Nephi was a stalwart boy, and an amazing man. His belief in God influenced every day of his life. He had a profound influence upon the lives and salvation of both his family, and the people that followed him. Even today, his inspiring example whispers out of the dust to resonate in our hearts and minds. He was a can-do visionary. A common theme of his writings was that man not only had the right to commune with and receive revelation from God, but the sacred obligation to do so.
He valiantly demonstrated time and again, that the heavens were not sealed, but wide open. His God was an active participate in his life, and he mourned after those who did not diligently seek Him. He did not doubt that if he sought answers from the Lord, they would come. As such, it comes as no surprise that he chose to preface his sweeping prophetic vision of the promised land with his own powerful testimony of personal revelation.
And it came to pass after I, Nephi, having heard all the words of my father, concerning the things which he saw in a vision, and also the things which he spake by the power of the Holy Ghost, which power he received by faith on the Son of God—and the Son of God was the Messiah who should come—I, Nephi, was desirous also that I might see, and hear, and know of these things, by the power of the Holy Ghost, which is the gift of God unto all those who diligently seek him, as well in times of old as in the time that he should manifest himself unto the children of men.
For he is the same yesterday, today, and forever; and the way is prepared for all men from the foundation of the world, if it so be that they repent and come unto him. For he that diligently seeketh shall find; and the mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto them, by the power of the Holy Ghost, as well in these times as in times of old, and as well in times of old as in times to come; wherefore, the course of the Lord is one eternal round. And the Holy Ghost giveth authority that I should speak these things, and deny them not.[i]
These are not idle words; one does not casually engrave metal plates. These passages are profound, and were validated time and again throughout Nephi’s life. Nephi then describes a glorious vision of not only the tree of life, but also concerning the future of his posterity. Included in that vision were the coming of the Savior to the Americas, the subsequent apostasy and destruction of the Nephite nation, as well as the day of the Gentiles and beyond. Explaining certain elements of Nephi’s vision are important to fully achieve the purpose of this book. The first part of Nephi’s vision is well known by even the primary children of the church. As such, I will not spend time elaborating upon the portion of Nephi’s vision commonly known as “Lehi’s dream”. Instead, we will begin our analysis as Nephi’s angelic host begins to reveal the events of a far distant future.
The angel showed Nephi a vision of Christ’s ministry, six hundred years in advance. He was shown how the Savior would heal the sick, cast out devils, and spend his days serving among the least of men – the lame, the leprous, and the dregs of Israel’s society. Nephi witnessed first hand the charity of Christ, even to the laying down of His life. Nephi watched in horror as he saw Judah not only crucify their king, but also as “the House of Israel gathered together to fight against the twelve apostles of the Lamb”[ii].
Nephi saw the destruction on the promised land preceding the ministry of the resurrected Lord to his people. He witnessed Jehovah’s personal ministration to his seed upon the American shores. In contrast to the Jews, he rejoiced as he saw the American peoples embrace the Master’s gospel, with several generations of his people passing away in righteousness. Then he sorrowed as he observed the Americas fade away into apostasy, and the subsequent destruction of the Nephite nation.
The apostasy as witnessed by Nephi is unique in its plainness. He saw among the many nations of the Gentiles the formation of a great and abominable organization. He saw that this organization would play an ongoing and prominent role among the Gentiles into the latter-days. It would be the antithesis of the Church of God. The initial actions of this organization were to slay the saints of God, torture them, and bind them with a yoke of iron, bringing them down into captivity.[iii] However, it seems that the scope quickly changed from one of seek and destroy to that of power and dominion. It is important to note that the Great and Abominable Church is called by other names in the Bible, the most common of which is The Whore of All the Earth. Jacob provides a valuable insight in the following passage regarding this organization in a discourse he gave in the tenth chapter of Second Nephi.
Wherefore, for this cause, that my covenants may be fulfilled which I have made unto the children of men, that I will do unto them while they are in the flesh, I must needs destroy the secret works of darkness, and of murders, and of abominations. Wherefore, he that fighteth against Zion, both Jew and Gentile, both bond and free, both male and female, shall perish; for they are they who are the whore of all the earth; for they who are not for me are against me, saith our God.
According to Jacob, those who seek for power through secret combinations, like the Gadiantons of old, are what constitutes the great and abominable church. In Ezra’s Eagle we learned that a wicked organization will conspire to usurp the governance of America in the last days. Unquestionably, Nephi would have considered such an organization to be a part of the Great and Abominable church. Predecessors to this organization have existed throughout time. Cain founded such an organization, it was had amongst the Jaradites, Nephites, and Laminates, and to one degree or another amongst all the nations of the earth. These were of course all separate groups or organizations, but were related in purpose, design and methodology. According to Nephi, such an organization wielded great influence upon the content and compilation of the Bible. Consider the following:
And after they [the scriptures] go forth by the hand of the twelve apostles of the Lamb, from the Jews unto the Gentiles, thou seest the formation of that great and abominable church, which is most abominable above all other churches; for behold, they have taken away from the gospel of the Lamb many parts which are plain and most precious; and also many covenants of the Lord have they taken away. And all this have they done that they might pervert the right ways of the Lord, that they might blind the eyes and harden the hearts of the children of men.[iv]
In order to better understand the great and abominable church in our day, we should seek to better understand its origins in the early days of the church. John the Revelator, who was mentioned to Nephi by name by his angelic guide, also saw and spoke of the rise of this institution. Like Nephi, John was also guided through his vision by an angel. The following is John’s angelic description of the events he witnessed:
Come hither; I will shew unto thee the judgment of the great whore that sitteth upon many waters: With whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth have been made drunk with the wine of her fornication. So he carried me away in the spirit into the wilderness: and I saw a woman sit upon a scarlet colored beast, full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns.
And I saw the woman drunken with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus: and when I saw her, I wondered with great admiration. And the angel said unto me, Wherefore didst thou marvel? I will tell thee the mystery of the woman, and of the beast that carrieth her, which hath the seven heads and ten horns.
And here is the mind which hath wisdom. The seven heads are seven mountains, on which the woman sitteth. And the woman which thou sawest is that great city, which reigneth over the kings of the earth.
And the ten horns which thou sawest are ten kings, which have received no kingdom as yet; but receive power as kings one hour with the beast. [v]
It would appear, that this woman, who herself is identified as the great and abominable church is being identified by her location. Tradition tells that Rome got its start when seven hilltop communities (Aventine Hill, Caelian Hill, Capitoline Hill, Esquiline Hill, Palatine Hill, Quirinal Hill, and Viminal Hill) began joining together for religious games. These seven communities would eventually combine under the goddess – Roma to become the beginnings of the Roman Empire. Again, just because Rome is being identified here in this instance, certainly does not mean that it was the original nor the complete great and abominable church.
We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.[vi]
While these tendencies are the hallmark of the great and abominable organizations of the world, the leadership of the House of Israel exhibited these same characteristics regarding the ancient prophets before Christ. They also made the persecution of Christianity a matter of state long before the Romans ever did. The leaders of the Jews had twisted their laws into a way to maintain their power and wealth, and would destroy anything that threatened their way of life, even if it meant killing the very God they claimed to worship. This deference to power and wealth over truth is one of the defining characteristics of the great and abominable institutions of the world – regardless of the time period.
Similar to the Jewish leadership in Jerusalem, there can be no doubt that the Roman Empire opposed christianity for many years, imprisoning, torturing, and killing the saints of God, but with a much larger reach and scope. The apostle’s letters were sought out and confiscated to the degree possible by Rome, thus controlling and shaping the narrative of the New Testament. The Romans would wage war against the saints of God to one degree or another until the Edict of Milan in 313 AD, when a change occurred in the Roman mindset, allowing christians to worship openly. Emperor Constantine the Great commissioned fifty bibles in 331 AD, which would serve as the template for future books. Nephi tells us that many plain and precious teachings and covenants were removed in this process. By 391 Emperor Theodosius was using the same tactics against non-christians that had been used against early christians – forcing all subjects of the Roman Empire to subscribe to Rome’s manufactured version of Christianity. Consider the following extract from his mandate.
It is our will that all the peoples who are ruled by the administration of our clemency shall practice that religion which the divine Peter the Apostle transmitted to the Romans….The rest, whom we adjudge demented and insane, shall sustain the infamy of heretical dogmas, their meeting places shall not receive the name of churches, and they shall be smitten first by divine vengeance and secondly by the retribution of our own initiative.[vii]
Thus we see that once the oppressors determined to control faith rather than suppress it, christianity was morphed from the worship of the true and living God, to an institutionalized method of asserting control, and of obtaining and retaining power and dominion over the populace. Nephi saw that, in order to maintain control, this organization would do horrific things. The power that the “religious” leaders wielded rivaled that of both Kings and Emperors.
Nephi saw that the precepts perfected by the Roman Empire would remain a dominant force until the Lord’s Second Coming. For an interesting analysis regarding the timing of these events see the notes at the end of this section.[viii] The Roman Empire collapsed around 476 AD, but the precepts of this great and abominable church had only just begun. Today we tend to think of churches as brick and mortar houses of worship. I do not think that this is what Nephi’s angel had in mind. I believe this angel’s use of the term “church”, was to refer to a given group adhering to given creeds, methods, and precepts as a church. For instance, the organization described in Ezra’s eagle, or the secret combinations of old were not churches in the traditional sense. Thus the angel could make the following blanket statement:
And he said unto me: Behold there are save 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.[ix]
Here the angel is stating that there are only two infrastructures. There is an infrastructure of evil, and an infrastructure for good. The angel was not stating, as unfortunately some suppose, that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints would be the only component of the Lord’s righteous infrastructure in the last days to the exclusion of all others. Such a perspective is destructive and unfounded. We know this because the Angel also said the following:
Behold the formation of a church which is most abominable above all other churches[x]
The use of the plural indicates multiple churches existing outside the “great and abominable church”. Thus it appears that the angel’s reference is one of good and evil, rather than congregational. The Doctrine and Covenants further clarifies this. In a revelation regarding latter-day missionary work the following counsel was provided from the Lord to the missionaries: “Contend against no church, save it be the church of the devil.”[xi] This further implies that there are non-LDS churches that are not part of the great and abominable church. Furthermore, the Lord provided the following clarification to His early apostles regarding this matter.
And John answered and said, Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name; and we forbad him, because he followeth not with us. And Jesus said unto him, forbid him not: for he that is not against us is for us.[xii]
Christ gave us the key in the above verse for deciphering those that belong to the abominable church of Satan, and those who do not. Those that support the Lord are with Him. He is the master of those that bring forth good fruits, Satan is the master of they who bring forth evil fruit. Therefore, we need not suppose, like the Jews of old, that righteousness is determined by pedigree or membership affiliation, but rather by the condition of the heart. It is by the fruits that are born that we may discern the master of men, organizations, institutions and churches.
As Nephi’s vision progresses we see that the great and abominable organization initiates a world-wide fight against the Lamb of God. Note that Nephi tells us that this war is waged against the Lamb of God, rather than the saints. To me this indicates that christianity as a whole will be in the crosshairs of these institutions. For years now this attack has been unfolding, and to say their campaign has been successful would be an understatement.
John the revelator saw the same thing and describes it as follows:
And I stood upon the sand of the sea, and saw a beast rise up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his horns ten crowns, and upon his heads the name of blasphemy.
And it was given unto him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them: and power was given him over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations.[xiii]
Note that the description that we have of John’s beast matches the description John previously provided of the great and abominable church. However, in John’s account, he states that the great and abominable church wages war against the saints and overcomes them. Furthermore, Daniel also saw in vision the events of the latter-days and described them as follows:
And he [beast/stout horn] shall speak great words against the most High, and shall wear out the saints of the most High, and think to change times and laws.[xiv]
In Daniel’s vision it appears that many of the saints become fatigued by the persecution and judgment and give in simply because they are exhausted. They cannot endure to the end. The resistance goes on for too long and they are overwhelmed. These accounts can be easily reconciled with Nephi’s vision. All describe the great and abominable church pushing Satan’s agenda of continuing the war in heaven. Satan and his brick and mortar institutions are fighting against the Lamb of God by seeking to destroy that which Christ seeks to save – men’s souls. From John’s account we learn that Satan’s war will be successful. He will overcome many of the saints.
Behold, verily, thus saith the Lord unto you: In consequence of evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days, I have warned you, and forewarn you…[xv]
Efforts to rewrite our national histories have played out time and again, demonizing, slandering, and discrediting the founding fathers and the inspired work they performed. Those that believe in Christ are marginalized as right-wing religious fanatics, relics of an unenlightened age. The entertainment industry’s agenda of immorality and violence has eroded the moral base of society, ensuring that rising generations will sink lower and lower than their forefathers, as happened among the Nephites[xvi]. We have seen that the “stout horn” will take such deceptions to the next level.
The world has already embraced Satan’s counterfeit morality, but under the leadership of the antichrist, sinful practices are extolled as pinnacle virtues. Presently, prominent men who vocalize traditional values over Satan’s false morality are venomously slandered as intolerant bigots, demonized, persecuted, and discredited. If possible they are forced from their employment, their businesses boycotted, or their non-profit tax status challenged.
Those that adhere to and advocate for the Lord’s standard of morality are likewise persecuted. As in the case of Alma’s people of old, these latter-day saints of God will be persecuted and subjected to the dictates of an unjust and oppressive government. Many will become so worn-out that they will be able to stand no more. Battle-weary, they collapse, if only to receive the peace the antichrist offers; but at a heavy price. It is in this extremely intense environment that Nephi saw that the Lord would not allow the great and abominal organizations of the world to overcome and wear out the saints indefinitely.
For the time soon cometh that the fulness of the wrath of God shall be poured out upon all the children of men; for he will not suffer that the wicked shall destroy the righteous. Wherefore, he will preserve the righteous by his power, even if it so be that the fulness of his wrath must come, and the righteous be preserved, even unto the destruction of their enemies by fire. Wherefore, the righteous need not fear; for thus saith the prophet, they shall be saved, even if it so be as by fire.[xvii]
Apparently the righteous will be saved from their persecution when the wicked are destroyed by fire. Such destruction is commonly associated with the events of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. However Nephi further expounds upon this concept in a very interesting way.
Wherefore, the Lord God will proceed to make bare his arm in the eyes of all the nations, in bringing about his covenants and his gospel unto those who are of the House of Israel. Wherefore, he will bring them again out of captivity, and they shall be gathered together to the lands of their inheritance; and they shall be brought out of obscurity and out of darkness; and they shall know that the Lord is their Savior and their Redeemer, the Mighty One of Israel.[xviii]
From the above verses, and as we have seen in prior accounts, it appears that the Lord will answer the harassment and wickedness of the great and abominable church with a marvelous work and a wonder. A central component of this work appears to be the gathering of scattered Israel out of obscurity in the eyes of all the nations. The prophecy continues:
And the blood of that great and abominable church, which is the whore of all the earth, shall turn upon their own heads; for they shall war among themselves, and the sword of their own hands shall fall upon their own heads, and they shall be drunken with their own blood.
And every nation which shall war against thee, O House of Israel, shall be turned one against another, and they shall fall into the pit which they digged to ensnare the people of the Lord. And all that fight against Zion shall be destroyed, and that great whore, who hath perverted the right ways of the Lord, yea, that great and abominable church, shall tumble to the dust and great shall be the fall of it.[xix]
The above verses are very insightful. Nephi confirms what John foresaw, that the fall of the great and abominable church happens through the infighting of the wicked.
And the ten horns which thou sawest upon the beast, these shall hate the whore, and shall make her desolate and naked, and shall eat her flesh, and burn her with fire. For God hath put in their hearts to fulfill his will, and to agree, and give their kingdom unto the beast, until the words of God shall be fulfilled.[xx]
It should be noted that Nephi’s references here to the House of Israel likely denotes all twelve tribes, not just Ephraim, Manasseh, and Judah for instance. The ramification of this reference will be further explored in the next chapter.
[i] 1 Nephi 10:17-22
[ii] 1 Nephi 11:35
[iii] 1 Nephi 13:5
[iv] 1 Nephi 13:26-27
[v] Revelation 17:1-3,6,9,18&12
[vi] D&C 121:39
[viii] Another interesting reference to the great apostasy comes from John the Revelator.
And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars: And she being with child cried, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered.
And there appeared another wonder in heaven; and behold a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads. And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth: and the dragon stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child as soon as it was born.
And she brought forth a man child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron: and her child was caught up unto God, and to his throne. And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she hath a place prepared of God, that they should feed her there a thousand two hundred and threescore days. (Revelations 12:1-6)
My interpretation of these verses is as follows: the woman is the Church, the man child, the Son of God, the seven-headed dragon, the Devil and his great and abominable organization. Suppose that the 1,260 days represent 1,260 years of unabated darkness from apostasy. What is missing from the New Testament record is the reference point from which the apostasy begins. It is not realistic to believe that the apostasy would have occurred on a specific date, but rather a slow fade over a period of time. Fortunately, the Book of Mormon is not silent as to the timeframe of the American apostasy.
After Christ visited the Americas the people became righteous and unified in their worship of God. Their righteousness lasted longer than any previous time on record. However, by the 231st year after the birth of Christ, “there arose a people who were called the Nephites, and they were true believers in Christ…among whom were the three disciples of Jesus…and it came to pass that they who rejected the gospel were called Lamanites” (4 Nephi 1:35-38.) By the 260th year, “the people of Nephi began to be proud in their hearts…and become vain like unto their brethren, the Lamanites. And from this time the [three disciples] began to sorrow for the sins of the world”(4 Nephi 1:41-44). I think it is reasonable to assume that the universal apostasy happened gradually during this time period.
With this time range in mind, we can add the 1,260 years the church hid in the wilderness to both ends of the range. The resultant range is very insightful: 1491 to 1520. The following events happen during this time period, and point directly to the beginning of the restoration, or time of the Gentiles, and the coming marvelous work and a wonder foreseen in Nephi’s vision of the tree of life:
- 1491 – Queen Isabella of Spain sponsors a man named Christopher Columbus
- 1492 – Columbus crosses the Atlantic
- 1517 – Martin Luther begins a movement that would spark the reformation, by nailing 95 false doctrines taught by the Catholic church to his chapel door.
- 1519 – 1521 Hernán Cortés lands in and conquers Mexico.
These miraculous events line up perfectly with those discussed and recorded by Nephi approximately 2,100 years prior.
[ix] 1 Nephi 14:10
[x] 1 Nephi 13:5
[xi] D&C 18:20
[xii] Luke 9:49-50
[xiii] Revelations 13:1,7
[xiv] Daniel 7:25
[xv] D&C 89:4
[xvi] 3 Nephi 1:30
[xvii] 1 Nephi 22:16-17
[xviii] 1 Nephi 22:11-12
[xix] 1 Nephi 22:13-14
[xx] Revelations 17:16-17