For those familiar with “Isaiah’s Point,” I suggest scrolling down to the following:
- More on the Book of Mormon being in the Spirit World
- More on the Book of Mormon prophets knowing we would help redeem the dead.
- A Two Lens View of Scripture
- How to Expound the Scriptures in One
- A Framework for Scripture
Realizing Isaiah was Talking to his People
can Help us Understand Isaiah
Thirty years ago, I was sitting on the ground painting my gate in my backyard. My wife’s uncle came out to talk to me. He prided himself as being a gospel scholar. He liked asking me hard questions because I was a Seminary teacher. This time I had a question for him. I asked, “Why would Nebuchadnezzar care about that stone?” His response surprised me. He said, “I’m not sure he would care. His dream seems to be more for us than him.”
Since that day, I have asked that question of every knowledgeable member I meet. It has morphed into, “Isaiah talked a lot to his people about our church. Why would his people care?” The question is the same, and so is the answer. Not once has anyone suggested their 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 paradox doesn’t reflect what we know. Rather it seems to show what direction we’re looking. 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.
Assuming they saw our church like we do (as being for the lucky generation at the end of the world) is a good example of presentism, i.e., we judge the past from our modern perspective. But our church was restored for the salvation and eternal life of all mankind. So why don’t we view Isaiah’s people through that lens? After all, they are part of all mankind.
Isaiah’s chief doctrinal themes are the scattering of Israel, the Atonement of Jesus Christ, the restoration of the gospel in the last days, the gathering of Israel, the Savior’s second coming, and his millennial ministry. These doctrines present a picture of how our God plans to save the world. If we broaden our understanding of that plan, we can better understand Isaiah.
This expansive view may require a slight shift in how we read scripture. Although this paper’s central thesis doesn’t outline the advantages of that shift, I will mention one. This shift 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.
To use that framework, we must see the restored church as being an integral part of the plan. But that poses a doctrinal problem. Many rightfully reason for something to be part of the plan, it must be for everyone. And everyone knows Abraham was exalted without our church. 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 (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.”
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.
President Gordon B. Hinckley taught, “This church is part of his divine plan.” Elder Russell M. Nelson 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.”
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.” Elder Clark’s charge constitutes a seminal shift in how we see the plan and how we read scripture. To make that shift we must realize our church, as well as, all of Isaiah’s chief doctrinal themes are for all mankind.
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.”
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 prophets the church that would be responsible for the salvation and eternal life of all people (including their people) and not explain that to them. In other words, if Isaiah told his people about our church (and we know he did), he must have told them what it would mean to them.
The Lord promised Isaiah’s people if they repented they could become holy—“white as snow” (see Isaiah 1:18). In our day, he revealed that all holy men were promised to participate in the dispensation of the fullness of times. 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 obtained that promise. It is hard to imagine him saying, “Behold my people, the Lord will establish a kingdom in the latter days that will stand forever. I will see it and be 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 want you to hear about it.”
On the contrary, a glimpse of that kingdom, might inspire his people to repent, and at the same time, give Isaiah 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, 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.
Zion is a huge part of Heavenly Father’s plan. 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, that does genealogy work and baptisms for the dead, that records on earth things which are recorded in heaven, that sends out missionaries, is typically not depicted 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. It’s like they all saw the same movie.
If we do not see that the ancients looked upon our day with self-interest, we are missing, to some extent, their reason for bringing it up. We are missing, to some extent, their point. This is a small shift, but it is like a switch plate on a railroad track; it can take us to a whole new destination. 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.
If Isaiah’s people are to enjoy Zion in eternity, they must make it themselves. Hence, Isaiah spoke much about Christ’s latter-day church to them.
Isaiah began his record chastising his wayward people, then he described the Restoration. “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 were chastised and purged (see Isaiah 1:25), but that city is not for them? It’s hard to imagine anyone in Isaiah’s day agreeing. Surely, they thought Isaiah was addressing them because he was addressing them. He never switched his audience in that chapter, (and rarely in his record), but we do.
Since we too are the house of Israel, and we know we can liken Isaiah’s words unto ourselves, and we know the scriptures were compiled for our day, and we live in the latter days, and since we belong to that church, we tend to think Isaiah was talking to us-an extension of his people—corporate Israel.
After all, Isaiah never explicitly said, “That marvelous work in the last days will be for you my people.” But the Book of Mormon prophets did say that. When they quoted Isaiah, they told their people who his message was for. And we will see, when they talked about Isaiah’s prophecies, they said “all,” all the time.
The word “all” can be tricky. Those prophets could have meant all of Israel living in the last days. But they included their own 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.
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 chapter heading for 1 Nephi 20 (the first of the two Isaiah chapters Nephi commented on) 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 the 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, 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.
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. “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 haven’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.
Did They Know the Gathering Would be on Both Sides of the Veil?
Being “reconciled unto Christ” with the help of that “narrow gate” (2 Nephi 33:9), is integral to Israel being gathered to their lands of inheritance. 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.” 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).
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. That suggests that book must go to the dead. The way the scriptures, including the Book of Mormon, are an integral part of temple covenants, suggests (indeed requires) the dead have access to them. Ezekiel seems to have taught that. He was first shown that all of Israel would inherit the land in the resurrection.
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).
Given the scope of Ezekiel’s vision, we might wonder if the gathering will include anyone living? 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).
Of that record, 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, see also 2 Nephi 29:11-14, and D&C 3:16-20).
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).
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).
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.” 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 (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).
Elder and Sister Renlund gave a brilliant parable for those who may see our church as a little boat captained by old men. It was a tender plea for people who struggle to 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 offer a parable of my own, reflecting how we truly see our church.
We notice a 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 ginormous Nimitz, the largest, most powerful ship in the world. The captain has the intellect of a heart surgeon. His co-captains are as bright as Supreme Court judges, and Stanford University professors. They have been on this ship a long time. They know what they’re doing. Their radar/sonar equipment is without equal. They can and will get us to shore. And many of the dents you are so concerned about are intended. They help remove barnacles.
You may survive the fall, but that hardly matters. You don’t have the strength to swim to shore, none of us do. And don’t forget 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? On this issue, he was abundantly clear. He saw the church that would save the entire human family. Much of that family is in Spirit Prison. It helps me to read Isaiah and the Book of Mormon with their eyes (as if I was given that book in hell). Consider the following passage. Lehi was given a book (see 1 Nephi 1:11).
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 :13-14)
Through their eyes, those verses make more sense. Through their eyes, the Book of Mormon makes more sense. Through their eyes, Isaiah makes more sense. From their awful perspective, these words bring what Nephi said they would bring, “hope.”
For a short video on this topic search on YouTube: “Regarding the Plan.”
More on the Book of Mormon being in the Spirit World
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.
More on the Book of Mormon prophets knowing we would help redeem the dead.
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.
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 the 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 are 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.”
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 Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints 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.
For more on these things (repeating some of what is contained herein) go to WWW.IsaiahsPoint.com.
Some may be interested in how I resolved a big historical problem for our church, see: YouTube: The Biggest Historical Problem for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
If anyone thinks me deluded, please, in a proper and affectionate manner, try to reclaim me at WWW.FotheringhamSC@ChurchofJesusChrist.org. Additions and corrections will be greatly appreciated.
 John Taylor, in Journal of Discourses, (London: Latter-day Saints’ Book depot, 1854-86), 17:213.
 Joseph Smith in The Joseph Smith Papers, History, 1838-1856, volume C-1 [2 November 1838-31 July 1842], p. 17.
 For this paper “Zion” means The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
 Gordon B. Hinckley, “To Please Our Heavenly Father,” Ensign, May 1985.
 Russell M. Nelson, “The Gathering of S cattered Israel,” Ensign, Nov. 2006, 79-82.
 Kim B. Clark, in the Annual Seminary and Institute broadcast, June 12th, 2018, Si.LDSChurch.org
 Gordon B. Hinckley quoted by Jeffrey R. Holland, “Our Consuming Mission,” Address to CES Religious Educators, Salt Lake Tabernacle. February 5th, 1999.
 Gordon B. Hinckley, “He Slumbers Not, nor Sleeps,” General Conference, May 1983.
 Jeffrey R. Holland, C.E.S. Broadcast, “An Evening with Elder Jeffrey R. Holland,” February 5, 1999.
 Joseph Smith in The Joseph Smith Papers, History, 1838-1856, volume C-1 [2 November 1838-31 July 1842], p. 1328
 Young, Brigham Discourses of Brigham Young, sel. John A. Widtsoe, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1925-46), 118, Italics added.
 Orson Pratt, in Journal of Discourses, 16:78.
Marion G. Romney, “The Restoration of Israel to the Lands of Their Inheritance” Ensign, May 1981.
Wilford Woodruff, in Journal of Discourses, 15:7-8.
 Sheri L. Dew, Go Forward With Faith The Biography of Gordon B. Hinckley, Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1996, pp. 489-490,
 Dale G. and Ruth L. Renlund and Worldwide Devotional for Young Adults, January 7th, 2019, Si.LDSChurch.org,