Book of Mormon Lesson 39 (3 Nephi 12–16)
After commissioning Nephi and others—a total of twelve—to teach and baptize, the Lord commanded the Nephites to give heed to their teachings (3 Nephi 12:1–2).
He then proceeded to give the beatitudes to them. The word “beatitudes” comes from the Latin beatus which carries the meaning “fortunate,” “happy,” or “blessed.” The Lord used the phrase “blessed are the . . . “ in order to teach the basic principles of godliness, which, if followed, will lead us to a state of happiness and blessedness.
President Harold B. Lee said, “In His Sermon on the Mount the Master has given us somewhat of a revelation of His own character, which was perfect, or what might be said to be `an autobiography, every syllable of which He had written down in deeds,’ and in so doing has given us a blueprint for our own lives.”1
Principles of Personal Righteousness
Blessed are the poor in spirit (humble) who come unto me (3 Nephi 12:3; Matthew 5:3). To be “poor in spirit” means to be humble (v. 3; Matt. 5:3–footnote 3b). True disciples realize their spiritual needs and are not proud. Blessing: Theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. The Book of Mormon version adds the important words “who come unto me” when describing those who would be blessed. This is an important distinction since it makes it clear that being humble is not enough; one must be humble and also come unto Christ.
Blessed are all they that mourn (3 Nephi 12:4; Matthew 5:4). True disciples are comforted from fear or sorrow—by the Holy Ghost (John 14:26–27; Mos18:8–9). Blessing: They shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek (3 Nephi 12:5; Matthew 5:5). True disciples are meek—meaning gentle, forgiving, or benevolent (Mosiah 3:19; Alma 7:23; 13:28). Blessing: They shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are all they who hunger and thirst after righteousness (3 Nephi 12:6; Matthew 5:6). True disciples desire righteousness like a hungry person longs for food. Blessing: They shall be filled with the Holy Ghost. The New Testament version stops after the word “filled,” suggesting that they would be filled with the righteousness they seek. The Book of Mormon version adds the important words “with the Holy Ghost” to describe how they would be filled with the Holy Ghost—which is the reward of the righteous.
Principles of Righteous Behavior Toward Others
Blessed are the merciful (3 Nephi 12:7; Matthew 5:7). True disciples are merciful and forgiving toward others. Blessing: They shall be filled with the Holy Ghost. This principle provides a fair warning that standards by which treat others are the same standards by which we will be judged, and is expanded by the Savior later in His sermon (3 Nephi 13:14–15; Matthew 6:14–15).
Blessed are all the pure in heart (3 Nephi 12:8; Matthew 5:8). True disciples are pure and innocent in thought and intentions (Helaman 3:35 and Moses 6:57). Blessing: They shall see God. We live in a world where impure images, words, and sounds can assault our senses without ceasing if we will let them. We have to learn to isolate ourselves from the obscenities and impure images all around us.
Blessed are all the peacemakers (3 Nephi 12:9; Matthew 5:9). True disciples are peacemakers—promoting friendship and good will and avoiding conflict. Blessing: They shall be called the children of God.
Blessed are all they who are persecuted for my name’s sake (3 Nephi 12:10–12; Matthew 5:10–12). True disciples do not let persecution divert them from eternal goals. Blessing: Theirs is the kingdom of heaven. The Book of Mormon version differs slightly from the one in Matthew, where the Bible says “for righteousness’ sake” rather than “for my name’s sake.”
PERFECTING THE LAW OF MOSES
Metaphors of Salt and Light
Becoming the “salt of the earth” (3 Nephi 12:13). As He always does, the Savior here uses metaphors drawn from the people’s everyday lives to teach them. He starts with salt, which has so many important purposes, including purification, preservation, and the adding of enhanced flavor to food. Salt is also unique in that it will not lose its savor with age. Savor is lost only through mixture and contamination. Doctrine and Covenants 101:39–40 explains how the Latter-day Saints can be the “salt of the earth.”
Being a “light unto this people” (3 Nephi 12:14–16). This metaphor may be a bit more clear to us in our present culture, because we all understand the uses and benefits of light. The Lord enhances the need for such light by asking whether a light which is covered by a bushel basket is of any use. Light must be seen to be useful, and we are invited to “let our light shine” before men—not in any exhibitionist sense of “showing off,” but by letting people see the fruits of Christ-like living and service. The Lord is counting on us to assist Him in His work by shining our light before them. Doctrine and Covenants 103:9–10 explains how the Latter-day Saints can be “a light unto the world.”
JESUS INTRODUCES THE HIGHER GOSPEL
Higher Standards for Righteous Living
Jesus came to fulfill the law and the prophets (3 Nephi 12:17–20). Jesus himself gave the law of Moses to the Israelites, which was a law of strict performances and ordinances to help the Israelites look forward to the Atonement of Jesus Christ (3 Nephi 15:2–5; Mosiah 13:29–30; 2 Nephi 25:24; Mosiah 13:31–33).
Living by a Higher Law
In this section of His sermon, the Lord compares the rules of the law of Moses with the higher principles of his gospel law. Through this process, He illustrated that the law of Moses remained in effect but was “added to” by the higher law He was now teaching to them.
1. Avoid Anger (3 Nephi 12:21–26; Matthew 5:21–26). “Thou shalt not kill” is replaced by “Don’t even be angry.” The words “without a cause” (Matthew 5:22) are not found in the Book of Mormon version of this sermon, nor in the JST revisions of Matthew. We are to cease to be angry. Period. The words “agree with thine enemy” (vv. 25–26) mean to “come to terms quickly” rather than let a dispute drag on.
2. Maintain Clean Thoughts (3 Nephi 12:27–30; Matthew 5:27–30). “Thou shalt not commit adultery” is replaced by “Don’t even lust.” If we lust after another person, we have “committed adultery already in [our] heart” (v. 28). In the Matthew version of the sermon He is recorded as having used a figure of speech common in that culture that, rather than allow themselves to be contaminated by what they see or touch, they should “pluck out” their offending eye or “cut off” their offending hand (Matthew 5:29–30). The new, higher requirement being taught here is that we should “suffer none of these things to enter into your heart” (v. 29). And “it is better that ye should deny yourselves of these things . . . than that ye should be cast into hell” (v. 30).
3. Honor Marriage Covenants (3 Nephi 12:31–32; Matthew 5:31–32). In ancient Israel, a man could put away, or divorce, his wife for insignificant reasons. These “bills of divorcement” were to be replaced by taking the marriage covenant seriously rather than treating it lightly or abandoning it easily. Divorce is allowed under the higher law, but it should not happen except for the most serious reasons.
4. Keep Promises (3 Nephi 12:33–37; Matthew 5:33–37). Swearing “in the name of God” (or on any other object-e.g., the Bible) is to be replaced by simple honesty. People in those days were not obligated except when they took an oath. Jesus taught them to make their word (saying “yes” or “no”) their bond.
5. Avoid Contention (3 Nephi 12:38–42; Matthew 5:38–42). “An eye for an eye” meant that a person who injured another could receive the same injury as punishment (Leviticus 24:17–21). Jesus suggested willing avoidance of conflict and even service to those who might have harmed us.
6. Love and Forgive Enemies (3 Nephi 12:43–45; Matthew 5:43–45). It is easy to love our friends and family. But Jesus now commands that we also “love our enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them who despitefully use you and persecute you” (v. 44). He reminds us that God the Father “maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good,” blessing even those children who rebel against Him (v. 45). And of course, the Savior Himself set the example as he hung on the cross and forgave even those who had cruelly tortured and crucified Him (Luke 23:34).
Reaching for Perfection
In all of the above matters, we can be perfect (3 Nephi 12:46–48). By living this higher law we become “finished” and “complete.” And ultimately, we will achieve the perfection of our Heavenly Father through the Atonement of Christ (Moroni 10:32–33). Just persons are made perfect through Christ (D&C 76:68–70), and Christ’s grace is sufficient to save and exalt all of us (Ether 12:26–27).
CHRISTLIKE SERVICE AND WORSHIP
Proper Service, Prayer, Forgiveness, and Fasting
Doing good things for the right reasons (3 Nephi 13:1–8; Matthew 6:1–8). True disciples do not do “alms” (usually translated “good deeds” or “virtues”) for the praise of men, but in secret. The Lord says several times in this sermon “verily, they have their reward” when speaking of people who do good things “to be seen of men” (3 Nephi 13:2, 5, 16; Matthew 6:2, 5, 16). By this we can observe that people who do good deeds in order to be recognized will receive the blessing they sought—recognition —but may not expect heavenly blessings as well. If we wish those blessings, we are commanded to do our good “in secret.”
How we should pray (3 Nephi 13:5–13; Matthew 6:5–13). We should pray sincerely, not for the praise of men or with “vain repetitions” (empty phrases) (Moroni 7:6–9). With regard to the praise of men, the Lord again warns that people who “love to pray, standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men” already have their reward of being seen, and cannot expect their prayers to be answered. This does not condemn public prayer, which occurs regularly in our churches and other public places, but instead it condemns prayer which is offered to “show off” or to appear “righteous” before men. To the Lord, that is a prideful speech, not a prayer.
God already knows our needs (v. 8): “Your Father knoweth what things ye have need of before ye bask him.” Why, then, do we need to pray if God already knows what we need and the desires of our hearts? He provides the answer later in His sermon (3 Nephi 14:7–11; Matthew 7:7–11).
The purpose of prayer (3 Nephi 14:7–11; Matthew 7:7–11). We should take our concerns to God, realizing that He already knows our needs and wants to bless us. Like any good father, He cares about what we want and need and listens carefully to our petitions. In response, the Lord gives us precisely what we want, according to the desires of our hearts. If we desire success and are willing to work for it, He grants it unto us. If we wish the praise of men, we can receive it. If we wish to live in sin, we can do so. If we wish to live as “good men of the earth” but not to go beyond that standard, we are permitted to do it for the rest of eternity in the terrestrial kingdom. But if our standards are higher and our wishes more profound, we will receive those greater blessings.
Forgiving others (3 Nephi 13:14–15; Matthew 6:14–15). We must forgive others if we expect to be forgiven for our own sins (v. 14), and if we refuse to be forgiving, then “neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (v. 15). The Lord said later in this sermon, “with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again” (3 Nephi 14:2; Matthew 7:2). By this, we may see readily why it is that those who are merciful toward others receive mercy in return.
Proper fasting (3 Nephi 13:16–18; Matthew 6:16–18; D&C 10:5; 63:64; 88:119; 93:49). We should fast sincerely and privately, not for the praise of men. When we emphasize our fasting to others, or bear a “sad countenance” to make it obvious that we’re fasting, we “have our reward” and can expect no other blessing from the fast.
Proper Priorities and Values
This portion of the sermon was directed to the twelve, and to others who were called to full-time service in the kingdom (3 Nephi 14:1), and the counsel given here would not necessarily apply to the general membership of the Church. Nevertheless, some of this counsel can apply generally to our priorities and values.
Having an eye that is “single” (3 Nephi 13:19–24; D&C 88:67–69). It is impossible for us to serve both God and mammon (worldliness). Putting the things of God first in our lives (3 Nephi 13:25–34; (Matthew 6:25–34). Jesus was speaking here to his twelve. They were not to worry about their temporal needs because they would be supplied as they served their Master.
Proper Dealings with Our Fellow Men
Judging righteously (3 Nephi 14:1–5; Matthew 7:1–5). We should not judge others unrighteously—considering our own sins before criticizing others. The JST version of Matthew 7:2 says “Judge not unrighteously, that ye be not judged; but judge righteous judgments” (assisted by the light of Christ and Holy Ghost).
Teach basic doctrines and be careful with sacred things (3 Nephi 14:6; Matthew 7:6). While this verse—“Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine”—is the same as the one found in Matthew 7:6, in the JST version of this commandment (JST Matthew 7:9–11), Jesus commands His disciples to preach repentance rather than teach the mysteries of the kingdom. So, while we should not think we are to withhold the first principles from anyone, we should not offer sacred things to the unappreciative or unworthy.
The Golden Rule (3 Nephi 14:12; Matthew 7:12). This is perhaps one of the best-known statements of the Savior, commanding us to treat others as we would wish to be treated. The phrase “this is the law and the prophets” means that all the teachings of the law of Moses and the prophets have this principle as their central theme.
True and Proper Conversion
The way to eternal life is narrow (3 Nephi 14:13–14; Matthew 7:13–14). It is not broad and all-encompassing; it has strict requirements. The gate that opens the way to salvation is “strait”— having strict requirements. Even the Lord Jesus Christ Himself entered the kingdom by baptism, though He had no need for remission of sins.
Beware of false prophets (3 Nephi 14:15–20; Matthew 7:15–20). This teaching is particularly important today. The Lord warns that false prophets always try to appear to be sincere, God-fearing members of the Church, like everyone else. But their motives and their teachings are deadly. We are warned to pay attention to the spirit and results of what they do and teach and to judge them by these “fruits” (v. 20).
We must do the will of our Heavenly Father to be able to enter the kingdom of heaven (3 Nephi 14:21–23; Matthew 7:21–23). We must do the will of our Heavenly Father to enter the kingdom of heaven (D&C 130:20–21). Professing discipleship is not enough, nor is the doing of good works or even miracles (vv. 21–22). Both the Bible and the Book of Mormon version of this scripture say, “then will I profess unto them: I never knew you; depart from me, ye that work iniquity” (v. 23). But the JST version reads differently. “And then will I say, Ye never knew me; depart from me ye that work iniquity” (JST Matt. 7:23).
Building our “house” up rock rather than on sand will help us weather the storms of wickedness and adversity (3 Nephi 14:24–27; Matthew 7:24–27; Helaman 5:12). The Lord closes His sermon with this parable of the wise man, which teaches that we must establish our faith upon the “rock” of action—not only hearing but doing the will of Christ (v. 24).
CHRIST AND THE LAW OF MOSES
Christ Fulfilled the Law
Jesus saw that some Nephites were still confused about the law of Moses (3 Nephi 15:2). They did not understand what Jesus meant when he said, “Old things are done away, and all things have become new” (3 Nephi 12:47; 3 Nephi 12:17–19, 46).
It was Jesus Christ who gave the law of Moses on Mount Sinai (3 Nephi 15:4–6). The Savior explained that salvation comes not by the law of Moses, but by Him (3 Nephi 15:8–10). He calls Himself both “the law, and the light” (v. 9). The purpose of the law of Moses was to help people think about the Atonement of Christ. Nearly six hundred years earlier, Nephi explained, “Notwithstanding we believe in Christ, we keep the law of Moses and look forward with steadfastness unto Christ” (2 Nephi 25:24–27). The Savior opened a new dispensation, bringing a new law—of which the sacrament was a significant ordinance—to replace the sacrificial law given to Moses.
Visiting His “Other Sheep”
Christ told the Nephites that they were “a remnant of the house of Joseph” and that “this is the land of your inheritance” (3 Nephi 15:11–13). The Prophet Joseph Smith said, “By it, [the Book of Mormon] we learn that our western tribes of Indians are descendants from that Joseph who was sold into Egypt and that the land of America is a promised land unto them. . . .”2
Because of their iniquity, the Jews did not know of this remnant of Joseph and of the other tribes of Israel who were led away (3 Nephi 15:14–15). The Nephites were led away from Jerusalem because of the iniquity of the Jews (3 Nephi 15:16–20). The disciples in Jerusalem were unable to understand Jesus’ teaching about “other sheep” because of their “unbelief.”
“Ye are they of whom I said: Other sheep I have . . .” (3 Nephi 15:21–24; John 10:16). This prophecy does not refer to the gospel’s being taken to the Gentiles. The Gentiles were not to see or hear Jesus personally, but would receive a witness only through the Holy Ghost. The Nephites, however, both heard his voice and saw him.
There were “other sheep” besides the Nephites that Jesus said He must also visit (3 Nephi 16:1–3;3 Nephi 17:4). The Lord has scattered his people throughout the earth, as is clear from the allegory of the olive trees given by Zenos. (Jacob 5:13, 14; Ether 1:33). One such group was the ten of the tribes of the northern kingdom of Israel, who were taken captive by the Assyrians in 721 BC. Certainly, other scatterings of Israel have taken place over the centuries. We are not told how many of these groups were to be visited, but He said he would visit these other sheep immediately following his visit to the Nephites (v. 4).
Elder Bruce R. McConkie said, “Did . . . Jesus visit [other tribes of Israel] after he ministered among the Nephites? . . . Of course he did, in one or many places as suited his purposes. He assembled them together . . . in exactly the same way he gathered the Nephites in the land Bountiful so that they too could hear his voice and feel the prints of the nails in his hands and in his feet. Of this, there can be no question. And we suppose that he also called twelve Apostles and established his kingdom among them even as he did in Jerusalem and in the Americas. Why should he deal any differently with one branch of Israel than with another?”3
1. Stand Ye in Holy Places , 342.
2. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Elder Joseph Fielding Smith , 17.
3. The Millennial Messiah: The Second Coming of the Son of Man , 216–217.