Chapter 3: The Tree of Eternal Life

The Lord said, “If there be a prophet among you, I the Lord will make myself known to him in a vision, and will speak unto him in a dream” (Numbers 12:6). He also said, “The prophet that hath a dream, let him tell a dream; and he that hath my word, let him speak my word faithfully” (Jeremiah 23:28). Certainly, the Lord made himself known to Lehi and Nephi, as both father and son saw him (1 Nephi 1:8–9; 2 Nephi 11:2). Their visions of the Tree of Life occurred after, and no doubt as a consequence of, their willing obedience to the Lord’s commandment to flee into the wilderness.

From other scriptures that mention the Tree of Life, we learn that those who are privileged to eat its fruit are “baptized unto repentance” (Alma 5:62), “nourish the word” of God (Alma 32:40), “[keep] his commandments” (Revelation 22:14), and “overcome” the world (Revelation 2:7; cf. D&C 63:47). These things correspond with the four tests the Lord’s people must pass in order to experience the joy of eating the fruit: (1) get on the path; (2) hold fast to the rod; (3) press forward through the mist; and (4) be unashamed of the testimony of Jesus (cf. 1 Nephi 8:9–33; 11:7–36; 15:21–36).

Nephi’s simple explanation of his father’s dream to Laman and Lemuel, however, wasn’t all he had to say on the subject. He gives a further key to the Tree of Life symbolism later on when preaching to his people, who, by that time, are established in the Promised Land.

He says, “The gate by which ye should enter is repentance and baptism by water; and then cometh a remission of your sins by fire and by the Holy Ghost. And then are ye in this strait and narrow path which leads to eternal life; yea, ye have entered in by the gate; ye have done according to the commandments of the Father and the Son; and ye have received the Holy Ghost, which witnesses of the Father and the Son, unto the fulfilling of the promise which he hath made, that if ye entered in by the way, ye should receive.

“And now, my beloved brethren, after ye have gotten into this strait and narrow path, I would ask if all is done? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; for ye have not come thus far save it were by the word of Christ with unshaken faith in him, relying wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save. Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life” (2 Nephi 31:17–20; cf. Jacob 6:11).

An analogous promise was given to Adam: “Ye must be born again into the kingdom of heaven, of water, and of the Spirit, and be cleansed by blood, even the blood of mine Only Begotten; that ye might be sanctified from all sin, and enjoy the words of eternal life in this world, and eternal life in the world to come, even immortal glory” (Moses 6:59).

Weston Lamplugh    Tree of Life

Weston Lamplugh Tree of Life

Partaking of the fruit of the Tree of Life (without afterwards falling away) is thus not only synonymous with gaining eternal life, it also implies exaltation. Perhaps for that reason “eternal life and exaltation” at times appear as conjoined ideas.

We know that by following the “first principles” of the gospel—faith in Jesus Christ, repentance, baptism for the remission of sins, and the gift of the Holy Ghost—we may be saved (Articles of Faith 3–4). But salvation from sin and from the Fall is not the same thing as eternal life and exaltation. To attain these, we must leave the first principles of the gospel and “go on unto perfection” (Hebrews 5:12; 6:1–2).

As Nephi defines eternal life, even at the point that we are worthy of salvation, all is not done, not until we exercise steadfastness in Christ, maintain a perfect brightness of hope, demonstrate a love of God and of all men, feast upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end (2 Nephi 31:20). Such an agenda becomes a personalized odyssey, which barely begins with Church membership.

In effect, what Nephi outlines is what celestial persons do, who, among other things, are distinguished from terrestrial ones by being “valiant in the testimony of Jesus” (D&C 76:79). Such persons are not ashamed to take Jesus’ name upon them. They are reconciled to the fact that they will receive opposition and persecution from the (telestial) people in the great and spacious building. They recognize that this very opposition enables them to “overcome all things” and become “just men made perfect through Jesus the mediator of the new covenant” (D&C 76:60, 69).

Honorable (terrestrial) persons, on the other hand, who do not attain a celestial glory in the eternal world are appointed “angels,” who “remain separately and singly, without exaltation, in their saved condition” (D&C 132:17). They have not comprehended that “strait is the gate, and narrow the way that leads unto the exaltation and continuation of the lives, and few there be that find it, because ye receive me not in the world, neither do ye know me” (D&C 132:22). They haven’t realized that to those who “come unto Christ,” who “receive him in the world,” and who “know” him, he reveals himself as the “Second Comforter,” which is the promise of “eternal life” and “exaltation,” even the “glory of the celestial kingdom” (John 17:3; 3 Nephi 9:14; D&C 88:4; 132:23–24). After having partaken of the fruit of the Tree of Life, only these will “live forever” in the fullest sense of the term (cf. Genesis 3:22).

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