3 Ne 28:2 We desire that after we have lived unto the age of man...that we may speedily come unto thee
The disciples didn't ask to go speedily to spirit paradise after death. They wished to return to their Master and Lord. They specifically requested to come unto thee in thy kingdom. We may fairly assume that the Lord does not currently reside in spirit paradise but rather in his rightful place on the right hand of the Father. This is where the nine disciples wanted to go.
Bruce R. McConkie
"We conclude from this that they desired to remain in paradise for but a short time, after which they would come forth in immortal glory and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of God, to go no more out. Jesus grants their request. 'Blessed are ye because ye desired this thing of me,' he said." (Mortal Messiah, book 4, p. 388)
3 Ne 28:3 after that ye are seventy and two years old
The disciples didn't specify the age at which they wished to die. Rather, they requested to live unto the age of man. The "age of man" was set by the Lord at seventy-two. Currently, the life expectancy for a man in the United States is 73.6 years, for a woman is 79.4 years. (1997 National Vital Statistics Reports, vol. 47, no. 28) Interestingly, the miracle of modern medicine has made the ideal "age of man" attainable for most.
Experts in human longevity and life expectancy have found that there are internal determinants of life expectancy. The rate at which DNA errors occur during cell division is fairly constant and has implications for the breakdown of cells and the development of cancer. Thus, even with the best set of genes, the best diet, and the best medicine, life cannot be extended much beyond the age of 100. The human body is just not designed to last much longer. One could argue that the Lord, as the premier scientist and physician, was well aware of the average rate of physical decay and therefore set the "age of man" appropriately.
For those who are alive when the Lord comes again, this age of seventy-two will again be significant. The righteous will not become glorified and resurrected beings immediately. Rather, they will grow to the age of seventy-two before this transformation will take place, he that liveth when the Lord shall come, and hath kept the faith, blessed is he; nevertheless, it is appointed to him to die at the age of man, Wherefore, children shall grow up until they become old; old men shall die; but they shall not sleep in the dust, but they shall be changed in the twinkling of an eye (DC 63:50-51, italics added).
3 Ne 28:5 they sorrowed in their hearts for they durst not speak
It's fascinating that these righteous disciples were afraid to tell Jesus what they wanted. They feared that their unusual request would be met with a reprimand. Yet, their desires were righteous, and, in fact, the Lord said they were more blessed because they desired to bring souls to Christ. How many times are we like these three Nephites? Do we fear to ask the Lord for unusual things? Are our prayers cut short because we dare not ask for what we really want?
This passage teaches us an important lesson. The Lord is interested in the desires of our hearts. Therefore, if our desires are righteous, he is not going to reprimand us, even if we ask for blessings which are unprecedented or unusual. We must remember that the Lord giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not (James 1:6).
3 Ne 28:6 ye have desired the thing which John, my beloved...desired of me
As recorded in Jn 21:21-23 and DC 7, John the Beloved was translated just like the three Nephites. Like John, the reason that their desires were granted was because they had great faith, And it was by faith that the three disciples obtained a promise that they should not taste of death; and they obtained not the promise until after their faith. (Ether 12:17)
"To these three Jesus gave a promise similar to that which he gave to John the Revelator--namely, that they should tarry in the flesh until he came. History informs us that the wicked tried to kill John in various ways, placing him, on one occasion, in a cauldron of boiling oil, but his life was preserved; and that finally, in the reign of Domitian Caesar, he was banished to the Isle of Patmos to work in the lead mines. While there he was blessed with visions, revelations, knowledge, light and truth, a portion of which we have recorded in what are called the Revelations of St. John. In the reign of Nerva John was recalled, and afterwards wrote his epistles. The first quorum of Apostles were all put to death, except John, and we are informed that he still remains on the earth, though his body has doubtless undergone some change. Three of the Nephites, chosen here by the Lord Jesus as his Apostles, had the same promise--that they should not taste death until Christ came, and they still remain on the earth in the flesh." (Journal of Discourses, 13:320)
3 Ne 28:8 ye shall never endure the pains of death; but...shall be changed in the twinkling of an eye
Bruce R. McConkie
"Will translated beings ever die?...note that Jesus promises the Three Nephites, not that they shall not die, but that they 'shall never taste of death' and shall not 'endure the pains of death.' Again it is an enigmatic declaration with a hidden meaning. There is a distinction between death as we know it and tasting of death or enduring the pains of death. As a matter of doctrine, death is universal; every mortal thing, whether plant or animal or man, shall surely die. Jacob said: 'Death hath passed upon all men, to fulfil the merciful plan of the great Creator.' (2 Ne. 9:6.) There are no exceptions, not even among translated beings. Paul said: 'As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.' (1 Cor. 15:22.) Again the dominion of death over all is acclaimed. But the Lord says of all his saints, not that they will not die, but that 'those that die in me shall not taste of death, for it shall be sweet unto them; And they that die not in me, wo unto them, for their death is bitter.' (D&C 42:46-47.) The distinction is between dying as such and tasting of death itself. Again the Lord says: 'He that liveth when the Lord shall come, and hath kept the faith, blessed is he; nevertheless, it is appointed to him to die at the age of man. Wherefore, children shall grow up until they become old; old men shall die; but they shall not sleep in the dust, but they shall be changed in the twinkling of an eye.' (D&C 63:50-51.) Thus, this change from mortality to immortality, though almost instantaneous, is both a death and a resurrection. Thus, translated beings do not suffer death as we normally define it, meaning the separation of body and spirit; nor do they receive a resurrection as we ordinarily describe it, meaning that the body rises from the dust and the spirit enters again into its fleshly home. But they do pass through death and are changed from mortality to immortality, in the eternal sense, and they thus both die and are resurrected in the eternal sense. This, we might add, is why Paul wrote: 'Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.' (1 Cor. 15:51-52.)" (The Mortal Messiah, book 4, p. 389)
3 Ne 28:9 ye have desired that ye might bring the souls of men unto me
God's very purpose is to bring the souls of men unto him. This is his work and glory (Moses 1:39). When the three Nephites desire to bring the souls of men unto Christ, theirs is the ultimate, righteous desire. Their desires had become like the Father and the Son-they had become one with God. Hence, the Savior tells them, ye shall be even as I am (v. 10). The message to all of us is the same, the thing which will be of the most worth unto you will be to declare repentance unto this people, that you may bring souls unto me, that you may rest with them in the kingdom of my Father. Amen' (DC 15:6).
"President Hinckley remarks that when people asked Joseph Smith what would be the most important thing they could do, the answer was repeatedly to share the word of the Lord with others. He recounts the story of Dan Jones, a Welsh convert to the Church who was with Joseph Smith on the night before the prophet was murdered. Joseph Smith prophesied at that time that Jones would see Wales again before he died. Fulfilling the prophecy, Jones returned to Wales and brought thousands of new converts to the Church. President Hinckley urges the members to follow Jones' example and 'set about to bring the souls of our families, neighbors, friends, and associates unto the Lord.' (Ensign, September 1993, Page 2)" (Hinckley Citations from the Ensign, "The Thing of Most Worth")
3 Ne 28:10 your joy shall be full, even as the Father hath given me fulness of joy
Neal A. Maxwell
"The Father and Son desire to share even further their joy with us. 'For this cause ye shall have fulness of joy; and ye shall sit down in the kingdom of my Father; yea, your joy shall be full, even as the Father hath given me fulness of joy; and ye shall be even as I am.' (3 Nephi 28:10.) Our share in such joy is wholly different from the fleeting satisfactions of the world that come from satisfaction for a season in 'the works of men.' Even when sincere and significant, those satisfactions only last 'for a season,' for He who has known full and true joy has so said. (3 Nephi 27:11.)
"How blessed we are, therefore, to experience such gospel gladness, as when, meekly, we come to know what Paul called 'the deep things of God' (1 Corinthians 2:10)...These transcending truths do bring us a stunning perspective, a 'knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come.' (D&C 93:24.)" (Meek And Lowly, p. 46)
3 Ne 28:11 the Father giveth the Holy Ghost unto the children of men, because of me
Bruce C. Hafen
"Those who have not embraced the covenants of the doctrine of Christ are not entitled to this continuous and permanent healing influence in their lives, even though at times their prayers may be answered and special blessings given to them. This is the primary difference between having the gift of the Holy Ghost and being touched temporarily by its influence for some particular purpose. That holy gift is a result of the Atonement:
'The Father giveth the Holy Ghost unto the children of men, because of me,' the Savior said. (3 Nephi 28:11.) This gift is available to all who forsake their sins and embrace the gospel, thereby entering the gate that enables not only forgiveness but also all the blessings of belonging to Christ." (The Belonging Heart, p. 153)
3 Ne 28:13 they were caught up into heaven, and saw and heard unspeakable things
Mormon later clarifies that only the three Nephites who were caught up on this particular occasion (see v. 36). Their experience was almost identical to that of the Apostle Paul, who wrote of himself saying:
'I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) such an one caught up to the third heaven.
And I knew such a man, (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;)
How that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter' (2 Cor 12:2-4).
Well, what are these unspeakable things? Can we ever know what was so sacred that it was not lawful for man to utter? We receive a clue from an experience of the prophet, Joseph, who stated that the "occasion was the administration of the ordinances of the endowment" (Heading, DC 137).
They then had an experience like that of Paul and the three Nephites. In this account, the Prophet described the appearance of 'the third heaven,' saying:
'The heavens were opened upon us, and I beheld the celestial kingdom of God, and the glory thereof, whether in the body or out I cannot tell.
I saw the transcendent beauty of the gate through which the heirs of that kingdom will enter, which was like unto circling flames of fire;
Also the blazing throne of God, whereon was seated the Father and the Son. I saw the beautiful streets of that kingdom, which had the appearance of being paved with gold.
I saw Father Adam and Abraham' (DC 137:1-5).
Certainly, the three Nephites were privileged to see the same.
Franklin D. Richards
"They wanted to tarry until Jesus came, and that they might, He took them into the heavens and endowed them with the power of translation, probably in one of Enoch's temples, and brought them back to the earth. Thus they received power to live until the coming of the Son of Man. I believe He took them to Enoch's city and gave them their endowments there. I expect that in the city of Enoch there are temples; and when Enoch and his people come back, they will come back with their city, their temples, blessings and powers." (Journal of Discourses, 25:236-37.)
3 Ne 28:15 whether they were in the body or out of the body, they could not tell
Whenever the scriptures describe this transitional state, which is almost an "out of body experience," they are describing what it is like to be transfigured. Transfiguration is a change wrought upon a mortal to enable him to temporarily withstand the presence of God and to behold the glory of heaven. Without a temporary change, no human can withstand the presence of the Almighty. As Moses said, my natural eyes could not have beheld; for I should have withered and died in his presence (Moses 1:11). This is what happened to Moses, to Paul (2 Cor 12:2-4), to Jesus, Peter, James, and John (Matt 17:31-9), to Joseph Smith (JS-Hist 1:17, DC 137:1), to the three Nephites and others.
3 Nephi 28:15 What is the difference between being transfigured and being translated?
This verse can be confusing because the three Nephites were both transfigured and translated. They were transfigured when they were caught up into heaven and heard unspeakable things, and they were translated when a change was wrought upon their bodies whereby they would remain on the earth to bring souls to Christ. Jeffrey R. Holland said, "A person who is transfigured is one who is temporarily taken into a higher, heavenly experience, as were Peter, James, and John, and then returned to a normal telestial status." (Christ and the New Covenant, p. 306)
Translation is the process by which a mortal body of the telestial order is changed to a mortal body of the terrestrial order. The word "mortal" in this sense, means a being whose body and spirit have not been permanently united by the resurrection. (See commentary for verse 8). Richard Cowan succinctly stated, "We are telestial mortals, translated beings are terrestrial mortals, while exalted resurrected beings are celestial immortals." (Alma, The Testimony of the Word, pp. 201-2 as taken from Latter-day Commentary on the Book of Mormon compiled by K. Douglas Bassett, p. 464)
We can learn a lot about translated beings from descriptions of the three Nephites:
- They, like John the Revelator, will 'never taste of death'
- They will 'be changed in the twinkling of an eye from mortality to immortality' (This reaffirms that a translated being is still "mortal," for the change from mortality to immortality occurs at the Second Coming, see v. 8)
- They would experience no pain while they dwelt in the flesh,
- Translated beings have knowledge and wisdom given unto them that exceed human perspective.
- Wicked or evil men and women have no power over them.
- They are as angels, administering to whomsoever they will
- Satan can 'have no power over them'
- They were sanctified in the flesh that they were holy (v. 39).
- They belong to a terrestrial order.
- They were to remain in this translated state until the 'judgment day of Christ,' or in the words of the Savior until 'I shall come in my glory with the powers of heaven'" (adapted from Clyde J. Williams, Book of Mormon Symposium Series, 3 Nephi 9-30, edited by PR Cheesman, MS Nyman, and CD Tate, Jr., 1988, p. 241-7)
"Now the doctrine of translation is a power which belongs to this Priesthood. There are many things which belong to the powers of the Priesthood and the keys thereof, that have been kept hid from before the foundation of the world; they are hid from the wise and prudent to be revealed in the last times.
"Many have supposed that the doctrine of translation was a doctrine whereby men were taken immediately into the presence of God, and into an eternal fullness, but his is a mistaken idea. Their place of habitation is that of the terrestrial order, and a place prepared for such characters He held in reserve to be ministering angels unto many planets, and who as yet have not entered into so great a fullness as those who are resurrected from the dead. 'Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection.' (See Hebrews 11:35.)
"Now it was evident that there was a better resurrection, or else God would not have revealed it unto Paul. Wherein then, can it be said a better resurrection. This distinction is made between the doctrine of the actual resurrection and translation: translation obtains deliverance from the tortures and sufferings of the body, but their existence will prolong as to the labors and toils of the ministry, before they can enter into so great a rest and glory." (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 170-1)
3 Ne 28:21-22 they were cast into a furnace and...into a den of wild beasts
The Savior was careful to give the Nephites important scriptures which were not contained in the brass plates. He even performed many of the same miracles he had performed in Jerusalem. The Nephites were not to have an inferior or incomplete scriptural record. Interestingly, the Lord never said anything about the record of Daniel even though this record was not part of the brass plates of Laban. However, in this brief passage, we learn that the Nephites had their own story of "Daniel and the lion's den." The only difference was that it was titled, "The three Nephites and the den of wild beasts." Furthermore, the Nephites lacked the story of "Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego," but they had their own story of three righteous men cast into a furnace without receiving any harm (Dan 3:12-25; 6:10-24). Thus, the New World scriptures lacked nothing compared to the Old World counterpart. Nor did the spiritual heroics of these men pale in comparison to Old World prophets.
3 Ne 28:27 they will be among the Gentiles, and the Gentiles shall know them not
We know that the three Nephites will minister both among the Gentiles and to the House of Israel. That they are alive today-working miracles on behalf of the Lord and performing great and marvelous works (v. 31)-is a sobering thought. Indeed, this is the stuff that legends are made of. It is also the stuff that rumors and Mormon "urban legends" are made of. Who hasn't heard a story about how one of the three Nephites appeared to someone in our day? Unfortunately, most of these stories are highly suspect. One example is given:
"The 'Nephites on the Mesa' [story] has also been around for at least thirty years. Supposedly some good members driving to conference are stopped in the desert between Las Vegas and St. George by a man dressed in black. The stranger warns the members to accomplish some spiritual goal (food storage, genealogy, and so on) by a certain date because something apocalyptic is about to happen. The man in black then asks to be let out, and as the car drives away, he vanishes from sight. Obviously, he was one of the Three Nephites. Less obvious is why these instructions for the Church didn't come through the proper channels...Once again-the Lord does not govern his people by rumor." (Stephen R. Robinson, Following Christ, p. 107-8)
So we should not expect the three Nephites to appear to us and tell us to move to Missouri. That is not their calling and ministry. They have been doing greater and more magnificent things for the Lord even throughout the Great Apostasy.
Joseph Fielding Smith
"It is reasonable to believe that they were engaged in this work as far as the Lord permitted them to go during these years of spiritual darkness (the Great Apostasy). There are legends and stories which seem to be authentic, showing that these holy messengers were busy among the nations of the earth, and men have been entertained by them unawares. We may also well believe that these translated prophets have always been busy keeping constraint upon the acts of men and nations unbeknown to mortal man.
"Translated beings have not passed through death; that is, they have not had the separation of the spirit and the body. This must wait until the coming of the Savior. In the meantime they are busy fulfilling their glorious mission in preparing the way for the elders of Israel to go forth with the message of salvation in all parts of the world." (Answers to Gospel Questions, vol. 2, p. 46)
Elder John W. Taylor
"...in a little while you will find another prophecy will be fulfilled, and that is the prophecy that Jesus made to the three Nephites who, having power over death, are still living upon this continent. He spoke to them of a time when they would perform a great and mighty work among the Gentiles; and that has not yet been fulfilled, but it will be. You will find that many districts where the Elders of Israel cannot reach will be penetrated by these men who have power over death...My testimony is that these men are going abroad in the nations of the earth before the face of your sons, and they are preparing the hearts of the children of men to receive the Gospel. They are administering to those who are heirs of salvation, and preparing their hearts to receive the truth, just as the farmer prepares the soil to receive the seed. The Lord has promised that He would send his angels before the face of His servants, and His does so." (Conference Report, Oct. 1902, p. 75 as taken from Latter-day Commentary on the Book of Mormon compiled by K. Douglas Bassett, p. 463)
3 Ne 28:30 they can show themselves unto whatsoever man it seemeth them good
"They have the power to show themselves to whomsoever they desire. And the converse is true. They can keep themselves from being seen by anyone they do not want to see them. The only stipulation required for them to show themselves is that they must pray to the Father in the name of Jesus for that power.
"Mormon declares, 'they are as the angels of God' (3 Nephi 28:30). This would seem to mean that travel and distances are of no consequence to them. We would suppose that walls and other mortal barriers are also insignificant. Because of their extraordinary powers and the prophetic words of the Savior himself, which we do not yet possess, Mormon prophesied that 'great and marvelous works shall be wrought by them, before the great and coming day' of the Lord (v 31)." (Clyde J. Williams, Book of Mormon Symposium Series, 3 Nephi 9-30, edited by PR Cheesman, MS Nyman, and CD Tate, Jr., 1988, p. 246)
3 Ne 28:34 wo be unto him that will not hearken unto...them whom he hath chosen
Russell M. Nelson
"The question is one of faith. Either one has the faith to hear and obey the word of God and accept it as such, or one does not. 'Without faith it is impossible to please him.' (Hebrews 11:6.) Note these words of Mormon: 'Wo be unto him that will not hearken unto the words of Jesus, and also to them whom he hath chosen and sent among them; for whoso receiveth not the words of Jesus and the words of those whom he hath sent receiveth not him; and therefore he will not receive them at the last day; and it would be better for them if they had not been born.' (3 Nephi 28:34-35.)
"Many have difficulty accepting the word of God because it comes from their contemporaries-their neighborhood bishops and local leaders who seem to be just ordinary men. Even the prophets of God are just ordinary men, but with extraordinary callings to communicate divine doctrine. We must have the faith to know that 'his word [we] shall receive, as if from [his] own mouth, in all patience and faith.' (D&C 21:5.)" (The Power Within Us, p. 54)
3 Ne 28:37 since I wrote, I have inquired of the Lord
Prophets are not taught differently than the rest of us. They learn 'precept upon precept; line upon line...here a little, and there a little' (Isa 28:10). The difference is a matter of speed, for the time interval between each precept is much shorter. Prophets are more adept at drinking living water from a fire hydrant because they have faster spiritual digestive systems. Nevertheless, the process is the same.
Accordingly, the prophet Mormon learned spiritual truths like everyone else-through the spirit of prophecy and revelation-after fervent prayer. Hereby, he learned the nature of translated beings. His prophetic progress is much like that of Alma who at first did not know the state of the soul between death and resurrection. His diligent inquiry gave us one of the greatest commentaries available on the spirit world (see Alma 40:3-26).
Jeffrey R. Holland
"As noted above, these three Nephites, as part of their translation experience, were also transfigured, caught up into heaven, where they 'saw and heard unspeakable things. And it was forbidden them that they should utter; neither was it given unto them power that they could utter the things which they saw and heard.' (vs. 13-14)
"This circumstance and promise was so new to Mormon, who was reading and writing it nearly 400 years after it happened, that he did not initially know whether the three 'were in the body or out of the body' during such a heavenly experience, or whether they had moved permanently beyond mortality into immortality.
"So moved was Mormon by this promise and the account of their deeds that he inquired of the Lord about their state. In reply, the Lord informed him that translated beings were still mortal but that a special change, more permanent than transfiguration, was 'wrought upon their bodies, that they might not suffer pain nor sorrow save it were for the sins of the world...insomuch that Satan could have no power over them, that he could not tempt them; and they were sanctified in the flesh, that they were holy, and that the powers of the earth could not hold them.' (vs. 37-39)
"This terrestrial condition, however, was not to be their final state, for when Christ came they would move from mortality to immortality in an instantaneous, deathlike transition." (Christ And The New Covenant, p. 306 - 307)
3 Ne 28:39 Satan could have no power over them
Satan can only tempt those whom the Lord permits him to tempt (see Job 1-2). He is not allowed to tempt those who belong to a terrestrial order which includes all those who have been translated. Presumably, those of the city of Enoch were thus protected as were Elijah and Moses after they were translated. This is why Satan must be cast out during the Millenium, for the earth will be a terrestrial kingdom for those 1000 years, and Satan just doesn't belong to that order, not even as a devil.