“Latter-day Clarity on Christ’s Life and Teachings,” Ensign, Jan. 1999, 22
Latter-day Clarity on Christ’s Life and Teachings
Nephi prophesied that “many plain and precious” truths would be removed from the Bible (1 Ne. 13:20–28). It is not surprising, therefore, to see that such doctrines as the premortal life of Jesus Christ, the significance of events on the Mount of Transfiguration, and the more complete meaning of some of the Lord’s discourses are only vaguely taught in the King James Version (KJV) of the New Testament.
Fortunately the Lord has made known the “plain and precious things” taken from the Bible through “other books” (1 Ne. 13:39–40), which include the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, Pearl of Great Price, and the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible (JST). Thus, when we use these latter-day scriptures with the New Testament, we gain a fuller understanding of the life and mission of Jesus Christ. Here are some of the New Testament teachings that are clarified and expanded by the scriptures of the Restoration.
The Premortal Life of Christ. While the Gospel of John makes brief references to the premortal life of Jesus Christ (see John 1:1–3, 14; John 8:58; John 17:5), the concept is strengthened through modern revelation. From the Pearl of Great Price we learn that Jesus was the Father’s Beloved Son from the beginning and accepted the Father’s appointment to act as our Savior and Redeemer (see Moses 4:1–2; Abr. 3:27). Additionally, we learn that, under the direction of the Father, Jesus was the Creator of this earth as well as worlds without number (see Moses 1:31–35). The Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants also contribute important information regarding the Savior’s premortal existence. For instance, the brother of Jared was privileged to behold the premortal spirit body of Jesus (see Ether 3:6–17). In revelations through the Prophet Joseph Smith, the Savior bore witness that He “was in the beginning with the Father, and [is] the Firstborn” of His Father’s spirit children (D&C 93:21; see also D&C 76:13–14).
The Birth and Childhood of Jesus. While the narrative of Christ’s birth is beautifully recorded by Luke, the Book of Mormon records additional prophecies revealed to the children of Lehi. We are indebted to Nephite prophets for the clearer image of Mary and her foreordained calling as the mother of the Son of God. After seeing the beginning of Christ’s mortal life in vision, Nephi tells us that Mary was “most beautiful and fair above all other virgins” (1 Ne. 11:15). Alma witnessed that she was a “precious and chosen vessel” (Alma 7:10), and King Benjamin testified that she would be called “Mary” nearly 125 years before she gave birth to Jesus (see Mosiah 3:8). Book of Mormon prophets testify of the transcendent and sacred nature of the conception and birth of Jesus Christ to this mortal woman and the Eternal Father (see 1 Ne. 11:13–21; Alma 7:10).
The Book of Mormon also expands our understanding that Christ’s birth was known in the Western Hemisphere. Samuel the Lamanite prophesied specific signs of the Savior’s birth (see Hel. 14:2–7), and five years later the prophecies were fulfilled and the people were overwhelmed with joy that the Messiah had come to the earth (see 3 Ne. 1:4–21). Furthermore, in preparation for the organization of the Church on 6 April 1830, a revelation was given that identifies the time of Christ’s coming “in the flesh” (D&C 20:1).
Very little is given in scripture about the childhood of Jesus; however, the JST adds truths not found in the Bible. First, we learn that He “grew up with his brethren” (JST, Matt. 3:24, Bible appendix1), confirming that there were siblings in the household (see also Matt. 13:55–56; Mark 6:3; Luke 8:19; John 2:12). While Luke reported that Jesus “grew, and waxed strong in spirit” (Luke 2:40; emphasis added) and that He “increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man” (Luke 2:52; emphasis added), the JST shows more specifically how rapidly and profoundly the growth and development of His obedience and knowledge as a mortal lad occurred: “And he served under his father, and he spake not as other men, neither could he be taught; for he needed not that any man should teach him” (JST, Matt. 3:25, Bible appendix).
John the Baptist. The Prophet Joseph Smith received revelation that John the Baptist was “baptized while he was yet in his childhood, and was ordained by the angel of God at the time he was eight days old unto this power” (D&C 84:28), being foreordained to prepare the way for the Savior. This revelation also establishes the existence of baptism among this people before John was baptizing.
The Doctrine and Covenants records a powerful testimony John bore of Jesus Christ (see D&C 93:6–18). This testimony is the strongest scriptural witness that Jesus had to progress like the rest of us in mortality. Three times in three verses John testifies that Jesus “received not of the fulness at the first” (D&C 93:12–14). John tells us he “saw” the Savior continue “from grace to grace” (D&C 93:12).
The Baptism of Jesus. Modern revelation provides a wealth of information regarding the baptism of Jesus, the timeless requirement of baptism, and the proper mode of baptism. All four gospels record the fact that Jesus was baptized (see Matt. 3:13–17; Mark 1:9–11; Luke 3:21–22; John 1:29–34). The JST and Book of Mormon note that John the Baptist beheld the sign of the dove and heard the voice of God: “And John saw … the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting upon Jesus. And lo, he heard a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear ye him” (JST, Matt. 3:45–46, Bible appendix; see also 1 Ne. 10:7–10). The Book of Mormon also provides four reasons why the sinless Jesus needed baptism, reinforcing our greater need for the ordinance: (1) Jesus was baptized to fulfill all righteousness; (2) His baptism showed that He was willing to humble Himself and witness before the Father that He would be obedient in keeping all of the commandments; (3) His baptism shows the “straitness of the path, and the narrowness of the gate, by which they should enter”; and (4) His baptism is an example for us to emulate (see 2 Ne. 31:5–10).
Whereas the KJV of the New Testament does not record a specific mode of baptism, both the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants affirm that baptism must be done by complete immersion in water and by proper priesthood authority, and even the words of the ordinance are revealed (see 3 Ne. 11:21–27; Mosiah 18:13–16; D&C 20:72–74).
The Temptations. Matthew’s account of the temptations as preserved in the KJV includes some troubling passages that are corrected in the JST. Jesus went into the wilderness “to be with God,” not to be tempted of the devil (see JST footnote to Matt. 4:1). Again, it was the “Spirit,” not Satan, who took Jesus to the pinnacle of the temple and again to an exceedingly high mountain (see JST footnotes to Matt. 4:5, 8). This important distinction clarifies that Jesus traveled with the Spirit and not at the whim and will of the adversary.
The Savior’s Miracles. Underscoring an important aspect of Christ’s mission on earth, both Nephi and King Benjamin learned that Jesus would perform many mighty miracles (see 1 Ne. 11:31; Mosiah 3:5). Furthermore, Moroni taught three reasons why miracles may cease: “The children of men … dwindle in unbelief, and depart from the right way, and know not the God in whom they should trust” (Morm. 9:20). This background is helpful in understanding why the Savior declined to perform healing miracles in some cases (see Mark 6:5–6; Luke 4:16–30).
Parables. The Doctrine and Covenants and JST help to interpret and clarify many of Jesus’ New Testament parables. For example, in the parable of the 10 virgins, five of the virgins are characterized as “wise” because they carried an ample supply of oil for their lamps (see Matt. 25:1–13). The Doctrine and Covenants makes it clear that what makes the virgins wise is they “have taken the Holy Spirit for their guide, and have not been deceived” (D&C 45:56–57; see also D&C 63:53–54).
The Doctrine and Covenants gives a latter-day setting to the parable of the wheat and tares. In section 86 the Lord identified the sowers of the good seed, or the “children of the kingdom” (Matt. 13:38), as the Apostles (see D&C 86:2), and the sowers of the tares as Satan’s earthly agents, described as “the great persecutor of the church, the apostate, the whore, even Babylon” (see D&C 86:3). Because of the evil influence of the tares among the church’s membership, the early Christian church was withdrawn from the earth (see D&C 86:3). However, in the latter days, both classes of people (the tares and wheat) will be allowed to grow together “until the harvest is fully ripe,” at which time the righteous will be gathered and then the tares will be burned with fire at the Savior’s Second Coming (D&C 86:7; see also D&C 101:63–66; D&C 63:33–34).
In the parable of the wicked husbandmen, the Savior described a group of wicked husbandmen who not only refused to pay the householder for the use of his land but also killed his servants and his son when they came to collect the money (see Matt. 21:33–45). While the Jewish religious leaders perceived that Jesus was likening them to the wicked husbandmen, the JST adds several important points. First, Jesus is the stone rejected by the wicked Jewish religious leaders (see JST, Matt. 21:51–52, Bible appendix). Second, the kingdom of God would be taken from the Jews and given to the Gentiles (see JST, Matt. 21:53). Third, the stone which will fall is the Second Coming of Jesus (see JST, Matt. 21:54–55), which will destroy the wicked Gentiles at the time of His coming (see JST, Matt. 21:56).
Sermon on the Mount. During the first day of the resurrected Lord’s visit to the Nephites at the temple in Bountiful, He taught a sermon that has clear, undeniable parallels to the Sermon on the Mount. Most variations and modifications between the two sermons can be understood by recognizing differences in audience, culture, and time. For a discussion of the sermons, see W. Jeffrey Marsh, “Prophetic Enlightenment on the Sermon on the Mount,” pages 14–21 of this issue. One of many changes worth noting is Jesus’ counsel to those who are angry with another person. The earliest Greek manuscripts of Matthew 5 do not contain the words “without a cause” (Matt. 5:22), making them read exactly as the JST of this passage and the Savior’s sermon to the Nephites (Inspired Version, Matt. 5:24; 3 Ne. 12:22).
The Other Sheep. The book of John records the wonderful sermon in which Jesus compared Himself to the Good Shepherd and His true disciples to the sheep (see John 10:1–18). At the end of the sermon Jesus made reference to “other sheep … which are not of this fold; them also I must bring and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd: (John 10:16). While those listening to the sermon assumed Jesus was referring to the Gentiles (see 3 Ne. 15:22), the Book of Mormon makes it clear that others would go to teach the Gentiles, while He would go to the Nephites and others of the lost tribes of Israel (3 Ne. 15:15–24; 3 Ne. 16:1–3).
The Transfiguration. The events of the Transfiguration as described in Matthew 17 [Matt. 17], Mark 9, and Luke 9 are puzzling without the insights provided by modern revelation. According to the text of Matthew, Jesus took Peter, James, and John to a high mountain where He was transfigured before the three Apostles. During the Transfiguration the Old Testament prophets Moses and Elijah appeared to the Savior and visited with Him. This event was also accompanied by the appearance of a bright cloud from which God’s voice was heard to declare that Jesus was His Beloved Son (see Matt. 17:1–9). From latter-day revelation we know more of what transpired on this holy mount. John the Baptist, as a spirit, was also in attendance on the mount (see JST footnote to Mark 9:4). Additionally, Peter, James, and John were privileged to see the future transfiguration of the earth in the millennial day (see D&C 63:20–21).
In a similar event recorded nearly 1,800 years later, these same two prophets, Moses and Elijah, as well as a third Old Testament prophet named Elias, appeared to the Prophet Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery in order to restore important priesthood keys. Moses restored the priesthood keys of the gathering of Israel, Elias restored the keys of the dispensation of the gospel of Abraham, and Elijah restored the keys of sealing power (see D&C 110:11–16). As a result of this marvelous event, the Prophet Joseph Smith held the priesthood keys authorizing him to direct the great missionary labors as well as the sealing ordinances of the temple. In similar fashion, Moses and Elijah had given these same priesthood keys to Peter, James, and John in the meridian of time.2
Translated Beings. Latter-day scriptures confirm that many individuals have been translated and shed light on our understanding of their nature. For example, we know that Moses and Elijah were translated beings when they restored keys on the Mount of Transfiguration, and later the Apostle John was translated (see D&C 110:13; Alma 45:19; 3 Ne. 28:6–7). After His Resurrection, Christ inferred to Peter that John would not die but “tarry till I come” (John 21:20–23; see also Matt. 16:28).
The Prophet Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery inquired of the Lord concerning John the Beloved. The revelation received in response verifies that John will tarry in the flesh until Christ comes in His glory because he desired to “live and bring souls unto [Christ]” (D&C 7:2–3), the same as the Three Nephites (3 Ne. 28:6–9). The Book of Mormon also teaches that translated beings are not subject to death, pain, or sorrow, except for sorrow for the sins of the world, nor can they be subject to Satan’s temptations (see 3 Ne. 28:7, 9, 39). These conditions were made possible by a change that was “wrought upon their bodies” (3 Ne. 28:38). However, this change is not equal to that of an immortal, resurrected body, which the Apostle John and the Three Nephites will ultimately receive at the Second Coming of Christ (see 3 Ne. 28:8, 39–40).
Christ’s Teaching on Eternal Marriage. Criticism from Christians of other faiths is at times pointed toward Latter-day Saints because of our doctrine on eternal marriage. Reference to the Sadducees’ question concerning the woman sequentially married to six brothers of her first husband and the Savior’s subsequent response that “in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven” is their primary argument against such a doctrine (Matt. 22:30; see also Matt. 22:23–33). Fortunately, the Doctrine and Covenants suggests the context for the Savior’s response.
In a revelation to the Prophet Joseph Smith, the Lord discussed three types of marriage, the last of which was the only one that endures beyond the grave. In the first type of marriage, Jesus taught that when “a man marry him a wife in the world, and he marry her not by me nor by my word, … their covenant and marriage are not of force when they are dead” (D&C 132:15). Of them, He said, they “are appointed angels in heaven, … to minister for those who are worthy of a far more, and an exceeding, and an eternal weight of glory” (D&C 132:16). This text perfectly parallels the answer Christ gave the Sadducees yet gives the larger context. In the specific New Testament case presented by the Sadducees, no priesthood covenant or sealing accompanied these multiple marriages, thereby making them void at death.
The Second Coming. During a period when the Saints were facing profound persecution, the Prophet Joseph received a revelation that gave greater hope and vision from Him who is “the advocate with the Father, who is pleading your cause before him” (D&C 45:3). In the revelation, the Savior stated He was showing Joseph what He had shown His disciples in Jerusalem in the discourse on His Second Coming (see D&C 45:15–16). The D&C account includes portions of that sermon not found in the New Testament, such as Christ’s appearance on the Mount of Olives when it shall “cleave in twain” and when the inhabitants of the land will ask about the wounds in His hands and feet, followed by weeping and the Lord’s statement: “These wounds are the wounds with which I was wounded in the house of my friends. I am he who was lifted up. I am Jesus that was crucified. I am the Son of God” (D&C 45:52; see also D&C 45:48–53). The Savior abruptly ended His recitation of the discourse and directed Joseph to begin translating the New Testament, where he would be taught more concerning this subject (see D&C 45:60–61). The next day Joseph began the translation of the book of Matthew, which records the Savior’s sermon on the last days in chapter 24.
Known as “Joseph Smith—Matthew” in the Pearl of Great Price, the JST of Matthew 24 is invaluable in bringing home the message and meaning of this remarkable sermon by the Savior to His Apostles. The order of the verses is changed to reflect the Lord’s response to the disciples’ two questions: “When shall these things [concerning the destruction of Jerusalem] be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, at the end of the world?” (Matt. 24:3). His answer to the first question is found in JS—M 1:5–20; the answer to the second question is given in JS—M 1:21–55. In fact, the Prophet wrote an inspired transition that distinguishes between the time of Jerusalem’s destruction and the time before the Savior’s coming in glory: “Behold these things I have spoken unto you concerning the Jews; and again, after the tribulation of those days which shall come upon Jerusalem …” (JS—M 1:21; emphasis added). Thus, verse 21 marks the break between the time of Jerusalem’s siege and the signs of the last days.
Furthermore, the JST includes additional verses which clarify the purpose, timing, and protection associated with His Second Coming. Christ does not say He tells us the signs of His coming so that we can research when the Second Coming will occur. Rather, according to the JST, Christ reveals the signs of wars and destruction preceding His coming “for the elect’s sake” so “that ye be not troubled” (JS—M 1:23). In the KJV account, the Savior’s words read as though His coming would occur in the days of the original Twelve (see Matt. 24:34). The verse is expanded in the JST to read: “This generation, in which these things shall be shown forth, shall not pass away until all I have told you shall be fulfilled” (JS—M 1:34; emphasis added).
Finally, the JST records a promise of protection from deception for those who “treasureth up my word” (JS—M 1:37). The JST restores this sermon into a great discourse of hope, love, and security.
The Sacrament. The New Testament does not give us a great deal of information regarding the method of blessing and administering the sacrament.
Again modern revelation contributes appreciably to our understanding. First, we learn that those who administer the sacrament to members of the Church must be ordained and given the proper authority (see 3 Ne. 18:5). Second, we learn the purpose for partaking of the bread and wine is to remember the Savior’s Atonement and to witness to the Father that we are willing to take upon us His name and keep His commandments (see 3 Ne. 18:7, 10, 11; JST footnote to Matt. 26:26; JST, Mark 14:21–24, Bible appendix). Third, Church authorities should not allow anyone who is unworthy to partake of the sacrament (see 3 Ne. 18:28–29). Fourth, both the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants provide us with the sacramental prayers (see Moro. 4, 5; D&C 20:77, 79).
Gethsemane. While the New Testament tells us that Christ was in agony—His soul being “exceedingly sorrowful unto death” while in Gethsemane (Mark 14:34; see also Luke 22:44), latter-day scripture describes the intensity, depth, and scope of His suffering. For instance, we learn that Christ suffered the “pains of every living creature, both men, women, and children” in order that “the resurrection might pass upon all men” (2 Ne. 9:21–22). We learn He suffered “even more than man can suffer,” even to bleed from every pore as a result of His anguish for the sins of mankind (Mosiah 3:7; see also D&C 19:18; Luke 22:44). Finally, in one of the most sublime statements regarding Christ’s willing and obedient nature concerning the agonizing Atonement, the Savior revealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith, “Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink—Nevertheless, glory be to the Father, and I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men (D&C 19:18–19; see also D&C 19:16–17; D&C 18:11).
The Crucifixion. Hundreds of years before the Savior’s coming, the children of Lehi knew how the Lord would die (see 1 Ne. 11:33; 1 Ne. 19:10; 2 Ne. 6:9; 2 Ne. 10:3–5). After His death, they experienced earthquakes followed by three days of darkness as prophesied by Samuel the Lamanite (see Hel. 14:20–27; 3 Ne. 8:5–22; 3 Ne. 10:9). These experiences made the absence of the “Light of the World” very tangible even for those living far from the land of Jesus’ ministry. Additionally, modern scripture gives Christ’s explanation of the symbolic significance of the Crucifixion. He taught, “My Father sent me that I might be lifted up upon the cross … that I might draw all men unto me, that as I have been lifted up by men even so should men be lifted up by the Father … to be judged of their works” (3 Ne. 27:14). Finally a multitude of 2,500 witnessed that Jesus had been crucified when they touched the wounds in His side, hands, and feet (see 3 Ne. 11:15; 3 Ne. 17:25).
Christ’s Visit to the Spirit World. The New Testament records four stirring testimonies of the Savior’s Crucifixion and subsequent Resurrection on the third day but supplies only a clue as to where His spirit was in the interim (see 1 Pet. 3:18–19; 1 Pet. 4:6). Modern revelation fills the void with the revelation given through President Joseph F. Smith pertaining to the spirit world (D&C 138). Here we learn the remarkable mission of the Redeemer to the righteous spirits who had “departed the mortal life, firm in the hope of a glorious resurrection” (D&C 138:14). During those three days, the Savior “organized his forces and appointed messengers, clothed with power and authority, and commissioned them to go forth and carry the light of the gospel to them that were in darkness, even to all the spirits of men; and thus was the gospel preached to the dead” (D&C 138:30). This revelation is an essential chapter in the study of the Savior’s life and teachings. While darkness reigned figuratively and literally on the earth with the death of Jesus, it had never been so light in the spirit world. Those spirits of the just had “countenances [that] shone, and the radiance from the presence of the Lord rested upon them, and they sang praises unto his holy name” (D&C 138:24).
The Resurrection. Latter-day scripture verifies that Jesus was resurrected with a physical, immortal body of flesh and bones. The Doctrine and Covenants declares that “the Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s; the Son also” (D&C 130:22; see also D&C 93:33; D&C 129:1–2), while the Book of Mormon teaches that in the resurrection not only Christ, but all who have lived upon the earth shall have their body and soul restored to one another (see Alma 40:23). The resurrected Savior appeared to the Nephites and invited an entire multitude to add their witness to that of the numerous New Testament Saints, that Christ had truly risen from the dead to live forevermore (see 3 Ne. 11:14).
Conclusion. Standing alone, the New Testament account of Christ’s life and teachings is profound and spiritually enlightening and life changing. Yet Latter-day Saints are blessed with additional scripture that answers many of our questions and contributes vision and clarity to eternal doctrines and ordinances introduced in the New Testament.