1 Nephi Chapter 11
1 Nephi 11-15 Nephi's vision of the tree of life and the future of the world.
1 Nephi 11:16-17 Knowest thou the condescension of God?
At this point, please review the commentary on the Vision of the Tree of Life in 1 Nephi chapter 8. Sometime after recording his father's vision of the tree of life, Nephi desired to witness for himself the things his father had seen. In response to his desire, we will read in 1 Nephi 11:1 that he was "caught away" to "an exceedingly high mountain," where he was shown an impressive vision (1Nephi 11-15). Nephi saw what had been revealed to his father, and he was also shown the interpretation of several of the major symbols of the vision, which he later recorded.
Nephi's vision consisted of much more than the scene of the tree of life and the efforts of some to obtain its fruits. It contained also an expanded prophecy of the future, the coming of Christ and his atoning mission, the future of Lehi's descendants, the restoration of the gospel in the last days, and the ongoing struggle between the forces of righteousness and evil.
1 For it came to pass after I had desired to know the things that my father had seen, and believing that the Lord was able to make them known unto me, as I sat pondering in mine heart I was caught away in the Spirit of the Lord, yea, into an exceedingly high mountain, which I never had before seen, and upon which I never had before set my foot.
verse 1 "as I sat pondering in mine heart" Which of us has not had our lives enriched by the thoughts and inspiration we have received as we have sat pondering in our hearts? As we study the scriptures, it is vital that we take time to meditate and ponder the things of the Spirit. These moments of not being distracted by other things seem to provide an opportunity for the Spirit of God to contact us. Consider an example from the life of President Joseph F. Smith: "On the third of October, in the year nineteen hundred and eighteen, I sat in my room pondering over the scriptures; And reflecting upon the great atoning sacrifice that was made by the Son of God. . . . As I pondered over these things which are written, the eyes of my understanding were opened (D&C 138:1-2, 11, italics added)." President Smith then had a great vision of the spirit world and the Savior's visit there which is available to us today in D&C 138.
"I was caught away in the Spirit of the Lord, yea, into an exceedingly high mountain" Was Nephi's being "caught away" into (or onto) a mountain a literal or a figurative phenomenon? It may well have been literal. Certainly the Spirit of the Lord has that capability. Prophets before Nephi had gone to high mountains to communicate with the heavens-Moses (Exodus 24:12-13; Deuteronomy 10:1) and the brother of Jared (Ether 3:1), for example.
2 And the Spirit said unto me: Behold, what desirest thou?
verse 2 Nephi's vision was conducted by "the Spirit." For conjecture as to the identity of this individual, see the commentary for 1 Nephi 11:11.
3 And I said: I desire to behold the things which my father saw.
4 And the Spirit said unto me: Believest thou that thy father saw the tree of which he hath spoken?
verse 4 Doesn't this question seem a little peculiar? Why did the Spirit ask him specifically about the tree? Why did he not ask about other items in Lehi's vision such as the building or the river or the rod of iron? The answer is simple. Nephi was not being asked here whether or not he believed his father had had a vision. He was being questioned regarding his faith in Jesus Christ. The tree is a symbol or "type" of Christ. This explains the Spirit's response in verse 6.
5 And I said: Yea, thou knowest that I believe all the words of my father.
6 And when I had spoken these words, the Spirit cried with a loud voice, saying: Hosanna to the Lord, the most high God; for he is God over all the earth, yea, even above all. And blessed art thou, Nephi, because thou believest in the Son of the most high God; wherefore, thou shalt behold the things which thou hast desired.
verse 6 The Spirit rejoices over Nephi's faith in Christ, not simply over the fact that Nephi believed that Lehi had seen a tree.
The word "Hosanna" is usually translated "save us, we beseech thee" and its use is usually associated with the hope and expectation of the coming of Christ.
7 And behold this thing shall be given unto thee for a sign, that after thou hast beheld the tree which bore the fruit which thy father tasted, thou shalt also behold a man descending out of heaven, and him shall ye witness; and after ye have witnessed him ye shall bear record that it is the Son of God.
verse 7 The Spirit here begins to explain that the tree is a symbol or sign or "type" of Jesus Christ. The reference here is to the eventual appearance of Jesus Christ to the Book of Mormon people (see 1 Nephi 12:6).
8 And it came to pass that the Spirit said unto me: Look! And I looked and beheld a tree; and it was like unto the tree which my father had seen; and the beauty thereof was far beyond, yea, exceeding of all beauty; and the whiteness thereof did exceed the whiteness of the driven snow.
verse 8 Knowing the typology of the tree, it is now easy to understand Nephi's description of it. "Whiteness," of course, is symbolic of purity.
9 And it came to pass after I had seen the tree, I said unto the Spirit: I behold thou hast shown unto me the tree which is precious above all.
10 And he said unto me: What desirest thou?
11 And I said unto him: To know the interpretation thereof-for I spake unto him as a man speaketh; for I beheld that he was in the form of a man; yet nevertheless, I knew that it was the Spirit of the Lord; and he spake unto me as a man speaketh with another.
verse 11 "To know the interpretation thereof" Nephi wishes to know the meaning of the tree that his father had seen and that he himself now sees. We might expect "the Spirit" to answer Nephi's question directly, but, as you will see, "the Spirit's" response will be quite surprising. Even though Nephi asks for the interpretation of the symbol of the tree, we will learn that the angel guide will not mention the tree at all. Rather, he will show Nephi a vision of Mary and the Christ child.
"the Spirit of the Lord" This phrase is used over forty times in the Book of Mormon. In most every case it refers to the Holy Ghost. But, what about here? Who is it that is speaking with Nephi here? Couldn't this expression also be used to refer to Jesus Christ? After all, in 600 BC Jesus had no mortal body, rather he existed as a spirit. If Jesus had visited Nephi, he would have had to visit Nephi in a body of spirit. Hence, this expression could refer to a visit from Jesus Christ himself. On a few occasions, Nephi said, in effect, "I have seen my Redeemer" (e.g., 2 Nephi 11:2). Was he referring to an actual visit from the Savior? Might Nephi's angel guide have been the Holy Ghost himself?
Which is it then? Does the phrase "the Spirit of the Lord" here refer to Jesus Christ or to the Holy Ghost? What have we been taught by authority? Actually both meanings have been espoused by general authorities of the Church in the past. The fact is that we do not know the truth of this. If it is the Holy Ghost, then this is the only instance in scripture when the Holy Ghost has been seen by man.
Some feel that the Holy Ghost was seen in the form of a dove at the time of Jesus's baptism. This is apparently not correct (see the commentary for verse 27).
12 And it came to pass that he said unto me: Look! And I looked as if to look upon him, and I saw him not; for he had gone from before my presence.
13 And it came to pass that I looked and beheld the great city of Jerusalem, and also other cities. And I beheld the city of Nazareth; and in the city of Nazareth I beheld a virgin, and she was exceedingly fair and white.
verse 13 "a virgin . . . exceedingly fair and white" Webster's 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language defines fair as, "Pleasing to the eye; handsome or beautiful." Another meaning in the same dictionary is "free from stain or blemish; unspotted; untarnished." A comment on Mary by Elder Bruce R. McConkie is interesting to ponder: "Can we speak too highly of her whom the Lord has blessed above all women? There was only one Christ, and there is only one Mary. Each was noble and great in the pre-existence, and each was foreordained to the ministry he or she performed. We cannot but think that the Father would choose the greatest female spirit to be the mother of his Son, even as he chose the male spirit like unto him to be the Savior" (The Mortal Messiah: From Bethlehem to Calvary, 1:326-27, note 4).
14 And it came to pass that I saw the heavens open; and an angel came down and stood before me; and he said unto me: Nephi, what beholdest thou?
verse 14 Apparently there is a change in Nephi's guide at this point. An angel whose identity is not given or even hinted at now appears to conduct Nephi through the rest of his vision experience.
15 And I said unto him: A virgin, most beautiful and fair above all other virgins.
16 And he said unto me: Knowest thou the condescension of God?
verse 16 We should not pass by this verse without asking ourselves this same important question. Do we have a true appreciation for the sacred concept of the "condescension of God"? To "condescend" means to descend from the privileges of higher rank or dignity to a lower level when it is not required to do so, and particularly for the benefit of someone else. Hence, condescension, in this context, is a manifestation of love.
The concept of the "condescension of God" has two general applications-the condescension of the Father and the condescension of the Son. Elder Bruce R. McConkie taught: "The condescension of God (meaning the Father) consists in the fact that though he is an exalted, perfected, glorified personage, he became the personal and literal father of a mortal offspring born of mortal woman" (Mormon Doctrine, 2nd edition, 155). The Father was willing to condescend in this way because of his love for us, so that we can obtain eternal life.
The condescension of the Son refers to the fact that Jesus, the God of this earth, voluntarily and knowingly came to this earth to submit himself to unparalleled indignity and suffering.
A superficial reading of the Gospels would lead one to think that Jesus was very popular during his ministry, but what of this popularity? Were his disciples solidly dedicated and ready to stick by him and follow him even in hard times? It is true that the crowd was intrigued by his miracles and doubtless wondered if he could be the Messiah. Maybe they even hoped that he might be. But a certain fickleness invariably betrayed itself. For example, after being miraculously fed near Capernaum, many of the same disciples again grew hungry and sought out Jesus for more food. Jesus then preached to them a plain sermon in which he chastised them for worrying so much about their stomachs and taught them that they should look instead to him as the "bread of life." He refused to feed them, and many of the disappointed "disciples went back, and walked no more with him." Jesus sadly turned to his apostles and asked, "Will ye also go away?" (John 6:66-69). During his short ministry, Jesus was to be roundly rejected by most everyone, save a few intimate family and friends. At the very outset of his ministry he was rejected by those of his home town, Nazareth (Luke 4:16-30), but that was only the beginning. He was later to be rejected, not only by the Jewish crowd in general, but even by some in his own family (John 7:5), some of the disciples of John the Baptist (Mark 2:18), and even some of his own apostles (John 16:31-32). The Jewish hierarchy, of course, not only rejected him, but even sought to kill him on more than one occasion (John 7:1; John 10:39; John 11:47-53).
How did Jesus perceive this almost universal rejection? Was he affected and upset by it? Was he emotionally involved? We tend to objectify his experience: Was He not, after all, God of the earth? Had He not a godly perspective? He knew in advance what the outcome of his ministry would be. It must have been no surprise to Him. He had the big picture. He did not depend on man for his happiness. He wasn't likely as emotionally torn as, for example, a rejected missionary, who lacks his perspective, might be today. Or, was he? We tend to overlook the fact that in a profound sense, Jesus was human. He experienced the extremes of joy and sorrow in a sensitive and empathetic way that likely exceeded that of which we are capable (John 11:33-35). During his final week on earth, he paused as he approached Jerusalem, considered its rejection of him, and wept over the city (Luke 19:41-44). Consider what emotion he might have experienced at his last supper. Here was his final meeting with his apostles on the night before his crucifixion. He had taught them of his coming death. They were his most intimate and valued friends. It was only they, among mortals, to whom he could look for solace in this hour of his extremity. He might well have anticipated receiving sympathy and understanding and comfort from them. What did he instead encounter? As he entered the room, some of them were arguing as to which of them would be the greatest in the earthly kingdom of God once it was established! They were completely ignorant of the gravity of the situation and the plight of their Master. They were like children bickering among themselves, oblivious to the problem at hand.
Jesus would later prophesy on the same occasion that all of his disciples would flee from him that very night (Matthew 26:31). He realized that he was obviously going to have to go through his ordeal alone, save for the companionship of the Spirit.
Then consider also the ultimate and final rejection. As Christ hung on the cross, he heard the taunts of those watching: "Thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days, save thyself. If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross" (Matthew 27:40). "He saved others; let him save himself, if he be Christ, the chosen of God" (Luke 23:35). As he looked down, he saw only one apostle, his mother, and a few women disciples. Here was the God of the earth, the Son of the very Father. He had come to earth to offer, to any who would believe, everything that he and his Father possessed. Yet most all had deserted him. Then finally the cruelest stroke of all-difficult even to imagine and especially difficult to recount. By the eternal, yet awful, plan of justice and law, it was required that even the protective Spirit of the Father be withdrawn from him. In this extreme moment, the only comfort that remained to him was torn away, leaving him in hell, bereft of any support. "And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? which is, being interpreted, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" (Mark 15:34.) Jesus would later recall this experience as he tried to comfort Joseph Smith and others held captive in Liberty jail, "And if thou shouldst be cast into the pit, or into the hands of murderers, and the sentence of death passed upon thee; if thou be cast into the deep; if the billowing surge conspire against thee; if fierce winds become thine enemy; if the heavens gather blackness, and all the elements combine to hedge up the way; and above all, if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good. The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he?" (D&C 122:7-8.)
To each reader of this commentary, I would ask: Knowest thou the condescension of God?
17 And I said unto him: I know that he loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things.
verses 18-21 In the following four verses, the messenger shows Nephi the condescension of God, rather than simply telling him about it.
18 And he said unto me: Behold, the virgin whom thou seest is the mother of the Son of God, after the manner of the flesh.
verse 18 It is interesting to note that when this verse was first recorded in the first edition of the Book of Mormon, it read: "And he said unto me, behold the virgin whom thou seest is the mother of God after the manner of the flesh." Our present edition of the Book of Mormon renders it "mother of the Son of God." Joseph Smith himself made this change in 1837, seven years after the Book of Mormon was first published. Why the change? Obviously the present rendering clarifies the meaning of the verse.
Did Joseph have a full comprehension of the nature of the godhead when he translated the Book of Mormon in 1829, or was he still learning? Were the explicit differences between the Father and the Son perfectly clear in his mind at that time, or not? These questions have been offensive and felt to have a negative connotation by some in the Church. They would answer, "Of course Joseph understood clearly the nature of the godhood. This was made clear to him even as early as the first vision experience in the sacred grove in 1820." Others are not offended by the questions and feel that Joseph did not learn all of the answers at first. They feel that Joseph was tutored throughout his ministry and was always learning. He was not, for example, completely schooled in all aspects of the gospel as he translated the Book of Mormon. He would continue to receive additional revelations and insights throughout his life time, and he would continue to learn even to the time of his death. "After all," they would contend, "Joseph did not give us the explicit revelation on the nature of the godhead until April of 1843" (D&C 130:22-23). At any rate, these questions have resulted in lively discussions.
"after the manner of the flesh" Flesh is a word used with three principle meanings in the Book of Mormon:
1. the physical mortal body (2 Nephi 9:7-8; Mosiah 7:27);
2. mankind in mortality (1 Nephi 10:6; 2 Nephi 2:21; Jacob 2:21); and
3. tendencies and temptations associated with the physical, fallen body and man's so-called natural tendencies (1 Nephi 2:22-23; 2 Nephi 2:28-29; 2 Nephi 10:24).
Verse 21 below will inform us that the Son of God is the Son of the Eternal Father. Here in verse 18 we learn that Jesus was conceived "after the manner of the flesh." These verses contain more literal information about the relationship of God the Father and the mortal Jesus Christ than all of the Old and New Testament scriptures combined. Of course, our knowledge of the physical conception in Mary's womb of the Christ is incomplete. We do know that as Mary conceived the Christ child, the Holy Ghost was in some way involved (see Alma 7:10).
President Ezra Taft Benson taught: "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints proclaims that Jesus Christ is the Son of God in the most literal sense. The body in which he performed his mission in the flesh was sired by that same holy being we worship as God, our Eternal Father. Jesus was not the son of Joseph, nor was he begotten by the Holy Ghost. He is the son of the Eternal Father!" (Come Unto Christ, 4).
19 And it came to pass that I beheld that she was carried away in the Spirit; and after she had been carried away in the Spirit for the space of a time the angel spake unto me, saying: Look!
verse 19 "she was carried away in the Spirit" Mary was apparently transported to the presence of God where she would conceive a child.
20 And I looked and beheld the virgin again, bearing a child in her arms.
21 And the angel said unto me: Behold the Lamb of God, yea, even the Son of the Eternal Father! Knowest thou the meaning of the tree which thy father saw?
verse 21 Here the angel dramatically concludes his teaching of Nephi about the deeper significance of the tree. While Nephi is looking at Mary and the Christ child, the angel asks in effect, "Now, Nephi, do you finally understand the significance of the tree which your father saw?"
Again Joseph altered this verse after the publication of the 1830 edition. In that original edition the verse read: "Behold the Lamb of God, yea, the Eternal Father" (see the commentary for verse 18 above).
22 And I answered him, saying: Yea, it is the love of God, which sheddeth itself abroad in the hearts of the children of men; wherefore, it is the most desirable above all things.
verse 22 The term "sheddeth itself abroad" means "is extended to all men."
Nephi has come to realize the meaning of the tree of life. And what exactly is that meaning? Many have felt that in looking at the vision of the virgin mother and her child, Nephi concentrated mainly on the child and came to realize that the tree is actually a symbol or "type" of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the very personification of the "love of God" or the "love of the Father." He is a manifestation, indeed the greatest manifestation, of the Father's love for us. "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son" (John 3:16-17). Additionally, Jesus's laying down his life for us is the ultimate manifestation of his love for us, the consummate evidence of his charity.
Other Book of Mormon scholars have come to a different conclusion as to what meaning Nephi saw in the tree of life. They feel that somehow the meaning of the tree lies in the image that Nephi saw of both mother Mary and her child. They have concluded that Nephi may have concentrated mostly on the virgin Mary, and that in some ways the virgin Mary is an integral part of the meaning of the tree. Even the language used to describe her echoes the vocabulary previously used for the tree. Just as she was "exceedingly fair and white," "most beautiful and fair above all other virgins," so was the tree's beauty "far beyond, yea, exceeding of all beauty; and the whiteness thereof did exceed the whiteness of the driven snow." Significantly, though, it is only when she appears with a baby and is identified as "the mother of the Son of God" that Nephi grasps the tree's meaning.
Why would Nephi, whether consciously or unconsciously, see a connection between a tree and the image of a virginal mother and her divine child? The ancient Near Eastern religious world is very foreign to us, as it was to Joseph Smith. Nephi's vision appears to reflect a meaning of the "sacred tree" that is unique to the ancient Near East, and that, indeed, can only be fully appreciated when the ancient Canaanite and Israelite associations of that tree are borne in mind. For a much more complete presentation of the analysis and evidence on this subject, see Daniel C. Peterson's, "Nephi and His Asherah: A Note on 1 Nephi 11:8-23," in Mormons, Scripture, and the Ancient Word: Studies in Honor of John L. Sorenson, ed. Davis Bitton (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 1998), 191-243. A greatly condensed version of the same article is Daniel C. Peterson's, "Nephi and His Asherah," in Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 9/2 (2000): 15-25, 80-81.
A feminine divine being, generally called by some form of the name Asherah, seems to have been known and worshipped not only among the Canaanites but among the Israelites. Her veneration can be documented over a period extending from the conquest of Canaan in the second millennium before Christ to the fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC, the time of Lehi's departure with his family from the Old World. Belief in Asherah seems, in fact, to have been a conservative position in ancient Israel. It was a later criticism of her that appears to have been a religious innovation. In fact, an image or symbol of Asherah stood in Solomon's temple at Jerusalem for nearly two-thirds of its existence, until the reforms of King Josiah (who reigned from roughly 639 to 609 BC). This means that her presence in the temple extended into the lifetime of Lehi and perhaps even into the lifetime of Lehi's son Nephi. Since that time, though, she has been fiercely suppressed. In the text of the Bible as we now read it, although hints of the goddess remain, little survives that would enable us to form an accurate or detailed understanding of her character or nature. Greater understanding has only begun to come through relatively recent archaeological discoveries, including but not limited to the immensely important Canaanite texts from ancient Ugarit, in Syria.
What was the symbol of Asherah that stood in the temple at Jerusalem? Asherah was associated with trees. The tenth-century cultic stand from Ta'anach, near Megiddo, for instance, features two representations of Asherah, first in human form and then as a sacred tree. She is the tree. Israelite goddess figurines that represent her typically feature upper bodies that are unmistakably anthropomorphic and female while their lower bodies are simple columns, very possibly representing tree trunks. Asherah "is a tree goddess, and as such is associated with the oak, the tamarisk, the date palm, the sycamore, and many other species. This association led to her identification with sacred trees or the tree of life" (Steve A. Wiggins, "The Myth of Asherah: Lion Lady and Serpent Goddess," Ugarit-Forschungen: Internationales Jahrbuch fur die Altertumskunde Syrien-Palastinas 23 : 383). The rabbinic authors of the Jewish Mishna (second-third century AD) explain the Asherah as a tree that was worshipped (see John Day, "Asherah in the Hebrew Bible and Northwest Semitic Literature," Journal of Biblical Literature 105/3 , 397-98, 401-04).
She seems to have been represented by a carved, wooden image, perhaps some kind of pole. Very probably it symbolized a tree, and it may itself have been a stylized tree. It was not uncommon in the ancient Near East for a god or goddess to be essentially equated with his or her symbol, and Asherah seems to have been no exception: Asherah was both goddess and cult symbol. She was the "tree."
The menorah, the seven-branched candelabra that stood for centuries in the temple of Jerusalem, supplies an interesting parallel to all of this: Leon Yarden maintains that the menorah represents a stylized almond tree. He points to the notably radiant whiteness of the almond tree at certain points in its life cycle. Yarden also argues that the archaic Greek name of the almond (amygdale, reflected in its contemporary botanical designation as Amygdalis communis), almost certainly not a natively Greek word, is most likely derived from the Hebrew em gedullah, meaning "Great Mother" (The Tree of Light: A Study of the Menorah, the Seven-Branched Lampstand [Uppsala, Sweden: Skriv Service AB, 1972], 44-47, 103-6).
Among the Hebrews, Asherah seems to have been known as a divine maternal dea nutrix, a nourishing or nurturing and loving goddess. Paradoxically, though, it appears that she may also have been considered a virgin. The Punic western goddess Tanit, whom Saul Olyan has identified with Israelite-Canaanite Asherah, the consort of the chief god El, the mother and wet nurse to the gods, was depicted as a virgin and symbolized by a tree (Asherah and the Cult of Yahweh in Israel [Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1988], 56-61, 65-67).
Although Asherah remains imperfectly understood, and although we cannot be certain of all the details, it should be apparent by now why Nephi, an Israelite living at the end of the seventh and the beginning of the sixth century before Christ, might have recognized an answer to his question about a marvelous tree in the otherwise unexplained image of a virginal mother and her divine child. His perception seems to derive form precisely the pre-exilic Palestinian culture into which, the Book of Mormon tells us, Nephi had been born. This is obviously a culture very foreign to ours, and to that of Joseph Smith.
23 And he spake unto me, saying: Yea, and the most joyous to the soul.
24 And after he had said these words, he said unto me: Look! And I looked, and I beheld the Son of God going forth among the children of men; and I saw many fall down at his feet and worship him.
25 And it came to pass that I beheld that the rod of iron, which my father had seen, was the word of God, which led to the fountain of living waters, or to the tree of life; which waters are a representation of the love of God; and I also beheld that the tree of life was a representation of the love of God.
verse 25 Here we learn that the "fountain of living waters" is another type or symbol of Christ, just as is the "tree of life." Metaphorically, the fountain is the source of all righteousness, Jesus Christ. This symbolism is found in Old and New Testament scriptures. For example, see Jeremiah 2:13; John 4:14; and Revelation 22:1-2. The fountain of living waters is not mentioned in Lehi's vision of the tree of life in 1 Nephi 8. In contrast, in Lehi's vision, the "fountain" (1 Nephi 8:20; 1 Nephi 8:8:32) likely refers to the river of filthy water and not to the "fountain of living waters" (see 1 Nephi 12:16).
verses 26-33 The condescension of God, referred to in these verses, is a sacred and profound concept which we should know and hold dear. It is discussed above in the commentary for verse 16.
26 And the angel said unto me again: Look and behold the condescension of God!
verse 26 It is apparent that this verse has reference to Jesus Christ, whereas verse 16 apparently had reference to both the Father and the Son.
27 And I looked and beheld the Redeemer of the world, of whom my father had spoken; and I also beheld the prophet who should prepare the way before him. And the Lamb of God went forth and was baptized of him; and after he was baptized, I beheld the heavens open, and the Holy Ghost come down out of heaven and abide upon him in the form of a dove.
verses 26-27 "form of a dove" What exactly is meant when it is said that the Holy Ghost descended in the form of a dove? Did the spirit body of the Holy Ghost confine itself to a dove or even the form of a dove? Joseph Smith taught, that as the Holy Ghost descended, probably unseen by any eye, a dove was caused to descend upon Jesus as a heavenly sign that the Holy Ghost was present. Joseph taught: "The sign of the dove was instituted before the creation of the world, a witness for the Holy Ghost, and the devil cannot come in association with the sign of a dove. The Holy Ghost is a personage, and is in the form of a personage. It does not confine itself to the form of the dove, but his presence may be accompanied by the sign of the dove. The Holy Ghost cannot be transformed into a dove; but the sign of a dove was given to John to signify the truth of the deed, as the dove is an emblem or token of truth and innocence" (HC, 5:261).
28 And I beheld that he went forth ministering unto the people, in power and great glory; and the multitudes were gathered together to hear him; and I beheld that they cast him out from among them.
29 And I also beheld twelve others following him. And it came to pass that they were carried away in the Spirit from before my face, and I saw them not.
verse 29 The "twelve others following him" refers to the twelve apostles called in Palestine and headed by Peter, James, and John.
As soon as Nephi viewed them, the scene changed again.
30 And it came to pass that the angel spake unto me again, saying: Look! And I looked, and I beheld the heavens open again, and I saw angels descending upon the children of men; and they did minister unto them.
verse 30 "angels descending upon the children of men" This phrase apparently has reference to the principle of "ministry or ministering of angels" which is discussed by Mormon in Moroni 7:27-38. Essentially, the concept is that if the kingdom of God is on the earth and the people exercise sufficient faith, then angels will minister unto them. Bruce R. McConkie taught: "So unvarying is this principle that it stands forth as the conclusive test of the divinity of any organization on earth. If angels minister to a people, they are the Lord's people, and his kingdom is with them. If angels do not minister unto them, they are not the Lord's people, and his kingdom is not with them" (Mormon Doctrine, 503).
31 And he spake unto me again, saying: Look! And I looked, and I beheld the Lamb of God going forth among the children of men. And I beheld multitudes of people who were sick, and who were afflicted with all manner of diseases, and with devils and unclean spirits; and the angel spake and showed all these things unto me. And they were healed by the power of the Lamb of God; and the devils and the unclean spirits were cast out.
32 And it came to pass that the angel spake unto me again, saying: Look! And I looked and beheld the Lamb of God, that he was taken by the people; yea, the Son of the everlasting God was judged of the world; and I saw and bear record.
verse 32 Here is another verse that Joseph changed from its original form in the first edition of the Book of Mormon. It was originally printed: "And it came to pass that the angel spake unto me again saying, Look. And I looked, and I beheld the Lamb of God, that he was taken by the people. Yea, the everlasting God was judged of the world. And I saw and bear record." Our current edition says "the Son of the everlasting God." Joseph was continually learning more about the nature of the godhead. He saw a way to make this verse more clear.
33 And I, Nephi, saw that he was lifted up upon the cross and slain for the sins of the world.
verse 33 If Nephi saw this event in vision almost six hundred years before the birth of Christ, then it is obvious that Jesus had a foreknowledge of it during his mortal ministry. He was obviously fully aware of his eventual fate. He knew that he would die on a cross!
34 And after he was slain I saw the multitudes of the earth, that they were gathered together to fight against the apostles of the Lamb; for thus were the twelve called by the angel of the Lord.
verse 34 Nephi saw the time following the crucifixion of Jesus, when the saints, and particularly their leaders, were persecuted and martyred.
35 And the multitude of the earth was gathered together; and I beheld that they were in a large and spacious building, like unto the building which my father saw. And the angel of the Lord spake unto me again, saying: Behold the world and the wisdom thereof; yea, behold the house of Israel hath gathered together to fight against the twelve apostles of the Lamb.
verse 35 "the multitude of the earth" These people are representative of those who espouse the wisdom of the world or materialism, as opposed to those who are inclined to respond to the Spirit of the Lord. The continuous and age-old struggle between these two orientations and the people who espouse them is the large part of the story of this mortal phase of our existence.
"the house of Israel hath gathered together to fight against the twelve apostles of the Lamb" Among the worldly wise, vain, and proud will be found some who are of the blood of Israel.
36 And it came to pass that I saw and bear record, that the great and spacious building was the pride of the world; and it fell, and the fall thereof was exceedingly great. And the angel of the Lord spake unto me again, saying: Thus shall be the destruction of all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people, that shall fight against the twelve apostles of the Lamb.
verse 36 This symbolic fall is a foreshadowing of the destruction of all peoples that fight against the twelve apostles and the gospel just prior to the Millennium at the Lord's second coming.
The sin of pride will be often mentioned in the Book of Mormon. For a discussion of this vastly important sin, see the discussion of "Pride" in Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine, volume 1, chapter 5, The Natural Self and the Spiritual Self.