Nephi and Jesus have many things in common as they teach the people, especially as Nephi seeks to emulate his Savior, whom he knows will appear to his people. Both Nephi and Jesus prophesy concerning the restoration of the house of Israel and God’s fulfilling his covenants with his people. Both speak of the Gentiles and their ministering role towards the house of Israel. Both rely on the words of Isaiah to describe Israel’s latter-day restoration. Both give keys for understanding Isaiah. And both teach the “doctrine of Christ.”
And yet, what is it that causes Nephi, immediately upon clarifying the doctrine of Christ, to lament, “I, Nephi, cannot say more; the Spirit stoppeth mine utterance, and I am left to mourn because of the unbelief, and the wickedness, and the ignorance, and the stiffneckedness of men; for they will not search knowledge, nor understand great knowledge, when it is given unto them in plainness, even as plain as word can be” (2 Nephi 32:7)? Is it because he realizes that so many of his audience, even the best of them, will go only so far in coming unto Christ and in the end not be “clasped in the arms of Jesus”? He adds, “Behold, there are many that harden their hearts against the Holy Spirit, that it hath no place in them; wherefore, they cast many things away which are written and esteem them as things of naught” (2 Nephi 33:2).
Note the difference in Nephi’s choice of words when speaking of the Gentiles compared with the house of Israel. He says, “I have charity for my people, and great faith in Christ that I shall meet many souls spotless at his judgment-seat. I have charity for the Jew—I say Jew, because I mean them from whence I came. I also have charity for the Gentiles. But behold, for none of these can I hope except they shall be reconciled unto Christ, and enter into the narrow gate, and walk in the straight path which leads to life, and continue in the path until the end of the day of probation” (2 Nephi 33:7–9).
Elsewhere, Nephi writes, “Wo be unto the Gentiles, saith the Lord God of Hosts! For notwithstanding I shall lengthen out mine arm unto them from day to day, they will deny me; nevertheless, I will be merciful unto them, saith the Lord God, if they will repent and come unto me” (2 Nephi 28:32).
Nephi again mentions this dichotomy in the Gentiles’ disposition when he tells his people, “I, Nephi, would not suffer that ye should suppose that ye are more righteous than the Gentiles shall be. For behold, except ye shall keep the commandments of God ye shall all likewise perish; and because of the words which have been spoken ye need not suppose that the Gentiles are utterly destroyed. For behold, I say unto you that as many of the Gentiles as will repent are the covenant people of the Lord; and as many of the Jews as will not repent shall be cast off” (2 Nephi 30:1–2).
From what Nephi has seen when viewing our day, therefore, it seems evident that we, “who are identified with the Gentiles” (D&C 109:60), are particularly vulnerable in the latter days to hardening our hearts, denying Christ, failing to search knowledge, and so forth. On the other hand, our choosing to repent can make us God’s covenant people as well as those of the house of Israel. For both Jew and Gentile, repentance of transgression thus forms an essential part of the doctrine of Christ. “The Father [has] said: Repent ye, repent ye, and be baptized in the name of my Beloved Son” (2 Nephi 31:11; cf. 3 Nephi 11:31–33, 37–38).
Nephi takes care to define the repentant soul as one who does what Jesus does, who “humbleth himself before the Father, and witnesseth unto the Father that he would be obedient unto him in keeping his commandments” by being baptized with water and receiving the Holy Ghost, for this “showeth unto the children of men the straightness of the path, and the narrowness of the gate, by which they should enter” (2 Nephi 31:7–9, 17–19).
Thus, as they “follow the Son with full purpose of heart, acting no hypocrisy and no deception before God, but with real intent, repenting of your sins, witnessing unto the Father that ye are willing to take upon you the name of Christ, by baptism . . . then cometh the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost; and then can ye speak with the tongue of angels, and shout praises unto the Holy One of Israel” (2 Nephi 31:13; cf. 3 Nephi 11:35). From that point on, as people “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 31:20).
In summing up the doctrine of Christ, Nephi makes three consecutive enigmatic statements: (1) “Feast upon the words of Christ; for behold, the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do” (2 Nephi 32:3); (2) “If ye will enter in by the way, and receive the Holy Ghost, it will show you all things what ye should do” (2 Nephi 32:5); and (3) “And when he [Christ] shall manifest himself unto you in the flesh, the things which he shall say unto you shall ye observe to do” (2 Nephi 32:6).
Implied in these statements is a spiritual progression that is cumulative from one phase to the next. First, if “angels” (Hebrew “messengers,” which includes prophets) “speak the words of Christ” (2 Nephi 32:2–3), then isn’t the way we may feast upon them to study the scriptures, in this instance the Book of Mormon? The word “feasting,” however, implies eating and relishing the whole meal, not just a part of it, and then leaving the table to go shopping.
Second, because the way to eternal life is an individual journey with our Savior, we must additionally learn to be personally guided by the Holy Ghost. Those whom Christ invites to his marriage supper, for example, are “they that are wise and have received the truth, and have taken the Holy Spirit for their guide, and have not been deceived” (D&C 45:57; cf. Matthew 25:1–13).
Lastly, Christ “manifests himself [to his people] in the flesh” when they do all he commands them. Just as he appeared to the righteous among the Nephites, so as he will again at his second coming. But he also appears to individuals who make sure their calling and election, at which point they receive further personal guidance directly from him.
A key Nephi gives towards achieving these ends, therefore, is to “ask” and “knock” and “pray” (2 Nephi 32:4, 8–9; cf. 3 Nephi 14:7; 27:29). Not to do so is to “perish in the dark” (2 Nephi 32:4). In the light of Nephi’s explaining these aspects of the doctrine of Christ, is it any wonder he laments that so few will perceive the significance of what he is saying?