The Father's Covenant People Sermon:
3 Nephi 20:

The Savior’s last major public sermon recorded in the holy scriptures is what I call the Father’s Covenant People Sermon in 3 Nephi 20:10–23:5.1 This capstone sermon of the resurrected Savior records Heavenly Father’s promises to the house of Israel and the Gentiles in latter days. As commanded by the Father, Jesus tells the people at Bountiful and future readers about events that will fulfill the Father’s ancient covenant promises made with Abraham and the house of Israel. Combined with other Book of Mormon teachings, the Father’s Covenant People Sermon provides significant insights into the Father’s covenant promises and the key roles of the Gentiles, Isaiah’s writings, and the Book of Mormon in connection with the gathering of Israel in the last days. Some of these teachings are found in the writings of Nephi in 1 and 2 Nephi, and others are recorded in the Savior’s earlier prophecies in 3 Nephi. However, some remarkable teachings and prophetic insights are found nowhere else in holy writ, including key covenant signs and promises that must be fulfilled as a part of the gospel restoration in the last days.

The unique insights and richness of this sermon have generally not been recognized, studied, or appreciated by most Latter-day Saints or other readers and students of the Book of Mormon. Common unfamiliarity with these chapters of Book of Mormon text might be explained by some observations of Brigham Young University students through the past three dozen years. Since the sermon follows the earlier and very familiar Sermon on the Mount at Bountiful, it seems to get lost in the miraculous events and scriptural discussions of the second day of the Savior’s resurrection ministry in America. In addition, half of the sermon consists of various Old Testament quotations from Isaiah and Micah that are not easily recognized in either their Book of Mormon context or a latter-day setting. Also, the whole sermon is structured as a very sophisticated type of Hebrew poetry, known as an introverted (or chiastic) form of semantic parallelism. This article addresses these challenges as it seeks to (1) identify and outline the key elements of this sermon, (2) analyze and organize the profound teachings of the sermon, and (3) highlight and reinforce the key prophecies and promises of the sermon. I will develop some new perspectives about this sermon by studying the basic structure and title of the sermon along with its context among earlier, similar teachings of the Book of Mormon.

Key Elements of the Father’s Covenant People Sermon

Let us first identify some key elements of this sermon by answering some basic questions about the text.

What is the Father’s Covenant People Sermon? It is the last public sermon of the resurrected Savior as recorded in 3 Nephi of the Book of Mormon. It consists of eighty-eight verses spread over four chapters (3 Nephi 20:10–23:5), with forty-four, or one-half, of the verses being quotations from the ancient writings of Isaiah and Micah.2

By whom and where and when was this sermon delivered? Jesus the Christ, Son of the Father, gave this discourse at the temple area of Bountiful on the second day of his resurrection ministry on the American continent.

Who was the audience of the sermon? The immediate audience was the righteous Nephite/Lamanite people assembled there. The extended audience was the future readers of the Book of Mormon and those who would witness the fulfillment of the promises recorded in the sermon.

How was the sermon structured? It is organized as a major, intricate, profound chiastic poem, which will be discussed in detail later.

Why was the sermon delivered and then recorded in the Book of Mormon? God the Father instructed Jesus to give these teachings to the assembled remnants of Israel in America. This record was to be a witness to the world of the Father’s power to honor his covenants with Abraham and Israel.

Why is this sermon so important? It instructs Israelites about the fulfillment of God’s covenant promises. It foretells the role of the Gentiles and specific scriptures in the gathering of the house of Israel in the last days. And it testifies of God’s works and love for his children through the ages.

Three key words describe this sermon: Father, covenant, and people. Although found throughout the Book of Mormon, these three words are especially concentrated in this 3 Nephi text. The word Father, referring to Heavenly Father, appears thirty-nine times in the sermon.3 Although the sermon is delivered by Jesus, it absolutely contains Heavenly Father’s teachings and promises to his children. Also, sixteen of the 154 “covenant” citations of the Book of Mormon appear in this sermon.4 As will be discussed, covenant teachings are an essential part of all scripture, especially the Book of Mormon. The word people appears thirty-five times throughout the discourse. The sermon is not only about a covenant people, it is also directed to a covenant people. Indeed, with these three key words appearing ninety times in eighty-eight verses, one or another of these three words could appear in each verse of the sermon’s text, indicating their central focus within the sermon.

Although the least mentioned of the three words, covenant is a pivotal term in the sermon. The title page of the Book of Mormon declares that one of the book’s primary purposes is to teach the house of Israel “that they may know the covenants of the Lord, that they are not cast off forever.” The first major concentration of covenant references in the Book of Mormon is in 1 and 2 Nephi, where Nephi lays the foundation of God’s covenant teachings.5 The most significant and insightful concentration of Book of Mormon covenant references is recorded in 3 Nephi and is centered in the last two of the three major public sermons that the resurrected Savior taught at Bountiful.6 In what I call the Law and Covenant Discourse (3 Nephi 15–16), Jesus teaches the surviving Nephite/Lamanite community of Israelites about key elements of the Abrahamic covenant that remained to be fulfilled after his first earthly ministry. 7 In the Father’s Covenant People Sermon, as will be discussed in detail, Jesus continues these teachings and also reveals two essential covenant signs and one significant covenant promise to be manifest in latter days.8

Nephi’s Foundational Covenant Teachings in 1 and 2 Nephi

Some six centuries before Jesus taught at Bountiful, Nephi built upon earlier prophecies of Moses and Lehi as he recorded his covenant insights. Just before the Israelites entered their promised land, Moses told them that the Lord would later scatter and gather them (see Deuteronomy 4:27–29; 28:64; and 30:3). Nephi’s father, Lehi, recorded similar prophecies about the scattering and gathering of Israel as his family camped near the Red Sea.9 Over the course of fifty years, Nephi received various insights and revelations about Heavenly Father’s covenant promises with Abraham and the scattering and gathering of the house of Israel. Four valuable passages record Nephi’s key teachings and prophecies.

First, as recorded in 1 Nephi 14:8–17, Nephi received angelic instruction about Lehi’s tree of life vision. In response to a question about the Father’s covenants with the house of Israel, Nephi was shown the great and abominable church among the nations of the Gentiles that would oppose the Lord’s covenant people in the last days. Nephi was told that when God’s wrath would be poured out upon this church of the devil, “the work of the Father shall commence, in preparing the way for the fulfilling of his covenants, which he hath made to his people who are of the house of Israel” (v. 17). Somehow, the divine judgments upon the wicked Gentiles would coincide with the fulfillment of the Father’s promises with covenant Israel.

Second, in 1 Nephi 15:12–20, Nephi elaborated upon his father’s earlier teachings of Israel’s scattering and gathering and explained that, after scattering Israel (including Lehi’s seed), the Gentiles would receive the fulness of the gospel and deliver it unto Lehi’s descendants. Then the Lord’s covenant with Abraham would be fulfilled as all the house of Israel would be gathered and restored and they, in turn, would bless all peoples of the earth in the latter days.

Third, in 1 Nephi 22:3–12 (which records events a dozen years after Lehi’s group had arrived in their new land), Nephi connected Isaiah 48 and 49 (which he had just quoted to his family) with the Lord’s covenant promises to Abraham. He taught that the families of the earth could not be blessed unless the Lord God would bare his arm before the nations. The manifestation of God’s power would be demonstrated as the Gentiles would scatter and nurse their (Nephite/Lamanite) descendants, as the Lord would bring forth his covenants and gospel unto the house of Israel, and finally as he would gather the remnants of Israel to their various lands of inheritance.

Fourth, in 2 Nephi 29 and 30, Nephi records some of his last prophetic insights. As an aged prophet, he highlights how his scriptural writings, and those of later Nephite prophets, would come forth as a marvelous work and a wonder in the latter days. These writings, today known as the Book of Mormon, would testify of God’s work to fulfill his ancient promises to Abraham—especially the gathering of Israel and the blessing of Abraham’s seed to the world. In addition to the words of Isaiah and other Bible prophets, the Book of Mormon would provide another witness and valuable insights of these key promises. Other prophecies found in these two chapters foretell of additional scriptures and signs of the latter days. The Book of Mormon is to be an instrument in bringing the fulness of the gospel and significant teachings and prophecies to the Gentiles, from whom the messages would be brought back to the descendants of the Nephites and Lamanites.

In essence, these four passages in 1 and 2 Nephi illustrate the growing understanding that Nephi developed about how the writings of Isaiah and the Book of Mormon would provide a united witness of God’s fulfillment of his covenant promises to Abraham. The resurrected Savior builds upon these teachings as he instructs his disciples and followers in 3 Nephi.

The Savior’s Insightful Covenant Teachings in 3 Nephi 9–17

Prior to delivering the Father’s Covenant People Sermon, Jesus provided a framework of covenant teachings as recorded in earlier chapters of 3 Nephi. In chapters 9–10, the Savior speaks from the heavens and invites the people to come unto him through a covenant relationship. In 3 Nephi 12–14, the Sermon on the Mount at Bountiful is delivered, providing a covenant context to those who chose to accept this “Constitution of Christianity.” 10 In 3 Nephi 15–16, Jesus delivers the Law and Covenant Discourse, explaining how the Mosaic law had now been fulfilled but key portions of the Abrahamic covenant had not yet been fulfilled. A quick review of these teachings will provide an essential context to better understand the profound insights of the Father’s Covenant People Sermon.

Before he appeared at the temple in Bountiful, the Savior spoke to the people from the heavens. His voice pierced the darkness that covered the land following the great destructions. He invited the people to repent of their sins and to come unto him that he might baptize them with fire and the Holy Ghost (3 Nephi 9:13–15). He testified that not only were the scriptures concerning his coming fulfilled but also the law of Moses was fulfilled (9:16–17). No more were they to perform the Mosaic sacrifices and burnt offerings; rather, their sacrifice should be a broken heart and a contrite spirit (9:19–20). In his redemptive role, he invited them to come to him and be saved (9:21–22). He reminded this remnant of Israel how often he sought to gather them (10:4–6). He concluded with a warning: if they would not repent and return to him, their dwellings would become desolate “until the time of the fulfilling of the covenant to your fathers” (10:7).11 Such desolation would come centuries later to the descendants of these people; but in the meantime, a choice Zion society needed to be established in America.

Later that year, Jesus appeared among those at Bountiful who had heard his words through the darkness. He gave them details about the fulfilling of the covenants that God the Father had made with their ancestors—Abraham, Jacob, and Joseph. These teachings are found in his public sermons as recorded in 3 Nephi. Covenant teachings and promises comprise significant structural elements in all three public sermons of the resurrected Savior in America. First, a covenantal framework is established in the Sermon on the Mount, also called the sermon at the temple in Bountiful,12 where Jesus outlines the expectations and promises of citizenship in his kingdom (3 Nephi 12–14). To become true Christians, his followers cannot simply hear and believe his teachings—they must do them (3 Nephi 15:1). They must indicate their personal, internal commitment through a public, symbolic act as they enter his church through the covenantal ordinance of baptism (3 Nephi 12:1–2). As they accept the new laws and the higher commandments of Jesus, they are counted ready and worthy to receive the gospel blessings of a new covenant with Christ.

After this gospel framework was established with the early-day Lamanite and Nephite Saints, there was some confusion among them about when the older Mosaic law was to be fulfilled and how the ancient Abrahamic covenant was to be completed. These concerns led to the second sermon, the Law and Covenant Discourse (3 Nephi 15–16) in which Jesus clarified that the law given to Moses had already been fulfilled. He, as the premortal Yahweh, had given the law to Moses. He, as the sacrificial Lamb of God, had fulfilled the law. Indeed, the preparatory Mosaic law along with the harsh demands of the law of justice and the beneficent expectations of the law of mercy were fulfilled in the final week of the Savior’s earthly ministry at Gethsemane, Golgotha, and the Garden Tomb.

Although Jesus Christ had fulfilled the law through the atonement, all the covenant promises given to Abraham had not yet been completed. God had promised Abraham a numberless posterity, a chosen land, and that his seed would be a blessing to all nations.13 Millions of Abraham’s posterity had been born by AD 34, yet billions more were waiting for their foreordained mortal destiny.14 Therefore, the first of the Abrahamic covenant promises was not yet fulfilled. The second divine promise to Abraham was that lands of the Fertile Crescent and the Arabian Peninsula would be governed by his seed. In AD 34, these lands were controlled by the Romans, Nabataeans, and peoples other than Abraham’s posterity, indicating that this promise was also not yet fulfilled.15 Finally, the third promise of the Father to Abraham was that his lineage was to be a blessing to all nations and families of the earth. By AD 34, Moses, the prophets, and Jesus (through his teachings, miracles, and atonement) had given wonderful spiritual blessings to the world. However, many blessings that Abraham’s descendants would share with the world remained to be delivered. Eventually, much of Western civilization would be based upon the Judeo-Christian teachings and values as found in the Bible, one of the many gifts of Abraham’s family to the world.16

In the Law and Covenant Discourse, Jesus highlights key elements of the Abrahamic covenant that remained to be fulfilled. First, as promised by the Father, Jesus needed to preach the gospel to the major scattered Israelite communities so that they personally could hear his voice and become one fold under his shepherdlike care (3 Nephi 16:1–3; compare John 10:16). Second, the scattered remnants of Israel needed to be gathered from the peoples of the earth to their promised lands of inheritance (3 Nephi 16:5, 16). Third, the house of Israel needed to come to the knowledge of the fulness of Christ’s restored gospel (16:11–12).

The Savior also speaks to the Gentiles and promises them that if they will repent and come unto him, they can be numbered with the house of Israel (3 Nephi 16:13–15). He then promises his Nephite and Lamanite audience that this land (of America) would become their land of inheritance (16:16). And then Jesus foretells that “the words of the prophet Isaiah shall be fulfilled” (16:17). In the biblical passage quoted by Jesus (Isaiah 52:8–10), Isaiah prophesied of a time when Israel’s watchmen will lift up their voices and sing as the Lord brings forth Zion, redeems Jerusalem, and shows his might to all nations until “all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of God” (3 Nephi 16:20). After centuries of anticipation and preparation, Abraham’s great posterity will be in their lands of inheritance under the Lord’s protective care where they will be a righteous example and a wonderful blessing to the nations of the earth. Thus, the world would know that the Father’s covenant promises with his people had finally been fulfilled.

It was toward the end of the first long day of Jesus’s resurrection ministry in Bountiful that the Savior quoted these marvelous promises from Isaiah 52. Sensing the listeners’ difficulty in understanding his Father’s message (especially the Isaiah passages), the Savior admonished his listeners to return to their homes, to ponder and pray about the things that he had taught them, and to prepare for more instruction the following day (see 3 Nephi 17:1–3).

Profound Teachings of the Father’s Covenant People Sermon

Continuing his teachings the next day, Jesus delivered the Father’s Covenant People Sermon, found in 3 Nephi 20:10–23:5. Most readers of the Book of Mormon have probably not studied this sermon in great depth because of its eloquent style, its elaborate prophecies, and its inclusion of numerous Old Testament passages. If the contents of this sermon of Jesus were to be discovered and verified in some ancient archive in the Middle East, it would be the most significant archaeological discovery of this millennium. What an addition to the scriptures it would be! Although many who have read this unique sermon in the Book of Mormon may not have appreciated its value, the keen insights, signs, and promises it reveals for us as Christ’s covenant people in the latter days warrant our careful study. The Father’s Covenant People Sermon highlights divine promises for Heavenly Father’s covenant people through the ages but is even more specifically directed to those living in the latter days—the days in which knowledgeable observers may witness the fulfillment of key covenant signs.

As will be explained in this paper, the Father’s Covenant People Sermon is organized in a major introverted parallelism, also known as a chiasmus, as outlined below:

A Isaiah’s words will be fulfilled (3 Nephi 20:10–12)

B Israel gathers to Zion (3 Nephi 20:13–20)

C Choice promises to Israel (and Gentiles) (3 Nephi 20:21–31)

D Blessings to righteous Judah (3 Nephi 20:32–40)

E The marred servant and the Father’s covenant (3 Nephi 20:41–46)

F A promised sign of the Book of Mormon and Israel’s gathering (3 Nephi 21:1–7)

E’ The marred servant and a work and a wonder (3 Nephi 21:8–11)

D’ Warnings to all wicked people (3 Nephi 21:12–21)

C’ Select promises to gentiles (and Israel) (3 Nephi 21:22–29)

B’ Building Zion in the last days (3 Nephi 22:1–17)

A’ Two admonitions and two promises (3 Nephi 23:1–5)

Each of these poetic segments will now be discussed in more detail.

A The words of Isaiah will be fulfilled 3 Nephi 20:10–12

The Father’s Covenant People teachings begin in 3 Nephi 20:10 when Jesus states that he is going to finish the Father’s commanded instructions concerning this remnant of the house of Israel. The previous day, Jesus had begun to fulfill the Father’s commandment by telling the people why their ancestors were separated from their original lands of inheritance near Jerusalem. He had also told them of the Father’s covenant to bring the fulness of the gospel to their descendants through the Gentiles. He had concluded his teachings that day by quoting some of Isaiah. Jesus continues his teachings the second day with an admonition to study Isaiah’s words and a promise that when the prophecies of Isaiah are fulfilled, Heavenly Father’s covenant with Israel will be fulfilled (vv. 10–12).

B The promises to Abraham are fulfilled as Israel gathers to Zion 3 Nephi 20:13–20 (Micah 5:8–9; 4:12–13)

Jesus then taught that the scattered remnants of Israel will be gathered from all directions and be brought to the knowledge of their Lord (3 Nephi 20:13). He also tells the Nephite/Lamanite audience that their descendants would receive this land (America) as their promised land of inheritance (v. 14). He promises them that if the latter-day Gentiles do not repent “after the blessing which they shall receive,” Lehi’s seed would go forth among the Gentiles with awesome power. He quotes a biblical passage found in Micah 5:8–9 that describes how Israel’s influence among the Gentiles is to be like lions among sheep (3 Nephi 20:15–17).17 He then promises to gather his own people of Judah and to give them power to “beat in pieces many people” (or to have power over many enemies), quoting phrases from Micah 4:13 (3 Nephi 20:19). Jesus concludes this section of the Father’s Covenant People Sermon with a strong warning to the people of Israel and the Gentile nations that if they do not repent, the sword of his justice will fall upon them (v. 20).

C Gospel blessings come first to covenant Israel and then to the Gentiles 3 Nephi 20:21–31

Jesus changes his tone with a positive promise of Zion in America. He promises that he will establish his people (of Judah) in Jerusalem and this people (of Lehi’s seed) in “this land” (America), which will be a New Jerusalem, and that heavenly powers will be in their midst. Indeed, he also will be in their midst (3 Nephi 20:21–22). Thus the threefold promise to Abraham will finally be completed as the various remnants of Israel (Abraham’s posterity) return to their lands of inheritance (the places promised them, including America as given to Lehi’s seed) and become a powerful, righteous community (a blessing to the lives of all peoples on earth).

Continuing in verse 23, Jesus announces that he is the great prophet foretold by Moses and all the prophets of God. He reminds his audience that they are the children of the covenant that the Father made with their fathers that through Abraham’s seed, all kindreds of the earth would be blessed (v. 25). As children of the covenant, Jesus personally came to them first. After Israel was blessed and strengthened, the Savior would pour out the Holy Ghost upon the Gentiles. This blessing, in turn, would make the Gentiles mighty and they would scatter his people (the Jews) and be a scourge to the people of this land (Lehi’s seed and other native inhabitants in America, vv. 26–28). He also warns the Gentiles not to harden their hearts against him after they have received the fulness of his gospel (as restored in latter days, v. 28). Jesus then promises to remember the covenant with his people (the Jews) to gather them to Jerusalem and the promised land of their inheritance (v. 29). Eventually the gospel will be preached to them and they will believe in him as their Christ (or Messiah, vv. 30–31).

In this section of the Father’s Covenant People Sermon, Jesus highlights the Father’s promise to first bless Israel through Jesus and then to bless the Gentiles through the Holy Ghost. Gentiles would scatter various segments of Israel, and then (centuries) later they would have the opportunity to receive the fulness of the gospel. Promises to the Jews will then be fulfilled as they gather to Jerusalem and their promised land and as they receive the gospel and accept Jesus as their Messiah. Some of these prophecies have been fulfilled since the Book of Mormon was published in 1830, while others await completion.

D Isaiah’s prophesied blessings to Judah 3 Nephi 20:32–40 (Isaiah 52:8–10, 1–3, 6–7)

When these prophecies of the gathering and restoration are fulfilled, powerful prophecies of Isaiah will also be fulfilled. Without mentioning Isaiah by name, Jesus quotes Isaiah 52:8–10, the same three verses that he quoted the previous day at the end of his Law and Covenant Discourse (3 Nephi 16:18–20). He adds context to Isaiah 52:8 by stating that their watchmen’s singing and rejoicing will result in the context of their accepting him as their Messiah and as the Son of God (3 Nephi 20:32). Additional commentary between verses 8 and 9 of Isaiah 52 states that their accepting him is also the context for the Father gathering them (the Jews) again 18 and giving them Jerusalem for their land of inheritance (3 Nephi 20:33). Then the people themselves will sing with joy as they are comforted in Jerusalem (v. 34).

Jesus also provides helpful clarification about some divine titles as he quotes Isaiah 52:9–10. Instead of the “Lord” (Yahweh in the Hebrew text of the Old Testament; sometimes translated as Jehovah, referring to the Son of God) being the divine agent, it is the “Father.” Elohim in the Hebrew text is usually translated as “God” in the King James Version; “Elohim” is a name/title for Heavenly Father,19 who comforts his people and makes bare his holy arm before the nations. However, either the Father or the Son can represent each other because, as Jesus adds in the text, “the Father and I are one” (3 Nephi 20:34–35).

Jesus then quotes the three beginning verses of Isaiah 52 and promises that they “shall be brought to pass” (3 Nephi 20:36). Some of the key terms in this short passage are clarified in verses 7–10 of section 113 in the Doctrine and Covenants. Combining the Isaiah text with the Joseph Smith insights, we learn that the Lord invites the people of Zion to put on their (priesthood) strength and those in Jerusalem to put on their (temple) garments. The people are to loose their bands of captivity and exile, both physical and spiritual, for he will redeem them (3 Nephi 20:36–38). He also quotes Isaiah 52:6–7 and foretells a time when his people will know his name and that it is he that speaks to them (through their prophets, 3 Nephi 20:39). Then shall his people rejoice with the good tidings delivered by the Lord’s messengers (his prophets, missionaries, and others, v. 40).

E The marred servant and the Father’s covenants 3 Nephi 20:41–46 (Isaiah 52:11–15)

Jesus concludes the Isaiah passages by quoting the last five verses of Isaiah 52.20 In verses 11 and 12, Isaiah exhorts the people to depart from the wicked world and to become clean. He promises that the Lord will prepare the way before them and the God of Israel will come behind them as they gather in an orderly process (vv. 41–42). In verses 13–15, Isaiah foretells an amazing servant of the Lord who will be abused; yet he will affect many nations and astonish their rulers (vv. 43–45). Later in the Father’s Covenant People Sermon, Jesus tells us more about this major figure of the last days. In this part of the sermon, he quotes Isaiah and then concludes with a promise that “all these things shall surely come” (v. 46) as commanded by the Father (and foretold by Isaiah). Then the Father’s covenant with his people will be fulfilled and Jerusalem will be inhabited with the Lord’s people.

F The promised sign that the Father’s covenant is being fulfilled 3 Nephi 21:1–7

Jesus continues in chapter 21 with a promised sign so that we can know when these covenants are finally being fulfilled because as the covenant promises are fulfilled, then Christ’s millennial reign can be established. Readers of the Book of Mormon have probably read these verses many times but may not have recognized their significance.

The previous instructions of the Father’s Covenant People Sermon are summarized in the last verse of chapter 20. Jesus has just finished quoting most of Isaiah 52. He then summarizes what he has told them with a promise. As the Book of Mormon verses are cited, some clarifications are inserted in the text: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, all these things [these prophecies of Isaiah and what I have told you earlier] shall surely come, even as the Father hath commanded me. Then shall this covenant which the Father hath covenanted with his people be fulfilled.”

He continues in verse 1 of chapter 21: “And verily I say unto you, I give unto you a sign, that ye may know the time when these things shall be about to take place [which things?]—that I shall gather in, from their long dispersion, my people, O house of Israel, and shall establish again among them my Zion.”

The critical things that are about to take place as the sign is given are the gathering of Israel and the establishment of Zion. In verse 2 he continues, “And behold, this is the thing which I will give unto you for a sign.” But before he tells us the sign, he explains the significance of some things that he has revealed or that he will yet reveal. He tells us in verses 3–6 about the Gentiles being established in this land and the great works he will show forth among them. Then, in verse 7, he tells us that the latter-day Lamanites will “begin to know these things—it shall be a sign unto them, that they may know that the work of the Father hath already commenced unto the fulfilling of the covenant.”

Note the change of context between verses 1 and 7! In verse 1 the Savior promises us a sign so we can “know the time when these things shall be about to take place.” The future tense is promising something “about to take place.” It is still ahead, but it seems to be close at hand. Then, in verse 7 Jesus tells us some things that will be a sign that we can know “that the work of the Father hath already commenced.” Note the past tense here: it “hath already commenced,” or, as we would say, it “has already started.” So somewhere between verse 1 and verse 7 we pass from a future promise to a past fulfillment. To go from the future to the past, we have to pass through the present. Somewhere in the middle verses we missed the sign that would be the transition from a time when something was about to take place to the time when it had already commenced.

A couple of suggestions may help us find the sign in these verses. First, note that verses 1 through 7 of chapter 21 are punctuated as one long sentence—one very long, complicated sentence. English teachers would require numerous large class boards just to diagram the grammatical parts of this sophisticated sentence, and theologians would take hundreds of hours trying to understand the doctrinal meanings of this profound sentence. So readers should not be discouraged if they do not comprehend this sentence the first few times they read it.

Second, the Savior uses certain techniques or key words to alert us when something important in his sermon is approaching. With a live audience, he could speak in a loud or emphatic voice to let them know that something important was about to be said. But that volume or tone of voice does not carry over into the printed text. However, he does give us some “attention getters” within the text to let us know when something important—something very important—is coming up. He uses foremost the word verily—which could be translated as his way of telling us that something very important is about to be said. Thus when readers see verily in the text, they should think “something very important is coming.” Note in verse 3 the double use of verily, indicating that what is coming is very, very important. Another attention getter is the word therefore, used to introduce verse 5, which indicates that an important summary is coming. So let us read verses 3 to 5 and see if we can recognize the important promised sign. As these verses are cited, some definitions of key terms, as established in the earlier verses, are inserted in the text:

Verily, verily, I [the Savior] say unto you [the audience in Bountiful], when these things [of the Book of Mormon] shall be made known unto them [the Gentiles] of the Father, and shall come forth of the Father, from them unto you;

For it is wisdom in the Father that they [the Gentiles] should be established in this land [America], and be set up as a free people by the power of the Father, that these things [as found in the Book of Mormon] might come forth from them unto a remnant of your seed [the Lamanites], that the covenant of the Father may be fulfilled which he hath covenanted with his people, O house of Israel;

Therefore, when these works and the works which shall be wrought among you hereafter [as later recorded in the Book of Mormon] shall come forth from the Gentiles, unto your seed [that will be the promised sign].

Then, continuing in verse 7: “And when these things come to pass that thy seed [the Lamanites] shall begin to know these things [of the Book of Mormon]—it shall be a sign unto them, that they may know that the work of the Father [the gathering of Israel and the establishment of Zion] hath already commenced unto the fulfilling of the covenant which he hath made unto the people who are of the house of Israel” (3 Nephi 21:3–5, 7).

The key sign is recognized when the Savior’s words and works in the Book of Mormon come from the Gentiles to the Lamanites, who then begin to accept their gospel message! Then is the time period of the fulfillment of the covenant promises in preparation for Christ’s millennial reign. Although many attempts were made in earlier Latter-day Saint history to take the gospel and the Book of Mormon to the Lamanites, it was not until the 1960s that Lehi’s descendants began to accept the teachings and come into the church in great numbers. Thus the sign as promised by Jesus in the Father’s Covenant People Sermon has finally been given, and now is the generation for the fulfillment of the Father’s covenant promises.

The spreading of the gospel into former communist countries, the proliferation of LDS temples, and other evidences of the growth of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints demonstrate how God’s work is rolling forth to fill the earth. Gradually we are seeing how, as a part of the gathering of the covenant righteous to Zion, powerful remnants of Israel are being gathered to their various lands of inheritance.21 Jeremiah—an older contemporary prophet during the days of Lehi and Nephi—also foresaw the latter-day events of the gathering of Israel. Jeremiah foretold that the gathering of latter-day Israel would be an even greater manifestation of God’s power than the bringing forth of ancient Israel from bondage in Egypt (Jeremiah 16:14–15). The sign given in 3 Nephi 21 lets us know that the work of the Father in gathering Israel has already commenced.

The Mirror Image Second Half of the Father’s Covenant People Sermon

This profound sentence of 3 Nephi 21:1–7 with its promised sign is the pivotal point in the poetic chiasmus of the Father’s Covenant People Sermon. The second half of the discourse is, in many ways, a mirror image of the first: Jesus repeats key ideas, quotes passages from Micah and Isaiah 54, and highlights certain covenant promises. However, the second half of the sermon is much more than simple repetition; it also includes additional insights and valuable clarification, as elements in each half complement and enrich each other. A much more detailed outline of the chiastic or introverted parallelistic pattern of the sermon’s main ideas is seen in chart 1.

E’ Silenced kings and the marred servant of the Lord 3 Nephi 21:8–11 (Isaiah 52:14–15)

After announcing the promised sign, Jesus states “when that day shall come” that the Father commences to fulfill the covenant promises, kings shall shut their mouths because they will see and consider previously unknown things. After repeating the last verse of Isaiah 52, he provides additional commentary. He testifies also that “in that day” the Father will work a great and marvelous work among the people. Although someone (such as a missionary or faithful believer) will declare this divine work to them, some among them will still not believe it (3 Nephi 21:8–9). Echoing Nephi’s prophecies received and recorded six centuries earlier, this marvelous work includes the ministry of the Prophet Joseph Smith, the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, and other dimensions of the restoration of Christ’s gospel and church in latter days.


A ⇒ The Father and Son work together

3 Nephi 20:10

B ⇒ Isaiah’s words are written, therefore search them


C ⇒ Isaiah’s words and the Father’s covenant with Israel will be fulfilled!!

* 12

D ⇒ Scattered Israel to be gathered


E ⇒ America an inheritance for the Lamanites


F ⇒ Gentiles to repent and receive blessings (Micah 4:12–13; 5:8–9)

* 15–20

G ⇒ A New Jerusalem and the Father’s covenants with Moses, the Gentiles, etc.

****** 21–29

H ⇒ Gospel preached and Zion established; the marred servant (Isaiah 52)


I ⇒ Kings shall be speechless (Isaiah 52:15)


J ⇒ Covenant fulfillment and the work of the Father

** 20:46

K ⇒ A key sign to be given when things are “about to take place”

3 Nephi 21:1

L ⇒ Gentiles learn of scattered Israel


M ⇒ These things (in Book of Mormon) to come from Gentiles to you (Lamanites/Nephites)


>N ⇒ The sign of the covenant

** 3 Nephi 21:4<

M’ ⇒ These works (in Book of Mormon) to come from Gentiles to you (Lamanites/Nephites)


L’ ⇒ Some Gentiles to be with Israel


K’ ⇒ Sign as Lamanites begin to know Book of Mormon that work “hath commenced”


J’ ⇒ The work and covenant fulfillment of the Father

* 7

I’ ⇒ Kings shall be speechless (Isaiah 52:15)


H’ ⇒ A great and marvelous work; the marred servant (Isaiah 52:14)


G’ ⇒ Moses, the Gentiles and covenant Israel

* 11

F’ ⇒ Unrepentant Gentiles will be cut down (Micah 5:8–15)


E’ ⇒ America an inheritance for the righteous

* 22–23

D’ ⇒ Gentiles to help in the gathering of Israel and a New Jerusalem


C ⇒ Father’s work with his people


A’ ⇒ The Father and Son work together


B’ ⇒ Isaiah’s portrayal of Zion (Isaiah 54); search his words!

* 3 Nephi 22; 23:1–3

PS ⇒ Christ’s command to heed these things and be saved.

3 Nephi 23:4–5

* = The sixteen specific “COVENANT” references in this sermon. Note: The many Isaiah references and passages are showin in italics.

Then Jesus shares insights about a marred servant of the Lord in that day. Including phrases from Isaiah 52:13–14, which was quoted earlier in 3 Nephi 20:43–44, Jesus promises that although people will mar (or injure) his servant, he will heal the servant to demonstrate that his divine wisdom is greater than the devil’s cunning efforts (v. 10). Footnote 10a in the Book of Mormon cross-references this passage to D&C 135:1, thus referring the marred servant to the martyred prophet Joseph Smith.23 Jesus warns that whoever does not believe in his words as brought forth by this servant will be cut off from among the Lord’s covenant people (3 Nephi 21:11).

D’ Warnings and judgments unto the Gentiles 3 Nephi 21:12–21 (Micah 5:8–15)

Jesus delivers an even stronger warning against the Gentiles in the next section of the Father’s Covenant People Sermon. He again cites Micah 5:8–9, and then he adds a variety of specific judgments upon the Gentile, “except they repent” (3 Nephi 21:14). Not only will the wicked be cut off from the Lord’s people, but their own weaponry, strongholds, paganism, idolatry, and cities will be cut off and destroyed (vv. 14–18; compare Micah 5:10–14). Jesus then repeats some signs of a wicked people that he had warned against during his Law and Covenant Discourse on the previous day (3 Nephi 21:19; compare 16:10). A strong warning from the Father to the whole world follows: all who do not repent and follow the Son will be cut off, and he will execute vengeance and unheard-of fury upon them, even as upon the heathen (vv. 20–21; compare Micah 5:15).

In contrast to the blessings and strengths and in addition to warnings mentioned earlier in the Father’s Covenant People Sermon, these warnings and judgments will befall a people who sin against the light, truth, and spiritual gifts they had earlier received. They will be accounted as the heathens who live in darkness and paganism. However, some and maybe even many of the Gentiles will accept the gospel and be numbered among the Lord’s people. Their blessings and close relationship with the house of Israel is highlighted in the next section of the sermon.

C’ Promises to the Gentiles and the remnants of Israel 3 Nephi 21:22–29 (Isaiah 52:12)

Jesus’s blessings to the Gentiles are conditional upon their repenting, hearkening to his words, and not hardening their hearts (3 Nephi 21:22). He then promises five profound blessings:

1. He will establish his church among the Gentiles (v. 22). This promise was fulfilled by Joseph Smith and the first generation of Latter-day Saints. As stated in the dedicatory prayer of the Kirtland Temple, these early Saints, “who are identified with the Gentiles,” received the necessary revelations and commandments from the Lord to establish the restored church of Jesus Christ on earth (D&C 109:60).

2. They will be numbered among the house of Israel (v. 22). Patriarchal blessings indicate that baptized Latter-day Saints have become covenant Israelites and are identified with different tribes of the house of Israel. Granted, most church members probably have some ancient Israelite ancestry, although it may be far back in their pedigree. But the majority of the ancestors of the early Latter-day Saints come from the Gentile nations of Europe and not from the recognizable posterity of Israel, such as the Jews or Lamanites. As these mostly Gentile people enter the covenant, they are restored as rightful heirs in the house of Israel.

3. They will assist the American remnant of Jacob in building the New Jerusalem (v. 23). Although the early Saints attempted to build this holy city in early church history, that effort was thwarted. Thus, this promise remains to be fulfilled. While church members await the building of the city, Zion is being strengthened as LDS stakes and temples are established throughout the world.

4. They will assist the Lord’s people of Israel to gather unto the New Jerusalem (v. 24). This service opportunity still awaits its promised fulfillment.

5. The “power of heaven,” including the Lord Jesus Christ, will come down and be in their midst (v. 25). This blessing, culminating in the Savior’s millennial reign, is still in the future.

As these promised blessings unfold among the Gentiles, the Father’s work among the scattered remnants of Israel will also commence. The gospel will be preached among “the remnant of this people,” commonly identified as the Lamanites in LDS culture (v. 26). Also, the Father’s work will commence among the lost tribes of Israel (v. 26) and among the dispersed of Lord’s people (the Jews) so that they may call upon his holy name (v. 27). Then the Father’s work will commence among all nations in gathering his people to their promised lands (v. 28). As foretold by Isaiah and quoted earlier by Jesus in the Father’s Covenant People Sermon, this gathering process will not be in haste nor by flight (Isaiah 52:12; 3 Nephi 20:42); rather, Israel’s gathering and restoration will proceed in an orderly manner with divine help preparing the way and protecting their work (v. 29).

B’ The building and triumph of Zion in the last days 3 Nephi 22:1–17 (Isaiah 54:1–17)

Jesus summarizes the Father’s covenant fulfillment with his people as he cites the prophetic and poetic words of Isaiah 54 with only a few minor changes. Isaiah compares the house of Israel and her connection with the Lord to the relationship between a wife and her husband. She is told to sing aloud because even though she has been barren and did not “travail with child” (or deliver children of her own), many children will be added to her family. These children will come from the desolate woman, referring to the Gentile nations (3 Nephi 22:1). So much growth is expected that Israel needs to enlarge her tent by adding more curtains or walls reinforced with cords and strong stakes. This comparison of Israel’s abode with a tent symbolizes the growth of Zion in the latter days with new, strong stakes representing the expansion of the Lord’s church on earth (v. 2). In fact, the house of Israel will expand so much that her people will inhabit the lands and desolate cities of the Gentiles (v. 3).

In addition to an expanded family, Israel’s broken marriage to her spouse, the Lord, will be repaired. She will not be ashamed any more because of her earlier misbehavior; she will not remember the reproach of her youth when she failed to keep the Mosaic law during the Old Testament era, nor will she remember the reproach of her widowhood when she rejected her Lord in the New Testament period (v. 4). Even though her husband, the Holy One of Israel, forsook her and left her as a grieving woman, with loving forgiveness he will bring her back (vv. 5–7). Granted, with a little wrath he hid himself from her; but with eternal kindness he will show mercy to her (v. 7).

The sureness of his love, mercy, and redemption is sealed with an oath. Just as the Lord made an oath with Noah that the earth would never be flooded again, the Lord promises that he will not be wroth with Israel (v. 9). Although mountains and hills may depart, his kindness and the covenant of his peace will not depart from Israel (v. 10).

Isaiah uses symbolic imagery to describe how the house of Israel will eventually be built as with precious jewels and semiprecious gems. For examples, her foundations will be laid with blue sapphires, her windows made with milky agates and her gates with red carbuncles (or garnets, vv. 11–12).

The children of Israel will be taught of the Lord, and they will live in peace and righteousness. Although difficulties may surround them, they will not need to fear (vv. 13–14). The Lord promises that the enemies who gather against Israel will fall (v. 15). To bring about the redemption of the house of Israel, he has prepared both servants who will bring forth his work and spoilers who will destroy the wicked in the latter days (v. 16). No weapons or lies against the covenant children of God will prevail. All these blessings are secure because “this is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and their righteousness is of me, saith the Lord” (v. 17).

This glorious capstone of the Father’s Covenant People Sermon describes a heavenly family setting. A large, righteous family lives in peace and harmony: the parents are loving, tender, and forgiving; their house is like a palace with beautiful, precious decor; the children are intelligent and righteous; the household is sheltered and protected. Their blessings and righteousness result from the spiritual gifts and power of God the Father as promised and delivered by the redemptive love and mercy of their Lord, the Son of God. What a glorious scene that will be for the Father’s covenant people.

A’ The Savior’s concluding admonitions and promises 3 Nephi 23:1–5

The Savior concludes the Father’s Covenant People Sermon in the first verses of 3 Nephi 23 with two admonitions, each with an accompanying promise. The first admonition is to “search these things diligently; for great are the words of Isaiah” (3 Nephi 23:1). The attached promise is similar to the one at the beginning of the sermon—that all things Isaiah spoke either have been or will be fulfilled according to the words he spoke (v. 3). So, in addition to studying the covenant teachings found in the Book of Mormon, we need to continually study Isaiah’s writings in the Bible in order to understand and appreciate the covenant promises and key events of the last days.

The second admonition is directed to the multitude, with specific instructions to his disciples. The people are to heed his words, and the disciples are to be sure his words are written so the writings can go forth unto the Gentiles (v. 4). The associated promise is that those who hearken to his words and repent and are baptized—”the same shall be saved” (v. 5). We today have the blessing and opportunity to share and testify of the teachings and prophecies of the holy scriptures so that more of God’s children can heed God’s word, repent, and come unto Christ and be saved.

Key Prophecies and Promises of the Father’s Covenant People Sermon

In summary, we recognize that the Father’s Covenant People Sermon develops six key themes that are structured in a chiastic pattern of introverted parallelism: (A) the words of Isaiah and God’s promises, (B) Israel gathering in Zion, (C) covenant promises to Israel and the Gentiles, (D) judgments (blessings and warnings) to the world, (E) kings and the “marred servant,” (F) the promised covenant sign of the Book of Mormon coming from the Gentiles to the Lamanites.

Through reading and studying the Father’s Covenant People Sermon in 3 Nephi, we see that Heavenly Father is a covenantal God. He created this earth and provided for our mortal existence as promised in the premortal councils. He sent forth prophets—such as Moses, Lehi, Nephi, and Jeremiah, and his own Son—to instruct, prepare, supervise, remind, record, and perpetuate God’s covenant blessings and promises among us. He inspired Nephi to record valuable prophecies about the restoration of the gospel and the gathering of Israel. The scriptural writings of the ancient prophets, especially the insights of Nephi in 1 and 2 Nephi, lay the foundation for the Father’s covenant teachings as delivered by Jesus in 3 Nephi.

As commanded by the Father, Jesus taught the Book of Mormon community about the Father’s covenant people in the latter days. He cited Old Testament prophets (whom he had instructed as the premortal Yahweh, or Jehovah) to reinforce and enrich his teachings. He highlighted the roles of key prophets, including himself and his servant of the latter days (Joseph Smith). He gave two significant signs: (1) the Book of Mormon coming forth from the Gentiles to Lehi’s seed, who would “begin to know these things” (the Savior’s teachings and works, 3 Nephi 21:7) recorded in the Book of Mormon,24 and (2) as a part of the marvelous gathering of the covenant righteous to Zion, powerful remnants of Israel will be gathered to their various promised lands of inheritance.25 With a message of power and authority, Jesus also made a sure promise that the Father will fulfill all the covenant promises that he gave to Abraham.26 In essence, the resurrected Savior explained important elements of the gospel’s restoration, foretold signs associated with the establishment of Zion in the last days, and invited Israel and the Gentiles to come unto him, to become the Father’s covenant people, and to help fulfill the Father’s covenant promises.

Jesus emphasized that these covenant blessings are available for each of us, whether we are literally of the house of Israel or from the nations of the Gentiles. By covenant, we strive to bring others unto Christ. By covenant, we become his representatives to the world and we seek out and encourage others to enter into covenants with him. By covenant, we commit ourselves to build and perfect each other in Christ’s church and kingdom. By covenant, we open the gates of heaven as we enter the house of the Lord and make solemn promises with God for ourselves and, vicariously, for others. We cannot draw close to Heavenly Father and we cannot dwell in his celestial realms without being in an everlasting covenant relationship with him. This covenant blessing was initiated by God the Father, continues to be administered by his Son, Jesus Christ, and must be verified by the Holy Spirit.

As taught in the Father’s Covenant People Sermon, the house of Israel and the teachings of Isaiah and the Book of Mormon play key roles in distributing and verifying God’s covenant promises made some four millennia ago to the great patriarch and prophet, Abraham. We, as covenant people of Israel, can carry these blessings to all nations and peoples of the earth. This profound sermon provides us with the insights and encouragement to do so.

Victor L. Ludlow is an emeritus professor of ancient scripture at Brigham Young University. He received his PhD in Near Eastern and Judaic studies from Brandeis University.


1. The identity, name, and basic structure of this discourse was established and developed as I taught Book of Mormon classes at BYU and delivered Know Your Religion lectures throughout the United States from the 1970s through the 1990s.

2. The eleven Micah verses are cited in 3 Nephi 20:16–19; 21:12–18. The thirty-one Isaiah verses are cited in 3 Nephi 20:32–45; 21:8, 10, 29; 22:1–17. Note that 3 Nephi 21:9 seems to paraphrase Isaiah 29:14.

3. There are 277 references to “Father” (with a capital F, referring to Heavenly Father) in the Book of Mormon with the great majority found in the words of the resurrected Savior in 3 Nephi. Third Nephi 20 and 3 Nephi 21 each contain nineteen references to the Father. The only other Book of Mormon chapter that contains as many references is 3 Nephi 11, which also has nineteen “Father” citations.

4. The word covenant appears ten times in 3 Nephi 20, which is more than in any other chapter of the Book of Mormon.

5. Forty-one of the 154 “covenant” references in the Book of Mormon are found in 1 and 2 Nephi.

6. Forty-one of the 154 “covenant” (or “covenanted,” “covenanteth,” “covenanting,” and “covenants”) references in the Book of Mormon are located in 3 Nephi. The Savior cited twenty-three of them as he taught the Nephite/Lamanite community both before he physically appeared among them and also as he taught them at Bountiful.

7. Five covenant citations are in this second sermon.

8. Sixteen covenant citations are in this third sermon.

9. In 1 Nephi 10:12–14, father Lehi foretold the basic outline of the scattering and gathering of Israel: after the house of Israel should be scattered and after the Gentiles had received the gospel, the remnants of Israel should then later be “grafted in” or gathered and come to the knowledge of their true Messiah.

10. A variety of references to this title are found throughout Christian literature (including Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and various Protestant denominations). One of the earliest references is in Isaac Bronson Burgess, The Life of Christ (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1908), 116. For an example of its use among Latter-day Saints, see Harold B. Lee, Decisions for Successful Living (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1973), 57.

11. This is the first of twenty-three times that Jesus specifically used the word covenant (or covenants) during his resurrection ministry among the Nephite/Lamanite remnant of Israel.

12. Robert J. Matthews, “Jesus the Savior in 3 Nephi,” in The Book of Mormon: 3 Nephi 9–30, This Is My Gospel, ed. Monte S. Nyman and Charles D. Tate Jr. (Provo, UT: BYU Religious Studies Center, 1993), 31.

13. See the Bible Dictionary in the Latter-day Saint edition of the King James Version of the Bible, s.v. “Abraham, Covenant of.”

14. Considering the population explosion of the past couple of centuries, the great majority of Abraham’s posterity seem to have been preserved to come forth in the latter days and the millennial era.

15. In the past century, these lands promised to Abraham have basically come under the governance of his Arab and Jewish posterity. However, the conflicts and disharmony among the various factions are far removed from the ideal role model that should be presented by the Abrahamic family.

16. Living two thousand years after the Savior’s earthly ministry, we who claim to be of Abraham’s lineage or of covenant Israel have the responsibility to continue to bless many peoples through the spiritual, moral, intellectual, and other insights and gifts that we should bring forth.

17. Micah was a younger, contemporary prophet during the ministry of Isaiah.

18. The first gathering of the Jews occurred after their exile in Babylon.

19. See Bible Dictionary, s.v. “God,” “Lord,” and “Christ,” known as Jehovah.

20. Careful readers will note that Jesus does not quote verses 4 and 5 of Isaiah 52. They deal more with Israelite ancient history rather than with future prophecy.

21. See 3 Nephi 16:5, 15–16; 20:14–16, 19, 22, 29; 21:1, 11–12, 22–28 for key passages in this sermon on the gathering of Israel.

22. This chiastic outline was developed and refined over many years as I taught and lectured. In spite of the many, many hours involved in studying and analyzing this profound sermon, the outline is still a work in progress.

23. The English words mar and martyr share similar meanings from different Middle English and Anglo-Saxon roots. Mar derives from merran, meaning to injure, damage, disfigure, or deform. Martyr derives from martir, meaning a person who is maimed, tortured, or killed; one who suffers great pain or misery; or one who is willing to die rather than give up one’s faith or principles. See Webster’s New Twentieth Century Dictionary, 2nd ed. (New York: William Collins Publishers, 1979), s.v. “mar” and “martyr.” For another interpretation of the marred servant, see Gaye Strathearn and Jacob Moody, “Christ’s Interpretation of Isaiah 52’s ‘My Servant’ in 3 Nephi,” in this volume.

24. See 3 Nephi 21:1–7 and 29:1–3, where this sign is first given by Jesus and then emphasized by Mormon.

25. See 3 Nephi 16:5, 15–16; 20:14–16, 19, 22, 29; 21:1, 11–12, 22–28, where this topic is repeatedly declared. Compare Jeremiah 16:14–15, where the significance of the gathering as a sign of God’s power is emphasized. Note that Lehi was a younger, contemporary prophet in Jerusalem during Jeremiah’s ministry. Also, as described earlier in this paper and in note 10, the first teachings in the Book of Mormon about the gathering of Israel were delivered by Lehi.

26. See 3 Nephi 16:5, 17; 20:12, 25, 46; 21:7, 26–29; 22:1; 23:1–5, where this promise is taught.