3 Nephi 9:19-20 — LeGrand Baker — ‘with fire and the Holy Ghost’
3 Nephi 9:19-20
19 And ye shall offer up unto me no more the shedding of blood; yea, your sacrifices and your burnt offerings shall be done away, for I will accept none of your sacrifices and your burnt offerings.
20 And ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit. And whoso cometh unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, him will I baptize with fire and with the Holy Ghost, even as the Lamanites, because of their faith in me at the time of their conversion, were baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and they knew it not.
In this passage the Savior was referring to is one of the most remarkable events recorded in the Book of Mormon. It is when Nephi and Lehi were in the Lamanite prison. The account reads:
43 And it came to pass that when they cast their eyes about, and saw that the cloud of darkness was dispersed from overshadowing them, behold, they saw that they were encircled about, yea every soul, by a pillar of fire.
44 And Nephi and Lehi were in the midst of them; yea, they were encircled about; yea, they were as if in the midst of a flaming fire, yet it did harm them not, neither did it take hold upon the walls of the prison; and they were filled with that joy which is unspeakable and full of glory.
45 And behold, the Holy Spirit of God did come down from heaven, and did enter into their hearts, and they were filled as if with fire, and they could speak forth marvelous words.
46 And it came to pass that there came a voice unto them, yea, a pleasant voice, as if it were a whisper, saying:
47 Peace, peace be unto you, because of your faith in my Well Beloved, who was from the foundation of the world.
48 And now, when they heard this they cast up their eyes as if to behold from whence the voice came; and behold, they saw the heavens open; and angels came down out of heaven and ministered unto them.
49 And there were about three hundred souls who saw and heard these things; and they were bidden to go forth and marvel not, neither should they doubt (Helaman 5:43-49).
That story asks a number of questions. They are interesting to explore even if we don’t really know the answers. For example:
When the Savior referred to this event, why did he say, “and they knew it not.” The answer cannot be because they did not know the experience was real, but they probably did not know what it was. There was nothing in their religion that taught them to anticipate such an event. Therefore their language would have contained no word to describe it as a magnificent spiritual experience. It would have to have been after the fact, when they were taught both the gospel and the powers associated with it, that they could understand the full meaning of their own conversion experience.
Another question is “Why them?” After all, they were a wicked lot and had done nothing to merit such a powerful ordinance. The only answer I am satisfied with is the same as the answers to: Why Alma? and Why Paul?
I believe that the most reasonable answer is that at the Council in Heaven they made some very serious covenants, but (like the rest of us) those covenants had to be fulfilled when they were in their second estate, when they had no memory of the covenants, and no knowledge of how to fulfill them. So they lived their lives unaware of who they really were. Then, when the time was right, they were told in a way they could not fail to understand that the time for fulfilling the covenants had come.
The light the Lamanites saw had been seen by other. A similar story is in Acts 2:1-4: On the day of Pentecost “there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost.”
The Lord promised a Pentecost-like experience when the Kirtland Temple was dedicated.. “For verily this generation shall not all pass away until an house shall be built unto the Lord, and a cloud shall rest upon it, which cloud shall be even the glory of the Lord, which shall fill the house (D&C 84:5). Many witnesses testify that the covenant was fulfilled.
The premortal covenants are very real. Therefore, to a much less dramatic degree, the church just now is full of people who have had life changing experiences as they have met missionaries and the Spirit has taught them that their premortal covenants included listening to those young men or young women.
It is a matter of some interest to note that the phrase used by the Savior, “baptized by fire and the Holy Ghost,” is only rarely used in the scriptures.
We find it in Matthew 3:11 and Luke 3:16 where John the Baptist promises that the Savior will baptize the people with fire and the Holy Ghost. In Mark 1:8 and John 1:33 it simply says “with the Holy Ghost.” However, in both of those instances, in the Inspired Version of the Bible, the Prophet Joseph changed them to read “with fire, and the Holy Ghost.”
Reiterating the John’s promise in the New Testament, the Savior promised the Nephites: “…after that ye are baptized with water, behold, I will baptize you with fire and with the Holy Ghost; therefore blessed are ye if ye shall believe in me and be baptized, after that ye have seen me and know that I am (3 Nephi 12:1).”
It is likely that the fire mentioned by the Savior is what scholars call the shechinah (pronounced sha-ke-na). Shechinah means “the presence.” It is “a word used by the later Jews and borrowed from by the Christians to denote the cloud of brightness and glory that marked the presence of the Lord” (Quote is from the dictionary at the back of the LDS Bible).
The Shechinah is the veil that separates man from the presence of God. It was represented in Solomon’s Temple by the great veil that separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies. It is the first thing the prophets see, and sometimes the only thing they mention, when they are brought into the presence of God. It is described many ways, but always as a bright light—sometimes a fire, sometimes a cloud.
In the story of the exodus it was both: “In the daytime also he led them with a cloud, and all the night with a light of fire (Psalms 78:14).”
For Ezekiel, it was like a tornado: “I looked, and, behold, a whirlwind came out of the north, a great cloud, and a fire infolding itself, and a brightness was about it, and out of the midst thereof as the color of amber, out of the midst of the fire” (Ezekiel 1:4).
Another example is Lehi’s report that “there came a pillar of fire and dwelt upon a rock before him” (1 Nephi 1:6). Another is Moses’s experience when “the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush: and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed.” (Exodus 3:2).
Another example is the story in Ether where “Lord came down and talked with the brother of Jared; and he was in a cloud, and the brother of Jared saw him not….and did talk with them as he stood in a cloud, and gave directions whither they should travel”[a third time] “the Lord came again unto the brother of Jared, and stood in a cloud and talked with him” (Ether 2:4-5, 14)
The forth time, the cloud is not mentioned. When the brother of Jared carried the stones to the top of the mountain and presented them to the Lord, “behold, the Lord stretched forth his hand and touched the stones one by one with his finger. And the veil was taken from off the eyes of the brother of Jared, and he saw the finger of the Lord (Ether 3:6).
A much more recent example is the Prophet Joseph’s “I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me” (Joseph Smith-History:16). Joseph’s making a point of describing the Shechinah in connection with his account of the First Vision is another evidence that he was telling the truth.
Joseph also mentioned it in conjunction with the appearance o the Angel Moroni:
30 While I was thus in the act of calling upon God, I discovered a light appearing in my room, which continued to increase until the room was lighter than at noonday, when immediately a personage appeared at my bedside, standing in the air, for his feet did not touch the floor (Joseph Smith-History 1:30).
Similarly, when the angel appeared to Alma and his friends, Mormon mentions the shechinah as a cloud.
11 And as I said unto you, as they were going about rebelling against God, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto them; and he descended as it were in a cloud; and he spake as it were with a voice of thunder, which caused the earth to shake upon which they stood (Mosiah 27:11).
Joseph mentioned it again in connection with his ordination to the Aaronic Priesthood:
68 … While we were thus employed, praying and calling upon the Lord, a messenger from heaven descended in a cloud of light, and having laid his hands upon us, he ordained us, saying (Joseph Smith-History:1:68).
In the New Testament it is an important part of the account of the Mount of Transfiguration:
5 While he yet spake, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them: and behold a voice out of the cloud, which said, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him (Matthew 17:5).
7 And there was a cloud that overshadowed them: and a voice came out of the cloud, saying, This is my beloved Son: hear him (Mark 9:7).
34 While he thus spake, there came a cloud, and overshadowed them: and they feared as they entered into the cloud.
35 And there came a voice out of the cloud, saying, This is my beloved Son: hear him (Luke 9:33-36).
The shechinah was there again when the Savior ascended up to heaven:
9 And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight.
10 And while they looked stedfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel;
11 Which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven (Acts 1:8-13).
Have you ever driven in a snow storm with the brights on? The brightness of the shining snow is so intense that you cannot see beyond what appears to be its surface. I suspect the shechinah cloud is something like that. That might account for why the people in 3 Nephi could not see the Savior when he left them.
37 And the multitude heard not the words which he spake, therefore they did not bear record; but the disciples bare record that he gave them power to give the Holy Ghost. And I will show unto you hereafter that this record is true.
38 And it came to pass that when Jesus had touched them all, there came a cloud and overshadowed the multitude that they could not see Jesus.
39 And while they were overshadowed he departed from them, and ascended into heaven. And the disciples saw and did bear record that he ascended again into heaven (3 Nephi 18:37-39).
Just as the Savior left this world in a cloud in these verses and in Acts 1:9, so shall he return again “in a cloud with power and great glory (Luke 21:27 and D&C 34:7). The Prophet Joseph’s revelation expresses it even more clearly:
1 For I say unto you, that ye shall not see me henceforth and know that I am he of whom it is written by the prophets, until ye shall say: Blessed is he who cometh in the name of the Lord, in the clouds of heaven, and all the holy angels with him. Then understood his disciples that he should come again on the earth, after that he was glorified and crowned on the right hand of God….
26 For as the light of the morning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west, and covereth the whole earth, so shall also the coming of the Son of Man be….
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 (Joseph Smith-Matthew:1, 26, 36).
The shechinah is a prominent part of the Savior’s second coming. He will come in a cloud of light.
44 And then they shall look for me, and, behold, I will come; and they shall see me in the clouds of heaven, clothed with power and great glory; with all the holy angels; and he that watches not for me shall be cut off.
45 But before the arm of the Lord shall fall, an angel shall sound his trump, and the saints that have slept shall come forth to meet me in the cloud (D&C 45:44-46).
Both the dead and the living Saints will rise to meet him, will join him in within that veil of light: “That when the trump shall sound for the dead, we shall be caught up in the cloud to meet thee, that we may ever be with the Lord (D&C 109:75).” “For ye are the church of the Firstborn, and he will take you up in a cloud, and appoint every man his portion (D&C 78:1-22).