“And now, I would ask of you, my beloved brethren, wherein the Lamb of God did fulfill all righteousness in being baptized by water? Know ye not that he was holy? But notwithstanding he being holy, he showeth unto the children of men that, according to the flesh he humbleth himself before the Father, and witnesseth unto the Father that he would be obedient unto him in keeping his commandments.”
He was flesh. He was mortal. He could (and did) die. Though death could not claim Him, He was to die. Baptism is the great symbol of death and resurrection, and He is the resurrection. He lived the symbol as well as the reality, so all others could have part in that victory. The symbol to point the way. The reality to open the way. We are in turn “shown the way” by what He did.
He also “witnesses” before “the Father that he would be obedient unto Him.”
Think about the command of understanding Nephi is exhibiting here. He is telling us that Christ’s mortal ministry would include these very specific events for these very specific reasons. This was what he was permitted to tell us. What other information was within his knowledge which he was forbidden from sharing? Does this level of understanding by Nephi tell you something about what can be learned from the Lord if you are diligent in following His path? Why, if you can see what may be available, would you not be willing to do whatever is asked of you in order to receive something similar in your own life?
This puts us back into the narrative Nephi wrote much earlier in his first book. He described this in1 Nephi 11: 27. Although the Lord’s mortal ministry was future, and separated by more than half-a-millennium, Nephi witnessed it. The Lord is able to make witnesses of His mortal ministry even of someone who lived at another time and place, as He has done with Nephi.
During that vision, Nephi saw more than the Lord’s mortal ministry. He was shown the entire history of the world through the end of time. However, Nephi was only permitted to bear selective testimony of what he saw. Others were given responsibility for testifying to portions of what Nephi saw, but was not permitted to record. He saw it all. He was to record only some of what he saw. He was told at a certain point that the responsibility for recording it became John the Beloved’s and not Nephi’s. (See1 Nephi 14: 19-28.) Nephi saw it, John the Beloved saw it, and others, including Isaiah, also saw it. (1 Nephi 14: 26). I’ve explained this in Nephi’s Isaiah.
Here Nephi returns to the Lord’s baptism to begin an explanation of “the doctrine of Christ” (2 Nephi 31: 2) so that Nephi’s testimony refocuses the reader on the path required for salvation. Since Nephi’s primary reason for writing is to save others, he cannot finish without a final direct appeal for all to understand the “doctrine of Christ.”
What is the difference between “the doctrine of Christ” and the “Gospel of Jesus Christ?” How do they relate to one another?
Here Nephi has linked together four distinct thoughts: First he has 1) already described the prophet which 2) the Lord had shown to Nephi. This was the earlier vision described above. That prophet 3) should baptize the Lamb of God during the Lord’s mortal ministry. The Lord, who is the Lamb of God 4) should take away the sins of the world.
This is a specific time and setting. It involves a specific event and two persons: John the Baptist and Jesus Christ. Nephi has seen the event, and reminds us of it as a baseline from which to reconstruct the “doctrine of Christ.”
Remember that the Jews who confronted John the Baptist did not ask him what ordinance he was performing. They did not ask why he was performing the ordinance. They only asked what authority permitted him to be performing an ordinance which they already understood and undoubtedly already practiced. Why would John baptize if he were not Christ, or Elias (in that context meaning Elijah), or another returning prophet who already had the authority. (John 1: 19-28.) The inquisitors already understood the ordinance.
Baptism was a pre-Christian ordinance. Because of historic interests which conflict with one another, both the Jews and the Christians downplay or ignore that truth.
Look at the wording above and ask yourself: Why, when the vision is shown to Nephi, is Christ identified as “the Lord?” Then, when Nephi beholds His baptism, why does he refer to Christ as “the Lamb of God?” The same person, at first identified as “the Lord,” and then identified as “the Lamb of God.” Why these two identities? Why would it be so clear to Nephi that the Lord holds these two identities that he would use them in this single verse to make Christ’s identity and deeds clear to the reader? How do the different names/titles help us to better understand Christ?
Why is a pre-Christian prophet commissioned to know and write about these things? Why would the Nephite descendants from the time of this writing through the time of Moroni all be entitled to know about this event? What importance is it for us to understand this about Christ?
Well, let’s push further into the “doctrine of Christ” to see what it may persuade us to do or believe.
When he says “the things which I have written sufficeth me,” he is putting a punctuation mark on his plates. He is saying he has finished his ministry, finished his prophecy. He has refined and set out his message in a deliberate, careful way. These books of Nephi are not internet blogs undertaken daily. They are not rapid-fire responses, nor stream-of-consciousness statements. They were planned for the ages. Born from pondering, inspired by revelation, described as prophecy by the author, and filled with light and truth if considered with care by any reader. Nephi’s pronouncement that they “sufficeth me” is a powerful statement by an aging prophet.
Years of preparation and reflection allow him to “speak plainly” to us. There’s no need to be vague. No reason to hide our plight from us. He wants us to understand. When he attempts to “speak unto you plainly, according to the plainness of my prophesying,” we read into it the wrong definitions, associate his words with others who will never read the book, and consider ourselves blessed and vindicated instead of condemned, and called to repentance. We do that a lot. What good is it to read things which tell you to be proud? Why follow a religion that tells you you’ve no reason to repent? Everyone but you is going to hell, right? (Alma 31: 17-18.) Because so long as you remain affiliated with the broad mainstream of your church, God will save you. And if there’s any hint of error, He will beat you with a few stripes and all will be well. Nephi has already condemned that as an error, hasn’t he? (2 Nephi 28: 8.)
Now, just in case you think, as a recent comment has asserted, that the Lord has sent another message vindicating us as a collective gentile body/church in D&C 1: 30, I would remind you that revelation came from the Lord in 1831. In the following year the Lord gave another revelation that put the church under condemnation. (D&C 84: 54-58.) We know that condemnation was not lifted, because of President Benson and Elder Oaks.
Why do we repeat endlessly the praise from 1831 but ignore the threatened rejection that came in 1841? From January of 1841, until Joseph’s death in June of 1844, we had three and a half years to complete the Nauvoo Temple. Was that “sufficient time” to do what was required of us? If so, we did not complete it. Why was Joseph taken? Was that any indication about when the “sufficient time” expired? If so, what then? Where would that leave us?
Is our best hope to be found in the messages and warnings of the Book of Mormon? Can there be gentiles found who will believe its message? How carefully ought we study it?
Even though Moses was taken from ancient Israel, and with him the authority of the priesthood, (see D&C 84: 25-26) the ancient Israelites remained the Lord’s people. He still worked through them and sent them messengers from time to time. These messengers were rarely the High Priest. Although in Samuel’s case he displaced the High Priest. (1 Samuel 3: 1-21.) They were sent from time to time. Their qualifications were private, as the Lord told Moses they would be. (Numbers 12: 6.) I have no doubt Hugh Nibley was sent to us. If you’ve paid close attention, his departure has created an intellectual collapse at the center of the faith, with various egos contending to be noticed. They aspire to put upon them Hugh Nibley’s mantle. They are not made of the same stuff, called with the same calling, nor endowed with the same capacities.
I doubt we’ll see someone like him again. Perhaps we may someday see someone with an equally important message, but among those born in this dispensation, there is none to compare to Brother Nibley.