As always, use the Official Gospel Doctrine Manual in your preparation, these ideas are supplemental.
3 Nephi 8
3 – “the people began to look with great earnestness” Samuel the Lamanite gave the faithful something rare, which was a prophecy with a timetable. Back in Helaman 14:2, Samuel the Lamanite said “Five years more cometh … then cometh the Son of God,” and evidently, the faithful were keeping track and watching for the Savior’s birth. These verses imply that Samuel also gave them a timetable for the Savior’s death, after mentioning how many years had passed, “the thirty and third year had passed away” (3 Nephi 8:2), the people began to look with “great earnestness,” as if they knew it was close.
5 – “Thirty and fourth year … first month … fourth day” Dr. Daniel H. Ludlow has written:
The New Testament account of the crucifixion of Christ would seem to indicate that the Savior was crucified the very week he became thirty-three years of age. The Book of Mormon not only substantiates this account, but also provides us with an exact date of the crucifixion. According to the Nephite calendar system, the Savior was crucified “in the thirty and fourth year, in the first month, on the fourth day of the month.” (3 Nephi 8:5.) Although we are not certain when the first month of the Nephite calendar would occur, if the Nephites were using the same calendar system as the Hebrews, the first month would be in the spring of the year sometime between about the middle of March and the middle of April. (Daniel H. Ludlow, A Companion to Your Study of the Book of Mormon, 258.)
8-10 – “storm … tempest … thunder … lightnings” It is as if the Lord is preaching through the instrument of nature. In a prophecy regarding the Savior’s Second Coming, D&C 88:88-90 says:
And after your testimony cometh wrath and indignation upon the people. For after your testimony cometh the testimony of earthquakes, that shall cause groanings in the midst of her, and men shall fall upon the ground and shall not be able to stand. And also cometh the testimony of the voice of thunderings, and the voice of lightnings, and the voice of tempests, and the voice of the waves of the sea heaving themselves beyond their bounds.
13 – “highways were broken up” I cannot resist mentioning that this scripture reminds Utah residents of the perpetual I-15 freeway construction projects.
19 – “For about the space of three hours” These upheavals of nature correspond with another three hours on the other side of the world referenced by footnote to Luke 23:44-45:
44 And it was about the sixth hour, and there was a darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour. And the sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was rent in the midst. And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost.
20-23 – “Thick darkness” Just as light prevailed when the Light of the World was born, darkness prevailed when Jesus was crucified. However, it wasn’t an ordinary type of darkness, we might call it “extreme darkness,” since the people could “feel the vapor” of darkness. Alvin K. Benson has wondered if a volcanic eruption might have been one of nature’s testimonies of Jesus’ death:
If volcanic eruptions lasted for several hours, as indicated in 3 Nephi 8, an enormous amount of ash would have been discharged into the atmosphere. The ash from a volcano can rise to great heights (many thousands of feet) and then spread out in the stratosphere to cover a large region with an impenetrable cloud of dust ….Volcanic ash, smoke, and gases, along with dust and debris rising into the air from a large earthquake, could have produced the “vapor of darkness” spoken of in 3 Nephi 8:20 and 10:13. Professor Hugh Nibley also suggests that the vapor of darkness may have resulted from volcanic activity (267). Furthermore, volcanic ash and lava can be carried up to bury cities … and Nephi records that the earth was carried up on the city Moronihah (3 Nephi 8:10) and not down, as one would expect in a landslide. (Monte S. Nyman and Charles D. Tate, Jr., eds., Third Nephi 9-30: This Is My Gospel [BYU Religious Studies Center, 1993], 64.)
Critics of the Book of Mormon have wondered how there can be darkness over only one area of the world. A volcanic event can help explain this phenomenon. Also, notice the footnote to Ex 10:21, where there is darkness over only Egypt for three days.
24 – “O that we had repented before this great and terrible day” These exact words were foretold in the prophecy of Samuel the Lamanite, Hel 13:33. Another encouragement from the scriptures to avoid “[procrastinating] the day of our repentance” (Alma 34:33).
3 Nephi 9
1 – “a voice heard among all the inhabitants” The Savior doesn’t appear personally until 3 Nephi 11, but the people heard his voice beginning here in 3 Nephi 9.
2 – “Wo, wo, wo” having three “wos” in a row is a rare event in the scriptures. It only appears twice elsewhere in the standard works in 2 Nephi 28:15 and D&C 38:6. Since some ancient languages didn’t have words for “good, better, best,” repeating a word three times represents the superlative usage, the maximum. (For example, Isaiah 6 and 2 Nephi 16 describe the seraphim surrounding God’s throne crying “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts.”) One “wo” is more common such as 2 Nephi 9:30, two “wos” in Jacob 3:3, 1 Nephi 1:13, and Mosiah 3:12. (One could also argue that “endless wo” is the maximum, since “endless” is impossible to count in Helaman 5, 7 and Alma 28). (A humorous note: remember the heartbreaking ballad, “Feelings…wo, wo, wo, feelings”? – that guy had a lot of feelings).
2 – “the devil laugheth” The scriptures depict the devil laughing here in this verse and in Moses 7:26. We have no account of the Savior laughing in the scriptures, but we do have him smiling in 3 Nephi 19:25, 30.
3-12 – “have I burned with fire” Watch closely for the pronouns, especially “I” in the next nine verses. It would be unwise to claim that all natural disasters caused are by God as a penalty for wickedness, but notice how he claims responsibility for all of these! Verses 1-12 strongly depict a God of Justice.
9 – “Above all the wickedness of the whole earth” While murder is a serious sin, murder carried out on a massive scale by secret combinations and secret murders constitutes wickedness “above all…of the whole earth.”
10 – “casting out the prophets” The wickedness of the cities mentioned in verse ten is rejecting and stoning the prophets. We learn that God will hold the world accountable for how they treat his servants.
13 – “all ye that are spared” Why were these people still alive? Why were they still standing? Because they were “more righteous” than those who were destroyed. These destructions for some, and protections for others were definitely “conditional,” being conditioned on righteousness. I believe that God loves everyone with a perfect love, but he is able to do more for those who will “have him to be their God” (1 Nephi 17:40).
13 – “repent of your sins, and be converted, that I may heal you” Now the God of Mercy is speaking and extending an invitation of healing. Clearly, these people were not perfect, because they were invited to repent, but they were “more righteous” than those who were destroyed. Jesus as a resurrected being does not go among the wicked as he did in mortality. We notice that he did not go personally among the wicked in the Spirit World but he organized the work (see D&C 138:20-22).
19-20 – “no more the shedding of blood” It is interesting to note the urgency of this new commandment. Before the Savior appeared in person, he told them through a voice of revelation that animal sacrifice was to cease, and be replaced by a “broken heart” and “contrite spirit.” In other words, rather than bringing an animal to the altar, we bring ourselves to the sacrament table – we are the sacrifice, offering a “broken heart,” or a heart that is submissive to its master, and a contrite or repentant spirit.
3 Nephi 10
4 – “how oft have I gathered you” The scriptures and the history of God’s people is a series of gatherings and scatterings. Here the Savior uses past tense “how oft have I gathered you.”
5 – “how oft would I have gathered you … and ye would not” In verse 5 the Lord remembers the times that he would have gathered Israel, but they “would not.” The Lord respects the agency of individuals and groups, and will force no one to heaven.
6 – “how oft will I gather you” This is a future promise of forgiveness to those who will return and repent.
14 – “Fulfilling of the prophecies” Another reminder to the reader that prophecies are fulfilled, which should give us hope for the future.
18 – “in the ending of the thirty and fourth year” Evidently, Jesus did not appear to the righteous Nephites and Lamanites immediately after his resurrection, but some number of months later.
19 – “showing his body unto them” A personal appearance would prove the resurrection, and would show the physical, tangible nature of a resurrected being.
3 Nephi 11
Superscription: “Jesus did show himself unto the people…” The words in this italicized paragraph actually appeared on the plates, except for the last line, “Comprising chapters 11 to 26 inclusive.”
3 – “not a harsh voice” note the nature of the voice; a similar description appears in Helaman 5:30. President Boyd K. Packer described the difficulties in describing the Spirit:
These delicate, refined spiritual communications are not seen with our eyes nor heard with our ears. And even though it is described as a voice, it is a voice that one feels more than one hears. Once I came to understand this, one verse in the Book of Mormon took on a profound meaning and my testimony of the book increased immeasurably. It had to do with Laman and Lemuel, who rebelled against Nephi. Nephi rebuked them and said, “Ye have seen an angel, and he spake unto you; yea, ye have heard his voice from time to time; and he hath spoken unto you in a still small voice, but ye were past feeling, that ye could not feel his words.” (1 Nephi 17:45; italics added.) (Boyd K. Packer, That All May Be Edified, 336.)
5 – “they did … open their ears to hear it” Clearly, there was something they had to do to be open to the communication from God. We are reminded of the story of Amulek who said “I was called many times and I would note hear” (Alma 10:6).
7 – “Behold my Beloved Son” This is one of the few instances in which we hear the voice of the father – others, like the baptism of Jesus, the Mount of Transfiguration and the First Vision are footnoted.
11 – “I have suffered the will of the Father” One of the first things the Savior wishes us to know about himself is that he was obedient to his father. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland commented:
He speaks and says simply, with a voice that penetrates the very marrow of your bones, “I am Jesus Christ, whom the prophets testified shall come into the world” (3 Nephi 11:10). There it is—or, more correctly speaking, there he is! He is the focal point and principal figure behind every fireside and devotional and family home evening held by those Nephites for the last six hundred years, and by their Israelite forefathers for thousands of years before that. Everyone has talked of him and sung of him and dreamed of him and prayed—but here he actually is. This is the day, and yours is the generation. What a moment! But you find you are less inclined to check the film in your camera than you are to check the faith in your heart. “I am Jesus Christ, whom the prophets testified shall come into the world.” Of all the messages that could come from the scroll of eternity, what has he brought to us? Get a pencil. Where’s my notebook? Turn on every tape recorder in town …. In an initial and profound moment of spellbinding wonder, when surely he had the attention of every man, woman, and child as far as the eye could see, his submission to his father is the first and most important thing he wishes us to know about himself. (Read the entire address, “The Will of the Father”)
15 – “going forth one by one” Here we are taught how the Savior values each individual. Note that we are baptized “one by one,” receive temple blessings “one by one,” and partake of the sacrament “one by one.” Imagine the length of this procession! With the multitude numbering 2500, if each person took ten seconds with the Savior, it would amount to nearly seven hours of time! (6.94 hours). If each person took 15 seconds, it would take ten hours. Aside from the time it would take, imagine the impact on the society of 2500 personal witnesses of the resurrection.
14-17 – “feel the prints of the nails in my hands” Although the Savior is resurrected, his wounds remain. Why would that be? Perhaps in order to fulfill the prophecy in Zechariah 13:6, where Jesus will be asked, “what are these wounds in thine hands?” The Savior will answer, “those with which I was wounded in the house of my friends.” Additionally, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland taught:
Jesus has chosen, even in a resurrected, otherwise perfected body, to retain for the benefit of His disciples the wounds in His hands and in His feet and in His side—signs, if you will, that painful things happen even to the pure and the perfect; signs, if you will, that pain in this world is not evidence that God doesn’t love you; signs, if you will, that problems pass and happiness can be ours. Remind others that it is the wounded Christ who is the Captain of our souls, He who yet bears the scars of our forgiveness, the lesions of His love and humility, the torn flesh of obedience and sacrifice. “These wounds are the principal way we are to recognize Him when He comes. He may invite us forward, as He has invited others, to see and to feel those marks. If not before, then surely at that time, we will remember with Isaiah that it was for us that a God was ‘despised and rejected . . . ; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief,’ that ‘he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed’ (Isa. 53:3, 5)” (“Teaching, Preaching, Healing,” Ensign, Jan 2003, 42).
17 – “Hosanna” “The word Hosanna is a transliteration of a Hebrew word of supplication which means in essence ‘Oh, grant salvation.’ Evidently the people were asking the Savior to teach them the way to salvation; thus it is not surprising that he immediately teaches them the basic principles and ordinances of the gospel” (Daniel H. Ludlow, A Companion to Your Study of the Book of Mormon , 261–62).
18 – “he spake unto Nephi” It is interesting to remember that this is the same Nephi who prayed “all that day” for the sign to be given of Jesus’ birth in 3 Nephi 1:12, and his prayer was answered by “the voice of the Lord.” Now Nephi is meeting him in person.
22 – “gave unto them power to baptize” “Wait a minute,” my students say, “I thought they already had authority to baptize.” Yes, they did. David J. Ridges has written:
These men are being given authorization to baptize people now for entrance into the Church of Jesus Christ, which the Savior will establish among them. Up to this point, the people were living the Law of Moses, and were being baptized in conjunction with it. The Law of Moses has now been fulfilled by the Savior (The Book of Mormon Made Easier, Part 3, 136).
25 – “Having authority given me of Jesus Christ” My students and I have often wondered why these exact words aren’t used in the baptismal prayer today. I haven’t found an authoritative answer yet. My guess is that there is a difference between having authority “given [you] of Jesus Christ” (very direct, a very short line of authority) and “having been commissioned of Jesus Christ” which commission you received through his servants (in a much longer line of authority). In any event, the most recent instructions we’ve been given from the Lord in D&C 20:73 are to use the wording “Having been commissioned of Jesus Christ.”
29 – “the spirit of contention is not of me” Elder Russell M. Nelson taught:
Divine doctrine of the Church is the prime target of attack by the spiritually contentious. Well do I remember a friend who would routinely sow seeds of contention in Church classes. His assaults would invariably be preceded by this predictable comment: “let me play the role of devil’s advocate.” Recently he passed away. One day he will stand before the Lord in judgment. Then, I wonder, will my friend’s predictable comment again be repeated? –“The Canker of Contention,” Ensign, May 1989, 70.
32-41 – “and this is my doctrine” The phrase “my doctrine” appears eight times in these verses. What is the doctrine of Christ? Elder Jeffrey R. Holland taught:
It is clear at the outset that the sermon in the Book of Mormon is built upon one overwhelmingly important premise that is not so obvious in the New Testament — that the doctrines taught and the blessings promised are predicated upon first principles, on saving ordinances and covenants of the gospel, including the baptismal covenant, which brings people through “the gate” to the strait and narrow path leading to eternal life. As Christ taught here, so Nephi taught earlier—that these first principles and ordinances constitute the “doctrine of Christ.” (Jeffrey R. Holland, Christ and the New Covenant: The Messianic Message of the Book of Mormon [Deseret Book, 1997], 261 – 262.)
40 – “the gates of hell” We know that baptism is the gate which precedes the strait and narrow path (2 Nephi 31:17-18). What, then, are the “gates of Hell?” Dr. Hugh Nibley observed:
“The gates of hell,” then, does not refer to the devil at all; though his snares and wiles might lead men sooner or later to their death, delivering them “to the destruction of the flesh,” his power ends there. The gates of hell are the gates of hell — the “holding back” of those who are in the spirit world from attaining the object of their desire. (Hugh Nibley, Mormonism and Early Christianity, 108.)
In one of the very earliest Christian poems Christ is described as going to the underworld to preach to the dead, “And the dead say to him, . . . ‘Open the gate to us!'” whereupon the Lord, “heeding their faith,” gives them the seal of baptism. Baptism for the dead, then, was the key to the gates of hell which no church claimed to possess until the nineteenth century, the gates remaining inexorably closed against those very dead of whose salvation the early Christians had been so morally certain. (Hugh Nibley, Mormonism and Early Christianity, 106.)