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God in 1 Nephi 12

Eternal God • God

Holy Ghost • Lamb •  Lamb of God

The Lord • Messiah

1 Nephi 12:5

The terrible judgments of the Lord

The Book of Mormon teaches that the more wicked people were destroyed before the resurrected Christ visited the people of the Promised Land

And it came to pass after I saw these things,

I saw the vapor of darkness, that it passed from off the face of the earth;

and behold, I saw multitudes who had not fallen

because of the great and terrible judgments of the Lord.

The next section of Nephi’s panoramic view of history shifts to focus on his own people, the descendants of his father Lehi, and is marked by the great number of people they have grown to, and their wars.  He speaks of “multitudes of people. . . in number as many as the sand of the sea, many cities, many generations,” and “battle… against the other . . . wars and rumors of wars and great slaughters with the sword . . . wars and contentions.”

This dismal human situation is followed by terrific natural weather and geological events, which culminate in the destruction of many cities.  Nephi informs us that these events are the judgments of the Lord.  The Lord is fighting fire with fire.  Through most of history He fights the fire of wickedness with the water of the gospel of peace.  However, when He knows that only total destruction is imminent, He may choose to light a back-fire and destroy the fuel and the onward thrust of the advancing inferno.  The Lord is qualified to decide when this method is warranted.

All of this is only the background for what comes next, and Nephi is introducing us to those who have survived the cataclysms.  He does not refer to them as a remnant, but as “multitudes.”

1 Nephi 12:6

The Lamb of God descended out of heaven

The Book of Mormon teaches that prophets knew that

Jesus Christ would visit the people of the Promised Land after His resurrection

And I saw the heavens open, and the Lamb of God descending out of heaven;

and he came down and showed himself unto them.

Nephi, like Lehi before him, saw the heavens open, and Jesus descending out of heaven.  Lehi’s vision was symbolic of Jesus’s earthly ministry; Nephi’s was literal, and fits into his historical overview.  Nephi has previously told us that he saw Jesus’ birth to a virgin, healing and teaching ministry, and death on the cross, but he didn’t mention the resurrection or Jesus’s post-mortal ministry in Judea.  He is telling his own people’s story.  Now it is clear that Jesus is part of this Promised Land story, and Nephi is bearing witness of a risen Lord.

1 Nephi 12:7

The Holy Ghost fell upon Twelve

The Book of Mormon teaches that Jesus chose 12 Church leaders

in the Promised Land, just as He did in Palestine.

And I also saw and bear record that the Holy Ghost fell upon twelve others;

and they were ordained of God, and chosen.

There is something unique and essential in the Twelve.  Nephi testifies of the calling of the Nephite Twelve in language just as emphatic as his testimony of Jesus.

Nephi’s first observation of the Twelve is that the Holy Ghost fell upon them.  This was of course true of many at that event, as well as many throughout Book of Mormon history and world history.  That is a prerequisite for membership in the Twelve, but it cannot be the defining factor.

Nephi specifies that they were chosen: they did not choose themselves, and there is no implication that they were chosen by majority vote – they were chosen by God. They were ordained: it is not an ad hoc project - one cannot simply claim to be one of the Twelve.  God Himself designates who should be a member of the Twelve.  Even Jesus was said to have “no beauty that we should desire him” (Isaiah 53:2).  The Twelve likewise appear as ordinary men to ordinary eyes.  But when they are chosen, there is some sort of imperative for us to also choose them and follow them, as a shadow of respecting God’s system, and choosing and following God.

When replacing Judas Iscariot, Jesus’s Old World apostles had specified that the new apostle must have been a witness of Jesus’s full ministry and resurrection.  However, Paul the apostle hadn’t participated in any of this; he knew the Lord through a vision.  

In Nephi’s vision we learn that the testimonial requirement to be one of the Twelve is received by the Holy Ghost.  Although in this Nephite visitation event the resurrected Jesus will be seen by all, and this very Twelve were later visited personally by Jesus when they had an important question (3 Nephi 27), it is the Holy Ghost who will fuel their ministry, and take their message to the hearts of the people.

There are Latter-day Saints who have more of the spirit of criticism than the spirit of faith who want to hear more about visions and personal visitations of Jesus to the current Twelve.  They disparage the witness of the Holy Ghost, saying that Joseph told of visions, why don’t we hear of visions today?  Joseph did indeed have visions.  They were unique, discrete events, and we are blessed to have those records (Doctrine & Covenants 128:20,21; Joseph Smith History 1, Doctrine & Covenants 76, etc.).  But most of Joseph’s revelations were given by the Holy Ghost.  Jesus spoke highly of the Comforter and His mission.  If the greatest, unforgiveable sin is blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, it would probably be wise to appreciate the Holy Ghost, and not lust after other signs and visions.

1 Nephi 12:8

The Twelve disciples of the Lamb are chosen

The Book of Mormon teaches that God chooses His church leaders

And the angel spake unto me, saying: Behold the twelve disciples of the Lamb,

who are chosen to minister unto thy seed.

The angel wants Nephi to understand who these Twelve are.  He specifies that their limited calling is to minister to Nephi’s seed.  We will later learn their names, but of their ministry we know less than of the Twelve of Judea, who were chosen to minister to the whole world, including us.

1 Nephi 12:9

The Twelve will judge the world

The Book of Mormon teaches that the Twelve are commissioned as Judges

And he said unto me: Thou rememberest the twelve apostles of the Lamb?

Behold they are they who shall judge the twelve tribes of Israel;

wherefore, the twelve ministers of thy seed shall be judged of them;

for ye are of the house of Israel.

The angel points out the subordinate nature of this Nephite Twelve who, although they will never meet in mortality, will nevertheless be judged by the Twelve Apostles of Jesus’s time.  The Nephite Twelve are called disciples and ministers, but never apostles.  Here we catch a glimpse of how orderly is the kingdom of God.

1 Nephi 12:10

Their garments are made white because of faith in the Lamb

The Book of Mormon teaches that faith in the Lamb of God makes us pure

And these twelve ministers whom thou beholdest shall judge thy seed.

And, behold, they are righteous forever;

for because of their faith in the Lamb of God

their garments are made white in his blood.

The angel explains the eternal nature of the calling of this Nephite Twelve, which, like the Old World apostles, will culminate in their sitting in judgement over their own stewardship.

In the same breath, the angel passes a judgment on the Nephite Twelve themselves.  He pronounces them “righteous forever.”  The basis of this righteousness is not their great works or their abstinence from sin, but it is their faith in Jesus through His atoning sacrifice.

If you feel guilty about something, consider the idea that it is a lack of faith which requires you to hold onto the guilt.  You are not righteous, not because of the sin or fault that caused the guilt, but because you have not taken that sin or fault and asked that the blood of the Lamb wash it away.

1 Nephi 12:11

Three generations of faith in the Lamb of God

The Book of Mormon teaches that common people also receive

the gift of righteousness through faith on the Lamb

And the angel said unto me: Look!

And I looked, and beheld three generations pass away in righteousness;

and their garments were white even like unto the Lamb of God.

And the angel said unto me:

These are made white in the blood of the Lamb, because of their faith in him.

As verification of the source of righteousness for the Twelve, the angel credits the same agents – faith in the Lamb of God, and cleansing through His blood – as the foundation of the righteousness we will later read about in 3 Nephi.

This was not a utopian society that developed spontaneously because the wicked had been destroyed.  These were individuals who were still subject to temptations and human proclivities, who day by day chose to repent, keep their vision fixed on Jesus and His life and teachings and redemption, and follow Him.

This is not a mechanical formula.  When one knows and recognizes the incredible sacrifice made by the Lamb of God in one’s behalf, one has a revulsion for sin.

Latter-day Saints are called to do exactly what these three generations did, but we have not had the wicked destroyed from among us.  So we get to do it while being mocked and challenged by the world.  But we should daily be repenting, having our garments washed in His blood.  We should daily be walking in faith in Him, despite the opposite realities we see overwhelmingly in the world.  We should daily be building the Kingdom, and preparing to build Zion

 1 Nephi 12:18

The Holy Ghost beareth record from the beginning of the world

The Book of Mormon teaches that the Holy Ghost is our witness of the Messiah

And the large and spacious building, which thy father saw,

is vain imaginations and the pride of the children of men.

And a great and a terrible gulf divideth them;

yea, even the word of the justice of the Eternal God,

and the Messiah who is the Lamb of God, of whom the Holy Ghost beareth record, from the beginning of the world until this time,

and from this time henceforth and forever.

The angel again gives credit to the Holy Ghost, who eternally bears record of the Lamb of God.

The angel is further explaining the symbolism of the Tree of Life vision.  A great and terrible gulf separates the worldly from the righteous.  We already know that the righteous are those with faith, whose sins are washed away through the blood of the Lamb.  Now the angel tells why the unrighteous cannot cross the gulf of justice:  because they do not rely on the Lamb of God, but on their own vain imaginations and pride.  Their myriad of self-help philosophies and techniques reject the need of a Savior.  The Messiah, as a powerful judge, cannot offer them the blessings of the Lamb, the only way to cross over that gulf.

Chapter 12 Summary – the Scenes of the Vision, as demarcated by “Look!”

10.  Population growth and wars among the seed of Lehi; the great destruction before Jesus comes; Jesus’s appearance among the Nephites; Jesus calling the Nephite Twelve.  1-10

11.  Three generations of righteousness; Interpretations of the vision:  fountain of filthy water = depths of hell, mists of darkness = temptations of the devil, great & terrible gulf = justice of the word of God; his seed destroyed by his brothers’ seed, who then dwindle and become abominable.  11-23

(This began as a wonderful part of the vision for Nephi.  He has seen his seed and his brothers’ seed in so many wars through so many generations.  Now they seem to be over.  He probably would have liked to have lingered on this scene.  But more is to come.  Imagine his horror when he sees another view of the Great and Spacious Building, which fell when Jesus was killed, but now he sees his own seed represented there, and falling at the hands of his brothers’ seed.)

God in 1 Nephi 12 by the Numbers

23 verses

God is mentioned by name:  8 verses = 35%

Verses about God:  8 verses = 35%

Eternal God: 1

God: 1

Holy Ghost: 2

Lamb: 3

Lamb of God: 4

Lord: 1

Messiah: 1

1 Nephi 11 1 Nephi 13