—2 Nephi 11:6, NCIn Part 1, I discussed the LDS Church’s rejection of its own foundation and founder. I made the point that by destroying its foundation, the church has sown the seeds of its own destruction. Naturally, the church is countering the decline by attempting to transform into a more mainline, Christian denomination preaching the appealing self-help/prosperity gospel, as reflected on their new websites. This will not solve the problem or even stanch the bleeding, because it fails on every level to address the real issue. But that’s OK, because an institutional church was never the point. The Lord’s work for our day is much more comprehensive than a corporate church empire. This series is about the real issue.
What, why, how?
The Book of Mormon has an immense amount to say about our time and the work of the last days. Not surprisingly, everything is proceeding according to God’s schedule, just as prophesied. In this post we need to lay some groundwork by taking a closer look at this latter-day timeline, considering not only WHAT is scheduled to take place, but also WHY and HOW it is to all happen.
The topic begins right in Chapter One of 1 Nephi, where Lehi has a vision, beginning with the impending destruction of Jerusalem in his day, and continuing into the future. Nephi records the following:
And it came to pass that when my father had read and saw many great and marvelous things, he did exclaim many things unto the Lord, such as, Great and marvelous are thy works, O Lord God Almighty! Thy throne is high in the Heavens, and thy power, and goodness, and mercy are over all the inhabitants of the earth; and because thou art merciful, thou wilt not suffer those who come unto thee that they shall perish! And after this manner was the language of my father in the praising of his God, for his soul did rejoice and his whole heart was filled because of the things which he had seen, yea, which the Lord had shewn unto him. (1 Nephi 1:3 NC)How is it possible that Lehi could rejoice? Having witnessed in vision the destruction of his city, the demolition of the temple, the captivity of his people, and the loss of his whole civilization, he should have been mourning in sackcloth and ashes. What filled his heart and caused his whole soul to rejoice?
I believe the key is in the language he used in praising God: “great and marvelous are thy works, O Lord God Almighty!” Lehi was shown—he saw—what scripture repeatedly calls the “marvelous work.” And what is that? It is the amazing, highly unlikely, seemingly impossible, miraculous outcome to the Father’s plan. It is the work that’s been in process for thousands of years, indeed from the foundation of the world, that ultimately will result in fruit suitable to be laid up against the season, which is to say, redeemed souls being added to the family of God. It is the plan to recover and reconnect the scattered House of Israel. It is the result of God remembering and keeping the covenants he made to the fathers.
We can thank Isaiah (and the King James translators) for the moniker “a marvelous work and a wonder” originally found in Isaiah 29 of the KJV. That chapter begins, as did Lehi’s vision, with the destruction of Jerusalem, here called Ariel:
Woe to Ariel, to Ariel, the city where David dwelt! add ye year to year; let them kill sacrifices. Yet I will distress Ariel, and there shall be heaviness and sorrow: and it shall be unto me as Ariel. And I will camp against thee round about, and will lay siege against thee with a mount, and I will raise forts against thee. And thou shalt be brought down, and shalt speak out of the ground, and thy speech shall be low out of the dust, and thy voice shall be, as of one that hath a familiar spirit, out of the ground, and thy speech shall whisper out of the dust. (Isaiah 29:1-4 KJV)As in Lehi’s vision, Isaiah’s prophecy continues into the future redemption of Jerusalem, its reestablishment as a holy city, and the restoration of the family of Jacob (Israel):
Therefore thus saith the Lord, who redeemed Abraham, concerning the house of Jacob, Jacob shall not now be ashamed, neither shall his face now wax pale. But when he seeth his children, the work of mine hands, in the midst of him, they shall sanctify my name, and sanctify the Holy One of Jacob, and shall fear the God of Israel. (Isaiah 29:22-23 KJV)This process—this narrative of repentance, return, restoration and redemption—is what Isaiah calls the marvelous work:
Wherefore the Lord said, Forasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men: Therefore, behold, I will proceed to do a marvellous work among this people, even a marvellous work and a wonder: for the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hid. (Isaiah 29:13-14 KJV)Note the language about, lips, hearts, and precepts of men. This is the very language the Lord used in Joseph Smith’s first vision, which marked the latter-day beginning of the marvelous work.
That work is a theme taken up by Nephi in a lengthy explanation, encompassing 1 Nephi chapters 3 and 4 in the New Covenants edition. In chapter 3, Lehi explains further concerning what is to come:
For behold, it came to pass after my father had made an end of speaking the words of his dream, and also of exhorting them to all diligence, he spake unto them concerning the Jews, that after they should be destroyed — even that great city Jerusalem — and many be carried away captive into Babylon, according to the own due time of the Lord, they should return again, yea, even should be brought back out of captivity. And after that they should be brought back out of captivity, they should possess again their land of inheritance. Yea, even six hundred years from the time that my father left Jerusalem, a prophet would the Lord God raise up among the Jews, even a messiah, or in other words, a savior of the world. (1 Nephi 3:2 NC)
And it came to pass, after my father had spoken these words, he spake unto my brethren concerning the gospel which should be preached among the Jews, and also concerning the dwindling of the Jews in unbelief. And after they had slain the Messiah who should come, and after he had been slain, he should rise from the dead and should make himself manifest by the holy ghost unto the gentiles. Yea, even my father spake much concerning the gentiles, and also concerning the house of Israel, that they should be compared like unto an olive tree whose branches should be broken off and should be scattered upon all the face of the earth. Wherefore, he said it must needs be that we should be led with one accord into the land of promise, unto the fulfilling of the word of the Lord that we should be scattered upon all the face of the earth. And after the house of Israel should be scattered, they should be gathered together again, or in fine, after the gentiles had received the fullness of the gospel, the natural branches of the olive tree — or the remnants of the house of Israel — should be grafted in, or come to the knowledge of the true Messiah, their Lord and their Redeemer. (1 Nephi 3:4 NC, emphasis mine)This really is as good a summary as you’ll find of the marvelous work, and we’re only three chapters in!
A Mystery and a Miracle
Note that Lehi relied heavily on Zenos’s allegory of the olive tree to explain the process of preserving the covenants, gathering scattered Israel, and restoring blessings in the latter days, through the instrumentality of believing gentiles. Indeed, Jacob explains the purpose of the allegory before quoting it:
And now I, Jacob, am led on by the spirit unto prophesying, for I perceive by the workings of the spirit which is in me that by the stumbling of the Jews, they will reject the stone upon which they might build and have safe foundation. But behold, according to the scriptures, this stone shall become the great, and the last, and the only sure foundation upon which the Jews can build. And now my beloved, how is it possible that these, after having rejected the sure foundation, can ever build upon it that it may become the head of their corner? Behold, my beloved brethren, I will unfold this mystery unto you… (Jacob 3:6 NC emphasis mine)It is indeed a mystery! How is it possible? How can a covenant people be restored after rejecting the covenant so fully and rejecting the Messiah who gave it? How will the Lord ever fulfill his promises to the fathers?
Then follows Zenos’s brilliant explanation of trees, roots, scattering, gathering, grafting, and redemption, which forms the backbone of the discussion in The Book of Mormon and in the New Testament. (Romans 1:52-56 NC)
And now the thing which our father meaneth concerning the grafting in of the natural branches through the fullness of the gentiles is that in the latter days, when our seed shall have dwindled in unbelief — yea, for the space of many years and many generations after the Messiah shall be manifested in body unto the children of men — then shall the fullness of the gospel of the Messiah come unto the gentiles, and from the gentiles unto the remnant of our seed. And at that day shall the remnant of our seed know that they are of the house of Israel and that they are the covenant people of the Lord. And then shall they know and come to the knowledge of their forefathers, and also to the knowledge of the gospel of their Redeemer, which was ministered unto their fathers by him. Wherefore, they shall come to the knowledge of their Redeemer and the very points of his doctrine, that they may know how to come unto him and be saved. (1 Nephi 4:3 NC emphasis mine)By now it should be clear that believing Gentiles are the foundation of this plan. The gospel would first go to the Gentiles, and from the Gentiles to the scattered remnants of Israel.
And it meaneth that the time cometh that after all the house of Israel have been scattered and confounded, that the Lord God will raise up a mighty nation among the gentiles, yea, even upon the face of this land, and by them shall our seed be scattered. And after our seed is scattered, the Lord God will proceed to do a marvelous work among the gentiles which shall be of great worth unto our seed. (1 Nephi 7:3 NC)I could go on referencing many lengthy discussions of this marvelous work that begins among the Gentiles. Lehi, Nephi, Jacob, Mormon and Moroni all taught about it. But the greatest explanation was given by the Savior himself. As you may recall, after his sermon at Bountiful, he began teaching about the marvelous work, but abruptly stopped, perceiving that the multitude was too weak to receive what he needed to teach. He instructed them to return home and pray for understanding, and he promised to return. But they implored him to stay, so he healed their sick, used their children in an ordinance to open the heavens, and administered the sacrament. The next day he returned, sanctified the twelve, opened the heavens again, and repeated the sacrament. Finally, after all that, the multitude was filled with the spirit and ready to receive the remainder of the message.
And do you recall what that message was? What was so important that the people required elaborate preparation and the influence of the Holy Ghost to even receive it?
It was this. The marvelous work. The miraculous last-days plan to recover scattered Israel. He taught the Nephites at Bountiful, not about themselves, their current situation, the gospel or the church. He taught them about events that would unfold two thousand years in the future, and he asked them three times to write what he taught so we could receive it in our day. (I’ve posted more about that here.)
He called this his Father’s work. He promised it will come, and outlined how it will happen. He expounded the prophecies about it. He used the Nephite record to send a message directly to us, communicating the Father’s agenda and our role in it. He gave us our marching orders and expects us to participate in what is arguably the most important group-related plan in the entire panoply of the Father’s work with this creation. The marvelous work is THE point of The Book of Mormon, at least as it relates to group efforts. Think about that for a moment. We may assume Zion is the fundamental and final group outcome in this creation, and yet The Book of Mormon has FAR more to say about the marvelous work than it ever says about Zion.
Opposition and Recovery
Being that this marvelous work is so crucial to the Father’s plans, opposition naturally comes with it. Nephi goes to some trouble to inform us at length about the gentile church called “great and abominable” (GA) that opposes this work, corrupts the scriptures, and blinds the gentiles to their role in the plan. Specifically, the GA church targets and removes the covenants, thus striking directly at the identity of the House of Israel.
For behold, 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. (1 Nephi 3:21 NC)The Lord’s solution to this problem of lost and corrupted scripture—is The Book of Mormon. In particular, he promised Nephi that he would minister the plain and precious things to Nephi’s seed, and they would come forth to the Gentiles in the last days.
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. And after thy seed shall be destroyed and dwindle in unbelief, and also the seed of thy brethren, behold, these things shall be hid up to come forth unto the gentiles by the gift and power of the Lamb. And in them shall be written my gospel, saith the Lamb, and my rock and my salvation. (1 Nephi 3:23 NC)Therefore, it’s impossible to overstate the importance of The Book of Mormon in the last days’ marvelous work. It is here to cure blindness. The deaf shall hear the words of this book. It is the voice whispering from the dust. It is the key to laying the cornerstone. It is the standard of truth. It is evidence of God’s mighty work, brought forth in our day to heal the damage done to prior scripture by the great and abominable church. It is the sign Christ said to watch for, signaling the initiation of the work prophesied for thousands of years. It is the means whereby the Lord will keep the promises he made to the fathers. The Book of Mormon is the embodiment of the covenant. It is the key to the marvelous work.
Is it any wonder, then, that just two years after the book was released, the Lord condemned the entire church for taking it lightly?
And your minds in times past have been darkened because of unbelief, and because you have treated lightly the things you have received, which vanity and unbelief have brought the whole church under condemnation. And this condemnation rests upon the children of Zion, even all, and they shall remain under this condemnation until they repent and remember the new covenant, even the Book of Mormon, and the former commandments which I have given them, not only to say but to do according to that which I have written, that they may bring forth fruit meet for their Father’s kingdom. Otherwise, there remains a scourge and a judgment to be poured out upon the children of Zion, for shall the children of the kingdom pollute my holy land? Verily, verily I say unto you, nay.