In his last major discourse, the King Follett Sermon, the Prophet Joseph Smith made some extremely significant comments concerning our relationship with the Master. The Prophet quoted the words the Savior uttered before he entered Gethsemane: “This is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” (John 17:3.) Then the Prophet commented: “If any man does not know God, and inquires what kind of a being He is,—if he will search diligently his own heart—if the declaration of Jesus and the apostles be true, he will realize that he has not eternal life; for there can be eternal life on no other principle.” (The History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 6:304.)
The significant relationship between knowing God and eternal life is clarified by the Lord’s explanation to Joseph in 1830 that “Endless” is another name properly applied to Him, and, consequently, that Eternal punishment, or Endless punishment, is God’s punishment. (See D&C 19:10–12.) It seems to follow then that eternal life is God’s life. Therefore, the Prophet’s statement can be taken to mean, in part, that eternal life, being God’s life, is understood only as one comes to know God and Christ. Knowing the Master ultimately seems to mean becoming like the Master.
Joseph Smith stressed the same point in the sermon: “If men do not comprehend the character of God, they do not comprehend themselves.” (History of the Church, 6:303.) More pointedly, a little later he adds: “Here, then, is eternal life—to know the only wise and true God; and you have got to learn how to be gods yourselves, and to be kings and priests to God, … by going from one small degree to another, and from a small capacity to a great one; from grace to grace, from exaltation to exaltation.” (History of the Church, 6:306.)
From these statements it is evident that our knowledge—in the deeper sense of that word—of Christ will measure whether we obtain eternal life or not. In light of this understanding, we as disciples today should be extremely grateful for the additional insights about the resurrected Lord that were recorded in the Book of Mormon. They lead us further toward an understanding of the Master. This account shows us, as possibly nothing else, how concerned he was that we understand his doctrine, the scriptures that teach of him, and the ordinances of his kingdom.
Two additional contributions found in this account are the opportunity to see the Lord at prayer, and perhaps most importantly, interacting with his chosen disciples and with the multitude gathered near the temple at Bountiful. I am moved by his complete compassion, poured out upon those afflicted by illness and upon the children.
Let us begin with what we learn about him as a teacher of doctrine. We clearly see that he met the student at the student’s level of understanding, dealing with several different levels of comprehension simultaneously. This beautiful clarity was not exactly the same thing as simplicity. Although simplicity was paramount, the Master was not one to oversimplify life. He seemed deeply concerned that his disciples understand clearly the general principle before dealing with the particulars, and his apparently simple general statements are summaries that accommodate the particulars.
For example, consider his brief teaching moment with the disciples before addressing the entire multitude. (See 3 Ne. 11.) This moment comes just after that electrifying experience during which the multitude heard the quiet, penetrating voice of the Father, witnessed the bodily descent of the Master from the heavens, and individually saw and touched his wounds.
Jesus repeatedly warns the Twelve he has just chosen against any form of disputations, particularly disputations concerning his doctrine. For, he warned, “he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another.” Rather, the Lord instructed, “This is my doctrine, that such things should be done away.” (3 Ne. 11:29–30.)
As the Prince of Peace, his goal is abolishing hatred and strife in the world. What he told the Nephite Twelve was a general principle that contains many specific applications.
Christ wanted the Nephites to understand his essential doctrine; and he explained it as simply as possible to the Twelve:
Men were to believe in him and repent; then, they were to enter into a covenant with him through baptism; lastly, they were to be aided by the Holy Ghost. That, to Christ, was the essence of his doctrine, which he amplifies into more precise specifics in the Nephite counterpart of the Sermon on the Mount. First the general framework, then the details—his method involved beginning with first principles.
Jesus was also patiently careful to make certain the Nephites understood their role in history as “other sheep” of his fold, and also their time in history—he carefully explained the scattering and gathering of Israel and the gospel’s restoration. (See especially 3 Ne. 20–22.)
Obviously, the Master felt that the key to understanding lay in the scriptures, for he spent much of that precious time explaining scriptures. Especially was he concerned that the Nephites understand Isaiah. Nephi, the son of Lehi, had quoted extensively from Isaiah at the beginning of the book, remarking that his soul “delighteth in the words of Isaiah.” (2 Ne. 25:5.) Moroni concluded the Book of Mormon record in much the same way, instructing his people to “search the prophecies of Isaiah.” (Morm. 8:23.) Christ told the Nephites, “A commandment I give unto you that ye search these things diligently; for great are the words of Isaiah.” (3 Ne. 23:1.)
In addition to this commandment, Jesus carefully went through some relevant prophecies and explained them. He also asked to see the Nephite scriptures, examined them carefully, and told the Nephites to include a record of the fulfillment of a prophecy of Samuel the Lamanite about the resurrection of others besides Jesus. (See 3 Ne. 23.) Christ also added some prophecies of Malachi, which included a prophecy about Elijah’s coming in the last days to prepare the way for eternal family unity. (See 3 Ne. 24–25.)
After this scriptural instruction, the Master carefully explained “all things, even from the beginning until the time that he should come in his glory,” so the Nephites might understand the total outline of the Father’s plans. (3 Ne. 26:3.) Apparently, Nephi recorded “the more part” of the Savior’s words (3 Ne. 26:7), but the Lord later instructed Mormon not to copy all of it, saying: “I will try the faith of my people” (3 Ne. 26:11). Apparently our use of the scriptures will measure our faith. If we do not read and use that which has been given us, the Lord will not give us more.
This seems just. Besides the scriptures, there are two other sources of knowledge concerning God—one’s own, personal experience with him, and the experience of others; indeed, much of the scriptures is devoted to accounts of personal experiences of prophets with God. If we neglect reading scripture because we lack the interest to make the effort, it seems unlikely that God will do more to give us further information. Thus, one of the vital sources of knowing eternal life may be shut off if we neglect the scriptures.
In addition to the Lord’s concern about the scriptures was his concern for ordinances. His instructions about baptism and the sacrament reveal how these ordinances signify forgiveness, rebirth, and spiritual nourishment in a covenant of love. Again the Prince of Peace expressed his concern for unity and the avoidance of disputations among his disciples: “On this wise shall ye baptize; and there shall be no disputations among you.” (3 Ne. 11:22.)
Perhaps it is not without significance that one of the Master’s first acts after appearing to the Nephites was to reemphasize the ordinance of baptism, through which his people might bind themselves in a covenant with him. He spent much of that first day instructing the disciples in what the baptismal covenant comprises, what the Master expected of the disciple, what the disciple might, in turn, expect of the Master, and how it was to be administered. At the waters of Mormon, Alma had earlier explained the baptismal covenant under the Mosaic law (see Mosiah 18:8–10); in Bountiful, Christ explained the significance of the new covenant.
He also spent time that first day explaining the sacramental ordinance and its significance.
As it was, no more fitting setting could have existed for the first recorded administration of the sacrament to the Nephites, following as it did one of the greatest spiritual outpourings recorded—healing the sick and blessing the children. Part of the sacramental instructions are to partake in memory of him. A people could hardly have had more significant memories of their Savior’s love than the Nephites had of that first day—unless it was on the second day, after they had experienced the rich outpouring of the Spirit as they entered into prayer with the Master. Significantly, the sacrament was again administered that day by the Master, who miraculously provided it for them.
How could those present ever partake of the sacrament again without remembering both occasions? And part of what they would remember was life, not death, the resurrected life of their Lord, the words and emblems of eternal life that he had given them.
After the initial administering of the sacrament, the Master specified that it was to be given only to those worthy to partake of it; however, he was very clear that members should not cast out the unworthy. (3 Ne. 18:28–30.) Besides referring to current members who are temporarily unworthy, his instructions seem appropriate for situations of excommunication and disfellowshipping:
“Ye shall not cast him out from among you, but ye shall minister unto him and shall pray for him unto the Father, in my name; …
“For ye know not but what they will return and repent, and come unto me with full purpose of heart, and I shall heal them; and ye shall be the means of bringing salvation unto them.” (3 Ne. 18:30, 32.)
It is in his prayer, however, that we sense the spiritual profundities of the Master in his visit to the Nephites. No counterpart of these experiences can be found in his New Testament ministry, unless it would be in the prayer offered by Christ before entering Gethsemane. (See John 17.)
He had taught the Nephites about prayer, including the Lord’s Prayer, in the course of the great sermon. (3 Ne. 13:5–15.) He had warned them against hypocrisy, given them a model prayer, taught them to pray always in his name, believing and asking what was right (two important qualifications for any prayer), and had counseled them to pray in their families. (3 Ne. 18:18–21.)
However, I’m not sure that they understood the real power in prayer until they witnessed the Savior in prayer, and experienced the reality of his oneness with God, the beauty of his tender expressions of love and concern.
That first prayer, as recorded in Third Nephi, is an experience of power and compassion even in the reading of it. On the first day, after the healings of sick and maimed, Christ asked that the Nephite children, his models for simplicity and purity, encircle him as he prayed. It was a prayer, like many other prayers, that began in sorrow for “the wickedness of the people of the house of Israel,” and culminated in joy so profound for the faith of the Nephites that he wept. (3 Ne. 17:9–21.)
We do not know what he said as he poured out his heart to his Father. Those present could not record his words, although they did testify to the prayer’s effects upon them: “And no tongue can speak, neither can there be written by any man, neither can the hearts of men conceive so great and marvelous things as we both saw and heard Jesus speak; and no one can conceive of the joy which filled our souls at the time we heard him pray for us unto the Father.” (3 Ne. 17:17.)
The prayer ended, but the multitude was so overcome with joy that they remained on their knees until he bade them arise, testifying of his joy in them with tears. Then he took the Nephite children, one by one, and blessed them, inviting the parents, as he wept again, to “behold [their] little ones” encircled with fire and attended by angels. (3 Ne. 17:21–24.)
The second day, when they heard him pray again, the multitude had just been baptized and were “filled with the Holy Ghost and with fire.” (3 Ne. 19:13.) As angels ministered to them, the Master came, and commanded the multitude to kneel and the twelve disciples to pray. While they were praying—to him, interestingly, because he was in their midst (3 Ne. 19:18, 22)—the Master left the group three times and offered up his own feelings to the Father. For the disciples, their own experience was extraordinary; they prayed—“not multiply[ing] many words, for it was given unto them what they should pray, and they were filled with desire.” (3 Ne. 19:24.) The Savior rejoiced in prayer that the Father had granted them the Holy Ghost, implored the same blessing for all who believe, and beseeched “that I may be in them as thou, Father, art in me, that we may be one.” (3 Ne. 19:23.)
As Jesus smiled upon the Twelve in joy and blessing, they seem to have been transfigured, because they became “as white as the countenance and also the garments of Jesus; and behold the whiteness thereof did exceed all the whiteness, yea, even there could be nothing upon earth so white as the whiteness thereof.” (3 Ne. 19:25.) Rejoicing, the Savior thanked the Father for purifying them because of their faith. (3 Ne. 19:28.) When he prayed a third time, as the manifestation of glory continued, the multitude heard and testified, but “so great and marvelous were the words which he prayed that they cannot be written, neither can they be uttered by man.” (3 Ne. 19:34.)
The Savior’s prayers indicate that he was deeply moved by this spiritual feast. And when he returned to the disciples after his third prayer, he told them, rejoicing, that their great faith, faith such as he had never experienced in Palestine, had opened the gates to the miraculous: “There are none of them that have seen so great things as ye have seen; neither have they heard so great things as ye have heard.” (3 Ne. 19:36.) Their faith is our blessing, too, as we share vicariously in an experience that was so deeply meaningful to the Savior that he wept for joy. In reading the account we seem also to sense the disciples’ joy in pleasing their Redeemer.
We also see elements of the Savior’s love and compassion manifested to the Nephites in ways not open to him in Palestine, because of the Israelites’ relative lack of belief. The first day, after delivering his great sermon, he sensed the Nephites’ struggle to understand what he had told them. (3 Ne. 17:2–3.) In particular, he seems to have been sensitive to the deep concern he had created by announcing the end of the law of Moses, a law that every Israelite was taught to cherish and defend with his own life from the time of his birth. (See 3 Ne. 15:2–10.)
Therefore, in compassionate clarity, Jesus explained that it was he who initially gave the law to Moses and that He was simply adding to the law. Jesus made a major point of this: Old things were simply becoming new, the law was being fulfilled, completed, brought to its rightful conclusion in him. “Behold,” he summarized, “I am the law, and the light. Look unto me, and endure to the end, and ye shall live; for unto him that endureth to the end will I give eternal life.” (3 Ne. 15:9.)
Then, after giving more information to the twelve disciples, he counseled the multitude to return to their homes, “ponder” his message, ask the Father to help them understand, and to “prepare your minds for the morrow.” (3 Ne. 17:3.)
However, as he looked into their eyes, he “beheld they were in tears, and did look steadfastly upon him as if they would ask him to tarry a little longer with them.” (3 Ne. 17:5.) “Filled with compassion,” he stayed.
The first thing he did was to call for their sick, their lame, their blind, their deaf, and those who had been afflicted in any manner. Healed, they bathed his feet with tears of gratitude. (3 Ne. 17:7–10.) (Apparently he performed healings the second day as well, probably for those who had not been present earlier, and also raised a man from the dead. [3 Ne. 26:15.])
His healings provide one of our insights into his compassion. He had healed many individuals in Palestine, but it is the multitude of healings and the unity of spirit—a complete absence of skepticism—that is unique here. When he next called the little children to him for blessing, he was again doing as he had previously done. But the ministering of angels and manifestations of fire made it unique. (3 Ne. 17:24.) Later, during the second or third day, Jesus again taught and ministered to the children, and it is recorded that “he did loose their tongues, and they did speak unto their fathers great and marvelous things, even greater than he had revealed unto the people.” (3 Ne. 26:14.) In fact, the next day the entire multitude “gathered themselves together,” and “even babes did open their mouths and utter marvelous things; and the things which they did utter were forbidden that there should not any man write them.” (3 Ne. 26:16.)
No one, it seems, was too insignificant for the Master’s compassion and genuine concern. Although he spent a certain amount of time instructing the leaders, he continued in service to all from the time he came until his departure. This fact in itself tells us much about him and his sensitivity and love.
However, his concern for those chosen twelve was particularly intense. He knew well the weight of their new responsibility, and carefully worked with them to ensure their understanding. Finally, just before leaving, he offered them the desire of their hearts. (3 Ne. 28:1.)
Nine of the disciples desired a continuation of what they had known for the last three days—service in the presence of the Master. Their desire was to serve the Lord on earth throughout their normal life span and then to go speedily to serve the Lord in the next life. Three others, feeling that same joy in serving the Lord among mortal men, asked the Lord to let them stay on the earth until he came again. They did not love the Savior’s presence less than the other nine, but rather recognized that Christ’s love is always with those doing his work whenever it is needed. And he, rejoicing in their desire, promised them a fulness of joy and eternal life: “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.” (3 Ne. 28:10.)
Such a promise can be ours too as we, like those disciples, come to know the Master. In the sense of understanding him and becoming like him, knowing him is life eternal, and Christ’s three-day experience with the Nephites can help us progress a little further in our quest for such knowledge and understanding.