Nephi was shown in vision that in the last days there would be a great division among all people – “either to the convincing of them unto peace and life eternal, or unto the deliverance of them to the hardness of their hearts and the blindness of their minds unto their being brought down into captivity, and also into destruction…” (1 Nephi 14:7). Jesus referred to this division using several parables, namely: the wheat and the tares, the wise and the foolish virgins, and the sheep and the goats (divided on his right hand and on his left).
Though we see increasing political division today, the division prophesied of is not strictly political; it is a spiritual matter, split between those on the side of life, and those on the side of death. Ironically, those on the side of death are always split amongst themselves – whether it be politically, religiously, or otherwise. There is only one narrow way that leads to life, while the ways leading to death are nearly infinite (Matthew 7:13-14). Unity is only to be found in the truth; everything else is just chaos.
The angel described this great division using the imagery of two churches, “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” (1 Nephi 14:10).
One of the reasons the church of the devil is referred to as the whore of all the earth is because she is indiscriminate in her values. Whereas the church of the Lamb has only one husband (the Lord), the church of the devil subscribes to every idea, philosophy, and practice that leads to death (and there are many).
Those who make up the church of the Lamb are His “saints,” or sanctified ones (1 Nephi 14:12). These are saints by Book of Mormon definition – those who yield to the enticings of the Holy Spirit and are changed through the atonement of Christ (Mosiah 3:19). Membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not alone make one a saint. We must literally be transformed by Christ’s atonement from desiring death to desiring life (Mosiah 5:2), otherwise we’re not saints – we’re just ‘ain’ts.’ One can be a member of the Church and still belong to the church of the devil; this division is a lifestyle and a culture, not a title. The great division will take place among all people, including the Church. As has been shown previously, there are many Latter-day Saints who will end up fighting against the work of Zion.
The Gentiles Go Two Ways
As Nephi was taught in vision, everything is about whether or not the Gentiles will harden their hearts. If they don’t, they will be sifted with the wheat; if they do, then with the tares. Latter-day Saints are not yet exempt from being “identified with the gentiles” (D&C 109:60). When the scriptures speak of a great division taking place among the Gentiles, that division happens on all levels. The only difference is that those of the Church will be held to a higher standard; with the greater light comes the greater condemnation (D&C 82:3). The Lord Himself indicates that the destruction and calamities of the last days will begin first upon His own house, and from thence go forth to the rest of the world (D&C 112:25-26).
Speaking of the Church, the Lord said, “For they were set to be a light unto the world, and to be the saviors of men; and inasmuch as they are not the saviors of men, they are as salt that has lost its savor, and is thenceforth good for nothing but to be cast out and trodden under foot of men” (D&C 103:9-10). We have been given too much to not do anything about it. If we do not become a light unto the world, and saviors of men, we will one day find ourselves cut off from the Lord’s covenant people.
The Savior prophesied the day the Gentiles would sin against His gospel. As you read this statement of the Lord’s carefully, you’ll see how it applies not only to the Gentiles of America, but of the Church as well:
“And thus commandeth the Father that I should say unto you: At that day when the Gentiles shall sin against my gospel, and shall reject the fulness of my gospel, and shall be lifted up in the pride of their hearts above all nations, and above all the people of the whole earth, and shall be filled with all manner of lyings, and of deceits, and of mischiefs, and all manner of hypocrisy, and murders, and priestcrafts, and whoredoms, and of secret abominations; and if they shall do all those things, and shall reject the fulness of my gospel, behold, saith the Father, I will bring the fulness of my gospel from among them.
“And then will I remember my covenant which I have made unto my people, O house of Israel, and I will bring my gospel unto them. And I will show unto thee, O house of Israel, that the Gentiles shall not have power over you; but I will remember my covenant unto you, O house of Israel, and ye shall come unto the knowledge of the fulness of my gospel.
“But if the Gentiles will repent and return unto me, saith the Father, behold they shall be numbered among my people, O house of Israel. And I will not suffer my people, who are of the house of Israel, to go through among them, and tread them down, saith the Father.
“But if they will not turn unto me, and hearken unto my voice, I will suffer them, yea, I will suffer my people, O house of Israel, that they shall go through among them, and shall tread them down, and they shall be as salt that hath lost its savor, which is thenceforth good for nothing but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of my people, O house of Israel” (3 Nephi 16:10-15).
Now, there is a positive side to this, which is that the Gentiles have the opportunity to perform the greatest task ever assigned to mankind. The opportunity to be a light to the Gentiles and saviors to the house of Israel will include ministering with miraculous power hardly conceivable to us now. These will be the 144,000 high priests seen by John (Revelation 14:1), the Gentile kings and queens seen by Isaiah (Isaiah 49:21-22), the saviors on Mount Zion mentioned in Obadiah (Obadiah 1:21), and the fulness of the Gentiles spoken of by Lehi and others (1 Nephi 15:13-14, 3 Nephi 16:4, Romans 11:25-26). These will gather in the lost tribes of Israel in the greatest missionary effort the world has ever seen.
The Three Nephites serve as a type of these servants, not only as translated beings, but as being a few of the only surviving Nephites (a covenant people that hardened their hearts). The ratio of the righteous and wicked is never split 50/50; it is always the few and the many.
As Nephi wrote of our day, “I beheld the church of the Lamb of God, and its numbers were few, because of the wickedness and abominations of the whore who sat upon many waters; nevertheless, I beheld that the church of the Lamb, who were the saints of God, were also upon all the face of the earth; and their dominions upon the face of the earth were small, because of the wickedness of the great whore whom I saw” (1 Nephi 14:12; cf. 2 Nephi 28:8). This is always the case in scriptural history (e.g. Noah’s family vs. the world, Abraham’s family vs. Sodom & Gomorrah, Lehi’s family vs. Jerusalem, etc.).
Furthermore, the wicked Nephites and the Three Disciples were both at opposite extremes of the spectrum; one side so filled with life that it could not be taken from them (3 Nephi 28:7), and the other so captive to death that it was celebrated (Moroni 9:9-10). Such is the prophesied division of our day; everyone will essentially end up at one end or the other.
When Will These Things Come to Pass?
The Lord indicates that this great division takes place as the result of a great and marvelous work He will perform. Those who love life and truth will be polarized to one side, while those who harden their hearts and love a lie will be polarized to the other. These things are beginning to happen now, but when the Lord “makes bare” His arm in the eyes of all nations, they will amplify until “the consumption decreed has made a full end of all nations.”
The most notable catalyst to these things will be the arrival of the Lord’s end time servant. He is prophesied to come with a greater portion of the words of Christ, which the Gentiles will summarily reject:
“But behold, the life of my servant shall be in my hand; therefore they shall not hurt him, although he shall be marred because of them. Yet I will heal him, for I will show unto them that my wisdom is greater than the cunning of the devil. Therefore it shall come to pass that whosoever will not believe in my words, who am Jesus Christ, which the Father shall cause him to bring forth unto the Gentiles, and shall give unto him power that he shall bring them forth unto the Gentiles, (it shall be done even as Moses said) they shall be cut off from among my people who are of the covenant” (3 Nephi 21:10-11).
As there is an opposition in all things, the outpouring of light in that day will be accompanied by an increase in darkness. We will see both greater truths and greater deceptions; both greater peace and greater war. The increased opposition will propel those who love God further than they could get otherwise. We read of such a precedent among the Nephites:
“And they were lifted up in pride, even to the persecution of many of their brethren. Now this was a great evil, which did cause the more humble part of the people to suffer great persecutions, and to wade through much affliction. Nevertheless they did fast and pray oft, and did wax stronger and stronger in their humility, and firmer and firmer in the faith of Christ, unto the filling their souls with joy and consolation, yea, even to the purifying and the sanctification of their hearts, which sanctification cometh because of their yielding their hearts unto God” (Helaman 3:34-35; emphasis added).
The opposition and persecution from the wicked will be a catalyst for the righteous to obtain more power with God. As Nephi wrote, “And it came to pass that I beheld that the great mother of abominations did gather together multitudes upon the face of all the earth, among all the nations of the Gentiles, to fight against the Lamb of God. And it came to pass that I, Nephi, beheld the power of the Lamb of God, that it descended upon the saints of the church of the Lamb, and upon the covenant people of the Lord, who were scattered upon all the face of the earth; and they were armed with righteousness and with the power of God in great glory.” (1 Nephi 14:13-14).
Hence, when the Lord’s servant is “marred because of them,” the Lord will heal him (which in Isaiah’s context, refers to being made a translated being). It will be in that day when the prophecy of Joel will be fulfilled, which says, “I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions” (Joel 2:28).
To the Right or the Left?
How can we ensure we will ripen with the wheat and not the tares? Considering even the Church will be divided, how can we make certain we are not among the wicked?
The most important thing we can do now is take honest inventory of our own hearts. Do we embrace a culture of life, or a culture of death? Are our individual actions in harmony with life? Do we seek for the welfare of others? Do we love truth? Are we striving to understand greater truth and live accordingly? Are we inquiring of the Lord to learn from Him personally, or are we hardening our hearts by expecting others to do so for us?
One of the most vital indicators is how we approach religion. If religion is the search for truth, revelation and repentance will serve us well. On the other hand, if we view religion as short list of beliefs or creeds, “Mormonism” (so-called) is no different than any other ideology.
Ideology and other forms of dead religion have a fixed set of beliefs. You can study their tenets for a few months and have a comprehensive understanding of the belief system. It’s limited. It’s finite. It has an end. It’s a worldview that teaches you the “right answers” to every circumstance and question, but only offers a shallow understanding of fundamental issues and doctrines. For this reason, an ideologue is very predictable. A conversation with any number of individuals who wholesale subscribe to the same ideology will always be the same; there is no thinking left to be done.
We typically speak of a dead vs. living religion in terms of continuing revelation – and that idea is true enough – however, instead of waiting on continuing revelation from others, we ought to be seeking it ourselves. If our search for truth does not result in continuing revelation, we do not have a living religion. What the restored gospel offers is keys to an infinitely deep wealth of knowledge. If we limit the truths that have been restored to revised bullet points, it is no different than the rest of Christianity.
For example, if the value we find in the plan of salvation (as we commonly refer to our flow chart) is that instead of believing we die and just go to heaven or hell, we actually go some place else and then eventually are sorted into one of three buckets, our religion is just as dead as any other. The value is in understanding why these things are so (for starters, that they act like rungs on a ladder of progression).
Most Christians put God in a box, and many Latter-day Saints just put Him in a slightly bigger one. Revealed truth is not intended to act as a fence, but rather as a gateway to greater understanding and further truth. True principles are infinitely profound; you can always take them deeper. False precepts that are not aligned to the order of heaven will put a dam in truth’s logical and eternal flow. Truth expands into eternity, and fits inside a larger pattern of life and creation. You can see fractals of true principles on infinitely smaller and larger scales. False principles are typically limited to one arbitrary explanation; the question “why,” is usually answered with, “that’s just how God made it.”
Our love for truth over ideology will be a distinguishing factor between the two churches in days to come. We must love truth above all else. If this idea doesn’t make sense, please let me know and I’ll try to find a clearer way to articulate it. There’s an enjoyable block from the Teachings of the Presidents: Joseph Smith manual that’s worth reading here.
To love truth is to love the order of life and creation. It is to have a desire to uphold it, maintain it, and promote it. It is to care for the welfare of others, individually and collectively. No matter how much truth someone possess today, this is what matters most.
There are those now who love life, but have not yet been sanctified in truth to the end that Christ desires. They have drawn lines in the sand and put some limits on God. I believe men like Jordan Peterson fall in this camp. He has extracted greater value and truth from the scriptures than have most Christians. He apparently cares deeply for the life and welfare of others, but currently seems hesitant to accept that most scripture is more than myth. These kinds of people are generally reconciled to the truth they have, and live accordingly. When the Lord sets His hand again, they will be given the opportunity to embrace greater truth, or will find their sacred cows become stumbling blocks.
A love for light and truth will matter more and more in the coming years. Ideology creates the illusion that we possess greater knowledge than we really do. Without being grounded in a genuine knowledge of the truth, we will be swept up in the wave of deception to come.
It’s hard for many of us now to perceive a world like the end of the Nephite civilization. It’s even harder to imagine ourselves being polarized to such a dark extreme. Yet, every historical instance where evil rules, whether it be Sodom, Jerusalem, or Nazi Germany, ordinary people find it surprisingly easy to gradually tolerate and permit greater wickedness. Only those ever vigilant for life and truth can avoid moral decline. As G.K. Chesterson put it, “A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it.” Or, as the Savior put it, “ye must watch and pray always, lest ye be tempted by the devil, and ye be led away captive by him” (3 Nephi 18:15).
Here is a thought provoking quote from a German who experienced the rise of the Nazis:
“If the last and worst act of the whole regime had come immediately after the first and smallest, thousands, yes, millions would have been sufficiently shocked—if, let us say, the gassing of the Jews in ’43 had come immediately after the ‘German Firm’ stickers on the windows of non-Jewish shops in ’33. But of course this isn’t the way it happens. In between come all the hundreds of little steps, some of them imperceptible, each of them preparing you not to be shocked by the next. Step C is not so much worse than Step B, and, if you did not make a stand at Step B, why should you at Step C? And so on to Step D.
“And one day, too late, your principles, if you were ever sensible of them, all rush in upon you. The burden of self-deception has grown too heavy, and some minor incident, in my case my little boy, hardly more than a baby, saying ‘Jewish swine,’ collapses it all at once, and you see that everything, everything, has changed and changed completely under your nose. The world you live in—your nation, your people—is not the world you were born in at all. The forms are all there, all untouched, all reassuring, the houses, the shops, the jobs, the mealtimes, the visits, the concerts, the cinema, the holidays. But the spirit, which you never noticed because you made the lifelong mistake of identifying it with the forms, is changed.” (Milton Sanford Mayer, They Thought They Were Free: The Germans 1933-45)
On the same topic, this short clip from Jordan Peterson illustrates this idea:
Of course, these examples are just a sample of all that could be said on this subject. The findings of the Stanford Prison and Milgram Shock experiments are also noteworthy, and worth taking the time to look into.
The little things are the big things.
We want to ensure, above all else, our hearts remain pure through all that is to come. Those on the side of life (who belong to the church of the Lamb) are those who have been sanctified and made pure.
We are sanctified through truth, which is the word of God (John 17:17). As we yield to truth by looking to God in every thought, our hearts will be purified and preserved. The light within us will grow brighter while the Spirit withdraws from the world around us. Truth will be made plainer and clearer to us everyday amidst a nation dwindling in unbelief.
What is unique about the righteous portion in Jesus’ parables? They are full of the Holy Ghost (having been sanctified in truth) and desire the life and welfare of others (see Matthew 25). They love light rather than darkness, truth rather than lies, and life rather than death.
There are only two churches. Though both options will require everything that we have, it is that simple. Light or darkness? Truth or lie? Life or death? Creation or destruction? Love or fear? Good or evil? “I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live” (Deuteronomy 30:19).