The Book of Mormon in Spirit Prison

 “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 . . .”[1]                                                                                                                                     Spencer W. Kimball

It seems reasonable to assume we will use the Book of Mormon to preach the gospel in the spirit world since it is the greatest missionary tool on earth.  But do we know?  The way the scriptures are used when we make covenants in the temple, suggests (indeed requires) the dead have access to them.  But can we say for sure?  I think we can. By his own hand, Mormon wrote,

And now I, Mormon, being about to deliver up the record which I have been making into the hands of my son Moroni, behold I have witnessed almost all the destruction of my people, the Nephites. And it is many hundred years after the coming of Christ that I deliver these records into the hands of my son; and it supposeth me that he will witness the entire destruction of my people. But may God grant that he may survive them, that he may write somewhat concerning them, and somewhat concerning Christ, that perhaps some day it may profit them (Words of Mormon 1:1-2, italics added).

It appears Mormon thought the Nephites would be completely destroyed.  He evidently thought his book could help them.  He knew to access Christ’s atonement, we must be baptized (see Mormon 7:8).  Reading a book about Christ in hell without access to his atonement would not profit them.  Indeed it would only add coal to the fire.  This suggests Mormon knew baptism would be made available to them.  It suggests he knew our church would help save the dead.

Imagine leaving that book with someone in Spirit Prison.  They would find, almost immediately, that Lehi was given a book.

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).

In that awful realm (especially for those who were carried captive into Babylon) that verse makes more sense.  They would liken every word of Lehi unto themselves.  What would it be like for them to read the  following from Alma?

And now behold, I say unto you, my brethren, you that belong to this church, have you sufficiently retained in remembrance the captivity of your fathers? Yea, and have you sufficiently retained in remembrance his mercy and long-suffering towards them? And moreover, have ye sufficiently retained in remembrance that he has delivered their souls from hell?

Behold, he changed their hearts; yea, he awakened them out of a deep sleep, and they awoke unto God. Behold, they were in the midst of darkness; nevertheless, their souls were illuminated by the light of the everlasting word; yea, they were encircled about by the bands of death, and the chains of hell, and an everlasting destruction did await them.

And now I ask of you, my brethren, were they destroyed? Behold, I say unto you, Nay, they were not.

And again I ask, were the bands of death broken, and the chains of hell which encircled them about, were they loosed? I say unto you, Yea, they were loosed, and their souls did expand, and they did sing redeeming love. And I say unto you that they are saved.

And now I ask of you on what conditions are they saved? Yea, what grounds had they to hope for salvation? What is the cause of their being loosed from the bands of death, yea, and also the chains of hell?

Behold, I can tell you-did not my father Alma believe in the words which were delivered by the mouth of Abinadi? And was he not a holy prophet? Did he not speak the words of God, and my father Alma believe them?

And according to his faith there was a mighty change wrought in his heart. Behold I say unto you that this is all true (Alma 5:6-12).

That deliverance and that change of heart includes baptism..  Alma began this passage with that reminder.

I, Alma, having been consecrated by my father, Alma, to be a high priest over the church of God, he having power and authority from God to do these things, behold, I say unto you that he began to establish a church in the land which was in the borders of Nephi; yea, the land which was called the land of Mormon; yea, and he did baptize his brethren in the waters of Mormon (Alma 5:3).

It is likely some, even now, in that realm, are reading and crying out “O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness, and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of death” (Alma 36:18). Some, even now, are reading,

Marvel not that all mankind, yea, men and women, all nations, kindreds, tongues and people, must be born again; yea, born of God, changed from their carnal and fallen state, to a state of righteousness, being redeemed of God, becoming his sons and daughters (Mosiah 26:25).

Surely many can relate to,

And we are willing to enter into a covenant with our God to do his will, and to be obedient to his commandments in all things that he shall command us, all the remainder of our days, that we may not bring upon ourselves a never-ending torment, as has been spoken by the angel, that we may not drink out of the cup of the wrath of God” (Mosiah 5:5).

We know deliverance is a repeated theme in the Book of Mormon.  Those in the grasp of that awful monster would see that book as manna from heaven. So no, Mormon wouldn’t wish that book on his worst enemies unless he knew baptism would be available to them. Surely that is why he wrote so much about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  Surely that is why, when he talked about our church, he repeatedly said it would be for “all.”

What follows is additional evidence that the authors of the Book of Mormon knew the dead would get their words.  We will also see that they knew Christ’s latter-day church would help save all mankind of all generations of time.

A Standard for Judgment

It makes sense that everyone must hear the story of Jesus Christ and Joseph Smith (see Doctrine and Covenants 1:1-2) before they are judged.  It makes sense that the standard works set the bar.  Thus, Peter wrote, “For for this cause was the gospel preached to them that are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh . . .” (1 Peter 4:6). Like Peter, Mormon wrote,

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;

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 3:20-21).

For Mormon “all” included “gentiles,” “all the ends of the earth,” and “the remnant of this people [the Lamanites],” as well as the Jews who saw and heard and slew Jesus (see Mormon 3:17-21).  Some may assume he was writing to the Jews in general not to those who actually slew Jesus.  After all, they would be dead when his book would come forth.

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 don’t assume he thought 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 him.  We tend to think he was writing to the Jews, “the covenant people of the Lord,” who are an extension of them.

But 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.). When you write to all, that covers all bases.  If he can write to dead Nephites who killed his family and friends, he can write to those who saw and heard and slew Jesus.

The Savior himself lets us know the people of his day will get Mormon’s book. In 34 A.D. he 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 explained, would be the coming forth of the Book of Mormon.  We know those he was talking to would be long gone when that book comes 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 signs of the time.

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 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 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 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 many 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, seems to mean just what he said.

A Marvelous Work

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. (3 Nephi 21:23-24).

“We believe . . . that Zion (the New Jerusalem) will be built upon the American continent” (Article of Faith 10). Zion is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  The building up of Zion and that gathering has already commenced on both sides of the veil.  Moroni tells us that the story of Joseph is a type of the New Jerusalem.

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). 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.

The Savior at Bountiful continued,

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 25-28, italics added).

I think this shows the Savior knew (and was saying) the Book of Mormon and his church will be for all mankind. 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.  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).

I don’t know why he specifies “the nations who shall posses them” because all nations will.  Nephi knew that the Lord would “commence his work among all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people” (2 Nephi 30:8).  He knew his words would go to the “ends of the earth,” which seems to imply all nations. Regardless, 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.

A Book for Lamanites and Nephites

Mormon and Moroni wrote specifically to the Lamanites of the last days (see Title page and Mormon 7) because we know they knew the Nephites would be entirely destroyed.  Mormon wrote Fourth Nephi.  He knew Lamanites and Nephites became one people.  But in his day they were once again two nations.  In the end there were no Nephites. 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 Smith 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).

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).

A Book for the Whole House of Israel

Of that gathering, Ezekiel prophesied,

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).

In that context, he prophesied, “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).

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).

Joseph F. Smith taught,

The work in which Joseph Smith was engaged was not confined to this life alone, but it pertains as well to the life to come, and to the life that has been.  In other words, it relates to those who have lived upon the earth, to those who are living and to those who shall come after us.  It is not something which relates to man only while he tabernacles in the flesh, but to the whole human family from eternity to eternity.[2]

Mormon and others seem to have understood that.  Apparently, President Hinckley understood that.  Of that marvelous work, he 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.”[3]

On the subject of the gathering, 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.”[4]

The following passage is a good example of President Romney’s point.  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).

A Church for all Mankind

All the house of Israel will be restored to the land of their inheritance, when they accept Jesus Christ, through the instrumentality of the Book of Mormon. To accept their Redeemer, they must be baptized.  That, as we know, requires The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  Therefore, it is not surprising when our church is mentioned in that book, that the word “all” is almost always included.

President Gordon B. Hinckley 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.[5]

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.[6]

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 is the restored church. And yet Nephi was claiming that 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.
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.
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 6:4-6, italics added).

Some may interpret this prophecy to mean 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 1492? Surely, they are part of “all.”

If that standard is not for them, then Jacob and Nephi would either be wrong, or extremely difficult to understand. On the other hand, if they saw our church how we see our church, as really being for all, they make perfect sense. That verse about that standard to be raised was central in Nephi’s commentary on two chapters of Isaiah (Isaiah 48 and 49). Before reading those chapters to his brothers, he identified Isaiah’s intended audience.

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).

Those “from whom [they had] been broken off” ended up in Babylon. They were taken into bondage because they, like the ten tribes, hardened their hearts against the Holy One of Israel (see 1 Nephi 22:5). The first chapter Nephi quoted from Isaiah (Isaiah 48) is about Israel being chosen in the furnace of affliction and being carried away captive to Babylon.

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). The nightmare of being torn from home and family, scattered, and made to serve in bondage must have refined many of them. Yet most of Israel, even if penitent, would find themselves without the gospel in this life and confined to Spirit Prison in the life to come. We know if they would have come to their senses, and would have accepted the gospel in this life, they can be heirs of the celestial kingdom of God (see Doctrine and Covenants 137:7). We know that will require the latter-day church Isaiah spoke so much about.

This must be why Nephi quoted the next chapter of Isaiah, because 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). Commenting on that standard, Nephi spoke of a “marvelous work,” and the Lord “bringing about his covenants and his gospel” (see 1 Nephi 22:8-11). He centered on the Restoration.

But whom he said that Restoration is intended, may be his most important instruction. After reading those Isaiah chapters, he began by explaining, “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).  If we combine this with his introduction to those Isaiah chapters, 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.

Hope

Nephi said Isaiah’s words offered hope to all the house of Israel. “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? 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 have 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. His Atonement makes salvation possible. Zion makes it available. So that although there is a strong reference to Christ’s Atonement in the chapters Nephi read (see 1 Nephi 21:14-16), he centered on Zion. Even in that reference, Christ’s church is part of the picture.

Zion hath said: The Lord hath forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgotten me-but he will show that he hath not. . .Yea. . . I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands; thy walls are continually before me” (1 Nephi 21:14-16).

Those walls (as we will see) are the latter-day Zion. Surely, they are continually before him because they are his mechanism for saving the world. A plan, by definition, is how.  Zion has everything to do with how we will be saved.

The phrase “but he will show that he hath not,” is not found in the King James Version of Isaiah. That prophecy was, at least in one way, fulfilled by the drama surrounding King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream.  His outlandish demands for the interpretation of that dream would have made it very public.  It is as if the Lord said to his people, “I told you I would show you I wouldn’t forget you.  Notice that kingdom that is continually before me, is the kingdom I showed your king. My sacrifice with my restored church can save you.” Isaiah’s prophecy coupled with Nebuchadnezzar’s dream could indeed give them hope, but only if they realized those walls have a gate, and that one day, they could go through it.

And yet the odds of exiles in Babylon having the words of Isaiah in this life are slim.  But if they get them when they’re dead, Isaiah’s words could indeed give them hope. Nephi saying isaiah’s message could give exiled Israelites hope, seems to imply he knew that.

According to President Romney, the gathering signals Israel’s acceptance of Christ as their Redeemer. Can they accept their Redeemer without baptism?  Jacob didn’t seem to think so. He connected being gathered to lands of inheritance with coming into 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).

There is only one church.  There is only one fold.  There is only one shepherd.   Before Israel is gathered to the lands of their inheritance, they must join that church.

When commenting on the prophet Zenos’s allegory (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). We have no problem conceptualizing how the branches will be gathered (grafted in) in the last days.  But the word “us” includes the roots. The roots, we know are ancient Israel. “And, behold, the roots. . . are yet alive” (Jacob 5:54). Branches need roots and roots need branches. Jacob’s statement suggests we are all in this together. We all need The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (which shows up in the allegory—Jacob 5:61).

When the standard (the latter-day church) is raised, and Israel’s seed is nourished, that seed are not all the house of Israel. They are Israel’s children living in the last days. They are the branches.  Perhaps that’s why Nephi said, “these things of which are spoken are temporal” (1 Nephi 22:6). But that standard (which includes their seed) will bless all mankind. Perhaps 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 on 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. Nephi understood the same, evidenced by his subsequent explanation 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, italics added).

Who are they? They are those who Nephi said had 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).

Nephi’s use of the word “captivity” seems to emphasize Isaiah’s phrase “that thou mayest say to the prisoners: Go forth.” We teach that has reference to salvation for the dead (see 1 Nephi 21 footnote 9a).  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 with 1 Nephi 22:12).

“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.

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).

If King Benjamin had thought there was an advantage to remaining in ignorance, surely he would not have gone to such great lengths to teach his people. He clearly did not see an advantage; instead, he taught, “[a]nd 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).

Some people might have been concerned that Christ’s atonement no longer covered their ignorance, since King Benjamin, in teaching them, had taken away any “excuse.” 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 only one. Once the gospel is taken to every people, ignorance will no longer be excusable. Little children will be blameless, but those who die in their ignorance do not remain in their ignorance.

Abinadi made the same point to the wicked priests of King Noah (see Mosiah 15:24-30). If these things didn’t pertain to them, 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?”

Clearly, Abinadi was addressing his own people. For wicked priests (Abinadi’s audience) who would likely end up in hell, and parents (King Benjamin’s audience) whose children would refuse to be baptized, that message may prove to be the most pertinent of all.

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). Many of their children would perish because of unbelief (see 2 Nephi 10:2). We know—as did Jacob—that those who perish in unbelief, 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). Jacob then added that those in Paradise would also be resurrected and judged. Then 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 brought out and judged, he was teaching there is salvation for the dead. That is unless they are all sent back after they are judged.
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).

Mormon, speaking similarly, included the role of God’s word in getting people out (or keeping people out) of hell.

Thus we may see that the Lord is merciful unto all who will, in the sincerity of their hearts, call upon his holy name.

Yea, thus we see that the gate of heaven is open unto all, even to those who will believe on the name of Jesus Christ, who is the Son of God.

Yea, we see that whosoever will may lay hold upon the word of God, which is quick and powerful, which shall divide asunder all the cunning and the snares and the wiles of the devil, and lead the man of Christ in a strait and narrow course across that everlasting gulf of misery which is prepared to engulf the wicked-

And land their souls, yea, their immortal souls, at the right hand of God in the kingdom of heaven, to sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and with Jacob, and with all our holy fathers, to go no more out (Helaman 3:27-30; Compare with Moses 7:57).

There is only one obstinate group that will return to hell. Of them the Lord said, “they shall return again to their own place” (Doctrine and Covenants 88:32). They are those who “remain filthy still” (Doctrine and Covenants 88:35).

The way Jacob described the fate of those who are filthy still (see 2 Nephi 9:16), is how the Savior described sons of perditions (see Doctrine and Covenants 76:36).  “Thus, he saves all the works of his hands, except those sons of perdition” (Doctrine and Covenants 76:43). Apparently, there is an exception to all after all.

Did They Know God Would Save Those Who Die in Unbelief?

There are some 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 presume the answer is both. But we don’t always know the mind of the author. The following 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. But none of them will be forgotten. All we need know is first, who will remember them, and second, what it means to be remembered.

In the first instance, it is God who will remember them (see 1 Nephi 21:14–16; 2 Nephi 29:2; Jacob 6:4). 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 either 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, 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.”[7] 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 his people perishing in unbelief, but he knew 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, italics added).

The word “many” seems contrary to Jacob’s teaching that all the house of Israel will be restored to the true church and fold of God. It seems contrary to Nephi’s teaching that all who have dwindled in unbelief shall not be forgotten. Both brothers constantly wrote “all.” But this time Jacob wrote “many.”

The word “many” makes God sound capricious, as in, “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 (see Mormon 5:14).

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.

“[T]hat which will give [them] the true knowledge of their Redeemer” (see 2 Nephi 10:2)  was the Book of Mormon when Mormon wrote about these same things (see Mormon 5:14).
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, Lehi prophesied they would be grafted in, in the last days (see 1 Nephi 1-14).  Then Nephi added,

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).

Almost always 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). God being merciful unto “many,” but all of them being restored, seems consistent with that.

Even so, it would have been nice if Nephi, 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[v] (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).

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Plan of Salvation

Understanding that the restored church is for all mankind is important if we want to teach it is part of the plan of salvation.  On June 12th, 2018, Elder Kim B. Clark, General Authority Seventy, Church Commissioner of Education, charged religious educators to include the Savior’s restored church in depictions and discussions of the plan. He taught, “The gathering of scattered Israel . . . is an important part of the Father’s plan. . . The Lord’s true and living church is a critical part of the Father’s plan for the salvation of his children.”[7.5]

As quoted above, President Hinckley taught our church is for all who have ever lived.  Many rightfully reason for something to be part of the plan it has to be for all.  As we have seen the Book of Mormon prophets said our church was for all many times.  But what About Abraham?  We know he was exalted without the restored church?  Does he need our church?  Is it part of the plan for him? 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.[8]

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 (like Abraham) being in heaven doesn’t exclude him from the gathering and other blessings of the Restoration. In fact, Joseph Smith spoke of knowledge to be revealed in our dispensation “[w]hich 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.” (Doctrine and Covenants 121:27)

Abraham is one of our foremost forefathers. He may be exalted, but that doesn’t mean he has a fullness. 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.”[9] Obtaining that fullness is part of the plan (see Doctrine and Covenants 93:20). It is

[A]ccording 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” (Doctrine and Covenants 121:32).

Evidently Abraham isn’t finished yet. Perhaps that’s why he “looked for a city . . . whose builder and maker is God” (Hebrews 11:10). That city is 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.

There is a passage in the Doctrine and Covenants that seems to say that all the righteous of the past have claim on our dispensation.  Of Enoch, and his brethren, we read,

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. (Doctrine and Covenants 45:11-14, italics added; see also Moses 7:62-63 and Hebrews 11:33).

We cannot doubt that Isaiah and Nephi obtained that promise. It is hard to imagine them not sharing that possibility with their people.  All of this is to say Zion (the restored church) is part of the plan of salvation for all mankind. That, we may suppose, is why a glimpse of that kingdom could inspire them.  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.[10]

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.[11]

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, so, we tend to think these things are primarily for us. 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 our redemption (see Moroni 6:4), the “day of righteousness” (Doctrine and Covenants 45:12) when our “redemption shall be perfected” (Doctrine and Covenants 45:46), when our God will come and “complete the salvation of man” (Doctrine and Covenants 77:12) in Zion.

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.[12]

If Isaiah’s or Nephi’s people are to enjoy Zion in eternity, they must make it themselves.  Hence, all the holy prophets spoke much about Christ’s latter-day church to their people.

A Framework for Scripture

The great value in including our church in our depictions of the plan is that it allows us to use the framework given by our God in sections 1 and 133 of the Doctrine and Covenants. That framework turns out to be an excellent framework for all of scripture. The Savior could expound all scripture in one (see 3 Nephi 23:14). He gave us a tool (in those two sections) to do the same.

Conclusion

I plan on teaching with the Book of Mormon in the Spirit World. For those who dwindled in unbelief—even those who saw and heard and slew Jesus, 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.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –  – – – – – – – – – – –

 

For a short video on this topic search on YouTube: “Regarding the Plan.”

 

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.  And yet there was not a ripple of concern in that vast group.  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 and our children.  Abraham will not miss it.  Laman and Lemuel could not miss it if they wanted to.  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 invariably 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 a well-versed member “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 once wrote the following that I sent in for a peer review.  

Tell older members of the church that the Millennium is part of the plan to prepare them to become like God and for many that is a new thought.  Then ask them “How does that make you feel?”  Invariably their answer will include the word “hope.”  I assume that’s because older people are more aware of their imperfections and slow progress.  

My reviewer responded, “Many are just too kind to tell the author how far off base this concept is.”  Like I said, “for many that is a new thought.” 

The only way the Millennium isn’t a part of the plan is if there is no progression there.  When the Savior comes and reveals all things many lights will come on in that Terrestrial room (I mean realm).  But when we teach the plan that realm is conspicuously missing.  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—like we have a blind spot.  I found this chart in our Presidents of the Church, Religion 345 instructor’s guide (p. 1979, p. 62).   

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              

 pastedGraphic.png

This chart includes the Second Coming and Millennium as part of the plan.  It includes the atonement (sanctifies), our church (Zion), and the gathering as well.  This chart captures that movie (common vision) that virtually every prophet described.  That chart, in many ways, is the plan.  

I am a huge fan of the plan we traditionally envision/depict.  It offers great insights and perspective.  It is indispensable for missionary work and understanding the gospel.  But it focuses on us.  It 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.

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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 to earth. 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. 

Most recognize that the ancients all saw basically the same movie.  We can assume our God wants us to see it as well.  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 types, 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 Exodus 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 are all 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.  

Hence 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 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. Better yet try to draw that scene. The righteous going up and Jehovah coming down is a brilliant type. Trumpets, thunder and lightening, the earth shaking, clean clothes, a pillar of fire—that was quite a production. 

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 all that effort to depict the resurrection.  And yet when we teach the Exodus is a model of the plan, we don’t include that type.  I’ve never seen it 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 progress from Telestial 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 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 (in a small degree) missing the point.      

A Framework for Scripture

In 1993 Elder 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.  

Elder 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).

Every principle, doctrine and law of the gospel pertains (relates) to the kingdom of God.  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 Elder 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 Elder 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 if 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.”

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 on the High Council in his stake. And he invented lunch.

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[1] Spencer W. Kimball, The Things of Eternity—Stand We in Jeapardy? Ensign, Jan. 1977, p.3.

[2] Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine, 5th ed. [1939], 481.

[3] Gordon B. Hinckley, Five Million Members—A Milestone and Not a Summit, Ensign, May 1982.

[4] Marion G. Romney, “The Restoration of Israel to the Lands of Their Inheritance” Ensign, May 1981.

[5] Gordon B. Hinckley quoted by Jeffrey R. Holland, “Our Consuming Mission,” Address to CES Religious Educators, Salt Lake Tabernacle. February 5th, 1999.

[6] Gordon B. Hinckley, “He Slumbers Not, nor Sleeps,” General Conference, May 1983.

[7]  Wilford Woodruff, in Journal of Discourses, 15:7-8.

[7.5] Kim B. Clark, in the Annual Seminary and Institute broadcast, June 12th, 2018, Si.LDSChurch.org

[8] John Taylor, in Journal of Discourses, (London: Latter-day Saints, Book depot, 1854-86, 17:213

[9] Joseph Smith in The Joseph Smith Papers, History, 1838-1856,, volume C-1 [2 November 1838-31 July 1842], p. 17.

[10] Jeffrey R. Holland, C.E.S. Broadcast, “An Evening with Elder Jeffrey R. Holland,” February 5, 1999.

[11] Joseph Smith in The Joseph Smith Papers, History, 1838-1856, volume C-1 [2 November 1838-31 July 1842], p. 1328.

[12] Brigham Young Discourses of Brigham Young, sel. John A. Widtsoe, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1925-46), 118.