You are here
Show Full Text
Coming of Messiah Revealed by Angel
1 And again my brethren, I would call your attention, for I have somewhat more to speak unto you; for behold, I have things to tell you concerning that which is to come.
2 And the things which I shall tell you are made known unto me by an angel from God. And he said unto me: Awake; and I awoke, and behold he stood before me.
3 And he said unto me: Awake, and hear the words which I shall tell thee; for behold, I am come to declare unto you the glad tidings of great joy.
4 For the Lord hath heard thy prayers, and hath judged of thy righteousness, and hath sent me to declare unto thee that thou mayest rejoice; and that thou mayest declare unto thy people, that they may also be filled with joy.
The 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon did not begin a chapter with these verses. However, verse one clearly shows a shift in king Benjamin’s discourse. The “and again” phrase signals something different, after which he very specifically says “I would call your attention.” This is not just a new theme, it is important.
The previous part of Benjamin’s speech declared that Yahweh still covenanted with this people. Benjamin had repeated the promise of the land, and discussed faithfulness to the covenant and the cursing on those who would separate from it. Most recently, he dealt with justice and mercy. Undoubtedly, that was intended to set the stage for the next part of the discourse. Benjamin declares: “I have things to tell you concerning that which is to come.”
That concern with “that which is to come” in the Book of Mormon refers to the earthly mission of the Messiah. That is precisely what the topic will be as Benjamin continues. He opens by noting that this information came from an angel. For the Nephites, this was evidence that Benjamin was, as tradition would expect, in communication with Yahweh. This is presented as a new revelation, in spite of the fact that modern readers are familiar with the information on the Messiah’s mission from the small plates. Those small plates were given to Benjamin as recorded at the end of the book of Omni, but we cannot know if it was before or after this discourse. Since Benjamin is nearing the end of his life, we may suspect that they were given earlier. Nevertheless, they are not used as the substantiation of the truth of this message. This is a newer revelation given directly to Benjamin.
5 For behold, the time cometh, and is not far distant, that with power, the Lord Omnipotent who reigneth, who was, and is from all eternity to all eternity, shall come down from heaven among the children of men, and shall dwell in a tabernacle of clay, and shall go forth amongst men, working mighty miracles, such as healing the sick, raising the dead, causing the lame to walk, the blind to receive their sight, and the deaf to hear, and curing all manner of diseases.
6 And he shall cast out devils, or the evil spirits which dwell in the hearts of the children of men.
7 And lo, he shall suffer temptations, and pain of body, hunger, thirst, and fatigue, even more than man can suffer, except it be unto death; for behold, blood cometh from every pore, so great shall be his anguish for the wickedness and the abominations of his people.
8 And he shall be called Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Father of heaven and earth, the Creator of all things from the beginning; and his mother shall be called Mary.
For modern readers, it is important to recognize the significance of Benjamin’s declaration that “the Lord Omnipotent who reigneth, who was, and is from all eternity to all eternity, shall come down from heaven among the children of men, and shall dwell in a tabernacle of clay.” Yahweh was the Nephite God, and Yahweh himself would condescend to leave behind the heavens to become mortal, to “dwell in a tabernacle of clay.” Modern questions about the distinctions between Christ and God the Father are not Nephite questions. There is no apparent understanding of any distinction between the coming Messiah and God until the time Christ makes an appearance at Bountiful. While in his mortal state he will speak of his Father, and that will probably begin the Nephite understanding of a separation between God the Father and Yahweh. That has not happened yet.
This part of the discourse is about the amazing revelation, or confirmation, that God himself would become mortal. While he would do divine things, such as cast out devils, he would also be subject to temptations. He would be human, with human frailties in body.
Verse 8 not only provides a name for Yahweh on earth, but also for his mother. The name is given as Jesus Christ, which is a bit of a translation conflation of the name, Jesus, and the title, Christ (from the Greek rather than the Hebrew for the anointed one).
The title “father of heaven and earth” is interesting. Matthew 11:25 describes Christ as the “Lord of heaven and earth,” but not explicitly as the father. That title occurs here, in 2 Nephi 25:12, Mosiah 15: 4, Alma 11:39, and Helaman 14:12 and 16:18. The fatherhood of the Messiah is emphasized in the Book of Mormon, but not in the New Testament. In the New Testament, it is Christ who speaks of his Father in heaven, not of his being the Father in Heaven.
9 And lo, he cometh unto his own, that salvation might come unto the children of men even through faith on his name; and even after all this they shall consider him a man, and say that he hath a devil, and shall scourge him, and shall crucify him.
10 And he shall rise the third day from the dead; and behold, he standeth to judge the world; and behold, all these things are done that a righteous judgment might come upon the children of men.
11 For behold, and also his blood atoneth for the sins of those who have fallen by the transgression of Adam, who have died not knowing the will of God concerning them, or who have ignorantly sinned.
In verse 9, the phrase “he cometh unto his own” repeats John 1:11. Rather than just stating that his own did not receive him, as in John, Benjamin highlights the dramatic rejection not only of his teaching but of his divinity. He was not only rejected but crucified. It is unknown whether the concept of crucifixion would have been well understood in the New World Nephite setting, around four hundred years after Lehi left Jerusalem. It is possible that it is part of the translation because the translator understood the history.
The mission of the Messiah is to atone, or to reconcile humanity to the justness of Yahweh. Benjamin quickly reiterates the need for this atonement. The very fact that it is so concise should indicate that it is not a brand new teaching. The people should understand, and they are only being reminded. For a people accustomed to the law of Moses and a blood sacrifice providing the reconciliation between Yahweh and humankind, the emphasis on the Messiah shedding his blood in atonement would have resonated with the people and been understood that they needed to apply the law of Moses’ ritual context to this future action of Yahweh in a mortal state.
12 But wo, wo unto him who knoweth that he rebelleth against God! For salvation cometh to none such except it be through repentance and faith on the Lord Jesus Christ.
13 And the Lord God hath sent his holy prophets among all the children of men, to declare these things to every kindred, nation, and tongue, that thereby whosoever should believe that Christ should come, the same might receive remission of their sins, and rejoice with exceedingly great joy, even as though he had already come among them.
14 Yet the Lord God saw that his people were a stiffnecked people, and he appointed unto them a law, even the law of Moses.
Benjamin declares “wo unto him who knoweth that he rebelleth against God!” That condition of intentional rebellion harkens to the earlier statement in Mosiah 2:38–39 that the unrepentant have no claim to God’s mercy. There is one covenant way to be saved, and it requires obedience to the covenant, as well as to the atonement of the coming Messiah.
Just as Benjamin indicated in Mosiah 2:34–35, these things have been taught by the holy prophets. Therefore, they have been taught to this people and they are under the requirements of the law. They know the law and the prophecies, therefore, they must willingly reject them if they are to deny them.
The law is the guide to salvation. Benjamin returns to the beginning of the law as the means to enact the covenant. When the Israelites were in a state where they might not live according to the covenant after their time in Egypt, the law was given to them to guide them in the right way to live in order to obtain the blessings of the covenant. While explaining the mission of the Messiah, Benjamin is careful to place that mission inside the covenant.
15 And many signs, and wonders, and types, and shadows showed he unto them, concerning his coming; and also holy prophets spake unto them concerning his coming; and yet they hardened their hearts, and understood not that the law of Moses availeth nothing except it were through the atonement of his blood.
16 And even if it were possible that little children could sin they could not be saved; but I say unto you they are blessed; for behold, as in Adam, or by nature, they fall, even so the blood of Christ atoneth for their sins.
Benjamin makes an interesting argument at this point. He has declared that the law of Moses was instituted to show how to live according to Yahweh’s covenant, but now he will argue that it was insufficient to accomplish redemption, or atonement. In addition to the law, the people of Israel were given “signs, and wonders, and types, and shadows,” but they managed to misunderstand or ignore them. Apparently, they assumed that the law of Moses was sufficient to make reconciliation. Benjamin declares that it was not.
The image Benjamin uses is important. Note that he says: “the law of Moses availeth nothing except it were through the atonement of his blood.” Part of the law of Moses included blood sacrifices for atonement. Thus, Benjamin links the law to the Messiah’s earthly mission through the parallel symbolism of the blood sacrifice. This does not end the law but places the Messiah’s mission as integral to the law.
The insertion of the verse concerning the salvation of little children suggests that the community has had some issues with whether or not children might be saved. They appear to believe that they were saved, and Benjamin confirms that they are blessed. However, Benjamin does not exclude them from the law. Note that he says: “even if it were possible that little children could sin they could not be saved.” That phrase is somewhat complex because it appears to declare that children are not subject to sin. Nevertheless, what Benjamin declares is that even children cannot be saved. Then he explains the reason that this does not happen. The great atonement of the Messiah’s blood will reconcile them. Even those without sin still exist in the world after the Fall, and those conditions must be, and are, reconciled in the atoning Messiah’s mortal mission.
17 And moreover, I say unto you, that there shall be no other name given nor any other way nor means whereby salvation can come unto the children of men, only in and through the name of Christ, the Lord Omnipotent.
As a conclusion to the section describing the importance of the law to the covenant, and the mortal mission of the Messiah to the law, we get this simple statement: “there shall be no other name given.” That particular phrase occurs only in king Benjamin’s speech, and occurs twice: here, and in Mosiah 5:8. What does it mean that no other name is given? In the ancient world, names were more than identifications. They were part of the essence of the person. While the subject is far from Benjamin’s intent here, we retain some understanding of this more ancient meaning in the phrase; “speak of the devil and he appears,” most commonly shortened to “speak of the devil,” and used when a person who has been spoken of enters a room or comes into a conversation. That is a remnant of the belief in the power of the name. Thus, when the name is given, it is a name of power. No other being can perform what the atoning Messiah can perform.
This is strengthened by the rest of the sentence: “nor any other way nor means.” No other name holds the power. No other belief and no other practice can perform this particular salvation. That includes the way of the law and the means of sacrifice under the law. In addition to the law, the atoning blood sacrifice of the mortal Messiah will be required.
18 For behold he judgeth, and his judgment is just; and the infant perisheth not that dieth in his infancy; but men drink damnation to their own souls except they humble themselves and become as little children, and believe that salvation was, and is, and is to come, in and through the atoning blood of Christ, the Lord Omnipotent.
Verse 18 continues with the discussion of infants that Benjamin broached in verse 17. The question is the standing of children and the law. The previous verse indicated that the law condemns children, but the atonement saves them with no change on their part. That concept requires an explanation.
The very first part of the explanation is the affirmation that Yahweh is just. His justice comes from the creation of the covenant and the law. When he pronounces judgment according to the covenant and the law, he is eminently just. The difference in the application of the law has to do with agency and intent. Benjamin contrasts an infant who dies in infancy with grown men. The first part of that comparison is certainly the amount of time that it lives, but it also underscores the dependency of infancy. The infant is being raised and trained, but it is dependent upon others. There are, for the very young, few agentive actions. They respond, but do not intentionally act.
Those who are grown, on the other hand, are expected to act. It is those actions that condemn them. They elect to act in ways that drink damnation to their souls. The interesting solution Benjamin suggests is that they must “become as little children.” That does not mean giving up their agency, but rather using it to return to an inculpable state. Through repentance all may return to a state of just alignment with the covenant and the law.
This ability to repent and be cleansed from sin depends upon the promise of the coming atonement of the Messiah. Note again the emphasis on the blood of the Messiah, which is an intentional connection to atoning sacrifices under the law of Moses.
19 For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.
Mosiah 3:19 is so often quoted by itself that we miss the important context for which it forms a conclusion. Two previous threads combine in this conclusion. The first is the state of humanity after the Fall. The second is the contrast to the fallen state of humanity and the tabula rasa of the infant. Benjamin has explained that little children, as those who do not have sufficient culpability to intentionally obey or disobey, are not guilty. Yet, they would be condemned under the law.
For both examples, atonement occurs through the Messiah’s sacrifice. While the law itself might condemn an innocent child for the mere fate of being a human in a fallen state, the atoning act of the Messiah, the blood of the Lamb, will reconcile the law with the blessings of mercy. Similarly, the sacrificial blood of the Messiah will provide the way whereby humankind, who are culpable through their agency, will have the ability to have their sins removed and return to the covenant.
The image of the child is that of the child who is learning, but not yet responsible for their sins. Through the remission of sin, humankind may return to that more innocent state and, in effect, start over in learning to obey our Heavenly Father.
20 And moreover, I say unto you, that the time shall come when the knowledge of a Savior shall spread throughout every nation, kindred, tongue, and people.
21 And behold, when that time cometh, none shall be found blameless before God, except it be little children, only through repentance and faith on the name of the Lord God Omnipotent.
22 And even at this time, when thou shalt have taught thy people the things which the Lord thy God hath commanded thee, even then are they found no more blameless in the sight of God, only according to the words which I have spoken unto thee.
This particular argument is another contrast. It contraposes the future with the present. The reason is that it argues that there will come a time when the knowledge of the Messiah’s earthly mission will be so well known that all humankind will be responsible for their understanding and application of that atonement to their personal lives.
That future well-known atonement contrasts with the current situation of the people of Zarahemla. It would appear that they are the only ones who have had the teaching, or who have, as a people, accepted it. At this point, some four hundred years after Lehi’s family had left Jerusalem, even though Laman and Lemuel may have originally been taught of the coming Messiah, that understanding had been lost in their descendants, and certainly among all those who are now called Lamanites—peoples who may not have any genetic links with the original family.
Benjamin’s people have been taught, and therefore they are as those of the distant future when all would know of the atoning Messiah. Just as those future people will not be held blameless, unless they accept the atonement and repent, so too the current people of Zarahemla cannot be found blameless, unless they also repent and accept the atonement which is to come.
A Testimony Against the People
23 And now I have spoken the words which the Lord God hath commanded me.
24 And thus saith the Lord: They shall stand as a bright testimony against this people, at the judgment day; whereof they shall be judged, every man according to his works, whether they be good, or whether they be evil.
25 And if they be evil they are consigned to an awful view of their own guilt and abominations, which doth cause them to shrink from the presence of the Lord into a state of misery and endless torment, from whence they can no more return; therefore they have drunk damnation to their own souls.
26 Therefore, they have drunk out of the cup of the wrath of God, which justice could no more deny unto them than it could deny that Adam should fall because of his partaking of the forbidden fruit; therefore, mercy could have claim on them no more forever.
27 And their torment is as a lake of fire and brimstone, whose flames are unquenchable, and whose smoke ascendeth up forever and ever. Thus hath the Lord commanded me. Amen.
In verse 2 of this chapter, Benjamin declared that an angel had come to give him the message that he should reinforce the teaching of the coming mortal mission of the Messiah. Now he declares that he has done so. Verses 24 through 27 repeat the Lord’s words, which form his testimony of the message he was required to declare. Both as king and the spiritual leader of the people, this declaration of the divine desire stands as a witness to the people. It is, in Benjamin’s words, “a bright testimony against this people, at the judgment day.”
Why is it a testimony against his people? It is a matter of emphasis of the importance of the message. It is against the people only if they reject it. Only if they do not accept the atonement will they be in a state where a just God could no longer exercise mercy, because they would have rejected the foundations upon which the mercy might be given.
Why couch the final testimony in these words? It probably returns to the dramatic events of the war and the contentions which had led to so many dissensions by the Lamanites. There had been many who had rejected the testimony, and this is a warning for those who might still have some sympathy with them.
The very last sentence, ending in amen, sealed that final testimony, and also created the need to end the chapter on that point. Our current chapters 1 through 3 were all part of the original chapter I of Mosiah, which ended with this testificatory amen.
Items in the BMC Archive are made publicly available for non-commercial, private use. Inclusion within the BMC Archive does not imply endorsement. Items do not represent the official views of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or of Book of Mormon Central.
Get the latest updates on Book of Mormon topics and research for free