Saturday, December 31, 2011

Book of Mormon Lesson #2 "All Things According to His Will"

1 Nephi 1-7

THE FIRST FAMILY OF THE BOOK OF MORMON

The Book of Mormon begins with the story of a family.  This family faces many of the same crises we face as families today.  They live in a corrupt environment while striving to live the gospel and follow the prophets.  They face a huge material downturn when they opt to leave the city.  They are required to be constantly pioneering, or doing things that have not been done before.  As they strive to follow the Lord's specific guidance for their family, they often find things get much worse before they get better.  They have children who follow their parents in righteousness, and children who reject the family and its values.  They love, they argue, they suffer, they repent, they forgive, they get sick, they complain, they see miracles, they live and die.  They are like us.



THE PATRIARCH

In the first chapter of the Book of Mormon, we are introduced immediately to the father, Lehi.  We learn that Lehi:
  • was a city-dweller (v. 4)
  • that he was well-off (v. 1:  "goodly")
  • that he listened to the prophets (v. 4)
  • that he had great care and concern for his fellow-citizens (v. 5)
  • that his instant approach to worries was to pray (v. 5)
  • that he was educated and wrote a great deal (v. 16--see the link in the previous post theorizing that he may have been a scribe by trade)
  • that he was a seer (v. 13)
  • that because of his own communications from the Lord he became a prophet or missionary (in a real sense they are the same thing) in Jerusalem (v. 18)
  • that he was not swayed by public opinion (v. 19)
  • that he had a powerful testimony of Jesus Christ (v. 19)
  • and he did not see any success in his mission, and was even threatened with death for it (v. 20).
As we look at Lehi's first vision recorded in the Book of Mormon, it has similar elements to the visions of other prophets.  Like Moses and the burning bush, he saw a pillar of fire which came down from Heaven and dwelt upon an earthly object, from which emanated a prophecy of some kind which caused him to quake and tremble (v. 6; Exo. 3:2).  Like Moses and Joseph Smith, he was exhausted after the vision (v. 7; Moses 1:9-10; JS-H 1:20).  Like John the Divine, Steven the Martyr, and a few select others, the door of Heaven was opened to him and he saw, in a second vision, "God sitting upon his throne, surrounded with numberless concourses of angels" and Jesus Christ with him.  He saw the twelve apostles and their glory (1:8-10).  Like John, a book was delivered to him (1:11).  His book, however, was not symbolic of the plan of salvation as John's was, but filled with words of warning:  Jerusalem would be destroyed, many of the inhabitants would be killed, and many should be taken away as slaves (1:13). 

And yet, the immediate result of seeing this vision was not despair but joy!  "For his soul did rejoice, and his whole heart was filled, because of the things which he had seen..." (1:15).  The reason can be found as we look for the perceptual word because in v. 14:

"And it came to pass that when my father had read and seen 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!  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!"

John taught that God is Light (or truth), and God is Love (1 John 1:5; 1 John 4:8).  It was in God's very nature to show Lehi the truth--that Jerusalem was nearly ripe for destruction.  But it was also in God's very nature to show Lehi the love--that those who chose righteousness would be spared.

Lehi emulated the character of his Father in Heaven, and immediately, because of the love he had for his people, he shared the truth with them (1:18).  It didn't go well.

But this set of events is a perfect introduction to the theme of the entire Book of Mormon, which is declared by Nephi in the last verse of 1 Nephi:

"But behold, I, Nephi, will show unto you that the tender mercies of the Lord are over all those whom he hath chosen, because of their faith, to make them mighty even unto the power of deliverance." (1:20).

This message is reiterated in the very final chapter of the Book of Mormon by Moroni:

"Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts." (Moro 10:3)

It is this grateful pondering that will lead one to the state of revelation desired by true seekers:

"And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.  And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things." (Moro. 10:4)

This is exactly what Lehi had done.  He had heard the words of the prophets.  Immediately, he desired to know the truth himself and so he prayed.  His prayer was one of real intent:  he wasn't just curious; he intended to do a great deal with the knowledge he would gain; he intended it to change his life.  Without this key, real intent, no revelation can be an advantage to us, but it will instead be a condemnation--therefore, the Lord may opt to withhold revelation from those unwilling to commit.  Lehi clearly had great faith in Christ and in His power to direct and save.  Because Lehi acted upon each revelation he received, he was given another, and the power of the Holy Ghost directed his journeyings through the remainder of his life.

(For more on Lehi, see Marshall R. Craig, "Father Lehi: Prophet and Patriarch," Ensign, Sept. 1976

THE CHILDREN

As this family leaves Jerusalem, there are four sons and an unspecified number of daughters.  We don't ever read anything about the daughters since the writer comes from a male-biased culture.  We only get the chance to know the sons.  But, male or female, in these sons we see ourselves. 

Nephi
Nephi stated in his first sentence that he suffered many trials but he recognized that he was highly favored of the Lord.  When those trials began in earnest on the journey to the Promised Land, Nephi needed to know for himself whether the family was on the right path. 

"And my father dwelt in a tent."

We already know this.  Why does he bother to remind us?  Because it is the clearest indicator that the family members are "fishes out of water."  They are in an uncomfortable, unfamiliar situation.  It is this discomfort that leads Nephi to have an intense need to know what God wants of him and his family. 

"And it came to pass that I, Nephi, being exceedingly young, nevertheless being large in stature, and also having great desires to know of the mysteries of God, wherefore, I did cry unto the Lord; and behold he did visit me, and did soften my heart that I did believe all the words which had been spoken by my father." (2:15-16) 

This belief grew into great faith that has been a model for Latter-day Saints from Primary age on up:  "I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the things which he commandeth them." (1 Ne. 3:7) 

As is the case with all who come to know God, Nephi's immediate desire after receiving the answer to his prayer was for the welfare of others.  He prayed mightily for his unbelieving brothers, and was answered with the great promise of the Book of Mormon, restated many times throughout the book (you may want to highlight this each time you find it as you read; I use yellow for the words of God): "And insasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments, ye shall prosper, and shall be led to a land of promise." (2:20)

Because of his trust in the Lord, Nephi was tenacious in the face of difficulty.  The impossible was not impossible to him; it just took a little longer.  He succeeded in getting the Brass Plates from a powerful man who did not want to give them up, by simply trying and trying again with a new approach, being led by the Spirit.

Nephi was also quick to forgive (7:21), although we see later in the story that when repentance didn't last, he was smart enough to flee abuse.

Laman and Lemuel

Despite the great encouragement of their father and his vision for them--"O that thou mightest be like unto this river, continually running into the fountain of all righteousness...O that thou mightest be like unto this valley, firm and steadfast, and immovable in keeping the commandments of the Lord!" (2:9-10)--Laman and Lemuel rebelled against their parents. 

"And thus Laman and Lemuel, being the eldest, did murmur against their father." [You may remember from the story of the prodigal son that the eldest or birthright son in Hebrew culture was to be a partner with the father, a type of under-parent. With both of them being included as "the eldest" here, is it possible they were twins? Just a fun thought.]  

Why did they complain?  The same reason that all of us complain:  a lack of faith. "And they did murmur because they knew not the dealings of that God who had created them." (2:12). 

Despite testimonies, examples, and miracles, they did not see that spiritual things had any relevance to "real life:" "...An angel of the Lord came and stood before them, and he spake unto them, saying...Behold ye shall go up to Jerusalem again, and the Lord will deliver Laban into your hands...And after the angel had departed, Laman and Lemuel again began to murmur, saying: How is it possible that the Lord will deliver Laban into our hands?  Behold he is a mighty man, and he can command fifty, yea, even he can slay fifty; then why not us?" (3:31)

Sam

We are all sometimes like Laman and Lemuel; hopefully we recognize it quickly and nurture our faith.  On rare occasions we may also find ourselves like Nephi, mighty in spiritual power.  But the brother that might be the best role model for many of us is Sam, remarkable because he is unremarkable.  Mentioned only 11 times in the Book of Mormon, we first hear that he listened to his younger brother Nephi (1 Ne. 2:17) and he believed.  Not much is said of him, but each time he is mentioned he is found on the Lord's side.  (What a great epitaph that would be!)

He received a very brief blessing from his father as his father was dying:  "Blessed art thou and thy seed; for thou shalt inherit the land like unto thy brother Nephi.  And thy seed shall be numbered with his seed; and thou shalt be even like unto thy brother, and thy seed like unto his seed; and thou shalt be blessed in all thy days." (2 Ne. 4:11) 

Why kind of a blessing is that?  Nothing is said about Sam personally, only how he compares to his amazing brother Nephi.  This kind of thing is exactly what irritated Laman and Lemuel, and led their ancestor Joseph to be sold into Egypt by his jealous brothers.

And yet Sam was unaffected.  Sam was meek, or in our present-day vernacular, he was non-competitive.  He was okay with hearing his younger brother praised.  He was okay with letting someone else be the leader.  He was okay with being unremarkable.  None of these things appeared to affect his willingness to follow the Lord steadfastly.  His vertical relationship (his relationship with the Lord) centered and stabilized his horizontal relationships (his relationships with those around him).  By following the Lord in his unremarkable way, he received all the same blessings as did his brother, the famous prophet Nephi.

Does that mean that if we follow the humble, noncompetitive, steadfast example of Sam, we can receive all the same blessings that President Monson will?  That is exactly what it means.

THE MARRIAGE

A prime example of righteous conflict resolution in marriage is shown in chapter 5.  The sons of Lehi and Sariah were called by the Lord to return to Jerusalem on a very dangerous mission: to get the Plates of Brass from Laban.  Sariah had followed her husband in righteousness, and it had led her into the wilderness.  She was okay with that.  She trusted the Lord enough to allow her sons to leave.  But every mother has probably reached a similar moment when the happy ending was delayed, and worry overcame hope. 

"For she had supposed that we had perished in the wilderness; and she also had complained against my father, telling him that he was a visionary man; saying: Behold thou hast led us forth from the land of our inheritance, and my sons are no more, and we perish in the wilderness.  And after this manner of language had my mother complained against my father." (5:2-3)

Sariah had been listening to a despairing inner dialogue, and she expressed it to her husband in the language of doubt and fear and blame.  All of us do this at times.

But Lehi responded with a different manner of language, the language of faith and hope and compassion.  First he faced the truth in what she had said:

"And it had come to pass that my father spake unto her, saying: I know that I am a visionary man..."

But he explained the reasons for the thing she criticized.  

"...for if I had not seen the things of God in a vision I should not have known the goodness of God, but had tarried at Jerusalem, and had perished with my brethren."

And then he bolstered her faith by testifying of the care of the Lord, and comforting her concerning the welfare of her sons as the Holy Ghost undoubtedly testified to him. 

"But behold, I have obtained a land of promise, in the which things I do rejoice; yea, and I know that the Lord will deliver my sons out of the hands of Laban, and bring them down again unto us in the wilderness." 

But wait a minute!  In the first part of the sentence Lehi said he had already obtained a land of promise, and in the last part of the sentence, he said he was still in the wilderness.  What gives?

Lehi was speaking to Sariah (and to himself) in the highest language of faith and hope: prophetic future tense.  In prophetic future tense, time is irrelevant and things that have not yet happened are stated in the present tense or even in the past tense.  To the deeply faithful Lehi, the promises of the Lord were as real as if they had already happened.

"And after this manner of language did my father, Lehi, comfort my mother, Sariah, concerning us, while we journeyed in the wilderness up to the land of Jerusalem, to obtain the record of the Jews."  (5:4-6)

Wouldn't it be marvelous if our family interactions could mirror this example shown by Lehi of both meekness and strength?  Rather than speaking back to an upset family member in the same negative manner of language she is using, we recognize her feelings of fear, and we carefully choose a positive manner of language filled with faith, hope and love.  If we are meek we can avoiding taking verbal attacks personally and remain in a position of strength.  Recognizing that almost every negative emotion is at its core fear, we can apply the antidote of faith and build a relationship of trust, understanding, and love. 

CONCLUSION

In our present day, families face many challenges.  Even the family itself as an institution is challenged.  The Book of Mormon examples of families can teach us many helpful truths relevant to our daily interactions as family members. 

The prophet Lehi was unsuccessful in teaching the gospel to the people of Jerusalem, but his real mission followed in which the focus of all his efforts was in teaching the gospel to his children.  His entire church congregation and mission boundaries included only his family, their in-laws, and one friend Zoram.  And yet it was a great enough mission to be prominent in the Book of Mormon.  Let us likewise recognize our own families as our first and foremost "mission field," living and sharing the gospel in our homes as did Lehi.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Book of Mormon Lesson #1 "The Keystone of Our Religion"

THE IMPORTANCE OF THE BOOK OF MORMON

"The church stand[s] or falls with the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon."  It is the keystone of our witness of Christ, the keystone of our doctrine, the keystone of our testimony.  (Ezra Taft Benson, October 1986 Conference Address)

"Concerning this record the Prophet Joseph Smith said: 'I told the brethren that the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.'" (Introduction, Book of Mormon, paragraph 6)

We can get closer to God, not by reading the Book of Mormon, but by living it; however, reading comes first.


(Challenge your class to read the Book of Mormon this year.  If this is not a challenge for them, challenge them to give a Book of Mormon to someone else this year.  For a fun Book of Mormon marathon you might consider doing with your family, youth group, or Sunday School class, see my essay blog, A Mormon Window.)

"Brothers and sisters, without reservation I promise you that if you will prayerfully read the Book of Mormon, regardless of how many times you previously have read it, there will come into your hearts an added measure of the Spirit of the Lord. There will come a strengthened resolution to walk in obedience to his commandments, and there will come a stronger testimony of the living reality of the Son of God."  (Gordon B. Hinckley, "The Power of the Book of Mormon," Ensign, June 1988)

HISTORY OF THE TRANSLATION OF THE BOOK OF MORMON

The Book of Mormon was translated very quickly after a long period of personal preparation and skill development on the part of Joseph Smith. (Please see the detailed timeline of the translation of the Book of Mormon which can be found under the heading, Spiritual Gifts Must Be Developed, in a previous post.)  In the original script dictated by Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery's handwriting is sloppy and there are ink blotches all over.  In the copy he made afterwards, his penmanship is beautiful; there are no lines to the page, yet it is perfectly straight and the lettering is so consistent it looks like it might have been a computer font.  Obviously, during the translating, Oliver barely had time to dip his pen, and not enough time to blot the ink.

The entire Book of Mormon was written in one sentence; no punctuation whatever was included.  John H. Gilbert at E. B. Grandin printers punctuated it as he printed it.  That is why there have been occasional revisions to the punctuation since.  The title page to the third edition reads "carefully revised by the translator"--the only edition that says that.  (Bruce R. Woolley, BYU Education Week Lecture, August 1999, personal notes)

PURPOSES OF THE BOOK OF MORMON

"The title-page of the Book of Mormon is a literal translation, taken from the very last leaf, on the left hand side of the collection or book of plates."  (Joseph Smith, History of the Church, 1:71)

On this title page, Mormon lists two main purposes to the Book of Mormon in the second paragraph.  (Ask class members to find them.)

1) To Show the House of Israel:
     a) The Works of God, "what great things the Lord hath done
          for their fathers..."
          Why is this important?  It builds faith in God.
     b)  The Covenants of God, "that they may know the covenants of the
           Lord, that they are not cast off forever..."
          Why is this important?  It lets us know our role in the plan,
          and the promises to us in the next life.

"Once we know who we are and the royal lineage of which we are a part, our actions and directions in life will be more appropriate to our inheritance...People are gathered into the fold of God through learning the doctrine of Christ and subscribing to the principles and ordinances of his gospel.  They learn through scripture and through patriarchal and prophetic pronouncement of their kinship with or, in rare instances today, of their adoption into the house of Israel...The fulfillment, the consummation, of these blessings comes as those who have entered the waters of baptism perfect their lives to the point that they may enter the holy temple.  Receiving an endowment there seals members of the Church to the Abrahamic Covenant."  (Russell M. Nelson, BYU Devotional, 11-22-88)

2) To Convince Everyone That Jesus is the Christ
    "...to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that JESUS is the
    CHRIST, the ETERNAL GOD, manifesting himself unto all nations."
    Why is this important?  Our salvation depends upon faith in Him.

In the 531 pages of the Book of Mormon, there are 275 testimonies of Christ.

There is a duality to this purpose as well:  President Benson said the Book of Mormon teaches us of Christ (or what the gospel is), and it exposes the enemies of Christ (what the gospel is not).

RELEVANCE TO OUR DAY

As we take a very general look at the Book of Mormon, what are the main subjects? 

1) The first part is about families in crisis.  Do we have this problem today?  Even when the parents are doing their righteous best?

2) The middle part is about how to conduct oneself (or an army) righteously during wartime.  Do we have need of this counsel today?

3) The last part is about how to remain righteous in a degenerating environment.  Do we find ourselves in this situation today?

PERCEPTUAL PHRASES IN THE BOOK OF MORMON

Remembering that this is a book written for the purpose of teaching, we must watch for the lessons in it.  There are some good clues the writers of the Book of Mormon use in what we could call perceptual words and phrases.  (Credit for this idea goes to Jerry Wilson, former Logan Institute teacher.)
  • THEREFORE
  • WHEREFORE
  • FOR
  • NEVERTHELESS
  • NOTWITHSTANDING
  • BEHOLD
  • I SAY UNTO YOU
  • REMEMBER
  • THAT
  • BECAUSE
These words are key to recognizing important concepts throughout the Book of Mormon.  In fact, it is a great idea to highlight them in a specific color--I use blue to symbolize truth-- so that they are obvious to you. 

Therefore/Wherefore/For
Therefore links cause and effect:

"...having been born of goodly parents      THEREFORE    I was taught in all the language of my fathers..."
''...having had a knowledge of God      THEREFORE     I make a record..."  (1 Ne. 1:1)

Because Nephi was born of goodly parents (some scholars interpret "goodly" as "wealthy"), he was taught how to write well.  Indeed, they would have had to be wealthy for him to have received such an education.  (See Literary Themes in the Book of Mormon, by Joey Greene.)  Because Nephi had a knowledge of God in addition to that education, he made a record:  If we have faith in God, or desire to increase our faith, we might also make a record of God's dealings with us. 

Wherefore is very similar.  We can see that Lehi's great vision did not come "out of the blue," but as a result of his prayer and concern after listening to the prophets of Jerusalem:

"...in that same year there came many prophets, prophesying unto the people that they must repent, or the great city Jerusalem must be destroyed.    WHEREFORE    it came to pass that my father, Lehi, as he went forth prayed unto the Lord, yea, even with all his heart, in behalf of his people.  And it came to pass as he prayed unto the Lord, there came a pillar of fire and dwelt upon a rock before him; and he saw and heard much..."  (1 Ne. 1:4-6)

Nevertheless/Notwithstanding
Nevertheless and notwithstanding show the hidden effect, often the opposite of what might be expected by the cause:

"...having seen many afflictions      NEVERTHELESS    having been highly favored of God..."

So despite having seen many afflictions, Nephi recognized that he was highly favored of God:  We can likewise assume that experiencing sore trials in our lives does not mean God does not favor us.

Behold/I Say Unto You/Remember
Behold (often linked with I say unto you) and remember draw attention to an important concept or event:

"BEHOLD   the Lord slayeth the wicked to bring forth his righteous purposes.  It is better that one man should perish than that a nation should dwindle and perish in unbelief."  (1 Ne. 4:13)

That/Because

Reasons for things can often be found following the word that or because.  We can see two reasons listed for obtaining the brass plates in the following passage, marked by that:

"And behold, it is wisdom in God that we should obtain these records,   THAT   we may preserve unto our children the language of our fathers; and also   THAT   we may preserve unto them the words which have been spoken by the mouth of all the holy prophets..."  (1 Ne. 3:19-20)

We can find the reason that people (including us) whine or complain in 1 Ne. 2:12:

"And thus Laman and Lemuel...did murmur against their father.  And they did murmur  BECAUSE   they knew not the dealings of that God who had created them." 

Since faith consists, in part, of a knowledge of God, we murmur because our faith is weak.  Faith also consists in a knowledge that our life is in accordance to God's will, so we may also murmur because we are unwilling to accept God's plan for us.

Combinations

A particularly strong combination of perceptual words and phrases is used in the last verse of Nephi's first chapter to state his purpose in keeping his record:

"But    BEHOLD,    I, Nephi, WILL SHOW YOU THAT    the tender mercies of the Lord are over all those whom he hath chosen...  [why are they chosen?]  

"BECAUSE   of their faith,  [and here the word "to" shows the purpose of the tender mercies]  

"TO   make them mighty even unto the power of deliverance."  (1 Ne. 1:20)

Having stated his purpose in writing, now we can look for it all through Nephi's two books.  Here is an example of the tender mercies of the Lord making the faithful mighty unto deliverance, which also uses a combination of perceptual words: 

"And now, my beloved brethren, seeing that our merciful God has given us so great knowledge concerning these things, let us remember him, and lay aside our sins, and not hang down our heads,    FOR    we are not cast off..."  (the good result of having a knowledge of [or relationship with] our merciful God.)

"NEVERTHELESS,   we have been driven out of the land of our inheritance..." (the opposite result of what we might expect if we were not cast off.)

"BUT    we have been led to a better land..."  (a good result of being driven out)

"FOR  the Lord has made the sea our path..."  (we were led to a better land because the Lord showed a new path, through the sea.)  (2 Ne. 10:20)

LITERARY TECHNIQUES OF THE BOOK OF MORMON

The literary techniques of the Book of Mormon testify of its authenticity, as they are commonly used in Hebrew and would have been completely unknown to Joseph Smith at the time of translation.  In fact, some scholars believe Lehi and Nephi must have been scribes by trade, to have written such great literature.  (See Literary Themes in the Book of Mormon, by Joey Greene.)

Conjunctions

Why are there so many ands in the Book of Mormon?  For an extreme example, Helaman 3:14 has 18 ands in it!  In Hebrew, and is attached to a noun and is used much as we use a comma in English.  (David Bokovoy, BYU Campus Education Week lecture, August 2001, my personal notes)

Anaphora

And it came to pass is a purposely repetitive phrase, indicating the beginning of a sentence.  It usually shows the passage of time, or the introduction of a new section of the story.  It is found in the Bible, but much more commonly in the Book of Mormon (over 1,400 times), since the Book of Mormon is "a highly condensed prose narrative."  (Hugh W. Pinnock, "Forms of Repetition," Neal A. Maxwell Institute)

Cognate Accusative

In this literary form, the verb is immediately followed by a noun of the same root.  The English form is kind of funny-sounding, but in Hebrew it would be poetic and beautiful.  This is another indication that the Book of Mormon came from Hebrew writers.  Examples:  "fear with great fear," "cursed with a sore cursing," "work all manner of fine work," judge righteous judgments," "dreamed a dream."  (Bokovoy)

Pronominal Suffix

This is a pronoun attached directly to the noun indicating ownership.  In a list, it would be attached to every word.  We can learn something very interesting about Lehi in 1 Ne. 2:4 by noticing which items in the list do not have the word his attached to them:

"And he left his house, and the land of his inheritance, and his gold, and his silver, and his precious things, and took nothing with him, save it were his family, and provisions, and tents..."

Aha!  The provisions and the tents had not belonged to Lehi--he had to purchase them.  This tells us he was not a nomad, and just like the latter-day European pioneers who traveled across the plains of the United States to Utah in the 19th century, the family of Lehi was not at all used to camping.  (Bokovoy)

The Construct State

Two nouns are placed together, one of which describes the other, like an adjective. The best way to say the same thing in English is to use the word of between the two:  "altar of stones," "skin of blackness," "state of probation," "plates of brass."  In English we would typically put the adjective first, and say "brass plates," but you won't find "brass plates" anywhere in the Book of Mormon.

A particularly interesting one is "river of water."  What other kind of river would there be?  Well, in the mideast, dry river beds or wadis are in abundance for most of the year.  This specification lets us know the writer was used to wadis and wanted to clarify that this was a running river.  (Bokovoy)  This phrase is used 5 times but by only one writer.  Guess which one?  The only Book of Mormon writer who began his life in the middle east:  Nephi.

CONCLUSION

"Not all truths are of equal value, nor are all scriptures of the same worth...There is a power in the book [of Mormon] which will begin to flow into your lives the moment you begin a serious study of the book...[power to] resist temptation...avoid deception...stay on the strait and narrow...  When you begin to hunger and thirst after those words, you will find life in greater and greater abundance."  (Ezra Taft Benson, A Witness and a Warning, p. 6)

"Its appeal is as timeless as truth, as universal as mankind. It is the only book that contains within its covers a promise that by divine power the reader may know with certainty of its truth.

"Its origin is miraculous; when the story of that origin is first told to one unfamiliar with it, it is almost unbelievable. But the book is here to be felt and handled and read. No one can dispute its presence.

"All efforts to account for its origin, other than the account given by Joseph Smith, have been shown to lack substance. It is a record of ancient America. It is the scripture of the New World, as certainly as the Bible is the scripture of the Old. Each speaks of the other. Each carries with it the spirit of inspiration, the power to convince and to convert. Together they become two witnesses, hand in hand, that Jesus is the Christ, the resurrected and living Son of the living God.

"Its narrative is a chronicle of nations long since gone. But in its descriptions of the problems of today’s society, it is as current as the morning newspaper and much more definitive, inspired, and inspiring concerning the solutions to those problems."  (Gordon B. Hinckley, "The Power of the Book of Mormon," Ensign, June 1998)

"With other latter-day prophets, I testify of the truthfulness of this 'most correct of any book on earth,' even the Book of Mormon, another testament of Jesus Christ. Its message spans the earth and brings its readers to a knowledge of the truth. It is my testimony that the Book of Mormon changes lives. May each of us read it and reread it. And may we joyfully share our testimonies of its precious promises with all of God’s children."  (President Thomas S. Monson, First Presidency Message:  Precious Promises of the Book of Mormon, Ensign, October 2011)

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Extra Christmas Lesson #3

I just read The Purpose of Christmas, by Rick Warren.  It has a great message and many helpful insights which are almost entirely compatible with LDS doctrine.  (The only deviation I can see is that he says Jesus did not come to organize a religion, and I'm pretty sure he did, since he set up apostles, seventies, the sacrament, baptism, and temple worship.  But that's only one sentence in the entire book.) 

You can read an outline and some great quotes from the book which would make a great lesson if you filled it in a bit, in my new personal online notes file (which is another blog, to make it easily searchable). 

Here is the link:  The Purpose of Christmas

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Extra Christmas Lesson #2

If you didn't give this lesson earlier in the year, it fits very well at Christmastime:

http://gospeldoctrineplus.blogspot.com/2011/01/nt-lesson-3-unto-you-is-borna-saviour.html

Friday, December 9, 2011

Extra Christmas Lesson #1

If you have an extra week and would like to give a special Christmas-oriented lesson on faith, please follow this link to one I posted in 2009, "The Measure of Our Faith."

Saturday, December 3, 2011

New Testament Lesson #46: "He Will Dwell with Them, and They Shall Be His People"

Revelation 5-6; 19-22

THREE KINDS OF SCRIPTURE

The New Testament seems to have three sections:
  1. The four gospels and the Book of Acts are like storybooks.  (Hold up and leaf through a children's Bible storybook.)  We can read them and follow the story line, and we can learn wonderful lessons from the stories.  If we wanted to (and many people have) we could draw pictures to illustrate them.
  2. Then we have the epistles.  (Hold up and leaf through a reference or textbook--Mormon Doctrine, for example.) Just words, no pictures, all black and white.  But they are full of wonderful deep truths for serious students of the gospel.
  3. And at the end of the New Testament, we have this wonderful book of the Revelation of John, not much like a book at all.  Revelation is full of color, sights, action. There are many stories and ideas depicted, but they are not necessarily in a chronological order.  You can see them all at once, or examine one scene by itself. 

Christmastime is such a wonderful time, full of sights, sounds, smells, memories, symbols, and imagery that mean much more to us than their face value, and that is one reason we love it so much.  Revelation at the end of the New Testament is like the joyous Christmas celebration at the end of the year: a multi-sensory, emotion-laden, visual panorama of the Plan of Salvation.

THE REVELATION OF ST JOHN THE DIVINE

"The Revelation seems to be divided into two parts.  The first, chs. 1 to 3, deals with things at the time the Revelation was given, and is addressed to branches of the Church in seven cities of Asia.  Note Revelation 1:3: 'the time is at hand.'  These three chapters show clearly that the Church in that day was rapidly going into apostacy.

"The second part, chs. 4-22, deals with things yet future for John...It begins with John's time and continues to the end of the world.  Note Revelation 4:1: 'I will shew thee things which must be hereafter.'  Accordingly, it offers a sort of panoramic view of events through the ages--of apostasy, restoration, judgment, and millenium" (Bible Dictionary, p. 762.)

The Book of Revelation is amazing and volumes could be written about it (in fact, they have), so having to cover the whole thing in two lessons is daunting.  If you have extra weeks left over at the end of the year, you may want to divide this lesson up and spread it out. 
 
CHAPTER 4: THE VISION OF GOD THE FATHER

The revelation begins with this wonderful opening statement: 

"After this I looked, and behold, a door was opened in heaven..." (4:1)  We talk about the "windows of heaven" being revelation, but here, the door was opened:  This was a major revelation.

The first thing that John saw was the greatness and glory of God.

"And immediately I was in the spirit: and behold, a throne was set in heaven, and one sat on the throne.  And he that sat was to look upon like a jasper and a sardine stone: and there was a rainbow round about the throne, in sight like unto an emerald.  And round about the throne were four and twenty seats: and upon the seats I saw four and twenty elders sitting, clothed in white raiment; and they had on their heads crowns of gold.

"And out of the throne proceeded lightnings and thunderings and voices; and there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God.

"And before the throne there was a sea of glass like unto crystal; and in the midst of the throne, and round about the throne, were four beasts full of eyes before and behind.

"And the first beast was like a lion, and the second beast like a calf, and the third beast had a face as a man, and the fourth beast was like a flying eagle.  And the four beasts had each of them six wings about him; and they were full of eyes within: and they rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come.

"And when those beasts give glory and honour and thanks to him that sat on the throne, who liveth for ever and ever, the four and twenty elders fall down before him that sat on the throne and worship him that liveth for ever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying, Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power, for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created."  (4:2-11)

So, before we even get to the overview of the entire scheme of earthly existence, we get to see the victor:  we know who is going to win, and we know how great and wonderful he is, and we know who is going to be on the winning side with him.  Knowing who wins alleviates a lot of the stress of life, and of the scenes to come.  Imagine watching a pre-recorded soccer or football game and already knowing your favorite team wins!  You wouldn't be too stressed out when the opposing team makes a score or gets ahead for a while, because you already know the outcome.  This is what we are given here--the outcome--and it is going to be glorious, and we are going to know which team to be on if we want to be a part of that.  We know "the end from the beginning."

"Evil will not win; goodness will achieve the mastery.  The earth will not diminish in nuclear winter but rise in millennial splendor.  Christ, not Lucifer, will claim the earth, and his claim will stand."  (Michael Wilcox, Who Shall be Able to Stand?, Kindle edition, ch. 5)

Let's take a closer look at the beautiful images presented in this image of the Celestial Kingdom.

The Rainbow
"Since a rainbow presents light in one of its most beautiful manifestations, a rainbow surrounding the Father is most appropriate.  One aspect of eternal truth [light] and the attributes of the Father [God is Light] appear to be displayed here.  The rainbow has strong associations with the mercy of the Father.  This is seen as early as the flood.  In the midst of storm, God's light, truth, and mercy ever bend back to the earth, touching it softly in healing wonder."  (Wilcox, chapter 4, paragraph 4.)

Lightnings and thunderings and voices!  These are the ways God communicates with us--sometimes with flashes of pure knowledge, sometimes with the thunderings of his wrath, and sometimes with a still, small voice.

24 Elders
"In the vision, the throne of the Father consists of three things, represented by the 24 elders, the sea of glass, and the four beasts.  According to D&C 77:5, the 24 elders 'had been faithful in the work of the ministry and were dead; who belonged to the seven churches.'  The Joseph Smith Translation makes an important change.  These elders are not sitting 'round about the throne' but 'in the midst of the throne'...

"God's throne includes, first and foremost, exalted beings.  This is his work and his glory...Hope and encouragement come from understanding that these...are ordinary members of the kingdom, coming from its many scattered branches [in the time of John].  If we were to see a vision of the paradise of God, the celestial kingdom, and within those glorified confines we saw members of our own wards enjoying eternal life with the Father--members we served with, home taught, and sat next to in sacrament meeting--would that not inspire us to believe in our own everlasting possibilities?"  (Wilcox, ch. 4, para. 5-6)

The number 24 is associated with priesthood.  (See Bible Numerics.)  That was already obvious by the symbol of "elders."  If we want to get even more tricky and technical with our Bible numerology, 24 is the product of multiplying 2 and 12.  The number 2 refers to "unity," and the number 12 refers to "perfection in government."  So these 24 are the product of unity in government, and it is a theocracy (government based upon God) because they are priesthood bearers.  This is further emphasized by the fact that they "cast their crowns before the throne" and give all praise and glory to God.

Do not assume that because they are "elders," the revelation refers only to the male gender.  As temple ordinances clearly teach us, the priesthood is a partnership, and the new and everlasting covenant of marriage is necessary to reach the celestial kingdom; therefore, both men and women are symbolized here, just as both the men and women of the church are symbolized by the woman giving birth in the part of the revelation we studied last week, and by the manchild she bears. 

The Sea of Glass
"Crystal and glass are often used to represent God's celestial world, for they are not susceptible to decay or change.  If we buried a glass bowl in the earth and dug it up a thousand years later, it would not have deteriorated.  Crystal also suggests purity, a clarity born of the heat of refining fires.  When the earth is sanctified, all the impurities that once had dominion upon it will be gone, and this extends to every object of creation."  (Wilcox, ch. 4, para. 14) 

Remember also that crystal reflects or refracts light in a rainbow display of color and light, harking back to the symbol of the rainbow surrounding the throne.  If it is polished and flat, it reflects like a mirror.  If it is faceted, it refracts light, or breaks it up into its various colors.  So this crystal can give a clear vision of oneself, or it can refract the light around us so that we can see the beauty and glory that others may miss.

"As glass is transparent, so too will this earth cease to hide its secrets--secrets that once required long years of research, testing, experimentation, and observation to uncover.  A crystal earth, a Urim and Thummim world, is a sphere of light, truth, intelligence, beauty, perfection, purity, and endless, open knowledge."  (Wilcox, ch. 4, para. 15)

The Four Beasts
The number 4 in Hebrew refers to the whole of the creative works of God.  Often in scripture we find "the four corners of the earth," or "the four winds of the earth."  So four beasts may mean all of the animals in creation.

"The lion is called the king of beasts and causes us to think of wild creatures; the calf's innocence turns the mind to the usefulness and friendship of domestic animals; the face of a man suggests thought; and the eagle's dignity and swiftness represents the free world of birds.  Strength, gentleness, intelligence, and movement are all incorporated to stand for the world of animals." (Wilcox, ch. 4, para. 20)

Those who love animals, and particularly those who have lost a beloved pet, will particularly appreciate this part of the vision.  Animals are important to God, he created them to be eternal, and he redeems them from death.  This is even more clearly stated in the Bible Dictionary entry for "Revelation of John" as Point of Doctrine 4:  "Animals are resurrected from the dead, and there are animals in heaven, redeemed by the blood of Christ."  What a beautiful and comforting truth!

CHAPTER 5: THE VISION OF JESUS CHRIST

"And I saw in the right hand of him that sat on the throne a book written within and on the backside, sealed with seven seals.  And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, Who is worthy to open the book, and to loose the seals thereof?  And no man in heaven, nor in earth, neither under the earth, was able to open the book, neither to look thereon.  And I wept much, because no man was found worthy to open and to read the book, neither to look thereon" (5:1-4).

The book symbolizes a wonderful story, and the story is unable to begin.  What is it?  The plan of salvation.  (See D&C 77:6.)  Each of the seven seals is a division of the story, or a chapter of the book, and remember: there is writing on the back, too!  We have already read the back cover in chapter 4, but to achieve that glorious result, it is absolutely vital that someone open the book, and heartbreaking that no one is found able.

"And one of the elders saith unto me, Weep not: behold, the Lion of the tribe of Juda, the Root of David, hath prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof.  And I beheld, and lo, in the midst of the throne and of the four beasts, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as it had been slain, having 12 horns and 12 eyes, which are the 12 servants of God, sent forth into all the earth"  (5:5-6, with JST footnote).

Of course, the Lion of Juda, the Root of David, is Jesus Christ.  Remember that time is a function of earth life, not God's life, and this vision is panoramic, so it should not bother us that at the same time we see the beginning of the story before the book is even opened, in the same sentence with the end of the story, the triumphant throne.  Jesus Christ was a Lion, a possible earthly king as the lion is the king of the beasts.  He has the power to destroy, but he makes himself become a Lamb, that he might be slain for the sins of the world.  But although he is a lamb, he has great powers.  Remember that 12 refers to "perfection in government."  Having horns, he has great power of both offense and defense.  Having eyes, he is able to see light or truth, and therefore direct the body, the Church.  These horns and eyes are the 12 Apostles.  They foresee the future, they guide our path, they defend the faith, they lead the battle.  What a glorious blessing it is to have 12 Apostles upon the earth today!


The 12 Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

It is such a great and glorious thing that the Lion of Judah is willing to open the book that a new song is sung by "angels round about the throne and the beasts and the elders; and the number of them was 10,000 times 10,000, and 1,000s of 1,000s."  (5:9-11)  Okay, that is a LOT of people!  Besides it being an awful lot of people, the numbers 10 and 1,000 symbolize respectively "testimony and responsibility," and "divine completion and the Father's glory."  That fits in actual numbers and in numerology:  there are going to be countless hosts of people perfected (perfection = completion).  They are perfected and receive eternal life by the greatness of God's plan and the willing Atonement of Jesus Christ, they are the "work and the glory" of God.  (Moses 1:39)

THE FOUR HORSEMEN

Now we come to the four horsemen.  Each of them corresponds to a "seal" or a chapter in the book.

First, remember that in scripture a conqueror rides a horse.  This is why Jesus was able to enter Jerusalem, hailed as "King of the Jews" without bothering the Roman overlords in the slightest:  A king riding a horse was a king coming to battle, but a king riding a donkey was a king coming in peace.

1--The White Horse with the Crown
"And I saw, and behold a white horse: and he that sat on him had a bow; and a crown was given unto him: and he went forth conquering, and to conquer."  (6:2)

The New Testament Institute Manual says this horse is white, pure, made holy.  His rider wears a crown, a symbol of government and priesthood.  It is the temporal and spiritial conqueror, Enoch.  (See the New Testament Institute Manual, chapter 55, for more detail on the four horsemen.)

"If we choose to see the white horse in more general terms, using a less literal fulfillment, grouping it more fully with its three companions, it can symbolize the idea of conquest.  I lean to this reading of the first seal.  This shifts the emphasis more to one of a desire for power and the unrighteous seeking of it, Enoch being a lonely exception." (Wilcox, ch. 6)

2--The Red Horse with the Sword
"And there went out another horse that was red: and power was given to him that sat thereon to take peace from the earth, and that they should kill one another: and there was given unto him a great sword."  (6:4)

Red symbolizes evil and Satan, and the sword symbolizes bloodshed.  This was the time of terrible wickedness in which Noah and his family escaped on the ark.

3--The Black Horse with the Balances
"And I beheld and lo a black horse; and he that sat on him had a pair of balances in his hand.  And I heard a voice in the midst of the four beasts [the whole of the earth, remember] say, A measure of wheat for a penny, and 3 measures of barley for a penny; and see thou hurt not the oil and the wine." (6:5-6)

This is the black horse of famine in the times of Abraham, Jacob, and Moses.  One measure of grain was about one quarter, or a day's ration for one person.  One penny was about a day's wage.  Therefore one person's ration costing one day's wage describes a serious famine.  Barley was three measures for a penny but was greatly inferior nutritionally, and only used as a last resort.  The scales symbolize the great care taken to ration grain during the famine.  It was also enormously important to keep wine and oil preserved and useable for both nutritional and medicinal purposes.

4--The Pale Horse
"And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him.  And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth." (6:8)

The ashen look of the dead is the color of this horse.  It refers to the time of the great empires, in which death came in many forms: by sword, by wild beasts, and by famine.

As we view the first four seals and their representative horsemen, "We must be careful not to limit the horsemen exclusively to their own seal.  There have been famines and plagues in the first as well as the fourth dispensation, just as war and new subjugating empires have come and gone throughout the sad disharmony of history.  We are being shown the manner in which Lucifer rules the world when man gives him the ascendancy."  (Wilcox, ch. 6)

THE FIFTH AND SIXTH SEALS

5--The Altar
"And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held: and they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?

"And white robes were given unto every one of them; and it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellowservants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled." (6:9-11)

Why were the souls of the righteous under the altar?

"Certain sacrifices of the Jewish religion required that the animal's blood be used in different ways...In some rituals the blood was collected in a bowl and poured out at the foot of the altar of sacrifice.  (See Lev. 4.) Pouring out the blood suggests a freely willed, total commitment of life to the Lord.  It was often associated with the removing of sin.  The souls John saw under the altar had freely given their all.  Their offering was directly related to their desire to remove evil from the world.  They poured out their lives at the altar of God."  (Wilcox, ch. 5)

“Where the Lord’s people are concerned, the events of the fifth seal, that period from our Lord’s birth down to 1000 A.D., which are of unspeakable worth are:

“1. The birth into mortality of God’s only Son; his ministry among men and the atoning sacrifice which he wrought by the shedding of his own blood.

“2. The spread and perfection of the Church which was set up by Him whose Church it is, and the unbelievable fanaticism among unbelievers that made acceptance of martyrdom almost synonymous with acceptance of the gospel.

“3. And then, of course, the complete falling away from true and perfect Christianity, which sad eventuality ushered in the long night of apostate darkness on all the face of the earth."  (Bruce R. McConkie, Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3:482, quoted in Institute Manual)

6--The Earthquake
"And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood; and the stars of heaven fell unto the earth...And the heavens opened as a scroll is opened when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island, was moved out of its place.

"And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains..." (6:12-15)

"The sixth seal brings us to our own time and dispensation.  Since we are living during this seal, it would stand to reason that we recognize our own age in the visionary descriptions of it.  John sees a world where all things are in commotion, where stability is overturned.  Seven areas come under this general impression as the seal is opened:  1) a quaking earth, 2) a blackened sun, 3) a blood-red moon, 4) falling stars, 5) opening heavens, 6) shifting mountains and islands, and 7) people seeking places to hide...

"I do not wish to discount the literal fulfillment of any ancient prophecy.  Nephi told his wondering brothers that the words of Isaiah had both 'temporal and spiritual' fulfillment (1 Ne. 22:3).  The turmoil of the sixth seal may have literal as well as poetic fulfillment, but because of the nature of the writing style in Revelation, we would be foolish to examine the literal at the expense of the figurative...

"If the scene presented to John were opened to our view, we would immediately notice that darkness was dominant.  There would be little light with a black sun, a red moon, and falling stars...

"It is also a time of great instability...notice that the major aspects of creation are mentioned--earth, sun, moon, stars, heavens...Normally the earth is firm, not shaking; the stars are constant and never depart from their accustomed cycle in the night sky.  Mountains are supposed to be immovable, and the moon shines with soft light...

"The reason we fear eathquakes is not so much the shaking of the earth but what that shaking produces.  Buildings, bridges, roads, and rocks tumble to the ground...'Thus saith the Lord of hosts; Yet once, it is a little while, and I will shake the heavens, and the earth, and the sea, and the dry land [indicating all creation]; and I will shake all nations, and the desire of all nations shall come.' (Haggai 2:6-7)  The 'desire of all nations' is a reference to the Savior...

"'Yet once more I shake not the earth only, but also heaven.  And this word, Yet once more, signifieth the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that are made, that those things which cannot be shaken may remain.  Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably.' (Heb. 12:25-28)

"In the last century, as Haggai indicated, we saw nations fall.  Two of the most obvious were Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, but smaller, less dramatic examples are almost too numerous to name.  When all the shaking is done, one kingdom, one nation, will remain--that of Zion or the kingdom of God.(See also D&C 84:117-19.)

"In the D&C, the Lord urges the Saints to build Zion, that they might have 'a city of refuge, a place of safety for the saints of the Most High God'...In [our] chaotic world...God has provided one mountain, one island, that will not move: 'And there shall be gathered unto it out of every nation under heaven; and it shall be the only people that shall not be at war one with another (D&C 45:69).  As Saints, we need not be overwhelmed by the darkness of the seal in which we live--we need to build Zion."  (Wilcox, ch. 6) 

THE SEVENTH SEAL

Chapters 7-20 describe the events of the seventh seal or chapter of the book.  In this lesson we skip to chapter 19.  We are finally at the end of the story, for which we saw a preview in chapter 3, but one element is added:  a marriage.

"Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready." (19:7)

Why a marriage?  Because it is the strongest covenant known to most cultures, it involves becoming literally "one" with the marriage partner, it is something that requires much planning and preparation, something to look forward to with great joy and anticipation, the greatest event in people's lives in many cultures, a time of supreme happiness, and a union that of all unions is intended to last forever.  The bride in this story is, of course, the Church of God which has become Zion.

"And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war.  His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on his head were many crowns; and he had a name written, that no man knew, but he himself.  And he was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood: and his name is called The Word of God.

"And the armies which were in heaven followed him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean.

"And out of his mouth proceedeth the word of God [a sharp sword], and with it he will smite the nations; and he will rule them with the word of his mouth; and he treadeth the wine-press in the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God.  And he hath on his vesture and on his thigh a name written, KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS." (19:11-16 JST)

The Fate of the Wicked
Then an angel "standing in the sun," completely filled with the glory of God, calls to the vultures to come because the opposing army will soon be corpses.  Unfortunately for the leaders of that enemy, the devil and those who knowingly led others astray, however, they will be cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone.  It would be so much better to be killed.

"Brimstone is a sulphur, a yellow-green, highly combustible element commonly found along the shores of the Dead Sea.  The same substance is used to make matches and gunpowder...When ignited...sulphur liquefies and produces a sharp and suffocating burning odor that can desolate and kill." (D. Kelly Ogden and Andrew C. Skinner, New Testament Apostles Testify of Jesus Christ, p. 343)

"A man is his own tormentor and his own condemner...The torment of disappointment in the mind of man is as exquisite as a lake burning with fire and brimstone."  (Joseph Smith, History of the Church, 6:314)

Then an angel will come down from heaven with the key of the bottomless pit.  As we discussed in the previous lesson, a key anciently was a symbol of great power.  What image does a bottomless pit bring to mind?  It is a place where you cannot get a foothold, you cannot even stay in place, but must continually be falling downward.  This is the fate of Satan, he who strove to elevate himself by putting others down.

Why was an angel the symbol used for the one who would bind Satan, rather than Jesus Christ himself?  Here is a possible answer:

"The only power I know of that will bind Satan, or render him powerless, is righteous living...Satan had no power over [Christ], because Jesus resisted his temptations."  (Eldred G. Smith, Conference Report, April 1970)  The righteousness of the followers of Christ will cast the devil into the pit.  Along with this representative angel, John saw the thrones again, and the souls of the righteous martyrs living and reigning with Christ for 1,000 years.  1,000, again, means "divine completeness and glory."  The key to their success is found in verse 4:  "They had not worshipped the beast [Satan] or received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands."  "It was a common practice in John's day for devotees of the various heathen gods to markt their foreheads with the name or symbol of their god.  For example: Zeus = thunderbolt, Poseidon = trident." (Institute Manual, p. 460).  Slaves would also receive the brand of their master on their forehead or on their right hand.  (Ogden/Skinner, p. 335) 

The First Resurrection
The people who rise in the morning of the first resurrection are those who resisted Satan, who have no such condemning mark, but have "clean hands" (Psalm 24:4) and are "unspotted from the world" (James 1:27) and have been "sealed up for the morning of the first resurrection."  Does your patriarchal blessing offer you this promise?  A seal such as this is proof of ownership, a label placed on goods or tattooed on servants (Illustrated Manners and Customs of the Bible, p. 319).  It means Christ has paid for their sins and they belong to and with him.

I hope it isn't too disrespectful to compare this to the movie "Toy Story 2."  If you've seen this movie, you will remember that the key character was a little cowboy toy named Woody.  Woody belonged to a little boy and had his name "Andy" magic-markered on the sole of his foot.  Despite getting separated from Andy and going through a great deal of trial during that time, he is reunited with Andy, and his new friend, the cowgirl doll Jessie, who has never belonged to a child, receives the name of "Andy" on the bottom of her foot as well.

We can be sealed as possessions of Christ's, the Man riding victorious on the white horse with the label KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS if we resist being tainted with the mark of the devil as we are enduring our separation from our Heavenly Father on this earth.

The New Jerusalem
The glorious new dwelling of the righteous, the New Jerusalem, will have light like unto jasper (21:11), walls of jasper (21:18), and the first foundation made of jasper (20:19).  Where I live, our foundations are typically made of concrete, and although they are vital, they are the ugliest part of the building.  The very bottom foundation of this city is made of jasper, a beautiful precious stone.  The city is so glorious that gems and precious stones are all John can find in our world to describe it!



"Jasper is a mixture of quartz and iron oxide...[It] is harder than a knife and scratches glass.  It takes a high polish, is used for mantels, pillars and other fancy interior finishings.  Fine grades of jasper are polished into gems.  Jasper was found on the breastplate of the High Priest in Exodus.  Greeks and Romans believed it could heal many illnesses and draw the poison from snake bites."  (World Book Encyclopedia)

A distinguishing feature of a city or area that is largely populated by Latter-day Saints on our earth is a temple at its center.  Surprisingly, the New Jerusalem will not have a temple!

"And I saw no temple therein; for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it.  And the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it; for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof.

"And the nations of them which are saved [again, that's a LOT of people] shall walk in the light of it: and the kings of the earth do bring their glory and honour into it.  And the gates of it shall not be shut at all by day: for there shall be no night there."  (21:22-25)

THE OPTIMISM OF THE REVELATION OF JOHN

Although John was in exile as he received this Revelation, most or all of his fellow apostles had been killed, and the Church was on the eve of the greatest apostasy of all time, he wrote the Revelation with an attitude of great joy and hope.  "The prophets of God, and especially the 'seers' who have seen as God sees from the beginning to the end are substantial optimists because their hope is sure...No one can read these concluding chapters of Revelation without sensing the great joy and hope that was felt by John as he wrote."  (Institute Manual, p. 470-471)

President Ezra Taft Benson said, "Of all people, we as Latter-day Saints should be the most optimistic and the least pessimistic."  (Conference Report, October 1974)

"We don’t always know the details of our future. We do not know what lies ahead. We live in a time of uncertainty. We are surrounded by challenges on all sides. Occasionally discouragement may sneak into our day; frustration may invite itself into our thinking; doubt might enter about the value of our work. In these dark moments Satan whispers in our ears that we will never be able to succeed, that the price isn’t worth the effort, and that our small part will never make a difference. He, the father of all lies, will try to prevent us from seeing the end from the beginning...

"The Lord wants you, my young friends, to desire with all your heart to keep these standards and live by the gospel truths found in the scriptures. As you do this, you will see beyond the moment, and you will see your bright and wonderful future with great opportunities and responsibilities. You will be willing to work hard and endure long, and you will have an optimistic outlook on life...

"The Lord will help you to make more out of your life than you ever can by yourself. He will help you always to see the end from the beginning!"  (Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Conference Report, April 2006).

“‘Things will work out’ may well be President Hinckley’s most repeated assurance to family, friends, and associates,” noted Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. “‘Keep trying,’ he will say. ‘Be believing. Be happy. Don’t get discouraged. Things will work out’” (Ensign, June 1995, 4).

Because the Revelation of John has been called The Apocolypse, and because it has been written in a "divine code" misunderstood by the world since the great Apostasy, the word "apocalypse" has come to mean "the end of the world."  The very word conjures up feelings of terror, of doom and devastation.  But the original meaning of the word "apocolypse," used by the early Saints who understood the revelation, is "unveiling."  It means a showing of something that has been hidden.  The Revelation of John is not given to scare us, but to teach us what we need to know to reach the happy ending of the story of the world.

"My hopes in reference to the future life are supremely grand and glorious, and I try to keep these prospects bright, continually; and that is the privilege and the duty of every Latter-day Saint."  (President Lorenzo Snow, Conference Report, October 1900)

Let's read in John's own words the reasons we should be so hopeful:

"And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.

"And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away." (21:3-4)

At the very end of his revelation, John writes the words of the Lord, "Surely I come quickly.  Amen." (22:19)  "Quickly" here does not mean "right away," but "in a sudden manner."  To this, John adds these words of his own, "Even so, come, Lord Jesus."

(You may want to end your lesson by playing one of the musical versions of the Revelation of John from Handel's "Messiah."  It has been recorded by the Tabernacle Choir, as well as many other choirs. Rev. 11:15 is the middle of the "Hallelujah Chorus;" 5:12 is "Worthy is the Lamb;" 5:13, 7:12, and 7:10 combined are "Blessing and Honour.")

(FYI:  Rev. 22:18-19 are John's copyright on the book of Revelation.  He warned against adding to or taking away from his words.  This may have been effective as they have been largely untainted over time, or perhaps it is just his "divine code" that prevented tampering.  At any rate, it does NOT refer to the Bible as a whole.  The Bible had not yet been assembled when this was written, and in fact, John's own gospel and his epistles were written AFTER this Revelation.  --KBYU New Testament study television program with Andrew Skinner and other BYU religion professors)