Book of Mormon Lesson 38 (3 Nephi 8–11)
September 11–17


Samuel’s Prophecies Are Fulfilled
About 33 years after the sign of Jesus’ birth, the people “began to look with great earnestness” for the fulfillment of Samuel’s words (3 Nephi 8:2–4; Helaman 14:20–27).

Great storms and tempests (3 Nephi 8:5–7, 16).  It started with “a great storm, such an one as never had been known in all the land” (v. 5). Such storms are rare but not unheard of on the west coast of the Americas. We usually hear of them coming in from the Atlantic Ocean. Hurricanes are almost always accompanied by severe rainstorms, thunderstorms, and tornadoes in the affected areas of the earth” (v. 17). If there were such massive upheavals that “the whole earth became deformed” and the time of Christ’s death, we would expect to see evidence of it somewhere in the Americas. And we do. “Mesoamerica is known for its seismic activity. One text on the archaeology of Mesoamerica is called The Sons of the Shaking Earth, taking its title from a common characteristic of the whole area. . . . From the Valley of Mexico on the north to El Salvador on the south, we have a pattern of major volcanic eruptions. [At the time of Christ’s death] the north experienced lava flows over thirty feet thick [and] the south saw ash layers of up to sixty-five feet deep.”1

Volcanoes:  “Interestingly, [there is] evidence of at least four different volcanic eruptions. . . dated as early as the time of Christ. . . . Near the border of Guatemala is the site of Chalchuapa, a large . . . site that was occupied [both before and after the time of Christ].  A layer of volcanic ash between the archaeological strata has been dated by radiocarbon processes to A.D. 30, a date that provides a correlation with the crucifixion of Christ. . . . Copilco [experienced] a lava flow thirty feet thick, covering architecture, burials, and pottery vessels.  This layer of lava dates from the time of Christ . . .   About thirty miles northeast [of Copilco] is the huge site of Teotihuacan.  Between two architecture levels [there] appears a layer of volcanic ash probably blown in from that eruption.  By radiocarbon dating, that eruption dates to A.D. 30.”2

Cities and countrysides destroyed (3 Nephi 8:8–10, 14–15). Many important Nephite cities were destroyed by various means.
— Zarahemla took fire (v. 8).
— Moroni sank into the depths of the sea, drowning its inhabitants (v. 9).
— Moronihah was buried by landslides, such that “in the place of the city there became a great mountain” (v. 10).
— Many other great and notable cities were sunk, burned, and shaken by earthquakes until their buildings collapsed, killing their inhabitants and leaving them desolate (v. 14).
— Even cities not destroyed had significant damage and deaths (v. 15).
— There was “great and terrible destruction in the land southward” (v. 11).
— There was even greater destruction in the land northward (v. 12).

Landslides and Mud Flows:  How could entire cities be covered in three hours, and others washed out to sea? The answer may lie in mudflows. “A 1964 volcanic eruption in Nicaragua created such huge quantities of ash that the area experienced ninety mudflows in a single year. Because mudflows are deep deposits of ash, they are highly unstable. The impact of any significant amount of rain makes the ash flow down slopes, seeking a lower resting bed.  Speeds of these mudflows can vary from twenty to thirty miles an hour and one flow was clocked at fifty-nine miles an hour.  According to the records, the distances a single mudflow has moved can range from five miles (the average is between five and ten miles) up to the record-holder: ninety-nine miles.” (The Messiah in Ancient America, 42).

Cities Buried by Water:  “In highland Guatemala to the west of Guatemala City lies a large inland lake, Lake Atitlan [possibly the Waters of Mormon].  During a period of low water in the 1930s, ruins were detected in the water . . .  [Ceramics recovered from this underwater site] dated from about the time of Christ . . .   It is reasonable to hypothesize that this city in the lake was . . . occupied near the time of Christ, and was covered subsequently by the lake waters.  There are, interestingly, several volcanoes in the mountains surrounding the lake.”3

What This Means Today
As with everything in the Book of Mormon, Mormon chose to tell of these events for a purpose—to provide fair warning to us in our day. It was too late for it to benefit these devastated Nephites, and they never saw nor read the book. It was written for us. He included this description of Nephite destruction because these same events will accompany the Savior’s Second Coming in our own day.

Thick Darkness Covers the Earth
When the destruction ceased, the earth was covered with thick darkness for three days (3 Nephi 8:20–21).  At Jerusalem, there were also earthquakes, but the darkness lasted only three hours (Matthew 27:45).  This same kind of thick darkness prevailed in Egypt during the plagues brought on by Moses (Exodus 10:21–23). On this occasion in the Americas, it was much more severe and long-lasting. Those who survived the general destruction “could feel the vapor of darkness” (v. 20). This would suggest a great deal of ash and dust in the air from the volcanoes and storms.

Volcanic Ash:  “[At] Tres Zapotes in southern Veracruz, in the Tuxtla Mountains just south of the mouth of the River Papaloapan where it empties into the Gulf of Mexico. . . . in the late 1930s Matthew W. Sterling and Philip Pucker . . . [explored] a cap of volcanic ash . . . [that] occurred at the time of Christ. . . [and] varied between. . .fifteen and twenty-seven inches. . . . The ashfall was so thick that unquestionably nothing could have survived. It would have taken about eighty or ninety years for the soil to rebuild itself enough so that crops could profitably be grown. Survivors from nearby areas would have had to leave the areas. All drinking water would have been contaminated.”4

Thick Darkness: “When . . . ash begins to fall back toward the earth, it is accompanied by many gases, including hydrochloric acid, hydrofluoric acid, carbonic acid, carbon dioxide, and ammonia. If the ashfall is heavy, people will naturally suffocate, not only from the ash content itself but from these gases, which are lethal in large quantities. Animal, plant, and aquatic life would also succumb.”5

The darkness among the Nephites was total—”there was not any light seen, neither fire, nor glimmer, neither the sun, nor the moon, nor the stars” (v. 22). It lasted “three days” during which time “there was great mourning and howling and weeping among all the people” (v. 23). The people cried out, “O that we had repented!” (3 Nephi 8:23–25). Fulfilling another prophecy uttered by Samuel the Lamanite, they could be heard to say, “O that we had repented” (Helaman 13:33). Their mourning was “great and terrible” (v. 25).


A Penetrating Voice in the Darkness ((3 Nephi 9:1–12)
While thus sitting in total blackness, “a voice [was] heard among all the inhabitants. . .upon all the face of this land” (v. 1). That alone would be frightening, I would think. But it would also be very focusing—no distractions of any kind to divert the mind from what the voice was saying. The Lord would have had their unequivocal attention, and His message was stark:
—”Wo, wo, wo unto this people [and] the inhabitants of the whole earth except they shall repent.
—”The devil laugheth, and his angels rejoice, because of the slain of . . . my people.”
—”And it is because of their iniquity and abominations that they are fallen!” (v. 2).

The Lord then listed the devastation that had occurred among the Nephites:
—Zarahemla and its inhabitants have been “burned with fire” (v. 3).
—Moroni and its inhabitants have been “sunk in the depths of the sea” (v. 4).
—Moronihah and its inhabitants have been “covered with earth” (v. 5).
—Gilgal and its inhabitants have been “buried up in the depths of the earth” (v. 6).
—Onihah, Mocum, Jerusalem, and their inhabitants have been buried by floods (v. 7).
—Gadiandi, Gadiomnah, Jacob, and Gimgimno, have been buried by landslides (v. 8).
—Jacobugath, headquarters of the Gadianton king Jacob, had been burned (v. 9).
—Laman, Josh, Gad, and Kishkumen, had also been burned (vv. 10–11).

Those who were spared were the “more righteous” people, and the Lord’s message to them was an invitation for them to “come” unto Him (3 Nephi 9:13–14). The word “come” appears three times in a single verse.

The Law of Moses Is Fulfilled
Jesus Christ is the Creator and has completed his mortal ministry and atonement (3 Nephi 9:15–16). All the scriptures concerning his earthly ministry, death, and atonement were now fulfilled (v. 16). Jesus declared that the law of Moses was fulfilled in Him and that He would no longer accept burnt offerings and sacrifices (3 Nephi 9:17–22). Instead, they were now to “sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit,” which, if they would do He would “baptize [them] with fire and with the Holy Ghost” (v. 20).

The Importance of Gathering
Many hours of silence passed (3 Nephi 10:1–2 ). The people were so astonished by what they had just heard that “they did cease lamenting and howling for the loss of their kindred which had been slain” (v. 2). Then Jesus spoke again (3 Nephi 10:3–7). He used the analogy of a chicken gathering her chicks to teach about the gathering (v. 1). He used the analogy three times but changed the wording slightly in each verse. He warned “the places of your dwellings shall become desolate until the time of the fulfilling of the covenant to your fathers” (v. 7). This was a reference to what would eventually happen to the Nephite nation 400 years later when they ripened in iniquity.

Why They Had Been Spared
Christ ceased speaking to the people (3 Nephi 10:8–10). Three days of mourning passed. Then the darkness dispersed, the noise and destruction stopped, and the people’s sadness turned into joy.

The importance of listening to and following the prophets (3 Nephi 10:11–17). Those who had rejected them were now dead. Those who had not rejected them survived. President Spencer W. Kimball said, “Let us hearken to those we sustain as prophets and seers . . . as if our eternal life depended upon it, because it does!”6

President Harold B. Lee said, “Now the only safety we have as members of this church is to do exactly what the Lord said to the Church in that day when the Church was organized. . . . There will be some things that take patience and faith. You may not like what comes from the authority of the Church. It may contradict your political views. It may contradict your social views. It may interfere with some of your social life. But if you listen to these things, as if from the mouth of the Lord himself, with patience and faith, the promise is that ‘the gates of hell shall not prevail against you.’ (D&C 21:6).”7


Those who survived received incredible blessings and privileges—both seeing and touching the risen Lord (3 Nephi 10:18–19). Both Nephites and Lamanites received this privilege (v. 18). Christ showed his body unto them and ministered unto them (v. 19). As part of this experience they received three different witnesses of His divinity.

The First Witness—God the Father Testifies of the Son
While the people were conversing about what had happened, they heard the voice of God the Father (3 Nephi 11:1–3). Note the characteristics of God the Father’s voice:
— It was not a harsh not loud voice; it was a “small” (quiet) voice.
—Despite its quiet character, the Lord’s voice pierced them to the center
—It caused their entire bodies to quake
—It pierced their souls (spirits) and was accompanied by a manifestation of the holy spirit (causing their “hearts” to “burn”).

They heard the voice three times before they understood what it was (3 Nephi 11:4–7). This is the standard introduction the Father gives of the Son whenever he speaks to or appears to his children (v. 7).

The Second Witness—Jesus Testifies of Himself
Jesus called himself “the Light and the Life of the World” (3 Nephi 11:8–12). Elder Bruce R. McConkie said, “When our Lord says, ‘I am the light, and the life, and the truth of the world’ (Ether 4:12), he is teaching that he is the source of life, light, and truth; that he sets the perfect example in their use; and that all men must look to him for these things.”8

The Third Witness—Feeling the Savior’s Body and Wounds
Jesus invited everybody in the crowd to come forth individually and touch his resurrected body (3 Nephi 11:12–15). We are later told that there were 2,500 people in the multitude (3 Nephi 17:25).  If each person had only 30 seconds with Him, to have 2500 of them do so would have taken nearly 21 hours!

This was a highly personal and individual experience—putting your finger into the wounds of his hands and his feet and thrusting your hand into the hole in his side—personally handling the body of the Master. Why did Jesus offer such an intimate personal experience to each of them individually? It was a personal and tangible witness that they would never forget, and which would lead them to live together as a Zion people for nearly 200 years.


The Correct Mode of Baptism (3 Nephi 11:18–28)
The Lord commanded Nephi to arise and stand before Him, which he did (v. 20). The Lord then gave him “power that ye shall baptize this people when I am again ascended into heaven,” and then repeated this procedure with “others” who are not named (v. 21). The Lord then taught them the correct method of baptizing, saying that “there shall be no disputations among you” regarding the ordinance (vv. 22, 28). Those who had repented of their sins and desired baptism could be baptized (v. 23).

No Disputations about Doctrine (3 Nephi 11:28–30)
There should be “no disputations” concerning any points of doctrine (v. 28; D&C 10:62–63). Satan is the source of contention over doctrine. Elder Marvin J. Ashton said, “Knowing that Satan and his hosts are relentless in their attempts to ridicule, embarrass, belittle, and cause all of us to yield and ultimately fall, what should be our attitude in today’s society? There is an important step beyond avoiding contention and strife; and that is to live with dignity. There is something sacred about living with dignity. We need not quarrel or compete with those who promote and encourage controversy. We need not spend our time in retaliation. They who would deceive, destroy, or belittle reap their own rewards.”9

The Doctrine of Christ (3 Nephi 11:31–38)
The Savior described the elements of his doctrine: It is the doctrine which the Father had given unto Him (v. 32), not His own.
—He bears record of the Father, and the Father bears record of Him (v. 32).
—The Holy Ghost bears record of the Father and the Son (v. 32).
—All men, everywhere, are commanded “to repent and believe in me” (v. 32).
—Whoever believes in Christ and is baptized will be saved in the kingdom of God (v. 33).
—Whoever does not believe in Christ and is not baptized will be damned (v. 34).

The Savior then bore His testimony concerning this doctrine (v. 35), and added emphasis to the qualifications for baptism.
—We must repent, and become as a little child, and be baptized in His name (v. 37).
—If we do not do this, we cannot inherit the kingdom of God (v. 38).

This is the doctrine of Christ, and anything “more” or “less” than this is “evil” (3 Nephi 11:39–40). Because of its importance to every child of God, we are to take this message to “the ends of the earth” (3 Nephi 11:41).

1.  The Messiah in Ancient America, 40, 44.
2.  The Messiah in Ancient America, 43–44.
3.  The Messiah in Ancient America, 44.
4.  The Messiah in Ancient America, 40–42.
5.  The Messiah in Ancient America, 42.
6.  “Listen to the Prophets,” Ensign, May 1978, 77.
7.  In Conference Report, Oct. 1970, 152.
8.  Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed. [1966], 448.
9.  General Conference Address, October 1980; Ensign, Nov. 1980, 60.

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