(Side Bar: Right up front I must explain that in order to more fully understand the concepts that Nephi taught in this part of his record, I believe it is necessary to have groundwork laid. Please read the two previous posts if you have not done so, then come back and read on….)
According to the Spirit of the Lord, who is having a conversation with Nephi on an “exceedingly high mountain”, the reason that he is going to receive the desires of his heart, “to know the things his father had seen”, was because he “believest in the Son.”
It is interesting to think back at the time frame in which this experience is given, and compare it to the time in which we live. We have been given an interesting perspective about the way he Son of God made his entrance into this world. We get to look back at the history of it, of the records of those who testified of His birth, namely the testimony of His apostles. Think about it, almost everybody on the earth has heard of Mary and Joseph, and baby Jesus being born in a stable, even if they don’t believe it themselves. We simply understand that the Son of God came into this world the same way the rest of us did. Perhaps we even take it for granted because of the “simpleness of the way”.
Nephi, however, has an entirely different challenge in understanding the “condescension” of God. He is looking forward, ahead, to a future place and time, to something that has not happened yet. It is true that he had the words of prophets like Isaiah, who alluded to the future event of Christ’s birth, but in reality it had not happened. Might I venture to suggest that the details regarding the process of how the Son of God would make his entrance might have been a little fuzzy for Nephi. In fact Nephi reveals this detail himself as the Angel asks the question, “Knowest thou the condescension of God?” with the answer he gave, “I know that he loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things.”
With the introduction of the Angel in that last paragraph, perhaps it might be best to identify the players in this little experience.
Nephi is the first obvious one.
Next we are introduced to the Spirit of the Lord. Nephi describes Him as, “in the form of a man; yet nevertheless, I knew that it was the Spirit of the Lord; and he spake unto me as a man speaketh with another.” This Spirit of the Lord, in the form of a man, makes a quick exit at a really important time. Notice when he leaves the scene…
1 Nephi 11: 12 And it came to pass that he said unto me: Look! And I looked as if to look upon him, and I saw him not; for he had gone from before my presence.
13 And it came to pass that I looked and beheld the great city of Jerusalem, and also other cities. And I beheld the city of Nazareth; and in the city of Nazareth I beheld a virgin, and she was exceedingly fair and white.
It is interesting to me that he disappears from Nephi’s view as the vision of the virgin is shown. Perhaps this was done so that Nephi could truly understand the process of the actual “condescension” itself.
In fact, I believe the brother of Jared recorded this same experience in just a little different way, as Christ explained to him in the following passage:
Ether 3: 16 Behold, this body, which ye now behold, is the body of my spirit; and man have I created after the body of my spirit; and even as I appear unto thee to be in the spirit will I appear unto my people in the flesh.
The Lord, in his explanation of his appearance to the brother of Jared, taught that His physical body was the “sign” for His spiritual body. Nephi will also be shown the sign for Christ through the physical appearance he makes, with a body of flesh and blood, but as a tiny infant.
The next player in this little dialog is the Angel.
1 Nephi 11: 14 And it came to pass that I saw the heavens open; and an angel came down and stood before me; and he said unto me: Nephi, what beholdest thou?
15 And I said unto him: A virgin, most beautiful and fair above all other virgins.
16 And he said unto me: Knowest thou the condescension of God?
So, suddenly the Spirit of the Lord, who I believe became part of the scene that was to play out before Nephi, is replaced by His messenger, the Angel, who teaches doctrine and adds his witness to it. I don’t know about you, but for me this is a very familiar process. I watch it unfold every time I attend the Temple. It is comfortable for me.
Ponder these things and see if they are comfortable to you.