When Alma exclaims, “O that I were an angel, and could have the wish of mine heart!” (Alma 29:1), he is not using empty words or engaging in wishful thinking. Engraving the gold plates was a difficult task and there was no room for recording frivolities. Having done all he could in preaching the gospel among his own people, Alma’s great desire now was to “go forth and speak with the trump of God, with a voice to shake the earth, and cry repentance to every people” (ibid.). He longed to “declare unto every soul, as with the voice of thunder, repentance and the plan of redemption, that they should repent and come unto our God, that there might not be more sorrow upon all the face of the earth” (Alma 29:2).
When we find what appears to be a scriptural anomaly like this, it helps to look for precedents or parallels that may throw light on it. We find one such precedent in Enoch, whom God empowered to preach to many nations and peoples, out of whom Enoch eventually gathered a “people of God” (Moses 6:32–34; 7:2–12). Over time, these converts became the city of Zion, which was “taken up into heaven” when its inhabitants were translated (Moses 7:18–21).
After Zion was thus caught up, however, “angels” came down and ministered to the children of men “bearing testimony of the Father and the Son” (Moses 7:23–27). At that time, “the holy Ghost fell on many; and they [too] were caught up by the powers of heaven into Zion” (Moses 7:27). But who do we suppose these “angels” were, who came down from heaven, if not those who had been taken up into heaven, who desired to minister to others as had been ministered to them?
A parallel example are the Three Nephites, whom Jesus blessed, who were translated and “caught up into heaven” and became “as the “angels of God” (3 Nephi 28:13, 30). To them, Jesus said, “Ye have desired the thing which John, my beloved, who was with me in my ministry, before that I was lifted up by the Jews, desired of me . . . Ye have desired that ye might bring the souls of men unto me, while the world shall stand” (3 Nephi 28:6, 9). Mormon says of the Three Nephites that “they shall minister unto all the scattered tribes of Israel, and unto all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people, and shall bring out of them unto Jesus many souls, that their desire may be fulfilled, and also because of the convincing power of God which is in them” (3 Nephi 28:29).
The Prophet Joseph Smith’s revelation concerning John the Beloved provides another clue of how Alma’s desire was not mere fanciful reverie but could, in fact, be fulfilled: “And the Lord said unto me: John, my beloved, what desirest thou? For if you shall ask what you will, it shall be granted unto you. And I said unto him: Lord, give unto me power over death, that I may live and bring souls unto thee. And the Lord said unto me: Verily, verily, I say unto thee, because thou desirest this thou shalt tarry until I come in my glory, and shalt prophesy before nations, kindreds, tongues and people” (D&C 7:1–3). Of John, the Lord also said, “I will make him as [a] flaming fire and a ministering angel; [and] he shall minister for those who shall be heirs of salvation who dwell on the earth” (D&C 7:6).
From these examples, we see that the Lord doesn’t take lightly the desires of his servants but rather fulfills them when they meet his conditions. To Nephi the son of Helaman, whom he empowered to a similar degree, the Lord said, “I will make thee mighty in word and in deed, in faith and in works; yea, even that all things shall be done unto thee according to thy word, for thou shalt not ask that which is contrary to my will” (Helaman 6:5).
Immediately after Alma expresses his desire be an angel to declare the gospel to every creature, he acknowledges that God “granteth unto men according to their desire” (Alma 29:4). To “desire that I were an angel, that I could speak unto the ends of the earth” (Alma 29:7), therefore, expresses Alma’s sincere feeling that he is now ready, or soon will be, to undertake an even greater work and to ascend to a new level in his spiritual ministry.
The prophet Isaiah, who teaches the fulness of the gospel around the concept of a “ladder to heaven,” identifies seven spiritual categories of beings, five ascending and two descending. As a person ascends a level on the ladder to heaven, he or she is reborn or recreated closer to the image and likeness of God. But if a person chooses to descend, he or she is “de-created” or dies to a portion of their former self. According to Isaiah, the highest spiritual level a person can attain on this earth is exemplified by “seraphim,” angels who minister in God’s presence but who may also minister on the earth. This level lies above that of making sure one’s calling and election and is identified as the “sealing power” or the “spirit and power of Elijah” (cf. Helaman 10:7; TPJS, 339).
By means of an ingenious literary structure, Isaiah reveals that he himself ultimately assumes the level of a seraph. In Hebrew, the word “seraph” means a “fiery burning one,” or, as the Lord calls John, a “flaming fire” (D&C 7:6). According to Isaiah, the mission of “seraphs” who minister on the earth is international in scope. In an end-time context, John’s hundred and forty-four thousand servants of God fulfill this ministering role. Their desire is to “bring as many as will come to the church of the Firstborn” out of all the nations on the earth (Revelation 7:3–4; D&C 77:11).
From these scriptural parallels, we may conclude that Alma knew precisely what he was wishing for and that there existed a real possibility the Lord would grant his desire. Three years later, when Alma mysteriously disappears from among the people, it is assumed he has been translated (Alma 45:18–19).
Were we to speculate about what became of Alma after his disappearance we might discover some interesting possibilities. What sorts of persons, for example, among all who have taught the gospel on the earth, would qualify as angels who “have the everlasting gospel to commit to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people” when the trump of God shall sound (see Revelation 7:1; D&C 77:8)? Rather than speculate about this, however, Alma’s concluding faith-filled words may say it all: “May God grant that it may be done according to my words, even as I have spoken. Amen” (Alma 29:17).