Book of Mormon Lesson 04 (1 Nephi 11–15)
January 20–26

NEPHI IS SHOWN AND UNDERSTANDS THE VISION OF THE TREE OF LIFE

● Nephi desired to know the things that his father Lehi had seen, and prayed to God for understanding (1 Nephi 11:1). In answer to his prayer, the Spirit of the Lord caught him away “into an exceedingly high mountain, which I never had before seen, and upon which I never had before set my foot” (v. 1).

● Because of Nephi’s faith, the Spirit granted his wish. He started with a question: “Believest thou that thy father saw the tree of which he hath spoken?” (v. 4), and Nephi responded that he “believe[s] all the words of my father” (v. 5). Because of his faith in his father and in the Son of God, Nephi was told that “thou shalt behold the things which thou hast desired” (v. 6).

● “Understandest thou the condescension of God?” (1 Nephi 11:16). Nephi was shown a vision of the virgin Mary holding the baby Jesus in her arms (vv. 14–15). It was then that he understood that the Tree of Life represented the “love of God” as manifested in the birth of his Only Begotten Son (vv. 20–22). The “condescension of God” refers to the fact that our Redeemer lowered Himself from his status as a God on high in order to be born in the flesh on this wicked world.

● Nephi sees the entirety of the ministry of the Savior (1 Nephi 11:27–34). From this vision Nephi comes to understand how the wicked and prideful people of the world (such as those in the great and spacious building) would put the Savior to death (vv. 35–36).

THE FUTURE OF NEPHI’S DESCENDANTS

● Nephi saw his posterity in the land of promise (1 Nephi 12:1–3). This vision provided a glimpse of what would become of his family the future. God wanted him to know of the importance and impact of his family’s migration away from Jerusalem.

● He saw great destructions at the time of Christ’s crucifixion (1 Nephi 12:4–5). These destructions are identical to those that will be visited upon the earth prior to the Savior’s Second Coming. Thus, they provide a warning to the people of our day as well as to Nephi’s descendants at the time of the Savior’s appearance unto them.

● He saw Christ and the Nephite Twelve ministering to the people (1 Nephi 12:6–10). This prophecy, uttered nearly 600 years before this even would occur, provided many generations of Lehi’s children with a sure promise that they would not be forgotten by the Lord. He would visit them personally.

● He saw, after three generations, wickedness and war return (1 Nephi 12:11–15). The joy and peace that would follow the Savior’s visit would not be permanent, though it would last for hundreds of years. Eventually, wickedness would overcome the people and lead to their final destruction.

● He saw his posterity destroyed and that the Lamanites would become lazy and loathsome (1 Nephi 12:19–23). How discouraging this must have been for Nephi! Despite his best efforts and the best efforts of many prophet-descendants after him, the Nephites would eventually be destroyed. There would not be a happy ending.

If this is so, why did God show all of this to Nephi? At least partially it was to show him how essential the keeping of records would be for future readers (you and me) who would receive them. The Book of Mormon was written for us. Nephi and his descendants never possessed he book.

GENTILE NATIONS AND KINGDOMS

The Gentiles Come to America

● Nephi saw the Gentiles (1 Nephi 13:1–3). For Nephi, anybody who was not a descendant of his father Lehi and/or the twelve tribes of Israel was a “gentile.” The Gentiles he refers to in these verses are those who came to this continent from Europe. America, to Nephi, is a great Gentile nation and all of the prophecies concerning these Gentiles refers to the inhabitants of this nation.

● Nephi saw that Christopher Columbus would be inspired by the Holy Spirit (1 Nephi 13:10–12). It is common today for revisionists of history in our colleges and universities to criticize Christopher Columbus. They call him a disease-laden ambitious European to brought great suffering and death to the natives living in the areas where he visited. They see nothing noble in his efforts. But readers of the Book of Mormon know better. Nephi said he would be led forth by the Holy Spirit to do what he did, and Christopher Columbus himself bears witness that this was true (see Doctrinal Insights below).

● Nephi saw the Pilgrims come “out of captivity” (1 Nephi 13:13). Their primary purpose for migrating to America was to seek religious liberty from the dominating kings and priests of England.

● Nephi saw the establishment of the United States (1 Nephi 13:14–16). This nation was established by God for the purpose of aiding in the restoration of all things in the latter days. There could have been no restoration in Europe or elsewhere in the 1830s. It required a land that guaranteed religious freedom and other rights that would be necessary to the rising up of God’s Kingdom on earth. Here on America’s free soil, God raised up men with the wisdom and determination to establish a Constitutionally-based republic unlike any other on earth.

● Nephi saw that the nation would be “delivered by the power of God” (1 Nephi 13:17–19). Great Britain was one of the most powerful nations on earth. There was no reason to believe that a few upstart colonies could defeat them in battle. The American Revolution was a just cause but a hopelessly underfunded and undermanned effort. But God had determined that it would succeed and all of the prophecies of Nephi concerning it were fulfilled.

The Bible

● Nephi saw a great and abominable church among the Gentiles (1 Nephi 13:4–9). This does not have reference to any one particular religious organization. This has reference to “the world” and the “philosophies of men” that would overcome the Church established by Christ. Peter and Paul both noted that it was already among the Church when they lived, and it only got worse after the death of the Apostles. This same Greek-philosophy-inspired humanism still dominates Western thought today—in our churches, our schools, our governments, and our social institutions. It rejects Christ and adopts the practices and philosophies of the world—mingled with scripture.

● Nephi saw a record of the Jews (the Bible) among the Gentiles (1 Nephi 13:20–25). He noted that many would cling to their Bibles as if they were infallible, and yet would reject the teachings found within it. He also saw that they would not accept any new scripture.

● Nephi also saw that many plain and precious truths would be removed from the Bible (1 Nephi 13:26–29). This had already occurred with the Old Testament, and would eventually also happen with the New Testament. Conspiring men would remove offending doctrines and change the ordinances of the Church.

The Prophet Joseph Smith said, “I believe the Bible as it read when it came from the pen of the original writers. Ignorant translators, careless transcribers, or designing and corrupt priests have committed many errors.”1

● The Gentiles will not remain in darkness, but will be brought into light by the record of the Lord’s dealings with Nephi’s people (1 Nephi 13:30–37). This is precisely why a new volume of scripture would be needed—both to bear witness of the Bible’s teachings and of the Savior, and also to clarify that which had been lost. The Book of Mormon accomplishes all of these things.

● The Gentiles will bring the Bible and “other books” to the Lamanites (1 Nephi 13:38–42). Lehi’s descendants upon the American continent will have long-since fallen into apostasy. They will have lost track of their true heritage. Nephi saw that “the Gentiles” (you and I) would restore them to the truth with many books of scripture.

Elder Joseph Fielding Smith said, “These last records which were to come forth to bear witness of the ‘book of the Lamb of God,’ which is the Bible, are the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the revelations of the Lord to Joseph Smith.”2

THE GREAT AND ABOMINABLE CHURCH

● The great and abominable church will make war upon the Saints (1 Nephi 14:9–17). Today, this is a spiritual battle between good and evil, truth and error. The honest in heart everywhere recognize the Church for the righteousness it proclaims, but there are an even larger number to disparage Mormonism and everything associated with it. We are all enlisted in this battle.

● The people of the world will be divided into “two churches” (v. 10). Eventually, the other churches of the world, along with the political and social structures of society, will unite around the false doctrines and humanistic ideas of the great and abominable “church.” The only place where there will be enduring peace, safety, and righteousness will be in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Elder Bruce R. McConkie said, “The Church of the devil is the world; it is all the carnality and evil to which fallen man is heir; it is every unholy and wicked practice; it is every false religion, every supposed system of salvation which does not actually save and exalt man in the highest heaven of the celestial world. It is every church except the true Church, whether parading under a Christian or a pagan banner . . . It is secret combinations, oath-bound societies, and the great world force of Godless communism.”3

● The final battle between the Church of Christ and of the devil (vv. 12–13). The final battle will be a military one, wherein the nations of the world will be united against the righteous and believing everywhere. The Battle of Armageddon will ensue as they attack Jerusalem. But until that day, the social and religious persecution will increase, and we must gird up our loins, stand in holy places, and be faithful.

● The Lord’s church will be “armed with righteousness” ( v. 14). Our weapons will not be swords and bombs. They will be the weapons of righteousness, of the Spirit, of priesthood power, and of salvation.

● The righteous will be protected and safe in the last days—those who have “received the truth, and have taken the Holy Spirit for their guide” and who “stand in holy places” (D&C 45:26–33, 57; 1 Nephi 22:16–17, 22).

President Harold B. Lee said, “By faith in God you can be attuned to the Infinite and by power and wisdom obtained from your Heavenly Father harness the powers of the universe to serve you in your hour of need in the solution of problems too great for your human strength or intelligence.”4

President Thomas S. Monson said, “Today, we are encamped against the greatest array of sin, vice, and evil ever assembled before our eyes. Such formidable enemies may cause lesser hearts to shrink or shun the fight. But the battle plan whereby we fight to save the souls of men is not our own. It was provided to our leader [the prophet] by the inspiration and revelation of the Lord . . . As we do battle against him who would thwart the purposes of God and degrade and destroy mankind, [if] each of us will stand in his or her appointed place . . . the battle for the souls of men will indeed be won.”5

● Nephi saw other events which he did not write because they were to be written by the Apostle John (1 Nephi 14:18–27).

● Nephi saw the separation of the wicked from the righteous at the Day of Judgment (1 Nephi 15:31–36).

President Spencer W. Kimball said, “Every soul must stand trial and pay the uttermost farthing in one way or another. Escape from the consequences of acts of free agency is an impossibility. No one, however clever, bypasses the ‘due reward of our deeds.’ There are dark, deep corners, locked rooms, isolated spots, but no act, good or bad; no thought, ugly or beautiful, ever escapes being seen or heard. Every one will make the imprint on the individual and be recorded, to be met and paid for. Hence, one only deceives himself to think he is ‘getting by’ with anything improper.”6

DOCTRINAL INSIGHTS

Christopher Columbus bore witness that he was led forth by the Holy Spirit:

“Who can doubt that this fire was not merely mine, but also the Holy Spirit who encouraged me with a radiance of marvelous illumination from his sacred Scriptures, . . . urging me to press forward?’. . . . With a hand that could be felt, the Lord opened my mind to the fact that it would be possible . . . and he opened my will to desire to accomplish that project . . . The Lord purposed that there should be something miraculous in this matter of the voyage to the Indies.”

Columbus saw his voyages as a fulfillment of a divine plan for his life—and for the soon-to-come Second Coming of Christ. As he put it in 1500, “God made me the messenger of the new heaven and the new earth of which he spoke in the Apocalypse of St. John [Rev. 21:1] after having spoken of it through the mouth of Isaiah; and he showed me the spot where to find it.” Columbus also cited various scriptures that he believed validated his mission: John 10:16–-‘And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them I also must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.’ And Isaiah 60:9–-‘For, the islands wait for me, and the ships of the sea in the beginning: that I may bring thy sons from afar, their silver and their gold with them, to the name of the Lord thy God.’

Columbus also had revelations—encounters with the voice of God—on at least two occasions. In 1499, he said: “When all had abandoned me. . .in an attempt to escape death I took to the sea on a small caravel. Then the Lord came to help, saying, ‘O man of little faith, be not afraid, I am with thee.’ And he scattered my enemies and showed me the way to fulfill my promises.” In the Americas again four years later, he found himself alone. His worm-eaten ship was trapped by low waters from getting out into open sea. A local Indian cacique [ruler] had vowed to massacre the Spaniards. Some of Columbus’s men had been killed. Feverish and in deep despair, he wrote, “I dragged myself up the rigging to the height of the crow’s nest . . . Still groaning, I lost consciousness. I heard a voice in pious accents saying, ‘O foolish man and slow to serve your God, the God of all! What more did he accomplish for Moses or for his servant David? From the hour of your birth he has always had a special care of you.’ The voice continued at length and closed with “Be not afraid, but of good courage. All your afflictions are engraved in letters of marble and there is a purpose behind them all.'”7

Notes:

1. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Elder Joseph Fielding Smith [1976], 327.
2. Man, His Origin and Destiny [1954], 411–412.
3. Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3:551.
4. Church News, 15 August 1970, 2.
5. “Correlation Brings Blessings,” Relief Society Magazine, April 1967, 247.
6. The Teachings of President Spencer W. Kimball [1982], 155.
7. Kevin A. Miller, “Why Did Columbus Sail,” in Christian History, Issue 35 (Vol XI, No 3).

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