Alma 9:25-28 — LeGrand Baker — kingdom of heaven is nigh at hand
And now for this cause, that ye may not be destroyed, the Lord has sent his angel to visit many of his people, declaring unto them that they must go forth and cry mightily unto this people, saying: Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is nigh at hand; And not many days hence the Son of God shall come in his glory . . . . Therefore, prepare ye the way of the Lord, for the time is at hand that all men shall reap a reward of their works, according to that which they have been—if they have been righteous they shall reap the salvation of their souls, according to the power and deliverance of Jesus Christ; and if they have been evil they shall reap the damnation of their souls, according to the power and captivation of the devil.
The phrases that caught my attention in these verses were: “the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” and “for the time is at hand .” The latter may be read as simply a restatement of the former, or it may be read quite differently. It was the different reading that caught my attention.
The phrase (but not always in these exact words), “the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” seems to have three separate meanings. All of them carry the same sense of urgency, but the urgency is not related to linear time.
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The first meaning projects the Kingdom of God deep into our future.
Beginning with Isaiah the prophets tell us that the kingdom of heaven is at hand and then describe the events that will occur immediately before the second coming of the Saviour. They predict the collapse of governments and cultures, and say that not only will conditions on the earth be in turmoil, but the very heavens will seem to be dislodged: the stars will fall from heaven; the sun will be darkened; and the moon will be turned to a blood. It is apparent that when Isaiah predicted that such a time was near at hand, he was describing nearness from God’s perspective of time, rather than from our own.
6 Howl ye; for the day of the Lord is at hand; it shall come as a destruction from the Almighty….
10 For the stars of heaven and the constellations thereof shall not give their light: the sun shall be darkened in his going forth, and the moon shall not cause her light to shine. (Isaiah 13:6-10 and 2 Nephi 23: 6-10; see Joel 3:15)
In a revelation given to Oliver Cowdery, also about the millennium, the Lord said that the time was “nigh at hand,” but then he also said that he thinks about time very differently from the way we do.
51 Wherefore, children shall grow up until they become old; old men shall die; but they shall not sleep in the dust, but they shall be changed in the twinkling of an eye.
52 Wherefore, for this cause preached the apostles unto the world the resurrection of the dead.
53 These things are the things that ye must look for; and, speaking after the manner of the Lord, they are now nigh at hand, and in a time to come, even in the day of the coming of the Son of Man.(D&C 63:51-53)
The Saviour gave the parable of the fig tree to suggest that even though no one—not even the angels—knows when the time is coming, the righteous will be able to recognize its approach by the conditions of the earth and among the people. He said,
36 And, as I said before, after the tribulation of those days, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken, then shall appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven, and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn; and they shall see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory;
37 And whoso treasureth up my word, shall not be deceived, for the Son of Man shall come, and he shall send his angels before him with the great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together the remainder of his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.
38 Now learn a parable of the fig-tree—When its branches are yet tender, and it begins to put forth leaves, you know that summer is nigh at hand;
39 So likewise, mine elect, when they shall see all these things, they shall know that he is near, even at the doors;
40 But of that day, and hour, no one knoweth; no, not the angels of God in heaven, but my Father only….
48 Therefore be ye also ready, for in such an hour as ye think not, the Son of Man cometh. (Joseph Smith-Matthew 1:36-38. see: Luke 21:25-38; D&C 45:1-75, 49:5-10)
In his introduction to the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord assured the Saints, “the hour is not yet, but is nigh at hand,” (D&C 1:35) Later, using the same code he used in the Beatitudes and in section 88: 17-18, the Saviour explained who these people are who will understand the unspoken signs.
15 And the poor and the meek shall have the gospel preached unto them, and they shall be looking forth for the time of my coming, for it is nigh at hand—
16 And they shall learn the parable of the fig-tree, for even now already summer is nigh. (D&C 35:15-16)
Even though none but God knows the precise day and time, yet the prophets alert us to the signs is so we can anticipate it when it comes. The righteous will not know just which day it is going to be, but neither will they be surprised when it happens. (D&C 45:37-44) The irrelevance of linear time in the Lord’s strategy for success is emphasized in John’s Revelation. It begins and ends with the phrase, “the time is at hand.” In the first chapter the time referred to is the present—not only the then-present, but also the now-present for anyone who reads with understanding:
3 Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand. ( Revelation 1:3) . . . .
Then, in the last chapter, the angel projects the message of the Revelation to the very ending of the earth:
10 And he [the angel] saith unto me, Seal not the sayings of the prophecy of this book: for the time is at hand.
11 He that is unjust, let him be unjust still: and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still: and he that is holy, let him be holy still.
12 And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be.
13 I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last.
14 Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city. (Revelation 22:10-14)
In Revelation, the words “the time is at hand” represents a continuum that extends from the day John received the revelation until the end of time when the Saints live in the holy city and, by right, may feast upon the fruit of the tree of life.
Notwithstanding the fact that the prophecies are indistinct as to our measurement of time, they still carry a strong sense of urgency—even in these long-term prophecies. For that reason, the phrase “soon at hand” remains relevant as an immediate warning.
9 For the hour is nigh and the day soon at hand when the earth is ripe; and all the proud and they that do wickedly shall be as stubble; and I will burn them up, saith the Lord of Hosts, that wickedness shall not be upon the earth;
10 For the hour is nigh, and that which was spoken by mine apostles must be fulfilled; for as they spoke so shall it come to pass;
11 For I will reveal myself from heaven with power and great glory, with all the hosts thereof, and dwell in righteousness with men on earth a thousand years, and the wicked shall not stand. (D&C 29:9-11)
This sense of urgency reminds one of Paul’s statement in the first chapter of Ephesians. There he tells the Saints of his day that their keeping their covenants would eventually have an impact on the ultimate fulfillment of God’s purposes, 2000 years later, to restore the gospel, the Temple, and gather Israel: “That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him.” (Ephesians 1:10)
In much the same way, the prophets and the Savior have taught that people must live their lives as though those future events were imminent. The application of that principle to Saints in past dispensations is difficult for us to see because our history’s are poorly written and our information is inadequate. For example, we can only guess how individual martyrs of first and second century Christianity influenced the events of the restoration. But it does not take very much imagination for us to realize that if it were not for those great men and women who sacrificed their all for the gospel, we would have neither the Scriptures nor even the tradition of ancient Christianity.
I suppose that in a similar way it will be true in the winding up of all of human experience on this beautiful earth – that what we do here during our dispensation will have a greater effect on the final winding up of human history than any of us can foresee or even imagine.
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The second use of the phrase, “the kingdom of God is at head” means precisely what it says. These were the declarations made by the Book of Mormon prophets immediately preceded the coming of the Savior.
7 For behold, I say unto you there be many things to come; and behold, there is one thing which is of more importance than they all—for behold, the time is not far distant that the Redeemer liveth and cometh among his people….
9 But behold, the Spirit hath said this much unto me, saying: Cry unto this people, saying—Repent ye, and prepare the way of the Lord, and walk in his paths, which are straight; for behold, the kingdom of heaven is at hand, and the Son of God cometh upon the face of the earth. (Alma 7:7-9)
Later, Alma added that his testimony was based on the sure knowledge that the event was pending, but not upon his knowledge of when it would happen..
24 For behold, angels are declaring it unto many at this time in our land; and this is for the purpose of preparing the hearts of the children of men to receive his word at the time of his coming in his glory.
25 And now we only wait to hear the joyful news declared unto us by the mouth of angels, of his coming; for the time cometh, we know not how soon. Would to God that it might be in my day; but let it be sooner or later, in it I will rejoice. (Alma 13:23-26)
Another example is far more dramatic than Alma giving a speech, and much closer to the time when the Saviour actually came. It shows that not only does the Lord warn people about things to come, but he has his own way of preparing us for them. In this instance he called 300 prominent Lamanites to preach to their own people. Like Paul, the 300 were not expecting the call,
26 And it came to pass that Nephi and Lehi did stand forth and began to speak unto them, saying: Fear not, for behold, it is God that has shown unto you this marvelous thing. . . . they heard this voice . . . . saying: Repent ye, repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand; and seek no more to destroy my servants. And it came to pass that the earth shook again, and the walls trembled. (Helaman 5:26-33)
After the Saviour’s birth, John the Baptist bore testimony with that same message: “Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 3:2) Jesus taught the same thing in the same words: “Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel.”(Mark 1:14-15)
That same message was delivered by the Saviour to the early Saints through the Prophet Joseph: “Yea, open your mouths and they shall be filled, saying: Repent, repent, and prepare ye the way of the Lord, and make his paths straight; for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (D&C 33:10) “Wherefore, go forth, crying with a loud voice, saying: The kingdom of heaven is at hand; crying: Hosanna! blessed be the name of the Most High God.(D&C 39:19)
6 And ye shall go forth in the power of my Spirit, preaching my gospel, two by two, in my name, lifting up your voices as with the sound of a trump, declaring my word like unto angels of God.
7 And ye shall go forth baptizing with water, saying: Repent ye, repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (D&C 42:6-7)
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The third use of the prophetic phrase, “the Kingdom of God is at head” is the one that is most relevant to each of us, just as it was most relevant to all the Saints in past dispensations. It is the Lord’s promise to individuals who understand that they are teetering on the edge of their own future eternity. For us, the decisions we are making in this life literally do introduce us into the Kingdom of God, or else they preclude our entering there altogether. For us it is true: the Kingdom of God is at hand—in the immediacy of our own present, as well as in the future fulfillment of our hope for eternal life. In God’s understanding, the only difference between our linear time and his eternity is that we can’t see as far in either direction as he can. Other than that, there is no difference. The scriptures call the bridge that spans that gap for us “hope.” Hope is that
59 …. ye must be born again into the kingdom of heaven, of water, and of the Spirit, and be cleansed by blood, even the blood of mine Only Begotten; that ye might be sanctified from all sin, and enjoy the words of eternal life in this world, and eternal life in the world to come, even immortal glory; (Moses 6:59)
25 My son…. may Christ lift thee up, and may his sufferings and death, and the showing his body unto our fathers, and his mercy and long-suffering, and the hope of his glory and of eternal life, rest in your mind forever. (Moroni 9:25)
This is the meaning of “hope”: to live and understand as though the covenants of the Father were already fulfilled.
When Alma was in Zarahemla, speaking to both members and non-members of the Church, he urged them to reflect on the impermanence of everything in this life except the promises of eternal love that we receive from God. Without using the word “charity,” Alma taught that charity is the criteria by which we may be included in—or be excluded from—the Kingdom of Heaven.
Have ye walked, keeping yourselves blameless before God? . . . sufficiently humble? . . . garments have been cleansed and made white through the blood of Christ. . . . stripped of pride? I say unto you, if ye are not ye are not prepared to meet God. Behold ye must prepare quickly; for the kingdom of heaven is soon at hand. . . ., stripped of envy? . . . should prepare quickly, for the hour is close at hand. . . . make a mock of his brother, or that heapeth upon him persecutions? Wo unto such an one, for he is not prepared, and the time is at hand that he must repent or he cannot be saved!. . . . repent, for the Lord God hath spoken it! Behold, he sendeth an invitation unto all men, for the arms of mercy are extended towards them, and he saith: Repent, and I will receive you.Yea, he saith: Come unto me and ye shall partake of the fruit of the tree of life . . . the time is at hand that whosoever bringeth forth not good fruit, or whosoever doeth not the works of righteousness, the same have cause to wail and mourn. . . . Repent, all ye ends of the earth, for the kingdom of heaven is soon at hand; yea, the Son of God cometh in his glory, in his might, majesty, power, and dominion. (Alma 5:27-34, 50)
Here, as in the scripture in chapter 9 that we are considering, Alma was speaking of two different things which are, if fact, the same. The first is one’s personal preparedness to be in the presence of the Saviour. The second was that the Saviour would soon visit the people of Nephi. The standards are constant: the qualities of those who saw the Saviour when he visited America were not different from the qualities of those who see him under other circumstances. The ultimate fulfillment of these promises to those who have charity is what Alma calls “the Kingdom of Heaven.”
This meaning is not unique with Alma. It is taught throughout the scriptures. For example, speaking of the last days, the Lord explained to Moroni,
16 And then shall my revelations which I have caused to be written by my servant John be unfolded in the eyes of all the people. Remember, when ye see these things, ye shall know that the time is at hand that they shall be made manifest in very deed.
17 Therefore, when ye shall receive this record ye may know that the work of the Father has commenced upon all the face of the land.
18 Therefore, repent all ye ends of the earth, and come unto me, and believe in my gospel, and be baptized in my name; for he that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned; and signs shall follow them that believe in my name.
19 And blessed is he that is found faithful unto my name at the last day, for he shall be lifted up to dwell in the kingdom prepared for him from the foundation of the world. And behold it is I that hath spoken it. Amen. (Ether 4:1-19)
Here again, the Lord speaks in an enormous sweep of time, ranging through covenants made “from the foundation of the world,” to the supreme fulfilment of John’s prophecy: “for he shall be lifted up to dwell in the kingdom.” In God’s eyes, these covenants and their fulfillment are as a single event. We would do well if we could understand them that way too. For us, an evidence that God sees them as a single event is the promise he reiterates in section 34 when he instructs the Saints:
6 To lift up your voice as with the sound of a trump, both long and loud, and cry repentance unto a crooked and perverse generation, preparing the way of the Lord for his second coming.
7 For behold, verily, verily, I say unto you, the time is soon at hand that I shall come in a cloud with power and great glory.
8 And it shall be a great day at the time of my coming, for all nations shall tremble.
9 But before that great day shall come, the sun shall be darkened, and the moon be turned into blood; and the stars shall refuse their shining, and some shall fall, and great destructions await the wicked.
10 Wherefore, lift up your voice and spare not, for the Lord God hath spoken; therefore prophesy, and it shall be given by the power of the Holy Ghost.
11 And if you are faithful, behold, I am with you until I come—
12 And verily, verily, I say unto you, I come quickly. I am your Lord and your Redeemer. Even so. Amen.(D&C 34:6-12)
The promise, “And if you are faithful, behold, I am with you until I come,” is a fulfilment of the covenants in sacred time.