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As recorded in Acts 10–15, the leaders of the church of Jesus Christ shepherded early saints through tumultuous times. These chapters highlight how the early apostles faced such challenges as social upheaval, martyrdom and persecution, organizing missionary work, and “much disputing” among the leadership of the church that arose over unanswered doctrinal and procedural questions.
The threads tying these chapters together are questions such as: Who receives revelation for the church? What does that revelation look like? Whence does it arise? How might both external and internal forces catalyze revelation?
How Peter and early church leaders received revelation
Peter's Vision of a Sheet with Animals. Illustration from Henry Davenport Northrop Treasures of the Bible, 1894.
Looking carefully at two accounts from this block of Scripture helps answer these questions. The first is the account found in Acts 10. This narrative begins by describing a man named Cornelius. A “devout man, and one that feared God with all his house” (Acts 10:2), Cornelius was a Roman military commander; in other words, a Gentile. Based on the description given in the text (vv. 2, 22), Cornelius may indeed have been a God-fearer–––a sympathizer to the Jewish faith who remained uncircumcised and therefore not fully converted–––but he was a Gentile all the same.1
Cornelius was instructed in a vision to “send men to Joppa, and call for one Simon, whose surname is Peter” in order be instructed on how to fully convert to the gospel of Jesus Christ (Acts 10:5). As Cornelius’ servants made their way to Joppa, the text describes how Peter “became very hungry . . . [and] fell into a trance” or vision (v. 10). In this vision, Peter
saw heaven opened, and a certain vessel descending unto him, as it had been a great sheet knit at the four corners, and let down to the earth: Wherein were all manner of fourfooted beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air. And there came a voice to him, Rise, Peter; kill, and eat. But Peter said, Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean. And the voice spake unto him again the second time, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common. This was done thrice: and the vessel was received up again into heaven. (vv. 11–16)
While Peter was left wondering what this vision meant, Cornelius’ servants arrived and inquired for the apostle (Acts 10:17–18). After Peter consulted with Cornelius’ servants, the Spirit made known to Peter the meaning of the vision and prompted him to visit Cornelius (vv. 19–33). This Peter did, hearing Cornelius’ account of his vision. Once he had a more complete understanding of the situation, Peter came to perceive “of a truth . . . that God is no respecter of persons: But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him” (vv. 34–35).
The result of all this? “While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word. And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost” (Acts 10:44–45). This heralded the epoch when the gospel would be taken to all nations, kindred, tongues, and peoples.
The second account in Acts 15 describes an occasion not long after the conversion of Cornelius when “much disputing” arose amongst “the apostles and elders” of the church (Acts 15:6–7). The problem? Now that there were Gentile converts in the church, “there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed, saying, That it was needful to circumcise them [i.e. the new Gentile converts], and to command them to keep the law of Moses” (v. 5). The named leaders in attendance at this council in Jerusalem included Paul and Barnabas, Peter, and James the brother of Jesus. After some discussion, and after searching the scriptures (vv. 15–17 = Amos 9:11–12), the council determined that Gentile converts need not be circumcised, but should persist in following certain Jewish laws pertaining to food and sexual impropriety (vv. 19–20, 28–29).
Notice how the revelatory process played out in a similar manner in both accounts. In both stories, a change in circumstances prompted the leader(s) of the church to seek revelation by study and faith. In both stories, the leader(s) of the church took time to carefully investigate the matter at hand without jumping to conclusions. And in both stories, the leader(s) received confirmation by the Spirit that they had properly discerned the will of the Lord before implementing their course of action.
It should be noted that the KJV translation is somewhat misleading with its depiction of “much disputing” (Acts 15:7) arising among the apostles. The word doesn’t necessarily mean that they were contentious yelling and arguing. Rather, it means the apostles were diligently seeking, discussing, debating, and exploring options. The Greek word here is zētēseōs, and can mean broadly investigation, discussion, or inquiry. It derives from zēteō which means to seek, look for, search out, examine, strive for, etc. While we might imagine the apostles and elders of the council voicing opposing strong opinions during this zētēseōs, we need not necessarily assume they were contentious or spiteful towards each other in this process.
How Latter-day Church leaders receive revelation
Image of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Image via Church Newsroom.
The clear parallels between what is depicted here in Acts 10 and 15 and incidents from the modern history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are abundant. In the late summer of 1830, the Prophet Joseph Smith was forced to confront Hiram Page, one of the Eight Witnesses of the Book of Mormon, who was presuming to receive revelation on behalf of the Church by means of a seer stone.2 As a revelation the Prophet received in September 1830 made clear, only the president of the Church may act, as Peter did many centuries earlier, as the chief apostle overseeing the affairs of the Church as a whole (Doctrine and Covenants 28).
The history of the revelation on priesthood given to President Spencer W. Kimball in 1978 likewise echoes what is depicted in Acts 10 and 15. “Starting in the 1850s, the Church followed a policy that restricted black members’ access to full participation in the Church by declaring them ineligible to be ordained to the priesthood or receive temple ordinances.”3 As the restored gospel spread to Africa and other parts of the world, and as wider societal attitudes on issues of race shifted over time, Church leaders felt it was needful to revisit the Church’s policy of restricting priesthood ordination and temple blessings from men and women of African descent.
“By early 1978,” President Kimball was not only “regularly praying in the temple for revelation about extending priesthood ordination and temple blessings to black members of the Church,” he was also speaking “at length with his counselors in the First Presidency and with members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles on the subject,” was inviting “them to make it a matter of study and prayer” individually, and was carefully listening to the voices of black members of the Church who were impacted by this policy.4
This process resulted with a June 1, 1978 revelation that overturned the previous policy of the Church and lifted the racial restriction on priesthood ordination and temple blessings. This revelation is canonized today in the Church as Official Declaration 2.
Members of the Church of Jesus Christ today can read Acts 10–15 with full confidence that the Lord continues to guide His servants through revelation in the management of His Church and the teaching of His gospel.
1. Allan J. McNicol, “Cornelius,” in The HarperCollins Bible Dictionary, ed. Paul J. Achtemeier (New York, N.Y.: HarperCollins Publishers, 1996), 206.
Stephen was one of seven disciples in the New Testament who were assigned to watch over the temporal needs and welfare in the Church. He was “full of faith and power” and “did great wonders and miracles among the people” (Acts 6:8). As Stephen was out among the people, some individuals from the local synagogue began “disputing” with him, but “were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit by which he spake” (Acts 6:10). They stirred up a larger group of those willing to accuse Stephen, who testified that they had “heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses, and against God” (Acts 6:11). Standing before the council, they bore false witness against him, further accused him of blasphemy and associated him with popular accusations against Jesus of Nazareth.
These men were clearly intent on bringing an accusation against Stephen that would merit him being put to death. Anciently, the charge of blasphemy was punishable by death and seems to have involved a broad range of possible offenses or perceived insults against God and/or the Jewish religion in general. For example, those who cursed the name of God were to be put to death by stoning (Leviticus 24:10–16). But there was also precedent in the Law for stoning an individual who “sins defiantly,” because they “blaspheme the Lord” and “have despised the Lord’s word and broken his commands” (Numbers 15:30–31).
Jesus had been similarly sentenced to death for blasphemy after He gave a rather cryptic answer to Caiaphas’s question of whether He was the Messiah, the Son of God (Matthew 26:63–66). Jesus did not answer “yes” or “no” directly but paraphrased several scriptures, combining elements of Daniel 7:13 (“the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven”) with Psalm 110:1 (“The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand”). Critics had tried to stone Jesus for blasphemy before, including for claiming to be the Son of God and to be one with Him (John 10:30–36).
We are not told exactly what Stephen had been teaching when he was seized by the mob and brought before the council. His testimony to the council, however, emphasized their failure to keep the Law given to Moses and to follow the promptings of the Holy Ghost in recognizing Jesus as the Righteous One, the Messiah (Acts 7:51–53). This accusation “cut them to the heart” and they “gnashed on him with their teeth” (Acts 7:54).
This story has many parallels with the account of Abinadi in the Book of Mormon, who was sentenced to death, essentially for declaring that the king and his priests were not obeying the Law of Moses and for testifying of Christ (Mosiah 12:29–37; 16:13–15). However, the text does not say that Stephen’s words, to this point, brought upon him a conclusive conviction or death sentence.
What caused the people to cry out in rage, drag Stephen out of the city, and brutally stone him to death was his witness of the (at least partial) fulfillment of what Jesus had earlier told Caiaphas. Stephen announced that he had just seen “the Son of man standing on the right hand of God” (Acts 7:56). That is when his accusers could no longer hold back. They cried out and rushed to seize him. Stephen’s paraphrase of Daniel 7:13 and Psalm 110:1, together with the implication that Jesus was sitting on the right hand of God, was apparently what the Jewish leaders felt they needed to convict him of blasphemy and sentence him to death, just as Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin had done with Jesus.
For later Rabbis in the 2nd Century AD, the idea of a divine or angelic being who was essentially equivalent in power to God (the “two powers in heaven” belief) was a very serious heresy.1 Yet this idea was not universally condemned around the time of Christ, as can be seen by the writings of Jewish scholars such as Philo, as well as texts such as the Similitudes of Enoch (in 1 Enoch) and some of the Dead Sea Scrolls.2 The mere fact that Jesus used Scripture to speak of such a figure was therefore probably not worthy of a death sentence.
What made Jesus’s—and Stephen’s—use of this scriptural imagery blasphemous was likely Jesus’s application of it to Himself. For the Jewish Leaders, the idea that a mortal man, particularly one whom they both knew and despised, would declare Himself to be the Son of Man—a being who would come flying in the clouds of heaven to bring judgment—was apparently tantamount to declaring Himself to be equal with God.3 This seems to have been the case in John 10:33, when the people informed Jesus that they were stoning Him “for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God” (John 10:33).
It is possible that the Jewish leaders saw Jesus’s claim as similar to that of the tyrannical king (Lucifer) in Isaiah 14, who “said in [his] heart: I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God … I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High” (Isaiah 14:12–14). A man who made such a claim was, in their view, the epitome of pride and would certainly “be brought down to hell” (Isaiah 14:15).4 However, the Jewish leaders clearly did not understand the nature of the exaltation of Man that is taught in the scriptures and which Jesus understood very well. Jesus knew who He was and what blessings were in store for Him and for all those who believed in Him.
Stephen was an example of the believers –– and one who was a witness of Jesus’s exaltation to the right hand of God. The Greek word martyros means “witness.” This is the origin of the word martyr, which in English contains the additional concept of one dying for his or her testimony. As one who died for testifying of things he had both heard and seen, Stephen became the first Christain martyr. Appropriately, the name “Stephen” (stephanos) means “crown” in Greek. Although he was convicted of blasphemy and stoned to death by those who would not believe his testimony, Stephen most certainly earned the “crown of life” promised to all those who are “faithful unto death” (Revelation 2:10).
4. That accusations of blasphemy were often viewed in light of Isaiah 14:12–14 can be seen in the later rabbinic texts, including: Exod. Rab. 15:6, 21:3; Lev. Rab. 18:2; and Num. Rab. 9:24, 20:1. See Bock, “Blasphemy and the Jewish Examination of Jesus,” 80. As Morna Hooker explained, “To claim for oneself a seat at the right hand of power, however, is to claim a share in the authority of God; to appropriate to oneself such authority and to bestow on oneself this unique status in the sight of God and man would almost certainly have been regarded as blasphemy.” Hooker, The Son of Man in Mark (London: SPCK, 1967), 173, as quoted in Bock, “Blasphemy and the Jewish Examination of Jesus,” 81.
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Acts 2 records Peter’s words to the gathered multitude on the day of Pentecost. After testifying that “God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ” (v. 36), the people he was addressing “were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?” Peter’s response to the crowd will probably sound familiar to you because it summarizes some of the basics of the gospel: “Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost” (v. 38).
But where did Peter get these ideas, ideas that are so basic to the gospel? Looking at Peter’s words in Acts in light of Christ’s teachings in 3 Nephi 11 suggests that Peter may have learned these truths from Christ Himself. 3 Nephi 11:38 records Christ’s words to the gathered multitude: “Ye must repent, and be baptized in my name, and become as a little child, or ye can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God.” Christ also declared that God will visit these people, “with fire and with the Holy Ghost” (v. 35).1
Later on, Christ summarized these points quite nicely, “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” (3 Nephi 27:20). These ideas are almost exactly the same as those Peter expresses to the multitude in Acts, suggesting an intriguing possibility. The fact that Christ said something to people in the New World brings up the possibility that He said similar things to people in the Old World as well. If one then finds teachings that correspond to Christ’s New World ministry in Acts or the letter of Paul, this suggests that He had indeed said these things to both groups of people.
It is therefore very likely that Christ taught people in both hemispheres these basic truths about the gospel, and that this is where Peter got these ideas. This notion is supported by Acts 20:35, in which Paul invites his audience to, “remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Although Paul insists that these are the words of “the Lord Jesus” these words do not appear anywhere in the gospels. It is possible that Peter’s words in Acts 2 are similar to this quotation from Paul—a saying that went back to Jesus, but was not included in Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John.
This connection between Acts and 3 Nephi brings up some interesting possibilities for the future. Carefully comparing Christ’s words in 3 Nephi with the teachings found in Acts through Revelation may reveal many more cases where Christ may have taught something in both the Old World and the New World, things that are specifically attributed to Christ in the Book of Mormon, but that are not attributed to Him in the New Testament.
This relationship may also be one explanation among many for why some words and phrases that appear to come from the New Testament appear in the Book of Mormon. Some of the phrases that appear in both the Book of Mormon and the New Testament may simply be words spoken by Christ on both sides of the world preserved by both the New Testament authors in the Old World, and the authors of Nephite records in the New World.
Examples like this provide yet another example of how important the Book of Mormon is for understanding Christ. Not only can it help us understand more about who He is and what He did, it may even help to shed new light on His actual teachings to His followers in Jerusalem.
In 1938 the people of the world faced some of the darkest days in modern history, leading up to World War Two. It was not known at that time whether the Nazi armies that were threatening all of Europe would overcome the British Isles and then cross the Atlantic to conquer America.
It was then that a Jewish composer named Israel Balinsky, -also known as Irving Berlin-, reached down into a dusty old box and pulled out a song that he’d written twenty years before at the end of World War One. As an immigrant to this Land of Promise, Irving had a great love for his adopted homeland. But this was something more than a song. It was a prayer. A prayer that God would bless America in its time of great need.
Kate Smith was one of the most popular singers of the day, and as she performed the song for the first time on a nationwide radio broadcast the night before Armistice Day 1938, she began it with this prelude:
While the storm clouds gather, far across the sea,
Let us swear allegiance to a land’s that’s free.
Let us all be grateful for a land that’s fair,
As we raise our voices in a solemn prayer ….
God bless America, land that I love! Stand beside her, and guide her,
through the night with a light from above!
Latter-day Saints understand that America is not just another country among others. It has been revealed by our Heavenly Father to be part of the Land of Promise, where the Gospel was restored in these latter days. God himself declared to be “a land which is choice above all other lands”. (2 Nephi 1:5)
Through the prophet Lehi, God said referring to the inhabitants of the Western Hemisphere:
And if it so be that they shall keep his commandments they shall be blessed upon the face of this land, and there shall be none to molest them, nor to take away the land of their inheritance; and they shall dwell safely forever. (2 Nephi 1:9)
In 2019 our nation is again facing in some ways—different ways—dark hours. Once more we need to heed the words of our God who said:
If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land. (2 Chronicles 2:17)
Then, hopefully, God will continue to bless America.
This beautiful performance of “God Bless America” is by Tyler Perry, a member of the Board of Directors of Book of Mormon Central. The arrangement is by Jonathon Keith and Tyler is accompanied by Stephen Nelson. The video is produced by Daniel Smith.
The good news that Jesus is risen from the dead is a message of light and joy for a dark and weary world. The testimony of New Testament witnesses confirms that he He lives and because Hhe lives we may also have eternal life if we will follow himHim. He was seen of Mary at the tomb, and angels declared his His resurrection to other righteous women of faith (Mark 16:1-–7; Luke 24:1-–10; John 20:11–-18). He was seen by Peter, James, Thomas and the apostles and other disciples who saw, spoke, ate with him Him and touched the wounds in his His hands, feet and side (Luke 24:13-–43; John 20:19-–31). As John testified, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life” (1 John 1:1). Peter testified, “For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty” (2 Peter 1:16).
In addition to the testimony of New Testament disciples, the Book of Mormon tells of the appearance of the resurrected Jesus to a multitude in the Americas. There Jesus appeared to a multitude of 2500 men, women, and children who were invited to come forth and touch his His resurrected body. “And it came to pass that the multitude went forth, and thrust their hands into his side, and did feel the prints of the nails in his hands and in his feet; and this they did do, going forth one by one until they had all gone forth, and did see with their eyes and did feel with their hands, and did know of a surety and did bear record, that it was he, of whom it was written by the prophets, that should come” (3 Nephi 11:15).
Those who study, history, law, and many other branches of knowledge rely upon records, documents, and texts to interpret, judge, measure, and understand significant events and activities. Professor S. Kent Brown has observed that the resurrected Jesus, the Word of God, represents what is for us the most central and important event in the history of mankind:
Jesus himself is the text because he bears in his body the proof of the atonement. And his body, of course, is the first thing he allows people access to—to touch the scars in his hand and his feet and his side. But when one thinks about ancient texts that are inscribed on stone, clay tablets, metal, wood, eventually papyri, which is a softer, more perishable material. Each one of those kinds of surfaces can be destroyed, but the resurrected, glorified body of Jesus cannot. And it bears, as it were, witness of itself, and it carries, in its sown way, the text of his suffering and death and resurrection. In a concrete way, the immediate and eternal text is the Risen Jesus, bearing in his body marks that will never go away.1
As a sacred record the Book of Mormon is a type which points toward to the divine work of Jesus Christ our Redeemer. The Lord told the prophet Enoch, “Truth will I send forth out of the earth, to bear testimony of mine Only Begotten; his resurrection from the dead; yea, and also the resurrection of all men” (Moses 7:62). The Book of Mormon text was brought forth from the dust. Seen and handled by chosen witnesses who like those of old bear witness of its truth and message. Today, a record of a fallen people, once buried in the ground, has comes forth before the world, like the resurrected Jesus, from the earth through the gift and power of God for the salvation and glory of all who will receive it.
1. S Kent Brown, in Andrew Skinner and Gaye Strathearn, eds., Third Nephi: An Incomparable Scripture (Neal A. Maxwell Institute, 2012), 381.
We had the opportunity to sit down with Katie Payne and hear her amazing story about her witness of the Book of Mormon. In a time of frustration, she prayed that the Lord would show her a sign. Watch how the missionaries provided a miracle.
Katie Payne is an LDS artist who has done a lot of work with the Church and Book of Mormon Central. Check out some of her artwork here.
Katie Payne's Miraculous Book of Mormon Testimony - YouTube
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The Atonement of Jesus Christ is the most central doctrine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Latter-day Saints believe that all mankind can be saved through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, and that He can empathize with all the sufferings, infirmities, and pain inherent to mortality. Throughout the history of Christ’s restored Church, its leaders and members have put sacred emphasis on Gethsemane as the place where Christ suffered for mankind’s sins and afflictions.1 Thus, for many Latter-day Saints, Gethsemane has become a central focus of Christ’s Atonement.2
However, both ancient and modern prophets have encouraged us to also look to the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ as the source of salvation.
The sacrificial death of Jesus Christ is integral to Christ’s Atonement. Latter-day Saints can get closer to God and develop a greater appreciation for the Atonement as they study and ponder the importance of the Crucifixion in their lives. The Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and teachings from modern prophets give Latter-day Saints important reasons to pay closer attention to this vital topic.
1. The Book of Mormon actually has more to say about the death of Christ than His sufferings in Gethsemane
Jesus Christ Visits the Americas by John Scott. Image via Gospel Media Library.
The Book of Mormon can give Latter-day Saints a profound appreciation for the sacrificial death of Christ. In several ways, the book enriches our understanding of the Savior’s sufferings in Gethsemane (Mosiah 3:7; Alma 7:11), but it also consistently emphasizes Christ’s death as a key part of His Atonement. While only a handful of Book of Mormon passages potentially allude to Christ’s sufferings in Gethsemane, over 40 of them teach about the importance of His crucifixion.3
For example, the idea that Christ was “lifted up” on the cross is a recurring theme in the Book of Mormon. Jesus Christ best taught this concept when He visited the Nephites in America:
And my Father sent me that I might be lifted up upon the cross; and after that I had been lifted up upon the cross, that I might draw all men unto me, that as I have been lifted up by men even so should men be lifted up by the Father, to stand before me, to be judged of their works, whether they be good or whether they be evil—
And for this cause have I been lifted up; therefore, according to the power of the Father I will draw all men unto me, that they may be judged according to their works.4
In these scriptures, when Jesus Christ defines His gospel and Atonement, He does so in terms of the cross.5 The beautiful purpose of Christ’s Crucifixion, as defined by Himself, is to exalt all of mankind if they will accept His Atonement (Moses 1:39).
2. The signs of Christ’s Crucifixion were so important that Jesus kept them in the resurrection
Foot of the Christus statue. Image via Gospel Media Library.
After enduring the infinite pain and suffering of the Atonement, Jesus rose again from the dead in a resurrected, glorified, perfected body. Yet His “perfect” body still contained the marks of crucifixion, namely the nail prints in His hands and feet, and the incision in His side.
At least one of the reasons Christ kept these signs was to help identify Him as the Son of God and the Savior of the World.6 For the disciples in the New Testament, the nail prints in Christ’s hands and feet indicated that He was the same man who had died on the cross, but was now alive (John 20:27; Luke 24:39).
The Nephites in the Americas had never seen Jesus Christ, yet the mark on His side may have helped identify Him as someone who had been ritually sacrificed. Mesoamerican scholar Mark Wright explained, “To a people steeped in Mesoamerican culture, the sign that a person had been ritually sacrificed would have been an incision on their side — suggesting they had had their hearts removed.”7
The disciples in the Old World knew that Jesus had died; the marks in His body were the witness that He had risen from the dead. The disciples in the New World clearly saw Jesus alive; the marks on His body witnessed to them that Christ had sacrificially died.8
As a reminder of those days, Jesus has chosen, even in a resurrected, otherwise perfected body, to retain for the benefit of His disciples the wounds in His hands and in His feet and in His side—signs, if you will, that painful things happen even to the pure and the perfect; signs, if you will, that pain in this world is not evidence that God doesn’t love you; signs, if you will, that problems pass and happiness can be ours. . . . It is the wounded Christ who is the Captain of our souls, He who yet bears the scars of our forgiveness, the lesions of His love and humility, the torn flesh of obedience and sacrifice. These wounds are the principal way we are to recognize Him when He comes.9
3. Nephi’s Tree of Life may symbolize the crucifixion of Jesus Christ
Image via Mozaico.
One of the powerful messages of the Book of Mormon is that Jesus Christ performed the Atonement out of love for us. In Nephi’s vision of the Tree of Life, an angel helped him learn that the Tree of Life is a symbol of “the love of God, which sheddeth itself abroad in the hearts of the children of men” (1 Nephi 11:22).
Nephi then learned what the love of God really entails, as he witnessed the life, ministry, and culminating death of Jesus Christ. “And I, Nephi, saw that he was lifted up upon the cross and slain for the sins of the world” (1 Nephi 11:33). In some ways, the Tree of Life may symbolize the tree upon which Jesus Christ was hanged when he was crucified for the sins of the world (Deuteronomy 21:23).10
4. The Crucifixion is integral to the Atonement
Agnus Dei by Francisco de Zurbarán via Wikimedia Commons.
Certainly, the most important reason Latter-day Saints should study, ponder, and appreciate the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ is because it was part of the Atonement. The Fall of Adam caused mortality, sin, and suffering to enter the world. Man could never return to the presence of God without an infinite and eternal sacrifice (Alma 34:12).11 To anticipate this sacrifice, disciples offered animal sacrifices since the time of Adam (Moses 5:6–8). These sacrifices served as a similitude of Jesus Christ—the Lamb of God—whose infinite and eternal sacrifice was completed when He died for our sins on the cross.12
The Book of Mormon makes it abundantly clear that the death of Jesus Christ is tied to His atoning power. To those gathered at the temple in Bountiful, Jesus explained that He was “slain for the sins of the world” (3 Nephi 11:4, emphasis added). Moroni likewise affirmed that “all men are redeemed, because the death of Christ” (Mormon 9:13, emphasis added). And during his mission to the Lamanites, Aaron testified that “there could be no redemption for mankind save it were through the death and sufferings of Christ, and the atonement of his blood” (Alma 21:9, emphasis added).
Elder Bruce R. McConkie testified,
And now, as pertaining to this perfect atonement, wrought by the shedding of the blood of God—I testify that it took place in Gethsemane and at Golgotha, and as pertaining to Jesus Christ, I testify that he is the Son of the Living God and was crucified for the sins of the world. He is our Lord, our God, and our King. This I know of myself independent of any other person.13
Latter-day Saints will gain understanding, inspiration, and spiritual power as they better recognize how the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ is an important part of His Atonement. Christ’s Crucifixion—along with His perfect life of service, His infinite suffering in Gethsemane, and His glorious Resurrection—opens the gates of redemption for all mankind and prepares a way for each of us to return to the presence of Heavenly Father.
While the majority of the events described in the Book of Mormon took place in the Americas, the opening chapters are set in the ancient Near East. They tell of a prophet named Lehi, who, with his family and others, fled from Jerusalem. After traveling for years through a harsh wilderness, they reached a lush coastal region where they set sail across the ocean. Fortunately, the prophetic author of this record (Lehi’s son, Nephi) recorded many specific details about his family’s travels. These details include names and descriptions of locations, relative distances and directions, and travel conditions along the way.
Evidences of the Book of Mormon: Old World Geography - YouTube
For many years, researchers have been carefully studying Nephi’s account and comparing it with the known geography of ancient Israel and the Arabian Peninsula. The results of these ongoing studies have been both fascinating and faith promoting. Nearly every travel detail in Nephi’s account can now be connected with some plausible site, route, or ancient custom or practice. It would be impossible to briefly cover the depth and breadth of scholarship on this topic. Instead, Book of Mormon Central has created a video to introduce readers to this body of research and to highlight some of the compelling geographic evidence that if offers.
As you watch, you will follow in the footsteps of Lehi and his family as they journeyed from place to place through Palestine, along the borders of the Red Sea, and across the Arabian Peninsula. Along with artistic representations and generic images of Arabia and the Middle East, you will see photos and footage of some of the actual places where scholars believe Lehi’s family traveled or set up camp. Warren Aston, a Latter-day Saint researcher who has personally explored several of these sites, has explained that when important scriptural locations are “anchored in the real world, we can re-read the scriptural account with heightened appreciation for the story being told and its applications to our own life journey.”1
Book of Mormon Central hopes your love and appreciation of the Book of Mormon can grow as you place yourselves in the shoes—or, more appropriately, the sandals—of its founding prophets, as well as the other travelers, including courageous women, who had the faith to follow them. In addition, we believe that your faith can be strengthened or, if necessary, reignited as you consider the intimate relationships between Nephi’s account and locations that were far away and almost certainly unknown to Joseph Smith in 1829.
For the evidence which supports the claims made in this video, as well as a fairly comprehensive sampling of the available research on this topic, click on the Sources below.
Yuval Gadot, “In the Valley of the King: Jerusalem’s Rural Hinterland in the 8th–4th Centuries BCE,” Journal of the Institute of Archaeology of Tel Aviv University 42 (2015): 3–26.
Gordon C. Thomasson, “Revisiting the Land of Jerusalem,” in Pressing Forward with the Book of Mormon: The FARMS Updates of the 1990s, ed. John W. Welch and Melvin J. Thorne (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1999), 139–141.
David J. Larsen, “Ascending into the Hill of the Lord: What the Psalms Can Tell Us About the Rituals of the First Temple,” in Ancient Temple Worship: Proceedings of the Expound Symposium 14 May 2011, ed. Matthew B. Brown, Jeffrey M. Bradshaw, Stephen D. Ricks, and John S. Thompson (Orem, UT and Salt Lake City, UT: Interpreter Foundation and Eborn Books, 2014), 171–188.
George Potter and Richard Wellington, Lehi in the Wilderness: 81 New Documented Evidence That the Book of Mormon Is a True History (Springville, UT: Cedar Fort, Inc., 2003), 99–105.
William J. Hamblin, “Nephi’s Bows and Arrows,” in Reexploring the Book of Mormon: A Decade of New Research, ed. John W. Welch (Salt Lake City and Provo, UT: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1992), 41–43.
William J. Hamblin, “The Bow and Arrow in the Book of Mormon,” in Warfare in the Book of Mormon, ed. Stephen D. Ricks and William J. Hamblin (Salt Lake City and Provo, UT: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1990), 365–399.
Nahum W. Waldman, “The Breaking of the Bow,” The Jewish Quarterly Review 69, no. 2 (1978): 82–83.
S. Kent Brown, “New Light from Arabia on Lehi’s Trail,” in Echoes and Evidences of the Book of Mormon, edited by Donald W. Parry, Daniel C. Peterson, and John W. Welch (Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 2002), 81–83.
Warren P. Aston and Michaela Knoth Aston, In the Footsteps of Lehi: New Evidence of Lehi’s Journey across Arabia to Bountiful (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 1994), 3–25.
Warren P. Aston, Michaela J. Aston, and John W. Welch, “Lehi’s Trail and Nahom Revisited,” in Reexploring the Book of Mormon: A Decade of New Research, edited John W. Welch (Salt Lake City and Provo, UT: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1992), 47–52.
S. Kent Brown, “New Light from Arabia on Lehi’s Trail,” in Echoes and Evidences of the Book of Mormon, edited by Donald W. Parry, Daniel C. Peterson, and John W. Welch (Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 2002), 88–92.
Every week, Latter-day Saints gather in congregations across the world and partake of the sacrament. This act harkens back to the Savior’s Last Supper, when He commanded His disciples to eat bread and drink wine—symbols of His body and blood—in “remembrance” of Him (Luke 22:19–20).1 In the sacrament prayers recorded in restoration scripture, we are likewise commanded to “always remember” the Savior (D&C 20:77, 79).
Clearly, one of the central purposes of the sacrament is to help followers of Christ remember His sacrifice. But have you ever stopped to think about what it actually means to “remember”? Is it merely to recall who Jesus is and recount the narratives about His Atonement found in scripture? Or does it mean something more?
The sacrament prayers come from the Book of Mormon (Moroni 4:3; 5:2) and were directly inspired by the Savior’s own words to the Nephites when He instituted this ordinance among them (3 Nephi 18:7–11). That being the case, we can better understand how we are supposed to “remember” Christ by looking at how Book of Mormon prophets used the word “remember.”
According to Louis Midgley, “The Book of Mormon uses terms related to remembering and forgetting well over two hundred times.”2 Midgley made several observations about “remembrance” in the Book of Mormon:
Remembrance refers to action. King Benjamin taught his sons about how their forefathers suffered afflictions in the wilderness “to stir them up in remembrance of their duty” (Mosiah 1:17).
The call to remember is often a passionate plea to see God’s hand in delivering His people from bondage and captivity (Alma 29:10–12). Formal acts of remembrance—such as the performance of ordinances or ritual actions—allow us to feel like we are actually participating in the past events of God’s deliverance.
Remembrance includes active participation in some form; it means turning one’s heart toward God, that is, repenting.
To remember God leads to prospering and being lifted up at the last day (3 Nephi 15:1; Alma 38:5). In contrast, forgetting God leads to perishing and being cut off from Him (Alma 37:13; 42:11). Those who forget are in a dreadful sleep (2 Nephi 1:12–13); they suffer from spiritual blindness and disbelief (3 Nephi 2:1–2).
To remember is also to keep the commandments (Helaman 5:14). In fact, to remember and to keep are sometimes used interchangeably in both the Old Testament and the Book of Mormon (Deuteronomy 5:12; Exodus 20:8; Jarom 1:5; Mosiah 18:23).
Remembering, in the Book of Mormon, is to keep the terms of the covenant between God and His people (1 Nephi 2:24; Alma 37:13; Mosiah 1:5–7).3
The main thrust of all these points is that to remember is not merely to recall or think about some past event. It means to do something. It’s much like when a parent asks a child if he or she has remembered to accomplish a chore, such as taking out the trash. The parent isn’t just asking if the child has intellectually recalled that task; rather, the parent wants to know if the child has done it!
In the Book of Mormon, Midgley stressed, remembering and action create an upward spiral of obedience to God (Mosiah 13:29–30). “From the perspective of the Book of Mormon, one does not act only in order to remember. The two ideas are connected in both directions: a person remembers in the deepest sense only by acting in conformity with the will of God, and the action then stirs remembrance,” and on and on goes the cycle.4 One compelling illustration of his upward spiral is toward the end of Alma, where chiasmus is used to show how remembering the Lord leads to increasingly greater prosperity (see Alma 62:48–51).
Much of this relates to our partaking of the sacrament—which is meant to remind us of our covenants made at Baptism and to help us recommit to keeping the commandments. To “always remember” Christ, therefore, means to not just to recall who He is. It means to always follow Him, to do the things He would have us do in all circumstances, and to live according His principles. Doing these things, in turn, should further remind us of Him and help us constantly follow Him, creating an upward cycle that brings us ever closer to Him and to our Father in Heaven.
This week, as you partake of the sacrament, seek to truly remember the Savior, and commit to doing so throughout the week and “always.”
1. See also, Matthew 26:26–27; Mark 14:22–23; 1 Corinthians 11:24–25.
2. Louis Midgley, “The Ways of Remembrance,” in Rediscovering the Book of Mormon: Insights You May Have Missed Before, ed. John L. Sorenson and Melvin J. Thorne (Salt Lake City and Provo, UT: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1991), 168. See also, Louis Midgley, “To Remember and Keep: On the Book of Mormon as an Ancient Book,” in The Disciple as Scholar: Essays on Scripture and the Ancient World in Honor of Richard Lloyd Anderson, ed. Stephen D. Ricks, Donald W. Parry, and Andrew H. Hedges (Provo, UT: FARMS, 2000), 95–137; Louis Midgley, “‘O Man, Remember, and Perish Not’ (Mosiah 4:30),” in Reexploring the Book of Mormon: A Decade of New Research, ed. John W. Welch (Salt Lake City and Provo, UT: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1992), 127–129.
3. These points paraphrase the substance of Midgley, “Ways of Remembrance,” 168–176.
John 13–17 records the celebration of the Passover that Jesus observed with His apostles in the last days of His mortal ministry. The following important topics are discussed in these chapters: (1) Christ’s powerful final discourse, (2) details about the Last Supper and Jesus’ washing the apostles’ feet, (3) Jesus’ great Intercessory Prayer, (4) Jesus’ discussion of how He and the Father are one, and (5) Jesus’ promise to send the Holy Ghost to comfort His disciples after His mortal ministry was concluded. Some of the most memorable teachings of the four New Testament gospels are also contained in these chapters, such as:
“A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:34–35).
“Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also” (John 14:1–3).
“But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you” (John 14:26).
“Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27).
“But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me” (John 15:26).
“These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
“That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me” (John 17:21).
Many teachings from these chapters are especially pertinent to Latter-day Saint faith and practice. Additional Latter-day Saint scripture and doctrine can shed light on three specific teachings from these New Testament chapters to help readers draw closer to Jesus Christ.
1. Temple teachings about entering God’s presence
Photo of Toronto Ontario Temple via Gospel Media Library
Figure 2 Photo of Toronto Ontario Temple via Gospel Media Library
Besides the institution of the Last Supper, which Latter-day Saints commemorate in weekly sacrament meetings, Jesus’ teachings in these chapters echo themes and doctrines taught in the ancient temple of Israel and modern temples of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints around the globe. As Latter-day Saint scholar William Hamblin has written, “John 17 contains a richly symbolic Last Discourse by Jesus, in which the disciples are assured a place in the Father’s celestial house or temple. To fulfill this promise Christ reveals both the Father’s name and his glory to his disciples. Jesus’s discourse concludes with the promise of sanctification of the disciples, and their unification—or deification—with Christ and the Father.” These ideas, Hamblin noted, reflect “the temple theology of the Bible and contemporary first-century Judaism” and resonate with modern Latter-day Saints as they engage in temple worship.1
2. The importance of commandments as taught in the Book of Mormon
The teachings contained in John 13–17 likewise harmonize well with many Book of Mormon passages. For example, one thing that Jesus emphasized in these chapters was the importance of keeping God’s commandments. “He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him” (John 14:21). But what does it mean to blessed for keeping God’s commandments? The Book of Mormon powerfully answers this question by framing it in the larger context of the gospel of Christ and the Plan of Salvation.2
3 The relationship between Jesus Christ and Heavenly Father as two separate beings
Illustration of the Father and the Son by Jasmin Gimenez Rappleye
Figure 3 Illustration of the Father and the Son by Jasmin Gimenez Rappleye
And what about the important question of Christ’s relationship to His Father and the nature of these two members of the Godhead? “Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are,” Jesus prayed (John 17:11). But what does it mean for Christ and the Father to be one, especially in light of Christ’s invitation for His disciples to become one even as He and His Father are one (vv. 21–23)? Again, the Book of Mormon provides insight into this question by recording the teachings of inspired prophets who addressed precisely this question.3
As with other biblical scripture, Latter-day Saints can benefit from reading John 13–17 both on its own and also by paying close attention to Jesus’ language and imagery and in the larger context of Restoration scripture and modern revelation. With these additional interpretive tools, readers can apply John 13–17 in a way that deepens their faith and enriches their worship experience.