When Nephi was carried away in the spirit he saw the future of his people. Not only that, but he saw the future of the world, in particular of the Americas. His record gives us timely information and guidance for our day, for he truly saw our day and included fair warnings in his writings for our benefit.
Reading Assignment: 1 Nephi 12 – 14.
Prophecy is reality
I don’t pretend to comprehend Nephi’s vision of the future. What happened to Nephi was more than just the Lord running a movie reel showing news clips of future events. When Nephi saw his posterity in the future, he saw their cities being built up, them multiplying and spreading across the land. He saw their generations and understood them to be a different generation from the last one. He comprehended their spiritual state and what caused their wars and times of peace.
The closest experience I have ever had to experiencing something akin to this was when my eldest daughter was young. I was standing in the front room looking out the window across the street at her jumping on a trampoline in a neighbor’s yard. Suddenly I knew like I knew I was standing there, with complete clarity of thought, that if she didn’t stop doing what she was doing at this very moment she was going to hurt herself. I panicked and started toward the front door, but before she left my sight in the picture window, I saw her take one last jump and miss her footing when she came down. She smashed her chin on the support bar the held the hooks to the trampoline, and bit through her tongue.
It was an instant influx of knowledge that I could not have known about except to have been shown it by some other source. I don’t understand how Nephi comprehended all that he did in this week’s reading assignment, but I know that he knew it was real. It wasn’t some fictional possibility that might happen. He actually saw his posterity reject the gospel of Christ and get slaughtered by the posterity of his brethren, the Lamanites. And at this time, the Lamanites didn’t even exist yet.
The vision Nephi has in this week’s assignment was more real and comprehensive to him than it is to us who can see that what he saw happened in the past. He witnessed all these events in real time. This is why he later mourned for the destruction of his people, his people who “died” a thousand years in the future, for he was there, in his vision, when it happened. Prophecy is the reality of another time. It cannot be changed or circumvented or gotten around.
The great and abominable church
In chapter 12 of 1 Nephi, Nephi was about to see the destruction of his people when the angel explained to him the interpretation of the spacious building. Look at verse 18:
18 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 tree of life is separated from the great and spacious building by the river of filthiness. This river represents the gulf or unbreachable distance between God and His commandments and the philosophies of men. The angel refers to the philosophies of men as “vain imaginations and pride.” This gulf or gap is a separation that will never narrow or come together, for they are in opposition to the will and commandments of God.
In 1 Nephi 12:23 Nephi saw that once all the people had rejected the teachings of Christ they shriveled as a people.
23 And it came to pass that I beheld, after they had dwindled in unbelief they became a dark, and loathsome, and a filthy people, full of idleness and all manner of abominations.
Once Nephi sees the destruction of his own people and the future of the Lamanites who had dwindled in unbelief, the angel showed him the nations of the gentiles, which are the countries of Europe. He saw the growth and development of the great and abominable church in 1 Nephi 13:5.
5 And the angel said unto me: Behold the formation of a church which is most abominable above all other churches, which slayeth the saints of God, yea, and tortureth them and bindeth them down, and yoketh them with a yoke of iron, and bringeth them down into captivity.
It is important to note that the term “church” does not refer to one particular entity. There are two powers only on earth. The Lord has His Church, and Satan has his counterfeits. There is only one truth, but there are innumerable ways to twist it, deny it, pervert it, and counter it. Any philosophy, practice, association, ideology, etc. that does not teach the truth as it comes from God is part of this great and abominable church. This includes the wisdom of man that refutes what the Lord’s prophets tell us. It includes anything that will lead us away from the iron rod, the word of God.
This is, in part where the mists of darkness come from in Nephi’s vision. Once Christ’s gospel was rejected by man, and the apostasy took place, the philosophies of man flourished, and truths that were plain and precious when they went from the Jews to the gentiles were perverted or abandoned, leaving only a remnant of what they once had for future generations.
In verse five it says that the saints were bound down and brought into captivity. This happened not only literally in some cases, but figuratively it happened almost universally as the churches that were supposed to be leading them to God forbade them from reading the scriptures, and even made reading the scriptures punishable by death. They were forced into ignorance so others could make money off of them and have power over them.
The time of the gentiles
When Christ was on earth his message was to the Jews. When he went back to heaven it became the responsibility of the Jews to take the gospel to the gentiles. The promise was that at some point in the future the gentiles would bring the gospel back to the house of Israel who had fallen into apostasy. The Lord’s Church could not be restored again until there was a nation created that would allow religious liberty, something that did not exist anywhere in the world. Nephi saw the creation of the United States of America in his vision, starting with the coming of the explorers to the American continent. 1 Nephi 13:14, 15:
14 And it came to pass that I beheld many multitudes of the Gentiles upon the land of promise; and I beheld the wrath of God, that it was upon the seed of my brethren; and they were scattered before the Gentiles and were smitten.
15 And I beheld the Spirit of the Lord, that it was upon the Gentiles, and they did prosper and obtain the land for their inheritance; and I beheld that they were white, and exceedingly fair and beautiful, like unto my people before they were slain.
The Lord brought the gentiles here. He had told the prophets from Nephi on down through their generations that if they ever rejected Him the day would come that He would give this land to the gentiles and that the remnant of the Nephites and Lamanites would be smitten and driven by the gentiles, but not entirely destroyed. This is exactly what happened. The Lord kept his promise to give this land to another people because the Lamanites and Nephites rejected Him.
Nephi is promised that the Lord will have his posterity write many plain and precious truths that will be lost from the record of the Jews (1 Nephi 13:38, 39). And in the end, there will be other books written by way of the Lord that will establish the truth of the book that comes from the Jews (the Bible) (1 Nephi 13:40). These truths will be restored so that Nephi’s posterity can learn that they are of the house of Israel, and be saved (1 Nephi 13:41). Even in his despair of seeing his people get slaughtered, Nephi sees that the Lord will redeem his descendants when the gospel is restored in the last days.
Nephi’s future is now
In chapter 14 Nephi is shown the future of not only the Americas, but the world. We now have the gospel among us, just as Nephi was shown in his vision. We have the other books of scripture that establish the truth of the Bible. The gentiles have been given the gospel of Christ through the revelations of the prophet Joseph Smith and the prophets that followed him. Now we are approaching the time of decision. If the gentiles turn their backs on the Lord’s truth and embrace instead the whore of all the earth, the philosophies of men, then curses will be poured out upon this people. But to those who become the Saints of God by making and keeping sacred covenants, they are promised that “they [will be] armed with righteousness and with the power of God in great glory.”
I hope the vision of Nephi has become a little more real and alive for you because of your reading in these chapters of 1 Nephi. The vision and prophecies of Nephi cover the days in which we live. These promises and curses are very real. We never need think that we will ever outnumber our enemies, for the Saints of God have always been in the vast minority. We have a promise from the Lord, through his angel to Nephi, that those who serve God in our day will be armed with righteousness and the power of God.
So what are we doing each day to become more righteous and develop more spiritual power? Are we reading our scriptures? Are we searching them for understanding and greater comprehension? Are we praying with real intent, rather than out of habit only? In this time of the year when many are already abandoning their new year’s resolutions, are we deciding how we will step up our game on how to be of greater use to the Lord to serve our brothers and sisters who have not yet learned about the gospel? Are we praying that we will be able to see opportunities for service and love as the Lord hastens His work?
The Lord has great views for his Saints in the last days. The world is becoming increasingly pushier about their agendas and ideologies that would pull us away from Christ and His teachings. Becoming more righteous and developing more spiritual power requires deliberate thought and must be done on purpose. And the Lord will bless us in our efforts.