Thoughts on Gospel Doctrine Lesson 3

by | Jan. 08, 2004

Sunday School

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland on what vision of the Tree of Life says about the Book of Mormon's purpose:
As limited as Lehi's materials are, we are indebted to him and his visionary experience for the provocation his revelations had upon his son Nephi, for it was Nephi's desire to "see, and hear, and know of [the] things" his father had seen that led him toward his own great manifestations. Desiring such revelations for himself and believing that God could make these same things known to him, Nephi was pondering their meaning when he was caught away in vision. Then, "because [he believed] in the Son of the most high God," he was shown "a man descending out of heaven, . . . the Son of God."
With something of the same detail given to the brother of Jared at the outset of the Jaredite dispensation, Nephi received similar information about the future of his people as the Nephite dispensation began. In a sweeping vision of the future of Joseph's fruitful bough, whose branches were even then running "over the wall," Nephi was guided by the Spirit of the Lord (and angels sent for that purpose) in foreseeing the Savior's life and ministry, a vision offered because Nephi "believe[d] in the Son of the most high God."
Consider how very extensive and detailed the doctrinal teachings given to Nephi were:
  • Nazareth would be the city of Christ's conception.
  • The Savior's mother would be "a virgin, most beautiful and fair above all other virgins."
  • The virgin mother of the Son of God would be "carried away in the Spirit," conceiving and giving birth "after the manner of the flesh."
  • The child born to the virgin would be "the Lamb of God, yea, even the Son of the Eternal Father!"
  • The mother of this child would still be a virgin after the child was born.
  • The birth, life, death, atonement, and resurrection of Christ (identified in Nephi's vision of the Tree of Life) were interrelated elements of the love of God shed "abroad in the hearts of the children of men," which was "the most desirable above all things[,] . . . the most joyous to the soul [,] . . . the greatest of all the gifts of God."
  • Jesus would be baptized of John the Baptist, and the Holy Ghost would descend from the heavens in the form of a dove.
  • Christ would minister "in power and great glory" among the children of men, many of whom would "fall down at his feet and worship him" even as a larger number would "cast him out from among them."
  • Christ would choose "twelve others" to assist him, who would be called "apostles."
  • The Lamb of God would be "taken by the people" and "judged of the world," culminating in his being "lifted up upon the cross and slain for the sins of the world."
  • At the time of the Crucifixion there would be (in the New World) lightning, thunder, earthquakes, a mist of darkness, and "all manner of tumultuous noises," with mountains falling, plains broken up, and cities burning and sinking into the sea.
  • After the Crucifixion, the Lamb of God would descend "out of heaven" and appear to people in "the land of promise."
  • He would choose "twelve disciples" to minister to the seed of Lehi in the New World as subordinates to the Twelve Apostles in the Old World.
  • The Nephite twelve would receive the Holy Ghost, be ordained, and have their garments "made white in his blood" because of their "faith in the Lamb of God."
  • Multitudes would gather. Christ would heal the sick and those "afflicted with all manner of diseases, and with devils and unclean spirits."
  • The Savior would promise to bring forth to the Gentiles in the latter days "much of [the] gospel" taught in the New World, which gospel would be "plain and precious."
  • The Bible would, at its inception, contain "the fulness of the gospel" and be known as "the Book of the Lamb of God." Later its doctrinal integrity would be violated and many of its "plain and precious" doctrines lost.
  • Christ's appearance and teachings in the New World would be recorded, hidden, and brought forth in the Book of Mormon, compensating (along with other latter-day revelations) for the loss of biblical truths.
  • "Other books" would come forth by the power of the Lamb of God.
  • These other latter-day records (the Doctrine and Covenants and Pearl of Great Price) would, with the Book of Mormon, establish the truth of the first (the Bible), all of which would "make known to all kindreds, tongues, and people, that the Lamb of God is the Son of the Eternal Father, and the Savior of the world; and that all men must come unto him, or they cannot be saved."
  • Those who would be saved must come "according to the words" of Christ, words that would be made known in the Book of Mormon and the Bible, both of which would be "established in one; for there is one God and one Shepherd over all the earth."
  • In his first advent in the meridian of time, Christ and his message would be declared unto all nations, first to the Jews and then to the Gentiles. In his second coming in the last days, he would reverse that order, his appearance and message first going to the Gentiles and then to the Jews; thus "the last shall be first, and the first shall be last."
  • To the Gentiles in the last days, Christ would "manifest himself unto them in word, . . . in power, in very deed, unto the taking away of their stumbling blocks."
  • If the Gentiles would repent and harden not their hearts against the Lamb of God and the covenants he has made with his children, they would be "numbered among [adopted into] the house of Israel; and . . . be a blessed people upon the promised land forever . . . and . . . no more be confounded."
  • The work by Christ among the Gentiles would be "a great and a marvelous work among the children of men," a work that would be "everlasting," leading to peace and eternal life on the one hand or to temporal and spiritual destruction on the other.
  • In the last days there would be "save two churches only," the church of the Lamb of God and the church of the devil. Eventually those who did not belong to Christ's church would, by choice or default, be claimed by the other.
  • Although their numbers would be few and their dominions small, the members of the church of the Lamb of God, called "saints," would be found upon all the face of the earth.
  • The "mother of abominations" would gather multitudes upon the face of the earth—all the nations of the Gentiles—"to fight against the Lamb of God."
  • In response, the power of Christ would descend upon the members of his church, "the covenant people of the Lord," and they would be "armed with righteousness and with the power of God in great glory."
  • Under the leadership of Christ, "the work of the Father" would commence "in preparing the way for the fulfilling of his covenants, which he hath made to his people who are of the house of Israel."
  • This remarkably detailed vision of Christ's ministry, from his birth and ministry and crucifixion in the Old World to his appearance and teachings in the New World to his role in the latter-day restoration of all things, is all the more impressive coming as it does in the first thirty pages of the Book of Mormon, a concise introduction to the reader of the book's central purpose in declaring that Jesus is the Christ.
    But in the spirit of multiple witnesses earlier noted, Nephi followed this magnificent vision with a second, personal, prophetic witness of his own—aided by ancient prophets Zenock, Neum, and Zenos—regarding "the very God of Israel," whom "men trample under their feet" by setting at naught the purity of his life and hearkening not to the voice of his counsels.
    (Jeffrey R. Holland, Christ and the New Covenant: The Messianic Message of the Book of Mormon [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1997], 37—38.)
    Susan Easton Black on the impact of Lehi's dream on his family:
    Lehi's last recorded dream teaches the pattern of the eternal family. It teaches how a godly patriarch can guide and devote his life through Christ to the salvation of himself and his family. He gathers his family together, finds the Lord and follows him, hoping that his family will also follow him. He obeys without hesitation. He sacrifices all he has to endure the trials of life and be the exemplar needed for his family. He prays for mercy so that the atoning blood of Christ can be efficacious in his life and the lives of his loved ones. The darkness of life clears and he briefly notes the world but ignores its distractions, for his heart and soul are fully riveted on the true light of Christ—the tree of life. He pushes forward to the tree, partakes of its glorious fruit, and is filled with supreme joy, not partaking in self- indulgence but partaking with the conviction that this fruit is what he most wishes to share with his family.
    He first sees and reaches out his wife. She comes to him to join him in the love of God. He then reaches out to his children who need his loving call to make a final right choice. He then looks further to find his lost family members. His love wells up as he calls, but they being agents unto themselves do not respond. He searches to understand the world and its follies so that he might warn them of the imminent dangers that await their perilous choice. When they continue not to respond, he persists in faith, in love, praying that someday in God's mercy they will hear, and reach for the rod—the word of God—to lead them to eternal life (Alma 37:43-44).
    (Susan Easton Black, "Behold, I Have Dreamed a Dream," in Monte S. Nyman and Charles D. Tate, Jr., eds., First Nephi: The Doctrinal Foundation [Provo: BYU Religious Studies Center, 1988], 122.)
    Richard Dilworth Rust on the literary function of Nephi's vision:
    The literary convention called beginning in medias res, or "in the middle of things," is a standard characteristic of an epic. As is typical of epics, many narratives in the Book of Mormon begin in the middle of the action, with the interest being on why something happens rather than on what happens. We know the ending of the Nephite story from the beginning. Lehi recounts to his children the Babylonian captivity, the coming of the Messiah, the travels of his people to the land of promise, the time when the Gentiles would receive the fulness of the gospel, and the final return of the remnants of the house of Israel to the Messiah ( 1 Ne. 10 ). Nephi's revelation of the implications of Lehi's vision of the tree of life gives in brief the whole of the Nephite experience, down to the final devastation in the fourth generation after the coming of Christ ( 1 Ne. 12 ).
    (Richard Dilworth Rust, Feasting on the Word: The Literary Testimony of the Book of Mormon [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1997], 60.)
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