CLICK HERE to read 1 Nephi 13.
Chapter 13 continues Nephi’s tutoring session with the angel, with this chapter having a particular geographical/political/historical perspective.
In his vision, Nephi sees “many nations and kingdoms” (verse 1), and the angel clarifies that these are the nations and kingdoms of the Gentiles (verse 3).
He sees the kingdoms setting up churches not of God, and political persecution of believers. He sees Saints being martyred and tortured and imprisoned.
This is an important piece in Mormon perspective: it is the apostasy.
LDS beliefs acknowledge that there are many different kinds of churches, and even agree that many of them hold great pieces of truth.
LDS beliefs include the belief that anything that is good comes from God, and that all truth is from God.
However, we also understand the historical tracing back of different branches of different churches and how they came about. In some ways, this was good and important and vital because most churches popular today were established during the time of the Reformation, and that was a vital and important movement in Christianity. It led to the Great Awakening, the search for the true church, the demand for freedom to practice religion as one deems appropriate for themselves. There were real problems, and the people wanted real answers. All of this was very important historically, and vital in the search to return to our roots – to the church as the Savior Himself had established it when He was on the earth.
When the Savior was on the Earth, He established the pattern for church-ness. He organized it, He called the leaders, He taught them the truths and the way things were to be done. He taught us what kind of people we need to be.
Even more importantly, He had the authority to do this, and He gave authority to the leaders He chose for them to continue the work.
Between the time of Christ, and the beginning of church-ness as we know it today, that authority was lost.
People may have known or remembered what to do or how to do things, but that authority to do so was lost along the way.
In LDS world, this is called “the Apostasy”.
It is like someone practicing medicine without a license. They may know what to do, and maybe even studied in school. But they don’t have the license to practice. They may know all the right things, and may be quite skilled, but they do not have permission from the those in charge to be doing what they are doing. They do not have the authority to do what they are doing.
For things to really be legit, even when you know the truth, everything should be done on the up-and-up.
During the apostasy, or after the time all the original Apostles were hunted down and killed – martyred – the people continued to do what they knew to do, but the authority to practice these things had been lost.
But still, many remembered the pattern, and many continued going through the motions, and many had deep and powerful individual relationships with God.
We are grateful for these Saints, and for the things they teach us, and for their prayers and efforts and battles for the truth so that the principles and concepts were passed down. It is because they gave their lives to study and writing that Scriptures were passed down. It is because they fought for their beliefs that truth was not lost. It is because of their efforts, even to the giving of their lives, that we have the Bible in every language in the world, and can hold it in our own hands.
But Satan, the angel tells Nephi (before all this happened), is going to try and stop it.
Of course Satan doesn’t want Scriptures to get passed down generation after generation!
Of course Satan wants to tweak and pervert and twist and change the things of God; it is what he has always done.
And so Nephi sees how there will be an Apostasy, after the time of Christ. He sees the Apostles will be killed, Saints will be martyred, and sacred ordinances of the church will be twisted and changed and perverted. He sees that there will be churches that rise up in pursuit of money instead of God, and he sees that there will be hypocrites in fine clothes instead of saints who care for the poor. He sees church leaders seeking after the praise of the world, even by destroying the true saints, instead of building up the saints by seeking the things of God.
Nephi’s vision continues, and he sees the lands and kingdoms separated by seas and oceans.
Then it gets really exciting:
He sees his own descendants in the promised land to which his father is now leading them.
LDS believe that this “promised land” in the metaphorical sense is our returning to the presence of our Heavenly Father, and that in the temporal sense this promised land was the American continents.
Then he looks back across the seas and he watches the Spirit of God come upon a man who seeks to travel the ocean to Nephi’s own promised land, or to the American continents.
LDS believe this is a prophecy pointing to those who later discovered the American continents, as well as its native peoples who are Nephi’s descendents.
Nephi watches as “multitudes of the Gentiles” (verse 13) come to this promised land of the Americas, led there because of religious persecution.
He sees these immigrants become a great nation, and that they prosper in the land as long as they humble themselves before the Lord (which has always been the requirement, even in the Old Testament, not just the Book of Mormon). Always, when the people are humble and repentant and acknowledge the Lord and do what He says, the people are gathered to receive their inheritance and they are blessed temporally (physically, now) and spiritually (now and later). When they are not a humble people, then they are scattered, sent into bondage, and experience calamities. This has always been the pattern since the beginning of time: the people are provided for and protected as long as they choose to remain in the care of their Shepherd, but are scattered and endangered when they decline His offers for help or remove themselves outside of His protection. This truth applies to us as individuals, families, communities, and nations.
In verse 19, Nephi prophesies about the Americas fighting for Independence from Europe and free from religious persecution: “And I, Nephi, beheld that the Gentiles that had gone out of captivity were delivered by the power of God out of the hands of all other nations.”
And he sees these people having their Bible.
The angels asks Nephi if he knows what the book is, and Nephi says he doesn’t know.
So the angel explains, “The book that thou beholdest is a record of the Jews, which contains the covenants of the Lord, which he hath made unto the house of Israel; and it also containeth many of the prophesies of the holy prophets; and it is a record like unto the engravings which are upon the plates of brass.”
So then Nephi understands, that these people will have a book that is a record like his metal plates. The book is the history of the Jews, from creation forward, and includes the same writings of the prophets as what Nephi has (even Isaiah and Jeremiah, who are prophesying at the time of Lehi taking his family out of Jerusalem).
But the angel tells Nephi that the Bible will also have writings from the Apostles, as witnesses to the Savior. These are the gospels and the letters to the new churches before the apostasy. But then the angel also tells of the apostasy: “they have taken away from the gospel of the Lamb many parts which are plain and most precious; and also many covenants of the Lord have they taken away… And all this have they done that they might pervert the right ways of the Lord, that they might blind the eyes and harden the hearts of the children of men” (verse 26 and 27). It is then, says the angel, after the scriptures have been altered and many things left out or even changed, it is after that when the Bible will be published as one collection, one book, and it will be true – but missing many pieces. It is true as far as it is translated correctly, but many will have tried to change it.
We know this is true from history, with the many councils that met to try and decide which sacred, holy writings would be included in the book that we now know as “the Bible”.
But, the angel says, the Lord does not want the Gentiles to “remain in that awful state of blindness” (verse 32).
And so, the angel says, the Lord will visit a descendant of Nephi.
That gets Nephi’s attention.
The Lord will visit a descendant of Nephi, and restore the full truth, the whole story, “the full Gospel”, back to the people.
“For, behold, saith the Lamb: I will manifest myself unto thy seed, that they shall write many things which I shall minister unto them, which shall be plain and precious..” (verse 35).
The angel describes how the record Nephi is now in process of writing, of keeping and preserving, of passing down to his son, and to his son after him, how this record will get passed down generations and then be hidden to be kept safe. Then, in His own time, the Lord will bring this record out of hiding to restore the full Gospel to the people.
This, we know is how Nephi’s record, and the records kept generations after him, becomes the Book of Mormon.
And we know it literally was hidden, and found, and how it did restore the full story to the people.
It’s an amazing process to watch, to read, to experience!
It will “come forth”, the angel says, “by the gift and power of the Lamb.” (verse 36).
And those who study it will understand it by “the gift and the power of the Holy Ghost” (verse 37), which is why we work so hard to live worthy of the Holy Spirit, so that it can correct and instruct and guide and teach us as we study. And when we do, like Nephi studying his father’s vision, and when we ponder and pray and ask with a heart and spirit that is worthy of influence from the Holy Ghost, then it is like the world coming into focus, and we begin to understand. We receive revelation a bit at a time, building on each tiny piece before it. As we continue to study, we begin to see whole chunks, as if glasses have been put on our eyes, lights have been turned on, and we learn to see colors and letters and words.
In this way, the Book of Mormon is a companion to the Bible, for it does explain pieces you don’t understand without it. Things you read for your whole life, have seen hundreds of times, never make as much sense as they do after reading the Book of Mormon and having that understanding to go with it. It’s almost like the Book of Mormon explains the Bible, interprets the Bible, better than any other writing or dictionary or theological study.
Because the Book of Mormon is “another testament of Jesus Christ”.
And it does help a person understand how everything – everything – in the Bible, even in the Old Testament, points to Christ.
“These last records (the Book of Mormon),” the angel tells Nephi, “shall establish the truth of the first (the Bible)” (verse 40).
The Bible and the Book of Mormon are united in purpose, with all of it pointing to Christ.
“they both shall be established in one; for there is one God and one Shepherd over all the earth” (verse 41).
I am glad He is Shepherd of me.