And behold, the third time they did understand the voice which they heard; and it said unto them: Behold my Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased, in whom I have glorified my name—hear ye him.
—3 Nephi 11:6-7
I once heard a Sunday school teacher propose the following idea:
The Book of Mormon doesn’t contain the “fulness of the gospel” because it doesn’t contain the temple rites.
The class then did mental gymnastics to try to explain how the introduction to the book could claim it contains the “fulness of the everlasting gospel” when it clearly doesn’t. People advanced various theories but reached no consensus. All seemed to agree, however, that though the Nephites had temples, they were only “Law of Moses” type temples used for animal sacrifice and such. Those Nephites never had all the great gospel knowledge we do, the poor ignorant souls.
Obviously there’s MUCH wrong with these assertions, primarily surrounding the wrong definition of “fulness of the gospel” as well as the false assertion that we know more than did Lehi, Nephi, Jacob, Enos, Benjamin, Alma, Mormon, Moroni, and others who actually knew God personally. But my purpose is not to take up that part of the argument. Rather, I’d like to discuss the temple at Bountiful and what took place there to help shed some light on our considerable ignorance.
What Happened at Bountiful?
We’ll pick up the story with this verse:
And now it came to pass that there were a great multitude gathered together, of the people of Nephi, round about the temple which was in the land Bountiful; and they were marveling and wondering one with another, and were showing one to another the great and marvelous change which had taken place. (3 Nephi 11:1)In the narrative, nearly a year had passed since the sign was given concerning the Lord’s death, when a group gathered at the temple. They marveled and wondered at the great changes that had taken place during the destruction at the Lord’s crucifixion, and they spent time pointing them out to one another. From this single verse, we can glean the following:
- These people were not from Bountiful. Clearly this was the first time they had seen Bountiful since the destruction, which means they had not been at or near Bountiful in nearly a year. Hence, they marveled at what had changed since their last visit.
- They arrived at Bountiful at the closing of the year, most likely in preparation to observe the new year with religious rites at the temple. The fact that they made the effort to travel to the Temple and keep their religious obligations, despite the widespread destruction and loss of life, speaks to their dedication and obedience. This was not some random crowd of Nephites; rather they were devoted religious pilgrims who took their obligations seriously, even when they had a good excuse not to. When the Lord came, he found them sacrificing and obeying.
And so this group found themselves in the right place, and right time, to meet the risen Lord. As you know, the Father spoke and introduced the Son, Christ descended, identified himself, and invited all present to participate in a ceremony providing undeniable proof of His identity.
He then taught re-baptism, empowered baptizers, and taught His doctrine. He followed with His sermon, which is called the Sermon on the Mount in the New Testament. In actuality, this is the same sermon He likely taught to all the groups He visited after His resurrection. It reveals what sort of being He is, as well as the path to become like Him.
He went on to declare that the Law of Moses stood fulfilled and had come to an end. (3 Nephi 15:4-8) Therefore, if the purpose of the Nephite temple was only for Mosiac ordinances like sacrifice, presumably the need for temples had also come to an end. I’ve heard this same idea—that temples were only necessary under the “old covenant”—advanced recently to counter current preparations for the temple to be built at New Jerusalem.
But Christ continued and taught more information to the audience, concerning, of all things, Zion and the last days, until He reached a point at which he could go no further. Said He:
I perceive that ye are weak, that ye cannot understand all my words which I am commanded of the Father to speak unto you at this time. Therefore, go ye unto your homes, and ponder upon the things which I have said, and ask of the Father, in my name, that ye may understand, and prepare your minds for the morrow, and I come unto you again. (3 Nephi 17:2-3)In response, the crowd wept and all but begged Him to stay a little longer. This display of faith, weak though it may have been, moved Christ with compassion. So just as He did at Emmaeus, the Lord stayed because He had been asked. His compassion led him to heal all the sick and infirm in the crowd, and having thus demonstrated His power to heal their bodies, the Master Healer set to work healing their weakness in understanding.
He Did it by Using their Children
Christ formed a prayer circle with the children surrounding Him, while he knelt and prayed in the middle. (3 Nephi 17:12-13) With the adults looking on but not participating, Christ explained to His Father the reason He was proceeding as He did:
And it came to pass that when they had knelt upon the ground, Jesus groaned within himself, and said: Father, I am troubled because of the wickedness of the people of the house of Israel. (3 Nephi 17:14)Christ was unable to teach the adults what He had been commanded to teach them, due to their wickedness, which made them weak in understanding. So He made an end-run around the adults by performing an ordinance with the little children, who were incapable of wickedness (Moroni 8:22), and therefore able to participate in what followed, while the adults could only watch and learn. He proceeded to speak and show things so holy they cannot be written:
And when he had said these words, he himself also knelt upon the earth; and behold he prayed unto the Father, and the things which he prayed cannot be written, and the multitude did bear record who heard him. And after this manner do they bear record:
The eye hath never seen, neither hath the ear heard, before, so great and marvelous things as we saw and heard Jesus speak unto the Father; 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 Nephi 17:15-17)
What Christ couldn’t perform with the adults, He could with the innocent children. This demonstration resulted in the adults gaining enough faith to become “blessed”—which is a new identity, or new name, signifying a change in status. While Christ had been “troubled” before by their wickedness, His joy was now so full that He wept, and he held and blessed each of the children who had been His instruments to save their parents. (3 Nephi 17:20-21)
When He had completed the preparation of all the children by His personal blessing, He opened the fiery conduit into heaven, through which angels descended and ministered to the children, who were all within the conduit and encircled by fire. (3 Nephi 17:24) Though the multitude did “see and hear and bear record” of what took place when the angels ministered, we do not have that record, and the one we do have closes with the heavens open and no other information given. (3 Nephi 17:25)
Now, I told you all of that to tell you this:
The experience with the children was a prelude to what Christ yet meant to accomplish the next morning with the adults. He completed the first day’s ordinances by instituting the sacrament and giving rules for how this holy ordinance should be conducted.
The following day began with the twelve disciples being baptized, or washed, in obedience to Christ’s command (3 Nephi 19:12). Following their washing, they were anointed with the Holy Ghost and with fire (3 Nephi 19:13), which opened the fiery corridor and brought angels to minister to these twelve whom Christ had chosen. Christ Himself then came and ministered to them, standing in the center of their circle as He did so. (3 Nephi 19:15)
He commanded them to pray, which they did by repeating words that were given to them. Then He went a little way off, bowed Himself to the earth, and also prayed:
Father, I thank thee that thou hast given the Holy Ghost unto these whom I have chosen; and it is because of their belief in me that I have chosen them out of the world. Father, I pray thee that thou wilt give the Holy Ghost unto all them that shall believe in their words…And now Father, I pray unto thee for them, and also for all those who shall believe on their words, that they may believe in me, that I may be in them as thou, Father, art in me, that we may be one. (3 Nephi 19:20-21, 23)He prayed that they could move into a greater relationship with Him, not only having the Holy Ghost, but that they could have Christ in them. There’s deep meaning here to which I simply can’t do justice in a blog post, so we’ll move on. Note that he prayed not only for these twelve, but also for YOU, assuming, of course, you believe the words of the twelve whom Jesus chose.
Christ returned to the prayer circle and blessed the twelve, with his “countanance” smiling upon them, and its light shining upon them. As He did so, their countenances became as white as Christ’s own countenance and garments. By His blessing, Christ literally clothed them in holy, white vestments and purified their bodies to the next level of holiness; they moved from a telestial into a purified, terrestrial state. (3 Nephi 19:25)
Then Christ went and prayed again as follows:
Father, I thank thee that thou hast purified those whom I have chosen, because of their faith, and I pray for them, and also for them who shall believe on their words, that they may be purified in me, through faith on their words, even as they are purified in me. Father, I pray not for the world, but for those whom thou hast given me out of the world, because of their faith, that they may be purified in me, that I may be in them as thou, Father, art in me, that we may be one, that I may be glorified in them. (3 Nephi 19:28-29)It’s important to note that again, Christ prayed for YOU to receive what the twelve just received. He also requested that they be allowed to move to yet a higher level of glory, from purification to glorification. He called them His own, because the Father had given them to Him; in other words, they were consecrated unto Christ. He then returned to the twelve, blessed them again, and they glowed white again.
Christ went and prayed a third time:
And tongue cannot speak the words which he prayed, neither can be written by man the words which he prayed. And the multitude did hear and do bear record; and their hearts were open and they did understand in their hearts the words which he prayed. Nevertheless, so great and marvelous were the words which he prayed that they cannot be written, neither can they be uttered by man. (3 Nephi 19:32-34)And again as before, at this point the record closes with a mention of the unspeakable, but no mention of what followed. As with the children, the sacrament is the next mentionable item in the record.
What Have we Learned?
Now that we've had an extremely brief and very limited overview of the ordinances Christ conducted, let’s analyze, for a moment, what we’ve witnessed. Here are some items we should notice that took place with the adults. (We should also notice many of these took place with the children, except the items they didn’t require because they were already holy and without sin):
- The gospel
- Clothing in holy garments
- A new name, or identity
- A prayer circle with the words of the prayer given to the participants
- The heavens opening
- A fiery conduit connecting heaven and earth
- The Father directing and the Son fulfilling
- The ministry of angels
- The personal ministry of Jesus Christ
- The ascent through three levels of holiness, or three degrees of Glory
- Christ providing certain gifts (or tokens) along the way, together with signs they were received
- Christ knocking three times at the veil in prayer
- Christ conversing with the Father through the veil
- All of which led to seeing, hearing, and learning unspeakable things directly from God
- Then, having conversed with God through the veil, entering His presence
Witnessing these things prepared the multitude to receive the rest of Christ’s message, which He had been unable to deliver the day before, due to the multitude’s lack of understanding. They now had MUCH more understanding about God’s purposes and their potential. They had been allowed to observe a great gift of knowledge and understanding, being given by heaven. Such a gift is known as an “endowment.”
Now, before you get up in arms about my using that word as if to imitate the LDS temple rites, let me suggest we have the whole thing precisely backwards. The LDS temple rites are a symbolic representation, or imitation, of the real thing. Christ gave these people an actual endowment, and it had the desired effects, giving the participants unspeakable knowledge of both holiness and the Man of Holiness. The LDS rites are just practice exercises to point to the real thing through ritualized imitation.
Remember, Christ did this all AT THE TEMPLE, and He did it AFTER announcing the end of the old law. So let’s let go of the false concept that there’s no mention of the temple rites in the Book of Mormon, or that there’s no evidence for temples having any role after the law of Moses, or that temples are unnecessary under the “new covenant,” or other such nonsense. All such ideas are clearly false, as shown by Christ’s repeated actions on two consecutive days with two different groups, leading to the same results for both.
This stuff wasn’t painstakingly included in the record merely for our entertainment. Christ prayed that YOU and I could each experience what the twelve did. And for that, we’ll need a temple to which the Lord can come and provide what is needed. The Book of Mormon illustrates this conspicuously.
The Rest of the Message
Let’s finish by taking a brief look at what the Lord taught after the endowment of the twelve. Remember, this was the stuff the Master Teacher couldn’t even teach before, because the crowd was too weak in understanding. But now he could, as witnessing the endowment had increased their faith and cleansed them of their false beliefs.
Oddly enough the balance of the message dealt with OUR DAY, not theirs. Why do you suppose that is so? Is there something there for us, or was it all for them?
Christ discussed the gathering of Israel, the building of New Jerusalem and the establishment of Zion, the triumph of His Father’s work and the fulfillment of the covenants God made to the fathers. He quoted Isaiah 54 and Malachi 3-4, all of which have nothing to do with the Nephite dispensation, and everything to do with what you and I are now watching unfold.
Why was Christ’s message, that required such extreme measures to even be taught, completely about US, and not about the audience at Bountiful? Why did He tell them so much about OUR day, and nothing about their own? These questions ought to trouble us immensely, and we ought to implore the Lord night and day to explain to us why these things are so. The answers matter a great deal, and yet, how many of us even think to ask?
Us: On Trial
Then, if that’s not all mind blowing enough, Mormon informs us that all these things he included in the record were only the LESSER things taught by Christ during the next three days. Mormon wanted to include more, but wasn’t allowed to:
And these things have I written, which are a lesser part of the things which he taught the people; and I have written them to the intent that they may be brought again unto this people, from the Gentiles, according to the words which Jesus hath spoken. And when they shall have received this, which is expedient that they should have first, to try their faith, and if it shall so be that they shall believe these things then shall the greater things be made manifest unto them.
And if it so be that they will not believe these things, then shall the greater things be withheld from them, unto their condemnation. Behold, I was about to write them, all which were engraven upon the plates of Nephi, but the Lord forbade it, saying: I will try the faith of my people. (3 Nephi 26:8-11)Did you get that? The record of Christ at the temple, and all that He did and taught there, puts US on trial to see if we’re willing to believe and receive higher things. Like the crowd at Bountiful, we lack the faith to receive the fulness of the message. Christ cured their deficiencies with an endowment at a temple. Might our cure involve something similar?
Or will we, the ones on trial, continue to fight against God by pretending we understand and know so much more than we do, while rejecting what He taught and performed in the portion of the record we have? Even the little Nephite children make us look like the fools we are:
And it came to pass that he did teach and minister unto the children of the multitude of whom hath been spoken, and 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; and he loosed their tongues that they could utter. (3 Nephi 26:14)When I ponder these things, and recognize the pattern Christ carefully showed us in the Bountiful ordinances, I yearn all the more for a house to which He can come and restore what has been lost to us. O God in heaven, let there be a temple reared in this generation!
And verily I say unto you, let this house be built unto my name, that I may reveal mine ordinances therein unto my people; For I deign to reveal unto my church things which have been kept hid from before the foundation of the world, things that pertain to the dispensation of the fulness of times.