3 Nephi 11:13-15 — LeGrand Baker — His hands and his feet

 

3 Nephi 11:13-15 — LeGrand Baker — His hands and his feet

13 And it came to pass that the Lord spake unto them saying:
14 Arise and come forth unto me, that ye may thrust your hands into my side, and also that ye may feel the prints of the nails in my hands and in my feet, that ye may know that I am the God of Israel, and the God of the whole earth, and have been slain for the sins of the world.
15 And it came to pass that the multitude went forth, and thrust their hands into his side, and did feel the prints of the nails in his hands and in his feet; and this they did do, going forth one by one until they had all gone forth, and did see with their eyes and did feel with their hands, and did know of a surety and did bear record, that it was he, of whom it was written by the prophets, that should come.
16 And when they had all gone forth and had witnessed for themselves, they did cry out with one accord, saying:
17 Hosanna! Blessed be the name of the Most High God! And they did fall down at the feet of Jesus, and did worship him.
18 And it came to pass that he spake unto Nephi (for Nephi was among the multitude) and he commanded him that he should come forth.
19 And Nephi arose and went forth, and bowed himself before the Lord and did kiss his feet.
20 And the Lord commanded him that he should arise. And he arose and stood before him.

An intriguing question is: What is the meaning behind the importance of touching the prints of the nails on the Savior’s hands and feet? The authors of the gospels did not mention the nails when they told us of his crucifixion, rather, they only say “they crucified him” (Matthew 27:35, Mark 15:24-25, Luke 23:33, John 19:18).

The most vivid description of his agony on the cross is found in the prophecy that is the 25th Psalm. He quoted it before he died. The psalm begins, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” and includes the words, “they pierced my hands and my feet (Psalms 22:1, 16). Even though the gospels do not describe the way the Savior was crucified, both Luke and John cite the nail prints as confirming evidence of the resurrection.

There are several accounts that show that those who truly knew that Jesus is the resurrected Christ not only saw with their eyes, felt his love in the depths of their souls, but also touched the identifying marks on his feet and/or his hands. The first to do so were “Mary Magdalene and the other Mary” who had come to the sepulcher early.

9 And as they went to tell his disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, All hail. And they came and held him by the feet, and worshipped him (Matthew 28:1-9).

Luke’s account of the Apostles seeing Jesus contains the same elements.

38 And he said unto them, Why are ye troubled? and why do thoughts arise in your hearts?
39 Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have.
40 And when he had thus spoken, he shewed them his hands and his feet (Luke 24:32-44).

From a brilliant paper by Stephen D. Ricks, and RoseAnn Benson, {1} we learn that those experiences were an integral part of a covenant-defining relationship between the Savior and the persons who saw, felt, and knew. In the paper, they report that Herbert Huffmon “demonstrated that the Hebrew word yada, ‘to know,’ bore an additional meaning—‘to enter into a binding agreement’—a meaning that has parallels in Old Testament covenant language and ancient Near Eastern treaty terminology.”{2}

Their paper shows that an intimate knowledge of God presupposes a covenant. An example is when the Lord reminded Jeremiah of their premortal covenant:

4 Then the word of the LORD came unto me, saying,
5 Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.
(Jeremiah 1:4-5).

The story of the brother of Jared is another example. Note the covenantal relationship established through questions and answers and then it is confirmed when the brother of Jared sees Jehovah. Then the Savior extends an invitation to the covenants to others as well:

10 And he answered: Nay; Lord, show thyself unto me.
11 And the Lord said unto him: Believest thou the words which I shall speak?
12 And he answered: Yea, Lord, I know that thou speakest the truth, for thou art a God of truth, and canst not lie.
13 And when he had said these words, behold, the Lord showed himself unto him, and said: Because thou knowest these things ye are redeemed from the fall; therefore ye are brought back into my presence; therefore I show myself unto you.
14 Behold, I am he who was prepared from the foundation of the world to redeem my people. Behold, I am Jesus Christ. I am the Father and the Son. In me shall all mankind have life, and that eternally, even they who shall believe on my name; and they shall become my sons and my daughters (Ether 3:10-14).

Just as “to know” the Savior presupposes a saving covenant, so to-not-know precludes the blessings of that covenant. It was true even in Jesus’s lifetime that one could know about Jesus and not know him in the sense of covenant. John explained that if someone was simply curious about the miracles Jesus performed but did not seek to know that Jesus is divine, then they got their curiosity satisfied but nothing more. He wrote:

23 Now when he was in Jerusalem at the passover, in the feast day, many believed in his name, when they saw the miracles which he did.
24 But Jesus did not commit himself unto them, because he knew all men,
25 And needed not that any should testify of man: for he knew what was in man (John 2:23-25).

The LDS Bible footnote at “commit” says, Jesus did not “entrust” himself to them. That is, he did not let them know who he really was. There is not even an implied covenant associated with their simply being curios. Neither can there be an assumed covenant by those who only claim to know. One cannot presume the rights and powers of the covenant without having met its requirements. The Savior is very explicit about that. He said,

22 Many will say to me in that day: Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name, and in thy name have cast out devils, and in thy name done many wonderful works?
23 And then will I profess unto them: I never knew you; depart from me, ye that work iniquity (3 Nephi 14:22-23).

Ricks and Benson point out that covenant requires that both parties know each other. They write:

Mutual recognition of an exclusive relationship. The Book of Mormon emphasizes the importance of mutual knowing, clearly linking eternal blessings or cursings to recognizing God as one’s exclusive Lord.{3}

For the apostles in Jerusalem, mutual recognition meant seeing, and feeling. John’s accounts of the Apostles’ first seeing the resurrected Christ emphasizes the importance of that tangible testimony. He reports that in the first instance only ten of the apostles were present.

19 Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you.
20 And when he had so said, he shewed unto them his hands and his side. Then were the disciples glad, when they saw the Lord (John 20:19-20).

The marks of the Savior’s crucifixion were the ultimate testimony that he is the resurrected Christ. The importance of that is found in the story of Thomas that follows in the next verses—but not in the story as it is usually told. The fact is, “Doubting Thomas” never doubted and John never intended to say that he did. Earlier, John reported that when Jesus said he was going to return to Jerusalem, and the others urged him not to go, it was Thomas who said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him (John 11:16).” Because such devotion calls into question the very notion that Thomas was so faithless that he refused to believe the testimony of his fellow apostles, it requires a new look at the story of “Doubting Thomas.”

That Thomas’s experience was a necessary part of his covenant with the Savior is shown by the words spoken by the resurrected Christ. The story as told in the King James Bible is this:

26 And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you.
27 Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing.
28 And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God (John 20:26-28).

It is my opinion that this is one of the most ill-understood stories in the scriptures. History is written and interpreted by people who have access to only the evidence that happened to survive. In the case of this story of Thomas, John the Beloved was present, and was an eye witness to the events, so his testimony is valid. However, what has not survived for the general reader is the meaning of the words that the Savior used. Let me explain:

As Stephen Ricks and I discussed in Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord, the Greek word pistis, which is translated as “faith,” was not a religious term in New Testament times, but was a commercial and diplomatic term that denoted making and keeping contracts, covenants, and treaties. In about the second century, apostate Christians lost the covenants along with their terms and the ordinances by which they were administered. Thereafter, pistis or “faith” came to mean belief without the validation of a covenant, or put more simply, the word “faith” came to mean a belief without any substantiating evidence, just as it does in most of Christianity today.

In the story of Thomas, the Savior uses two words that are derived from pistis:

Apistos, translated “faithless” in John 20:27, does not mean one who does not believe, but it means one who has not entered into the covenant.

Pistos is translated as “believing” in John 20:27 and as “faithful” in Ephesians 1:1. It means one who keeps the terms of his covenants. So in both John and Ephesians it refers to covenant keepers, rather than simply believers.

Given those definitions, we might loosely translate John 20:27 like this:

27 Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not without the covenant of knowing, but being faithful to the covenant.

(I am very grateful to Stephen Ricks for helping me understand that.)

If that is what the Savior really said, the next question has to be “What did he mean?”

For Latter-day Saints, that answer is not hard to find. An apostle is one who bears a special witness of the Savior. When Christ appeared to the other Apostles, Thomas was not present. Therefore, Thomas did not have the evidence, and could not keep the apostolic covenant to bear that special and sure witness. This conversation that John records between the Savior and Thomas is simply correcting that problem.

When the Savior came to the Nephite in Bountiful, there were 2,500 people present at the temple that day—men, women, and children (3 Nephi 17:25). That is important for the perpetuation of the witnesses of the covenant. The mature men and women who were present would grow old and die. Eventually, so would the young men and the teenagers. And finally the little children would grow old. Their lifetimes would span three or four generations of people who had seen with their eyes, felt with their hands, rejoiced with their souls, and bore testimony that they knew and had experienced the reality of the resurrected Savior. Their first-hand testimonies helped sustain a righteous Nephite culture for many, many years. Of those people, the Savior himself testified:

30 And now, behold, my joy is great, even unto fulness, because of you, and also this generation; yea, and even the Father rejoiceth, and also all the holy angels, because of you and this generation; for none of them are lost.
31 Behold, I would that ye should understand; for I mean them who are now alive of this generation; and none of them are lost; and in them I have fulness of joy (3 Nephi 27:30-31).

For those who were at the temple, their knowing Christ as he knew them set them apart in something like same unique way (but not with the same authority) as the eleven apostles at Jerusalem who also saw, and felt, and knew, and testified. {4}

On his first day at the Bountiful Temple, the Savior established a new government and his experience there can be recognized as the ancient Israelite coronation ceremony. This seems to be the conclusion of their covenant of mutual recognition when the Savior is enthroned as king and the people “did cry out with one accord, saying: Hosanna! Blessed be the name of the Most High God! And they did fall down at the feet of Jesus, and did worship him (3 Nephi 11:16-15).”

What follows next is an even more intimate covenant of mutual recognition between just the Savior and one of the Twelve. The Savior commanded Nephi to come to him.

19 And Nephi arose and went forth, and bowed himself before the Lord and did kiss his feet.
20 And the Lord commanded him that he should arise. And he arose and stood before him.

The Savior, who had just been enthroned as king, then gave Nephi priesthood authority to act in his behalf. The record does not say so, but in the context of subsequent events it is apparent that this authority was equivalent to making Nephi president of the church and of the theocratic government that the Savior was in process of establishing.

In Doctrine and Covenants section 76 there are two separate passages that describe the Celestial glory. The first (v.50-70) tells about the quality of the persons who inherit the Celestial kingdon. The second (v. 92-97) describes “the glory of the celestial, which excels in all things—where God, even the Father, reigns upon his throne forever and ever.” There we find the ultimate expression of the covenant of knowing — of “mutual recognition.” It says:

94 They who dwell in his presence are the church of the Firstborn; and they see as they are seen, and know as they are known, having received of his fulness and of his grace;
95 And he makes them equal in power, and in might, and in dominion.

That phrase, “they see as they are seen, and know as they are known,” describes a more intimate relationship than anything we can experience in this life.

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The Savior’s Nephite coronation ceremony is described in our book, Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord: {5}

The scene that followed might most easily be visualized as it would have occurred at the conclusion of the drama’s coronation ceremony: as follows during the festival ceremony, the great doors of the temple were swung open, the veil before the Holy of Holies was pulled back, and the king was brought into the sacred chamber. The king—the adopted son and legal heir of Jehovah—sat upon the golden throne with his feet “established” in the Ark as his footstool. {5a} While sitting there, he gave a lecture in which he taught his people the meaning of the Law.
The Savior’s real coronation was probably like that. The Nephite Temples were built after the pattern of Solomon’s Temple, {5b} so, as in Jerusalem, its Holy of Holies contained Jehovah’s throne, for “the throne in the sanctuary is considered as the image of the divine throne.” {5c}
In Mormon’s account, this was not the dress rehearsal as it had been during the festival temple drama. The King was really Jehovah, the Eternal Priest and King of Israel. He had come to his temple. The Holy of Holies was his throne room. In it was his own throne. It is likely that the people who were present would have understood that what they were witnessing was the true enthronement—the reality for which the conclusion of the New Year’s festival drama was only a preparatory enactment.
When the Savior came to the Temple at Bountiful, we may suppose that he would have done precisely what the people would have expected him to do, that is, the veil before the Holy of Holies would have been pulled back, and their King—Jehovah-Messiah-the resurrected Savior—would have gone into the Holy of Holies and sat upon his own throne. If the room were arranged like the one in Solomon’s Temple, the throne would have been elevated above the floor, and there would have been a footstool there, a sacred box akin to the Ark of the Covenant, containing emblems of priesthood and kingship—perhaps the sword of Laban, the Liahona, the small plates, and other sacred symbols of divine authority. When the Savior sat upon his throne, his feet would have been “established” upon that footstool and his priesthood and kingship would have been acknowledged.
It was probably perfectly silent in the temple, but running through the minds of some may have been the words appropriate to this time during the temple drama:

6 Sing praises to God, sing praises:
sing praises unto our King, sing praises.
7 For God is the King of all the earth:
sing ye praises with understanding.
8 God reigneth over the heathen:
God sitteth upon the throne of his holiness.
9 The princes of the people are gathered together, even
the people of the God of Abraham:
for the shields of the earth belong unto God: he is
greatly exalted (Psalm 47:6-9).

There the people came. One by one they came before the Savior, knelt before him, embraced by the overwhelming power of his love; they would have looked up through the brilliant light that is an expression of his love and that defines him as God—and into his smiling eyes. Each one touching his hands and his side.
Looking upon him, they saw a man—real and tangible as themselves—yet his person was wholly different from their own. He was white beyond anything they could imagine or describe. The whiteness was not a quality of his exterior, but of himself. He was pure light, there was no darkness in him, therefore, he was not full of light, but he was light. He was not full of truth, but rather the personification of truth. He was not the expression of love; he was the fulfillment of love, which is truth and light. For that reason, darkness could not be where he was but by definition must have fled from his presence. Therefore all that were within his presence must have become pure as he was pure.
They were clean—not because they were innately clean—but because he had forgiven them of all their past sins and had accepted only their present repentant, humble Selves into his presence. Therefore, they understood that they were clean. In that came the greater understanding that if they were to remain clean they must forgive as they had been forgiven. They must acknowledge that which was good in others and permit them to leave behind their sins, as each one of them had been permitted to leave behind his own sins when he came into the presence of the Savior.
As they knelt before him and held his hands in theirs, they realized that they could not comprehend such unbounded magnificence. They looked down at his hands and sought to comprehend him; they realized that he is the pure embodiment of truth and light and love. They were filled to overflowing with his love, and they were not afraid.
As they knelt before him, perhaps each one, like Nephi, “bowed himself before the Lord and did kiss his feet.” As they held his feet in their hands—washing them with their tears, then caressing his feet with their fingers—their fingertips would have reached back to the place where the nail had been driven through his heels and into the wood of the cross. {5d} As each individual knelt there, within the unspeakable power of his love, their joy and their tears bore testimony to their souls that he is real—their fingers which touched the wounds testified that he is the resurrected God. Before leaving, some might tenderly wipe his feet with their own hair—feeling that to use anything else would be inappropriate.
Later, the memory of it would fill their souls with wonderment, for their finite minds could comprehend neither his glory nor the joy they felt in his presence. And their greatest desire was to be forever where he is.
Isaiah’s words, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good, that publisheth salvation; that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth!” (Isaiah 52:7) call to mind that scene.
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ENDNOTES

{1} Stephen D. Ricks, and RoseAnn Benson — “Treaties and Covenants: Ancient Near Eastern Legal Terminology in the Book of Mormon,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies (Provo, Utah: Maxwell Institute, 2005), Volume – 14, Issue – 1, Pages: 48-61, 128–29.

( To find the article, Google: “ricks benson covenant book of mormon” )

{2} They cite Herbert B. Huffmon, “The Treaty Background of Hebrew YADA,” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 181 (February 1966): 31.

{3} Sorry I can’t give you a page number. I took the article off of the internet and it doesn’t give hard copy publication page numbers.

{4} Ricks and Benson show that mutual recognition is an essential part of “knowing” as it relates to covenant and treaty making the ancient Near East and the Book of Mormon.

{5} Baker and Ricks, Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord, 2nd edition, 635-38.

{5a} For a discussion of the Ark of the Covenant as a footstool, see Sarna, Exploring Exodus, 210-11.

{5b} 2 Nephi 5:16, Alma 16:13.

{5c} Wensinck, Ideas of the Western, 55.
{5d} “In 1968, the bones of a crucified man were found at Giv’at ha-Mivtar just north of Jerusalem. These belonged to a man about 26 years old and 167 cm (5′ 5 ½”) tall. The heel bones (calcanea) were still fixed together by a nail. An examination showed that the nail had first been hammered through a piece of Pistacia or Acacia wood and then through both heel bones before entering the cross made of olive wood. The lower leg bones were broken. There was the mark of a nail on one of the lower right arm bones (radius.)
“The nails were probably put through a plaque of wood to stop them tearing through the flesh. The weight of the body would have pulled the arm nails up the forearm to the wrist. The legs were broken against the side of the cross. All the weight of the victim’s body would be on the arms causing death by suffocation.” Peter Connolly, A History of the Jewish People in the Times of Jesus from Herod the Great to Masada (New York: Peter Bedrick, 1983), 51.

See also illustration on page 48 of: Jodi Magness, “What did Jesus’ Tomb Look Like?” Biblical Archaeology Review 32, 1 (January/February, 2006): 38-49, 70.

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