Although Alma, in Alma 13, describes in some detail what is involved in order to enter into the “rest of the Lord,” he first mentions this concept by way of a revelation in Alma 12. He says, “Whosoever repenteth, and hardeneth not his heart, he shall have claim on mercy through mine Only Begotten Son, unto a remission of his sins; and these shall enter into my rest. And whosoever will harden his heart and will do iniquity, behold, I swear in my wrath that he shall not enter into my rest” (Alma 12:34–35).
The idea of “hardening” or “not hardening” the heart continues a theme Alma had preached earlier in this chapter, in which he identified hardening the heart with receiving a “lesser portion” of God’s word and not hardening the heart with receiving a “greater portion” (Alma 12:9–11). From Alma’s parallel usage, we can thus conclude that a person’s receiving the greater portion of God’s word will ultimately lead to his or her entering into the “rest of the Lord.”
The idea of entering the Lord’s “rest” first appears in the scriptures in Psalm 95, referring to what happened during the Israelites’ wandering in the wilderness: “Today, if ye will hear his voice, harden not your heart, as in the provocation, as in the temptation in the wilderness, when your fathers tempted me, proved me, and saw my work. Forty years long was I grieved with this generation, and said, It is a people that do err in their heart, and they have not known my ways, unto whom I swore in my wrath that they should not enter into my rest” (Psalms 95:7–11; cf. Hebrews 3:7–19).
The Israelites had provoked the Lord by complaining that he had brought them out of the land of Egypt to kill them in the wilderness from hunger and thirst (Exodus 16:1–17:7). They provoked him again as they neared the Promised Land and were afraid to enter, conspiring instead to return into Egypt (Numbers 14:1–4). The Lord then swore in his wrath that they would wander forty years in the wilderness and die there, and that their little ones, whom they complained would die in the wilderness, would possess the land (Numbers 14:5–37).
The implication here is that entering into the “rest of the Lord” is synonymous with entering the Promised Land. Elsewhere the Lord’s “rest” is identified with Zion, a place in the Promised Land designated as the Lord’s dwelling place (Psalms 132:13–14).
D&C 84 also recalls the Israelites’ provocation of the Lord in the wilderness: “This greater priesthood administereth the gospel and holdeth the key of the mysteries of the kingdom, even the key of the knowledge of God . . . For without this no man can see the face of God, even the Father, and live. Now this Moses plainly taught to the children of Israel in the wilderness, and sought diligently to sanctify his people that they might behold the face of God; But they hardened their hearts and could not endure his presence; therefore, the Lord in his wrath, for his anger was kindled against them, swore that they should not enter into his rest while in the wilderness, which rest is the fulness of his glory” (D&C 84:19, 22–24; cf. Exodus 19:1–20:19).
In the light of this latter-day revelation, Zion and the Promised Land appear as metaphors of the “fulness of his glory.” This is also evident from the experience of Moses, who saw the glory of God, but not all (Exodus 33:18–23), for “no man can behold all my glory, and afterwards remain in the flesh on the earth” (Moses 1:2, 5). Still, looking forward to the earth’s terrestrialization in the Millennium—and beyond that to its celestialization—the Lord said to Moses, “As truly as I live, all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord” (Numbers 14:21). To this, Paul adds the idea of a future Sabbath day of rest for God’s people who have performed good works and not hardened their hearts in unbelief (Hebrews 4:1–11).
Many of these conjoined concepts thus come together in the Millennium, the earth’s paradisiacal seventh day of rest, when Zion will be established and the Lord reigns among his people. Others pertain to a phase beyond the Millennium.
Alma teaches that persons who enter into the rest of the Lord are those who don’t harden their hearts but humble themselves before God. They receive his word with joy, bring forth fruit meet for repentance, receive a remission of their sins, watch and pray continually, perform works of righteousness, have faith in the Lord, call upon his holy name, are sanctified by the Holy Ghost, have their garments made white by the blood of the Lamb, are pure and spotless before God, cannot look upon sin except with abhorrence, have a hope of eternal life, have the love of God always in their hearts, are humble, meek, and submissive, are patient and full of love and all long-suffering, are led by the Holy Spirit, are called with a holy calling, are ordained with a holy ordinance, exercise mighty faith, are ordained to the high priesthood of the holy order of God, preach repentance, teach his commandments, and establish peace (Alma 13:6–13, 16–19, 28–29; 16:17).
According to Alma, persons who don’t enter into the rest of the Lord are those who harden their hearts, are unbelieving, procrastinate the day of their repentance, are hardened against the word of God, don’t continually watch and pray, are tempted beyond what they can bear, are bound by the chains of hell, provoke the Lord, bring down his wrath upon them as did the ancient Israelites, suffer everlasting destruction, and die the second death (Alma 12:35–36; 13:27, 30; 16:17).
On this subject, Paul taught that God’s works were “finished [also ‘decided,’ or ‘determined’] from [before] the foundation of the world” (Hebrews 4:3). In other words, God’s plan from before the creation of this earth was that his people would ultimately enter into his rest: “That which was ordained in the midst of the Council of the Eternal God of all other gods before this world was, that should be reserved unto the finishing and end thereof, when every man shall enter into his eternal presence and into his immortal rest” (D&C 121:32). While there are many considerations that influence whether or not we will enter into the rest of the Lord, the chief determining factor is whether or not we will harden our hearts or repent (Alma 12:10–11, 13, 33, 35–37; 13:4–5; 16:17; cf. D&C 84:24).
See Chapter 23, “A Lesser and Greater Portion.”