Glad Tidings From Cumorah

Interpreting the Book of Mormon Through the Eyes of Someone in Hell


This article offers evidence that the Book of Mormon authors knew our church would help save the dead.  It will show that when they prophesied about our church, they almost always said it would be for all mankind, including those of their generation.  It will also show they knew their book would go to the ends of the earth on both sides of the veil.  This approach offers a slight but important shift in how we interpret that book of books.


Nephi prophesied about the future church of Jesus Christ that would restore scripture and authority to the world. Here we consider the possibility that the words he spoke to his people on this subject were of keen interest to him because he understood that the future salvation of some of his people and his posterity might be achieved through the work for the dead that would be carried out by that future church. This may seem preposterous at first glance because we all ‘know” that the work for the dead is not a doctrine taught in the Book of Mormon. However, there is subtle evidence that there was at least some awareness among Book of Mormon writers about the possibility of work for the dead, and the hope that the sacred text they were preparing would not only benefit the future Gentiles, but many among the deceased Nephite and Lamanite peoples. If this perspective is justified, it may greatly shift our appreciation for the perspective they had about their selfless work and the universal significance of the Book of Mormon.

A Book for all Mankind 

 “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 . . .”    

                                                                                                                          Spencer W. Kimball [1]

President Russell M. Nelson recently taught,

When we speak of the gathering, we are simply saying this fundamental truth: every one of our Heavenly Father’s children, on both sides of the veil, deserves to hear the message of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. They decide for themselves if they want to know more (Worldwide Devotional for Youth, June 3, 2018).

We have considerable evidence that when Joseph Smith published the Book of Mormon he did not know that.  The historical and scriptural records show it took him over ten years after the church was organized to realize its role in saving the dead. It is therefore fascinating that the Book of Mormon prophets talked about our church and their book being for all, all the time.

This paper is not an attempt to add to the mountain of evidence that Joseph Smith was a prophet.  It is about a shift in how we see the plan of salvation. That shift is slight, but it is like a switch plate on a railroad track.  It can take us to a whole new destination.  Along the way we will find much that adds to that mountain.  New views vindicate true prophets.  But more significantly we will get closer to the intent of the scriptural authors.  They talked a lot about our day.  This paper is about why they would care.

Regarding President Nelson’s point, if our friends “want to know more,” we give them a Book of Mormon.  Will we do the same in Spirit Prison?  It would be close to impossible to share the message of the restoration without mentioning that book.  Elder D. Todd Christofferson taught “When you share the Book of Mormon, you share the Restoration” (April Conference, 2020). The way the scriptures are used when we make covenants for the dead suggests (indeed requires) they have access to them.  The first words we read from Mormon’s hand suggests that he knew to whom he was writing.

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).

Alma prophesied (and Mormon recorded) that the Nephites would become “extinct” (Alma 45:11). That is as definitive as “entire destruction.”  Any Nephites who remained in Moroni’s day were numbered among the Lamanites, meaning they were no longer Nephites (see Alma 45:11-14, see also 1 Nephi 15:5 and 1 Nephi 15:14). For Moroni to “survive them” meant they would be dead (see Mormon 6:11).

We may have previously read this passage as if Mormon were simply thinking about the future descendants of Lehi, both Lamanites and former Nephites who joined them, but in this passage Mormon does not use the terms that are frequently used to describe the future remnants of Lehi’s posterity. But after speaking of the Nephites about to be slain, he refers to “them.” The “them” at the end of the above passage is the same “them” near the beginning of that sentence: the slain Nephites.  The most natural reading is that the slain Nephite people are in his thought, and he yearns that his record will “profit them” in the future.  Evidently, he believed their book could someday help “them.”  

The Book of Mormon can hardly benefit anyone without access to the atonement of Jesus Christ.  Mormon repeatedly taught that that access requires baptism and repeatedly spoke of Christ. If he knew his book would go to the dead, he knew baptism would be made available to them.  Reading a book about Christ in hell, without access to His atonement, would only add coal to the fire.  This suggests that he recognized that the work for the dead would be underway in our day, a day in which his sacred record would benefit both the living and the dead.   

Out of the books which shall be written shall the world be judged

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).  Men in the flesh have the scriptures, the standards, for that judgment.  The Savior taught that “out of the books which shall be written shall the world be judged” (3 Nephi 27:26).  Regarding the judgment, and his book, 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).

Some may assume he was writing to the Jews in general, not to those who actually slew their Messiah (see also 2 Nephi 25:17-18).  After all, they would be dead when his book comes 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 into 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, it would include those who actually killed Jesus (around 34 A.D.). It seems Mormon was saying his book would be as universal as the judgment; that it would be an additional witness (maybe even an additional chance) for those who saw and heard and slew their God.     

  • The Savior himself prophesied that 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 came forth.  Why would they care about that sign?  The Savior told Joseph Smith why.  Around 34 A.D. He told His disciples in Jerusalem why they would be interested in the signs of His coming.

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 have 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).

He is not speaking here to corporate Israel, nor latter-day Israel, but to 34 A.D. Israel.  We know this because the Lord then differentiated between them and their seed.  Concerning their seed, the Savior continued,

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 it seems clear the Savior was saying that those people and their seed would see that sign and have that book.

The Book of Mormon Reads Equally Well on Both Sides of the Veil

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. . . (TPJS p. 355).

We can therefore expect the Book of Mormon to apply equally to those with or without bodies, on either side of the veil.  Imagine reading that book in hell.  As Nephi’s record begins we learn that an angel delivered a book to his father.

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).

People in Spirit Prison can come unto Christ.  They need not perish there.  They would cling to every word of verse fourteen.  No one could tell them they are not a part of “all the inhabitants of the earth.”

In that passage Lehi saw the impending destruction of family and friends.  If God’s goodness and mercy doesn’t include them, his rejoicing seems incongruent.  On the other hand, if “all” really means all, the passage makes more sense. It sounds like the voice of Him whose throne is high in the heavens, who is not concerned if we are in our bodies or not.

A Marvelous Work for all

When I ask my students, “How many people were baptized into our church last year?” they generally reply “About 250,000.”  I then remind them that the real figure is millions more, taking into account the work on the other side of the veil.  So which church did Mormon see, the one of Joseph Smith’s day which baptized thousands, or the one gathering millions (and striving to ultimately gather all)?  When the Book of Mormon authors talked about our church, they always used that word.

Of that work, the Lord at Bountiful 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).  

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). 

And then shall the power of heaven come down among them; and I also will be in the midst (3 Nephi 21:25).    

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 (3 Nephi 21:26, italics added).

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 (3 Nephi 21:27, italics added).

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 21: 28, italics added).

Ezekiel was shown that “the whole house of Israel” will be gathered home to the land of their inheritance (see Ezekiel 37).  It appears the Savior was saying that.  As we continue, we will see when the Book of Mormon mentions “the remnant of this people,” it is almost always (if not always) followed by the word “all.”  Nephi finished his small plates 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).

Like Mormon, Nephi connected his 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).

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,” “as long as the earth shall stand” (2 Nephi 25:22), and so he ended 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).  That is probably because they knew the Nephites would be entirely destroyed.  Mormon wrote Fourth Nephi.  He knew the Lamanites and Nephites had become one people.  But in his day they were once again two nations.  In the end, as a people, 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 is 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. (Doctrine and Covenants 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

We cannot assume our God will only remember Abraham’s seed living in the last days.  Regarding that gathering, and regarding inheriting the lands of their possessions, 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 this prophecy we might wonder if the gathering includes any living? It is in that context wherein the Lord 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).

Mormon and Moroni wrote specifically to the Lamanites.  But they also wrote to the “Jews or all the house of Israel” (which includes Nephites, see Mormon 5:14) 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), which we will see, means the entire human family.  

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]

President Gordon B. 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.”[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 his 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).

Mormon seems to be saying 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, we know, requires The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Here, of course, we must caution that some absolute terms in the scriptures must be understood with caution, recognizing that they may sometimes be used as a figure of speech for emphasis.  Eve, after all, was not technically the mother of all living (Genesis 3:20).  She did not bear kittens.  And we do not assume “all Judaea” went out to meet John the Baptist (Matthew 3:5)  However, there does not seem to be evidence to propose significant unmentioned limitations on the intended scope of the Lord’s work to bring the Gospel message to all.

A Church for all Mankind

As previously mentioned, when the Book of Mormon authors talked about our church, they invariably used the word “all.”  This terminology is echoed in the words of modern-day prophets like President Hinckley, who said our church is for “all” many times.  President 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, he 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]

We understand how our church is for all mankind. Salvation for the dead is not a new concept to any of us.  But we tend to think the ancients saw our church as being more for us than them.  We tend to see latter-day prophesies as being for Latter-day Saints. We generally do not consider that the ancients looked upon our church with self-interest.  But they must have because it is ultimately for their people, as well as all mankind.    

Would God show his prophets the church responsible for the salvation and eternal life of all people (including their people) and not explain that to them?  Nephi and other Book of Mormon prophets let us know that God had shown and explained to them these things.  They repeatedly told their people that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints would be for them, as well as all mankind. 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 church. And yet Nephi was claiming it 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 be difficult to understand. On the other hand, if they saw our church the way we see our church, as really being for all, their words make perfect sense. That reference to 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 eventually returning to Jerusalem.

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 is likely the reason that Nephi quoted the next chapter. 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). In other words he emphasized the Restoration.

But whom he said that Restoration is intended, may be his most important teaching. After quoting 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).  Combining this with his introduction to the 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.


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).

This makes most sense if viewed in light of the work of baptism 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 (or parts of a future corporate Israel) 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.  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.  The monarch’s outlandish demands for the interpretation of that dream would have made it very public, and Daniel’s resulting interpretation would serve to remind the people that the Lord had not forgotten them, and that His kingdom yet had a destiny.   Isaiah’s prophecy coupled with Nebuchadnezzar’s dream could indeed give the Israelites hope, but only if they realized the walls of Isaiah’s prophecy have a gate, and that one day, they could go through it.

But the odds of exiles in Babylon having the words of Isaiah in this life are slim.  Nevertheless, if they received them in the Spirit World, Isaiah’s words could indeed give them hope. Nephi saying isaiah’s message could give exiled Israelites hope, seems to imply that most of them would receive the message in the afterlife.

As mentioned above, 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 (Marion G. Romney, “The Restoration of Israel to the Lands of Their Inheritance” Ensign, May 1981).

Can they accept their Redeemer without baptism?  Jacob did not seem to think so. He connected all of Israel being gathered to lands of inheritance with them 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).

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 (which is all about 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).

Immediately after these verses, Nephi uses the word “Wherefore.” “Wherefore” means “as a consequence of.” As a consequence of God “bringing about his covenants and his gospel,” he will save the dead. Nephi continued,

Wherefore, he will bring them again out of captivity, and they shall be gathered together to the lands of their inheritance; and they shall be brought out of obscurity and out of darkness; and they shall know that the Lord is their Savior and their Redeemer, the Mighty One of Israel (1 Nephi 22:12).

Who are they? They are 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 correspond with Isaiah’s phrase “that thou mayest say to the prisoners: Go forth.” We teach that these terms have 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 added “they shall be brought out of obscurity and out of darkness” (1Nephi 21:8-9 compared with 1 Nephi 22:12).

“Obscurity” can be likened to 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 believed there was an advantage in ignorance, he would not have gone to such  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?

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 pertained 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 — unless after that judgement they are all sent back.  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).

Among that “remainder” will be those who are “filthy still.” They are sons of perdition (see Doctrine and Covenants 88:35 and 102).

Sons of Perdition

There is only one obstinate group that will return to hell forever. 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 perdition in the Doctrine and Covenants.

These are they who shall go away into the lake of fire and brimstone, with the devil and his angels-

And the only ones on whom the second death shall have any power;

Yea, verily, the only ones who shall not be redeemed in the due time of the Lord, after the sufferings of his wrath.

For all the rest shall be brought forth by the resurrection of the dead, through the triumph and the glory of the Lamb, who was slain, who was in the bosom of the Father before the worlds were made.(Doctrine and Covenants 76:33-39; see also D&C 88:35 and 88:102)

President Spencer W. Kimball noted that few will commit this sin: “The sin against the Holy Ghost requires such knowledge that it is manifestly impossible for the rank and file [members of the Church] to commit such a sin.

President Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles similarly reassured Church members: “Save for those few who defect to perdition after having known a fulness, there is no habit, no addiction, no rebellion, no transgression, no offense exempted from the promise of complete forgiveness.

If defecting to perdition is rare, then why does the Book of Mormon, more times than not, describe hell in that way?  In other words, if perdition is almost impossible for members, why is it described so often in the book only they read? 

In that book hell is usually described as forever, an everlasting fire from whence we cannot return.  That is probably because if you harden your heart in that realm, that’s your last chance. On this subject, that book seems to be more for them than us.  It can apply to us.  We can end up in hell forever.  But for them, that is likely their only alternative.

A few rebellious souls will die being enemies to God.  Of them, King Benjamin taught, “mercy hath no claim on that man; therefore his final doom is to endure a never-ending torment” (see Mosiah 2:36-39).  Of such, the Savior revealed, “there is no forgiveness in this world nor in the world to come” (Doctrine and Covenants 76:34).  The exception highlights the rule, suggesting everyone else has a chance.  The Book of Mormon makes that abundantly clear by saying “all” all the time and then giving the only exception by how it describes hell.  All will be saved to some degree except sons of perdition.  Evidently in that book there is an exception to “all” after all.

Mormon wrote of the power of God’s word in getting people out (or keeping them out) of hell. Imagine reading the following in 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).

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 that He, at some point in eternity, will remember them, but do nothing on their behalf.  If the words of the righteous and prayers of the faithful can yield no more result than that, then it is hard to see the purpose of such a promise. 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. Indeed “he rememberth every creature of his creating, he will make himself manifest unto ​​​all” (Mosiah 27:30).​ 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 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.

The Ends of the Earth 

The three primary authors of the Book of Mormon said they were writing to “the ends of the earth” (see 2 Nephi 33:10; Mormon 3:18; Moroni 10:24). When Jacob says “all” in the following passage it is clear he means “every living creature, both men, women, and children, who belong to the family of Adam.” His last “all men” in this passage is significant.   

And he cometh into the world that he may save all men if they will hearken unto his voice; for behold, he suffereth the pains of all men, yea, the pains of every living creature, both men, women, and children, who belong to the family of Adam.

And he suffereth this that the resurrection might pass upon all men, that all might stand before him at the great and judgment day.

And he commandeth all men that they must repent, and be baptized in his name, having perfect faith in the Holy One of Israel, or they cannot be saved in the kingdom of God. (2 Nephi 9:21-23).

In Third Nephi we see Christ do exactly that.  But instead of commanding “all men” to repent He commands “all ye ends of the earth.” After explaining to His twelve disciples that He will draw all men (all mankind) unto him, He said,

Now this is the commandment: Repent, all ye ends of the earth, and come unto me and be baptized in my name, that ye may be sanctified by the reception of the Holy Ghost, that ye may stand spotless before me at the last day (3 Nephi 27:20).

”All ye ends of the earth” seems to be synonymous with “every living creature, both men, women, and children, who belong to the family of Adam.”

Abinadi, quoting Isaiah regarding the Restoration, equated “all the ends of the earth” with “every nation, kindred, tongue, and people” and “all nations.”

And now I say unto you that the time shall come that the salvation of the Lord shall be declared to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people. . .

. . . The Lord hath made bare his holy arm in the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God (Mosiah 15:28-31, italics added, see also Mosiah 16:1).

Remember when Nephi spoke of the Lord making bare His arm in the eyes of all the nations (which is the Restoration; see 1 Nephi 22:11), he Included all the house of Israel (past, present and future), as well as the gentiles and all the kindreds of the earth (see 1 Nephi 22:9).

In our day the Lord prophesied, “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.” (Doctrine and Covenants 1:2). “Wherefore the voice of the Lord is unto the ends of the earth, that all that will hear may hear” (Doctrine and Covenants 1:11).

Most people will not see and will not hear and their hearts will not be penetrated in mortality.  We believe the vast majority of mankind will hear and feel these things after this life.  That is how we believe His voice (His word) will go to “the ends of the earth.”

Notice in Third Nephi Jesus switched from answering a question posed by his disciples to addressing “all the ends of the earth.”  It’s like He knew.

It seems Nephi, Mormon and Moroni believed Christ’s latter-day church, (which includes their book), would be for all mankind.  For example before Nephi 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).

A Wonderful Tool 

Seeing our church as being for all allows us to use a marvelous tool.  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” (Doctrine And Covenants/Church History Symposium Speeches, August 10th 1993, “The Great Plan of Happiness,” Brigham Young University, p. 2).

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” (p.3).

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 gave us. We teach that Sections 1 and 133 of the Doctrine and Covenants constitute a framework for that sacred record. In those 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.

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” (Journal of Discourses, Vol. 16., p. 78). It is therefore interesting that there is no one thing more fully revealed in Sections 1 and 133 than the rise of the Zion of our God in the latter-days.  That suggests our God would have us include His church in the picture.  Indeed His church is the picture.  President Gordon B. 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” (Ensign, May 1982, 46.)

President Packer, in his charge, counseled, “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” (p.3).

A collection of unrelated truths is like having a thousand puzzle pieces in a box.  Each piece is beautiful in and of itself because each piece is from God.  But not seeing how they fit together can hurt us. Saul lost his crown for not understanding the relationship between obedience and sacrifice.  Brother Lynn B. Robbins taught,  “When Satan is successful in dividing doctrinal pairs, he begins to wreck havoc upon mankind.  It is one of his most cunning strategies to keep people from growing in the light.” (BYU Speeches, Be 100 Percent Responsible, August 22, 2017).  A basic feeling for the whole plan can help.    

The easiest way to assemble a puzzle is to look at the picture on the box. In 1831 our God gave us the picture. A year later He revealed why including Zion in that picture is necessary. Through Joseph Smith He 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 Doctrine and Covenants 88:78).

Every principle, doctrine and law of the gospel pertains (relates) to the kingdom of God.  In other words, if we want a framework for the doctrines of the kingdom, we ought to include the kingdom.  In the Savior’s enclosing sections (1 and 133) He included Zion 25 times.

An Important Shift

As the picture comes together a problem becomes apparent.  We tend to view scripture with two lenses.  We have a latter-day lens and a plan of salvation lens.  It’s like we’re looking at the scriptures through a pair of binoculars with lenses not in sync.             

President Packer solved that problem by telling us that we can call that framework “the plan.”  The framework we find in the Doctrine and Covenants consists of the six elements mentioned above. Seeing how they are for the entire human family combines those lenses.  If we were to draw that plan it might look like the following video.

Since the ancients were shown and wrote about this same plan and  since aspects of it can be found in most of the stories in scripture, we can assume our God wants us to see it as well.  But there are blind spots with binoculars not in sync.  Not only that, when we go to scripture looking for the plan we traditionally depict, we close our eye on our latter-day lens. 

Compounding this problem is the phenomenon known as selective perception.  That too can cause us to miss things.  Most are aware of the experiment wherein people are told to count basketball passes and they miss the gorilla.  Looking in the scriptures for the plan we were raised on can cause us to miss the plan our God is trying to portray. A prime example of this is how we see the Exodus story. 

We know, in that story, that the destroying angel, plagues, pillar of fire, and the destruction of the wicked at the Red Sea, typify the Savior’s second coming.  But when we look for the plan in that story we generally ignore those types.  With our plan lens we see the death of the Lamb, baptism of water and the Spirit 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 clearly there. There are gorillas in the Exodus story that we ignore (or don’t see) when we consider God’s plan to get us to the Promised Land of eternal life.  .

One such gorilla in that story is the portrayal of the resurrection.  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.  The resurrection is a huge part of Christ’s second coming (see Doctrine and Covenants 45:17). So we can assume the Savior would want it portrayed in the Exodus story.  

The day will come when Israel will be backed up against the Mount of Olives like Israel was backed up against the Red Sea.  Like that sea, that mountain will split.  Israel sang a new song, like we will when the Savior comes again  (Doctrine and Covenants 84:98).  The waters of the Dead Sea will be healed like the waters of Marah were healed.  Our food, like manna, will come forth spontaneously in the Millennium.  Jesus Christ, like Moses, will be our law giver, our judge, and our teacher in that Terrestrial realm.

Where is the resurrection in the story?       

At Mount Sinai the Lord told Moses he would  make Israel a kingdom of priests (see Exodus 19).  They would eventually wear crowns. They were to clean themselves and their clothes; and stay away from their wives.  On the morning of the third day they were to come up the mountain and see God.  

On that occasion, Jehovah came down in a cloud.  They heard thunder and saw lightening.  The earth shook. A trumpet sounded louder and louder.  Thousands of people, with clean clothes, were supposed to go up. Had they gone up, that episode would have looked like a mass resurrection.

To Joseph Smith, the Lord 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 (Doctrine and Covenants 29:12–13).

But Israel told God to stop speaking (see Exodus 20:18–19). They failed to go up. As we have seen, our God does not like the dead rising left out of the picture.  That is probably why He had Moses and seventy elders of Israel repeat the type in Exodus 24.  After that episode the Lord instructed Moses to make the tabernacle (see Exodus 25).  It too is that mountain.  It too is the plan.

Regarding that tabernacle, the Savior’s framework (from sections 1 and 133) suggests we look for His second coming in that holy house.  The Lord portrays it (as we would expect) at the threshold that separates the Outer Court and the Holy Place (see Ezekiel 9). In the Lord’s house His atoning sacrifice and Millennial space are also easy to identify.

But where is the latter day Zion?  Since The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a prominent feature in the plan, we should ask if it is a prominent feature in the ancient tabernacle?  Indeed it is.  It is gloriously featured in every room of that sacred house.

We believe the stones on the High Priest’s breastplate represent the twelve tribes of Israel. But they are not just the twelve tribes, they are the gathered twelve tribes.  That will only happen in the last days.  Before the Savior comes again He will gather those stones to Zion.  He will carry His church (like jewels) next to his heart, attached to his shoulders, across that threshold, into a millennial realm.  In time He will carry His people into the presence of the Father (the Holy of Holies).  Christ’s latter day church shows up in every room of that sacred structure, much like His saints who progress from room to room in the house of the Lord.

This view requires a shift in how we see the plan of salvation.  That shift can help us see things in scripture we have not seen before.  Many more examples could be given.  But no one needs anyone pointing out things.  All they need is a pair of working binoculars and to refer to the picture on the box.

Why we Don’t use That Framework

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 extremely difficult. Perhaps the biggest impediment to making that shift is that we know that Abraham is exalted.    Many reason that for something to part of “the plan,” it must be for everyone.  Since Abraham became a god without our dispensation, it Is hard to see how it can be part of the plan for him.  But he does need our church.  He needs the gathering, the Second Coming and the Millennium.  They are part of the plan for him.  Elder John Taylor 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 “which our forefathers have awaited with anxious expectation to be revealed in the last times, which their minds were pointed to by the angels, as held in reserve for the fulness of their glory.” (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 Smith 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

According to that which was ordained in the midst of the Council of the Eternal God of all other gods before this world was, that should be reserved unto the finishing and the end thereof, when every man shall enter into his eternal presence and into his immortal rest (Doctrine and Covenants 121:32).

Apparently Abraham isn’t finished yet. Perhaps that’s why he  “looked for a city . . . whose builder and maker is God” (see Doctrine and Covenants 45:11-14 andHebrews 11:10). Job sought for and obtained that city.   He exclaimed, “For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God” (Job 19:25-26).  Evidently all holy men could say the same.  Of Enoch and his people, 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).     

This suggests that Abraham saw the latter day Zion as being for himself and his worthy posterity. Surely that is why the Restoration was spoken of by “all [God’s] holy prophets since the world began” (see Acts 3:21). That passage suggests why Nephi talked so much to his people about that standard to be raised. It helps make sense of him saying, “and it meaneth us in the days to come.”  It suggests why he said “all” (in conjunction with Christ’s latter-day Zion) all the time.  It helps us understand why God gave Nebuchadnezzar that dream.  It was a call to repentance.  It offered motivation for him and his people.  It offered hope.  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 not for 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]  

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]

Elder Clark was not necessarily commenting on Abraham’s need for the Restoration.  But he did give us all the permission we need to include these things (as well as anything that bears Christ name) in our depictions and discussions of the plan.

As the final speaker of the April 1985 Priesthood Session of General Conference, President Gordon B. Hinckley of the First Presidency, taught, “This church is part of his divine plan” (April Conference, 1985, To Please our Heavenly Father).


It must be a thrill to teach with the Book of Mormon in the Spirit World. For those who dwindled in unbelief—even those who saw and heard and slew Jesus, it must be overwhelmingly good news.  What must the following mean to 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).

It would be exciting to talk to people about how large the sea is and the power, and goodness, and mercy of our God.  Surely they will rejoice in hearing they are not forgotten; that “Whosoever will” may end up on the “right hand of God” (Helaman 3:29-30); that they are not cast off forever.  That book makes that point repeatedly with the ubiquitous word “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, including those who had just rejected Him?

Six times in the Doctrine and Covenants He said, “I am the same that came unto mine own, and mine own received me not” (Doctrine and Covenants 6:21). Evidently that really hurt Him. “And they that passed by railed on him, wagging their heads” (Mark 15:29). It is amazing He did not 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.



About the Author

Steve Fotheringham teaches 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,

[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.