Today, Christians around the world celebrate the single greatest event in world history. The Son of God, the Great Creator of Heaven and Earth, condescended below all things, suffered for our sins, died on our behalf, and then three days later, He rose from the grave, giving life and hope to us all: He lives, and because of Him, we all shall live. Nothing can be said to inspire greater hope than those immortal words: “He is not here: for he is risen” (Matthew 28:6).
Like many others, I fear my own words are woefully inadequate to articulate my deepest feelings toward my Savior and Redeemer. Nephi, too, felt that his words were inadequate (2 Nephi 33:1), and yet few testimonies stir my soul greater than his powerful declaration toward the close of his record: “I glory in plainness; I glory in truth; I glory in my Jesus, for he hath redeemed my soul from hell” (2 Nephi 33:6).
Book of Mormon Central recently highlighted Nephi’s farewell testimony of Christ.
“Nephi’s account is brimming with the significance of Jesus Christ and his mission, affirmed through prophetic testimony, parental teaching, scriptural witnesses, and profound spiritual experiences.” Accordingly, Nephi “gives sincere followers of Christ everywhere a model of spiritual behavior to follow in seeking to gain, build, or strengthen their own relationships with Jesus Christ.”
Nephi’s knowledge of the Savior came in at least four different ways:
(1) Prophetic testimony;
(2) Parental teaching;
(3) Scriptural witnesses; and
(4) Personal spiritual experiences.
Let’s explore each of these in Nephi’s record and consider what we learn about the Savior in each instance.
The life and mission of Christ was understood by many prophets, many hundreds of years before His coming. While some scholarship is just starting to recognize an awareness of a divine Son-Redeemer figure in ancient Israelite theology, the Book of Mormon has long affirmed that pre-Christian prophets bore witness of the Savior.
Nephi records both Lehi and Jacob bearing prophetic witness of the Messiah. To the people of Jerusalem, Lehi had prophesied “plainly of the coming of a Messiah, and also the redemption of the world” (1 Nephi 1:19). As a prophet, Lehi had witnessed in vivid detail several events in the Savior’s life (see 1 Nephi 10:4–12). To the people of Nephi, Jacob taught the plan of salvation and the central role of the Atonement in that plan. He revealed the name of Christ to the people, and taught by revelation about the Savior’s mission.
Just as God had prophets teaching of Christ in the ancient cities of Nephi and Jerusalem, so there are prophets today who bear witness of Jesus Christ. Next week, we will gather together as Latter-day Saints throughout the world to hear them bear their special witness. Let’s follow the example of Nephi and cherish and learn from their testimonies.
Lehi, of course, was not only the prophet at the time, but he was Nephi’s father. He was acting in his paternal role when he gather this family together and taught them about how, due to the effects of the Fall, all must come unto the Messiah with a broken heart and contrite spirit. In the wake of his father’s passing, Nephi lamented over his personal shortcomings, but also affirmed his dependence of the Savior: “O Lord, I have trusted in thee, and I will trust in thee forever” (2 Nephi 4:34). Lehi and Sariah, faithfully taking their family in the wilderness upon the Lord’s command, are the ones who modeled that trust in the Lord for Nephi to learn.
Just like Lehi and Sariah, parents today have a personal responsibility to teach their children about Jesus Christ and his Gospel. Less often talked about, but equally important, children today have the responsibility to learn from their parents. May we all, in our roles either as parents or children (or, for many, both) teach and learn and better come to know the Savior within the family setting.
There can be little question that Nephi was a diligent student of the scriptures. He risked life and limb to recover a copy of scriptural works from Laban in Jerusalem, and his entire record is laced with quotations of scripture. He draws on the writings of several prophets to describe Christ’s atoning death (1 Nephi 19:10–12). Nephi used Psalm 24 to teach about what must be done to come into the presence of Christ and to recognize Him as the Messiah.
Of course, everyone is familiar with Nephi’s extensive use of Isaiah. Nephi explicitly used Isaiah as a witness of Christ. In Isaiah’s writings, Nephi could discern prophetic descriptions of the Savior’s birth, divine titles, and ministry, and rejection by the people. A sweeping vision of the Redeemer’s mortal life and ultimate redeeming work guided Nephi’s selection and interpretation of Isaiah.
Just as Nephi and Isaiah’s words work together to bear witness of the redemptive mission of Jesus Christ, so do the entire Bible and Book of Mormon work together. Latter-day Saints are blessed today with the testimony of two nations that Jesus is the Christ, rather than just one. Like Nephi did with the brass plates, we can draw closer to the Lord and Savior as we read and ponder the teachings of Christ found in the scriptures we have.
Personal Spiritual Experiences
Nephi had his own sacred experiences that taught him about the importance of the Savior. While pondering on Lehi’s vision of a tree, Nephi received his own revelation wherein he learned the meaning of the tree and its connection to the birth of Jesus Christ. The vision also taught Nephi firsthand about the life, baptism, and death of the Son of God (see 1 Nephi 11). Later in life, as Nephi reflected on the Savior’s baptism, he came a greater understanding of why Jesus was baptized, and conversed with the Father and the Son about the doctrine of Christ.
Such personal spiritual experiences, which all of God’s children are entitled to, are more important than the witness of parents and prophets. But as Nephi’s experience teaches us, it is the teachings of prophets, parents, and scripture that serve as the springboard to personal testimony. Diligent study and application of the scriptures, teachings of modern prophets, and parental council often will generate spiritual experiences to cherish and use as building blocks to personal testimony.
The temple also plays an important role in providing a sacred space where these kinds of experiences can be had. The high mountain Nephi is carried to in 1 Nephi 11 is representative of the temple. After arriving in the New World, Nephi has his people build a temple shortly before he begins writing his account.
Coming into the Presence of the Lord
Although we are using Nephi as an example, we should keep in mind that ultimately, this is not about Nephi. It is about Jesus Christ and coming closer to Him. Nephi’s entire account is ultimately about guiding the reader into the presence of Christ. When Nephi talks about “speak[ing] with the tongue of angels,” Book of Mormon Central has proposed that, “Ultimately Nephi [is] invit[ing] all his readers to find the way to enter into the presence of the Lord and to participate in the divine council as one of the ‘angels.’”
Nephi drew on all the variety of sources—his father’s prophetic call, Isaiah’s scriptural writings, and his own personal revelation on a high mountain top—in order to ultimately drive this point home; and the way to get there is through the temple.
This Easter, as you reflect on what the Savior has done for you and consider how you can draw closer to Him, remember the example set by Nephi, and join with him. Just as he does, glory in Jesus Christ, the Redeemer, who has saved your soul from death and hell!
Neal Rappleye is a Research Project Manager for Book of Mormon Central. He blogs on Latter-day Saint topics at http://www.studioetquoquefide.com/