resurrected.” He apparently viewed Isaiah’s message and the Second Coming with his latter-day lens. No one will miss the Second Coming. It is for Nephi and ourselves, as well as our children. Abraham will not miss it (see D&C 27:10). Laman and Lemuel couldn’t miss it if they wanted to (see D&C 88:85). It is part of the plan. But for many it is not in our plan lens.
Ask the youth, “Where will we go after the Spirit World?” They will say “The Celestial Kingdom.” That is technically true. But then ask them, “What does it mean to come forth in the morning of the first resurrection?” They will likely say, “To rise from the dead and come with Christ at His Second Coming.” They have two lenses. They know there will be a Millennium. But when they think of the plan, they don’t see it, because when we teach the plan, we rarely, if ever, include it.
Ask well-versed members, “What will we do in the Millennium?” They will say, “Temple work and missionary work.” That is true. And yet we know we will be taught by Christ in that realm (see D&C 101 and 121). I seldom get that answer without a little prompting. For some reason, learning from Christ in that realm, isn’t the first thing that comes to mind, if it comes to mind at all.
Elder Dallin H. Oakes taught:
Many of the most important deprivations of mortality will be set right in the Millennium, which is the time of fulfilling all that is incomplete in the great plan of happiness for all of our Father’s worthy children.”
So, we can teach the Millennium is part of the plan. But I cannot find, anywhere in our literature, this sentence, “Being taught by Christ in the Millennium is an important part of the plan.” I’m sure everyone reading this knows we will be taught by Christ in the Millennium. This is not a knowledge thing. This is a two-lens thing. For some reason when we use two lenses that sublime doctrine is blurry or not there at all when we think of the plan—like we have a blind spot.
We know when the Savior comes, we “shall see [our] teacher” (JST Isaiah 30:20). We know He will reveal all things (see D&C 101:32-35)—things that are necessary for a fullness of glory (see D&C 121:27). Surely many lights will come on in that Terrestrial room (I mean “world”).
Consider this chart in our Presidents of the Church, Religion 345 instructor’s guide (p. 1979, p. 62).
This chart includes the Second Coming and Millennium as part of the plan. We know it is the plan because it uses the word “prepares” four times and it leads to Exaltation. And again, it is self-evident that these things were planned. This chart includes the atonement (sanctifies), our church (Zion), and the gathering as well. This chart captures the common vision (like they all saw the same movie) that virtually every prophet described. This chart, in many ways, is the plan.
There is great value in the plan we traditionally depict. It is indispensable for missionary work and understanding the gospel. It offers eternal perspective. But in a way it isn’t the plan. We are not saved from the pre-mortal existence or the creation. In a strict sense, notwithstanding the fall was planned, it Is not part of the plan either. It is the need. The plan of salvation is salvation from the fall. The plan looks more like that chart.
Whereas our traditional plan is about where we came from, why we’re here and where we’re going, the above chart focuses on Christ. It is He with His church that sanctifies. He gathers. He prepares us for His second coming. It is His second coming. He will teach us in the Millennium and prepare us for exaltation. It is all about Him. And it is all about how. A plan by definition is how. If we drew that chart, it would look something like this.
The dots represent the scattering. The Savior in the clouds represents His Second Coming. Zion is on the American continent because it began there. We know those walls will continue to expand until Zion fills the whole earth (see Daniel 2:35). The atonement of Christ is also there, as well as the gathering and Millennium. This picture or that chart effectively combines those lenses.
The pre-mortal existence is actually in the picture. John wrote about the “Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8). That Lamb is central in the picture. An important component of His sacrifice is that He was foreordained in pre-mortality. That verse is about the Lamb, not where we lived before this life.
Virtually every verse in scripture that mentions pre-mortality is emphasizing an aspect of the plan (those six elements), not the fact that we lived before we came here. It is like the Lord wants us to know, whilst his prophets are talking about a part of His plan, that the pre-mortal existence is an aspect of that part.
If it is true that the ancients all saw basically the same movie, we can assume our God wants us to see it too. Therefore, it is not surprising to find an aspect (or aspects) of that plan in most of the stories in scripture.
If we go to a story looking for the plan we traditionally draw, closing our eye to our latter-day lens, we will miss things. The Exodus story is a prime example. We know there are Second Coming types in the Exodus. We recognize the destroying angel, the plagues, pillar of fire, and the destruction of the wicked at the Red Sea, all typify the Saviors second coming. We see those types clearly with our latter-day lens. But when we look for plan of salvation in that story, we close our eye to that lens. With our plan lens we see the death of the Lamb, baptism of water and the Holy Ghost at the Red Sea, the temple covenant at Mount Sinai, and Jesus leading Israel into the Promised Land. Hence when we write about the Exodus being a model of the plan, we never include the Second Coming, Zion or the Millennium in that model, even though they are typified in the story.
The plan as we traditionally teach it, tells us to look for the pre-mortal realm, a post-mortal spirit realm and Telestial and Terrestrial Kingdoms and maybe even Outer Darkness. I don’t think they’re in the Exodus story. But the plan Nephi, and Isaiah and Malachi taught, is in the picture. Israel is scattered in Egypt. They are gathered by Moses. The atonement of the Lamb is depicted in the story. There are those Second Coming types and numerous Millennial types. Zion is there as well. But if we favor our plan lens when we look at that story, we can miss things.
For example, if the Second Coming is typified, the resurrection should be part of the picture, because the resurrection is a huge part of the Second Coming.
In Third Nephi, the Savior was adamant about including the dead rising in his typifying visit. If it wasn’t in the story, we might wonder if His visit was a type at all. Where is the resurrection in the Exodus story? It is easy to find with a pair of working binoculars, because it is huge. And here’s my point, there is value in knowing what to look for, and there is value in using binoculars that work. And when we find it, it is neat to find the Savior was there long before. Through Joseph Smith He revealed.
And again, verily, verily, I say unto you, and it hath gone forth in a firm decree, by the will of the Father, that mine apostles, the Twelve which were with me in my ministry at Jerusalem, shall stand at my right hand at the day of my coming in a pillar of fire, being clothed with robes of righteousness, with crowns upon their heads, in glory even as I am, to judge the whole house of Israel, even as many as have loved me and kept my commandments, and none else.
For a trump shall sound both long and loud, even as upon Mount Sinai, and all the earth shall quake, and they shall come forth-yea, even the dead which died in me, to receive a crown of righteousness, and to be clothed upon, even as I am, to be with me, that we may be one (D&C 29:12–13).
Imagine standing five hundred yards away from Mount Sinai. Try to hear and see each element in those verses (see also Exodus 19). Better yet, try to draw that scene. The righteous going up and Jehovah coming down is a brilliant type. Trumpets, thunder and lightning, the earth shaking, clean clothes, a pillar of fire—it was quite a production.
In the story the Lord told Israel “Be ready against the third day: come not at your wives” (Exodus 19:15). Why? It was to take place “in the morning” (see Exodus 19:16). Why? All of this screams “Second Coming and resurrection.”
But Israel told God to stop speaking (see Exodus 20:18–19). They failed to go up. They ruined the type. But, like the Savior in Third Nephi, He apparently is not okay with this being left out of the story. That is probably why He had the whole thing repeated with Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu and the seventy elders of Israel (see Exodus 24).
Why seventy? Consider this verse also found in the Exodus story. “And they came to Elim, where were twelve wells of water, and threescore and ten palm trees: and they encamped there by the waters” (Exodus 15:27). Why count the wells (12) and trees (70) and then record that in scripture? When our church is in our views of the plan, those lenses align, and we see Zion everywhere.
There was a great hail storm in the Exodus story. There will be a great hail storm in the last days (Revelation 16:21). Will members of the church get smooched? “Only in the land of Goshen, where the children of Israel were, was there no hail” (Exodus 9:26). There is refuge in Zion.
Our God went to great effort to depict the resurrection. Apparently He really wants it to be part of the picture. And yet when we teach the Exodus is a model of the plan, we don’t include that type. I’ve never seen it in our literature, and I’ve been looking for years.
After the seventy completed the type (in Exodus 24), the Lord instructed Moses to make the tabernacle (see Exodus 25). It too is that movie/plan.
Where is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the tabernacle? The threshold of that house represents the Second Coming (see Ezekiel 9). The Holy place, like Terrestrial rooms in our temples, represents the Millennium. We know the Holy of Holies represents the Celestial Kingdom. Those stones on the breastplate of the High Priest represent the house of Israel. But they are not just the house of Israel. They are gathered Israel. Only in the last days will all of Israel be gathered, and then carried by our God (like a groom carries his bride) across that threshold. Just as members (Zion) progress from Telestial, through Terrestrial, to Celestial rooms in our temples, even so when the Savior comes and makes up his jewels (see Malachi 3:17; D&C 101:3) He will carry them (all together) on his shoulders, next to his heart, all the way into the Holiest Place.
I’ll add no more. It would be a disservice to readers. They don’t need me pointing out things. All they need is a working pair of binoculars. I’m merely saying we have a problem. We teach a plan no prophet in scripture taught and we ignore the one they all taught. That can cause us to miss things. If we don’t understand what our God was trying to do at Sinai, if we don’t see Zion in the Exodus story, or in the ancient tabernacle, or in dozens of other stories in scripture, we are kind of missing the point.
How to Expound The Scriptures in One
In 1993 President Boyd K. Packer assigned Seminary and Institute teachers to “. . . prepare a brief synopsis or overview of the plan of happiness—the plan of salvation.” He said this would provide “. . . a framework on which. . . students can organize the truths [their teachers] will share with them.”
He said, “Providing your students with a collection of unrelated truths will hurt as much as it helps. Provide a basic feeling for the whole plan, even with just a few details, and it will help them ever so much more.”
He added, “At first you may think that a simple assignment. I assure you, it is not. Brevity and simplicity are remarkably difficult to achieve. At first you will be tempted to include too much. The plan in its fullness encompasses every gospel truth.”
It would be extremely difficult to prepare/provide a framework that encompasses every gospel truth, while at the same time keeping it simple. An easier approach would be to use the one Jesus Christ gave us.
We teach that Sections 1 and 133 of the Doctrine and Covenants constitute a framework for that sacred record. In those enclosing sections, Christ mentions Zion 25 times, His atonement 8 times, the gathering 20 times, His second coming 19 times and the Millennium 9 times. Those two sections offer an impressive framework for the Doctrine and Covenants. And since they offer a place for the most talked about doctrines in scripture, they offer a wonderful framework for all of scripture.
As mentioned earlier, Orson Pratt observed, “There is no one thing more fully revealed in the scripture of eternal truth, than the rise of the Zion of our God in the Latter-days.” A framework for scripture ought to have a place for the most talked about doctrine in scripture. The Savior’s framework does.
President Packer said a working framework would show the relationships of doctrines. Through Joseph Smith the Lord instructed,
Teach ye diligently and my grace shall attend you, that you may be instructed more perfectly in theory, in principle, in doctrine, in the law of the gospel, in all things that pertain unto the kingdom of God, that are expedient for you to understand; (see D&C 88:78, italics added).
Every principle, doctrine and law of the gospel pertains (relates) to the kingdom of God (Zion). If we want a framework that can hold the doctrines of the kingdom, we ought to include the kingdom. Like I said, in the Saviors framework for the Doctrine and Covenants, He mentions Zion 25 times.
There is not a person on earth who can fulfill President Packer’s assignment better than Jesus Christ. He could expound all the scripture in one. He gave us a tool to do the same. So why don’t we use it? It is probably because President Packer said we could call that framework the plan of salvation. That requires a paradigm shift. And paradigm shifts are remarkably difficult. I know there are people who do see these things. But there have been so many who have said to me “I don’t see how we can call these things the plan.” Even with what is offered here, this is still a difficult shift. Some will still argue we can’t call this the plan. After all Abraham is a god.
In 1985, as the concluding speaker for the Priesthood Session of General Conference, President Gordon B. Hinckley of the First Presidency, gave a talk about pleasing our Heavenly Father. In that talk he said, “This church is part of his divine plan.”
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A Framework for Scripture
People often suggest to me things we ought to include in that picture of the plan. This is an overview made by our God. I would not add things to it lightly. I suggest we adopt before we adapt. The following are the most talked about doctrines in those sections (D&C 1 and 133).
Apostate conditions of the nations 8 times
Atonement of Jesus Christ 8 times
Zion 23 times
Gathering 30 times
2nd Coming 25 times
Millennium 9 times
When most of the prophets in scripture talked about that common vision, they included the scattering. By Joseph Smith’s day that had basically been accomplished. Those “apostate conditions” are scattered Israel. So I think we’re okay in adding a few dots (representing the scattering) to the picture.
Those sections don’t mention the Celestial Kingdom. That is actually Section 2. Sections 1 and 133 are pure plan, not destination. In those sections He centers on how He plans to get us there, not on there. But for my students, to show where the plan leads, I do make that addition.
Those sections don’t mention pre-mortality. That realm is rarely mentioned in scripture and hardly mentioned at all in the Doctrine and Covenants. On a framework for scripture it would rarely be used. Generally when the prophets talked about the pre-mortal existence they did so in connection with one of those oft repeated aspects of the plan. For example John wrote about the “Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8). That is a description of the Lamb not a realm. Having that realm in the picture might cause us to focus on it instead of the Lamb. The pre-mortal realm is all over that framework. Zion was formed before the foundation of the world. Those missionaries were called and trained before this life (see D&C 138:56). It is part of the picture, but not in the way we generally include it.
Since our God gave us a framework (in Sections 1 and 133), it is safe to assume President Packer was inspired by him to charge us to find it. Through President Packer, He told us to keep it simple. The One who made hearts, made Sections 1 and 133. They constitute a framework that is brilliantly simple which works amazingly well. Let’s take a look. Let’s use it on those sections themselves, with the idea that if we can hold the framework of the book, we can hold the book.
“Hearken, O ye people of my church, saith the voice of him who dwells on high, and whose eyes are upon all men; yea, verily I say: Hearken ye people from afar; and ye that are upon the islands of the sea, listen together” (D&C 1:1).
HIs church and his people have a place in that picture. They are within those walls. His voice we receive through prophets (foundation of that city) and, in this case, the Doctrine and Covenants, which can be found in the homes of the people in that city, in those temples, as well as in the backpacks of those missionaries.
We need not draw every item. This is a framework. As long as we understand where they fit in the picture, the picture is enough. For example He does not mention the sacrament in those enclosing sections. It is an important part of the plan, because, as Elder Clark said, it has his name on it.
Where would the sacrament fit in the picture? We take the sacrament in that city. It relates to that cross and the Second Coming (see D&C 27). Drawing the sacrament on each of those items would clutter the picture. For a framework to be effective, it merely needs to have a place to hold things. The Savior’s framework has at least three places for the sacrament.
To “hearken” is also part of the plan. People who hearken reside in that city. In their homes they pray and seek the Spirit. They go to church on Sundays. They attend Seminary and Institute in that city. Everything that pertains to the kingdom fits in the kingdom.
“For verily the voice of the Lord is unto all men, and there is none to escape; and there is no eye that shall not see, neither ear that shall not hear, neither heart that shall not be penetrated” (D&C 1:2).
His voice, as mentioned above, is in the picture.
“And the rebellious shall be pierced with much sorrow; for their iniquities shall be spoken upon the housetops, and their secret acts shall be revealed” (D&C 1:3).
This seems to be referring to his second coming which is part of the picture.
“And the voice of warning shall be unto all people, by the mouths of my disciples, whom I have chosen in these last days” (D&C 1:4).
The picture has those missionaries. And we have another place where his voice fits—their mouths.
“And they shall go forth and none shall stay them, for I the Lord have commanded them” (D&C 1:5).
Not only do those missionaries speak with his voice, they are armed with authority, commanded by him (implied by their wearing name tags). They have his name on them. Priesthood has a number of places in the picture.
“Behold, this is mine authority, and the authority of my servants, and my preface unto the book of my commandments, which I have given them to publish unto you, O inhabitants of the earth” (D&C 1:6).
That authority, those servants, the book of commandments have a place in the picture. And since we used the earth as a backdrop, it is in the picture as well.
Verses 7-11 describe the mission of those missionaries.
“Prepare ye, prepare ye for that which is to come, for the Lord is nigh; And the anger of the Lord is kindled, and his sword is bathed in heaven, and it shall fall upon the inhabitants of the earth. (D&C 1:12-13).
The Second Coming is in the picture.
“And the arm of the Lord shall be revealed; and the day cometh that they who will not hear the voice of the Lord, neither the voice of his servants, neither give heed to the words of the prophets and apostles, shall be cut off from among the people” (D&C 1:14).
The arm of the Lord is restoration as well as Christ’s Second Coming. The prophets and apostles and being cut off (Second Coming) all have a place.
Verses 15-16 apostate conditions of the world.
“Wherefore, I the Lord, knowing the calamity which should come upon the inhabitants of the earth, called upon my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., and spake unto him from heaven, and gave him commandments” (D&C 1:17).
Joseph Smith, along with the apostles and prophets, is the foundation of that city.
“And also gave commandments to others, that they should proclaim these things unto the world; and all this that it might be fulfilled, which was written by the prophets” (D&C 1:18)
Those others, the proclaimers, are in the picture. This picture is what all those prophets wrote about.
“The weak things of the world shall come forth and break down the mighty and strong ones, that man should not counsel his fellow man, neither trust in the arm of flesh” (D&C 1:19).
“The weak things” are those missionaries.
“But that every man might speak in the name of God the Lord, even the Savior of the world” (D&C 1:20).
The Savior of the world is represented by that cross.
“That faith also might increase in the earth” (D&C 1:21).
We have faith in the Savior on that cross. It takes faith to go through those gates. Abraham had faith that there would be that city (see Hebrews 11:10). Faith is an attribute of those missionaries (D&C 4). We have faith He will come again (D&C 133:11). Almost every time a prophet wrote about faith in the scriptures it was in regards to one of those aspects of the plan.
“That mine everlasting covenant might be established” (D&C 1:22).
Those gates in the walls of Zion offer a place for the everlasting covenant. They represent the first principles and ordinances of the gospel. And that verse allows us to include those gates. Temples are also in the picture.
“That the fulness of my gospel might be proclaimed by the weak and the simple unto the ends of the world, and before kings and rulers” (D&C 1:23).
There’s those missionaries again.
Verses 24-28 is about the commandments in the Book of Commandments given to his servants-all of which have a place in the picture.
“And after having received the record of the Nephites, yea, even my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., might have power to translate through the mercy of God, by the power of God, the Book of Mormon” (D&C 1:29).
The Book of Mormon is in the homes of all who dwell in that city. It is in those temples and in the arms of Moroni on a number of our temples. It is in the hands and backpacks of those missionaries.
“And also those to whom these commandments were given, might have power to lay the foundation of this church, and to bring it forth out of obscurity and out of darkness, the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth, with which I, the Lord, am well pleased, speaking unto the church collectively and not individually” (D&C 1:30).
Again his church is a huge part of the picture.
Verses 31-33 is a call to repentance.
“And again, verily I say unto you, O inhabitants of the earth: I the Lord am willing to make these things known unto all flesh” (D&C 1:34).
Thus He sends out those missionaries.
“For I am no respecter of persons, and will that all men shall know that the day speedily cometh; the hour is not yet, but is nigh at hand, when peace shall be taken from the earth, and the devil shall have power over his own dominion” (D&C 1:35).
Apostate conditions of the world.
“And also the Lord shall have power over his saints, and shall reign in their midst, and shall come down in judgment upon Idumea, or the world” (D&C 1:36).
“Saints” are in that city. That is where He reigns in their midst. He will come down in judgment at his second coming.
“Search these commandments, for they are true and faithful, and the prophecies and promises which are in them shall all be fulfilled” (D&C 1:37).
Again those commandments fit in a number of places in the picture.
“What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same” (D&C 1:38).
His servants have a place in the picture.
“For behold, and lo, the Lord is God, and the Spirit beareth record, and the record is true, and the truth abideth forever and ever. Amen” (D&C 1:39).
Again that record (that Book of Commandments) is in the picture.
This is a synopsis of D&C 133:
1–6, The Saints are commanded to prepare for the Second Coming; 7–16, All men are commanded to flee from Babylon, come to Zion, and prepare for the great day of the Lord; 17–35, He will stand on Mount Zion, the continents will become one land, and the lost tribes of Israel will return; 36–40, The gospel was restored through Joseph Smith to be preached in all the world; 41–51, The Lord will come down in vengeance upon the wicked; 52–56, It will be the year of His redeemed; 57–74, The gospel is to be sent forth to save the Saints and for the destruction of the wicked.
We can do the same thing with every section of the Doctrine and Covenants. It is an amazing framework. And since these are the most talked about doctrines in scripture, since they all saw and wrote about the same movie, it is an amazing framework for all of scripture.
About the Author
Steve Fotheringham teaches for the LDS Church at the Institute of Religion adjacent to the University of Nevada at Las Vegas (UNLV). He has been a teacher since 1982. He has a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology from Weber State University, a Master’s Degree in Marriage and Family Counseling and a Doctoral Degree in Educational Administration from The University of Arizona.
He is married to the former Kaylene Pace. They have six children, one of which is a famous wheelchair athlete. They call him “Wheelz.” Steve is the Gospel Doctrine teacher in his ward. And he invented lunch.
For more on these things (repeating a lot that is contained herein) go to WWW.IsaiahsPoint.com.
If anyone thinks me deluded, please, in a proper and affectionate manner, try to reclaim me at WWW.FotheringhamSC@LDSChurch.org. Additions and corrections will be greatly appreciated.
 Elder John Taylor, Journal of Discourses, 26 vols., 17:, p. 213.
 (Andrea Hiott, Thinking Small, The Long Strange Trip of the Volkswagen Beetle, Hiott, Ballantine Books, New York, 2012, p.).
 Gordon B. Hinckley, April 1985, General Conference, To Please Our Heavenly Father.
 Russell M. Nelson, “The Gathering of Scattered Israel,” Ensign, Nov. 2006, 79-82., p. 79.
 Ibid., p. 79.
 Ibid., p. 80.
 President Gordon B. Hinckley quoted by Jeffrey R. Holland, 2/5/1999, “Our Consuming Mission,” Address to CES Religious Educators, Salt Lake Tabernacle. February 5th, 1999.
 President Hinckley, Gordon B. Conference Report, Apr. 1982, 70; or Ensign, May 1982, 46.
 Sheri L. Dew, Go Forward With Faith The Biography of Gordon B. Hinckley, Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1996, pp. 489-490,
 Jeffrey R. Holland, C.E.S. Broadcast, “An Evening with Elder Jeffrey R. Holland,” February 5, 1999.
 (May 2, 1842.) DHC 4:608-610 (TPJS 231-232).
 Young, Brigham Discourses of Brigham Young, sel. John A. Widtsoe, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1925-46), 118, Italics added.
 Orson Pratt, Journal of Discourses, Vol. 16., p. 78.
 President Marion G. Romney, 1981 April General Conference, Saturday Morning Session.
 Wilford Woodruff, in Journal of Discourses, London: Latter-day saints’ Book Depot, 1855-86, Volume 15: pp 7-8).
 Elder Spencer W. Kimball, The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, Edited by Edward L. Kimball, (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1982-1998, 25.
 Elder Joseph Fielding Smith, Teachings of The Prophet Joseph Smith, Desert Book, p. 355.
 Elder Joseph Fielding Smith, Teachings of The Prophet Joseph Smith, Deseret Book, p. 232
 President Gordon B. Hinckley, Conference Report, Apr. 1982,70; or Ensign, May 1982, 46.
 Elder Joseph Fielding Smith, Teachings of The Prophet Joseph Smith, Deseret Book, p. 169
 Elder Dallin H. Oakes, October Conference, 1993, “The Great Plan of Happiness”.
 Ibid., p. 2.
 Ibid., p. 3.
 Elder Orson Pratt, Journal of Discourses, Vol. 16., p. 78.
 Gordon B. Hinckley, April 1985, General Conference, To Please Our Heavenly Father.