In an effort to picture in our mind exactly what Lehi might have been shown in the “Tree of Life Vision” we have a tendency to limit our perspective to the physical items that he describes he saw.
For example he saw a large and spacious field (vs. 9 & 20), a tree with fruit (vs. 10-11), a river of water (vs. 13), a rod of iron (vs. 14), a strait and narrow path (vs. 20), a fountain (vs. 20), and a great and spacious building (vs. 26). Many artists have given their interpretation or rendition of this scene in various types of mediums. Each is only an opinion drawn by what they read in Nephi’s account.
Looking beyond the items in the vision, I would like to concentrate on the groups of people that Nephi remembers being told about. In an effort to compartmentalize the groups of people that are spoken of in Lehi’s Dream I have made a comparison of Lehi’s Vision with the Vision which was recorded in Section 76 of the Doctrine and Covenants. The similarities are stunning.
The first group of people is seen in 1 Nephi 8:21-23.
Look for what the people were doing:
21 And I saw numberless concourses of people, many of whom were pressing forward, that they might obtain the path which led unto the tree by which I stood.
22 And it came to pass that they did come forth, and commence in the path which led to the tree.
23 And it came to pass that there arose a mist of darkness; yea, even an exceedingly great mist of darkness, insomuch that they who had commenced in the path did lose their way, that they wandered off and were lost.
This group of people started on the path and moved forward. They did not however take hold of the “iron rod”, either because they did not know to, or they chose not to, and when the “mists of darkness” came, they wandered off and got lost. In my mind I compared them to the description of those who inherit terrestrial glory.
See if you can see any similarities:
Section 76: 72-75
72 Behold, these are they who died without law; (no iron rod)
73 And also they who are the spirits of men kept in prison, whom the Son visited, and preached the gospel unto them, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh;
74 Who received not the testimony of Jesus in the flesh, but afterwards received it. (never actually partook of the fruit)
75 These are they who are honorable men of the earth, who were blinded by the craftiness of men. (mists of darkness clouded their way)
The next group of people is spoken of in 1 Nephi 8: 24-28.
Look for what this group of people is doing:
24 And it came to pass that I beheld others pressing forward, and they came forth and caught hold of the end of the rod of iron; and they did press forward through the mist of darkness, clinging to the rod of iron, even until they did come forth and partake of the fruit of the tree.
25 And after they had partaken of the fruit of the tree they did cast their eyes about as if they were ashamed.
26 And I also cast my eyes round about, and beheld, on the other side of the river of water, a great and spacious building; and it stood as it were in the air, high above the earth.
27 And it was filled with people, both old and young, both male and female; and their manner of dress was exceedingly fine; and they were in the attitude of mocking and pointing their fingers towards those who had come at and were partaking of the fruit.
28 And after they had tasted of the fruit they were ashamed, because of those that were scoffing at them; and they fell away into forbidden paths and were lost.
Can you guess which particular group this describes?
35 Having denied the Holy Spirit after having received it, and having denied the Only Begotten Son of the Father, having crucified him unto themselves and put him to an open shame. ( remember they actually ate the fruit)
36 These are they who shall go away into the lake of fire and brimstone, with the devil and his angels—(fell away to forbidden paths and were lost)
The third group described is found in 1 Nephi 8:30.
Look for what this group is doing:
30 But, to be short in writing, behold, he saw other multitudes pressing forward; and they came and caught hold of the end of the rod of iron; and they did press their way forward, continually holding fast to the rod of iron, until they came forth and fell down and partook of the fruit of the tree.
I love how he explains that this group “fell down” before they partook of the fruit. In my mind I picture the position of ultimate worship being performed here.
Likewise the vision in Section 76 records:
51 They are they who received the testimony of Jesus, and believed on his name and were baptized after the manner of his burial, being buried in the water in his name, and this according to the commandment which he has given— (fell down, partook of the fruit)
52 That by keeping the commandments they might be washed and cleansed from all their sins, and receive the Holy Spirit by the laying on of the hands of him who is ordained and sealed unto this power;
53 And who overcome by faith, and are sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, which the Father sheds forth upon all those who are just and true.
The last group described is found in 1 Nephi 8:31-32.
Look for what this group is doing:
31 And he also saw other multitudes feeling their way towards that great and spacious building.
32 And it came to pass that many were drowned in the depths of the fountain; and many were lost from his view, wandering in strange roads.
This group never even made it to the path at all. They were drowned in the fountain from the very beginning or lost from view, wandering strange roads. They only knew the great and spacious building as their goal, they didn’t even desire the fruit, or work towards the tree.
Section 76: 81-82 shows a great representation of this group of people.
81 And again, we saw the glory of the telestial, which glory is that of the lesser, even as the glory of the stars differs from that of the glory of the moon in the firmament.
82 These are they who received not the gospel of Christ, neither the testimony of Jesus. (no path, no rod, no tree, no fruit)
Joseph Smith explained that only a small portion of what they were shown in vision, which makes up Section 76 of the Doctrine and Covenants, could even be recorded. Likewise Nephi tells us that he “does not speak all the words” of his father. These two visions were so intricate that we have been given only the tip of the iceberg of what they actually were taught by the Lord regarding our post-mortal probation. I believe to understand it more fully we must be taught directly from the Lord, as these men illustrate is possible.
I believe that Section 76 and the “Tree of Life” Vision are literally the same thing, told in different ways.