1 Nephi 11:28-33 — LeGrand Baker — Nephi sees the Savior’s ministry and crucifixion.

1 Nephi 11:28-33 

28 And I beheld that he went forth ministering unto the people, in power and great glory; and the multitudes were gathered together to hear him; and I beheld that they cast him out from among them.
29 And I also beheld twelve others following him. And it came to pass that they were carried away in the Spirit from before my face, and I saw them not.
30 And it came to pass that the angel spake unto me again, saying: Look! And I looked, and I beheld the heavens open again, and I saw angels descending upon the children of men; and they did minister unto them.
31 And he spake unto me again, saying: Look! And I looked, and I beheld the Lamb of God going forth among the children of men. And I beheld multitudes of people who were sick, and who were afflicted with all manner of diseases, and with devils and unclean spirits; and the angel spake and showed all these things unto me. And they were healed by the power of the Lamb of God; and the devils and the unclean spirits were cast out.
32 And it came to pass that the angel spake unto me again, saying: Look! And I looked and beheld the Lamb of God, that he was taken by the people; yea, the Son of the everlasting God was judged of the world; and I saw and bear record.
33 And I, Nephi, saw that he was lifted up upon the cross and slain for the sins of the world.

The scriptures try to teach us about the Savior’s Atonement, but their words cannot open to our finite minds how badly it hurt him nor the extent of its infinite and eternal consequences. Luke, who writes with more intimate knowledge than the others, tells something of the Savior’s agony in Gethsemane (Luke 22:41-44). The Savior himself explained it to the Prophet Joseph. His words are powerful, but equally beyond the grasp of a finite mind (D&C 19:15-19).

In 1925, Orson F. Whitney, a poet, historian, and apostle, spoke Latter-day Saint teenagers at the MIA June Conference. He told them that when he was a 21 year old missionary serving in Pennsylvania he had a vision during which he watched the Savior’s agony in Gethsemane. He said:

One night I dreamed—if dream it may be called—that I was in the Garden of Gethsemane, a witness of the Savior’s agony. I saw Him as plainly as I see this congregation. I stood behind a tree in the foreground, where I could see without being seen. Jesus, with Peter, James and John, came through a little wicket gate at my right. Leaving the three Apostles there, after telling them to kneel and pray, he passed over to the other side, where he also knelt and prayed. It was the same prayer with which we are all familiar: “O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt” (Matt. 26:36-44; Mark 14:32-41; Luke 22:42).

As he prayed the tears streamed down his face, which was toward me. I was so moved at the sight that I wept also, out of pure sympathy with his great sorrow. My whole heart went out to him, I loved him with all my soul, and longed to be with him as I longed for nothing else.

Presently he arose and walked to where the Apostles were kneeling—fast asleep! He shook them gently, awoke them, and in a tone of tender reproach, untinctured by the least suggestion of anger or scolding asked them if they could not watch with him one hour. There he was, with the weight of the world’s sin upon his shoulders, with the pangs of every man, woman and child shooting through his sensitive soul—and they could not watch with him one poor hour!

Returning to his place, he prayed again, and then went back and found them again sleeping. Again he awoke them, admonished them, and returned and prayed as before. Three times this happened, until I was perfectly familiar with his appearance—face, form and movements. He was of noble stature and of majestic mien—not at all the weak, effeminate being that some painters have portrayed—a very God among men, yet as meek and lowly as a little child.

All at once the circumstance seemed to change, the scene remaining just the same. Instead of before, it was after the crucifixion, and the Savior, with those three Apostles, now stood together in a group at my left. They were about to depart and ascend into Heaven. I could endure it no longer. I ran out from behind the tree, fell at his feet, clasped him around the knees, and begged him to take me with him.

I shall never forget the kind and gentle manner in which He stooped and raised me up and embraced me. It was so vivid, so real, that I felt the very warmth of his bosom against which I rested. Then He said: “No, my son; these have finished their work, and they may go with me, but you must stay and finish yours.” Still I clung to him. Gazing up into his face—for he was taller than I—I besought him most earnestly: “Well, promise me that I will come to you at the last.” He smiled sweetly and tenderly and replied: “That will depend entirely upon yourself.” I awoke with a sob in my throat, and it was morning.

“That’s from God,” said my companion (Elder A. M. Musser), when I had related it to him. “I don’t need to be told that,” was my reply. I saw the moral clearly. I had never thought that I would be an Apostle, or hold any other office in the Church; and it did not occur to me even then. Yet I knew that those sleeping apostles meant me. I was asleep at my post—as any man is, or any woman, who, having been divinely appointed to do one thing, does another.{1}

The scriptures that say Christ bled from every pore all reference the Garden (Luke 22:44, Mosiah 3:7-8). About that agony, the Savior said:

18 Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink—
19 Nevertheless, glory be to the Father, and I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men (D&C 19:1-41).

The shock to his system and loss of blood would have killed you or me.

Then the Romans whipped him. Jewish law would have limited that to 40 stripes, but Roman law did not. After the sharp iron barbs in the whip had ripped muscle tissue from one’s back and ribs, those barbs would dig into the lungs. Such a whipping was a death sentence. The soldiers were amazed that Jesus did not die and returned him to Pilot.

In addition to the physical pain and the pain in the Garden, he also felt the sorrow of being rejected by people he tried to save.

He then experienced death on the cross.

As we understand it, all of that together was one dreadful experience, and was much more intense than we can possibly imagine. It took place on this little earth but in its magnitude it reached out to encompass the whole universe in the whole duration of linear time. We are always a bit bothered when we hear someone try to describe the pain suffered by Jehovah/Jesus, the Great God of Heaven, by comparing it to the pain suffered by hundreds of ordinary people who were killed on similar crosses. The comparison may be partially correct, but it certainly is inadequate.

While his Eternal Self stayed within that wasted body and willed it to continue to live, not die, his soul took upon himself all of the sins, sorrows, sickness, pain, inequities, and contradictions—not just for this world, but for God’s children throughout the whole universe—not just in this physical time but throughout the entirety of our existence. The Atonement it much bigger than we tend to think, as the Prophet Joseph wrote in a poem he published about a year and a half before he died.

And I heard a great voice bearing record from heav’n,
He’s the Saviour and only begotten of God;

By him, of him, and through him, the worlds were all made,
Even all that careen in the heavens so broad.

Whose inhabitants, too, from the first to the last,
Are sav’d by the very same Saviour of ours;

And, of course, are begotten God’s daughters and sons
By the very same truths and the very same powers.{2}

After Gethsemane, the Savior’s agony continued he said “it is finished,” and then died on the cross. One of the most powerful testimonies in the Old Testament that shows they understood something of the magnitude of the Atonement is the 22nd Psalm. The first two thirds of the psalm are a vivid description of the Savior’s pain while he was on the cross. Its first lines were quoted by the Savior as he experienced the horror that the psalm had prophesied:

1 My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?
why art thou so far from helping me,
and from the words of my roaring? (Psalm 22:1).

At the conclusion of its prophecy of the crucifixion, 22nd Psalm tells that after the Savior left the cross, he descended in triumph into the spirit world, “in the midst of the congregation” of the dead—just as in D&C 138. It is a testimony of the Savior’s final triumph before his resurrection.{3}

Our friend Ben Tingey wrote this explanation of the infinite and eternal nature of the Savior’s Atonement:

I wish to share a few insights about how the Atonement does not only consist of his suffering in Gethsemane and on the cross, but on Christ’s eternal nature prior to it. These insights have a two-fold effect: They demonstrate that the Atonement was a nearly eternal process and that Christ was the only one of Heavenly Father’s children qualified to execute it. For this I am grateful that the only person qualified was also willing to do it.
The Atonement had to be performed by someone who was:

1. Sinless
2. Perfectly Loving
3. Half mortal/half immortal.

1. Sinless:

Christ was the only qualified candidate to perform the Atonement because He was the only perfectly obedient son of our Heavenly Father. When members of the Church refer to Christ’s sinless character they are usually alluding only to Christ’s perfect mortal life (Hebrews 4:15); how Christ endured mortal temptations like we do and did not give in, never disobeying His Father. However, we know that Christ was chosen as our Savior long before He arrived on earth. He still had to fit the qualifications in premortal realms as well. Thus we can conclude that Christ has always been perfect. In His entire eternal existence, Christ has never disobeyed His Father, has always chosen light over darkness, has always chosen service over self. If a sinless existence was necessary to perform the Atonement, then that sinless existence had to be an eternal one. If Christ had ever made a mistake during any phase of His eternal progression He would have disqualified Himself from being able to perform the Atonement. Just one slip up and we would all be doomed to eternal damnation (see 2 Nephi 9). Therefore, any temptation, or even any exercise of agency, prior to the event of the Atonement (Gethsemane through Calvary), has to be included in what we call Christ’s Atonement because the fact that He was sinless allowed Him to perform it in the first place. The Atonement doesn’t just include His suffering for sin, but His own personal victory over sin which made it possible for Him to take our sins upon Himself. In this way His perfect nature becomes part of the Atonement because the Atonement required the sacrifice of a perfect being, and that perfect being had successfully endured trials and temptations for eons of time.

2. Perfectly Loving

One essential element of righteous living is that we must not only do the right thing, but we must do it for the right reasons (Moroni 7:6-12). Pure intentions and motivations must accompany a good work for it to be deemed righteous. The event of the Atonement required pure motivations and intentions. Christ possesses and embodies perfect charity. His love is infinite, without beginning or end. Christ had to perform the Atonement because He loved us and wished to obey His Father, not for any shred of glory upon Himself. There was absolutely no room for even a shadow of pride or vanity. As I stated previously, those perfect motivations had to be kept in force for an eternity prior to the event of the Atonement. If Christ had ever thought to please Himself first rather than His Father or any of us, or if He sought any kind of inappropriate recognition for His works or for His execution of the Atonement, then He would have disqualified Himself from being able to perform the Atonement. He had to do it out of love, and love alone. He has always loved us with a perfect love, even before we came to this earth. That love had to be kept pure, those motivations had to be true, for Christ’s entire eternal existence prior to the event of the Atonement for Him to have been worthy enough to perform it. If He did anything for any other reason than love then its power would have been shattered and we would “become devils, angels to a devil, to be shut out from the presence of our God, and to remain with the father of lies” (2 Nephi 9:9). In this way, Christ’s perfectly loving nature becomes a part of the event of Atonement.

3. Half mortal/Half immortal

Many people in the Church don’t really understand the significance of why Christ had to be born of a virgin mother. It isn’t just a cute and miraculous story, it makes the Atonement possible. Amulek taught that “it is expedient that there should be a great and last sacrifice; yea, not a sacrifice of man, neither of beast, neither of any manner of fowl; for it shall not be a human sacrifice; but it must be an infinite and eternal sacrifice” (Alma 34:10). Amulek is making a comparison between mortal and immortal things, temporary and permanent things. Humans, beasts, and fowls are in and of themselves not infinite and eternal beings. Our mortal existence is limited. The sacrifice of a man, or beast, or fowl will therefore only generate limited spiritual power because the sacrifice itself is mortal. The great and last sacrifice required an infinite and eternal sacrifice: the sacrifice of a god. Born of a virgin mortal mother and a heavenly immortal father, Christ was half mortal and half immortal. This enabled Him to have control over when His spirit left His body. It also allowed Him to feel the mortal struggles that we endure. We understand that he suffered more than any mortal man could have endured (Mosiah 3:7). But not only that, it made His sacrifice of infinite and eternal nature. The sacrifice of something mortal can only have mortal power. The sacrifice of something immortal wields infinite power. If Christ had been entirely mortal then His sacrifice could have only reached as far as this earth’s mortal existence, nothing before and nothing beyond. It may have paid the price for our mortal sins, but it would have stopped there. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I’ll achieve perfection before I die. We’ll all need the Atonement after this life, and we definitely needed it before we came. Christ’s infinite Atonement was infinite because the sacrifice, Christ Himself, was an infinite kind of being. In this way, Christ’s half mortal/half immortal existence forms a part of the event of the Atonement because if He hadn’t been half man/half God His Atonement would have been limited to a mortal scope, and not the infinite sweep which you spoke of.

We may therefore conclude that the Atonement of Christ was not limited to the period of time when he knelt in the Garden of Gethsemane and triumphed over death through His resurrection, but was in the works since the beginning of time. Every good choice that Christ made, with pure intentions behind it, qualified Christ to perform the Atonement. His legacy of perfect love and obedience allowed the half mortal/half immortal son of God to perform a vicarious Atonement for each one of God’s children.{4}

Scott Stewart added to the conversation, and in doing so opened our eyes to questions and possibilities that we had never considered before. Scott wrote:

I was deeply touched by your and Ben’s thoughts and beliefs on the Atonement. Over the past several years I have spent many hours pondering some of the same feelings you shared. Although I know he suffered immense physical pain, beyond any of our personal ability to comprehend, I personally believe that the greater pain came with the emotional suffering and disappointment he endured in being betrayed by those he so loved.

On one occasion I got a very small glimpse of part of what he must of endured. When I served as a bishop (and you have probably heard this many times before), I tasted for a brief moment, in the smallest possible degree, the pain of disappointment. It was on a Sunday afternoon after our normal block of meetings when I meet with a sweet sister who struggled with wayward children and many other disappointments and physical ailments in her life. Just months before we talked she had suffered a debilitating stroke that took most of her speech and greatly impacted her health. When she began describing all she was experiencing, and had for many years, I said a silent prayer, and asked if there was some way I could relieve her of those burdens for a few moments. Like you taught me on one occasion you have to be careful what you ask for, and in this experience that was certainly true. For a very brief time (probably 30 seconds or so) I felt the weight of her pains come upon me. Never before, and never since, have I hurt like that and felt such pain. Every part of my body ached with pain as it never had before. I felt a great love and empathy for this wonderful sister who was enduring so much. We shed many tears together and this sweet sister returned home.

I sat in my office for some time after that experience exhausted and overwhelmed. For just a brief moment I carried the pain and disappointment of one soul. I can’t imagine what the Savior must have suffered for all of us. In her case it wasn’t sin or physical pain, but perhaps the most painful kind, disappointment, heart ache, loneliness, and so forth.{5}

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FOOTNOTES

{1} “The Divinity of Jesus Christ by Elder Orson F. Whitney, of the Council of the Twelve,” Improvement Era, January 1926, No. 3.

{2} Joseph Smith, A Vision in Times and Seasons, Feb. 1, 1843.

{3} For a discussion of Psalm 22 in the context of the Savior’s atonement, see Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord, First edition, p. 415-42; Second edition, p. 300-323.

{4} Benjamin H. Tingey to LeGrand L. Baker, August 3, 2011.

{5} Scott J. Stewart to LeGrand L. Baker, August 16, 2011.

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