The very first mention of Jesus Christ comes in the first verse of the Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon is a book of scripture used by Mormons along with the Bible and other scriptures. The purpose of the Book of Mormon is to testify of Jesus Christ. The true name of the Church is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, demonstrating the importance of the Savior to the faith. Mormon is a nickname that is sometimes applied to the people of the Church.
Learn more about the role of Jesus Christ in the Book of Mormon.
The Book of Mormon begins with the record of Nephi, an ancient prophet who was born in Jerusalem. When he was a teenager, his father became a prophet and prophesied of the Fall of Jerusalem, as did other prophets of the time. His life was in danger because people don’t like to be told they are sinning and so God instructed him to take his family and flee. They were led to what is now called the Americas, although the exact location is unknown. Although the Book of Mormon does not mention other people living there, population studies done by Mormon scholars demonstrate that there were others. Indeed, since the descendants of Nephi were all killed at the end of the book and the descendants of his brother Laman would lose many in battle against those people and then continue to kill themselves for enjoyment, it is likely there were only a small number of these people remaining by the end of the battles. Those who remained blended into the other populations.
Nephi and his father both received visions of the Savior. We no longer have his father’s personal records, but Nephi recorded much of it in his own. In Nephi’s first verse, we learn that he knew of Jesus Christ as he explains that he had good parents and they had taught him well. He had faced many trials in his life but still felt blessed by God every day of his life. When you realize his older brothers tried to kill him many times, you understand just what sort of person Nephi was.
Lehi had several visions, but we will deal with one in particular here. After their journey had begun, Lehi had another vision of the Tree of Life. After he reported the vision to his family, Nephi wanted to understand what the vision meant. He went to God in prayer and received his first vision, in which he learned what his father had learned. When Nephi’s brothers wanted to know what the vision meant, he asked them if they had prayed about it, but they had not. By not doing so, they lost the blessings that came to Nephi for his great faith.
In this vision, Lehi saw himself in a dreary wilderness. A man came and invited him to follow. After many hours, he began to pray for help from God and saw a spacious field that contained a beautiful tree filled with fruit that was sweeter than any he had ever tasted. The tree represented the love of God, which was manifested by God’s gift of His own Son to be our Savior.
Naturally, when he realized how happy eating the fruit made him, he wanted to share it with his family. He called to them, but could only find Nephi, Sam (his third and valiant son) and his wife, Sariah. They were looking confused, not sure where to go. He also saw a river running near the tree. They accepted his invitation and came to the tree. Then he saw Laman and Lemuel, his two oldest sons who were rebellious. They refused to go to the tree.
He then saw an iron rod running to the tree. This rod represented the word of God. Following it would lead one safely to the tree. The straight and narrow path to the tree ran alongside the rod. Many people raced toward the path in order to reach the tree. However, a mist of darkness arose, making it difficult to see. The mist represents Satan’s temptations. A lot of people wandered off the path in this mist and were lost, but others found the rod, held on, and persevered.
There was also a great and spacious building off to the side. It was filled with elegant and popular-looking people who were making fun of those who worked so hard to get to the fruit. Because of them, some people were embarrassed after taking the fruit and many caved in to peer pressure and rushed to join the “cool” people in the building, leaving behind what was so much more valuable than the popularity of the world.
Others, however, persevered. They stayed on the path, held onto the rod, and didn’t let the mocking crowds get to them. They are the ones who enjoyed the full measure of the atonement.
Atonement is what this vision was really all about, as expressed by Mormon apostle Neal A. Maxwell.
The love of God for His children is most profoundly expressed in His gift of Jesus as our Redeemer: “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son” (John 3:16). To partake of the love of God is to partake of Jesus’ Atonement and the emancipations and joys which it can bring (Neal A. Maxwell, Lessons From Laman and Lemuel, Ensign, November 1999).
This story brings out one of the most important themes of the Book of Mormon—that the atonement of Jesus Christ is God’s greatest gift to us and the only way in which salvation can be achieved.
Read the story for yourself in the Book of Mormon free online.
Terrie Lynn Bittner
The late Terrie Lynn Bittner—beloved wife, mother, grandmother, and friend—was the author of two homeschooling books and numerous articles, including several that appeared in Latter-day Saint magazines. She became a member of the Church at the age of 17 and began sharing her faith online in 1992.