When Nephi teaches his older brothers about the justice of God, they are offended. Because of the way they had lived their lives up to that point, it appears their consciences were troubled by what Nephi — in the power of the Spirit — had to say about the fate of the wicked. In teaching his brothers about why they were offended, Nephi expresses a general truth about how the guilty respond when reminded of the precarious spiritual state they are in:
“…After I, Nephi, had made an end of speaking to my brethren, behold they said unto me: Thou hast declared unto us hard things, more than we are able to bear. And…I said unto them that I knew that I had spoken hard things against the wicked, according to the truth…and the guilty taketh the truth to be hard, for it cutteth them to the very center. And now my brethren, if ye were righteous and were willing to hearken to the truth, and give heed unto it, that ye might walk uprightly before God, then ye would not murmur because of the truth and say: Thou speakest hard things against us.” (1 Nephi 16:1-3)
-Is it possible for a person to be wicked (in the way Nephi uses the word above) if that person doesn’t know what God expects of them? Did Laman and Lemuel — Nephi’s two older brothers – know what God expected of them? Had their father taught them well (see 1 Nephi 1:1)? Had they seen an angel of God (see 1 Nephi 3:28-29)?
-If you believe in God, do you know what He expects of you? Would a just God ever reject those who did not have the opportunity to learn what He expects from them? Are the eternal stakes higher when we do know what God expects of us? Is it valuable to always be striving to learn more about what God expects of us?
-Does everyone have some sense of what is right and wrong by God’s true and perfect standard? Is Western culture, in general, currently open to the idea of there being a perfect standard of right and wrong — upheld by a perfect God – by which all will be judged? How likely will those who are not open to this perfect standard be to seek mercy through Jesus Christ’s Atonement?
As he answers his brothers’ questions about their father’s dream, Nephi emphasizes a bright fire-like light — representing the justice of God — that divided the wicked and the righteous in the dream. Nephi teaches his brothers that they, like all who have lived on the earth, will account for their lives at the day of judgement.
“I said unto them that our father also saw that the justice of God did also divide the wicked from the righteous; and the brightness thereof was like unto the brightness of a flaming fire, which ascendeth up unto God forever and ever and hath no end…For the day should come that they must be judged of their works…and if their works have been filthiness they must needs be filthy; and if they be filthy it must needs be that they cannot dwell in the kingdom of God; if so, the kingdom of God must be filthy also. But…the kingdom of God is not filthy, and there cannot any unclean thing enter into the kingdom of God; wherefore there must needs be a place of filthiness prepared for that which is filthy. And there is a place prepared, yea, even that awful hell of which I have spoken, and the devil is the preparator of it; wherefore the final state of the souls of men is to dwell in the kingdom of God or to be cast out because of that justice of which I have spoken.” (1 Nephi 15:30,32-35)
-If the justice of God is unalterable and eternal, as Nephi describes it above, what place does mercy have in God’s plan?
-What does the sum of one’s actions during a lifetime say about his or her true desires? Can a season of wickedness in one’s life be followed by a season of righteousness without any eternal ramifications based on the time when unrighteous choices were made?
-How can anyone be saved in the kingdom of God when everyone makes mistakes and sins?
-Is a sense of God’s justice a concept that has gained ground or lost ground in Western culture in the last century?
-Is it possible to sense the true need for Jesus Christ as our Savior without also opening oneself up to the reality and unwavering clarity of God’s justice?
In teaching his brothers about the meaning of the iron rod, which their father saw in a dream, Nephi bears witness of the power of the word of God (which is what the iron rod in the dream symbolizes).
“…I said unto them that…whoso would hearken unto the word of God, and would hold fast unto it, they would never perish; neither could the temptations and the fiery darts of the adversary overpower them unto blindness, to lead them away to destruction.” (1 Nephi 15:24)
-What words have the most influence over your life? Are these words from an earthly source or from a Heavenly source?
-Do you believe there are written and spoken words that come from a Heavenly source? If so, how can one identify language that is from God as opposed to that which is not?
-Is it possible to avoid, or cure, spiritual blindness with words that are not divinely inspired?
-Do you ever feel that the words that are influencing you are leading you to destruction? Have you felt the opposite where the words influencing you are bringing light and joy into your life?
-If you believe the Book of Mormon has a Heavenly source, how important is it to delve deeply and often into its pages? How important are its messages?
In teaching his brothers about the restoration of Israel in the last days, Nephi provides a specific example related to what, for them, would be future events in the Americas:
“…Then shall the fulness of the gospel of the Messiah come unto the Gentiles, and from the Gentiles unto the remnant of our seed—And at that day shall the remnant of our seed know that they are of the house of Israel, and that they are the covenant people of the Lord; and then shall they know and come to the knowledge of their forefathers, and also to the knowledge of the gospel of their Redeemer, which was ministered unto their fathers by him; wherefore, they shall come to the knowledge of their Redeemer and the very points of his doctrine, that they may know how to come unto him and be saved.” (1 Nephi 15:13-14, 16)
-What is the fulness of the gospel? Has it been extended by God to the Gentiles and, through the Gentiles, to Lehi’s descendants?
-Do those with native American ancestry largely identify as being part of the house of Israel today? How is acceptance of the Book of Mormon related to establishing that identity? How quickly has that identity grown since the publication of the Book of Mormon? Is it still growing today?
-Is there cultural or genetic evidence of native American ties to the house of Israel?
After receiving revelation regarding his father’s dream and many future events, Nephi returns to his father’s camp and finds his brothers arguing about what their father had taught the family. Another powerful and clear message of the Book of Mormon unfolds as Nephi reminds his brothers that they should seek out the ultimate source of truth and knowledge (rather than simply relying on their own understandings) to obtain clarity about the matters they are disputing about:
“Do ye not remember the things which the Lord hath said?—If ye will not harden your hearts, and ask me in faith, believing that ye shall receive, with diligence in keeping my commandments, surely these things shall be made known unto you.” (1 Nephi 15:11)
-What are the essential elements of receiving guidance from God as described in the verse above?
-Is it always easy to maintain a soft heart when seeking answers from God?
-Do we sometimes ask in doubt (rather than in faith) and still expect an answer?
-Why is diligent keeping of the commandments an important aspect of receiving revelation from God? Is the strength of the Spirit in our lives tied to our ability to receive divine instruction? And, is the strength of the Spirit in our lives a constant? Or, does it wax and wane depending on a person’s actions in relation to God’s commandments?
-Is it easy to have preconceptions about how God will give us answers and how quickly the answers will come? Does having true faith that you will receive an answer part of having the patience necessary to help overcome these preconceptions?
As Nephi’s vision — and the corresponding instruction from the Lord’s angel — concludes, Nephi is shown that one of Christ’s twelve apostles, called by the Lord during His earthy ministry, would write of many of the same things that Nephi had seen concerning events before Christ’s second coming.
“And the angel said unto me: Behold one of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. Behold, he shall see and write…many things which have been and shall also write concerning the end of the world. Wherefore the things which he shall write are just and true…And behold, the things which this apostle shall write are many things which thou hast seen; and behold, the remainder shalt thou see. But the things which thou shalt see hereafter thou shalt not write; for the Lord God hath ordained the apostle of the Lamb of God that he should write them. And also others who have been, to them hath he shown all things, and they have written them; and they are sealed up to come forth in their purity, according to the truth which is in the Lamb, in the own due time of the Lord, unto the house of Israel. And I, Nephi, heard and bear record, that the name of the apostle of the Lamb was John, according to the word of the angel.” (1 Nephi 14:20-27)
-Have you read John’s prophecies in the New Testament?
-Why would the Lord ordain John to write about certain events and ask other prophets (such as Nephi) not to write about the same events?
-Why, in the Lord’s wisdom, are some writings currently being held back from being available to those living on the earth?
-If the Book of Mormon — as its writers state — is the word of God, how receptive have the inhabitants of earth been to it in general? Will the Lord provide more scripture before the additional scriptures He has already provided (including the Bible and Book of Mormon) are respected and understood?
-Do prejudice and bias against the Book of Mormon create a “seal” by which Satan keeps individuals and large groups of people from receiving the light and knowledge God wants them to receive? If this seal is broken down will it help prepare the way for the other sacred writings mentioned in these verses to be unsealed by God?
Nephi sees, in a vision of the great division that will occur in the last days, the power that God will give to those who are faithful to their covenant relationship with Him and His Son, Jesus Christ.
I beheld that the great mother of abominations did gather together multitudes upon the face of all the earth, among all the nations of the Gentiles, to fight against the Lamb of God. And…I, Nephi, beheld the power of the Lamb of God, that it descended upon the saints of the church of the Lamb, and upon the covenant people of the Lord, who were scattered upon all the face of the earth; and they were armed with righteousness and with the power of God in great glory. (1 Nephi 14:13-14)
-If you believe this prophecy about how things will unfold in the time before Christ’s return, why do you think so many will end up yielding to the temptations of the devil and fight (it appears in an organized way) against Christ and His covenant people?
-What does it mean to be armed with righteousness? Will it be possible, individually and collectively as these events unfold, to withstand the power of the mother of abominations without being armed with righteousness and the power of God?
-Where do you feel you stand now in relation to God’s work and the godless work that is marshaling against the covenant people of the Lord?
In teaching Nephi about the events of the last days, and the great division that will occur between those who serve the Lamb of God and those who reject Him (See The Lamb of God Will Work a Great and Marvelous Work), the angel of the Lord explains to Nephi that ultimately there are only two churches.
“And [the angel] said unto me: Behold there are two churches only; the one is the church of the Lamb of God, and the other is the church of the devil; wherefore, whoso belongeth not to the church of the Lamb of God belongeth to that great church, which is the mother of abominations; and she is the whore of all the earth.” (1 Nephi 14:10)
-If God has set Himself to test the hearts of all people in our time (as discussed in the post previous to this one—see The Lamb of God Will Work a Great and Marvelous Work), will the division between the church of the Lamb of God and the church of the devil become more distinct and recognizable than ever? In this scenario of clarification, how powerful would the draw of the work of the Lamb of God be to all good and sincere people (of all faiths and denominations) as the distinction unfolds and the true destructiveness and evil of the church of the devil is revealed?
Nephi continues to be taught about the events of the last days.
“…The angel spake unto me, Nephi, saying: Thou hast beheld that if the Gentiles repent it shall be well with them…and thou also hast heard that whoso repenteth not must perish. Therefore, wo be unto the Gentiles if it so be that they harden their hearts against the Lamb of God. For the time cometh, saith the Lamb of God, that I will work a great and marvelous work among the children of men; a work which shall be everlasting, either on the one had or the other—either to the convincing of them unto peace and life eternal, or unto the deliverance of them to the hardness of their hearts and the blindness of their minds unto their being brought down into captivity and also into destruction, both temporally and spiritually according to the captivity of the devil.” (1 Nephi 14:5-7)
-What does it mean to repent? And, according to the passage above, how important is repentance for the temporal and spiritual welfare of the Gentiles?
-Does this message only apply to the Gentiles? Or, is it applicable to everyone?
-Are there signs of God’s great and marvelous work occurring now?
-Is your heart open to the Lamb of God and the work He is performing to bring peace and life eternal to all who will receive Him?
Nephi continues to be taught, by an angel of the Lord, about events leading up to Christ’s second coming. He learns that the Gentiles in the Americas, and throughout the entire world, who receive Christ’s latter-day revelations and directions will inherit the covenant blessings of the house of Israel along with those who are tied to the house of Israel by ancestry (see A Promised Land for All Who Serve the Lamb of God).
On the other hand, Nephi also learns that those who fight against Christ’s words and actions in the last days — when He is gathering the house of Israel according to the covenants made with them — will shut themselves outside the covenant blessings and, thus, will be vulnerable to the destructive pitfalls laid by Satan to capture souls in our time. The snares laid to fight against Christ and His followers will turn to the detriment and destruction of those who laid the snares.
“…That great pit, which hath been digged…by that great and abominable church, which was founded by the devil and his children, that he might lead away the souls of men down to hell—yea, that great pit which has been digged for the destruction of men shall be filled by those who digged it, unto their utter destruction, saith the Lamb of God…For behold, this is according to the captivity of the devil, and also according to the justice of God, upon all those who will work wickedness and abomination before him.” (1 Nephi 14:3-4)
-When a person or group has ill will toward another person or group, who does it usually hurt the most in the long run? Is it the person or group with the malice or the person or group toward which the malice is directed? How long will a group or society focused on fault finding and entrapment of others function before turning on its own members?
-What is the nature of the figurative pit mentioned in this prophecy? How will it be dug by those who wish to trap others within it?
-How difficult will it be to escape the pit? As Christ manifests Himself in word, power, and deed to restore the fulness of His gospel and gather the house of Israel (see 1 Nephi 14:2 and A Promised Land for All Who Serve the Lamb of God) will it be possible to stay neutral? Or, will “sitting on the fence” be more difficult than ever as a clear separation develops between those who recognize Christ’s work as real and those who deny it and fight against its progress? (See Christ’s parable of the wheat and the tares in Matthew 13:25-30.)