3 Nephi Chapter 28
3 Nephi 28 The Three Nephites are allowed to tarry .
Prior to studying 3 Nephi 28, the reader may wish to read a discussion of the phenomenon of translation in Doctrine of Translation, volume 2, chapter 17 in Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine.
The story of how Joseph Smith came to learn about the doctrine of translation is an interesting one. As Joseph and Oliver were translating the Book of Mormon, they came to references of translated beings such as Alma and Moses in the Book of Alma and the three Nephites in 3 Nephi. The apostle John was also mentioned. Joseph and Oliver had occasion to discuss this ancient apostle. Perhaps discussion between the two of them was also stimulated by one of the most frequently misunderstood passages in all the scripture, John 21:20-23, in which the resurrected Lord implies in a discussion with Peter that his beloved apostle John will not taste of death but instead will be translated. This passage of scripture has been debated for centuries among Christian sects with some scholars saying that he indeed died and was buried at Ephesus, while others believe he still walks the earth. A third school of thought states that even though he was buried at Ephesus, he is not really dead but simply sleeps in the grave until the second coming of the Savior. A difference of opinion arose between Joseph and Oliver as to whether John did or did not actually die. Oliver felt that he did die, and Joseph held that he did not. In order to resolve this question, Joseph inquired of the Lord through the Urim and Thummim and received magnificent revelation which is now section 7 of our Doctrine and Covenants.
In receiving section 7, Joseph had splashed onto his consciousness an actual parchment, handwritten by John himself. Joseph did not actually have possession of the parchment, but rather, through the process of revelation he discerned the parchment and was given the translation of it. Joseph learned that John did not die but was translated:
And the Lord said unto me: John, my beloved, what desirest thou? For if you shall ask what you will, it shall be granted unto you. And I said unto him: Lord, give unto me power over death, that I may live and bring souls unto thee. And the Lord said unto me: Verily, verily, I say unto thee, because thou desirest this thou shalt tarry until I come in my glory, and shalt prophesy before nations, kindreds, tongues and people. And for this cause the Lord said unto Peter: If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? For he desired of me that he might bring souls unto me, but thou desirest that thou mightest speedily come unto me in my kingdom. I say unto thee, Peter, this was a good desire; but my beloved has desired that he might do more, or a greater work yet among men than what he has before done. Yea, he has undertaken a greater work; therefore I will make him as flaming fire and a ministering angel; he shall minister for those who shall be heirs of salvation who dwell on the earth. And I will make thee to minister for him and for thy brother James; and unto you three I will give this power and the keys of this ministry until I come. Verily I say unto you, ye shall both have according to your desires, for ye both joy in that which ye have desired (D&C 7:1-8).
It is interesting to note the similarities between this conversation involving John and Jesus and the conversation the Savior had with the three Nephite apostles who also wished to "tarry" (3 Nephi 28:1; 3 Nephi 28:4-7).
1 And it came to pass when Jesus had said these words, he spake unto his disciples, one by one, saying unto them: What is it that ye desire of me, after that I am gone to the Father?
verse 1 It "boggles" the mind to consider the prospect of having the Son of God grant unto an individual whatever he might desire. Certainly, the true condition of one's heart would be revealed by the gift or blessing requested. Surely, the Savior is here offering this great blessing to men whom he knew would not ask amiss. He knew the desires of these twelve even before they expressed it.
2 And they all spake, save it were three, saying: We desire that after we have lived unto the age of man, that our ministry, wherein thou hast called us, may have an end, that we may speedily come unto thee in thy kingdom.
3 And he said unto them: Blessed are ye because ye desired this thing of me; therefore, after that ye are seventy and two years old ye shall come unto me in my kingdom; and with me ye shall find rest.
verse 3 "ye shall come unto me in my kingdom; and with me ye shall find rest" For a discussion of the "rest" of the Lord, see the commentary for 2 Nephi 21:10. Here the "rest" of the Lord is exaltation in the celestial heaven.
The request of the nine to come immediately into the heavenly kingdom of God at death is the same as Peter's in the New Testament and is a worthy and proper one, but we will learn that there is an even "greater work" or greater request they might have made (see verse 7).
4 And when he had spoken unto them, he turned himself unto the three, and said unto them: What will ye that I should do unto you, when I am gone unto the Father?
5 And they sorrowed in their hearts, for they durst not speak unto him the thing which they desired.
verse 5 "they sorrowed in their hearts" Perhaps they worried the Lord might perceive their request as being self-serving or overly ambitious. Or, perhaps, they felt their request to continue their work on the earth rather than return directly to his presence might offend him.
6 And he said unto them: Behold, I know your thoughts, and ye have desired the thing which John, my beloved, who was with me in my ministry, before that I was lifted up by the Jews, desired of me.
verse 6 "ye have desired the thing which John, my beloved . . . desired of me" Here we learn that John the beloved apostle of Jesus in the Old World was translated. Though this event is ignored or denied by the orthodox Christian world today, there is ancient documentary evidence it did occur (see the chapter Doctrine of Translation referenced above).
"lifted up" This phrase, of course, means crucified or lifted up onto a cross.
7 Therefore, more blessed are ye, for ye shall never taste of death; but ye shall live to behold all the doings of the Father unto the children of men, even until all things shall be fulfilled according to the will of the Father, when I shall come in my glory with the powers of heaven.
verse 7 The three Nephite apostles desired to be translated, and they were granted their wish.
"for ye shall never taste of death" It is unclear which "transition" or death is being referred to here by the Savior. Is he speaking of the transition from the mortal body to the translated body? Or is he referring to the passage from the translated state to the resurrected celestial eternal body? A careful reading of verse 7 itself suggests it is referring to the former. Verse 8, however, refers to the transition from the translated state to the resurrected state.
While no one will actually escape the process of death ("as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive"-1 Corinthians 15:22) , this verse and the following verse promise that the death or deaths of the individual called to this great service will be painless-they will not "taste" death.
8 And ye shall never endure the pains of death; but when I shall come in my glory ye shall be changed in the twinkling of an eye from mortality to immortality; and then shall ye be blessed in the kingdom of my Father.
9 And again, ye shall not have pain while ye shall dwell in the flesh, neither sorrow save it be for the sins of the world; and all this will I do because of the thing which ye have desired of me, for ye have desired that ye might bring the souls of men unto me, while the world shall stand.
10 And for this cause ye shall have fulness of joy; and ye shall sit down in the kingdom of my Father; yea, your joy shall be full, even as the Father hath given me fulness of joy; and ye shall be even as I am, and I am even as the Father; and the Father and I are one;
verse 10 The eventual fate of a translated being is described. They "shall have a fulness of joy; and . . . sit down in the kingdom of my Father . . . and ye shall be even as I am."
"and the Father and I are one" Elohim and Jehovah-though separate personages-are infinitely more one than they are separate. In a way perfectly analogous, the whole plan of salvation centers in our learning to be one with Christ as he is one with the Father.
11 And the Holy Ghost beareth record of the Father and me; and the Father giveth the Holy Ghost unto the children of men, because of me.
verse 11 "and the Father giveth the Holy Ghost unto the children of men, because of me" The meaning of this phrase is not entirely clear. Perhaps it indicates that the primary purpose of the Holy Ghost in the lives of men is to bear record of the Savior. Or, perhaps it means that because of the Savior's atoning sacrifice and death, the Father is allowed to provide to the sons of men more of the influence of the Holy Ghost than that for which they would otherwise be qualified.
12 And it came to pass that when Jesus had spoken these words, he touched every one of them with his finger save it were the three who were to tarry, and then he departed.
verse 12 The text does not make it clear why the Savior touched each of the nine and did not touch the three who wished to tarry. It is obvious, however, that their ministries would be different.
13 And behold, the heavens were opened, and they were caught up into heaven, and saw and heard unspeakable things.
14 And it was forbidden them that they should utter; neither was it given unto them power that they could utter the things which they saw and heard;
verses 13-14 The theys in these verses apparently refer to the three Nephite disciples who elected translation. We do not know exactly what "orientation" the three Nephites received here, but it seems clear that translated beings have knowledge given them that exceeds the mortal perspective.
15 And whether they were in the body or out of the body, they could not tell; for it did seem unto them like a transfiguration of them, that they were changed from this body of flesh into an immortal state, that they could behold the things of God.
verse 15 "it did seem unto them like a transfiguration of them" To be transfigured is to be lifted spiritually to a higher plane (see Moses 1:11; Moses 1:14; Matthew 17:2; D&C 63:20-21). Mormon uses the word transfiguration to describe the condition of the three Nephites while beholding the glorious things of God. The scriptures are not clear on the exact differences between transfigured beings and translated beings. However, the scriptural use of these terms seems to indicate that transfiguration is more temporary, occurring primarily to permit one to behold spiritual things that would not be tolerated in the mortal condition. Translated beings experience a long-term change that culminates at the time of their resurrection. Probably, these Nephite disciples were first transfigured and then later translated.
"for it did seem . . . that they were changed from this body of flesh into an immortal state" We know they were not changed permanently into an immortal state at this particular time, but remained subject to death, though theirs would be a painless death.
verses 13-15 These verses describe an experience of the three Nephite apostles who wished to tarry. This experience was similar to one had by the apostle Paul: "I knew a man in Christ [he is speaking modestly of himself] above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) such an one caught up to the third heaven. And I knew such a man [again, speaking of himself], (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) How that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter" (2 Corinthians 12:2-4).
Elder Franklin D. Richards, writing of the three Nephite disciples, offered the following fascinating observation:
They wanted to tarry until Jesus came, and that they might, he took them into the heavens and endowed them with the power of translation, probably in one of Enoch's temples, and brought them back to the earth. Thus they received power to live until the coming of the Son of Man. I believe he took them to Enoch's city and gave them their endowments there. I expect that in the city of Enoch there are temples; and when Enoch and his people come back, they will come back with their city, their temples, blessings, and powers (JD, 25:236-37).
16 But it came to pass that they did again minister upon the face of the earth; nevertheless they did not minister of the things which they had heard and seen, because of the commandment which was given them in heaven.
verse 16 While in the special state, and special place, spoken of in the previous verse, they received special instructions. Their ministries were to be different than those of their nine brethren, but they were not to share all they had learned in heaven.
17 And now, whether they were mortal or immortal, from the day of their transfiguration, I know not;
verse 17 Mormon editorializes. Were the three actually translated during the experience described in verse 15, or were they to be translated at some later point in time? The following verses suggest the former possibility. Some time after writing this account, Mormon will enquire further of the Lord and provide us with addition information of the state of these three Nephites (see verses 36-40).
18 But this much I know, according to the record which hath been given-they did go forth upon the face of the land, and did minister unto all the people, uniting as many to the church as would believe in their preaching; baptizing them, and as many as were baptized did receive the Holy Ghost.
verse 18 We learn an important lesson from this verse. While the three Nephite disciples may have had a special mission, their fundamental calling is the same as all the missionaries of the Church-to preach repentance and baptism, and thus assist in the gathering of Israel.
19 And they were cast into prison by them who did not belong to the church. And the prisons could not hold them, for they were rent in twain.
20 And they were cast down into the earth; but they did smite the earth with the word of God, insomuch that by his power they were delivered out of the depths of the earth; and therefore they could not dig pits sufficient to hold them.
21 And thrice they were cast into a furnace and received no harm.
22 And twice were they cast into a den of wild beasts; and behold they did play with the beasts as a child with a suckling lamb, and received no harm.
23 And it came to pass that thus they did go forth among all the people of Nephi, and did preach the gospel of Christ unto all people upon the face of the land; and they were converted unto the Lord, and were united unto the church of Christ, and thus the people of that generation were blessed, according to the word of Jesus.
verse 23 "and they were converted unto the Lord" We will learn that eventually all of the Nephite people were converted and united in the Church (4 Nephi 1:2).
24 And now I, Mormon, make an end of speaking concerning these things for a time.
25 Behold, I was about to write the names of those who were never to taste of death, but the Lord forbade; therefore I write them not, for they are hid from the world.
verse 25 We do have the names of the twelve Nephite disciples (see 3 Nephi 19:4), but as to the identity of the specific three, the Lord has yet to make them known.
26 But behold, I have seen them, and they have ministered unto me.
verse 26 More than three centuries later, Mormon and also his son Moroni will see and be ministered to by the three translated Nephite apostles (Mormon 8:10-11).
27 And behold they will be among the Gentiles, and the Gentiles shall know them not.
verse 27 Mormon prophesies that the three will minister in our dispensation-among the Gentiles of the great Gentile nation-and we won't recognize them for who they are. In their callings, they can apparently go and come as they are asked and as they wish. We will learn in the following verses that they will eventually minister among all the scattered tribes of Israel.
28 They will also be among the Jews, and the Jews shall know them not.
29 And it shall come to pass, when the Lord seeth fit in his wisdom that they shall minister unto all the scattered tribes of Israel, and unto all nations, kindreds, tongues and people, and shall bring out of them unto Jesus many souls, that their desire may be fulfilled, and also because of the convincing power of God which is in them.
verse 29 In all, there are five groups to whom the three translated Nephite disciples were to minister: (1) their own people the Nephites and Lamanites; (2) the Jews (verse 28); (3) the Gentiles (verse 27); (4) the scattered tribes of Israel; and (5) to all nations, kindred, tongues, and peoples.
30 And they are as the angels of God, and if they shall pray unto the Father in the name of Jesus they can show themselves unto whatsoever man it seemeth them good.
31 Therefore, great and marvelous works shall be wrought by them, before the great and coming day when all people must surely stand before the judgment-seat of Christ;
32 Yea even among the Gentiles shall there be a great and marvelous work wrought by them, before that judgment day.
33 And if ye had all the scriptures which give an account of all the marvelous works of Christ, ye would, according to the words of Christ, know that these things must surely come.
verse 33 Here, Mormon refers to the "great and marvelous work" to be done among the Gentiles, the restoration of the gospel in this final dispensation.
34 And wo be unto him that will not hearken unto the words of Jesus, and also to them whom he hath chosen and sent among them; for whoso receiveth not the words of Jesus and the words of those whom he hath sent receiveth not him; and therefore he will not receive them at the last day;
35 And it would be better for them if they had not been born. For do ye suppose that ye can get rid of the justice of an offended God, who hath been trampled under feet of men, that thereby salvation might come?
verse 35 "And it would be better for them if they had not been born" Perhaps Mormon is guilty here of using a bit of hyperbole.
verses 34-35 These two verses contain a sobering warning. We are first reminded that the "words of Jesus" are brought to us in part by "them whom he hath chosen and sent among [us]." It is an offense to God when we refuse to receive the words of the fifteen apostles whom he has called to lead us.
36 And now behold, as I spake concerning those whom the Lord hath chosen, yea, even three who were caught up into the heavens, that I knew not whether they were cleansed from mortality to immortality-
verse 36 Mormon refers back to his statement in verse 17.
37 But behold, since I wrote, I have inquired of the Lord, and he hath made it manifest unto me that there must needs be a change wrought upon their bodies, or else it needs be that they must taste of death;
38 Therefore, that they might not taste of death there was a change wrought upon their bodies, that they might not suffer pain nor sorrow save it were for the sins of the world.
39 Now this change was not equal to that which shall take place at the last day; but there was a change wrought upon them, insomuch that Satan could have no power over them, that he could not tempt them; and they were sanctified in the flesh, that they were holy, and that the powers of the earth could not hold them.
verse 39 "this change was not equal to that which shall take place at the last day" The translated "terrestrial" body is not the same as a resurrected, immortal body.
40 And in this state they were to remain until the judgment day of Christ; and at that day they were to receive a greater change, and to be received into the kingdom of the Father to go no more out, but to dwell with God eternally in the heavens.
verse 40 Won't it be a blessed day when and if we ourselves are in the celestial kingdom "to go no more out!"