“Lesson 3: The Vision of the Tree of Life,” Book of Mormon: Gospel Doctrine Teacher’s Manual (1999), 11–15
To help class members understand the symbols in the vision of the tree of life and the application of these symbols in their lives.
Read, ponder, and pray about the following scriptures: 1 Nephi 8–11; 12:16–18; 15.
As appropriate, use the following activity or one of your own to begin the lesson.
Explain that many symbolic dreams and visions are recorded in the scriptures. Then share the following examples and ask class members to explain the meaning of each symbol:
King Nebuchadnezzar dreamed of a large image, or statue, of a man. Each part of the man’s body was made of a different material. A stone destroyed the image and became a mountain, filling the whole earth. (See Daniel 2:31–45; see also D&C 65:2. The various parts of the image represented kingdoms that have reigned on the earth. The stone represented the kingdom of God, which would consume all other kingdoms in the latter days.)
Pharaoh dreamed of seven lean and ill cattle devouring seven fat and healthy cattle and seven poor ears of corn devouring seven good ears of corn. (See Genesis 41:17–31. The seven healthy cattle and seven good ears of corn represented seven years of prosperity that would come to Egypt. The seven ill cattle and seven poor ears of corn represented seven years of famine that would follow the years of plenty.)
In a vision, the Apostle Peter saw unclean animals lowered from heaven in a great sheet, and he was commanded to kill and eat these animals. (See Acts 10:9–16, 28, 34–35. The unclean animals represented the Gentiles, who were now to be taught the gospel.)
Explain that today’s lesson discusses another symbolic dream described in the scriptures: the vision of the tree of life received by Lehi and Nephi. Unlike the many dreams or visions that have application only to specific people or at a specific time (like Pharaoh’s dream of the cattle and corn), the vision of the tree of life applies to each of God’s children.
As you teach the following scripture accounts, discuss how the symbols they contain can be applied in our daily lives. Encourage class members to share appropriate experiences that relate to the principles illustrated by these symbols.
Explain that Lehi received a vision and told his family about it (1 Nephi 8:2). After Nephi heard his father speak about the things in the vision, he also wanted to “see, and hear, and know of [those] things” (1 Nephi 10:17; see also the first additional teaching idea). Because of Nephi’s belief in Jesus Christ, his request was granted (1 Nephi 11:6). It is through Nephi’s record of his experience that we know the interpretation of the vision.
Discuss the vision of the tree of life. As you discuss what Lehi and Nephi saw, draw (or have one or more class members draw) the major elements of the vision on the chalkboard. The finished drawing should look something like this:
Have a class member read 1 Nephi 8:2–10. Then draw (or have a class member draw) the tree and its fruit on the chalkboard.
When Nephi was shown the tree of life, he asked to know its interpretation (1 Nephi 11:8–11). What did he learn that the tree represents? (See 1 Nephi 11:21–25.) What did Nephi see that helped him better understand God’s love? (See 1 Nephi 11:13–21, 24, 26–33. He saw the birth, ministry, and Atonement of Jesus Christ.)
Have a class member read John 3:16 aloud. Emphasize that Heavenly Father showed the depth of His love for us when He “gave his only begotten Son.” The Atonement is evidence of Jesus Christ’s great love for us.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland taught that the tree of life is a symbol of Jesus Christ. He said: “The images of Christ and the tree [are] inextricably linked. … At the very outset of the Book of Mormon, … Christ is portrayed as the source of eternal life and joy, the living evidence of divine love, and the means whereby God will fulfill his covenant with the house of Israel and indeed the entire family of man, returning them all to their eternal promises” (Christ and the New Covenant , 160, 162).
What influence does the love of God have in our lives? How can we more fully recognize God’s love for us?
What did the fruit of the tree represent? (See 1 Nephi 15:36; D&C 14:7.)
How did Lehi and Nephi describe the tree of life and its fruit? (Have class members look in the appropriate verses to find the phrases listed below. Write the phrases on the chalkboard as class members find them. Abbreviate the phrases as necessary.)
“Most sweet, above all that I ever before tasted” (1 Nephi 8:11)
“White, to exceed all … whiteness” (1 Nephi 8:11; see also 1 Nephi 11:8)
“Desirable above all other fruit” (1 Nephi 8:12; see also 1 Nephi 15:36)
Having “beauty … exceeding of all beauty” (1 Nephi 11:8)
“Precious above all”; “most precious” (1 Nephi 11:9; 15:36)
“Most joyous to the soul” (1 Nephi 11:23; see also 1 Nephi 8:10)
“The greatest of all the gifts of God” (1 Nephi 15:36)
Emphasize that eternal life is the “most sweet” and “most precious” blessing we can receive. Because of God’s love for us, this blessing is available to us through the Atonement of Jesus Christ.
In the vision, what did Lehi desire once he had partaken of the fruit of the tree? (See 1 Nephi 8:12.) How can we help our loved ones draw nearer to the Savior and receive the promise of eternal life?
Have a class member read 1 Nephi 8:19–20. Then draw (or have a class member draw) the rod of iron and the path leading to the tree.
What did the rod of iron represent? (See 1 Nephi 11:25; 15:23–24.) Where can we find the word of God? (In the scriptures, the teachings of latter-day prophets, and the promptings of the Holy Ghost.) How does the word of God help us come unto Christ? How does it keep us on the path to eternal life?
Have a class member read 1 Nephi 8:13, 23, 26–27. Then draw (or have a class member draw) the river, the mist of darkness, and the great and spacious building.
What did the river of filthy water represent? (See 1 Nephi 12:16; 15:26–29.)
What did the mist of darkness represent? (See 1 Nephi 12:17.) What are the effects of the mist of darkness? (See 1 Nephi 8:23; 12:17.) Why might Satan want our eyes to be blinded to the love of God? to the Atonement of Jesus Christ? to the word of God? In what ways does Satan try to blind our eyes?
The rod of iron “extended along the bank of the river” (1 Nephi 8:19), serving as a protection between the strait and narrow path and the filthy water. It also gave the people in the vision something to cling to when they were in the mist of darkness (1 Nephi 8:24, 30). What does this teach about how the word of God can help us?
What did the great and spacious building represent? (See 1 Nephi 11:34–36; 12:18.) Why is it significant that the building “stood … in the air”? (See 1 Nephi 8:26. Note that the building did not have a solid foundation.) How can pride keep a person from receiving eternal life?
Some people in the vision tasted of the fruit but were ashamed because the people in the great and spacious building mocked them (1 Nephi 8:26–28). How can we receive strength to withstand persecution?
Explain that in the vision, Lehi saw “numberless concourses of people” (1 Nephi 8:21). These people can be divided into four categories based on their actions in seeking the tree and the fruit. Help class members identify and describe these four categories, using the passages listed below. (You may want to divide class members into four groups and have each group read one passage and then describe the actions of the people mentioned in that passage.)
1 Nephi 8:21–23. (Those who start on the path but then become lost in the mist of darkness.)
1 Nephi 8:24–28. (Those who hold to the rod of iron until they reach the tree and partake of the fruit, but then become ashamed and fall away.)
1 Nephi 8:30. (Those who hold to the rod of iron until they reach the tree and partake of the fruit, and who then remain faithful.)
1 Nephi 8:31–33. (Those who never start on the path but instead go directly toward the great and spacious building.)
How are these categories manifest in the world today? (For example, people who say that they want eternal life but are distracted by other things, such as material wealth or worldly pleasures, are like those who start on the path but then become lost.)
In the vision, what kinds of roads did people travel when they let go of the iron rod or left the tree of life? (See 1 Nephi 8:28, 32; 12:17.) What happens to those who follow such roads? If we are moving toward “forbidden,” “strange,” or “broad” roads, how can we return to the strait and narrow path?
What are some things we must do to stay on the strait and narrow path? How can we help others stay on the path?
Suggest that class members mark the following words in their scriptures: commence (1 Nephi 8:22), caught hold (1 Nephi 8:24), clinging (1 Nephi 8:24), and continually (1 Nephi 8:30). Point out that these words help us understand what we must do to reach the tree of life: we must commence in the strait and narrow path, catch hold of the rod of iron and cling to it, and continue moving toward the tree.
As directed by the Spirit, testify of the truths discussed during the lesson.
The following material supplements the suggested lesson outline. You may want to use one or more of these ideas as part of the lesson.
What did Nephi desire after he heard about his father’s vision? (See 1 Nephi 10:17.) What did he do to have this desire fulfilled? (See 1 Nephi 10:17–19; 11:1–6.) How can Nephi’s example help us as we seek to understand gospel truths? (Ask class members to share experiences in which the Holy Ghost has helped them understand gospel truths.)
In what ways did Laman and Lemuel’s response to their father’s vision differ from Nephi’s response? (See 1 Nephi 15:1–2.) Why were Laman and Lemuel unable to understand the truths Lehi had taught them? (See 1 Nephi 15:3, 8–11.)
To help class members understand the phrase “condescension of God” (1 Nephi 11:16, 26), explain that in this phrase the word condescension means coming down voluntarily to a lower level. Then share the following statement by Elder Bruce R. McConkie:
“The condescension of God (meaning the Father) consists in the fact that … he became the personal and literal Father of a mortal Offspring born of mortal woman. And the condescension of God (meaning the Son) consists in the fact that … he [Jesus Christ] submitted to all the trials of mortality, suffering ‘temptations, and pain of body, hunger, thirst, and fatigue, even more than man can suffer, except it be unto death’ (Mosiah 3:5–8), finally being put to death in a most ignominious manner” (Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed. , 155).
As class members discuss the great and spacious building, point out that the people in the building had an “attitude of mocking.” This mocking led some who had partaken of the fruit to be ashamed and fall away (1 Nephi 8:27–28).
In what ways might our attitudes toward others lead them to fall away?
Emphasize that accountable individuals are responsible for their own actions; however, our attitude toward others can either strengthen them in their righteous efforts or discourage them. Encourage class members to strengthen each other and to never mock or belittle others.
With class members, sing or read the words to “The Iron Rod” (Hymns, no. 274).