The angel foretells of a time when “knowledge of a Savior shall spread throughout every nation, kindred, tongue, and people.” (Mosiah 3: 20.) This raises a question about the word “knowledge” and its meaning in the context of this verse:
-Does it mean “awareness,” or that people have heard of Christ?
-Does it mean to “know,” or to have met Him?
Almost always in the Book of Mormon the term “knowledge” involving Christ involves the second meaning of having met Him. In this verse, however, the context raises the possibility it is in fact the first. That is, once people are put on notice that there is a Savior, they have a duty to investigate. The burden is on them to inquire and learn what the Savior can save them from, and on what conditions He will save.
If you are being cautious, then you would use the first meaning and assume the angel is saying that as soon as you become aware of a Savior, you need to then seek for salvation through Him.
If you are reckless and willing to take a great, eternal risk, then you will confine the angel’s meaning to the second, and will assume the burden is not imposed until the Lord has appeared to you. That, however, seems self-defeating. The Lord will not appear to you until you have met the conditions. Those conditions involve obedience.
The angel explains that once one is aware of the existence of a Savior for mankind because this information has been spread throughout the world, then “none shall be found blameless.” (Mosiah 3: 21.) Or, in other words, the Lord will hold every person to account for how they responded to the news of a Savior. Once they know of Him, they must pursue Him. Like the wise men who embarked on a two-year journey from the east to come and worship Him, we are also obligated to seek after Him. (Matt. 2: 1-11.)
This burden on man is imposed as a reasonable responsibility for anyone who has learned of a Savior. When we have that news, we have that duty.
The duty is to come before God “through repentance and faith on the Lord God Omnipotent.” (Mosiah 3: 21.) Here the angel uses three titles for Christ:
“Lord” because we are to obey Him.
“God” because we are to worship Him.
“Omnipotent” because we are assured He has the power to save.
And so the obligation remains for us to “repent” to be saved. This is why, of course, any true prophet will always preach repentance. Men can only be saved through repentance. Anything which does not alert mankind they must repent is foolish and vain. Therefore, if a prophet is saying anything other than repentance they are failing in their obligation to God and to their fellow man.
Even if we never meet a prophet of God we have the words of an angel before us. We do not need to have another person declare the conditions for our salvation to us, because we have the words warning us of the duty we bear.
The words of the angel impose upon the people of King Benjamin the duty to repent and “they [are] found no more blameless” because of the words of the angel. (Mosiah 3: 22.) You also have them before you. Therefore you are no longer blameless. You must repent, or you will be cast off because you are judged on the basis of the words given you. You have the words of an angel before you.
There are conditions for salvation, and the Lord can impose those conditions immediately after sending an angel to warn people. It does not matter if you take the warning seriously. The Lord has done what is required to make you accountable. You are left without any excuse.
One of the signs of authenticity in the Book of Mormon is the existence of passages like this one. It is an authentic ancient form that goes back to the beginning. The Lord delivers the message and immediately men are accountable.
King Benjamin, alone and at night, receives instructions from an angel. We have never met King Benjamin, don’t have a duty to sustain him, nor reason to respect him, but we receive a written transcript of the audience between one man and an angel sent from God. We are accountable for what is contained in the warning.
How oft would the Lord have gathered us, but we will not see what stares us plainly in the face! The Lord does the same thing generation after generation. So few ever notice, however, even when it is as plain as words can be. (2 Ne. 32: 7-8.)